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Sports

Oneil Cruz Is the Most Exciting Player in Baseball

Oneil Cruz, the Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop of the future, looks like he should play football; in another life, he could’ve been a lethal deep threat wide receiver, out-running and out-jumping cornerbacks like a jumbo-sized Desean Jackson.  Or maybe he could be a 3&D wing in the NBA who can step up to be a small-ball center in the later rounds of the playoffs. If baseball requires a very specific kind of physicality—fast hands, meaty haunches, torque-able hips—Cruz is a truly stupefying athlete by any standard; At 6’7, 220 pounds, he’s the tallest infielder in MLB history; he runs faster than Byron Buxton, throws harder than Max Scherzer and hits the ball harder than Mike Trout. While baseball has largely moved away from body positive kings like David Ortiz or Bartolo Colon, Cruz is built different even amongst his cohort of the differently built. 

A consensus top 20 prospect in all of baseball, Cruz is part of a new generation of players who are bringing baseball out of its fuddy-duddy past and into a more dynamic future. Through his first 17 games since being called up to the Pirates, Cruz has been a revelation in hearts, if not minds; Cruz generates more highlights per game than just about any other player. In his debut on June 20th, Cruz drove in four runs and uncorked a 96.7 mile per hour throw from shortstop, the hardest by any infielder in the Statcast era. 

Beyond the exciting, Tik Tokkable moments, he’s already an excellent fielder at shortstop. For years, the knock on Cruz was that he was simply too large to ably and nimbly navigate as a shortstop. Instead, his size is his super power; it’s basically impossible to sneak a hit by a guy this big and this quick. Prorated over the course of a season, Cruz is already among the best defenders at his position—his 25 defensive runs saved per 1200 innings (roughly the length of an average season) and his 5.06 Range Factor per game are both the best of any current regular starting shortstop.  

Offensively, though, Cruz demonstrates that same degree of promise but without the polish. And yet, despite a pedestrian .630 OPS, Cruz is the favorite to win National League Rookie of the Year because the flashes of greatness are so spellbinding. Although he’s still learning the minor procedural aspects that are needed to be a consistently good player, Cruz has been intermittently great. He strikes out more than would be ideal (like many young players, he’s struggled against sliders and curveballs), but he has explosive power when he does make contact.

With an average exit velocity of 92.6 miles per hour, Cruz has more juice than any other Pirates. Similarly, he has barrelled the ball (i.e. hit it with the ideal combination of launch angle and velocity) on more than nine percent of his at-bats, which is also the best on the team. In this sense, the thing that will determine whether Oneil Cruz is a superstar or merely an All-Star is whether he can master the ordinary as well as the extraordinary.

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Sports

Camden Yards Has the Best Left-Field

Everybody is mad—something beautiful has been ruined; the sacred is now the propane. This is a “travesty:” the left field at Camden Yards is totally borked. Just look at it! 

Once a neat parabola, the outfield fence now has the uneven pith of a preschooler’s first attempt at collaging. Over the off-season, the Baltimore Orioles pushed their left field fence back by about 30 feet and pumped its height up to 12 feet as a counter-measure to giving up a league-leading 155 long balls at home last season. So far, the Orioles have gotten the results they were looking for—there are just 1.3 homers per game this year at Camden Yards, compared to a MLB-high 3.4 per game last season.

And while teams have tinkered with their ballpark dimensions for years, no one has ever done so as hamfistedly as the Orioles. This is very silly and a little sad: the Orioles were so desperate to stop Gleyber Torres from launching mighty taters against them that they made left-field the same size and jagged shape of a post-Yugoslavia Balkan nation. 

“I feel like it ruins the park,” said Aaron Judge, the Yankees slugger who lost a homer to the gaping maw of left field, “It was quite a beautiful park the way it was.”

Conversely, this big, stupid renovation has made Camden Yards one of the best stadiums in the league, a monument to baseball’s inherent silliness. 

