Season (about to be) over

Either tonight or Saturday night, the Brewers’ season will end, once again short of getting to the World Series, let alone winning the World Series.

It is not because a 3-games-to-2 lead is insurmountable; it isn’t. But the last two games of the National League Championship Series have exposed the Brewers’ weaknesses that are not going to be fixed before the Brewers’ season ends. Almost no one is hitting right now, and this is a bad time for a team-wide power outage. The Brewers deserve points for, shall we say, imaginative use of pitching, but imagination only gets you so far. The bullpen is predictably worn out, and as I have said here before there is no starting pitcher who can go even seven innings and keep the Brewers in the game.

Sadly, the Dodgers and the now-likely American League champion Boston Red Sox demonstrate that all you have to do to win in baseball is whip out your checkbook to acquire the right players. (Which is not the same thing as whipping out your checkbook to acquire players.) So the highest (Red Sox) and third highest (Dodgers) payrolls are playing each other next week. That will be another World Series I won’t, and you shouldn’t, be watching.

Speaking of money, the NLCS has served as a nationwide audition for Dodgers third baseman Manny Machado, for whom the Brewers tried to trade with Baltimore before the Dodgers picked him up. (Which is somewhat ironic since there were questions about where Machado would have played given the surplus of Brewers infielders. And then the Brewers picked up Mike Moustakas and Jonathan Schoop.)

Machado started his week by admitting he loafs his way through games, which could be this year’s example of “Manny being Manny,” a term originally used for former outfielder Manny Ramirez.

And then came Tuesday, when, as the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke reports …

You know who should have been booed Tuesday? That would be Machado, who caused the oddest of all sights, a bench-clearing incident in the 10th inning. It happened when Brewers’ first baseman Jesus Aguilar objected to the way Machado seemingly intentionally clipped his leg while running out a groundout. It wasn’t the first time Machado has taken a physical shot at the Brewers this series — in Game 3 he was called for runner interference when he slid out of the baseline hard into shortstop Orlando Arcia. This time, benches briefly cleared before the incident ended with no punches thrown.

Yet afterward, the Brewers Christian Yelich said, ‘’It’s a dirty play by a dirty player’’ — but Machado just shrugged.

“I was trying to get over him and hit his foot…if that’s dirty, that’s dirty, I don’t know, call it what you want,’’ Machado said.

The Dodgers are better than that, and should probably keep Machado’s erratic postseason behavior in mind when considering whether to keep him when he becomes an expensive free agent this winter. Remember in Game 2 when he stopped running hard to first base on a ground out?

“I don’t think he’s playing all that hard,’’ said Brewers Manager Craig Counsell Tuesday night in a fairly stunning rebuke,

The Orange County Register’s Mark Whicker adds:

The playoffs maximize everything, so the world is just now learning that Manny Machado is not the modern-day Hal McRae.

Shortly after Machado came to L..A. on July 18, Dodger Stadium fans learned that he not only has a Home Run Trot, he also has an Almost Home Run Trot, in which he adores his long drives until he has to scramble to make sure they’re doubles.

He has a Double Play Trot, which was in evidence at Milwaukee on Saturday in front of Fox’s cameras, and the dwindling number of people who are watching this postseason.

Joe Buck picked up on it. From Baltimore, Jim Palmer tweeted, “Once again Manny doesn’t run hard. Down 0-1 in series, 0-0 game in 4th. Too tired to run hard for 90 feet. But wants the big $$. #pathetic.”

Palmer, of course, had broadcast almost all of Machado’s game in Baltimore.

But the Dodgers broadcasters, who are not exactly known for hunting for the negatives, cited Machado at least twice this season.

Then, in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series Tuesday night, Machado inflamed things by stepping on the front of first baseman Jesus Aguilar. Aguilar objected, the benches emptied, and Christian Yelich and other Brewers termed Machado a dirty player. Told that Machado said he was just playing hard, Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell even questioned that.

Since Machado is an upcoming free agent, it’s important to put this to bed before the bidding starts. Machado tried to do that with Ken Rosenthal, of Fox and The Athletic. Whether he succeeded depends on which quote you hear.

