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Rob Manfred to Discuss Chief Wahoo Logo with Indians During Offseason

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said Wednesday he plans on reassessing whether the Cleveland Indians‘ Chief Wahoo logo should continue having a place in the sport.      

“I’ve talked to Mr. [Paul] Dolan about this issue,” Manfred told reporters. “We’ve agreed away from the World Series at an appropriate time we will have a conversation about this. I want to understand fully what his view is, and we’ll go from there. At this point, in this context, I’m just not prepared to say more.”

Some have condemned the mascot as being racially insensitive to Native Americans. Before Cleveland faced the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, a Native American activist in Canada petitioned a court to block the use of the Cleveland Indians name and Chief Wahoo logo.

“It’s quite obviously a derogatory, cartoonish representation of an indigenous person,” Michael Swinwood, a lawyer for the man who brought the suit, told the Associated Press’ Rob Gillies. “The whole concept of how it demeans native people is essentially his concern.”

Manfred provided more of his thoughts on the matter:

I know that that particular logo is offensive to some people, and all of us at Major League Baseball understand why. Logos are, however, primarily a local matter. The local club makes decisions about its logos. Fans get attached to logos. They become part of a team’s history. So it’s not easy as coming to the conclusion and realizing that the logo is offensive to some segment.

The Chief Wahoo logo has long been a source of controversy. In 2014, the team switched to the blocked “C” as its primary logo, but players voted to wear caps and uniforms donning the Chief Wahoo logo throughout the 2016 postseason.           


Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter.

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Cubs vs. Indians: Game 1 Live-Stream Schedule and Pre-Series Comments

The Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians are hours away from Game 1 of the World Series. The world, to my knowledge, has not yet ended. Hell has not frozen over; a deadly plague has not befallen the human race; Andre 3000 has not released a solo album.

Which means one of these teams will actually win a championship.

The Indians haven’t hoisted a World Series trophy since 1948. The Cubs haven’t even played for one since 1945. Tack on another four decades if you want to know how long it’s been since the franchise has actually won the whole thing.

A Cubs-Indians World Series feels about as likely as a Taylor Swift-Kanye West collaboration album. And, if the last few weeks are any indication, it might be about halfway as dope. Cleveland has gotten to the Fall Classic on the guile of a makeshift pitching staff, surviving drone accidents, spot starts and a heavy lean on the bullpen.

The Cubs were a regular-season freight train that looked to be going off the rails in back-to-back shutout losses against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Then they put up 23 runs across three straight wins and flexed their muscles to reach the World Series.

Here is a look at what each manager and starting pitcher is saying ahead of the historic Game 1.


What They’re Saying

Cubs Manager Joe Maddon

Maddon discussed his relationship with Terry Francona. Unfortunately, it appears, they have never played cribbage together:

Well, Tito and I got to be friends just through managing against. When he was with Boston, I was with Tampa Bay, we did a lot of talking. There were different times when they were attracted to some of our free agents and we talked about that. But, I mean, I’ve gotten the same impression that everybody else has, he’s gregarious, easy to get to know, a good friend, and a very good manager.

So we got to know each other on that level. It’s not a social kind of a thing. We’ve never gone out. I’ve never had a chance to play cribbage with him. I guess he likes to play cribbage. But he’s a wonderful man, and he’s done a great job in a couple different places, so I’m very happy for his success.

Much of the city of Chicago—and the nation—has focused on what winning a championship would mean for the Cubs. Maddon said his team is fully focused and not looking ahead:

I promise you, our guys are going to be in the present tense. I think we all have a tremendous amount of respect for history and what’s happened before us or not happened before us. But, you know, you go in that room right now, they’re very young. Really not impacted by a lot of the lure, I don’t think, other than the fact that we are impacted by our city and our fans and the people that attend our games and the conversations that we have, absolutely, an impactful moment.

Maddon nonetheless said he’s embracing the pressure:

I’ve said it probably a hundred times this year, I think it’s great. I really addressed that point in Spring Training. In Spring Training, there was an inordinate amount of expectations and pressure that was heaped upon us, and I tried to convince our guys that’s a good thing. Why would you ever want to do anything or be part of a situation or moment that did not have great expectations? And I think they’re synonymous terms. Expectations and pressure probably become synonymous. And why would you ever want to run away from that? The alternative right now I could be in Tampa cooking steaks in my backyard, making sure DirecTV is working properly. And I’d much prefer this reality.

So I plan to enjoy it. I want our guys to enjoy the moment. I want them to take mental snapshots of everything that we’re doing out here.


Cubs Pitcher Jon Lester

Lester discussed what’s gone into his recent improvement with runners on base:

I don’t know. I mean, I guess it could be testament to our defense. I feel like our whole staff has done a really good job with runners on base, not just myself. So really our bullpen as well. So I think it’s a testament to our guys making quality pitches and then at the same time, our defense has played really well behind us.

So we’re not afraid of contact and letting these guys do their job as well. So it’s been, I think, a culmination of all of us just kind of bearing down.

Lester and Anthony Rizzo are unique in that they’re teammates who have battled cancer and returned to elite form. He discussed their bond:

Yeah, I mean, I think we have a unique bond just with everything in our past and what we’ve been through. I think that makes coming to a team like this as a new guy, last year, it made our relationship a little bit easier. You already had something that joined you. So that was good.

