Two teams will move on to the National League Championship Series, and two teams will be sent home from the MLB playoffs on Wednesday. Will the Dodgers avoid a shocking loss at the hands of the Nationals? Who will have the last laugh as the Cardinals and Braves finish off a drama-filled series?
What’s on tap
5:02 p.m. ET: Cardinals-Braves Game 5
8:37 p.m. ET: Nationals-Dodgers Game 5
The most important thing of the day: Will the Dodgers still be here tomorrow? It’s do-or-die time in the postseason, so every inning of every game is important, but the 106-win NL favorites being sent home early would be the story of October so far.
The view from inside the ballparks
LOS ANGELES — With Stephen Strasburg on the hill and house money in their pockets, the Nationals — still searching for their first playoff series win since the franchise moved to D.C. in 2005 — are as confident as they’ve been for any Game 5. With Walker Buehler on the hill and 106 wins on their résumé (108 including playoffs) the Dodgers are just plain confident. That said, it’s hard to ignore the pressure that comes with high expectations. Just ask the Nats. For his part, Dave Roberts, approaching his sixth win-or-go-home game as the Dodgers’ manager, doesn’t believe his team should feel any more pressure than the Nationals. “I honestly don’t think that, given our path, we feel any more pressure than they do to win a Game 5. It’s a must-win for both teams,” Roberts said. “And I do feel being at home, with Walker on the mound, gives us the best chance to win. I’m very confident that we’re going to come out of this and move on.” — Eddie Matz and Alden Gonzalez
ATLANTA — Max Fried is the difference-maker out of the bullpen for the Braves, but if Adam Wainwright turns out to be the hero, don’t be surprised. Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said Tuesday that he expects to have Wainwright available for Game 5, and who wouldn’t want someone with his postseason experience? This series has been a grinder — “It’s been exhausting,” according to Braves manager Brian Snitker — but of course it’s all hands on deck for one more night. — Jesse Rogers
A stat to impress your friends: Braves-Cardinals is the second series in postseason history in which three of the first four games were won by teams trailing in the eighth inning or later, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The other was the 1988 NLCS between the Dodgers and Mets that L.A. won in seven games.
Asking for a prediction in this series simply isn’t fair. Three games have come down to late-inning heroics, and if run differential is your thing, well, after four games, the Braves have outscored the Cardinals 16-13. Yeah, it has been that close. When in doubt, take the home team. The Braves’ lineup is simply too good — or at least they will be good enough. Braves 4, Cardinals 3 — Jesse Rogers
The Dodgers are at home, where they dominated all season, and they have the pedigree to come through in a make-or-break game such as this. But for some reason, it feels like it’s finally the Nationals’ turn to advance, and Strasburg — the former hyped phenom with impossible expectations — is the perfect guy to pitch them into the NL Championship Series for the first time in their history. Nationals 5, Dodgers 2 — Gonzalez
Generally speaking, home-field advantage isn’t a huge deal in baseball. But Dodger Stadium is an exception. Exactly like in 2016, L.A. edges Washington in Game 5. Dodgers 4, Nationals 3 — Matz
About last night
Stud of the night: Rays manager Kevin Cash, who started a reliever and ended with a starter, pushing all the right buttons along the way. Cash coaxed a combined six-hitter out of Diego Castillo, Ryan Yarbrough, Nick Anderson, Colin Poche, Emilio Pagan and Blake Snell as his “bullpen” crew outpitched Justin Verlander.
Dud of the night: Justin Verlander. Granted, he was going on short rest, but Verlander never looked comfortable. He gave up three first-inning runs and lasting 3⅔ innings, a far cry from his Game 1 gem.
Highlight of the night:
Jose Altuve tries to score from first base, but Willy Adames gets the ball and throws a laser home to beat him.
Off the diamond
Social media says:
The roof about to come off this place as Verlander exits. pic.twitter.com/rho4Z1QhWF
— Emily Jones (@EmilyJonesMcCoy) October 9, 2019
Quote of note: “It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be great. There’s a great team over there. … You’ve got to be excited about it. Come on, you got Game 5, win or go home. What’s not to be excited about?” — Cardinals Game 5 starter Jack Flaherty
Best of the playoffs so far …
Our running postseason MVP: The Yankees are still the only team to win their division series. So we’ll give it to Gleyber Torres, who helped the Bombers blast the Bomba Squad with three doubles and a home run in a three-game sweep of the Twins. With three Game 5s in the next two nights, he’ll likely lose the title soon, but for now, it’s Gleyber Day.