“There’s no excuse for it, honestly,” Machado said. “I’ve never given excuses for not running. Obviously, I’m not going to change. It does look bad, it looks terrible. I look back and I’m like, ‘What was I doing?’

“I’m not the type of player that’s going to be Johnny Hustle. … That’s just not my personality, that’s not my cup of tea, that’s not who I am. There are things you learn, things you gotta change. I’ve tried changing it for eight years and I still can’t figure it out, but one of these days I will.”

It resonates with the Dodgers because of what happened in San Francisco on April 30.

Cody Bellinger swung hard enough to fall to a knee as he sent a shot into the right-center alley. He only got to second base and said later that he wasn’t going to risk anything, four runs down. Manager Dave Roberts thought Bellinger “cruised into second base.” He benched him forthwith.

That story went national and planted a false seed. Nobody in blue goes down the line as furiously as Bellinger, and he keeps surprising infielders with his speed. Now Roberts sees Machado play at 33 rpm just like you do, but says the good outweighs the bad. One imagines that Bellinger and quite a few other Dodgers notice this.

It also reinforces the feeling that Machado will play elsewhere next year. The Dodgers don’t do big free-agent contracts, and Corey Seager is expected to reclaim shortstop, at some point in 2019.

It’s not as if Machado isn’t known for being a jackass:

But, to show how life is unfair, Machado will be playing in the World Series next week — because MLB didn’t suspend Machado for the rest of the playoffs — and the high-character Brewers will not be. MLB’s failure to penalize Machado is a sign that MLB wanted the Dodgers and not the Brewers to win. So is MLB’s failure to act on this, from the Sporting News:

The Brewers suspect the Dodgers are attempting to steal their signs in the National League Championship Series. And, according to the Athletic, who cited unidentified league sources, Milwaukee is suspicious Los Angeles is using video cameras to do it.

“They use video people to get sequences,” an unidentified source told the Athletic. “It’s known throughout the league. MLB knows it’s an issue.”

Milwaukee catcher Erik Kratz pointed to a specific instance in the sixth inning of Game 5 when he saw Manny Machado motioning toward Chris Taylor, who was at the plate in what he thought was an attempt to inform him of the upcoming pitch. That was just an allegation of stealing signs in general, but the suspicion goes deeper.

The Brewers reportedly suspect the Dodgers of sending an employee around the stadium to relay stolen signals.

“There is concern amongst some Brewers that the Dodgers are using video to pick up their signs, multiple sources tell The Athletic,” the report says. “One person inside the organization said that on videos of the games, a coach could be seen running from the hallway into the Dodgers’ dugout whenever a runner reached second base, possibly a sign that L.A. was relaying a pitchers’ sequences to the runner during those at-bats.”

Other sources from around the league have pointed out the Brewers are clearly trying all they can to keep the Dodgers from stealing signals, as Milwaukee is using multiple signs even with no runners on base.

“That’s a dead giveaway they think something is up,” one rival executive told the Athletic.

You may think the Brewers still have a few years of being a contender. History shows that is not necessarily the case. The only extended period in franchise history where the Brewers were a contender was from 1978 to 1983, including one American League pennant and 1½ division titles. The Brewers made the playoffs in 2008, but not in 2009 and 2010, and got to the NLCS in 2011, but not since then until this year. Unexpectedly good seasons in 1987 and 1992 led to nothing.

Consider how many moves the Brewers made this year to get to this point — signing Lorenzo Cain and trading for Christian Yelich in the offseason, and during the season acquiring Mike Moustakas, Jonathan Schoop, Curtis Granderson, Joakim Soria and Gio Gonzales. And all for naught, and not likely to be repeated in future seasons.

The playoffs also show how stupid baseball is being run these days. None of the NLCS or ALCS games have been shown on over-the-air TV, which means that roughly one-fourth of Americans haven’t been able to watch, nor have they been able to stream the games without paying for them. It’s as if MLB doesn’t want the country to see the highlight of its season.

 

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