First time I met Anthony, five minutes after I met him, he fainted. So there were some interesting moments early on. But just talking to him through the years here and there and seeing what kind of inspiration this guy is to other people, not only on the field but off the field, and what he’s been able to do in the Chicago community and the community back home in Florida, I think, for me that’s the cool thing. I look up to him on that. I know how hard it is to do the things that he does outside of baseball, and he does them all over the place, and he puts his whole heart into it.

It’s fun to be his teammate, and it’s awesome to be a part of kind of the stuff he does off the field, the charitable stuff as well.

One of the most successful World Series pitchers in history, Lester talked about how he handles the moment:

I don’t know. I try to harness my emotions, but these stages sometimes — you know, I pitch with emotion and all that stuff. So sometimes it comes out. But as far as is pitching, I believe as I got done saying, it’s a cookie-cutter answer, but you execute your fastball, you execute your pitches. It works the same here as it does during the season. So I just try to take that mindset. […]

You have a routine, you have the stuff that you’re supposed to do day-in and day-out to prepare your body and prepare your mind for these moments. I feel like when I’m in that routine and I show up, now it’s the fun part. Now you get to pitch. You spend the other four days kind of busting your butt and sitting around to get to this point.


Indians Manager Terry Francona

Francona also discussed his relationship with Maddon:

I think Joe’s career speaks for itself. He started in Tampa and had the ability down there to kind of almost do what he wanted. He always pushed the envelope trying to do some things, whether it was playing four outfielders against Ortiz. The one thing he’s always had the ability to do is keep a clubhouse together, which is saying a lot, during the course of 162 games, keeping guys going in one direction. I mean, certainly there’s a lot more to him than that. He’s very intelligent. But just for the fact that he gets teams going and believing is a pretty big compliment in itself.

After managing the Red Sox to their first World Series in nearly nine decades in 2004, Francona knows a bit about ending droughts. It just doesn’t seem to factor into his thinking:

I know that’s a really cool thing for fans to talk about and stuff. It really doesn’t enter into what we’re doing. It’s so hard to win anyway. We’ll put all our energy into tomorrow, see if we can beat Lester, and whoever follows him, hopefully. Then if we win, we’ll move on. If we lose, we’ll move on and try to win the next day.

I just think if you look too far back, you look too far forward, you miss what’s right in front of you. So these players have earned the right to try to see if we can beat the Cubs, and that’s going to be a tall enough task. But I don’t think we need to go back and concern ourselves with 40, 50, 60 years ago.

Francona previously managed Lester in Boston and discussed their relationship:

He’s one of my favorites. He’s one of everybody’s favorites though, so that’s an easy one. I won’t be pulling for him tomorrow, but he’s very special. I’ve known his mom and dad for a long time, and he’s pretty special.


Indians Pitcher Corey Kluber

Kluber discussed the Indians’ resilience despite injuries in the rotation:

Injuries are a part of the game. It’s going to happen throughout the year. Obviously, we’ve had our fair share of them pitching-wise. But I think it’s just really guys embracing the challenges of stepping in and filling those shoes. Not really trying to do too much, but just really going out there and being the pitchers that they are, do what makes them good. I think it’s had good results for us.

Like everyone, Kluber seemed to want to focus on the moment at hand than the big picture:

Oh, I think you’re aware of it. Obviously, you’re in the World Series, and there’s two teams left and all that kind of stuff. But also at the same time, I think you’re so wrapped up in the moment of trying to prepare and do everything you can to be ready that. For me at least, it’s been all about getting prepared and being ready when it is time to throw that first pitch tomorrow. It will probably be something that will take more time to reflect on after the fact.

Kluber also highlighted what a special moment this is for Cleveland as a sports city:

It’s entertaining. I know at the last game they came to, it looked like they were having a good time up there. But, yeah, it was an unbelievable run they went on in the spring. It definitely sent a vibe through the city. You could just feel the energy through that run after they won and stuff like that. I think it’s been great. It’s been great for Cleveland the fact they won a championship, and hopefully we can bring them another one.


All transcriptions are from ASAP Sports.

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2017 MLB Free Agents: Latest Rumors and Predictions on Underrated Options

With the 2016 World Series getting underway Tuesday, the offseason is well underway for the remaining 28 teams.

If you’re not members of the Cleveland Indians or Chicago Cubs organizations, the focus has shifted to the future in a big way. The Cubs and Indians will both have their own free-agent issues to work out this winter, but they’re focused on more important things for the next week-plus.

The 2016 free-agent crop is led by a pack of hitters and is almost historically devoid of elite pitching talent. It’s very unlikely we see any nine-figure deals handed out to a starter, though there are a few bullpen guys who might approach big league records. They will be joined by a handful of solid power hitters who are unfortunately reaching the market at a time of a power surge.

As for the non-elites, here’s a look at a few underrated options in free agency.


Rich Hill, P, Los Angeles Dodgers

Hill’s short dalliance with the Dodgers did not go entirely as expected. He spent most of his post-Oakland tenure dealing with a lingering blister that limited the number and length of his starts. When Hill was in games, he was effective—just not enough to warrant Cy Young contention as he had earlier in the campaign.

Hill started three postseason games with progressively better results. He was hit up for four runs in 4.1 innings in his first start against the Washington Nationals but gave up only one earned over his final 8.2 innings of postseason work.

The free-agent-to-be resuscitated his career in 2015 with the Boston Red Sox and seemed open to a potential reunion.

