(Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images)Baseball's favorite real-life couple is ready to say "I do." Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander and model Kate Upton are engaged, according to E! News.

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Upton was spotted on the red carpet at the 2016 Met Gala rocking a giant engagement ring on her finger. She told E! News that Verlander proposed before the start of the season, but that the two had been keeping things quiet

"I'm really excited, he asked me right before season started so we've been keeping it on the down low for quite a while," she told E! News exclusively. "So I'm excited to finally be able to share it with the world!"

Upton added that the two haven't set a date for the wedding just yet. She also said that Verlander helped design the engagement ring. 

Over the three years that they've been together, Verlander and Upton have become one of the more popular baseball couples. Upton routinely appears at games to support Verlander, and the two have teamed up to host adoption events for puppies during spring training. 

That popularity is probably fueled by the fact that both of them constantly push out pictures of each other with dogs on Instagram. Hey, that's just a smart use of social media.

Congrats to the happy couple on the engagement. And to Verlander for actually designing the ring. That was probably a daunting task, but she said yes, so he clearly did something right. 

[Elsewhere: Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval needs shoulder surgery]

Jewelry design is also a pretty good skill to have in Verlander's line of work. If the Tigers season goes the way they expect, we're guessing the club wouldn't mind consulting with Verlander about designing a different type of ring. 

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Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: May 3, 2016, 1:00 am

(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)The Pablo Sandoval era with the Boston Red Sox just took another hit. The team announced Monday that the 29-year-old would undergo surgery on his injured left shoulder. 

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Sandoval has been in limbo since going on the disabled list in mid-April, but this news clears a few things up. When it was initially announced that Sandoval would be going on the DL, some wondered whether the Red Sox used the DL in order to avoid playing him regularly.

Some even wondered if Sandoval exaggerated the severity of the injury to get a much-needed break from the club. The fact that the team immediately put Sandoval on the DL before even giving him an MRI didn't help quell those conspiracy theories. 

That's not the case. The news at least confirms that Sandoval was always dealing with a serious issue. Those crazy theories still could have kernels of truth to them, but the injury is legitimate.

Though the team has confirmed Sandoval will have surgery, they did not provide a timetable for his return. It doesn't sound like they'll release that information until after Sandoval undergoes his procedure, according to Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald.

"The club will make comment and provide additional information about the surgery at the completion of the procedure.” — Red Sox on Pablo

— Evan Drellich (@EvanDrellich) May 2, 2016

Shoulder surgery is a pretty serious issue, though, and it seems likely Sandoval will miss significant time. It's unclear whether that means a little over a month, or the entire season at the moment. Both things are possible depending on the injury and the surgery required to fix it. Early indications are that Sandoval could be facing a lengthy rehab.

From a team standpoint, this doesn't really change the Red Sox's outlook all that much. Sandoval was beat out by Travis Shaw during spring training and wasn't getting a ton of playing time before the injury. He would have been a nice piece to have off the bench, but only if his performance improved.

[Elsewhere: This five-year-old looks and pitches just like Noah Syndergaard]

As of right now, it's just another sad story in Sandoval's short Boston tenure. The best way for Sandoval to work his way back into the good graces of the team and the fans was to perform on the field, and he won't have the chance to do that for a while now.

Given his performance and lack of conditioning, Sandoval already faced an uphill battle to win the fans over. Missing time will only make it harder for him to change that perception.

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Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: May 3, 2016, 12:04 am

(@Mets on Twitter)If New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard ever has to skip out on making a start, the Mets may have just stumbled on the perfect replacement. Five-year-old Ashtin G. not only has Sydergaard's impressive flowing locks, but he has the stuff and the demeanor on the mound that is a perfect match for Thor.

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Don't believe us, take a look at the evidence. 

Mini Thor is the most adorable, but intimidating thing you are going to see all day. Check out 5 year old Ashtin G.https://t.co/D6KsBn0erG

— New York Mets (@Mets) May 1, 2016

It's like looking into a time machine or mirror or something.

There's a lot to love here. Ashtin is adorable, and definitely has the look down, but he's also serious about his craft. Look at the way he gets pumped up about starting off his imaginary batter with a strike, and the way he celebrates his eventual strikeout. Ashtin has the tenacity and competitiveness scouts rave about when discussing top flight starters.

We haven't even mentioned his stuff yet. The fastball seems to be there, as does the command and control. At five years old, we were lucky if the ball made it anywhere close to the mitt. This kid is already carving up imaginary hitters with ruthless accuracy.

[Elsewhere: Curt Schilling isn't going to wind up at Fox Sports]

If Syndergaard ever needs a quick break, or wants to spend a day exploring the city of New York, we know exactly who he can call. It has to be a day game, though. We wouldn't want Ashtin to be up past his bedtime.

(BLS H/N: Cut 4)

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Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: May 2, 2016, 10:04 pm

For a few years now, at the start of each month of the baseball season, we've compiled a list of the longest homers of the previous month. If you like to watch baseballs fly out of stadiums, it's a lot of fun.

Never in that time, however, have we had a more unlikely player at No. 1 on the list than we did for April. He's a man who hit just three homers last season. And whose career total of 25 is what league-leader Nolan Arenado should have by the All-Star break. Yet our dude at No. 1 hit his homer — yes, it's the only one he's hit this season — 466 feet, according to MLB Advanced Media's Statcast tracking system. That's better than even Giancarlo Stanton's monster blast in Milwaukee the other day.

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Take a bow, Jordy Mercer, for you are the MLB Home Run Titan of April. If this were an award show, Mercer, the Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop, wouldn't have a speech prepared. It's that kind of unlikely win.

Here's Mercer and the rest of the top five:

(AP)

1. Jordy Mercer, April 22, 466.05 feet: Did we mention he only hit three homers last year? Good. Because he only hit three homers last year.

2. Giancarlo Stanton, April 30, 462.30 feet: Second place for April, but something tells us, he'll be No. 1 on the list before the season ends.

3. Nolan Arenado, April 10, 462.16 feet: He hit 10 homers in April and one so far in May. That's pretty good.

4. Carlos Correa, April 6, 461.56 feet: Correa announced his presence in NYC with this bomb at Yankee Stadium in his second game of the season.

5. Colby Rasmus, April 9, 461.53 feet: Did you know his Twitter handle is @MrColbyJack? That's fantastic and underrated on the list of best MLB Twitter names. Especially when he goes 461.

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Author: Mike Oz
Posted: May 2, 2016, 9:47 pm

When ESPN fired baseball analyst Curt Schilling two weeks ago, a result of his latest flap with management about his political views and when to share them on social media, one common theory was that Schilling might have a job waiting for him at Fox Sports. 

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Fox, after all, is home to Colin Cowherd, Jason Whitlock, Clay Travis and is warming a spot for Skip Bayless when his ESPN days run out. So Fox doesn't seem to have a problem with often-divisive and sometimes-trollish opinion-havers. With Jamie Horowitz — the man who created the "Embrace Debate" culture at ESPN — on board as Fox's president, Schilling wouldn't exactly be an outlier for his unfiltered approach to sports.

(AP)But it sounds like Schilling-to-Fox isn't happening. Not soon and not according to a statement that Fox Sports gave Deadspin. It read:

We were approached by Curt’s camp this week and passed. We’re very happy with the group we have working baseball this season.

Passed, eh? And saying they've passed in a public statement? That sounds like there's no budging in Fox's stance.

If Fox weren't interested right now but thought maybe a possibility existed down the road, the statement might say something like, "We have no plans to add Curt to our MLB coverage at this time." This sounds like a hard rejection. (Unless it's all a negotiating tactic, which, hey, it wouldn't be the first time). 

[Elsewhere: ESPN conveniently edits Curt Schilling out of Red Sox documentary]

As for Schilling, he posted a comment on his Facebook page (where else?) that seemed to indicate a new job is in the works. 

"I think I'm getting ready to go to work in a position that's likely to make the far left heads explode."

Is that outside of sports, perhaps? Schilling has been aligning himself with the likes of Breitbart and Steven Crowder since ESPN fired him, so the possibility of a job in political media makes a lot of sense, especially considering he'd be embraced as a martyr.

Schilling's behavior the past few years has shown that he's as passionate about politics and history as he is about baseball, so finding a job somewhere with an actual political slant — where his fascination with divisive political memes wouldn't be at odds with the rules set forth by his employer — might be what's best for his long-term employment prospects.

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Author: Mike Oz
Posted: May 2, 2016, 7:35 pm

Do you remember the last time the Texas Rangers played at the Rogers Centre in Toronto? Sure you do. And the Rangers sure do too.

(Canadian Press via AP)It was Game 5 of the American League Division Series last year, aka the best and wildest playoff game that some of us have ever seen. The Toronto Blue Jays triumphed, propelled by the Jose Bautista bat flip that some people are still debating to this day.

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The Rangers return to Toronto on Monday to start a four-game series, their first time in Toronto since their stunning and heart-breaking defeat last October. Monday's game starts at 7:10 p.m. ET and pits Texas starter A.J. Griffin against Toronto's R.A. Dickey. It's the MLB Free Game of the Day right here on Yahoo Sports, which means you can stream the game for Yahoo's Sports Home, MLB index and video home. Lucky you.

The bat flip gets all the attention when we look back, but there was so much more to Game 5. A run scored on Russell Martin's odd throw that hit Shin-Soo Choo. Upset fans hurled things onto the field because they were upset about the review call. Elvis Andrus and the Rangers booted away a chance to advance to the next round with an unlikely seventh-inning full of errors. The benches cleared twice.

It was a fantastic display of baseball drama. Or, if you're the Rangers, a horrible one.

Ahead of the return to Toronto, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News rebuilt the game and the aftermath from the Rangers' perspective and it makes for a fascinating read. The entire thing is well worth your time. Here's a great passage on the Bautista homer:

(Yahoo Sports)

“It sounded like an explosion, like a gunshot,” says catcher Chris Gimenez, who was behind the plate. “I still see it. I’ll never forget it. I’ll never forget where I set up, how the ball released out of [Dyson’s] hand, how it is tracking right into his barrel.

“It’s so loud and my jersey is literally vibrating,” he adds. “He’s standing there. My brain is telling me I’ve got to say something, I’ve got to do something, but I’m just frozen. You can’t believe everything that just transpired and that’s went down.”

[Elsewhere: Young Rangers fan proudly finds foul ball, then throws it back]

And this bit from Rangers reliever Sam Dyson, who gave up the Bautista home, suggests he's still salty about the bat flip. 

“It’s not the first time he’s done that,” Dyson says now. “Obviously, I didn’t like it. Everybody stares people down. I stare people down. But I’m not going to throw my glove up in the air; why is he going to throw his bat in the air?”

It begs the question: What will we see in the Rangers' return to Toronto? Is revenge against Bautista still on their mind? Will baseball chaos ensue again? Or will it be a regular ol' regular-season game?

Whichever it is, we can't wait to find out.

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Author: Mike Oz
Posted: May 2, 2016, 5:24 pm

Life is full of hard lessons. The softball team at Wylie High School in Texas learned one on Friday, when they lost the district championship because of their own premature excitement. 

Wylie was playing McKinney North High School, and they were up by two runs in the final inning of the game. There were two outs, but the bases were loaded with McKinney North players, so it was still a precarious situation. A McKinney North player hit the ball to short, and a Wylie player picked it up and fed it to her teammate at second. 

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Everyone on the Wylie team thought it was a forceout, and so they began throwing gloves and hats and running in to celebrate their championship victory. But what they didn't see was the umpire calling the runner safe at second, meaning they hadn't actually won. 

McKinney North players knew what was up, and they kept running the bases despite the other team acting like they'd won. One Wylie player realized what was happening and ran from the celebration to pick up the ball and throw home, but the ball never left her hand because there was no one at home plate to catch the ball.

Wylie players rushed to pick up the gloves they'd thrown and get back in the game, but by that point it was too late. Three runs scored and McKinney North won the game 7-6.

That is a tough way to lose any game, let alone a district championship. It's hard not to feel for the poor Wylie High School softball team. It's a good bet none of them will ever celebrate a win again until they've decisively earned it. 

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Author: Liz Roscher
Posted: May 2, 2016, 4:03 pm

 

Near the end of the Toronto Blue Jays-Tampa Bay Rays game on Sunday, there was a bizarre rundown that ended in a hug between the Jays' Kevin Pillar and the Rays' Ryan Webb. But it shouldn't have ended that way.

There were two outs in the top of the ninth inning, and Pillar was on first with Ryan Webb on the mound for the Rays. Webb turned and threw to first to pick off Pillar, who was too far off the base and got caught in a rundown.

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Most of the rundown play was pretty normal. Webb threw it to Logan Morrison at first base, and when Pillar started to run, Morrison threw it to shortstop Brad Miller. Then Pillar careened back toward first, so Miller threw it to Webb, who had come in to cover first. Pillar spun his wheels toward second again with Webb hot on his heels. Webb threw it to second baseman Logan Forsythe, so Pillar changed direction once again.

It's the last change of direction that initiated the weirdness. Webb was so close behind Pillar that when Pillar changed directions toward first, he ran directly into Webb, who hadn't had a chance to get out of the way yet. But instead of trying to move away from the play in action, Webb locked Pillar in a makeshift embrace while continuing to move toward Forsythe, who of course had the ball. Forsythe took advantage and tagged PIllar out, ending the inning.

The umpire called Pillar out almost immediately, which was weird considering this was clearly an obstructed play. Let's look at the official rules:

OBSTRUCTION is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.

Webb had thrown the ball to Forsythe when he ran into Pillar, so he was no longer in possession of the ball, nor was he in the act of fielding anymore. He was obligated to get out of the way as soon as he let go of the ball. It doesn't seem that Webb and Pillar colliding was intentional, especially considering the speed with which everything happened. But once they did run into each other, Webb decided to take advantage of the situation so Forsythe could tag Pillar out, which is absolutely against the rules. 

[Elsewhere: Alex Rodriguez shows us a unique and intimate way to dry a bat]

Why was Pillar called out when a pitcher was obstructing his path to first base? Well, as with many, many rules, it's up to the umpire to judge what's happening. From the official rules: 

It is entirely up to the judgment of the umpire as to whether a fielder is in the act of fielding a ball.

Maybe the umpire thought that Webb was still in the act of fielding the ball, somehow. That would have to be the umpire's judgment, because if Webb was in Pillar's path for any other reason (to stop him from running or even by accident), that's obstruction. 

The bizarre non-call didn't hurt the Blue Jays in the end. Just three outs after Ryan Webb's obstructive hug, they won the game 5-1. Though no harm was done, perhaps a few umpires should brush up on the rules of obstruction.  

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Author: Liz Roscher
Posted: May 2, 2016, 2:54 pm

 

When you're a kid, one of the first things you learn to do with a ball is to throw it. From the time you're a toddler scooting around on the floor, grown-ups give you a ball and tell you to throw it back to them. But no one ever tells kids that they're not supposed to do that at a baseball game.

That's what happened to a young Texas Rangers fan Sunday when the Rangers played the Los Angeles Angels. In the bottom of the fourth inning, first baseman Mitch Moreland hit a ball toward the foul pole in right field that looked — and sounded — like it might have been out of the park. It hooked just foul, though, and landed in the front row of the upper deck where a father and daughter were sitting. 

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The two of them started searching for the ball, which had bounced off the railing and landed on the floor. After a few seconds, the young girl comes up with it, holding the ball above her head triumphantly. It was a great moment! And then, just milliseconds after she holds up the ball in triumph, her arm starts to move forward. Her father can't do anything to stop what happens next. His daughter, acting on years of teaching, throws the ball back. 

That young Rangers fan and her father join many other parents and children who have gone through the same thing at baseball games. At a Phillies game in 2009, an adorable toddler threw back a foul ball that her father gave her to play with. In 2014, a young fan threw back a Derek Jeter foul ball, though her father did get it back in the end.

That adorable Rangers fan didn't get her ball back, but she did get an autographed ball to make up for it, which isn't a bad trade-off.

It's hard to blame any kid who throws back a foul ball, especially at a game where they see baseballs being thrown constantly. It's what they were taught to do.

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Author: Liz Roscher
Posted: May 2, 2016, 1:25 pm

Welcome to The Walk Off, the nightly MLB recap from Big League Stew. Here we'll look at the top performers of the night, show you a must-see highlight and rundown the scoreboard. First, we start with a game you need to know about. 

When the Los Angeles Dodgers needed him most, ace Clayton Kershaw rose to the occasion. This isn't necessarily a new development. Kershaw has shown the ability to carry a team on his back with an exceptional start throughout his career. What happened Sunday was a little different, though.

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With the Dodgers on a six game losing streak, Kershaw took the mound looking to right the ship. As he's done so many times before, he delivered. Kershaw tossed a complete-game, three-hit shutout against the San Diego Padres in a 1-0 victory. He struck out an incredible 14 batters during the start. The streak had been broken, and it was all thanks to Kershaw.

No, really, Kershaw singlehandedly won the game for Los Angeles. 

He not only kept the Padres off the board for the entire game, but he was responsible for the game's only RBI. In the bottom of the third inning, Kershaw hit an RBI single to center field, scoring A.J. Ellis. It was the only run the Dodgers scored all game, and the only run Kershaw wound up needing to pick up the victory.

With the win, Kershaw now has a 1.96 ERA on the season. After halting the losing streak, the Dodgers are 13-13 and still sit atop the National League West. 