Beyond simply being the only sport that people play while wearing a belt, baseball is unique in that each stadium can be as weird as it wants to be. And yet, every team now seems to be trending towards luxury-box-friendly sameness. In the 21st century, 16 teams have built new stadiums, but can you remember a single notable thing about any of them? All the rough edges have been smoothed out. Houston tamped down their cool little hill in center field; the Marlins dismantled their South Beach-kitsch dinger sculpture; the Rockies store their balls in a humidifier to make their games less Mario Super Sluggers-y.  Whereas the sports century-old cathedrals (Wrigley Field, Fenway Park) have some differentiating weirdness like live vegetation or a giant green wall, the prevailing movement in modern ballparks is a drift towards an anodyne equilibrium.
In this sense, the reconfiguration of Camden Yards represents a return to more romantic version of baseball, one before the bloodless private-equitization of the game. Crucially, it gives the stadium A Thing, a quality that you can’t find anywhere else in sports. Although Camden Yards has been widely regarded as one of the nicest stadiums in baseball for the last 20 years, its niceness in turn spawned a wave of similarly faux-retro imitators in 11 other ballparks. Now, it has a defining feature so nonsensical that no other team would ever try to replicate it. A big empty space was chomped out of the stands in left-field because the Orioles felt like it. 

If second base can be in the wrong place for over 100 years, why can’t left field have a severe right angle in the wall? I mean, the Orioles couldn’t stop the other team from scoring—what else were they supposed to do? Get better pitchers?

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Sports

MLB Announces Partnership With Sorare

On Thursday, a big announcement was made by the MLB, as they are officially partnering with Sorare

Over the last few years, Sorare has been a leading NFT platform in the great game of Proper Football (soccer). Now, the company will be partnering with the MLB to take their service over to America’s favorite pastime. 

“It’s outstanding for Sorare, I think it’s an arms race to get licenses at the minute from these companies and nailing them down to a long-term exclusive deal. I think it brings many people to the platform and awareness of Sorare in America. 5% of my audience is from America and I think that will change drastically now,” said John Nellis, one of the leading content creators for the Sorare platform.

ONE37pm has followed the Sorare community for quite some time now. Here is a guide to all the intricacies of the growing NFT platform.

The MLB has been synonymous with collectibles, trading cards, and memorabilia for almost the entirety of its existence. So this step into the next era of collectibles only makes sense. 

The free-to-play game will be released later this summer and fans will be able to get right in on the action. Sorare allows fans to collect players and then win weekly awards and earn more utility to the NFTs. 

Sorare is growing rapidly as a community with over 1.7 million users across over 170 countries. The company was valued at 4 billion dollars last year and now, with the MLB’s passionate fanbase being mostly in the United States, this is a great opportunity for Sorare to grow into one of the largest sports markets in the world. The platform already has a partnership with the MLS. 

Go to this link to sign up for updates as to when the game will be available during this MLB season.

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Sports

Steven Kwan is MLB’s Most Unexpected Sensation

People like to say that baseball is a sport of frustration. It’s basically a prerequisite for every decent pitcher to be able to pair a high velocity fastball with a menu of hellacious off-speed pitches that break with the severity of lines on a secant graph. Just look at Pitching Ninja for proof: hitting a baseball is nearly impossible! Unless you’re Steven Kwan.

A 24 year-old rookie left fielder for the Cleveland Guardians, Kwan has started the year on a nearly unprecedented heater. His triple slash (batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage): .526/.655/.737. Through 29 plate appearances, he reached base 19 times; through 19 at bats, he notched 10 hits. Beyond simply avoiding striking out, Kwan didn’t whiff at the first 116 pitches he saw this year; at time of blogging, Kwan foul tipped a pitch, which somehow counts as an official whiff but not a spiritual one.  In a sport where the very best players struggle to get a hit more than 30 percent of the time, Kwan has basically decided to stop failing. No player in the last 121 years has ever started their career with such aplomb: Kwan is the first player in modern baseball history to reach base 18 times in his first five games.   

Even if Kwan won’t maintain a .526 batting average, his underlying stats show that his torrid start isn’t a fluke. While Kwan’s raw exit velocity isn’t especially noteworthy, the sheer number of balls that he puts in play buoys his batting average; from his exit velocity, launch angle and type of ball in play, Kwan ranks in the 99th percentile in expected weighted on-base average, the 100th percentile in expected batting average and the 86th percentile in expected slugging percentage, according to Baseball Savant. 

