Posted on: October 8, 2010 1:25 am
Edited on: October 8, 2010 1:39 am

A call for more replay -- and less whining

Please, give us more replay.

If only to stop the whining.

Yes, the umpires have made themselves into a huge story in the first two days of this postseason, and that's unfortunate. But the whining about the umpires should be just as big a story, and that's doubly unfortunate.

It would be great if umpires got every call right (not realistic, but great). It would be fine if increased use of replay could help improve the percentage of correct calls (very possible, although it still wouldn't be perfect).

It would be even better if players and managers would understand that most of the time, the responsibility for losing or winning lies with them, and not the umpires.

The guy who has the biggest beef so far is Bobby Cox, whose Braves lost 1-0 to the Giants in a game where the only run scored after a call that replays showed clearly to be incorrect. Buster Posey was out at second base on his fourth-inning steal. I know that, you know that, Buster Posey knows that and even Paul Emmel knows that, now that he's had a chance to see the replay.

And yet Cox, the all-time ejection leader, didn't argue the call. He said after the game that he had a bad angle from the dugout (even Emmel had a bad angle, and he was a lot closer), and that his infielders didn't protest the call.

The Braves, by all accounts, didn't whine about the call. According to Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution , even Brooks Conrad, the second baseman who tagged Posey before he reached the bag, quickly pointed out that the Braves "didn't get the job done offensively."

Good for them, because we've had far too much whining.

Earlier Thursday, Joe Maddon was thrown out of the Rays' 6-0 loss to the Rangers. Ron Gardenhire was thrown out of the Twins' 5-2 loss to the Yankees.

Maddon was upset with a swing/no-swing call on Michael Young, just before Young's home run that helped put the Rays away. Gardenhire was upset with a strike/no-strike call on Lance Berkman, just before Berkman's game-winning double.

Replays shown on television suggested that Maddon and Gardenhire had reason to be upset. But let's remember that no proposed replay system would cover balls and strikes, or check-swings.

No matter what, we'll be reliant on umpires making the right decision. As technology gets better and better, we'll have more and more reason to question those decisions.

It's inevitable that we'll have expanded use of replay, sometime, somehow.

But as even Bobby Cox admitted after a bad call seemingly cost him the game Thursday, replay isn't the total answer.

"Let's leave it the way it is," Cox said. "We would be arguing and throwing flags 10 times a night."

Fans actually love the arguments. Last weekend in Atlanta, during the Cox retirement ceremonies, fans cheered loudest when a Cox argument was shown on the video board. In the game that day, when there was a questionable call, the fans began chanting, "Bobby! Bobby!" even though Cox never appeared on the field.

They love arguments. I can't imagine they love whining.

And unfortunately, this postseason has already had too much whining.

There was even whining after the most memorable game of the postseason so far, Roy Halladay's Wednesday night no-hitter against the Reds. That night, Reds shortstop Orlando Cabrera complained about home-plate umpire John Hirschbeck's strike zone, even though Hirschbeck has always been a pitchers' umpire, and he wasn't any more generous than usual.

But Cabrera seemed to be on his own. The whining Thursday was worse.

The Rays, who embarrassed themselves by the way they played in two home losses to the Rangers, embarrassed themselves further by seeming to place the blame Thursday on the umpires. Maddon's tirade was bad enough, but the display later by catcher Kelly Shoppach was totally uncalled for.

As for Gardenhire, his problems with umpire Hunter Wendelstedt go back years, as colleague Scott Miller pointed out . It wasn't a great idea to assign Wendelstedt to a Twins playoff series.

The Rays aren't down two games to none because of bad umpiring, or a lack of replay. The Twins aren't down two games to none to the Yankees because of bad umpiring, or a lack of replay.

Roy Halladay didn't throw a no-hitter because of bad umpiring.

And even the Braves, who watched the Giants' lone run score after a seemingly bad call by an umpire, never scored a run themselves.

It was a bad call. I get that.

Some expanded replay would help. I get that.

But replay or no replay, there will be calls that don't go your way.

Can we stop whining about it?

Posted on: October 8, 2010 12:29 am

If not for Halladay, Lincecum would be the best

Imagine if Roy Halladay hadn't thrown a no-hitter Wednesday.

Imagine if somehow Halladay had stayed in the American League.

If he had, would there be any question that Tim Lincecum was the best pitcher in the National League?

It's not fair to compare anything to what Halladay did Wednesday against the Reds. It's not fair to compare the Reds, the highest-scoring team in the NL, to the Braves, who simply aren't a good offensive team with Chipper Jones and Martin Prado both hurt.

But if Halladay's postseason debut Wednesday was the standard, it's hard to say that Lincecum's postseason debut Thursday was that much worse.

A shutout. Two hits. And 14 strikeouts.

