Crawford earns Bochy's trust as Giants go for clinch


Crawford earns Bochy's trust as Giants go for clinch

SAN FRANCISCO -- Leave it to Mat Latos, an old family friend of the Giants, to make the proposition nice and neat at AT&T Park tonight:

Latos shut down the Dodgers in Cincinnati, leading the Reds to an NL Central-clinching victory -- and also reducing the Giants' magic number to one heading into their game against the San Diego Padres.

So now the math becomes simple. The Giants will claim the eighth NL West title in franchise history if they beat the Padres. And if they cannot wrap it up tonight, they'll have another chance behind Tim Lincecum on Sunday afternoon.

Just win one of those two games and the division is theirs. That's a much more satisfying outcome than having to wait around Sunday night to see if the Dodgers lose again. And if the Giants clinch with a victory, they'd get to share the celebration with 42,000 of their closest friends, too.

There was just a bit of pregame news as the Giants prepared for their 152nd game of the season:

-- Brandon Crawford is starting at shortstop, even though the Padres are starting a left-hander. Andrew Werner has been tough on lefty hitters, too. But Giants manager Bruce Bochy signaled that he's willing to consider ending the platoon at short and giving Crawford the everyday role as they coast into the postseason.

RELATED: Giants lineup -- Nady in LF, Crawford starts vs. lefty

"It's a compliment to Craw because of the way he's adjusted against lefties," Bochy said. "He really made some adjustments in spring training and now I think he's swinging the bat very well. He's made himself into a solid player on both sides."

Crawford is hitting .264 against lefties this season -- better than his .243 average against right-handers. But lately, it doesn't make much difference. He's kept a solid approach and is seeing the ball well against everyone while hitting .307 in his last 36 games.

He's at .357 in his last 18 home games, too. He's even making hard outs. And he's committed just three errors in his last 71 games while putting himself in the conversation for a Gold Glove.

Bochy plans on keeping Crawford in the No. 8 spot for the sake of continuity. He likes Crawford's patience there, and with the club humming along, the skipper doesn't want to risk touching a spinning top.

-- Madison Bumgarner will try to accomplish what Ryan Vogelsong did a night earlier: build momentum and confidence heading into the postseason.

Bumgarner is coming off a much better outing against the Colorado Rockies, but he allowed at least four earned runs in four consecutive starts before that. The big left-hander swore up and down to Bochy that he wasn't dealing with any fatigue.

But Bochy acknowledged that Bumgarner needs to make a few mechanical adjustments.

"He's gotta be a little more compact," Bochy said. "That's where we're trying to get him. ... The last start, he was out of sync there. Sure, that's going to concern us when his mechanics are a little bit different."

-- Lincecum was awarded the "Good Guy" award by the local chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America for being available and offering candid assessments after all his starts this season -- something that revealed character, I think, given all the frustration and adversity that came with so many of those starts.

-- Northwestern is 4-0. And Iowa lost at home to a directional Michigan school. So I already feel like popping corks.

With new posting system reportedly agreed to, Giants can soon chase Ohtani


With new posting system reportedly agreed to, Giants can soon chase Ohtani

SAN FRANCISCO -- As the Giants continue to wait for a resolution to the Giancarlo Stanton chase, they may soon find themselves bidding on another superstar talent they have long coveted. 

According to multiple reports, Major League Baseball, the Players Association, and the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization agreed to a new posting system that should allow Shohei Ohtani to be made available in about 10 days. Joel Sherman of the NY Post reported that MLB owners must ratify the agreement next Friday and Ohtani would then be posted that day or the following day. 

The Giants have made no secret of their desire to jump feet-first into that process, and general manager Bobby Evans and assistant GM Jeremy Shelley visited Japan in September to scout Ohtani, a potential two-way star. Ohtani wants to be a starter and a hitter in the big leagues, as he was in Japan, and after watching tape of the 23-year-old, Bruce Bochy said he would be on board. 

"He's good," Bochy said after a game at Dodger Stadium late in the season. "I absolutely would play him every day."

