Fringe benefits

New York Mets

Noah Syndergaard, giving J.D. Davis a high sign after Davis’s staggering fourth-inning catch Thursday night. Syndergaard had two answers for Tribal trolling . . .

It seems like ancient history to talk about it now. But once upon a time there was no social media for baseball people to troll each other. They had to settle for trolling by way of print or broadcast interviews. But they still learned the hard way that the flip side to “don’t feed the trolls” is “don’t poke the bear.”

David Cone ignored it at his peril during the 1988 National League Championship Series. The Indians ignored it to their peril Thursday.

Writing a (presumably ghosted) running NLCS commentary for the New York Daily News, Cone started tripping the Dodgers’ triggers when he said the Dodgers’ Game One starter, Orel Hershiser, “was lucky for eight innings.” Actually, eight and a third: Hershiser surrendered Darryl Strawberry’s one-out RBI single, pulling the Mets back to within a run.

But then Cone teed off on Dodgers’ closer Jay Howell.”We saw Howell throwing curveball after curveball,” Cone went on to write, “and we were thinking: This is the Dodgers’ idea of a stopper? Our idea is Randy [Myers], a guy who can blow you away with his heat. Seeing Howell and his curveball reminded us of a high school pitcher.”

Myers did bring heat and lots of it, never mind that he retired the Dodgers in order in the bottom of the ninth on a line out, a ground out, and a pop fly out, to save the 3-2 win. It was nothing compared to the Dodgers chasing Cone early in Game Two with five runs in two innings, en route a seven-game Dodgers triumph.

You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit in the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger, and you don’t mess around with the team that’s trying to pin your ears back in either a pennant race or in a League Championship Series. It’s to shudder what would have happened if Cone had teed off on Hershiser and Howell while that NLCS was played in the Internet social media era.

Cone learned the hard way in 1988. (It’s a shame Gene Garber wasn’t there to remind him of the uses of breaking ball-heavy relief pitchers, considering Garber’s breaking repertoire put an end to Pete Rose’s 44-game hitting streak a decade earlier.) So did the Indians Thursday night.

For a team that once had Hershiser on its own pitching staff (1995-1997) and went to a pair of World Series with him, the Indians didn’t exactly have a sense of trolling history when their social media people went off on the Mets Thursday afternoon. And it’s not brilliant to think about trolling a team that just took the first two of a three-game set from you, in their playpen or otherwise.

It’s a long season. We didn’t erase an 11.5-game deficit to roll over,” came the tweet from the Indians Thursday midday. “We split a series with one of the best teams in MLB at their home ballpark. We lost the last 2 to a fringe postseason team. We understand your frustration. Get it out here, but let’s renew the perspective.”

Noah Syndergaard, the Mets’ scheduled Thursday night starter, didn’t just feed the Tribal trolls, he cleaned, stuffed, and mounted them.

First, he he pinned the Indians’ ears back with six and a third perfect innings en route a rain-delayed, rain-short-ended Mets win, 2-0. Then, he replied with his own tweet: “We got some FRINGE for you right here, we call it a SWEEP in NYC. #LFGM.”

Leaning away from his customary pure power game and throwing as much of an array of off-speed breakers and changers as heat, Syndergaard was on such a roll, even after he turned aside first and second on a pair of singles in the sixth, that the only thing that could have stopped him was the two-hour plus rain delay that struck in the bottom of the sixth.

Married to whipping winds around the park, the rain which began about an inning earlier finally prompted the umpires to pull the teams off the field, as Mets catcher Wilson Ramos was at the plate with two outs and Michael Conforto aboard with a base hit. The winds were fierce enough that the Citi Field grounds crew needed to pin the tarp to the infield themselves until the weights could be brought out to hold it.

The Indians were pretty brassy to think about trolling a team who’d beaten them on their own fielding lapse Tuesday night and bludgeoned their bullpen to win the night before. But their rookie righthanded starter Aaron Civale was actually close to Syndergaard’s effectiveness—his only blemish hitting Pete Alonso with a pitch in the first—until he ran into trouble in the bottom of the fourth.

That’s when Joe Panik, a late Mets acquisition after his release by the Giants and very effective as a Met since, opened with a line single to right. One out later Conforto high-hopped a ground rule double over the high side fence down near the end of the left field line, before Ramos extended his hitting streak to sixteen games with a clean two-run double down the right field line.

The Indians even got sloppy in the field again Wednesday night, with the lone saving grace being that this time it didn’t cost them a ball game.

After play resumed and Mets reliever Jeurys Familia worked a scoreless seventh, Mets third baseman Todd Frazier grounded weakly up the first base line. Indians reliever Tyler Clippard, himself a former Met, fielded but threw the ball straight over first baseman Carlos Santana’s head.

The ball sailed into foul territory near the seats as Frazier rounded first and neared second, as right fielder Yasiel Puig scampered in to retrieve the ball. As Frazier rounded second Puig—whose arm is powerful but not always calibrated properly—threw across to third and right past the pad as Frazier arrived safely.

Clippard’s mistake might have been snaring the ball with his glove before getting a less than firm grip with his throwing hand. A barehanded grab might have put the ball into a better grip and he might not have sailed it above Santana’s attic.

The Tribe was lucky they had Tyler Naquin—who ended Syndergaard’s brief perfect game bid with a one-out single in the sixth—catching Ramos’s arcing line drive in perfect position to throw Frazier out at the plate by three feet. Consider it a small payback for what Mets left fielder J.D. Davis did to them in the fourth.

