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  • The ring's the thing: Kershaw, Verlander each eye 1st title
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 23, 2017

    All eyes will be on the Los Angeles Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw and the Houston Astros' Justin Verlander as the World Series unfolds this week.

    • That is not unusual. They stand among the best pitchers of a generation. Every start is a chance to see an artist at work. And in Games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles they will be attempting to craft masterpieces under the biggest of spotlights.

      Still, there is something more to the competition because each has not won a World Series. Yes, Kershaw has an MVP award, three Cy Young Awards and a no-hitter. And Verlander has an MVP, a Cy Young and a pair of no-hitters. But when each has pitched in his most meaningful games, there have been failures.

      Because of Kershaw's slightly higher profile and his scheduled Game 1 start against Houston and Dallas Keuchel, he will get scrutinized most.

      The 29-year-old left-hander with the devastating breaking pitch is 144-64 with a 2.36 ERA in the regular season. In the postseason, he is 6-7 with a 4.40 ERA.

      Included on Kershaw's October resume are some notable defeats, including Game 6 to the Chicago Cubs in last season's National League Championship Series and two losses each to the St. Louis Cardinals in the '13 NLCS and the '14 NL Division Series.

      Kershaw is finally pitching in a World Series after throwing six innings of one-run ball Thursday in the pennant-clincher against the Cubs. In three playoff starts this October, he is 2-0 with a good-by-most-standards 3.63 ERA, though he has allowed six home runs.

      "Who knows how many times I'm going to get to go to the World Series?" he said. "I know more than anybody how hard it is to get there. Winning the World Series is really all that we play this game for. All the individual stuff is great, but at the end of the day, I just want to win a World Series."

      Verlander gets everyone's attention on Wednesday when he starts Game 2 against the Dodgers and Rich Hill.

      The right-hander who still dials his fastball up to 98 mph (but no longer 100) has been a better big-game pitcher. He has been to the postseason six times. In 17 games (16 starts) in an American League Division Series or AL Championship Series, he is 11-2 with a 2.42 ERA. Twice he has reached the World Series, and that's where it all changes for him: In three starts, he is 0-3 with a 7.20 ERA.

      The 34-year-old is having what looks like a renaissance since he was dealt from Detroit to Houston just before the Aug. 31 deadline, going 9-0 with a 1.22 ERA in nine appearances since the deal.

      Too many forget he had more first-place votes for the 2016 AL Cy Young Award than winner Rick Porcello of the Red Sox or how, after discovering a mechanical glitch in his delivery and fixing it, he was 5-1 with a 2.06 ERA in the seven games before the trade this summer.

      Still, he goes into this next start after earning wins in all three starts and one relief appearance this postseason and earning ALCS MVP honors. He threw 16 often-gritty innings and allowed just one run against the New York Yankees.

      "It's not easy to get here, and I don't take any of this for granted," Verlander said Saturday. "This is what we play for. These are the experiences that you remember at the end of your career, when you look back: winning these games, playing the World Series, hopefully winning the World Series."

      As the World Series plays out, one of these two will get to realize what he has hoped for all of a career. The funny thing is that whichever one does, it will be finally because he is in the right position to do so -- whether or not he is the best pitcher in the series.

      For Kershaw, the deal always was the same. He was asked to be the savior, pitched on short rest, got called on when the pressure was highest and had to throw well over 100 high-stress pitches. He no longer has to be that.

      The offense for the 104-win Dodgers is powerful. After outscoring foes by 190 runs in the regular season, Los Angeles upped its average from 4.75 runs per game in the first 162 to 6.0 in the playoffs. And the Dodgers have a lights-out bullpen with Brandon Morrow and closer Kenley Jansen at the back end.

      "We put undue pressure on a young man, on a ballclub that didn't have near what this one has," Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said of Kershaw.

      In each time Verlander reached the World Series with the Tigers, in 2006 and 2012, a fast ALCS left Detroit waiting many days for the start. He first pitched after nine days off in his initial World Series and seven days off the second.

      Houston is sharp after ousting the Yankees in Game 7 on Saturday. And the 101-win club has the best offense in baseball, having averaged 5.5 runs per game this season with three players -- Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer -- who may finish in the top 10 of NL MVP voting.

      "This team as a whole can win baseball games in so many different ways, and we showed so many of those different aspects in just this series," Verlander said after Game 7. "We showed we can win with pitching, hitting, defense. We can win with baserunning. There's just so many facets to this team that -- you don't win 100-plus games by accident throughout the season."

  • Mets tab Indians pitching coach Callaway as new manager
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, October 22, 2017

    Cleveland Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway will be named the new manager of the New York Mets, multiple media outlets reported Sunday.

    • Callaway was given a three-year contract and will replace Terry Collins, who stepped down as manager to become a member of the team's front office. New York finished 70-92 this season.

      Mets hitting coach Kevin Long, Seattle Mariners third base coach Manny Acta, Chicago White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing and Houston Astros bench coach Alex Cora also reportedly interviewed for the job. Cora was named the Boston Red Sox manager on Sunday.

      Callaway, 42, joined the Indians in 2013, and he is given much of the credit for building the Cleveland pitching staff into one of baseball's best.

      Cleveland led the majors in ERA (3.30), strikeouts (1,614), shutouts (19) and complete games (seven) this season. It finished third with an opponents' batting average of .236.

      Indians starters Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco, as well as relievers Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen, improved under Callaway.

      He also had a knack for keeping pitchers healthy, and that is a significant factor for the Mets. Injuries to pitchers Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler affected New York's chances to compete for a postseason berth this year.

  • Red Sox hire Astros coach Cora as manager
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, October 22, 2017

    The Boston Red Sox hired Alex Cora as their new manager on Sunday.

    • The 42-year-old Cora is a busy man as he finishes up his role as bench coach of the Houston Astros. He agreed to a three-year contract plus a club option for 2021, according to president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.

      A formal press conference will be held following the World Series between the Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers.

      Cora, a native of Puerto Rico, played parts of four seasons with the Red Sox (2005-08) during his 14 seasons as a player. This season's stint with the Astros was his first on a major league coaching staff.

      "I am extremely honored and humbled to be named manager of the Boston Red Sox and I want to thank Dave, John Henry, Tom Werner, and Sam Kennedy for giving me such a tremendous opportunity," Cora said of the franchise's upper management in a statement. "Returning to the Red Sox and the city of Boston is a dream come true for me and my family and I look forward to working towards the ultimate goal of winning another championship for this city and its great fans.

      "At the same time, I want to express my appreciation for Jim Crane, Jeff Luhnow, A.J. Hinch, and the entire Houston Astros organization for giving me the chance to start my coaching career. It has been a very special season and an incredible organization to be a part of and I am looking forward to the World Series and winning with this group."

      Cora, who replaces John Farrell, is the 47th manager in Red Sox history and the 22nd former Boston player to serve in the role. The most recent was Butch Hobson, who served as manager from 1992-94. Cora was also a member of Boston's 2007 World Series championship team.

      Cora's stock rose greatly due to the success of the Astros. The club went 101-61 in the regular season and defeated the Red Sox in the American League Division Series and the New York Yankees in the AL Championship Series to reach the World Series for the second time in club history.

      Boston also reportedly interviewed Ron Gardenhire, who was hired as the Detroit Tigers manager last week, and Brad Ausmus (former Tigers manager) before deciding on Cora.

      "We were very impressed when we interviewed Alex," Dombrowski said in a statement. "He came to us as a highly regarded candidate, and from speaking with him throughout this process, we found him to be very knowledgeable, driven, and deserving of this opportunity. He is a highly respected and hardworking individual who has experience playing in Boston.

      "Alex also has a full appreciation for the use of analytical information in today's game and his ability to communicate and relate to both young players and veterans is a plus. Finally, the fact that he is bilingual is very significant for our club."

