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The unlucky legacy of the 2018 Houston Astros

Specifically, it will remember the fly ball Jose Altuve hit over the wall in Game 4 of the ALCS, the extraordinary leap Boston’s Mookie Betts made for it, and the way that after the ball had landed, uncaught, it was declared an out. It will remember the debate that ensued over what constitutes interference, from Joe West’s confident ruling on an essentially unknowable call to the flukily blocked camera that might have otherwise saved Altuve’s home run and the Astros’ season. The future will have no trouble remembering that all as, from Houston’s perspective, bad luck.

In baseball, the point is to win the World Series and the tactic involved — the skill involved — is “avoiding outs” and “getting outs.” But we don’t declare the World Series winner based on who avoided the most outs (i.e., who got the most hits). That would be one kind of sport — golf is that kind of sport, and the discus throw, and the 1,500 freestyle, where every stroke, inch or second counts equally toward the final outcome. But baseball is the kind that has added layers upon layers of suspense and variety: Outs avoided make rallies; rallies make runs; runs make wins; wins make standings; standings make postseason series; and postseason series make the World Series winner.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

And, indeed, outs themselves are made up of layers and sequences — strikes and balls, batted balls chased and caught and thrown and tagged. You might even say the point is to win the World Series but the tactics are “throw good strikes” and “hit the ball hard.” The layers in between give it all texture.6

That’s why it’s fun. And the result is that, along the way from “control the count” to “win the World Series,” only some hits count. A hit that doesn’t produce a rally is ultimately no better than an out, a rally that doesn’t produce a run is ultimately no better than an out, and a run that doesn’t win a game is ultimately no better than an out. We measure skill based on those hits, rallies and runs, but we measure success based only on the higher outcomes.

This is true at virtually every level of play, and it’s almost always what we’re actually talking about when we talk about luck. A team that vastly underperforms its run differential? It scored more runs than its opponent in the aggregate, but there is no partial credit for a close loss. A pitcher who has allowed an unsustainably low BABIP? He gives up lots of hard contact, but there is no partial credit on a diving catch.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

On Thursday, in the third inning, the game scoreless, the series still very much undecided, Justin Verlander got two strikes on J.D. Martinez. He threw a perfect 1-2 slider, right on the outside black, just above the knees. It was a pitch that umpires across baseball call a strike 84 percent of the time, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It was a pitch that, had it been slightly worse — i.e., slightly more hittable — Martinez probably would have swung at, probably would have whiffed at or hit meekly to the shortstop, or maybe hit for a single. But Martinez took it, umpire Chris Guccione called it a ball, and on the next pitch Verlander threw a hanging curveball — this one, ironically, probably not in the strike zone — and Martinez crushed it for what ultimately would be the game-winning, series-winning home run.

Astros’ Jose Altuve ruled out after fan interferes with Mookie Betts’ attempt to catch fly ball

In the bottom of the first inning, Houston Astros designated hitter Jose Altuve launched a fly ball to the right-field wall that prompted Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts to go into a full jump. As Betts extended his arm high over the 7-foot wall, the ball bounced back onto the field of play.

Replays appeared to show that Betts’ left arm stretched over the wall and into the sea of fans. As he tried to make the catch, Betts’ glove closed a split-second too early. He says it was because the glove made contact on its back side with a fan’s hands. From there, the ball touched another fan before coming back onto the field.

“I was pretty positive that ball was going in my glove,” Betts said. “But as I jumped and went over, reached my hand up, I felt like somebody was kind of pushing my glove out of the way or something.”cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

When the ball didn’t land in Betts’ glove, a hustling Altuve was bracing for the possibility that he’d at least be standing on second base when all was said and done.5

“For a moment, when I saw the ball on the warning track, then I thought, ‘OK. That’s a double. I’ll take it.'” Altuve said.

Immediately, Astros manager A.J. Hinch popped out of the dugout to argue with crew chief and right-field umpire Joe West, who made the initial call. Their conversation took West and his crew to replay.

After 3 minutes, 13 seconds, the review resulted in the call standing. Altuve was declared out via fly out to Betts because of fan interference, nullifying what would have been a potential tying, two-run home run. George Springer was sent back to first base.

