Central Concerns: Division tightens after controversial catcher call

If the Twins lose out on the AL Central by a game, it’ll be impossible for Minnesota fans to not immediately turn to the events of Aug. 7. The White Sox thumped the Rangers and the Guardians blanked the Astros while the Twins lost to the Blue Jays in one of the most mind-melting ways.

The Buster Posey Rule is still alive and well, and it’s the reason why the Blue Jays were awarded what turned out to be the decisive run.

With the game tied at 2 in the 10th inning, new Blue Jay Whit Merrifield tried tagging up on former Charlotte Knight Tim Beckham, but Beckham made a strong, on-target throw that beat Merrifield to the plate, and Gary Sánchez dropped his knee and mitt in front of Merrifield to prevent him from getting to the plate.

It looked like the game would remain tied, but the Blue Jays challenged the play on the basis that Sanchez failed to give Merrifield a clear path to the plate while he didn’t have the ball, and the review center in New York agreed with him.

The outcome even surprised the Toronto crew, which considered the challenge a bit of a Hail Mary after realizing that they couldn’t possibly be challenging the out/safe call.

The Minnesota broadcast provided the best angle of Sánchez’s actions as the throw came in.

The interpretation of the rule seems to hinge on the idea that Sánchez set up in front of the plate well before the throw got to him, so Merrifield never had a clear path even if the throw required Sánchez to catch the ball across his body. Had Sanchez set up on the first-base side of the plate as the throw came in, then took two steps into Merrifield’s path to receive it, they’d probably have given him the benefit of the doubt.

At least that’s how Merrifield saw it:

“I thought it was going to be overturned and I thought it should be overturned,” Merrifield said. “Obviously, it’s a big point in the game, and you don’t want it to come down to a rules decision, but the rules are there for a reason. A while ago, I could have run him over and tried to free the ball, but you can’t do that anymore. He’s got to give me a lane to slide in. I didn’t think I had one. Like I said, I think they made the right call.”

Merrifield’s mind was buzzing as he came down the line, too. Earlier in the series, he’d seen how Sánchez sets up to receive a throw at home. He knew that might drag Sánchez into his lane, so he took a straight shot, sliding feet-first. After the win, interim manager John Schneider praised his new player for “sliding correctly.”

Rocco Baldelli, as you can imagine, also didn’t like seeing the game come down to a rules decision, and he exploded with expletives after the game.

The thing is, the Twins still had a real chance to win the game. They came out of the top of the 10th having held the Blue Jays to a run, which is usually good enough to live enough inning. They couldn’t get their own Manfred Man home, with Jose Miranda lining out to center, followed by a pair of groundouts. The unlikely invocation of the rule may be why they lost, but it isn’t why they failed to win.

At any rate, instead of leading the division by two games, the Twins only hold a one-game edge over the Guardians, with the White Sox two back. Let’s fold in the corner of this page for later revisiting.

The Twins delivered bad news before the game, as Alex Kiriloff’s right wrist has cost him yet another season. The Twins’ first-round pick from 2016 had season-ending surgery for the second consecutive year, and this one is a more radical procedure.

Kirilloff, injured while sliding in a game in May 2021 and never completely healthy since, will undergo ulnar-shortening surgery Tuesday in Los Angeles, a procedure that ends his second season prematurely, just as his first was ended by the same injury. Dr. Steven Shin, who has also operated on athletes such as Stephen Curry, Drew Brees and Russell Wilson, will shave a few millimeters of bone out of Kirilloff’s wrist, an attempt to relieve the bone-on-bone pain where the protective cartilage was irreparably damaged more than a year ago.

It’s a relatively rare procedure for a professional athlete, and therefore a potentially risky one. But it has become clear this season that when Kirilloff’s wrist flares up, he is a far less productive hitter.

At his height, Kiriloff was a top-20 prospect, but he’s hit just .251/.295/.398 over 104 games the past two seasons.

Minnesota also announced that Bailey Ober and Trevor Larnach are going to be out until September, as they deal with groin and core muscle strains.

Unless you count old friend Ian Hamilton, the Cleveland Guardians didn’t make any notable acquisitions at the trade deadline. Instead, they seem to be pursuing the path of addition by subtraction, as they designated Franmil Reyes for assignment and released Bobby Bradley over the weekend.

Reyes, who entered the season as Cleveland’s cleanup hitter, hit just .213/.254/.350 with 104 strikeouts to 14 walks over 70 games this year. He’d hit 37 and 30 homers in the last two 162-game seasons, but Terry Francona offered a blunt assessment of what changed.

