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Red Sox, Yankees to face off on turf for 1st time

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NEW YORK — The traditional rivalry between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox will take a radical twist when they meet in London next month: They will play on artificial turf for the first time in their rivalry, covering more than 2,200 games.

Major League Baseball has access to Olympic Stadium for 21 days before the games on June 29 and 30, the sport’s first regular-season contests in Europe, and just five days after to clear out. The league concluded there was not enough time to install real grass.

Starting June 6, gravel will be placed over the covering protecting West Ham’s grass soccer pitch and the running track that is a legacy from the 2012 Olympics. The artificial turf baseball field, similar to modern surfaces used by a few big league clubs, will be installed atop that.

“It’s the first Yankees-Red Sox game out of the country, so why not a lot of firsts?” New York pitcher CC Sabathia said. “I think it will be fine.”

Instead, 141,913 square feet of FieldTurf Vertex will be transported by truck starting June 4 from the company’s plant in Auchel, France, a little over 150 miles (240 kilometers) to a storage facility outside London, according to Murray Cook, the sport’s field consultant.

Clay for the pitcher’s mound and home plate area comes from DuraEdge in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. Turface Athletics near Chicago provides the soil conditioner, while mound tamps, infield drags and nail drags are from Beacon Athletics in Middleton, Wisconsin. The U.S. materials, including 345 tons of dirt in 18 40-foot containers, left Port Elizabeth, New Jersey, during the third week of April and arrived on May 18 at Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk, about 95 miles (150 kilometers) from London. Fence padding was manufactured at Covermaster outside Toronto and shipped from Montreal.

“We looked really hard at doing a natural grass system,” Cook said. “We’re going with a synthetic system and it helps us a couple ways. It’s a little more sustainable, because we’re going back next year. If we went with a natural grass system, we’d have to bulldoze it all up, throw it away and then buy it again, build it all up, throw it away again.”

Only three of the 30 major league teams play on artificial surfaces — Toronto, Tampa Bay and Arizona. Rogers Centre in Toronto and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, have never had grass. Arizona switched this season from grass to turf, as will Texas when its new ballpark opens next spring.

Olympic Stadium, like the regular ballparks, will have full dirt infields rather than the square dirt patches popular during artificial turf’s height — there was a high of 10 synthetic fields in the major leagues from 1977-78 and again from 1982-94.

“I’m assuming it’s like Toronto’s or Tampa’s, so it shouldn’t be an issue,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.

Toronto has played on AstroTurf 3D Xtreme since 2016 and Tampa Bay on Shaw Sports Turf since 2017. Arizona switched from grass to Shaw Sports B1K this year, and Texas will use Shaw Sports Turf when it moves into new Globe Life Field next year.

“If we had never played on turf, it would be different, but we’ve played on turf,” Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts said.

New York and Boston have played 2,196 times, with four more games at Yankee Stadium for May 30 to June 2. New York holds a 1,191-991 edge with 14 ties, plus a 12-11 advantage in postseason matchups.

Boston is the home team for both games in London, but the Yankees and Red Sox will both wear their white home uniforms. When the Yankees last played overseas in an opening-two game series at the Tokyo Dome in 2004, New York wore home pinstripes and the Devil Rays road grays, even though Tampa Bay was the home team and batted last.

Foul poles, a batter’s eye, a backstop and fencing will be erected, along with two dugouts — Red Sox on the first base side and the Yankees on third. Temporary clubhouses will be built on the warm-up track under the stands — the soccer locker rooms are too small — along with batting cages. Because holes cannot be made in the running track, weights will secure the fences, similar to what was installed when the Los Angeles Dodgers and Diamondbacks played in 2014 at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Australia.

Cook helped convert The Oval, a London cricket ground opened in 1845, for games between Boston and New York Mets minor leaguers in October 1993 — the first of two was rained out.

Olympic Stadium also will be the site of major league games in 2020 — a series between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals is the leading candidate.

“This way we’ve got a synthetic turf system that’s got two games on this year, two games on it next year and then the commissioner can do what he wants to do with the system, whether he wants to have another event somewhere, sell it or donate it or whatever they want to do,” Cook said.

Field dimensions will be 330 feet down each foul line, but just 385 feet to center with a 16-foot wall.

“We’ve done all the home run trajectory studies,” Cook said. “We get comparable distances.”

Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi figured the best way for Boston pitchers to keep the Yankees from hitting home runs.

“Just got to keep the ball on the ground, I guess,” he said.

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Yanks’ Stanton, Judge enter final phase of rehab

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CHICAGO — The New York Yankees‘ biggest reinforcements are almost back.

Injured sluggers Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge are beginning the last phase of their respective rehab assignments this weekend, the team announced Friday.

Both outfielders will be reporting to the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders and are expected in the lineup Friday night. The Yankees minor league affiliate has a three-game series at the Durham Bulls beginning Friday.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Thursday before his team’s series opener at the Chicago White Sox that Stanton likely would spend the full series with the RailRiders before getting an off day Monday and then being inserted back into the Bronx Bombers’ lineup at home against Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Judge, meanwhile, will probably be looking at a slightly longer stint with the RailRiders, Boone indicated.

The Yankees have missed both power hitters since April, when they were lost along with several others as an early-season injury bug ravaged the roster. In all, 20 players have been on the Yankees’ injured list since spring training, with only six having returned from it. Currently, 14 players are on the Yankees’ IL, including Stanton and Judge.

Stanton has played in only three games this season, going on the IL on April 1 with a left biceps strain. He’s batting .250 (2-for-8) with no homers, no RBIs and one run scored this season. Nearly a month into his rehab stint, the biceps injury improved, but Stanton was suddenly afflicted with a left shoulder injury.

He eventually got over that shoulder issue. But while he was participating in a live batting practice session last month at the Yankees’ complex in Tampa, Stanton was hit by a pitch around his left knee/calf. The hit-by-pitch left him with a calf strain that he’s been rehabbing for nearly the past month. Boone indicated that he has healed from that.

Judge went on the IL on April 21 after suffering a left oblique injury during a swing the day before. For most of the past four weeks, Judge has slowly worked himself into throwing again, performing defensive drills and eventually to swinging a bat in live batting practice and extended spring training simulations.

Following two live hitting sessions at the Yankees’ complex in Tampa earlier this week, he has progressed to the point of participating in rehab games with the RailRiders.

Before getting injured, Judge was batting .288 with a .925 OPS. He also had five homers and 11 RBIs in 20 games.

The Yankees, meanwhile, are currently on a 16-game homer-hitting streak, despite being without both superstar power hitters.

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A’s Piscotty has melanoma removed from ear

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Oakland Athletics outfielder Stephen Piscotty had successful surgery Thursday to remove a melanoma from his right ear, the team announced Friday.

The melanoma, a form a skin cancer, was discovered during a routine spot check with a dermatologist when a suspicious mole was identified on Piscotty, and a subsequent biopsy came back positive.

Piscotty will be evaluated daily while awaiting further information from the pathology report on surgery, according to the A’s. They anticipate his return to the team within the next week.

Piscotty is hitting .250 with eight home runs, 29 RBIs and 34 runs in 65 games this season, his second with Oakland. He entered Friday tied for second on the team with 65 hits.

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MLB Weekend Watch — Aces, races and who we’re picking in the biggest games

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While the big bats and long balls are garnering most of the headlines, we’re seeing some special — and surprising — performances on the mound as well. We look at some of them and the other big storylines that will play out this weekend.

White Sox starter Lucas Giolito, who is 7-0 with a 0.88 ERA and .385 OPS allowed in his past seven starts, has a tough test in facing the Yankees on Friday night. Where does Giolito fit in your early look at the AL Cy Young contenders?

Eddie Matz: Given his massive dimensions, it’s hard to fit Lucas Giolito into anything. But when I saw him last week in D.C. (when he told me he was bummed to not be facing his former team, the Nationals), he looked significantly leaner than in the past. Still towering, but leaner. As such, I suppose I can fit him into my early American League Cy Young ballot … right near the top. If not for a couple of missed starts in April (hammy), he’d probably be at the top. As it is, he’s still neck-and-neck (and neck) with Charlie Morton and Jake Odorizzi.

Sam Miller: It probably comes down to Justin Verlander and Giolito for me, with Giolito getting the edge for being slightly better and then 20 seconds later Verlander getting the edge for throwing a bunch more innings. And then 20 seconds after that, I have a vision of Chris Sale in The Freeze’s suit, 85 feet behind them both but gaining eight feet with every start.

David Schoenfield: Just as expected, it’s Verlander battling Giolito, Odorizzi and Morton for Cy Young honors. Verlander has 21 more innings than Morton (the No. 2 guy), 25 more than Giolito and 30 more than Odorizzi. On the other hand, he’s allowed more home runs than the other three combined. Verlander has allowed 17 home runs — but somehow only 28 runs, which is weird and crazy. I think the innings matter, and Verlander has 13 quality starts in 15 outings, five more than Morton’s eight. I go Verlander-Morton-Giolito-Odorizzi at the moment.

