Cubs

Braun news could have big effect on baseball

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Braun news could have big effect on baseball

Saturday's news that NL MVP Ryan Braun's performance-enhancing drug test came up positive has turned the baseball world upside down. Very much like when Alex Rodriguez ultimately admitted to steroid usage back in 2009.

I won't sit here and say Braun is for sure guilty, because he's not. Innocent until proven guilty. That's how America works, right?

But either way, Braun's name and good image are being dragged through the mud. He may not have been for baseball what Tim Tebow has been for the NFL, but he was pretty darn close. The Brewers have utilized their outfielder's popularity to help promote the team and the city while the league has been quick to have the reigning MVP help pump up the game's image.

Justifiably so, I might add. Up until about 24 hours ago, Braun seemed like one of the best people in baseball.

Now that this news has come out, however, it could change the entire game. Baseball was supposed to be the cleanest professional sport and the new CBAs were supposed to do more to get the game even cleaner. The league has been doing its best to try to rid the sport of all performance-enhancing drugs.

And then the MVP gets busted. That doesn't look good. At this point, maybe the only person that could help make the game look worse than Braun just has is Albert Pujols, what, after his quarter-of-a-billion-dollar contract and all the attention he received after leading the Cardinals on the most improbable of improbable playoff runs that culminated into a World Series win in St. Louis.

Al Yellon over at SBNation has a great column examining the impact Braun's test has had -- and could have -- on the game.

My question is, how did it even get here? How was Braun so careless as to even find himself in this position? Professional athletes -- especially baseball players -- should never put anything into their body without checking and double-checking with the team's training staff that it won't make them test positive in PEDs.

It's either carelessness or ignorance on Braun's part that he even tested positive, whether he is actually guilty or not. Either way, he makes himself and the game look bad.

This saga isn't over and likely won't be anytime soon. But it's important to watch closely as both Cubs fans and baseball fans. Whichever way it goes, the ruling will have a big effect on the game and the Brewers. If Milwaukee is without their best player and Prince Fielder does indeed leave town like all are assuming, it will be an awfully wide-open NL Central that will already be without Albert Pujols.

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

The Cubs and Braves got through roughly one inning of Stranger Things Night at Wrigley Field before Willson Contreras made the evening his own. 

The catcher went 2-4 with three RBI, and provided the most notable moment from the game: a 2nd inning solo homer that caused both benches to clear. Contreras had taken issue with a few of the called strikes earlier in the at-bat, and said something to home plate umpire John Tumpane about it. Contreras continued to make his feelings known as he left the box, drawing the ire of Braves catcher Tyler Flowers.

“To be honest, those pitches weren’t even close to the strike zone,” he said. “[Flowers] got mad because I was talking to the umpire about that, and he jumped into the conversation. 

Contreras then proceeded to shout in the direction of Atlanta’s dugout while rounding first base, and the two catchers exchanged more words as he crossed home plate. The benches quickly emptied, and after a few moments of posturing, returned to their dugouts. 

“It was a lot of emotions together,” he said after the game. “I was having a conversation with the umpire, and it ended up with [Flowers], so that’s all I can say. I just basically told him to do his job and I’ll do mine. I don’t know why he got pissed off because that’s all I said - you do your job and i’ll do mine.”

“I was kind of amused by the whole thing,” Joe Maddon added. “I don’t really know Mr. Flowers - we had a nice conversation, walked away, and it was over. It really wasn’t worth more than what happened.

The confrontation was just one of a few testy moments between these two teams. In the top of the 2nd inning, Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson was caught on cameras shushing the Cubs dugout: 

Two innings later, it was Javy Baez who returned serve by blowing the Braves a kiss after stealing second on Flowers: 

“It’s fun because they’re good,” Maddon said. “And we’re good - that’s the fun part. Monday night, at 7:05, to have that kind of attitude and atmosphere is outstanding. That’s what baseball needs.” 

On the mound, Jon Lester bounced back from a run of three straight underwhelming performances. June hasn’t been kind to Lester, as the lefty had allowed 14 runs over the last 23 IPs prior to Monday’s start, good for a 5.93 FIP. He threw 94 pitches against the Braves, lasting six innings while allowing two runs -- both unearned, though -- and striking out seven. He only threw 94 pitches, but his control (0 BB) was excellent. Lester spotted his strikeout pitch well all night, getting four of his six right-handed K’s on the low outside corner:

“I just tried to stay down there, and had the backdoor cutter to those guys,” Lester said. “We were able to kind of exploit that, and then when we felt that guys were reaching out there a little bit, I ran the cutter in on some guys too. I was just able to command both sides of the plate tonight, which is huge against an offense like that.” 

“Great job by Jon,” Maddon added, “Jon had great stuff. Coming off of [throwing 114 pitches], he’s been throwing a lot of pitches on regular rest, so I wanted to limit that tonight. He was lobbying to go back out, but I didn’t feel good about it based on the longevity of the season and we had a rested Kintzler.

“But Jon was really good, and really good against a tough lineup.”

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night

Ozzie Guillen and Doug Glanville join Leila Rahimi to talk all things Chicago baseball as the Cubs take on the Braves and the White Sox look to get a win in Boston.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below: