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Fans want Astros players punished for sign-stealing scandal



More than half of Major League Baseball fans believe Houston Astros players should have been penalized along with team management in the aftermath of the sign-stealing scandal that has gripped the game over the past week, according to an online survey conducted among 1,010 adults, including 810 MLB fans, nationwide Thursday and Friday on behalf of ESPN.

Fifty-eight percent of adults responded that Astros players should have been penalized by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, according to the survey. In addition, the vast majority (72% of adults and 76% of MLB fans) said they would support MLB taking additional steps to punish players who were involved in sign stealing.

According to the survey, MLB fans are paying a lot of attention to the scandal, with 61% of the game’s fans polled saying they are closely following events involving the Astros and Boston Red Sox. One-third of MLB fans say they might watch those two teams less, though most Americans say the doping/steroids scandal was worse than the current sign-stealing scandal that led the Astros to fire general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch, with the Red Sox parting with manager Alex Cora, a former Astros bench coach.

The New York Mets were not involved in a sign-stealing scandal, but parted with new manager Carlos Beltran, who was involved with the scandal while a player with the Astros. The survey was started before Beltran and the Mets parted.

Among avid MLB fans, 86% view the situation as serious, with 57% saying it’s very serious, compared to 83% of the game’s overall fans considering it serious, including 52% who say it’s a very serious situation. Among all Americans, 77% find it serious, with 45% finding it to be very serious.

Most Americans say the doping/steroids scandal was worse than this one (49% say doping was worse vs. 24% who say the sign-stealing scandal is worse), but rank this scandal above Pete Rose gambling on his own team (44% say this scandal is worse vs. 25% for the Rose scandal).

While over half of Americans view both the Astros (56%) and Red Sox (52%) less favorable in light of the scandals, the negative impact is less severe for the MLB, the players and the owners, with 54% saying their views of MLB itself are unchanged and 53% saying their views of their players haven’t changed. Just under half (49%) say their views of the game’s owners have changed, although around a third or slightly more say they have a less favorable view of each of these entities or groups.

Among MLB fans, it’s about an even split when it comes to whether the teams caught cheating should have their championships stripped, with 56% saying the Astros should relinquish their 2017 championship and 53% believing the Red Sox should do the same for their 2018 title.

While 60% of adults and MLB fans alike say the scandals make no difference in their likelihood to watch MLB games, around a third of fans say they are less likely to watch the Astros or the Red Sox.

Roughly 3 in 4 Americans (74%) and MLB fans (76%) believe most teams were using technology to steal signs, but it’s just the Astros and Red Sox who got caught.

The survey has a margin of error of +/-3%, and the margin of error among 810 MLB fans is also +/-3%.

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Dodgers vs. Padres is the new high-stakes rivalry MLB needed



If you had any doubt about whether this was real — whether Monday’s Major League Baseball game meant more than any had all year and whether the San Diego Padres had elevated themselves enough to become legitimate threats to the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers — consider the disdain with which Trent Grisham homered off Clayton Kershaw in the sixth inning. He offered an admiring glance, a swift turn toward his own dugout, a smug grin as he approached first base, an all-out dismissal of the esteemed pitcher who gifted him with a fastball out over the plate.

As Grisham neared home, Dodgers players on the edge of the third-base dugout berated him, and in that moment, it seems, the Padres became so much more than charming, young, innocuous underdogs.

They became threats.

Grisham’s home run tied the opener of a three-game series and set the tone for the big seventh inning that allowed the Padres to distance themselves in a 7-2 victory, giving them eight consecutive wins and pulling them within 1.5 games of first place in the National League West. Perhaps one day, if this upward trajectory goes as expected, this will become a seminal moment in a long-standing rivalry within a division that has long struggled to provide the Dodgers with a worthy opponent.

“It felt a little different,” Grisham said of the Padres’ first win against Kershaw since 2013. “It felt more satisfying.”

The Dodgers, winners of seven consecutive NL West titles, and the Padres, 14 years removed from their most recent postseason appearance, were less than three games apart when the penultimate week of this regular season began. The series opener at Petco Park represented arguably the most important Padres game in a decade, and both teams treated it with proper reverence.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts strategized his batting order in a way he hadn’t all season, stacking three lefties near the top as a way of enticing the opposition to remove the menacing Dinelson Lamet when the lineup turned over a third time. Padres manager Jayce Tingler aligned his players so that Kershaw would face a right-handed hitter through eight of the first nine spots. Then the game started.

“You see Clayton has his best velocity of the season. You see Lamet sitting at 98, 99 for five innings. I thought both players, both dugouts, had energy,” Roberts said. “You can just feel the importance of the game.”

Roberts played in San Diego, coached in San Diego and still lives in San Diego. He has spent the past five years presiding over a Dodgers team that has consistently been among the sport’s greatest, guiding it through two World Series and eight elimination games. The experiences have made Roberts cautious about magnifying regular-season moments. But he acknowledged beforehand — in this season, with expanded playoffs and few benefits to home-field advantage — that this is “a big series.”

