Barry Bonds suit

Get ready, kids: Barry Bonds’ trial is right around the corner


It seems like years ago that Barry Bonds was indicted for perjury. Oh, wait, it was years ago. Three-and-a-half to be exact.  But though the wheels of justice grind slowly, boy do they grind, and they’ve almost delivered us to Barry Bonds’ trial, which gets underway on March 21st.

But first, some preliminary rulings, a few of which came today:  the prosecution will — over Bonds’ objections — be able to call other ballplayers who trained with Greg Anderson, including Jason Giambi, Jeremy Giambi, Marvin Benard and Bobby Estalella.  They will not, however, be able to introduce a boatload of documentary evidence they claim proves that Barry Bonds knowlingly used PEDs.  The reason: as has long been the case, Greg Anderson is still not testifying, therefore the documents — which he created — cannot be authenticated, and are thus inadmissible hearsay.

I’ll obviously be following the trial as closely as the Internet will allow — oh, please don’t send me on an all-expenses-paid trip to San Francisco, my NBC overlords! Don’t throw me into that brier patch — but for now I’ll refresh you on my overall take of things so as to avoid confusion going forward:

Barry Bonds took the Cream and the Clear. It’s been painstakingly researched and written about. He admitted under oath that, yeah, there was probably stuff that he took that he subsequently learned were something other than flaxseed oil. There isn’t a truly reasonable debate to be had along the lines of “did he take PEDs,” and that question really has no bearing on this trial whatsoever, so don’t take my criticism of the current prosecution as a denial of the bleedin’ obvious;

Steroids or not, I don’t think the prosecution had a good perjury case from the moment Bonds was indicted.  As I’ve written before, the relevant question is whether Barry Bonds knew he was taking steroids prior to December 4, 2003. Or, more to the point, a case about whether the government can prove that he knew he was taking steroids prior to December 4, 2003.  On that point, I think it’s a weak case because the government’s questions during the grand jury proceedings were terribly vague, Bonds’ answers were boringly circuitous, and the government didn’t do much to try to nail him down. I explained all of that here a couple of years ago.

Do I think Bonds lied under oath?  Having read the entirety of his testimony I think he was probably trying to do his best to avoid having to. And I think that, because of the sloppy questioning, he avoided the sorts of unequivocal falsehoods that are usually the subject of perjury prosecutions.  Most of the time a case with these broad, compound  questions and these circular answers doesn’t get charged. It’s too borderline.  But this is a celebrity here, and this was a Novitzky investigation, so they’re going for broke. And they’re doing it without the one witness — Greg Anderson — who can make their case.

Overall I think this is a wasteful prosecution, and it was made wasteful because of government sloppiness and the lack of a true law enforcement imperative at work, which led to prosecutors handling the grand jury proceedings as if there were unimportant. All of the BALCO people who were the targets of that grand jury have been tried, convicted and have served their time and are going on with their lives. This is a seven-year-old hangover, and such things are a recipe for a misuse of the justice system and bad justice issuing therefrom.

Under those circumstances, I don’t think Bonds should be prosecuted. Even as it is, I don’t think it’s anywhere close to certain that the prosecution can get a conviction.  But hey, that’s why they play the game!

Concerns over Jon Lester’s throwing ability much ado about nothing

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20: Jon Lester #34 of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)
Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

Going into Thursday night’s NLCS Game 5, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts planned to have his team be annoying and distracting on the base paths for Cubs starter Jon Lester. Lester, you see, has a hard time making throws when he’s not pitching from the rubber, as seen here.

The Dodgers got an immediate opportunity to test their strategy, as Enrique Hernandez drew a four-pitch walk to start the game in the bottom of the first inning. Hernandez was taking leads between 15 and 25 feet, just taunting Lester to throw over to first base. Lester never did. And despite being given the luxury of such a large lead, Hernandez never attempted to steal second base.

It ended up costing the Dodgers a run. After Justin Turner struck out, Corey Seager lined a single to center field. Hernandez, large lead and all, should’ve been well on his way to third base, but he settled for staying at second base. Carlos Ruiz then flied out to right field on what should’ve been a sacrifice fly. Hernandez instead just advanced to third. Howie Kendrick grounded out to end the inning with the Dodgers having scored no runs.

