You don’t have to trust Alex Rodriguez. Nothing requires you to do that at all.

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In the past week or so, even the most ardent of Alex Rodriguez haters have come out with columns that, while not exactly love-letters, acknowledge that A-Rod has been pretty darn effective on the young season. And that he’s even been popular, what with the cheers he’s received from Yankees fans. The consensus that seems to be forming around A-Rod at the moment is that, for all of the crap of the past few years, maybe all that matters is what happens on the baseball diamond.

Even Bob Klapisch — long one of A-Rod’s fiercest critics — is generally positive in his assessment of Rodriguez’s early season performance. And even he doesn’t just snippily assume that it’s because Rodriguez is back on drugs. Sure, he raises the subject, but concludes:

I have to assume Rodriguez is playing clean in 2015; it would be professional suicide to resume cheating after being caught, confessing and being subjected to industrywide humiliation.

Raising the topic? Fair, given A-Rod’s history. Also fair, however, is Klapisch’s conclusion. It’s possible A-Rod may once again find himself in hot water, but at some point one has to ascribe human motivations and feeling to A-Rod and one has to assume that even he is not so dumb as to tempt fate and a lifetime ban.

But our friend Thom Loverro of the Washington Times isn’t of the same mind. He asks multiple rhetorical “do you honestly believe A-Rod’s current performance?” questions and follows up with:

Do I think Alex Rodriguez is using some sort of banned performance-enhancing substance? I think if you cut A-Rod open, Ben Johnson would fall out. You have to question the intelligence of all of us if we were to believe that A-Rod — who repeatedly publicly lied over his career about using performance-enhancing substances — represents the truth now . . . I think A-Rod would inject plutonium in his veins if he meant we would like him again.

So, unless you believe what Loverro believes, you’re dumb.

But is there not a third option here? The option of not buying into the notion that everyone has to trust or mistrust Alex Rodriguez? That our enjoyment of baseball does not, contrary to the very premise of Loverro’s column, depend on us taking the word of a player or buying into his integrity? Sure, the game itself must have integrity or else we’re just watching theater, but if you’re the sort who believes that baseball as a whole has been rendered illegitimate by PEDs already, you’re not watching it anymore. Or, at the very least, you’re just hate-watching, in which case you need professional help.

Alex Rodriguez is playing well right now. That may continue, it may not. He may be found to be on drugs again or he may not. But we don’t have to trust him. It’s not written on our tickets or in our cable TV customer agreements that we do. We can simply watch and enjoy the game and note what happens with a response appropriate to how much we choose to allow the given events to impact our lives and moods.

It’s the oldest trick in the columnist book to make you think otherwise. To make you think that what he or she is on about is life or death or even important and that the way they frame the debate is the only approach one can take. Well, it’s not. And if you are the well-adjusted sort who doesn’t let the exploits of a 40-year-old baseball player hundreds of miles away from you impact your approach to trust and integrity, you can’t help but look at the column in question and wonder whether we can any more trust the columnist to present sports to us in a meaningful way than he can trust this ballplayer he’s ranting about.

Young Blue Jays say they aren’t intimidated by top seed Rays

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) When the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays opened the pandemic-delayed season a little over two months ago, there was little to indicate the AL East rivals might meet again to begin the playoffs.

While the Rays launched the truncated 60-game schedule with expectations of making a strong bid for their first division title in a decade, the Blue Jays generally were viewed as an immensely talented young team still years away from postseason contention.

Tampa Bay didn’t disappoint, shrugging off a slow start to go a league-best 40-20 and claim the No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs that begin Tuesday.

Lefty Blake Snell, who’ll start Game 1 of the best-of-three wild-card series against Toronto at Tropicana Field, also isn’t surprised that the eighth-seeded Blue Jays earned a spot, too.

The Rays won six of 10 games between the teams during the regular season, but were outscored 48-44 and outhomered 17-11.

And while Toronto (32-28) lacks the playoff experience Tampa Bay gained last season when the Rays beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game before falling to Houston in the divisional round, the Blue Jays are building with exciting young players such as Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“They’ve got a lot of young guys who can ball over there,” Snell said. “It’s going to be fun to compete and see how we do.”

Rays defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier said Tampa Bay, in the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the second time franchise history, will not take the Blue Jays lightly.

“We know we’re playing a real good team,” Kiermaier said. “It’s not going to be easy, regardless of what a team is seeded.”

The Blue Jays, who’ll start right-hander Matt Shoemaker, aren’t conceding anything.

Bichette said he and his teammates respect how good Tampa Bay is, but are not intimidated by facing the No. 1 seed.

“I would say that we didn’t care who we played. I would say that we didn’t mind playing Tampa, that’s for sure. We’re familiar with them. We’ve played them well,” Bichette said.

“I think we’re confident in our ability against them. Our talent matches up well,” Bichette added. “We think if we play well we’ve got a good chance.”

NO FANS

The stands at Tropicana Field will be empty, leaving players to wonder what the atmosphere will be like for the playoffs.

Tampa Bay routinely rank at or near the bottom of the majors in attendance, but usually pack the stands in the domed stadium during the postseason.

“It will be different,” Bichette said. “Normally when you think of your first postseason you think 40,000, you think about not being able to think it’s so loud, stuff like that.”

The Blue Jays open the playoffs near where they hold spring training in Dunedin, Florida. It’s been a winding road for Toronto, which played its home games in Buffalo, New York, at the site of its Triple-A affiliate after the Canadian government barred the Blue Jays from hosting games at their own stadium because of coronavirus concerns.

CONFIDENT RAYS

Tampa Bay’s five-game loss to Houston in last year’s divisional round was a source of motivation during the regular season.

“It definitely lit a fire under everybody. It really showed us we belong. … We gave them a tough series,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said.

“We won the wild-card game. We belong in the postseason. I think that did a lot for us to understand that we should be in the postseason and we can go a lot farther. We know what to expect this time around. I think everyone in our clubhouse expects to be playing until the end of October,” he said.

CLOSE FRIENDS

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash has the Rays in the playoffs for the second time. His close friend and former Rays third base and bench coach Charlie Montoyo is in his second year as manager of the Blue Jays, who last made the playoffs in 2016.

“Pretty special,” Cash said of his relationship with Montoyo.

“I really learned a lot from him being around him. The way he carried himself. His hand print is throughout this organization,” Cash added. “A pretty big impact and a positive one. … When they clinched I talked to him, we face-timed at 1:30 in the morning. I’m so happy for him.”