The play of this October: Juan Soto‘s single/Trent Grisham‘s error with two outs and the bases loaded in the eighth inning of the NL wild-card game, which turned a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 Washington lead. Unfortunately for Grisham, the play will be part of those postseason blunders lists — and it could take on a life of its own if the Nationals end up winning it all.
Game of the postseason so far: Braves-Cardinals Game 3. An old-school pitchers’ duel between Mike Soroka and Adam Wainwright had Atlanta down 1-0 entering the ninth. With St. Louis one out from taking a 2-1 series lead, the Cards intentionally walked Brian McCann, Dansby Swanson ripped a double to tie it, and pinch hitter Adam Duvall followed with a two-run single that gave the Braves a 3-1 win.
Atlanta Braves’ Adam Duvall to start Game 5 in left after offensive heroics
Duvall, who leads the Braves with 5 RBIs in the series, will bat sixth and start in left field Wednesday against Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty.
Left-handed hitting Matt Joyce, who started each of the first four games, will be available off the bench.
Despite not starting yet in this series, Duvall has delivered some critical hits for the Braves. His two-run pinch-hit home run off Flaherty in Game 2 provided Atlanta with some much-needed insurance in a 3-0 victory.
Duvall also had a clutch hit in Game 3, when he hit a two-run go-ahead single in the ninth inning to lift the Braves to a 3-1 victory.
Could the Black Sox scandal happen today?
“Baseball is the heart of America. As a patriot, I would never do anything to degrade …”
“Besmirch. It’s better.”
“… to besmirch our national pastime.”
–Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), rehearsing his testimony with his attorney before the grand jury convened to determine whether the 1919 World Series was fixed, “Boardwalk Empire,” Season 1, Episode 8 (“Hold Me in Paradise”)
One hundred years might seem like a long enough time to wait. But what we are talking about here is the Black Sox Scandal, baseball’s darkest hour and an oft-told tale that has captured the imagination of historians, novelists, filmmakers and those fans who feel the betrayal in their bones. The gamblers and crooked ballplayers who conspired to fix the outcome of the 1919 World Series robbed people not only of their money but also of their faith in baseball.
That’s why baseball became puritanical about gambling, why Rule 21d, the prohibition of betting, has been posted in clubhouses since 1927, why the all-time hit king, Pete Rose, was banished from baseball. For years, MLB argued in courts to prevent states other than Nevada from legalizing sports gambling. But then Major League Baseball and MGM Resorts announced last November that they had entered into an agreement to promote legalized gambling just in time for the 2019 season, and ever since, the gnats of irony have been buzzing about.
They just happened to choose the centennial anniversary of the 1919 World Series and the 30th anniversary of commissioner Bart Giamatti ejecting Pete Rose to roll out this new policy. The same Pete Rose who often signs autographs at MGM Resorts’ Mandalay Bay resort in Las Vegas. The same MGM Resorts that owns the Borgata, a rose-colored high-rise paradise north of the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. The same Borgata where disgraced NBA referee Tim Donaghy liked to try his luck.
Oh, and how’s this for irony? Borgata is lingo in Italian for mafia. Among the protégés of Arnold Rothstein, the man behind the fix, were such mob legends as Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano.
All of which brings me to the Borgata on this beautiful late-summer day. As a baseball romantic and a gambling agnostic, I am curious to see if MLB is selling its soul to the devil or just keeping up with the Joneses — all the other major team sports have embraced wagering as a way of increasing both revenue and “fan engagement.”
The real Arnold Rothstein, as portrayed in David Pietrusza’s excellent biography, “Rothstein,” would certainly like it here. “The Brain,” as he was known, loved poker so much that he literally died for it, and there’s a world-class tournament going on. He was a billiards aficionado, helping to bankroll New York Giants manager John McGraw’s pool hall near New York’s Herald Square, and there’s a billiards table in the men’s spa at the Borgata. There are restaurants and shops and slot machines and games of chance and patrons galore.
Deep in the heart of the casino floor is a sportsbook and restaurant called Moneyline, where a litter of puppy TV screens surrounds one big 40-inch LED mama. Turned to various sports events, they shed their ambient light over gamblers nursing drinks and burgers while studying their crib sheets before tapping their phones or heading to one of the six betting windows. Today, the action is mostly about baseball: 15 games on the schedule, starting with the Washington Nationals at the St. Louis Cardinals at 1:15 p.m., and ending with some West Coast evening tilts.
