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And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Where we stand:

  • Cleveland was idle but the Twins lost, putting the margin between them at three and a half as the Twins arrive in Cleveland for a three-game series this weekend. I’m not sure how to handle an actual division race after a season in which most of these things were forgone conclusions, but hopefully these two groups of crazy kids give us something fun and close down to the wire;
  • The A’s won and the Rays lost, flip-flopping them in the AL Wild Card race, with the Indians a half game out of that picture at the moment;
  • The NL Wild Card race remained stable as Chicago, Milwaukee, Philly and New York all win, leaving the Cubs and Brewers tied for the second slot and the Phillies and Mets two games out. The Dbacks lost to the Mets and are three and a half back.

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Mets 11, Diamondbacks 1: A week ago when the Nationals came back from seven down to beat the Mets with a Kurt Suzuki walkoff home run, everyone — your author included — figured that was a stake through their heart and that they wouldn’t get up from it. Welp, they’re up. The Mets are rolling and are hanging in that Wild Card race. Even if they ultimately fall short, that’s some pretty impressive perseverance. Yesterday it was simply impressive. Six homers, including two from Juan Lagares, one of which was a grand slam. Robinson Canó, Todd Frazier, Michael Conforto and Tomás Nido also went deep. Marcus Stroman allowed one run while pitching into the seventh. Not too shabby.

Yankees 10, Tigers 4; Yankees 6, Tigers 4: A sweep of a doubleheader but a costly one for the Yankees. Edwin Encarnación strained his oblique in the first game, Gary Sánchez left with groin tightness in the second. Sánchez’s injury is gonna cause some people to point some fingers as he did it after he was thrown out trying to steal. Aaron Boone said he called for the steal too. Can someone tell me why you’re asking your power-hitting catcher who has four career stolen bases and a history of groin problems to steal in a doubleheader against the worst team in baseball after you already have the division sewed up? Anyone? In light of those injuries the specific events of these two games are sort of unimportant, but know that Encarnación and Luke Voit homered in the first game and Gio Urshela and Aaron Judge homered in the nightcap. Also know that CC Sabathia and Domingo Germán piggy-backed in the second game with Sabathia taking the first few innings and Germán the next few, which may very well be what we see from New York in the postseason.

Cardinals 10, Rockies 3: After three straight low-scoring games the Cards finally break out the boomsticks at Coors Field. The biggest boom came off the bat of Rangel Ravelo who hit a 487-foot homer:

Watching that clip makes me think two things: (1) it’s nice to see they have begun to work in the extra-juiced postseason balls a couple of weeks ahead of time to get everyone used to them. Can’t wait for those 15-14 Yankees-Astros games; and (2) what on God’s green Earth was that home run call? “There we go . . . Knock me down . . . Hello! Goodbye! . . . Knock me down!” That makes “Boom goes the dynamite” sound like one of Dan and Keith’s better cuts from a 1996 SportsCenter. Dexter Fowler, Kolten Wong. Marcell Ozuna, and Harrison Bader also connected. That’s a lot of hellos and goodbyes.

Brewers 3, Marlins 2: Milwaukee won its seventh in a row and its eighth of nine. Five innings of shutout bullpen work was key here, as was Ryan Braun‘s tie-breaking two-run homer in the third.

Royals 6, White Sox 3: Hunter Dozier hit a tie-breaking, three-run home run in the sixth and Jorge Soler hit his third homer in the last two days. Kansas City has won eight of 11. Those games have come against the Orioles, Marlins, Tigers and White Sox who are, respectively, the three worst teams in baseball and a not-so-hot one in Chicago, but all games count.

Cubs 4, Padres 1: The Cubs had lost four of six coming into this one but Yu Darvish continued his recent tear, serving as stopper in this one and striking out 14 in six innings of work on a day when no one’s bats were particularly lively. The Padres only run came on a bases loaded plunking of a pinch-hitting Manny Machado.

Pirates 4, Giants 2: Joe Musgrove tossed five shutout innings. That led the Pirates to tweet this out:

Look, five shutout innings is a good thing, make no mistake, but I’m not sure it’s a “big line” highlight moment. Even in today’s era of bullpens the standard for a strong, headline-worthy starting pitching performance is, what, seven innings? I’d like to think it’s seven innings. Five shutout innings could easily be lost due to a bad day from the bullpen. I don’t wanna be one of those back-in-my-day guys, but I really don’t want five to be the new social media shoutout standard, OK?

Red Sox 7, Blue Jays 4: Boston breaks a five-game losing streak. Xander Bogaerts hit his 50th double of the season and drove in a run, Marco Hernandez knocked in two. Mookie Betts had three hits and J.D. Martinez reached base three times. The Red Sox used nine pitchers in this nine-inning game. If only they had a horse like Joe Musgrove.

Phillies 9, Braves 5: César Hernández, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura and Adam Haseley homered as the Phillies earn the series split with Atlanta and hang two back in the Wild Card race. Hector Neris worked out of trouble in the eighth and then closed it out in the ninth for a four-out save. Ronald Acuña Jr. stole a couple of bases and homered. He now has 39 dingers and 36 thefts, bringing him close to becoming baseball’s fifth 40/40 man after Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Soriano.

Dodgers 4, Orioles 2: It was tied 2-2 in the sixth with two outs and the bases loaded. Dylan Bundy faced Russell Martin with the count full. Bundy reared back for something extra and got Martin to swing and miss to seemingly end the Dodgers threat but . . . no. catcher Pedro Severino couldn’t get a handle on the ball, it went to the backstop, Bundy just brain-locked and didn’t cover home plate and not just one but two runs scored.

It’d be unbelievable if it happened to anyone but the Orioles. For his part Bundy said “I thought it was a strikeout” and that he couldn’t see where the ball was. Except, even if he couldn’t see the ball he could see his catcher scrambling and Martin running to first — and he didn’t continue to walk off the field himself — so he knew something was amiss. He just flat quit on the play. Insane.

In other news, Rich Hill got the start for the Dodgers for the first time since early June. The idea would be that, now that his arm is healed, he’d work his stamina up and pitch for them in the postseason. Nope. He left the game in the first inning with a knee injury. Strained MCL which will almost certainly end his season. Not great for him. For their part, the Dodgers would like to have him back but they have shown, quite obviously, that they can win without him.

Nationals 12, Twins 6: Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto each homered and drove in three and Adam Eaton and Yan Gomes each went deep as well as the Nats beat the Twins. That reduces Minnesota’s division lead to three and a half over Cleveland with a three-game series beginning in Cleveland tonight. It was a severely depleted Twins lineup. They’re just riddled with injuries right now. The baseball season, however, doesn’t care about your injury problems.

Rangers 6, Rays 4: The Rays traded Nick Solak to the Rangers in mid-July in exchange for pitcher Peter Fairbanks. Last night Fairbanks faced Solak and Solak hit a two-run homer off of him, turning a 3-1 lead into a 5-1 lead. I guess Texas won the trade. The loss, Tampa Bay’s second in a row, combined with the A’s win against the Astros puts Oakland a half game up in the Wild Card race. Both are in playoff position but if the season ended today the Rays would have to fly to Oakland.

Athletics 3, Astros 2: Homer Bailey allowed one run while pitching into the sixth and five relievers allowed only one more run the rest of the way. Matt Olson hit a two-run homer in the third inning which made the difference. It came off of Justin Verlander who struck out 11 but who still lost.

Reds 11, Mariners 5: Seattle led 5-2 heading into the seventh when the Reds rallied for five runs on the back of a Freddy Galvis grand slam. They’d plate four more in the eighth via two-run homers from both Curt Casali and Eugenio Suárez. The M’s Kyle Lewis hit yet another homer, giving him three in his three big league game career.

Baseball in Arizona as early as May is pure madness

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Overnight Jeff Passan on ESPN followed up on the Associated Press’ report of preliminary talks between Major League Baseball and the MLBPA about the potential resumption of the baseball season. The plan, which is nothing short of radical — and nothing short of highly-fraught — would potentially have baseball resume as early as next month. June at the latest.

The talks are highly preliminary at the moment, but Passan describes the following topics that are at least on the table:

  • All 30 teams would play games at stadiums with no fans in the Phoenix area, including at the Diamondbacks’ Chase Field and various spring training facilities;
  • “Players, coaching staffs and other essential personnel would be sequestered at local hotels, where they would live in relative isolation and travel only to and from the stadium;”
  • Teams would carry significantly expanded rosters to (a) allow for players who get sick or who test positive for COVID-19 to be easily replaced; and (b) to allow for ample rest give that games would be played in the triple-digit heat of the Arizona desert;
  • There would be an electronic strike zone to allow the umpires to keep their distance;
  • There would be no mound visits;
  • There would be seven-inning doubleheaders to allow them to schedule as many games as possible;
  • On-field microphones would be used by players, “as an added bonus for TV viewers;”
  • Players and team personnel would sit in the empty stands 6 feet apart instead of in a dugout to ensure proper social distancing.

There’s a lot to chew on there, but I want to hold off a moment on that chewing. I want to resist the urge to do what we usually do when some radical new idea about sports comes up such as a rules change, the implementation of a new technology, divisional realignment or playoff expansion, or something to that effect. I’ll get to that stuff in a moment, but for now I want to take several steps back and leave the specifics of those things aside and ask a question:

What in the hell are we doing here?

Don’t get me wrong: I miss baseball. Everyone misses baseball. Setting aside the financial incentives at play for the moment, MLB exists to put on baseball games and they want baseball games. Players live to play baseball and they want to play. If we could snap our fingers and make that happen, God, it would be wonderful. If we could play baseball or any other pro sport right now, it would definitely be a pick-me-up for a large part of the nation.

This plan, however, is patently absurd. Less in form than in its very conception and existence.

How, in light of all that is going on at the moment, is this at all justifiable?  How is the level of necessary logistical support to pull this off — the transportation, the isolation, and the prioritization of a few thousand baseball people for testing and attendant medical care if someone gets sick — close to rational?

