October 31, 2019

Looking Back At 2019's Predictions ... Or, Why Baseball Is Smarter (And More Clever) Than Everyone

On October 3, "Postseason Predictions Are (It Is Agreed) A Fool's Errand" collected the opinions of a lot of "experts" as to who would win the World Series.

All of them were wrong, except for one unnamed person at ESPN (numbers are total picks for that team):

NLDS: Dodgers 26, Nationals 4
NLCS: Dodgers 23, Atlanta 3, Nationals 3, Cardinals 1
World Series: Astros 19, Dodgers 6, Twins 1, Nationals 1 [Not named], Cardinals 1, Atlanta 1, Yankees 1
USA Today:
Astros: over Dodgers in 4 ... over Dodgers in 6 ... over Nationals in 5 ... over Atlanta in 6 ... over Atlanta in 6.
CBS Sports:
NLWC: Nationals 4, Brewers 1
NLDS: Dodgers 5
NLDS: Atlanta 5
NLCS: Dodgers 4, Atlanta 1
World Series: Astros 4, Yankees 1
NBC Sports:
NLWC: Nationals 2, Brewers 1
NLDS: Dodgers 3
NLDS: Atlanta 3
NLCS: Atlanta 2, Dodgers 1
World Series: Astros 2, Atlanta 1
Yahoo Sports:
NLDS: Dodgers 5, Nationals 1
NLCS: Dodgers 4, Nationals 1, Atlanta 1
World Series: Astros 5, Dodgers 1
The Sporting News:
NLCS: Atlanta 4, Dodgers 3, Cardinals 1, Nationals 1
World Series: Astros 8, Dodgers 1
Only 1 out of 58 people picked the Nationals (1.7%) to win the World Series. And 43 picked the Astros (74.1%).

But what were people saying way back in the spring?

They weren't saying "Nationals", I'll tell you that. .... Except for:
Alex Speier at the Boston Globe
Bob Nightengale and Gabe Lacques at USA Today
Tom Gatto and Jordan Shusterman at The Sporting News
3 people at ESPN
1 person at NBC
Street & Smith's 2019 Baseball Preview
ALDS: Red Sox over Cleveland; Astros over Yankees
NLDS: Atlanta over Nationals; Cardinals over Dodgers
ALCS: Astros over Red Sox
NLCS: Atlanta over Cardinals
World Series: Astros over Atlanta
Athlon Sports 2019 Baseball Preview
ALCS: Astros over Red Sox
NLCS: Dodgers over Cardinals
World Series: Dodgers over Astros
Lindy's Sports 2019 Baseball Annual
AL Division Winners: Yankees, Cleveland, Astros
NL Division Winners: Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers
AL Pennant: Astros
NL Pennant: Cardinals
[No World Series pick]
Boston Globe:
ALCS: Red Sox 2, Astros 2, Cleveland 2
NLCS: Cubs 3, Dodgers 2, Nationals 1
World Series: Red Sox 2, Dodgers, 1, Cleveland 1, Astros 1, Nationals 1 [Alex Speier]
Sean McAdam, Boston Sports Journal:
ALCS: Red Sox over Yankees
NLCS: Cubs over Dodgers
World Series: Cubs over Red Sox
AL Cy Young: Gerrit Cole
NL MVP: Anthony Rendon
Jim Bowden, The Athletic:
AL East: Boston Red Sox
MVP: Aaron Judge
Manager of the Year: A.J. Hinch, Astros
Comeback Player of the Year: Gary Sanchez, Yankees
New York Post:
ALCS: Astros 4, Yankees 3
NLCS: Dodgers 3, Nationals 1, Brewers 1, Cardinals 1, Padres 1
World Series: Yankees 2, Astros 1, Brewers 1, Cardinals 1, Padres 1, Dodgers 1
AL MVP: Judge 3, Betts 1, Trout 1, Bregman 1, Stanton 1
ALCS: Astros 27, Yankees 20, Red Sox 5
NLCS: Dodgers 14, Nationals 12 (26 votes missing)
World Series: Astros 28, Yankees 15 (9 votes missing)
MLB Network Radio:
ALCS: Yankees 11, Astros 7
NLCS: Nationals 6, Cubs 5, Rockies 3, Phillies 2, Dodgers 1, Cardinals 1
World Series: Yankees 10, Astros 6, Rockies 1, Phillies 1
ALCS: Astros 15, Yankees 7, Red Sox 5, A's 3, Cleveland 1
NLCS: Dodgers 10, Nationals 6, Cardinals 4, Phillies 3, Brewers 3, Cubs 2, Atlanta 2, Rockies 1
World Series: Astros 14, Dodgers 4, Yankees 4, Red Sox 3, Nationals 3 [Not listed], A's 2, Cardinals 1
Sports Illustrated:
ALCS: Astros 5, Yankees 2, Red Sox 1, Cleveland 1
NLCS: Nationals 4, Dodgers 2, Brewers 1, Phillies 1, Cubs 1
World Series: Astros 4, Yankees 2, Dodgers 2, Phillies 1
USA Today:
ALCS: Yankees 3, Astros 2, Red Sox 1, Cleveland 1
NLCS: Nationals 3, Dodgers 2, Phillies 1, Cardinals 1
World Series: Nationals 2 [Bob Nightengale, Gabe Lacques], Dodgers 1, Astros 1, Cleveland 1, Cardinals 1, Yankees 1
NBC Sports:
ALCS: Astros 4, Yankees 3
NLCS: Nationals 4, Dodgers 1, Rockies 1, Cardinals 1
World Series: Astros 3, Yankees 2, Dodgers 1, Nationals 1 [Not listed]
Todd Dybas: "The Yankees [have] multiple guys who could hit 40 homers." [No MFY hit more than 38 dongs.]
Tony Andracki: "There's no way the Red Sox will miss the playoffs ..." [Uh-huh.]
CBS Sports:
ALCS: Astros 3, Yankees 2
NLCS: Nationals 3, Cubs 1, Dopdgers 1
World Series: Astros 3, Yankees 2
The Sporting News:
ALCS: Yankees 6, Astros 4, Red Sox 2, Cleveland 1
NLCS: Nationals 4, Cardinals 3, Cubs 2, Brewers 2, Phillies 1, Dodgers 1
World Series: Yankees 4, Astros 2, Nationals 2 [Tom Gatto, Jordan Shusterman], Red Sox 1, Phillies 1, Brewers 1, Dodgers 1
Baseball America
World Series: Dodgers 3, Astros 2, Yankees 2, Red Sox 1 [One pick for Nationals in WS, losing to MFY]

October 30, 2019

WS7: Nationals 6, Astros 2

Nationals - 000 000 312 - 6  9  0
Astros    - 010 010 000 - 2  9  1

The Washington Nationals are the new champions of baseball, winning the 2019 World Series by outlasting the Houston Astros in seven games.

Washington's winding road to the title took them through unprecedented terrain: past a 106-win team (Dodgers) and a 107-win team (Astros). The Nationals played five elimination games, trailed in all of them, and came back and won them all. No previous team in baseball history had trailed and then won even four elimination games in a single postseason.

As they had done in the previous six games, the Nats waited until the late innings to score their runs. Washington scored 12 runs in innings 1-6, but put 21 runs on the board in innings 7-9, including all six of their runs on Wednesday night. The Nationals joined the 1914 Boston Braves as the only teams to win the World Series in a season in which they were at least 12 games under .500 at any point. Washington was 19-31 on May 23, which is also the worst 50-game start of any World Series winner.

The Nationals are the seventh Wild Card team to win the World Series in the 20 years since the bullshit concept of the wild card began polluting baseball. (I know, 2004, but I still hate the wild card.) The last six World Series winners have clinched on the road (2014-19), which ties the 1954-59 winners for the longest streak in postseason history.

The Nationals prevailed despite being utterly silenced by Zack Greinke (6.1-2-2-2-3, 80), who allowed only two Nats on base over the first six innings, throwing only 67 pitches. But after Anthony Rendon homered in the seventh and Greinke walked Juan Soto, Astros manager A.J. Hinch went to his bullpen. Hinch eventually called on five pitchers - none of whom were named Gerrit Cole - over the night's final 2.2 innings. The Nats went nuts.