The bettors know far more about the matchups than I do, but I suspect I know something they don’t. On this date, Sept. 18, 100 years ago, the scheme to fix the Series was formally hatched. It too happened in a hotel, the Buckminster in Boston. According to “Eight Men Out,” Eliot Asinof’s classic account, that’s where the first-place Chicago White Sox were staying as they played out the regular season and where first baseman Chick Gandil invited an old acquaintance, gambler Joseph “Sport” Sullivan, up to his room to discuss a proposition. Chick and seven of his teammates could make it so that the underdog Cincinnati Redlegs would win the upcoming Series. All they wanted was $80,000, 10 grand apiece. Chick and friends had won the World Series two years before; this time they preferred filthy lucre to a shiny trophy.
The details of the scandal are still being debated. How much did Rothstein really have to do with the fix? (He was officially exonerated, but he did bankroll Sullivan.) Was 29-game winner Eddie Cicotte ripe for the pickings because he didn’t get an expected chance at a 30th victory and a bonus? How much did outfielder Shoeless Joe Jackson really have to do with losing the Series if he hit .375 in the eight games, 149 points higher than teammate and eventual Hall of Famer Eddie Collins?
There is another, more personal reason for my quest. Gambling might be in my blood. I recently heard of a dormant family rumor that we on my father’s side of the tree are somehow related to Arnold Rothstein. Curiosity led me to a search of the internet that revealed this fascinating tidbit from the engagement announcements in the New-York Tribune of Oct. 14, 1919:
“WULF-ROTHSTEIN — Mr. and Mrs. Charles Rothstein announce the engagement of their daughter, Lillian, to Mr. William Wulf.”
My great-grandfather Charles Rothstein and Arnold’s father, Abraham Rothstein, were both in the garment industry. I have yet to find a direct connection, but were there so many clothes-making Rothsteins in New York at the turn of the century that they weren’t related? Maybe Arnold went to the wedding after he didn’t fix the World Series. I do see a facial resemblance between my grandmother and Arnold. And I know that before the Series, he met with gamblers in New York’s Hotel Astor … which is also where my father had his bar mitzvah.
Anyway, I settle in for my afternoon at the Moneyline and open a menu called the Playbook. On the right-hand pages are various unhealthy choices, while on the left-hand sides are quotes from famous sports figures such as Babe Ruth and Muhammad Ali, Hank Aaron and Vince Lombardi. One of the quotes that catches my eye is from one of my old acquaintances, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda:
“In baseball and in business, there are three types of people. Those who make it happen. Those who watch it happen. And those who wonder what the hell happened.”
Count me among that third group. I never thought I’d see this day.
“Fixed the World Series?”
The idea staggered me. I remembered, of course, that the World Series had been fixed in 1919, but if I had thought of it all, I would have thought of it as a thing that merely happened, the end of some inevitable chain. It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people — and with the singlemindedness of a burglar blowing a safe.” —Nick Carraway, the narrator of “The Great Gatsby,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
There is a gambler in “The Great Gatsby,” Meyer Wolfsheim, whom Fitzgerald patterned after Rothstein. But for baseball fans, the most evocative line in the novel might be the last: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
So we bet on, recalling a time a century ago when baseball was so caught up in the current of gambling that the powers-that-be brushed aside rumors of games fixed by the likes of Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Hal Chase. You weren’t supposed to wager in baseball, kinda like you weren’t supposed to drink during Prohibition. Prop bets, called freak wagers then, were particularly prevalent. ESPN’s David Purdum recently uncovered this item from the Sept. 23, 1919, issue of the Chicago Tribune:
“Betting on the great baseball classic picked up in Indianapolis today and quite a few freak wagers were offered. … [The] board at the Dennison had lots of Chicago money offered at 90 to 100 that the White Sox would cop the first game in Cincinnati. Even money was offered that the Pale Hose would steal more bases during the series than the Reds.”
The more things change… After the MLB-MGM deal was announced last November, Jim Murren, the MGM Resorts chairman, talked about why the pace of baseball was an asset for micro-betting. “Baseball is perfectly suited for this,” he said. “It will increase social networks. People will be talking about the next pitch, the next out, the next inning … regardless of the outcome or the score in that given period.”
As for the so-called forbidden fruit of gambling, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred put this spin on the partnership: “It’s more than just making a business deal. It’s having in place a set of policies for the industry that gives us comfort on what is always our most important issue — that is integrity.”