Before this recent stretch, Kwan was never particularly heralded; going into the season, MLB.com ranked him as only Cleveland’s 15th best prospect because of his “fringy arm” in the outfield and the probability that “he doesn’t offer enough thump to be a regular.” And this is all true! But it’s also an oversight of what makes Kwan special: Kwan is a unique, atemporal player who doesn’t really fit the current mold of successful players or prospects. He doesn’t have the physical profile or pedigree of Bobby Witt Jr. or the smooth all-around game of Adley Rutschman. Instead, he’s merely got a freakish talent for pushing the ball to spots on the field where defenders aren’t. 

Notably, Kwan has dominated the first week of the season with a skillset that’s been mostly devalued across the league. After all, chicks—and general managers—dig the long ball. With the newfound focus on launch angles and exit velocity, strikeouts have risen as hitters prioritize making hard contact over simply making contact; there’s not much functional difference between striking out and grounding out, so batters willingly trade a few extra strikeouts for more homers and extra-base hits.

As such, Kwan—a 5’9, 170 pound, slap-happy, singles merchant—is an anachronism, a remnant of a distant past (i.e. 2007). He’s a middling defender in a low-leverage defensive position (corner outfield) who doesn’t hit for power; this kind of player doesn’t really exist anymore because prevailing wisdom has mostly excised them from the major in favor of hitters with more oomph in their bats. In other words, the Steven Kwans of the world have slowly been phased out of the league, so celebrate this one while you still can. 

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Sports Strength

Why the San Diego Padres Should Be Your New Favorite MLB Team

At a time where Major League Baseball seems plagued by an endemic apathy among its middle-tier teams, it’s radical and refreshing when a team actually tries to win. With the new collective bargaining agreement implementing an expanded postseason field, there’s never been less incentive to try to be good—what’s the point of spending the requisite cash to win 97 games when a cheaper, more threadbare roster can sneak into the playoffs with 87 wins?  Being a baseball fan can sometimes feel distressingly like being a fan of some other guy’s stock portfolio. In that sense, the San Diego Padres should be your new favorite baseball team

For the last two seasons, the Padres have been MLB’s most ambitious team. Since adding Manny Machado in 2019, the Padres have aggressively pursued talent. Going into the 2019 season, their payroll was a touch over $104 million; today, it’s more than doubled, topping $209 million. Despite a disappointing 79-83 campaign that was sabotaged by an epic late season implosion, the Padres redoubled their efforts over the offseason, trading with the Oakland Athletics for both workhorse starter Sean Manaea and Bob Melvin, the three-time Manager of the Year. 

But even beyond the fact that the Padres have cool and charismatic players like Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado and Yu Darvish, the coolest thing about them is how they disregard every fan-antagonistic aspect of the status quo. The Padres are a mid-market franchise that share a division with the Los Angeles Dodgers (the consensus best team in baseball by a large margin) and the San Francisco Giants, who are fresh off a 107 win season. No matter how honorable and rare, their spending hardly guarantees success; from a purely economic perspective, the Padres would have every incentive to maintain the meagerest possible payroll and rake in that sweet revenue-sharing profit, which makes their efforts to contend even bolder and more endearing.

Accordingly, the Padres’ roster reads like a roster in a 12 team fantasy baseball league. The rotation is headlined by 2018 AL Cy Young Winner Blake Snell and five-time All Star Yu Darvish; the lineup is anchored by Machado and, eventually, Tatis Jr., who’s the best baseball player in the world (albeit one of the worst motorcyclists). Even with Tatis slated to miss the first half of the season, Draftkings and other Vegas sports-books peg the Padres as a top five team in the National League and a legitimate World Series contender. If the Padres succeed, they could provide a blueprint and inspiration for the rest of the league to try as well. 

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Sports Strength

Put Buster Posey (And Lots More People) in the Baseball Hall of Fame

Some time during the next five to 15 years, the recently-retired Buster Posey will be inducted into the Baseball Hall Of Fame. Skeptics will crow that Posey has produced fewer wins above replacement than any Hall of Fame catcher of the last 60 years  and that he has fewer total hits than career journeymen like Yunel Escobar or Martin Prado and that Posey has really only had eight-ish good years when you really think about it and that the Baseball Hall of Fame is one of our nation’s most storied and hallowed institutions or whatever. But that’s dumb—Posey is the most decorated catcher of his generation, winning NL MVP in 2012 and three World Series rings as part of the San Francsico Giants’ dynastic early 2010s teams; he should absolutely be in the Hall of Fame and the fact that there’s any debate over his “worthiness” is proof of how broken the discourse around the Hall of Fame has become. 

