Rockies

The long and short of it: Aaron Judge, Jose Altuve drive their teams in ALCS
NEW YORK — Every once in a while, the planets align, giant Jupiter and tiny Mercury, and we get the two best players in the American League Championship Series at the same vector, in the same camera shot, near the same base, and we are left to remind ourselves, for the millionth time, baseball is a wondrous game. Aaron Judge, the New York Yankees‘ rookie right fielder, will reach down — way down — and pat Jose Altuve, the Houston Astros‘ second baseman, on the back, as he did Wednesday after an RBI double in the third inning, and the game will go on. But the wonder remains. It is a wonder Judge and Altuve even play the same sport, let alone that they are two of its greatest practitioners — the leading candidates for AL Most Valuable Player this season and the engines of their respective teams’ offenses in the ALCS, a series the Yankees lead, three games to two, entering Friday night’s Game 6 at Houston’s Minute Maid Park. Judge, 25, is a 6-foot-7, 280-pound mountain of muscle, the likes of which the sport has never seen, an NFL tight end in Yankee pinstripes, a slugger who set a rookie record this season with 52 home runs, including the longest and the hardest-hit of the year. He is a primary reason the Yankees stand one win away from the World Series, having gone 4 for 9 with two homers, two doubles and six RBI, and contributing a couple of dazzling defensive plays, as the Yankees swept Games 3, 4 and 5 at Yankee Stadium this week. Altuve, meantime, is listed at 5-6, 165 pounds, but acknowledges he is actually 5-5. A 27-year-old Venezuelan, he is a wizard with both the bat and the glove and a speeding blur on the bases, a three-time AL batting champ, the first player in history to lead his league in hits outright four straight seasons. He hit three homers in Game 1 of the Division Series against Boston — joining a short list, which includes Babe Ruth and Albert Pujols, of players who have done that in a postseason game — and almost single-handedly willed the Astros to victories over the Yankees in Games 1 and 2 in Houston, scoring the go-ahead runs in each with daring baserunning and robbing the Yankees of hits in the field. “I don’t really care how tall he is. It’s his ability that speaks for itself,” Astros Manager A.J. Hinch said of Altuve. “He’s the most consistent player in the league, in a league that has elite performers anywhere. … Five-six, 6-6, 100 pounds, 200 pounds, 300 pounds — it’s more about what he does, not about the package it comes from.” But if Judge and Altuve are the focal points of their respective lineups, the ones you never want to see at the plate at the biggest moments, they are also the largest black holes, sucking in their teams’ entire production, when they disappear. In the Yankees’ two losses in Houston, Judge went 1 for 7 with three strikeouts, leaving his postseason batting average to that point at .129 (4 for 31) with 19 strikeouts. In the Astros’ three losses in the Bronx, Altuve was 0 for 10 and scored just one run. Yankees Manager Joe Girardi suggested Altuve and Judge, as outliers by virtue of their respective sizes, can be victims of strike-zone biases on the part of home-plate umpires, with umpires calling strikes on Judge that are actually below his strike zone, and on Altuve on pitches that are actually high. Some advanced metrics back up that claim, with Judge, according to ESPN, ranking third in low strikes “framed against” — low balls that are called strikes. “It’s part of what’s going to happen to him because he’s so tall,” Girardi said. “I think there are some pitches that were called on him during the series that haven’t necessarily been strikes. There’s a big difference between 1 and 1 (count) and 2 and 0, (or) 2 and 1. There’s a big difference in the way it changes an at-bat … If you’re an umpire that sees 500 pitches a week, in your mind you’re going to have an idea of what’s a strike and not a strike. And the rare bodies are the Altuves and the Judges. So a lot of times they might get more or (fewer) strikes called on them because (their strike zones are) different.” In order to reach their current status, both Judge and Altuve had to overcome plenty of built-in biases within the sport about their respective body types. Position players of Judge’s size rarely last in the majors, their strike zones too big, their swings too long. Players of Altuve’s size almost never make it to the big leagues, with 5-5 Freddie Patek, who retired in 1981, being the last. When Altuve was 16, the Astros rejected him at a tryout because of his size, but Altuve’s father begged the team to give his son a second tryout, and the Astros eventually signed him for just $15,000. And despite hitting .327 with an .867 OPS i [...]
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Dodgers beat Cubs to reach World Series
CHICAGO — Kike Hernandez homered three times and drove in seven runs, and the Los Angeles Dodgers romped past the Chicago Cubs 11-1 on Thursday night behind Clayton Kershaw to reach the World Series for the first time in almost three decades. Kershaw breezed through six crisp innings and Cody Bellinger had three hits as Los Angeles ended Chicago’s title defense with a dominant performance in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series. Hernandez connected on the first two pitches he saw, belting a solo drive in the second against Jose Quintana and a grand slam in the third against Hector Rondon. Hernandez added a two-run shot in the ninth against Mike Montgomery. It’s the first pennant for one of baseball’s most storied franchises since Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda managed Los Angeles to its last championship in 1988. The Dodgers will host the Yankees or Astros in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night. [...]
