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Cardinals rally late, hang on to defeat Braves 7-6 in NLDS Game 1

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The Cardinals rallied late and held on to take Game 1 of the NLDS 7-6 over the Braves in Atlanta Thursday evening.

The Cardinals committed a costly fielding error in the first inning, helping the Braves acquire an early lead. Ronald Acuña Jr. drew a leadoff walk off of Miles Mikolas but was quickly erased attempting to steal second base. Ozzie Albies then drew a walk of his own and moved to third base when Freddie Freeman slapped a single to left field. The next batter, Josh Donaldson, hit a grounder to second baseman Kolten Wong, fielding the ball just to the right of the second base bag. Wong, attempting to field the ball and shovel the ball to shortstop Paul DeJong in one motion, instead booted the ball, recording zero outs.

Dallas Keuchel held the Cardinals’ bats at bay until the fifth inning. Harrison Bader led off with an infield single and moved to second on a Mikolas sacrifice bunt. Bader then stole third base off of Keuchel before touching home on a Dexter Fowler ground out to the right side, tying the game at 1-1.

In the bottom of the sixth, lefty Tyler Webb took the mound but found himself in trouble quickly. He hit Donaldson with a pitch, putting a runner on base with one out. Nick Markakis then hit a grounder to Paul Goldschmidt that took a very high bounce, resulting a double that put runners on second and third for the Braves. Pinch-hitter Adam Duvall was intentionally walked to set up a double play opportunity with a force at every base. Righty Giovany Gallegos entered in relief of Webb, facing pinch-hitter Francisco Cervelli. Gallegos won the battle, getting Cervelli to check-swing on an outside pitch. On appeal, first base umpire Alan Porter rung Cervelli up, revealing light at the end of the tunnel for the Cardinals. Dansby Swanson, however, hit a sharp ground ball to third baseman Tommy Edman, who took the bounce off of his chest. The ball ricoheted to DeJong, who quickly fired the ball to Wong at second base in an attempt to get the inning-ending out. Wong wasn’t able to handle the short hop, allowing two Braves runners to score, giving them a 3-1 lead.

At long last, the Cardinals put together a sustained offensive threat in the top of the eighth. Just before the inning started, Braves reliever Chris Martin suffered a left oblique injury while warming up, so Luke Jackson entered the game in his place and immediately gave up a long solo home run to Goldschmidt. DeJong and Wong kept rallying with a pair of two-out singles. DeJong scored when pinch-hitter Matt Carpenter dunked a single into left field but Duvall threw out Wong at home plate attempting to score the go-ahead run, ending the inning.

The rally continued in the top of the ninth. Fowler and Edman hit back-to-back one-out singles off of Mark Melancon, who then walked Paul Goldschmidt — the old unintentional-intentional walk — to load the bases. Ozuna fell behind 0-2 to Melancon, then was able to sneak a sharp grounder down the left field line to plate two, giving the Cardinals a 5-3 lead. The bleeding continued as Melancon intentionally walked Yadier Molina, then gave up another two-run double, this time to Kolten Wong. Sean Newcomb entered in relief of Melancon, finally plugging the leak to send the game into the bottom of the ninth.

Cardinals manager Mike Shildt called on closer Carlos Martínez to protect the four-run lead. Martínez issued a leadoff walk to speedster Billy Hamilton, then coughed up a no-doubt two-run home run to Acuña, reducing the lead to 7-5. Freddie Freeman followed up with a no-doubt solo home run to straightaway center field, cutting it to 7-6. Martínez was able to hang on to the shrunken lead, getting Donaldson to ground out and Markakis to strike out looking to end the game.

With a 1-0 series lead, the Cardinals will look to get another road win in Game 2 of the NLDS on Friday. First pitch is slated for 4:37 PM ET.

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.