      Cora served as a baseball analyst for four seasons (2013-16) before being hired by the Astros. His varied background and ability to relate to young players was a key in the hiring.

      "In Alex we have found a natural leader to guide our clubhouse," Henry, the Red Sox principal owner, said in a statement. "He is extremely smart with a dedication to what it takes to be successful in today's game on the field. His baseball acumen and his ability to think strategically are uncommon for someone his age. We could not have found a better match for our players, our front office and for where we intend to go over the coming years as an organization."

      Cora batted .243 in 1,273 big league games from 1998-2011 with the Los Angeles Dodgers (1998-2004), Cleveland Indians (2005), Red Sox, New York (2009-10), Texas Rangers (2010) and Washington Nationals (2011).

      His brother, Joey, also was a major league player from 1987-98 with the San Diego Padres, Chicago White Sox, Seattle Mariners and the Indians.

  • Verlander completes Astros' triple-threat rotation
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, October 22, 2017

    HOUSTON -- Beyond the obvious impact of adding an accomplished pitcher with the credentials of Justin Verlander to their rotation, part of the Astros' thinking following his waiver trade deadline acquisition was that Verlander would deepen an already effective rotation, one featuring a pair of All-Stars in ace left-hander Dallas Keuchel and right-hander Lance McCullers.

    • It took seven weeks but the Astros finally caught a glimpse of what they have when Verlander, Keuchel and McCullers are all healthy and available.

      McCullers, hamstrung by an injury-marred second half of the regular season, joined the fray during the American League Championship Series, first producing six strong innings in Game 4 before emerging out of the bullpen in Game 7 with four shutout frames to help lift the Astros to their first AL pennant.

      Now, with the Los Angeles Dodgers on tap for the World Series, the Astros can present the rotation they envisioned when Verlander came aboard on Aug. 31. If he is so inclined, Astros manager A.J. Hinch can open the series with Keuchel, Verlander and McCullers in succession.

      "Verlander, if that dude wasn't a first-ballot Hall of Famer before this postseason, he is now," McCullers said of the series MVP. "The impact he's brought on this team, the way that he goes about his business after all these years, you cannot say enough about what he's done for us and how he's built his legacy.

      "And Dallas is a gamer. He's a Cy Young winner, and when he's right, there's no one better. (Charlie) Morton has thrown the ball well like he did tonight. I'm just going to play my part."

      For all the lauding of their league-leading offense, the Astros' starting pitching will pose the greatest threat to the Dodgers. Despite dealing with a nagging neck injury that not only limited him to 23 starts but also undermined his momentum down the stretch, Keuchel finished 14-5 with a 2.90 ERA. Then McCullers, who went 7-2 with a 3.05 ERA to earn an All-Star Game nod, suddenly reappeared and subsequently dominated the Yankees twice in a span of four days.

      As for Verlander, he has lived up to the advanced billing and provides the Astros a hammer that complements Keuchel and McCullers. After going 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA over five September starts, Verlander is 4-0 with a 1.46 ERA over four appearances (three starts) this postseason.

      "I'm glad I did that deal," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said with a wry smile. "It worked out OK."

      The only thing standing between Luhnow and a fairy-tale finish is a World Series championship. When Luhnow began rebuilding this franchise in the midst of three consecutive 100-loss campaigns, this was the desired result. The addition of Verlander provides the Astros an additional measure of hope to validate that all those dark days and hard work were worth it.

      "That's to be thought about at the end of the year," said Keuchel, who is 2-1 with a 2.60 ERA this postseason. "I'm grateful to be in this position. I'm not the only one who worked hard in this group."

  • Giants reassign pitching coach Righetti
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, October 21, 2017

    The San Francisco Giants removed Dave Righetti as pitching coach and reassigned him a front office role with the team, the team announced Saturday.

    • Righetti will move into his new role as special assistant to Giants general manager Bobby Evans.

      The move is part of a shakeup on manager Bruce Bochy's staff that included bullpen coach Mark Gardner, bench coach Ron Wotus, hitting coach Hensley Meulens and assistant hitting coach Steve Decker also being reassigned.

      Righetti, who has been with the Giants' organization for 18 seasons, had to deal with playing part of the season without ace Madison Bumgarner, who injured his throwing shoulder in a dirt bike accident and missed nearly three months.

      The Giants' pitching staff finished with a 4.50 ERA this season as the Giants (64-98) finished with the worst record in the National League.

      "We had a last-place season. That can happen in sports, like you have a lost year in life," Giants executive vice president Brian Sabean said after the season. "But we're not last-place people and we're not a last-place organization. We're the furthest thing from that."

  • Cubs fire pitching coach Bosio after six seasons
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, October 21, 2017

    The Chicago Cubs fired pitching coach Chris Bosio after six seasons, according to multiple reports Saturday.

    • The 54-year-old Bosio joined the Cubs when Theo Epstein became team president in 2012. Bosio served under former managers Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria, and was retained when Joe Maddon was hired as manager of the Cubs in 2015.

      The decision comes days after the postseason collapse of the bullpen and the Cubs were eliminated by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.

      The Cubs' pitching staff in 2017 issued the fifth-most walks (554) in the National League during the regular season and the highest total (53) in 10 games of the postseason.

      The Cubs were seventh in the majors in pitching this year with a 3.95 ERA, after ranking first last year with a 3.19 ERA.

      Bosio, a former major league pitcher, previously served on the coaching staffs of the Tampa Bay Rays and Milwaukee Brewers.

      Maddon earlier this week said he thought the coaching staff would return for next season. Bosio is the first coach on Maddon's staff to be fired.

      "The staff's done a great job," Maddon said Wednesday. "Our staff's been awesome. And it's a tight knit group. There's a lot of synergy involved."

      The defending World Series champions were eliminated on Thursday night by the Dodgers as the Cubs won just one game in the best-of-seven series.

      Epstein said Friday any coaching decisions would be up to Maddon.

      "Rest assured, every coach that (Maddon) wants back he will have back," Epstein said in a press conference Friday.

      Under Bosio's direction, Jake Arrieta won the Cy Young Award in 2015 and Kyle Hendricks led the majors with a 2.13 ERA in 2016.

      Former Tampa Bay Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey, who parted ways with the organization following the 2017 season, could be a candidate to replace Bosio.

      Hickey served as Maddon's pitching coach in Tampa Bay from 2006-2014.

  • Yankees turn to Sabathia in winner-take-all Game 7
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, October 21, 2017

    HOUSTON -- In seeking to become the 14th team in postseason history to rally from a 2-0 series deficit, the New York Yankees will turn to the most veteran member of their staff.

    • Left-hander CC Sabathia will attempt to pitch the Yankees to their 41st pennant on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros.

      Sabathia made two starts the last time the Yankees qualified for the World Series, going 0-1 with a 3.29 ERA in a six-game victory over the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009.

      Buoyed by their youth in arriving ahead of schedule at the cusp of another pennant, the Yankees are emboldened by what Sabathia has meant to the franchise both past and present.

      Sabathia is 10-5 with a 4.24 ERA over 22 career postseason appearances (21 starts) and 123 innings. He was named Most Valuable Player of the 2009 ALCS against the Los Angeles Angels and, at 37 years old, is 1-0 with a 2.30 ERA and 19 strikeouts over 15 2/3 innings and three starts this postseason. His lone victory came over the Astros in Game 3 at Yankee Stadium, when he tossed six scoreless innings of three-hit ball.

      "We've seen it so many times," New York manager Joe Girardi said of Sabathia producing in critical situations. "And we're going to need him to come up big tomorrow. He's done it a couple of different times in the playoffs, during the course of the season, and something that I think he loves to do is pitch in these type of situations. And we need him to come up big."