TOP PERFORMERS 

Nolan Arenado: Power may play up in Coors Field, but Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado's power will play anywhere. The 25-year-old proved as much Sunday, bashing his league-leading 11th home run against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Of the 11 home runs Arenado has hit this season, six have come at home and five have come on the road. He also added a single during the 6-3 win, finishing the day 2-for-4 with two runs scored and three RBI.

Marcus Stroman: The birthday boy delivered. On the day he turned 25, Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman tossed a fantastic outing against the Tampa Bay Rays. Stroman lasted eight innings, giving up one run on three hits. He walked two and struck out nine in the 5-1 win. He also improved to 4-0 with the performance. Not a bad way to spend a birthday.

[Elsewhere: A-Rod has a very strange way to dry his bat]

Brett Lawrie: Seems like a different player has contributed in each Chicago White Sox win this season. It was Lawrie's turn Sunday. Lawrie had a tremendous series against the Baltimore Orioles, but saved his best effort for the finale. He went a perfect 3-for-3 at the plate, and walked in his two other plate appearances, reaching base all five times he stepped in. Lawrie is now hitting .290/.377/.505 over 106 plate appearances with the Sox. He scored one run and notched one RBI in the 7-1 victory.

Doug Fister: The Houston Astros expected a comeback season when they signed Doug Fister in the offseason, and finally saw a glimpse of that Sunday. Fister lasted 6 2/3 innings against the Oakland Athletics, giving up just one run on seven hits. He walked one and struck out five during the 2-1 win, lowering his ERA to 4.60 in the process.

Clayton Kershaw: But we already covered him.

MUST-SEE HIGHLIGHT

The Astros haven't gotten out to a great start, but things seemed to be clicking Sunday. Pitcher Doug Fister was excellent, and some of that credit belongs to his fielders. George Springer came through for Fister in the bottom of the seventh inning. With Houston up 2-0, Coco Crisp hit a line shot out to right field that looked like it would at least wind up being a single. Springer charged in at the ball, and dove at the last second, securing it in his glove. The play prevented the leadoff batter from reaching base in a tight game. If that hit fell in, things could have turned out much differently in the 2-1 win.

THE SCOREBOARD

Giants 6, Mets 1: Madison Bumgarner tossed six scoreless innings, and Hunter Pence notched three RBI, and hit his fifth home run, during the victory.

Reds 6, Pirates 5: A John Jaso home run tied things up in the bottom of the ninth, but Scott Schebler's double in the top of the 11th clinched the victory for Cincinnati.

Brewers 14, Marlins 5: Tom Koehler was charged with eight runs as the Brewers offense exploded against Miami. Seven members of Milwaukee managed at least one RBI.

Tigers 6, Twins 5: Jarrod Saltalamacchia's RBI double in the eighth inning salvaged an otherwise poor start by Mike Pelfrey.

Nationals 6, Cardinals 1: Bryce Harper may have struck out in all four of his at-bats, but the rest of the Nats' offense picked him up and Max Scherzer pitched like an ace. 

Braves 4, Cubs 3: Addison Russell made up for a big error with a clutch single in the ninth to tie things up, but a Nick Markakis sac fly wound up winning things for Atlanta.

Phillies 2, Indians 1: Vince Velasquez out-dueled Danny Salazar to earn his fourth win of the season.

Angels 9, Rangers 6: Garrett Richards had to leave the game early due to dehydration, but his offense picked him up. Six Angels managed at least one RBI in the win.

Royals 4, Mariners 1: Ian Kennedy was solid over five innings while Eric Hosmer hit his fourth home run of the season in the win.

Red Sox 8, Yankees 7: David Price gave up six runs over seven innings, but was bailed out by a late Christian Vazquez home run.

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Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: May 2, 2016, 4:22 am

(Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images)The ongoing feud between ESPN and former employee Curt Schilling may have just been taken to a new level. Schilling was fired by the network in April. Shortly after being let go, Schilling accused the station of bias and said they employ some of the most racist people he's ever met.

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It's pretty rare for a company as big and public as ESPN to get into a back-and-forth with a recently fired employee, but it certainly looks like that might be the case here. It's time for everyone at home to grab their popcorn.

During Sunday's airing of the "30 for 30" documentary "Four Days in October," which details the Boston Red Sox's epic four-game comeback against the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, the network cut out a pretty crucial part of the story. Curt Schilling's Game 6 start, also known as "the bloody sock game," was edited out. 

Boston Globe reporter Chad Finn noticed the change and reached out to ESPN to explain why this happened. According to a statement by the network, it was all one big misunderstanding. 

“When a live event runs long, it's standard procedure to shorten a taped program that follows. In this case, we needed to edit out one of the film's four segments to account for the extra length of the softball game.”

Prior to airing the program, ESPN broadcast a live softball game. That game went longer than expected, forcing the people at ESPN to cut down the Red Sox documentary in order to make up for that lost time and keep other shows on schedule. 

That makes sense logically, but it seems awfully convenient given the current contentious relationship between the two parties.

Schilling tried to find humor in the situation initially:

@pagebyrner @realOBF @GlobeChadFinn honestly I won't snap until I watch Finding Nemo the next time and Dori has been axed from the movie.

— Curt Schilling (@gehrig38) May 2, 2016

But later indicated he knew ESPN would issue an "excuse" for taking out that specific footage:

@DaleEArnold @paulsen_smw was waiting for the excuse, good stuff

— Curt Schilling (@gehrig38) May 2, 2016

Schilling has a lot of critics, but it's tough to argue with him here. How can you air a documentary about the Red Sox's performance in the 2004 ALCS and leave out "the bloody sock game?" That may have been the most memorable game in the series.

We understand that ESPN needs to get its programming on a schedule and some part of "Four Days in October" had to be edited, but did it really need to be that part? It looks weirdly suspicious considering they just fired Schilling. You can take out some interviews or something, but you have to leave Game 6 in there!

[Elsewhere: Yankees DH Alex Rodriguez has a strange way to dry off his bat]

Regardless of whether is was unintentional, the whole thing looks pretty petty on ESPN's part. For once, even the Schilling critics have to admit that he has a point here.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: May 2, 2016, 3:11 am

New York Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez is among the smartest players in the game. He's incredibly talented, sure, but putting up resurgent numbers at age-39 requires more than exceptional physical skills. He clearly knows how to hit, and when he doles out advice about how to act at the plate, young players would be wise to take notice.

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With that said, maybe he should keep this little nugget of wisdom to himself. During Sunday night's game against the Boston Red Sox, A-Rod showed the world his method for keeping his bat dry while in the middle of an at-bat. It was something!

A-Rod drying his bat in the best way to ensure he ends up in a vine https://t.co/Y5rjPl2dLX

— The Cauldron (ICYMI) (@CauldronICYMI) May 2, 2016

That ... uh ... yeah ... we're speechless.

Say what you want about his methods, but it worked. In his next at-bat, the 40-year-old slugger crushed a home run against Red Sox ace David Price.

In his third at-bat, he narrowly missed another long ball, settling for a double.

Baseball can be a superstitious sport where players will follow an exact routine if it produces good numbers. Given A-Rod's success following his ... whatever we're going to call that ... we wouldn't be surprised if he pulled it off more often.

[Elsewhere: It's pretty rare for Bryce Harper to look this bad at the plate]

As for whether it might catch on among teammates, well, we're a little skeptical there. We want the Yankees players to do whatever makes them comfortable at the plate, but we don't want Yankees games to suddenly become not safe for work.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: May 2, 2016, 2:00 am

It's been a pretty fantastic run for Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper. The 23-year-old is coming off an MVP-caliber season in which he established himself as the best hitter in the game, and is on pace to pretty much repeat himself this year.

[Join a Yahoo Daily Fantasy Baseball contest now]

It's pretty rare these days to see Harper look lost at the plate, is what we're trying to say. Baseball can be a humbling game, though, and even the best of the best are subject to suffering its wrath.

That's precisely what happened to Harper Sunday against the St. Louis Cardinals. The slugger accomplished something he has not managed to do in nearly four years during the contest. Problem is, it was one of those things he would rather forget. For the first time since August 21, 2012, Harper struck out four times in a single game. 

Harper isn't really a stranger to whiffs. He struck out 120 times during his rookie season, and had more or less continued to post similar strikeout rates even though his exceptional 2015. During those four years, he struck out in roughly 20 percent of his plate appearances, according to FanGraphs.

Because it was Harper, he managed to work some deep counts in each at-bat before his strikeouts. Harper saw five pitches in his first two at-bats, three in his third and seven in his fourth. Even in an awful game, there's still some positive: He made the opposing pitchers work.

While it's still early, Harper seemed to be cutting down on his whiffs this year. Coming into Sunday's game, he had a 13.5 percent strikeout rate. That would have been the 31st lowest rate in baseball last season. That's a similar strikeout rate to guys like A.J. Pollock and Dee Gordon did last season, and those players aren't really known for whiffing. 

Following his no good, very bad day, Harper's strikeout rate jumped to 17 percent. That's still under his 20.6 percent career rate, but it's a lot less impressive than his excellent 13.5 percent performance prior to Sunday.

Still, you have to hand it to Harper. There's no weakness in his game at the plate, but if you had to nitpick, strikeouts would be the one thing Harper does that makes him look human. He's clearly made an effort to cut down on them, and it was working prior to Sunday's contest. 

Even if that's just small sample nonsense and he returns to his former rate, it won't really matter. Harper posted one of the best offensive seasons we've seen since Barry Bonds in 2015. 

[Elsewhere: Why were the Astros so bad in April?]

It's insane to think Harper can get better in any way, but that's certainly how things were looking coming into Sunday. This particular game may have been a setback, but Harper still somehow has a chance to get better at the plate this year. That should be a harrowing thought for pitchers everywhere.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: May 2, 2016, 1:32 am

This isn't how things were supposed to go for the Houston Astros.

After soaring back into relevance with 86 wins and a postseason berth last season, they were supposed to continue building momentum with a roster built around superstars like Carlos Correa, George Springer and Dallas Keuchel.

[Elsewhere: A-Rod gives home run bat to young Red Sox fan who lost his father]

Instead, they've stumbled out of the gate looking like a team without an identity.

Granted, they haven't played as poorly as those rebuilding Astros teams that lost 324 games between 2011-2013, but the results have been miserable. With Saturday's 2-0 loss to the Oakland A's, Houston concluded April with a 7-17 record. That's tied for the worst mark in the American League along with another disappointing team, the Minnesota Twins. Houston actually has a worse run differential at -33, and the 123 runs they've allowed are the worst in the AL.

Honestly, miserable really only begins to cover their struggles. It's not one of those situations where you can point at one thing as the problem, either. There are several problems, and they're each taking a toll. But for the sake of being brief and being thoughtful of Astros' fans feelings, we've narrowed it down to four big issues that contributed to their lousy April. 

(AP)Ken Giles looks lost: Acquired in a major offseason trade from the Philadelphia Phillies, many thought Giles would step right in as Houston's closer. It hasn't panned out that way or even been a serious consideration for manager A.J. Hinch. That's because Giles has been downright terrible since the beginning of spring training, and now he's frustrated on top of it.

In his latest rough outing on Friday, Giles was charged with protecting a two-run lead in the eighth inning. He retired one batter, but not before allowing a home run and the eventual tying run to reach base. Houston ended up losing the game one inning later.

"I'm out of whack," Giles told reporters after the game. "I'm not me right now, and that's the crappy part right now. I'm not the guy I was the past two seasons. I'm somebody completely different on the mound, and I don't feel comfortable up there. It's just mechanical work. I don't feel comfortable up there. I don't feel right. I'm just trying to push through where I need to fix those things right now."

That's not what fans want to hear, but it's undeniable based on his performance and results. Giles is sporting a 9.00 ERA in 10 innings. If the Astros want to start winning games that are close in the later innings, they'll need to get Giles on track.

Carlos Gomez has destroyed more bats than baseball this season. (AP)Carlos Gomez has been non-existent: Another big addition via a trade, Gomez hasn't made a great impression so far in Houston. He was actually acquired last July, and he struggled mightily, hitting just .242/.288/.383 with four homers, 13 RBIs and 10 steals over 41 games. He's been worse this season, hitting .213/.241/.275 with no homers, two RBIs and two steals.

Now, on top of all that, he's hurt. First, he left Wednesday's game in Seattle after getting hit on his right hand by a pitch. Then, on Friday, Gomez injured his rib cage while diving for a ball in left-center field.

All things considered, he seems like a good candidate for a some time off to heal both physically and mentally. We're just not sure the Astros can afford that right now given the skills he brings to the table. 

Road woes: The Astros weren't exactly road warriors last season, finishing 33-48 away from Minute Maid Park. But that doesn't mean they can get away with that type of record again this season. Houston finished April at 3-11 on the road. That includes going 1-7 on the road with the AL West. They could take one step toward fixing that by winning the series finale in Oakland, but they absolutely need some consistency and confidence away from home.

[Elsewhere: The Pirates lineup is deeper and more productive than you think]

The strikeouts: One thing that's accepted with Houston's offense is that there will be many strikeouts. They're a young group and they're a strong group, so the fact they're leading MLB with 238 strikeouts is no surprise. It's still a big reason why they're losing, because they're missing opportunities to get baseballs in play and pressure the defense with some of their dynamic athletes.  

Let's not limit this to the offense, either. Houston's pitching is seventh from the bottom with 177 strikeouts. They're allowing more baseballs in play than they'd like, and they're turning that into a .982 fielding percentage, which is bottom 10 in MLB.  

Amazing how much difference the strikeout can make, isn't it? 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: May 1, 2016, 8:05 pm

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No one was expecting Vin Scully to mail in his final season in the Los Angeles Dodgers television booth. That's just not his style. But the fact of the matter is, he's actually stepped up his game this season to provide more information, more entertainment and, let's be honest, more energy, than just about any single broadcaster or broadcast team in MLB.

He's like a rookie going above and beyond to prove he belongs. In every broadcast, Scully has provided at least one memorable story or history lesson that had people talking the following day. That trend continued on Saturday as the Dodgers hosted the San Diego Padres.

[Elsewhere: Zac Curtis wears the face of shock after call up from A ball]

On this occasion, Scully had a very special topic in mind: Beards!

(AP)Scully gleefully announced during the second inning that he'd been doing his research on the history of beards. His inspiration? We imagine it was the Justin Turner Chia Pet giveaway at Dodger Stadium. Though it could have been Derek Norris' outrageous beard, or Andrew Cashner's. After all, he spent some serious airtime on Cashner's beard last season.

Whatever the case, beards were the subject of Scully's latest lecture, and it made for glorious television. He went on for five minutes, dropping names like Leviticus, Alexander the Great and even Abraham Lincoln. When he said the history of beards, he didn't mean your father or grandfather's beard from the 1970s, he meant the history of beards right back to their origin.

We learned a lot, too.

For example, Scully says Alexander the Great "was not only great, but he also thought he was the greatest looking man in the world. And Alexander the Great said, 'There's no reason to cover up my beautiful face with a beard.' And so, all of a sudden, it started to disappear."

[Elsewhere: Brandon Phillips goes behind-the-back, celebrates by dabbing]

Is everything Scully said actually true? We have no idea, but have no problem rewriting history as Vin Scully sees it, either.   

Here's another gem.

Vin Scully is giving the history of beards during the telecast. They developed bc women like them & they scare off animals. @VinScullyTweet

— Brett Padelford (@b_pad) May 1, 2016

We could go on all day quoting excerpts, but it's probably best if you click on the video above and give it your undivided attention. If nothing else, you'll be reminded why Vin Scully is the greatest of all-time. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: May 1, 2016, 6:25 pm

As long as smooth is still a word, then Brandon Phillips will be the definition. The Cincinnati Reds second baseman has always carried himself with that special brand of confidence that makes everything he does look intentional, and definitely smooth.

It's a gift that Phillips has shared throughout his entire 15-year career, and he put it on display once again on Saturday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

[Related: The Pirates lineup is deeper and more productive than you think]

Starting off the sixth inning, Pittsburgh's John Jaso hit a soft ground ball seemingly into no man's land on the right side on the infield. It's that spot where the pitcher, first baseman and second baseman all have a shot at the ball depending on positioning, but there's so much confusion it rarely turns into an out.

Brandon Phillips doesn't deal with confusion though. He just takes charge. In this case he recorded an out with one of his trademark gems that looked so smooth. 

How smooth you ask?

How about a barehanded grab, and in one motion a behind-the-back toss right on the money to first base. All while his momentum was bringing him forward, we might add. But it made no difference. Phillips had the play locked down, and then he celebrated as only Brandon Phillips can. 

If ever a defensive play was worthy of a dab, that was it.

Even though the Reds were losing at the time and went on to lose the game 5-1, we'll absolutely allow it.

[Join a Yahoo Daily Fantasy Baseball contest now]

Though we might request he breaks it out one more time during Sunday's Yahoo Sports Free Game of the Day between the Reds and Pirates, which you can stream at Yahoo's Sports Home, MLB index and video home

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: May 1, 2016, 4:09 pm

When casual baseball fans think of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the first and sometimes only name that comes to their mind is that of Andrew McCutchen. That's not necessarily a slight on his teammates, either. It's as much about the impact the 29-year-old outfielder has made during his eight-year career and the level of success he's attained.

McCutchen truly is a superstar. He embodies that term in every possible way, from his on field play, to the way he connects with fans, to the way he conducts himself off the field. In turn, that's made him the face of the Pirates organization, as well as an ambassador for Major League Baseball.

