Scott Miller's Starting 9: Should MLB Expand Roster Size in Changing Game?

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Scott Miller's Starting 9: Should MLB Expand Roster Size in Changing Game?
Jae C. Hong/AP Images

1. Enlarge rosters? Are you crazy, or do you just have too much time on your hands?

As the Mets and Phillies played on...and on...and on...the question this weekend became more looming and more focused: In these days of six-inning starters and one-batter specialist relievers, are 25-man rosters large enough anymore?

Anybody for 26-, 27-man rosters?

(You in the players’ union, put your hands down! We know what you think).

Granted, by the time Saturday’s 14-inning extravaganza finished, it was the first time the Phatigued Phillies had played back-to-back games of 14 innings or longer in well over a century of Philadelphia baseball.

It’s not like 14 innings occur every evening. Or even every week.

But still.

Some think that since the Godfather of Bullpens, Tony La Russa, pulled enough levers to permanently change this game that maybe we need to add even more chairs out there in the bullpen.

Toss in the stack of Tommy John surgeries this summer as the plague of sore arms continues to knock the wind out of this game, and you wonder whether Little League rules should apply and everybody should rest for several days after throwing 60 pitches.

In Friday’s 6-5 Phillies win, a game that lasted five hours and 23 minutes, the Mets wound up using seven total pitchers after starter Rafael Montero lasted only 3.2 innings. Philadelphia, which got seven innings from starter A.J. Burnett, still used seven total pitchers.

On Saturday, the Mets won 5-4 in a game that lasted 5:32. Jacob deGrom went 6.1 innings, and then the Mets paraded six relievers through the finish line. Kyle Kendrick went six innings for the Phillies, who then used five relievers.

It was a weekend for coffee, Red Bull, Mountain Dew and monster-deep bullpens.

But was it also a weekend for opening the discussion for growing rosters?

Sure. Discuss away.

But just remember, allowing each team to add a pitcher or two is akin to handing each manager another pack of matches. You’re just inviting them to burn more of everyone’s precious time each evening with even more pitching changes.

Already this season, with the new instant replay system, games are taking longer than ever. The average time of a nine-inning game through June 1, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, is 3:02, exceeding the previous high of 2:58, set in 2000 and equaled last season.

I get the whole LOOGY thing in this age of specialization (left-handed one-out guy), but too many games grind to a halt the minute the bullpen doors swing open.

The last thing we need around here is an excuse for more pitching changes.

 

 

2. Happy anniversary, Dodgers. Now, take off

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

One year ago, on June 1, the slumping Dodgers were 7.5 games out of first in the NL West.

Monday, exactly one year later, the Dodgers started the month of June...7.5 games out of first place.

Difference? At the risk of stepping into the predictions racket, no way do the Dodgers reel off a 42-8 run like they did during their historical 2013 sprint toward the division crown.

This isn’t to say the Dodgers can’t win the NL West again this year. It is to say they’re going to have to find a different blueprint.

Though his streak of 23 consecutive games in which he surrendered three or fewer earned runs ended when the Pirates cuffed him around Sunday, Zack Greinke is pitching like a Cy Young candidate should this summer. And with Clayton Kershaw, Josh Beckett and Hyun-jin Ryu around him, the Dodgers have every reason to climb back into this thing.

But they have several issues they need to solve, starting with the fact that, unlike last year, there is no Yasiel Puig waiting in the wings. He’s already here. Sure, lots of folks are wanting Joc Pederson, but there is no room at the inn in an overcrowded outfield.

Citing a lack of his old “burst,” manager Don Mattingly shoved Matt Kemp out of center field, and when he started in left on Wednesday, it was his first appearance there since June 21, 2006. Kemp, who immediately dropped into an 0-for-20 slump, clearly is unhappy with the shift.

“Weird,” he said upon moving. “Different. It is what it is.”

Meantime, Mattingly and center fielder Andre Ethier, whose manager has accused him of being too lackadaisical in the past, engaged in a shouting match in the dugout on Saturday. And Hanley Ramirez, in the final year of his contract, is hitting only .261/.336/.469 after hitting .345/.402/.638 a year ago.