With one out, Indians center fielder Greg Allen sent one that looked like it was going for extra bases until Davis, on his thoroughbred running back on an angle to his left, extended his glove and made a Willie Mays-like one-handed, over-the-shoulder, slightly over his head basket catch. The Citi Field ovation was so thunderous Davis had to tip his cap under it.

“Just a crazy catch,” Davis told reporters after the game. “I don’t know how to describe it.”

The Indians thought they knew how to describe the Mets before the game. Except that the Mets are now 12-5 lifetime against the Indians in interleague play. And while the Indians did yank themselves back from the dead, once as far as eleven and a half back of the Twins in the American League Central, the Mets didn’t exactly yank themselves back from a little slump, either.

The lowest point for the Indians this season? Eleven and a half behind the Twins on 2 June. The lowest for the Mets? Fourteen and a half out of first in the National League East on 14 July. Low enough and tattered enough, it seemed, that the trade deadline run-up was almost dominated by speculation as to whether Syndergaard himself, or Zack Wheeler, would change addresses on or before the deadline.

Since the All-Star break? The Indians: 24-16. The Mets: 27-10. And even if interleague play continues making hash of pennant races, the Mets play in a far more tough division. Now the fringe contender is also only a game and a half out for the second National League wild card and nine out in the East.

And they also have a far tougher schedule the rest of the season. Except for another pair of sets with the Twins and one each with the Phillies and (ending the regular season, strangely enough) the Nationals, the Indians get a lot more bottom-dwelling competition the rest of the way than the Mets.

The fringe contenders just swept the Indians in three, helping to put or keep them three and a half behind the still AL Central-leading Twins, and leaving the Indians with a 2-5 record for their now-finished New York trip. The best thing about the trip was the Indians not having to change hotel reservations to meet the Yankees and the Mets.

Let us renew the perspective indeed.

 

 

The Mets re-heat to burn the Indians

2019-08-21 JDDavisWilsonRamos

J.D. Davis and Wilson Ramos bump the forearms after Davis’s two-run homer in the bottom of the second gives the Mets their first lead in a 9-2 win against the AL wild card-leading Indians Tuesday night.

Five days ago, the Mets were something of a wreck. Looking more like their earlier season selves than their post All-Star break juggernaut.

They lost a pair to the National League East-leading Braves that they could have won, then they beat the Braves despite seeming to do everything in their power to snatch defeat from the jaws of a blowout.

Then they took two out of three in Kansas City from the American League Central’s rebuilding Royals, nothing remotely close to the Royals who beat them in a World Series they could have won but for porous defense.

But there was still that little matter of coming home with the Indians due for a visit. The Mets’ rounds with the big boys weren’t over yet. Opening Tuesday night, the Mets began a set between baseball’s two hottest post All-Star teams. Making it arguably even up in import to the set they blew in Atlanta last week.

The pre-break Mess, risen from the dead. The pre-break Indians, yanking themselves from an injury, inconsistency, and once in awhile indifferent wreck to put a near-end to the juggernaut from Minnesota that’s proving you can’t always just bludgeon your way to the top and keep as much as an eleven-and-a-half-game distance in front.

The Mets suddenly re-resembled a group of crisis junkies whose apparent such addiction didn’t stop them from taking a set against the Nationals but threatened to wreck them against the Braves last week, before re-charging in Kansas City. The Indians finished pulling themselves all the way back to the AL Central’s penthouse. The Tribe even claimed first place for a couple of days and still sit only a couple of games behind the Twins in their division.

And they entered Citi Field Tuesday on an extended New York trip. After taking three out of four from the Twins but losing two out of three to the somewhat rickety Red Sox, the Indians split a set with the Yankees in the south Bronx before opening against the Mets. This may be the first time in the interleague play era that the Indians didn’t have to switch up their hotel reservations after finishing a visit to one team before starting the next one.

And with a little side intrigue involving Mets manager Mickey Callaway—once embattled, now looking somewhat more secure—compelled to try out-thinking and out-maneuvering his former boss, Indians manager Terry Francona, the Mets did something last week’s Atlanta excursion might have left people thinking was two things, difficult and impossible.

They beat the Indians 9-2 Tuesday night. They took the lead twice, and the second time they didn’t let the Tribe even think about trying to re-tie or overtake them by the time Mets reliever Paul Sewald—whose career has been described as up and down when observers have wished to be polite—struck out Greg Allen and Tyler Naquin back-to-back to end it.

It didn’t faze Mets starter Steven Matz when Jason Kipnis sent a hanging changeup over the right center field fence with two out in the top of the second. He still scattered five hits and a pair of walks otherwise while striking out seven in six and a thirds innings and outpitched Shane Bieber, whose striking out of the side before the home audience nailed him the All-Star Game’s MVP over a month ago.

And well it shouldn’t have fazed Matz because J.D. Davis had an answer for Kipnis in the bottom of the second. With Mets catcher Wilson Ramos aboard on a one-out base hit right up the pipe, Davis caught hold of a 1-0 Bieber slider down the pipe and sent it over the center field fence, right past the big housing for the big red apple that rises whenever a Met hits one out at home, a holdover from the ten-years-gone Shea Stadium.

“The scouting report was to attack him early,” Davis said after the game. “He threw strikes early in the count, and in that at-bat, I was aggressive with the 0-0 fastball. Then he went to the off-speed pitch, and we got him. I think that was his first time out of the stretch, and he left one over the plate.”

A throwing error by Mets third baseman Todd Frazier opened the Cleveland fourth with Yasiel Puig on first. He got as far as second when Jose Ramirez followed with a base hit before coming home on Kipnis’s single up the pipe to tie things at two. Then Matz contained the damage by getting a fly out, an infield force, and dropping strike three in on Bieber, whose hitting experience was limited to one walk and one base hit in a mere eight trips to the plate entering Tuesday.

