Diamondbacks pitcher Miley throws a pitch during the opening game of the 2014 MLB season against the Dodgers at the Sydney Cricket Ground

Did you know they played two baseball games in Australia over the weekend? It’s true, they did. Despite one game beginning at some ungodly hour here on Earth, these games count in the standings! For real!

The Dodgers raced out to an insurmountable one game lead in the NL West. Is their hot start for real? My column:

The series went off without a hitch. The Sydney Cricket Ground…didn’t collapse? It looked fine on TV. The Australians were delighted and/or suitably Australian about the whole thing. There were the typical “I got on an airplane for 16 hours and when I got off everything was different!” photo ops such as Vin Scully with a koala and other things featured “known baseball commodity” and “local color”.

It was fine. Did I make a point of watching either of these games? No. No I did not. If anything I was slightly less inclined to watch these two games any more than any random DBacks/Dodgers matchup because of the starting time. It’s a nice thing the league does to promote the game. But it ain’t Opening Day.

Not unlike the recent “Opening Night” gimmick, baseball on TV is a welcome diversion but real baseball games don’t start until Opening Day. The real Opening Day, not these false dawns. Bunting and whip-around coverage and aces on aces and cold weather and drunk tourists. Opening Day signifies the start of the baseball season. Nothing more, nothing less.

Hopefully the players had a good time in Sydney and hopefully the endless flight home doesn’t destroy their internal clocks for too long. That’s all anybody can hope from these preseason sojourns to foreign lands – everybody gets home in one piece with minimal jet lag and without Dengue fever and comfortable with the fact that Brian Wilson is baseball’s greatest cultural ambassador. We should all be so lucky.

Destroying Puig

MLB: NLCS-Los Angeles Dodgers at St. Louis Cardinals

Two damn games into the season and the Dodgers are already unhappy with Yasiel Puig. That is the inevitable conclusion one reaches when reading the recent comments from Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly. Puig had the most Puig of all weekends in Australia, grabbing a hatful of hits in the finale of the two-game series Down Under.

But he also did the Puigest of things – he ran himself into outs on the bases. Puig has never been much of a base runner and it doesn’t appear that was remedied over the long winter. Much to the chagrin of Donny Baseball, of course.

“A rough day” is how the Dodgers skipper characterized Puig’s antics after he got caught trying to advance on a throw from the outfield (effectively cut off on Arizona’s infield, leaving Puig dead to rights) and later he was cut down trying to grab an extra 90 feet when a pitch in the dirt squirted away from Diamondbacks’ catcher Miguel Montero.

This is nothing new from Puig, who is a “terrible” base runner, according to eyeballs affixed to his performance. When Puig starts making outs on the bases and creating turmoil in the clubhouse, does the Yasiel Puig Experiment become one of diminishing returns?

Probably not, but erasing all the good done at the plate with boneheaded plays on the basepaths in addition to his spotty outfield work is a distinct possibility. Once the “he’s a pain in the ass” factor is incorporated into the equation…then we see how much patience the Dodgers really have.

Mattingly’s post-game comments towards Puig were more about for the phantom ailments that befall the enormous Dodgers right fielder after strikeouts. Just another annoyance for his field boss and, possibly, his teammates.

In the end, what recourse does Mattingly have in this case? Take playing time from his best outfielder? Leave the team hoping Scott Van Slyke can pick up the offensive slack? The Dodgers are better with Puig, even with all the little things that detract from his big picture value.

Which means the show goes on. Maybe a few more on-field conversations like the one Adrian Gonzalez hosted after one of the many Puigisms that happened at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Fireside chats and pleas that he just use his head for one goddamn minute (I assume.) But we’re more likely to see reporters stop making equine allusions when writing about Puig than the end of the TOOTBLAN watch. He is who he is and the Dodgers are along for the ride.

Defense matters?

As far as debuts go, Mark Trumbo fared quite well in his first regular season action in an Arizona jersey. He hit a home run and made this nice play to throw out Clayton Kershaw on the bases.

On the other hand, there was his peculiar play up against the wall in left field, misreading a ball in the howling wind (while playing in a completely unfamiliar environment.) Add in a botched diving attempt on a sinking liner, and Trumbo’s debut in the field looks a lot like many expected.

Are Diamondbacks’ fans right to fear a full season of Mark Trumbo in left? Probably not.

Look at the video above: Trumbo showcases a strong and accurate arm, gunning the aggressive Kershaw (!) down at second base. It must be noted that his roundabout route to the ball allowed Kershaw to stretch for two, and throwing out a pitcher by a half step is nice but hardly a harbinger of Gold Gloves to come.

But will Mark Trumbo really do a lot of damage to the Snakes’ chances in left? I doubt it. Trumbo has more than 1000 innings in the outfield already in his career, the bulk of those in left field at Angels Stadium. According to advanced defensive metrics, he’s right around average. 0 runs saved, -5 UZR for his career.

Looking at the Inside Edge scouting numbers now available on Fangraphs, it helped to better contextualize the impact of a mediocre outfielder – or lack thereof.

In his thousand innings, Trumbo had just eight balls hit his way that Inside Edge deemed to be with a 0% and 40% probability of being “successfully fielded.” Eight balls in one thousand innings. Of the “even” probability balls (between 40% and 60%), Trumbo fielded four out of seven. Is that great? No. But it isn’t the end of the world. The impact of a slightly stationary fielder appears far less than we believed.

Courtesy of Fangraphs

Courtesy of Fangraphs

Trumbo is a guy who makes all the plays, in the parlance of our times. Like Puig’s base running detracts without eliminating his greatness, Trumbo’s somewhat neutral defense doesn’t undercut his overall contributions to the team. He’s out there for his bat, so long as his glove doesn’t give back all the extras homers that Trumbo delivers relative to another option, it’s a net gain for AZ.

Rarity

You know what you don’t see very often in baseball games? Kids running away from the field in pursuit of a home run ball. What. A. Bomb.

It should be noted, if I heard a sound anything like this ball made off Stanton’s bat, I’d probably run in the other direction as well.

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Palm up, palm down. That’s how you take ‘em deep.

Papi forever

The Red Sox and David Ortiz agreed to another contract extension and that’s great. Great for the Sox, great for Ortiz, really it’s good for baseball. Well, maybe the last part isn’t true. It’s fun to have Ortiz in Boston which I guess is good for baseball as a whole?

It certainly isn’t bad. And once again, Ortiz takes downright reasonable deals (approx $16 million per season) that pays him for what he is: an elite designated hitter and franchise talisman. As I wrote six weeks ago, Ortiz is something of a dying breed and the Red Sox are wise to hang onto the rare true DH.

Replacing him on the field will be difficult and replacing him off the field impossible. Good on the Sox for pushing that decision back as long as they can.