Ramirez quipped the other day that his slow start isn’t due to impending free agency because he’s got enough money in the bank.

Question is, do the Dodgers?

 

3. Giant power, Giant lead

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Nobody has a larger divisional lead than the Giants, which only increases the Dodgers’ degree of difficulty and reinforces that crazy every-other-year thing San Francisco has going on. Let’s see, the Giants won the World Series in 2010, 2012 and, now, in 2014, at 37-20, Bruce Bochy’s team owns the majors’ best record as June begins.

Even with Brandon Belt sidelined with a broken hand, the Giants have not missed a step. They are 14-7 without him thanks in no small part to the continued pop of Michael Morse and Brandon Hicks.

Not only do these Giants have more power than any of Bochy’s clubs since the retirement/exile of Barry Bonds, but they have scored more two-out runs (119) than anybody in the majors. These guys are having more fun with two outs than should be legal: San Francisco has scored 47.4 percent of its runs this season (119 of 251) with two outs.

Morse alone is hitting .393 with 20 RBI with two out and runners in scoring position.

Meantime, Matt Cain (strained hamstring) will return to the rotation on Friday against the Mets. At 1-3 with a 3.66 ERA, Cain has missed four starts already (two with the hamstring, two after slicing his finger while cutting a sandwich).

He will be welcomed back in a big way: One scout who watched his last outing, in Colorado on May 21 (the day he suffered the strained hamstring), said it was the best he’s seen Cain throw in two years.

 

4. Meet the new Boss...Derek Jeter?

Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

We can only imagine what the guy learned from George Steinbrenner back in the day. Maybe that’s why Derek Jeter musing about his possible future as an owner during his 18th annual Turn 2 Foundation dinner Sunday night in New York sounded so delicious.

“That’s the next goal, buddy,” he told the New York Post’s Zach Braziller. “Calling the shots, not answering to someone. That’s what interests me.”

Might Jeter fire managers by the dozen? Might he sign every free agent imaginable? Might he sic a private investigator on a disappointing free agent and dub him Mr. May?

“I’d probably be a little bit more behind the scenes than the Boss,” Jeter told the Post. “But I learned a lot of things from the Boss.”

What if Jeter owns a baseball club when an aging shortstop with multiple championship rings who has spent his entire career with the organization comes up for free agency?

Oh, the possibilities.

 

5. Extra sauce, please: Barbecuing the hitting coaches

USA TODAY Sports

Pivotal time of year in Kansas City, where a club with very real playoff hopes has fallen into the AL Central cellar and invoked an all-too-familiar act of desperation: fire the hitting coach.

When the Royals reassigned Pedro Grifol last week, Dale Sveum, the former Brewers and Cubs manager, became the sixth hitting coach in the past three seasons in Kansas City. Kevin Seitzer’s final season was in 2012, then Jack Maloof and Andre David started 2013, Hall of Famer George Brett and Grifol replaced them about this time last year and then Grifol finished up ’13 when Brett stepped down last July.

The Royals ranked last in the AL in runs scored, home runs, slugging percentage and OPS into Monday night. And amid the power outage, some players—most notably, Mike Moustakas, who was sent back to Triple-A Omaha before being recalled again the other day—have regressed.

So the Royals are looking for a different voice again. At this point, the only one they haven’t taken for a test drive behind the cage seems to be Siri’s.

And if the voices don’t get into their heads in a positive way soon, instead of contending, they may find themselves forced to listen to offers on ace (and impending free agent) James Shields come July.

 

6. Follow the bouncing manager

Winslow Townson/Getty Images

Bad blood between the Rays and Red Sox extends back to at least 2008, when the Rays first had the audacity to stage an AL East coup d'etat and win the darned division. But rarely has this excellent rivalry reached the proportions it did Friday when, after David Price hit David Ortiz with a pitch, things went so wacky that four different men managed the Red Sox.

Check it out: John Farrell was ejected when he went bat-crap crazy in the first inning because plate umpire Dan Bellino did not give Price the heave-ho for what Farrell thought clearly was an intentional pitch.