      Sabathia got the start in Game 5 of the AL Division Series at Cleveland on Oct. 11, and while he didn't factor in the decision, he pitched effectively enough for the Yankees to claim their fourth consecutive elimination game of this postseason. That the Yankees are entrusting him to lead the way in another elimination game speaks to all that he has accomplished previously.

      "It's going to be exciting tomorrow, to be able to have the opportunity to go to the World Series, one game," said Sabathia who, along with left fielder Brett Gardner and right-hander reliever David Robertson, was on that 2009 World Series roster. "I'm excited."

      In pursuit of just their second pennant and first since relocating from the National League in 2013, the Astros will send right-hander Charlie Morton to the mound on Saturday. Morton has endured two difficult outings this postseason, both on the road, yet Astros manager A.J. Hinch is convinced that tough luck has played a role in undermining Morton and his overall ledgers.

      "With Charlie, he's been one of the unluckiest pitchers in postseason," Hinch said. "He's not been hit hard, given up a couple of runs here and there. We just feel like with everyday rest or regular rest, he's a great option."

      While Hinch has acknowledged that all hands will be on deck regarding his pitching staff, the Astros received a much-needed jolt from their offense, which broke out in Game 6 for a 7-1 victory. Houston had mustered just nine runs total over the previous five games, and after batting just 4-for-27 with runners in scoring position in the series entering Game 6, the Astros were 4-for-7 on Friday night.

      Their four-run eighth inning was reflective of their usual offensive exploits, with Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman all recording extra-base hits to provide some insurance runs and generate momentum heading into the series finale.

      "As soon as we start playing, we forgot about the last three games in New York," said Altuve, who finished 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs. "And when I did that, what I did, it was just trying to get the team going. And obviously, it was a really good night for us. It's a lot of expectations for tomorrow's game."

      Houston will attempt to become the eighth team in postseason history to win a seven-game series in which the winning team lost three consecutive games during the series.

  • MLB notebook: Baker out as Nationals manager
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, October 20, 2017

    The Washington Nationals have won four National League East division titles since 2012 under three different managers.

    • But the Nationals are still looking for a postseason series win and some stability in the dugout, as the club announced Friday that manager Dusty Baker will not return in 2018 after his two-year contract expired.

      The Nationals won the National League East in both seasons under Baker in 2016 and 2017 and lost at home in Game 5 each year in the NLDS. Washington won 95 games in the first year under Baker and was 97-65 this season, winning the division by 20 games.

      "I'm surprised and disappointed," the 68-year-old Baker told USA Today Sports.

      --The Detroit Tigers opted for experience in their managerial search and announced the appointment of Ron Gardenhire to run the club with a three-year contract.

      Gardenhire, who turns 60 on Tuesday, is deeply familiar with the American League Central after spending 13 seasons in the division as manager of the Minnesota Twins. Minnesota made six postseason appearances during his tenure from 2002-2014.

      --Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy underwent surgery to repair damage to the articular cartilage in his right knee, the team announced.

      Murphy, 32, will begin the rehab process immediately.

      He never revealed he was dealing with any injury.

      Murphy hit .322 with 23 home runs and 93 RBIs in 144 games in 2017, his second season with the Nationals after spending the first part of his career with the New York Mets.

      --Tigers general manager Al Avila announced that the team will not pick up the $16 million club option on right-hander Anibal Sanchez.

      Instead the Tigers will pay him a $5 million buyout.

      Sanchez, 34, had a difficult season. He was 3-7 with a 6.41 ERA in 28 appearances, including 17 starts. He allowed 26 home runs in 105 1/3 innings.

      Sanchez accepted a demotion to Triple-A Toledo during the season with the hope that it would help him regain a spot in the Tigers' rotation. He started nine games for the Tigers after August 1 and was 0-6 with a 4.88 ERA in those contests.

  • Tigers pass on RHP Sanchez's option
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, October 20, 2017

    The Detroit Tigers have given up on right-hander Anibal Sanchez.

    • Tigers general manager Al Avila announced on Friday that the team will not pick up the $16 million club option on Sanchez.

      Instead the Tigers will pay him a $5 million buyout.

      Sanchez, 34, had a difficult season. He was 3-7 with a 6.41 ERA in 28 appearances, including 17 starts. He allowed 26 home runs in 105 1/3 innings.

      Sanchez accepted a demotion to Triple-A Toledo during the season with the hope that it would help him regain a spot in the Tigers' rotation.

      He started nine games for the Tigers after August 1 and was 0-6 with a 4.88 ERA in those contests.

      His best season was 2013, when he went 14-8 and was the American League ERA champion with a 2.57 mark. He finished fourth in the AL Cy Young Award voting that season.

      The Tigers will look for a free agent to stick into its rotation.

      "You may not see a free agent signing until maybe late January," Avila said, according to the Detroit Free Press. "We'll take the process a step at a time.

      "Hopefully we can find a diamond in the rough somewhere or lightning in a bottle would be a better term. Trying to make sure we're put together a team that can compete solidly over the six months of the season."

  • Kershaw attempting to set aside postseason demons
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, October 20, 2017

    It has been 29 long years since the Los Angeles Dodgers were part of the World Series, a drought perhaps best summed up by this factoid:

    • Clayton Kershaw was seven months old when the Kirk Gibson-led Dodgers knocked off the Oakland Athletics for the 1988 crown.

      And now it is Kershaw's time to shine in the postseason spotlight. The ace left-hander with the three Cy Young Awards and the 2014 National League MVP in his trophy case will have the opportunity to quiet some of his career demons, regardless of whether the American League representative is the Houston Astros or New York Yankees.

      Kershaw is an unstoppable force in the regular season. But "Postseason Kershaw" hasn't been so dominant and Thursday's 11-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series improved his playoff ledger to 6-7 with a 4.40 ERA in 21 career appearances (17 starts).

      Kershaw knows the chatter -- he hears it regularly from fans and through questions tossed out by the media -- but all he is focused on is what happens in the next series.

      "I think at the end of the day, yeah, winning the World Series is really all that we play this game for," Kershaw said. "All the individual stuff is great, but at the end of the day I just want to win a World Series."

      Kershaw's performance in two NLCS starts against the Cubs was fine -- he went 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA -- and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts named him the starter for Game 1 of the World Series while the team was still celebrating its NL pennant.

      Los Angeles posted the best record in the majors (104-58) during the regular season and was dominating for a large part of the season. But the feeling around the club is that this squad needs to finish the deal with a world championship.

      Third baseman Justin Turner and closer Kenley Jansen each had opportunities to leave as free agents before staying put, and Turner felt there was more to achieve when he elected to remain in Los Angeles.

      "It's incredible. Kenley and I talked about it in our press conference when we signed back here," Turner said. "We talked about unfinished business and wanting to bring a World Series back to Los Angeles.

      "We had a bad taste in our mouth the last four years, you know, not finishing what we started."

      This version of the Dodgers is more than star power.

      When mainstay first baseman Adrian Gonzalez had to go on the disabled list with back issues, rookie Cody Bellinger became a force and slugged 39 homers. Versatile Chris Taylor was rescued from the Seattle Mariners' Triple-A team in the summer of 2016 and batted .288 with 21 homers and 17 steals this season and then shared NLCS MVP honors with Turner.

      Enrique Hernandez finds a spot in the Game 5 lineup and ties league championships records of three homers and seven RBIs.

      All-Star shortstop Corey Seager was unavailable for the NLCS with a back injury and Charlie Culberson received an opportunity and went 5-for-11 with three extra-base hits.

      Manager Dave Roberts will have some roster decisions to make as he says Seager is expected back for Tuesday's World Series opener.

      "He's doing everything he can to get healthy," Roberts said. "We expect him back for Game 1. So obviously when you have a guy like Charlie Culberson that can fill in like that, made some spectacular defensive plays, some big hits, it was great to see from Charlie, but obviously we're hoping to get Corey back for the World Series."

