, two relief pitchers will start Thursday night as the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals play the opener of a regular season-ending four-game series at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.Cleveland’s Josh Tomlin (2-5, 6.44 ERA) will face Kansas City’s Glenn Sparkman (0-3, 4.86). The two American League Central Division teams are a study in extremes. The Indians (89-69) have won the division for the third consecutive year while the Royals (56-102) are in last place.Tomlin, 33, made six early-season starts before being moved to the bullpen. In 23 relief appearances, he is 2-2 with a 4.55 ERA. In eight starts, he is 0-3, 7.82.Article continues below ...Tomlin’s last appearance was a relief stint against Boston on Sunday in which he pitched two scoreless innings, allowing one hit and picking up the win in a 4-3 Cleveland victory.His last start came Sept. 20, against the White Sox when he got a no-decision in a 5-4 Indians loss. In that game, Tomlin pitched four innings, allowing four runs and eight hits, with two strikeouts and no walks.Tomlin’s only appearance against the Royals this year was as a reliever Aug. 25, when he pitched one inning, giving up one run and three hits, with no strikeouts and no walks.The last time Tomlin started a game against the Royals was Sept. 14, 2017, when he got a no-decision in a 3-2 Indians win. In that game he pitched 5 2/3 innings, allowing two runs and six hits, with four strikeouts and one walk.In 26 career appearances (21 starts) against Kansas City
, Tomlin is 10-5 with a 3.93 ERA.Sparkman is at the other end of the career spectrum from Tomlin, who during his nine-year career has appeared in 182 major league games. The 26-year-old Sparkman has appeared in 16 major league games, mostly as a reliever.In 12 relief appearances for the Royals this year he is 0-2 with a 4.62 ERA. He has made two starts and is 0-1, 5.63. His last appearance came as a reliever in an 11-8 Royals’ loss to Detroit in which he received no decision. He pitched four innings, allowing two runs and five hits.Sparkman’s last start was a 4-1 loss to Tampa Bay on Aug. 21. He pitched four innings, giving up three runs and seven hits, with five strikeouts and three walks. Thursday will be his first career appearance against Cleveland.A big challenge for Sparkman will be Cleveland designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, who after hitting 38 home runs with 107 RBIs last year in his first season with Cleveland, has hit 32 homers with 105 RBIs this year. Encarnacion has driven in at least 100 runs in six of the last seven years, including the last four years in a row.“As long as he stays healthy, you can pencil him in for 100 every year,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “That’s nice to know, at the start of the season, that you’re going get 100 RBIs out of him.”Cleveland leads the season series 10-5. Manny Machado is a one-man whirlwind of on-field drama during this NLCS. That’s not news to Orioles fans who’ve seen his worst moments over the years - but it’s not our problem any more."Manny Machado is at it again. Everyone is talking about him this postseason, but unfortunately, it’s not always about how good he is at playing baseball. The NLCS has it all. Bad slides, not checking on a catcher after a backswing, petulant whining at home plate, and even starting drama by running into first base wrong. That last one sounds too absurd to be true, but no
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, it’s real.Orioles fans are familiar with this drama. We put up with it, of course, because for seven seasons Machado wore the uniform of our favorite baseball team, because he’s the best baseball player we’ve seen on the team in the 21st century and we got to watch him bloom from the touted prospect into one of the best players in all of baseball. It will be a long time before we see anyone as good as Machado grow into his prime here, if we ever see that again.These things are Dodgers’ fans problems currently. They might not even consider it a problem because as it ended up, Machado scored the winning run in extra innings last night to help his team tie up the NLCS against the Brewers at two games apiece with this nifty slide:Who, after watching their favorite baseball team win in such a fashion in extra innings in the postseason, really wants to say anything bad about the player who did that? Probably not many people. In this case, the rest of the baseball world is happy to step up and provide the condemnation for things like this:Pictured across the top tweet is one slide from NLCS game 3 where Machado came in contact with the defender, contact he appeared to go out of his way to initiate. In the video, there is a second slide from later in the game where Machado also initiates contact with a defender late. On replay, the second slide was deemed to be illegal and the batter was called out and the play became a double play.This is not the first time there have been people upset with the way Machado slides. This was refreshed in my memory on searching for “manny machado slide” on Twitter by the number of tweets from Red Sox fans who remain salty over this play from last April, which