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For Dodgers, back in front of full Houston stadium, Astros scandal still lingers

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Minute Maid Park in Houston opened at full capacity on Tuesday, just in time to welcome the reigning World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers, a team that seemingly hasn’t forgotten about how the Houston Astros‘ sign-stealing scandal might have cost them another title four years ago.

“It’ll always be something weird there,” Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes said in his pregame videoconference with the media. “Those games were important to us, obviously. I know it’s a while ago, but I don’t know, there’s something weird there. It’s different coming back. You just wanna beat these guys. That’s what we’ll go out there and try to do.”

The Dodgers lost to the Astros in seven World Series games in 2017. Two years later, Mike Fiers revealed to The Athletic that the Astros, a team he pitched for that season, established a system to decode and communicate the opposing catcher’s signs in real time, watching from a monitor and then banging on a trash can to let their hitters know when an off-speed pitch was coming. A follow-up investigation from Major League Baseball confirmed Fiers’ accounting in January of 2020, prompting a string of punishments that ultimately led to the firing of general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch.

Astros players, however, were not punished, an inconsistency that the Dodgers passionately spoke out against in the wake of the report. When the Dodgers played against the Astros again on July 28, 2020, during the first week of a shortened season, Joe Kelly threw behind Alex Bregman and threw a couple of other pitches inside to Carlos Correa, prompting both benches to clear and Kelly to eventually get hit with an eight-game suspension that was reduced to five.

The Dodgers were playing the Astros in an empty stadium then, but now the place will be full. And on the mound for the Dodgers — facing his old teammate, Zack Greinke — will be Clayton Kershaw, who hasn’t faced the Astros since the 2017 World Series. The Dodgers’ starter on Wednesday will be Trevor Bauer, who has been among the most outspoken against the Astros’ sign-stealing methods.

Astros manager Dusty Baker saw a handful of Dodgers fans as he made his way to the ballpark early Tuesday afternoon and expected “a lot of electricity in the building” later that night.

“I think it’s great for the game,” Correa said, “having a great rivalry like this, two great teams going at it.”

Barnes is one of nine current Dodgers who was on that 2017 team, though two of them (Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager) are currently on the injured list and two others (Julio Urias and Walker Buehler) didn’t crack the postseason roster that year.

Asked if he still feels anger toward the Astros, Barnes, who is in Tuesday’s starting lineup, said: “I don’t, like, just forgive them. It’s unfortunate that it happened, that it was during a World Series, that it affected a World Series like that. But it happened years ago. You move on. I don’t think about it all the time.”

Easily the most memorable game from that series was Game 5, the last one from Houston, when Barnes was behind the plate while Kershaw helped blow two leads of three or more runs within the first five innings. The Dodgers scored three times in the ninth to tie the game, but the Astros ultimately won it on Bregman’s home run off Kenley Jansen in the 10th to take a 3-2 Series lead.

There was a time, Barnes said, when he kept thinking back to certain at-bats from that game. Some, he added, “didn’t make sense to me.”

“But that was a long time ago,” Barnes said. “I don’t really look back anymore at that too much.”

The Dodgers, winners of seven consecutive games, won three of four against the Astros last year. They’ll play only a two-game series in Houston, then host the Astros for a two-game series Aug. 3 to 4, by which point Dodger Stadium is also expected to be at full capacity.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts expects the latter series to be “exponentially crazy.”

He was asked when he thinks baseball fans will move from the Astros’ scandal.

“I don’t know,” Roberts said. “The world doesn’t really appreciate cheating.”

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Texas Rangers shut out for third-straight game as losing skid continues

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The Texas Rangers were routed 14-0 by the Detroit Tigers on Monday night. They’ve now lost six straight, the last three by a combined score of 29-0.

The last major league team to allow that many runs while being shut out in three straight games was the 1906 Brooklyn Superbas, who were outscored 31-0 between July 6-9.

“If anyone on this team isn’t embarrassed right now, they shouldn’t be on the field and they shouldn’t be part of our organization right now,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “These guys all want to play in the major leagues, but you have to earn that.”

The Rangers have now been outscored 51-7 in their last six games, the worst run differential (-44) in any six-game span in franchise history and the worst by any team this season. They’re one shutout shy of tying the longest streak by any team since 1900.

The Associated Press and ESPN’s Stats and Information contributed to this report.

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San Francisco Giants All-Star shortstop Brandon Crawford heads to injured list with oblique strain

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LOS ANGELES — San Francisco’s injury woes have now hit arguably its best player during the first half of the season.

The Giants placed All-Star shortstop Brandon Crawford on the 10-day injured list Monday due to an oblique strain. The move came as they opened a pivotal four-game series against the rival Los Angeles Dodgers.

Manager Gabe Kapler said Crawford’s MRI revealed a mild strain, and he was hopeful it would be a short stint on the IL.

“We understand we have a big challenge ahead of us. Just knowing he is not going to be available is tough for him,” Kapler said. “If there is a silver lining, it does give him a break and allows us to build him up to full strength.”

Crawford is ninth in the NL in batting average (.286) and RBIs (58). He was also on a tear with five games of three hits or more in his last 10, along with going 20 for 39 over the last 11 games.

Crawford — who had started 73 of the Giants’ first 91 games at shortstop — said he noticed something wrong after his final swing during Sunday’s game at St. Louis. It is only the second time in 11 seasons he has gone on the IL, with the previous time coming in 2017 due to a groin strain.

“It’s frustrating from a lot of perspectives,” Crawford said before Monday’s game. “I felt so good, especially recently. There are also so many games against the Dodgers the next couple weeks that I won’t be a part of. The amount of guys on the IL right now also makes all of those things pretty frustrating.”