In the bottom of the second inning with two outs, Joc Pederson dropped down a bunt, but Lester was able to field it and make a bounce-throw to Anthony Rizzo at first base to end the inning. Lester stared angrily into the Dodgers’ dugout as he walked off the field. If it were me, I’d have been glaring angrily not because the opposing team was attempting to exploit my weakness, but because the strategy is so poor.

The bunting would continue in the seventh inning as first baseman and noted power hitter Adrian Gonzalez tried to sneak a bunt past Lester on the right side of the infield. Second baseman Javier Baez was able to scoop it up and fire to first. Gonzalez was initially ruled safe, but the call was overturned upon replay review.

Lester countered the Dodgers’ bunting and greedy lead-taking by just pitching his game. He went seven innings, allowing just one run on five hits and a walk with six strikeouts on 108 pitches. The Cubs went on to win 8-4, taking a 3-2 lead in the NLCS. A worthy consideration for the National League Cy Young Award based on his regular season performance, Lester now has a 0.86 ERA in 21 innings spanning three starts this postseason. Turns out, the yips isn’t debilitating if you’re really good at your main job.

Cubs swat their way past the Dodgers 8-4 in NLCS Game 5

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20:  Addison Russell #27 of the Chicago Cubs hits a two-run home run in the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

During the regular season, the Cubs had the second-best offense in baseball behind the Rockies, averaging 4.99 runs per game. It was the best after debiting the Rockies for playing in Coors Field. There was no way, after getting shut out in NLCS Games 2 and 3, that the offense was going to stay dormant much longer. They broke out for 10 runs in a Game 4 victory on Wednesday night. They scored eight more to beat the Dodgers 8-4 in Game 5, taking a 3-2 NLCS lead.

The Cubs took an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning when leadoff batter Dexter Fowler greeted Kenta Maeda with a single to center field. He’d come around to score on a one-out double by Anthony Rizzo who, like teammate Addison Russell, hadn’t hit much until breaking out in Game 4.

Starter Jon Lester was able to silence the Dodgers’ offense despite their strategy of attempting bunts and taking big leads, knowing Lester has trouble throwing when it’s not from the pitching rubber. They managed just one run, coming around in the fourth inning to knot the game at 1-1 when Howie Kendrick doubled, stole third base, and scored on an Adrian Gonzalez ground out.

Ultimately, Lester lasted seven innings, holding the Dodgers to five hits and a walk with six strikeouts on 108 pitches. Addison Russell allowed him to leave with a lead, slugging a two-run home run off of reliever Joe Blanton in the sixth to break the 1-1 tie.

The Cubs tacked on plenty of insurance in the top of the eighth against reliever Pedro Baez, which proved to be rather necessary. Russell reached on an error by Baez, Willson Contreras singled, and Albert Almora, Jr. moved both runners up a base on a sacrifice bunt. Dexter Fowler then hit a single to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, but Baez didn’t break to cover first base. Gonzalez wasn’t able to beat Fowler to the bag, allowing the Cubs’ fourth run to score. Kris Bryant hit a weak grounder to third base and he was able to beat that out as well, pushing across another run in the process. Anthony Rizzo lined out, but Baez prolonged the inning by walking Ben Zobrist. Ross Stripling relieved Baez, but he served up a bases-clearing double to Javier Baez, making it an 8-1 ballgame. Jason Heyward, as has often been the case, popped up feebly, mercifully ending the inning with the Cubs having hung up a five-spot.

Pedro Strop took over for Lester in the bottom of the eighth. He gave up a double to Andrew Toles, then hit Justin Turner to begin the inning. Though Strop was able to induce a ground ball double play from Corey Seager, Carlos Ruiz followed up with a double to left-center to push in a run. Howie Kendrick flied out to send the game to the ninth.

Closer Aroldis Chapman took over with a six-run lead in the bottom of the ninth. He issued a leadoff walk to Gonzalez, then served up a single to Yasiel Puig. Joc Pederson grounded out, but Josh Reddick knocked in Gonzalez and moved Puig to third with a single to center. Toles plated Puig with a sacrifice fly, making it 8-4. Turner grounded out to shortstop to end the game, finalizing the victory for the Cubs.

The two clubs will take Friday off to travel back to Chicago. Game 6 will take place at Wrigley Field at 8:00 PM EDT. Clayton Kershaw will start for the Dodgers opposite the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks.