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Minnesota Twins’ Josh Donaldson ejected for kicking dirt at plate after homer

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CHICAGO — Minnesota’s Josh Donaldson managed to get ejected while hitting a home run.

Donaldson barked at plate umpire Dan Bellino for the second time in the sixth inning of a 4-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Thursday.

With Minnesota trailing 3-2, Bellino called a strike when the 2015 AL MVP checked his swing on a 2-0 pitch from Reynaldo Lopez.

Manager Rocco Baldelli came out to speak with Bellino, and Donaldson homered down the left-field line on the next offering. After rounding the bases, Donaldson kicked dirt at home plate as he crossed it.

Bellino ejected him immediately, and Donaldson, realizing he had missed home plate, returned to the plate to touch it and then argued as he kicked more dirt on it.

Donaldson also had argued with Bellino on a 1-1 breaking ball in the first inning that appeared to be high but was called a strike, leading to a strikeout.

“We need Josh on the field, out there playing, and at third base,” Baldelli said. “That’s when we’re at our best. And so that’s really the end of it. I think we can move past it at his point, and go from here.”

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World Series 2020 – The Tampa Bay Rays are down only 2-1. Here’s why it feels a whole lot worse

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ARLINGTON, Texas — For the moment, the Tampa Bay Rays have answered a question that lingered even after Wednesday’s six-run output in their World Series Game 2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. It went something like this: Was the Rays’ anemic postseason offense waking up, or did they just get a one-day reprieve because the Dodgers pitched a bullpen game that night?

Games 1 and 3 gave us the answers we need, as the Rays put up little fight in the batter’s box in either contest and now find themselves down 2-1 in the series with their own version of a bullpen game looming.

“We need to find a way to win, that’s for sure,” manager Kevin Cash simply stated after the latest loss.

It doesn’t help that the Dodgers have dynamic lefties Julio Urias and Clayton Kershaw lined up for the next two nights. The Rays are just 11-11 this season when a lefty starts against them. In other words, the path to a championship got a whole lot harder for the American League representative. Catcher Mike Zunino is taking the proverbial glass-half-full approach.

“Guys have been hitting the ball hard lately,” he said. “The luck hasn’t been there, but that’s all part of it. We have to stay consistent and put our work in. Eventually we’ll get some bounces.”

But are they running out of time?

If the Dodgers were planning several more bullpen games, it wouldn’t be fair to eliminate Game 2 from the Rays’ offensive statistics. But they’re not, so it’s appropriate to look at it this way. Minus that game, the Rays are 10-for-62 (.161) with 23 strikeouts in their two World Series losses. For the entire postseason, minus Game 2 of this series, they’re hitting just .203.

Again, unless the Dodgers are throwing more of their “B” relievers, these are the numbers that matter. And what about all that talk of a Brandon Lowe breakout after his two-homer performance on Wednesday? His three-strikeout night in Game 3 is a nice microcosm of the Rays right now: Their production has been spotty at best this postseason.

“We see it quite a bit when our pitching is on and we go against good offenses,” Cash stated. “That’s what we saw on the flip side [in Game 3]. Just dominant, dominant stuff.”

The scary part for the Rays is Game 3 winner Walker Buehler had a “lofty” ERA of 1.89 coming into the night when compared to Game 4 starter Urias, whose 0.56 mark leads all starting pitchers this postseason. As do his four wins.

The Rays’ best shot is to scratch a run or two across the board as early as possible. They’re a major-league-best 31-7 when scoring first this season.

“We seem to be a much better club when we get early leads,” Cash said. “Whatever we can do to get some runs early.”

Easier said than done for the Rays right now with their 2-1 series hole feeling a lot deeper than just a one-game deficit.

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World Series Daily — Will Julio Urias, Dodgers push Rays to brink in Game 4?