Two three-up, three-down innings for each pitcher later, the Indians learned the hard way what happens when you make even the tiniest mistake against these Mets. With one out in the bottom of the sixth, left fielder Oscar Mercado had a perfect bead drawn on Mets second baseman Joe Panik’s opposite-field fly. That despite shortstop Francisco Lindor looking likewise before Mercado called him off.

Against the railing, the ball descended into and right out of Mercado’s glove in an instant. A fan may or may not have interfered with the play. Francona elected not to challenge it because, as he put it, “It was really iffy.” The fan was ejected from Citi Field post haste.

A center fielder ordinarily, Mercado didn’t try to excuse himself, either. “I just dropped it,” said Mercado after the game. “I thought I had it just like with every other flyball I’ve caught in my life, but it just popped out of my glove.” After Pete Alonso struck out looking at one that barely hit the low outside corner, there was nothing iffy about Michael Conforto popping Bieber’s 1-2 slider almost exactly into the same spot where Kipnis’s second-inning blast landed.

“I feel like that swung the whole momentum of the game,” Bieber said after the game. “If I make a better pitch there, we probably have a different result.”

“We’ve had a feeling over this run that we’ve been on that we might not get them the first time through the order,” said Conforto, mindful of how good Bieber has been overall this year, “but our lineup has been so good, our hitters have been able to figure out ways to get on base, figure out ways to get runs in.

“We just feel that regardless of who is pitching, we’re going to put a lot of runs on the board. Any time the defense gives us an opportunity like that, we have to take advantage of it, so that was huge.”

All the Mets have to do in concert with that is keep from giving the other guys even remotely comparable opportunities. While taking advantage of every gift from every bullpen bull they can handle.

With both starters out of the game by the bottom of the seventh, the Mets got even more playful with the Indians’ bullpen in that inning. They introduced themselves to Adam Cinder with a leadoff single and a followup walk. Then they re-introduced the Indians to an old buddy, Rajai Davis, called up after a term in Syracuse found him re-grouping respectably enough to get a second term as a Met.

Davis tried bunting both runners over. He got Juan Lagares (the walk) to second but the Indians nailed Frazier (the leadoff hit) at third while Davis arrived at first. Then Mets shortstop Amed Rosario, one of their hotter bats of late, drove Lagares home with a base hit up the pipe.

“This game can really bring you to your knees sometimes,” Cimber said after the game. That’s the voice of a righthander against whom righthanded batters hit only .227 against him before he tangled with the Mets’ righthanded foursome. “You’ve just to keep moving forward and fight your way through it. The last couple of weeks I’ve been grinding a little bit. It’s something everybody goes through and it’s my turn now.”

Exit Cinder, enter Hunter Wood. And Panik sent Davis home with an opposite-field single, before Alonso atoned for looking at strike three his previous time up by doubling home both Rosario and Panik, then taking third on a wild pitch before Wood and the Indians escaped.

Davis the Rajai re-joined the Mets’ party a little more forcefully in the bottom of the eighth, when he turned on Indians reliever Phil Maton’s slightly hanging curve ball and hung it down the left field line for an RBI double sending Lagares home with the ninth Mets run.

All that on a day when injured list news was mixed for both teams. The Indians shut Corey Kluber down two more weeks with an abdominal strain he suffered during a rehab outing; the Mets shut down reliever Robert Gsellman, possibly for the season, after his injury turned up a torn lat muscle.

But Carlos Carrasco’s comeback while battling leukemia goes to a second rehab outing after he looked impressive enough in his first, which stands to help the Cleveland bullpen since that’s where they plan to bring him.

And Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo (bulging neck disk) advanced to Syracuse on his rehab and had a 2-for-5 day while playing center field for five innings. Nimmo’s return may provide a slightly ticklish outfield situation for the Mets, but these Mets have known far more troublesome knots this year.

Maybe last week in Atlanta really will prove a little hiccup, after all, but these Mets haven’t begun full recovery from crisis addiction just yet. Even if they’re still talking as much in postseason mode as they’ve begun playing again. Taking at least two of the three with the Indians will go big in that recovery. Especially with more big boys awaiting them.

“I think we all knew,” said J.D. Davis, “that even though it’s August, the playoffs started today. We have to have that playoff mentality, that playoff atmosphere, that every game counts, especially with the hole we dug ourselves into. I think the elephant in the room is that we have a lot of home games but a lot of games against playoff teams.”

That’s not elephant singular. That’s a pack of pachyderm awaiting them still. The Braves and the Cubs come to town after they’re finished with the Indians; between the two, the Cubs could be slightly easier pickings based on recent performances. And, after a road trip to Philadelphia and Washington, the Mets return home for a ten-game homestand against the Phillies, the Diamondbacks, and the Dodgers.

Tuesday night? The Mets send Marcus Stroman out to face the Indians’ Adam Plutko, who beat the Yankees to open the Indians’ New York excursion. With the Mets 25-10 since the break and the Indians 24-14 in the same period, this isn’t exactly a plain pit stop for either team.

And if you’re looking for historically rooted omens, half a century ago the Mets were ten games out of first in the NL East—and went all the way to win their first World Series. Four years later, they eleven and a half out and dead last in the division—and won the pennant before pushing the Swingin’ A’s to a seventh World Series game.

Today they’re nine games out of first but two games away from the second NL wild card. With a clean shot at re-proving their post All-Star mettle against the AL’s wild card leaders, who’ve proven they’re not exactly willing to play dead when told to do so, either.

 

Bauer raises a Red flag

2019-08-01 TrevorBauer

Bauer admits pitching hurt. The Reds need to get that out of his system like now.