And Barry Bonds should also be enshrined—and so should Pete Rose and CC Sabathia and Roger Clemens and even failed video game developer/trash person Curt Schilling. Screw it: let’s put Bobby Abreu in there too.

All of this is to say that the Baseball Hall of Fame should be bigger. Lost in all the sanctimony and cobwebbed gatekeeping, is the basic fact that the Hall of Fame is supposed to be fun. Even if the whole enterprise has been cloaked in the syrupy importance of being a custodian of the history of America’s Pastime, the Hall of Fame’s primary function is to give fans the chance to celebrate their favorite players. 

In this sense, the Hall of Fame voting bloc essentially functions as the fun police. While this isn’t to say that they should be as permissive as the Veterans Committee (who basically just induct guys they were friends with), there’s no need for the selection process to be held hostage by made-up rules that only make sense in the ink-soaked brains of long-time beat writers. 

Why are patently great players like Scott Rolen withering on the vine? Why are some of the best players in baseball history forever condemned because they took the wrong kind of medicine 25 years ago or lost a parlay in 1989 or had asshole teammates in 1919? Why are obvious Hall of Famers forced to wait several years to gain entry like they’re waiting for their deli number to be called? Why would you not give the people what they want? 

Some people wrongly argue that the exclusivity of the Hall of Fame is what makes it special and that any uptick in permissiveness would disrespect the legacy of the Hall’s members. And this is true—if you’re incapable of holding more than one thought in your mind at a time. No serious person actually believes that letting in Buster Posey and his meager 1500 hits actually undermines the accomplishments of the 32 members of the elusive 3000 Hit Club. Besides, this strict statistical originalism doesn’t hold much weight once you realize that the all-time leaders in hits and homers are shut out because of some Boomerific moral panic. 

If this is the Museum of Good Baseball Players, more good baseball players should be in it.

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Sports Strength

What To Expect In The 2021 World Series

After a 162 game regular season and a scintillating postseason, which then created an exciting postseason experience, all eyes turn to Game One of the World Series which begins tonight between the Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves. Both ballclubs fought and clawed their way into the Fall Classic so there is a lot to unpack when this series gets underway. Coming out of the American League, the Astros have defied their critics since a bombshell investigation into their elaborate sign-stealing apparatus was released ahead of the 2020 season.

Manager Dusty Baker has kept this ship afloat and remains one of baseball’s most respected figures, despite his association with the Astros. Tenured franchise stars such as Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman remain from Houston’s 2017 championship team and offer a wealth of postseason experience. More important than their intangible impact on the clubhouse, they are dangerous hitters in the Astros’ lineup, all posting an OPS+ at least 10% better than league average.

Even though the Astros endured their worse regular season performance (minus last year’s COVID-impacted season) since becoming a title contender in 2017, their 95 win total was still the second-highest in the AL this season. 

If the Astros are the picture of consistency, then the Braves represent what happens when a team gets hot at the right time. Midway through this season, the NL East competitor was two games below .500 and stayed that way until August 8th. But since then? The Braves have won 38 out of 58 games including the seven games needed to make the World Series. 

First and third basemen Austin Riley and Freddie Freeman were the definitions of clutch as they slugged one big hit after another, combining to produce 64 home runs and a .300 batting average during the regular season. The new National League champion arguably has the advantage when it comes to pitching since aces Charlie Morton and Max Fried are building upon their solid regular seasons. Witty outfielder Eddie Rosario is in the midst of one of the hottest playoff runs ever; against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS, Rosario tallied 14 hits in just 25 at-bats, tying the record for most hits in a single postseason series ever, despite the series only lasting six games.

Yet, when you look at both the Astros and Braves, one thing always comes to the forefront: Emotion. 