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Rockies 2017 review: Catching hinges on re-signing Jonathan Lucroy
Rockies manager Bud Black demands a lot from his pitchers. By extension, that means he demands a lot from his catchers, which is why Black relied so heavily on veteran Jonathan Lucroy as the Rockies made a run to the playoffs. “He has credibility — two-time all-star, good blocker of the ball, good receiver, and he knows the National League being in Milwaukee all those years,” Black said. Now the Rockies are face-to-face with one of their biggest decisions of the offseason. Lucroy will be a free agent, and there is going to be relatively strong demand for his services. How big a contract Lucroy can command, and how much the Rockies are willing to pay will make for a captivating story line. One thing is clear: Lucroy is open to returning to Colorado. “I’d absolutely (be interested) in coming back,” he said in September.  “As a free agent, you look at a lot of things. I look at things even more than money. I want to know what teams are going to be in there. I do not want to go to a team that’s just going to be average. I want to go to a team that is going to be good.  I want to contribute to a playoff team. “Look, I’m a 31-year-old catcher, so I have to get going. I want a ring, or two, or three. And I think the opportunity is definitely here for that to happen.” Lucroy entered the season with a chance of earning a huge contract; something akin to the five-year, $82 million deal Russell Martin landed. But after a disappointing first half of the season with Texas — and even counting his resurgent second half with the Rockies — his payday is likely to come down considerably. It’s reasonable to think Lucroy could get a three-year deal, a bit more lucrative than the $24.5 million contract Minnesota awarded Jason Castro. Following is a look back, and a glimpse ahead, at the Rockies’ catchers: — Dustin Garneau, the hard-working backup, made his first career opening-day roster, but was optioned to Triple-A on May 16 and claimed off waivers by Oakland on Aug. 4. He batted .206, with seven doubles, one home run and six RBIs in 22 games with the Rockies. — Ryan Hanigan was signed toward the end of spring training when it was clear that the Rockies needed a veteran to share duties with second-year catcher Tony Wolters. Hanigan appeared in 33 games with the Rockies. In his 29 starts, the Rockies went 16-13 with a catcher’s ERA of 4.00. He was placed on the disabled list Aug. 22 with a left groin strain and was reinstated Sept. 7. At age 37, Hanigan will likely have to sign a minor-league deal if he wants a shot at another season in the majors. — Lucroy was widely regarded as one of baseball’s best catchers from 2012 through 2016 with the Brewers. Over that span, Lucroy posted an excellent .291 (batting average) / .353 (on-base percentage) / .465 (slugging percentage) batting line that ranked about 20 percent above the league average for catchers. He was also regarded as an elite defensive catcher. But Lucroy slumped offensively with Texas during the first half of the season, slashing just .242/.297/.338 in his 306 plate appearances. After being shipped to the Rockies in a July 30 trade, he was reborn, hitting .310/.429/.437, with 11 extra-base hits in 46 games after hitting only 19 in 77 games with Texas. The pitch-framing stats that he earned in Milwaukee were not repeated in 2017, but Black loved how Lucroy caught games and mentored young pitchers, especially during September. Lucroy also impressed general manager Jeff Bridich. “It took him a little while, just like anybody in that position, such an important position for the pitching and for the defense,” Bridich said. “It’s not just an immediate thing when you bring a catcher in. So it takes a little while for pitchers to get to know him and vice versa, and that was the case. “I think every single time, especially with the starters, that he’s caught guys and they get to know each other better and he gets more and more comfortable. It’s been great.” — Tom Murphy had high hopes of being in the majors full-time in 2016, but he suffered a broken right forearm and wrist in spring training. In his third season with the Rockies, he appeared in just 12 big-league games, getting just one hit. In 38 games with Triple-A Albuquerque, Murphy batted .255 with 10 doubles, one triple, four home runs and nine RBIs. Given his run of injuries, it’s difficult to determine where Murphy’s career stands at this point. He’ll turn 27 in April, so spring training will be huge for him. Related Articles Rockies 2017 review: Bullpen improved, but critical rebuild is on the horizon Rockies Mailbag: Offseason moves, CarGo talk, Todd Helton statue and more Rockies 2017 Review: Young starters & [...]
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Dodgers close in on World Series with 6-1 win over Cubs
CHICAGO — Yu Darvish pitched into the seventh inning, Chris Taylor homered again and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 6-1 on Tuesday night to open a commanding 3-0 lead in the NL Championship Series. Andre Ethier also went deep and Taylor added an RBI triple in the fifth as Los Angeles set a franchise record with its sixth consecutive playoff win. Yasiel Puig had two more hits in another entertaining performance that included an impressive bat flip — on a long foul ball in the first inning. Looking for a four-game sweep, the Dodgers will send Alex Wood to the mound Wednesday night at Wrigley Field with a chance to reach the World Series for the first time since their last championship in 1988. Jake Arrieta, eligible for free agency after the season, pitches for the Cubs in what could be his final start with the team. [...]