Yes, it's true, the Giants' 1-0 win was dependent on yet another questionable call by an umpire, when Buster Posey seemed to be out at second base but was called safe by Paul Emmel. Yes, even with that bad call, the Giants wouldn't have scored if the Braves were even average defensively, if Omar Infante had been able to stop what seemed to be a routine ground ball from Cody Ross.

But that shouldn't take away from what Lincecum did.

He gave up an Omar Infante double on his fifth pitch of the night. He gave up Brian McCann's double in the seventh inning. He wasn't Halladay-dominant.

But seriously, if we hadn't just watched Halladay on Wednesday, wouldn't we be saying that Lincecum's performance Thursday was one of the best postseason efforts we'd ever seen?

And aren't all of us, except for fans of the Reds and the Braves, now hoping for a Giants-Phillies National League Championship Series, with Halladay facing Lincecum in an all-Cy Young Game 1?

Two days in, one theme of these playoffs is the same one we had last year, which is the missed calls by the umpires. They had another bad day Thursday, helping to lead to ejections of Rays manager Joe Maddon and Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. If there was an upset Thursday, it was that the most significant missed call Thursday, the one on Posey's fourth-inning steal, didn't bring Bobby Cox out of the dugout to argue.

Cox said he didn't have a good angle from the dugout, and since his infielders didn't protest, neither did he.

Besides, even if the Giants hadn't scored then, you'd think they would have scored sometime. And as long as Lincecum stayed in the game, there wasn't much chance of the Braves getting a run.

"Everything just went where it was supposed to," Lincecum told TBS' Tom Verducci after the game.

Posted on: October 3, 2010 5:46 pm
Edited on: October 3, 2010 5:59 pm

Braves, Pads, Giants roll with the changes

ATLANTA -- When this run started for Bobby Cox and the Braves, they stood on the infield grass at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, watching a game from Candlestick Park.

And when the Giants beat the Dodgers, the 1991 Braves were division champions.

So here Cox and the Braves are this afternoon, at Turner Field, watching a game from AT&T Park, hoping that another Giants win -- this time over the Padres -- will put them in the 2010 postseason as the National League's wild-card team.

And REO Speedwagon is on the infield dirt.

Memories of the '90s. Memories of the '80s.

And all the while we're still trying to figure out who will be in the playoffs now.

As Sunday afternoon turned into evening, the Braves were in their clubhouse, waiting to see whether they could spray champagne as a true playoff entrant, or whether they'd be in a three-way tie with the Padres and Giants, necessitating a Tuesday late-afternoon play-in game in Atlanta.

"We'd rather do it tonight," Cox said, after the Braves' 8-7 win over the Phillies. "All right, keep your fingers crossed."

Or listen to REO Speedwagon, as a few thousand fans did. Meanwhile, the Padres and Giants played on, on a small screen in left field.

"People might be cheering, and they won't know why," Braves general manager Frank Wren said as the concert began. "They'll think, 'This wasn't even one of our hits.'"

UPDATE: The concert is over, and the Padres and Giants are on the big screen at Turner Field -- and 80 percent of the concert crowd has left the building. The few people remaining are cheering the Giants.
Category: MLB
Tags: Braves, Giants, Padres
Posted on: October 3, 2010 12:28 pm
Edited on: October 3, 2010 12:42 pm

Bobby Cox managing right to the end

ATLANTA -- On what could be the final day of a 29-year career as a big-league manager, Bobby Cox made a big but typical decision.

For today's final scheduled regular-season game against the Phillies, Cox flip-flopped his second and third baseman, putting Omar Infante at third and moving Brooks Conrad to second. Conrad, the Braves' third-choice third baseman (both Chipper Jones and Martin Prado are hurt), committed key errors that led to the Braves' losses to the Phillies on Friday and Saturday.

Cox, typically, expressed sympathy for Conrad, and admitted he made the switch in an attempt to take pressure off him.

"I don't think he's slept in two days," Cox said. Then, thinking back to his own playing career, he added, "I used to throw them away. I threw one away in Detroit that cost us a game. I was the last guy in the dugout. Jim Hegan came in and put his arm around me."

According to baseball-reference.com, Conrad played 915 games at second base in his minor-league career, compared to 76 games at third base. Infante has played 100 career (major-league) games at third base, compared to 340 at second base.

Posted on: October 1, 2010 6:12 pm

Manuel: I'll play to win vs. Braves

ATLANTA -- No one expects the Phillies to pitch Roy Halladay this weekend, messing up their plans to start him in Game 1 of the playoffs. No one expects the Phillies to do anything that would jeopardize their chance of going back to the World Series.

But if the Padres were worried about how hard the Phillies would try to win this weekend against the Braves, Phils manager Charlie Manuel said Friday that they shouldn't be.

When someone suggested to Manuel that the Phillies could make it harder for the Braves to make the playoffs, he said, "That's kind of what we plan on doing. We're here playing to win. That's why you play the game."