Regardless of their circumstances and surroundings, both teams have authored the kind of game-changing moments that define postseason baseball. The Astros produced those moments against the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS and the Braves did the same thing against the LA Dodgers in the NLCS. This series has the possibility of going the entire way, and only one thing can decide the winner. Who will be the most clutch when it matters most? We shall see!

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Sports Strength

Aaron Boone Returning To The Yankees Is Good News

Two weeks after Boston eliminated them from postseason play, the Yankees have announced a three-year contract extension for manager Aaron Boone, and rightfully so.

Boone overtook the team from Joe Girardi in 2018. During his last season as the manager, Girardi led the Yankees to the American League Championship series; bringing the team to one win away from going to the World Series.

Even though he was held in high acclaim by the organization, players and fans for his success as the Yankees manager, Girardi and his relationship with the team was growing stale after 2017. General manager Brian Cashman hired Boone, in part, because he thought Boone would be able to connect with the clubhouse more effectively than Girardi did.

During his first two seasons, Boone led the Yankees to back-to-back 100+ win seasons for the first time since 2004. He’s won the respect of Aaron Judge, who vouched for Boone to get his job back, along with a Yankees clubhouse that will expect to compete at the highest level for years to come.

With that being said, Boone is far from perfect. In 2021, he made questionable decisions when it came to the Yankees bullpen, like pulling starters too early, and not using his closer in the 9th inning to shut the other team down so that you have a chance to win. These type of decisions certainly costed them a handful of games.

Over the course of 162 games, every manager will make these sort of mistakes, and that’s something you have to live with in baseball. Additionally, the majority of Yankees issues do not consist of Boone’s decisions making, rather a combination Yankees inability to consistently get on-base, starting pitching woes, base-running miscues, and defensive holes in the infield.

A large part of why Boone’s return to the Bronx is good news is because of what the Yankees don’t have to do now, and that’s start from scratch with a roster full of question marks.

In 2017, they could afford to take a gamble on a new manager with the new era of Baby Bombers that was blooming. At the forefront of that roster was a 25 year-old Aaron Judge.

Aaron Judge will be 30 years old at the start of next season. If you can lock up a manager that has the respect of your leader, a winning track record, and more knowledge for the squad than anyone else, that’s a win for your baseball team in the off-season.

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Sports Strength

Here’s Why You Should Root for The Houston Astros (Yes, the Astros)

The Houston Astros will forever be a part of Major League Baseball purgatory after cheating during the 2017 season.

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LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 01: The Houston Astros celebrate defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-1 in game seven to win the 2017 World Series at Dodger Stadium on November 1, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

The Astros defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in a seven game series that year, but were slated by the baseball world for the means in which they did so.

Here’s what you need to know about this saga – this ugly, ugly, saga.

Last year, MLB investigators revealed that at the beginning of the 2017 season, the Astros used their video replay review room, an electronic system that every team has, to decode signs that opposing catchers would show their pitchers during at-bats.

Using their center-field camera feed, they were able to identify the meaning behind each sign, for example, one finger down by the catcher would indicate that a fastball is coming a batter, or two fingers down means that a slider is.

This information would get relayed to the Astros dugout during an at-bat, and by way of Houston personnel banging on trash cans, Astros batters would know what pitchers were coming so they could capitalize.

Even though sign-stealing has been part of baseball for years, the use of electronic systems to do so isn’t allowed. There was even a rumor that Jose Altuve was wearing a buzzer on his chest during his walk-off home-run against the Yankees in the 2019 ALCS, but that was never confirmed to be 100% true.

Nonetheless, the trash-banging was proven to be true. That’s why the Astros fired manager A.J Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, and why the MLB took away several of Houston’s draft picks, along with fining the team $5 million dollars.

The aftermath response around the league was one accord, fuck the Astros. The Cincinnati Reds wore creative t-shirts that read “Trash-town”, an on-the-nose play on words with the Astros nickname “H-Town” and their goofy trash-banging routine for getting leverage.

Fans got their boos in once allowed back into the stadiums, and their 2017 World Championship will have an asterisk next to it forever.

With this being said, as a die-hard Yankees fan, what I’m about to say will upset many people that I hold dear to my heart.

I want the Houston Astros to win the World Series in 2021.

