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And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Phillies 2, Nationals 0: I wrote this one up yesterday afternoon, but the upshot was that Aaron Nola was dominant, he out-pitched Max Scherzer and he threw a speedball by Bryce Harper, made him look like a fool. A big win for Philly, who risked falling even farther behind the Braves because . . .

Braves 5, Marlins 0: . . . they took care of their business against the Marlins in dominating fashion. Sean Newcomb allowed only two hits in six shutout innings. Charlie Culberson hit a two-run homer, Ender Inciarte went deep. Oh, and Ronald Acuña went deep against the Marlins again too — he just keeps doing that — and, of course, a Marlins pitcher plunked him again because they’re whiny baby-men who can’t stand it that a 20-year-old owns them like Chipper owned the Mets. I’d say if Acuña ever has kids he should do what Chipper did and name them after the Marlins’ park, but it’s such a sad sack franchise that the park isn’t named after anyone and doesn’t even have commercial naming rights. Just “Marlins Park,” which they had to do so people don’t show up at the wrong place.

Red Sox 7, Indians 0: After dropping two the Sox came back and win two to earn the split in the possible playoff preview. Six of Boston’s seven runs came in the fifth inning when three dudes — Blake Swihart, Xander Bogaerts and Eduardo Nunez — each hit two-run doubles. David Price, meanwhile, tossed eight shutout innings. He’s been pretty amazing lately, by the way, which probably kills a lot of Boston columnist’s ideas about playoff previews with headlines like “should Price be on the postseason roster?” or “David Price: weak link,” because from what I’ve seen they love to kill Price in Boston.

Tigers 7, White Sox 2: Matt Boyd with the classic Number of the Beast game, allowing six hits and striking out six while tossing six shutout innings. The Tigers lineup certainly made James Shields Run to the Hills, lighting him up for seven runs on ten hits, with Nick Castellenos, Mike Mahtook and Ronny Rodriguez all going deep.

Giants 3, Mets 1: Madison Bumgarner and Jacob deGrom faced off and they did not disappoint. The former outdueled the latter, allowing one run on five hits over eight innings while the latter allowed two — one earned — on four hits over six. Bumgarner also hit an RBI double and Evan Longoria homered.

Rockies 4, Padres 3: San Diego took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth and had Kirby Yates on the mound trying to close it out. He didn’t. After striking out Nolan Arenado and allowing Trevor Story to reach on a single he got Gerardo Parra for out number two. Then up came Ian Desmond who deposited Yates’ second pitch — a splitter that didn’t split — over the left field wall for a walkoff homer.

Rays 4, Royals 3: Another walkoff win, this one via a bases-loaded grounder which Ryan O’Hearn threw away while trying to get the lead runner at home. Royals gonna Royal. That means 4-0 sweep for the Rays and a 7-0 season series sweep against Kanas City. It also gives the Rays the same record as the Los Angeles Dodgers. Which, in my view, says a whole lot more about the Dodgers right now than the Rays, but you wouldn’t know it from my Twitter mentions, which I woke up to discover were laden with Rays fans taunting me because they think I was one of those people who thought Tampa Bay would lose 100 games or something this year.

Welp, sorry to disappoint you, Rays fans. Here’s my Rays preview from March. As with most teams, I noted that if things went sideways things could be ugly, but I also assessed the team as having a chance for a low-80s win total. At the moment they’re on pace for 85 wins. How very, very hater-like of me! So much doomsaying!

Eventually they’ll either tire of bugging me or else they’ll figure out that my actual criticism of the Rays was criticism of ownership for cutting payroll and playing for the future rather than add to what was a decent team last year in an effort to make them a truly competitive team this year. As it is, they’ve played over their heads and are still nine games out of a Wild Card slot. Maybe a move or two would’ve had them in the playoff picture. I don’t think that’s too much for any fan to ask.

Cubs 7, Reds 1: Cole Hamels tossed a complete game, giving up only one run on eight hits, and Javier Baez hit a homer that went nearly 500 dang feet while going 3-for-5 and Anthony Rizzo hit a two-run homer and knocked in three. Hamels has a 0.79 ERA in five starts as a Cub, by the way. Everyone cited his weird home/road splits when he was with Texas and I tend to be skeptical of that being a thing that predicts future success or failure, but maybe he really did just hate pitching in Arlington.

Twins 6, Athletics 4: A two-run, pinch-hit double by Mitch Garver put Minnesota up 4-2 in the fourth inning, Joe Mauer added an RBI single to knock Garver in and the Twins didn’t look back. Well, Max Kepler homered, but he was probably looking ahead of him when he did that. It’s hard enough to homer as it is, you know. The A’s lose their second game in a row, which has not happened to them very much lately.

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.