Manuel didn't guarantee that he'll play all of his starters for full games, but he put every available starter in the lineup for Friday's opener. Third baseman Placido Polanco had an injection in his elbow this week, and center fielder Shane Victorino was away for the birth of his child.

"Some of them will play all nine," Manuel said. "We're going to put a lineup on the field capable of winning."

He hopes that Padres manager Bud Black, whose team is two games behind the Braves in the wild-card race, will think the same thing.

"I want him to say that we put a competitive team on the field," Manuel said.

The Phillies are starting Kyle Kendrick, their regular fifth starter, on Friday. They'll use Vance Worley, who pitched most of this year in the minor leagues, on Saturday. Cole Hamels will start Sunday, and while he's only expected to go three innings or so, Roy Oswalt may follow him.

One Phillie who will see plenty of time this weekend is shortstop Jimmy Rollins, just back from a hamstring injury.

"He needs at-bats," Manuel said.

Posted on: September 30, 2010 10:27 pm
Edited on: September 30, 2010 10:44 pm

3 to watch: The Hoping for 163 edition

The best game of the postseason last year wasn't officially a postseason game.

It was Game 163, Tigers at Twins, and by baseball rules it was a regular-season game.

But it sure did have a playoff feel, and it was great.

In an October/November where none of the seven official postseason series went to a final, winner-take-all final game, Game 163 was as good as it got. And it was plenty good, a 6-5, 12-inning Twins win that even the Tigers acknowledged as maybe the best game they'd ever played in.

We've had a Game 163 each of the last three years, and they've all been great ones. It was Matt Holliday scoring in the 13th inning for the Rockies against the Padres in 2007 (was he really safe?). It was Jim Thome homering off Nick Blackburn for a 1-0 White Sox win over the Twins in 2008.

And it was an Alexei Casilla single off Fernando Rodney (pitching his fourth inning), after home-plate umpire Randy Marsh missed Brandon Inge getting hit by a pitch in the top of the 12th.

So what are the chances we get a Game 163 this year?

Not too good, from the looks of things going into the final weekend. The Giants lead the Padres by three games in the National League West, which means the Padres would need to sweep this weekend's series at AT&T Park to force Game 163.

The Braves lead the Padres by two games in the NL wild-card race, which means the only chance of Game 163 in Atlanta would be if the Padres win two of three and the Braves lose two of three.

Or, if the Braves lose two of three and the Padres sweep, you'd have a three-way tie for the wild card/NL West and a pair of one-game play-in games.

Unlikely possibilities, all of them, and disappointing for neutrals, especially since as recently as Sunday night, the Giants, Braves and Padres were separated by just one game.

So what do we do? We settle for a final weekend with plenty still on the line, and then we hope for a great October (and early November).

A few things to watch for this weekend, besides the Padres, Giants and Braves:

-- The seeding race. The Rays have the tiebreaker against the Yankees (by winning the season series), so they enter the weekend with a magic number of three to clinch the American League East. The winner in the East hosts the Rangers, while the loser in the East is the wild card and goes to Minnesota. The Rays also had a magic number of three to clinch the AL's best record, and home field in a possible second-round matchup with the Twins.

In the NL, the Phillies have already clinched the best record, but this weekend will determine the first-round matchups, and home-field for the other two division winners.

-- The awards race. Buster Posey's big home run Thursday (and his big September overall) had to make an impact with voters in the toughest NL Rookie of the Year race in years, and the toughest of the major award races this year. It might come down to who has the best weekend between Posey and Jason Heyward, although Florida's Gaby Sanchez also deserves consideration.

-- The playoff questions. Yankee fans worried about their rotation will watch closely to see how Andy Pettitte and A.J. Burnett pitch on Friday and Saturday against the Red Sox. Ranger fans worried about their lineup will watch closely to see how Josh Hamilton looks, assuming he's able to return to the lineup as scheduled on Friday against the Angels. Phillie fans will keep an eye on Jimmy Rollins, who is 1-for-8 in his first three games back from a hamstring injury.

-- The Pirates. Their road record is 16-62, which is historically bad. How bad? Well, in the era of the 162-game schedule, the fewest road wins any team has had are 17, by the 1963 Mets, followed by 18, by the 1962 Mets. The Pirates are in Florida this weekend, with three games to go.

On to 3 to watch:

1. The Giants are one of the hottest teams in baseball, with eight wins in their last 10 games and an 18-8 record in September. The Padres are one of the coldest, with four losses in the last five games and a 12-22 record over the last month-plus. The Giants pitching was amazing in September, with a 1.78 team ERA. The Padres offense has been shaky all year and awful recently, with 81 runs in 28 games in September (28th among the 30 major-league teams). Now the Padres need to sweep this weekend's three games, starting with Padres at Giants, Friday night (10:15 ET) at AT&T Park . Their opponent Friday is Matt Cain, who has given up two runs in his last 22 innings.