“They gave me a great opportunity to prove myself again in the big leagues and I took that opportunity and made the most of it,” Hill said, per Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald. “There’s a lot of things that, and people there, in Boston, that are responsible for helping me develop into a better pitcher. And that is something that you know, I’ll never forget.

“Whether it was with (director of pitching analysis and development) Brian Bannister or (pitching coach) Carl Willis. Just the combination of those two guys. And also, just the overall opportunity that I did get there, I’ll never forget. Definitely translated over and started something for me that gave me a blueprint on moving forward.”

The Red Sox seem like a natural location for Hill, whose free agency will be interesting to watch. Heading into his age-37 season, no smart team is going to give him a long-term deal. The last two years have been his only real run of sustained MLB success.

But Boston’s staff is comfortable with him, and he could be a relative steal on a two-year contract.

Prediction: 3-year deal with Boston


Michael Saunders, OF, Toronto Blue Jays

Saunders looked to be earning himself a massive payday over the first half of the season, breaking out as a power-hitting outfielder in the Jays lineup.

Then things…fell completely apart. Like, not partially apart. Utterly and completely. Like the foundation of an old house crumbling in an earthquake.

After posting a .298/.372/.551 slash line with 16 home runs and 42 runs batted in before the break, Saunders saw almost every one of his offensive numbers cut in half the rest of the way. Literally. He hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers and 16 runs batted in during the second half. It was perhaps the biggest downturn of any everyday player in baseball.

A Blue Jays executive categorized Saunders’ second half as “horrible” when talking to Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball. It’s to the point the team is reportedly considering not even tendering him a qualifying offer in free agency.

While that would be an understandable move given the $17 million price tag, it opens the possibility that Saunders will find himself in the bargain bin. He averaged about two wins above replacement from 2012-14 with the Seattle Mariners, per FanGraphs, before injuries cut his first season in Toronto short.

Had he been able to put up even a below-average second half, Saunders would have passed the two-win number with room to spare in 2016. He’s a solid bat who doesn’t hurt you defensively and can plug in at the No. 6 hole without much of a problem.

For some reason, I think Saunders has Oakland written all over him.

Prediction: 2-year deal with Athletics


Mark Melancon, P, Washington Nationals

Most of the focus on relief pitching will rest on the shoulders of Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen. They’re the big-ticket items here, the anchors of the bullpens that comprised the National League finalists. If it weren’t for Chapman’s character concerns, he would have had a real chance at setting some records with his contract.

Ranked somewhere deep behind both of those men on most free-agent lists is Mark Melancon, who has quietly been one of the most consistent relievers in baseball the last four seasons. Melancon doesn’t do his work with sent-from-the-gods physical prowess but with a good repertoire of pitches and intelligence on the mound.

Splitting his time with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals, Melancon converted 47 of 51 save opportunities with a 1.64 ERA. He has an MLB-high 96 saves over the last two seasons.

Yet the Boston Globe‘s Nick Cafardo reported that some teams still view Melancon as a non-closer—someone who they could use to fill the seventh/eighth-inning roles. Melancon would be overqualified for that job and would likely command closer salary for any such arrangement. But there’s no one suggesting such nonsense for Chapman or Jansen.

That’s good news for the Nationals, who should and will make Melancon a free-agent priority. They spent most of their first half holding their breath in the ninth inning with Jonathan Papelbon on the mound. Melancon’s acquisition was critical in springing them to a division championship.

Nats management aren’t known as penny pinchers, so this should get done.

Prediction: 4-year deal with Nationals

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Cubs vs. Indians: Game 1 Time, TV Info, Live Stream and More

The Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs know they’re a part of history in the making.

The Indians have a chance to wrap up the best sports year in Cleveland’s history. More than five decades of futility ended when the Lake Erie Monsters won the Calder Cup, then came the Cleveland Cavaliers’ historic NBA Finals comeback. Now, it could be the Indians’ turn.

Heading into the playoffs, few thought Cleveland’s starting rotation could pass muster. Corey Kluber is a legitimate ace, but the Indians lost Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco to injuries late in the season.

That left Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin, who each finished the regular season with earned run averages over 4.00. Things got even more dire in the playoffs, when Bauer suffered a gruesome hand injury while fixing his drone at home.

Yet no matter the odds, the Indians kept persevering. They went 7-1 over their first eight playoff gamesnot despite their pitching, but because of it. Their staff went through the ALDS and ALCS never giving up any more than five runs in a single game and only allowing an opponent to hit the five-run mark once. 

Manager Terry Francona made all the right calls, including the decision to start little-known Ryan Merritt in Game 5 against the Toronto Blue Jays. Merritt threw 4.1 innings of peerless ball before giving way to the bullpen, which has been almost unhittable this postseason. Andrew Miller’s ability to stretch beyond one inning has essentially forced opponents to play six-inning games with the Indians.

Second baseman Jason Kipnis talked about playing for Francona with Kevin Kernan of the New York Post:

Tito is the forefront of us, in all we do. You are not going to find one guy in here who does not enjoy playing for him and doesn’t wish he would be their manager the rest of their careers.

Once you have a guy like Tito, you really don’t want anybody else to manage you. You are like, ‘This is the way it should be, this is the way I want it to be, this is the way I enjoy it.’ He’s so much fun and he lets you be who you are.

