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Maddon protests loss to Nats over double toe tap

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WASHINGTON — The Chicago Cubs protested Saturday night’s 5-2 loss to the Nationals, with manager Joe Maddon arguing that Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle used an illegal delivery in the ninth inning.

The double toe tap that Doolittle appeared to use as he delivered the ball to home plate has been deemed illegal in the past, but umpires on Saturday did not force the left-hander to alter his delivery, much to the dismay of Maddon.

“I said ‘if you guys don’t clean it up I’m going to protest the game,'” Maddon recalled after the game. “It’s their rule, not mine. I didn’t ask for it in the first place.”

Maddon came out to argue after Doolittle’s first pitch of the inning — a strike to pinch hitter Albert Almora Jr. Though the umpires huddled with each other, and then Doolittle, they sided with the righty while deeming his delivery OK.

“[Maddon] thought he was tapping his foot, which in itself is not illegal, and this all kind of stems from his pitcher being called on something that was a little bit different than what Doolittle was doing,” crew chief Sam Holbrook said. “So in our judgement, Doolittle did nothing illegal at all.”

Holbrook is referring to Cubs reliever Carl Edwards Jr., who was told in the second game of the season that he couldn’t do his version of the double toe tap. Recently, Mariners pitcher Cory Gearrin was also forced to change his delivery after warming up mid-inning.

“It’s real simple,” a somewhat exasperated Maddon said. “That’s exactly what Carl was told he can’t do. I was told that’s an illegal pitch and he can’t do it.”

Edwards added: “I figured once it happened to myself, it would get around.”

Maddon officially protested with one out in the ninth inning. If the Cubs win the protest the teams would pick up the game from that point, as Doolittle retired the next two batters to earn the save.

Afterwards, he was having none of what Maddon was trying to sell to the authorities.

“In that moment, he’s not doing anything other than rattle me,” Doolittle told reporters, according to mlb.com. “It was kinda tired. Sometimes he has to remind people how smart he is.”

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The Braves — baseball’s hottest team — can’t be counted out in the playoffs

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The narrative all season in the National League has essentially been the Dodgers and everybody else. It’s hard to fight back against that statement as the Dodgers own the largest run differential in the majors — only the Astros are close and no NL team is within 100 runs of their margin.

Consider the Atlanta Braves, however, a team that may be starting to peak at the right time. The Braves went into Citi Field this weekend to face a red-hot Mets team that plays very well at home and had just swept the red-hot Indians. The Braves swept the series to run their winning streak to eight games, and the three wins were each impressive in their own way:

Friday: Atlanta won 2-1 in 14 innings, outlasting Jacob deGrom as Mike Foltynewicz allowed two hits in seven innings and the bullpen tossed seven scoreless.

Saturday: After Atlanta jumped out to a 4-0 lead, the Mets rallied and took the lead on Pete Alonso‘s three-run blast in the fifth, but the Braves rallied with two runs in the eighth and two more in the ninth to win 9-5.

Sunday: Josh Donaldson hit two home runs and Dallas Keuchel tossed seven scoreless innings — three double plays helped — in another 2-1 victory.

The Braves have won or tied nine consecutive series, including winning five of six games from the Mets and taking two of three from the Dodgers, Twins, Nationals and Phillies. They’ve been beating good teams to maintain their six-game lead over the Nationals in the NL East — and that’s important.

The weird thing about the Braves is that while their bullpen has drawn a lot of criticism all season, they’ve actually exceeded their Pythagorean record: The Braves are 80-52 compared to an expected record based on run differential of 74-58. That six-win difference is the biggest positive spread in the majors. Often when a team exceeds its expected record it’s due to a super clutch bullpen that helps a team win close games. Indeed, the Braves are 25-13 in one-run games and 11-5 in extra innings, but the bullpen has generally been average over the course of the season, ranking 12th in the majors in win probability added.

The hope, of course, is the bullpen is improving. Until the Mets scored a run off Mark Melancon in the ninth inning on Sunday, the pen had thrown 25 consecutive scoreless innings. While Melancon, Chris Martin and Shane Greene struggled initially after coming over at the trade deadline, all three have settled in and pitched better of late:

Melancon: Four saves and a win in his past five outings.

