After the shenanigans from Jose Urena on Wednesday, it was a less eventful day on Thursday across the majors ...
Dr. Feelgood: Thankfully, Ronald Acuna Jr. was back in the lineup for the Braves after Urena plunked him in the elbow. He didn't hit another home run, but Acuna did go 1-for-4 after leading off the game with a base hit. While Acuna was feeling better than the night before, he wasn't feeling as good as the Rockies were after they rallied for three runs in the top of the ninth to pull out a 5-3, come-from-behind victory.
The rally started thanks to Dansby Swanson's error, and Brad Brach walked Gerardo Parra for a second free baserunner, thank you very much. Ryan McMahon's RBI single tied it up, and David Dahl's two-run single was the winner. DJ LeMahieu's leaping grab ended it as Wade Davis got the save:
The Rockies have been playing a lot of tense, exciting baseball this month; they had those back-to-back walk-off wins over the Dodgers last weekend after suffering back-to-back walk-off losses earlier in the month. The offense has struggled in August, averaging just 3.5 runs per game while hitting .224/.294/.362, which is why McMahon and Dahl are so important to the Rockies' playoff push.
Dahl, who homered earlier in the game, played center and hit leadoff on Thursday as Charlie Blackmon got the day off. Dahl has started 10 of 11 games since returning from the disabled list on Aug. 5. He has been injured so often in his career that it is hard to know what to expect from him, but his performance as a rookie back in 2016 -- when he hit .315/.359/.500 in 63 games -- suggests that he is certainly the better bet than Parra as the team's everyday left fielder down the stretch.
McMahon entered the season with a lot of hype after a big season in the minors in 2017, but he got off to a terrible start in April in a part-time role and earned a ticket back to Albuquerque. He has hit .300/.417/.567 in 36 plate appearances in August. At the very least, manager Bud Black should consider a platoon with Ian Desmond, who is back in the midst of another deep slump.
Dahl and McMahon are viewed as key parts of the Rockies' future, but their performance in the present might help dictate whether the Rockies return to October.
Chain of fools: Urena received a six-game suspension for hitting Acuna -- a suspension that feels a little light given the context. Baseball has made some positive rule changes in recent seasons with the mindset of protecting players, trying to eliminate unnecessary collisions at home plate and ridiculous takeout slides at second base. You can't set a rule against pitching inside, so the only course of action is stiff penalties for actions like Urena's that involve no secondary incident other than Acuna killing your team with home runs.
All a six-game suspension does is push back Urena's next start a day or two. He should have received at least a 10-game suspension so he's actually forced to miss a start. You have to make him pay for this type of nonsense. The sport shouldn't put a rising star like Acuna at risk -- or any player for that matter -- simply because some journeyman pitcher is trying to prove he's Mr. Tough Guy.
By the way, for the talk that old-timers like to make about "this is how you play the game" -- Mets broadcaster Keith Hernandez actually applauded Urena's action -- note that hit-by-pitch totals are at an all-time high of 0.40 per team per game. That's more than double the rate it was in the 1980s, when Hernandez was playing. Maybe they weren't always throwing at hitters back in the day.
Ever-changin' times: On Thursday, Sam Miller wrote a piece on the position-player pitching phenomenon that has become a staple of blowout games this season. As he pointed out, from 1992 to 2006 there were 58 position-player pitching appearances. This year, there have been 54.
Make it 56 now, because the Phillies used Roman Quinn and Scott Kingery in a 24-4 loss to the Mets in the first game of a doubleheader. (The Phillies won the nightcap.) The two combined to give up nine runs in three innings, helping the Mets set a franchise record for runs scored; although give the Mets credit for a 10-run inning that came before Quinn or Kingery pitched. The Mets also became the first team to score 40 runs in a two-game span since the 1953 Red Sox (via Elias).
We'd say this is the icing on the cake of a 10-run inning.— New York Mets (@Mets) August 16, 2018
But this is way more delicious than icing. pic.twitter.com/qQzkTWUGdQ
One thought I had after this contest was how much these games are skewing some of the stats we look at, such as run differential. The Phillies are plus-14 on the season -- but they're minus-11 when comparing their position players' pitching (14 runs allowed) versus the runs they've scored against position players (three, on Trevor Plouffe's walk-off home run). The Mets have scored nine runs off position players (all on Thursday) and allowed six. (Thanks to Sarah Langs for research help.)
