Bold strategy: Tony La Russa takes aim at Yermin Mercedes

A weird season for The Genius gets weirder with his support for the Twins throwing at one of his players

Bold strategy: Tony La Russa takes aim at Yermin Mercedes

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Good morning, frents!

From Jimmy Kimmel's killer monologue at the Disney upfronts:

“NBC is planning to move forward with the Olympics this summer, even if they have to kill every last person in Japan to do it. Why doesn’t NBC just move the Olympics to Chicago like they do every other show?”

Tuesday's results
Cubs 6, Nationals 3
Twins 5, Sox 4

Today's schedule
Sox at Twins (12:10, NBCSCH)
Sky at Dream (6, Facebook, The U)
Nats at Cubs (6:40, Marquee)

Tony La Russa takes aim at one of his own

I'm just going to go out on a limb and say that Tony La Russa doesn't like Yermin Mercedes very much.

And the White Sox fan base? Well, it probably likes La Russa even less right now.

La Russa capped off one of the strangest days for a Chicago manager on Tuesday by saying he had no "problem" with the way the Twins "handled" Mercedes breaking an unwritten rule a night earlier by throwing at him.

This was only after a pregame press conference in why La Russa hung the 28-year-old rookie out to dry for turning a 45-mph bloop pitch on a 3-0 count from catcher Willians Astudillo into a 109-MPH rocket destined for White Bear Lake.

And only after La Russa apologized to the Twins before Tuesday's 5-4 loss, a defeat marked by a few late-inning headscratchers from The Genius himself.

As I asked in this newsletter less than two weeks ago: TLR, WYD?!?!

There's a lot to unpack here, so let's start with the code itself.

While playing in a blowout, batters are never supposed to swing on a 3-0 count and definitely not line that swing up for the moon. As far as I can tell, the requirement is a mixture of "respect" and a desire to just end the game and get home already (though no one can explain how that happens if a walk is drawn).

If you're a fan, there's a good chance you think this rule is ridiculous — and for good reason! Mercedes' homer off a player even more squat than he is was immensely entertaining. The highlight quickly made its way around social media with the humor of the moment driving interest, not any outrage that La Russa and his friends the Twins were apparently feeling at that moment.

Let me put it this way: When a position player enters a game to pitch, we want everything to be on the table. Sometimes Anthony Rizzo strikes out Freddie Freeman. Sometimes Yermin Mercedes turns Willians Astudillo's pitch into a satellite. Everything should be on the table. That's baseball.

What's more, why should a team up by double-digit runs be playing nice against a team trying to gain a competitive advantage the rest of the series by putting a position player on the mound?

You want a fresher bullpen the next day?

Deal with the Home Run Derby that might ensue.

But for whatever reason, the unwritten rule is what it is.

In one of the funnier stats I've ever seen, ESPN's Jeff Passan found that there have been 557 instances in the past 20 years of a batter facing a 3-0 pitch with his team up by at least 11 runs.

Mercedes is the only one to ever swing!

With that in mind, it's easy to see why La Russa was yelling "take take take" the second he saw Mercedes' eyes turn red or why a downtrodden Twins team saw an opportunity to get chafed about something other than how much it currently sucks.

La Russa said Mercedes had the signal to take the pitch, though if it was an explicit instruction made before he stepped into the box for the pitch or just an assumption that he should know is unclear.

If it was the former, it's hard to begrudge La Russa for seeking the unspecified "internal consequence" he said Mercedes would receive. Mashed taters are fun and all, but no one's going to be enjoying themselves if Mercedes is ignoring his manager in higher-leverage situations later this year.

Everything that La Russa did after handling it "internally"?

Total bush league.

Isn't there an unwritten rule you support your team no matter what?

Tim Anderson followed it. So did former Cardinal Lance Lynn. Ozzie Guillen went on last night's postgame show and rightly said that a manager has to close ranks in this situation.

La Russa? He dug himself an even bigger hole with the Sox fanbase by taking two minutes out of his pregame press conference to call Mercedes "clueless."

He later more or less gave his blessing to Twins manager Rocco Baldelli and pitcher Tyler Duffey for throwing behind Mercedes late in Tuesday's game, a move that got both ejected from the game.

Remember the scene in Rudy when Rudy's dad praises his brother Frank for getting into a bar fight with Rudy? This whole situation reminds me of that.

It's also just strange. Any of us who were around for the great theater of Dusty Baker vs. La Russa remembers how fiercely he protected his players, almost to a fault.

Punching up Mercedes and siding with the opponent is a new, bold strategy for a manager whose command of the clubhouse may be tenuous to begin with.

Unlike La Russa's last episode — the extra-inning runner fiasco in Cincinnati — I'm not convinced this will cause irreparable damage to the team. The Sox ripped nine wins in 11 games after that misstep and it would have been 10 in 12 had Miguel Sano decided to finally wake up and hit three homers off Sox pitching on Tuesday night.

The clubhouse seems solid outside of the manager's office and capable of building its own culture (or maintaining the one that was here before Tony).

More importantly, the pitching has been strong and can mask any number of problems including a manager publicly beefing with a player.

It'd just be nice if La Russa could remember which team he's sporting on his cap.

Next: Lucas Giolito (2-4, 4.97) goes for the series win against Matt Shoemaker (2-4, 6.62)

News and results

Cubs 6, Nats 3: All eyes on Rizzo's back

David Bote and Ian Happ homered as the Cubs moved to 21-20 with their ninth win in the last 13 games. One potential worry, though: Anthony Rizzo left the game with tightness in his back. While the team says it was a precautionary move, it's something to keep an eye on.

Next: This should be a fun one. Jake Arrieta (4-3, 4.10) against Max Scherzer (3-2, 2.10) as the Cubs try to clinch a victory in the four-game series.

  1. Week 1 is still months away but Rams CB Jalen Ramsey is already beefing with Bears fans. BearsWire
  2. The Cubs traded Cameron Maybin to the Mets on Tuesday for $1. That is not a typo. Bleacher Nation
  3. Joe Cowley on the Bulls missing the playoffs after making a trade that was supposed to get them there. Sun-Times
  4. The Sky occupy a nice spot in the early WNBA power rankings. CBS
  5. A great Candace Parker Q&A where she talks about everything from growing up in Naperville to dating Dwight Howard to her friendship with Kobe.  Chicago Mag

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