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Bashed in the Bronx, Astros happy to head home
NEW YORK — The Houston Astros will be happy to get home after a three-day bashing in the Bronx that left Jose Altuve flinging his bat and Josh Reddick slamming his helmet. Not even Dallas Keuchel could prevent New York from sweeping three games at Yankee Stadium and returning to Texas with a 3-2 lead in the AL Championship Series. Game 6 is Friday night. Houston’s pair of 2-1 wins at the Juice Box last weekend were distant memories after three days unsuccessfully fending off New York’s noisy bats and fans. The Astros’ Big Apple experience was about the same as the tourist couple in “The Out of Towners.” “It’s a tough environment. These people love their Yankees,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said before Wednesday night’s 5-0 loss. “They’re smart with how they try to get loud and put pressure on the players.” The Yankees took the New York portion of the series in straight sets, outscoring Houston 19-5 and outhitting the Astros 25-11. Just one of the Astros’ last 15 batters reached base in Game 5. Keuchel had pitched 13 scoreless innings against the Yankees in postseason play, including seven to win the opener. The bushy bearded ace was 6-2 against New York, never allowing more than three runs. But those precise pitches were a smidgeon off as Greg Bird, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius had run-scoring hits to chase him after 4 2/3 innings. It was Keuchel’s shortest outing since finding his groove in August after struggling in his return from a neck injury. Alex Bregman’s glove was about an inch short of snagging Judge’s 94 mph smash down the third-base line, which put the Yankees ahead 2-0 in the third. Related Articles Dodgers close in on World Series with 6-1 win over Cubs Aaron Judge HR sparks NY, Yankees beat Astros to even ALCS at 2 Aaron Judge, CC Sabathia help Yankees beat Astros, trail ALCS 2-1 Cubs’ Joe Maddon stands by not using Wade Davis, questions criticism Dodgers’ dominant bullpen is baffling foes in NL playoffs Keuchel pitched around Judge with first base open in the fifth to bring up Sanchez, who had been 0 for 8 against the lefty with six strikeouts. Sanchez lined a single to left and Gregorius followed with a grounder up the middle that hit the bottom of the glove of a diving Altuve at second and bounced into center. Houston led the major leagues with a .282 average and 896 runs during the regular season. But the Astros have just nine runs in the ALCS and are batting .147. Houston is hitting .077 (3 for 39) the first time through the batting order and .148 (4 for 27) with runners in scoring position after going 0 for 8 RISP in Game 5. Fish rot at the head and it has been no different at the top of the Astros’ batting order. Leadoff man George Springer is 2 for 18 and Reddick is 0 for 17 in the No. 2 hole. Other than Altuve and Carlos Correa, Houston has just 13 hits. Justin Verlander, who pitched a five-hitter to win Game 2, takes the mound Friday night hoping to save the Astros’ season. The 101 regular-season wins and five in the playoffs don’t matter now. If the Astros are to win their first title or even reach the World Series for the first time since 2005, they’ll have to do their work at home. [...]
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Rockies Mailbag: Offseason moves, CarGo talk, Todd Helton statue and more
Denver Post sports writer Patrick Saunders posts his Rockies Mailbag every other week on Tuesdays during the season and once per month during the offseason. Pose a Rockies – or MLB – related question for the Rockies Mailbag.  I have been attending Rockies fantasy camp since 2001. It is normally held two weeks before the start of spring training, and for the first time this past year, almost every player on the Rockies roster was there working out, weeks before they needed to report. I believe it is this dedication that led to a strong 2017. My question is this, why don’t the Rockies offer Carlos Gonzalez a contract similar to Greg Holland? I love David Dahl and Raimel Tapia, but Dahl is very injury prone and Tapia needs to get stronger. A fair-valued CarGo is still a better option. This team has amazing chemistry and it would be a shame to let it go. Also, resigning catcher Jonathan Lucroy must be the first priority. The Rockies have an amazing core of young pitchers under team control for a few years, but they need a leader. Signing Lucroy to a four-year deal sounds crazy, especially since he will probably not be a starter for all four years. As a catcher he probably has a WAR slightly over above average, but I believe he would add at least a +2 games to each of the starting pitchers on the staff versus Tony Walters or Tom Murphy. — Michael, Miami, Florida Michael, you certainly threw a lot at me, so let’s handle this pitch by pitch. 1. I agree with your contention that the Rockies’ offseason workout program at Salt River Fields is a huge benefit to the team. All of that winter work had helped bond the players. Many of them – including Nolan Arenado — now live in Scottsdale during the offseason, so it’s become very convenient for the players. Despite Troy Tulowitzki’s contention in 2016 that Salt River Field is a “country club,” I believe the Rockies’ top-flight facility has been instrumental to building a stronger organization. 2. Your question about the Rockies’ offering CarGo a “Greg Holland-type contract” is an interesting one. By that, I assume you mean a contract loaded with incentives? On paper, that sounds interesting, but I don’t think CarGo would sign a deal that is so heavily weighted on reaching incentives (Holland more than doubled his salary to $15 million by reaching his in-season goals for innings pitched, saves, etc.) I think the Rockies’ only shot to bring back CarGo is on a one-year deal with a club option for a second season. I can’t imagine any team offering CarGo a lucrative, multi-year deal. There is a chance the Rockies will offer Gonzalez a $17.4 million qualifying offer for 2018, which would allow the Rockies to receive draft-pick compensation if he were to sign with another team. However, I don’t think the Rockies will make that offer to CarGo. If Dahl does not look as if he’ll recover from his lingering rib/back injury, the chances of CarGo returning increase a little bit. There remains a lot of mutual affection between the Rockies and Gonzalez, but I really doubt he will ever play again in Colorado purple. 3. I agree that signing Lucroy should be Colorado’s top free-agent priority. I think he’s invaluable to the development of Colorado’s young starters, and I think we saw that during the last six weeks of the season. Lucroy also started to hit in September (.311 average, .429 on-base percentage), though he’s not showing the power he did during his playing days in Milwaukee. This was the best season the Rockies have had that I can remember, both as a team and individually. What can we do as fans to make sure Mr. Dick Monfort keeps the core of Charlie Blackmon, Arenado, Trevor Story, Mark Reynolds and DJ LeMahieu together for another season or two, letting the pitchers mature? — Rita Richardson, Arvada Rita, I suppose I could say that your campaign to keep the core together starts with this question to my mailbag. However, it might be presumptuous on my part, because I have no idea if Monfort reads anything I write. You could always email Mr. Monfort (try using dick.monfort@rockies.com). That said, the reality of contemporary baseball is that it’s an ever-changing business. I feel pretty certain that Arenado, Blackmon and Story will remain. I can imagine the Rockies approaching Blackmon with a three-year deal, bypassing his final year of arbitration and fending off free agency at the end of 2018. I love LeMahieu, but with the coming ascension of prospect Ryan McMahon, possibly at second base, LeMahieu could become part of trade discussions. LeMahieu, like Blackmon, is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2018 season. It would not surprise me at all to see the Rockies bring Reynolds back on another one-year deal, but they would have to give him a significant raise from the $1.5 million he earned this season. Wi [...]