A tantrum on the field is in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes the beholder seeks the benefit of the doubt, sometimes the beholder couldn’t care less. The former will give you a pass based on your full picture, the latter will run you out of town post haste, most of the time.

Most, but not all.

When Jason Vargas threatened a reporter in Chicago in late June, after an already testy Mets media session in which the big question was why leave Seth Lugo in for a second relief inning when he was barely serviceable in the first, leading to a Mets loss, it should have been grounds to move him onward post haste.

But it wasn’t.

It took the Mets’ rookie general manager Brodie Van Wagenen over a month before getting rid of Vargas. Good thing for him the Mets began playing good baseball after the All-Star break. The bad news is that that hasn’t changed perceptions that Van Wagenen is in over his head.

Last year, when then-Nationals reliever Shawn Kelley pointed to his dugout seeking his manager’s help with a couple of contradictory umpire signals, then surrendered a home run in a ninth-inning outing he didn’t expect during a Nats blowout, he slammed his glove to the ground in frustration. Was it grounds to run him out like five minutes sooner?

It was, alas, as far as Nats GM Mike Rizzo was concerned.

And unlike Van Wagenen, who was too willing to give Vargas the benefit of the doubt, Rizzo couldn’t have cared less about Kelley’s thinking or mood in the moment. You’re either with us or you’re in the way. The Nats got the message the Mets should have gotten almost a year later.

Which brings us to Trevor Bauer.

When last seen in an Indians uniform, Bauer, fuming already over letting the Royals slap him around enough, saw manager Terry Francona come out of the dugout to lift him and winged the ball from the mound clear over the center field fence. It was the only time, as The Athletic‘s Jayson Stark (Hall of Fame baseball writer) observed with a wink, that Bauer ever threw something that sailed over the fence without being hit there.

The next thing you knew, Bauer was fined but not suspended by baseball government, but then he was traded to the Reds in a three-way deal announced the night before the new single trade deadline but not finalised until deadline day itself.

A talented pitcher whose brain oftentimes seems short of a critical resistor or two, Bauer knew at once how childish he’d been when he threw the ball. And Francona didn’t exactly deny that it had a big hand in making Bauer more likely to go than the trade rumours preceding the incident suggested.

“I had concerns what it could do to our team,” the manager told reporters Wednesday, after a loss to the Astros, “and I voiced those concerns. I would never, ever go tell [the front office] something, but they are good enough to always allow me my opinion, and you just try to do the best you can, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit worried.”

The Indians may or may not have known that they had something more to worry about than Bauer’s occasional tantrum or off-field foolishness. And Bauer himself has now suggested the Reds, his new team, who surrendered Yasiel Puig to the Tribe to get him, have a lot more to worry about than whether he has a few screws loose.

Admitting that you’re still trying to pitch through injuries big or small is very hazardous to your health and that of your team, old or new.

“It’s been really frustrating,” said Bauer, who was still with the Indians Wednesday. “One of the things I’m most proud about is I haven’t missed a start this year through two months of probably needing to be on the IL and probably should have missed some starts. I was able to get myself ready and take the ball.”

The injuries include back spasms and torn ankle ligaments, Bauer said. And if the Reds thought his temperament might have been a problem, they should wonder very acutely whether a pitcher risking further injury by trying to work with and despite injuries such as those isn’t risking his career and the team’s performances. And in that order.

The guts-and-glory crowd would probably want to give Bauer a medal for, you know, manning up and toughing it out. Well, now.

Last year Bauer led the American League in fielding-independent pitching rate with a sparkling 2.44, in hand with his 2.21 ERA. This year, Bauer’s FIP is 4.16 and his ERA is 3.79, and if he’s leading the league in innings pitched he also leads with fourteen hit batsmen—five more than all 2018. There was something clearly wrong with him this year. Now he’s copped to it.

The Nationals took no chances and sent Max Scherzer back to the injured list when a rhomboid muscle strain near the spot under his right shoulder that inflamed recently turned up Monday. Manager Dave Martinez said the team was taking no more chances than Scherzer wanted to take in getting back on the mound healthy.

Scherzer knows how foolish it is for even a workhorse like himself to play chicken with his physical condition. “I’ve always [prided] myself in getting out there and making 33, 34 starts,” the righthander said this week. “To not be out there is frustrating, but at the same time I feel fortunate . . . we’re not dealing with anything major here. “[We want] that right program of everything the back needs so that I can be completely durable and go out there and throw 100-plus pitches and recover.”

Of course the Nats aren’t as dismissive of even smaller injuries as have been other teams with other, more questionable cultures.

Bo Belinsky once revealed Gene Mauch took player injuries so personally that, when Belinsky was a brief Phillie, he noticed players downplaying or saying nothing about injuries for fear of the manager’s wrath. Belinsky himself turned up with an injured rib and tried pitching through it; Mauch contemptuously accused the notoriously rakish lefthander of incurring the injury while surfing in Hawaii in the off season.

Leo Durocher made Mauch seem like a kindly country doctor by comparison. One of the reasons his 1969 Cubs collapsed out of the pennant race may have been his nasty penchant for dismissing injured players as quitters. Enough so that assorted Cubs who’d been injured on the field likewise kept their mouths taped shut.

An earlier generation of Astros brain trust ignored J.R. Richard’s complaint of shoulder fatigue before the 1980 All-Star break. Shortly after the break, Richard suffered what proved his career-ending stroke. He also underwent thoracic outlet syndrome surgery—the same surgery that may yet put paid to Matt Harvey’s once-promising pitching career, the same surgery that was the net result of Harvey’s own shoulder fatigue.

