Houston Astros

Bryce Harper on Astros: ‘You’re gonna see this year if they’re the truth’

Bryce Harper on Astros: ‘You’re gonna see this year if they’re the truth’

Bryce Harper, like practically every veteran major-leaguer, has been asked this spring for his thoughts on the Astros' cheating scandal. More than once, Harper has said the most bothersome part of the scandal is the impact it had on fringe major-league pitchers who lost money or lost their job in part because of how they performed in Houston.

The entire baseball world is angry with the Astros and for good reason. However, the idea that Houston was only a 100-win team because of its electronic sign-stealing system seems like misguided revisionist history. The 2017 Astros, the 2018 Astros, the 2019 Astros, this 2020 team — they were all loaded. For Astros players, one of the most frustrating parts of this ordeal has to be that they may have been good enough to win it all without cheating.

Harper had an interesting take on the matter Thursday morning on the 94WIP Morning Show.

"Being able to watch a Houston team that you believed was one of the best teams in the world, that run that they had gone on. You're gonna see this year if they're the truth — if they're really gonna go out there and do what they do," Harper said. 

"And if they do, then nobody can really say anything. I think they do have really good players but the things they did do in the past is gonna taint what they did."

It feels like 2020 can go only one of two ways for the Astros. Either the drama, stress and hatred from each road fanbase and opponent will result in a disappointing, wheels-fall-off season. Or the Astros are galvanized by the "us against the world" mentality and come out and have another strong season. The guess here is that they either win 100-plus games or struggle badly, shut down key players, punt the season and finish right around .500. We shall see.

Harper and the Phillies face the Astros in Houston July 7-8-9, the penultimate series before the All-Star break.

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Former Phillies and Astros closer Ken Giles says he'd return 2017 World Series ring if asked

Former Phillies and Astros closer Ken Giles says he'd return 2017 World Series ring if asked

Only two members of the 2017 Houston Astros team which won the World Series and was eventually outed and shamed for cheating had ties to the Phillies.

There was closer Ken Giles, whom the Phillies traded to Houston in December 2015 for a package including Vince Velasquez. And there was Charlie Morton, a frustrating example of the Phillies' inability to strike gold with a low-cost veteran. Morton made just four starts with the Phils in 2016 before tearing his hamstring and then finding immense success with the Astros and Rays over the next three years.

While Morton's run with Houston was incredible (29-10, 3.36 ERA in 55 starts), Giles' was up and down. He had a 2.30 ERA with 34 saves in the regular season for the 2017 Astros but struggled mightily in the playoffs, allowing 10 runs in 7⅔ with a blown save and two losses.

Giles, a Toronto Blue Jay since a midseason trade from Houston in 2018, is in the news this week because of how he responded to a question about the Astros' deceitful ways.

Asked by the Toronto Star if he would give up his 2017 World Series ring if asked, Giles said, “Whatever they ask, I would oblige. Because what was going on at the time was not OK.”

Giles had a strange run for him in Houston marked by highs and lows. He has certainly benefited from his change of scenery. He posted a 1.87 ERA with 83 strikeouts in 53 innings in 2019 for Toronto, where things have stabilized for the former seventh-round pick of the Phils.

Meanwhile, Velasquez has yet to pan out in Philadelphia. That trade, the first big one made by Phillies GM Matt Klentak, was made because a top-notch closer was a luxury on a rebuilding team and Velasquez was perceived to offer more value because he could (theoretically) give a team six innings every fifth day.

That still hasn't happened and this spring may be Velasquez' final opportunity to win a job in the Phillies' rotation.

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Joe Girardi defends himself against sign-stealing video – 'We caught them,' he says

Joe Girardi defends himself against sign-stealing video – 'We caught them,' he says

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The story that won’t go away wended its way through Phillies camp Thursday in the form of a 22-second video of Joe Girardi talking about illicit sign-stealing.

The video was plucked from a segment on sign-stealing that Girardi participated in during his time with the MLB Network. It was taped in mid-October, just before he was named Phillies manager.

In the video, analyst and former big-league pitcher Al Leiter asks Girardi, “What did you guys use?”

https://twitter.com/joshstros/status/1230191939678605314?s=21

The question is accompanied by some laughs but it’s clear that Leiter is asking what means the New York Yankees used to pick up signs during Girardi’s time as manager of that club from 2008 to 2017.

Girardi responds by saying, “I was part of a system …” He then explains how signs were detected “upstairs” and relayed down to the dugout and field.

At first blush, it sounds rather incriminating. 

Until you hear how Girardi punctuates his comment.

“We eventually caught it,” he says in the video.

Girardi knew the video had been making the rounds — he said it made him laugh — and was prepared to answer questions about it after Thursday's workout.

“If people listen to the whole video, you can put 2 and 2 together and know what I’m talking about,” he said. “We caught them.”

Caught who?

There was a long pause.

“Put 2 and 2 together,” he said.

The implication was that Girardi was talking about the Houston Astros, who were nailed for illegal sign-stealing during the 2017 season. The Astros eliminated Girardi’s Yankees in the ALCS that season and went on to win the World Series.

But he may have been talking about the Boston Red Sox, an AL East rival of the Yankees, who are also under investigation for stealing signs illegally.

Who knows?

As fallout from the cheating scandal has engulfed baseball in the early weeks of spring training, Girardi has been mostly reserved while speaking with Philadelphia reporters about the topic. The emergence of the MLB Network video resulted in him being more expansive Thursday.

Girardi was asked about his saying, “I was part of a system” in the video.

“Yeah, the system was our system caught the other group,” he said. “If you listen to the whole video, we caught the other team. It was coming from upstairs to someone in the dugout and then relayed one way or another. I laugh because people are cutting it up and trying to make it something.

“It wasn’t our team doing it. We caught the other team doing it. And I think part of this is why the Commissioner has put out some of these rules and I think it’s important that we protect the integrity of the game because that is really important to me.”

Girardi was asked if his team reported the violating team to MLB.

“As a manager, I personally don’t, but that doesn’t mean that the team I was on didn’t,” he said.

The video dealt extensively with the importance of teams protecting their signs from being stolen and that has been a theme of Girardi’s first camp with the Phillies.

“A lot of people want to talk about what happened in 2017, ‘18, ’19,” he said. “No. It’s what we do moving forward, guys, that’s important to me.

“It’s complicated in a lot of manners and guarding your signs is really difficult today with all the cameras and everything you can see. So you have to be really clever. It’s hard.”

MLB is expected to come up with tighter guidelines regarding access to video around the dugout before opening day. One possible solution would be locking down the video room at game time. But that comes with complications because teams need access to instant replay to challenge umpire calls.

“I don’t know if I’ve thought through it enough because I know players like watching their at-bats,” Girardi said. “I think the replay room has caused a lot of consequences that they did not foresee. And I’m a proponent of replay. I think it’s important. But there’s some consequences that I don’t know any of us foresaw as we put this is in because it’s usually right next to the video room."

One potential solution is barring players from watching video during the games — it seemed to work OK for Ted Williams and Mike Schmidt — and moving those who keep tabs on potential replay challenges upstairs to the press/broadcast level.

Girardi said he wouldn’t mind if those who oversee replay challenges moved upstairs but he’s not sure about closing off the video room to players.

“I don’t know what the right answer is because players like watching their at-bats,” he said.

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