Speaking of Cy Young contenders, Hyun-Jin Ryu enters his Sunday Night Baseball start against the Cubs (7 p.m. ET, ESPN) sporting a 9-1 record and a 1.36 ERA. What is the most impressive aspect of Ryu’s most impressive season thus far?

Matz: I’ll take “Ridiculous Strikeout-to-Walk Ratios” for $400 please, Alex. In 13 starts, the Los Angeles Dodgers lefty has 77 punchouts with just five free passes. Five! Cinco! Chamesh! That works out to a K-BB ratio of 15.4 that is the best in the majors by a landslide meets a mudslide meets a slide guitar meets an electric guitar meets an electric eel. Speaking of electric eels, here’s how shocking Ryu’s ratio is: The next-closest guy is Max Scherzer, whose ratio of 6.6 isn’t even half of Ryu’s. If Ryu keeps this up, he’ll shatter the single-season record of 11.6, currently held by Phil Hughes. Where I come from, we call that impressive.

Miller: What do Yu Darvish, Luis Castillo, Robbie Ray, Julio Teheran and Trevor Bauer have in common? They all have higher walk rates this year, against all batters, than Ryu has in three-ball counts. (So do a bunch of other starters, by the way.) And with runners in scoring position, Ryu is allowing a .037/.054/.037 line. So when things have gotten a little rough — runners on, or a bad count — he has made the pitch he needed to make.

Schoenfield: OK, so Ryu is a strike-throwing robot. Here’s a fun non-strike-throwing robot fact: Nolan Ryan had 26 separate games in 1977 when he walked at least five batters. Yet he still managed a 2.93 ERA in those games. Maybe Ryan was a robot. After all, imagine how many pitches he must have thrown in some of those games: 9 IP, 7 H, 9 BB, 13 SO; 11 IP, 9 H, 7 BB, 11 SO; 10 IP, 6 H, 5 BB, 19 SO; 9 IP, 5 H, 8 BB, 12 SO. And so on. He did this all season. I guess that’s my point about Ryu: He’s been the anti-Nolan Ryan. And I’ll take the anti-Nolan Ryan.

The Rangers — who are in Cincinnati this weekend (1 p.m. ET Sunday, ESPN+) — are one of the most pleasant surprises of the season. Will they be able to stay in wild-card contention through September?

Matz: Can they stay in wild-card contention? Sure, along with half the league. Will they win the wild card? Only if they continue to play 56 percent of their games against the Mariners, Orioles and Royals, as they’ve done over the past month (they’re 12-3 against that hole-y troika during that stretch). For what it’s worth, Texas faces Seattimore City just 13 times over its final 94 games. They don’t call ’em the dog days for nothin’.

Miller: The Rangers took an extremely risky strategy into this season, betting on recent Tommy John-ers Shelby Miller, Drew Smyly and Edinson Volquez in their rotation. It worked out even better than they planned: Those three have thrown 91 innings, allowed 91 runs and somehow caused the rest of the team to wildly outperform all expectations. The Rangers have, in the past few weeks, remade that broken rotation on the fly, and it’s sort of working. I could see them winning 84 games, for sure. But the three teams they’re holding off in the wild-card race — Cleveland, Oakland and Boston, all just a couple of games back — won 91, 97 and 108 games last season, respectively, and I can’t really see all three of them collapsing to 83 or worse this year.

Schoenfield: What they said! Look, with four American League teams on pace for 100 losses and the Mariners trending in that direction, the season is set up for a surprise team. Somebody has to win some of these games. Aside from Texas’ rotation concerns, I’m not sure this is a playoff-caliber offense, and that’s even without assuming regression from Joey Gallo and Hunter Pence. The Rangers are second in the AL in runs (through Wednesday), but fourth in batting average, sixth in OBP and fourth in slugging. They’ve hit .281/.365/.508 with runners in scoring position, so they’ve hit well in the clutch. They need that to continue, but you don’t want to have to bet on that to continue.

Writers’ choice: What are you most looking forward to this weekend?

Matz: Baltimore lefty John Means has been good enough that the O’s — yes, those O’s — actually have two guys who deserve to be in the All-Star conversation (Trey Mancini being the more obvious one). A 26-year-old rookie, Means didn’t crack the rotation until mid-April, so he’s a teensy bit shy of qualifying for the ERA title. But if he did qualify, his 2.60 ERA would rank sixth in the AL. This weekend, he and his pet changeup draw the Red Sox again. He’s already faced Boston twice and pitched well both times. I’ll be looking to see if he can fool the Sox thrice and keep the Means mojo going.