Howie Kendrick's home run off Will Harris obliterated Houston's lead and put Washington ahead to stay. By one measure, Kendrick's dong was the 10th biggest hit in all of baseball history. (Harris had a supremely shitty 24 hours. He also allowed the go-ahead home run in Game 6, and became the first pitcher since Pittsburgh's Ray Kremer in 1925 to allow home runs in Games 6 and 7. However, Kremer was on the winning team, as the Pirates beat the Senators.)

Kendrick joined Hal Smith of the 1960 Pirates as the only players to belt a go-ahead home run in the seventh inning or later with their team trailing in a World Series Game 7. Smith's dong came one inning before Bill Mazeroski drove a dagger into the hearts of Yankee fans. Kendrick is also the fourth-oldest player to homer in a Game 7 and the fourth player to homer in multiple elimination games in the same postseason.

Juan Soto added a key RBI-single in the eighth, and Adam Eaton singled in two more runs in the ninth. ... And, according to Ryan Spaeder: "Patrick Corbin is the first pitcher to toss at least three innings of shutout baseball in relief with at least a strikeout per inning, winning Game 7 of the World Series since Walter Johnson on Oct. 10, 1924. It is a reach, but I had to find a unique way to tie it to the 1924 Senators."

Stephen Strasburg was named the Most Valuable Player. He started and won two games in Houston (Games 2 and 6), pitching 14.1 innings and allowing four runs, while striking out 14. ... The Nationals went 10-0 in postseason games started by Strasburg and Max Scherzer.

Scherzer (5-7-2-4-3, 103) gutted through five innings, dealing with at least two Houston baserunners in four of his five innings. He got only four swings and misses over the first four innings, and 11 total. But he kept the Nationals close and the Astros underwent a serious LOB-otomy, leaving nine men on base in Scherzer's five innings.

Yuri Gurriel led off the second with a solo shot. Yordan Alvarez and Caros Correa followed with singles and Scherzer was quickly in trouble. But Robinson Chirinos (who had homered twice in the series) tried to bunt (what?) and fouled to the catcher, Josh Reddick grounded to first, and George Springer lined out to left. (Teams that scored first in the previous Game 7s were 25-14.)

The Astros had runners at first and second with one out in the third, but Gurriel popped to right and Alvarez flied to center. In the fourth, another single and walk with two outs left things up to Jose Altuve, who lined out to center. The Astros scored in the fifth on two singles and a walk (Correa knocked in Gurriel), but they also stranded two men for the fourth consecutive inning.

While Scherzer was labouring through 103 pitches (15-18-22 21-27), Greinke covered the same ground (plus one additional inning) with only 67 (8-12-8 13-18-8). When Greinke pitched in Game 3, he threw 65 pitched through three innings, Tonight, he needed only 28 over the first three innings. Greinke also fielded his position brilliantly, starting a double play in the second, fielding two come-backers in the fourth and a bunt in the fifth.

The double play in the second inning erased Washington's first baserunner, Soto, who had singled. He was the Nats' only man to reach on base until the fifth, when Kendrick walked with one out. He gotno father than second.

Greinke may have been tiring slightly in the seventh. Or maybe it was the Curse of the Third Time Through the Order. After he got Eaton on a grounder to shortstop, the Astros' win probability was at 88%. But then Rendon crushed a 1-0 changeup to deep left. With that home run, Rendon was 6-for-6 in the seventh inning or later of an elimination game this postseason (three doubles, three home runs and one walk).

Greinke walked Soto on five pitches and got the hook. Except Greinke did not actually walk Soto. Ball 4 was in the strike zone, but plate umpire Jim Wolf blew the call (one of many). Who knows how Game 7 would have played out if the plate umpire had not made numerous incorrect calls?

Hinch's decision to pull Greinke will be long debated in Houston (initial opinions on the internet are not kind, running the gamut: from "idiot" to "moron"). Greinke's sterling performance was only the third time a pitcher went 6+ innings and allowed two hits or fewer in a World Series Game 7. He joins Bob Turley (1958) and Jaret Wright (1997) on that short list.

Cole had been warming up earlier, but it was Harris who got the call. Hinch followed traditional bullpen usage, by-the-numbers, straight from the manual instead of looking at what was in front of his eyes and thinking on his feet and going for the fucking throat. It's the 7th inning of Game 7! If you can't be a Playoff Assassin in that situation, you never will be.

Kendrick knocked Harris's second offering (actually a good pitch, a cutter at 91, down and away) down the right field line. It crashed against the metal "netting" on the foul pole for a two-run home run. (Or should I say it "bellhorned" off the metal netting?)

Three batters earlier, the Astros were up by two runs and eight outs from a championship, with Greinke barely breaking a sweat and giving a performance for the ages. In the span of only eight pitches (and one pitching change), the landscape of Game 7 underwent a seismic transformation. Kendrick's home run increased the probability of the Nationals winning from 29.5% to 64.2%. That increase of 34.7% is more than three times as much as any hit by anyone else in the entire 2019 postseason.

I've seen [Harris] a few times. He's gotten me out every time. I think he struck me out every time I faced him. At our place, he threw me a cutter away like that, I took it, and I was just looking for something out over the plate I could hammer, and he made that mistake -- and man, that was probably one of the best swings of my career, just like that grand slam. Moments like that, you can't make those up.
Before that at-bat, Kendrick had faced Harris only twice, both in this World Series. Kendrick flied to right in Game 1 and struck out in Game 4.

Harris then gave up a single to Asdrubal Cabrera and he was replaced by Roberto Osuna, who walked Ryan Zimmerman on only five pitches. Five consecutive Nationals had reached base, after only two had reached in the previous six innings. Osuna got a couple of pop-ups and the inning was over.

Patrick Corbin relieved Scherzer in the sixth and allowed a leadoff single, before striking out Springer and getting Altuve to ground into a 4U-3 double play. Now he was pitching with a lead. Michael Brantley flied to left-center, where Victor Robles easily tracked the ball down. Alex Bregman grounded to second. Gurriel singled. Alvarez fell behind 0-2 and grounded to the third base side of the mound. Corbin threw him out.

As the eighth inning began, Osuna got ahead of Trea Turner 0-2 and then threw three balls, Cole started warming up again in the Astros bullpen. Turner grounded out. Osuna walked Eaton. With Rendon batting, Eaton stole second. Rendon flied to center and the Astros held a meeting on the mound. Osuna stayed in and Soto lined a single to right, scoring Rendon. 4-2. Osuna also stuck around to give up a single to Kendrick. Ryan Pressly got the third out on a line drive to left.

Corbin struck out Carlos Correa to start the bottom of the eighth. But strikes 1 and 3 were nowhere near the strike zone. Plate umpire Jim Wolf was praised by Joe Buck and John Smoltz earlier in the night as the best pitch-calling umpire in the majors this year. I don't know if that's true, but he was horrible in Game 7.

The calls against Correa, whose team was down by two runs in the eighth inning of Game 7, were so bad, Wolf should lose his job. Correa could have had a meltdown so epic it would have made Nats manager Dave Martinez's blow-up last night look like a disinterested shrug of the shoulders, and he would have been fully justified. ... Pitch #1 is strike 1 and pitch #6 is strike 3.

Correa also got screwed over by Wolf in the fifth (pitch #1 was strike 1), but he ended up hitting a single.

After Correa went back to the dugout, Corbin got a groundout to short and a swinging strikeout.

Joe Smith began the ninth of the Astros. Zimmerman singled. Yan Gomes forced him at second. Robles singled. Turner walked. The bases were loaded and Jose Urquidy came in from the pen. Eaton looked at ball 1 and lined a single to center. One run scored and when Jake Marisnick booted the ball, another run scored.

Corbin handed the ball to Daniel Hudson for the ninth, and Hudson started by pumping in strikes. Springer took a strike and popped to second. Altuve took two strikes and then swung and missed a third. Brantley crushed a 2-1 pitch deep down the right field line that hooked foul. He took ball 3, fouled another pitch off, then swung over the top of an low, inside slider.

