Miguel Montero: Hero or Villain

Back in December of 2014, the Cubs traded minor leaguer pitchers Jeferson Mejia and Zack Godley for Arizona Diamondbacks catcher, Miguel Montero. 

“He’s a veteran, he cares a lot about winning,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said of Montero. “He’s pretty vocal. In the right environment, he can be a leader for this ballclub. He’s just a perfect fit.”

At the time, I bet Theo didn’t know the vocal part of who Montero was and is, was going to be negative comments about the team. 

Montero has been apart of some key moments to help the Cubs end the 108 year drought. Like his monster grand slam in the NLCS or his RBI single in Game 7. Miggy was a fan favorite with his #WeAreGood tweets and when he pitched a couple times. However, do those good memories of him go out the door with his comments that have bashed his teammates and coaches? 

When he decided to go to the media, before he went to his team, and said he was upset about the amount of playing time he was receiving. Now he criticized Jake Arrieta after the Nationals stole 7 bases last night. Montero told reports after the game:

 “It really sucked because the stolen bases go to me. And when you really look at it, the pitcher doesn’t give me any time. So it’s just like, “Yeah okay, Miggy can’t throw nobody out.” Yeah, but my pitchers don’t hold anyone on! It’s tough because it doesn’t matter how much work I put on footwork or throwing and everything, because if I don’t get a chance to throw – that’s the reason they were running left and right today, because he was so slow to the plate. Simple as that.” 

I get it, I truly do, he was upset with what was happening during the game but don’t go to the reporters with your issues. Talk to your team first, try and figure out a solution but don’t just go running your mouth in anger. If Miggy was throwing out runners left and right I’d be okay with his comments but he hasn’t thrown out a runner yet this season. 

Anthony Rizzo was on ESPN 1000 this morning and had some words to say about this whole situation, “When you point fingers you’re a selfish player. We have another catcher that throws everyone out.” Rizzo is right, it’s not like Willson gets a complete different set of pitchers it’s the same pitchers, starters and the guys in the ‘pen. Theo spent some time with the media today to talk about Montero being DFA’d. He let Miguel know that, “we expect when something goes wrong on the field, we expect our players to take the blame.” Before Theo made the decision to DFA, he met with a group of players and, “It screamed out as something we should do.” The Cubs President also stated that, “Miggy’s not to blame at all for the issues we have as a team right now. He should not be a scapegoat.” Arrieta did meet with the media. He said, “I love Miguel. As you guys know he’ll say some things from the heart. He’s open and honest. That’s the way Miggy is.” I wouldn’t want a teammate of mine to bash me to the media. Come and talk to me if you have an issue with something. Arrieta kind of was blindsided by these comments and who knows it might affect the team even more now with their .500 play. 

I ask you, does Miggy getting DFA’d ignite the fire underneath this Cubs team to help them retake the N.L. Central? Maybe, but they have other problems deeper than a backup catcher who plays every four days that has caused a stir in the clubhouse. 

Michael Allen @mike_allen1218

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The 26th man debate

The new collective bargaining agreement that took effect in December did not touch the idea that the agreement would increase the roster size from 25 to 26 that many thought would be in the deal. League sources said that discussions were underway but the union objected because of service-time implications for September call-ups, but no agreement came about as both sides ran out of time.

The trade-off, still makes sense. Fox Sports MLB insider Ken Rosenthal has argued that the league and union need to revisit this idea partly because an extra man would provide extra depth in an era where player health is a major issue. The roster limit would end baseball’s practice of having a completely different playing field when the postseason chase heats up. The goal is to prevent teams from using all 40 players on a roster in September.

One of the biggest issues with the 26th man is that most teams would fill that spot with a relief pitcher, which would extend games even longer. Any changes would likely come only in conjunction of pace-of-play rules. Service time issues would need to be resolved too.

Under the current system, a player can not be optioned after the minor league season has concluded. Some want a 28 man limit in September and league sources estimate that would give teams almost three weeks to option players, but potential manipulation made the union think again.

Rosenthal concludes by saying that this issue is not easy but not impossible and is worthy of further discussion after the end of the season.

In November, Sports Illustrated columnist Tom Verducci wrote than teams should not be allowed to expand their rosters without limitations on pitcher usage, “it will be the worst thing to happen to the sport since Astroturf and threaten to end the game’s period of record growth.”

Asked if a roster expansion needs a governor on pitching a GM said last fall, “No doubt. It seems like they want to address the lack of offense and they want to address pace of game.” The GM went on to say that a 26 man roster with no restrictions would be counterproductive and that people are too wise to solve September issues at the detriment of the last few weeks of the season.