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After all the oddities of the MLB regular season and postseason, the 2020 World Series pits baseball’s top two teams against each other, which doesn’t happen every year. And while we’ve grown accustomed to seeing the Dodgers playing for the championship, this is the first Fall Classic for the Rays since 2008 and only the second in franchise history.

Here’s what you need to know for Game 4 on Saturday night, including a look at the pitching matchup, predictions, odds, other key numbers and more.

Key links: Viewers guide | Schedule | Playoff Baseball Classic

What’s on tap

World Series Game 4: Tampa Bay Rays (Ryan Yarbrough) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (Julio Urias), 8:08 p.m. ET in Arlington, Texas

Heading into the series, I thought Game 4 looked like the game that might be the most important, the game most likely to be the tipping point on who ultimately wins. Before Game 1, it looked like a potential bullpen game for both teams, but since the Dodgers did not have to use Julio Urias in their bullpen effort in Game 2, he’s now ready and rested for a conventional start. The Rays, meanwhile, will hope Yarbrough can keep the first three batters (Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, Justin Turner) under control well enough to help him get through the first three or four innings.

The pitching advantage on paper in the first half of the game goes to the Dodgers. Urias has been outstanding in the postseason, allowing two runs (one earned) over 16 innings, culminating with his nine up, nine down effort to close out Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. Long a heralded prospect, Urias debuted for the Dodgers in 2016 at 19 years old, battled some shoulder injuries and has been nursed along slowly the past couple of seasons. He is still just 24 but has already made 16 postseason appearances, so the moment shouldn’t be too big for him. He works off a 94 mph fastball, with an excellent curveball and a changeup he throws to right-handers. Both the fastball and curveball come with a high spin rate, helping Urias induce a lot of soft contact even though his swing-and-miss rate is below average (although it’s been higher in the postseason).

Yarbrough is a soft-tossing lefty who needs his cutter working to get in on the hands of righties. It was a great pitch for him in 2019 (.200/.230/.338 against RHB) but hasn’t been as effective in 2020 (.317/.376/.510). Given the state of the series, Rays skipper Kevin Cash will have to play all his cards in this game, which could mean a quick hook for Yarbrough if he gets into trouble. Cash can’t let it get out of hand early without getting his top relievers into the game. That shouldn’t be an issue since Friday’s blowout meant Nick Anderson, Pete Fairbanks and Diego Castillo didn’t pitch.

Two wild cards to watch for: First, the Dodgers are playing a little small ball, with Betts stealing bases and the Austin Barnes sacrifice squeeze bunt in Game 3; and we still don’t know who the Dodgers’ closer will be in a close game. — David Schoenfield


Running World Series odds

Dodgers 81.7%; Rays 18.3%


Game 4 predictions

Schoenfield: The Tampa Bay offense is still struggling, barely hitting over .200 in the postseason. The Dodgers, meanwhile, continue to do a lot of their damage with two strikes — all five of their runs off Charlie Morton in Game 3 came with two strikes (and two outs). I like the way Urias has been pitching, and the Rays’ lineup against lefties has featured Hunter Renfroe and his .156 average hitting cleanup. Maybe he runs into something. I’ll bet against it. We are due for a close game, however. Dodgers 3, Rays 2.

Alden Gonzalez: The Dodgers’ offense looks dialed in — almost as much as their Game 4 starter, Julio Urias, who has allowed one earned run over 16 innings this postseason. The Rays will counter with what amounts to a bullpen game, giving the Dodgers a premium opportunity to take control of this series. They know it, too. Dodgers 9, Rays 3.

Dan Mullen: I’m starting to have serious doubts that we’ll have baseball to watch after this weekend now that the Dodgers have a 2-1 series lead, as the pitching just does not set up well for the Rays the next two nights. Having Urias head to the mound in Game 4 isn’t quite like having Clayton Kershaw or Walker Buehler, but it is a clear advantage over the bullpen game the Rays are going to deploy. There’s a very good chance that means we see Kershaw on the mound with a chance to clinch in Game 5. Dodgers 6, Rays 3.