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Yankees again try to overcome 2-0 deficit, this time against the Astros
NEW YORK — Trailing again 2-0 in the postseason, these young New York Yankees remain even keeled going into Game 3 of the AL Championship Series against the Houston Astros. “I don’t know if it’s maturity or just being dumb,” Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia said Sunday. At 36 the old man of the pitching staff, Sabathia will pitch Monday surrounded by a starting lineup that includes Baby Bombers Aaron Judge (25), Gary Sanchez (24) and Greg Bird (24). Houston, two wins from its first World Series appearance since 2005, starts 33-year-old right-hander Charlie Morton, who grew up in Connecticut rooting for the Yankees. He remembered getting Joe Girardi’s autograph at spring training and his family spotting Derek Jeter at a Bahama Breeze restaurant, an especially exhilarating experience for his sister, Jennie. “She walked up to him and said, ‘Hey, can I have a picture with you?’ And he said, ‘Only if you smile,'” Morton recalled. After a pair of 2-1 games in Houston, the series shifted to the Bronx and the Astros worked out at Yankee Stadium, where New York went 51-30 during the regular season. Houston won the 2015 AL wild-card game in the Bronx by a 3-0 score. “It will be the biggest game of my career,” said Morton, who didn’t get a decision against Boston in Game 4 of the Division Series. While Judge, Sanchez and Didi Gregorius combined to go 2 for 22 in the first two games of the series, Astros stars Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa went 8 for 15. Reaching the best-of-seven LCS is new for most players on both teams, and Astros manager A.J. Hinch thinks his players are motivated by doing well for each other. “Maybe we don’t sense sort of the magnitude of these moments because this is us, who we are, how we are,” he said. New York seeks inspiration from its comeback last week from a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-five Division Series against Cleveland, which led the AL with 102 wins — one more than Houston. Girardi said New York’s streaky nature during the season also bred confidence. The Yankees started 38-23, opening a four-game AL East lead, lost 19 of their next 26, then rebounded to finish 91-71 and earn the top wild card. “Guys started to understand that you have to be resilient in this game,” the manager said. “You’re going to have really tough losses and you have to learn to bounce back.” He also thought back to his playing days on the 1996 Yankees, outscored 16-1 by Atlanta in the opening two games of the World Series. New York swept the next four to win the first of its five titles with Jeter and reliever Marino Rivera. Related ArticlesOctober 16, 2017 Dodgers’ dominant bullpen is baffling foes in NL playoffs October 15, 2017 Justin Turner’s walk-off homer in 9th gives Dodgers win over Cubs in NLCS October 14, 2017 Yasiel Puig, Chris Taylor power Dodgers past Cubs in NLCS Game 1 October 14, 2017 Justin Verlander, Astros beat Yankees in Game 2 ALCS October 13, 2017 Dallas Keuchel strikes out 10, Astros beat Yanks in ALCS opener “There were a lot of young players that played important roles, mostly Mariano and Derek,” Girardi said. “The message then was go win one, one game, and see where we’re at. And that’s the same message.” Sabathia was 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA in 10 starts following Yankees’ losses during the regular season and didn’t get decisions against the Indians in New York’s Game 2 loss or Game 5 win. Given a relief corps that includes Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, David Robertson, Chad Green and Tommy Kahnle, Sabathia doesn’t worry about pitching deep. “I’ll go out and do my thing and let the bullpen clean up my mess,” Sabathia said. Morton follows Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, whose stellar starts were the primary factor in the Yankees’ 27 strikeouts over the two games. Morton recalled going to the old Stadium across 161st Street and also looking on at a Roger Clemens bullpen session during spring training. “When I was little, I remember really wanting a Don Mattingly rookie card, and I never got it,” he said. Morton missed most of 2016 with a hamstring injury, left Philadelphia last offseason to sign with Houston as a free agent and went 14-7. He limited left-handed batters to a .172 average, down from .258 in 2016, and attributed his improvement to a talk in a Citi Field video room last year with Phillies pitching coaches Bob McClure and Rick Kranitz, who advised he throw more curveballs to lefties and fewer sinkers. Morton’s percentage of flyballs among balls in play rose from 21.5 percent two years ago to 29 percent this year. And just like the old ballpark, new Yankee Stadium has a short porch in right, transfor [...]
