Matt Cain shuts down Phillies as Giants take 2-1 lead in NLCS

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Philadelphia scored the second-most runs in the NL during the regular season, averaged 4.4 runs through five playoffs games, and hadn’t been shut out since August, but the Phillies’ lineup managed just three singles and three walks while being blanked by Matt Cain, Javier Lopez, and Brian Wilson in Game 3 of the NLCS.

Cain struggled at times with his command, throwing first-pitch strikes to just 15 of 28 batters, plunking two hitters in addition to handing out three walks, and finding the strike zone with just 69 of his 119 offerings overall, but the Phillies simply couldn’t put together many damage-inducing swings.

Charlie Manuel shifted his lineup to insert Placido Polanco between Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in an effort to make life tougher on side-arming left-handed specialist Javier Lopez in the late innings, but Lopez needed just nine pitches to record three outs after relieving Cain and Brian Wilson pitched around Jimmy Rollins’ wall-banging single to close out the 3-0 win.

Cody Ross once again played a big role for the Giants, knocking in the game’s first run with a sharp single to left field in the fourth inning. That proved to be all the support Cain, Lopez, and Wilson needed and Ross is now 8-for-23 (.348) with four homers and seven RBIs in seven playoff games. Not bad for a guy the Giants ended up in August with after putting in a waiver claim primarily to block the Padres from doing the same.

Obviously his postseason production is unexpected, but Ross hasn’t quite come out of nowhere. In five seasons as a regular he’s averaged 24 homers per 550 at-bats and his Isolated Power–which is slugging percentage minus batting average–of .203 during that span ranks right up there with some pretty big names like Vladimir Guerrero (.207), Brian McCann (.206), Troy Tulowitzki (.205), Torii Hunter (.202), Derrek Lee (.200), and Andre Ethier (.200).

Ross doesn’t have much plate discipline or strike-zone control and hits for low batting averages, so he hasn’t developed into anything more than an average corner outfielder, but as the Braves and Phillies have learned the guy has always had plenty of power and he’s even produced a 4/3 K/BB ratio so far in the playoffs.

Bruce Bochy has made it very clear all along that rookie Madison Bumgarner will be the Giants’ starter in Game 4 and Manuel wasted no time confirming that he’ll stick with Joe Blanton tomorrow night despite being down 2-1 in the series. Manuel was no doubt tempted to bring back Roy Halladay on short rest, but that would also have involved doing the same with Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. Plus, with The Big Three now waiting in the wings to start Games 5-7 on full rest it’s not quite a “must-win” situation for Blanton.

Obviously he’d love to continue leaning exclusively on Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels, but having them at full strength will give the Phillies a chance to win the series regardless of what happens in Game 4 and Blanton quietly had a very strong second half in their collective shadow. He went 6-1 with a 3.29 ERA and 75/21 K/BB ratio in 14 starts after the All-Star break and if he can out-duel Bumgarner the Phillies will suddenly be back in the driver’s seat with The Big Three lined up for what would essentially be a three-game series.

Of course, Bumgarner had a 1.18 ERA and 34/7 K/BB ratio in his final six regular season starts and beat the Braves with six innings of two-run ball in the NLDS, so the Giants are a good outing by their young southpaw away from making every game a “must-win” for the Phillies.

Report: Astros’ assistant GM yelled ‘Thank God we got Osuna!’ at female reporters

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Last year, then-closer for the Blue Jays Roberto Osuna was arrested in Toronto on an assault charge. He allegedly assaulted the mother of his then three-year-old son. The charge was eventually withdrawn in exchange for a peace bond, but Major League Baseball still suspended Osuna for 75 games without pay.

Due to the off-the-field ugliness, the Astros were able to acquire Osuna on the relative cheap, sending Ken Giles, David Paulino, and Hector Perez to the Blue Jays. Osuna has been mostly great for the Astros since the trade, finishing the 2018 season with 12 saves, a 1.99 ERA, and a 19/3 K/BB ratio in 22 2/3 innings in his new uniform. This year, Osuna racked up an American League-high 38 saves with a 2.63 ERA and a 73/12 K/BB ratio in 65 innings.