Playing or pitching through injuries normally does more harm than good. Baseball’s past is littered with players of glandular promise ground down or out entirely because of injuries. Pete Reiser, Carl Erskine, Karl Spooner, Herb Score, Rocky Colavito, Ernie Broglio, Roger Maris, Tony Conigliaro, Dick Allen, Jim Maloney, Denny McLain, Mark (The Bird) Fidrych, Randy Jones, the Mets’ “Generation K” pitchers of the mid-1990s (Jason Isringhausen, Bill Pulsipher, Paul Wilson) . . . the roll is thicker than the Harvard Classics.

Sandy Koufax—pitching his final two off-the-charts/out-of-this-universe seasons, and securing his peak-value Hall of Fame case, with an arthritic pitching elbow that compelled him to an insane-in-the-brain medication regimen—was a genuine outlier. Allen’s Hall of Fame case might have solidified sooner if injuries hadn’t kept him from a more respectable decline phase.

Hall of Famer Jim Palmer was so haunted by arm trouble after his fine 1966 rookie season (including beating Koufax in a World Series game), and apparent mishandling of it the next two seasons, that when he returned, he became one of the game’s greatest pitchers and most notorious hypochondriacs.

It drove his manager and teammates to drink as often as they respected his competitiveness on the mound. But just maybe Palmer’s hyperactive concern for his health (and he did incur a few more injuries as his career went on) made him a six-time pennant winner, a three-time World Series champion, and a Hall of Fame pitcher, and kept him on the mound until he finally had nothing left by spring 1984.

The Reds are kinda sorta on the fringe of the National League wild card race right now, though they’ve played a game under .500 ball since the All-Star break. Bauer becomes arbitration eligible this winter and can become a free agent after next year. If the Reds want to maximise his talent, they’d better have a sit down with him immediately, if not sooner.

And the message needs to be, “We can put up with your flakiness and your temperament, but if you think you’re going to keep pitching through injuries, buster, you’d better think again. Because we think more highly of you than that. And we need you healthy because we’ll be healthier if you’re healthy. So quit trying to play Ol’ Blood and Guts and start being smart when you get hurt.”

Greinke makes the ‘Stros trade winners

2019-08-01 ZackGreinke

Zack the Knife makes the Astros the big trade winners. Will he help make them World Series winners?

No questions asked. The Astros slipped in at the eleventh minute, practically, and not only stole the new single trade deadline show but they did the absolute most to fortify themselves for the postseason run nobody doubts is theirs this season. Barring unforeseen disaster, of course.

With Gerrit Cole looking at free agency after the season it made sense for the Astros to seek a top-of-the-line starting pitcher with at least another full season of team control to line up with (don’t doubt it) future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander, so far the new ageless wonder of baseball.

So it came forth after the deadline passed that the Astros sent a quartet of prospects—good, promising, but not quite platinum-rated prospects—to the Diamondbacks for Zack Greinke, who isn’t exactly a slouch on the mound and who’s having a solid season in his own right so far.

They’ll get the rest of this season plus the final two seasons on the gigadeal Greinke signed with the Diamondbacks. The Snakes also sent the Astros a reported $24 million to help cover the rest of Greinke’s contract, on which the Astros will be responsible for the other $53 million. They’re not exactly complaining.

General manager Jeff Luhnow knew only two things about Greinke before he pulled the trigger on the big deal of the day: Zack the Knife has been a consistent pitcher who’s on the borderline of a Hall of Fame case; and, the righthander isn’t exactly one of the most combustible personalities in baseball.

“I don’t know him personally,” Luhnow told reporters, “but I think he’s not a guy that seeks the limelight, and that actually works well for us here in Houston. And slotting in with Verlander and Cole, he’s gonna not have to be the guy that’s in front of the camera the whole time.”

The Astros weren’t exactly over-occupied on doing the Greinke deal. Before that deal hit the news running Wednesday, they did a little bullpen fortification, getting Aaron Sanchez and Joe Biagini from the Blue Jays. The Jays also sent the Astros minor league outfielder Cal Stevenson. The Astros sent the Jays outfielder Derek Fisher.

Greinke was last seen striking out seven Yankees in five innings Wednesday. He left the park without talking to reporters, which may or may not have been an indication that he suspected or was told it was time to re-pack his bags.

On the same day, the Astros got flattened by the Indians, 10-4, in Cleveland; they finish with the Tribe Thursday before a weekend hosting the Mariners, but Greinke may not have his first Astros start until the Rockies hit town starting Monday.

“I know he’s really good. I don’t know him personally, but I’m going to get to know him,” said Astros manager A.J. Hinch. “We acquired him because of how good he is. Certainly we expect him to be a big part of our push to win the division and keep winning into October. He’s an incredible pitcher.”

He has been, and he still is when all is said and done. His new teammates won’t disagree. “What a pickup!” Cole himself crowed. Referring to the front office, he added, “They nailed it. They did a fantastic job.”

Landing Greinke shot the Astros into being World Series co-favourites with the Dodgers at Caesar’s Palace Sports Book. But the Astros are smart enough to know Berra’s Law is immutable. Zack the Knife increases their odds of a return to the Series, but so is Andujar’s Law, as uttered by a long-ago Astro, the late Joaquin Andujar: “In baseball, there’s just one word—you never know.”

What we do know, though, is who were really the big winners and the big losers of major league baseball’s first single mid-season trading deadline.

THE WINNERS

Braves—Another starting pitcher wouldn’t have hurt them, necessarily, but what the National League East leaders really needed was a back-of-the-bullpen retooling. And, they got it, in an almost rapid fire series of deals.

