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Astros face pressure to perform in 2020

Columnist Bruce Penton writes about the Houston Astros' cheating scandal
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Pitchers and catchers report to spring training sites in about two weeks and no team is facing more pressure to perform in 2020 than the Houston Astros. Embroiled in a technologically-driven cheating scandal that goes to the heart of their 2017 World Series title, the Astros will be facing extreme scrutiny this summer as they try to win their fourth consecutive American League West pennant and third A.L. championship.

With the talent on the Houston roster — Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Justin Verlander, et al — winning 95 games or so to top the A.L. West should be easily within the Astrros’ wheelhouse. But if they hit a slump — and a key injury here, or a cold hitting spell there can easily happen — then the skeptics are going to be out in full force.

Did they win the last few years only because of cheating? Did knowing that a fastball and not an off-speed pitch was on its way give the Houston hitters an unfair advantage? If the Astros fall back into the middle of the pack in their division, or hover around .500 for a spell, they will undoubtedly be found guilty in the court of public opinion.

Naturally, Houston players want this cheating scandal to go away. As if.

“The commissioner made his report, made his decision and the Astros made their decision and I have no further comment on it,” Bregman said at a recent fan-fest event, and reported by NBC Sports.

Pressed to elaborate, Bregman said: “I think in the 2020 year our actions will speak louder than our words.”

So true. If the Astros’ actions are positive, the heat will be reduced. If the team slumps, the wolves will be out in full force. Calls for Houston to be stricken of its 2017 World Series’ title, as called for recently by Blue Jays’ outfielder Randal Grichuk, among others, will get louder and more vociferous.

Stealing signs the old-fashioned way, by guile, or by a runner peering in from second base, have long been accepted as part of the game. Using electronics and technology to cheat is verboten, and the fallout from the Astros’ actions has only just begun.

  • Spotted in Dallas on the readerboard of the Truck Yard bar: “Had a funny sign planned for this week, but the Astros stole it.”
  • Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “Roy Williams labeled his 8-8 basketball team as ‘the least gifted team I’ve ever coached’ in his latest tenure at North Carolina. The Society of Those Feeling Sorry for Roy convenes at noon Wednesday in the back seat of a Kia.”
  • Comedy guy Brad Dickson of Omaha, on Twitter: “I just hope now Kansas City Chiefs fans don't get cocky and expect to make it to the Super Bowl every 50 years.”
  • Sportsnet colour guy Garry Galley, after Blue Jackets’ goalie Elvis Merzlikins made a couple of quick glove-hand saves against the Jets: “He’s got a hunk of burning glove.”
  • Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle, on Kansas City and its love for barbecue: “Kansas City also calls itself ‘City of Fountains’ … admired for their beauty as well for their effectiveness in washing barbecue sauce off your hands.”
  • Norman Chad of the Washington Post: “The L.A. City Council passed a measure asking MLB to award the Dodgers the 2017-18 World Series titles in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal. The council – time permitting – will address homelessness, traffic, housing affordability and corrupt city agencies at its next session.”
  • Comedy writer Brad Dickson, on Twitter: “BREAKING: President Trump just announced he'll be sending peacekeeping troops to the next Kansas-Kansas State men's basketball game.”
  • Comedy writer Jim Barach: “The identity of the Hall of Fame voter who snubbed Derek Jeter may never be known. Although it can be narrowed down by finding out who had the ballots that were cast in Boston.”
  • From a headline: “The Patriots DB arrested on drug charges, Joejuan Williams, was a high draft pick. Well yeah, obviously.”
  • Comedian Argus Hamilton, via Twitter, on the 49ers jumping to a 27-0 halftime lead over the Packers in the NFC Championship Game: “If Aaron Rodgers were covered by Allstate instead of State Farm, he would be protected from mayhem like this.”
  • Another Barach offering, after Dennis Kelly, the Titans’ 321-pound tackle, became the heaviest player to ever score an NFL playoff touchdown: “They got him used to being a receiver by throwing him cheeseburgers at lunch every day.”
  • Vancouver’s Torben Rolfsen (Twitter: @vanguy), on the NFL draft planned for Vegas, with the stage set in the middle of the Bellagio fountain and the players being ferried to the stage by boat: “The Detroit Lions war room can be decorated in a Titanic theme.”

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.  

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