Just yesterday a member of New York’s city council announced that they will be burying the city’s many dead in temporary mass graves in public parks, ten to a row, and that prison inmates will be offered $6/hour to dig the graves. The governor of Illinois said last night that states are bidding against one another to try to obtain desperately needed medical supplies to treat the national surge in the sick and the dying. Is that what everyone is going through right now? No, of course not. Most of us are bored at home. But that — the tens of thousands of dead and counting and the overarching fear and anxiety which is affecting the populace — provides the national backdrop against which these negotiations are occurring. To call it “incongruous” to be talking about a far-sooner-than-expected return of baseball is a monumental understatement.

Yes, sports have, traditionally, served as a rallying point for the nation. But this is not a war. This is not a natural disaster. This is not a situation where our defiant assertion of normality will help pull us through. We do not need a Winston Churchill figure and, in fact, attempting to be a Churchill figure, we have unfortunately learned, is precisely the opposite of sensible. This is not a situation where keeping calm, carrying on, and acting resolute in the face of peril will help us prevail. A viral pandemic is not impressed with our composure, our resolve or our symbolic gestures such as playing baseball in the face of what can only be described as horror. The only thing we can do in the face of this horror is to take sensible precautions. To collectively sacrifice. To collectively appreciate the risks, stay at home, ride it out, and provide every possible bit of support available to the sick, to those who treat the sick, and to the millions of people displaced, economically and psychologically, by the crisis.

There nothing sensible about this nascent plan currently being floated by Major League Baseball, however. And make no mistake: it is being floated. With a purpose.

This report comes two days after President Trump held a conference call with Rob Manfred and all of the other major sports league commissioners in which he expressed his desire for sports to return as soon as possible. It is in his and his administration’s political interests for that to happen. As it would be, to be fair, in the interests of any president. There was a reason FDR pressed baseball to play on as usual during World War II. My political leanings are pretty plain to those who have read this website for any length of time, but I do not begrudge Trump this impulse, in and of itself. As a leader there are very good reasons for him to want the public to be happy and entertained and, as I said, we would all love to be happy and entertained at the moment.

President Trump, however, has been demonstrably shown to have made countless missteps in his handling of the pandemic thus far. Missteps that, in at least one case, appears to be born by personal financial interest. I simply do not trust his judgment in pressing professional sports back into service and I do not trust Rob Manfred to sensibly push back against political pressure urging him to take what would, clearly, be irresponsible steps in order to make baseball happen the way it is being described in Passan’s column.

And it is irresponsible. Let’s just play this out for 30 seconds:

  • Passan describes a scenario in which players would be isolated for more than four months. Are they supposed to not see their families during all that time? How are they supposed to function under that scenario? Even worse, what if their family members get sick? What if one of their parents die? Is their season over or do they stay in Arizona?
  • No quarantine can be perfect, so there’s a non-trivial chance that despite these efforts someone gets sick. Passan mentioned that they would be removed from their teams and put into isolation. That may be fine for a physically fit 24 year-old, but many managers, coaches, trainers and clubhouse attendants are older and, as such, at far greater risk of complications if they get sick. Some players are too. Adam Duvall is Type 1 diabetic. Kenley Jansen just had heart surgery. Carlos Carrasco and Trey Mancini are cancer patients. What about them?
  • If players are quarantined in hotels or resorts, there are hundreds if not thousands of people cooking for them, cleaning for them, doing the laundry and stuff like that. They all have to be isolated too, no? Just as a virus propagates itself exponentially, so to does the support necessary to put on Major League Baseball games, even in these radically different circumstances.

That’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure there are many other things that infectious disease experts and people who are more involved in the details of putting on games under these circumstances could imagine. Yes, I understand that the idea behind flattening the curve and slowing the spread is not to prevent every single person from becoming infected. That’s impossible. But at the same time, Major League Baseball should not be creating conditions under which a highly infectious disease has an entryway into a in environment where 26 guys and a staff x 30 teams all share close quarters as a rule.

That’s especially true when we look at the benefits of all of this. Benefits which, as Passan freely notes in his article, are primary financial. Or, as noted above, may have some broadly inspirational or symbolic significance. And that’s before you start to assess the actual quality and integrity of the baseball which would be played under these extreme circumstances.

Could they figure this all out? Maybe. Will they do it? I don’t know. It might actually happen. Nothing would surprise me at this point. But even attempting it seems profoundly incongruous to what’s happening in the real world. And profoundly misguided.

To the extent this misguided plan gains traction, it will be because a lot of us — particularly people in my industry, but fans as well — approach this idea solely through the prism of sports. It will be because, when presented with the idea of a 2020 baseball season in the Arizona Bubble League, we spend more time debating electronic umpiring and whether East Coast Bias is the reason the Yankees and Red Sox get more games in air-conditioned Chase Field and that Oakland A’s have to play more games in 105 degree heat at HoHoKam Stadium in Mesa.

We need to think bigger than that. We need to think smarter than that. We need to set aside our laser-focus on sports as the be-all and end-all, set aside our strong and understandable desire to have sports return as soon as possible and treat the current situation with the gravity it deserves. And this plan ain’t it, jack.