Francona will unsurprisingly turn to Kluber for Game 1. The righty took Cleveland’s only loss of these playoffs but threw a combined 13.1 innings of shutout baseball in his first two starts. He has thrown only one game against the Cubs in his career, giving up one run and racking up 11 strikeouts over 7.2 innings and earning a no-decision in 2015. 

The Cubs announced Jon Lester as their Game 1 starter, which was no surprise, given his career is littered with postseason success. Lester has started 17 playoff games, recording an 8-6 record with a 2.50 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. He’s been nothing short of sensational in 2016, going 2-0 and giving up two earned across 21 innings of work. 

Talking to reporters, Lester sounds every bit of a grizzled postseason veteran:

I don’t want to sound like a smart-ass, but we got a long ways to go. I know that manager on their side’s going to be prepared. I know their coaching staff’s going to be ready. I know their players are going to be ready, just based on one player alone, and that’s Mike Napoli. I know what he brings to the table. He helped transform our 2013 team.

Come Tuesday, we got to put the gloves back on. We got to get ready to fight and grind and do what we’ve done well all year. We got four more games to win.

Lester is part of a contingent of players the Cubs have signed over the last two offseasons to build this team up. President Theo Epstein underwent a massive rebuild by stocking the minors with talented young prospects before making a series of offseason splurges.

The Cubs spent their regular season scoring more than all but two MLB teams and allowing the fewest runs in baseball. Their lineup features five players who were voted All-Star starters, guys who came back from being shut out in back-to-back games to score 23 runs over their final three wins over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

There’s also a chance they’ll get Kyle Schwarber back as a designated hitter, per Jon Paul Morosi of the MLB Network. The young slugger spent the last six months rehabbing his tail off to get cleared in time for the Fall Classic.

“I think sometimes in the game today, it gets to the point where it’s just about acquiring a number,” Maddon said, per Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. “I’m a big believer in that, but I also like the balance between the person and what the back of his baseball card says. Our guys do a wonderful job of balancing the math with the actual person.”

That balance of statistics and personalities now has the Cubs four wins away from their first championship in more than a century.

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World Series 2016: Known Schedule Info, TV Guide and Predictions

No matter who wins the 2016 World Series, history will be made. The Cleveland Indians’ last championship came in 1948. The Chicago Cubs’ last World Series appearance was three years earlier.

Facebook wasn’t even invented yet! Everyone’s internet was dial-up! There was only a Starbucks every two blocks instead of every block!

It’s amazing that people existed back in those times. But here we are, all this time later, with a pair of teams that took their own unique route to the Fall Classic.

The Indians are, by far, the bigger surprise. Experts who chose them to win the AL Central were in the minority—let alone those who picked them to win the American League. Their rotation behind Corey Kluber was seen as shaky, and their bullpen needed some work behind Cody Allen. No one questioned their offensive firepower, but games in October are time and again won with elite arms.

Cleveland has gone ahead and proved everyone wrong over the last few weeks, posting a 7-1 postseason record behind elite pitching. The Indians have given up more than five runs just once so far and have gotten by despite fielding a makeshift rotation at times.

Their Game 5 American League Championship Series starter, Ryan Merritt, had one career start and 11 innings on his MLB resume before contributing to a six-hit shutout of the Toronto Blue Jays. Merritt was only placed in that position after Trevor Bauer injured his hand while fixing a drone in the middle of a postseason run.

Had the Indians gone on to blow the ALCS, that drone incident would have been enough to push a “curse” conspiracy theory.

Cleveland can attribute a lot of its success to manager Terry Francona, who has pushed all the right buttons in this postseason run. He’s trusted reliever Andrew Miller to go multiple innings in each of his appearances, has known just when to pull a tiring starter and has kept his team loose amid the postseason pressure.

Second baseman Jason Kipnis told Kevin Kernan of the New York Post:

Tito is the forefront of us, in all we do. You are not going to find one guy in here who does not enjoy playing for him and doesn’t wish he would be their manager the rest of their careers.

Once you have a guy like Tito, you really don’t want anybody else to manage you. You are like, ‘This is the way it should be, this is the way I want it to be, this is the way I enjoy it.’ He’s so much fun and he lets you be who you are.

Joe Maddon can take just as much credit in the triumph of these Cubs. Brought over as part of Theo Epstein’s master rebuilding plan before last season, Maddon has won 200 regular-season games in two years. If Chicago wins more than two games in this series, he will have surpassed his postseason win total with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Epstein has been at the forefront of the headlines over the last few days for good reason. Brought over after an unfortunately tense exit from Boston, the Cubs president enacted one of the best slow rebuilds in recent history. He stocked the prospect cupboards with elite bats, bided his time in free agency and then pounced when everything was ready to culminate.

The Cubs posted a ridiculous plus-252 run differential during the regular season. While they didn’t wind up blasting records as projected, it’s hard to do much better than rank third in runs scored and first in runs against.

“I think sometimes in the game today, it gets to the point where it’s just about acquiring a number,” Maddon said, per Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. “I’m a big believer in that, but I also like the balance between the person and what the back of his baseball card says. Our guys do a wonderful job of balancing the math with the actual person.”

Chicago enters this series as a heavy favorite, listed at minus-185 at Odds Shark. The depth of its roster is hard to contend with. If you get past Jon Lester, here comes Jake Arrieta. If you get past Arrieta, Kyle Kendricks and John Lackey are right behind him. It’s hard to imagine a lineup starting better than Dexter Fowler, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist.