      Los Angeles is loaded with key players and has a solid cast of utility players and relievers. But the presence of one guy will overshadow them all.

      Will it be regular-season Kershaw or "Postseason Kershaw" out there on the mound trying to deliver the franchise to that long-awaited World Series crown?

      After all, Kershaw resided in a cradle when the Dodgers last celebrated a title.

      "Who knows how many times I'm going to get to go to the World Series," Kershaw said. "I know more than anybody how hard it is to get there. So I'm definitely not taking this one for granted."

  • Nationals 2B Murphy undergoes knee surgery
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, October 20, 2017

    Washington Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy underwent surgery to repair damage to the articular cartilage in his right knee, the team announced Friday.

    • Murphy, 32, will begin the rehab process immediately and will progress throughout the offseason. He never revealed he was dealing with any injury.

      Murphy hit .322 with 23 home runs and 93 RBIs in 144 games in 2017, his second season with the Nationals after spending the first part of his career with the New York Mets.

      Murphy was healthy enough to appear in all five games in the National League Division Series against the Chicago Cubs, batting .211 (4-for-19) with two RBIs and hitting a home run in the decisive Game 5 loss.

      In 2016, Murphy was second in the National League in hitting at .347, with 25 homers and 104 RBIs.

  • Tigers hire Gardenhire as manager
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, October 20, 2017

    The Detroit Tigers opted for experience in their managerial search and announced Friday the appointment of Ron Gardenhire to run the club with a three-year contract.

    • Gardenhire, who turns 60 on Tuesday, is deeply familiar with the American League Central after spending 13 seasons in the division as manager of the Minnesota Twins. Minnesota made six postseason appearances during his tenure from 2002-2014.

      "I couldn't be more thrilled to be named manager of the Detroit Tigers," Gardenhire said in a statement. "After managing against the Tigers for so many years, I know first-hand what a great baseball town Detroit is and that the fans here are some of the most passionate in all of sports.

      "I'm truly grateful to (owner) Christopher Ilitch and (general manager) Al Avila for entrusting me to lead the team back to competing for American League Central Division titles and to our ultimate goal of winning a World Series."

      Gardenhire recorded a 1,068-1,039 record with the Twins and is one of 10 managers in baseball history to win 1,000 or more games with a single club. He was the 2010 AL Manager of the Year and was the runner-up on five occasions.

      Gardenhire joined the Twins' coaching staff in 1991 and was promoted to manager after Tom Kelly retired following the 2001 season. He guided Minnesota to a 94-67 record in his first season and a spot in the 2002 AL Championship Series before losing to the Angels in five games.

      Gardenhire's teams posted five 90-victory campaigns during his tenure. But after a 94-68 mark in 2010, the Twins plummeted to a 63-99 record in 2011, the first of four straight seasons of 90 or more losses before he was fired following the 2014 campaign.

      Gardenhire spent last season as the bench coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

      He takes over a team that appears to be in rebuilding mode after trading away ace pitcher Justin Verlander, and outfielders J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton, among others, during the 2017 season.

      "We are very excited to introduce Ron Gardenhire as the new manager of the Detroit Tigers," Avila said in a statement. "After an extensive search, we are confident 'Gardy' is the right person to lead our ballclub in our pursuit of World Series championships. Ron has extensive managerial experience at the major league level and has a proven track record of player development."

      Gardenhire also interviewed for the Boston Red Sox opening earlier this week. He interviewed for the San Diego and Washington jobs following the 2015 season.

      Gardenhire was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent surgery in mid-April. He returned to the Diamondbacks four weeks later and has since been quoted as saying he received a clean bill of health.

      Gardenhire played five major league seasons with the New York Mets from 1982-86 and batted .232 with four homers and 49 RBIs in 285 career games.

  • Nationals fire Baker as manager after two seasons
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, October 20, 2017

    WASHINGTON --The Washington Nationals have won four National League East division titles since 2012 under three different managers.

    • But the Nationals are still looking for a postseason series win and some stability in the dugout, as the club announced Friday that manager Dusty Baker will not return in 2018 after his two-year contract expired.

      Washington general manager Mike Rizzo said he called Baker on Friday morning and the former All-Star outfielder handled the news with professionalism. The previous manager, Matt Williams, also lasted just two seasons.

      "It was one of the most difficult decisions the ownership group and I have had to make," Rizzo said on a conference call with reporters. "Dusty has been a great representative of the Washington Nationals for his tenure here -- a Hall of Fame-type manager."

      The Nationals won the National League East in both seasons under Baker in 2016 and 2017 and lost at home in Game 5 each year in the NLDS. Washington won 95 games in the first year under Baker and was 97-65 this year and won the division by 20 games.

      "I'm surprised and disappointed," Baker told USA Today Sports. "They told me they would get back to me and I told them I was leaving town yesterday and they waited 10 days to tell me. I really thought this was my best year. We won at least 95 games each year and won the division back-to back-years but they said they wanted to go a different direction. It's hard to understand."

      The Nationals lost in the first round to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016 and to the Chicago Cubs this year. Baker came under fire for some of decisions this year in the playoffs.

      One of the most notable was not pinch-hitting for slumping catcher Matt Wieters with the bases loaded in Game 5 against the Cubs. Soon after that Baker took out Wieters on a double switch and brought in reserve Jose Lobaton. The Nationals led 4-1 but lost 9-8 in the deciding game to the Cubs. Baker also used lefty reliever Sammy Solis against the Cubs when several veterans in the bullpen were available.

      "We have come such a long way in the Nationals organization," Rizzo said. "Now our expectations have grown to the fact that winning a lot of regular-season games and winning divisions is not enough."

      Rizzo said contract negotiations with Baker did not figure in the decision. Rizzo had said before the playoffs began he hoped to bring Baker back.

      "This was a pure baseball decision. Our goal is win a world championship," Rizzo said. "After Game 5 ... we felt this was the right decision to make."

      Baker previously managed the San Francisco Giants, Cubs and Cincinnati Reds. He has lost the last 10 games in the playoffs in which his team had the chance to advance.

      The California native won a World Series title as an outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981 but has never won a Fall Classic as a manager. Baker has won 90 games 10 times as a manager and he won 103 games in his first year with the Giants in 1993.

      Davey Johnson led the Nationals to the 2012 division title and Williams was the manager of the year in 2014 when Washington won the division. Williams was fired after the 2015 season and the Nationals reportedly wanted to hire Bud Black, but he felt the Washington offer was not up to par, according to reports, and the Nationals went with Baker. Black led the Colorado Rockies to the playoffs this year.

      The Nationals enter the 2018 season with right fielder Bryce Harper and second baseman Daniel Murphy entering the final year of their contracts. Washington figures to contend for years to come in a weak division (for now) with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg at the front of the pitching rotation.

      Washington also announced that the contracts of the coaches all expired. The hitting coach was Rick Schu and the pitching coach was Mike Maddux both years under Baker. The Washington offense slumped mightily in the playoffs against the Cubs, with Washington losing games in which Scherzer and Strasburg both had no-hitters early on.

      "We are going to open up the list of (possible) managers and do our due diligence," said Rizzo, repeating one of his favorite phrases. "We will find the right person to get us to the next level."

      Rizzo said he did not take any input from players in deciding not to retain Baker.

      "Our goal has never wavered -- a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue," Rizzo said.

      If that ever does happen Baker will not be in front of the victory parade. Baker, 68, was the oldest manager in the majors after Terry Collins of the New York Mets resigned after this season.

  • Kershaw, regular-season star, savors postseason success
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, October 20, 2017

    CHICAGO -- Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw flashed a big grin and jokingly pretended to jump up from his chair upon learning that he would start Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night.