Martin: Five straight scoreless outings with just two hits allowed.

Greene: Six straight scoreless outings with three hits allowed, nine K’s and no walks.

Then consider the two main holdovers:

Luke Jackson: One run in 11 innings in August with 15 K’s and four walks.

Sean Newcomb: The hard-throwing lefty had a 1-2-3 eighth on Sunday and has a 3.16 ERA in relief.

That’s five pretty good relievers and only Jackson was in the Atlanta bullpen at the start of the season. Given that the Dodgers have their own concerns in relief — Kenley Jansen has six blown saves and eight home runs allowed in 49⅔ innings — one can reasonably project the Braves to have the better bullpen in the postseason. (As always, small sample size production will trump all projections.)

Another reason to like the Braves now more than two months ago is that Donaldson has quietly given them a third big bat alongside Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. After a slow start (perhaps rusty after injury problems in 2018), Donaldson is up to 32 home runs and hitting .265/.379/.538. Since the middle of June, he’s hitting .294/.409/.658. He’s been bashing like an MVP candidate for more than two months now, the Braves’ answer to Cody Bellinger.

Then there’s Keuchel, who had his best start with the Braves on Sunday. He’s 5-5 with a 3.78 ERA and the top four of Mike Soroka, Julio Teheran, Max Fried and Keuchel give Atlanta four above-average starters. A big reason the Braves’ run differential is mediocre is for much of the season the back of the rotation was horrible — Foltynewicz, Kevin Gausman, Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson have a combined 6.33 ERA in 39 starts. Those guys won’t be starting in October (although Foltynewicz has a chance to pitch himself back into the Braves’ postseason plans).

The major takeaway: I think the Braves are better than their plus-78 run differential suggests. They’ll get Dansby Swanson back soon and Nick Markakis, Ender Inciarte, Brian McCann and Austin Riley are also all on the IL, so this win streak is a credit to the team’s depth off the bench.

Hard to believe, but the Braves haven’t won a playoff series since the 2001 NL Division Series. Since then, they’ve lost seven straight division series and a wild-card game. This may be the team to finally break that streak.

Nationals sweep Cubs: The other big sweep this weekend was the Nats going to Wrigley and winning 9-3, 7-2 and 7-5 in 11 innings on Sunday. The Cubs were 44-19 at home entering the series.

Sunday’s game was fun as Kyle Schwarber tied the game with a two-run homer in the eighth off Fernando Rodney, Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel worked out of a two-on jam in the ninth and then the Nationals finally scored twice in the 11th off Tyler Chatwood, with Howie Kendrick and Trea Turner starting the rally with a single and double. Anthony Rendon drove in the second run of the inning with his fourth hit of the game.

Possible MVP? “I’ll make a case for him right now, yeah,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “MVP, Gold Glove. My man, Anthony Rendon.”

Rendon probably has some ground to make up, but a late surge could put him in the running:

Rendon: .329/.407/.617, 29 HRs, 104 RBIs, 94 runs, 5.2/5.6 WAR

Christian Yelich: .329/.421/.678, 41 HRs, 89 RBIs, 91 runs, 6.0/6.5 WAR

Bellinger: .312/.409/.655, 42 HRs, 100 RBIs, 101 runs, 7.9/6.8 WAR

Rendon has hit .348/.444/.652 with runners in scoring position, but get this: Entering Sunday he was hitting .408/.452/.855 with nine home runs in 76 at-bats in high-leverage situations — the biggest, most clutch moments of games. Only thing is Yelich also has been great in the clutch (Rendon ranks third in OPS in medium- and high-leverage moments, but Yelich ranks fourth).

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Anthony Rendon crushes a ball for a solo home run in the top of the 4th inning to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead over the Cubs.

Anyway, Rendon is having another terrific season. Maybe he’s only a strong third in the MVP race (and Braves supporters will bring up Freeman and Acuna), but don’t ignore Rendon’s clutch numbers the rest of the season.

