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Judge Dodgers on seven straight titles, not the World Series crown they’re still chasing

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It seemed like the oddest of places to celebrate a seventh consecutive National League West title: At Camden Yards, against a bad Baltimore Orioles team, the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrating with a group photo in blue “October Reign” T-shirts and the B&O Warehouse in the background.

Justin Turner sat on the ground in the middle of the congregation, holding up seven fingers. He has been with the Dodgers for six of the division crowns — Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen and Hyun-Jin Ryu are the three holdovers from the 2013 team that initiated this run — and in many ways Turner is the perfect symbol of how the Dodgers have built this dynasty.

The Mets had non-tendered Turner after the 2013 season and he signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers with an invitation to spring training and a $1 million salary if he made the big league club. He was merely insurance at second base when he signed in early February, a backup plan if either Alex Guerrero — remember him? — who had just signed out of Cuba for $28 million or prospect Dee Gordon didn’t work out.

Turner, of course, had started to revamp his swing and hit .340 that first season with the Dodgers. He became a star, with top-10 MVP finishes in 2016 and 2017 and he would eventually earn a much larger payout with a four-year, $64 million contract.

Turner was actually a Ned Colletti signing, as Andrew Friedman took over as head of baseball operations after the 2014 season. So give the Colletti front office some credit for this run of division titles — it was under him (and scouting director Logan White) when Kershaw was a first-round pick in 2006 and Jansen was converted from a weak-hitting catcher to fireball-throwing reliever.

Turner, however, exemplifies how a roster of stars has been developed in a variety of means. Yes, money helps and the Dodgers have spent a lot of it, but consider the following:

Max Muncy, like Turner, was free talent, cut loose by the A’s, and has blasted 68 home runs the past two seasons. He’s ninth in the majors in wOBA over the past two seasons.

• MVP candidate Cody Bellinger was a fourth-round pick in 2013 (oh, that was Colletti and White as well).

Walker Buehler, who tossed seven scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts in Tuesday’s win, was a first-round pick, but just the 24th overall selection in the 2015 draft, a stroke of genius as the Dodgers took a chance after he came up with a sore arm at Vanderbilt.

Chris Taylor was acquired from the Mariners in a trade for pitcher Zach Lee, who never even pitched for Seattle.

Kenta Maeda came over from Japan and has been a vital member of the rotation the past four seasons.

Above all, the key under Friedman has been player development at the minor league level. The 2016 draft has a chance to become legendary as Gavin Lux, Will Smith, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin were all drafted that year, reached the majors this year and have a chance to make the postseason roster (Smith definitely, the other three maybe). It’s amazing: A team that just reached two straight World Series came up with four rookies of this caliber the very next season. (Alex Verdugo also has rookie status, although he debuted in 2017.) That’s how you win seven division titles in a row.

Don’t underestimate the impressive nature of this achievement. Here’s the list of teams who finished in first place seven consecutive seasons:

• 2013 to 2019 Dodgers (seven NL West titles)
• 1998 to 2006 Yankees (nine AL East titles)
• 1995 to 2005 Braves* (11 NL East titles)

*: Some will credit the Braves with 14 straight division titles, choosing to skip the 1994 strike season; the Braves were in second place at the time of the strike.

That’s it. Three times. The 1995 to 2001 Indians won six in seven years. The Yankees’ dynasty from 1949 to 1964 included an incredible 14 AL pennants in 16 seasons, but had a high run of five in a row. (Granted, that was before divisions, so they had to beat the entire the league.) The 2007-2011 Phillies won five divisions in a row. The Big Red Machine of the 1970s is considered one of the greatest teams of all time. They topped out at two division titles in a row.

So, yes, this is a monumental run of excellence for the Dodgers. No, it’s not simply because of money. The Yankees will win the AL East this year — their first division title since 2012. The Red Sox have won four World Series since 2003 — and finished in first place just five times.

Of course, mentioning those World Series championships gets us to how a lot of fans — even Dodgers fans — may feel about this seventh title: Show me a ring.

That’s unfair. For one thing, it devalues the regular season we all spend countless hours consuming, enjoying and celebrating. For the players and everyone else in the organization, a division title is extremely important, the first goal every team has when spring training begins. Just look at the celebration and tell the Dodgers this doesn’t mean anything. That’s an insult to all the work they’ve put in and all the games they’ve won.