He cites some interesting stats regarding the use of many pitchers in games. In 2016, teams used 742 pitchers, which was double the number that was needed in 1977. This equates to an average of nearly 25 pitchers per team, that number was 16 in 1986.

It is going to be extremely difficult for the league and union to come to an agreement that expands the rosters from April-August to 26 without any pitching restrictions. Furthermore, I don’t see any solution that has been offered that can work, especially when some starting pitchers don’t make it to the sixth inning or even earlier.

The 40 man roster rule that takes affect in September is too much. The limit should be in the range of a 33- 35 man roster because if it’s reduced too much, the downfall is jeopardizing September call-ups to get experience to see what it is like playing in the major leagues. The best solution to conquer games that go four hours with both teams sending six pitchers to the mound is to enforce the pace-of-play initiatives more rigorously. The league and union can implement some of the pace-of-play initiatives that are in effect in the Arizona Fall League, such as only three-time out” conferences per game. This is what the MLB and union should focus more on in the offseason.

 

Three “Rental” Players the Astros Should Consider at the Deadline

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The Houston Astros are currently leading the AL West by 13 games and are not only surpassing expectations but also looking like the best team in the AL and possibly all of MLB. There is no doubt that a weak division has worked in their favor this season having lost only 8 games against AL West opponents, but when they get to the playoffs it’ll be a whole new ballgame. The fact that they will almost certainly face somebody out of a stacked AL East along with the possibility of whoever sneaks in from the AL Central (my guess is Cleveland, who did make it all the way to the World Series last season) creates a bit of a concern about their current roster. Although the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” does hold some weight on team chemistry, the bottom line is the Astros will be facing teams that are on a completely different level than anyone in the AL West. The Astros don’t need to add a marquee player at the deadline with a large contract to take over a position from an everyday player, but rather just need to tweak the roster by adding some depth with the addition of some “rental” players that will only be with the team thru the end of the 2017 season. The fact that Houston still has a stacked farm system (6 players in the MLB top 100) with a current young core already at the pro level makes certain prospects expendable in order to obtain a World Series Championship this season. The following potential trades are for three “rental” players that the Astros should add to their roster to help achieve that goal without mortgaging the future or adding an unwanted long-term contract.

Astros Acquire from Athletics
YONDER ALONSO (1B/DH)

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A’s Acquire from Astros
YORDAN ALVAREZ (1B/DH)

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DAZ CAMERON (OF)

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Alonso is having an amazing season for Oakland, who currently has the 2nd worst record in the AL and is already looking ahead to next season. Batting .314 with 16 homeruns thru 54 games, his left handed bat would be a very welcomed addition to the Houston lineup and his versatility to split time between 1B and DH would give some random days off the 40 year old Carlos Beltran who currently batting .222 in the month of June and has seen dwindling numbers as the season has progressed. Having Marwin Gonzalez at 1B, Alonso at DH and the threat of Beltran as a PH could create some huge headaches for opponents in the postseason when facing the Astros, and would put their lineup completely over the top as possibly the best in the AL (if it isn’t already).

This move works for the A’s because it involves Oakland getting 2 young prospects under team control for years to come while giving up arguably their best hitter who will be signing some please else in the offseason. Yonder Alonso was signed by the Dodgers out of Cuba last season but was traded straight up for Josh Fields at the deadline in 2016. He has a high ceiling as a hitter but not very spectacular when it comes to his defense, which will likely make him an everyday DH with the occasional game at 1B. Daz Cameron is the son of former MLB All-Star Mike Cameron and was a top prospect coming out of high school in 2015. He fell to the 2nd round where the Astros were able to nab him at the 37th pick of the draft, but hasn’t progressed as fast as Houston has hopped. A place like Oakland would be a great place for both these players to develop and eventually become everyday fixtures in the near future for the A’s.

Astros Acquire from Pittsburgh
TONY WATSON (LHP)

Watson

Pirates Acquire from Astros
FRANKLIN PEREZ (RHP)

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COLIN MORAN (3B)

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One thing that the Astros are lacking is left-handed relief pitching, and Watson would be an outstanding addition to their staff. Houston already has a closer in Ken Giles, but Tony Sipp is really the only LHP they have in the bullpen and that’s where Whitley fits in with the Astros. Although Watson has been the Pittsburgh closer for 2 seasons, his was far more effective and had much better number before he took on that role for the pirates. Adding Watson does give you an additional option at closer if Giles were to get injured or have a streak of poor outings, but his true value would be that of a proven left-handed arm out of the bullpen.

Tony Watson is certainly going to gage interest from many contenders until the deadline passes so it is the responsibility of Pittsburgh to get as much in return as possible for the left-hander. Franklin Perez is only 19 years old, but has stuff in the mid 90’s and is considered at this point to be either a mid-rotation starting pitcher or possibly a future closer. Perez is the #95 overall MLB prospect and sits as the #9 prospect in the Astros system which also gives team an idea of how bright the future could be for this RHP. Colin Moran is a 6’4 3B who is batting .273 with 11 HR thru 48 games in the minors this season and would be a welcomed addition to the Pirates farm system while currently listed as the #7 prospect in the Houston system. Pittsburgh will have some tough decisions to make over the next few seasons as it seems that the window of opportunity with their current core is closing fast and in order to remain competitive in the NL Central they’ll need to stock their farm system and build from within.

Astros Acquire from Kansas City
JASON VARGAS (LHP)

Vargas

Royals Acquire from Astros
DEREK FISHER (OF)

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FOREST WHITLEY (RHP)

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The Royals will be in sell mode this summer and will also be likely losing quite a few players this offseason if they aren’t moved at the deadline or resigned this upcoming winter. Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, and Alcides Escobar are all everyday players who might all be gone from KC at season’s end, but starting left-handed pitcher Jason Vargas could be the most sought-after former Royal with offseason. Vargas is having the best year of MLB career and posting a 2.18 ERA along with 59 K’s in 12 starts this season and is in full “contract-season” mode. At age 34, he will get signed some place this offseason but his age could make some teams cautious about how many years he gets. If he were to get traded to Houston and win a World Series this season, it’ll certainly have a huge impact on both his resume and his paycheck in 2018. If Houston made this move it would give them the best 1-2 punch of left-handed pitching currently in the AL along with Dallas Keuchel, and sandwiched at #2 with Lance McCullers Jr. behind him makes for a very good 1-2-3 in the Astros rotation. KC currently sits 6.5 games back in the AL Central and 4.5 back in the wildcard race, so they still have a chance to compete this season but are 5-5 in their last 10 games and are 27-34 in a bad division which doesn’t look too promising for the Royals. The Royals have a few trade chips besides Vargas to help bolster their farm system, but with the season he is having thus far, Vargas is a top starter available via trade and it’ll cost any team that wants to land him.

The Royals would will get a great return for Vargas from someone, and it’ll cost Houston some top young talent to attain his services for the remainder of the season. Derek Fisher and Forrest Whitley are currently the #72 and #73 overall prospects in MLB as well as being the #3 and #5 prospects in the Astros system. Whitley is a 6’7 RHP who has stuff in the high 90s and was the Astros 1st round (#17 overall) pick in the 2016 draft. He is the #2 pitcher in the Astros farm system and would instantly become the top pitching prospect in the KC system. Derek Fisher is a former 2nd round pick that can play either CF or LF with descent offensive numbers but has great speed and a left-handed bat. He does have a high strikeout rate but at age 23 there is plenty of time left for him to develop and improve his numbers. If Fisher was added to the KC system, he would also immediately become their top OF prospect since Hunter Dozier (MLB #10 overall prospect) will almost certainly be the Royal third baseman of the future. This would be a huge haul for KC if this deal materialized and if not the Astros, some team will trade top talent to add Jason Vargas to their rotation for the rest of 2017.

San Francisco’s Season is a GIANT Dumpster Fire and it’s Time to Start Selling

giantslogodumpster-fire-600x315The San Francisco Giants currently sit 10 games back in the NL West, as well as the wild card race. After backing into the wildcard spot last season only to be embarrassed by the Cubs in the NLDS, the Giants appear as though their window of success with this current core might be closing. There are some pieces that they can keep and build upon on the current roster, but the reality is that big-name free agent signings over the past few years have left them with a depleted farm system that only boasts 2 current prospects in the MLB top 100 (RHP Tyler Beed #77 and INF Christian Arroyo #78) and nothing else significant in the pipeline. They need to SELL right now and get as much youth as possible in return but because of a few questionable contracts and no-trade clauses, the Giants are stuck between a rock and a hard place in regard to moving players. Here is a breakdown of who they should build upon, who they might be stuck with and who they should try and move ASAP…..

