98-win Pirates deserved better than one-and-done

154 Comments

Well, it had to come down to this. Because baseball’s postseason is more about making money than fair play, the teams with the second- and third-best records in baseball played a one-game series on Tuesday night. And the team with the second-best record lost.

In a just world, the Pirates and Cubs would have opened a seven-game NLDS tonight. Not that seven games really tells us who the best team is, either, but it’s certainly more illustrative than one game. In the last two years, the wild card Pirates have gone up against Madison Bumgarner and Jake Arrieta in games with no margin for error. They went down quietly in each, but that’s the kind of thing that happens when Cy Young contenders are at the top of their games.

Baseball isn’t about to eliminate its divisions, so this is the kind of thing that’s going to happen all too often. Unfortunately, good teams are doubly punished for playing in strong divisions. They deal with tougher schedules during the regular season, and they often deal with harsher seeding when it comes to the postseason.

Make no mistake, the Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs didn’t simply rack up their strong records this year by beating up on a pair of also-rans in the Brewers and Reds. The NL Central was 99-62 against the NL East and 89-76 against the NL West (the big three were 66-33 against the NL East and 69-30 against the NL West). The 97-win Cubs had five wins on the Dodgers for the NL’s third-best record. Maybe the margin wouldn’t have been that significant if the Dodgers had something to play for in September, but they did go 17-13 in their final 30 games, giving them a practically identical winning percentage to their 92-70 full-season mark.

But, again, baseball isn’t getting rid of it’s divisions. And it probably won’t follow the NBA’s lead in discounting divisional standings when playoff time comes around. Which doesn’t seem like very good news for the Pirates at all. The Cubs are looking like a future juggernaut, and the Cardinals show few signs of slowing down. The Pirates have quite a bit going for them, too, but they’ll be the third favorite in the NL Central next year and just getting to another winner-take-all wild card will again be an accomplishment.

Christian Yelich on Manny Machado: “it was a dirty play by a dirty player”

Getty Images
8 Comments

As we wrote during last night’s game, the Brewers and Dodgers benches cleared after Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar and Dodgers shortstop Manny Machado exchanged words at first base. The exchange came after Machado dragged his left leg, slamming it into Aguilar’s leg as he crossed the bag (video of the play appears at the bottom of this article). During postgame interviews in the wee hours this morning, a couple of Brewers players took issue with Machado.

Outfielder Christian Yelich did not mince words, saying the play at first was “a dirty play by a dirty player.” When he was done answering questions, he said of Machado, “F**k that motherf***er.”

His comments in full, not including the expletive, which was noted by several assembled reporters:

You all could see how that unfolded. Everyone has their own opinion. He is a player that has a history with those types of incidents. One time is an accident. Repeated over and over again. It’s a dirty play. It’s a dirty play by a dirty player. I have a lot of respect for him as a player but you can’t respect someone who plays the game like that. it was a tough-fought baseball game. It has no place in our game. We’ve all grounded out. Run through the bag like you’ve been doing your whole life like everybody else does. If it’s an accident it’s an accident. On the replay to us, it clearly looks like you clearly go out of your way to step on someone. It just has no place in our game. It’s unacceptable. I don’t know what his problem is honestly. I’ve played against him for a long time. It has no place in the game.

Travis Shaw had his opinion too:

“Dirty play. You saw the replay. He can say all he wants that he didn’t do it, but it’s pretty obvious he meant to do it. He’s shown it multiple times throughout his career. I mean, it’s just a dirty play. A kick to his leg right there. It was not by mistake.”

Brewers manager Craig Counsell was also asked about Machado and whether he thought the play was dirty. Counsell declined to say so explicitly, but he clearly signaled that he agreed with his players, all while taking a pretty sharp swipe at Machado in his own way. At least when you remember that’s that, in baseball, the usual defense to playing “dirty” is that the guy involved is actually just “playing hard”:

Q. Two things: How did you see the play with Machado at first base? And given that, combined with the slides, do you think he’s going to beyond the grounds of playing hard?

Counsell: I don’t know. I guess they got tangled up at first base. I don’t think he’s playing all that hard.

So yes, I’d say that’s Counsell implying strongly that he thinks the play was dirty while simultaneously taking a swipe at Machado for being lazy. Which, let’s be honest, is also a fair charge given recent events.

For his part, Machado — who did apologize to Aquilar later in the game — said, “I play baseball, I try to go out there and win for my team. If that’s their comments, that’s their comments, I can’t do nothing about that.” Which, should be noted, is not a denial.

As we’ve noted, this was not the first incident involving Machado on the base paths in this series. In Game 3 Machado twice attempted to interfere with Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia at the second base bag, getting called for interference on the second one. Anyone watching the play with Aguilar could see that Machado was trying to interfere with him too.

It may be worth noting at this point that, four years ago, Machado was suspended for five games for throwing a bat at a guy.

The Dodgers are no doubt happy with their victory, but there are likely a lot of players around the game — including, I would imagine, players on his own team — who are not too happy with what Machado has shown this series.

UPDATE: Even Dodgers luminary Orel Hershisher called out Machado’s play as dirty on the Dodgers’ very own TV network.