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Dodgers’ dominant bullpen is baffling foes in NL playoffs
LOS ANGELES — A year ago, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was attempting to get through the late innings of tight playoff games with long appearances by closer Kenley Jansen, a hodgepodge of veteran relievers and one desperate bailout from ace Clayton Kershaw. One October later, Los Angeles’ bullpen is downright dominant as the team steamrolls toward the World Series. After excelling in the unbeaten Dodgers’ three-game NL Division Series sweep of Arizona, those relievers have retired 24 of 25 batters without allowing a hit or a run in the NL Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs. The bullpen hasn’t allowed a hit in its last 8 2/3 innings of work overall, giving the Dodgers extraordinary faith in their relievers heading into Wrigley Field for Game 3 on Tuesday night. “They’re just executing pitches, and they’re ready when called upon, and they’re competing,” Roberts said after his bullpen threw four hitless innings in Los Angeles’ 4-1 victory in Game 2 Sunday night. “It’s a close-knit group down there. … Those guys know exactly what they want to do, and they’re going out there and executing.” The Dodgers’ domination has come from everywhere in the bullpen — not just Jansen, who remains among the top closers in baseball. Jansen has three saves, a victory and 10 strikeouts in six innings, appearing in all five games and allowing just one unearned run. Jansen is still getting multiple-inning saves for Roberts. This year, it’s out of desire rather than utter necessity. “We’ve got a really good bullpen in the postseason,” Jansen said. “I’m not just trying to be a hero, but whatever the team needs me to do, and whatever Doc (Roberts) wants me to do, I’m going to be ready to put myself in that position to win ballgames.” The Dodgers won 104 games in the regular season with a deep lineup and a talent-packed rotation, but their bullpen has been outstanding all year long, easily leading the NL with a 3.38 ERA. In October, the relievers have been even better — particularly against the Cubs, who are still waiting for their first hit against the group. After starter Rich Hill was pulled for a pinch hitter in the fifth inning of Game 2, first-year Dodgers right-hander Brandon Morrow faced six Cubs and retired them all, needing only 18 pitches. The Cubs got their only baserunner of the series against the bullpen when Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo on the hand in the ninth inning of Game 2. The closer calmly got two more outs to set the stage for Justin Turner’s walk-off homer. “I’ve never had a bad feeling with our bullpen before, but I think at the same time we’re realizing that it’s one of our strengths of our team,” Kershaw said after the bullpen backed him with four perfect innings in the Dodgers’ Game 1 victory over Chicago on Saturday. “You still want to go as deep as you can in the game, but I guess handing the ball off to those guys makes it a little easier.” Last year, the Dodgers didn’t have the same array of bullpen talent. They relied heavily on Jansen, Kershaw and Roberts’ creativity, with some nights working out better than others. Roberts was praised for his innovative use of his pitching staff last season, but he has said he doesn’t want to use Kershaw as a reliever this October, preferring to keep his recently injured ace on a regular schedule. So far, he hasn’t even been tempted. Last season’s bullpen got problematic postseason appearances from Grant Dayton, who is out for the season with an elbow injury, and Joe Blanton, now with Washington. Pedro Baez, the hardworking right-hander who has been a target of Dodgers fans’ ire for years, was left off the NLCS roster. Ross Stripling also had trouble last October, but he is still in the Dodgers’ bullpen, although he has yet to pitch in this postseason. Josh Fields is back and better than last season, while the imposing Morrow has appeared in all five games this month, yielding only one run to Arizona. Related Articles Yankees again try to overcome 2-0 deficit, this time against the Astros Justin Turner’s walk-off homer in 9th gives Dodgers win over Cubs in NLCS Yasiel Puig, Chris Taylor power Dodgers past Cubs in NLCS Game 1 Justin Verlander, Astros beat Yankees in Game 2 ALCS Dallas Keuchel strikes out 10, Astros beat Yanks in ALCS opener The Dodgers added two key relievers in midseason trades, picking up eighth-inning setup man Tony Watson and left-hander Tony Cingrani. Both settled in quickly with the Dodgers, and they’ve combined to yield only two runs in seven postseason appearances. And this month, the bullpen got Kenta Maeda, the Japanese right-hander who went 13-6 wi [...]
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Justin Verlander, Astros beat Yankees in Game 2 ALCS
HOUSTON — Jose Altuve raced home on Carlos Correa’s double in the ninth inning, Justin Verlander struck out 13 in a complete game and the Houston Astros beat the New York Yankees 2-1 Saturday for a 2-0 lead in the AL Championship Series. Correa also homered, but Houston needed a daring dash from Altuve to get Verlander a win. The 5-foot-6 AL MVP front-runner reached with a one-out single against closer Aroldis Chapman, then sprinted around from first base on Correa’s shot to right-center field, sliding past catcher Gary Sanchez as he misplayed a short-hop. Altuve had two more hits and is 13 for 23 (.565) this postseason. Verlander pitched another gem for the Astros, setting a postseason career best for strikeouts and allowing five hits in his second career complete game in the postseason. He threw 124 pitches and retired baby Bronx Bombers Aaron Judge, Sanchez and Greg Bird to get through the top of the ninth. In the bottom of the inning, Judge picked up Correa’s hit in right field and threw toward second base. Shortstop Didi Gregorius fielded there, and his throw beat Altuve to the plate by a few steps. But Sanchez bobbled the one-hop as Altuve slid by, and the Astros mobbed Correa in shallow center field while Altuve pointed from home plate. [...]
