The American League East has the Boston Red Sox tied for the division with Tampa Bay Rays. Both teams have 29 wins, with last year’s World Series losers, Tampa Bay, on a ten-game winning streak. The New York Yankees are also back on the march with a six-game win streak of their own, to leave them just one game back, having played a game less.
National League West has the league’s best record as the San Diego Padres sit atop the division with 30 wins. The Padres boast a nine-game winning streak but breathing down their neck are the current World Series champions, the LA Dodgers.
The Dodgers sit one game behind having won seven in a row and 11 of the last 12. Sitting a single game behind them are the San Francisco Giants.
The Giants sat atop the division with the best record in baseball just a week ago, but a weekend series sweep by the Dodgers leaves the Bay Area team looking up at their rivals.
A couple of weeks ago, my column discussed the changes made to the ball by Major League Baseball, resulting in the "3rd Year of the Pitcher". Since that column, there have been two more no-hitters thrown and there is another noticeable trend in pitching.
On Sunday, Chicago White Sox hitter Yermin Mercedes was hit in the helmet by a pitch as he tried to get out of the way of a ball coming towards him. While the ball, an off-speed pitch, hit the catcher in his padded helmet, it was still a scary moment, although nothing compared to Kevin Pillar’s ordeal last week.
Pillar stood in the batter’s box, waiting for his pitch, not expecting a fastball straight at his head.
The New York Mets outfielder had no time to react and the ball caught him just under the peak of his helmet, leaving him with multiple nasal fractures and time on the injured list.
Now, in baseball, there are the rules and the unwritten rules, one of which is it’s OK to throw the ball at a batter every now and then. It is usually a retaliatory move due to some unsportsmanlike conduct or a prior beef and is referred to as plunking. Plunking is also customarily done with a much slower pitch, not intending to harm a player as much as remind him of the rules with a bit of bruise.
Pillar was caught by Atlanta Braves pitcher Jacob Webb, who immediately dropped to his knees and hid his face, indicating the pitch was not intentional.
This wasn’t the first and won’t be the last time a player got hit in the face. Despite the availability of extended cheek protectors for helmets, very few players utilise the device as it “impedes their peripheral vision”.
So how does the league protect these players and avoid what could lead to more severe injuries or, worse, a second-ever death from a hit pitch, the first being Raymond Chapman in 1920.
The answer is simple and has already been utilised by the NHL in ice hockey. Baseball must introduce face cages to colleges and minor leagues, similar to those worn by softball players.
By making new entrants wear the masks in the minor leagues, they will establish the practice as standard and, when these players reach the big leagues, they will take the new masks with them
This compromise would allow the fashion-conscious superstars of today’s game to keep their faces in full view whilst beginning the transitioning to new helmets.
Then, as each player from the new rookie class progresses through the organisation, they wear the face cages until it becomes the norm in the major leagues.
The introduction of the cages may take a few hundred at-bats to get used to, but that is the price that has to be paid as we see more and more pitchers throw over 100mph. If the league is serious about protecting batters, they need to act now and avoid another incident like Pillar’s bloody face being broadcast across the globe.