This is the first step to the ultimate goal: the Dodgers’ first World Series title since 1988. While it’s unfair to say this division title doesn’t mean anything, it is fair to suggest that following this seventh title and following two straight World Series defeats, the Dodgers will enter the postseason with more pressure and expectations on them than any other team. But that’s a discussion for another time. If you’re a Dodgers fan and didn’t enjoy the celebration in Baltimore because only the October tournament matters, than I don’t know what to tell you. The journey is the joy.

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Corey Seager hit a three-run homer in the top of the first inning, then poured on another two-run homer in the third to give the Dodgers a 6-0 lead.

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Playing for October, Cubs preach ‘next guy jumps in’ mantra with Rizzo, Baez out

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CHICAGO — As if the Chicago Cubs weren’t fighting an uphill battle already, the heart and soul of the team, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, is out indefinitely with an ankle sprain — and it couldn’t come at a worse time of the season. With the Cubs in a dogfight to make the playoffs for a fifth consecutive year, Rizzo’s presence will be missed in all facets of the team.

“It’s going to be tough to be without Anthony for a while here,” team president Theo Epstein said on Monday afternoon. “He’s so important to everything we do, on the field and off the field.”

Shortstop Javier Baez has been out with a thumb injury, but Rizzo might be the bigger loss. He’s integral to everything Cubs, from leading off, to two-strike hitting, to the bunt defense they incorporate — that’s where he got hurt — to simply being the face that meets the media before and after games. For comparison, Baez hasn’t even commented on his injury since being diagnosed with a hairline fracture, whereas Rizzo was at his locker to discuss the bad news on Monday.

“It’s throbbing but I keep my mind in better spirits and try to be in as good a mood as I can,” he said. “Every year isn’t going to be 2016. You have ups and downs. Everyone in this locker room is fully capable of carrying a heavy load at all times.”

As much as the team is hopeful for a quick recovery, the history of moderate ankle sprains doesn’t scream “a few days,” or even a couple of weeks.

“In the meantime you just have to plan that he’s not going to be there,” manager Joe Maddon said. “You have to get the guys ready and get them indoctrinated in these positions. I really believe our guys will rally around this moment. We have different options to play over there.”

It’s true. The team has better defensive options at first base than one might think, but Rizzo was the best leadoff hitter on the team this season. Chicago was terrible from that spot in the order — until he took over recently. So where do the Cubs turn, at first base and leadoff, to help keep their playoff streak alive?

Replacing Rizzo

A little-known, switch-hitting, backup catcher has emerged as the best candidate to replace Rizzo at first base, at least on the days he’s not behind the plate. Victor Caratini is actually beginning to make a name for himself, both as Yu Darvish‘s personal catcher and as a decent hitter. It’s not just his OPS+ of 113 that’s impressive, it’s actually his batting average. Sometimes, that statistic tells a story. Hitting .282 entering play on Monday, Caratini has become a more complete hitter. And don’t forget his two home runs that won a game off New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom last month. That was a defining moment for Caratini.

“He’s not chasing as much out of the zone,” Maddon said. “And he’s using left-center a lot more consistently. He’s not hitting that rollover ground ball, left-handed. He’s staying through the ball. Left-center has become his buddy. And the right side has gotten better.”

According to ESPN Stats & Information, 33 percent of Caratini’s balls in play have been to the opposite field; that’s up 10 points from a year ago.

“Caratini has showed time and again he’s good enough to be an everyday player,” outfielder Nicholas Castellanos said. “The fact that he’s getting an opportunity, I’m happy for him.”

Ben Zobrist added: “You don’t make that up with one player. You have to make it up with a couple players. That’s how you try to fill that hole.”

On Tuesday night, in the second game of their series against the Cincinnati Reds, Caratini will be behind the plate for Darvish; the hurler has a 3.17 ERA this season with Caratini catching. It means Maddon will need another first baseman and Ian Happ is his best bet. Like Caratini, he has flashed some decent leather filling in for Rizzo at times, but his offensive game isn’t quite like that of the Cubs’ regular first baseman.

Rizzo has a strikeout rate of 13.9, while Happ is at 25.6 percent after spending four months in the minor leagues. And that percentage is actually down from last year. Meanwhile, Rizzo plays against all types of pitchers, while Happ’s starts are limited to the good matchups. The drop-off is considerable.

“Next man up,” Zobrist said. “Rizz and Javy are a big part of this but no one is bigger than the team.”

It’s the same attitude the Milwaukee Brewers must be embracing as they continue to play good baseball even after losing MVP Christian Yelich to a knee injury. The loss of stars can be overcome for a period of time in baseball. When a very productive player is out several months, that’s when it usually catches up to a team. That’s not the time frame the Cubs are looking at. They can survive — for a bit.