[Elsewhere: The Brewers turned the most overlooked triple play in MLB history]

(APi)We could go on all day about McCutchen's baseball accolades; his MVP award in 2013, his five straight All-Star selections, not to mention his numerous kind acts on and off the field. But truth be told, he's not a one-man show. The Pirates have put enough talent around him to earn three straight wild-card berths, and now they have an entire lineup that's producing at a notable rate. 

Coming into Sunday's matchup against the Cincinnati Reds — which will be featured as the Yahoo Sports' Free MLB Game of the Day and can be streamed at Yahoo's Sports Home, MLB index and video home — Pittsburgh is third in runs scored in MLB (123), first in team batting average (.293) and first in team on-base percentage (.377).

The only ingredient that's gone missing at times is the home run ball. Through 24 games, the Pirates have only hit 22 this season. A decent number, but they've done most of their damage by constantly keeping pressure on opposing pitchers and making them throw stressful pitches. When that happens, mistakes will happen, and Pittsburgh is turning those mistakes into runs.

Again, McCutchen is the centerpiece. He's the engine that makes Pittsburgh go. And that might be the scariest thing about this lineup in April. Because aside from a three-home run game in Colorado on Tuesday, he's yet to really take off, hitting just .226. It's the guys around him who have picked up the slack and perhaps shown us this lineup will be deeper than anticipated.

(Yahoo Sports)That definitely begins with McCutchen outfield mates Gregory Polanco (.302/.404/.500) and Starling Marte (.323/.374/.515). According to Hall of Fame writer Tracy Ringolsby, that trio makes up the best outfield in baseball. It's difficult to argue against that. They're all multiple tool players, and in the case of Polanco and even Marte to some degree, it still feels like there's untapped potential. 

Beyond them, returning veterans Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, Francisco Cervelli and Sean Rodriguez are all hitting over .300. Then there are the new additions in David Freese, John Jaso and Matt Joyce, all of whom are holding their own and making lineup decisions the right kind of challenge for manager Clint Hurdle. 

[The Walk Off: Mets top Giants again, push winning streak to eight]

It was tough to know what exactly to make of Pittsburgh's offense when it traded away a stalwart in Neil Walker, when it let Pedro Alvarez simply walk away, and when Aramis Ramirez retired, but it seems they've found a mix that works for them. An offense that doesn't rely on one big swing to get crooked numbers on the scoreboard. An offense that's willing to grind out at-bats and wear down the opposition.

There's a long way to go and many challenges that lie ahead. The main ones, of course, being the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals. But the toughness of this lineup shows that the Pirates won't be afterthoughts.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: May 1, 2016, 2:41 pm

Welcome to The Walk Off, the nightly MLB recap from Big League Stew. Here we'll look at the top performers of the night, show you a must-see highlight and rundown the scoreboard. First, we start with a game you need to know about. 

Does April have to end? 

That might be a question the New York Mets were asking on Saturday. Then again, with the way they're playing right now, it's more likely they were asking what time the batting cages will open on Sunday morning, the first day of May. 

[Join a Yahoo Daily Fantasy Baseball contest now]

(AP)The Mets concluded April as the hottest team in baseball, winning their eighth straight game 6-5 against the San Francisco Giants. They end April with a 15-7 record, which is one win shy of a team record and good for the third best record in MLB. 

There's no World Series hangover with this team. And there's actually room for improvement once they can get Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom in the flow again. DeGrom pitched Saturday, allowing three unearned runs over six innings. His offense had his back again, smacking two more homers to run their opening month total to 33, which tied a franchise record for April.  

One of Saturday's blasts came off the bat of Michael Conforto. The second year outfielder is the hottest of the Mets, hitting .407 with nine doubles, four homers and 15 RBIs since moving to the No. 3 spot 14 games ago. He's found a home, and with Yoenis Cespedes driving in runs like crazy, there's a lot to like about this offense. 

Yeah, it's only one month. But woah, the Mets are scary. 

TOP PERFORMERS 

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Trevor Story: Colorado's shortstop had a chance to set a new rookie record for home runs in April. He settled for a run-scoring double in the third and the go-ahead two-run triple in the ninth to help pace the Rockies 5-2 win against the Diamondbacks. Story finishes the month with 10 homers, four doubles, three triples and 20 RBIs. 

Jordan Zimmermann: Say hello to MLB's five-game winner not representing a Chicago team. Both Jake Arrieta and Chris Sale beat him there, but Zimmermann wrapped up his dominant month at 5-0 as well. In Saturday's 4-1 win over the Twins, the 29-year-old right-hander pitched seven innings of one-run ball. As a result, his ERA actually went up to 0.55. Detroit's other big addition, Justin Upton, also contributed. His first-inning three-run homer was all Zimmermann and company needed.  

[Elsewhere: Zac Curtis wears the face of shock after call up from A ball]

Joe Ross: Who's Joe Ross you ask? He's the Washington Nationals best pitcher this season, at least so far. He's also the brother of Padres star pitcher Tyson Ross, but he's making a name for himself now. That continued in the Nationals 6-1 win against the Cardinals in St. Louis. Ross tossed six innings, allowed one run and picked up his third win of the season. He also lowered his ERA to a sparkling 0.79. 

Philadelphia Phillies: The Mets aren't the only hot team in the NL East. The Phillies ran their winning streak to five on Saturday, defeating the Indians 4-3. Freddy Galvis did the bulk of the damage, delivering a two-run homer in the first and an RBI single in the seventh. Philadelphia also got another quality start from rookie Jerad Eickhoff, who allowed three runs over six innings while striking out four. Now check out this interesting stat. 

With 245 strikeouts in 216 1/3 innings, the #Phillies have set a Major League Baseball record for SO/9 ratio in the month of April, 10.19.

— Matt Rappa (@mattrappasports) May 1, 2016

MUST-SEE HIGHLIGHT 

A day off did Giancarlo Stanton some good. Check out his 462-foot home run that left the bat at 117 mph according to Statcast and drilled the Miller Park scoreboard. That was one of four Marlins home runs as they topped the Brewers again 7-5

THE SCOREBOARD

Braves vs. Cubs: Postponed by rain. Teams will play a single game as scheduled on Sunday. The makeup game will be played on July 7 at Wrigley Field. 

A's 2, Astros 0: Jesse Hahn allowed three hits over 6 2/3 scoreless innings. Meanwhile, Houston finishes April at 7-17. 

Rays 4, Blue Jays 3: Tampa Bay gets walk-off winner on Curt Casali's single in the ninth. 

Pirates 5, Reds 1: Francisco Liriano pitched 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball as Pittsburgh finishes April at 15-9. 

Red Sox 8, Yankees 0: Boston got its most lopsided shutout victory over the Yankees at Fenway Park since 1973

White Sox 8, Orioles 7: Chicago picks up its franchise-best 17th win in April thanks to Jose Abreu's RBI single in the ninth. 

Rangers 7, Angels 2: Mitch Moreland capped a decisive six-run third inning with a three-run homer. 

Mariners 6, Royals 0: Kansas City has been shutout on consecutive nights. This time Wade Miley went the distance, holding them to five hits. 

Padres 5, Dodgers 2: The slumping Dodgers lost their sixth in a row. But the good news is they're still in first place. 

This. #Dodgers pic.twitter.com/OMiBIBD3Fd

— Alanna Rizzo (@alannarizzo) May 1, 2016

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: May 1, 2016, 5:24 am

For the most part, when young prospects are called up to the big leagues, it comes after getting some experience in the high minor leagues. For some, that means a little seasoning in Triple-A. For other, more high profile prospects, that can mean a promotion directly from Double-A. 

Rarely though will a prospect get called up directly from A Ball. Most teams just aren't confident those players have faced a high enough level of competition to be properly prepared for the big leagues. But that didn't impact the Arizona Diamondbacks decision on Saturday.

[Elsewhere: A-Rod gives home run bat to young Red Sox fan who lost his father]

In a surprising move, they elected to call up 23-year-old left-hander Zac Curtis from the California League's Visalia Rawhide, which is their Class A Advanced affiliate.

Curtis, who's been in the Arizona system for three years, has not played above that level. Needless to say, he was quite surprised when learning the news on Friday night. 

Nothing like telling a man his dreams have come true. Congrats 2 @Zac_Curtis16 on the @MLB call up! 19.2 K's/9! pic.twitter.com/IesBzbit5S

— Jeff Bajenaru (@jeffbajenaru) April 30, 2016

That's an awesome shot that was snapped by Rawhide pitching coach Jeff Bajenaru. 

Of course, Curtis thought he was being pranked at worst, with the best-case scenario being a promotion to Double-A. It was the real deal though. On Saturday, he was on his way to Chase Field in preparation for a matchup against the Colorado Rockies. 

"It's a funny feeling," Curtis told MLB.com. "I don't know if I'll be as nervous as anxious. I told someone else in the outfield that I kind of have the same feeling now as I did when I got called up from Low-A to High-A for the playoffs. As soon as I delivered the first pitch, it kind of settled in. I think that's the only nerves I'll have. I won't be nervous."

[Join a Yahoo Daily Fantasy Baseball contest now]

As it turns out, he didn't have much time to build up any nerves. The Diamondbacks threw him into the fire in the ninth inning on Saturday night, though only after closer Brad Ziegler had allowed three runs. Curtis may have quickly earned himself a bigger role though. He required just three pitches to record two outs, inducing a 6-4-3 double play off the bat of veteran Gerardo Parra. 

The Diamondbacks lost the gamd 5-2, but Curtis at least gave them a fighting chance. 

It's difficult to really fathom the 24-hour rollercoaster ride Zac Curtis went on. The emotions, the reactions, the experiences, the travel and ultimately the results. The bottomline is, he's a major leaguer now with a 0.00 ERA. That's a far cry from the A-Ball pitcher he was with a 5.23 ERA. But as the old saying goes, you're only as good as your last appearance.  

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: May 1, 2016, 4:56 am

(AP)It was exactly one year ago on Friday that the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles played a regular season game in an empty Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The reason for this unique circumstance was strictly about safety concerns stemming from riots in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray, who died following a spinal cord injury that was suffered while in police custody.

The situation was no joking matter then. In fact, emotions and tensions in Baltimore were so high that members of the National Guard were brought in to help usher a peaceful conclusion.

[Elsewhere: David Ortiz delivers on promise to sick child with home run]

It should go without saying that the subject remains no laughing matter one year later. The Baltimore community felt a real loss, and it's still struggling to understand how a 25-year-old man lost his life under such troubling circumstances. 

Unfortunately, longtime Chicago sportscaster Bruce Wolf appeared to not fully understand how sensitive the subject remains, not only in Baltimore, but worldwide. That, or he had no regard for such feelings, because during Friday night's White Sox-Orioles game in Baltimore, he tweeted this. 

Sox in their Freddie Gray road uniforms in Baltimore tonight.

— Bruce Wolf (@BruceWolfChi) April 30, 2016

It was an attempt to be cute and funny, no doubt about that. But it just comes across as a thoroughly misguided attempt to make light of a subject that simply isn't funny.

Of course, some will say there's too much sensitivity coming from those who were offended. That it was just his own way of reminding us what happened. Either way, there was enough backlash that Wolf offered a defense of his tweet that may also be an apology. You decide.  

I do feel bad I hurt some feelings. I want to be loved and make a point, which I guess is impossible. People shouldn't forget what happened.

— Bruce Wolf (@BruceWolfChi) April 30, 2016

Wolf, who was fired from WLS 890 in Chicago last year, has been no stranger to controversies. It's reported he was suspended twice by WLS for incidents involving the radio station. He was also involved in a controversial on-air discussion about race back in 2014 that was met with a lot of negative feedback. 

[Join a Yahoo Daily Fantasy Baseball contest now]

If he was being genuine. If the idea here truly was to get people thinking and talking about Freddie Gray again, then he accomplished his mission. But there were obviously more respectful and meaningful ways to go about it. Given his history, there's also plenty of reason to question his motives.   

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: May 1, 2016, 12:14 am

It's not often that a triple play isn't among the top three or even top five most interesting things to happen in a major-league game, but that may have been the case Friday night in Milwaukee.

As the record will show, the Brewers did in fact turn a beautiful 5-4-3 around-the-horn triple play during their 6-3 loss to the Miami Marlins. It happened in the fifth inning, when Miami's Marcell Ozuna hit a sharp ground ball to third baseman Aaron Hill. After Hill stepped on third, he fired to second baseman Yadiel Rivera, who then fired to first baseman Chris Carter.

[Related: Would Dee Gordon have caught Jonathan Lucroy's no-hitter spoiler?]

It was done with such a crispness that we dare say the Brewers made it look easy. Perhaps that's one reason why people weren't buzzing like they were for this wild White Sox triple play from last weekend.

Then again, maybe it's because all of the buzz that was surrounding the Marlins. There was Dee Gordon's suspension. There was Ichiro Suzuki's 500th career stolen base, which happened in the first inning. There was Adam Conley getting pulled in the eighth inning with a no-hitter intact. There was Jose Urena losing the no-hitter with one out in the ninth inning on a ball Dee Gordon may have caught.

Oh, and then there was Milwaukee nearly completing an insane comeback in the ninth inning. After starting the frame down 6-0, they scored three times and had the potential winning run at the plate in Jonathan Villar. Eventually, he lost a tough battle to A.J. Ramos, otherwise who knows what we'd be talking about right now.

.@Brewers go around the horn for ALL OF THE OUTS. https://t.co/b9ucdMjEPt pic.twitter.com/DRKMdTukcN

— MLB GIFS (@MLBGIFs) April 30, 2016

Don't worry, Brewers infield. We know that tucked away in that wild game was a triple play that deserves our attention, and we won't let it go overlooked any longer.  

[Join a Yahoo Daily Fantasy Baseball contest now]

For future reference though, maybe add in a couple extra throws or look confused for a second. If you want your triple play to trend around baseball circles, you can't make it look routine.  

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: April 30, 2016, 10:13 pm

As Ichiro Suzuki closes in on his 3,000th career hit in Major League Baseball, he's also collecting a few other milestones along the way. That includes a pretty big one that was reached during Friday's 6-3 win against the Milwaukee Brewers.

In the first inning, Ichiro reached base with career hit No. 2,944, which moved him into 33rd place on MLB's all-time list ahead of Frank Robinson. What happened immediately after was an even bigger deal, as Ichiro became just the 38th player in MLB history to reach 500 stolen bases. 

[Join a Yahoo Daily Fantasy Baseball contest now] 

Ichiro was off to the races against Milwaukee starter Zach Davies, stealing second base with relative ease. It was his second stolen base of the 2015 season, and his 699th overall when you factor in his nine seasons playing in Japan. 

Those are impressive numbers to be sure, but Friday's milestone steal had even greater meaning when coupled with his career hit total. Together, they put him in a category that is exclusive to baseball Hall of Famers. 

Ichiro is 8th player in ML history to reach 500 career SBs and 2,900+ hits, joining Cobb, Wagner, Molitor, Collins, Henderson, Brock & Bonds

— clarkspencer (@clarkspencer) April 30, 2016

The names there are Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Paul Molitor, Eddie Collins, Rickey Henderson, Lou Brock and his Marlins hitting coach, Barry Bonds. 

That is a truly amazing list and an amazing accomplishment for one of baseball's most beloved figures. It becomes even mores amazing when you again consider the nine seasons he spent in Japan.

Had Ichiro brought his game to MLB much sooner, there's no telling where he'd rank among baseball's truly elite. But there's no doubt he'll be following the aforementioned group directly into Cooperstown. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: April 30, 2016, 7:33 pm

If George Steinbrenner was still alive, New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi would probably be fielding a lot of questions about his job security these days.

Not that Girardi’s job should be in jeopardy, but Steinbrenner, the late Yankees owner, was never shy about making a change in leadership in the dugout when his team was faltering and right now the Yankees simply aren’t very good.They are in last place in the American League East Division and searching for answers on the mound and at the plate. (Yahoo Sports)

[David Ortiz delivers on promise to sick child with home run]

Only Tampa Bay has scored fewer runs in the major leagues so far this season than the 74 the Yankees have pushed across. The Yankees will try to end a three-game skid tonight at Fenway Park against the old rival Red Sox at 7:10 p.m. ET, right here on Yahoo Sports as our MLB Free Game of the Day. You can stream the game at Yahoo's Sports HomeMLB index and video home.

The Yankees played in the American League Wild Card game last season, but they’re so far looking like they will have a tough time getting back to the postseason in 2016. They are hitting .236 as a team and only the Atlanta Braves have fewer extra-base hits to this point in the season than the 46 the Yankees have produced.

Alex Rodriguez hit his fourth home run of the season Friday in a loss to Boston, but he has come crashing back to earth so far in 2016 after appearing to be an ageless wonder last season. He’s hitting .194, though there have been some signs of life over the past seven games in which he is hitting .261 with only five strikeouts in that span.

[A-Rod gives home run bat to young Red Sox fan who lost his father]

Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, Didi Gregorius and Chase Headley are all hitting .250 or below in addition to A-Rod’s struggles.

Michael Pineda will make his fifth start of the season in this one for New York hoping to cool off Red Sox bats. Boston is hitting .277 as a team, second only in MLB to Pittsburgh. The Red Sox lead the major leagues with 64 doubles and are sixth with 118 runs scored.