STICKING AROUND

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-Buster Posey, C, 31 years old
Posey is the face of the franchise along with being signed until 2022 and is having an outstanding season thus far. Obviously, he would command a king’s ransom if dealt but that won’t be happening since he’s arguably the best catcher in MLB along with having a full no-trade clause. Posey will be a Giant until his career ends.

-Joe Panik, 2B, 26 years old
Joe Panik won’t be a free agent until 2021 and is still too young with too high of a ceiling to be traded at this point of his career. His numbers this season aren’t as good as expected, but he’s only 26 and with exception of 2 players on the Giants, the offense as a whole is terrible this season. Panik is making $600K until 2021 which while surely keep him in Giants orange for a very long time.

-Brandon Crawford, SS, 30 years old
Similar to Posey, Crawford has been another face of this franchise and is signed until 2022 for big money. He’s a top shortstop in the league and along with Panik, gives San Francisco a great middle infield that would be hard to replace if you were to trade him away. Also, like Panik, his numbers aren’t ideal this season but improved hitting is certainly a strong possibility with Crawford and I suspect this will happen eventually.

-Madison Bumgarner, SP, 27 years old
When healthy, Bumgarner is a top 5 MLB pitcher and your ace for the future to build a staff around. In fact, a big part of moving players for youth this season is to secure enough money to resign Bumgarner when his contract is up in 2020. He isn’t going anywhere now or in 2020 when he becomes an UFA.

YOU MIGHT BE STUCK WITH THESE GUYS

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-Brandon Belt, 1B, 29 years old
Although Belt has been part of the 2 of the 3 recent Giants World Series Championships rosters, I don’t feel that he ever actually lived up to the hype he had coming into MLB as a rookie. Yes, he does have 2 rings, but he also had only 2 seasons where he hit above .280 and the reality is he is very replaceable. Sure, based on his resume and being only 29 years old he would seem to fetch a lot of attention in the trade market, however, the Giants made the questionable decision to give him a contract that doesn’t make him a free agent until 2022 when he’ll be 34 years old and also includes a modified no trade clause. His high contract and mediocre play will keep him in San Francisco unless they are willing to pay part of his salary for him to go away.

-Hunter Pence, OF, 34 years old
Hunter Pence is far past his prime, has terrible numbers this season, and isn’t a free agent until 2019. Once again, the Giants are handicapped by a full no trade clause and moving him this season will be difficult, to say the least. There is a chance a team might trade for him if their outfield is struck by injury and they have limited options, but $18.5 million a season for the next 2 years, that’s highly unlikely unless Giants are willing to pay part of his salary to leave San Francisco.

-Jeff Samardzija, SP, 32 years old
I didn’t understand why the Giants signed Samardzija for much as they did a few years ago, and due to his modified no trade clause and $19.8 million a season until 2021 he will remain in San Francisco for a while. He’s a good #3 or #4 pitcher in a rotation, but is highly overpaid and hasn’t been a #1 his entire career and that doesn’t look like it’ll change anytime soon. If they were able to move him, I think they wouldn’t get anything too good in return other than the relief that his $19.8 million a season would be some other team’s problem.

-Mark Melancon, RP, 32 years old
This past season’s big addition for the Giants was not a bad signing for San Francisco since they did need a closer (a new bullpen altogether in all honesty), but what’s the use of having a closer that costs you $42 million until 2021 if he rarely gets into a game to make a save? His deal is back-loaded at $14 million a season in 2019 and 2020 which will complicate trying to trade him, plus, a full no trade clause. He might be the most tradeable player for all listed in this section, but he’s only appeared in 17 games so far with 2 blown saves, however he is still a solid closer and a team with issues at that position might take a long look at Melancon at the deadline but the no trade clause leaves the decision up to Melancon.

TRADE ME RIGHT NOW

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-Johnny Cueto, SP, 31 years old
You’ll never get more for Johnny Cueto than you’ll get right now which is why San Francisco MUST trade Cueto ASAP and get a great return for him. Although he is over 30 years old, he is under contract until 2021 for $17 Million a season with a club option of $22 million in 2022. Cueto is as good of a #2 SP in a rotation that you’ll find in MLB and since the Giants (somehow?!?) were able to sign him without a no trade clause, he could become one of the top SP available via trade at the deadline. I think every team that is in contention right now would certainly take a long look at Cueto and what it would cost them. There is no doubt that the Giants would get offered a top prospect in return from more than one team for Cueto. He would be a great fit for the Cubs since Arrietta will be gone after this season and Cueto’s $17 million a season is a fair price. Until then if the Cubs did make a trade for him, a Lester, Cueto, Arrietta, Hendricks, Lackey rotation would be a force to be reckoned with if all are healthy and on top of their game and could certainly make the Cubs chances of repeat champions a reality.