If Arnold Rothstein was the most renowned gambler of his day, that distinction today probably belongs to James Holzhauer, whose run on “Jeopardy!” earlier this year (32 wins, $2,464,216) captivated the nation. Holzhauer, who became a professional gambler because he couldn’t get a job in Major League Baseball, was kind enough to answer a few email questions. When asked what his reaction was when MLB and MGM announced their deal, he wrote: “I had two reactions. 1) It’s long overdue for leagues to recognize the legitimacy of sports gambling. 2) Apparently, MLB could put a price on its so-called ‘integrity,’ after all.”
It would be naive to think that baseball shouldn’t reap some of the benefits of a billion-dollar industry. But it certainly wasn’t shy about trumpeting its new four-year, $80 million relationship with MGM. At the Japan Series between the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners on March 20 and 21, A’s players wore MGM Resorts Japan patches sewed on the right sleeves of their uniforms.
With integrity concerns in mind, major league managers now have to provide their lineup cards to the league office 15 minutes before they’re released to the public to reduce the possibility that sharp bettors could benefit from inside information. A Swiss company called Sportradar is now the official distributor of major league baseball data. On July 25, the fantasy sports site DraftKings announced a multiyear agreement with MLB to become the “Authorized Gaming Operator.” Peeking into the future, Matt Rybaltowski of SportsHandle.com wrote, “Imagine a scenario if Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw is facing New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge in Game 7 of the World Series. The bet types could allow fans to wager on whether Kershaw’s next pitch would be a ball or a strike.”
This embrace of gambling is a little unsettling for those of us who grew up thinking that the ghost of Kenesaw Mountain Landis — the commissioner who cleansed the game in the 1920s — was still in charge. The quirks of betting laws also lead to some creative workarounds. If you drive across the upper level of the George Washington Bridge, for instance, you will see pedestrians and bicyclists stopped a little more than halfway toward the New Jersey side, placing bets on their apps because New Jersey allows mobile sports betting and New York does not, even though the state does permit sports betting at its upstate casinos.
But even upstate New York — namely, Cooperstown — is having a problem with the new policy. In August, esteemed Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan wrote a scathing column that took baseball to task for barring Rose from the Hall of Fame. “Keeping him out because of gambling when you are now officially in partnership with gambling interests is hypocrisy of the highest order,” Ryan wrote. “Pete Rose didn’t come back to baseball. Baseball came back to him. Give the Hit King his plaque.”
Ryan doesn’t think the character clause is cause to keep Rose out. “Pete Rose is no angel, but neither are a lot of guys in the Hall of Fame,” he says. “We’re keeping a player with 4,256 hits, 17 All-Star appearances and three world championships out of Cooperstown because he did something that baseball now says it’s okay to do.”
Another interested party in baseball’s changing views on gambling is Allison Jackson, a 24-year-old fitness instructor from Greenville, South Carolina. She also happens to be the great-great-grandniece of Shoeless Joe, who was banned from baseball because of his alleged involvement in the Black Sox scandal. “He had the highest batting average and the only home run in the 1919 World Series,” she says. “He has the third-highest batting average in history and he was proven innocent in a court of law. And you’re gonna tell me that betting’s not so bad now?”
But legalized gambling comes with a larger concern than injustice — namely, treachery.
Holzhauer, for one, isn’t worried. “I can see why any discussion of gambling makes people think of the Black Sox,” he says. “But that scandal has nothing to do with the current state of sports betting. If a team tried to throw the 2019 World Series, the extreme imbalance of betting action in today’s regulated market would get them caught immediately.”
Kevin Braig, an attorney from Columbus, Ohio, is uniquely suited to talk about the subject because he is an expert on gaming, a die-hard sports fan (he grew up in Cincinnati watching Rose) and a baseball historian with a particular interest in the 1919 Black Sox. Braig agrees with Holzhauer that gambling is too well-regulated now to allow a repeat of 1919: “By moving into the gambling space, MLB is strengthening the integrity of the game. There was no commissioner then and a weak National Commission that did not want to engage with gambling at all. There is another reason we should trust the outcomes. The most valuable asset in sports is rivalry — Ohio State vs. Michigan, Yankees vs. Red Sox. Nobody has a greater interest in making sure that the games are contested to maximize authentic, genuine rivalry than an organization like MLB.
“I have zero, zip, zilch concern about MLB and gambling. None.”
