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And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here’s where we stand:

  • The Twins clinched the AL Central title;
  • The Brewers clinched a postseason berth and, with the Cardinals loss, are only one game back in the loss column for the NL Central lead;
  • The Cubs and Mets were both eliminated, and if you told me that’d happen in the same day this season I would’ve said you’re crazy;
  • The A’s and Rays won and the Indians lost, so the A’s are a half game up on Tampa Bay which is a game and a half game up on Cleveland in the musical chairs battle for the AL Wild Card. They are each a full game separated in the loss column;
  • The Yankees loss and the Astros win puts the Astros’ magic number at one to clinch home field throughout the postseason.

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Brewers 9, Reds 2: The Brewers have won six in a row and 17 of 19 and, thanks to this win and the Cubs loss, clinched a spot in the postseason. Not something you would’ve guessed would happen when they lost Christian Yelich. Here Ryan Braun hit a grand slam in the first inning and after that it was all about waiting for the champagne to chill.

This Brewers season has me thinking about another Brewers season which ended in a late surge: the CC Sabathia-fueled 2008 season. That was the first year I was writing “And That Happened.” I took a peek back at my archives and noted that, 11 years ago yesterday, Ryan Braun also hit a grand slam. A walkoff number, to turn a 1-1 game into a 5-1 Milwaukee win Here’s what I wrote 11 years ago this morning:

Mets 7, Cubs 6Brewers 5, Pirates 1: In my book, a walkoff grand slam by Ryan Braun in the bottom of the 10th beats a walkoff single by Carlos Beltran in the bottom of the ninth. The Mets can talk about stopping the bleeding all they want, but they’re in the same place this morning as they were yesterday morning. Now Milwaukee gets three at home against a Cubs team likely looking to rest its starters as much as possible while New York has to play three against a scrappy Marlins team and a Nor’Easter. For all of the fireworks last night at Shea, I still say: Advantage Milwaukee.

The Brewers would clinch a couple of days later thanks to another huge outing by Sabathia. They’d then get beat by the Phillies in the NLDS and Philly would go on to beat the Rays and win the World Series. That same October I was laid off by my law firm, was married to my first wife and had two preschoolers at home so, um, yeah, life was a bit different in 2008.

Twins 5, Tigers 1: This win and the Indians’ loss gives the Twins their first division crown since 2010. If ya wanna feel old, know that Jim Thome, Carl Pavano, Nick Punto and Michael Cuddyer were on that team. Last night Luis Arráez and Eddie Rosario homered and starter Randy Dobnak allowed one hit in six innings. Three innings after that the champagne flowed. Dobnak, by the way, was in an independent league as recently as a couple of years ago, pitching for the Utica Unicorns of the United Shore Professional Baseball League. That’s cool. He’s getting married on Saturday too, which is also cool. Although I suppose it also shows that he assumed he’d be playing in the minors all year too. Eh, he’s not pitching that day, so it’s all good.

Diamondbacks 9, Cardinals 7: They were probably tired after Tuesday night’s/Wednesday morning’s marathon, but there’s no time to rest for the Cardinals, who have a surging Brewers team breathing down their necks for the NL Central lead. But, yeah, the Cardinals rested. Most of their starters in this day game were bench players and Mike Shildt no doubt decided that it’d be better for his club to be rested this weekend. Defensible, I suppose, but it may be something that causes some second-guessing by some. Those second-guessers will have their guessing complicated by the fact that yesterday’ starter, Michael Wacha, who is not a reserve, was pulled in the second inning with tightness in his right shoulder forcing the Cards to go to their pen early. It’s also worth noting that a couple of big errors led to a seven-run sixth inning for the Dbacks, and those errors were made by a regular starter, Tommy Edman, and a backup catcher in Matt Wieters, who would normally be called on to start a day game after a night game, so the starting lineup didn’t matter all that much. In any event, the Cards mounted a rally in the ninth and had two men on and Paul Goldschmidt at the plate, which is what you want if you’re trying to come from behind to win it, and Goldschmidt grounded into a game-ending double play. So, eh, for all that verbiage it was just a game and they can now take care of business this weekend against the dejected Cubs.