-Matt Cain, SP, 32 years old
After spending his entire career with the Giants, I think this will be his last season in Giants uniform regardless if they trade him this season or decline his $21 million club option after this season. He is a great “rental” player that would likely get you a legit prospect in return from a team that has a loaded farm system. I could see him heading to the Cubs or Astros at the deadline with either team giving up a solid farm system player that won’t affect the future of either team. He would be a good #4 or a great #5 for a contender that need back of the rotation help.

-Matt Moore, SP, 27 years old
After a few outstanding seasons in Tampa, Moore’s tenure in San Francisco has not really gone as well as planned. He is currently 2-6 with a 5.22 ERA and is currently in the midst of his worst season since entering MLB. His age is a huge selling point since he is only 27 and has two low club options of $9.5 million in 2018 and $10 Million in 2019. Similar to Cain, he would be a good #4 or a great #5 and his contract that doesn’t include a no trade clause makes him very attractive at the deadline. San Francisco might consider hanging onto him for those same reasons, but if a contender offered you one or two valuable farm system players, I think you have to take that call and move Moore immediately.

-Eduardo Nunez, INF, 29 years old
Nunez is in a contract year where he becomes an UFA at this season’s end and I am willing to state with 100% certainty that he will be traded by the deadline. He is having the best season of his career and is able to play both infield and outfield which makes him one of the best utility players available via trade. Nunez should fetch a good prospect in return, and would be great fit on a team looking to add depth like the Angels, Cardinals, Brewers or Red Sox.

-Denard Span, OF, 33 years old
Span is under contract until 2018, with a mutual option of $12 million in 2019 which isn’t too bad for a team looking to add short-term outfield depth at the deadline. Age is working against him since he is 33 and having the worst year of his career, but teams could certainly do far worse than Denard Span. He can still get on base and steal you bases while adding veteran leadership, but isn’t an everyday outfielder anymore at this point in his career. Not sure how much you would get in return for Span, but if anything the Giants would like to get the $10.33 million that is still remaining on his contract off the books since he is not part of the long-term plan in San Francisco. He would be a good addition to the team like the Angels, Astros, Brewers or Cardinals.

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The Giants can either let the dumpster fire that is the 2017 season continue to burn or try and make the most out of a lost season at the deadline. San Francisco is a great organization that knows how to develop players and also attract free agents, the ladder of which could cost them more 1st round picks in the future. They need to fix their depleted farm system immediately to remain relevant in an NL West division that currently looks to be one of, if not the best in MLB with no signs of things changing in the future. Even the last place Padres have an extremely bright future with a stacked minor league system what will be emerging in the next few seasons to compete with the Dodgers, Rockies and Diamondbacks, all of whom are playing great baseball right now backed by some serious talent in the minors. I expect that that Giants might be the most active team at the deadline come July, with their sights set on rebuilding for the immediate future.

“Unwritten Rules” Are Unwritten For a Reason

 

 

Donnie BaseBrawl

Don Mattingly gets his feelings hurt by his old team, throws a temper tantrum, and starts the dumbest baseball feud in recent memory.

A recent string of on-field flare-ups should show all of us why the concept of unwritten rules is archaic, distracting, and damaging to the game of baseball. 

Competition tends to bring out the worst in people.

Emotions get heated when a player takes a hard slide into second, a pitcher misses with a fastball up and in, or even when somebody feels that they’re being provoked. When you factor in ego and testosterone, it’s not too difficult to understand why baseball is a powder keg waiting for the right spark to light the fuse.

Then add to all of those factors the concept of the “unwritten rules,” a paragon of truths cultivated over the hundred-year history of the game, and you’ve got the makings of an all-out war on the diamond.

Baseball has been rife with bench-clearings over the past decade. Really, bench-clearings happen in every decade. But lately, they feel more noticeable, angrier, on a grander scale. Could it be that social media has made sharing live content easier than in any point in human history? That’s probably a big reason, but not so much the key reason. No, the truth of the matter is that players are human. And as humans, they experience a phenomenon called “feelings.” And lately, a lot of teams have seen their feelings getting hurt.

On May 19th, as many of you know by now, the Dodgers and Marlins got into an interesting dispute during a normally uninteresting blowout. Late in a 7-2 Dodgers victory, Marlins skipper Don Mattingly took great exception to L.A.’s Cory Seager swinging at a 3-0 pitch. So following a Cody Bellinger home run in the 8th inning, Marlins reliever A.J. Ramos hit Brett Eibner with a pitch which led to a retaliation from Dodgers’ pitcher Ross Stripling in the 9th. He threw a pitch behind Giancarlo Stanton, and then came the fireworks.