    • "I'm Game 1?" Kershaw said. "Well, that means I'm working out tomorrow, so we'll see you guys at Dodger Stadium."

      The line drew a laugh, and Kershaw remained in his seat for a few more minutes to complete his interview. However, the southpaw turned serious as he reflected on the magnitude of the moment for himself and his team.

      The Los Angeles Dodgers are headed to the World Series for the first time since 1988 after an 11-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Thursday night in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. Kershaw earned the series-clinching victory as he limited the Cubs to one run on three hits in six innings.

      "When you're a kid, you just hope you make it to the big leagues," Kershaw said. "So to get to go say you're going to play in the World Series, it's an incredibly special moment. Up there with getting married and having kids, it's right up there with one of the best days of my life."

      At 29 years old, Kershaw already is in his 10th major league season. His collection of regular-season awards would make most starting pitchers twitch with jealousy. He has earned one NL Most Valuable Player award (2014), three NL Cy Young Awards (2011, 2013, 2014), five league ERA titles and seven All-Star selections.

      The Dallas native boasts a career record of 144-64 with a 2.36 ERA. He has 2,120 strikeouts in 1,935 innings.

      Yet the southpaw's dominance in the regular season often failed to carry over into the playoffs. Some critics scoffed as Kershaw brought a 5-7 postseason career record with a 4.57 ERA into Thursday's matchup.

      Now, finally, Kershaw has an opportunity to change his October narrative.

      "He's done everything he can individually on the baseball field," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "But the one thing that he's missing is a championship, so he's very emotional tonight. He's earned that. It's only fitting that he started tonight's game."

      Justin Turner and Chris Taylor shared NLCS Most Valuable Player honors for their production at the plate against the Cubs. But both players were quick to direct praise to Kershaw, the face of the franchise and one of the biggest reasons for Los Angeles' 104-win season that secured home-field advantage for the Fall Classic.

      "It's easy to say that the most impressive thing is when he takes the ball every fifth day," Turner said. "But for me, the more impressive thing is watching him go about his business on the four other days, and the work that he puts in and the routine and the tireless effort and training and amount of stuff that goes into his day, each and every day, to lead up to that start.

      "It's something that I've never seen out of anyone in my entire life."

      Kershaw has put in the work throughout the past decade with one goal in mind.

      Without a World Series appearance, would Kershaw always have felt a void in his career?

      "You know, that's a tough question," Kershaw said. "I think at the end of the day, yeah.

      "Winning the World Series is really all that we play this game for. All the individual stuff is great, but at the end of the day, I just want to win a World Series. If we win, I might retire, I might just call it a career. It's a special thing, and I know that I'm not taking it for granted."

  • Reports: Tigers settle on Gardenhire as manager
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 19, 2017

    The Detroit Tigers will hire Ron Gardenhire to manage the club through what is expected to be a rebuilding phase.

    • Multiple outlets reported late Thursday that Gardenhire will replace Brad Ausmus, whom the team chose not to retain when his contract expired at the end of the season.

      Terms of Gardenhire's contract were unknown. He also interviewed for the Boston Red Sox's vacant managerial job.

      Gardenhire, 59, comes with plenty of experience in the American League Central Division. He managed the Minnesota Twins for 13 seasons from 2002-14.

      He guided the Twins to six Central championships and compiled a record of 1,068-1,039 (.507 winning percentage). His only playoff series win came in 2002 in the American League Division Series.

      He spent this season as a bench coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks and missed five weeks early in the season after undergoing prostate cancer treatment.

      Ausmus led the Tigers to the postseason in his first year at the helm. Since then, Detroit struggled in a division that saw Kansas City appear in two consecutive World Series followed by the Cleveland Indians reaching the Fall Classic last season.

      This year, the Tigers finished a league-worst 64-98 and traded away veteran stars Justin Verlander and J.D. Martinez.

      Detroit will have the top pick in the 2018 draft.

  • Verlander tasked with saving Astros' season
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 19, 2017

    HOUSTON -- From the moment he waived his no-trade clause and accepted relocation to Houston, Astros right-hander Justin Verlander was deemed a franchise savior, an ace capable of leading his new club to the promised land of its first World Series championship.

    • On Friday night at Minute Maid Park, the Astros will hand Verlander the ball with their postseason lives hanging in the balance. Following three consecutive road losses to the New York Yankees, the Astros return home for Game 6 of the American League Championship Series on the brink of elimination and with Verlander standing in the gap.

      This seemed an unlikely scenario when Verlander delivered a complete-game gem in Game 2 last Saturday, allowing one run on five hits and one walk with 13 strikeouts in a tense 2-1 victory. Yet now, with its offense scuffling, Houston needs Verlander to be great once more.

      "Obviously, I know this is one of the main reasons I was brought here," Verlander said. "I think so far I've done what they've asked or what they've needed of me to help the rotation and help get deep in the playoffs.

      "This is obviously the biggest game for the Astros up to this point for this season. The expectations are there. My teammates, I'm sure, are expecting a lot of me. And I expect a lot of myself. So, this is why we play the game. And I love these opportunities to pitch in these atmospheres, these type of games. It should be a lot of fun."

      While the Astros' collapse from a 2-0 series lead has been twofold, with both the bullpen and offense playing a significant role in the drastic swing in momentum, the sudden inability of the lineup to generate runs represents the most dramatic and puzzling development for Houston.

      After pacing the majors in runs (896), batting average (.282), on-base percentage (.346) and slugging (.478), plus ranking second to the Yankees in home runs (238) during the regular season, the Astros have mustered just nine runs and one homer this series with a paltry slash line of .147/.234/.213.

      The bullpen drew ire after blowing a four-run lead with nine outs left in Game 4 and on the brink of a 3-1 series lead with Dallas Keuchel up next in the rotation, but the Astros' offense has been consistently inept throughout, even during victories in Games 1 and 2.

      "We're obviously going to have a game plan going against a pitcher," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "If we can stay disciplined in that game plan, all the better. But the pitcher has to adapt to us, as well.

      "(Wednesday) is a good example. (Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka) pitched us differently in Game 5 than he did in Game 1. He did expand the strike zone. We chased it a little bit.

      "But for us it's trying to find the pitch to hit, and that's about it. If he doesn't give it to you, the game will tell you to take a little bit more. Easier said than done. If this offense is as good as it's been for this season, we are one good stretch from getting back to where we need to be."

      New York right-hander Luis Severino will get the start with the Yankees one victory away from claiming their first AL pennant since 2009. Severino lasted four innings and allowed one run working opposite of Verlander in Game 2, departing early after taking a sharply hit ground ball off his left wrist that same inning.

      Severino was miffed at Yankees manager Joe Girardi for pulling him despite being physically able to continue. He will get another chance to pitch deeper into the game with equal effectiveness.

      The Yankees' resilience has been the story of this postseason. New York staved off three elimination games against the top-seeded Cleveland Indians in the AL Division Series, winning the finale on the road at Progressive Field. After Keuchel and Verlander produced brilliant starts in succession for the Astros to open the ALCS, the Yankees fought back once the series shifted to the Bronx.

      And now, for a second consecutive round, the Yankees can eliminate a higher-seeded opponent on the road. Their pitching has been superior, their hitting has been clutch, and the Yankees not only have the Astros backed into the ropes, but they have momentum on their side.

      "That is what we've kind of talked about, and that's kind of what we've stuck to around here, and that's what you try to do: win a game on Friday night," Girardi said. "Again, we're facing a great pitcher and facing a great opponent. But we have to win one game, and that's what we'll stick to."

  • Indians OF Brantley undergoes right ankle surgery
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 19, 2017

    Cleveland Indians outfielder Michael Brantley underwent surgery on his right ankle and will require four to five months of rehab, the team announced Thursday.

