Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The Cubs walked Bryce Harper six times on Sunday

15 Comments

The Cubs seemed to figure out how to handle reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper: don’t pitch to him. Harper, whose Nationals were swept in a four-game series against the Cubs, was walked 13 times — four times intentionally — in 18 plate appearances. Of his five official at-bats, Harper registered just one single. Six of those walks came in Sunday’s game, and Harper was hit by a pitch in the other plate appearance. The last player to walk six times in a game was Jeff Bagwell in 1999. It’s only been done two other times by Andre Thornton in 1984 and Jimmie Foxx in 1938. Baseball Reference didn’t yield any results when searching for batters who reached base (without the help of an error) at least seven times without an official at-bat in a game, so he might be the first since at least 1913 to accomplish the feat.

Barry Bonds was famously walked during his reign of terror in the early 2000’s. Saberist Tom Tango, one of the co-authors of The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball, created a chart with which one determines whether or not to intentionally walk Bonds in a road game. In the early innings, one would only walk Bonds if first base was open and there were two outs. There were only 12 situations in which it was advised to walk Bonds, most of them involved a tied or one-run game in the eighth or ninth inning and first base open. Tango had five conclusions:

  • Walk now!: a no-brainer
  • Walk: a situation that favors the intentional walk
  • Go with gut: Based on other circumstances, you can make a case either way
  • Face him: A situation that favors not walking him
  • Do not walk: A no-brainer

With the caveat that Bonds was a much more productive hitter than Harper and played in a different type of offensive environment, I decided to apply Tango’s chart to Harper’s walks in the series against the Cubs.

Date Inning Outs Base State Score Tango
May 5 T1 2 0-0 Go with gut
May 5 T4 0 0-0 Do not walk
May 5 T9 0 0-5 Do not walk
May 6 T8 1 2-8 Face him
May 7 T1 2 0-0 Go with gut
May 7 T5 2 1– 2-2 Go with gut
May 7 T7 1 –3 4-5 Do not walk
May 8 T1 1 1– 0-0 Face him
May 8 T3 1 0-0 Face him
May 8 T4 2 -23 2-0 Walk
May 8 T8 2 3-3 Go with gut
May 8 T10 2 12- 3-3 Go with gut
May 8 T12 2 12- 3-3 Go with gut

There were no “walk now” conclusions; only one “walk”; six “go with gut”; three “face him”; and three “do not walk”. In other words, Cubs manager Joe Maddon had his pitcher correctly intentionally walk or “unintentionally-intentionally” walk Harper once, and six gray areas. It was demonstrably wrong to walk Harper in six of the 13 situations. I’d imagine, since Harper is an inferior hitter to Bonds, that even the lone pro-walk situation and six “gut” situations become “do not walk” or “face him”.

Still, the Cubs got the series sweep — thanks to a Javier Baez walk-off home run in the bottom of the 13th inning — and now sit with a dominant 24-6 record.

Young Blue Jays say they aren’t intimidated by top seed Rays

Blue Jays roster and schedule
Getty Images
Leave a comment

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) When the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays opened the pandemic-delayed season a little over two months ago, there was little to indicate the AL East rivals might meet again to begin the playoffs.

While the Rays launched the truncated 60-game schedule with expectations of making a strong bid for their first division title in a decade, the Blue Jays generally were viewed as an immensely talented young team still years away from postseason contention.

Tampa Bay didn’t disappoint, shrugging off a slow start to go a league-best 40-20 and claim the No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs that begin Tuesday.

Lefty Blake Snell, who’ll start Game 1 of the best-of-three wild-card series against Toronto at Tropicana Field, also isn’t surprised that the eighth-seeded Blue Jays earned a spot, too.

The Rays won six of 10 games between the teams during the regular season, but were outscored 48-44 and outhomered 17-11.

And while Toronto (32-28) lacks the playoff experience Tampa Bay gained last season when the Rays beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game before falling to Houston in the divisional round, the Blue Jays are building with exciting young players such as Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“They’ve got a lot of young guys who can ball over there,” Snell said. “It’s going to be fun to compete and see how we do.”

Rays defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier said Tampa Bay, in the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the second time franchise history, will not take the Blue Jays lightly.

“We know we’re playing a real good team,” Kiermaier said. “It’s not going to be easy, regardless of what a team is seeded.”

The Blue Jays, who’ll start right-hander Matt Shoemaker, aren’t conceding anything.

Bichette said he and his teammates respect how good Tampa Bay is, but are not intimidated by facing the No. 1 seed.

“I would say that we didn’t care who we played. I would say that we didn’t mind playing Tampa, that’s for sure. We’re familiar with them. We’ve played them well,” Bichette said.

“I think we’re confident in our ability against them. Our talent matches up well,” Bichette added. “We think if we play well we’ve got a good chance.”

NO FANS

The stands at Tropicana Field will be empty, leaving players to wonder what the atmosphere will be like for the playoffs.

Tampa Bay routinely rank at or near the bottom of the majors in attendance, but usually pack the stands in the domed stadium during the postseason.

“It will be different,” Bichette said. “Normally when you think of your first postseason you think 40,000, you think about not being able to think it’s so loud, stuff like that.”

The Blue Jays open the playoffs near where they hold spring training in Dunedin, Florida. It’s been a winding road for Toronto, which played its home games in Buffalo, New York, at the site of its Triple-A affiliate after the Canadian government barred the Blue Jays from hosting games at their own stadium because of coronavirus concerns.

CONFIDENT RAYS

Tampa Bay’s five-game loss to Houston in last year’s divisional round was a source of motivation during the regular season.

“It definitely lit a fire under everybody. It really showed us we belong. … We gave them a tough series,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said.

“We won the wild-card game. We belong in the postseason. I think that did a lot for us to understand that we should be in the postseason and we can go a lot farther. We know what to expect this time around. I think everyone in our clubhouse expects to be playing until the end of October,” he said.

CLOSE FRIENDS

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash has the Rays in the playoffs for the second time. His close friend and former Rays third base and bench coach Charlie Montoyo is in his second year as manager of the Blue Jays, who last made the playoffs in 2016.

“Pretty special,” Cash said of his relationship with Montoyo.

“I really learned a lot from him being around him. The way he carried himself. His hand print is throughout this organization,” Cash added. “A pretty big impact and a positive one. … When they clinched I talked to him, we face-timed at 1:30 in the morning. I’m so happy for him.”