Astros reliever Bryan Abreu has been suspended for intentionally throwing at Rangers right fielder Adolis García in Game 5 of the ALCS. This means that Abreu will be benched for
Game 7 of the ALCS, wait, no. Abreu is available for Game 7 and he’ll be available for every World Series game, if the Astros can manage to win Game 7 Monday night.
Abreu is the primary setup man for the Astros and it could be argued he’s their best reliever. He had a 1.75 ERA and 1.04 WHIP with 100 strikeouts in 72 regular-season innings. He’s been very effective in the playoffs, too.
That he is available for Game 7 seems like a swing-and-a-miss from Major League Baseball, led by commissioner Rob Manfred.
Abreu was deemed by the six umpires working the ALCS to have thrown at García intentionally in Game 5. The league has agreed with the assessment that Abreu threw at García on purpose, otherwise the suspension wouldn’t have been upheld. The league went through the process of evaluation and decided Abreu’s actions were worthy of a suspension and then Abreu went through an appeals process, where the arbiter agreed that he threw at García intentionally.
So why is Abreu not serving his suspension until next season? Two regular-season games for a reliever are insignificant in the grand scheme of things for a team, so it really doesn’t seem like much of a punishment.
To be clear, I don’t know if Abreu threw at García on purpose or not. I think it would be incredibly foolish and selfish if he did so in the situation, but he hardly ever hits batters. Between the regular season and playoffs, Abreu has thrown 81 1/3 innings and hit just four batters. Until García in Game 5, Abreu hadn’t hit a batter since May 27.
The argument that Abreu hit García on purpose certainly has merit. Given how rare it is for Abreu to hit batters and that it just happened to be his first pitch to García after a massive three-run home run and meandering celebratory trot, it’s an easy bridge to cross.
Still, whether or not any of us believe Abreu threw at García intentionally doesn’t even matter anymore. Major League Baseball has ruled that he did and doubled down on it during appeal. It’s now a fact as far as we’re concerned.
Punishing players for actions on the field is supposed to serve as a consequence in addition to a deterrence against future such actions. How much of a warning is this against throwing at hitters on purpose during the playoffs if the pitchers know they can’t be punished until the next regular season? Where’s the immediate consequence for Abreu for this action that the league deemed nefarious?
The opposing argument would likely say that it isn’t fair to handcuff a team by suspending an important player for Game 7 of the ALCS. I’d reply that actions are supposed to have consequences and if they didn’t want to deal with the suspension, maybe Abreu shouldn’t have hit García.
Throwing at opposing hitters intentionally is punishable by Major League Baseball because it’s a safety issue. Anything close to the head can put a players livelihood at risk and anywhere on the body could put him out for a few games. Had García been hurt, would the suspension ruling have been different? An injury doesn’t get the chance to be delayed to next season before the player has to sit out.
And I just keep coming back to a simple argument: Either he hit him on purpose or he didn’t. If he did and the league believes he should be suspended, suspend him now. If not, just waive the suspension altogether.
Reaffirming the suspension while kicking it to next regular season seems pretty wishy-washy and, frankly, a bit gutless.