Oh yeah, sure you can. You can add Kyle Schwarber to the end of that. He has made progress in his rehab and may wind up being available for designated hitter duties in the Fall Classic.

“He asked for a chance to do this,” Epstein said, per Jesse Rogers of “With as hard as Kyle has worked and as much as this means to him—and potentially us—we wanted to give him that opportunity.”

Even if Schwarber winds up being available for only pinch-hitting duty, he would give the Cubs another weapon in their seemingly endless arsenal. It’s hard to look at the talent on the two sides of the diamond and come up with any other outcome than a Cubs win.

The Indians have an almost-unhittable back end of their bullpen, but getting to Miller and Allen will be hard against this lineup. After more than a century, the Cubs are primed for another World Series championship.

Prediction: Cubs in six.

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World Series 2016: Schedule of Dates, Ticket Info and Matchup Predictions

The Cleveland Indians have already booked their World Series flights. Now it’s up to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs to round things out and get the 2016 Fall Classic underway.

The Chicago Cubs earned a 10-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday to bring the NLCS to a 2-2 tie. John Lackey gave up two runs over four innings of work, the Cubs bullpen kept things afloat and their offense finally felt unshackled in the critical Game 4.

Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell each went deep, combining to drive in five runs to awaken the slumbering juggernaut. Rizzo drove in three runs, going deep in the fifth and smacking a single with the bases loaded in the sixth. Russell hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the fourth, which gave Chicago a comfortable 4-0 lead.

The two teams will play Game 5 on Thursday before heading back to Chicago for Games 6 and (potentially) 7. 

Cleveland, meanwhile, took care of its final piece of business Wednesday night. Behind surprise starter Ryan Merritt and a sterling bullpen, the Indians finished off the Toronto Blue Jays with a 3-0 victory in the fifth game of the American League Championship Series.

Reliever Andrew Miller was named series MVP after adding 2.2 innings of work to his stellar postseason body. Miller has not given up a run in 11.2 innings and has gone over an inning pitched in each of his six appearances. Brought over by a midseason trade with the New York Yankees, Miller has emerged as the best setup man in baseball and an anchor next to closer Cody Allen.

Miller shared his thoughts about winning the award with Paul Hoynes of 

I don’t deserve this recognition. I don’t think anybody does. I don’t think anybody should be singled out after this series.

It’s such a special team. It’s a special organization. The way they treat us from top to bottom, it’s paid off. It’s not because of one person or one thing. It’s neat to be recognized, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is we won a game today and we’re going to the World Series and it doesn’t get any better than that.

Miller came in to help finish the job started by Merritt, one of the unlikeliest LCS starters in recent memory. The 24-year-old entered Wednesday with one career MLB start and 11 innings under his belt. He had not thrown competitively since Sept. 30 and had been a spot reliever who occasionally got called up from the minors as an injury replacement.

In finishing off the Jays, he was nothing short of great. He retired the first nine batters he faced and gave up only two hits over 4.1 innings, striking out three. Manager Terry Francona may have even erred on the side of caution pulling him after 49 pitches; it looked as if he could have gone through the order another time.

“Going into today, I told myself to have fun, enjoy the moment, don’t try to do too much, be yourself, trust in your team, trust in yourself and just go out there and compete. There was a lot of emotion, lot of nerves. Tough to sleep at night,” Merritt said, per John Telich of Fox 8.

Merritt likely didn’t get much sleep last night, but he’ll be slumbering like a baby for the next few as the Indians prepare themselves for the World Series. It’s unlikely we’ll see much or any of Merritt going forward; Trevor Bauer should be recovered enough from his drone-related injury to make his scheduled start in the rotation.

All that’s left to determine is whether it’ll be the Cubs or Dodgers making the trip to Cleveland for Game 1. The longer the series goes, the better it is for the AL champs. Los Angeles will almost certainly use Clayton Kershaw again in Game 6, while Jon Lester will also be taking another turn in the rotation. Depending on the timing of those starts, the Cubs and Dodgers could be forced to wait until Game 2 before using their aces.

No matter, Cleveland will likely walk into the Series as an underdog. Either potential NL champion poses a formidable threat. The Dodgers have been throwing money at elite players for a handful of years now in hopes of throwing together a World Series contender. They’ve come up just short in their effort.

The Cubs have been throwing together a World Series contender for, oh, let’s just say more than a century now. Theo Epstein’s plan of building a young lineup and surrounding it with a strong veteran pitching staff resulted in one of the best regular seasons in recent memory. 

The Cubs remain the overall favorite and should take care of business now that they’ve wrested home-field advantage back from Los Angeles. But either way, I’m taking the NL winner. 

Prediction: Dodgers over Indians in 7 or Cubs over Indians in 6


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Indians vs. Blue Jays: Game 5 Score and Twitter Reaction from 2016 MLB Playoffs

Earlier this year, fans in Cleveland watched the Cavaliers carry out a historic comeback from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA Finals. The Indians had no interest in being on the opposite side of a similar comeback.

Ryan Merritt and the Indians bullpen combined for a six-hit shutout, and Carlos Santana and Coco Crisp homered as Cleveland earned a 3-0 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday to take the American League Championship Series, 4-1.

This is what Periscope was invented for:

The Indians will make their first World Series appearance since 1997, their sixth overall. It’s the third straight year, and the fourth in the last five, that the AL winner has come from the Central division. The Minnesota Twins are the only AL Central team to not win a pennant since the turn of the century.

