MLB issues statement, considers the Astros sign-stealing investigation closed

MLB issues statement, considers the Astros sign-stealing investigation closed

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Last night a report emerged that a Houston Astros employee was removed from the area around the dugout at Fenway Park by security after he was seen using a small camera and texting frequently. The suggestion being that he was spying on the Red Sox’ dugout. Later in the evening a report came out that the Indians complained about similar behavior during the ALDS.

Major League Baseball has just issued a statement on the matter. Short version: it has found nothing amiss with what the Astros have done and considers the matter closed.

Long version:

“Before the Postseason began, a number of Clubs called the Commissioner’s Office about sign stealing and the inappropriate use of video equipment.  The concerns expressed related to a number of Clubs, not any one specific Club.  In response to these calls, the Commissioner’s Office reinforced the existing rules with all playoff Clubs and undertook proactive measures, including instituting a new prohibition on the use of certain in-stadium cameras, increasing the presence of operations and security personnel from Major League Baseball at all Postseason games and instituting a program of monitoring Club video rooms.

“With respect to both incidents regarding a Houston Astros employee, security identified an issue, addressed it and turned the matter over to the Department of Investigations.  A thorough investigation concluded that an Astros employee was monitoring the field to ensure that the opposing Club was not violating any rules.  All Clubs remaining in the playoffs have been notified to refrain from these types of efforts and to direct complaints about any in-stadium rules violations to MLB staff for investigation and resolution.  We consider the matter closed.”

I have to say, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen the “we were not violating any rules, we were just checking to see if THEY were violating rules” excuse has worked. Heck, the guy who just got out of jail for breaking in to the Astros own system tried that and got laughed out of court and straight to the slammer for four years.

But like the man said, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

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October 17, 2018 at 12:45PM

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Cody Bellinger will lead off for the Dodgers in Game 5

Cody Bellinger will lead off for the Dodgers in Game 5

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Major League Baseball just announced that it has approved a roster substitution for the Milwaukee Brewers due to the ankle injury sustained by Gio Gonzalez: right-handed pitcher Zach Davies will take his place. In accordance with league rules, Gonzalez will be ineligible to return if the Brewers make it to the World Series.

That rule is designed to prevent roster gamesmanship such as having a pitcher fake an injury after he’s done being used in an effort to give a team a fresh arm in a short series. A second layer on that is an independent consult with the league, which may approve or disapprove the request based on the specific facts and circumstances of the case. In this case, Dr. Gary Green, MLB’s Medical Director, confirmed Gonzalez’s injury after communicating with the Brewers’ evaluating physician. Not that anyone can really suggest that Gonzalez was faking. The dude’s ankle went sideways.

That being said, this is a benefit to the Brewers at least for the short term. Davies did not have a fantastic season, going 2-7 with a 4.77 ERA in 13 starts and failing to make the Brewers’ initial postseason roster, but he is fresh — he hasn’t pitched since September 28 — which could prove very useful for Craig Counsell and the Brewers after last night’s 13-inning game.

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October 17, 2018 at 12:15PM

Brewers replace Gio Gonzalez with Zach Davies

Brewers replace Gio Gonzalez with Zach Davies

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The Milwaukee Brewers have added RHP Zach Davies to the National League Championship Series roster, replacing LHP Gio Gonzalez, who left Tuesday night’s game with a high left ankle sprain.

The move means that if the Brewers make it to the World Series, Gonzalez cannot be on the roster, as a player replaced due to injury in one playoff series is required to sit out the next one.

Davies was not on the postseason roster for the Division Series, after compiling a 4.77 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 2-7 record in 13 starts during the regular season.

The Brewers’ NLCS series with the Los Angeles Dodgers is tied, 2-2

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October 17, 2018 at 10:21AM

Zach Davies replaces Gio Gonzalez on the Brewers roster

Zach Davies replaces Gio Gonzalez on the Brewers roster

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Major League Baseball just announced that it has approved a roster substitution for the Milwaukee Brewers due to the ankle injury sustained by Gio Gonzalez: right-handed pitcher Zach Davies will take his place. In accordance with league rules, Gonzalez will be ineligible to return if the Brewers make it to the World Series.