That left bench coach Torey Lovullo in charge of the Red Sox. Until the fourth, when Price hit Mike Carp with a pitch. The benches emptied (again), all hell broke loose (again), and yet the umpires allowed Price to continue pitching because they deemed the Carp pitch an accident (despite warnings having been issued after the Price-Ortiz dust-up). So much for Lovullo keeping his composure. Gone.

That left third-base coach Brian Butterfield in charge of the Red Sox. Until the sixth. That’s when Boston’s Brandon Workman fired a pitch behind Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria. Workman was ejected, and because a warning had been issued, Butterfield automatically was tossed as well.

That left hitting coach Greg Colbrunn in charge of the Red Sox for the rest of the evening.

No word on how well he knows the signs.

One other Sox note: Their 3-2 loss to the Indians on Monday night halted history. Had they won, it would have been their eighth consecutive victory which, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, would have been the longest winning streak in major league history immediately following a losing streak of at least 10 games.

Only two other clubs before the Red Sox had won seven in a row immediately following a 10-game losing streak: the 1989 Tigers (who won seven in a row after 12 consecutive losses) and the 1942 Pirates (who won seven after 10 losses).

 

7. Fly, Blue Jays, fly

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Just a quick note to point out between the daily Edwin Encarnacion home run barrage that Joey Bats can still play: At 33, Jose Bautista leads the AL in on-base percentage (.442), walks (47) and batting average against left-handers (.442).

“Bautista’s been the constant all year from Day One,” Jays manager John Gibbons told Toronto reporters following Sunday’s 4-0 win over Kansas City. “We had a couple of slow starts from other guys, a couple of guys were banged up along the way, but Bautista has been there from Day One.”

 

8. Chicago's summer Sale

Brian Kersey/Getty Images

Following a rain-abbreviated three-inning stint last Tuesday, the White Sox ace turned in another abbreviated start Sunday against the Padres: two hours and eight minutes’ worth, and a complete game.

Sale struck out nine and allowed only two hits in a 4-1, 100-pitch win that left the Padres highly impressed. Sale’s slider was as good as they’ve seen this year—"[T]his guy's one of the best pitchers in the American League. ... He had it working today," manager Bud Black said, per The Associated Press—and was reminiscent of Randy Johnson’s.

For the Sox, it was more of the same. As catcher Tyler Flowers noted, per Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune, Sale pitched about the same way he had in his previous two or three outings. Opposing lineups have one of two choices: Lay back and hope Sale’s slider is off, which usually leaves hitters behind in the count, or come out aggressive like the Padres did—and open the door for Sale to throw a complete game.

By moving Sale to Sunday, it lines him up to face the Tigers in Chicago a week from Wednesday in what, for June, will be a surprisingly key series.

And with Jose Abreu already clubbing a two-run homer against Clayton Kershaw in his return from the disabled list on Monday night in Dodger Stadium, the Sox are re-armed—and threatening to make things very interesting.

 

9. Extra whiz, please

Man, those Mets can eat. And I am so jealous.

 

9a. Rock ‘n’ Roll Lyric of the Day:

Alan Greth/Associated Press

Careful, Red Sox and Rays. You keep misbehaving, it’ll lead you right down this path...

“I started as an altar boy working at the church

“Learning all my holy moves doing some research

“Which led me to a cash box labeled 'Children's Fund'

“I'd leave the change and tuck the bills inside my cummerbund

“I got a part-time job at my father's carpet store

“Laying tackless stripping and housewives by the score

“I loaded up their furniture and took it to Spokane

“Auctioned off every last Naugahyde divan

“I'm very well acquainted with the seven deadly sins

“I keep a busy schedule trying to fit them in

“I'm proud to be a glutton and I don't have time for sloth

“I'm greedy and I'm angry and I don't care who I cross”

— Warren Zevon, "Mr. Bad Example"

 

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has over two decades of experience covering MLB, including 14 years as a national baseball columnist at CBSSports.com.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball here. 

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