Time to address use of maple bats
It took the Ephedrine-related death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler to get the powerful players' union to bend on the issue of drug testing. Let's hope it doesn't take another death for the union to make further concessions regarding the use of maple bats.
What happened last Sunday to Chicago Cubs rookie Tyler Colvin should be enough of a wake-up call. Colvin was hospitalized for four days and had his season ended when his chest was punctured by part of teammate Welington Castillo's broken maple bat. Colvin was attempting to score from third on a Castillo double when he was hit.
For years, the commissioner's office, driven by safety concerns, has been pushing for tougher standards on maple bats — standards the union initially fought. This spring, baseball banned certain types of maple bats in the minors. But players on 40-man rosters, who are union members, were exempt from the ban.
Because maple bats are harder, players say the ball jumps off them much quicker than it does off bats made from ash, which is a softer, lighter wood. But although ash bats splinter when they break, maple bats usually break in half, often sending the heavy "meat" end into the field — and sometimes into the stands.
The day after Colvin was released from the hospital, Toronto shortstop Yunel Escobar narrowly missed being hit in the head by a broken bat, and Texas pitcher Cliff Lee was nicked by the fat end of Jack Cust's broken bat in Oakland.
The rate of maple bats breaking has dropped by half since the commissioner's office demanded bat makers adhere to tougher standards two seasons ago. But as the Colvin incident proved, that's not enough.
"If these maple bats are the ones breaking the most, it's got to be addressed," said San Diego Manager Bud Black, a former big league pitcher. "We've seen it all year. Defenders are ducking. Third base coaches are ducking. There's a lot of ducking going on.
"You used to see flying bat [pieces] once a week. Now you're seeing two a game."
In for a short fall?
The Atlanta Braves' late-season swoon — they've already lost more games in September than in any of the four previous months — has left their playoff hopes in jeopardy. And they're not the only contender limping toward the regular-season finish line.
The Texas Rangers will win a shallow American League West despite entering the weekend a game under .500 since June 30. They've stopped hitting too. Texas entered the weekend having gone three games and 31 innings without scoring an earned run, a slide it capped Thursday by managing just one hit in a loss at Oakland.
As a result, Josh Hamilton, who leads the majors with a .361 batting average despite missing the last three weeks because of two broken ribs, is attempting to rush his way back into the lineup.
No place like home
Last week, Minnesota became the first team to clinch a playoff berth. But don't think that means the Twins have nothing to play for over the final week of the regular season.
The Twins are locked in a tight battle with the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays for the best record in the American League and the home-field advantage that goes with it — and that's something the Twins need to win.
Minnesota has the league's best record at home, where it is batting 17 points higher and scoring a quarter-run more per game. Its staff earned-run average is also more than a half-run better at home.
— Kevin Baxter