That rule is designed to prevent roster gamesmanship such as having a pitcher fake an injury after he’s done being used in an effort to give a team a fresh arm in a short series. A second layer on that is an independent consult with the league, which may approve or disapprove the request based on the specific facts and circumstances of the case. In this case, Dr. Gary Green, MLB’s Medical Director, confirmed Gonzalez’s injury after communicating with the Brewers’ evaluating physician. Not that anyone can really suggest that Gonzalez was faking. The dude’s ankle went sideways.

That being said, this is a benefit to the Brewers at least for the short term. Davies did not have a fantastic season, going 2-7 with a 4.77 ERA in 13 starts and failing to make the Brewers’ initial postseason roster, but he is fresh — he hasn’t pitched since September 28 — which could prove very useful for Craig Counsell and the Brewers after last night’s 13-inning game.

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October 17, 2018 at 09:45AM

MLB to issue a statement on the allegations against the Astros later today

MLB to issue a statement on the allegations against the Astros later today

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The way I see it, the Red Sox are the only team who should be feeling super chipper today.

The Astros got pasted last night, and it didn’t help that they also found themselves in an off-the-field controversy. Like, a few feet off the field, where maybe they shouldn’t have been controversy. That has to be deflating as all get-out.

The Brewers have to feel like garbage, not only because they lost, but because it took 13 innings to do it, stretching their already patchwork pitching approach, made all the more depressing by the loss of Gio Gonzalez to injury. No, he wouldn’t have pitched tonight anyway, and yes, they get a fresh arm to replace him on the roster, but (a) no one wants a teammate injured; and (b) the arm is, by definition, one Craig Counsell didn’t want to pitch in the LCS in the first place.

The Dodgers are in a much happier state given that that they won, but they gotta be pretty exhausted too given the length and intensity of last night’s game. Plus everyone is now going to have to walk into the clubhouse today and answer questions about their dirty-playing superstar, and if ballplayers hate anything, they hate having to answer questions about their teammates’ missteps.

Still, I suppose it all beats being at home with the other 26 baseball teams, so their misery is relative.

Your viewing guide:

NLCS Game 5

Brewers vs. Dodgers
Ballpark: Dodger Stadium
Time: 5:09 PM Eastern
TV: FS1
Pitchers: Wade Miley vs. Clayton Kershaw
Breakdown:

Wake up, guys. Not only did you play until the wee hours last night, but you have a day game today, starting just after 2PM local time. I suppose we’ll have plenty of time to shoot the schedule maker later — really, why would you give a west coast content a day-game-after-a-night-game treatment? — but for now you gotta pound some java and suck it up.

Clayton Kershaw is gonna have to suck it up, that’s for sure. He had a rough outing in Game 1 at Miller Park, allowing five runs — four earned — on six hits and two walks while striking out just two. Dave Roberts had to use eight relievers last night, including Kenley Jansen for two innings, so Kershaw cannot afford to be sitting at 50 some laboring pitches three innings into this bad boy. He’s gonna have to put on his 2009-17 big boy pants and be an ace.

For Milwaukee it’s Miley, who was excellent in Game 2 but who goes on three days rest here. Craig Counsell used six relievers last night, including Josh Hader, who I would guess is not available today. He does, however, have Brandon Woodruff, who has been excellent thus far.

Mostly, though both of these offenses need to wake up. The Brewers went scoreless over the final eight innings last night. The Dodgers have scored only three runs the 22 innings of play at Dodger Stadium thus far.

 

ALCS Game 4

Red Sox vs. Astros
Ballpark: Minute Maid Park
Time: 8:39 PM Eastern
TV: TBS
Pitchers: Rick Porcello vs. Charlie Morton
Breakdown:

Charlie Morton will make his first start of the postseason. Indeed, it will be his first action of any kind since September 30, when he went only three innings in a game-162 tuneup against the Orioles. That’s a long dang time to be off the field, but given that he only tossed 15 innings in four starts in the entire final month of the season due right shoulder discomfort, maybe the layoff did him well. We’ll see tonight how he responds to it. Porcello, meanwhile, has been pretty busy, both starting and coming out of Alex Cora’s bullpen. The pattern worked for him nicely in the ALDS, so why not continue it.