Indians lose Ramirez, then lose a tough game: Jose Ramirez fractured his right hamate bone on a swing in Saturday’s win over the Royals and will undergo surgery on Monday. The timetable to return from such a procedure varies, but Joey Gallo had a similar surgery on July 23 and is expected to be out until mid-September. Ramirez will likely be lost for the rest of the regular season and even if he does make a miraculous comeback, hitters often take longer to regain their power after these injuries.

It’s a devastating injury for the club as Cleveland had rediscovered its mojo in part because Ramirez had bounced back from a dreadful start. As late as June 16, his OPS remained under .600. Since then he’d hit .313/.359/.654 with a 16 home runs and 51 RBIs in 56 games. Rookie Yu-Cheng Chang, with four career plate appearances, started at third on Sunday.

In that game, the Indians tied the Royals with four runs in the bottom of the ninth — Francisco Lindor homered off Ian Kennedy and with two outs Franmil Reyes blasted a towering, game-tying three-run homer. It looked like Cleveland would find a miracle win and sweep the Royals, but Ryan O’Hearn homered in the top of the 10th and the Royals won 9-8.

“There’s two ways to look at it,” Terry Francona told reporters in Cleveland. “You can feel sorry for yourself, which probably doesn’t end well. Or you can choose to fight back and feel like this is our time to shine. And I would choose No. 2. I’m aware that it got more difficult. We lost a great player.”

The Indians have been resilient all season, fighting through injuries to the starting rotation and an 11½-game deficit back in June to get back in the AL Central and wild-card races. Now they’re back to 3½ games behind the Twins with 12 of their next 16 games on the road.

Quick weekend thoughts: Good to see Felix Hernandez put up a respectable effort in front of the Seattle fans on Saturday (two runs on two home runs in 5⅔ innings against the Blue Jays). I don’t know how much he has left, but it would be nice if his final starts in a Mariners uniform aren’t embarrassingly awful. … Stunning stat of the year: Mariners catchers are hitting .302 with 35 home runs. … Somebody who has been awful is Trevor Bauer, who gave up eight runs in three innings to the Pirates on Sunday. After giving up nine runs two starts ago, he has a 7.62 ERA with the Reds and his season ERA is now 4.34. For all the hype given Bauer’s analytical approach to pitching, he’s had an ERA under 4.00 just once in his career. … One of the Twins sluggers who has flown under the radar is Miguel Sano, who has 26 home runs in 292 at-bats. The strikeout rate remains insane (35%), but he’s mashing home runs and has played well enough at third base. … It seems like we’ve skipped over Michael Brantley in this space this season, but he’s riding an 18-game hitting streak in which he’s batting .458/.519/.750. For all the attention the Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu has received for his MVP-type season (non-Mike Trout division), Brantley has had the same type of season to little acclaim.

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Judge delivers on HR promise to coach’s dad

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Aaron Judge is a man of his word.

The New York Yankees outfielder, while catching up with Yankees bullpen coach Jason Brown’s father John on the field prior to Sunday’s series finale at Dodger Stadium, told the elder Brown, “I’ll hit one for you tonight,” as he walked away.

Judge delivered on that promise in his second at-bat, crushing a 1-1 curveball from Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw to deep center field in the top of the third inning.

“I’ve seen [John Brown] all over the place and I missed seeing him when we played in Anaheim this year, so I went over there and just said hello to him and said I’d get one for him, and I was able to do that today,” Judge told ESPN after the Yankees’ 5-1 win. “Wind was blowing out, though, so that helped.”

It was Judge’s 16th home run of the season, and it gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead. Judge had also homered in the first two games against the Dodgers this weekend.



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Yankees’ Judge delivers on HR promise to fan

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Aaron Judge is a man of his word.

The New York Yankees outfielder, while meeting an older fan on the field prior to Sunday’s series finale at Dodger Stadium, told the man, “I’ll hit one for you tonight,” as he walked away.

Judge delivered on that promise in his second at-bat, crushing a 1-1 curveball from Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw to deep center field in the top of the third inning.

It was Judge’s 16th home run of the season, and it gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead. Judge had also homered in the first two games against the Dodgers this weekend.

The Yankees would go on to win Sunday’s game 5-1 and take the best-of-three series.



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