If not for Bud, Braves would be World Series favorites

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Who’s with me?

The Nationals’ four projected starters are a combined 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA in the postseason, with that entire track record belonging to Edwin Jackson. They have one hitter in their lineup with a .350 OBP. They don’t have any big holes in their lineup, but they also don’t have anyone with an OPS over .850.

The Reds’ No. 1 starter, Johnny Cueto, has a history of fatiguing as the year goes on, something that seems to have manifested again this year. He’ll enter the postseason having already topped his career high in innings by about 20. Their best hitter has gone 41 at-bats without homering since returning from a seven-week injury. The team as a whole has hit .249/.309/.395 in road games this year. Their elite closer has been dealing with shoulder weakness. They’ll almost certainly be starting Bronson Arroyo in Game 3 of the NLDS.

The Giants have the worst run differential of any of the NL’s big four. Their offense has performed surprisingly well without the suspended NL batting champ, but there’s only one guy with an .800 OPS left in the lineup. Besides Buster Posey, there isn’t anyone on the team with even a dozen homers. And while the Giants have the best one-two rotation punch in the NL, it’s going to be hard to trust Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong or Barry Zito in Games 3 and 4. Also, they don’t have a closer.

The Braves have the game’s hottest pitcher in Kris Medlen, with Tim Hudson available to start Game 2. They’ll have to choose from the Paul Maholm, Mike Minor and Tommy Hanson trio after that, but the top two should be tough. They have an incredibly dominant force to pitch the ninth and a top notch lefty in front of him. With Michael Bourn and Martin Prado, they should be able to manufacture runs at the top of the lineup, and they have five guys behind them capable of delivering the long ball.

Atlanta isn’t about to make up 5 1/2 games on Washington to win the NL East. As a result, a one-game wild card playoff seems assured, and even if the Braves will be good bets to win that game with Medlen or Hudson starting, there’s still at least a 35-40 percent chance they come up short.

Under the old system, the Braves would be my pick to represent the NL in the World Series. The lack of home-field advantage would be a problem, but they look like the best team to me, particularly since they’d be able to get a little more out of Chipper Jones, Craig Kimbrel and Eric O’Flaherty with the additional days off in the postseason schedule.

As is, they’re a big underdog. Which is precisely what Bud Selig and the others wanted in agreeing to the new wild card format. The Braves are still capable of advancing, but I think I’d have to go with the Giants at the moment.

Astros owner Jim Crane says MLB ‘explicitly exonerated’ him

Jim Crane
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Even during a pandemic, the Astros can’t seem to avoid putting their foot in their mouth. Per The Athletic’s Daniel Kaplan, Astros owner Jim Crane claimed in a legal filing on Monday that Major League Baseball “explicitly exonerated” him in the club’s 2017 sign-stealing scandal that resulted in a now-tainted championship.

Crane is named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by former pitcher Mike Bolsinger, whose last appearance in the majors was on August 4, 2017 against the Astros. He faced eight batters, allowing four runs on four hits and three walks in one-third of an inning. Bolsinger accused the Astros of unfair business practices, negligence, and intentional interference with contractual and economic relations arising out of the sign-stealing scandal. Bolsinger is seeking damages for himself as well as for the Astros to forfeit the nearly $31 million in bonuses earned from winning the championship in 2017, asking for the money to be reallocated to children’s charities and retired players in need of financial assistance.

Commissioner Rob Manfred did not use the word “exonerated” in his report on the league’s investigation into the Astros’ cheating scheme. Manfred did, however, write, “At the outset, I also can say our investigation revealed absolutely no evidence that Jim Crane, the owner of the Astros, was aware of any of the conduct described in this report. Crane is extraordinarily troubled and upset by the conduct of members of his organization, fully supported my investigation, and provided unfettered access to any and all information requested.”

Saying that the league found “no evidence” that Crane was involved and patting Crane on the back for not obstructing the investigation is not the same was “explicitly exonerating” him. The Athletic asked MLB if it agreed with Crane’s characterization of the report. Rather than agreeing with Crane, the league simply said, “All of our comments about the investigation are included in the report.”

This isn’t the first legal filing in which the Astros made a questionable claim. Recently, Astros lawyers claimed the organization expressed “sincere apologies and remorse for the events described in the report by the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.”

In Monday’s filing, Astros lawyers swung at Bolsinger, citing his poor pitching performance overall in 2017. They wrote, “Plaintiff wants to have a California judge and jury literally call ball and strikes, and award him money damages based on rank conjecture about what might have happened to him in Houston on August 4, 2017 due to alleged rules violations he speculates may have occurred that day.”

Astros lawyers also questioned the frequency of the club’s cheating and its impact, writing, “Major League Baseball (‘MLB’) investigated alleged rule violations by the Astros related to sign-stealing, resulting in a January 13, 2020 report in which the Commissioner of Baseball expressly found that ‘it is impossible to determine whether the (Astros’) conduct actually impacted the results on the field. The MLB did not conclude that sign-stealing violations occurred in every game or even most at-bats in the 2017 season.”

Astros fan Tony Adams, who analyzed every home game during the 2017 regular season and posted the results on SignStealingScandal.com, found that there were 54 “bangs” on August 4 when Bolsinger pitched against the Astros. That was the highest total among all Astros home games that season. Bolsinger entered in the middle of the fourth inning, first facing Yuli Gurriel. Adams found three bangs — all on curve balls — in a plate appearance that ended in a walk. Adams found four more bangs — all on breaking balls — in a Brian McCann at-bat later that inning that also ended in a walk. Bolsinger then gave up a single to Tyler White, with trash can banging on a cut fastball and a curve. The next batter, Jake Marisnick, singled as well, hearing bangs on a cutter and a curve. Bolsinger finally got out of the inning when Bregman swung at a first-pitch curve (yes, there was a trash can bang for that) and flied out.

Importantly, Bolsinger’s lawyer notes that Crane’s motion makes MLB eligible for discovery. It is already eligible for discovery in New York federal court where the league is a defendant in a lawsuit brought by daily fantasy sports contestants. Bolsinger’s lawsuit is brought out of California state court. The Astros want Bolsinger’s lawsuit dismissed or at least moved to Texas.

Because the Astros can’t seem to stop making headlines for all the wrong reasons, this whole situation figures to get even more wild as time goes on. Due to discovery, we may end up learning even more about the Astros’ cheating ways than the league may have let on in their report on their investigation.