And at 11:51 pm, Washington, DC time, the Nationals began their celebration.

Here are a few of Wolf's blown calls (though by no means all of them) that MLB hopes you either (a) don't remember or (b) quickly forget:

Bottom of 3rd, Jose Altuve (#1 is strike 1, #3 is strike 2)

Bottom of the 4th, Jose Altuve (#2 is strike 1)

Bottom of the 5th, Robinson Chirinos (#1 is ball 1, #4 is ball 2)

Top of the 6th, Victor Robles (#1 is strike 1)

Top of the 6th, Trea Turner (#3 is strike 3)

Top of the 7th, Adam Eaton (#1 is strike 1, #2 is strike 2)

Top of the 9th, Ryan Zimmerman (#1 is strike 1)

All Right-Handed Batters

Max Scherzer / Zack Greinke

Tonight will be the 40th Game 7 in World Series history.

Nationals manager Dave Martinez was forced to scratch Max Scherzer from Game 5 because of spasms in the pitcher's neck and right trapezius muscle, which Scherzer had begun feeling a couple of days earlier. Whenhe woke up on Sunday morning, he was nearly immobile. (Washington GM Mike Rizzo described the pain as "ungodly".)

Scherzer, wearing a neck brace, flew with the team to Houston on Monday afternoon and he threw off flat ground for about 10 minutes yesterday. He also warmed up a bit in the bullpen during Game 6, a "dry run" for tonight. Martinez:
If Max tells me tonight that he's good, then Max will pitch until his neck decides he can't pitch anymore. I can't see myself telling Max, "You're only going to go 75 pitches." He's going to want to go out there and go as long as he can. ... [Tuesday] he looked normal, just like any other day he throws [on] flat ground. He looked really good. ... My guess is he comes out tomorrow and he's going to get prepared like he prepares any other game and he's ready to go. You're going to see Max be Max.
The Nats also have Aníbal Sánchez available on regular rest tonight.
            May 23   May 24-Sept. 29   Postseason   May 24-Now     Total
Nationals    19-31       74-38           11-5         85-43       104-74
Astros       33-18       74-37           10-7         84-44       117-62
When the Nationals were 19-31 on May 23, they had a 0.1% chance of winning the World Series, according to Baseball-Reference.com. They were one inning away from being eliminated by the Brewers in the Wild Card game and they were six outs away from elimination in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Dodgers. So Sean Doolittle is not surprised the season has come down to one game:
For the people that followed this team the whole season, it had to be this way. ... We had a knack for making things a little tougher on ourselves than we needed at times, and drawing things out. It just feels like it's the most 2019 Nats thing for this to come down to Game 7 of the World Series.
Scherzer: "Game 7. Let's go."

Here is a brief look at the previous 39 Game 7s, including the Astros' win over the Dodgers two years ago and a Game 8 played by the Red Sox and New York Giants in 1912. The home team is 19-20 in these do-or-die games.

Nine of the last 12 World Series Game 7s have been won by the home team. ... The Nationals are trying to become the 21st team down 2-3 to win the World Series. ... The Astros and Nationals have scored 11 first-inning runs, tying the 1909 and 1912 World Series for the most in history.

The Only Known Footage Of Washington's 1924 World Series Championship

Watch the only known video footage of the Washington Senators winning the 1924 World Series.

Dan Steinberg, Washington Post, October 2, 2014:
When eight cans of nitrate film arrived at the Library of Congress in August, a staffer began a routine inspection ... [and] noticed a headline screaming out from one of the newsreels: "SENATORS WIN WORLD SERIES," it said. "40,000 frantic fans see American Leaguers take 12-inning deciding game, 4 to 3." ...

[The reel contained] nearly four minutes of footage ... that somehow had remained in nearly perfect condition for 90 years. Bucky Harris hitting a home run, Walter Johnson pitching four innings of scoreless relief, Muddy Ruel scoring the winning run, fans storming Griffith Stadium's field ...

"Nitrate film, sometimes it looks great, sometimes it doesn't [it's flammable and degrades quickly]. We never know what we're going to get," said Mike Mashon, the head of the Library's moving image section. "The fact that it looks so great is a miracle." ...

The back story is just as miraculous. The mother of one of Mashon's Packard Campus colleagues was recently named the executor of an estate left behind by an older neighbor outside of Worcester, Mass. While preparing the house for sale, her family found these eight reels of film — "in the rafters of the detached and not climate-controlled garage, a space we archivists would not normally recommend for long term storage of motion picture film," Mashon wrote in an e-mail.
Old habits die hard — players were sliding into first base 95 years ago!!

President Calvin Coolidge and Senators pitcher Walter Johnson,
then 37 years old and in his 19th major league season

Umpires Have Blown The Call On The First Batter In Three Consecutive World Series Games

The outcome of the first plate appearance in each of the last three World Series games has been blown by either the plate umpire or the first base umpire.

Throughout all six games, numerous ball and strikes have been miscalled, many of them maddeningly obvious. We need robots, so we can enjoy watching the players determine the outcome of the games, but at this point, I'll take malfunctioning robots over the crew MLB chose for the 2019 World Series.

Game 4

Plate umpire James Hoye calls Strike 3 on Pitch #8 to Astros leadoff batter George Springer.

Game 5

Plate umpire Lance Barksdale calls Strike 3 on Pitch #8 to Astros leadoff batter George Springer.

Game 6

Umpire Jim Wolf calls Nationals leadoff batter Trea Turner out at first base. After the Nationals ask for a review, the call is reversed.

Wolf will be behind the plate for Game 7.

Can the men in blue make it four games in a row?

October 29, 2019

WS6: Nationals 7, Astros 2

Nationals - 100 020 202 - 7  9  0
Astros    - 200 000 000 - 2  6  0
Stephen Strasburg came within two outs of the first World Series complete game in four years (8.1-5-2-2-7, 104) and Anthony Rendon went 3-for-4 and drove in five runs as the Nationals staved off elimination, defeating the Astros and the umpires, and setting up a deciding Game 7 tomorrow night.

For the first time in World Series history and, amazingly, for the first time in 1,420 best-of-seven postseason series in MLB, the NBA, and the NHL, the road team has won the first six games.

Game 6 was marred by a controversial call against Trea Turner and the Nationals in the top of the seventh. What was likely a botched ruling by plate umpire Sam Holbrook led to the ejection of Washington manager Dave Martinez and his team playing the remaining of the game under protest.

The outcome of the World Series could very well have been riding on Holbrook's questionable call. The Nats led 3-2 and had Yan Gomes on first base with no one out. Turner tapped a pitch from Brad Peacock to the left side of the infield grass. Peacock fielded the ball and threw to Yuri Gurriel at first. But the ball hit Turner in the right leg and rolled out into foul territory.

The runners advanced to second and third, but Holbrook called Turner out for interfering with Gurriel's attempts to catch the ball. At the time, talk on the Fox broadcast centered on which side of the foul line Turner should have been running. But when the ball arrived at first base, Turner was stepping on the middle of the bag, and during the ensuing delay, Ken Rosenthal claimed the runner has a right to the baseline with his last step. Plus, it was certainly questionable whether Gurriel could have reached far enough to his left to make the catch; he had not stretched out towards the incoming baseball and was at an awkward angle to lunge for the ball. He was more in position to field a throw from the catcher than from the pitcher or an infielder.

The baseball is the slight blur above the umpire's head/left shoulder.

Martinez and the Nationals were (naturally) livid at the call. The Astros made a pitching change, calling on Will Harris, and when the commercial break was over, two umpires had headsets on. The assumption was that the play was under review, but it was reported later on that the play was not reviewable. The Nationals were playing the game under protest and the umpires were letting "Chelsea" know that. At the same time, the umpires had "Chelsea" read them the rule in question via headphones. Now (presumably) with some additional clarity, the umpires upheld the out call.

During the lengthy delay, Turner could be heard telling the other umpires that "Joe Torre [MLB's Chief Baseball Officer] is sitting right there. ... He's right there, just ask him. Why is he hiding? ... He's sitting with his head down trying not to look up."

Trea Turner is my World Series MVP.

