Teams aren’t really losing interest in Manny Machado

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This morning, SNY’s Andy Martino reported that the Yankees’ baseball operations and scouting departments are “lukewarm” on the pursuit of free agent SS/3B Manny Machado due to the trouble he got into during the postseason. On two occasions, Machado did not run hard after putting a ball in play. After the first incident, he justified the lack of effort, saying that running hard wasn’t his “cup of tea.” He also illegally slid into Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia twice, and intentionally slammed his leg into Brewers first baseman Jesús Aguilar’s leg as he ran through the first base bag. Machado was not much of a factor in the postseason, hitting .227/.278/.394 in 72 trips to the plate.

Earlier this month, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia said there were whispers that some in the Phillies organization preferred to “steer clear” of Machado. Part of it has to do with Phillies fans, generally speaking, greatly preferring gritty, hard-nosed players (like Chase Utley). They have not been shy about shunning players who don’t always put in 100 percent (e.g. Jimmy Rollins, Odúbel Herrera).

With the offseason now under way, we will probably get a few more reports of teams’ front offices having lesser interest in Machado given everything involved in his postseason. Very little of it will be true. Rather, it’s just a ploy by front offices to reduce Machado’s leverage so he won’t cost so much in free agency.

Machado is a 26-year-old four-time All-Star and a two-time Gold Glove Award winner. He is coming off of the best offensive season of his career, hitting .297/.367/.438 with 37 home runs, 107 RBI, 84 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases in 709 plate appearances. He played in all 162 games. According to FanGraphs, Machado was one of nine players to put up 6.0 WAR or better. The Indians’ Francisco Lindor (7.6) was the only shortstop with a better season. (Machado’s preference is to play shortstop.) Machado and outfielder Bryce Harper are the cream of the free agent crop and any team that doesn’t seriously entertain the idea of signing Machado is one that isn’t truly committed to putting together a winning ball club.

We have seen countless times in the past that teams have absolutely no issue employing problematic players. The Mets hung onto José Reyes, an alleged domestic abuser, long after he ceased being productive. The Yankees traded for alleged domestic abuser Aroldis Chapman in December 2015 and signed him to a five-year, $86 million deal one year later, a record contract for a reliever. The Astros used alleged domestic abuser Roberto Osuna‘s problems as an incentive to pick him up on the cheap in a trade with the Blue Jays near the end of July. The Pirates brought out the welcome mat for Jung-ho Kang this summer. Kang was arrested for his third DUI in South Korea two years ago after fleeing the scene of his single-car accident. Kang had also been investigated by Chicago police for an alleged sexual assault incident. If Reyes, Chapman, Osuna, Kang, et. al. can draw legitimate interest from major league teams, then so too will Machado, whose offenses are much less serious.

Machado will be courted by just about every team in the league. The less-serious, smaller-market teams will be winnowed out as the offseason progresses as they normally do. Machado will eventually land a lucrative free agent contract. Whether that contract is for $300 million, or $250 million, or $200 million depends on how successfully front offices are able to use his spotty postseason performance against him.

Swanson, Olson go deep vs Scherzer, Braves take NL East lead

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered off Max Scherzer, lifting the Atlanta Braves to a crucial 4-2 victory Saturday night over the New York Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East.

The defending World Series champions beat aces Jacob deGrom and Scherzer on consecutive nights to take their biggest lead of the season in the division. New York, which held a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, faces its biggest deficit of the year with four games remaining.

Atlanta will try for a three-game sweep Sunday night, with the winner earning the season-series tiebreaker between the teams. Even though both teams are headed to the postseason, that’s important because the NL East champion gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Swanson’s 24th homer, a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, touched off a frenzy among the sold-out crowd at Truist Park, the ball sailing a few rows up into the seats in left-center to make it 3-2. Olson hit his 32nd homer in the sixth, a solo shot into Chop House seats in right to put Atlanta up 4-2.

Austin Riley led off the fourth with a double and scored on Olson’s single to make it 1-all.

Kyle Wright (21-5) gave up two runs and seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings as he won his eighth straight decision. The Braves have won 16 of his last 17 starts.

New York went up 2-1 in the fifth when Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil hit consecutive two-out singles.

The Mets led 1-0 in the first when Brandon Nimmo singled, advanced on a walk and a single and scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s groundout. Wright, who threw 30 pitches in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position to prevent further damage.

Scherzer (11-5) allowed a first-inning single to Riley and a third-inning infield single to Ronald Acuna Jr., who advanced to third on a fielding error by Lindor at shortstop but was stranded when Michael Harris II lined out to center. Scherzer patted his glove and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

Scherzer was charged with nine hits and four runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings as the Mets were knocked out of first place for only the third day all season.

The Braves have won five of the last six against New York to tie the season series 9-all, outscoring the Mets 37-16 over that stretch.

Atlanta’s bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA in September, got a perfect inning from Dylan Lee in the sixth. Jesse Chavez faced four batters in the seventh, Raisel Iglesias faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his NL-leading 39th save in 46 chances.

Since the Braves were a season low-tying four games under .500 at 23-27 after play on May 31, they have gone 76-32, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the majors over that span. They were a season-worst 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets on June 1.

Wright, the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, hasn’t officially become the first Braves pitcher to lead the league in wins outright since Russ Ortiz had 21 in 2003, but the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has 17 and can’t reach 20 before the regular season ends.

Wright will become the first Braves pitcher since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000 to lead the majors in wins. Houston ace Justin Verlander also has 17.

Wright began the game 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in six career starts and one relief appearance against the Mets.

The Braves, who got homers from Riley, Olson and Swanson off deGrom on Friday, lead the NL with 240 homers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte is experiencing less pain but not enough to take the next step in his recovery. Marte has been sidelined since Sept. 7.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique. Manager Brian Snitker said there is no timetable for the rookie’s return. Strider has been sidelined since Sept. 21.

NICE GLOVE

Harris ran back and jumped to catch Nimmo’s fly against the wall in center field for the first out of the third.

UP NEXT

Mets RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27 ERA) will face RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) as the teams conclude a three-game series.