Not that anyone cares about this sort of thing other than we story writers, but it’ll definitely be a thing of the Astros can’t get up off the mat after last night’s loss. If those two hit batsmen followed by the grand slam surrendered by Roberto Osuna turns out to have been the turning point of the postseason and the moment when the Astros year, effectively, ended. Baseball is a team effort of course, and there is still much of it to be played here, but if that broke the Astros for 2018 — if Roberto Osuna’s shortcomings prove to have been too much to overcome — it’ll be hard to escape the takes.

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October 17, 2018 at 09:27AM

Everyone has to scrape themselves up off the mat for another night of LCS action

Everyone has to scrape themselves up off the mat for another night of LCS action

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The way I see it, the Red Sox are the only team who should be feeling super chipper today.

The Astros got pasted last night, and it didn’t help that they also found themselves in an off-the-field controversy. Like, a few feet off the field, where maybe they shouldn’t have been controversy. That has to be deflating as all get-out.

The Brewers have to feel like garbage, not only because they lost, but because it took 13 innings to do it, stretching their already patchwork pitching approach, made all the more depressing by the loss of Gio Gonzalez to injury. No, he wouldn’t have pitched tonight anyway, and yes, they get a fresh arm to replace him on the roster, but (a) no one wants a teammate injured; and (b) the arm is, by definition, one Craig Counsell didn’t want to pitch in the LCS in the first place.

The Dodgers are in a much happier state given that that they won, but they gotta be pretty exhausted too given the length and intensity of last night’s game. Plus everyone is now going to have to walk into the clubhouse today and answer questions about their dirty-playing superstar, and if ballplayers hate anything, they hate having to answer questions about their teammates’ missteps.

Still, I suppose it all beats being at home with the other 26 baseball teams, so their misery is relative.

Your viewing guide:

NLCS Game 5

Brewers vs. Dodgers
Ballpark: Dodger Stadium
Time: 5:09 PM Eastern
TV: FS1
Pitchers: Wade Miley vs. Clayton Kershaw
Breakdown:

Wake up, guys. Not only did you play until the wee hours last night, but you have a day game today, starting just after 2PM local time. I suppose we’ll have plenty of time to shoot the schedule maker later — really, why would you give a west coast content a day-game-after-a-night-game treatment? — but for now you gotta pound some java and suck it up.

Clayton Kershaw is gonna have to suck it up, that’s for sure. He had a rough outing in Game 1 at Miller Park, allowing five runs — four earned — on six hits and two walks while striking out just two. Dave Roberts had to use eight relievers last night, including Kenley Jansen for two innings, so Kershaw cannot afford to be sitting at 50 some laboring pitches three innings into this bad boy. He’s gonna have to put on his 2009-17 big boy pants and be an ace.

For Milwaukee it’s Miley, who was excellent in Game 2 but who goes on three days rest here. Craig Counsell used six relievers last night, including Josh Hader, who I would guess is not available today. He does, however, have Brandon Woodruff, who has been excellent thus far.

Mostly, though both of these offenses need to wake up. The Brewers went scoreless over the final eight innings last night. The Dodgers have scored only three runs the 22 innings of play at Dodger Stadium thus far.

 

ALCS Game 4

Red Sox vs. Astros
Ballpark: Minute Maid Park
Time: 8:39 PM Eastern
TV: TBS
Pitchers: Rick Porcello vs. Charlie Morton
Breakdown:

Charlie Morton will make his first start of the postseason. Indeed, it will be his first action of any kind since September 30, when he went only three innings in a game-162 tuneup against the Orioles. That’s a long dang time to be off the field, but given that he only tossed 15 innings in four starts in the entire final month of the season due right shoulder discomfort, maybe the layoff did him well. We’ll see tonight how he responds to it. Porcello, meanwhile, has been pretty busy, both starting and coming out of Alex Cora’s bullpen. The pattern worked for him nicely in the ALDS, so why not continue it.