After the game, Torre jabbered away, making excuses for the delay before finally saying: "The violation was when he [Turner] kept Gurriel from being able to catch the ball. It's a judgment call. The right call." He repeated this to Rosenthal. A judgment call is not reviewable or a valid reason for a protest.

The call was made pursuant to Rule 5.09(a)(11):
A batter is out when: In running the last half of the distance from home base to first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, he runs outside (to the right of) the three-foot line, or inside (to the left of) the foul line, and in the umpire's judgment in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base, in which case the ball is dead; except that he may run outside (to the right of) the three-foot line or inside (to the left of) the foul line to avoid a fielder attempting to field a batted ball.
Turner was called out solely because he allegedly interfered with Gurriel, but Turner had passed Gurriel by the time the ball arrived. That's why it hit Turner in the back of the right leg. And at the time it hit Turner, his foot was on the bag. Plus, it's questionable whether Gurriel, in his awkward stance, could have caught the ball. This rule is usually applied when the ball is hit a few feet in front of the plate and fielded by the catcher. The runner is directly in both the catcher's line of sight and in the ball's path to first. In this case, Peacock was on the other side of the infield. Turner's path was not blocking Peacock or Gurriel from each other.

Gurriel was almost facing the catcher and trying to catch the ball off to his left. It actually seems like Gurriel was placing himself in the best position not to catch the ball but to draw an interference call. If Gurriel had his right foot on the bag and his left foot facing Peacock, he would have been in a much better position to field the throw without having the runner involved.

There was a real sense that this judgment call could decide the winner of the World Series, if the Astros, down by only one run, were to rally. Rendon made that point moot by crushing a two-run homer to left after Adam Eaton fouled to third. Washington was now up 5-2. Between innings, Martinez argued with two umpires, including Holbrook. Martinez eventually (and rightly) lost his shit and after being ejected by Holbrook (who was also stunning bad behind the plate, from the first to the ninth), he exploded and was held back (barely) by coach Chip Hale.

The game continued. Strasburg retired the Astros in order in the seventh on 11 pitches and he retired the Astros' 2-3-4 hitters 1-2-3 on only 5 pitches in the 8th. Jose Altuve grounded to third on a 1-1 pitch, Michael Brantly grounded to second on the first pitch, and Alex Bregman popped to third on the first pitch. The Nationals tacked on two more runs in the ninth, thanks to Rendon's two-run double. Since 1920 (when RBIs became an official stat), Rendon is the third player with 5+ RBIs in a World Series game with his team facing elimination, joining Danny Bautista of the Diamondbacks (2001, Game 6 against the Yankees, 5 RBIs) and Addison Russell of the Cubs (2016, Game 6 against Cleveland, 6 RBIs).

Strasburg got the first man in the bottom of the ninth on two pitches and was pulled before he had a chance to record the first World Series complete game since Johnny Cueto of the Royals in 2015 (Game 2). Sean Doolittle gave up a two-out double to Carlos Correa that hit the very top of the left field wall before Robinson Chirinos popped to second to end the game.

During the final two innings, Fox broadcaster John Smoltz attempted to lessen the umpiring controversy by saying the interference call was not the third out of the inning, so the Nationals were still batting and they scored some runs, so everything is cool." In the top of the ninth, as Turner batted, Smoltz again offered MLB and the umpires cover, insisting: "Nothing cost anybody anything." In other words, the umpires can make mistakes and misinterpretations as long as it doesn't affect the outcome of the game." Which is HORSESHIT. (I'd rather listen to McCarver than Smoltz because McCarver's pathetic attempts at clever wordplay were somewhat amusing. Smoltz is only annoying.)

When you're knowledge of the strike zone allows you to lay off a pitch outside the strike zone and the umpire calls you out, ending your chance to bring in the tying run from third, that has cost you something. When you throw a nasty inside pitch that freezes the batter for strike three, stranding two runners on base in a tie game, and the umpire calls it ball 2, that has cost you something. When the opposing pitcher makes a poor throw to first and the first baseman is out of position to field it and the umpire penalizes you for their mistakes by calling interference, that has cost you something. And when you watch a World Series game and hope to be entertained, and maybe even enlightened by the announcers, and Fox inflicts Joe Buck and John Smoltz on you, that has cost you something. (Your sanity, most likely.)

And speaking of HORSESHIT umpiring, the plate umpire blew the call on the first batter of the game for the third consecutive game ... in the World Series. When MLB assigns its umpires to the most important games of the year, they're not assigning the best. They're assigning umpires that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems to the games.

Turner began Game 6 with a slow grounder to third. Alex Bregman made a great bare-handed play and first base umpire Jim Wolf called Turner out. But Turner looked safe even in real time - and he was safe on replay, too! - and the call was corrected. Rendon grounded a slider through a big hole in the infield to the opposite field (right-center) for a single and the Nats led 1-0. Justin Verlander (5-5-3-3-3, 93) gave up only 12 first-inning runs in 34 starts during the season, but he's allowed 10 first-inning runs in his six postseason starts.

The Astros answered in the bottom half. George Springer hit Strasburg's first pitch off the wall in left for a double. Strasburg's second pitch was wild, and Springer took third. Jose Altuve hit a sac fly to left and Springer scored. After Holbrook called Michael Brantley out on strikes on Ball 3 (Pitch #5), Bregman homered to center.

After a long fly out ended the inning, the Astros led 2-1. It turned out that Strasburg was tipping his pitches. Jonathan Tosches, the Nationals' manager for advanced scouting, saw something in Strasburg's delivery (a flaw he had fell victim to earlier in the season) and passed the word along. Strasburg adjusted and retired the next eight batters in a row.

Verlander walked two Nats with two outs in the third, but Juan Soto grounded out to second. Strasburg also issued two walks with two outs, in the fourth, after walking only two batters in his previous 31 postseason innings this month. He fanned Carlos Correa to end the threat.

Verlander dodged a bullet in the fifth after giving up a leadoff single to Howie Kendrick and a one-out walk to Ryan Zimmerman. Victor Robles went down swinging and Brantley made a nice catch after running over to the side wall near the left field corner and gloving Gomes's fly. But Verlander could not escape shrapnel in the fifth, when Adam Eaton and Soto both went deep. Soto's dong landed several rows up in the second deck in right-center and gave Washington a 3-2 lead.
Juan Soto has five homers this postseason.
They've come against...
Justin Verlander (tonight): 413 feet.
Gerrit Cole (twice): 383 and 417 feet.
Clayton Kershaw: 449 feet.
Hyun-Jin Ryu: 408 feet.
Again, the Astros stormed back. Josh Reddick singled with one out and Springer (after getting screwed over by Holbrook on two inside pitches (#1 and #3) and falling behind 1-2) doubled on what was actually a 4-1 pitch.

But Strasburg got Altuve to wave at an 0-2 pitch in the dirt (which tossed a wrench into Fox's over-the-top Altuve Adoration) and Asdrubal Cabrera made a nice back-handed pick of Brantley's grounder at second and threw him out.

Here are a few more of Sam Holbrook's worst calls of the night, in addition to the two blown calls above. Keep in mind this is someone MLB believed deserved a plate assignment in Game 6 of the World Series.

Josh Reddick, 3rd inning, Pitch #2 is Ball 1:

Yordan Alvarez, 4th inning, Pitch #1 is Ball 1:

Asdrubal Cabrera, 6th inning, Pitch #3 is Strike 1:

Victor Robles, 6th inning (two batters later), Pitch #6 is Strike 3:

Robinson Chirinos, 9th inning, Pitch #3 is Ball 2:

MLB wants us to believe there is NO ONE outside of the major leagues capable of doing a better job calling pitches to left-handed batters than Sam Holbrook:

Stephen Strasburg / Justin Verlander

Richard Justice, mlb.com:
[F]orget that [Verlander's] World Series numbers aren't dazzling (0-5, 5.73 ERA in six starts). ... [G]iven that pitcher wins are partly a function of time and place, that's more a trivia answer than anything else.
That's interesting. ... The "trivia answer" factor didn't enter into the equation last postseason (and earlier) when so many sportswriters were gleefully shitting on David Price.