“[West] just said that it was fan interference on the field. And my argument was more about that the ball was leaving the yard, the trajectory was there,” Hinch said during the game telecast. “Jose paid kind of the ultimate price for something out of his control.

“I’m not sure if Mookie makes that catch. He’s a great athlete. But how it’s an assumed out, it’s unbelievable.”cheap nfl jerseys china nike

After the game, Hinch expanded upon that latter thought, saying: “We assume — and you can assume a lot with Mookie because he’s an incredible athlete — we assume he’s going to make this spectacular catch, jumping as high as he can into the crowd.”

Alex Cora pushed all the right buttons in getting Red Sox to ALCS

John Henry, the principal owner of the Boston Red Sox, stood inside the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium late Tuesday night, answering questions from a group of reporters as the victory celebration blared in the background.

A year ago, Henry and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski made the decision to fire a successful manager, John Farrell, who still had a year remaining on his contract. Farrell had won a World Series in 2013 and back-to-back division titles in 2016 and 2017, but after consecutive defeats in the division series, Henry and Dombrowski looked outside the organization for a new manager.nike jerseys nfl cheap

They settled on Alex Cora, a former ESPN analyst who had spent 2017 as A.J. Hinch’s bench coach for the World Series champion Houston Astros. He would be good with the media, would more easily identify with Boston’s young players as he had played in the majors as recently as 2011 and would bring some of the Astros’ analytic bent to the Red Sox’s game preparation.

After the Red Sox eliminated the New York Yankees in four games, the soft-spoken Henry assessed Cora’s performance thusly: “He was a magician.”7

“We’re very fortunate to have in A.C. [someone] who is not very far removed from playing the game, which definitely helps,” he said. “It seemed like every button he’s pushing is the right one. I think he’s got a great feel for the game. He understands the game. He does a great job of managing and communicating with everybody on what’s going on, and I think it showed in this series.”

Sale even told the story that when he walked into the clubhouse before Game 4, he told Cora he wanted the ball at some point in the game.

“I told him and walked away and he started laughing, so I didn’t know if that was a good or a bad thing, but it worked out,” Sale said.

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Cora also influenced the team’s off-field groundwork in three significant ways. He brought the advanced scouting department completely in-house, relying on video scouts and analysts. He shifted responsibility for defensive alignments from the coaching staff to the analytics department. He emphasized keeping players fresh — not just down the stretch after the Red Sox had built a big lead in the AL East, but even going back to the first road trip of the season.

Rockies confident Coors Field will be an NLDS equalizer

The Colorado Rockies might be the one team down 2-0 in a best-of-five series that still can feel confident about forcing a Game 5 simply because their next two games against the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Division Series are at Coors Field.

The Rockies return to Denver for Game 3 on Sunday after a weeklong road odyssey in which they scored a total of six runs in four games — all must-win-type affairs. They won one of them, putting themselves in a hole.

“They’ve got a good pitching staff, but it is a little surprising that we haven’t generated more offense,” Rockies manager Bud Black said after the 4-0 loss in Game 2 on Friday.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

The Rockies had the highest OPS in the majors at home — even higher than those high-scoring American League teams that employ a designated hitter — but ranked 27th in the majors and 14th in the National League on the road. What’s not surprising is they’re licking their chops for Game 3 and potentially Game 4 at Coors.6

“We have a lot of confidence moving forward, especially at home where we’re all very comfortable hitting and pitching,” second baseman DJ LeMahieu said.

Therein lies the irony of the Rockies under Black, known as a pitching guru. For years, the focus always has been about figuring out how to pitch at Coors Field. The Rockies did that in 2018, at least to a certain extent. They had their lowest team ERA at home since 2013. Several young starters, especially scheduled Game 4 starter Kyle Freeland, were excellent at Coors Field. And, of course, so were their hitters. But not on the road, where not one Rockies slugger produced an OPS over .800. Five reached that figure at home.

“We’re probably putting a little pressure on ourselves, but I know we’re excited to get home and play Sunday,” LeMahieu said.

In a telling time frame, before scoring just six runs in their past four games on the road, the Rockies put up 36 runs in their previous four home wins.nike nfl jerseys cheap china

“The story of the series so far is how we’ve pitched,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.

