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Braun vs. the Collector: they could both be right, you know


I was busy fighting crime yesterday afternoon when the sample collector from L’affaire Braun offered his statement. After that a bunch of people emailed me with some variation of “Ah-ha! Braun is a dirty stinkin’ lying cheater and the arbitrator was in the bag for him! Apologize now.”

OK, maybe the emails weren’t quite so extreme, but they were close. And they’re right about one thing: the statement of the collector does call for some response.  Here’s my response: Well, OK.

I say “well, OK,” because I’m not sure what else can be said. On the surface he seems to be offering a pretty sharp rebuke of Braun. And probably a not-underserved one. At the moment — and, as I’ll argue in a second, the moment matters — Braun’s statement the other day was a bit extreme for a guy who won a procedural victory, even if I still maintain that a procedural victory is significant.  He didn’t really need to point the finger so directly at the collector even if mistakes were made in the process.  It’s totally understandable that the guy felt the need to come back with a strong statement of his own.

As for the substance of the statement: look, there are a lot of things about all of this that seem like people calling each other liars, but it seems more like people talking past each other.

Braun’s people say there were a bunch of places open to receive the sample, the collector says that there weren’t any places that could ship the sample. Those things aren’t necessarily in conflict. The collector says that he followed the procedures set down by his employer, the arbitrator ruled that the procedures articulated in the Joint Drug Agreement weren’t followed. Those statements aren’t necessarily in conflict either. Indeed, the crux of it could very well be that the collector did everything he was told and trained to do by his employer but what he was told and trained to do didn’t conform to what the league and the players agreed upon when they set the system up.

Anyone who has worked in a large organization can relate to how that kind of thing happens. Mistakes and lack of adherence to formal protocols get baked into the process and become accepted procedures over time.  Which is fine when they’re just normal workplace rules, but which aren’t fine when they’re rules that were the product of sensitive, complicated and high stakes collective bargaining. If the union doesn’t object to that, they risk waiving what they fought so hard for in negotiations.

And it could be that those ad hoc procedures make sense.  Field experience trumping design, you know. Could very well be that the Joint Drug Agreement now gets amended to actually formalize the procedures that have been used, albeit in an unauthorized fashion, before now.  That doesn’t vindicate that unauthorized past use — rules are rules — but this could all be part of a healthy evolution of the testing system, with Braun’s specific example being but a footnote in the future.

The important thing at present, however, is that we won’t have ultimate resolution of the seeming discrepancies between Braun and the collector until we see the arbitrator’s decision. To see what, exactly, he took issue with in the procedures that were employed and why he found them significant.  Until then, anyone not privy to the decision who either (a) attacks the collector; or (b) belittles Braun’s procedural defense are just guessing.

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar
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Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.

Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.

Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.

It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.

Astros top Royals in Game 1 of ALDS

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve, left, celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after scoring a run during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.

The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.

Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.

The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.

Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.

Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.

George Springer homers to extend Astros’ lead over Royals

Houston Astros' George Springer (4) celebrates with teammates after scoring a run in the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.

According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.

The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.