“It’s difficult when you know a guy can get hot and carry a team,” said manager Terry Francona when asked to evaluate Reyes’ season. “His swing and miss comes with the territory. But he wasn’t getting to the fastball and he was hitting the hanging breaking ball for a single and an occasional home run. He just wasn’t getting to pitches that he used to.”

When asked if the Guardians ever talked about letting the 270-pound Reyes play his way out of his slump so he could produce like he had over his last two full seasons (2020 and 2021), Francona said, “I would say yes, but there is an exception. Sometimes when you see different like body-wise. You see things different and you’re not sure he’s going to do it. So there is some hesitancy there when you see things like that.”

As for Bradley, he looked like a potential solution at first base over various points of his ascension through the minor leagues, but the third-round pick from 2014 hit just .199/.278/.414 over parts of three seasons.

Given the surprising success of their bullpen, it was surprising that the Detroit Tigers let the trade deadline pass while moving just one reliever. They sent Michael Fulmer to the Twins before he hit free agency (corrected), but unlike the Baltimore Orioles, who moved their All-Star closer Jorge Lopez to the Twins, Al Avila couldn’t find a return that could capitalize on Joe Jimenez’s impressive peripherals, Andrew Chafin’s left-handedness or Gregory Soto’s All-Star appearance.

López blew a save in his first outing for Minnesota, as his pedestrian July carried into the first week of August, so the Orioles could be on track to reap the benefits of selling high.

On Sunday, Soto entered the ninth inning of a scoreless game with the Rays and gave up five runs over two-thirds of an inning, issuing three walks on top of two hits and throwing just 12 of 26 pitches for strikes. All five of his baserunners came around to score, plus two more on Jason Foley’s tab, and that’s how the Tigers lost 7-0 when the game was 0-0 through eight.

Kauffman Stadium isn’t known for adversarial crowds, especially when they’re fighting to stay out of last place. I’ve gone to eight or so White Sox-Royals games over the years, most of them during the lows of the David Glass Era, and I can’t say I’ve ever witnessed a bad time as an opposing fan.

So it was weird seeing Red Sox center fielder Jarren Duran going at it with some fans in center field as he misplayed two balls during an eventful seventh inning on Sunday.

Duran gave the reason for his frustration after the game:

After the game, Duran said that fans in the outfield were throwing bottle caps at him during the sixth inning. In the heat of a miserable inning, the treatment got to him.

“They just happened to be throwing little bottle caps at me and stuff so I was just telling them to stop throwing it,” Duran said (via the NESN postgame show). “Then one of the ushers came over and just told them to stop.”

But one wonders if there are professional pressures coming into play as well. He gave up the inside-the-park grand slam to the Blue Jays a couple weeks ago, and now he lost a safety net with the Red Sox DFAing Jackie Bradley Jr. over the weekend. If the Kauffman crowd is getting to him, it’s not a great sign for handling further misadventures at home.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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On that Twins play: I think I agree with Merrifield. With a clear path to the plate—which he’s entitled to—it looks like Merrifield’s foot gets to the plate before the tag. Heck, he looked safe to me on my first watch, block or not, because he beat the tag. But his foot got caught up in Sanchez just enough for Sanchez to apply the tag. And Merrifield really didn’t have another choice.

I don’t think that’s just me being a homer: I’m not a Merrifield fan and he’s still got that Royals stink on him. Rocco’s tirade is frankly ridiculous.


That play is a lot closer if Sanchez is actually catching the ball in foul territory. The fact that he moves to block the plate but appears to have to reach back in to fair territory to catch the ball is what does it for me.


I know why he’s upset, but Baldelli and the Twins don’t really have a leg to stand on. As you said, Merrifield’s foot would have gotten in before the tag if Sanchez hadn’t been blocking the plate well before the ball got to him.


If Beckham doesn’t double clutch, he has him by a lot more and I don’t think there’s even a review


Yeah, I don’t understand it either. I saw the video before I knew what the controversy was, and instantly said “he’s blocking the plate illegally”. That’s literally the _exact_ play the rule was intended to prevent – 20 years ago the runner would be breaking the catcher’s leg or concussing him running him over. The catcher has to receive the ball from a foot or two off the line – that’s easy as cake there, probably even gives him a better tag angle.


With the Twins adding at the deadline + White Sox burning through some of the easy part of their schedule without making hay + getting closer to the end of the season, the White Sox are no long the FG playoff odds favorites when they are within two games.


Today I learned that Tim Beckham has a .522 AAA BABIP this year in 143 PAs.


That Francona quote is something since we can all think of guys on the Sox who fit that Reyes description who would’ve been released on a normal running team but here they keep getting dragged out to die on our TV screens.

Right Size Wrong Shape

Who are you thinking of? The Sox have fairly recently eaten more salary than Cleveland just did on Eaton and Keuchel.


That’s kind of my reaction to the OP as well.

Folks were calling for Harrison to be DFA’d (and there was a time when it would’ve been defensible) but he’s turned it around. Garcia is overexposed, but you’re not going to cut a guy in the first year of a three year deal. The only other guys that would be in the conversation would be Grandal, Moncada, and Lynn all of whom have more recent success, health as a definable variable, and larger remaining obligations.

tl:dr – the Sox don’t have a good analogue for Reyes.


I’m more amused by the shocked reaction I’ve seen from various baseball fans to that DFA; you’d think the Guardians just released Ted Williams.

  1. It’s really funny that the first place teams in the other two AL divisions have 70 wins while the AL Central leader has…57. Wtf.
  2. The rule change on plays at the plate was maybe the worst rule change in the history of baseball. The fact that it’s so vague and nobody knows how to property enforce it makes it even worse.
  3. Reading that Francona quote really makes you realize how clueless our manager is.

We live in a world of Manfred Men and you’d suggest that an admittedly ambiguous rule to keep the scarce resource of quality catchers on the field is the worst rule change in the history of baseball?


There’s nothing ambiguous about the Manfred Man rule (well unless you’re our manager), so even though I’m not a huge fan of it, I can tolerate it. This plate blocking rule has been in effect for years and people still don’t understand it.


I feel like anyone who doesn’t understand it doesn’t want to understand it though. As a catcher, you can’t block the plate unless you have the ball. The only exceptions are if the throw leads you into a situation where you end up blocking the plate. Sanchez set up to block the plate from the second that ball was caught. The throw did not carry him up the line or into foul territory. He made a choice as to where to catch it and that choice blocked Merrifield’s avenue to the plate which he is allowed under the rules.

As Cirensica

Couldn’t say it better


Hey, the AL Central is so tough that the teams are all beating up on each other. Yeah, that’s it. Trust me. That’s the reason. Don’t look at any facts, please.


the rule change was badly needed. catchers’ equipment is designed to shield them from the ball, not full-body collisions, let alone those that not infrequently resembled blindside hits from guys the size of NFL safeties, or maybe small linebackers— AJ Pierzynski, for instance, was listed at 6’3”/235 when he ran over the 6’2”/215 Michael Barrett.

this is a fundamentally much more dangerous collision, in terms of force exerted on the bodies of both guys but mostly the catcher. compare a historical example— a 1955 collision at home between 5’9”/160lb Red Sox outfielder Billy Klaus and 5’7”/180lb Yogi Berra. baseball players are much bigger, stronger, and faster than they used to be. and also we now know just how dangerous and damaging head trauma is lol


Bad form arguing against collisions by bringing up a collision that probably still brings many a sentimental tear to the eyes of White Sox fans everywhere upon recollection. But yeah, I get the reasoning behind it even if I find it annoying.


Take a flyer on JBJ anyone?


We’ve already got one in Adam Engel, who hits better than JBJ.; probably easy to forget as TLR hardly ever plays him. I get when Vaughn/Sheets are in the outfield to try to boost the moribund offense, but when Leury plays in the outfield and not Engel, I REALLY don’t get that.


I too do not understand why Engel doesn’t play more. Playing Pollack in CF over him always seems weird too.


Love Engel. Total gamer.
Used to play more before the triple play…hit the huge homer in Min before the break and now buried.


I remember sitting in right center at Comiskey and yelling at Bill North. He’d turn around and glare at us, and we were so proud of ourselves for getting a reaction. Of course, we weren’t throwing anything at him.


The Tigers did trade one of their relievers: Michael Fulmer, to the Twins of all teams.


Twins collecting AL Central Players (backup catcher from Cleveland, Reliever from Tigers; losing to UT player from Royals now on Jays)


There was another safe call at the plate yesterday that was overturned because of blocking. A veritable epidemic.


The ways Yankee fans sounded utterly defeated about Sánchez’s defense last year made us sound positively optimistic about Zack Collins as a catcher.

Franmil Reyes is now a Cub. Francona’s scouting report on him tracks with the horrific data this year.