They landed Shane Greene from the Tigers. They landed Chris Martin from the Rangers. They landed Mark Melancon from the Giants. As CBS Sports’s Matt Snyder observes, if the prices were too high for such reported availables as Edwin Diaz (Mets) and Felipe Vasquez (Pirates), the Braves did well enough shopping the sale aisle.

None of the new pen trio are anything near the most glittering names in the relief world, but neither are they slouches or pushovers. Changes of scenery from nowhere land to pennant contention do wonders for such pitchers, and it would be absolute gravy if the Braves get something out of Melancon resembling his final years in Pittsburgh and his only spell in Washington.

Greene, of course, was an All-Star this year and was wasted on a Tigers team in the middle of a rebuild. When the Braves can turn to him near the end of a game, either as the sure ninth-inning option or if things get a little dicey in the eighth, the sight of Greene warming up with his 1.18 ERA should be enough to make their division and the rest of the league quake.

Throw in Martin’s 10+ strikeout-to-walk ratio and 10.2 K/9 rate, and all of a sudden the Braves’ bullpen doesn’t look like it’s full of bull anymore.

Indians—So Trevor Bauer turned out to be a bigger pain in the you-know-where than his otherwise solid pitching was worth. Doesn’t mean the Indians dealt from weakness. Not with Corey Kluber on the threshold of returning from the injured list.

And the Tribe managed to address their biggest weakness in the deal: their corner outfielders weren’t hitting anywhere near the same area code as their new toys Yasiel Puig (from the Reds) and Franmil Reyes (from the Padres) put together. Add Puig’s mostly plus throwing arm in right field, and all of a sudden the Indians outfield isn’t just going to roll over and play dead.

The Indians also landed lefthanded pitching youth Logan Allen (also from the Padres), and when you consider how well they develop or re-tool starting pitching this is an upside acquisition for them, too.

But the real key was the impact bats. Puig secures them in right field for the rest of the season, and perhaps if he continues doing well enough the Indians would think of pursuing him when he hits free agency in the fall. Reyes, though, secures a DH spot for them for the foreseeable future while giving them an outfield platoon option in the bargain.

Suddenly it’s not to laugh about the Tribe’s outfield anymore.

Mets—Don’t laugh. Not only are they on a six game winning streak at this writing, the formerly left for dead Mets—and even I thought they were just awaiting the nails to be hammered into their coffin after that terrible weekend in San Francisco—are 12-7 since the All-Star break.

And maybe it’s an illusion since, aside from the Giants, they faced only real contender during the string. But they did take both games against the Twins in Minnesota, including a 14-4 blowout. All of a sudden, these Mets can play as well as they can pitch.

And while the world seemed to be sure only that either Noah Syndergaard or Zack Wheeler would have a change of address after Wednesday’s deadline, it took the Astros landing Greinke to knock the Mets’ landing Marcus Stroman well enough before the deadline out of the park.

Maybe Stroman wasn’t thrilled at first to go to what he thought was a non-contender. And maybe someone ramped up for kicks a rumour that the Mets had ideas about flipping Stroman to the Yankees post haste for some of the Yankees’ top farm produce. But the Mets wasted no time ridding themselves of Jason Vargas—who should have been cashiered over a month earlier—sending him to the Phillies almost as soon as Stroman’s acquisition was a done deal.

The Mets rotation now looks like Jacob deGrom (who pitched brilliantly against the White Sox Wednesday night only to get his almost-usual no-decision, the poor guy), Stroman, Syndergaard, Wheeler, and Steven Matz. And with Matz putting on a deadly off-speed clinic shutting out the Pirates last Saturday night, looking as though he’s finally found the secret to pitching without the power of a deGrom or a more disciplined Syndergaard, it gives the Mets a rotation with two number-ones, a two, and a pair of threes.

Nationals—Like the Mets, the Nats were left for dead a few times before the All-Star break. Like the Mets, too, the Nats are riding resurgent, sort of: 10-9 since the break. And the Nats needed a bullpen remake in the worst way possible.

Not at the absolute rear end, where closer Sean Doolittle remains effective when he has something to save. It’s getting the games to Doolittle that caused one after another National migraine. But then the Nats landed Jays reliever Daniel Hudson and Mariners reliever Roenis Elias.

All of a sudden, the Nats seemed to find relief in the best way possible for that beleaguered bunch of bulls. And then they got really surreal—it turned out that they also got an old buddy (ho ho ho) from the Mariners, Hunter Strickland.

Strickland—who carried an almost three-year grudge over then-Nat Bryce Harper taking him deep twice in a division series, the second time awaiting whether his fresh blast straight over the foul line would leave the yard fair but misinterpreted as admiring the shot. (It flew fair into McCovey Cove.)

Strickland—then a Giant, who somehow hadn’t gotten the chance to face Harper until 2017, then entered a game with Harper leading off an inning and threw the first pitch right into Harper’s hip. Triggering Harper’s charge to the mound and the very delayed Giants pouring out of their dugout, during which pour former Nat Michael Morse’s career ended up being sealed when he collided with Jeff Samardzija and suffered a concussion.

Harper, of course, now wears the Phillies’ silks. But it would have been intriguing if Harper was still a Nat with Strickland coming aboard. Strickland’s coming back from a lat strain that disabled him for almost three months. And the Nats don’t see hide nor hair of the Phillies again until a four-game home set beginning 23 September.

By which time, the Nats may or may not be in the thick of the NL East race (the Braves suddenly started looking human enough the past couple of weeks), securing a wild card berth, or hoping they’ve got a leg up on 2020. A lot rides on the new bulls. But for now, the Nats took their number one need and addressed it respectably enough.