With the Astros holding a 4-2 lead in the top of the ninth in ALCS Game 6 against the Yankees, manager A.J. Hinch called on Osuna to get the final three outs to send his team to the World Series. He ended up allowing a leadoff single to Gio Urshela, then a game-tying two-run home run to DJ LeMahieu. Nevertheless, the Astros won it in the bottom of the ninth thanks to José Altuve’s walk-off two-run homer off of Aroldis Chapman.

In the postgame celebration, Stephanie Apstein of Sports Illustrated reports that Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman yelled towards a group of three female reporters, “Thank god we got Osuna! I’m so … glad we got Osuna!” Taubman repeated the phrase half a dozen times. One of the reporters was wearing a purple domestic violence awareness bracelet.

The Astros declined to comment on the issue and did not make Taubman available for an interview. That shouldn’t come as a shock because the Astros have organizationally failed repeatedly to meaningfully address Osuna’s behavior. GM Jeff Luhnow released a poorly thought out statement last July about Osuna, claiming that the Astros’ due diligence was “unprecedented,” and citing that Osuna is “remorseful” and “willingly complied with all consequences,” despite pleading not guilty and not having had his day in court yet, thus no consequences. The Astros released another statement in August defending their belief that “Roberto deserved a second chance.”

Later that month, Osuna went after his critics, saying, “Everybody is judging me for things they don’t know. I don’t like that.” In the postseason, teammate Ryan Pressly defended Osuna from a heckler, telling the fan, “You can talk all the sh– you want. Just don’t bring that stuff up.”

The Astros also kicked out a fan who protested Osuna’s presence by holding up a sign displaying a domestic violence hotline number. After receiving plenty of criticism for that, the Astros decided to display flyers, featuring the National Domestic Violence Hotline number, in women’s restrooms at Minute Maid Park.

Taubman’s behavior is not the first strike for the Astros on this issue. Acquiring Osuna was strike one. Luhnow’s statement and the club’s subsequent statement were strikes two and three. Osuna’s backlash was strike four, Pressly’s defense of him was strike five, and the whole issue over the DV hotline sign was strike six. The Astros are in danger of having the side strike out on this issue.

It’s also worth mentioning that Luhnow worked for McKinsey and Company, a management consulting firm, before getting into baseball. McKinsey has been consulting for the Astros since 2017, The Athletic’s Evan Drellich reported in July. McKinsey has, ahem, a checkered past.

The Astros have clearly and intentionally thrown ethics to the side in order to run a baseball-related business. That they have repeatedly mishandled a very serious domestic violence issue within the sport shouldn’t come as a surprise, and it shouldn’t be surprising that the Astros are hoping the issue goes away with the World Series set to begin on Tuesday.

Update: The Astros released a statement. Via Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle:

The story posted by Sports Illustrated is misleading and completely irresponsible. An Astros player was being asked questions about a difficult outing. Our executive was supporting the player during a difficult time. His comments had everything to do about the game situation that just occurred and nothing else — they were also not directed towards any specific reporters. We are extremely disappointed in Sports Illustrated’s attempt to fabricate a story where one does not exist.

The Astros had an initial chance to respond to the story before publication and didn’t take Sports Illustrated up on it. They also didn’t deny that Taubman said what was reported. They’re disputing the context and the intended audience, but that doesn’t really make them look that much better. Perhaps an organization with a less spotty history would get the benefit of the doubt, the Astros certainly haven’t earned it.

Furthemore, Hunter Atkins of the Houston Chronicle and Hannah Keyser of Yahoo Sports both confirmed Apstein’s report. Atkins tweeted, “The Astros called this @stephapstein report misleading. It is not. I was there. Saw it. And I should’ve said something sooner.”