Stephen Strasburg
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Stephen Strasburg dominates Dodgers in NLDS Game 2 victory

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Just one day removed from a painful Game 1 shutout in Los Angeles, the Nationals picked themselves back up with a decisive 4-2 victory over the Dodgers on Friday. Thanks to a tremendous effort from Stephen Strasburg and several key plays by Anthony Rendon and Asdrubal Cabrera, they held the NL West contenders at bay long enough to even the National League Division Series, 1-1.

With All-Star hurler and former three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw pitted against former All-Star Stephen Strasburg, Game 2 of the NLDS promised a bonafide pitcher’s duel — and it didn’t disappoint. Kershaw went six strong innings, scattering three runs, a walk, and four strikeouts in his first postseason outing since he pitched back-to-back losses in the 2018 World Series.

The only thing missing was some pivotal run support, something even Kershaw couldn’t muster as Juan Soto robbed him of a line drive base hit with a terrific diving catch. Try as they might, the Dodgers just couldn’t get ahead of Strasburg, who one-upped Kershaw’s efforts with six innings of one-run, 10-strikeout ball. According to MLB Stats, his lights-out performance cemented him as the only pitcher in MLB history with 10+ strikeouts in three of his first four playoff appearances. He also beat out Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax’s record for lowest postseason ERA (0.64 to 0.95, minimum four starts).

The Nationals’ offense, meanwhile, kept them a step ahead of their rivals after they broke out for an early lead. Howie Kendrick plated a run with an RBI single in the top of the first inning — his first postseason RBI since the 2015 NLDS (when, funnily enough, he collected three RBI for the Dodgers) — while Adam Eaton and Anthony Rendon tacked on a pair of insurance runs in the second. The Dodgers eventually spoiled Strasburg’s shutout in the sixth, as Justin Turner eked out a sac fly to get the team on the board and Max Muncy followed up with a solo shot off of Sean Doolittle in the seventh, but it wasn’t quite enough to bridge the gap.

After Doolittle wrapped the seventh inning, the Nationals tabbed Game 3 starter Max Scherzer for a rare relief appearance in the eighth. He did so with aplomb, whiffing Gavin Lux, Chris Taylor, and Joc Pederson in order and preserving the club’s tenuous two-run lead. In the ninth, he was swiftly replaced by Daniel Hudson, who allowed a leadoff double, intentionally walked the tying run, and loaded the bases before finalizing the win with a game-ending strikeout to Corey Seager.

Los Angeles will look to regain its foothold in the series on Sunday, when lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu will begin Game 3 at 7:45 PM EDT. Given Scherzer’s last-minute appointment on Friday, it’s unclear whether he’ll be sent back out for another full outing on Sunday. If so, it’ll mark his first formal start since the NL Wild Card Game, during which he claimed his first win after tossing five innings of three-run, six-strikeout ball against the Brewers.

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.