Verlander has allowed four earned runs in three of his last four postseason starts. Strasburg has a 1.34 career postseason ERA.

Max Scherzer received a cortisone injection on Sunday and is penciled in for a possible Game 7 tomorrow night. The Nats' back-up plan is Aníbal Sánchez, on regular rest.

Washington catcher Kurt Suzuki missed Games 4 and 5 with an injury to his right hip flexor, but he believes will be in tonight's lineup. ... [Update: He's not.]

October 28, 2019

Bloomsday In Boston

Ian Browne, mlb.com:
Given the title the Red Sox created for Chaim Bloom — chief baseball officer — there is no question who will sign off on the key decisions the club faces in the present and future.

But what became equally clear during Bloom's press conference unveiling at Fenway Park on Monday is how much collaboration will take place in the lead-up to those decisions.

The dawn of a new day has arrived for the Sox, and it is one in which the lead baseball executive will foster a unified approach in baseball operations. This was the reputation Bloom had with the Rays, a franchise that has been one of the most forward-thinking in the game for several years. It is also one that Theo Epstein had during his successful run in Boston from 2003-11.

"The best part about this opportunity is the chance to lift up your whole staff and to put them in position to succeed," said Bloom. "I had a lot of good experiences with that with my former club, and that was the most satisfying part of the job to me. By empowering people and also challenging them productively, asking good questions, you might be able to make them a little bit better. They're going to make you better. That is a big part of what appeals to this type of leadership to me." ...

It has become clear in recent days and weeks that there are clear reasons that the club moved on from veteran baseball executive Dave Dombrowski ...

The first is that the Sox simply didn't agree with Dombrowski's vision going forward. They wanted an executive who would be more open to embracing new ideas and also rebuilding a farm system .. [and embracing] a more efficient payroll.

The second is that they felt Dombrowski under-utilized many of the other bright minds in the front office, particularly the four (Brian O'Halloran, Eddie Romero, Zack Scott and Raquel Ferreira) who ran the front office on an interim basis until Bloom was hired at the end of last week. ...

In Bloom's world, there is strength in numbers when it comes to running a baseball operations department. For example, Bloom has never taken credit for the Rays' vision to utilize openers on the pitching staff, a decision that helped keep the club competitive the last two seasons. Instead, he helped build that consensus. ...

Bloom was the only external candidate they spoke to. And within a week of first reaching out to Bloom, the Red Sox hired him.

"Chaim's experience with the Rays allowed him to touch, understand and lead every aspect of a Major League team's baseball operations, from setting a vision and structure for player development to the seamless integration of analytics into game management," said Red Sox president/CEO Sam Kennedy. "At the age of 36, Chaim has developed a well respected reputation across the league, and is known by his colleagues as someone who is creative, thorough and collaborative." ...

"He's a great asset," [Red Sox manager Alex] Cora said. "Everything I heard about him, he's been outstanding. When you're 36 and you've been in the big leagues for 15 years, you have to be good. And he's really good at what he does. ... I'm very eager to learn from him ... I'm looking forward to working with him on a daily basis and continuing to get better."
Jen McCaffrey, The Athletic:
Ten days ago, Chaim Bloom received one of the most important phone calls of his life. It was Red Sox president Sam Kennedy inviting him to Boston to interview for the team's front-office vacancy.

Three days later, Bloom arrived in the city. Over the course of roughly 48 hours, he met with over a dozen Red Sox executives as he interviewed for the job. ...

The Red Sox search was so covert that by the time word got out about Bloom on Thursday night, he'd already been offered the job, was flying back to Tampa and was on the verge of accepting the offer. ...

[H]e was the lone candidate for the job. It was more or less his to lose.

"In the end, it was only one we felt compelled to ask permission to interview, and that candidate was Chaim Bloom," chairman Tom Werner said Monday ...

Principal owner John Henry described two days of meetings the Sox had with Bloom as a "long two days. ... Especially for him," Henry said. "He met with everyone, and all of us came away thinking this is the right fit. Chaim was the right guy for the job." ...

On October 18, Henry called Rays owner Stu Sterberg for permission to speak with Bloom, who'd been a part of the Rays front office since 2005, most recently as their vice president of baseball operations. ...

"I thought that would be a five- or 10-minute phone call to talk logistics, and we ended up talking for an hour and a half," Kennedy said of his initial call with Bloom. "It was a very open and candid conversation about our situation, what we were looking for." ...

Bloom arrived in Boston on Tuesday night and had dinner with Kennedy and O'Halloran before launching into a jam-packed Wednesday schedule. He first met with Henry alone in the morning, then Kennedy and Werner joined them for lunch, with some of their non-baseball executives in marketing, partnerships and operations joining.

Bloom then had one-on-ones with manager Alex Cora, O'Halloran, Scott, Romero and Ferreira. That night, he met with Fenway Sports Group president Mike Gordon. They discussed a variety of topics and situations, including how to build a sustainably successful team, collaborative leadership and deploying resources efficiently.

On Thursday morning, Henry invited Bloom to his house in Brookline, where he, Werner and Kennedy met with Bloom for a few more hours before offering him the job. Bloom had a follow-up phone call with Kennedy the next day to negotiate a few details before Bloom accepted the job.

Three days later, Bloom was being introduced by the Red Sox in Fenway Park as the new boss, with O'Halloran as his general manager.

"The week went quickly, and it was packed," Bloom said. "Really a lot of good baseball conversation, which I really enjoyed, and then, as this thing became more real, then the thoughts started to turn to, OK, what's step one? How do we get ready for today and how do we have some kind of plan to get me plugged into an organization, as I said, that already has a lot of really talented people functioning at a really high level." ...

"In our extensive conversations with Chaim, he really ticked every box we were hoping he would check out," Werner said. "He's thoughtful, innovative, collaborative. Every person we talked to within other teams in baseball had the highest regard for Chaim. We were so pleased that our in-person interviews matched our expectations."
Jen McCaffrey and Josh Tolentino, The Athletic:
We asked The Athletic's Rays writer, Josh Tolentino, some questions about what to expect from Bloom as he takes over in Boston.

What is Bloom like as a leader? Was he around a lot? Did he have a heavy presence in the clubhouse or is he more behind the scenes?

JT: One of the biggest aspects many people around the organization enjoy the most about the Rays' front office is how accessible everyone is and the friendly atmosphere the group creates. Bloom played a key role in creating that. He was a frequent visitor at batting practice and always showed his face inside the clubhouse before and after games at Tropicana Field. There were several times during the season when Bloom could be found strolling the clubhouse after a big win or even a late-night loss, beer in hand, and chatting with players about what had just happened. ... He visited every minor-league team over the course of the season, checking in with top prospects along with all of the coaching staffs and scouts. ... It's that type of dedication that makes Bloom stand out and what helped him earn the trust of many people around the organization.

The Red Sox are focused on strengthening their farm system. Bloom has been credited for helping create The Rays Way, a blueprint for the club's player development system. Is there anything more you can tell us about that?

JT: ... Since the club is limited with its resources and has the lowest payroll in baseball, the Rays must be creative and find unique advantages. They make full use of not just the 25-man roster, but the entire 40-man on a daily basis ... Near the end of August when the Rays were in Houston, Bloom approached rookie infielder Mike Brosseau ... [Y]ou could see from Bloom's body language he was really trying to get a message across to the rookie, who up to that point of the season was tearing it up. ... [W]e found out later that day Brosseau was optioned to Durham in a matchup-based decision. When Brosseau re-joined the team as part of September call-ups, he praised the front office's decision making ... It's moments like this that show the Rays really try to get the greatest possible contributions out of their players, even when a situation might not appeal in the player's favor.

The Rays' use of the opener changed the game. What can you tell us about that and how heavily do you think Bloom was involved in developing it?