It figures to be a challenge for Pineda to keep his team in this one considering New York’s offensive struggles and Pineda’s 6.95 ERA through 22 innings this season.

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Kyle Ringo is a contributing writer to Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: April 30, 2016, 6:44 pm

It turns out Alex Rodriguez wasn't the only slugger to make a young fan's night during Friday's Yankees-Red Sox game at Fenway Park.

According to current MLB Network analyst Kevin Millar, his former Red Sox teammate, David Ortiz, promised a sick child named Maverick that he would hit a home run during that game. Ortiz then proceeded to deliver in the eighth inning, smashing a two-run opposite-field home run against Dellin Betances that proved to be the game-winner in Boston's 4-2 victory.

[Related: A-Rod gives home run bat to young Red Sox fan who lost his father]

The story is pretty amazing, and it was chronicled in full on Millar's Twitter account. 

First, we meet young Maverick and learn a little of his story. 

This is me and @davidortiz little buddy Maverick who battles for his life daily and is a big Red Sox fan! pic.twitter.com/0BplwaDF3f

— Kevin Millar (@KMillar15) April 30, 2016

Then Millar posts video of Ortiz sending a message and making his promise to hit one out of Fenway Park in Maverick's honor.

This is the video me and @davidortiz sent our little buddy Maverick before Red Sox game tonight.... pic.twitter.com/kVTqSoe8OV

— Kevin Millar (@KMillar15) April 30, 2016

It's pretty cool to think that Ortiz's big swing proved to be the biggest moment of the game. Not to mention it came against arguably the most dominant reliever in the game today in Betances. We're talking about a pitcher who struck out 22 of the first 35 batters he faced this season, and a pitcher who has only allowed 13 home runs now in 193 career innings. 

[Stream Saturday's Yankees-Red Sox for free at Yahoo's Sports Home, MLB index and video home.]

Betances is a difficult guy to make contact against, let alone make the type of contact Ortiz did on Friday night. But the moment happened, and young Maverick could not have been more thrilled. 

Check out his message right back to Big Papi. 

And this is Maverick video back us @davidortiz after home run 2nite. The man touches lives daily and brings smiles. pic.twitter.com/SPUhx7Hmdq

— Kevin Millar (@KMillar15) April 30, 2016

If the joy in Maverick's voice doesn't bring the rest of us some joy, nothing will.

[Elsewhere: Would Dee Gordon have caught Jonathan Lucroy's no-hitter spoiler?]

As we're sure Ortiz himself would say: Maverick, thank you for the inspiration and continue the good fight. Like you were pulling for Ortiz to come through with a home run, we're pulling for you to make that trip to Fenway Park and to spend a day hanging out with your favorite player.  

BLS H/N: Eye on Baseball

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: April 30, 2016, 5:18 pm

If you're looking for a feel-good story to start your Saturday, allow us to tell you how New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez made the day of a young Boston Red Sox fan named David Moss. 

As Chris Landers from MLB's Cut 4 tells us, the story actually goes back to last season, when David's father, Andy Moss, was diagnosed with cancer. Andy had hoped to bring his family to Fenway Park just one time so his young son could meet his hero, David Ortiz. Unfortunately, he didn't live long enough to see that dream come true, as he succumbed to his disease last September. 

[Elsewhere: Would Dee Gordon have caught Jonathan Lucroy's no-hitter spoiler?]

Knowing what it meant to his family, young David fought to keep the dream in honor of his father. That led to Friday night in Boston, where Moss, his mother and sister traveled all the way from Mesa, Ariz. to Fenway Park to celebrate his eighth birthday.  

The Red Sox really rolled out the red carpet for Moss and his family, allowing them to hang out with the team during batting practice. It was there that young David finally met David Ortiz, and from that meeting would come a gift that he'll never forget. 

After meeting Moss, it's noted that Ortiz shared his story with Alex Rodriguez. Before his first-inning at-bat. Rodriguez then spotted Moss sitting near the Yankees dugout. When he went over to say hello, Moss asked if it was possible that he could have his bat as a memento. A-Rod agreed, but only if that bat produced a home run during Friday's game.

It didn't take long. In his very first at-bat, A-Rod launched one over the Green Monster as he's done so many times before, and upon his return to the dugout that bat belonged to David Moss. 

Life. Made. https://t.co/fWYmfo7A6p pic.twitter.com/aeCKZSPosP

— MLB GIFS (@MLBGIFs) April 30, 2016

We get the feeling that bat or another bat would have been gifted to Moss either way, but it's pretty awesome that A-Rod got one last home run out of it before parting.

As always, you're entitled to feel however you want about how A-Rod has conducted his business in the past. He doesn't have a clean image, but he does have a clear understanding of how to give back and how to make people feel good. To do this for David Moss, who was there to celebrate a birthday and to honor his father, makes it one of the coolest gestures we've seen in a long time. 

[Join a Yahoo Daily Fantasy Baseball contest now]

It says a lot about A-Rod, but this story says even more about David Moss. He lost one of the most important figures in his life just seven months ago, but he's staying strong and showing everybody how important it is to keep on going, no matter the circumstances. 

Oh, in case you were wondering, there was a feel-good ending here too. Boston won 4-2 on David Ortiz's two-run homer in the eighth inning.

Whoever was writing this script did one amazing job, but maybe we'll see an even better on Saturday. That will be the MLB Free Game of the Day on Yahoo Sports, which you stream at Yahoo's Sports Home, MLB index and video home

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: April 30, 2016, 3:39 pm

Welcome to The Walk Off, the nightly MLB recap from Big League Stew. Here we'll look at the top performers of the night, show you a must-see highlight and rundown the scoreboard. First, we start with a game you need to know about. 

The New York Mets offense remained red hot on Friday, scoring a team-record 12 runs in the third inning to help them secure a 13-1 blowout victory against the San Francisco Giants.

Not surprisingly, it was Yoenis Cespedes who led the historic charge. In the third inning alone, he collected six RBIs. That included a two-run single early in the frame, and it concluded with a 355-foot grand slam that may go down as his shortest home run of the season.  

[Join a Yahoo Daily Fantasy Baseball contest now]

When things are going well, those extra feet seem to go your way.  That would sum up how things are going for both Cespedes and the Mets right now.

Check out some of these facts that come from Friday's win. 

Yoenis Cespedes' 6 RBIs is franchise record for an ininng. Previously Butch Huskey with 5 RBIs in 6th inning on 5/26/98 at Florida.

— Adam Rubin (@AdamRubinESPN) April 30, 2016

Cespedes has:

14 RBI in his last 5 games
20 RBI in his last 9 games
23 RBI in his last 13 games

That is some kind of tear.#raking

— High Heat Stats MLB (@HighHeatStats) April 30, 2016

The Mets have also homered 29 times in 12 games after homering just twice in their first nine. Indeed, this offense is going to make the Mets a very scary team when it's clicking. 

TOP PERFORMERS 

David Ortiz: The Red Sox slugger doesn't have many swings left against the rival Yankees, but it looks like he's gong to make them all count. In Boston's 4-2 win on Friday, Ortiz delivered the two-run go-ahead home run off previously untouchable reliever Dellin Betances. The home run was Ortiz's fourth this season and the 48th of his career against the Yankees. 

Juan Nicasio: The Pirates right-hander continues to be one of the best stories of the early season. After winning a rotation spot in spring training, Nicasio has spun a handful of gems. That included his seven innings of shutout ball in Pittsburgh's 4-1 victory against the Reds on Friday. Nicasio allowed just three hits while striking out eight to pick up his third win of the season. 

Adam Conley: The Marlins left-hander was removed four outs shy of a no-hitter. He allowed four walks while striking out seven, and then watched anxiously as Miami's bullpen lost the no-hit bid. They nearly lost the game too, only escaping after Jonathan Villar struck out as the go-ahead run. It was a crazy game, but Miami held on to beat the Brewers 6-3.  

Rockies offense: After losing five straight at home, the Rockies offense lit up Arizona pitching in a 9-0 win on Friday. That included four homers from four different players. Among them were Trevor Story, who tied the rookie record in April with No. 10. Nolan Arenado also hit his 10th, which means the Rockies teammates sit atop the major-league leaderboard together. 

Seth Smith: The Mariners only had one hit on Friday. It was the only hit they needed. Smith cracked a solo home run in the sixth inning, and that would prove to be the only run in their 1-0 victory over the Royals

MUST-SEE HIGHLIGHT 

Break up the Philadelphia Phillies. Expected to finish last in the NL East, they're playing some of the best baseball in any division right now. With Friday's exhilarating 4-3 win over the Indians in 11 innings, they've now won seven of eight to move within 2 1/2 games of the first-place Nationals. And check out the hero too. That's Ryan Howard delivering the walk-off blast in the 11th, which is only fitting considering they clinched their first winning April since 2011.  

THE SCOREBOARD

Cubs 6, Braves 1Baseball's best team knocked off baseball's worst team thanks largely to Matt Szczur's eighth-inning grand slam. 

Orioles 6, White Sox 3: Nolan Reimold ripped a three-run go-ahead homer in the seventh as Baltimore runs its home record to 9-1.  

Blue Jays 6, Rays 1: Toronto got two home runs from Michael Saunders and seven scoreless innings from Aaron Sanchez. 

Rangers 4, Angels 2: Texas scored three runs in the sixth inning to pull away.  Ian Desmond delivered the go-ahead hit with an RBI double. 

Tigers 9, Twins 2: Michael Fullmer wins his debut for Detroit, tossing five innings of two-run ball. Victor Martinez backed him up with a four-hit game. 

Nationals 5, Cardinals 4: Nice bounce back win for Washington after being swept by Philadelphia. Stephen Strasburg played the role of an ace, holding St. Louis to two runs over seven innings while striking out nine. 

A's 7, Astros 4It's been a struggle for Yonder Alonso this season, but he finally has a moment to hang his hat on after delivering a three-run, walk-off homer.  

Padres 5, Dodgers 1: Former Dodger Matt Kemp did most of the damage, hitting a two-run homer and driving in three overall. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: April 30, 2016, 5:51 am

The Miami Marlins needed something positive on Friday to take their minds off Dee Gordon's 80-game PED suspension. 

Enter 26-year-old left-hander Adam Conley, who answered the call by nearly making history. 

[Related: Bryce Harper doesn't want Dee Gordon's 2015 batting championship]

Making only his 16th career start, Conley fired 7 2/3 innings of no-hit baseball in Miami's 6-3 win against the Milwaukee Brewers. The only thing that stood between him and a chance at history was his high pitch count. Manager Don Mattingly elected to pull Conley with 116 pitches, leaving it up to reliever Jose Urena to record the final four outs. 

Ironically, it turns out the only thing that may have kept Urena from completing history was Dee Gordon's absence. With one out in the ninth inning, Jonathan Lucroy broke up the no-no with a soft pop up to short right field that just barely eluded the reach of new second baseman Derek Dietrich.

Derek Dietrich comes up juuuuust short. (AP)
Given Gordon's speed and his defensive prowess, it's possible he would have raced back and made a sprawling catch. Of course, there are a lot of factors involved. It's tough to say with any certainty that one thing or another would have happened, but Mattingly feels like that's a play Gordon probably would have made.  

Marlins manager Don Mattingly said Dee Gordon “probably” would have caught looping single by Jonathan Lucroy that ended no-hit bid in 9th.

— Tom (@Haudricourt) April 30, 2016

It's a reminder that the Marlins will not be able to completely put Gordon behind them. He's too important a player and does too many things that they'll miss, including fielding his second base position very well. He's a guy they'll never replace, but they'll have to keep moving forward. Having a pitcher step forward like Conley did on Friday is what will make that easier.  

Though he didn't complete the no-hitter, the focus belongs on Conley. He was absolutely brilliiant for extended stretches, including retiring 12 straight to begin the game. He was only legitimately threatened in the fourth inning, when Milwaukee loaded the bases with no outs. Domingo Santana started the inning by reaching on an error, then Conley walked both Jonathan Villar and Ryan Braun.

Conley managed to escape by striking out Jonathan Lucroy and getting Chris Carter to hit into an inning-ending double play. 

It takes a slow heartbeat to work through a difficult jam without faltering. Once Conley did though, he got locked back in and started mowing down Brewers hitters. Conley ended up allowing five baserunners, including four walks, while striking out seven. 

All things considered, it was one of the craziest games we will see all season. It included the Brewers turning a triple play and then nearly turning a 6-0 ninth-inning deficit into an improbable rally. It only ended when Jonathan Villar struck out as the go-ahead run with the bases loaded. 

It was a wild night in Milwaukee, and perhaps only the first of several for Miami as it adjusts to life without Dee Gordon. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: April 30, 2016, 4:22 am

Like everyone else, Washington Nationals superstar Bryce Harper had a few thoughts about Dee Gordon's 80-game suspension stemming from a positive test for two banned drugs, exogenous Testosterone and Clostebol

Speaking to the media before Friday's game in St. Louis, Harper expressed surprise and disappointment in Gordon, whom he also cited as one of the most exciting players to watch and play against.  

[Passan: The sad case of Dee Gordon, another unlikely PED user for MLB] 

“It’s definitely a disappointment,” Harper said. “He’s one of the best second basemen in the game, a big talent, a lot of fun to watch. It’s just disappointment, something you don’t want to see. Not good for the sport, not good for baseball. But he’s still one of the best players in the game and I’ve still got a lot of respect for him. But it’s definitely something that’s just tough.”

Nothing out of the ordinary or too controversial there. The general consensus has been along those very same lines, so Harper just followed suit.   

The media had another question on its mind though. They were curious whether Harper feels slighted now after losing last season's NL batting championship to Gordon by a mere three points. The obvious inclination being that the outcome may have been manipulated if Gordon had one or both banned drugs in his system at any point last season. 

To that question, Harper responded by placing more blame on himself, essentially saying he did more to lose the batting crown than anyone else did to win it.   

“I lost the batting title. I lost it completely,” Harper said. “I was hitting like .345 with three weeks left or so. I completely lost it. It was nothing to do with that. You’ve still got to hit the baseball. You’ve still got to perform. And he did that. I completely lost the batting title last year, so that’s all behind us.”

It's a noble stance, though it probably won't keep people from rewriting the history book in their own minds.

[Join a Yahoo Daily Fantasy Baseball contest now]

Harper also understands there's nothing really to be gained by crying foul or claiming the batting championship as his own. What's done is done, and what matters now is what's happening now. Gordon is being punished, though some obviously question just how much based on how little salary he'll be forfeiting. Nonetheless he's out of the Marlins picture until late July, and that undoubtedly hurts his team. 

As for Harper's stance, he'll have several chances to rewrite history before he's done. That includes winning a batting title and many other milestones we're sure that are among his goals. This just means he'll be all the more focused on finishing strong and reaching those goals on his own terms. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: April 30, 2016, 1:09 am

(AP)When the Arizona Diamondbacks unveiled new uniforms back in December, they did so acknowledging that they were being aggressive. According to team president and CEO Derrick Hall, they were aiming to create a style that had never been seen before, while finding a way to appeal to all segments of the fan base.

“We always challenge ourselves to make sure that we are as pioneering and as innovating as any team in sports — we try to be,” Hall said at the time. “We looked at an opportunity when it comes to baseball to really advance the look of uniforms.

[Elsewhere: Rapper Warren G totally butchered 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame']

The effort was appreciated, but the response has been far less positive. In fact, in the opinion of many, the designs have been a big swing-and-miss. In particular, fans do not like the odd color combinations associated with their newest alternate road uniform. 

The uniforms in question can be seen in the photo above. They were first worn when Arizona visited the Los Angeles Dodgers two weeks ago, and it didn't take long for fans to weigh in with some very passionate and in some cases very harsh opinions.

That wasn't just limited to D-Backs fans, either. Some famous people weighed in too, highlighted by this tweet from actor Rob Lowe. 

The Diamondback's uniforms make them look like futuristic maintenance men working on a trash truck in space. pic.twitter.com/hZ3eompYvy

— Rob Lowe (@RobLowe) April 12, 2016

Well, guess what, folks. The Diamondbacks heard you, and while they may not necessarily argue with you, they found a way to turn it into something highly entertaining.

Pay close attention. Especially you, Mr. Lowe. 

We've gotten lots of love for the new uniforms, but that doesn't mean everyone's a fan... #MeanTweetshttps://t.co/1pXblFOmLv

— #DbacksSocial (@Dbacks) April 29, 2016

Even the uniform designer herself got involved, deadpanning a perfect response to the mostly reasonable criticisms. The best response though had to come from retired reliever J.J. Putz, who responded to a joke from a Twitter user named @JJsSoulPatch by actually shaving his soul patch. 

[Elsewhere: This idea could make MLB's replay reviews a lot more interesting]

We're sure there were more mean-spirited responses that got left out of the video too. But kudos to the Diamondbacks for being able to acknowledge the criticism and turn it into something fun and entertaining. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: April 29, 2016, 11:10 pm

Before he took the microphone at Wrigley Field, the most embarrassing thing rapper/producer Warren G had done musically was utter this lyric: "What's next? What's next? What's N-X-E-T." But he might have sunk even lower than that on Friday when he sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh inning stretch at the Chicago Cubs game.

[Previously: We named the worst seventh inning stretch singers in Wrigley history]

He totally butchered it. Like, they were booing him within 10 seconds. It was bad from the first bar. He said "Take me to the ballgame" and ... nope, just nope. It just got more uncomfortable from there.