Now, does the mere sight of Carlos Correa give me nausea? Yes. Could I count off my fingers the number of times that I’ve wished ill upon Jose Altuve? Yes. Have the Astros joined the Boston Red Sox in the exclusive club for teams Yankee fans hate the most? Hell yeah.

But guess what? The Yankees don’t matter right now. They’re watching the ALDS like I am, on the couch. I don’t have a second baseball team, and never will. So the Yankees absence from the postseason will always mean one of two things for me. I either will not watch the games, or I will watch as a baseball fan.

Now, whether it is my short attention span for watching Netflix, or my unwillingness to simply fall asleep at a reasonable time, I’ve found myself consistently tuning into the MLB postseason. By law, this puts me in baseball fan mode with the Yankees eliminated.

What are a few necessities for the neutral, unbiased sports fan in America? Drama and storylines. When you think of the choice words that the likes of a Carlos Correa might have for a salty baseball world that just saw his team win a World Series fair and square – that’s drama.

An outside view of the repercussions of outrage from Dodger fans for the next 5 months of the offseason, with the sentiment, “We scolded them for cheating and then practically let the same group of players beat us 4 years later …” Ouch, one helluva a story.

Getty Images/Warner Brothers

Here’s an analogy. The Dark Knight makes for such a great film in large part thanks to the aura and demeanor of the Joker. Even as the antagonist, the Joker is the most dynamic character in the movie, standing for evil and not being sorry about it.

Case in point, they cheated, became the villain, and did little to sell themselves as better than what the world made them out to be.

Get this though. After 2017, with the villain status pinned to their chest, the Astros won 100+ games in two of the next three seasons; reaching two American League Championship Series and one Fall Classic, but never winning the World Series itself. Nonetheless, they’ve proved that they can be a great team without cheating.

What would the Dark Knight be without the Joker? Just another movie? Maybe. What I know is that Major League Baseball’s postseason would be far less interesting if the Astros can’t overcome the 2-1 deficit they face in the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox.

So go ahead Houston – win the Fall Classic. Upset the established order, and turn everything into chaos.

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Sports Strength

Starting Pitchers Are The Coolest Closers

During their deciding Game Five victory over the San Francisco Giants in the NLDS, the Los Angeles Dodgers put baseball conventional wisdom on shuffle. While the “opener” strategy has become commonplace, the Dodgers deployed their pitching staff with even more funkiness. 

Two relievers (Corey Knebel and Brusdar Graterol) handled the first two innings; a 20-game winner and Cy Young candidate was converted into an overqualified long reliever (Julio Urias pitched the next four); the Dodgers’ putative set-up man and closer were burned in the seventh and eight innings and Max Scherzer, the second-best and first-craziest starting pitcher of this generation, earned his first career save by slamming the door on the Giants in an electric ninth inning. Over the course of their white-knuckled 2-1 triumph over their blood rival, the Dodgers trotted out six different pitchers, none of whom were used in their usual role.

This is not to endorse bullpen games, which are cowardly displays where a parade of interchangeably robotic hard-throwers are used in lieu of a single righteous starting pitcher. Instead, this is to say that watching a starting pitcher come out from the bullpen during the late innings of a tight playoff game is one of the most uniquely exciting things in baseball. This is the baseball version of skipping fifth-period algebra or having breakfast for dinner; the game’s tenor and tone shifts because of this minor, thrilling illicitness. 

More, bringing in an ace as a closer signals that this is no longer a game; it’s A Moment. Think: Clayton Kershaw closing out the Game Seven of the 2018 NLCS on two days rest to push the Dodgers to the World Series, or Randy Johnson taking the mound in the ninth and tenth innings of Game Seven of the 2001 World Series the day after starting Game Six, or Madison Bumgarner single-handedly winning the 2014 World Series for the San Francisco Giants. By bringing a starter out of the ‘pen, managers break the calm veneer that they outwardly present—damn the torpedoes, they say, we have to win this game. On an intellectual meta level, it validates the inherently silly experience of caring about sports, showing that the raw-nerve desperation and urgency of the postseason is felt by fans and players and coaches alike. On a simpler one, it’s just very cool. 

So, to Alex Cora and Dusty Baker and Brian Snitker and Dave Roberts, I have but one humble request: let your starting pitchers close games.