JT: No one front office executive will take credit for the opener strategy, but Bloom obviously played an important role. He was actually the highest team official on the road with the club in Kansas City back in 2018 when the Rays first implemented the idea ... While the Red Sox seem poised to carry a full shelf of starters into 2020, it wouldn't be that shocking if Bloom brought the opener with him to Boston on a case-by-case basis.  The opener wasn't just a strategy but also a reflection of an entire organization trying to stay ahead of its peers. The Rays led the American League in ERA (3.65) this season, and Tampa Bay's bullpen boasted an MLB-best ERA of 3.66. Bloom was considered one of the most forward-thinking minds in baseball without the GM title. ...
Alex Speier, Boston Globe:
The Red Sox clearly are hoping the 36-year-old Bloom will allow the Red Sox to become a more innovative, cutting-edge organization, one that moves beyond the constraints of traditional baseball ideas and methods in search of getting the greatest possible contributions from their players, while also identifying competitive edges.

Bloom grew up in and played a significant role in the development of a Rays organization that did just that — yet his impact wasn't felt so much in any single decision he made as in the development of a culture that allowed managers, coaches, executives, and players the freedom of creativity. [Rays manager Kevin] Cash and [pitching coach Kyle] Snyder could speak freely about the merits of an untested big league strategy and make the call about whether and how to use it.

"He's had his hands on everything," Snyder said. "[But] he develops a lot of trust, and I genuinely feel like he empowers everyone. That's not an easy thing to do." ...

The organization long had discussed the potential of bullpen games, maximizing matchups, limiting the exposure of a pitcher to a lineup for a third time, and helping to protect a young pitcher as he acclimated to the big leagues. The opener was not merely a novel strategy, but a reflection of an organization — one that was and is determined to give opportunities to prospects, in contrast to a Red Sox organization that at times has been reluctant to give homegrown pitchers the latitude to struggle while transitioning to the big leagues.

"[The opener] just goes to the outside-the-box, front-line thinking," said Snyder. "The conversations never stop as far as, 'What can we do next from a team standpoint of innovation?' He's impacted our entire player development infrastructure." ...

The Rays are an organization other teams examine for clues about best practices. ... Tampa Bay featured a holistic approach, finding players who had tremendous upside and then putting them in environments and situations to get the most out of their abilities. That requires understanding a player's raw materials as identified by scouts and statistical data, recognizing how coaches/teachers and technology can help a player to leverage those abilities, and making determinations about how best to use a player to maximize their abilities. ...

Success in such undertakings also requires tremendous communication. A great strategy developed in the front office carries no value if it fails to elicit buy-in from the players and coaches asked to implement it. Bloom's history suggests that he has the ability to not only help foster ideas that can make a difference, but that he also recognizes the challenges of implementing them.

In 2013, when Gabe Kapler was an adviser to the Rays' front office, he recalled a conversation with Bloom about helping players differentiate between traditional statistics — ones that weren't necessarily valued by the organization — and new, less-familiar ones that more accurately captured what the organization valued.

"He asked me a very thoughtful question about the potential contradiction between trying to make sure players were concerned about the right statistics vs. having them become overly concerned about those new stats," recalled Kapler. “"He wondered if we were really minimizing the stress of players versus just shifting the cause of it. This was an example of his inquisitiveness and a unique focus for an executive. He cared about how
players are motivated and discouraged and didn't claim to know anything. He was looking to partner with me on discovering the answer." ...

In Bloom, the Red Sox are adding a leader who is familiar with approaching relatively daunting tasks with a sense of possibility and opportunity. "The conversation never stops about, 'What can we do to give ourselves the next advantage?'" said Snyder. "There's no question he's going to do a good job building that farm system back up given the difference in philosophy between the previous GM and now. I think he'll do a really good job initiating a change in culture."
Chad Jennings, The Athletic:
Given the Red Sox rotation problems in 2019, and their lack of a fifth starter heading into the offseason, it's worth wondering whether hiring Bloom could push the team more deeply into the opener mindset. Or, at the very least, might Bloom's history and familiarity with the concept give the Red Sox a different avenue when it comes to rotation depth, strategy and development?

"This is not something that we had just come up with, or necessarily that we came up with at all," Bloom told Tablet magazine early last season. "This is something that I think was part of baseball conversations certainly for as long as I've been in the game… The trick is implementing the idea and communicating it and getting buy-in and getting everybody on board." ...

Bloom ... would not have to veer too far from his previous rotation strategy, nor would he have to push the Red Sox much beyond their current setup. ...

With the Red Sox, Bloom could see his total payroll expand to nearly four times what it was in Tampa, but the Red Sox owners' desire to get below the luxury tax might create some familiar spending limits. The opener could be a way to round out next year's rotation using in-house options. ...

If the Red Sox fill the rotation with a more traditional fifth starter, the opener could become a go-to Plan B, rather than the last resort it was in 2019. Rather than suffer a series of underwhelming spot starters, the Red Sox could plug inevitable rotation holes by using openers when necessary. ...

It's possible to think both inside the box and outside the box, and that combination might be exactly what the Red Sox need, and what they've been preparing for.
Chad Jennings, The Athletic:
The choice of Bloom, 36, to run the Red Sox baseball operations had a lot to do with not knowing. There is no all-powerful man behind the curtain. No single solution can solve every problem. No successful baseball team can be all about scouting, all about analytics, all about payroll or all about player development. ...

"[W]e were extremely desirous of bringing in someone who would augment and add," principal owner John Henry said. "As opposed to just bringing in someone who might've just been an autocrat, for instance, kind of a one-man show."

Bloom's press conference sounded more like the event held two years ago when Alex Cora was introduced as a young, inexperienced, open-minded manager. He arrived looking for information rather than assuming he had all the solutions. Cora himself noticed the parallel.

"I like the fact that he said a few words that I said here on this same stage a few years ago: genuine, transparent and responsible," Cora said. ... That's no coincidence.

"[Bloom] reminds me a lot of Alex in that he's incredibly intellectually curious," team president Sam Kennedy said. "Alex is always texting me during the year: 'Bro, I heard they're doing this in Cleveland! What do you know about Oakland? What do you know about this [or that]?' So, Alex's mind goes at a really, really, really, really high speed. And Chaim's does as well. So, I think they're going to be really incredible teammates in terms of knowing that they don't have all the answers."

Not having all the answers requires asking all the right questions, and understanding that represents the true evolution in Red Sox decision-making. ...

During his time with the Rays, Bloom worked in a front office that often had two or three people on nearly equal footing atop the decision-making hierarchy. It's easy to credit the Rays with being innovative, especially in their use of the opener, but they also developed well, made a handful of savvy free-agent signings and pulled off key trades at the right times. It was not one thing that kept the Rays competitive despite a low payroll, and it was not one person who made all the key decisions.

Henry and chairman Tom Werner said their interviews with Bloom were not so much about specific ideas ... but rather were more general and philosophical. Kennedy specifically said he liked Bloom's sense of humor. Asked whether he's going to fill out the manager's lineup card each day — a common dismissal used against analytic front offices — Bloom said that's not the way it's supposed to work, and it's not the way the Red Sox will work under his leadership.

"To me, a lot of really good organizations, including the one I just came from, there is a lot of conversation and collaboration, but nothing is handed down," he said. "Things are talked through. Ideas are bounced around. It's all with the goal of getting better."
Sean McAdam, Boston Sports Journal:
Since the beginning of this century, the Red Sox have been arguably the most successful franchise in the game with four World Series championships ... But outcomes aside, the process may have gone off course somewhat in recent years.

No longer were the Red Sox on the cutting edge when it came to analytics. No longer was there evidence of the creativity that had marked the franchise in the first decade or so under this current ownership. And perhaps most notably, gone was the notion of collaboration which had marked their operation. ...

[T]he free-flowing exchange of ideas that had typified the team's front office workings had been done away with, as Dombrowski largely withdrew and leaned on only longtime associates Frank Wren and Tony La Russa for input.

When the Red Sox went searching for Dombrowski's replacement, it was with the idea that they needed to return to what had made them successful under Theo Epstein, and his successor and protege, Ben Cherington.

In Chaim Bloom, they think they found their man. ... In 15 seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays, Bloom was known for his creativity and his ability to work well with others. ...

The game is now too complex, too detailed, to rely on just a couple of familiar faces. Teamwork is needed, pushback is encouraged. And the more qualified voices involved in the discussion, the better. That's how the Sox operated under Epstein, and apparently, will again under Bloom.