Of course, credit goes to Milwaukee’s pitchers, but Colorado has made it easy on them at the plate. It doesn’t help that the Rockies admittedly look like they’re pressing.

Red Sox have power arms in bullpen, but need to find right mix

It’s a best-of-three American League Division Series now for the Boston Red Sox, and they’re going to have steal a game in enemy territory or see their 108-win season end with a first-round exit and hear 50,000 Yankees fans singing “New York, New York” to Aaron Judge’s boombox.

To avoid that heartache, the much-maligned Boston bullpen will have to deliver some big outs, for as much as manager Alex Cora would like to ride his starting rotation, this is postseason baseball 2018 and that means plenty of relievers pitching plenty of key innings.

Cora already has turned to his bullpen for some heavy workloads in the first two games. Chris Sale went 5⅓ innings in the first game, and Cora used five relievers to get the final 11 outs, including a two-out appearance from starter Rick Porcello. After David Price sucked the life out of Fenway Park in Game 2, the bullpen had to throw 7⅓ innings. Overall, the pen threw 89 pitches in Game 1 and 123 pitches in Game 2.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

That certainly wasn’t the preferred plan heading into the series.5

“We work differently than other teams,” Cora had said prior to the first game. “We relied on our starters throughout the season. They carry us. We felt that on a nightly basis they were going to give us a chance to win — either five innings, six innings, whatever. They were very consistent about it.”

The bullpen finished ninth in the majors with a 3.72 ERA but struggled the final two months, as its ERA rose to 4.34 ERA, 20th in the majors. Matt Barnes, who had emerged as the team’s top setup reliever, pitched sparingly over the final month with inflammation in his hip, although he is back now. The depth was affected, however, when Steven Wright reinjured his knee prior to Game 1 and was later removed from the roster, replaced by Heath Hembree. Wright had pitched his way into a key role with a strong September, when he allowed two runs in 13⅔ innings.

One thing Cora isn’t concerned about — at least not yet — is a fatigue factor for his relievers.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

“We’ve been taking care of them for the last month. That was the luxury of having a big lead in the division. So their workload the last month has been very, very low,” he said prior to Game 2. “You have studies and you talk to people and all this cool stuff that they do upstairs. And we feel that right now they are ready to go. If they have to pitch like Brandon Morrow last year in the World Series [when Morrow pitched in all seven games], they’re all-in, they’ll pitch five games.”

Ryan Brasier and Brandon Workman appeared in both of the first two games. After wobbling with his command in a 15-pitch outing in Game 1, Brasier was sharper in Game 2, striking out the side in his one inning. That included a pumped-up whiff of Gary Sanchez, as Brasier had motioned to Sanchez to get back in the batter’s box after the Yankees catcher had stepped out before three straight pitches.

Trevor Story returns to Colorado Rockies’ lineup

Trevor Story is going over the top to get back on the field, altering his throwing motion to take some of the stress off his sore right elbow.

The Colorado Rockies All-Star shortstop returned to the lineup Monday night after missing a week with the ailment. Story was set to bat fifth as the playoff-chasing Rockies open a four-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies.cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

“It’s tough just sitting and watching,” Story said. “It’s not ideal. The timing of it was pretty brutal. Just really tried to keep my focus on the treatment and getting better.”

Story tweaked his elbow on a throw in the first inning Sept. 17 in Los Angeles and aggravated it on a swing in the fourth.

“It’s gotten better every single day, and I’m ready to play,” Story said.

Story has been practicing throwing from a more straightaway angle, which cuts down on elbow stress. He also worked on spin moves Sunday in Arizona and said “it felt good.”

“There are little things I can do to take pressure off,” he said.10

At the plate, the elbow doesn’t really bother him.

“But you can’t say so until the game,” he quickly added.

Story, 25, is in the midst of a breakout season, hitting .288 with 33 homers and 102 RBIs. He recently became the first shortstop in major league history with at least 40 doubles, 30 home runs and 25 steals in a season.