Pirates 4, Cubs 2: They’re dejected because they’re now eliminated thanks to the Pirates scoring two off of David Phelps in the eighth to break a 2-2 tie and send Chicago to its eighth straight loss. All losses came at the hands of divisional foes. All losses contributed to a collapse that, while not historic in terms of the size of the lead surrendered, was certainly demoralizing given how talented this Cubs team is overall. Bummer, dudes. See you next year. Wait, not so fast Mr. Maddon . . .

Rays 4, Yankees 0: Charlie Morton took a no-hitter into the sixth and allowed only a single to D.J. LeMahieu in his six innings of work. The bullpen allowed no hits in its three innings of work and the Yankees go about as quietly as a team can go. Joe Wendle and Avisail García went deep for the Rays.

Nationals 5, Phillies 2: Aníbal Sánchez was solid over seven innings and Wilmer Difo hit a tie-breaking single in the seventh to put the Nats ahead for good. Howie Kendrick and Brian Dozier homered for the Nationals, who have won four straight. Not bad given that they likely had a bit of a hangover following Tuesday night’s clinch.

Blue Jays 3, Orioles 2: Rowdy Tellez hit two homers and Billy McKinney hit one as Toronto held off a late O’s rally to win it. Also — as Craig hits the “time travel to 1963” button — tune in at 9PM on Tuesdays this fall to NBC and follow the adventures of Rowdy and Billy, two fugitives from justice who are now on a mission to help those in need in Oklahoma Territory in the new western drama “Outlaw Heroes!” Starring John Russell and Nick Adams.

Mets 10, Marlins 3: The Mets were eliminated but, again, I’ll note that they have not lost any of their fight. Jacob deGrom was excellent, tossing seven two-hit, shutout innings. Pete Alonso hit his 51st homer on the year. Michael Conforto had three hits. Weird year for New York, which was 40-51 on July 12, surged, swoon and surged again and now, actually, are the farthest above .500 they’ve been all year. deGrom, by the way, has a legit shot at a second straight Cy Young Award. He allowed one run over his final four starts and finished the year with 23 consecutive scoreless innings.

Red Sox 10, Rangers 3: Christian Vázquez, Mitch Moreland and Rafael Devers homered and Rick Porcello was effective, picking up his 14th win on the year. He allowed three first inning runs but then settled down, giving up nothing else after that. In all he allowed six hits, no walks, struck out eight and retired his last 11 batters.

White Sox 8, Indians 3: The Indians have little margin for error but a big first inning error by Carlos Santana helped the White Sox jump out to an early lead and the Tribe never recovered. They now find themselves a game back in the loss column for the second Wild Card. Highlight for the White Sox: With a 4-hit night, Tim Anderson‘s average is up to .339, which gives him a substantial lead over DJ LeMahieu of the Yankees, who is hitting .328, for the AL batting title. José Abreu had three hits and knocked in a run. He leads the AL with 122 RBI on the year. He trails MLB leader Anthony Rendon by two.

Braves 10, Royals 2: Josh Donaldson hit three doubles and drove in four and Dansby Swanson had four hits while driving in two as the Braves won easily. Josh Tomlin got a start and he and a bunch of relievers kept the Royals quiet most of the night. Big night for Joshes.

Giants 2, Rockies 1: Jeff Samardzija shut the Rockies out for six and the game was tied at one heading into the bottom of the ninth. Jaylin Davis ended that by smacking a walkoff solo homer — his first ever homer — to send the Giants to victory. I’m sure everyone was happy with the win for its own sake, but a win that staved off extra innings the day after a 16-inning game was probably more welcome than most.

Athletics 3, Angels 2: Matt Chapman hit a two-run homer with one out in the ninth inning to help the A’s come from behind and keep ahead of the Rays and Indians in the Wild Card chase. Ramón Laureano also went deep for Oakland.

Dodgers 6, Padres 4: It was a close, back and forth affair until Edwin Ríos hit a looong homer in the seventh to put the Dodgers up for good. Joc Pederson led off the game with a homer. Kenley Jansen closed the game to notch his 300th career save.

Astros 3, Mariners 0: Zack Greinke took a no-hitter into the ninth — needing only 92 pitches to make it through the first eight — but, with one out in the ninth, he gave up a weakly-hit single to shallow left-center field to Austin Nola to end his no-hit bid. He gave up another single to Tim Lopes before being taken out of the game at 108 pitches, but it was obviously still a fantastic night for him (8.1 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9K). The combination of Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Greinke is gonna give the other managers in the postseason nightmares.

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.