Stat of the day

With his ninth-inning home run in Game 3, Randy Arozarena of the Rays set an MLB record for total bases in the postseason (52) with his 23rd hit of the postseason — a single-season record for postseason hits by a rookie, and now he’s just three hits shy of Pablo Sandoval’s mark for any player in a single postseason at 26, set with the Giants in their 2014 title run.


Social media post of the day


Best moment of the MLB playoffs to date

Cody Bellinger managed to one-up … Cody Bellinger. The Dodgers outfielder had held this crown since he robbed Fernando Tatis Jr. of a home run in a thrilling Dodgers-San Diego Padres NL Division Series Game 2; but his NLCS-deciding Game 7 home run to put Los Angeles in the World Series was just enough to take over the top spot.


The running MLB playoffs MVP

Randy Arozarena has gone from an unknown outfielder to this October’s breakout star. Going into the playoffs, you might have been asking, “Who is this guy?” But the Rays’ trade for him has been a huge factor in their postseason run. His eight long balls have made a big impression — tying him with Barry Bonds, Carlos Beltran and Nelson Cruz for the record for most home runs in a postseason. Arozarena also has set a postseason record with 52 total bases, leads all players in hits (23) and is second in runs (15). And he has been flashing some leather in the outfield and some sweet celebration dance moves on the field.



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Game 3 win proof Walker Buehler is baseball’s reigning October ace

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Just look at the names. Sandy Koufax. Randy Johnson. Clayton Kershaw. Curt Schilling. Orel Hershiser. Madison Bumgarner. Josh Beckett.

Walker Buehler is 26 years old. He is in his third full season in the major leagues. To put him alongside two Hall of Famers, another shoo-in, a likely entrant and three more of the greatest pitchers in baseball playoff history, then, might feel presumptive, a prisoner-of-the-moment reaction to his latest sparkling outing.

Here’s the thing: These are his peers. The numbers say so. And however statistics can be twisted, engineered and leveraged to tell a story, Buehler needs no such manipulation. Right now, he is baseball’s best big-game pitcher, and the gem he spun in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 6-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night only enhanced that argument.

Over six innings, Buehler neutralized the Rays with a heavy dose of a four-seam fastball that defies gravity and a curveball that embraces it. He struck out 10, ceded three hits, walked one, and yielded one run. Against Buehler, the Rays flailed and failed, and though no solace can be taken from that, not when they now trail two games to one in the series, at least they know they’re not the first.

Consider the first set of names: Schilling, Hershiser, Bumgarner. They’re the only players in history to post a better ERA over a nine-start postseason stretch than Buehler’s current run. Schilling’s was 1.14, Hershiser’s 1.17, Bumgarner’s 1.18. From his start in Game 7 of the 2018 NLCS through Game 3 of this World Series, Buehler’s is 1.28.

“The more you do these things, the calmer you get,” Buehler said. “I don’t want to keep harping on it, but I enjoy doing this. And I feel good in these spots.”

Confidence never is a problem for Buehler. He knows he is good. He’ll talk about how he’s good. It’s extremely matter-of-fact. And these are the facts.

Among players 26 and younger, none has struck out more in the postseason than Buehler. He reached 80 on Friday, passing Bumgarner. The extra rounds and games make this more of a modern record than something to compare Buehler historically, but still: He’s better than his contemporaries.

In all 11 of his playoff starts, Buehler has punched out at least six. The previous record holder for consecutive postseason starts with half a dozen or more strikeouts: Johnson, with nine.

Before Game 3, only two Dodgers pitchers had double-digit strikeout games in which they allowed three or fewer hits: Koufax and Kershaw.

The last player as young as Buehler to record at least 10 punchouts in a World Series game: Beckett when he was 23.