Cleveland’s win Wednesday was a microcosm of its success across the series. Its pitching staff mowed through a potent Toronto lineup with surprising easethe Blue Jays scored more than two runs only once in the series.

While the Indians boasted a solid rotation during the regular season, their postseason run has been a staff-wide hot streak. In Game 5, it carried over to Merritt, perhaps the unlikeliest of Cleveland’s heroes.

With one start and 11 innings on his MLB resume—all scattered about in random appearances when Cleveland needed help because of injuriesthe 24-year-old hadn’t touched a ball in live action since Sept. 30. His Game 5 start came about thanks to Trevor Bauer’s freak accident with a drone.

No matter.

Merritt looked like nothing short of a seasoned veteran, scattering two hits while striking out three in 4.1 innings of work. He didn’t allow a hit his first time through the order and seemed to fool Toronto’s batters with a deceptive delivery—the speed of his fastball, which barely topped out at 90 mph, wasn’t doing it.

Manager Terry Francona pulled him midway through the fifth after only 49 pitches, though it looked like Merritt could have gone through the order again.

His performance drew deserved praise across the Twittersphere:

With that said, it wasn’t all smooth sailing, as FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan pointed out:

It helped that the Indians were able to create separation early. A first-inning Ezequiel Carrera error on a Mike Napoli double allowed Francisco Lindor to score from first with two outs. Jose Ramirez grounded out on the next at-bat, so that run would not have scored otherwise.

The Indians began tacking runs on with the long ball in the third, with Santana nailing a booming shot to right field.

Cue all of the “Smooth” jokes:

Santana has only five hits in 29 at-bats this postseason, but two of them were critical solo shots in the ALCS. He went 1-for-4 on the day.

Crisp hit his second home run in 14 playoff at-bats in the fourth inning. He went 1-for-2 before being pulled for Rajai Davis.

From there, the scoring ceased. Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada settled in and was sensational outside those two mistakes. Estrada gave up only five hits, struck out seven and did not walk a batter in his six innings of work. It was his third straight quality start of the postseason but his second loss in the ALCS. The Jays did not offer him a single run of support against Cleveland.

Toronto’s relievers gave up one hit over the final three innings in another solid effort. Lindor, who went 3-for-4, was the only Cleveland player with more than one hit.

Bryan Shaw, who earned the win; Andrew Miller; and Cody Allen closed the game for the Indians. Miller, the best setup man in baseball, again went multiple innings. He allowed one hit over 2.2 innings of work.

Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball was fawning over Miller, who has not allowed a run over 11.2 postseason innings:

The reliever, who came to Cleveland in a midseason trade with the New York Yankees, was named the ALCS MVP for his four games of flawless work.

Cleveland will now be tasked with bringing home its first World Series championship since 1948 and the city’s second major championship in four months. The Chicago Cubs or Los Angeles Dodgers await—each boasting a higher payroll, a larger talent pool and extreme pressure from management to get the job done.

No matter who it is, the Indians will likely be underdogsunderdogs with a whole lot of fight left.

Postgame Reaction

Francona spoke about his pride in his team, per Mike Axisa of CBS Sports: “I’m honored that we’re going to the World Series because to do it with—we always said if we could do it with this group, it would be so special because this is as close to a family feel as you can get in a postseason setting. So for that part of it, it is beyond feeling good.”

Pitching coach Mickey Callaway thinks the Indians have a complete team: “We’ve got a total team. You don’t come across teams like this often. Everybody chips in, everybody does their part. We’re a balanced lineup. We steal bases—guys got to worry about that. Our pitching is terrific. But these guys work so hard, whether it’s on the mental side of the game, the way they eat, the way they prepare, it’s unbelievable.”

Miller was in an understandably giddy mood: “It’s been special. It’s been a lot of fun. And it’s just—I feel like I’ve said the word ‘special’ a million times in the last 20-30 minutes, but it’s the truth—it’s a blast to be a part of. We have one more big step, but we’re going to the World Series, and that’s what you dream of.”

Merritt said he was a little nervous, per John Telich of Fox 8: “Going into today, I told myself to have fun, enjoy the moment, don’t try to do too much, be yourself, trust in your team, trust in yourself and just go out there and compete. There was a lot of emotion, lot of nerves. Tough to sleep at night.”


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NLCS Schedule 2016: Cubs vs. Dodgers Game Times, Odds and Prediction

With Jake Arrieta on the mound, the Chicago Cubs seemed to be ready to right the ship. Rich Hill and the Los Angeles Dodgers had other ideas.

Hill threw six innings of shutout ball, and the Dodgers bullpen shut the door in a 6-0 triumph in Tuesday’s Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. Yasmani Grandal and Justin Turner each went deep, and Corey Seager had three hits in the contest.

Arrieta lasted just five innings, giving up four runs.

The Dodgers now carry a 2-1 series lead into Game 4 (odds available via Odds Shark), which is no doubt critical for both teams. If the Dodgers win, they’re almost surely headed to the World Series after a handful of years of their high-cost roster coming up short. We learned during this year’s NBA Finals that 3-1 leads aren’t necessary foolproof, but the odds are exponentially in their favor.

Julio Urias, the 20-year-old rookie who burst onto the scene after coming up in May, will get the start for the Dodgers. Urias had an ERA under 2.00 in each of the final two months of the regular season but hasn’t thrown deep into games. He hasn’t lasted longer than 3.2 innings since Sept. 2 and went six innings just three times all season.

