Francisco Lindor
Getty Images

Indians secure AL Central crown

6 Comments

The Indians wrapped up the AL Central division with a 15-0 win over the Tigers on Saturday, marking their third consecutive division title since 2016. Mike Clevinger earned his 12th win of the season, turning in six innings of one-hit, five-strikeout ball as Cleveland’s offense worked their way to double digits on the scoreboard.

At the plate, Francisco Lindor and Michael Brantley kicked off an explosive first inning with back-to-back home runs. The two homers were enough to retire Tigers starter Michael Fulmer, who made a hasty exit from the mound after sustaining a bout of right knee inflammation. His replacement, lefty reliever Matt Hall, fared little better: by the end of the first inning, Edwin Encarnacion, Yandy Diaz, and Jason Kipnis had all scored on a combination of fielding errors and productive outs, while Roberto Perez topped the team’s six-run spread with an RBI single.

The Indians didn’t stop there. They overwhelmed the Tigers’ bullpen again in the second inning, returning with another five runs on Jose Ramirez’s RBI double, a pair of RBI hits from Encarnacion and Melky Cabrera, a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch, and Perez’s sac fly to gain an 11-0 advantage over Detroit.

All told, the Tigers cycled through seven pitchers in an attempt to stymie the Indians’ efforts. They didn’t catch a break until the fifth inning, by which point the Indians had already amassed 15 runs following Yonder Alonso‘s two-run homer and a run-scoring triple from Ramirez and single from Encarnacion. (Encarnacion, it should be said, made it through just four innings before departing with a right ankle sprain.) It was the largest run deficit the Tigers had seen all year, and the most runs they’d allowed since they weathered a 15-8 loss to the Twins in August.

Though the Indians secured the AL Central title in decisive fashion this weekend, each of the other five divisions have yet to see a clear winner emerge. The Red Sox currently lead the AL East with a league-best 101-47 record, while the Astros hold a narrow 2.5-game lead over the Athletics in the AL West, the Braves look like the favorites to wrap up the NL East, the Cubs continue to outpace the Brewers in the NL Central, and the Dodgers and Rockies remain tied in the NL West.

An Astros executive asked scouts to use cameras, binoculars to steal signs in 2017

Getty Images
14 Comments

The Athletic reports that an Astros executive asked scouts to spy on opponents’ dugouts in August of 2017, suggesting in an email that they use cameras or binoculars to do so.

The email, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports, came from Kevin Goldstein, who is currently a special assistant for player personnel but who at the time was the director of pro scouting. In it he wrote:

“One thing in specific we are looking for is picking up signs coming out of the dugout. What we are looking for is how much we can see, how we would log things, if we need cameras/binoculars, etc. So go to game, see what you can (or can’t) do and report back your findings.”

The email came during the same month that the Red Sox were found to have illegally used an Apple Watch to steal signs from the Yankees. The Red Sox were fined as a result, and it led to a clarification from Major League Baseball that sign stealing via electronic or technological means was prohibited. Early in 2019 Major League Baseball further emphasized this rule and stated that teams would receive heavy penalties, including loss of draft picks and/or bonus pool money if they were found to be in violation.

It’s an interesting question whether Goldstein’s request to scouts would fall under the same category as the Apple Watch stuff or other technology-based sign-stealing schemes. On the one hand, the email certainly asked scouts to use cameras and binoculars to get a look at opposing signs. On the other hand, it does not appear that it was part of a sign-relaying scheme or that it was to be used in real time. Rather, it seems aimed at information gathering for later use. The Athletic suggests that using eyes or binoculars would be considered acceptable in 2017 but that cameras would not be. The Athletic spoke to scouts and other front office people who all think that asking scouts to use a camera would “be over the line” or would constitute “cheating.”

Of course, given how vague, until very recently Major League Baseball’s rules have been about this — it’s long been governed by the so-called “unwritten rules” and convention, only recently becoming a matter of official sanction — it’s not at all clear how the league might consider it. It’s certainly part and parcel of an overarching sign-stealing culture in baseball which we are learning has moved far, far past players simply looking on from second base to try to steal signs, which has always been considered a simple matter of gamesmanship. Now, it appears, it is organizationally-driven, with baseball operations, scouting and audio-visual people being involved. The view on all of this has changed given how sophisticated and wide-ranging an operation modern sign-stealing appears to be. Major League Baseball was particularly concerned, at the time the Red Sox were punished for the Apple Watch stuff, that it involved management and front office personnel.

Regardless of how that all fits together, Goldstein’s email generated considerable angst among Astros scouts, many of whom, The Athletic and ESPN report, commented in real time via email and the Astros scout’s Slack channel, that they considered it to be an unreasonable request that would risk their reputations as scouts. Some voiced concern to management. Today that email has new life, emerging as it does in the wake of last week’s revelations about the Astros’ sign-stealing schemes.

This is quickly becoming the biggest story of the offseason.