THE LOSERS

Red Sox—Like the Braves and the Nats, the Red Sox needed bullpen help badly. Unlike the Braves and the Nats, the Red Sox landed nothing. Not even a calf, never mind Diaz, whom the Mets were making available and who probably could have been had for a little less than they were said to have demanded for Syndergaard and Wheeler.

The Red Sox bullpen ERA in June: 4.92. The Red Sox bullpen ERA in July: 5.18. Letting some reasonably effective pieces make their ways to Atlanta and Washington instead does not portend well for the Olde Towne Team.

Dodgers—I know, it sounds funny to apply “losers” in any context to the National League’s 2019 threshing machine. But the threshing machine has one monkey wrench looming: the Dodger bullpen isn’t as formidable as it used to be.

Kenley Jansen isn’t really pitching like the Kenley Jansen of old this year. What’s behind him in the pen depends on whose description you read: mess, disaster, toxic waste dump, landfill, take your pick.

If the Mets and the Pirates were asking the moon for Diaz and Vasquez, the Dodgers if anyone had the moon to give in return. They’re loaded with prospects on the farm, and money in the vault, enough to have dealt a package of them for either reliever and still have a bountiful harvest to come.

Good luck holding leads against postseason lineups with that kind of pen. And the Dodgers won’t be able to hit themselves beyond their pen’s capability eternally. They won’t lose the NL West, necessarily, not with a fifteen-game lead at this writing, but their chances at a third consecutive World Series appearance and just one Series ring since 1988 just got a lot more thin.

Brewers—The pre-season favourites to defend their NL Central title aren’t exactly that good anymore. Losing Brandon Woodruff and Jhoulys Chacin to the injured list has left their rotation in tatters, and with the Giants yanking themselves back into the wild card play there went their ideas of maybe adding Madison Bumgarner for a stretch drive.

But they also needed some pen help, and what they brought aboard (Ray Black, Jake Faria, Drew Pomeranz) is serviceable but not quite as serviceable as what the Braves and the Nats brought aboard. The Brew Crew is liable to spend the rest of the season watching the Cardinals’ and the Cubs’ rear ends, but then with the NL Central as it’s been this year there could be a surprise in store. Could. Remotely.

Because the Brewers can’t live by Christian Yelich alone.

Twins—The AL Central leaders have gone from a double-digit division lead to looking only human at three games up on deadline day. They needed a little rotation help and a little bullpen help.

And they got only a little in the pen. Sam Dyson (from the Giants) and Sergio Romo (from the Marlins) are solid but not overwhelming. Maybe not for lack of trying, but the Indians’ blockbuster suddenly puts the Twins close enough to the Tribe’s mercy to make for a too-interesting stretch drive for them when they once looked like the division’s runaway train.

They can hit all the home runs they want, but if their pitching is compromised the Twins have a big problem coming. Like the Yankees, the Twins should have been more aggressive trade deadline players. Like the Yankees, they weren’t, for whatever reasons. And it could come back to haunt them down the stretch.

Yankees—Even Yankee haters won’t understand this one. The number one need for the injury-battered Bombers was rotation help. Especially after they’d just been flattened by the Twins and the otherwise-troubled Red Sox. And they did nothing to fix it.

The question may be why, or why not. If Bumgarner was off the market, they could have played for Stroman or for Mike Minor, even allowing for Minor’s rough July after a sterling June. They didn’t seem to play for any of the above. They didn’t even seem to be a topic if the Diamondbacks—knowing their own chances were still none and none-er—were looking to move Greinke to a contender.

And since their number one American League competition overall did land Greinke, the Yankees may ride a weakening AL East into October but they’re not liable to get past round one again, even if it may not be the Red Sox shoving them to one side this time.

Heard of punching tickets out of town?

2019-07-30 YasielPuig

Yasiel Puig (66) didn’t instigate this Tuesday night brawl between the Reds and the Pirates. Neither did he know just yet that he’d just been traded to the Indians.

Well, now. Baseball government decided a fine but not a short ban was appropriate for Trevor Bauer after his Sunday afternoon tantrum. (“The last baseball Trevor Bauer threw for the Indians landed over the center-field fence,” crowed The Athletic‘s Hall of Fame baseball writer Jayson Stark. “And nobody even hit it!”)

The Indians may have decided otherwise.

They had more say in the three-way Tuesday evening deal that rid them of Bauer and brings them Yasiel Puig from the Reds than they had about Justin Verlander punching out thirteen Tribesmen en route the Astros shutting them out, 2-0.

But did the Indians elect to trade Bauer, in the deal also involving the Padres, because his reaction to surrendering a pile of runs and then manager Terry Francona coming out to lift him en route a loss to the Royals was to throw that ball over the fence?

And was some sort of cosmic mischief at play when Puig, still suited up for the Reds, found himself in the middle of a wild ninth-inning, bench-clearing brawl between the Reds and the Pirates that he had nothing to do with starting?

The three-way deal was announced while the Reds hosted and were being blown out by the Pirates. And, shortly before Reds relief pitcher Amir Garrett received a visit from pitching coach Derek Johnson in the top of the ninth.

Garrett had gotten Pirates shortstop Kevin Newman to ground out after serving pinch hitter Jose Osuna a two-seam fastball too meaty not to hit for a three-run homer that crowned what proved to be an 11-4 burial. But while Garrett was about to hand the ball off to Johnson—who was managing the Reds at the time, the circumstances behind which to come anon—a little chirping rom the Pirates dugout tripped Garrett’s trigger.