Eddie Dominguez begs to differ. He’s a former Boston police officer who was the security agent for the Red Sox from 1999 to 2007 before moving over to MLB’s Department of Investigations in the aftermath of the Mitchell report on use of steroids and other PEDs in the game. With co-authors Christian Red and Teri Thompson, Dominguez wrote the 2018 book “Baseball Cop,” subtitled “The Dark Side of America’s National Pastime.”
“The vast majority of players and coaches are honest, decent people,” Dominguez says. “But I can also envision all sorts of scenarios in which someone with inside information who doesn’t make a lot of money will tip off friends who gamble as to what a pitcher will throw on a certain count. Baseball can’t control everybody around the game.”
Dominguez should know. In one chapter of his book, he relates a story about former Red Sox star David Ortiz. In the summer of 2005, Dominguez says he became suspicious about a member of Ortiz’s clubhouse entourage known as “Monga.” Dominguez says that an informant close to Monga, Ortiz’s “top aide-de-camp,” witnessed Monga placing a bet on a game in Chicago between the Red Sox and White Sox. Dominguez had Monga and some other members of the group banned from the clubhouse. Ortiz was not happy.
Dominguez takes it from there: “The All-Star Game was at PNC Park in Pittsburgh in 2006, and I was sitting at home watching the Home Run Derby when I saw Monga on the field — along with several [others] I had identified to MLB as shady characters — toweling off Ortiz and other Dominican players. For god’s sake, they were practically getting at-bats.
“I called Dan Mullin, who was second-in-command to Kevin Hallinan in the security department at the time and was at the game. He told me they tried to keep them out, but Ortiz had said, ‘If they don’t come with me on the field, I don’t participate.’ [Commissioner Bud] Selig and [Executive VP Rob] Manfred had given in and said, ‘Let them on.'” MLB issued this statement in response: “Major League Baseball actively cooperated with a law enforcement investigation into the illegal gambling operation that took these alleged bets. Ed Dominguez reported to his superiors at MLB that that investigation, which led to multiple arrests in 2008, did not implicate any players.”
(Flash backward: When American League president Ban Johnson recognizes Black Sox fixer “Sport” Sullivan sitting in the stands in Yankee Stadium during the 1926 World Series between the Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals, he orders the police to throw Sullivan out of the ballpark.)
“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.” –Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) in “Field of Dreams,” the 1989 movie based on the novel “Shoeless Joe”
Just before a Sept. 14 game at Citizens Bank Park, Phillies president Andy MacPhail agrees to share his unique perspective on baseball’s changing attitude on gambling. Besides being a 1976 graduate of Dickinson College with a degree in American studies, he is a third-generation baseball executive. His grandfather, Larry MacPhail, introduced night games to Major League Baseball in 1935 as general manager of the Reds, won the 1941 National League pennant as president of the Dodgers and nearly traded Joe DiMaggio to the Red Sox when he owned the Yankees. His son and Andy’s father, Lee MacPhail, was the general manager of the Orioles (1958-65) and the Yankees (1967-73) before becoming the highly respected American League president for nine years.
Andy has had his own distinguished career, first as the GM of the Twins, who won the World Series in ’87 and ’91 under his guidance, then as the president of the Cubs, who won their first postseason series in 95 years under him in 2003, the Orioles and — after a three-year sabbatical — the Phillies. And now there’s a fourth generation: His own sons, Drew and Reed, work in baseball.
“My grandfather and father would have had very different views on legalized gambling for baseball,” Andy says. “Larry would have thought, ‘This is great. It’ll create fan interest.’ He lived through the Black Sox Scandal, but he was also all about bringing people to the ballpark.
“My father would have been much more cautious. He would want to make sure we checked all the boxes on integrity and public perception before we went ahead. No, he might not have thought it was a good idea to introduce legalized gambling exactly 100 years after the Black Sox.
“As for me, all I can say is that it’s a whole new world. I was looking at a betting app the other day and watching the odds change, and I realized that times are changing too.”
The crowd has started to file into the park on this beautiful evening to see the Red Sox and Phillies cling to faint wild-card hopes. The official money line on the game is Boston -110/Philadelphia +120, i.e. the Red Sox are slight favorites, and the over/under on runs scored is 8.5, but the important thing to Phillies fans is that their team hasn’t been to the postseason in eight years.
They do have a real appreciation of history in Philadelphia, so all the new Harper jerseys are interspersed with Schmidt and Utley and Rollins and Carlton and, yes, even a vintage Rose from 1980.