The Dodgers handed him the ball for two scoreless innings in their Game 5 National League Division Series win over the Washington Nationals. He needed 30 pitches and walked two but earned his first career postseason win.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had this to say about Urias, per Jorge L. Ortiz of USA Today:

He’s been throwing the ball really well. Certain starts, the command might not be where it is. But he just has a way to still get swing and misses. It’s nice for a guy that has four pitches that he can attack hitters in a lot of different ways. … He’s come a long way. We’ll have a good game plan and I expect him to execute it.

Of course, we’re kind of burying the lede here. Urias is not just bucking recent personal trends by making a start here. He’s becoming the youngest pitcher in MLB history to start a playoff game.

Urias will be 107 days younger than Bret Saberhagen was when he threw for the Kansas City Royals in 1984. It’s a start that will harken some memories of Fernando Valenzuela for Dodgers fans. Valenzuela spearheaded Los Angeles’ World Series victory in 1981 as a 20-year-old as part of a historic Cy Young season.

Urias won’t have quite that level of expectations, but it appears he’s ready to handle the pressure.

“You feel the adrenaline even when you’re in the dugout not doing anything, so you can imagine what it’s like in the game,” Urias said, per Ortiz. “It’s something you have to feel, like I felt it in Washington, and I felt like I could handle it. It’s the same thing tomorrow. I have the mindset that I can do it.”

The Cubs are handing the ball to John Lackey, whose career is…on the opposite side of Urias‘. Lackey has more postseason starts (21) than Urias has in his career. When Lackey made his MLB debut in 2002, Urias was hanging out in elementary school and probably just getting a formal handle on the alphabet.

Lackey looked shaky in his first postseason start this year, allowing three runs in four innings against the San Francisco Giants. 

“Sometimes it can be good to be young,” Lackey said, per Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times. “You don’t know what you’re getting into. You can just go out there and let your talent take over, and obviously, [Urias] has a lot of that. It’s a new situation for him. Back [in 2002] I was just worried about, you know, not messing it up for the older guys more than anything.”

Lackey, of course, will simply be carrying the continued pressure of this Cubs run. After more than a hundred years of futility and heartbreak, it’s become almost expected that the Cubs rampage through these playoffs and pull out a World Series. The cities of Cleveland and Boston have already made it abundantly clear curses are a falsehood.

But with these Cubs facing their first real back-against-the-wall moment, it’ll be up to Lackey to get the job done against his 20-year-old counterpart.

Game 4 Prediction: Cubs 5, Dodgers 3

Series Prediction: Cubs in 7

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Indians vs. Blue Jays: Game 4 Score and Twitter Reaction from 2016 MLB Playoffs

History says the Cleveland Indians have already made the World Series; all that’s left is the final blow. Just don’t tell that to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Aaron Sanchez threw six innings of one-run ball and Josh Donaldson hit a home run and made a sparkling defensive play as the Blue Jays pulled away for a 5-1 win over the Indians in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre on Tuesday. The Indians lead the best-of-seven series 3-1 with Game 5 set for 4 p.m. ET Wednesday in Toronto.

Facing Cleveland ace Corey Kluber, the Jays showed no signs of wilting. Kluber worked five innings while pitching on three days’ rest, giving up two runs on four hits and two walks while struggling with a high pitch count.

Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star highlighted the right-hander’s issues:

Donaldson broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the third inning with a 402-foot home run to left-center field. It was his first of this postseason, though the MVP candidate was 13-for-29 with six doubles and had been Toronto’s offensive anchor entering Tuesday.

Actor Stephen Amell thought it was Donaldson’s Rocky moment:

Donaldson finished the game 1-for-3 and was involved in two more critical moments that helped seal the game for Toronto. He made a diving stop on a hot shot off the bat of Carlos Santana that would have scored Cleveland’s second run in the fifth inning, preserving the Jays’ 2-1 lead.

Indians manager Terry Francona later made the decision to intentionally walk Donaldson to load the bases in the seventh inning, which backfired when the next batter, Edwin Encarnacion, hit a two-run single up the middle to make it 4-1. A number of analysts commented on Donaldson’s heroics and Francona’s decision:

Also helping the cause was Sanchez, who was borderline unhittable for most of the afternoon. The righty allowed just one run on two hits and two walks and struck out five before ceding the game to the bullpen, which did not allow a baserunner over three innings of work. Sanchez’s only real trouble came in the fifth, when Roberto Perez doubled home Coco Crisp, who had walked with one out.

Barry Davis of Sportsnet noted Sanchez was just the second pitcher in franchise history to pitch six or more innings and give up two or fewer hits in a playoff start. Brett Cecil, Jason Grilli and Roberto Osuna each pitched an inning to close it out, with Cecil and Osuna recording two strikeouts apiece.

Encarnacion, Michael Saunders and Ezequiel Carrera each notched a pair of hits for Toronto, and Carrera’s eighth-inning triple set up Kevin Pillar’s sacrifice fly for the game’s final run. Carrera had singled in the fourth inning to account for Toronto’s second run.

The Jays offense, having scored three runs over the first three games, appeared back in form despite the continued struggles of Jose Bautista. Hitting leadoff, Bautista went 0-for-5. He is hitless in five of his last six games.