OK, maybe it's not a big deal, but I do wonder if baseball needs a mercy rule. When a team reverts to position-player pitching, it's waving a white flag (unless it comes in an extra-inning game when a team has run out of pitchers). It's giving up. If you're giving up, should the rest of the game be played? I know, it probably won't happen, if only to keep fans going to the concession stands.
Another consideration: On doubleheader days, what about seven-inning games? The Phillies got in this predicament in part because Vince Velasquez lasted just 2⅓ innings on Wednesday as manager Gabe Kapler burned through his bullpen in a win over the Red Sox. Given how careful teams are with pitchers, maybe playing 18 innings in one day is too much for today's game (even with the 26th player added for doubleheaders). I don't know if I agree with either idea here; just throwing a couple out there. But it does seem silly to finish off a 24-4 game with position players going the final nine outs.
Respect: Give the Tampa Bay Rays credit. They have nobody hitting .300. They've had only two players with at least 10 home runs, and one of them now plays for the Phillies. Nobody has 60 RBIs. They've stuck with the funky reliever-as-starter routine. They've traded away their Opening Day starter and closer. Their best position player in recent seasons has played just 56 games and hit .180.
They do have one star, however, in lefty Blake Snell, who handcuffed the Yankees on Thursday with five scoreless innings in a 3-1 victory at Yankee Stadium, improving his record to 14-5 and lowering his ERA to 2.10, second in the American League to Chris Sale's 1.97 mark. The Rays took two of three from the Yankees and ran their record to 62-59.
They're not chasing a playoff spot or anything, but with the injuries to their starting rotation, this is a season that could have gotten away from the Rays and turned into a disaster. Instead, they've played respectable baseball and hung tough, including an 8-7 record against the Yankees.
The interesting part of Thursday's game came in the bottom of the ninth, when the Yankees loaded the bases with no outs against Sergio Romo. With two lefties due up for the Yankees, Rays manager Kevin Cash turned to rookie southpaw Adam Kolarek, a sidearmer with low-90s velocity. That's the kind of pitcher who usually has a big platoon split; although Kolarek doesn't have one so far in his brief major league career, right-handed batters had an OPS nearly 250 points higher in Triple-A.
Aaron Boone might have considered pinch-hitting for Greg Bird or Brett Gardner, but on this day, the Yankees rostered 13 pitchers and just 12 position players -- and Boone already had used Gardner and backup catcher Austin Romine off the bench.
That left reserve infielder Ronald Torreyes as the only sub, so Boone let Bird and Gardner hit. Bird fouled out to third base (and received a hearty Bronx cheer), Gardner feebly struck out and Romine fanned to end it.
This is a negative side effect of these large bullpens: The thin bench leaves a manager with few pinch-hitting options. Plus, since teams have to carry so many pitchers on the 40-man roster, front offices have limited position-player options anyway. With Aaron Judge and Clint Frazier sidelined, the Yankees started Shane Robinson, a guy with a career .223/.292/.295 line in the majors.
The Yankees fell to 7-9 in August. While their wild-card spot isn't yet in serious jeopardy (5.5 games over Seattle), they've become a team you simply respect more than fear these days.
Ain't no way: Some triple plays are cooler than others. Jurickson Profar started one for the Rangers, just the third 5-4 triple play since 1961:
Can't. Stop. Watching. pic.twitter.com/FV1WApLpqA— Texas Rangers (@Rangers) August 17, 2018
Profar also homered in the 8-6 win. So did Kole Calhoun for the Angels. That's 16 home runs for Calhoun since returning from an oblique strain on June 18 -- most in the AL and third most in the majors during that time frame.
Spirit in the dark: Larry Herbst was the biggest Yankees fan I've known. He once told me the three greatest Yankees he ever saw play were Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Alex Rodriguez (that didn't mean he was a big fan of A-Rod). Larry would know; he saw them all play and still watched the team every day on TV, even at 97 years old. The first time I met him, he dug out an old scrapbook of World Series newspaper clippings on the Yankees that he had saved from the 1930s.
In his office at his Long Island home, he made sure to show me another old clipping the family had framed about the time his father, Andy Herbst, pitched all 24 innings for New Haven in a minor league game in 1909. Larry was a pretty fair pitcher himself, a semipro legend on Long Island, good enough to get his own article when he retired from the amateur ranks back in the 1950s (if I remember correctly, the article mentioned he had a great curveball). He also served in the Navy during World War II and raised a family in a house he bought after the war -- and still lived in until he moved into a care facility (where he still watched the Yankees).
Larry was buried on Thursday. We lost a good one.