The game itself is a battle between Eduardo Rodriguez of the Red Sox and Aaron Nola of the Phillies, neither of whom allows a run for the first six innings. The teams trade runs in the seventh inning, and for a moment in the bottom of the eighth, when Rhys Hoskins hits a fly ball deep to right, it looks as if the Phillies might win. But the ball dies on the warning track, the Red Sox push across a run in the ninth, and the Phils lose 2-1.
Despite the loss, the fans can find comfort in the crisp, good old-fashioned pitching duel in this age of rabbit balls and tortoise tempo. It’s a really good game, and a really good product, even without betting apps.
“Flip a coin. When it’s in the air, you’ll know which side you’re hoping for.”
–the actual Arnold Rothstein
Now that the day I never saw coming has arrived, 60 miles east of Philadelphia, I pretend I’m prepared. I have 15 games on my hands at the Moneyline and some sort of crabcake slider. I had done some perfunctory homework, studying the recent performances of the starting pitchers and their records against their opponents while factoring in things like home/away and importance and past 10 games. What I really wish I had done a little more research on, though, is the menu.
Baseball betting is an acquired taste. As James Holzhauer points out, “Baseball is not an appealing game for the casual gambler — it’s a lot easier to make sense of a 6-point spread in an NFL game than a +160/-170 baseball money line.” Being even less than casual, I had just picked the games regardless of money line, and picked them all, even ones I was unsure of. They were small bets, so I basically flipped a coin.
Sitting across from me, studying his crib notes, is James, a supermarket manager from Long Island. “I’ve been to a couple of places in Atlantic City,” he says, “but this is clearly the best.” We’re watching the Nationals at the Cardinals, Max Scherzer vs. Adam Wainwright — he has the Cards, I have the Nats.
James, who was a pitcher in high school, clearly knows baseball and betting: “I’ve got the Cardinals in a parlay with the A’s and the Yankees. I’m a Yankees fan, so that’s the one that worries me. The one rule I have is, ‘Bet with your head, not your heart,’ and I’m not sure if I’m convinced the Yankees are going to beat the Angels or I’ve convinced myself that they’re going to win.”
When the fifth inning ends with the Cardinals up 2-0, James gives a little fist jab. “I had them winning the first five.” You can do that? “Oh, yeah, there’s a lot of ways to make the games more interesting.” By the time St. Louis has handed Washington a 5-1 official loss, three other afternoon games have started: Mets at Rockies, Royals at A’s, Marlins at Diamondbacks. At first it’s fun to go on a busman’s holiday and meet players I only know from my fantasy league, but after a while, I have to get out of there. I drive to the actual Boardwalk to breathe in some sea air, then return to see how I’m doing. All three of the late-afternoon games go down to the wire, and the place comes alive when the Mets pull out a 7-4 win with four runs in the ninth. I win all three.
Maybe it is in my blood.
But now comes the madness, 11 games with first pitches ranging from 6:35 to 8:05 p.m. Because there is no actual audio, the sportsbook becomes a kaleidoscope that yields an occasional surprise — oh, two 39-year-olds, Albert Pujols and C.C. Sabathia, are facing each other. Say this for legalized betting too: It actually makes you care about a Blue Jays-Orioles game. (The Jays explode for 6 in the ninth to win 11-10 and produce a windfall for a hypothetical bettor who took them with three outs to go.)
When Cody Bellinger homers in the eighth inning to give the Dodgers a 6-4 lead over the Rays, I give a little clap because an L.A. victory will mean I make a little money on the night. But just before last call at midnight, Kenley Jansen gives up two runs in the ninth. The Rays win 8-7 in 11.
Once again, I wonder what the hell happened.
Now that gaming and the game, head and heart, are married, I wish them luck. I just hope they know what they’re doing — four teams winning at least 100 games and four losing as many as 100 is not conducive to action.
As for me, well, I don’t think I’m related to Arnold Rothstein after all.
10 players from these MLB playoffs who could change teams this winter
Does postseason performance matter for impending free agents? It might, at least a little, although modern-day front offices are less prone to emotional buying based on small sample size performances. Does Joe Kelly get a three-year, $25 million contract with the Dodgers coming off a 4.39 ERA if not for his dominant run in October for the Red Sox? Probably not. Do the Red Sox re-sign Nathan Eovaldi to a four-year, $68 million if not for his clutch postseason pitching? He probably doesn’t get $68 million.
Here are the top 10 notable free agents among the eight teams who participated in the division series this year.
The lowdown: After an absolute monster of a season in which he led the American League in ERA, strikeouts and FIP, Cole will head into free agency for his age-29 season poised to receive the largest contract ever for a pitcher. Right now, that belongs to David Price for the seven-year, $216 million deal he signed with the Red Sox in 2016. Compare Cole’s two seasons before free agency to Price’s:
Cole: 2.68 ERA, 412.2 IP, 285 H, 602 SO, 164 ERA+, 12.1 WAR
Price: 2.88 ERA, 468.2 IP, 420 H, 496 SO, 135 ERA+, 10.5 WAR
Price carried the bigger workload, but was also a year older. Cole trumps him in dominance and WAR. He’s going to get a megadeal.
Most obvious fit: Cole grew up in Los Angeles, attended Orange Lutheran High School in Orange and then UCLA after declining to sign as a first-round pick out of high school. Every team can use Cole, of course, but if he wants to go back home, the Angels are desperate for staff ace. Even the Dodgers could finally pursue the big free agent they haven’t signed in the Andrew Friedman regime. And don’t rule out the Astros — although they are paying Justin Verlander $33 million the next two seasons and Zack Greinke $35 million the next two and should get Lance McCullers Jr. back from Tommy John surgery.
The lowdown: Rendon should finish in the top three of the NL MVP voting after hitting .319/.412/.598 and leading the league in doubles and RBIs. He’s hit .300 the past three seasons, walked nearly as often as he struck out and plays a good third base. He’s also entering his age-30 season and we know teams have been reluctant to give the huge deals to players in their 30s. Still, compare Rendon’s past two seasons to the final two for Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, last winter’s big free agents:
Rendon: .314/.393/.567, 58 HR, 145 OPS+, 10.5 WAR (age 30)
Harper: .279/.401/.539, 63 HR, 143 OPS+, 5.9 WAR (age 26)
Machado: .278/.339/.505, 70 HR, 126 OPS+, 9.2 WAR (age 26)
The big difference isn’t production and value, but age: Rendon is four years older. He won’t get a 10-year, $300 million contract and did have some injury issues in college and early in his career, but a six-year deal running through his age-35 season sounds reasonable.
Most obvious fit: Aside from a return to the Nationals, how about a return to his home state of Texas? He’s from Houston, but the Astros seem pretty set at third base. The Rangers, however, received a meager .699 OPS from their third basemen and could use a big star as they move into their new park.
The lowdown: After an injury-plagued 52-game season in 2018, Donaldson signed quickly with the Braves as a free agent, taking a one-year, $23 million contract and betting on himself to have a productive season and test free agency for the second straight offseason. He bet right. After a slugging start, he turned it on in June and finished at .259/.379/.521 and his WAR ranked higher than teammates Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freddie Freeman at 6.1, close to his 2013 to 2017 average of 7.3 per season. That total is boosted by his best fielding metrics since 2014, however, as his offense — after adjusting for a hitter-friendly environment in 2019 and his home park — was down a notch from his MVP peak. A late bloomer, he’ll be entering his age-34 season.
Most obvious fit: The Braves have a potential replacement in Austin Riley, who was forced into left field as a rookie but came up as a third baseman. Riley also struggled after a blazing start, with poor plate discipline that exposed some holes in his swing. Other than the Braves: How about division rival Philadelphia? With Maikel Franco getting most of the playing time, the Phillies ranked 24th in the majors with a .725 OPS at third base. Their lineup wasn’t quite as imposing as hoped, and Donaldson’s age means they could probably get him on a shorter-term deal.
The lowdown: Ryu was a free agent last offseason and accepted the Dodgers’ qualifying offer to return Los Angeles. He then had his best season, leading the majors with a 2.32 ERA and allowing no runs in 10 of his 29 starts. He averaged just 1.2 walks per nine innings. Under the rules of free agency, the Dodgers can’t extend a qualifying offer again (although they can attempt to re-sign him). He’ll be 33 and missed 2015 with shoulder surgery and all but one game in 2016 with an elbow injury.
Most obvious fit: It’s not often that a team will let the majors’ ERA leader walk without much of an effort to re-sign him, but consider the Dodgers’ rotation options for 2020 (Rich Hill is also a free agent):
3. Kenta Maeda
4. Julio Urias
6. Tony Gonsolin
7. Dustin May
8. GERRIT COLE?
Maybe they can find a way to keep him on a shorter deal or maybe Ryu heads across town to the Angels or south to the Padres (assuming he wants to stay in California).