Just look at this lady. She was having none of it:

This never would have happened on Nate Dogg's watch. Warren would have glanced in the cut and seen his homey Nate — whose silky smooth vocals would have saved the day. 

Alas, Nate Dogg is dead (R.I.P.) and there were no Regulators to bail out poor Warren G.

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: April 29, 2016, 10:10 pm

Over the years, we've heard a variety of excuses from athletes about how or why they got caught using performance-enhancing drugs. But there's a really great one that we're surprised we haven't heard yet and it has to do with sex.

[From Jeff Passan: The sad case of Dee Gordon, another unlikely PED user for MLB]

All-Star second baseman Dee Gordon was suspended for PEDs early Friday morning after Major League Baseball found two drugs, exogenous testosterone and clostebol, in his system. The penalty is 80 games. He later released a statement confirming the positive test, but said the substances were in his body unknowingly

Likewise, Chris Colabello of the Toronto Blue Jays was popped for PEDs last week (specifically turinabol) and claims to have no clue how they got into his body. In fact, he's taking the I'll-never-rest-until-I-figure-this-out approach. He also has 80 games to figure it out.

According to a PED primer from explainer-site Inverse, there's one defense that anyone who gets caught using clostebol could employ: Knockin' the boots. Have a read, emphasis ours:

While clostebol is only effective as an anabolic steroid when injected intravenously, numerous reports over the past decade exist of athletes testing positive for the drug after taking legal medications or even having sex with women who use gynecological products that use it. Gordon’s statement did not go into detail on how he imagines the drug entered his system, but clostebol does have a reputation as one of the few anabolic steroids that may actually show up on tests by accident.

Ain't that something? Since Gordon was busted for two PEDs, this defense wouldn't have worked for him. And it wouldn't worked for Colabello, since he tested positive for a different drug. So we'll wait. One day it will happen. Someone will get popped for clostebol and use it.

And when it does, we'll call it "The Shaggy Defense."

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Author: Mike Oz
Posted: April 29, 2016, 9:05 pm

During the Colorado Rockies' game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night, a replay challenge in the second inning grinded the action to a halt for nearly five minutes. The Rockies thought Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison had violated the new slide rule (which he hadn't). While umpires tried to sort things out, an article came to mind that ESPN's Jayson Stark had recently written about replay challenges during the 2016 season.

[Elsewhere: Does baseball need harsher punishments for PED violations?]

In the story, Stark reported that replay challenges are up 35 percent from this time a year ago, with a big jump in reviews of force-outs and tag plays. As he often does, Stark jumped on Twitter to discuss this with interested fans, and that produced a very interesting idea.

@jaysonst @Buster_ESPN Managers shouldn't be able to review on video prior to a challenge. Needs to be immediately after the play.

— Troy (@TheRaterpillar) April 26, 2016

Put the "instant" back in instant replay! It would be way more dramatic to do it this way, too. https://t.co/dFLAS4gELl

— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) April 26, 2016

It’s a fascinating suggestion. On its surface, it seems like this idea is about cutting down the time it takes for managers to decide whether they’re going to challenge a play. This comes to mind during every replay challenge, because it takes a varying amount of time for the manager to decide if he’s going to throw the metaphorical flag.

[Join a Yahoo Daily Fantasy Baseball contest now]

While there are stats kept on the time it takes for the umpires to review a play (and Stark reports that the average time in 2016 isn’t significantly different than 2015’s average time), there aren't any on how long it takes for a manager to officially challenge a play. The process often goes like this:

  • Play happens
  • Player argues, points, or makes some other gesture toward the dugout, implying that he didn't think the umpire's ruling was correct.
  • After considering the play and/or discussing it with his coaches, the manager or one of the coaches goes to the phone to ask the team's own video people to review the play.
  • The manager or coach waits on the phone while the play is reviewed.
  • The team's video people give the yea or nay, and the manager either strolls out of the dugout to challenge, or he stays there.

If this sounds inexact, that's because it is, and it was designed that way. This is from MLB's own instant replay review FAQ published when the replay procedures were put in place:

What's to prevent a manager from arguing to buy time for somebody to watch a replay in the clubhouse and then signal the dugout whether or not he should appeal?

Nothing. In fact, it's encouraged. Each stadium has been outfitted so that both the home and visiting teams have equal access to replays and every team practiced its system for relaying that information to the manager during Spring Training.

This answer is a little too casual. While there aren’t strict time limits on challenging most plays (the rules say that the challenge must occur before the next play or pitch begins), there are time limits set for challenging a play when it results in the third out of an inning.

In that case, the manager has to be on the field within ten seconds of the umpire’s third-out call, and once he’s on the field he has 30 seconds to indicate that he’s challenging. That sounds very similar to the idea that Stark and Troy (@TheRaterpillar) were discussing on Twitter. So why not just apply the rule for third out challenges to all challenges?

Great idea! It challenges the manager's split second decision-making ability in a way that's rarely seen in baseball. How closely was he paying attention to the play? Does he believe the player? Does that particular player often insist he beat out a tag? How much does the manager know about the typical outcomes on these plays? How often are calls of that kind overturned or confirmed, and how often do they let the call stand? 

The manager has time to put his lineup together every day, and decide who's playing where. He has time to discuss pitching changes and pinch-hit opportunities with his coaches and players. But this requires a whole different skill set. He has to decide right then and there if he thinks that the possible reversal of the call is worth using his challenge at all.

[Elsewhere: Kenta Maeda faced Ichiro for the first time and all of Japan won]

As far as objections, the argument that review is “about getting the play right” doesn’t really apply here. Unless MLB is going to have an umpire watching every game and making decisions on everything that’s even moderately contested, this doesn’t significantly change anything. The fate of the play in question is still in the umpire’s hands. The manager just has to decide whether or not to question the play.

And for anyone who thinks that replay itself is ruining the game, this puts a very important decision back into the hands of someone who doesn’t have the benefit of cameras or replay. And TV broadcasts could take advantage. They could install a manager cam in the dugout that would approximate where a manager would sit, and during contested plays they could show the footage of the play from that angle so we could see what he’s seeing.

There’s nothing to indicate that MLB wants to change the current replay system. And if a change like this were introduced, it probably wouldn't go over well. But it’s fascinating to think about what would happen if managers were forced to make split-second decisions, just as their players do all the time.

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Liz Roscher is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at lizroscher@yahoo.com or follow her on twitter! Follow @lizroscher

Author: Liz Roscher
Posted: April 29, 2016, 7:37 pm

In some corners of the Internet, people like to dig up old tweets from public figures at inopportune times for a few seconds of social-media attention. Jared Goff, the Cal quarterback who was chosen No. 1 overall during the first round of the NFL draft Thursday, was caught up in this right after he shook hands with Roger Goodell.

[Elsewhere: Rams start 2016 NFL draft by picking Jared Goff over Carson Wentz]

It wasn't nearly as disastrous as Laremy Tunsil's draft-night social media firestorm, but it turns out that a few years ago Goff said he hoped Los Angeles Dodgers star Yasiel Puig would get drilled with a pitch. Goff grew up in Northern California, so this was probably little more than the S.F.-L.A. rivalry at play. Still, when you get drafted by the Los Angeles Rams No. 1 overall, that's not the finest first impression. Even if it's a trudged-up old one.

Here's his tweet:

I really hope Yasiel Puig gets a fastball in his ribs tomorrow

— Jared Goff (@JaredGoff16) July 29, 2013

Really, that's not a big deal. Even if 2,000 people felt the need to retweet it. We all have dumb things we posted on social media a few years ago. Like when we thought Macklemore wasn't that bad. More interesting was how Puig would respond. And he did not disappoint.

@JaredGoff16 Big hug, Welcome to LA, I show you around, be my guest to @Dodgers game #PuigYourFriend #PuigNotLate https://t.co/85B1djlAGM

— Yasiel Puig (@YasielPuig) April 29, 2016

Congrats @RamsNFL, good player, and thank you for bringing us the new @Dodgers fan #Dodgerblue

— Yasiel Puig (@YasielPuig) April 29, 2016

Between #PuigYourFriend and #PuigNotLate (which he debuted last week), Puig's hashtag game is ridiculously on point. If someone doesn't show up the Dodgers game this weekend with a #PuigYourFriend sign, we're all living wrong.

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: April 29, 2016, 7:21 pm

The next month — heck, the next 10 games — should tell us whether the Washington Nationals are a true contender this season in the National League or if they are a club entirely too reliant on reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper.

The Nationals are 14-7 and in first place in the NL East as they begin what looks like a brutal 10-game road trip with stops in St. Louis, Kansas City and Chicago. The Cardinals are always tough, the Royals are the defending champs and the Cubs are the preseason favorite to win the World Series and have done nothing to change that perception in the opening month.

But who are the Nationals? It seems clear from a look at the numbers so far, they aren’t who they appear to be. Their 55 runs allowed are the fewest in baseball. Their 82 runs scored are far short of the elite contender some believed them to be.

[Are harsher punishments for PED violations the answer?]

The fact that Washington is in first place in its division at the outset of the trip is something of a marvel considering it was just swept by Philadelphia in a three-game series and much of its regular starting lineup isn’t hitting.

Harper and second baseman Daniel Murphy are the lone bright spots offensively. Ryan Zimmerman is hitting .235 with one home run and seven RBI in 68 at-bats. Anthony Rendon is hitting .229, Michael Taylor is hitting .192. Jayson Werth has hit three home runs with eight RBIs and not much else. He’s batting .185. Danny Espinosa is hitting .172. Matt den Dekker is at .185.

Those slumps don’t figure to hold up over the long haul but how much the hitters who own them are able to improve going forward is going to be crucial. Eventually Washington is going to need to win games with its offense because the exceptional performance of the pitching staff to this point also figures to trend back toward the mean over time.

[Kenta Maeda faced Ichiro for the first time and all of Japan won]

Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Joe Ross and Tanner Roark all have an ERA at 2.17 or better and staff ace Max Scherzer has been the disappointment having allowed 15 earned runs in his first 31 innings this season. The bullpen was a big problem last season but seems to be much improved as well. Will that hold up?

Without the pitching operating at a high level, the Nationals would likely be well back in the standings already. It all leads to the question of whether the hitting woes will get ironed out before the pitching comes back to earth and the next 10 games against contending teams will have a say in that.

But Washington and new manager Dusty Baker are facing more than one of the most difficult road swings of the year. The entire month of May will be a challenge with the Cardinals coming to town and six games against the defending NL champion New York Mets, too.

It seems likely the Nationals are not quite the offensive disaster they currently appear to be and they’re probably not the pitching juggernaut everyone expected the Mets to be.

By the time June rolls around, the Nationals could be sitting pretty having survived a tough start at the plate and a difficult stretch of games or they could have a lot of ground to make up if they’re going to avoid a second consecutive disappointing season.

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Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: April 29, 2016, 6:54 pm

There's always the potential for fireworks when the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees face off, and there's no reason for that to change this year.

The Yankees head north to Fenway Park on Friday for the first regular season series between the two rivals. You can watch the game for free, first pitch at 7:10 p.m. ET, right here on Yahoo Sports as our MLB Free Game of the Day. You can stream the game at Yahoo's Sports HomeMLB index and video home. Saturday's game between the two teams is our Free Game of the Day too, so remember that.

[Join a Yahoo Daily Fantasy Baseball contest now]

It's one of the oldest and most revered rivalries in sports, but even then it's still important to keep things fresh and exciting. Here are five new storylines specific to 2016 for the Red Sox and Yankees to follow this season.

1. Big Papi's farewell tour. With Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter saying goodbye in recent years, now it's time for a Red Sox legend to step away. David Ortiz will retire at the end of the 2016 season, leaving behind a long legacy of big hits and memorable moments against the Yankees. What does Ortiz have in store as he heads toward his finale? Something tells us he won't go quietly.

MLB Free Game of the Day schedule for the week of 4/25

2. Welcoming new closers. Both the Red Sox and Yankees made offseason moves to bolster the back-end of their bullpens. Boston swung a trade with San Diego to acquire Craig Kimbrel while New York hammered out a deal to get Aroldis Chapman from Cincinnati. Kimbrel has an uncharacteristically high 4.50 ERA in 10 innings for the Red Sox to start the season. Chapman won't make his Yankees debut until May 9 at the earliest as he serves his suspension for a domestic violence incident in the offseason.

3. Red Sox broadcast booth shakeup. The Red Sox caused quite the stir when it was announced Don Orsillo would not return as the team's play-by-play voice on their NESN TV broadcast. Dave O'Brien is now the lead play-by-play announcer, joining Jerry Remy in the TV booth after nine years calling Red Sox games on the radio.

4. What does A-Rod have left? Unlike Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez isn't ready to call it a career yet. But are his days as an offensive contributor finally over? Rodriguez, 40, is hitting .190/.288/.379 in 16 games, erasing memories of his impressive 2015 season. If he's got anything left, the Yankees would love to see him show it against Boston.

[Elsewhere: Are harsher punishments for PED violations the answer?]

5. Is either team good enough to make the playoffs? The Yankees were bounced in the American League wild-card game last season. The Red Sox finished last in the AL East. For two teams that expect to be in the World Series conversation every year, that's not good enough. New York, 8-12 so far, is banking on its power bullpen with Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances and Chapman to put away opponents with help from a solid lineup and starting rotation. Boston, slightly better at 12-10, hopes signing David Price to a monster free agent contract is what they need to put them over the top. The stakes are high when these two get together, even in the first of 19 meetings this season.

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Israel Fehr is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at israelfehr@yahoo.ca or follow him on Twitter. Follow @israelfehr

Author: Israel Fehr
Posted: April 29, 2016, 6:15 pm

In the wake of Dee Gordon's suspension, the debate about punishments for PED violations continues to rage. Ken Rosenthal discussed that very issue with players in a piece he wrote a few weeks ago, and again in a piece he wrote earlier today. 

Players want more punitive punishments, because they think the current level (80 games for the first violation) isn't a deterrent anymore. Rosenthal quoted Justin Verlander saying this:

"How do you clean it up? Maybe more severe punishments," Verlander said.

"If there is proven intent to cheat — i.e. you tested positive or it's found that you were taking an illegal substance, PEDs, and trying to cheat the system, trying to go around it — I think it should be a ban from baseball.

"It's too easy for guys to serve a suspension and come back and still get paid."

Verlander wasn't alone. Rosenthal also spoke to Max Scherzer and Matt Holliday, and they both echoed Verlander's sentiments about harsher discipline (though each had their own ideas about the correct punishment). And Verlander's right about players coming back and still getting paid. Jeff Passan pointed out that Gordon will lose only $1.6 million of the $50 million contract he signed this offseason due to his 80-game suspension.

[From Jeff Passan: The sadness of Dee Gordon's PED suspension]

(AP)But is it really true that the current level of punishment isn't a deterrent anymore? If it were, wouldn't there be a larger number of players being popped for PED use? 

Let's look at numbers. There was just one PED suspension at the major-league level in 2014, and that was Cameron Maybin. (There were two if you count Alex Colome, who had been optioned to Triple-A before his suspension.)

According to Baseball Almanac, there were six players suspended for PED use in 2015. Thus far in 2016, there have been five. If we count up the players on every team's 40-man roster, that's 1200 major league players. The percentage of those players suspended for PEDs each year shakes out like this:

  • 2014: 0.17%
  • 2015: 0.5%
  • 2016 (as of 4/29): 0.4%

It's fascinating that such a small number of players testing positive is inspiring this kind of reaction, but it seems to come from a belief that there are many more cheaters out there than are being caught by the tests. Many players obviously want the game to be clean, but it will never be 100% clean.

[Elsewhere: Dee Gordon releases statement on PED suspension]

There will always be someone who thinks they can fool the test, and someone who uses them and manages to not get caught. Harsher punishments won't change that, because if someone thinks they can be helped by PEDs, then they'll use them regardless of the punishment. And as Rosenthal points out, MLB believes it's doing everything they possibly can to test players and find those who are using. 

With the Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire on Dec. 1, you can bet that MLB's Joint Drug Agreement will be a major topic of conversation. And judging by what players have said, harsher punishments for PED violations will definitely be on the table. But will that actually make a difference or do MLB players just want to feel like they're making a difference?

It's one thing to be outraged when a fellow player tests positive, but it's another to use that anger to affect change.

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Liz Roscher is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at lizroscher@yahoo.com or follow her on twitter! Follow @lizroscher

Author: Liz Roscher
Posted: April 29, 2016, 4:35 pm

Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon was suspended 80 games early Friday morning for testing positive for PEDs, and he's released a statement about the incident.

Marlins second baseman's Dee Gordon statement after MLB announced early Friday morning... https://t.co/1Kx5tA6kRk pic.twitter.com/N8cPSQkPYD

— Marly Rivera ~ ESPN (@MarlyRiveraESPN) April 29, 2016

[From Jeff Passan: Miami's Dee Gordon suspended 80 games for PEDs]

That Gordon says he didn't intentionally ingest the drugs is significant, and it's reminiscent of what Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Chris Colabello has been saying since his suspension last week. Though he and Gordon tested positive for different substances (Gordon tested positive for exogenous testosterone and clostebol, while Colabello tested positive for dehydrochlormethyltestosterone), Colabello also says he didn't know how they got into his system. However, neither he or Gordon are denying that the tests were positive. 

Marlins President David Samson has also released a statement on Gordon's suspension.

