A Cheater Label Doesn’t Negate Talent — MLB ALCS/NLCS Preview

If I had a Hall of Fame ballot (and I desperately want one), I would never cast a vote for Barry Bonds. Hank Aaron remains the All-Time Home Run King in my mind, and Roger Maris (asterisk and all) is the single-season champ.

Bonds and his steroids-enhanced brethren desecrated the holy land of Major League Baseball when they tainted long-standing, statistical records that color the historic tapestry of our National Pastime. And as grandiose and self-important as that last sentence may sound, I stand by it.

I’ve heard all the arguments pertaining to “greenies” (amphetamines), pre-integration stats and the like, but I still single out the Steroid Era as the one that permanently tarnished the game. With Barry Bonds as its poster child, he would never get this HOF vote.

However, that doesn’t keep me from wondering what Bonds’ career numbers would have looked like if he hadn’t gone on the juice, increased several hat sizes and packed on a hundred pounds or so of muscle. Where would Bonds sit today, when we consider the GOATs of the game, if his career had concluded with a stat line that looked something like the following:

*.319 career batting average

*.471 on base percentage

*3814 hits

*507 home runs

*812 doubles

*226 triples

*515 stolen bases

*13 gold gloves

*8 MVP’s

Of course we’ll never know, but the numbers listed above aren’t beyond imagination when you consider the trajectory of Bonds’ stats back in the early-’90’s. The guy was already a terror while clean, and when such talent was given the artificial advantage of steroids, he became other-worldly. And, with apologies to Roger Clemens, Bonds also became the most infamous cheater in the history of Major League Baseball.

Which brings us to the 2020 Houston Astros.

Trash cans in 2017. Buzzers in 2019. A universally despised franchise (at least outside of the greater-Houston city limits). Yet here they are again, folks, back in the ALCS, after backing their way into this year’s participation-trophy playoff tournament with a sub-.500 record. But a funny thing happened when the games returned to their more traditional rules and started to matter again.

We got reminded of how much talent these Astros possess, and now we get a view into just how good they really are, with no worries gnawing away at us about how they may be cheating the game in one way shape or form. And don’t think the 2019 World Series runner-ups aren’t enjoying sticking it up all of our collective asses as they march toward a date with dastardly destiny, 2020-style.

I mean, could there be a more fitting 2020 MLB champion than the team we all began the year looking forward to seeing get abused and humiliated on a nightly basis? Deserving targets of scorn and derision by fans across the country, every time they took their cheating show on the road?

In irony only imaginable through the lens that is the year 2020, the Astros have not seen a single hostile crowd yet this season. And now, to add insult to injury, they have a playoff path laid out in front of them that allows for each of their most hated critics to be lined up like ducks on the pond to be vanquished, shit on, and sneered at, as they waltz their way to another date in the World Series.

On that note, here is the SportsAttic preview of the two League Championship Series, letting you in on who to expect to show up when the 2020 World Series begins week after next, down in Arlington, Texas.

American League Championship Series

Astros versus Rays — Yeah, the cheating SOB’s are winning this one, too. It’s a real shame, too, since the Rays proved a lot to us in sending the Yankees home for the winter in such thrilling fashion. Tampa Bay is fundamentally sound, well-managed, with a deep roster and strong bullpen. Randy Arozarena looks like a star we can look forward to watching for years to come, and Tyler Glasnow is downright filthy. And as much as we offer heartfelt thank you’s to the Rays for sending the Evil Empire packing in the ALDS, the reality is that this series got a whole lot less interesting when the Yankees Aroldis Chapman served up that gopher ball last night. Sure, Rays fans will point to their league-best record during the truncated regular season, and how they extended the tech-enhanced Astros to a full five games in the ALDS a year ago — with both Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander still throwing for the ‘Stros. Surely with the Rays a better club in 2020, and the Astros no longer having the advantage of knowing what pitch to expect in advance of taking their swings (not to mention missing the aforementioned Cole and Verlander), this should be all Rays, right? Not so fast. Springer, Altuve, Correa, Bregman, Gurriel… it’s a lot like Barry Bonds before the juice and the enormous head. Looking back we tend to forget just how good the talent was before the illegal advantages kicked in. And courtesy of the neutral site in San Diego, the Astros will still avoid any venom coming their way from angry fans, at least until the World Series begins. The Rays showed enough in taking out the Yanks to make us think this will be a hard fought series, but ready or not, Houston will be returning to their third Fall Classic in four years. Astros in six.

National League Championship Series

Dodgers versus Braves — Oh, that’s right, there’s another LCS this week. While temptation is practically begging us to assume Dave Roberts will manage the boys in blue out of the playoffs one round short of the World Series for what feels like the millionth time, the Braves just don’t have enough. Atlanta, featuring MVP-candidate Freddy Freeman, boasts a lineup that can flat-out mash, but so do the Dodgers. And the Dodgers are deeper and more versatile than the Braves. Yes, the L.A. bullpen looked a bit wobbly in taking down the one-year-away Padres in the NLDS, but not so much as to equalize what is their significant advantage on the mound. Will Roberts keep giving the ball in save situations to Kenley Jansen, who appears a couple seasons past his shelf life as a dominant closer? Or will he go to Joe Kelly, setting us up for some delicious revenge storylines when they move on to a 2017 rematch against the Astros in a week’s time? Figure Roberts to give at least one game away trying to ride a spent Jansen, and we should anticipate Clayton Kershaw’s annual pummeling in a big spot, but even with those two likelihoods coming their way, the Braves won’t win this series. That’s not to say that if it goes the full seven, the advantage wouldn’t swing hard in the direction of Atlanta, as the Dodgers would be forced to face the possibility of losing to an inferior foe yet again while extending their championship drought another year. But don’t worry Los Angeles fans, it won’t go seven, and the dream of following LeBron James’ parade with one of their own will remain alive for the Dodgers just a bit longer. Dodgers in six.

There you have it, baseball fans. The 2020 World Series will be contested on a neutral site between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros.

Play ball!

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