Apparently, it was Pirates pitcher Trevor Williams who chirped toward Garrett. Apparently, too, Garrett previously had words for Pirates first baseman Josh Bell, words some tweeters translated to be “[Fornicate] you!” And the next thing anyone saw, Garrett practically flew solo toward the Pirates dugout, fists flying with the intent of nailing anyone in Pirates’ colours, greeted by a swarm of Pirates with the equivalent intent of making sure he couldn’t get any piece of any of them.

The Reds were probably jolted enough at their man’s audacity that it took a couple of moments before they realised they weren’t seeing things and swarmed toward the Pirates swarm.

Puig was actually a late arrival to the dance. Late or no, he plunged into the swarm, apparently intent on getting Garrett the hell out of there by hook, crook, left hook, anything short of an ambulance populated by men and women in white coats armed with straitjackets.

And Puig probably didn’t know he wasn’t really a Red anymore.

The three-way deal sends Puig and minor league pitcher Scott Moss from the Reds to the Indians, Bauer from the Indians to the Reds, outfielder Taylor Trammell from the Reds to the Padres, and three Padres—Franmil Reyes (outfielder), Logan Allen (pitching prospect), and Victor Nova (minor league jack of most infield and outfield trades)—going to the Indians.

Puig and Reyes would make the Indians’ corner outfield that much more productive at the plate, since the pair of them have more home runs between them (49) than the combination of every players seen in the Indians’ outfield corners all season long. If Reyes was on pace to hit 40 bombs with pitcher-embracing Petco Park as his home playpen, Indians fans can only imagine and pray what he’ll hit with Progressive Field to call home.

But Puig was one of eight ejected as a result of the ninth-inning rumble in the Great American Ballpark jungle. It may be an open question as to whether he begins life with the Indians—a rental life at that, since he becomes a free agent for the first time after this season—on the field or on suspension.

All of a sudden, any of Bauer’s past transgressions, including but not limited to some pointed but slightly absurd accusations that Astros pitchers were putting a little too much pine tar on their pitching hands, seem like boys being boys compared to the Cincinnati gang war.

Keep in mind: the Pirates and the Reds aren’t exactly bosom buddies above and beyond common competition. The Pirates were a lot less than thrilled when Reds outfielder Derek Dietrich hit and couldn’t help admiring a pair of homers clean into the Allegheny River on their pitchers’ dollars, one of which triggered a brawl after Dietrich saw a Chris Archer pitch fly behind his head, prompting Puig to take on almost the whole Pirate roster.

The Pirates also make a lot of other people uncomfortable with their penchant for pitching inside as often as possible and even beyond. The Reds aren’t the only team in the game who think that what the Pirates call merely pitching inside is really headhunting.

“Hitters are crowding the plate more than ever to hit pitches on the outer corners,” observed Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Nubyjas Wilborn earlier in July. “[Pirates manager Clint] Hurdle and the Pirates want to own the whole plate, and that’s where part of the conflict exists.”

Tuesday night’s shenanigans began when Pirates reliever Keone (Drinkin’ Rum and Coca) Kela threw one up and in enough to Dietrich to trigger a little bristling among assorted Reds in the seventh, including Joey Votto, who had a few sweet nothings to deliver to Kela before home plate ump Larry Vanover urged Votto back to his own lair.

And part of this conflict may also have rooted in Vanover handing both sides warnings after Kela zipped Dietrich, denying the Reds at least a single unmolested opportunity to send a return message. Ignoring the warnings, apparently, Reds reliever Jared Hughes got himself a premature date with the clubhouse shower, when he drilled Starling Marte with the first pitch of the top of the ninth.

Which is how Garrett got into the game in the first place. In between both, Reds manager David Bell got himself the ho-heave when he objected to a strike call with Puig himself at the plate in the eighth. And soon enough came basebrawl.

Hell of a way for Hurdle to celebrate his birthday. Bell got himself into further trouble when, despite having been tossed from the game, he ripped out from the clubhouse to the field on behalf of his players, gave Hurdle a shove, got into and broke his way out of a headlock from Pirates batting coach Rick Eckstein, and barked a little bit at Hurdle.

Bell has his partisans and detractors, too. For every tweeter singing a variation on the theme of Bell “ejected earlier and back on the field being his usual clown self,” there was another singing a variation on the theme of “I would fight a [fornicating] war for David Bell.”

Things looked as though settling down before, for whatever reason, maybe a Pirate hollering what he thought was something out of line, Puig circled back toward the dissipating swarm for a very brief encore before he was finally lured away. He was one of eight Reds and Pirates ejected from the game before the Pirates could finish the 11-4 thrashing they’d begun.

The ejected included Hughes and Reds bench coach Freddie Benavides over the Marte plunk; plus, Garrett and Puig for the Reds; and, Pirates injury-list catcher Francisco Cervelli plus pitchers Williams, Archer, and Kyle (Up the) Crick.

Now the Indians get themselves a Puig-in-the-box who can play baseball brilliantly enough, when he’s firing on the proper cylinders and avoiding the temptations to rumble. The Reds get themselves a million dollar pitching arm attached to a brain that often impresses people appreciative of the pitching talent as being deprived of a few critical resistors.

Almost forgotten in the middle of the trade that didn’t rudely interrupt the Pirates and the Reds replaying The Wild Bunch is that the Padres may have gotten the sleeper of the deal in Trammell, a talented left fielder who’d been the Reds’ top rated prospect and the number 30 prospect in all baseball despite a somewhat slumping season this year at Double-A Chattanooga.

For curiosity’s sake alone, I ran a search for major league baseball players who’ve tangled in bench-clearing brawls while or at least on the same days they were traded. The search result didn’t answer the question directly. But the first result was a headline about Tuesday night’s tarantella. With Puig’s name leading the head.

Some precedents ought not to be wished.