Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Boos, Cheers and Chocolate Bars

The first full week of the MLB season is now in the books and it’s starting to feel like we’re getting into the swing of it.

Every team has at least one win, albeit still only one win for the Tampa Bay Rays heading into Sunday’s games, whilst every team has at least one loss, albeit still only one loss in the case of the Boston Red Sox (linked to the Rays’ situation) and the New York Mets.

Among the expected favourites, the LA Dodgers have had the slowest start in losing six of their first eight games, with the Cleveland Indians going 3-5 through their first eight games.

But it is still only eight games.

We have to wait for what seems like an eternity for the baseball season to start again and that means it’s difficult to avoid the temptation to draw conclusions from what we’ve seen. Whether good or bad, it’s going to take a couple of months to really get a feel on how teams and players are shaping up this season.

Boos Turn To Cheers

That’s being rational about it, though. It’s easy for fans to lose perspective in the early days of the season, forgetting that a 162 game regular season brings with it plenty of ups and downs.

Giancarlo Stanton got his first taste of the difference between playing in Miami and playing in New York when he was booed in the Bronx on Tuesday for striking out five times. He gave the perfect response the following day by hitting a home run.

Similarly new Phillies manager Gabe Kapler had a rough first few days on the job with his unconventional bullpen management coming under all sorts of scrutiny. Some fans booed him at their Citizens Bank Park home opener on Thursday, partly in jest (I think), but wins like the one they had on Saturday (20-1 over Miami) will soon change that.

The simple rule is that some fan bases are quicker to boo than others and the best way to respond is to give them something to cheer about.

#BonusBreakfastBaseball

In last week’s column I referenced the 17-inning slog between the Cubs and Marlins and that the push for extra inning rules in the Majors may gain momentum over the next ten years.

What I neglected to mention is that for us across the pond there is a perk attached to these long games, especially those on the west coast.

It was about six o’clock on Tuesday morning when I looked at the scores and saw that the game at Chase Field between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks was still in progress. Two hours later and it was still going on. The game lasted 15 innings and took a total of 5 hours 46 minutes to complete, finally being won by Arizona at around 8.25 BST.

That was good fun for neutrals, great fun for D-Backs and quite significantly less fun for Dodgers fans, particularly any that had started watching from first pitch (2.40 am here) and lived through a second Kenley Jansen blow-up early this season.  Again, ‘it’s early’ …

Facebook Freebie that may feel like a blackout

As for watching baseball, a new venture for MLB began on Wednesday when Facebook provided an exclusive broadcast of the day-game between the Phillies and Mets.

Games have been shown live on various platforms before, yet the difference in this case is the worldwide online exclusive part. MLB.TV simply directed you on to the Facebook page where you had to log in to see the game.

It should be said that the Facebook deal isn’t putting anything behind another paywall and MLB will focus on the fact that it makes another weekly MLB live game free to watch.  The issue of course is that you have to sign up to Facebook to watch it and whilst for many people that will be a non-issue, it was coincidental that the Phillies-Mets game was going on precisely when Facebook announced that the number of people affected by the Cambridge Analytica saga totalled a staggering 83 million.

In the UK, we’ve been used to enjoying MLB.TV since its inception without having to worry about any local blackouts that affect subscribers in North America. The Facebook deal is only for one game per week, so it’s not a significant number of games affected over the season, but it is going to be one day-game per week, which has an increased impact on us due to those being the most convenient games to watch live in the British evening.

MLB.TV subscribers are left in the situation of either having to sign up to Facebook – which for many reasons increasing numbers want to avoid – to watch games that they considered they had paid for or miss out. Again, it’s only one game per week, but the concern would be that it sets a precedent that will gradually see more deals being signed that reduce the live action available on MLB.TV.

Twitter are also streaming one game per week live for free again this year; however these are only available in North America so not something we can use to help promote the game in this country.

The Chocolate bars are on Charlie

It’s been a good week for Charlie Blackmon. He signed a new six-year contract with the Colorado Rockies that guarantees him at least $108m.

It’s an interesting deal as it has to be seen in the context of this past off-season’s Free Agent market, with Blackmon’s original contract set to expire at the end of this season. He has decided to work out the best deal he could get with the Rockies rather than test the market and you have to say that seems a wise decision.

Blackmon has been a relatively late bloomer. Whilst his performances over the past few seasons have been excellent, he turns 32 years old in July and so, based on what we’ve just seen, you could imagine teams being wary about offering a contract for more than three years to him, even though his performances would suggest he deserved a bigger investment.

The Rockies don’t have a great track record when it comes to making big signings, from last year’s Ian Desmond deal (that doesn’t make any more sense one year) to the infamous Mike Hampton disaster of December 2000.

In the case of Blackmon, they have been prepared to push the boat out to tempt him away from free agency due to their close knowledge of the player. Come back in six years’ time to see whether it proved to be a wise decision or not.

The Sunday Smasher

The selection here should probably be Shohei Ohtani’s second MLB start on the mound, given how well his debut went and his headline-grabbing, home run hitting we’ve seen this week.

However, I picked his start last week and, as with that one, he’s going to be facing my Oakland A’s so I’ll leave that one alone in the hope that his performance is less eye-catching today.

Instead, I’m going to pick the Marlins-Phillies game that begins at 18.35 BST and is available to watch or listen to via MLB.TV. They may not be teams that neutrals would immediately pick, but I like to make sure I catch a bit of every team early in the season and the reason to choose this one is that it will be Jake Arrieta’s debut for the Phillies.

It looks a very favourable match-up for Arrieta – other than the fear for Phillies fans that they used up all their hits and runs yesterday – and he could do something special.

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