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Justin Turner, Joe Kelly set for NLDS as Dodgers continue to get healthy

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LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Dodgers mowed through the regular season with a franchise-record 106 victories and stand as favorites to reach the World Series for a third consecutive fall. They trailed only the Houston Astros in run differential, led the National League in OPS and paced the entire sport in ERA.

“Top to bottom,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “it’s the best team we’ve had.”

And health, it seems, is on their side.

Third baseman Justin Turner and late-inning reliever Joe Kelly, two of the Dodgers’ biggest injury concerns heading into October, each went through important workouts from Dodger Stadium late Tuesday afternoon and were deemed ready for the National League Division Series. Game 1 is Thursday against the Washington Nationals at 5:37 p.m. PT on TBS.

Turner, who spent the last week of the regular season nursing a back injury, took ground balls and later hit in a simulated game. Roberts said he feels “very confident that he’ll be able to perform at his level come Thursday.”

Kelly, who pitched in only one of the team’s last nine games with what Roberts vaguely described as an “overall body situation,” threw a 20-pitch bullpen session that convinced the Dodgers he will be unrestricted in the postseason.

Rich Hill, who recovered from elbow and knee injuries just in time to vie for a spot on the playoff roster, will be the Dodgers’ fourth starter. Hill combined to throw five innings in two starts last week and is stretched out to about four innings at the moment. The team already has decided who will start each of the first three games, but Roberts — addressing the media while the NL wild-card game was ongoing — didn’t want to reveal his plans.

The only player missing is rookie outfielder Alex Verdugo, who reaggravated a back injury during a rehab assignment but is hopeful of returning for the NL Championship Series.

The only concern?

How the Dodgers will configure their bullpen, particularly in save situations. All-Star closer Kenley Jansen finished 2019 with career highs in ERA and blown saves, but Roberts said he will not match up in the ninth inning.

“Kenley’s our closer,” Roberts said. “I don’t see that as an option. The goal is to get outs, and he understands that. I think that the way he’s throwing the baseball, he’s shown that recently. … We’ll bet on the results. He’s done it. And I want him to have the ball at the end of the game.”

Kelly, Kenta Maeda, Pedro Baez and lefty specialist Adam Kolarek will make up the group that will form the bridge to Jansen. But the Dodgers’ top three starters — Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Walker Buehler, in no particular order — will have to set the tone. And an offense led by Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Max Muncy and Turner must translate its regular-season dominance into a playoff series against a Nationals team with a fierce starting rotation.

Roberts mentioned the stars in the rotation and the general versatility of the roster as reasons he believes this group might possess the best opportunity to capture the franchise’s first World Series championship since 1988. Given the regular-season success, Roberts believes “we have a chance to be the best team in Dodgers history.”

“Our only goal is to win a championship,” Roberts said. “The fans deserve it, the players deserve it, and we are equipped to accomplish that goal.”

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How signing Yasmani Grandal shows White Sox are ready to contend in AL Central

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How do you know when a team has toggled away from rebuild mode? The answer to that isn’t always as easy to pinpoint as you might think. But one probable indicator is that when a team signs a 31-year-old catcher to a four-year, $73 million contract, that team feels like it is ready to crack the contention window.

That is what the Chicago White Sox signified on Thursday when they announced their signing of Yasmani Grandal: It is now winning time on the South Side. But make no mistake, while the acquisition of one of baseball’s elite backstops might act as a kind of signal switch, the ChiSox locomotive has plenty of track to traverse before it pulls into the station. More moves are coming.

“I’m not sure how we’ll be perceived with other free agents,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said during a conference call. “Our intention, similar to what we did with Yas, was to state our case directly and show that our words are true as to what actions we plan to take. At the end of the day, it comes down to converting on deals.”

The timing of Hahn’s splash might look odd at a glance. Chicago lost 89 games last season, which was actually a big improvement from a 100-loss season in 2018. Going from that to a team playing in the upper level of free agency is in some respects an act of faith. For Hahn, team president Kenny Williams and owner Jerry Reinsdorf, that faith is based on several years of carefully planned rebuilding. And it’s based on the knowledge that Chicago is playing in what is right now a highly winnable division.

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MLB widens investigation of Astros’ conduct to last 3 seasons

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Major League Baseball has widened its investigation of alleged sign stealing by the Houston Astros and will probe activity by the team over the past three seasons.

After the conclusion of owners meetings Thursday, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said MLB will “investigate the Astros situation as thoroughly as humanly possible.” The probe includes the team’s firing of an assistant general manager during the World Series for clubhouse comments directed at female reporters, behavior the club at first accused Sports Illustrated of fabricating.

Oakland pitcher Mike Fiers told The Athletic in a story last week that while he was playing with the Astros during their 2017 World Series championship season the team stole signs during home games by using a camera positioned in center field. During this year’s playoffs, Houston players were suspected of whistling in the dugout to communicate pitch selection to batters.

Manfred says “that investigation is going to encompass not only what we know about ’17, but also ’18 and ’19.” MLB is “talking to people all over the industry, former employees, competitors, whatever. To the extent that we find other leads, we’re going to follow these leads.”

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Baseball owners approve Greg Johnson as Giants’ control person

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SAN FRANCISCO — Greg Johnson was approved by the major league clubs as the new controlling owner of the San Francisco Giants.

Following the decision Thursday at the owners meetings in Arlington, Texas, Giants president and CEO Larry Baer will still represent the club at the meetings, along with Johnson and Rob Dean, who had been handling leadership duties since March.

Baer was suspended without pay from March 4 through July 1 after a video showed him in a physical altercation with his wife.

Johnson is the son of Charles Johnson, part of the group including late managing partner Peter Magowan that bought the Giants in 1993 and kept them from relocating to Florida. Greg Johnson will be chairman and Dean the vice chairman, and both will be managing members, the team said in a statement.

Baer and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi will report to Johnson and Dean.

Dean is the son-in-law of late Giants principal owners Harmon and Sue Burns. Dean had been serving as the interim control person with Major League Baseball and the team’s board of directors. The Giants planned the changes to their governance structure after Baer’s absence.

A video posted by TMZ showed Pam Baer seated in a chair when Larry Baer reached over her to grab for a cellphone in her right hand and she toppled sideways to the ground in the chair screaming, “Oh my god!” The couple later released a statement saying they were embarrassed by the situation and regretted having a heated argument in public.

Baer, long the face of the franchise, sat a few rows back rather than on the podium when San Francisco introduced new manager Gabe Kapler at Oracle Park last week.

Bruce Bochy retired after the season following a 25-year managerial career that included the past 13 seasons with the Giants after 12 years with the Padres. His teams won World Series championships in 2010, ’12 and ’14.

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