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Settling the Scores: Saturday’s results

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While wild card races were expanding and contracting across the league, the Rockies were not-so-quietly having one of their best games of the season. Colorado right-hander Jon Gray, he of the 4.42 ERA, 9.76 K/9, and 3.01 BB/9, shelved the first complete game shutout of his career after holding the Padres to four hits and a franchise-best 16 strikeouts.

In the Rockies’ storied 23-year history, only three pitchers have reached single-game totals of 13 or more strikeouts. Until Saturday evening, the franchise record was held by one Darryl Kile, a veteran right-hander whose 14-strikeout performance against the 1998 Expos was the first notable mark he made since signing with the Rockies in the 1997 offseason. Among his 2016 peers, Gray’s feat looks only slightly less impressive, as he and his 16 strikeouts rank second behind the inimitable Max Scherzer and his 20-whiff outing in May.

Colorado didn’t skimp on run support, either, boosting Gray’s 5.79 average run support with an eight-run showing, including a four-run first inning that featured home runs from Nolan Arenado and Tom Murphy. While Gray busied himself with controversial tag plays and four-strikeout innings, the Rockies’ offense added another four runs in the fourth and fifth innings with a Charlie Blackmon RBI triple and a second homer from Murphy.

With the win, the Rockies improved to 71-77 on the season and have now scored 16 runs in their last two games combined. It’s the best kind of payback for the club, who, despite sitting nine games up on the Padres, found themselves outscored 19-11 during their last four-game set in San Diego.

Here are the rest of the scores for Saturday. Keep an eye out for Albert Pujols’ 30th home run of the season, five innings of a Justin Verlander no-hitter, and one of the slowest home runs of 2016.

Pirates 10, Reds 4

Pirates 7, Reds 3

Red Sox 6, Yankees 5

Braves 7, Nationals 3

Brewers 11, Cubs 3

Indians 1, Tigers 0 (10 innings)

Phillies 8, Marlins 0

Rays 5, Orioles 2

Mets 3, Twins 2 (12 innings)

Royals 3, White Sox 2

Athletics 11, Rangers 2

Dodgers 6, Diamondbacks 2

Rockies 8, Padres 0

Cardinals 3, Giants 2

Angels 6, Blue Jays 1

Astros 2, Mariners 1

Whitewash: Rob Manfred says he doesn’t think sign stealing extends beyond the Astros

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Rob Manfred said today that he believes the sign-stealing scandal which has taken over the news in the past week does not extend beyond the Houston Astros. His exact words, via Jeff Passan of ESPN:

“Right now, we are focused on the information that we have with respect to the Astros. I’m not going to speculate on whether other people are going to be involved. We’ll deal with that if it happens, but I’m not going to speculate about that. I have no reason to believe it extends beyond the Astros at this point in time.”

This is simply incredible. As in literally not credible.

It’s not credible because, just last week, in the original story in The Athletic, it was reported that the Astros system was set up by two players, one of whom was “a hitter who was struggling at the plate and had benefited from sign stealing with a previous team, according to club sources . . . they were said to strongly believe that some opposing teams were already up to no good. They wanted to devise their own system in Houston. And they did.”

The very next day Passan reported that Major League Baseball would not limit its focus to the Astros. Rather, the league’s probe was also include members of the 2019 Astros and would extend to other teams as well. Passan specifically mentioned the 2018 Red Sox which, of course, were managed by Alex Cora one year after he left Houston, where he was A.J. Hinch’s bench coach.

Add into this the Red Sox’ pre-Cora sign-stealing with Apple Watches and widespread, informed speculation on the part of players and people around the game that many teams do this sort of thing, and one can’t reasonably suggest that only the Houston Astros are doing this.

Which, as I noted at the time, made perfect sense. These schemes cannot, logically, operate in isolation because players and coaches change teams constantly. In light of this, players have to know that their sign-stealing would be found out by other teams eventually. They continue to do it, however, because they know other teams do it too. As is the case with pitchers using pine tar or what have you, they don’t rat out the other team so they, themselves, will not be ratted out. It’s a mutually-assured destruction that only exists and only works if, in fact, other teams are also stealing signs.

So why is Major League Baseball content to only hang the Astros here? I can think of two reasons.

One is practical. They had the Astros fall in their lap via former Astro Mike Fiers — obviously not himself concerned with his current team being busted for whatever reason — going on the record with his accusation. That’s not likely to repeat itself across baseball and thus it’d be quite difficult for Major League Baseball to easily conduct a wide investigation. Who is going to talk? How can baseball make them talk? It’d be a pretty big undertaking.

But there’s also the optics. Major League Baseball has had a week to think about the report of the Astros sign-stealing and, I suspect, they’ve realized, like everyone else has realized, that this is a major scandal in the making. Do they really want to spend the entire offseason — and longer, I suspect, if they want a thorough investigation — digging up unflattering news about cheating in the sport? Do they really want to be in the bad news creation business? I doubt they do, so they decided to fence off the Astros, hit them hard with penalties, declare victory and move on.

Which is to say, it’s a whitewash.

It’s something the league has tried to do before. They did it with steroids and it didn’t work particularly well.

In 1998 Mark McGwire, that game’s biggest star at the time, was found to have the PED androstenedione in his locker. It was a big freakin’ deal. Except . . . nothing happened. Major League Baseball planned to “study” the drug but most of the fallout was visited upon the reporter who made it public. It was accompanied by some shameful conduct by both Major League Baseball and the baseball press corps who eagerly went after the messenger rather than cover the story properly.

Four years later Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco went public with their PED use and said drug use was widespread. MLB’s response was slow and, again, sought to isolated the known offenders, singling out Caminiti as a troubled figure — which he was — and Canseco as a kook — which he kind of is — but doing them and the story a disservice all the same.

The league eventually created a rather toothless testing and penalty regime. Congress and outside investigative reporters filled the void created by the league’s inaction, calling hearings and publishing damning stories about how wide PED use was in the game. Eventually Bud Selig commissioned the Mitchell Report. Some ten years after the McGwire incident baseball had at least the beginnings of a sane approach to PEDs and a more effective testing plan, but it was pulled to it kicking and screaming, mostly because doing anything about it was too hard and not very appetizing from a business and P.R. perspective.

And so here we are again. Baseball has a major scandal on its hands. After some initially promising words about how serious it planned to take it, the league seems content to cordon off the known crime scene and refuses to canvass the neighborhood. Sure, if someone gratuitously hands them evidence they’ll look into it, but it sure sounds like Rob Manfred plans to react rather than act here.

That should work. At least until the next time evidence of cheating comes up and they have to start this all over again.