Miller: Byron Buxton has climbed to sixth in the American League in WAR, and certainly in the top three for sharable defensive highlights. The Twins are hosting the Royals this weekend, looking to pad their 95 percent chance of winning the AL Central, and I’ll be looking for Buxton to punish a terrible Royals pitching staff and play himself into the MVP conversation. There are few things I’d enjoy more than Buxton, with so much beauty in his game, putting everything together and finishing second to Mike Trout.

Schoenfield: Well, Cubs-Dodgers should be fun, including that Ryu game Sunday. But the matchup I want to check out is Kyle Hendricks versus Rich Hill on Friday, a meeting of two of my favorite pitchers in the game. In this era of power pitchers followed by power relievers, I love watching these two finesse guys outwit batters. Hendricks is unique as a finesse right-hander, Hill with that big looping curveball. They remind us that you don’t have to throw 95 mph to succeed.


PICK ‘EM TIME

The top two teams in the NL East meet with the Phillies facing the Braves in Atlanta. Who will win the series?

Matz: Pretty much everyone in the Braves lineup is mashing right now. Meanwhile, pretty much everyone in the Phillies bullpen is M*A*S*H-ing right now. Advantage Atlanta.

Miller: It’s simple: The Phillies just need Jay Bruce to stay the hottest hitter in the world. I’ll take the Braves.

Schoenfield: The Phillies swept the Braves in Philly to begin the season (their only meeting so far), when two of the Atlanta starters were Bryse Wilson and Kyle Wright. This time it’s Sean Newcomb, Max Fried and Mike Foltynewicz. I’ll go with the Braves taking two of three at home, with Newcomb having a nice return to the rotation after his excellent relief outing the other night (4.2 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 6 SO).

As we all know, home runs are flying everywhere. Choosing from four of the top homer-hitting teams of June, which team will hit the most long balls this weekend: Mariners, Braves or Twins?

Matz: Seattle plays at Oakland, where dingers go to die. Minnesota plays at home, where Twins taters don’t happen nearly as much as they do on the road. That leaves the Braves, who will leave the yard early and often this weekend. Eight times, to be exact.

Miller: I’m not ashamed to admit: I did not expect that question to end with those three teams. The Braves get to face the Phillies, who have been the National League’s most homer-prone pitching staff. And unlike the Mariners, they’re at home. I’ll take them.

Schoenfield: The Twins laugh at Eddie’s prediction of eight home runs for a weekend. They’ve hit eight in a game twice already. They do face Brad Keller on Friday, and he’s been stingy with the big flies (four in 86 IP), but since I’m picking the Twins to win every game the rest of the season, I’ll go with them.

Anyone willing to boldly pick the Cubs to beat Ryu and the Dodgers on Sunday night?

Matz: Um, no. But I am willing to boldly pick my nose. Inside the privacy of my own car. When nobody’s looking. And I’m on the highway, where I can roll down the window and use the wind as a disintegration agent.

Miller: I’d like to be the brave one — the Dodgers have slugged 50 points lower against lefties than righties this year, and the Cubs will start Jose Quintana, soooooo maybe? — but the actual better team is at home and starting a pitcher with a 1.66 ERA since the start of 2018. I’m not that brave.

Schoenfield: Ryu has allowed two runs or fewer in all 13 starts. Only one starter (not including Rays opener Ryne Stanek last season) has begun a season with more consecutive starts of two runs or fewer (at least since 1908). It was not Nolan Ryan. It was a guy named Al Benton for the 1945 Tigers, who had 15 in a row. Not bad for a guy who served in the military the previous two seasons. I think it’s time for Benton’s mark to fall. Ryu does it again with seven scoreless innings to go to 14 in a row.


TWO TRUE OUTCOMES

Each week, we ask our panelists to choose one hitter they think will hit the most home runs and one pitcher they think will record the most strikeouts in the coming weekend. Panelists can pick a player only once for the season. We’ll keep a running tally — and invite you to play along at home.

Home run hitters

Matz: Mookie Betts

Miller: Freddie Freeman

Schoenfield: Wow, I see I’m getting crushed in this race. Plus, I’ve used my Bellinger and Yelich cards and neither homered. Let’s go Ronald Acuna Jr.

Strikeout pitchers

Matz: Jake Odorizzi

Miller: Gerrit Cole

Schoenfield: Trevor Bauer

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