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Yasiel Puig, Chris Taylor power Dodgers past Cubs in NLCS Game 1
LOS ANGELES — Although Clayton Kershaw once again failed to dominate in a postseason start, these Los Angeles Dodgers don’t need one guy to carry them. With a relentless lineup, flawless relief pitching and a collective charisma epitomized by the bat-flipping Yasiel Puig, the Dodgers are still unbeaten in the postseason and off to a strong start in the NL Championship Series. Chris Taylor hit a tiebreaking homer in the sixth inning, Puig added a homer and an RBI double to his dynamite postseason, and the Dodgers overcame a short start by Kershaw for a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Saturday night in the NLCS opener. “We just tried to set the tone early against the Cubs,” closer Kenley Jansen said. “We understand they’re the defending champions, so they’re a really good team. We understand that we won 104 games, but right now it doesn’t matter.” Charlie Culberson doubled, drove in the tying run and scored another while replacing injured All-Star shortstop Corey Seager for the resourceful Dodgers, who improved to 4-0 in this postseason.” With another collective offensive effort and four innings of perfect relief for Kershaw, the Dodgers calmly overcame an early two-run deficit and took the first game of this rematch of the 2016 NLCS, won in six games by the Cubs on the way to their first World Series championship in 108 years. “It’s two different ballclubs,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “There are some similar players, but I think that the season we had versus the season they had last year, I think that you could parallel those two, and the confidence we have in our group, and they had in their group last year. I just know that this year we’re a very focused group, very confident group.” The Dodgers hadn’t won the opening game of an NLCS since 1985. Game 2 is Sunday, with Rich Hill starting at home against Chicago’s Jon Lester. Kershaw pitched five innings of four-hit ball, but the Los Angeles ace fell behind 2-0 before getting pulled for a pinch-hitter during the Dodgers’ tying rally. After winning 104 games in the regular season and sweeping Arizona in the Division Series, the Dodgers have a lineup and bullpen equipped to handle almost anything. They made Kershaw’s latest laborious postseason start virtually irrelevant, just as they did after he gave up four homers in his 2017 playoff opener against the Diamondbacks last week. Albert Almora Jr. hit a two-run homer in the fourth, but the final 18 batters failed to reach base for the weary Cubs, still bouncing back from a 10-hour cross-country flight after finishing off Washington in an epic Game 5 late Thursday night. “Their bullpen is pretty firm, and we have to really get our feet back on the ground,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. Puig added another huge offensive game to his recent surge with his first career postseason homer — though in a postgame interview on TBS, he was convinced he had hit one before. The Cuban slugger also included his usual array of creative bat discards and portentous pauses at the plate. Los Angeles finally got rolling in the fifth when Logan Forsythe and Austin Barnes drew one-out walks before Puig hammered a double to left-center. The ebullient Cuban slugger headed to second only after flipping his bat and spreading his arms wide at the plate. Puig’s sky-high homer off Mike Montgomery in the sixth barely got over the fence in left. Puig is 7 for 15 with six RBIs in the Dodgers’ first four playoff games. “I grew up a little bit,” Puig said. “(I’m) going to home plate having fun, because I know (if) I hit nothing, (if) I do nothing in the game, my teammates are going to have my back.” Kenta Maeda got three outs and the victory in his latest standout relief effort, and Jansen struck out all four batters he faced for his third save this postseason. Kershaw’s inability to match his sublime regular-season performances in the playoffs is a central theme of his career. The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner won the NLDS series opener last week despite giving up four homers at Dodger Stadium, and Almora’s shot made him the first Dodgers pitcher to yield five homers in a single postseason. CLOSE CALL Maddon was ejected in the seventh after a call at the platewas reversed. Culberson initially was ruled out when he attempted to score from second, but was called safe after video review when catcher Willson Contreras was deemed to be in violation of blocking home plate without the ball. “I saw a great baseball play,” Maddon said. “His technique was absolutely 100 percent perfect. I could not disagree more with the interpretation of that.” GOOD START Jose Quintana pitched five innings of two-hit ball for the Cubs one day after his wife, Michel, was taken off the team plane in Albuquer [...]