Mattingly aired his frustrations following the game, saying that the Dodgers’ bullpen should be reason enough for L.A. to quit trying to run up the score:

“They have Kenley Jansen out there,” Mattingly said, referencing the dominant Dodgers closer who the Marlins tried to woo to Miami when he was a free agent last offseason. “I’d like to see how many five-run leads they’ve blown in the last year, in the eighth and the ninth.

“It’s probably borderline.”

No matter where you stand on the concept of “unwritten rules,” this reasoning is just plain garbage. If you follow Mattingly’s train of thought here, he essentially argues that because the Dodgers are a superior team with a great closer, they must stop trying to score with a seven-run lead. So if Cory Seager sees a fastball that looks like a grapefruit with a big, red bulls-eye painted on it, he should let that pitch go by because Donnie Baseball, a .200 lifetime hitter when facing a 3-0 count, says so.

If this seems ridiculous, don’t worry. That’s because it is. But this wasn’t the only recent case where unwritten rules created issues.

Take a look at another feud between the Toronto Blue Jays and Atlanta Braves. Two days prior to the Dodgers-Marlins incident on May 17th, the Braves and Jays engaged in a beanball war. Down 6-3 to Atlanta in the bottom of the 5th, Jays reliever Aaron Loup hit Braves’ star and early season MVP candidate Freddie Freeman in the right wrist with a 94-mph fastball. The pitch fractured Freeman’s wrist, landing him on the DL for the next 8-10 weeks. In the meantime, the Braves decided to get revenge. In the 6th inning, Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz hit Devon Travis with the first pitch of the inning, a 94-mph fastball. Whether Loup intended to hit Freeman is unknown and quite frankly doubtful, but it’s easy to assume that the Blue Jays probably didn’t appreciate having pitches thrown at them while losing, adding insult to metaphorical injury.

So maybe it isn’t too much of a surprise that Kevin Pillar had some ugly words for Jason Motte following a quick-pitch strikeout in the top of the 7th inning.

There’s no excuse for Pillar here. Yes, he’s frustrated. But Motte has every right to quick-pitch him. But Pillar is likely venting his frustrations from the lopsided score his team is facing, and more importantly, the fact that the Braves began taking vigilante justice into their own hands by targeting Devon Travis earlier.

Which probably explains why Jose Bautista flipped his bat following a meaningless (albeit pretty) solo home run in the 8th inning.

Keep in mind that the Braves have this game well in hand. The Jays have struggled all season long, and they weren’t making much of an effort to come back in this game. So why is it that Atlanta got so upset over Bautista’s bat flip? Because you’re not supposed to show up the other team? Despite this popular example of “sportsmanship,” no such rule exists in the Official MLB Rulebook. It shouldn’t matter if Bautista did a cart-wheel out of the batter’s box after that home run. If you’re up by four runs, who cares? Let him flip the bat while you go back to the plate and knock in five more runs to make that meaningless solo shot all the more meaningless. That’s called matching your opponent.

The drama continued the next day when Bautista took a pitch in the back from Braves starter Julio Teheran. Toronto would end up getting the last laugh however, as they would blow the Braves out 9-0 in a game where even pitcher Marcus Stroman took Atlanta deep.

While both beefs are ridiculous for their own reasons, they have been fairly short-lived unlike the longest-running feud of this season.

It didn’t take long for the first conflict of 2017 to get underway. Late in April, Baltimore Orioles star Manny Machado spiked Boston Red Sox second baseman, Dustin Pedroia, sliding to break up a double play. Pedroia left the game, infuriating him and manager John Farrell.

The Red Sox believed that Machado had illegally broken up the double play. So in retaliation, Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes threw a fastball behind Machado the next game, exacerbating an undying feud between the O’s and Sox.

Said feud carried over to a particularly nasty series in Boston. There was of course the racial abuse of O’s star Adam Jones to immediately amp up tensions between the AL East rivals. But then came the game that turned shots across the bow into straight up cannon fire in the face. Red Sox starter Chris Sale followed up a classy move letting Adam Jones receive a standing ovation from the Fenway Park crowd by throwing behind Machado in the very first pitch of Manny’s at-bat. Machado would later park a Sale pitch over the Green Monster. The next two games would feature ejections and tempers flaring, but no real bench clearings.