With Crawford’s injury, second baseman Donovan Solano is the only Giants regular infielder who is not on the IL. First baseman Brandon Belt has been out since June 24 due to right knee inflammation, and is likely to be sidelined for the next two weeks. Third baseman Evan Longoria is on the 60-day injured list and isn’t eligible to come off until Aug. 5.

The Giants went into Monday’s game with the best record in the majors at 58-34 but have a precarious one-game lead over the defending World Series champion Dodgers in the NL West. Seven of the Giants’ next 10 games are against Los Angeles.

Thairo Estrada is expected to get most of the playing time at shortstop in Crawford’s place. The Giants also called up infielder Jason Vosler from Triple-A Sacramento to take Crawford’s roster spot.

“It’s important to acknowledge it is a blow when you are going to miss our best bat all year long, but also focus on the opportunity Estrada gets so that we can evaluate him,” Kapler said.

San Francisco did get some good news on the injury front, though. Star catcher Buster Posey was activated after missing nine games due to a bruised left thumb, and pitcher Kevin Gausman was reinstated from the Family Medical Emergency List in time to start Monday.

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Ahead of city council vote on stadium proposal, A’s president says ‘Our future in Oakland is hanging in the balance’

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Eight Oakland City Council members will cast non-binding votes for a proposed $12 billion development and ballpark plan on Tuesday morning. An affirmative vote will simply keep the ambitious project alive, but a dissenting vote, the Oakland Athletics say, will kick-start the team’s relocation efforts.

Speaking roughly 22 hours before that crucial vote, A’s president Dave Kaval still didn’t know what to expect.

“Our future in Oakland is hanging in the balance,” Kaval said in an interview with ESPN on Monday afternoon, “and we are doing everything we can to get a ‘yes’ vote tomorrow on our plan and keep the A’s rooted in Oakland. But we don’t know if we’re gonna get a positive vote. There’s still a lot of areas we’re apart significantly with the city, and we go into the vote not knowing how it’s gonna play out.”

A two-decade-long process to secure a new stadium in the Bay Area has reached what Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred referred to as “the end” prior to last week’s All-Star Game. There have been unsuccessful proposals in San Jose, Fremont and multiple sites in Oakland, most notably around Laney College. Renovations of the current Coliseum site, where the A’s have played since 1968, have been deemed nonviable largely because of the team’s stated desire for a downtown location.

All that is seemingly left to prevent the A’s from leaving Oakland — and following the recent paths of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors and the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders — is a 35,000-seat waterfront ballpark proposal within the Howard Terminal site in the Port of Oakland.

The A’s made public proposals in April stating that they would privately finance the ballpark, which will cost an estimated $1 billion, while also providing $450 million in community benefits and arranging for an additional $11 billion in private investment to eventually build up the surrounding neighborhood. But the City of Oakland made a counter-proposal on Friday that Kaval said “lacks details and specifics and really doesn’t answer any of the questions that we have that need to be addressed to continue to move forward.”

The biggest issue stems from the $855 million the A’s have asked the city to pay in infrastructure improvements using taxes generated by the project. The A’s proposed two infrastructure financing districts to cover that cost, but the city rejected the proposal to create an additional district at nearby Jack London Square, leaving what Kaval estimated as a $352 million shortage that the A’s would have to cover.

“That’s an extraordinary sum of money,” said Kaval, who has been leading the A’s stadium efforts since joining the team in November of 2016. “And not having specificity is a key concern. There’s also concern about additional taxes that they’re putting on the project — condo transfer tax, a transportation tax that obviously push up the cost as well. Those are all items that are problematic. And we’ve been clear that the project can only do so much. We can’t solve all of Oakland’s problems, but we can do a lot to make this a better community and keep the A’s here for many generations to come. And that’s why we’re looking for an affirmative vote on our plan.”

The A’s need at least five council members to approve their plan, or four council members plus Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. Kaval said there has been “continuing negotiations” over the weekend and into Monday but that the two sides “remain significantly apart.”

The Mayor’s Office declined to comment when reached by ESPN on Monday. Justin Berton, a spokesperson for Mayor Schaaf, released a statement saying: “The City and the A’s are continuing their dialogue today with the shared goal to make a world-class ballpark a reality. The City will continue to advocate for a proposal that supports and serves Oakland and our entire region, provides affordable housing, public parks, great jobs and other direct benefits for the community — all without risk to our Port, our taxpayers, or the City or County’s general funds.”

The A’s lease at what is now called RingCentral Coliseum expires after the 2024 season. If ultimately approved, the Howard Terminal ballpark wouldn’t be ready until 2027, leaving the A’s with a two-year gap to cover in Oakland.

In the meantime, team officials have continue exploring Las Vegas and its surrounding areas as an alternative. Kaval and A’s owner John Fisher have made three trips to South Nevada this year and plan to return there on Wednesday. Manfred said last week that it would be “a mistake” to refer to the Vegas option as a bluff, calling it “a viable alternative for a major league club.” A “no” vote on Tuesday — City Council members will meet at 9 a.m. PT — could trigger conversations with other potential relocation sites such as Portland, Nashville, Vancouver and Montreal, among others.

Kaval isn’t clear on whether the city would ultimately vote on the A’s plan, which was presented to Oakland officials at the start of 2021, or the city’s counter offer from Friday, adding that a “yes” vote on the latter would be “akin to a ‘no’ vote” because the team does not approve.

“In many ways we’re down to our last at-bat in Oakland,” Kaval said. “But if we get a win tomorrow, and an agreement we agree with, we can send it into extra innings and hopefully get the final victory in the fall.”

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