"Frankly, I talked to Theo a lot during the process — as did Tom at one point — just to do some digging on Chaim," Kennedy told BSJ, "and he couldn't have been more supportive [of Bloom]. He said, 'If you're going to look at someone outside the organization, Chaim is someone you should target and you shouldn't waste time. You should go and get him.'" ...

[Kennedy:] "Something that was very important throughout the process was to identify a leader to come in and supplement the group that we have. What we thought we knew about Chaim ended up being exactly what he is and that's someone who wants to be collaborative with the department. But, to be clear, he's had a successful track record in Tampa and we really did want to hear some new ideas and a new approach that could sort of blend with what we have. ... [I]t's incredible how baseball ops departments are advancing and new tools that folds are using to move forward. I do think Chaim represents the future of the game, which is using new and different ways to look at the game, using creativity. But at his core, he's a relationship-builder and that's really important."
Ian Browne, mlb.com:
Welcome to Boston, Chaim Bloom. Now it's time to get cracking on helping to determine the futures of stars Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez. ...

"I would say generally, our top priority is going to be sustainability and competitiveness over the long term," Bloom said. "And that could take many forms, but that's really going to be the top priority as we think about moves. With respect to those two guys, I'm just coming in here and there's a lot that I don't know, and I'm looking forward to building relationships with them and learning a little bit more about them from everybody here."
Steve Buckley, The Athletic:
Can Bloom clean up the mess that was the 2019 Red Sox and produce a World Series contender for 2020? ...

1. No, he can't.

2. Common sense tells me he does not have a mandate from ownership to win the World Series right now ...

The instant conundrum facing Bloom ... is how to to keep Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez on the roster while addressing Henry's sort-of mandate to keep next year's payroll under the $208 million competitive balance threshold. ...

Chaim Bloom isn't coming to Boston to build a team. He's coming to Boston to build an organization, which means having a farm system whose players routinely get the glossy, front-page treatment in those "Top Prospects" editions of Baseball America.

The tricky part is going to be convincing an anxious fan base that the Red Sox are going to be fun and exciting in 2020 while not necessarily being looked upon as the team to beat. ...

What made the 2019 Red Sox so enormously disappointing as they brought needless swaggerer to spring training and then couldn't back it up. ...

Put another way, after Opening Day there was nothing, nothing, to embrace about the 2019 Red Sox.
Nonsense. ... Does anyone reading this believe this? I'm genuinely curious. ... For me, Rafael Devers's breakout is enough of a counterpoint to categorically regard Buckley's statement as ignorant and asinine. (That's a strange note on which to end this long post, but I wanted to include it because I was so surprised to read it. 2019 was far from an ideal season, but to claim there was "nothing, nothing to embrace" about the club tells me that Buckley watched no games and read nothing about the team (which makes him completely unqualified to write about the Red Sox in any capacity) (or that he hates baseball like the CHB).)

I am very excited about what Bloom and his team will do and how the younger Red Sox players adapt and respond to the challenges. I hope that group of players includes Mookie Betts — for many years.

Six Days Late, Astros' Owner Apologizes To Apstein; Employees Describe Astros' Culture As "Toxic, Cutthroat, Fear-Based"; One GM Calls Taubman Debacle: "The Most Astros Thing Ever"

The Houston Astros have finally retracted their statement claiming that Sports Illustrated's Stephanie Apstein was "fabricating" her report about former assistant GM Brandon Taubman's behaviour directly after the Astros had won the American League pennant.

That decision took only six days. On Saturday, Astros owner Jim Crane sent a letter to Apstein.

On behalf of the entire Astros organization, I want to personally apologize for the statement we issued on Monday, October 21st.

We were wrong and I am sorry that we initially questioned your professionalism. We retract that statement, and I assure you that the Houston Astros will learn from this experience.

Sincere Regards,

Jim Crane
Is that really the Astros' official letterhead? Just a logo, with no address or phone numbers, or list of top executives? It looks like a lame attempt at simulating a business letter. We'll just paste the team logo at the top. No one will suspect a thing! Crane did not include Apstein's job title or employer (as even a perfunctory letter usually does). I got the picture from Apstein's tweet, so I guess it's legit and she accepted it. It still seems very weird — and looks like it was slapped together in 10 minutes.

Gabe Fernandez, Deadspin:
The statement comes six days after the franchise called Apstein's story "misleading and completely irresponsible," five days after the ballclub tried to walk those statements back—with Taubman pulling the tried and true "committed husband and father" card—and three days after the organization finally fired Taubman once an MLB investigation corroborated what Apstein originally reported. Not the most ideal timing for an apology about something as big as accusing a journalist of making shit up.

As always, just as important as what the letter included is what was left off. The Astros continue to make no mention of the culture that caused the initial smearing statement to be released, along with subsequent soft apologies, and what they plan to do to change that. It also still seems that everyone involved with this debacle besides Brandon Taubman will remain with the organization going forward. Combine that with the fact that Astros GM Jeff Luhnow said, "This is not something that's endemic. This is not a cultural issue," and it seems that the organization is committed to just outright denying the reality of the harm this culture caused, and will continue to cause.
Chandler Rome, Houston Chronicle, October 27, 2019:
How Houston's original statement was crafted remains vague. Who wrote it remains a mystery. Senior vice president of marketing and communications Anita Sehgal refused to "name names" in a six-minute interview with three reporters prior to Game 5 of the World Series on Sunday.

"This statement really is owned by the entire organization," Sehgal said. "This team needs to wear this statement. We screwed up. And we're going to own it as a team. We're going to share responsibility for it and we're not going to point fingers at any one person. We're going to own it as a team. And that's the right decision. ... Listen, this statement was wrong and it was wrong on a number of fronts. ... It's embarrassing for the organization and we are very, very sorry that it happens. But the team owns it. The entire organization owns the decision that that statement went out. We've apologized. We've recognized it. And we feel really, really bad. ...

"When we do things really well, we do them really well. When we're successful, we do things really well. Clearly when we make mistakes, we do that really well, as well. I feel like we've learned a lot from this. I feel the next time a statement has to be written, I feel like this situation is going to be top of mind for everyone before we craft a statement. I feel very confident we're not going to make this mistake again."
The Astros say they have learned from this. So the next time there is an unflattering article published about the team, the Astros are "very confident" their first response will not be to brand the reporter a liar and try to ruin her reputation and career. ... So that's good news.

I thought it was odd (and perhaps telling) that the Astros sent a woman out to make that statement, but it appears that it was Sehgal who "oversaw the smear" of Apstein's reputation, which "humiliated the Astros and helped stoke a nearly week-long PR fiasco".

That's what Evan Drellich of The Athletic reported last weekend:
Taubman Saga Exposes Longstanding Questions About The Astros' Culture Under Jim Crane And Jeff Luhnow

From the outset, the Astros were easy for media and fans to romanticize because they were different. And because they seemed fearless, too. ... Crane and Luhnow always posited that winning would fix everything. ...

For years, observers inside the Astros and out have cast doubt on how well Astros management handles people, and on the team's priorities. But until Roberto Osuna's acquisition last year after a domestic-violence suspension, and until the saga that led to the firing of Brandon Taubman on Thursday, the questions had not grown so mainstream.

"Toxic. Eats you alive," said one of more than 10 current and former Astros employees The Athletic spoke to this week about the Astros Way. "Cutthroat. Secretive. Not fun. But, winning, being first, innovative."

The Taubman incident — and a series of vacuous responses issued under Crane and Luhnow — reveal just how capable Astros management is of bulldozing people and decency. ...

Crane's m.o. was known long ago. War profiteering and discrimination cases were filed against his logistics businesses, involving multiple settlements, a backdrop to the wealth he amassed prior to buying the team. And for all Luhnow's willingness to embrace change in some ways ... [H]e appears uninterested in grappling with the possibility that his blueprint has fostered blindspots. ...

One ex-Astros employee spoke of emotional devastation immediately following the trade for Osuna, both for themselves and for others inside the organization. For the message sent to the team's own employees — and specifically women — about domestic violence.

The employee saw no significant resources allocated to dealing with internal concerns, no meaningful action addressing the impact on others inside Minute Maid Park who had to newly reckon with the core values of their workplace. All the employee saw was a come-as-it-may approach to fallout.