Machado Stink Eye

Are we having fun yet?

What all three of these incidents share are a ridiculous subscription to the “unwritten rules” of baseball. Fake rules like “never act like a showboat,” “always hit a guy from the other team if one of their pitchers hurts one of our players”, or “throw behind the dude who unintentionally spiked one of our guys until he loses his mind and goes off on an obscenity-laden tirade to the press after the game.”

These rules aren’t written down anywhere because they don’t exist. These are courtesies, suggestions for how to behave in the heat of competition. But none of these antics make baseball better. Admittedly, it’s sometimes fun to watch brawls and bench clearings. It’s nice to see teams occasionally throw good manners to the wind and start literal fights every once in a while. But when those brawls and bench clearings involve your team, all of a sudden you want things to stay civil.

Cubs fans know exactly what I mean with regards to one particular incident that took place in 2015 against the hated St. Louis Cardinals.

During a September series at Wrigley Field, former Cubs starter Dan Haren hit then-Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday in the helmet with an 86-mph fastball. Holliday would be substituted for a pinch runner, putting men on 1st and 2nd with one out in a one-run game in the 5th inning. Keep in mind, the situation was not ideal for Haren to be head hunting. His team was clinging to a small lead against the best team in baseball in the middle of a heated Wild Card race. There is zero competitive advantage in plunking Holliday in this situation. Also, Haren’s command was all over the place. He ended up walking the bases loaded and walking in the tying run two batters later.

The Cubs would get out of the jam and eventually take charge offensively to pull out a big 8-3 win over St. Louis. The game would be out of reach by the bottom of the 7th, which just so happened to be the same inning that Cardinals reliever Matt Belisle plunked Anthony Rizzo in his back leg. He would immediately be ejected along with his manager Mike Matheny, putting a quick end to the retaliatory antics St. Louis began to employ.

Joe Maddon took notice of this, and proceeded to go on an epic rant against his former favorite childhood team. Maddon decried the Cardinals’ reputation for “policing” games, going out of his way to emphasize that the next time the Cubs would get a big lead on St. Louis, he would instruct all of his players who reached base to keep running.

“The next time we do it, we’re going to run,” he said. “I want everybody to know that. I never read that particular book that the Cardinals wrote way back in the day. I was a big Branch Rickey fan, but I never read this book that the Cardinals had written on how to play baseball.”

The first-year Cubs skipper made it clear that the “unwritten rules” had no place in the game.

“[…] That really showed me a lot today in a negative way. I don’t know who put out the hit. I don’t know if Tony Soprano is in the dugout. I didn’t see him in there. But we’re not going to put up with it, from them or anybody else.”

[…]

“We don’t start stuff, but we will stop stuff.”

That’s the way to go. If you have a problem with what the other team is doing, it’s quite simple, really.

Beat them.

That’s the mentality the Cubs have taken over their past three wildly successful seasons, and it hasn’t changed since they won the World Series.

In the most recent Reds-Cubs series, young Cincinnati pitcher Amir Garrett started his first-career game at Wrigley. On the mound, he drew a little “A” in the dirt, something that would be considered in other parks to other teams as a big no-no, an ultimate sign of disrespect worthy of Old Testament-style baseball justice. But instead of throwing at Reds players or Garrett himself, the Cubs pounded the rookie for six runs in four innings en route to a 9-5 victory to complete the three-game sweep.

Teams that handle their business on the scoreboard tend to win more games, more titles, more adoration, etc. Perhaps this means teams should abandon an imaginary set of stuffy axioms and instead focus on the actual game.

That’s real baseball.

Broadcaster Selfie

Adam Cipinko @Cipinko5

 

Championship season hangover?

As the MLB season is quarter of the way over, some are wondering whether the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs are dealing with a championship season hangover. No world series champion has repeated since the 2000 New York Yankees and Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated notes that, in the first 20 games the next season, champions have an average winning percentage of .569. However, when you look at the overall season, that number goes down to .535. In other words, the reigning world series champions winning percentage falls off by 43 points. What could be worrisome for some Cubs fans is that from 2000-2015, 7 of the 16 world series champions have made the playoffs the next season.