“I can’t imagine what this place, in a normal year, the electricity in the stadium and just all around the city, would be,” Tingler said three hours before Monday’s first pitch. “I wish we could experience it over the next three days.”

The Padres made their intentions clear last year, when they allocated $300 million for Manny Machado and placed Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack on their Opening Day roster, eschewing modern baseball’s abuses of service-time manipulation. After a 70-92 finish by a team that was clearly on its way up, Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler declared that “heads will roll” if the Padres didn’t find themselves in contention in 2020.

The statement was a bit heavy-handed and perhaps even a little misguided. The Padres were seemingly at least another year away. But then they began the 2020 season with 18 wins in 30 games, and their general manager, A.J. Preller, acquired at least six difference-making players in less than 48 hours without mortgaging a loaded farm system, and it all started to feel real.

“It’s their reign,” Padres third baseman Manny Machado said of the Dodgers two days after the Aug. 31 trade deadline. “And it’s their division, honestly. But we’re comin’. We’re definitely comin’.”

The Dodgers — good as they are, proud as they are, accomplished as they are — can feel it. That seemed evident in Monday’s bottom of the seventh, at the tail end of an otherwise magnificent Kershaw start. The Padres scored five runs in a half-inning that included three defensive miscues and very few hard-hit balls. Kershaw gave way to Pedro Baez with two on, one out and his pitch count at 99. He could only watch as Padres DH Jorge Ona legged a blooper into a double. Then Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy hesitated after fielding a grounder and let Jurickson Profar dart home. Then Dodgers infielder Chris Taylor seemed to lose Muncy’s throw in the lights. And it all unraveled.

“We just kinda fell apart there,” Roberts said postgame.

The Dodgers and Padres have split their eight games thus far, with three of them decided by three runs or fewer. They’ll meet two more times in the regular season and seem destined to meet again in the NL Division Series, regardless of how the top of the NL West shakes out.

Kershaw dismissed Grisham’s home-run celebration — “I’m not gonna worry about their team,” he said — and downplayed the potential of a budding rivalry.

“They’re a great team this year,” Kershaw said. “Eventually, we might see them again in the playoffs.”

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Athletics-Mariners doubleheader played under haze of smoke in Seattle



SEATTLE — Monday’s doubleheader between the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners was played with a haze of smoke hovering above the field at T-Mobile Park, even with the retractable roof of the stadium closed.

Wildfires on the West Coast have suffocated much of the Pacific Northwest with unhealthy air conditions that brought into question whether the games would even be played. The air quality index in the Seattle area surpassed 200 on Monday, a number considered “very unhealthy.”

“No one said a word,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “I heard 200 was the cutoff level to start and my understanding is it was way over that, both games.”

Melvin said several players were complaining during the second game about how bad the air was on the field.

“I’m a healthy 22-year-old. I shouldn’t be gasping for air or missing oxygen. I’ll leave it at that,” Oakland’s Game 1 starter Jesus Luzardo said.

A’s reliever Jake Diekman asked MLB what was the “cut off for air quality” in a tweet after the game while Game 2 starter Mike Minor said he could smell the smoke on the field.

“And then as you got going [I] didn’t really notice it,” Minor said. “Got into game mode, I guess. I didn’t really have that long an innings. I felt like they were pretty smooth. But I know a lot of the other guys were talking about it, saying how difficult it was.”

The doubleheader was a makeup of three games scheduled for earlier this month that were postponed after Oakland had a player test positive for the coronavirus. The third of the three games to be made up will take place on Sept. 26 in Oakland as part of another doubleheader.

“I think it was OK breathing, but we definitely noticed it,” Seattle center fielder Kyle Lewis said. “The sky was all foggy and smoky, it definitely wasn’t a normal situation, definitely a little weird.”

Seattle took Monday’s opener 6-5, rallying from a 5-0 deficit, before Oakland won 9-0 in the nightcap.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Ex-Giants star Pablo Sandoval joins Braves on minor league deal



Pablo Sandoval has a new home.

The veteran infielder signed a minor league deal Monday with the Atlanta Braves and will report to their alternate training site in Gwinnett, MLB Network is reporting.

The 34-year-old Sandoval was released by the Giants last week. In his second stint with the team, he was hitting .220 with one home run and six RBIs this season.

Atlanta is the fourth organization Sandoval has played for in his 13-year career.

Nicknamed “Kung Fu Panda,” he was a two-time All-Star and won three World Series titles with the Giants from 2008 to ’14. He signed a big free agent deal with the Red Sox after the 2014 season but mostly flamed out in Boston, leading to his release.

He rejoined the Giants in 2017, and rebounded last year, when he hit .268 with 14 home runs an 41 RBIs.

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