A statement from David P. Samson, Marlins President: pic.twitter.com/jTdAkFxB2R

— Miami Marlins (@Marlins) April 29, 2016

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Author: Liz Roscher
Posted: April 29, 2016, 1:00 pm

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It was new vs. old, then vs. now, one of MLB's finest Japanese imports against the MLB's hot new star from Japan.

Yet for Kenta Maeda, the Los Angeles Dodgers' rookie pitcher, facing Ichiro was something more. It was going up against his childhood idol, against a man who is legit baseball royalty in their homeland. And in the end, their first meeting couldn't have gone much better for Maeda.

[From Jeff Passan: Miami's Dee Gordon suspended 80 games for PEDs]

It happened in the second inning of Thursday night's Dodgers-Marlins game. Ichiro fouled off Maeda's first offering, a four-seamer at 90 mph. Then Maeda painted the outside corner with two sliders, the first a called strike and the second a called strike that sent Ichiro back to the dugout. 

(MLB)In fairness, this is far from peak Ichiro. He's 42 now and not an every day player for the Miami Marlins.

Nonetheless, this was still a premiere matchup back home in Japan, where they intently follow their players who have made the jump to MLB. 

Maeda, 28, is the latest star to come to America. His impact was immediate. Even though he took the loss Thursday, Maeda still carries just a 1.41 ERA through five starts. Before the Marlins tagged him for four earned runs, Maeda had allowed only one this season.

As for his matchup with Ichiro, it clearly went to Maeda, who held his hero hitless in three at-bats. Ichiro also popped up twice. Whatever the result, though, this was special for Japanese baseball fans.

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: April 29, 2016, 7:43 am

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Welcome to The Walk Off, the nightly MLB recap from Big League Stew. Here we'll look the top performers of the night, show you a must-see highlight and rundown the scoreboard. First, we start with a game you need to know about.

(Getty Images)Dee Gordon played what appears to be his last game for a while, as the Miami Marlins beat the Los Angeles Dodgers by the count of 5-3 on Thursday night. If nothing else, he made it memorable. 

Gordon, if you missed the shocking news, was suspended 80 games by Major League Baseball shortly after Thursday night's game because he tested positive for two performance-enhancing drugs. Before that went down, though, he was key in the Marlins' comeback to beat the Dodgers and starting pitcher Kenta Maeda. 

[From Jeff Passan: Miami's Dee Gordon suspended 80 games for PEDs]

The Dodgers were up 2-1 in the seventh after Maeda had cruised through six innings. But as his pitch count climbed toward 100, things turned all bad. Maeda allowed singles to J.T. Realmuto and Adeiny Hechavarria in the seventh. There were two outs when Gordon stepped to the plate. 

He delivered. Gordon's single to left-center brought Realmuto around to tie the game. Maeda was yanked from the game right after, but the Marlins went on to score two more, taking a 4-2 lead. Their last run of the inning was Gordon, who was on third base and induced a balk from Dodgers pitcher Pedro Baez by flinching as he led off the base.

And while the Dodgers had their fair share of chances to win the game — Adrian Gonzalez left eight runners on base and was 0-for-4 with runners-in-scoring position — there will still be some bitterness about how this played out: Gordon wasn't just tested after the game and suspended on the spot. This had been in the works. Yahoo Sports' Tim Brown reports that Gordon dropped his appeal and told his teammates, which is what triggered the suspension. 

Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander wasn't even playing in this game, but he took exception to that fact. He tweeted this soon after the news broke about Gordon's suspension. 

Nonetheless, it's an L for the Dodgers and a sweep for the Marlins. The Dodgers have now lost four straight.

TOP PERFORMERS

• Aaron Nola: Philadelphia Phillies ace-in-the-making Aaron Nola didn't figure into the decision Thursday as the Phils shut out the Washington Nationals yet again, but Nola did his part. He pitched seven scoreless innings, allowing two hits and striking out seven. The Phillies didn't score until the ninth when they got three across and secured the 3-0 win.

Manny Machado: He had 5 RBIs in the Baltimore Orioles' 10-2 win over the Chicago White Sox, four of which came on a sixth-inning grand slam. He also had an RBI double. Machado now has seven homers and an OPS of 1.068 for the season.

Rubby De La Rosa: The Arizona Diamondbacks starter was spectacular Thursday night. He pitched seven scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and striking out 10 against the St. Louis Cardinals. The D-backs won the game 3-0 as De La Rosa improved to 3-3 with what's easily his best start of his season.

MUST-SEE HIGHLIGHT

 

Here's that Machado grand slam.

THE REST OF THE SCOREBOARD

• Cubs 7, Brewers 2Jake Arrieta still got the win in his no-hitter follow-up, but he looked mortal. The Cubs ace pitched just five innings, allowing a run on three hits and walking four. Still enough for the Cubs to win, though.

Tigers 7, A's 3: The Tigers knocked 11 hits and scored all seven of their runs in the third and fourth innings to down Oakland. Even Justin Upton had a hit and RBI. 

Braves 5, Red Sox 3:  The Braves snapped their eight-game losing streak and got their fifth win of the season. Nick Markakis had four hits and three RBIs to lead Atlanta.

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: April 29, 2016, 6:48 am

St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny had a legitimate complaint Thursday with the schedule put together by Major League Baseball.

The Cardinals were on the road at Arizona for the finale of a four-game series and the last game in a seven-game road trip, but the game didn’t start until 8:40 p.m. in the Central Time Zone back home in St. Louis.

St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

The Cardinals lost 3-0 and by the time they boarded the team bus to head for the airport, it was nearly midnight St. Louis time and the team was assured of flying through the night and arriving home in the early morning hours with a 7:15 p.m. start time Friday night against the Washington Nationals.

[Rookie phenom Trevor Story on pace to make wrong kind of history]

“I think it’s ridiculous,” Matheny told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “This isn’t right. This is a shame. It’s going to be a long night. Most of us will watch the sun come up on the way home on the drive back from the airport.”

MLB generally tries to schedule earlier start times on ‘get-away’ days to help road teams handle the travel demands and early start times are mandated when the road team must travel three time zones following the game. The Cardinals had to travel two time zones following Thursday’s game.

The newspaper reported that one of the Cardinals who serves as a representative with the players’ union planned to look into the reasoning for the late start time. The issue is enough of a concern across baseball that it figures to be a point that is addressed in the next collective bargaining agreement.

These are the best players in the world playing the game at its highest level and being paid a lot of money to do so. There are some who won’t have any sympathy for those players and coaches having to handle the rigors of the major league schedule. It’s a valid point.

[Tigers desperately need Justin Upton's bat to wake up soon]

But baseball fans everywhere want to see players at their best to the fullest extent possible and depriving those players of sleep in the name of selling more tickets because of a later start isn’t going to lead to players being at their best in the following day’s game.

It’s a situation that can be avoided and should be in the future, even if that means a few more day games on the schedule and a little less money in the pockets of ownership over the long haul.

These scheduling issues don’t happen a lot these days, but they probably shouldn’t happen at all.

More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:

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Kyle Ringo is a contributing writer to Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: April 29, 2016, 5:06 am

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There's a section of baseball fans out there who just flat out don't like A.J. Pierzynski. The current Atlanta Braves catcher has played for seven teams over 19 years. That's plenty of time to anger various fan bases. 

[Join a Yahoo Daily Fantasy Baseball contest now]

So if you're among the people who want to see Pierzynski be miserable on the baseball field, we've got just the highlight for you. To be clear here: We don't hold any ill will toward Pierzynski. He's entertained us plenty of times. But we know the guy's rep among some fans and we think you might enjoy what's happening here.

Besides that, some people just like bloopers. So here you go. It's a trifecta of failure: First the passed ball, then falling when he tried to pick up the ball, then throwing it directly into the ground. Oof. 

On the plus side, the Braves beat the Boston Red Sox 5-3 on Thursday night. And the Braves had only won four games before this, so heck, that's pretty good. Another win on Friday and the Braves will have a winning streak. Imagine that.

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: April 29, 2016, 4:42 am

This is The StewPod, our baseball podcast with a dash of pop culture. If you dig the show, please subscribe and review us on iTunes.

We've got an All-Star edition of the StewPod for you this week, as we're joined by MLB legend Dave Winfield and Yahoo Sports fantasy expert Scott Pianowski. If you're looking for a podcast that will both help yearn for a trip to San Diego for the MLB All-Star game and help fix your fantasy baseball team, this is it.

[Join a Yahoo Daily Fantasy Baseball contest now]

Winfield, along fellow San Diego Padres great Trevor Hoffman, was named as an official spokesperson and ambassador for the 2016 All-Star game. What's that mean exactly? Well, the Hall of Famer explains that and a lot more in the podcast. It's clear he has a soft spot for San Diego, where he played from 1973-1980. And where he wore some fantastic uniforms. (Yes, we talked about those too). 

(MLB)Meanwhile, Pianowski stops by to offer his early season insights on which players are worth buying low, selling high and watching for on the waiver wire. Especially if your fantasy team is a mess like a certain StewPod co-host.

Here's a full rundown of the show:
• Is Chris the Royals billboard thief?
• Dave Winfield on being an All-Star ambassador
• What makes a good All-Star game?
• Wearing the brown-and-yellow unis once again
• Keeping young people interested in baseball
• Scott Pianowski joins the show
• How much should we care about April numbers?
• Buying low, selling high, watching the waiver wire
* Which prospects should we watch for?
• Most outlandish trade proposals?
• We play a game to see which early-season performances Scott is believing
• Important question: What should be Tyler Collins' punishment

[Music: Future - "Inside the Mattress"]

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: April 29, 2016, 12:35 am

Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day has been a thing for more than two decades now and let’s just say some kids have it a little better than others when it comes to shadowing their parent for a day at the office.

Of course, every experience can be a valuable one for the kids who are able to participate and get a taste of what their parents do each day, but some are just bound to have more fun.

Madison Roark is one of the lucky ones.

Tanner Roark’s daughter Madison found time in her busy schedule to write out today’s lineup. pic.twitter.com/MuCrTWXsq9

— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) April 28, 2016

[Rookie phenom Trevor Story on pace to make wrong kind of history]

Her dad, Tanner, is a starting pitcher for the Washington Nationals and he just happened to be the scheduled starter today for his team’s home game against the Philadelphia Phillies. He decided to bring Madison to work with him and she filled out the lineup card for the team before the game.

Not only does Madison have excellent penmanship, she threw in some personal touches that make this Washington lineup one of the cutest things you will see in baseball all season. She added hearts next to each player’s jersey number, drew a stick figure family next to her dad’s spot in the order and listed her father as "Daddy Roark" batting ninth.

It’s just not going to get much more precious than that.

[Tigers desperately need Justin Upton's bat to wake up soon]

In honor of #TakeYourKidToWorkDay, today’s #Nats lineup is a Madison Roark original. pic.twitter.com/I7IxqtFh5E

— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) April 28, 2016

Tanner Roark has been pitching at a high level to start the season. He struck out 15 batters in his last start against the Twins to earn his second win of the season and followed it up Thursday with another quality start. Madison didn't get to see her dad earn a win. He left the game after pitching seven innings with the score tied 0-0. He struck out six Phillies.

More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:

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Kyle Ringo is a contributing writer to Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: April 28, 2016, 10:38 pm

Fellow Internet people and baseball fans, I come to you today with a very important public service announcement. It's a plea for rational thinking at a time in which greatness is unfolding in front of our eyes.

IT'S TIME TO STOP HATING BRYCE HARPER.

Sorry I had to go all-caps on you there, but when we're talking about a player as talented as Bryce Harper, sometimes you gotta get shouty on the Internet. And sometimes you need to stand in front of a camera and let people know.

With that, I'd like to introduce the first installment of my new weekly video series here at Big League Stew and Yahoo Sports. It's called Open Mike, because well, my name is Mike and I'm open to spreading my brand of baseball gospel. Like this one: You are missing out if you cling to the already exhausted Commandments of Harper Hating.

[Join a Yahoo Daily Fantasy Baseball contest now] 

Even if some of the criticisms of Harper weren't totally irrational (they are), you have to respect that he's coming off an MVP season and he's picked right up where he left off. He leads the NL in RBIs, is tied for the lead in homers and his OPS is a silly 1.227. Another good number: 23, as in his age. Are you one of the best in the world at your job at age 23? Do people hate you irrationally because of it? If so, you're a lot like Bryce Harper.

Scope out these numbers:

Bryce Harper's last 162 games:

43 doubles, 49 HR, 119 RBI
130 BB, 126 K
.335/.462/.686 9/13 stolen bases

— High Heat Stats MLB (@HighHeatStats) April 26, 2016

None of this even includes the fact that he went to the museum on his off day earlier this week and has never gotten in trouble off the field. So if you're still out here hollering about Harper being a punk or being overrated, it's looking more and more like that's a you-problem. 

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: April 28, 2016, 10:37 pm

The United States has never won the World Baseball Classic, but the best player in the U.S. would like to change that.

Washington Nationals outfielder and reigning National League MVP Bryce Harper said he is open to the idea of playing for the U.S. team next year in the fourth edition of the WBC but he would do so only if other American stars from around the major leagues decided to join him. He wants to be a part of a team truly built to win the title.

[Rookie phenom Trevor Story on pace to make wrong kind of history]

"I think when you really look at it, if the guys play that you really want to play with, then definitely I'll play. But if we're not going to have the opportunity to win, then I don't want to play," Harper told CSN Mid-Atlantic. "If we do that, then I'm definitely in. If not, I probably won't do it.”

Harper said he would like to see other young stars such as New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard, Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant and first baseman Anthony Rizzo and Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado

The WBC is contested every four years. It features a group of 16 teams, 12 of which are automatic qualifiers based on their performance in the 2013 tournament and the other four earn their place through qualifying tournaments. The WBC will take place next March during spring training.

The most recent U.S. team in the WBC featured a slew of players from major league rosters, but the U.S. failed to finish in the top four despite having players such as Giancarlo Stanton, Adam Jones, Ben Zobrist, Eric Hosmer, David Wright, Joe Mauer, Gio Gonzalez, Glen Perkins and Derek Holland among others.

Of course, Team USA isn’t the only team that features major league talent.

[Tigers desperately need Justin Upton's bat to wake up soon]

Harper might actually have things backward in his view of the situation. He is the best young player in the game at the moment and a guy a lot of other players would love to play with, especially in an event such as the WBC. If Harper were to commit to playing, he would probably attract others to join him as opposed to waiting for others to commit and then joining the group.

It will be interesting to see if Harper comes around to that way of thinking. Having a player of Harper’s caliber would certainly drive more interest in the tournament and give the U.S. hope for a title.

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Kyle Ringo is a contributing writer to Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: April 28, 2016, 8:55 pm

(Picture via @AFGutierrez on Twitter)This may sound like the plot of an upcoming Ocean's 11 movie, but we assure you it's not. Thieves in Kansas City have stolen a huge Kansas City Royals player cutout from a local billboard. 

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The billboard in question is an advertisement for Hy-Vee, a store that sponsors the Royals. The backdrop of the billboard is made to look like an outfield wall, while a 3D cutout of a giant, generic Royals player can be seen scaling the wall in order to make a catch. Now, that giant, generic Royals player is gone!

BEFORE & AFTER: the stolen $7,500 @royals outfielder from this @LamarOOH billboard was handmade in @TheCityofBR. pic.twitter.com/ZK1ZaY07mD

— Andres Gutierrez (@AFGutierrez) April 28, 2016

We knew Royals' supporters were intense, but this takes fandom to another level. According to WDAF-TV in Kansas City, the cutout of the player weighs 150 pounds and is 14 feet tall. That means that the heist likely involved multiple people, and that it was planned well in advance. 

The whole thing sounds incredibly ridiculous. Even the Vice President of the billboard company, Bob Fessler, didn't believe it when he heard the news, according to WDAF-TV.

"I thought it was a joke. I really did. The thing's 14 feet tall, weighs about 150 pounds, and it's connected, it's all threaded to the board in four different spots," said Fessler. "I don't know how they would have hauled this off. I hope somebody sees it. However they got it out of here and we can figure that out."

Fessler goes on to state that the cutout couldn't have been hauled away in a pickup truck, and some thought had to be put into transportation, so ... yeah ... the whole thing is much more elaborate than a bunch of fans stealing the player on a whim.

While the 3D player cutout is valued at $7,500, this likely wasn't stolen for the money. And given how unique that item is, it's probably not going to show up in a pawn shop or on eBay.

More than likely, the giant cutout is currently sitting in someone's basement right now. It's the newest art piece in their Royals fan-cave. Residents of Kansas City take note, if your friend invites you over to come check out their new, and definitely not stolen 3D cutout of a Royals player, you should probably be a little skeptical.

[Elsewhere: Rockies rookie Trevor Story is on pace to make the wrong kind of history]

In the movies, the underdog, rag-tag heist team normally gets away with it and everyone involved lives happily ever after. We're guessing the ending of the real-life version of this story might wind up being more of a grittier reboot.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: April 28, 2016, 8:03 pm

The Atlanta Braves were supposed to be bad coming into the season. That's what happens when you trade off all your major-league assets for future considerations. It wasn't a big secret. Everyone knew the Braves were coming into the year in a clear rebuilding phase.

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Thus far, the club has definitely lived up to those expectations. Through 21 games, the team is just 4-17. That's the worst record in the majors. While it's early, and the team probably won't play .190 ball the rest of way, there are already some who want to see manager Fredi Gonzalez fired. Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has seen enough bad baseball this season, and thinks the Braves need to dump Gonzalez. 