However, I am not worried about the Cubs not making the playoffs this year, but there are some concerns that the team will have to address in order to make another long playoff run. Two of their starters, John Lackey and Jake Arrieta both have an ERA of almost 5, and while their team ERA is 3.99, the team ERA was almost a run lower in 2016 (3.15)

Part of this is that Cub pitchers accumulated so many innings in 2016 that they may be going through a ‘dead arm period.’ Arrieta pitched 197.1 innings in 2016, Lackey 188.1, Kyle Hendricks 190 and Jon Lester surpassed 200. Another reason why the Cubs are not where they were last year at this time is that their offseason was cut short. Some of the players did not get much rest over the offseason, all the sudden Christmas comes along and it’s time to work out, plus spring training is only a month and a half away.

The defense is a cause for concern as in 2016, the team’s defensive efficiency rating was at .728. The defensive efficiency rate is the rate in which they turned batted balls into outs, was the highest since the 1991 Chicago White Sox. This year has been a different story as that number has dropped to .680, which is in the bottom 5 in the NL.

The Cubs should feel fortunate because other teams that made the playoffs in 2016 have seen their winning percentage drop. Take the San Francisco Giants, who had a .549 winning percentage in 2016, their winning percentage is well below .500, while the Cubs are slightly above .500.

If you look at recent history of teams that have won 100 games in the regular season, most of them lose in either the division or championship series. Yes winning 103 games like the Cubs did in 2016 looked good, but there are perils. Yes the Cubs made it look easy at times in the regular season last year, but they used a considerable amount of energy to get to the century mark.

Remember back in 2006, that team won 83 games, won the division and yes went on to win it all. There is something to be said to playing pre-playoff games in September and the Cardinals did not clinch a playoff spot until game #161 on October 1. Compare that to the Cubs world series championship, they won the division on September 15. As contradictory as this sounds, I would have preferred the Cubs to go through a stretch where they lost 5 of 6 because it can give the team the sense that despite what we have done, we are not unbeatable in a short series.

If the Cubs are to repeat this season, I would argue that going for 100 plus wins will not work. Furthermore, winning between 92-96 games is where I expect the team to finish and playing meaningful games deep into September is what can help accomplish the goal of winning another world series championship. The Cubs are not going through a hangover, but I am not surprised that they haven’t kept up with the 2016 record and I do not expect them to win 100 games, which may play to their advantage in October.

Ian Happ Should Stay in Chicago

Happy and you Know It

See? Rizzo agrees. 

It’s a small sample size, but the former University of Cincinnati Bearcat has made a fine case for the Cubs to keep him in the majors.  

The Cubs look like they are starting to get things together. After a rough couple of weeks, they’re beginning to faintly resemble the championship club from 2016. A big part of the Cubs’ recent success is their number two prospect, Ian Happ.

Originally drafted as a second baseman, Happ has been cross-trained to become the second coming of Ben Zobrist. The switch-hitting infielder by trade has not once started a game at his natural position since being called up (thanks to the Wizard of Puerto Rico Javy Baez). He debuted in right field and then proceeded to clobber his first MLB hit for a two-run homer off of up-and-coming Cub-killer Carlos Martinez. In his first game at Wrigley Field, Happ homered again, this time sending an outside pitch into the bleachers for an impressive opposite-field dinger. In the same game, he drew a crucial bases-loaded walk and has made a fine defensive play as well.

In just five games, Happ is hitting a solid .353 with two homers, and 4 RBI with an on-base percentage of .500. On top of those numbers, Happ has struck out as many times as he’s walked with five of each. For a 22-year-old, he’s shown tremendous poise at the plate and in the outfield. More importantly, he’s leaps and bounds ahead of where he was just one year ago.

At this time last year, Happ was the everyday second baseman for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the Cubs’ Class-A Advanced affiliate of the Carolina League. The young prospect was hitting a mere .266 with the Pelicans before his club came to Lynchburg, Virginia. I had the chance to witness Happ in person, and he didn’t disappoint. He had a .333 batting average with a triple and 3 RBI in the four-game series against the Hillcats. He started one game in left field and the rest at second base. From the moment I personally watched him, it was apparent to me that the Cubs never planned on letting Happ get too comfortable in the infield. He shagged flies from his coaches in the outfield and practiced defending against runners tagging up on fly balls.

So far in Chicago, Happ has been parlaying those skills he learned in the minors quite nicely. His versatility, coupled with a healthy Ben Zobrist and Happ’s switch-hittting ability, makes it clear in my mind that Happ should stay put. Tommy La Stella is a solid backup infielder, but he can’t match the Pittsburgh native Happ in terms of power and defensive skills.

No one other than Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer knows for sure whether Happ will remain with the big club or go back to Iowa. But if it were my choice, I’d keep him right where he is. He’s certainly earned it.

Broadcaster Selfie

Adam Cipinko @Cipinko5