4th and a Mile with Paul Muth

Cheating isn't as bad if it happens in Boston

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On Wednesday afternoon Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred handed down his punishment to the Boston Red Sox yesterday for what amounted to almost the exact same infractions the Houston Astros had been accused of doing one season before.

Their former manager, Alex Cora, was suspended through the 2020 season, but not for anything he did with the Red Sox. Their replay system operator was suspended a year without pay, and their 2020 second round pick was stripped.

Comparatively, the Astros' manager and general manager were suspended for a year, they were stripped of their first and second round picks for this year and next, and they were fined a league maximum $5 million.

In what world does this make any sense?

The justification is that their cheating had less buy-in and was less coordinated. So their cheating was, in essence, less cheating.

If Major League Baseball was trying to send a message that cheating was a zero-tolerance offense, they did a terrible job demonstrating that yesterday.

It cannot be argued that the Astros cheated, nor should it. The issue now is regarding the perception of favoritism in the application of punishment.

The Astros were fined $5 million dollars. The Red Sox were not fined a cent. So this is, on its face, implying that the Red Sox--who electronically stole signs like the Astros--did nothing worthy of a fine. If this line of reasoning makes sense, I'm happy to be corrected.

Now, should the punishments have been the exact same? No, not at all. The Astros admittedly did operate their sign stealing scheme on a reportedly much larger scale. But the Red Sox punishment is laughable and forgettable in comparison.

It's safe to say that Manfred was in a lose-lose situation. It's also safe to say that it's possible to pick a worse way to lose between his options. Whenever cheating is involved, however, it's always better to be as heavy handed as possible. Look at NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. When the New England Patriots were accused of deflating footballs, the investigation proved inconclusive. In spite of that, Goodell suspended quarterback Tom Brady four games, fined the organization $1 million dollars, and took two draft picks away. The Patriots took it on the chin and moved forward, just as the Astros did. The Red Sox, however, probably didn't even feel the punch.

At the end of the day, Manfred will be applauded by the owners for spinning the electronic sign stealing problem as the act of a lone-wolf scheme that the Astros committed on their own. History will forget the Red Sox culpability, as well as the dozen or so other teams that current and former players have spoken out about as having committed the same crime that were never investigated. Instead of this issue becoming the next Mitchell Report-style black eye on a sport that is almost synonymous with rule bending, Manfred has effectively pinned the entire problem on the Astros' shoulders for history to frown upon.

So if any Astros fans were looking for some solace in he long delayed Red Sox punishment, it is safe to say that it is nowhere to be found.

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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