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

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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.

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.