Other than the fact that it's incredible early in the year for a team to dismiss a manager, there's nothing too shocking about Bradley's opinion. The Braves were supposed to be awful, and haven't been a good team since 2013. Managers who post three straight losing seasons don't typically stick around. It wasn't hard to see this coming. Even the oddsmakers had Gonzalez as the first manager to be fired this season.

It's also widely believed that the Braves have been rebuilding with an eye toward 2017. The team's new stadium will open next year, and many have speculated that the Braves want to put a contending team on the field to commemorate the occasion. 

The new stadium, and the team's supposed contention plans, definitely seem to signal a new era of Braves baseball. That era was probably never going to include Gonzalez.

While calling for Gonzalez's head is fair, you can't say the Braves put him in a position to succeed the past few seasons. Gonzalez started out as a promising manager while with the Miami Marlins, and won early in his tenure with the Braves, but there were missteps along the way. Most notably during Game 4 of the 2013 NLDS, when the Braves blew a late lead against the Los Angeles Dodgers while Gonzalez left the best reliever in baseball, Craig Kimbrel, in the pen. 

The Braves disappointed in 2014, winning 79 games, and then the team began selling off parts that offseason. Jason Heyward and Justin Upton were shipped out, as was Evan Gattis. Just a few games into the 2015 season, the team parted with Kimbrel and Melvin Upton. Unsurprisingly, they finished with 67 wins in 2015.

[Elsewhere: Rockies rookie Trevor Story is about to make the wrong kind of history]

(AP Photo/Todd Kirkland)It's not fair to think any manager could have made a different to the club last season. If you don't have good players, it's going to be incredibly tough to win. The same can be said of the Braves this year. Even if the team had brought in some coaching savant, it's tough to argue they could have done anything to drastically improve this club. Daniel Castro, Adonis Garcia and Jeff Francouer batting second, third and fifth for the club Wednesday night. No manager is leading that lineup to 95 wins. 

With all of that said, Gonzalez is likely going to be fired at some point. While 21 games into the season seems early, the Milwaukee Brewers did pull the plug on Ron Roenicke after just 25 last year. 

The bigger and more interesting question will be what happens once Atlanta decides to part ways with Gonzalez. If contention in 2017 is really the goal, it makes sense that the team would look for an established manager with a strong track record. Former San Diego Padres skipper Bud Black is available, and is regarded well, but it's unclear if he would take the Braves job in May and ride things out with such a horrible team. Black could wait until later in the year and maybe catch on with a club he believes can contend sooner.

The other option is promoting an interim coach already in the team's organization. Bradley mentions Terry Pendelton, Eddie Perez or Bo Porter as possible options. The problem there is none of those guys are likely to improve the club either, so they wind up managing an awful team and then likely get replaced when a new regime comes in during the offseason. Porter already experienced some of that with the Houston Astros.

The good thing is, many analysts believe in the young talent the Braves have acquired recently. The farm system is well-regarded, and the club could feature a number of impact youngsters soon. Maybe contention in 2017 is aggressive, but that might not be far off. It's easy to look at guys like Dansby Swanson, Sean Newcomb and Aaron Blair and see that the future is close.

[Elsewhere: Netting at Nationals Park saved fans from being hit by a splintered bat]

Once the young players are ready, it will be key that the team finds a manager capable of handling the ups-and-downs that come with having a young team, and also someone who can make smart on-field decisions. Getting rid of Fredi Gonzalez is the easy move, picking the right successor will be much more difficult. 

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: April 28, 2016, 5:32 pm

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Trevor Story's amazing April continued Wednesday night when he hit his ninth homer of the month during the Colorado Rockies' game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. His fourth inning bomb broke the National League rookie record set by Albert Pujols in 2001.

Story's tremendous April came out of nowhere. He was in the mix to replace Jose Reyes while Reyes is on paid administrative leave, and he won the job after wowing the Rockies in spring training. He homered twice in his major league debut (off of Zack Greinke, no less), becoming just the sixth player in MLB history to do so. Story would go on to homer six times in his first four games, which was the first time ever a rookie had homered in his first four games. Since that blistering start, everyone has been watching Story closely. 

Breaking Pujols' record wasn't the only history that Story made on Wednesday night. He struck out three times, which gives him 34 total through his first 20 games. That's the most strikeouts for any rookie ever to start a season. And there are still three more games in April! For context, Albert Pujols struck out 18 times in his first month while hitting one fewer home run. 

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With 34 strikeouts in 20 games, Story is on pace to strike out 138 times in 81 games. That would absolutely obliterate the current first half strikeout record for rookies, which is currently held by Houston Astros right fielder George Springer. Springer did it in 2014 with 112, and if Story continues at this rate, he'll beat Springer's record by 26 strikeouts. 

But there is cause for hope. Behind Story on the first month rookie strikeout list are Austin Jackson (32) and Alex Gordon (29). If they had continued with their strikeout happy ways after their first month, Jackson would have had 113 strikeouts through 81 games, and Gordon would have had 98. But that's not where they ended up. 81 games through Jackson's rookie year, he'd racked up 91, not 112. And Gordon had 73 instead of the 98 he was on pace for. After their first month, they continued to play and they made adjustments as they spent more time seeing major league pitching.

Even though Story is currently striking out at an historic rate for a rookie, that doesn't mean he won't change. It takes time for every player to get used to the majors, and we'll undoubtedly see that with Story. If he learns to be more selective with his swings and take a few more pitches, he might be able to avoid setting more bad baseball records.

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Liz Roscher is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at lizroscher@yahoo.com or follow her on twitter! Follow @lizroscher

Author: Liz Roscher
Posted: April 28, 2016, 3:45 pm

(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)Detroit Tigers outfielder Justin Upton was seen as one of the jewels of free agency this offseason. It wasn't just his incredibly consistent track record, it was also the fact that Upton would be reaching free agency at a young age compared to most players. 

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As a 28-year-old Upton was entering, or had just started, what many consider to be the prime of his baseball career. Hitters peak around 27 or 28, and typically produce their best seasons in the majors around that period. The Tigers signed Upton based on his strong track record, but also knew there was a good chance some of his best seasons were still to come.

At an age where everything most hitters are at their most dominant, Upton has completely cratered. Through 82 plate appearances, he's hitting just .205/.232/.295 with one home run. Upton, who has typically been a patient hitter over his career, is walking in a career-low 3.7 percent of his plate appearances. On top of that, he's currently leading the majors with 32 strikeouts. 

MLB Free Game of the Day schedule for the week of 4/25Upton's struggles are one of the main factors responsible for Detroit's 9-10 start. Whether he, and the club, can get back on track will be one of the big story lines as the Tigers take on the Oakland Athletics in Yahoo Sports' Free MLB Game of the Day. The game, which begins at 1:10 ET, can be streamed at Yahoo's Sports HomeMLB index and video home.

While pretty much every single one of Upton's stats look awful, there's no reason to believe he's suddenly forgotten how to hit. Upton is an incredibly streaky player. When he's slightly off, the results can be disastrous. He's capable of leading the majors in strikeouts and making contact at career-low rates. It's not pretty, but that's what happens when a player like Upton goes into a slump.

It's also worth noting that he did change teams in the offseason. His current coaching staff may not be as familiar with his hitting mechanics at the moment, and working together to fix the issue may take more time than usual.

That said, his age and track record have bought him enough of a reputation that one month of terrible production should not erase what he's done over his entire career. Players don't suddenly turn into mush at his age, and it's entirely possible one at-bat is all it takes to get him back on track. 

[Related: Tigers outfielder Tyler Collins' demotion had nothing to do with his obscene gesture]

The Tigers are hoping that happens sooner rather than later. After spending $132 million on Upton in the offseason, big things were projected for both him and the club. While neither has lived up to that just yet, there's still hope for both to turn things around.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: April 28, 2016, 1:20 pm

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If anyone is still objecting to safety netting at baseball stadiums, what happened during Wednesday's game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Washington Nationals should quiet them quickly.

The game was being played at Nationals Park, and in the top of the seventh inning Cesar Hernandez came to bat against Gio Gonzalez. On the second pitch of the at-bat, Hernandez hit a foul that made his bat splinter at the neck, creating two very sharp shards. One was the small end of the bat, which was still in Hernandez's hands. The second shard was the other two-thirds of the bat, which was heavy and had a sharp and incredibly dangerous point at the end of it. 

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The small shard stayed in Hernandez's hands, but the larger shard flew behind him with alarming speed. Thankfully, this isn't a story about how someone was injured by a sharp, flying bat shard. And that's because the safety netting at Nationals Park caught the bat and stopped it from careening into the stands.

Without the netting, that broken bat could have literally impaled someone. But with it, the splinter got caught in the webbing and hung there harmlessly. A year ago, there was no netting in that area of the park, and that bat would have definitely flown into the stands. But in March the Nationals announced that they were extending their safety netting to cover both dugouts. That's the netting that caught Cesar Hernandez's broken bat.

The new safety netting at Nationals Park prevented fans from getting injured on Wednesday night. That's why it's there, and it's hard to make a serious argument against that.

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Author: Liz Roscher
Posted: April 28, 2016, 1:09 pm

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How poorly are things going for the Atlanta Braves right now? 

On a night where they had two legitimate reasons to celebrate — Freddie Freeman's drought-ending home run and A.J. Pierzynski's 2,000th career hit — they still managed to lose in convincing fashion. In fact, they weren't even competitive, dropping Wednesday's game 9-4 to the Boston Red Sox to fall to a league-worst 4-17 on the season. 

[Related: Chip Caray channels Harry Caray as Braves home run drought ends]

As always, the numbers help tell story. The Braves four wins are the lowest in baseball. Their four team home runs are the lowest in baseball. Their 18 errors are the second most in baseball. However, the numbers don't always tell the whole story either. Sometimes you have to watch the games to get a full understanding of what's going on, and one play during Wednesday's game really captured what the Braves are going through. 

In happened in the eighth inning with the game already decided. In fact, the man batting, Dustin Pedroia, helped decide it with his second-inning grand slam.

This time, veteran Jason Grilli had the battle won. He got Pedroia out in front of a pitch and got him to pop up in foul territory. It should have been an easy final out to the inning, but Pedroia's pop up never landed in a glove. It landed harmlessly, and some might say hilariously, between the catcher Pierzynski and third baseman Daniel Castro. 

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It was no laughing matter to the Braves. One pitch later, Pedroia hit one of his patented laser's over the Green Monster for a solo home run that adding insult to injury. 

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Of course, Castro's name is probably fresh in your mind from Tuesday's incredible barehanded grab. Here though, he was just a bystander when he should have been taking charge of the play. On a play like this, the third baseman has the better angle to make the catch, and based on the replay it looks like he had plenty of time to get there. He just backed off, thinking Pierzynski had a play too.

It's a rookie mistake, and that's something the Braves will have to get used to as they mix younger talents on the roster. But it's no less painful or frustrating to watch if you're a Braves fan. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: April 28, 2016, 6:13 am

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Welcome to The Walk Off, the nightly MLB recap from Big League Stew. Here we'll look at the top performers of the night, show you a must-see highlight and rundown the scoreboard. First, we start with a game you need to know about. 

Some people thought the Chicago White Sox would meet their match this week against the Toronto Blue Jays. Instead, they remained the American League's hottest team and perhaps proved they're here to stay.

With Wednesday's 4-0 win at Rogers Centre, the White Sox extended their winning streak to six games overall and completed a three-game sweep that showed impressive resilience and versatility.

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(AP)There was the come-from-behind win on Monday, where Chicago rallied from a four-run deficit in the seventh inning. There was the straight up blow out on Tuesday, as the White Sox offense exploded for 10 runs. Then there was Wednesday's game, which was highlighted by Jose Quintana's 10 strikeouts and six scoreless innings.

Coming into the season it was difficult to identify what exactly this White Sox team would be. So far anyway, they've looked like one of the more well-rounded teams in either league, which is further evidenced by their AL-best 16-6 record. They're doing a lot of the little things well, like identifying where their openings are, and then they're executing.

Those are the types of things that are sustainable if they stay focused.  Also working in their favor is the fact that Jose Abreu (.190 batting average) and Todd Frazier (.235) haven't even heated up yet. Those are two guys capable of carrying an offense for an extended period. If and when they take off, the White Sox are going to be tough to deal with.

They'll get another tough test this weekend when they travel to Baltimore for four games. If they come out with two or three wins, it'll be time to look at them seriously.     

TOP PERFORMERS 

Brandon Belt: The San Francisco Giants continued their hot start offensively, defeating the Padres 13-9 at AT&T Park. Belt led Wednesday's attack for the G-men, finishing a home run shy of the cycle while driving in five runs. Belt started his big day with a sacrifice fly in the first inning. In the third, he added a run-scoring double. He followed with a two-run triple in the fourth, and then finished with an RBI single in the fifth. He had one chance to complete the cycle in the seventh, but flew out to left field.   

Jeremy Hellickson: The former AL Rookie of the Year was on his game, pitching seven scoreless innings in the Phillies 3-0 win against the Nationals. Washington came into this series as one of baseball's hottest teams, but have been cooled off considerably in the first two games of this series. Hellickson took that to another level here, holding the Nationals to just two hits while walking three. The Phillies will now aim to complete a stunning sweep on Thursday. 

J.D. and Victor Martinez: They're not brothers, but they sure bash like brothers. In Detroit's 9-4 win against Oakland, the Martinez boys each homered while combining for seven RBIs. J.D.'s was a three-run shot in the first inning. Victor's was a three-run shot in the sixth. In between, J.D. drove in another with a sacrifice fly in support of Justin Verlander. 

Justin Nicolino: Miami's 24-year-old left-hander was called up for Wednesday's start and made the most of it, holding the Dodgers scoreless for 7.1 innings. Nicolino allowed just two hits and two walks while striking out two. It wasn't exactly overpowering, but it was what manager Don Mattingly needed. Miami's skipper went to his bullpen for the final five outs as the Marlins won it 2-0.

Jose Altuve: Having lost seven of eight games coming in, the struggling Astros needed a win in the worst way on Wednesday. Altuve helped them get one by homering once and doubling twice in a 7-4 triumph over the Mariners.  

MUST-SEE HIGHLIGHT 

 

Adam Wainwright still didn't look great, allowing four earned runs over 5.1 innings in the Cardinals 11-4 win against the Diamondbacks. But he's in the win column at least. As you can see from the highlight, that's thanks largely to his own bat, as he contributed a bases-clearing triple in the sixth inning. 

THE SCOREBOARD

Brewers @ Cubs: Postponed by rain. Jake Arrieta will start against Milwaukee on Thursday afternoon. 

Orioles 3, Rays 1: Rule-5 rookie Joey Rickard belted a three-run homer in the fifth. That one swing was all Baltimore needed. 

Mets 5: Reds 2: New York wins its 11th straight in the series. Neil Walker hit his ninth home run, which is tied for the MLB lead. 

Red Sox 9, Braves 4: The Braves 15-game home run drought is finally over, but it wasn't enough to overcome Dustin Pedroia's two home runs.  

Rangers 3, Yankees 2: Alex Rodriguez homered for the 100th time at Globe Life Park but Texas prevailed on Elvis Andrus' go-ahead RBI in the sixth inning. 

Indians 6, Twins 5Cleveland spoiled José Berrios' MLB debut by scoring five runs against him in four-plus innings of work. 

Angels 4, Royals 2: The Angels hit three homers in the win, including a mammoth two-run shot from Mike Trout. 

Pirates 9, Rockies 8 (12 innings): Pittsburgh blew an early 7-0 lead but managed to walk away victorious on Jordy Mercer's RBI double.  

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Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: April 28, 2016, 5:46 am

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The Atlanta Braves two-and-a-half week nightmare is finally over. 

In the eighth inning of Wednesday's 9-4 loss against the Boston Red Sox, first baseman Freddie Freeman hit a home run off left-hander Tommy Layne to end their 15-game homerless streak. 

[Elsewhere: Adam LaRoche wants you to celebrate take your child to work day]

As you can tell from the call of Braves broadcaster Chip Caray, he was pretty excited. Excited enough that he broke out his grandpa Harry Caray's famous "It might be, It could be, it is" home run call, even adding a "Holy Cow" for added emphasis and perhaps meaning. 

Caray had reason to be excited too. The home run was the first hit by a Brave since April 10 at Turner Field, which was Atlanta's fifth game of the season. On that afternoon, Drew Stubbs delivered a three-run homer against St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright. The Braves only hit two home runs prior to that, when Freeman and Adonis Garcia each homered against Washington's Max Scherzer.

So yes, the drought was somehow worse than you imagined. 

Prior to Freddie Freeman's homer in the 7th, #Braves had hit just 1 HR in team's prior 774 PA dating back to the 4th inning of Opening Day.

— Grant McAuley (@grantmcauley) April 28, 2016

If you're keeping track at home, the Braves now have a grand total of four home runs on the season. Freeman's was actually their first on the road.

The Braves homerless streak was the longest in the majors since the Cardinals went 18 games without a homer in 1991, so at least it won't go down in the MLB history books.

So again, Caray had good reason to be excited. 

Here's a little more perspective that's perhaps not as exciting or encouraging. Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen hit three homers in a single game on Tuesday in Colorado, equaling Atlanta's season total before Wednesday. Braves pitching, meanwhile, was allowing plenty of home runs of their own. In fact, they were allowing them in grand style with the same frequency that the Braves were hitting any type of homer.

