- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN Insider
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Every winter, teams encourage players to go to winter ball to learn, to play, and the vast majority of those who join a team in the Dominican Republic or Venezuela or Mexico or Puerto Rico talk about how much they glean from the experience.
The What-Have-You-Done-For-Me-Lately Factor is not higher anywhere than it is in winter ball, because the teams do not care if you’re a former first-round pick or a veteran of 10 years in the majors. If you don’t produce, you’re going to lose your job during the short and intense season.
Winter ball veterans who grew up in the U.S. or Canada talk about the benefit of being out of your comfort zone, and being forced to adapt to a new culture, as Latin American players do when they first sign with teams in Major League Baseball. But this year, it’s not a sure thing that MLB will allow players under its umbrella to participate in winter ball.
Here’s the issue: The Caribbean Federation is welcoming Cuba back into its championship series for the first time since 1960, as first reported back in June. This is a problem for Major League Baseball, which, like all businesses, is under pressure from the federal government here to not fuel a revenue stream into Cuba.
Under U.S. law, MLB is restricted from entering into any agreement with a league that includes Cuban membership without proper authorization. MLB and the Caribbean Confederation had a meeting about this Wednesday in an effort to reach a new agreement, according to a source with knowledge of the talks. The discussions will continue.
• The Orioles are said to be the most aggressive in placing waiver claims, which makes sense, given their current position in the standings, with the sixth-best record in the American League. The Orioles trail in the wild-card race by 1 1/2 games, and therefore can control access that any of the teams above them have to players on waivers.
He was on Comcast and said this:
“I think if I’m the pitcher on my team, I think I’m gonna drill somebody,” he said of the lack of retribution on Tuesday. “It’s something that’s part of the game, you know, yesterday, and it’s also something that I think could light a fire for us. But, like I said, we’re 14 1/2 games back and we don’t need anybody getting ejected or doing anything like that. We got a great team and we gotta push to the end.”
• There was a moment in Max Scherzer’s start Thursday in which he seemed to lose the strike zone, for just a moment. So he circled behind the mound and took a deep breath and gathered himself, something he didn’t always do in past years, when sometimes he couldn’t stop an inning from snowballing.
Then Scherzer climbed back up the hill and applied the last bit of wrecking ball to what remained of the Indians. When the series began, it had been possible for the Tigers to be overtaken in the standings, and instead, Detroit buried Cleveland, seven games deep, and the Indians finished the series with Ryan Raburn on the mound.
From ESPN Stats & Information: Scherzer became the first pitcher in Tigers history to be 17-1 after the first 18 decisions and according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the fifth pitcher in MLB history with at least 17 wins in his first 18 decisions of a season. He joins Rube Marquard (1912), Roger Clemens (2001), Roy Face (1959) and Don Newcombe (1955). Marquard had 18 wins, the others 17.
Entering Thursday, Scherzer ranked fifth in MLB with 78 strikeouts using his fastball. On Thursday hitters were 1-for-14 against that pitch, but he didn't record a single strikeout with the fastball and his Miss Percentage (3.7) was his the third-lowest since 2009. So how did he have so much success with his go-to pitch? Scherzer used his defense -- his In-Play Percentage of 51.9 was his highest since Aug. 2, 2011. His defense responded by not making an error while he was on the mound and the only hit he gave up via the fastball was a bases-empty, two-out single in the sixth to Jason Kipnis on a tough pitch down and away.
• The Indians will hang in there, Terry Francona said after the game. They’ve been awful against the Tigers and really good against the rest of baseball.
• Meanwhile: The Royals won again, and now are just 1 1/2 games behind the Indians and 4 1/2 games out of the wild card.
• Mark Melancon’s cut fastball has become a significant weapon, with a late, hard downward break, down and in to left-handed batters -- with so much movement that hitters are mostly flailing at pitches out of the strike zone. Melancon is throwing the pitch about 60 percent of the time, according to Fangraphs, more than double his use of the pitch in 2012.
Like Mariano Rivera, Melancon can run his cutter in on the hands of left-handed hitters, as he does on this pitch. Left-handed batters have posted a .344 OPS against him this season, with two extra-base hits in 94 plate appearances.
• The Dodgers: You can’t stop them, you can only hope to contain them.