    • Brantley, a two-time American League All-Star, missed 50 games over the final two months of the regular season due to the injury.

      Brantley was active for the AL Division Series against the New York Yankees but was just 1-for-11.

      The surgery was performed Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C., and was designed to strengthen damaged ligaments in Brantley's right ankle.

      Complicating matters is the fact that the Indians are facing a decision on whether to pick up Brantley's $12 million option for next season or pay him a $1 million buyout. The team must decide within 72 hours after the conclusion of the final game of the World Series.

      Brantley batted .299 with eight homers and 52 RBIs in 90 games this season.

      This was the second consecutive injury interrupted season for the 30-year-old Brantley. He played in just 11 games in 2016 due to two surgeries on his right shoulder.

  • Oops: Ump admits he was 'dead wrong' on Granderson call
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 19, 2017

    A home plate umpire admitted he was "dead wrong" after a call that led to Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon's ejection on Wednesday night in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    • After conferring with his crew, ump Jim Wolf ruled that the Dodgers' Curtis Granderson fouled off a two-strike pitch in the dirt that in-house replay appeared to show he did not make contact with as Chicago led 3-2 in the eighth inning.

      Wolf originally called Granderson out before Dodgers manager Dave Roberts protested. The umpires met, but did not call for a crew chief replay review, before Wolf overturned the decision.

      Maddon emerged to argue the call to all six umpires and was subsequently ejected for the second time in the series.

      As it turns out, Maddon was dead right.

      "(I was) dead wrong," Wolf told a pool reporter after the game. "I talked myself into the whole thing."

      Granderson proceeded to strike out on the next pitch and the Cubs held on for a 3-2 victory.

      That fact did not assuage Maddon after the game.

      "I'm not gonna sit here and bang on umpires," Maddon told reporters. "... But that can't happen. The process was horrible. To have that changed -- if Granderson hits the next pitch out, I might come running out of the clubhouse in my jockstrap."

      Wolf said he heard "two distinct, separate sounds" on the play, the first being what he thought was the ball bouncing in the dirt in front of catcher Willson Contreras.

      The play is not currently reviewable under MLB rules.

      Maddon was ejected in Game 1 after arguing a play at the plate that was overturned due to the slide rule.

      Los Angeles leads the best-of-seven series 3-1. Game 5 is Thursday night in Chicago.

  • Cubs must overcome Kershaw to stay alive
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 19, 2017

    CHICAGO -- For the first time in almost three weeks, the Los Angeles Dodgers will try to bounce back from a loss.

    • The stakes could not be much higher this time around. Los Angeles holds a decisive 3-1 lead over the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series and has the opportunity to close out the series in Game 5 on Thursday night at Wrigley Field.

      A win would vault the Dodgers into the World Series for the first time since 1988. A loss would push the series back to Los Angeles and give the defending champion Cubs a renewed sense of hope.

      The Cubs staved off elimination with a 3-2 victory Wednesday night in Game 4. The outcome snapped a six-game postseason winning streak for the Dodgers, whose previous loss was Sept. 29 against the Colorado Rockies.

      "I wouldn't say that the pressure is on us," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "I think that we're in a pretty good spot. We've got our No. 1 pitcher going tomorrow, and we've got two of the guys at the back end rested.

      "I can't speak to their mindset (on the Cubs), but I still like the position we're in."

      The Dodgers will turn to left-hander Clayton Kershaw, who went 18-4 with a 2.31 ERA during the regular season. Kershaw has five career postseason victories and needs one more to match Burt Hooton's franchise record.

      In the series opener against the Cubs, Kershaw allowed two runs on four hits in five innings in Los Angeles' 5-2 victory on Saturday. He walked one and struck out four in a no-decision.

      "I feel good," Kershaw said. "I don't feel any different than when I feel normal. I feel normal, which is great."

      The Cubs will counter with left-hander Jose Quintana, who faces the Dodgers and Kershaw for the second time this series. The Colombia native gave up two runs on two hits in five innings in his first appearance. He walked two and fanned four.

      "'Q' has been great," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's ready to play all the time. The stuff's really been spiking in a positive direction. Velocity has been up. Curveball has been better. I know one thing, he'll be ready to pitch."

      Chicago will be without its top bullpen pitcher, closer Wade Davis, after his marathon 48-pitch appearance to finish off Game 4. The pitch count was Davis' highest in a save situation in his career.

      Maddon said he would rely on a bullpen by committee that includes right-handers Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards, Hector Rondon and John Lackey as well as left-handers Brian Duensing and Mike Montgomery.

      "This is where the guys got to pretty much do their jobs," Maddon said.

      That has not been an easy task for Cubs relievers during the postseason. The team also has struggled at the plate, particularly against the hard-throwing bullpen of the Dodgers.

      Los Angeles right-hander Kenley Jensen did not pitch in Game 4, so he will be well-rested to back up Kershaw.

      "It's a good feeling when we wake up (Thursday), we know Clayton's taking the mound," Roberts said. "As far as our mindset, the psyche, we know we're going to be in for a battle, and we'll be ready."

      One bit of encouragement for the Cubs is Kershaw's mediocre postseason career record: 5-7 with a 4.57 ERA in 20 games (16 starts). Quintana's first three career postseason appearances (two starts) have all come this month, and he has no decisions with a 1.59 ERA.

  • Cubs' Baez breaks out in big way
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 19, 2017

    CHICAGO -- For 20 consecutive postseason at-bats, Javier Baez failed to collect a hit, forcing Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon to weigh the value of Baez's value as a defender against his inability to make things happen at the plate.

    • However, with the Cubs on the brink of elimination Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Baez finally broke though. And by doing so, the star second baseman helped the Cubs remain alive in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series.

      Baez homered twice in the Cubs' 3-2 victory in Game 4 at Wrigley Field. He went deep in the second and fifth innings against Los Angeles starter Alex Wood.

      "Since the (NL Division Series), I've been trying to get a base hit so hard," Baez said after the Wednesday night win that drew the Cubs within 3-1 in the NLCS. "Tonight, I just said to myself not to try too much, and I didn't, and there you have it. I had two good contacts, and (we won) the game by one run."

      The Cubs continue to live by the home run. Chicago has scored all seven of its NLCS runs via the long ball. That continued Wednesday, when Baez and catcher Willson Contreras sparked the Cubs with a combined three solo homers.

      While the Cubs struggled to produce offensively throughout the series, Baez and first baseman Anthony Rizzo became the faces of Chicago's woes from the plate. Rizzo is hitting .077 in the NLCS.

      After Baez finally ended his personal drought by homering in his first two at-bats Wednesday night, he and his teammates realize the Cubs' work is far from over. Chicago still needs to win three consecutive games, starting with Game 5 at Wrigley Field on Thursday, to reach the World Series.

      The season-saving Game 4 victory proved to be a step in the right direction, both for the Cubs and Baez, who admitted Wednesday night that worrying about his family back in his native Puerto Rico played into his on-field frustrations.

      "Just give him credit for sticking with it," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "(It has been a) very difficult start to the postseason for him, and that's what he can do."

      Now, the Cubs -- who face Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw on Thursday -- must find a way to keep producing if they are again to fight off elimination.

      "We have so much talent on this team -- it's any guy on any given day, and it takes a lot of pressure off of everybody," Rizzo said. "Javy was obviously struggling a little bit from the plate. But the way he carried himself, his spirits were easy and he comes out today and hits two big home runs for us, and one was the deciding factor."

      Like everyone in the Cubs' confident clubhouse, Baez understands the importance to not taking too much comfort in finding a way to win to extend the series. Now, it's just a matter of staying true to the one-game-at-a-time mentality that Maddon always preaches.

      At this point, the Cubs don't have much of a choice.