The fallout from Taubman's behavior has some of the same themes. Once again, even basic sensitivities to domestic violence were missing, from Taubman's own mistake to how his superiors decided to react. ...

When the incident became public ... management's instinct was to attack, to defend, rather than seek the truth. ...

A pair of current Astros employees were disgusted. One labeled the [initial] response "awful." Another was aghast the statement was allowed, calling it "a joke." ...

Multiple sources said the statement, which irresponsibly attacked a reporter's credibility, was overseen by Anita Sehgal, the team's senior vice president of marketing and communications. Luhnow said Thursday that many people were involved.

One person said that typically, a statement of that caliber would include Astros general counsel Giles Kibbe, and potentially Crane himself. Kibbe did not return a call. Crane has not spoken to the media, quietly turning down a reporter after he left the field before Game 1. Sehgal declined an interview request the same day. At publication time, Luhnow had not replied to an interview request for this story.

Executives in baseball ops and public relations with other teams unanimously rebuked everything about the Taubman incident in conversations with The Athletic, echoing the outcry from media and many fans.

"It's the most Astros thing ever," said one general manager. ...

Taubman is responsible for his own actions. But Luhnow and Crane could consider whether Taubman's mindset was influenced by elements of their own culture. ... Would it be a surprise if he was looking at the reporter he targeted not as a person, but as a naysayer — someone who dared doubt the validity of his work in landing Osuna?

On a public-relations front, the failures were repeated and embarrassing, on the sport's biggest stage no less. They were also at times insulting, reflecting a poor grasp of how to talk about domestic violence or even offer a sincere apology. Those are expressions of design flaws, of large gaps in planning and outlook. ...

Even on Thursday, there was contradiction. The statement announcing Taubman's firing referred to an initial investigation.

"It wasn't an investigation," Luhnow said a little later in the day. "It was just the information that we had quickly."

One ex-Astros baseball operations employee said this week that when they left for another team, they did so specifically because of the culture of the front office. ...

Many ex-Astros employees The Athletic spoke with ... described a ruthless operation where people struggle to feel valued, to feel like their voice matters. Moving up can feel impossible, internally or externally. Advanced titles, which come with advanced money, are guarded more closely in Houston than elsewhere.

Luhnow has not always informed employees under contract when other teams have called with better opportunities, a norm inside the sport, though with some exceptions. Those opportunities can be precious for employees. And, as part of their efficiency model, the Astros do not pay well.

"It's fear-based," said one ex-employee. "They will fire employees based on salary concerns, even after years of exceptional work." ...

There's been heavy turnover. At least two more front-office employees are slated to leave this offseason, though their reasons for doing so were not immediately clear. ...

A lot of the dissent has been brushed off by the Astros as inherent to a process of change, to their way of doing things. ... But the collective volume over the Astros' interpersonal touch has long indicated something more than just sour grapes. Does it matter how that bottom-line environment makes people feel, so long as the work gets done? ...

Crane and Luhnow have heavily influenced the way winning baseball rosters are built. But doubts over the team's direction after egregious mistakes are deserved too. ... [T]he events of the last week revealed to the world what some learned long ago: The Astros know how to win games. They don't have a grasp on people.
Jeff Passan, ESPN, October 25, 2019:
Inside The Astros Culture That Bred Brandon Taubman's Comments

When Jeff Luhnow took over as Houston Astros general manager in December 2011, the organization dedicated itself to building a franchise for the 21st century, even if that meant dismissing more than 125 years of baseball orthodoxy. The long-accepted practice of belief without proof no longer would suffice. ...

If the Astros were going to upend baseball, it would happen only with a meticulous faith to evidence. They would ask questions, seek answers and iterate accordingly. ... They blinkered themselves from outside disparagement and wedded themselves to the creed that information would guide them.

On the field, it did. The Houston Astros, as a baseball team, are a rousing success story. They have won more than 100 games in three consecutive seasons. Two years ago, they captured a championship. ...

Contempt for the Astros runs deep — and has well before this incident. Jealousy breeds some of it. The organization's arrogance accounts for the rest. The Astros painted themselves as a disrupter and reveled in the commotion. ...

Dealing for Osuna was a classic Luhnow-era Astros move. While a significant number of front-office employees opposed the trade, sources said, Luhnow overruled them with the support of Astros owner Jim Crane. ...

Less than six weeks after the trade, the Astros promoted Taubman, then a senior director of baseball operations, to assistant GM. His ascent since joining the Astros in 2013 after working on Wall Street had been rapid ... [Luhnow and Taubman share] an unsparing view of the industry that manifested itself in an air of superiority. Taubman was widely disliked outside of Astros circles, eight sources who interacted with him said; most of them referenced his lack of "feel," or people skills. ...

On Monday night, the eve of Game 1 of the World Series, Sports Illustrated staff writer Stephanie Apstein published a story with Taubman's comments from the ALCS celebration. ... At 9:25 p.m., she tweeted a link to the story. Almost exactly an hour later, the Astros released a statement. ... In 74 words that oozed with aggression, the Astros had loosed an attack on the story's veracity and Apstein's credibility. It read with a similar belligerence to Luhnow's words on the day of the Osuna trade: defensive, stilted, nevertheless awash with certitude. They were the Astros. They were right. ...

When asked by the Astros about his behavior, Taubman had vociferously denied targeting the women. Another Astros employee backed his version of the story ... The organization found the information compelling ... even though Taubman's story contained clear logic gaps. ... They believed him, with no proof beyond his word.

Less than 10 minutes after Apstein's tweet Monday, Yahoo Sports' Hannah Keyser, one of the other women standing in the group, confirmed SI's version of the story. It did not dissuade the Astros from releasing the statement anyway. ...

The corroboration was damning. The statement would not stand. The Astros scrambled Tuesday morning to craft two new statements — one from Taubman, the other from Crane. ... [B]oth shared the tone-deafness of the first. ... The ham-fisted statements, sent about four and a half hours before Gerrit Cole threw the first pitch of the World Series, were distributed as MLB was scrambling too. League officials were horrified that the most important games of the season were being played under the specter of a completely preventable incident that was made actively worse twice by the Astros. ...

By Wednesday afternoon, Taubman's story was crumbling. Starting that morning, Bryan Seeley and Moira Weinberg, both former prosecutors who help lead MLB's investigations, had questioned witnesses — at least four Astros employees and multiple reporters, sources say. As the interviews ended before Game 2 began, it was clear to MLB as well as the Astros, whose general counsel sat in on interviews, that Taubman's information was bad.

The Astros made the decision Wednesday night to fire Taubman. His words started the mess. He lied about his intent. Astros vs. the world could go only so far.

At 4:33 p.m. ET on Thursday, the Astros issued their fourth statement in less than 72 hours. The second paragraph began: "Our initial investigation led us to believe that Brandon Taubman's inappropriate comments were not directed toward any reporter." ... What the statement never addressed was the Astros ... believed Taubman without bothering to ask witnesses not affiliated with the Astros. They smeared Apstein unnecessarily. The Houston Astros put their name, and by extension their approval, on a statement in which Brandon Taubman — who weaponized another man's domestic violence and used it to target and harass women — denied that truth and hid behind the fact that he's a husband and father. ...

On Thursday evening, Luhnow held a news conference in Washington, D.C. He used the word "inappropriate" 13 times and "wrong" 10 times. ... He admitted that he had seen the original statement before its distribution but would not say who wrote it. ...

Saying the team takes accountability and taking accountability are entirely different things. Saying it involves talking. Actually taking accountability would involve action. ...

In practically the same breath in which Luhnow said the Astros do not have a culture problem, he said that multiple people in the team's front office read the first statement before it was released. As many good people as there might be, there are multiple, himself included, willing to sacrifice others to protect a lie, he admitted without admitting it. ...

Will they change? If Luhnow's news conference is any indication, no. An incident like this warrants transparency; the Astros traffic in opacity. For days, the Astros spun and hid, spun and hid, not because of some flawed public-relations strategy. Bad as it was, their tack was simply an extension of what has found such great success on the field: We can do this our way.