Not that anyone cares about this sort of thing other than we story writers, but it’ll definitely be a thing of the Astros can’t get up off the mat after last night’s loss. If those two hit batsmen followed by the grand slam surrendered by Roberto Osuna turns out to have been the turning point of the postseason and the moment when the Astros year, effectively, ended. Baseball is a team effort of course, and there is still much of it to be played here, but if that broke the Astros for 2018 — if Roberto Osuna’s shortcomings prove to have been too much to overcome — it’ll be hard to escape the takes.

MLB News

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October 17, 2018 at 07:09AM

Morton’s late-career transformation has handed the Astros an ace

Morton’s late-career transformation has handed the Astros an ace

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CHARLIE MORTON IS not in a hurry. You have to assume he doesn’t have all day because it feels like he just might. It’s not that he moves or talks slowly; he just seems to be in a permanent state of deliberation. When you’re accustomed to the staccato, look-at-the-clock, I’ve-gotta-stretch/hit/lift/eat/get-to-a-meeting nature of most interviews with baseball players, it takes a few moments to get used to Morton’s languid and welcoming pace.

Morton, who will start Game 4 of the American League Championship Series for the Astros, their best defense against a 3-1 deficit in this series, is one of the top starters in baseball’s best rotation. He is 34 years old, and a little more than a year ago he stood on the mound in Dodger Stadium after getting the last out of the World Series. His deliberative nature seems to stem from two competing facts: 1) he still can’t quite believe his good fortune, and; 2) he hasn’t fully come to terms with how long it took to realize it.

Rare among athletes and even rarer among pitchers, Morton found his greatest professional success at a time when it was least expected. His career has been marked by a series of career-altering injuries — two hip surgeries, elbow surgery, hamstring and shoulder issues — and a lingering sense that his talent would remain forever unfinished.

“It’s kind of frustrating in a way,” he says. “I’ve always been told I have good stuff. I’ve always been told I could be really, really good, but I was always just average. And here I am, 34 going on 35, having figured a lot of things out, and I don’t know how much longer I want to play. And that’s fine. It’s fine, really it is. I’ve had a rewarding career. I’ve experienced a lot — a lot of ups and downs, and the downs have been as fulfilling to me as the good things.

“I don’t regret the struggles. I’ll say this: It’s nice to know that if I reach my physical potential with the repertoire and methodology of the way I’m pitching, that I can be good. I can do the things I want to do, and I know that now.”

He was an All Star for the first time this season, and his 15-3 record gave him the best winning percentage in baseball. (Do wins matter? Your mileage may vary.) He had a career-best WAR of 3.2 and a career-best WHIP of 1.17. Along with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, he was part of just the fifth trio in MLB history to each record 200 strikeouts.

Despite all of that, there’s a chance Morton might decide to leave the game after this season to devote more time to his wife, Cindy, and their four children, the oldest of whom is 5. (They went boy-girl-boy-girl, like a good pitch sequence, and fellow Astros are astounded by the couple’s insistence on raising their children without outside help — in other words, no nanny — even though they can obviously afford it.) He will be one of the most desirable starters on the free-agent market this offseason, and this is his last great chance to sign a two- or three-year contract that sets up generations of his family for life.

His teammates tell him they understand if he’s ready to hang them up. Dallas Keuchel says, “I get it, and I respect him for it, but I tell him: ‘Man, you could be looking at $20 million a year.'” Keuchel places his palms in front of his body and raises them up and down — the scales of justice, in Keuchel’s hands, inevitably land on the side of the $20 million a year. But in deference to his friend, he says, “It’s a tough call.”

The question Morton faces is this: How do you spend 16 years in an endless quest to find success and then walk away when it finally arrives?