      "(It's) great to have this win, because if not, we were going home tomorrow," Baez said. "But I feel like we're still not on track as a team. But I think if we get back on track, everybody as a team, we're going to be the best again."

  • MLB postseason roundup: Yankees take 3-2 ALCS lead
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 19, 2017

    NEW YORK -- Masahiro Tanaka pitched seven outstanding innings, and the New York Yankees scored four runs against Dallas Keuchel in a 5-0 victory over the Houston Astros in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday.

    • The Yankees lead the best-of-seven series 3-2. They are one win from their 41st pennant and the first since 2009.

      Tanaka (1-1) posted his second postseason win by allowing three hits and working out of a few minor threats. He struck out eight and walked one in a 103-pitch outing as New York improved to 6-0 at home in the playoffs.

      Keuchel (1-1), who took his first postseason loss, brought a 13-inning playoff scoreless streak against the Yankees into the game, and it lasted one more inning before Greg Bird hit an RBI single. Aaron Judge drove in his 10th run of the postseason with a double in the third.

      Cubs 3, Dodgers 2

      CHICAGO -- Javier Baez hit two home runs, and Chicago staved off elimination with a victory over Los Angeles in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series.

      Willson Contreras also hit a solo home run for the Cubs, who trimmed their series deficit to 3-1. Jake Arrieta (1-0) allowed one run on three hits in 6 2/3 innings in what may have been the soon-to-be free agent's final appearance with Chicago.

      Cody Bellinger and Justin Turner each hit solo home runs for the Dodgers. The loss snapped a six-game postseason win streak for Los Angeles, which remains one victory shy of reaching the World Series for the first time since 1988.

      The Dodgers' Alex Wood (0-1) allowed three solo home runs and a single in 4 2/3 innings in his first career postseason start.

  • ALCS turnaround shows Yankees' depth, quality
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 19, 2017

    NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees didn't just send the Houston Astros home on the brink of elimination Wednesday night. They filled the air at Yankee Stadium with an almost palpable feeling of inevitability that the World Series is coming back to the Bronx.

    • New York's 5-0 win behind seven scoreless innings by Masahiro Tanaka in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series completed a three-day dismantling of Houston.

      During that span, the high-powered offense that carried the Astros to 101 wins this season was absent, their relief pitching was exposed to be a weakness and their Yankee-killer, ace Dallas Keuchel, was finally laid low.

      Yes, when the series returns to Houston on Friday, the Astros will have Justin Verlander pitching as a bulwark against this rising Yankees tide. But right now the Yankees simply look like the better team. You see it in the long, grinding at-bats and the way the lineup feels as long as an assembly line. And you see it in how effective every pitcher has been.

      Even with Verlander pitching in Game 6, trying to equal his complete-game effort against the Yanks in Game 2, it's hard to image Houston ultimately won't be hurt by the issues New York exposed this week.

      "(In) the playoffs ... if they get you to crack a little bit on your game plan, then they've got you," Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. "We haven't stayed in our game plan quite well enough (or) made adjustments."

      Houston averaged a whopping 5.5 runs per game this season, but the offense has been whisper quiet in the ALCS. The Astros have nine runs in the five games with a .147 team batting average.

      "Coming in, their bullpen was so much more heralded than the starting rotation, and the starters have really stepped up against us," Hinch said. "We've lost a little bit of our offensive adjustments and a little bit of our offensive mojo. And some of that is the anxiety that gets created around at-bats."

      There is good reason for the anxiety. The Astros haven't gone through an offensive drought like this. Only once in the regular season did they fail to score more than two runs in three straight games. That has now happened in four out of five.

      The series turned in New York's 6-4 win on Tuesday in Game 4, when the Astros blew a 4-0 lead in the seventh inning. Aaron Judge finally broke through against Lance McCullers Jr. with a home run, and then Hinch couldn't find a reliever in his bullpen who could turn off the assembly line. The Yankees hit all of the most-trusted relievers: Chris Devenski, Joe Musgrove and closer Ken Giles.

      The catalyst to the Yanks' offense was the re-emergence of Judge, Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird. All three struggled as New York lost the first two games of the series by 2-1 scores. They are all hitting now. Judge is batting .455 in the series with six RBIs. Sanchez drove in a total of five runs the past two games. Bird is hitting .308 in the series.

      "They got hot again and away we go," Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier said. "The way we're playing right now is beautiful. I think we're going to be electric in two days. We've got Verlander, and we want a piece of him. We know what he did to us last time. We want to keep doing what we're doing and get him out of the game early."

      Judge said, "We never lost our confidence. Our confidence is high. We're looking forward to the challenge of the next game. We feel like we have momentum. We fight to the last out."

      The Yankees have Luis Severino for Game 6 and CC Sabathia lined up if there is a Game 7. Houston has managed only one run in 10 innings against that duo so far.

      "I give our guys a lot of credit for how resilient they are," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said, "how they continue to fight and never give up and understand (to) take it one game at a time and don't panic."

      That's exactly what Houston must try to do now against a club that is starting to look like the team of destiny. And the Astros may be feeling it like a python around the chest.

      Speaking of Keuchel, Hinch said, "Once you get behind in the playoffs, you have to be pretty perfect -- or at least it feels that way."

      And of the Yankees adding on runs in the fifth and seventh innings, he said, "You can feel the game shortening."

      Looking to Friday, Hinch said, "The message to this team is going to be keep fighting the fight. This series isn't over."

      He could be right, but after three days in New York, it sort of feels as if it is.

  • Yankees on verge of historic second comeback
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 19, 2017

    NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees, the most accomplished franchise in American sports, are on the verge of an unprecedented baseball feat. The Houston Astros, meanwhile, are trending toward sadly familiar territory.

    • The Yankees moved to the edge of the World Series with a 5-0 victory over the Astros on Wednesday night in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium. New York leads the series three games to two and will try to win the pennant in Game 6, scheduled for Friday night in Houston.

      The 41st trip to the World Series in team history would be different than any other for the Yankees -- or anyone else in baseball history, for that matter.

      The Yankees, who dropped the first two games of the ALCS after storming back from an 0-2 deficit to knock off the Cleveland Indians in the best-of-five AL Division Series, are trying to become the second team to reach the World Series by overcoming a pair of two-game deficits and the first to do it after twice trailing two games to none. The 2012 San Francisco Giants trailed 2-0 and 3-1 in the National League Division Series and NL Championship Series, respectively, before winning the World Series.

      One could argue the Yankees, if they win Game 6 or 7, would have mounted three enormous postseason comebacks to advance to the World Series. They trailed the Minnesota Twins 3-0 in the AL wild-card game before earning an 8-4 win. It was the second-biggest deficit overcome in the six-year history of the wild-card games.

      "It's just crazy to think how far our backs were against the wall -- even in the wild-card game," Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier said. "To think what we've done, it's been pretty special."

      The youngster-infused comebacks -- six members of New York's lineup Wednesday are younger than 30 years old -- have infused the corporation-like Yankees with an underdog mentality they haven't been associated with since 1996. That year, a New York squad that featured the 20-something "Core Four" overcame an 0-2 deficit in the World Series to knock off the Atlanta Braves and win the franchise's first title since 1978.

      "Watching our fans brings back a lot of special memories for me as a player," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who was the starting catcher on the 1996 team.

      The memories that are bubbling to the surface for the Astros and their fans are decidedly less pleasant. If Houston can't win the next two games, the 2017 ALCS will rank with the playoff heartbreaks the franchise endured in the 1980s and again in 2004 and 2015.

      In 1980, the Astros blew multi-run, late-inning leads in Games 4 and 5 against the Philadelphia Phillies in the best-of-five NLCS. The next year, after a strike-shortened season, Houston won the first two games of the NLDS against the Dodgers, but the Los Angeles rallied to win the final three games of the best-of-five series.