sparked a beef that went on through the early months of the season:Machado isn’t even on the Orioles any more and still upon being reminded of this, my first reaction is to think unkind things about the Red Sox and their fans. It is an axiom of my life as a sports fan that they can never be right or happy about anything. Reality is not always so accommodating of this.Over the course of this NLCS, Machado has been branching out beyond just bad slides, too. Here he is from earlier in last night’s game pulling the “try to call a late time” move:The pitcher is clearly into his pitching motion by the time Machado sticks his arm out. Machado steps back out of the batters box as if time has been granted, even though it hasn’t, and then, when he is called out on a pitch that’s basically right down the middle, reacts poorly. In a vacuum
, this happening would receive no scrutiny, but in the middle of a series where Machado is the center of attention for a variety of things, it’s one more thing on the pile. Among the others was his hustle, or occasional lack thereof - also not a strange idea to O’s fans who saw the first 860 games of Machado’s career.Prior to Tuesday’s Game 4, Machado addressed some criticism of his hustle in an interview with The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal by saying, “I’m not the type of player that’s going to be Johnny Hustle ... That’s just not my personality, that’s not my cup of tea.” This is as pure of a wrestling heel kind of move as grabbing the steel chair when the referee isn’t looking and cracking it over the other guy’s back.What’s crazy is that the business with the not getting timeout isn’t even the end of the antics from last night for Machado, who also did this while running to first base at one point in the game:What the heck is this, even? You can watch a lot of games and you don’t see a player initiate contact with the first baseman in this way. It just doesn’t happen because it’s not something that happens even accidentally. And here’s Machado hoofing along, clipping the first baseman’s ankle on the way by. Machado and the first baseman, Jesus Aguilar, appeared to be over the incident later in the game, but that doesn’t erase what happened.A guy who had that as his only infraction might get the benefit of the doubt. Machado is tough to defend because at this point... well, it seems to just be who he is. The totality of Machado’s actions in this series - probably added to the frustration of losing in walk-off fashion last night - prompted Brewers star Christian Yelich to proclaim, “It’s a dirty play by a dirty player,”and then, apparently, as he walked away from the cameras, “Fuck that motherfucker.”I think back to what I believe was the first of Machado’s moments that made you go “WTF?”:In the four-and-a-half years since this happened, I had forgotten how ridiculous that it was. There is nothing out of the ordinary about the play whatsoever
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, at least until Machado flops like a Duke basketball player while throwing his helmet down and suddenly the benches are clearing. To this day, Orioles fans loyally boo Josh Donaldson just for being the guy Machado got mad at one day in June 2014, but I think we all know it’s ridiculous, just like the bat toss that came two days later:Fast forward to the 1:15 mark to get the camera angle that reveals the bat throw for what it was. Actually, I still don’t know what it was to this day. What was he trying to do? Throw the bat at the pitcher, who had admittedly just blatantly thrown at Machado’s surgically-repaired knee? Throw the bat towards third base, where Donaldson had been two days before but wasn’t even playing at that point in a 10-0 game? Was the intent to hit either player or just “send a message” - and if the latter, what in the world was the message?The only thing I know is he did it on purpose and it’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen a baseball player do. Because Machado was on the Orioles, we of course wanted to make excuses for him. He is young and immature, he will grow out of stuff like that; the Athletics pitcher started throwing at him first; he didn’t deserve to be suspended for THAT many games/the Athletics pitcher deserved a longer suspension. It’s four years later and the ridiculous, indefensible stuff is still going on and is on full display in this series. I don’t know him on a personal level. I don’t know whether he acts in this way out of intentional malice or simply out of uncaring neglect. Even pundits outside of the usual group of scolds have been wondering over the course of this series if this behavior will cost Machado any money in free agency. Will it cause anyone to re-evaluate their plans if they can’t be sure what kind of attitude Machado will bring to their team? It’s not the problem of Orioles fans any more, because the door shut on Machado having a long-term future here perhaps as far back as when he first freaked out on Donaldson. We would take all the baggage in a heartbeat, of course, to have one of the best players in baseball back on our favorite team, but that’s not happening, so it’ll be someone else’s task to explain the inexplicable drama.