Bautista even seemed occupied with other matters after the game:

The Indians, meanwhile, have up to three more games to close the series. The 2004 Boston Red Sox are the only team in MLB history to come back from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series.

Ryan Merritt will start Game 5 for Cleveland, while Marco Estrada will take the hill for Toronto. If the Blue Jays can send the series back to Ohio, the sweat might start piling up on the Indians’ brows.


Postgame Reaction

Grilli discussed the success of the bullpen with reporters: “We go about our business the same way, and it’s working. Our job is to put our hitters at the plate as much as possible. Keep the momentum on our side because I know we have every bit of confidence in them.

“If we do that, we’ve got a really good chance to win every ballgame.”

Donaldson talked about his message to teammates before the game, per the Associated Press (via the Guardian): “I’m not going to give too much away of what I had to say, but just more so getting everybody’s attention and focus and understanding. I mean, everybody knew coming into today how important today was. But at the same time, I just wanted to kind of reiterate that and let the boys know that I was coming to play today.”

Of his defensive gem, Donaldson said: “I was locked in. It helps when you have a guy like Sanchez in the zone, where you can really focus in on a certain area of the strike zone. And I was able to get a really good read off the bat, and I was fortunate enough to be able to make the play.”

Kluber said pitching on short rest didn’t affect him: “I felt fine. I don’t think it physically affected me. I made a mistake to Donaldson. We’re one win away from the World Series, and that’s what we’re focused on.”


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NLCS Schedule 2016: Cubs vs. Dodgers Game 3 TV Coverage and Predictions

With the Los Angeles Dodgers dropping Game 1 of the National League Championship Series and staring at a 2-0 deficit, they put all their faith in Clayton Kershaw. Once again, the best pitcher in baseball rewarded that faith.

Kershaw threw seven scoreless innings and Kenley Jansen closed out the final two as the Dodgers earned a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Sunday. It’s the third time Kershaw pitched in the span of six days, including his save in Game 5 of the National League Division Series on one day’s rest.

“It should surprise me what he’s doing,” Dodgers president Andrew Friedman told USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale, “but being around him, the way he prepares, how he competes, it really doesn’t surprise me. It almost feels like I’m being too flippant about it, but I just know him well enough not to be surprised about it.”

The Dodgers, thanks to Kershaw, have overtaken home-field advantage.

Their odds of keeping it heading into Game 3? Not so great.

Taking the mound for the Cubs is ace Jake Arrieta, perhaps Kershaw‘s only near-equal over the last three seasons among NL pitchers. Arrieta, like Kershaw, had his issues during the regular season. While the Dodgers ace struggled with injuries, Arrieta saw his performance go from unhittable in the first two months to merely good over the last four.

He finished 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. That’s an increase of nearly a run-and-a-half over the course of nine innings and an extra 0.22 batters getting on base per inning from his Cy Young 2015. FanGraphs WAR formula tabulated Arrieta‘s at 3.8 for 2016—almost a decrease of half from last season.

“I think last year is indicative of what Jake is all about,” manager Joe Maddon told reporters. “This season everybody has been over-scrutinizing him based on what he had done last year. He had a great season. It’s not maybe as great as last year was, but it’s hard to replicate that.”

Arrieta gave up two runs over six solid innings of work in his NLDS start against the San Francisco Giants. It was the only game Chicago lost in the series, though Arrieta took a no-decision.

The Dodgers will start Rich Hill, himself dealing with a fair share of frustration over the second half of the season. An early Cy Young contender after breaking out with the Oakland Athletics, Hill’s midseason acquisition did not turn out to be a home run for the Dodgers. The lefty spent more of his time limited by a recurring blister on his throwing hand, which put him on the shelf at times and forced him out of starts early in others.

Hill had two starts in the NLDS against the Washington Nationals, neither of which were entirely successful. He took the loss in Game 2 after giving up four runs in 4.1 innings and then threw 2.2 innings while pitching on short rest in Game 5. While he only allowed one run, Washington got five runners on base.

“You’ve been working days, weeks, months, years, decades,” Hill told reporters. “Everybody always says, ‘This is what you play for. This is what you play for.’ It is. This is what you play for.”

The Cubs bats will be looking to enliven themselves after suffering their first shutout loss since an August matchup with these same Dodgers. Chicago has been shut out seven times in 2016, three of which came against Los Angeles. The young upstarts were only shut down twice in the second half, however, and pelted the Dodgers for eight runs in Game 1.

“We can win all of them,” Javier Baez told reporters. “We know we’re the best. We got the best team out there. (But) you got to play the game.”

Baez has been the star of the postseason for the Cubs, recording a base hit in every game while hitting .391/.417/.609. He and Kris Bryant have been doing the heavy work in the middle of the order while a majority of the roster has struggled.

Catcher David Ross had this to say about Baez, per Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News:

He’s probably the most exciting player in baseball right now. He’s energetic, he’s not scared of the moment. He stays true to who he is with baserunning and the flair he has. He doesn’t shy away from that in the big moment; it almost comes out more. His instincts, to steal home there, to come out and have the guts to do that, that should tell you a lot about Javy Baez. He’s a fearless individual and he’s very, very talented.

The underlying numbers say Baez could be in store for another big game. He hit .311 against lefties during the regular season, with his slugging percentage jumping more than 70 points. With Arrieta on the mound, all it could take is one big swing to have the Cubs back in command. 

Prediction: Cubs 4, Dodgers 2

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