Who looks to be the big loser after the live-on-TV tussle between Nationals teammates Jonathon Papelbon and Bryce Harper? Super-star Harper has shown himself every so often to lack hustle. Fans will be less forgiving of that from now on. But he’s not going anywhere. Papelbon has confirmed his powder-keg personality; he would be traded if either his permission were not needed or an acceptable taker with big bucks could be found. He is likely, no rx if not sure, to survive. Not so, Nats Skipper Matt Williams. The man who led the Nationals to a division title in 2014 and was manager of the year, is now described by the media as a failed strategist and by several unnamed players as having “lost the clubhouse.”
When a Baseball job is in jeopardy, the sport’s insiders pounce: speculation about who’s head may fall is irresistible grist. The equivalent tendencies on the foreign policy field center around regime change. The same journalistic yen for conflict leading to the invasion of Iraq 12 years ago has surfaced again with regard to Syria. Coaches on the staff of Skipper Obama have persuaded him that force must push Syrian President Bashar al-Assad out of office; like Saddam Hussein in 2003, Assad has to go. It’s an awkward strategy because Assad’s troops are fighting against ISIS together with our coalition forces. Now, Vladimir Putin is making matters trickier by having Russia, which is pro-Assad, join in the anti-ISIS campaign. The arrangement has clearly flummoxed Obama. The Skipper’s perplexed – and indecisive – response to Putin is agitating the U.S. press, creating the sense that, at a political level, he has lost both clubhouse and fans.
As to the differing degrees of press agitation, the following two headlines after the two leaders met last week are instructive “Obama and Putin Clash at UN Over Syrian Crisis” (NY Times); “Obama, Putin Talk of Easing Tensions in Syria, but at Odds on How.” (McClatchy Papers). We can draw from the comparison that the Times is rooting for a shock-talk standoff Baseball writers love; McClatchy, meanwhile, is playing a more measured game, one we welcome. Behind the current impasse is this unanswered question: How long will the Skipper listen to militant advisers, nudging him to heed their demand for discredited regime change?
One thing seems sure: Assad will remain as skipper long after Obama (and Williams, one way or the other) have moved on.
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The Big One This Coming Week: The most memorable event of the post-season is likely to be one of the two wild card play-in games. The Yankees will have their hands full whichever AL West team emerges for the game at the Stadium Tuesday night. It should be a rouser. But we see the Cubs-Pirates game in Pitsburgh Wednesday night as the potential all-of-October highlight. Their records say the two belong with the Cardinals as the NL’s three best teams (sorry, Dodgers and Mets). It’s the one post-season game we would hate to miss.
Regrettable: KC’s victory over Minnesota last night all but eliminated the surprising Twins from wild card contention. First-year manager Paul Molitor did himself and his feisty team proud.
What Ever Happened to…Wil Myers, Padres: Injuries have made it a lost season for the former touted prospect: .253, with eight homers and 29 RBI in just 59 games; Robinson Cano, Mariners: .286, 20 HR, 76 RBI in 153 games; Alex Rios, KC: .260, four HR, 30 RBI in 102 games (injuries again).
Two of Five Things Retiring Jeremy Affeldt Doesn’t Like About Baseball: Overly rabid fans in Philadelphia; miniscule clubhouse at Wrigley Field.
If There Is Any Doubt About Relief Pitching Fatigue: “You’re probably not feeling as good as you were at the beginning of the year. You’re eventually gonna hit that wall. And how you get through it (is by trying to) still pitch confidently. Even though you might not be feeling the best. ” – Nationals reliever Drew Storen (quoted by Barry Syrluga, Washington Post)
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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)