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Dallas Keuchel strikes out 10, Astros beat Yanks in ALCS opener
HOUSTON — Dallas Keuchel dominated the Yankees again, striking out 10 in seven scoreless innings to lead the Houston Astros over New York 2-1 on Friday night in the AL Championship Series opener. Keuchel entered with a 1.24 ERA against the Yankees in regular season starts plus six shutout innings in the 2015 AL wild card game, He allowed four hits — all singles — walked one and joined Nolan Ryan and Mike Scott as the only Astros pitchers to reach double digits in strikeouts in a postseason game. “It’s just a good combination of command and pitchability,” Keuchel said. “When I’m behind in the count, I feel just as good as if I’m 0-2. I think that’s one of the biggest keys for me recently.” “He’s got that late movement on both sides of the plate,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel hit RBI singles in the fourth off loser Masahiro Tanaka, and left fielder Marwin Gonzalez threw out Greg Bird at the plate trying to score on Aaron Judge’s two-out single in the fifth. Bird homered off Ken Giles with two outs in the ninth, and the closer struck out pinch-hitter Jacoby Ellsbury. Giles escaped a two-out jam in the eighth by strikeing out Didi Gregorius. Greeted by MVP chants each time to the plate, Jose Altuve had three more hits and at 11 for 19 (.579) has the most hits in a team’s first five postseason games since Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki in 2001. Houston is in the Championship Series for the first time since beating St. Louis in 2005. The Yankees, who overcame a 2-0 deficit to beat Cleveland in the Division Series, lost their sixth straight ALCS game since 2010. After the Astros totaled eight runs in the first innings of their four AL Division Series games, Tanaka kept the Astros hitless until Altuve’s infield single rolled through the pitcher’s legs in the fourth. Altuve swiped second before scoring on Correa’s single. Gurriel followed with a two-out single, his 10th hit of the postseason. Bird singled to start the fifth and Matt Holliday, making his first appearance of the postseason, reached when Altuve dropped his slow bouncer to second for an error. Judge singled with two outs and Gonzalez, throwing with such force that he fell to the ground, made a one-hop throw to catcher Brian McCann, who tagged the sliding Bird. to tag Bird at home to end the inning. The call was upheld in a video review. Primarily an infielder, Gonzalez had just two outfield assists in the regular season. He beat his hand into his glove three times in celebration after watching McCann make the tag. Related ArticlesOctober 13, 2017 Chicago Cubs plane diverted to Albuquerque for medical issue October 12, 2017 Cubs come back on Max Scherzer to beat Nationals in NLDS Game 5 October 12, 2017 Dallas Keuchel looks to continue success against Yankees in ALCS October 12, 2017 Gio Gonzalez named Nationals starter for Game 5 of NLDS vs. Cubs October 11, 2017 Yankees complete comeback, beat Indians in Game 5 of ALDS UP NEXT Yankees: Luis Severino will make his third start of this postseason on Saturday. Severino yielded three runs and four hits in seven innings of a win in Game 4 of the ALDS to bounce back after allowing three runs and getting just one out in the wild-card game. “I feel good, I feel confident in myself,” he said. “I knew that that first start I did, that wasn’t me, and I made adjustments. That’s how we do it; we make adjustments and the second start I put in place those adjustments and did good.” Astros: Justin Verlander is scheduled to make his 18th playoff start on Saturday. Verlander got the win in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Red Sox and picked up win No. 2 of this postseason when he made his first career relief appearance in Game 4. He’s 9-5 with a 3.36 ERA and 115 strikeouts in his postseason career. [...]
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Rockies 2017 retrospect: Young pitchers made strides, offense disappointed
The image lingers: Charlie Blackmon, standing in the center of the jubilant Rockies clubhouse at Coors Field, drenched in champagne and beer and encircled by teammates chanting, “M-V-P! M-V-P!” The Sept. 30 snapshot captured the night the Rockies clinched the National League’s second wild-card spot and qualified for the postseason for the first time since 2009. They finished with an 87-75 record, the third-best record in franchise history. And, despite an 11-8, one-and-done loss to Arizona in the wild-card game, 2017 was a leap forward for the Rockies, who snapped a streak of six consecutive seasons of losing baseball during which they had averaged 92 losses. A closer look at key statistics reveals the good and bad, and points to major questions for  2018: Getting started: General manager Jeff Bridich‘s blueprint was clear. He invested money last winter to shore up a collapsed bullpen and counted on his young starters to mature. Despite expected hiccups and some late-season fatigue, the kids for the most part delivered. Colorado’s four rookie starters — Kyle Freeland, Jeff Hoffman, German Márquez and Antonio Senzatela — started a combined 93 games, with the Rockies going 53-40. The quartet had a combined ERA of 4.65.  Freeland (11-11), Marquez (11-7) and Senzatela (10-5) were the first rookie trio to win at least 10 games for the same team in more than a decade, since Anibal Sanchez, Ricky Nolasco and Scott Olsen did it with Miami in 2006. Overall, Rockies starters went 63-56, the fifth-most wins in the NL and the second-most in franchise history. The starters’ 4.59 ERA was the fifth-lowest in franchise history and the ninth-lowest in the NL. Unless the Rockies sign a veteran starter (unlikely), or engineer a trade for one (possible), three of the rookies will join Jon Gray, 25, and Chad Bettis, 28, in the starting rotation next season. The future is in young hands. Bullpen rebuild: The Rockies 2016 bullpen was a disaster, as evidenced by its NL-worst 5.10 ERA. To rectify that, Bridich signed right-handed closer Greg Holland to a contract that eventually paid him $15 million. Colorado also signed left-hander Mike Dunn to a three-year, $19 million deal. At the trade deadline, Bridich acquired right-hander Pat Neshek from Philadelphia, and Neshek delivered – until the playoff loss – going 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA and issuing just one walk vs. 24 strikeouts. On balance, Rockies relievers improved significantly, compiling a 4.40 ERA, the seventh-lowest in franchise history. Colorado’s 47 saves were the most in franchise history and the fourth-most in MLB. Holland had 41 of those saves, tying a franchise record. Bridich also had made it clear that he wanted relievers who could get strikeouts when the going got tough. The strategy worked, at times, as the bullpen’s 549 strikeouts were the second-most in franchise history. Related ArticlesOctober 12, 2017 Greg Holland declines option with Rockies, according to report, will become free agent October 9, 2017 Lunch Special: Could Jonathan Lucroy and Greg Holland return to the Rockies next year? October 8, 2017 GM Jeff Bridich facing critical free-agent decisions as Rockies enter offseason October 7, 2017 Kiszla: Thank you, Carlos Gonzalez, for bringing joy as big as the Rockies to LoDo for 9 years October 6, 2017 MLB finds no evidence that Diamondbacks used Apple Watch to steal signs from Rockies Moving forward, however, huge questions loom, especially with Holland, Neshek and left-hander Jake McGee (0-2, 3.61 ERA) all becoming free agents. That leaves the Rockies without a closer and two key set-up men. Holland, who declined his $15 million player option, seems unlikely to re-sign with Colorado. Moreover, there are questions about whether not the Rockies should spend big money to bring him back. After a sensational start, Holland slumped. From June 15 on, he went 3-6 with four blown saves in 22 opportunities and a 5.51 ERA. The Rockies might have a closer on their roster, with hard-throwing but still raw Carlos Estevez a candidate. Or the club could convert one of their young starters into a closer. The bottom line: the bullpen needs shoring up, again. Hit and miss. On the surface, the Rockies’ offense looked powerful, as it finished first in the NL in batting average (.273) and runs scored (824). MVP candidates Nolan Arenado and Blackmon each hit 37 home runs and combined for 234 RBIs, while first baseman Mark Reynolds, 34, added 30 home runs and 97 RBIs. Dig a bit deeper, however, and it’s clear that the Rockies’ offense was a disappointment. Despite playing half their games in a hitting friendly park, Coors Field, their 192 home runs ranked 21st in the major leagues during a season in which an all-time r [...]
