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Nationals shut out Cubs 5-0 to force Game 5 of the NLDS

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After all of the uncertainty and drama leading into Wednesday’s rescheduled NLDS Game 4 between the Nationals and Cubs, Stephen Strasburg arguably made the best start of his life. In doing so, he kept the Nationals’ playoff hopes alive and forced a decisive Game 5.

In case you missed yesterday’s whirlwind, Nationals manager Dusty Baker said he was sticking with Tanner Roark to start Game 4 instead of starting Strasburg, which drew a lot of criticism. Baker said Strasburg was under the weather, blaming that on mold in Chicago. Baker changed his mind late Wednesday morning and announced Strasburg as his Game 4 starter. Good thing he did.

Strasburg braved the heavy wind and misty rain, dominating the Cubs across seven shutout innings. He gave up just three hits and a pair of walks while striking out 12 on 106 pitches. The Cubs managed to get a runner to second base only twice.

The Nationals took advantage of a defensive miscue by shortstop Addison Russell in the third inning to score their only run. Trea Turner doubled with one out, Bryce Harper later drew a two-out walk and stole second. Ryan Zimmerman hit a grounder to Russell, who charged in but the ball skipped off of the heel of his glove, allowing Turner to cross home plate.

Cubs starter Jake Arrieta was not at all sharp, though he gave up just one unearned run and two hits with four strikeouts, but he also walked five. Jon Lester came in and admirably pitched 3 2/3 shutout innings of relief to keep the Cubs within arm’s reach of the Nationals. In the top of the eighth, Lester walked Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman, knowing Lester’s past difficulty throwing to first base, took a big lead. Lester threw over, a one-hopper to Anthony Rizzo. Lester threw over again, this time hitting Rizzo’s glove on the fly. Rizzo swiped a tag on Zimmerman’s foot but the umpire initially ruled him safe. Cubs manager Joe Maddon challenged the call and it was overturned, giving Lester — are you ready for this? — a pickoff in the playoffs.

After that feel-good moment for the Cubs, it got worse. Daniel Murphy singled off of Lester, so Maddon brought Carl Edwards, Jr. into the game. Edwards walked Anthony Rendon, then got a visit from pitching coach Chris Bosio. It didn’t work. He walked Matt Wieters and gave way to closer Wade Davis. After working the count 1-1, Michael Taylor drove a 95 MPH fastball to right field for a grand slam, pushing the Nationals lead to 5-0. Davis gave up a single and a walk before being replaced. Brian Duensing finally ended the inning, inducing a 3-1 ground out from Howie Kendrick.

Ryan Madson took over for Strasburg in the bottom of the eighth. He got Javier Baez to fly out, then couldn’t find his control, perhaps due to the rain. He walked Ian Happ, then hit Jon Jay. Madson recovered, fanning Kris Bryant — giving him a golden sombrero — and getting Rizzo to ground out.

Sean Doolittle got the call in the ninth to protect a five-run lead. Willson Contreras flied out to left, Zobrist flied out to right, and Russell struck out for a 1-2-3 ninth inning. The NLDS is all tied up at two games apiece.

The two teams will head to D.C. for the completion of the series with Game 5 on Thursday, starting at 8 PM ET. The winner moves on to play the Dodgers in the NLCS.

Major League Baseball threatens to walk away from Minor League Baseball entirely

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The war between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball escalated significantly last night, with Minor League Baseball releasing a memo accusing Major League Baseball of “repeatedly and inaccurately” describing the former’s stance in negotiations and Major League Baseball responding by threatening to cut ties with Minor League Baseball entirely.

As you’re no doubt aware, negotiations of the next, 10-year Professional Baseball Agreement, which governs the relationship between the big leagues and the minors — and which is set to expire following the 2020 season — have turned acrimonious. Whereas past negotiations have been quick and uncontroversial, this time Major League Baseball presented Minor League Baseball with a plan to essentially contract 42 minor league baseball teams by eliminating their major league affiliation while demanding that Minor League Baseball undertake far more of the financial burden of player development which is normally the responsibility of the majors.

That plan became public in October when Baseball America reported on it, after which elected officials such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren began weighing in on the side of Minor League Baseball. Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball were not happy with all of that and, on Wednesday, Manfred bashed Minor League Baseball for taking the negotiations public and accused Minor League Baseball of intransigence, saying the minors had assumed a “take it or leave it” negotiating stance.

Last night Minor League Baseball bashed back in the form of a four-page public memo countering Manfred’s claims, with point-point-by-point rebuttals of Major League Baseball’s talking points on various matters ranging from stadium facilities, team travel, and player health and welfare. You can read the memo in this Twitter thread from Josh Norris of Baseball America.

Major League Baseball responded with its own public statement last night. But rather than publicly rebut Minor League Baseball’s claims, it threatened to simply drop any agreement with Minor League Baseball and, presumably start its own minor league system bypassing MiLB entirely:

“If the National Association [of Minor League Clubs] has an interest in an agreement with Major League Baseball, it must address the very significant issues with the current system at the bargaining table. Otherwise, MLB clubs will be free to affiliate with any minor league team or potential team in the United States, including independent league teams and cities which are not permitted to compete for an affiliate under the current agreement.”

So, in the space of about 48 hours, Manfred has gone from being angry at the existence of public negotiations to negotiating in public, angrily.

As for Minor League Baseball going public itself, one Minor League Baseball owner’s comments to the Los Angeles Times seems to sum up the thinking pretty well:

“Rob is attempting to decimate the industry, destroy baseball in communities and eliminate thousands of jobs, and he’s upset that the owners of the teams have gone public with that information in an effort to save their teams. That’s rich.”

Things, it seems, are going to get far worse before they get better. If, in fact, they do get better.