Rule Change at Second Base

[fusion_text]The playoff-bound Pittsburgh Pirates lost their star rookie shortstop for the season when his leg was hit by the base runner’s slide. Even though the shortstop was several feet away from the base, the slide was legal because the runner reached the bag with his outstretched hand while his feet were colliding with the shortstop. This is traditionally known as “breaking up the double play” and is equally traditionally applauded in the dugout as a hustle play. There is already some talk that this kind of slide should be prohibited. To me, the decision to implement a rule change accomplishing this is a no-brainer.

Unlike football, going after an opponent’s body is not part of the game of baseball. Making a runner slide directly at the base, unless he is trying to avoid a tag, takes nothing away from the offense. A well-turned double play is one of the prettiest defensive plays in baseball and deserves facilitation, not obstruction. And the most important argument for a change is to reduce the chance of serious injury. This was deemed reason enough to institute a rule eliminating most collisions at home plate, and this rule would be much easier to enforce than that one.

A secondary benefit of such a rule could be the elimination of the so-called “neighborhood” rule, in which the pivot man does not need to be in contact with second base when he catches the ball on a double play. This is a terrible rule, because it leaves so much to the umpire’s discretion: how far off second can the fielder be, no one knows or is saying. The main reason for this rule is to allow the pivot man to avoid injury from the onrushing runner. If the runner is prohibited from going after the fielder, there is less reason for this questionable protection. Before instant replay, it was often difficult to know for sure that the fielder’s foot had left the bag before the ball reached his glove; but with replay now available, that can be determined beyond argument.

In sum, I see no reason – other than the hoary one of “tradition” – to continue allowing baserunners to slide into fielders who are away from the bag, and I expect that the owners and union will quickly come to the same conclusion.[/fusion_text]

Golf and Twins

[fusion_text]I have discovered a thread common to two of my hobbies: playing golf and watching the Twins. It is this: something always goes wrong, and what that is constantly changes. If I’m putting well, my driving is off; if my irons are good, my chipping lets me down. Etc. For the Twins, two weeks ago their starting pitching was horrible – an ERA around 6.00 – but their relievers, who had to pitch the majority of innings, held the opposition scoreless, giving the Twins chances to come back, which they sometimes did and sometimes didn’t. Last week, the starters found their groove again, but the relievers fell apart. One day Casey Fien, who had pitched 12 scoreless innings, turned a win into a loss by giving up a 3-run homer. The next day, formerly surprisingly good closer Kevin Jepsen gave up a home run and then loaded the bases before escaping with a 3-2 win. And for the series finale, Trevor May entered in the 7th with two outs and a 2-0 lead and left with the same two outs and a 5-2 deficit. Completing the picture, Neal Cotts gave up a three-run homer, making the Twins’ next three runs academic. It seems that when Escobar-Rosario-Suzuki hit, the top of the order flails, and vice versa. We know that this uncertainty is what makes baseball fun, and why the “better” team still loses one out of three, if they’re lucky. And I heard today the famous saying that “golf is not a game of perfect.” The above is fairly obvious, but it is just now that I have made this connection.[/fusion_text]

Twins Resurgent

[fusion_text]Of all the times this year I have given up on the Twins, counted them out for the year, been resigned to their mediocrity, perhaps none was as premature as last night. After erupting for four runs against White Sox ace Chris Sale in the second inning, the Twins were coasting at home. Rookie starter Tyler Duffey had faced 14 batters and gotten 14 outs. He didn’t get another. His three straight walks were demoralizing; then a bloop double and home run off two different relievers in the sixth inning left the Twins suddenly trailing, 5-4, in a game they should have, and had to, win. Barely hanging onto the final wild-card berth, a loss here to start September would surely spell doom.

Then, like a bolt from Thor, the game turned back on one swing from Miguel Sano, the biggest reason these Twins may no longer be the fluke they have seemed for much of the summer. After tying the game in the seventh, the Twins broke it open with three runs in the eighth with a good bunt by Suzuki, baserunning by Buxton and even a “clutch” hit by Mauer. This presented Glen Perkins with another gift “save,” in which he allowed three hits and one run and didn’t miss a bat all night. The Twins are alive for one more day, playing “meaningful” games in September. Who would have thought?

The quotation marks above point me to three final thoughts. The resurgent Twins have been powered by their new players, Sano, Eddie Rosario and Eduardo Escobar, with admirable fill-in play from Eduardo Nunez. The veterans Dozier, Plouffe and Suzuki have been steady, although hitting a combined .240-something. The one player who hasn’t been leading is Joe Mauer, who is taking down more salary than the rest of the starting lineup combined. He chips in with singles and rbi’s and a .275 average that would be respectable for a catcher or a power hitter, but he is neither. Furthermore, he is under that contract for three more years, posing the question of what the Twins will do with him as their young stars mature. He is merely adequate as a first baseman, a position either Sano or Plouffe could fill with power.

Perkins’s save was too similar to almost all his outings since (and including) the All-Star Game. His first two blown saves crushed the team’s spirit – based on their play in the games that followed – and were both among the times I wrote them off for the year. Maybe his sore neck was responsible, but if he was healthy last night he didn’t look much better. By contrast, Yankees closer Andrew Miller struck out the side in his ninth inning, which is the kind of confidence-inspiring performance you want from a closer. Complicating, but perhaps helping, the situation is the emergence of both Trevor May and Kevin Jepsen as shut-down relievers. Jepsen fared well in Perkins’s absence, but what will allow Paul Molitor to use him in place of Perkins now that Perkins is back?

Finally, I should add some perspective to the meaningfulness of the Twins’ September. Yes, they could sneak into the wild-card game, although Texas, with Cole Hamels, should have an edge over Minnesota’s unpredictable starting staff. But is this any better than making the NBA Playoffs as the eighth seed from the Eastern Conference? The Twins don’t have an ace to play in the one-game wild-card playoff. And if they survive that – seemingly against the Yankees, who have dominated them – they would run into the Blue Jays, Astros or Royals, all of whom are playing on a different level. Still, it could be a good learning experience for the rookies to build on in 2016; so I will continue to watch and hope.