@ESPNStatsInfo @Kurkjian_ESPN Braves have given up as many grand slams (3) as they've hit homers (3)

— Yogi Patel (@yogster92) April 28, 2016

That stat included Dustin Pedroia's grand slam on Wednesday, so at least the Braves didn't have to hear about it long.

With that in mind, they'll be hearing about this one for awhile. 

Freddie Freeman has homered. Via @ESPNStatsInfo: 437 homers were hit in the days between #Braves homers. The #Mets had the most with 27.

— Adam Rubin (@AdamRubinESPN) April 28, 2016

Yes, the same Mets team that homered just twice during their first nine games exploded while the Braves offense went completely punchless.

That might be the most fascinating stat we see all season. Then again, the rebuilding Braves still don't have a lot of offensive upside to speak of. Freddie Freeman is clearly their best power source, but he's not going to get many pitches to hammer with so few home run threats around them. Honestly, it wouldn't be surprising if the Braves have a couple more streaks where the home run well runs dry. 

[Elsewhere: Noah Syndergaard tours New York City as Thor]

With that in mind, the old Harry Caray home run call might fit this Braves team perfectly.

"It might be" is always delivered with some surprise and excitement.

"It could be" brings with it some hope.

And "it is" is the signal that the unlikely has happened, and it's safe to celebrate another Braves homer. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: April 28, 2016, 4:10 am

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Rays right fielder Steven Souza Jr. has been building quite an impressive highlight reel over the past three seasons. That reel is sure to get more attention now though after he turned a remarkable Superman-like effort into a breathtaking diving catch during Wednesday's 3-1 loss against the Baltimore Orioles.

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In the fourth inning, Souza took to the air to rob Baltimore's Chris Davis of sure extra bases. The play left Davis stunned and had Rays' Matt Moore looking on with a mix of shock and appreciation.

We assure you Moore is saying "thank you" under that glove.    

Yes, @SouzaJr really did do that. pic.twitter.com/XuAtwIwozj

— MLB GIFS (@MLBGIFs) April 28, 2016

Souza's incredible catch was eerily similar to another diving catch he made while playing left field for the Washington Nationals. 

This is kind of @SouzaJr’s thing. https://t.co/L18mNLkEw7 pic.twitter.com/BfCx7yZs8g

— MLB GIFS (@MLBGIFs) April 28, 2016

That was from Sept. 28, 2014, when Souza saved Jordan Zimmernann's no-hitter with a diving catch for the final out of the game. He was running different directions, but the results were just as glorious. 

Also worth noting, Souza's catch happened in roughly the same area at Tropicana Field where Kevin Pillar made this sensational diving catch last season. 

.@KPILLAR4.

How?
How?
How? pic.twitter.com/gSMjhtZXC0

— MLB GIFS (@MLBGIFs) October 3, 2015

Between Pillar's grab last season and the overall Gold Glove efforts of Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, Tropicana Field has seen its share of defensive gems recently. Souza's catch though may have raised the bar even higher. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: April 28, 2016, 2:48 am

(AP)One week after being fired from ESPN after commenting on and promoting a controversial anti-transgender meme on his Facebook page, Curt Schilling is firing back at his former employers. 

In a one-hour guest appearance on SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s “Breitbart News Patriot Forum,” the former pitcher-turned-analyst flatly accused the sports network of being biased against political conservatives and having inconsistent standards when it comes to reprimanding on-air talent. 

[Related: Raúl Ibañez to replace Curt Schilling on ESPN's Baseball Tonight]

According to Newsday, Schilling's commentary was recorded on Wednesday afternoon and is scheduled to air at 8 a.m. Thursday morning. Here's just a sampling of what he had to say. 

“It was apparent to me early on that if you wanted to go off topic as a sports person you had to go off topic left, or you were going to get in trouble.” 

“Some of the most racist things I’ve ever heard have come out of people that are on the air at ESPN. They’re some of the biggest racists in sports commentating.”

Asked to clarify his remarks after the show, which was recorded before a live audience at SiriusXM headquarters in Manhattan, Schilling said, “The memo that was sent out more than once was about they wanted on air-talent to focus on sports. To me that means focus on sports unless you want to talk about something that is part of the liberal agenda.

Schilling points to several specific instances that he believes support his claims. That includes one involving Stephen A. Smith, who was in the baseball news cycle on Wednesday after raising the ire of Jake Arrieta

“You listen to Stephen A. Smith, and Stephen A. Smith was the guy who said that Robert Griffin didn’t play quarterback for the Redskins because he’s black. No, Robert Griffin didn’t play quarterback for the Redskins because he [stunk]."

"Tony Kornheiser compared the Tea Party to ISIS. I don’t know any planet where those are sports topics. But I don’t care. It’s OK. I think those conversations need to happen. But as soon as you go to the flip side, the right side, there are repercussions for not talking about sports.”

When asked for a response on Wednesday, ESPN declined to comment.

Meanwhile, Schilling has not been at a loss for words. He's been unapologetic since his firing and has remained defensive, but he apparently just biding his time or waiting for the right forum before really letting loose. These are obviously some strong words here and some strong accusations that he's been waiting to express. 

They're out there now though, and they will no doubt be met with the same fervor from those who support him and those who honestly felt ESPN didn't fire him soon enough. Both bandwagons have plenty of occupants and enough fuel to keep their animosity waging for months.  

[Elsewhere: Tigers say Tyler Collins' demotion 'not linked' to obscene gesture]

Worth noting, the discussion wasn't just centered around Schilling's issues with ESPN. He also shared his opinions on other topics, including expressing his support for New York passing laws that ban tobacco at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field. It was a wide-ranging discussion that's worth reading more about at Newsday and listening to on Thursday.

For now though, the focus will be on the controversy, because when Schilling speaks there's always plenty of controversy to focus on.  

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: April 28, 2016, 12:45 am

(AP Images)Detroit Tigers outfielder Tyler Collins received good news on Tuesday when he learned he wouldn't face a suspension for an obscene gesture made toward fans during Monday's game at Comerica Park. He was only fined an undisclosed amount. 

Any relief he may have felt was probably short-lived though, because Wednesday afternoon brought news that he was demoted to Triple-A Toledo, thus concluding a brief and unproductive two-week stint that will only be remembered for said gesture.

[Related: Tyler Collins makes obscene gesture toward fans after misplay]

For those who missed what happened on Monday, Collins and left fielder Justin Upton were met with a chorus of boos after losing a fly ball in the lights. Upton was charged with an error on the play, but Collins was the one who responded with a distasteful gesture that has been blurred out of this photo.

#Tigers OF Tyler Collins apparently didn't like something said by the home crowd. #Athletics pic.twitter.com/qwuw8N2YB8

— Brodie Brazil (@brodiebrazilCSN) April 26, 2016

Collins was also seen mouthing a few unpleasant words as the camera focused in on him. He's since apologized, saying he “lashed out completely inappropriately” and was “embarrassed” by his actions. He didn't play in Tuesday's game, so we don't really know if Tigers' fans forgave him. And we may never get that answer following this demotion. 

Considering the timing of Collins' demotion, there were naturally some questions about the circumstances. Perhaps this was Detroit's way of handling the situation was one plausible thought, but Tigers manager Brad Ausmus told the media on Wednesday that Collins' demotion actually had "no link" to Monday's incident. Rather, he's simply the odd man out with Detroit needing spots for returning regulars.

Ausmus said (plausibly) Wednesday's trip to Toledo for Tyler Collins not linked to Monday night's bad act. Tigers needed additional pitcher.

— Lynn G. Henning (@Lynn_Henning) April 27, 2016

Collins was sent down on Wednesday to make room for closer Francisco Rodriguez, who was activated from the family emergency list. Collins' outfield roster spot will soon be filled by Cameron Maybin, who's coming back from a fractured wrist suffered in March.

Though Ausmus probably would have denied any link to Monday's incident regardless of the actual circumstances, chances are he's being straight forward in this instance. There's likely nothing Collins could have done this week to save his roster spot given the wheels that were already in motion with Detroit's roster. However, he's done himself no favors moving forward. 

[Elsewhere: Adam LaRoche wants you to celebrate take your child to work day]

It should go without saying that Detroit fans will not take kindly to Collins' gesture. Sadly, there's a prime example that supports that, as former Tigers' closer Joe Nathan never got back in their good graces completely after making a distasteful gesture during a game in 2014. Bringing Collins back into that environment probably won't be high on Detroit's priorities unless he truly earns the opportunity.

Speaking of which, he surely did nothing to impress the Tigers' brass during this run. Collins went just 2-for-20 at the plate.

Perhaps those numbers only added to his overall frustration, but now he'll have time to figure out how to fix his approach and how to better control his emotions down on the farm.   

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: April 27, 2016, 10:57 pm

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)Some pairings are just too good to be true. Peanut butter and chocolate, David Bowie and Freddie Mercury and Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese coming together are in the pantheon as far as that's concerned. In retrospect, it makes a lot of sense that those things could work together to produce magical things.

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This new pairing might not be in the same category, but it's not really a surprise considering recent events. Former Chicago White Sox designated hitter Adam LaRoche wants to remind everyone that Thursday, April 28 is "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day."

Don't forget, tomorrow is take your child to work day. https://t.co/qXm8GEv424

— Adam LaRoche (@e3laroche) April 27, 2016

We aren't sure whether LaRoche is an actual spokesperson for the organization now, though he did tweet a link to their website. It's certainly possible he just decided to support their cause on his own, especially considering the circumstances regarding his retirement from baseball.

LaRoche walked away from the game during spring training after White Sox president Kenny Williams told him his son Drake could no longer be in the clubhouse every day. Drake had always been a major part of LaRoche's career, so the 36-year-old decided to retire rather than restrict how much his son could be around the club.

The story briefly dominated the headlines in March, but has died down since. LaRoche has given interviews saying he doesn't regret the decision, and the White Sox have gotten off to a tremendous start. They don't have to answer the inevitable questions about chemistry that would have arisen had they stumbled out of the gate, and LaRoche seems happy. 

[Elsewhere: Jake Arrieta won't back down from ESPN's Stephen A. Smith]

While this tweet could be perceived as LaRoche trying to stir up drama, we would like to think he sees the humor in putting it out there. Even if he's 100 percent sincere about the cause, he has to realize the irony of him encouraging others to take their kids to work.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: April 27, 2016, 10:15 pm

Noah Syndergaard is taking Major League Baseball by storm, as he puts fear into opposing hitters (and even his own catchers, just ask Kevin Plawecki) with 100 mph fastballs and ridiculous sliders.

His dominance on the mound, along with his flowing blonde locks and 6-foot-6 frame, has earned him the nickname of Thor, and Syndergaard is embracing the moniker for all that it's worth.

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The Mets flamethrower has teamed up with SportsNet New York for a segment where he hits the street of New York City dressed as Thor.

Thor on the street @Noahsyndergaard pic.twitter.com/8D4xhuGAJ8

— SportsNet New York (@SNYtv) April 27, 2016

Thor on the street coming soon to https://t.co/ugILGIClHr pic.twitter.com/84ZAA9PNUR

— SportsNet New York (@SNYtv) April 27, 2016

pic.twitter.com/iOV2YZPwt2

— SportsNet New York (@SNYtv) April 27, 2016

Now that would be one intimidating meeting. But still probably not as intimidating as standing in the box with Syndergaard pitching, though.

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Israel Fehr is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at israelfehr@yahoo.ca or follow him on Twitter. Follow @israelfehr

Author: Israel Fehr
Posted: April 27, 2016, 9:15 pm

(Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images)A week after ESPN fired Curt Schilling they've already named his replacement. Former outfielder, and 19-year MLB veteran, Raúl Ibañez will join the network as an analyst on "Baseball Tonight."

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According to ESPN's release, Ibañez will also appear on select broadcasts, and occasionally join other programs on the network, such as "Sportscenter."

Ibañez is set to make his television debut for the network Wednesday, April 27 during ESPN's "Wednesday Night Baseball" broadcast between the Texas Rangers and the New York Yankees.

Ibañez retired from the game following the 2014 season, and joined the Los Angeles Dodgers as a special assistant to GM Andrew Friedman in February. Ibañez will continue in that role despite his new ESPN position, according to Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times, so it will be interesting to see whether that impacts how he's used by the network. Asking Ibañez to work a Dodgers broadcast, or having him seriously analyze the club, might be out of the question considering his current ties to the organization.

Ibañez on-field qualifications for the job are clear. He posted a strong .272/.335/.465 slash line over his career, hitting 305 career home runs. He did all that despite not becoming a full-time player until he was 30 years old. Toward the end of his career, Ibañez hung around as the motivating, veteran type. During that period, he was lauded for his leadership and personality. 

Once his playing career ended, many expected Ibañez to eventually manage in the majors. He did interview for at least one managerial opening, and was often a name thrown out by journalists covering teams in need of a new skipper.

Ideally, those traits will make Ibañez an excellent baseball analyst. He already has some experience in that role, appearing as an analyst at Fox Sports during the 2015 season. 

Ibañez path to success, and his ability to then remain in the majors for so long even after his late start, could give him a unique perspective on certain aspects of the game. He might be better equipped to explain why a young player might be struggling in his first taste of the majors, or give fans a look into the role aging veterans can play in a clubhouse. He experienced those things firsthand. 

[Elsewhere: Jake Arrieta went after ESPN's Stephen A. Smith for doubting his numbers]

By all accounts, Ibañez seems like a strong hire. The people he's worked with in and outside of the game all seem to think he's a good guy and a smart baseball mind. As long as he doesn't start posting memes on Facebook, ESPN will probably agree with that assessment. 

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: April 27, 2016, 8:11 pm

Chicago Cubs ace Jake Arrieta is pretty sick of people questioning his performance. Arrieta is well-aware that his transformation from borderline starter to one of the best pitchers in the game invites suspicion, but told USA Today's Bob Nightengale "people are idiots" for thinking he's used performance-enhancing drugs.

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We live in an age where any over-worldly achievement on a baseball field brings questions, so there were sure to be doubters even after Arrieta's stringent denial. One of those doubters happened to be ESPN's Stephen A. Smith.

During a "First Take" segment, Smith said it was fair to wonder "what the hell is going on" with Arrieta's numbers. Smith later tweeted out a link to that segment, saying Arrieta shouldn't be laughing at his critics.

Jake Arrieta shouldn't be laughing about questions surrounding his performance. https://t.co/bieg2MeTni

— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) April 27, 2016

Because this is the Internet, and Smith is a big-time sports personality, Arrieta found out about the video and issued an appropriate response to Smith.

Laughing is exactly what I will do. You continue to do your thing though. No one will undercut my hard work. @stephenasmith

— Jake Arrieta (@JArrieta34) April 27, 2016

Upon seeing Arrieta's response, Smith immediately backed down.

I hear ya @JArrieta34. It's your life/career. You've earned the right to do what you want. The best to you.

— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) April 27, 2016

The whole exchange on Smith's end isn't all that surprising considering his role at ESPN. "First Take" routinely embraces debate, and that leads to some fiery takes. Smith and Skip Bayless get huge ratings for making bold proclamations or not so subtly suggesting a star baseball player might be taking steroids. 

This was peak Stephen A. Smith too. In the clip, he says "I'm not going to accuse you of using performance-enhancing supplements, drugs, whatever you want to call it, but..."

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)That "but" pretty much invalidates everything that came before it. Because at that point, Smith has already planted the seeds of doubt in the viewers' minds. Smith gets to pretty much say "this guy might be using steroids" while also being able to hide behind the "I never accused him" defense. Technically, he's right, and that's why he's so successful at what he does. He manipulates words well.

Smith's arguments revolving around innings pitched and wins is incredibly silly too. Arrieta didn't accumulate innings in the majors back then because he wasn't good. Teams aren't just going to throw those guys out there. He needed to change his game and improve. Once he did so with the Cubs, his innings limits and win totals jumped.

Our own Jeff Passan wrote about how Arrieta made that turn around. A number of pieces have been writeen about the subject, many of which include Arrieta finally being able to throw his cutter again. There are legimate reasons to buy Arrieta's transformation. If you want to bring realistic doubt on Arrieta's numbers, there are much better ways to make that argument that don't include innings pitched or win totals.

[Elsewhere: Here are the five best $100 million contracts in baseball history]

Arrieta's response does come as somewhat of a surprise. You rarely see a player engage with a big media personality on Twitter, and that's especially the case when the issue of PEDs comes up. It's such a serious accusation in the baseball world that most players choose to say nothing any time the subject comes up. If you're a player and you make even the slightest slip-up with your wording during a denial, people will just continue to scrutinize. It's just not worth it for most guys.

Arrieta didn't adhere to that. He went directly at Smith, and that was pretty refreshing. We probably should have seen this coming, particularly after Arrieta responded to a Pittsburgh Pirates fan prior to his Wild Card start during the 2015 season

That attitude probably feeds into why Arrieta has been so successful in recent years. He doesn't lack for confidence, and it's pretty clear he's a relentless competitor. 

The fact that Smith can essentially make the accusation and then step away without repercussion is incredibly unfair. Ultimately, it's Arrieta who will have to deal with the fallout from Smith's irresponsible words. He chose to handle that by going directly to the source, and the source immediately backed off.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: April 27, 2016, 7:09 pm

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