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Cubs eke out 2-1 win in Game 3 of NLDS against Nationals, take 2-1 series lead

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Nationals ace Max Scherzer made his postseason debut on Monday. The Nationals held him back to give him more time to heal from a “tweaked” hamstring suffered during his last start of the regular season. It worked, as he tossed six no-hit innings against the Cubs, issuing three walks while striking out six.

The Nationals gave Scherzer a 1-0 lead to work with in the top of the sixth. Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber botched a catch on a Daniel Murphy fly ball, then scooted it away with his glove trying to get it back. With Murphy on third base with two outs, Ryan Zimmerman ripped a double to right-center field off of Cubs starter Jose Quintana to give the Nats a 1-0 lead.

Scherzer lost the no-hit bid in the bottom of the seventh when Ben Zobrist swatted a one-out double to left-center field. That brought manager Dusty Baker out to the mound who, after a 30-second conversation with his pitcher who pleaded to stay in, brought in lefty reliever Sammy Solis to face lefty Kyle Schwarber. Cubs skipper Joe Maddon countered by bringing Albert Almora, Jr. in as a pinch-hitter. Almora — a fantastic hitter against lefties — drilled a 3-2 fastball from Solis into left field for an RBI single, knotting the game up at 1-1. Solis gave up another single to Jason Heyward, but was bailed out of trouble when Addison Russell lined out on a nice play by Michael Taylor in center field. Heyward was way too far off the bag and was doubled off first base to end the inning.

For a franchise that, until last year, had been famous for its bad luck, the Cubs had some luck go their way in the bottom of the eighth. Tommy La Stella led off the frame by drawing a walk against Nats reliever Brandon Kintzler. Jon Jay then moved Leonys Martin, who pinch-ran for La Stella, up to second with a sacrifice bunt. Kintzler struck out Kris Bryant for the second out, but Baker opted to bring in lefty Oliver Perez to face Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo blooped a first-pitch slider from Perez into shallow left-center field, almost exactly between left fielder Jayson Werth, Taylor in center, and shortstop Trea Turner, which plated Martin for the go-ahead run. Rizzo ventured too far off the first base bag in the action and was caught in a rundown to end the inning.

Closer Wade Davis took the hill to start the ninth. As he did so often during the regular season, he nailed the game down with ease. He struck out Murphy, got Zimmerman to ground out, then got Werth to pop out to Rizzo just behind the first base bag for a 1-2-3 ninth inning.

The Cubs will try to punch their ticket to the NLCS on Tuesday at home, starting at 5:30 PM ET. They’ll send Jake Arrieta out to the mound to face the Nationals’ Tanner Roark.

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.