The Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros had themselves a ridiculous, possibly juiced-baseball-enhanced, slugfest in Game Five of the World Series on Sunday night, which really messed with my sleep patterns and made for a very entertaining set of highlights. In between the Crawford Box homers that are just popups just about everywhere else, and the narrative about Clayton Kershaw‘s mortality in the postseason, there was plenty of unpredictability and stupidity going around Minute Maid Park that it’s difficult to condense it into one or two stories. I’d suggest just doing a Google search and reading whatever comes up, because different bloggers and beat writers have their own incredulous opinion about that game. This one was pretty good, and I’d recommend you take a few minutes to guffaw about it.
There were comparisons to last year’s Game Seven, which, as you know, the Chicago Cubs won to secure a World Series championship (sometimes, people still forget that). My own biases aside, I think you can make an argument for either game depending on the fan base that is doing the judging, the weight of the situation (a pivotal non-clinching game versus the ultimate elimination game) and the number of plays that we can remember from each. It also reminds me that within a few days, the Cubs will no longer be reigning World Series champions (their elimination meant they can’t be defending champions either, obviously), but the future is bright and they’ll hopefully have another opportunity soon.
I want to talk about a few random items that cropped up over the World Series…
The Coaching Shuffle
By now, you all know that Dave Martinez is leaving the Cubs for a very deserved shot at the big chair with the Washington Nationals. Martinez is going to have a loaded roster, one year before Bryce Harper leaves for free agency (and maybe joins the Cubs?), and with a three year deal to give him at least a window to get this version of the Nats past the NLDS. This means that Joe Maddon will need a new bench coach after having Martinez at his side for the past decade. One name being tossed around is David Ross, but I think that is rushing things for the Dancing With the Stars almost-champion and also not necessarily the best choice depending on who else is available. I wouldn’t rule out Ross in the long term, but I feel like the Cubs choose someone else from within the organization or may use their super scouting powers to find someone appropriate to take the job, although he (or perhaps she? You never know!) would never replace Martinez.
The coaching turnover is both surprising yet expected. For Chris Bosio, who survived two managerial changes, it appeared his pitching philosophy no longer gelled with the personnel on the Cubs. If there’s one thing this organization emphasizes, it’s the proper development and management of their most precious resources in the players. For example, Cubs Insider shares a cool video of new hitting coach Chili Davis talking about how he approaches instruction for his hitters. As for new pitching coach Jim Hickey, it’s been pretty clear how instrumental he’s been in developing assets in a small market, such as former Cubs prospect Chris Archer and other intriguing arms that could be trade targets or free agent acquisitions this winter. Given the major holes in the team were exposed in the playoffs this year, it makes sense for the Cubs to try to find a new voice to communicate with their talented young roster. As for the timing:
“I was asked a really awkward question at a tough time, we were in the playoffs and I thought that was really the only way I could respond,” Maddon responded, when asked why he indicated he wanted his staff to stay intact. “I thought that was really the only way I could respond to it because I did not want it to negatively impact the (coaches’) room. That’s it. There’s no other way to describe it.”
Maddon insisted he did not act on his own, that the front office was involved in the decisions.
We will have to wait until the season starts up and goes for a few weeks before seeing if the new coaches have any discernible effect. Such is the way of baseball and narrative.
Something About Thick Skins and Tact
Most of you either saw or heard about the thing that Yuli Gurriel did to mock Yu Darvish. This action earned him a five-game suspension in the 2018 regular season, which I think works fine given the circumstances. The MLB players union is very strong, and would obviously appeal that suspension right away, which would delay the suspension anyway. Also, as Rob Manfred said, the suspension during the playoffs doesn’t carry with it any salary. I think Manfred did what he could without appearing to be unilateral and inconsistent as we have seen with, say, the NFL. Ultimately a punishment was meted out, if not immediately (which I don’t think was practical under the circumstances), and Gurriel will hopefully serve as an example of what not to do in the future.
Another issue deals with the idea of being offensive versus sucking it up and letting things go. In the aftermath of the incident, many people have given their opinions on the subject. Let’s just say that Gurriel made a very poor choice that was designed to be offensive (as he even admitted that he knew it was offensive), Yu Darvish elected not to push the matter because he wanted to be the bigger person (although he would have been justified to react with anger and resentment), and there’s a difference between celebrating with a bat flip and celebrating by putting someone down because of their ethnicity.
As an Asian-American, I have a pretty self-deprecating sense of humor, and I chuckle at dumb crap like this. However, I have also matured to the point that I know what can be offensive, and what jokes will fly with a general audience. I think a little tact can help us communicate more constructively and positively with each other, and avoid misunderstandings even if we only intended to tell a bad joke.
What is Up With Baseball?
As we learn more and more about our favorite sport, we also want it to get better, even if it is fun as it has been played for years. For example, given the advent of new technologies that help us analyze the game better, many of us have been clamoring for robot umpires to call the strike zone (although we know why that won’t happen with existing technologies).
Another thing that we have started to take notice of is the construction of the baseball. In the World Series, both teams have been concerned with, or at least have noted, the different feel of the baseball. We already know that the ball is probably juiced, given that the old steroid-era home run record was shattered this year and how the ball has been flying out of the yard with reckless abandon all postseason (whether or not they were helped by the short porch in Yankee Stadium or the Crawford Boxes, or even Wrigley’s baskets). Now, the pitchers have to contend with a ball that they can’t grip as well and that may be affecting their off-speed offerings.
It is not difficult to see that baseball is more fun with more offense. Home runs are cool. Liners in the gap are cool too. The occasional surprise bunt hit is great, and the annoying bloop single that turns into a triple when it gets past a desperate outfielder makes for a fun highlight. But it seems like, despite the fun we had with Game Five on Sunday night, MLB is playing with the difficulty sliders a bit too liberally, and it might be throwing the game out of whack.
Meanwhile, teams are accepting the new hitting approach, which is to try to launch baseballs into the air where they are more likely to become home runs. After all, the easiest way to score a run is when the fielders can’t even reach the ball. But that leads to a lot of strikeouts and silly swings, which is honestly not that exciting unless the pitcher is going after a perfect game or something.
There has to be a happy medium where we can still celebrate a momentum-shifting home run, while also allowing us to enjoy the opposite field flares and liners into the gap that showcase a player’s speed and baserunning skill. More balls in play means more exciting defensive plays are possible, and that’s the kind of baseball I would hope returns to us when the game corrects itself a bit. Home runs are cool, but too much of anything will make things stale.
It’s just a few days before the end of the World Series and the start of free agency and the offseason. Enjoy the next (hopefully) two games, because we will be missing baseball once it goes into hibernation.