J.C. Romero, Congress, and passing the steroid buck

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I’ve been accused of being an apologist for players taking steroids. There’s an element of truth to that, I suppose, at least if you equate “not thinking that players who take PEDs are Satan” with being an apologist.  I simply think there are worse offenses in the baseball world, even if some folks disagree.

A big reason for my view of this is that not every player — and I’d argue not any player — who tests positive for PED is some cartoonish evil cheater with black intentions in their heart. Some are a little more brazen than others. Some, however, are just kind of screwed by circumstance.

Case in point: The Phillies’ J.C. Romero. As you’ll recall, he was suspended for 50 games to kick off the season as the result of testing positive for a steroid he took via an over the counter supplement last fall.  You’ll also recall that Romero has sued the supplement maker, claiming that it failed to identify the substances in the product that led to his positive test. That suit is still pending, but Major League Baseball — pursuant to a policy it implemented as the result of extreme Congressional heat — wasn’t all that interested in the details.

What gets lost in all of this is that neither Congress — the prime mover behind baseball’s current PED policy — and Major League Baseball — the enforcer — has clean hands in any of this.  Why? For one thing, Congress itself — with the help of President Clinton — was what allowed the current wild west supplement industry to blossom in the first place when it enacted the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, which basically punted all oversight of the supplement industry to . . . the supplement industry itself.  We should not have been shocked, therefore, when all manner of revolutionary products with all manner of questionable yet unnamed ingredients starting showing up at the GNC.

For its part, Major League Baseball famously lagged in telling the union that the supplement Romero was taking would lead to positive tests, even though it knew so ahead of time, and even though it had pledged to keep the union informed of the latest state of PEDs. Romero, in turn, relied on the union for his information.  Of course the union could have and should have told Romero that he needed to call the Major League Baseball hotline, where he could have gotten the updated information, but they failed to do that.

Upshot: there was a metric crap-ton of stuff that happened which led to Romero getting what amounted to a $1.5 million suspension, almost all of which was more the fault of those who would go after PED users than Romero himself.

Against that backdrop, today we learn that Congress is going to wade back into the fray and think about re-regulating the supplement world. That wading is led by Arlen Specter, who was spurred on, he says, by the Romero case. “We’re looking at whether there’s adequate protection for consumers from getting these supplements which have steroids or steroid-like substances,” Specter said.  Union head Don Fehr added that “players, like everyone else, have no idea what they’re taking.”  Specter is probably right to want to take another look at the supplement industry and review that 1994 deregulation. Fehr is right that players who take over the counter supplements may very well not know what they’e taking, partially due to MLB and the union not giving them good or timely information.

In light of this, it is an inescapable conclusion that the PED and supplement world is not comprised of a landscape in which there are cheaters and non-cheaters, evil and good. It’s a complicated environment, and that’s even before you get into the issue of certain things being legal in one country and not legal in another.

To the extent we as fans have decided otherwise and have adopted the rhetoric of good and evil in the great steroid debate, it’s because those congressional hearings and all that fell out of it set such a tone.  Now even Congress is reconsidering the matter.  Maybe we all should too.

Chris Archer could lose his 20th game tonight

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 10:  Chris Archer #22 of the Tampa Bay Rays looks on from the mound after surrendering a home run in the sixth inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on September 10, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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That’s a pretty negative way to put a headline, but the fact is, a starting pitcher losing 20 games is a rare and notable feat these days. But Tampa Bay Rays starter Chris Archer could pull it off against the White Sox this evening. He’s 8-19 with a 4.02 ERA in 194.2 innings across 32 starts in 2016.

That’s a big fall from 2015, when he was considered one of the rising aces in the game. Archer was an All-Star last year, and finished fifth in the Cy Young voting, finishing fifth in pitcher WAR, sixth in ERA, second in strikeouts, second in strikeouts per nine innings, fourth in fielding independent pitching and allowing the fourth lowest number of hits per nine innings pitched among AL starters.

To be fair, he still should be considered one of the best pitchers in the game. Yes, it has been a bad year for Archer, but he still strikes out a lot of guys. Overall, it takes a pretty good pitcher to lose 20 games in the big leagues. You don’t get the opportunities to do such a dubious thing unless you’re healthy and you have the confidence of your manager to take the ball every fifth day. And to be fair to Archer, he’s had bad defense and awful run support this year. Make no mistake, he has pitched worse than he did a year ago, but not so much worse that he deserves to reach a milestone no one has reached since 2003.

The guy who did that in 2003: Mike Maroth of a 119-loss Tigers team. Maroth won nine games that year and now gets referenced every time someone approaches 20 losses. If Archer avoids his 20th loss, he might match Maroth’s 2003 win total himself tonight. If not, well, everyone will cite Archer’s name, and not Maroth’s, whenever someone get to 19 losses in a season.