Yes, some of these are arbitrary. Had Buehler not struck out the side in the sixth inning, those double-digit factoids wouldn’t exist. And he pitches in a far different era than Schilling, Hershiser and Bumgarner. Their respective innings totals over those nine starts of microscopic ERAs: 71, 69 ⅓ and 68 ⅔. Buehler has thrown just 49 ⅓ innings, a hair under 5 ½ innings a start, which, even in the heart of the bullpenning era, is nobody’s idea of a horse.

The game’s evolution is a culprit, because Buehler could work deeper into games if given the leash to do so. Even during the regular season the Dodgers welded a restrictor plate to Buehler, lest they overexert him and not have him for the moments they need him to win things like their first championship since 1988.

“Obviously there’s been a few games that I kinda wanted to keep going and keep going and keep going,” Buehler said. “But that’s what you want. I think you want an organization that’s gonna help you and hold you back. And I think as a player you want to keep going. No, I think we’ve done a good job with it.”

Until the Dodgers let Buehler work deeper into games, his lack of a classic sort of playoff performance — a shutout or at least a complete game — will be a reasonable ding on his resumé. It’s less the fault of Buehler than the moment in which he pitches, when someone of his ilk is seen as so valuable that any risk is a risk. Particularly for someone with a Tommy John scar on his right elbow.

With that not an option, at least for now, Buehler instead focuses on carving up opposing lineups. The Rays struck out twice in the first, second and fifth innings and three times in the sixth. They swung under Buehler’s fastball, which is unfair at 97 mph with supreme command and even more prone to embarrass because its average spin rate of 2,550 rpm is among the five best of any starter in the big leagues. High-spin-rate fastballs are the pitcher’s version of sleight-of-hand magic, looking to some hitters like they’re almost rising. The truth is that the speed of the spin simply fights gravity better than lower-speed heaters, meaning they’re still dropping but at a slower rate than the brain can instantaneously process.

Between that and his 3,000-rpm curveball, another elite pitch Buehler controls with the precision of a puppeteer — and don’t forget his slider and cutter, two more power pitches that round out his arsenal — hitters fidget when facing Buehler for good reason. Even though he is more reliant on his fastball than most pitchers, he relies because it’s arguably the best offered by any starting pitcher today. The only others in the conversation are Gerrit Cole — who has the best argument of anyone to dispute Buehler’s big-game throne — and Jacob deGrom, who may someday mount a challenge if the Mets stop Metsing.

“He was unbelievable. He really was,” said Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes, who himself made history, homering and driving in a run via sacrifice bunt, the first player to do both in the same World Series game in nearly 60 years. “He made it really easy on me. That might have been the best I’ve ever seen his stuff really.”

The best. That’s saying something. Buehler showed the capabilities in 2018 when he threw 6 ⅔ shutout innings against Colorado to clinch the NL West in Game 163. Less than a month later, in the last World Series Game 3 started by Buehler, he allowed two hits and struck out seven over seven shutout innings. And in his start after that, in Game 1 of the 2019 Division Series, he threw six shutout innings and yielded one hit. His first three this postseason were good, his NLCS Game 6 with six shutout innings excellent and Friday’s brilliant. And the Dodgers are in perfect position should they need him again. Worst-case scenario, if they lose Games 4 and 5, Buehler could go on short rest in Game 6. Otherwise, the Dodgers can have him ready and fully rested for Game 7.

“I haven’t put it all together and grasped or wrapped my head around all that he’s accomplished in this short period of time,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “Being a big-game pitcher and really succeeding on this stage, there’s only a few guys currently and throughout history. He’s in some really elite company, and I’m just happy he’s wearing a Dodger uniform.”

There is perhaps one statistic that fully encapsulates why Buehler warrants the best-active-big-game-pitcher label. Pitch-tracking technology goes back to 2008, and over the 13 years since it debuted, only two times has a pitcher struck out at least 22 batters on fastballs in a postseason.

This first was Walker Buehler in 2018.

The second is Walker Buehler in 2020.

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