His return couldn’t come at a more opportune time. The Rockies started Monday trailing the NL West-leading Dodgers by 1½ games. It’s a name that manager Bud Black was all too happy to pencil back into the heart of the order behind Nolan Arenado, who has 34 homers and 103 RBIs this season.nike nfl jerseys cheap china

“He’s one of our best players. He plays a premium position and hits in the middle of the order. So it’s quite a presence we didn’t have for a week of games,” Black said. “He’s one of our core players and one of best in the National League.”

In other Rockies health news, left-hander Tyler Anderson was scratched from his start after he experienced shoulder soreness and replaced by right-hander Jon Gray. Starter-turned-reliever Chad Bettis is slated to pitch Tuesday.

“We decided to do what’s best for the team,” said Anderson, 6-9 with a 4.76 ERA this season. “It’s frustrating. I want to take the ball every fifth day. I can’t think about that now, I just have to think about getting back as quick as I can.”

Real or Not? New pen problems could hurt Cubs, Braves

Let’s talk about National League bullpens. The Chicago Cubs announced that closer Brandon Morrow won’t pitch again this season or in the playoffs, as he has been slow to heal from a bone bruise in his pitching arm. Pedro Strop, who has served as Morrow’s replacement as closer the past two months, is also out for the rest of the regular season and maybe the playoffs after suffering a hamstring strain while batting last week. Jesse Rogers has the story on Morrow being shut down.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

Plus, teams have proven you can win with bullpen issues. In 2006, the Cardinals lost closer Jason Isringhausen late in the season. Rookie Adam Wainwright took over and St. Louis won the World Series. The 2011 Cardinals had bullpen issues most of the season, but Jason Motte took over as closer down the stretch, the bullpen pitched well in October and that team won the World Series. Consider last year’s Astros. Ken Giles blew up early in the postseason and A.J. Hinch basically had to wing it in October and ended up relying on using starters in relief.5

Still, managers like to have some certainty in the pen. The Atlanta Braves are another playoff team that is scrambling a bit in the bullpen. The Cardinals led the Braves 2-1 in the eighth — Anibal Sanchez, one of the season’s big surprises, had another good start for the Braves — and then St. Louis broke the game open off the Atlanta bullpen with four runs in the eighth and two more in the ninth. Braves manager Brian Snitker paraded four relievers out in the eighth (Jonny Venters and Dan Winkler allowed all four batters they faced to reach) to no avail. Not all parades are fun.

That’s four straight losses for the Braves, although they still lead the NL East by 5.5 games over the Phillies. The Phillies won Tuesday but are 5-11 in September and 9-19 since the middle of August, so they don’t seem capable of making a late push. But the Braves haven’t buried them just yet and the teams have seven games left against each other. The Phillies are only four games over .500, yet remarkably they are still very much alive.cheap nfl nike jersey

The Braves’ bullpen has a 5.67 ERA in September, and the control issues that popped up Tuesday night have plagued them all month, as the relievers have more walks (49) than strikeouts (46).

It’s not a surprise that the Brewers, Rockies and Dodgers all have winning records in September — they rank 1-2-3 in the majors this month in bullpen ERA. The point here: With the NL playoff picture still up in the air and many starters tiring down the stretch (see some of the young guys on the Braves and Cardinals in particular), the best bullpens these final 10 games might deter

Why Ryan Howard is investing in the gambling space

Standing on the outside, looking back in at baseball, former MLB slugger Ryan Howard sometimes wonders how much money was bet on him and his team’s performances or what Las Vegas had the over/under on his home runs for a season set at during in his prime.

For a century, staying away from gambling has always been one of baseball’s cardinal rules, so Howard didn’t think much about the odds during his 13-year career.cheap nfl nike jerseys china6

“All the fantasy managers, I guess, kind of let me know how I was doing later on,” Howard told ESPN in a recent phone interview. “It was funny. You’d always have a random person coming up, saying, ‘Ryan, thanks, bro. You helped me with my fantasy team.'”

Howard, who announced his retirement from baseball in September, is now a partner SeventySix Capital, a venture capital firm targeting opportunities in the growing legal sports betting market in the U.S. SeventySix Capital recently invested in the Vegas Stats & Information Network, a sports betting media outlet featuring hall-of-fame broadcaster Brent Musburger and a studio located in middle of a Las Vegas casino.nfl nike jersey cheap

Howard and SeventySix Capital partner Wayne Kimmel spoke with ESPN about entering the sports betting and what next as more and more states elect to offer legal sports betting.

