MLB scouts use radar guns to time the pitches of Chicago White Sox's Sale during their MLB Cactus League spring training baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers in Glendale

Men like Hugh Alexander, baseball men will tell you, are the bedrock of the sport. Alexander was a baseball lifer, a superscout near the top of the Philadelphia Phillies hierarchy, considered one of the best organizations in baseball during the 1980s, at the twilight of Alexander’s career. A widely syndicated 1983 story by Philadelphia writer Bill Conlin said Alexander, then 66 and a part of the baseball world for half a century, “personified baseball.” He was, as Conlin wrote, “a man with a face from a Saturday Evening Post cover by Norman Rockwell, a sage who speaks the earthy poetry of his game and his time from a yeasty treasure trove of reminiscence.”

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fastest_runners

It’s always fun to compare the skills of athletes, so let’s take a look at the fastest baseball players in the league right now. We timed each runners speed from the crack of the bat at home plate to when their foot touches the bag at first.

These 6 players had the fastest times. Also, huge thanks to our MLB Features writer Drew Fairservice for the insight to each player’s speed.

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MLB: Chicago Cubs at New York Yankees

The Yankees shut out the Chicago Cubs Tuesday behind a dominant pitching performance. Check that: the Yankees shutout the Cubs twice on Tuesday behind two dominant pitching performances. Yankees starters combined for 13 strikeouts and two walks over 14 innings behind a nice start from Michael Pineda and an incredible outing from Masahiro Tanaka.

If faced with the prospect of digging in against pitchers of this calibre in a doubleheader, former Cubs great Ernie Banks might not be so enthusiastic about playing twice in one day.

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MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Houston Astros

There is no room for moral ambiguity when you’re the general manager of a Major League Baseball club. Your job is to improve the team, improve the product, and ostensibly build the bottom line by improving your club’s chances of winning.

Winning solves all ills, even though sometimes it takes a lot lot of losing to create an environment conducive to winning. When Jeff Luhnow took over as general manager of the Houston Astros, he inherited a club in transition.

After all the losing and the contract off-loading, the Astros just might be a team on the upswing. The goals in Houston have certainly changed. Luhnow has a different focus for his big league club — the youngest in baseball while also claiming one of the “most modest” payrolls — in 2014, compared to his first two years on the job.  The goal is simple – demonstrate improvement at the big league level and get fans excited for the future.

We’re realistic – we have the youngest team in baseball and a modest payroll. I do think that at the end of the season this team will be significantly better than the team we had out there last year and the fans will excited about what’s coming.”

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MLB: Boston Red Sox at Chicago White Sox

One prevailing mythology regarding the 2013 Boston Red Sox runs along the lines of “everything went right.” It is true that they hit on a high number of their free agent signings and received bounce-back seasons from John Lackey and others, but the injury bug bit the Sox as hard as anyone last season.

Of their position players, only Dustin Pedroia managed to play in 150 games or more, even though he did so with a ligament injury in this thumb, a wound that required off-season surgery.

The Red Sox battled injuries like any other team last year. They benefited from role players stepping up in the absence of the starters, getting off to a hot start and never missing a beat.

The 2014 Red Sox aren’t off to quite as hot a start and their ability to rely on depth players is about to be tested once again, as they’re dealing with injuries in bunches while kicking off their title defense.

Yesterday it was Mike Napoli who joined the ranks of the walking wounded. The Sox slugging first baseman dislocated a finger sliding into second base, though he isn’t expected to hit the disabled list. Closer Koji Uehara received a similar piece of news over the weekend as his shoulder tightness is not thought to be serious.

Pedroia played much of last year in pain and now it appears he’ll do the same in 2014, battling a wrist injury and requiring a cortisone shot to avoid the DL. The injuries are relatively minor, but when added together they test the Red Sox championship calibre depth at multiple positions.

Even with Napoli on the shelf for a few days, it forces Mike Carp into an everyday role at first base. Carp is a valuable member of the Sox bench corps as he can play multiple positions and represents a good bench bat at the ready. Carp even played a few innings at third base the other night, as Will Middlebrooks is on the DL and his replacement, Ryan Roberts, is not a viable option on an everyday basis.

With Pedroia ailing and the Middlebrooks out, the Sox rely on defense-first bit players like Jonathan Herrera and waiver-wire claims like Roberts to paper over their problems. On a short term basis it can work, but over 162 games?

The Sox are an aging team that handled last year’s adversity with great performances from part time players. In the early days of 2014, essential contributors like Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes, and Carp aren’t producing as they did. Given the careful workload of Grady Sizemore and the limited role or David Ortiz, any failings on the part of these fill-ins will create huge holes in the lineup.

The Red Sox are in fine shape, all things being equal. Sizemore looks great and the Sox are keeping pace in the tightly-packed AL East. The same talent that won 97 games and a World Series title remains in place, one year older and a little worse for wear but still a championship squad when evaluated objectively.

The Sox have the talent but they will put their industry-leading health professionals to the test with their wizened bunch. Can the Sox keep their talented core on the field long enough to mount a spirited title defense? Though they deserve the benefit of the doubt, I can’t shake this nagging feeling that their nagging injuries might cascade all season long.

Padres' Gyorko strikes out in the top of the sixth inning against the Rockies in the National League MLB game home opener in Denver

There is no risk in ripping the San Diego Padres. They’re a franchise bobbing in a vast sea of Dodger blue and Angels red, fighting for their sliver of market share with an underwhelming roster. I wouldn’t say their fanbase is disengaged but ripping the Padres doesn’t make many waves.

That goes double when the topic at hand is a cheap pre-arbitration contract for an unsexy player. There is nothing really to gain. But the deal is worth mentioning, because it says a lot about the future.

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MLB: Texas Rangers at Boston Red Sox

At this point, it is clear that Major League Baseball’s new replay system leaves something to be desired. This weekend’s Yankees-Red Sox series saw an odd play in which Yankees shortstop Dean Anna was obviously tagged out at second base per the replays played on the Fox Sports 1 broadcast. However, MLB replay headquarters either didn’t have the same angles as the broadcast or they flat-out missed the call, as the play was upheld after replay.

The next night, the Red Sox were on the losing of end of a rightly-overturned call at first base. Farrell came out to argue the overturned call and was promptly tossed from the game — arguing a replay occupies the same space as arguing balls and strikes, and Farrell must have known he was cruising towards a tossing.

The imperfections in the replay system are worth noting, and must be fixed before it can be considered a success. But it was striking, as I watched Farrell scream his lungs out at the umpiring crew: I hadn’t seen a manager lose his mind at the umpires yet this year, two weeks into the season.

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