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Cubs come back on Max Scherzer to beat Nationals in NLDS Game 5
WASHINGTON — The Chicago Cubs win whenever they need to, with whatever it takes, even a seven-out save by Wade Davis to preserve a shrinking lead and a “Did that really happen?” four-run inning against Washington’s Max Scherzer in a thriller of a Game 5. That wild, bat-around fifth inning Thursday night for Chicago included Addison Russell’s go-ahead, two-run double, a bases-loaded hit by pitch, and a disputed dropped third strike followed by a throwing error, helping the defending World Series champion Cubs come back — and then hold on — to edge the Nationals 9-8. And for the third year in a row, Chicago reached the NL Championship Series. “Give the boys credit,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s one of the most incredible victories I’ve ever been part of. I know a lot of people are probably saying the same thing, but under the circumstances, in the other team’s ballpark, after a tough loss at home, to come back and do that, give our guys all the credit in the world.” Russell drove in four runs and Davis, Chicago’s seventh pitcher, turned in his longest appearance since 2012. “I’ve always known he’s got a lot of mettle in his soul,” Ben Zobrist, who scored two runs for Chicago, said about Davis. “The guy just shows up. He’s got ice in his veins.” The same could be said for all of the Cubs. They trailed 4-1, then led 8-4 and 9-6, in a game that lasted more than 4½ hours and ended after midnight on Friday. “It was ‘Bizarro World,’ there’s no question about it,” Maddon said. “But it happens. It happens this time of the year.” Catcher Willson Contreras picked off Jose Lobaton at first base to quash a Washington threat in the eighth and Davis fanned a swinging Bryce Harper for the final out. “Just trying to stay focused and confident in the end,” Davis said. Chicago, which surpassed its total of eight runs from the first four games of the NL Division Series, advanced to face the Los Angeles Dodgers, who will start ace Clayton Kershaw at home in Game 1 of the NLCS on Saturday night. For Maddon and the Cubs, this was their fourth consecutive victory in a win-or-be-eliminated postseason game. That includes three straight to end the 2016 World Series, when Chicago trailed the Cleveland Indians 3-1 before forcing a Game 7 won by the Cubs in 10 innings. The Nationals, meanwhile, went one-and-done yet again: This is the fourth time in the past six years that the club won the NL East and immediately lost its opening playoff series. And this is the third time in that span that Washington bowed out with a Game 5 NLDS loss at home; that also happened in 2012 against the St. Louis Cardinals and last year against the Dodgers. This one was played exactly five years to the day after the decider against the Cardinals, which the Nationals lost 9-7 in Washington. Just like that night, the Nationals started Gio Gonzalez. Just like that night, Washington raced out to an early lead (6-0 back then). And just like that night, Gonzalez had control problems and started giving back some of the edge. “It was a series of bad events,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “It really hurts, you know, to lose like that, especially after what we went through all year long, and that was tough.” Homers by Daniel Murphy and Michael A. Taylor — whose grand slam off Davis backed Stephen Strasburg’s 12-strikeout masterpiece in Washington’s 5-0 victory in Game 4 at Wrigley Field on Wednesday — gave the hosts a 4-1 lead in the second against Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks. But Gonzalez gave back two of those runs, so it was 4-3 as two-time Cy Young Award winner Scherzer entered for the fifth. He started Game 3 of this series, pushed back because of an injured right hamstring, and hadn’t come out of the bullpen since 2013 with the Detroit Tigers. “Huge. You look out there and you see Scherzer up there and you think, ‘One of the best, if not the best, pitcher out there on the mound,” Russell said. “You kind of have to change your game plan, your approach.” Related Articles Chicago Cubs plane diverted to Albuquerque for medical issue Dallas Keuchel looks to continue success against Yankees in ALCS Gio Gonzalez named Nationals starter for Game 5 of NLDS vs. Cubs Yankees complete comeback, beat Indians in Game 5 of ALDS Stephen Strasburg, Nationals beat Cubs, force NLDS to Game 5 By the time Scherzer’s one inning was over, the Cubs had taken a 7-4 lead, and Russell had delivered the biggest hit. Chicago scored two earned runs and two unearned runs, on the strength of three hits, one hit by pitch, one intentional walk, a catcher’s interference, [...]
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