Jerry Crasnick has a piece that will post later today about the best moves of the offseason. Here’s my Top 10:
1. The Royals’ deal for Ervin Santana. At the time, some teams passed on Santana because they thought he was in irretrievable regression, but he has given K.C. exactly what they had hoped to buy.
3. The Orioles re-signed Nate McLouth for $2 million. McLouth made this deal happen in the 24th hour.
4. The Indians’ signing of Scott Kazmir, who rediscovered his velocity and hard slider.
5. The Rays’ low-budget signing of James Loney. They always manage to find one or two gems every year.
6. The Pirates’ signing of Francisco Liriano.
7. The Cubs’ signing of Nate Schierholtz.
8. The Tigers’ signing of Matt Tuiasosopo.
9. Shawn Kelley for the Yankees. They made a minor deal for him, and he has been excellent.
According to Chris Matcovich of TiqIQ.com, the secondary ticket market for this game has erupted. He notes: On July 31, the average price for Friday’s game was $80.14. It has increased 39.94 percent since then to $112.15. Quantity is down 46.78 percent from Monday to about 5,000 tickets available.
The current get-in price is $49 (up 104.17 percent from Monday afternoon, when it was $24). The next-highest get-in price during the weekend series is Saturday, at $26.
It’s probably not a good thing for a ballplayer when the New York Times is doing favorable/unfavorable polls on you -- and the results for A-Rod are not favorable.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Mark Reynolds just stopped hitting, and he was cut by the Indians. Reynolds is owed about $1.7 million by the Indians for the rest of the season, so it’s hard to imagine that he would be claimed on waivers.
2. The Rangers did not come close to making a deal for Alex Rios before the trade deadline, so it’s hard to imagine they could get something done now. The bottom line is this: Other teams see Rios as somewhat overpriced at $12.5 million and weren’t willing to give up much in a trade for him, and the White Sox have been looking for solid return. Before the deadline, writes T.R. Sullivan, the White Sox wanted a package of three players for Rios -- so it’s hard to imagine they’d just give him away now.
3. Mike Rizzo must soon decide who to pick as a replacement for Davey Johnson, writes Amanda Comak, and she mentions that Washington could target Bo Porter, who is currently the manager of the Astros. Some of Rizzo’s friends in the game believe he will pick Matt Williams.
Two things: First, these are decisions that are made at the highest level of the organization, so whenever we talk about the Phillies’ choices, everything -- the good and the bad -- shouldn’t be dropped at Amaro’s feet alone. And second, the part that I don’t get is essentially reinvesting in a team product that has been steadily regressing for two years. As the old saying goes: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
Utley could earn $75 million.
Dings and dents
2. The Cubs lost a reliever for the rest of the season.
4. Tim Wood’s comeback is officially over.
7. An Astros rookie is set to return.
1. The Cardinals are not faring well in a series of games that is testing them, writes Derrick Goold.
3. For the third straight day, the Pirates came back to win.
• The Twins want to maximize their spots in the Arizona Fall League.
• Mike Trout is unlikely to be part of the MVP debate given the Angels’ struggles, writes Alden Gonzalez. I’d respectfully disagree and here’s why: Miguel Cabrera has been dealing with some nagging injuries and if Detroit maintains its sizable lead in the AL Central, he might get more days off than he usually does, giving Trout an opportunity to build a significant statistical advantage.
I believe this, too: If Cabrera hadn’t won the Triple Crown last year -- if he had led the AL in hitting and RBIs but not in home runs -- I think Trout would have won the MVP. But once Cabrera became the first player in 45 years to get a Triple Crown, voters looked past Trout’s overall statistical advantage.
The same split of opinion among baseball people remains in place, I think -- the folks in uniform think Cabrera is one of the greatest players of all time, while a lot of front-office types believe Trout is the better player, and not by a small margin.
• The Braves are putting it all together, writes Mark Bowman.
• Mike Matheny’s policy doesn’t make sense, writes Bernie Miklasz.
• The Rockies are broken, writes Mark Kiszla.
• A Padres reliever is having a breakout season.
• The Twins’ CEO is noncommittal about the future of manager Ron Gardenhire.
• Some Blue Jays put the Latin drug connection into context, as Richard Griffin writes.
• It has not been a good summer for Vanderbilt basketball.
And today will be better than yesterday.