“That’s our expectation,” Maddon said. “Of course it is … It is the next man up kind of a theory. And I do believe there are galvanizing moments when you do lose key people in key situations. I do expect a good result.”

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Reds vs. Cubs – Game Recap – September 16, 2019

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CHICAGO — Kyle Schwarber hit a three-run homer and made a diving catch in left field, helping the Chicago Cubs beat the Cincinnati Reds 8-2 on Monday night for their fifth straight victory.

Nicholas Castellanos added a two-run double in the eighth inning as Chicago moved a season-high 14 games above .500. Castellanos is the third right-handed hitter in MLB history to record at least 55 doubles and 25 homers in a season, joining Hall of Famers Hank Greenberg (1934) and Joe Medwick (1937).

Chicago has outscored its opponents 59-18 during its win streak.

The Cubs (82-68) pulled within a half-game of Washington for the top spot in the wild-card standings and stayed two games back of NL Central-leading St. Louis, which held off the Nationals for a 4-2 win.

Steve Cishek, Alec Mills (1-0), Rowan Wick, Kyle Ryan and David Phelps combined for 5 2/3 scoreless innings in relief of an ineffective Cole Hamels. It was Mills’ first major league win in his 17th big league appearance.

It was Chicago’s first game since Anthony Rizzo had an MRI that showed the big first baseman had a moderate lateral right ankle sprain sustained during Sunday’s 16-6 victory over Pittsburgh.

Rizzo will wear a walking boot for five to seven days, casting doubt on his availability for the rest of the season.

“We’re not shutting any doors, but we’re realistic that this is a legitimate injury that under ideal circumstances would take some time to heal,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said.

Cincinnati (70-81) had won three of four, but it went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position and left 11 runners on base.

Kevin Gausman (3-9) pitched two innings for the Reds in his first start since he was claimed off waivers from the Braves last month. The right-hander has been a starter for most of his career, and manager David Bell wanted to give him another look in that spot while giving the rest of his rotation an extra day of rest.

Gausman got into trouble in the first when Chicago put runners on first and second with one out. Schwarber then connected for the second straight day, driving a 2-2 pitch deep to center.

It was No. 37 for Schwarber, the highest total for a lefty batter for the Cubs since Hall of Famer Billy Williams hit 37 in 1972.

Schwarber also robbed pinch hitter Derek Dietrich with a stellar grab on his liner to left in the fourth. Phillip Ervin‘s sacrifice fly cut Chicago’s lead to 3-2, but Cishek struck out Eugenio Suarez looking to end the inning.

IN-GAME CHANGE

Reds infielder Josh VanMeter left in the fourth inning because of a family medical issue. He started at first base after Joey Votto was scratched with an illness.

HE’S HERE

The Reds promoted infielder Christian Colon from Triple-A Louisville. Colon was hit by a pitch while batting for Gausman in the third and scored on Curt Casali‘s bases-loaded walk. It was Colon’s first major league appearance since June 20, 2017, for Miami against Washington.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Reds: SS Jose Iglesias (sore back) was out of the starting lineup. Bell said Iglesias likely will start Tuesday. … SS Freddy Galvis missed his second straight game with left knee soreness. Bell said Galvis doesn’t have meniscus or ligament damage and won’t be out long-term.

Cubs: Closer Craig Kimbrel (right elbow inflammation) is scheduled to throw a simulated game Tuesday and could return this weekend. … SS Addison Russell (concussion protocol) hit off a tee before the game.

UP NEXT

RHP Sonny Gray (10-7, 2.80 ERA) faces RHP Yu Darvish (6-6, 3.97 ERA) on Tuesday night in a matchup of two of baseball’s best pitchers since the All-Star break. Gray is 4-1 with a 1.29 ERA in his last eight starts for Cincinnati. Darvish struck out 14 while pitching six scoreless innings in Chicago’s 4-1 victory at San Diego on Thursday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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White Sox shut down RHP Giolito with lat strain

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The Chicago White Sox are shutting down right-hander Lucas Giolito for the rest of the season with a mild lat strain.

The team said there are no long-term concerns.

“For me, it just sucks because I wanted to finish what I started. But at the same time, it is what it is,” Giolito told reporters. “It just was kind of a random thing that happened. That’s it.”

Giolito, who was slated to pitch against the Twins on Tuesday, ends his bounce-back 2019 season with 14 wins, 228 strikeouts, two shutouts and a 3.41 ERA.

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