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Mad Dog Licks Boots

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Earlier this week Tyler Kepner of the New York Times reported that the MLBPA and the league are heading back to the table more than two years before the expiration of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, which expires following the 2021 season.

This had been hinted at for some time, as the union has shown clear displeasure at the current state of business, particularly with the free agent market. The league, one might assume, is happy with the current state of affairs, but it also has an interest in heading off potential strife or even the hint of a labor stoppage in the future. Moreover, there are priorities which have emerged on MLB’s part since the last CBA was signed that they’d love to advance — pace of play, etc. — so they have some incentive to talk as well. So, while it’s totally newsworthy that the sides are talking, it’s also quite understandable and not particularly controversial.

It’s also quite understandable that, given that this is a negotiation between parties in an adversarial position, there will be public comments from the principles which involve advocacy or even posturing on occasion. That’s part of the deal of any negotiation that holds public interest. So, when Tony Clark, for example, says something like “the system doesn’t work,” and “either we’re going to have a conversation now, or we’re going to have a louder conversation later,” which is what he told Kepner, it’s not really a controversial thing. Indeed, it’s expected.

Chris “Mad Dog” Russo thinks it’s pretty controversial, however. The MLB Network host and talk radio legend took to the airwaves yesterday blasting Clark for not being more deferential to Rob Manfred who “was nice enough to extend him an olive branch.”  Russo likewise asked, rhetorically, what “Rob” must’ve thought when reading Clark’s quotes “over his cup of coffee, and bran muffin, on Madison Avenue, after his workout and all those things . . . his morning coffee, milk and two sugars by the way — Sweet and Low.”

He’s the Mad Dog, but he certainly licks boots here:

 

It’s amusing enough that Russo believes that Clark, Manfred’s counterpart and adversary, is supposed to be deferential and thankful for the mighty Manfred. It’s even more amusing, however, that he takes the tack of arguing that MLB has no real interest in negotiating now and is somehow merely throwing the union a bone or offering an olive branch. In saying this Russo, whether he realizes it or not, is accusing Manfred of bad faith, optics-only talks with the union. I don’t feel like Manfred thinks he’s doing that. And I don’t think Clark would be talking to him if he felt he was being patronized to either. Indeed, the dance of the last several months around all of this was, in part, to ensure that that was not the case.

I don’t know what Manfred thought about Clark’s comments on Tuesday, but I do wonder how he feels about being accused by an MLB Network employee of playing games like this. It might be enough for him to spit out his bran muffin and coffee. Cream and two sugars and all.

Nationals’ starting pitching carrying them into World Series

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In my postseason preview at the end of September, I listed the Nationals’ starting rotation as a strength and their bullpen as a weakness. Anyone who had followed the club this season could have told you that. Even the Nats are aware of it as manager Dave Martinez has leaned on his rotation to hide his sometimes unreliable ‘pen.

In Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, Martinez was burned by his bullpen as Tanner Rainey, Fernando Rodney, and Hunter Strickland combined to allow six base runners and four runs. Martinez used ace Max Scherzer in relief in Game 2, sandwiched by Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. Starter Patrick Corbin pitched in relief in Game 3 and it backfired, but the bullpen after Corbin continued to allow more runs — three officially, but Wander Suero allowed two inherited runners to score on a three-run homer by Max Muncy. Martinez only had to rely on Doolittle and Hudson in Game 4 and he again went to Corbin in relief in Game 5.

The strategy was clear: use the actual bullpen as little as possible. If Martinez absolutely has to, Doolittle and Hudson get top priory by a country mile, followed by a starter, then the rest of the bullpen.

Thankfully for Martinez and the Nationals, the starting pitching has done yeoman’s work in the NLCS, jumping out to a three games to none series lead over the Cardinals. Aníbal Sánchez famously brought a no-hit bid into the eighth inning of Game 1, finally relenting a two-out single to José Martínez before his night was over. Doolittle got the final four outs in the 2-0 win. Max Scherzer flirted with a no-hitter in his Game 2 start as well, losing it when Paul Goldschmidt led off the seventh with a single. He was erased on an inning-ending double play. Doolittle, Corbin, and Hudson got the final six outs in the 3-1 victory.

It was more of the same in Game 3. While Stephen Strasburg didn’t flirt with a no-hitter, he was dominant over seven innings, yielding one unearned run on seven hits with no walks and 12 strikeouts. The Nats’ offense woke up, amassing eight runs through seven innings which allowed Martinez to give his main relief guys a night off. Rodney and Rainey each pitched a perfect inning of relief with two strikeouts in low-leverage situations, their first appearances in the NLCS.

The Nationals starting pitching has been outstanding by itself, but it has also had the secondary effect of allowing Martinez to hide his team’s biggest weakness. Now Martinez just has to hope for more of the same for one more game, then at least four more in the World Series.