There has been little clarity over the past two months as MLB teams have waited for the negotiations to play out. Per Sherman, there will be new posting rules in future years but Ohtani will operate under the old system. That limits the Giants to a $300,000 bonus because they went over their spending limit in 2015, but club officials don't believe that will disqualify them. Very little is known about Ohtani's preferences, but by coming to the United States in 2017, he is potentially forfeiting a $200 million deal as a free agent. That alone is enough to validate the fact that the Giants can safely chase Ohtani, knowing that the signing bonus won't be a deal breaker.

MLB crushes Braves with sanctions for international signing infractions


MLB crushes Braves with sanctions for international signing infractions

ATLANTA -- The Braves lost 13 prospects and former general manager John Coppolella was banned for life by Major League Baseball on Tuesday for circumventing international signing rules from 2015-17.

Former Atlanta special assistant Gordon Blakeley, who was the team's international scouting chief, was suspended from baseball for one year by Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Sanctions imposed by Manfred will leave the Braves unable to bargain at full strength for a top Latin American prospect until 2021.

Manfred said MLB's investigation determined the Braves moved international signing bonus pool money from one player to boost another player's contract.

Most notable among the players the Braves will lose is Kevin Maitan, an infielder from Venezuela who signed for $4.25 million in 2016.

Other "high-value" players the Braves will lose include Juan Contreras, Yefri del Rosario, Abrahan Gutierrez, Juan Carlos Negret, Yenci Pena, Yunior Severino, Livan Soto and Guillermo Zuniga.

Three more international signees - Brandol Mezquita, Angel Rojas and Antonio Sucre - were declared free agents. The team's contract with prospect Ji-Hwan Bae, which was not yet final, was disapproved. Finally, the Braves were banned from signing prospect Robert Puason in the 2019-20 signing period.

The 13 players will be free to negotiate as free agents with other teams.

Also, the Braves will forfeit their third-round selection in the 2018 draft as punishment for offering "impermissible benefits" to an unnamed draft pick in an effort to convince him to sign for a lower bonus.

The investigation showed the players signed by the Braves in 2016-17 would have been unavailable if the team had not circumvented the rules by moving bonus pool money.

Manfred said stripping the Braves of the 13 players was not sufficient punishment. He said "additional sanctions are warranted to penalize the club for the violations committed by its employees."

Therefore, the Braves will be prohibited from signing any international player for more than $10,000 during the 2019-20 signing period. Also, the team's international signing bonus pool for the 2020-21 signing period will be reduced by 50 percent.

The Braves already cannot give an international signing bonus of more than $300,000 for 2017-18 and 2018-19 as penalties for exceeding their signing bonus pools under baseball's previous labor contract.

And there is still more discipline to be handed down.

Manfred said he intends "to discipline other Braves international baseball operations employees who participated in the misconduct."

Coppolella was forced to resign after the season. Former team president John Hart was moved to a senior adviser role when a new general manager, Alex Anthopoulos, was hired on Nov. 13. Hart left the team on Friday.

"The senior baseball operations officials responsible for the misconduct are no longer employed by the Braves," Manfred said. He also said the Braves "cooperated throughout the investigation."

Coppolella did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

The Braves braced fans for the sanctions when team chairman Terry McGuirk apologized to fans "on behalf of the entire Braves family" for the rules violations at the news conference to introduce Anthopoulos.

The Braves said in a statement released Tuesday they "understand and accept the decision regarding the penalties that have been handed down.

"As we expressed last week, our organization has not lived up to the standard our fans expect from us and that we expect from ourselves. For that, we apologize. We are instituting the changes necessary to prevent this from ever happening again and remain excited about the future of Braves baseball."

Manfred said he is confident the Braves management team led by McGuirk, Anthopoulos and vice chairman John Schuerholz "have and will put in place procedures to ensure that this type of conduct never occurs again and which will allow the club to emerge from this difficult period as the strong and respected franchise that it has always been."

The Braves are not the first team to be found guilty of violating rules in signing international players.

In 2016, the Boston Red Sox lost five players and were banned from signing international amateur free agents for one year as punishment for rules violations on signing bonuses.