2. The Braves chose Saturday to honor Bobby Cox, who is retiring at the end of this season. With a magic number of two, the Braves could clinch Cox's record 16th playoff appearance as soon as Friday night. But it wouldn't be bad if the clinch comes Saturday, when the Braves and Padres will play at the same time. Tommy Hanson, the Braves' best starter of late, will go in Phillies at Braves, Saturday afternoon (4:10 ET) at Turner Field .

3. As unlikely as it is, we're still holding out hope for Game 163. So save time on Monday. Just make sure you've got something else to do if it doesn't happen.

Posted on: September 28, 2010 8:04 pm
Edited on: September 28, 2010 8:08 pm

Prado out for the year

Braves third baseman Martin Prado is out for the year, the team announced tonight.

Prado suffered a hip pointer in the Braves' win over the Marlins Monday, and the Braves said via Twitter that Prado has a hip pointer and a torn oblique muscle. Doctors said he will need two months' total rest, but will be ready for spring training.

Prado is tied for six in the National League batting race, with a .307 average. He has been hitting third for the Braves this month.

Brooks Conrad, a 30-year-old journeyman who entered play tonight batting .239, started at third base in tonight's game against the Marlins. The Braves also have Troy Glaus, but they haven't felt comfortable playing him at third.
Category: MLB
Posted on: September 26, 2010 9:35 pm

3 to watch: The Fitting three into two edition

As Bruce Bochy walked out to the field for batting practice Sunday, he turned back with a message.

"Kansas City, 1," the Giants manager said. "See, I'm watching the scoreboard."

For four more days, Bochy will keep watching, and not to see if the Royals score another run. For four more days, the Giants and Padres and Braves will eye each other from a distance, knowing that all three teams remain very much alive and that only two playoff spots can be divided among them.

It's really that simple now in the National League. The Phillies are in, and the Reds are basically in, too. The Rockies, it now seems certain, are out.

So among the Giants, Padres and Braves, the teams that end up with the two best records will make it. The team that ends up worst among those three won't.

As the week begins, Bochy's Giants have the advantage, holding a half-game lead over the Padres (and thus holding first place in the NL West) and holding a one-game lead over the Braves (who trail the Padres by half a game in the wild-card race).

The Braves have other advantages, mostly because the Padres and Giants meet at the end of the week (meaning that for the last three days of the season, one or the other them has to lose), but also because their final three games are against the Phillies, who by then will no doubt have officially clinched the NL East crown and will be more focused on preparing for the playoffs than on beating the Braves.

But the Braves have other issues, mainly that they're not playing nearly as well as the Giants or Padres are right now.

In any case, it should be a fun week for everyone, at least until one of the three teams gets knocked out.

"Intense," Giants outfielder Cody Ross said. "This is as much fun as I've ever had playing baseball."

On to 3 to watch:

1. The Braves have their final six games at home, where their 52-23 record is the best in the majors. That much we know. Now, if we only knew who was going to pitch. The Braves told reporters Sunday in Washington that Jair Jurrjens may get a shot in his sore knee Monday, in hopes that the pain will let up enough that he can start a game for the first time since Sept. 14. There's been some thought that Jurrjens could return for Marlins at Braves, Tuesday night (7:10 ET) at Turner Field , but the Braves also said that they've considered bringing Tim Hudson back on three days' rest to make that start. If Jurrjens can't go, and if manager Bobby Cox doesn't want to use both Hudson and Derek Lowe on short rest, the other option would be to use rookie Mike Minor, who seems to have hit a wall and is 0-2 with a 9.37 ERA in four starts this month.

2. The Padres have rotation questions of their own, and the biggest one is how Mat Latos will do. Latos has been San Diego's top starter all year, but in his last three starts he's 0-3 with a 13.94 ERA, and has lasted a total of just 10 1/3 innings. Latos faces Ryan Dempster in Cubs at Padres, Tuesday night (10:05 ET) at Petco Park . The way the Padres' rotation sets up, Latos would also start the final game of the season, Sunday in San Francisco.

3. So how about the Giants? They have Monday off, and that leaves them with the question of whether to pitch Tim Lincecum on his normal day, in Diamondbacks at Giants, Thursday afternoon (3:45 ET) at AT&T Park . The other option would be to pitch Barry Zito Thursday on normal rest, and save Lincecum for the first head-to-head game with the Giants on Friday night. Bochy said Sunday that such a plan hasn't yet been discussed, but he added that they will "talk about the club and any changes" on Monday. As of now, the pitching matchups for the series with the Padres would be Zito vs. Clayton Richard on Friday, Matt Cain vs. Tim Stauffer on Saturday and Jonathan Sanchez vs. Latos on Sunday.
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