      The 1986 Houston squad frittered away a four-run lead in Game 3 of the NLCS and a three-run lead in Game 6 against the New York Mets.

      In 2004, the Astros came back from an 0-2 deficit to win three straight games against the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS before falling in extra innings in Game 6 and dropping a 5-2 decision in Game 7. Two years ago, Houston was six outs away from eliminating the top-seeded Kansas City Royals in Game 4 of the ALDS before the Royals scored seven unanswered runs that sparked their run to the franchise's second championship.

      In Houston's only World Series appearance, the Chicago White Sox swept the Astros in 2005.

      On Tuesday, the Astros were up 4-0 in the seventh and nine outs away from a three games to one series lead with Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander ready to start Games 5 and 6.

      "I don't think we're carrying the weight of the past," said Astros pitcher Collin McHugh, one of 11 players remaining from the 2015 team. "It'd be great (to win) for the city, it'd be great for this franchise and organization."

      McHugh's words sound good, but the burden the Astros are beginning to carry was obvious to designated hitter Carlos Beltran, who felt compelled to speak to the team after seeing too many downcast faces following the Game 5 loss.

      "Sometimes you see people acting different than the way they acted in the regular season," Beltran said. "I just don't want people to feel down, and I don't want people to feel sorry about themselves. We all want to go out there and make it happen."

      No one more so than the 40-year-old Beltran, who hit a record-tying eight homers for the Astros during the near-miss 2004 postseason.

      "You know what, yeah, you get back here, you think about it," Beltran said. "We were able to play Game 7, we lost against the Cardinals. But now we get the opportunity to make it happen here. That's the goal."

      If they can't make it happen? Then the Yankees will make history, and the Astros will repeat it.

  • Cubs confident they can make Dodgers sweat
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, October 18, 2017

    CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs have a history of coming from behind when their season is on the line.

    • If the Cubs -- who erased a three-games-to-one deficit in the 2016 World Series to capture their first championship since 1908 -- are to return to the Fall Classic, they will have to pull off a comeback achieved just once in baseball history.

      A 6-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Tuesday night put the Cubs within a loss of being eliminated. The Dodgers are just a victory away from their first World Series appearance since 1988 heading into Game 4 at Wrigley Field on Wednesday, but the Cubs' recent history of comebacks provides them with confidence they can do it again.

      Even so, they also realize they are running out of time.

      "We are down, but we're not out -- we have a pulse," Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant said after the Tuesday loss. "As the saying goes, we really need to take it one game at a time. Now, we've got to win them all."

      The Boston Red Sox pulled off the only escape from a 3-0 postseason deficit, beating the New York Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series.

      The Cubs again struggled to score runs on Tuesday night when they couldn't manage anything more than Kyle Schwarber's first-inning solo home run. Now, with their season on the line, they will hope their bats can catch fire while Jake Arrieta takes the mound looking to extend the series to a fifth game on Thursday at Wrigley Field.

      Arrieta is just 1-3 with a 3.77 ERA in five career starts against the Dodgers, who beat him in his only start against Los Angeles this season. But given the dire reality of the must-win game, Arrieta knows how much a solid outing on Wednesday could do for the Cubs' chances.

      Arrieta, a free agent at season's end who could be making his final start for the Cubs on Wednesday, said the feeling in the clubhouse remains upbeat despite the series deficit.

      "The mood is really very similar to the way it is in our clubhouse every day," Arrieta said before the Game 3 loss. "You know, we really don't ever expect that to change."

      Said Cubs shortstop Addison Russell: "We've got nothing to lose -- we just have to go out and play our hearts out."

      The Dodgers will counter with left-hander Alex Wood, a 16-game winner during the regular season who has not pitched since Sept. 26. Wood became the first Dodgers pitcher in more than a century to win his first 11 decisions en route to finishing 16-3 with a 2.72 ERA.

      The 26-year-old Wood has made four postseason appearances -- all in relief -- and faced the Cubs twice this season. He allowed two runs (one earned) in 3 2/3 innings of a no-decision at Wrigley on April 10 and blanked Chicago on two hits over five innings to earn the win on May 26.

      "I'm really excited to have it be my turn and hopefully throw well and pass the torch on to the next guy," Wood said. "I'm very excited."

      With a strong showing by Wood and continued dominance by the Los Angeles bullpen, the Dodgers would carry a seven-game unbeaten streak into the World Series.

      The Cubs, meanwhile, would be swept in the NLCS for the second time in three years after the New York Mets won four straight games against Chicago in 2015.

      "(We're) just getting after it tomorrow," Dodgers left fielder Andre Ethier said Tuesday night. "(We have to) come back with the same intensity, embrace all the emotion, embrace all the energy that is flying around this ballpark, on the team, and get the job done.

      "Like I said, you can't give opportunities and too much open space for a team like the Cubs to get back in it. So tomorrow's the most important game. We've got to figure out a way to close it out tomorrow."

  • Dodgers continue postseason perfection
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, October 18, 2017

    CHICAGO -- Twenty-nine years have gone by since the Los Angeles Dodgers last reached the World Series.

    • During that time, half a dozen presidents have lived in the White House. The Berlin Wall came down. Something called the Internet turned out to be pretty important.

      All the while, Los Angeles' boys in blue tried and failed to return to the Fall Classic.

      Now, the Dodgers are on the doorstep. They hold a commanding 3-0 advantage over the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series after cruising to a 6-1 victory Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.

      Yet Dodgers manager Dave Roberts insists that he is not thinking about what is at stake for his team.

      "No," Roberts said without hesitation. "I think that right now, we're just laser focused on trying to win baseball games. If that presents itself, obviously it will be great. But right now our focus is on (Wednesday's opposing starter) Jake Arrieta and trying to figure out a way to win a baseball game tomorrow night."

      The Dodgers have figured out how to win plenty of games so far this month. They improved to 6-0 during the postseason, which marks the best streak in franchise history.

      Streaky play is nothing new for Los Angeles, which posted a remarkable 43-7 record from June 7-Aug. 5, only to drop 11 consecutive games in early September. That was the longest drought by any team this season.

      Now, the Dodgers are the right kind of streaky once again.

      "We're kind of back to being the fun Dodgers now the way we've played so far," said left-hander Alex Wood, who will take the mound in Game 4. "And that energy is back in our clubhouse."

      The energy was apparent on the field during Tuesday's win. Andre Ethier and Chris Taylor each went deep, and Yu Darvish drew a bases-loaded walk to subdue a Wrigley Field crowd that arrived ready to party.

      Instead, thousands of dejected Cubs fans left before the final out.

      "There is nothing inspirational I could possibly say that's going to make a difference," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "We've just got to go out and play our normal game tomorrow."

      Trouble is, the Dodgers' normal game has proved to be better.

      A talented rotation featuring Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Yu Darvish and Alex Wood challenges opposing hitters because each starter features a different style. Meanwhile, the Dodgers bullpen did not allow a hit in 29 consecutive at-bats before Cubs catcher Alex Avila singled off Ross Stripling in the ninth inning Tuesday.

      In each game of the series, the Cubs have scored first. In each game, the Dodgers have stormed back.

      "You have a lot of guys (on this team) that don't take things for granted," Ethier said. "You know things aren't going to always come easy, and you don't have many opportunities when you're in this position.

      "I think that's something we try to pass on to some of the younger guys is don't take these opportunities for granted, and going back to that five NL West championships in a row. This doesn't really happen, and you can't get complacent to think that year after year, this is going to be a thing."

      The World Series has not been a thing for the Dodgers in nearly three decades. The team never has been closer to returning to the top of the mountain than it is now.

      "These guys are really good over there -- NLCS three years in a row and a World Series champion," Ethier said. "So they know how to win. We're the ones who have to knock them off, and that's what we're trying to do."