“How many games have I sat in a dugout and watched?” Morton asks. “At least four out of every five, right? I’ve been playing pro ball since 2002. That’s a lot of time spent sitting around watching games. I can’t speak for other guys, but I think I would look for some other things that are quote-unquote ‘rewarding.’ I’m part of a really special group here, but if my career ended today, I’d be perfectly happy with the way it went.”

There’s a case to be made for Morton being the most interesting man in baseball. Astros manager A.J. Hinch goes back to a game in early June, in Texas, when Morton hit four batters — an American League record — and walked six in just 3⅔ innings. The morbidly optimistic among the Astros were quick to point out that Morton gave up only one hit.

“No,” Morton says. “Just no. It was a completely unprofessional outing. It was embarrassing. You can’t pitch like that. You can’t say, ‘Oh, I only gave up one hit.’ That’s not how it works.”

He stops, cocks his head as if to think about it and says, “The stuff was there, though. The stuff was good.”

At the time, though, humor was not welcome. Hinch knows, because he tried.

“It’s going to be such a crazy headline,” Hinch told him that night. “Morton Fires One-Hitter.”

How did that go over?

“Not well,” Hinch says. “He wanted no part of it. Charlie is the only pitcher in my managerial career who has apologized when he’s had a bad day. That’s just his way of showing vulnerability and true responsibility for his job. I’ve been around a lot of players — great players, marginal players, rookies. He’s on a short list: every single teammate roots for him.”


BEFORE THE 2017 ALCS against the Yankees, Astros pitching coach Brent Strom requisitioned a scouting report on the Yankees’ hitters from Perry Husband, a freelance consultant who lives in Southern California. Husband, 56, is a former minor league infielder with a career OPS of .552 whose life’s work, a pitching theory called Effective Velocity that he describes as “liquid analytics,” has often veered toward obsession. Minutes after accepting Strom’s assignment, Husband buried himself in videos of the Yankees, with special concentration on their matchups with Houston. His goal was to inform Strom on the best way to inflict EV on the likes of Aaron Judge and Didi Gregorius, but he kept getting distracted. No matter who or what he was looking at, he kept seeing Morton.

Husband told Strom, “You’ve got a superstar here if he could figure it out.”

“Well, OK then,” Strom said. “Work me up a scouting report on Charlie, too.”

It’s worth taking a moment to explain the underground world of the self-proclaimed baseball gurus. The analytics revolution birthed a subculture of intelligent, earnest, passionate thinkers who believe they have a philosophy, a statistical formula or a training method that will shake the game to its core — if only enough influential people open their minds wide enough to implement it. And, not surprisingly, these core-shaking ideas birthed a sub-subculture of their own: people who vehemently dispute the value of the ideas that aren’t their own. Effective Velocity — it’s patented — is a many-tentacled beast, but it begins with the idea that hitters have to make up their minds to swing within the first 20 feet of every pitch. If all pitches are thrown out of the same tunnel for those 20 feet, the hitter can’t discern pitch type in time to swing. Husband uses a football analogy. If a defensive back is asked to cover two receivers and they run routes 10 yards apart, the defender can split the difference and conceivably cover both. If the routes are run 30 yards apart, the sole defender must pick one or the other. Those two receivers, 30 yards apart, are the equivalent of Morton’s 96 mph fastball on the hands and his 80 mph curveball off the outside corner. A hitter simply can’t “cover” both pitches in the time he has to make up his mind, so he must pick one. Effective Velocity is disputed within analytic circles for its lack of foundational research and Husband, not surprisingly, disputes that, which puts us into a whole Russian nesting doll exercise that doesn’t serve anybody’s purpose. (Especially but not limited to you, reading this.)

For the purposes of assessing the arc of Morton’s career, though, and Husband’s backstage impact on the Astros, Strom’s opinion matters. “I think Perry’s brilliant,” he says, “and I think over the past few years his stuff — especially on tunneling — has been hijacked without him getting the credit he deserves. We have an exceptional front office, but Perry’s stuff is a real now-now type of thing for me. Analytics can tell you what has happened, but Perry’s work is predictive. I can’t come close to understanding all of his concepts, but as a young pitching coach, I was always fascinated by a guy throwing 98 and getting his ass kicked while another guy throws 88 and punches everybody out. I couldn’t figure out why. Perry knows why.”

