And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights

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Braves 1, Phillies 0: Cliff Lee’s last start of 2013 came against the Braves. He pitched eight innings, allowed one solo homer but otherwise struck out 13 and looked invincible. And he lost. Last night: nine innings, one solo homer, but otherwise struck out 13 and looked invincible. And he lost. He totally dominates the Braves but runs into the worst luck run support-wise. Of course this time it had less to do with bad luck and more to do with Julio Teheran keeping Phillies hitters off balance all night. His first complete game and, by definition, his first shutout. Lee got the strikeouts, but Teheran walked one guy and allowed three singles and that was it.

More generally: some people may feel differently, but this is The Perfect Baseball Game. Not because the Braves won — that’s just a happy coincidence — but because of how freakin’ tight and perfectly pitched and tense it got as the game went on. Give me two guys working fast, throwing strikes, throwing confidently and throwing up zeroes like this all night. Give me the complete lack of calls to the bullpen. Give me tight defense and a ninth inning where one ball dropping in here or there or one swing of the bat could totally change things. A game where, until the 27th out is recorded, you couldn’t breathe. If this kind of game doesn’t grab you — or kill you, depending on which side your team falls — you and I don’t have a ton to talk about. Baseball doesn’t get better than this.

Yankees 3, Cubs 0; Yankees 2, Cubs 0: Shutout on both ends of the doubleheader. After watching this Ernie Banks probably said “Forget it! Playing two just ain’t worth it! I’m going out to get something to eat instead of watching any more of this atrocity. God, I should’ve just gone to the Whitney and checked out the Bellows exhibit rather than sit through two dispiriting shutouts.” So good going, 2014 Cubs, you went and made the most optimistic, most doubleheader-happy man in the history of baseball wish you had only played one game. At most. Well-played.

Reds 4, Pirates 0: Johnny Cueto was on point, setting his career high for strikeouts and tossing his third career shutout. Put me in mind of that April 2008 debut of his, which I surreptitiously watched with my friend Mark, who is a big Reds fan, while at my law office one fine afternoon. We watched that and thought Cueto was Bob Gibson all over again. He’s not, but when he’s on he’s really good.

Orioles 3, Rays 0: Yet another shutout. Specifically, Miguel Gonzalez and two relievers combined on a six-hitter. For years we’ve been saying “if the O’s get pitching, look out!” The’ve been getting pitching. As Boston stumbles and Tampa Bay and New York is smacked around by injuries. Hmmmm.

Indians 3, Tigers 2: Last year the Indians finished a game behind the Tigers. If they had dropped, say, only 13 of 19 to the Tigers instead of the 15 of 19 they did lose it obviously would’ve gone differently. They’re starting 2014 off on better footing, beating the Tigers on a night when Anibal Sanchez didn’t seem to have it together early and when Zach McAllilster did. Yan Gomes hot a two-run triple.

Nationals 6, Marlins 3: Down 3-0 in the top of the sixth, Jayson Werth hit a three-run homer which was subject to a review. Watch it here. It looks sorta like fan interference but it also looks like maybe it would hit above the wall even if the dorks didn’t reach out to grab it. I dunno, it’s the Nats and Marlins. When they’re fighting for second place, several games back of the Braves all year, we can revisit its significance, right? Regardless, if Jarrod Saltalamacchia doesn’t commit two — not one, but two — errors that inning, it’s all academic anyway. Jose Fernandez (7 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 10K, 0 BB) deserved better.

Mets 5, Diamondbacks 2: The Mets sweep. Dillon Gee allowed three hits in seven scoreless innings. That’s six straight losses for the Dbacks. Not sure what they do now. They’ve traded away all their non-gritty players, fired pitching coach Charles Nagy last year and it’s doubtful that throwing balls at guys is a sound strategy. They’re the worst team in baseball at the moment.

Brewers 5, Cardinals 1: Wily Peralta allowed one run in six and a third as the Brew Crew avoids the sweep. Ron Roenicke after the game:

“What’s really important — most important — is we lost two games to begin the series and we got that game back. It’s important against our division, but we have to win more games than they do. It’s not head to head. We have to win more games this season then they do. That’s what we’re playing for.”

Great, now what is the equipment manager supposed to do with all of these swimsuits and pianos the Brewers were going to use in the later rounds of the pageant?

Editor’s Note: Hardball Talk‘s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $40,000 Fantasy Baseball league for Thursday evening MLB games. It’s $25 to join and first prize is $6,000. Starts at 7:05pm ET on ThursdayHere’s the FanDuel link.

Rangers 3, Mariners 2: I spend all morning yesterday talking up Darvish vs. Hernandez and neither figures in the decision. Each pitched well — one run for Hernandez over seven, two over seven for Darvish — but the game turned on Fernando Rodney blowing up in the ninth, throwing a run-scoring wild pitch and allowing a walkoff single to Leonys Martin. Which, to be honest, may have been something I could’ve predicted when I was talking up Hernandez and Darvish yesterday morning.

Giants 2, Dodgers 1: Pablo Sandoval hit a junk pitch with an awkward swing into center field to score the go-ahead and ultimately winning run in the seventh. Baseball doesn’t have to always be pretty.

Angels 5, Athletics 4: Chris Iannetta with a walkoff homer in the 12th. You’ll be shocked to hear that, after the game, Iannetta said he “was just looking for a pitch to hit.” The A’s blew a bunch of chances to take the lead in extras but the Angels’ pen stranded their runners left and right.