And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 28:  Mark Teixeira #25 of the New York Yankees celebrates his game winning ninth inning grand slam home run against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on September 28, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Yankees 5, Red Sox 3: Congratulations to the Red Sox, I guess. They won the AL East thanks to the Blue Jays loss while this game was still going on, but they were deprived of the right to woop and holler on the field in New York given Mark Teixeira‘s stunning walkoff grand slam with two outs in the ninth. The Yankees were down 3-0 heading into the inning. The Yankees staved off elimination for another night. It will come, but in the meantime this was their 82nd win, ensuring a winning season at the very least.

Orioles 3, Blue Jays 2Hyun Soo Kim hit a ninth inning pinch hit homer which gave the Orioles a 3-2 lead and, eventually, 3-2 win over the Blue Jays. It simultaneously gave the Red Sox the American League East. Not too bad. Unless you’re a Jays fan, that is. For the O’s, it kept them a game ahead of the Tigers in the Wild Card and pulled them to within a game behind Toronto for the top slot.

Tigers 6, Indians 3: The Tigers likewise keep pace with Baltimore, thanks to a tiebreaking three-run homer from Miguel Caberea moments before the game was stopped on a very rainy night in Detroit. It ended up being shortened to a five inning affair. There was an earlier stoppage of 45 minutes before the 72 minute delay turned into the end of the game. If the Indians hadn’t already clinched the Central I’m guessing they’d be pissed about this, but at least this way they got to go back to the hotel and relax.

Mariners 12, Astros 4: Robinson Cano hit a three-run homer in the first inning and the M’s added four more before the Astros scored their first run, making this one a breeze. The pile on led to a win which kept Seattle two games behind Baltimore for the second Wild Card slot.

Mets 5, Marlins 2: Jay Bruce and James Loney homered as the Mets give themselves a one and a half game lead over San Francisco for the NL’s top wild card spot. The Marlins’ pregame routine for this one was Jose Fernandez’s funeral, so it’s understandable if their heads weren’t completely in this one.

Reds 2, Cardinals 1: Cardinal-killer Anthony DeSclafani allowed only one run over six innings as Adam Duvall‘s two run single in the third holds up. DeSclafani is 4-1 with a 2.13 ERA against St. Louis in his young career. He’s 15-19 against everyone else.

Rockies 2, Giants 0: The Rockies, paced by Tyler Chatwood‘s eight scoreless innings, shut out the Giants. Nolan Arenado singled in a run in the fourth and Gerardo Parra singled in one in the seventh. Jeff Samardzija struck out 11 while pitching into the seventh. If needed, he’ll pitch in a Wild Card tiebreaker on Monday.

Pirates 8, Cubs 4: John Jaso hit for the cycle. It was the first cycle for a Pirates hitter since Daryle Ward did it in 2004. Remember Daryle Ward? Meanwhile, Jake Arrieta went five innings and allowed 10 hits and seven runs in his worst start of the year.

Braves 12, Phillies 2Freddie Freeman extended his hitting streak to 30 games, Matt Kemp hit a two-run homer and Mike Foltynewicz pitched two-hit ball over five innings. The Braves’ second half has been pretty darn good.

Royals 5, Twins 2: The Red Sox lost, but won the AL East anyway. The Royal won, but were officially eliminated from the postseason. Oh well. The Twins lost their 10th game in their last 11. That ties the record for the most losses since the franchise moved to Minnesota. One more loss and they’ll top the 1982 club for this grand honor. Gary Ward was the offensive star of that team. No one remembers Gary Ward, do they?

Diamondbacks 3, Nationals 0: Another rain-shortened game, this one lasting through the top of the sixth. The Nats have lost seven of 11. Between that and all of their injuries, they have to be the division winner with the least amount of confidence heading into the playoffs.

Rangers 8, Brewers 5: Texas was down 5-4 heading into the bottom the eighth but rallied for four. Elvis Andrus singled in run to tie it and then Carlos Gomez hit a three-run homer to give the Rangers the game. It was the second night in a row Gomez hit a three-run shot. In all, he has eight homers and 24 RBI in 31 games since joining the Rangers after being released by Houston.

White Sox 1, Rays 0: Miguel Gonzalez pitched a three-hit shutout into the ninth inning but was pulled when he put a runner on his pitch count went over 100 in what is a meaningless game. His workload was actually higher, as he threw a lot of warmup pitches during a rain delay. Todd Frazier‘ 40th homer was the game’s only scoring. Overall he’s hitting .228/.307/.474.  Statistically this has to be one of the worst 40-homer seasons ever, right?

Angels 8, Athletics 6: A win is nice, but having Mike Trout get hit with a pitch late in the game which will cause him to have tests on his shoulder isn’t the best news. Kole Calhoun homered as the Angels sweep the A’s.

Padres 6, Dodgers 5: Padres rookie outfielder Hunter Renfroe hit a homer onto the roof of the Western Metal Supply Building in right field at Petco Park. He’s the first one to ever do that in the park’s history. Not bad. Now the Padres have something to lead the 2016 highlight reel anyway. Renfroe was the PCL MVP this year and has hit four home runs and drove in 12 in the seven games since he’s been called up.