Strangely, despite Strom’s evangelism on behalf of Husband, nearly all of his pitchers are unfamiliar with both Effective Velocity and its inventor. Morton has never heard of Husband before I mentioned him, and he can’t pinpoint a difference between his pitching before last year’s ALCS and now. With a conspiratorial look, he says, “Unless Strommie is subconsciously manipulating me.”


SHORTLY AFTER MORTON arrived in Houston after a short, injury-riddled stint with the Phillies, Strom and the Astros’ vaunted analytics department undertook a down-to-the-studs remodel of a 33-year-old pitcher whose past, notably with Pittsburgh, suggested he topped out as a semi-reliable fifth starter. Morton’s approach through the first nine years of his big league career was passed down like a sacred scroll: Pound his hard and heavy sinker down and in to get ground balls and break bats, mix in a few breaking balls off the plate to induce chase swings, and throw the occasional fastball up on the hands to keep a hitter honest. It was the way pitching had been taught for the better part of two centuries.

“As soon as I got here, they wanted me to throw a lot more two-seamers down and away to righties,” Morton says. “I was like, ‘Hmm, I want to go in on righties — that’s what works for me. You know, get ’em to hit the ball on the ground.’ They were like, ‘Well, actually … we’d like to avoid the ball being in put in play altogether.'”

He stops here to let that sink in. It’s deep stuff. The Astros were telling him to discard the only identity he ever had. They were telling him to forget about limiting contact and think about eliminating it altogether. This was Strom’s credo, to be repeated a year later when the Astros acquired Cole from the Pirates. As a minor league pitching coordinator in St. Louis, Strom watched young guys with strikeout stuff try to hit spots and pitch to contact. His frustration spawned a philosophy he eventually distilled into seven words: “F— ground balls; let’s strike guys out.”

And now he was employing it to “well, actually” Morton’s entire life’s work.

“For a few months, it was a battle,” Morton says. “The battle was between what I’d normally done — and what I felt my identity was — and what actually works.”

And now? Morton thinks about it, and thinks about it, and finally says, “Several times a game I’ll tell myself: ‘Hey, just let it rip.’ I’ll pick a band across the top of the strike zone and just throw as hard as I can. I never did that before.”

It has been both successful — more than 10 strikeouts per 9 innings in two years with Houston — and liberating. The difference between pre-Houston Morton and Houston Morton is stark. During his best years in Pittsburgh, Ground Chuck’s 6-foot-5 body was hunched, his shoulders tucked toward his chest, his hips sinking as he strode tentatively down the mound. It looked careful, as if he was trying to remain within a confined space, and the most he struck out in a season was 126. Ground Chuck was a man eyeing a board and trying to guide a dart to a triple 20. This new Chuck — Houston Chuck, Strikeout Chuck — is a dude running across a field and chucking a javelin as far as he can.


THE FIRST TIME I spoke with Morton about his future was in mid-June, shortly before he was named to the All Star team. It was the day before a rare and cherished off-day at home, and he was deliberating (of course) whether to take the kids to the Houston Zoo or the Museum of Natural Science. (For posterity: The museum won.)

The next time we spoke was in August, with another long postseason run on the horizon and Cindy weeks away from the birth of their fourth child. (Emilia Noelle Morton, who was born Sept. 28.) His team is on its way to a franchise-record 103 wins and another AL West title. The crowds at Minute Maid Park are big and boisterous, and every time he takes the mound it’s clear they have a growing affinity for what he has brought to the team. I asked him again: Have you given any more thought to your future?

“Yes, I have,” he says, and then proceeds to pause until I ask the obvious follow-up.

“And I’d have to say I’m leaning toward playing more,” he says, his words unhurried, his tone almost apologetic. He is a man both freed and ensnared by a rare type of success: the kind nobody could see coming.

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October 17, 2018 at 06:13AM