Royals 6, Astros 4: Mike Moustakas, who has struggled mightily out of the gate, hit solo homer to give the Royals the lead in the 11th. George Springer had a hit and a walk in his big league debut.

Padres 4, Rockies 2: Andrew Cashner allowed one earned run while pitching into the eighth and striking out five. It was the 10th straight start in which he gave up two runs or fewer.

Red Sox 6, White Sox 4: The polar opposite of that Braves-Phillies game. Robin Ventura used four pitchers to get through the eighth inning and thus had to use infielder Leury Garcia to pitch the 14th inning of a tie game. Jackie Bradley Jr. hit a two-run double off him for what proved to be the winning runs. Matthew has an extended recap of this one, including some fun scoring decisions and box score oddities.

Blue Jays vs. Twins: POSTPONED: “I think it’s dark and it looks like rain,” you said, “and the wind is blowing like it’s the end of the
world,” you said “and it’s so cold it’s like the cold if you were dead,” and then you smiled for a second.

Rob Manfred explains reasoning behind proposal to cut 42 minor league teams

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As we learned earlier this week, Major League Baseball wants to contract 42 minor league teams, mostly in short-season and rookie ball. The proposal earned a lot of backlash, including from some of the teams on the chopping block and from Congress. MLB responded with its own letter to Congress, written by deputy commissioner Dan Halem, explaining the league’s reasoning.

In the letter, Halem complains about the lack of competition between minor league teams and independent teams. Halem wrote, “The lack of competition among operators of teams for an affiliation with a Major League Club has reduced the incentive for some affiliated Minor League teams to improve their facilities and player amenities.” It is an interesting thing to write as someone representing a $10 billion business that has benefited for a century from an antitrust exemption.

Halem also noted that MLB has several goals that are supposedly attained by cutting 26 percent of the minors: ensuring the quality of the facilities for the players, reducing the travel burden, improving the “compensation, accommodations, and amenities” for players, improving the affiliation process between minor league and major league teams.

Commissioner Rob Manfred essentially echoed that sentiment on Thursday, per Newsday’s Laura Albanese. He gave four reasons behind the proposal: inadequate facilities, travel, poor pay, drafting and signing players who don’t have a realistic shot to make it to the majors. The last reason is a new one, but let’s go over those four reasons in context.

It is true that some, perhaps even most, of the facilities of the 42 named teams are inadequate. It’s not all of them. As NECN’s Jack Thurston reports, the owner of the short-season Lowell Spinners, Dave Heller, said that his team’s stadium is “arguably the best facility in the New York-Penn League,” speaking highly of its lighting and field conditions. The Quad Cities River Bandits, the Astros’ Single-A affiliate and also on the chopping block, renovated their stadium a handful of times over the last 12 years. In fact, it earned an award from BallparkDigest.com for “Best Ballpark Improvement” in both 2008 and ’09, and finished third in the 2018 running for “Best View in the Minors.” At any rate, if facility quality is such a big issue, why did the Athletics continue to play in a stadium that repeatedly had its sewage system overflow in 2013?

Travel is certainly a big issue for minor leaguers because they mostly travel by bus, not plane. Having teams located closer to each other would be more beneficial in this regard. Or — and hear me out, here — major league teams could take on the extra expenditure of paying for their minor leaguers’ airfare. Several years ago, the Phillies took on the extra expenditure of making sure their minor leaguers ate healthy food and that has worked out well. The Blue Jays took on the extra expenditure of giving their minor leaguers a pay raise and that has worked out well. The Red Sox took on the extra expenditure of installing a sleep room at Fenway Park to ensure their players were well-rested and that has worked out well. No one is suggesting that Single-A players have to fly first class on every flight, but the travel issue is an easy fix that doesn’t require contracting 42 teams. Teams have individually chosen to improve their players’ quality of life and it has yielded positive results. Imagine it on a league-wide scale for thousands of players in their formative years.

Manfred citing minor league pay as a basis for the proposal is laughable. His own league successfully lobbied Congress to amend language in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, classifying minor league players as seasonal workers. That means they are not entitled to a minimum wage or overtime pay, among other worker protections. If the pay of minor league players was so important to Major League Baseball, it wouldn’t have pressured the government to legally ensure they didn’t have to pay them a living wage. Every baseball team is worth at least a billion dollars. The league has set year-over-year revenue records for 16 consecutive years, crossing $10 billion in 2018. Minor leaguers could be compensated well without robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Lastly, it is true that a majority of minor league players will never reach the major leagues. That doesn’t mean that their presence in the minor leagues or their effort to realize their dreams have zero value. Lopping off the bottom 26 percent of minor leaguers might nominally increase the level of skill on each roster, but it eliminates so many jobs — well over 1,000. Furthermore, there are few incentives for athletes to want to slog through several years of the minors as it is, as Kyler Murray recently showed, but there would be even fewer incentives by shrinking the minors (and, consequently, the draft). Shrinking the minors and the draft could lead to more minor league free agents, but if baseball is actually interested in a free market (it’s not) then it should abolish the draft entirely as well as the arbitration system.

These reasons, each uniquely fallacious, hide the real reason behind the proposal: shifting money around so Major League Baseball can say it will award pay raises to minor leaguers, ending a years-long stretch of bad P.R., without actually cutting into profits. MLB could have afforded to pay minor leaguers a living wage years ago and it chose not to. MLB could have chosen not to lobby Congress for the ability to continue underpaying minor leaguers years ago, but it chose to do so. Everything since has been the league trying to avoid lying in the bed it made for itself.