Yankees feel sense of urgency with wild-card lead down to 1 game

While away from home over the past 10 days, the Yankees went 4-5, dropping their series to the Athletics and the Twins. The series loss at Oakland might have been the most costly, as it helped the A’s creep closer in the American League wild-card chase — a race the Yankees had led by 4½ games the day before they arrived in Northern California.nike nfl jerseys cheap paypal

“I haven’t looked,” Yankees reliever David Robertson said late Wednesday, when asked about the wild-card standings. “I know we’re close. That’s about it.”

Thanks to the Yankees’ loss in a near-no-hitter and Oakland’s blowout win at Baltimore on Wednesday, the A’s have tightened the race for the top wild-card spot to one game.5

That might be easier said than done, considering how the Yankees have played lately.

Since Sept. 1, the Yankees are 5-6. They have collectively hit .194 with 67 hits and 95 strikeouts and a .641 OPS within those 11 games. Their pitchers have a combined 4.21 ERA and have allowed 93 hits in that same stretch.

Slugger Giancarlo Stanton has factored heavily into that rough offensive showing, amassing just four hits in the 10 games he has played. Batting .105 (4-for-38) with two RBIs, Stanton is homerless in that stretch, and he has an OPS of just .370. Boone and Stanton contend his timing is just a little off, but he’s close, as they believe his at-bats are showing signs of improvement.

As poor as all of those numbers have been, they are about par for the course, given the way the Yankees have competed over roughly the past six weeks.cheap nfl nike jerseys china

Since right fielder Aaron Judge went on the disabled list July 27, the Yankees have gone 25-20. Their hitters have a collective .235 batting average with 360 strikeouts in those 45 games. Their pitchers have a 4.31 ERA during that stretch.

“We’ve kind of been going through it a little bit lately,” Yankees first baseman Greg Bird said. “That’s just the way it is sometimes, and if we’re going to get where we want to go, you’ve got to be able to bounce back from these things.

Indians’ Terry Francona: Positive report on Josh Donaldson’s health

Josh Donaldson experienced flight issues from Florida on his first official day as a member of the Indians.

His on-field arrival may be delayed as well.

The 2015 AL MVP did not get to Progressive Field until just before the start of the game Saturday night, a day after Cleveland acquired the free-swinging third baseman in a trade with Toronto — a deal the AL Central leaders hope propels them to the World Series.

“He can hit the ball really hard,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “When he’s in that batter’s box, he’s one of the guys who, you think, `Uh oh.’ Now we can be cheering for him. That’s what I told him.”new nike nfl jerseys for sale cheap

Donaldson, whose sometimes turbulent tenure during four seasons with the Blue Jays ended late Friday night, put on his new No. 27 uniform — he can’t wear No. 20 because Frank Robinson’s jersey is retired in Cleveland — and joined his teammates in the dugout as they played the Tampa Bay Rays.10

A new home, a fresh start.

Donaldson has been limited to just 36 games this season because of an assortment of injuries, most recently a calf strain that has lingered, sidelining him for three months. But the 32-year-old, when healthy, is one of the league’s most dangerous hitters and the Indians are eager to add him to their lineup.

“He’s an MVP-type player,” Francona said, “a middle-of-the-order bat that, a guy that when he was on the other team, I used to joke with (third-base coach Brad Mills) Millsy, `I hope he swings so hard he hurts his back.’ He kinda puts a little fear into you when he gets in the batter’s box.

“He plays with an edge. He plays hard. Again, there’s no crystal ball, and we know that. We know there’s some risk there, but it’s got a chance to make us better.”cheap nfl nike jerseys free shipping

Francona met with the team’s medical staff Saturday and received a positive report on Donaldson. He’s confident there’s time left in the season for him to get ready.

Francona did not want to discuss any of the team’s plans over the next few weeks with Donaldson before talking to him personally.

In the deal, the Indians also received $2.7 million to cover most of the $3.7 million remaining on Donaldson’s $23 million salary. Because he was traded, he will be a free agent after the season and the Blue Jays will not receive any other compensation.