The lowdown: Ozuna hit .263/.327/.452 in his two seasons with St. Louis — solid production, but nothing like the huge season he had with the Marlins in 2017. He played through some injuries both seasons and hit just .219 in the second half of 2019, so that 2017 season now stands out as a fluke year. He’s a solid defender in left (he won a Gold Glove as a left fielder), although shoulder issues have zapped his arm strength the past couple of year. He’ll be entering his age-29 season.
Most obvious fit: White Sox outfielders hit a pathetic .252/.303/.385. Ozuna would provide a nice fit in a corner and could DH some to help prevent of the injury issues. The Cardinals have top outfield prospect Dylan Carlson, who reached Triple-A in 2019, plus super-sub Tommy Edman can play the outfield, so they probably let Ozuna walk.
The lowdown: After averaging 24 home runs and hitting .277 from 2015 to 2017 with the Yankees, Gregorius missed the first half of 2019 after needing Tommy John surgery at the end of 2018. He returned to hit .238/.276/.441 in 82 games, although with 16 home runs. His fielding metrics have always been average at best, but fell to minus-6 defensive runs saved in his half-season. His arm strength seemed fine, but as he’s become bigger and stronger, he may be losing range in the field. He’ll be entering his age-30 season.
Most obvious fit: The Yankees can slide Gleyber Torres over to shortstop and install DJ LeMahieu as the full-time second baseman, so any money they spend in free agency is more likely to be directed at the rotation. There isn’t an obvious fit here. Most of the teams that need a shortstop (Royals, Orioles, Marlins) are bad and rebuilding and teams may be concerned about his ability to stick at shortstop for more than a season or two.
Dallas Keuchel, Atlanta Braves
The lowdown: The 2015 Cy Young winner was looking for a big deal as a free agent last offseason and didn’t get one, finally signing a one-year deal with the Braves in June and going 8-8 with a 3.75 ERA over 19 starts. He’s a bulldog on the mound and the kind of leader you want in the clubhouse, but he doesn’t have the velocity that teams covet these days, and he’s had injuries in the past that limited him to 26 starts in 2016 and 23 in 2017. At 32, and with a career-worst 4.72 FIP, it’s not like demand for him is suddenly going to increase (at least at his demands last offseason).
Most obvious fit: The Angels had a 5.64 rotation ERA, second-worst in the majors. Are they going to continue wasting Mike Trout‘s best years? The Padres could also use a veteran presence and mentor for their young starters.
The lowdown: Odorizzi went 15-7 with a 3.51 ERA in his second season in Minnesota, making 30 starts but pitching just 159 innings as the Twins kept him a tight workload (he pitched more than six innings just twice). Odorizzi has averaged 30 starts a season since 2014 and is coming off a career-high strikeout rate and his first All-Star appearance. He’ll be 30 years old and is a fly ball heavy pitcher, so park factors are an important consideration here.
Most obvious fit: The Twins. Fellow starters Kyle Gibson and Michael Pineda (who missed the postseason after being suspended late in the season after a positive test for a banned diuretic) are also free agents, so the Twins front office has some work to do.
Edwin Encarnacion, New York Yankees
The lowdown: Encarnacion had a busy year, getting traded from Cleveland to Seattle in the offseason and then from Seattle to the Yankees in June. He missed most of the final two months with an oblique injury, but bashed 34 home runs in 418 at-bats. He’s hit just .246 and .244 the past two seasons, but draws enough walks that he posted a .344 OBP. He has a $20 million team option, but the Yankees will probably exercise a $5 million buyout, making him a free agent. He’ll be 37 and did start 57 games at first base, but he’s best suited for a designated hitter role.
Most obvious fit: As bad as the White Sox outfielders were, their DHs were even worse, hitting .208/.285/.362. Yuck. Given the limited interest in DHs these days on the free-agent market, Encarnacion won’t cost must and give the White Sox a nice upgrade.
The lowdown: Non-tendered by the White Sox after a 0.3-WAR season in 2018, the Rays signed him to a one-year deal as a platoon option in the outfield, but injuries opened up some playing time, and he produced a 2.0-WAR season. He hit .282/.332/.464. He doesn’t walk much and doesn’t lift the ball in the air enough to take advantage of his raw power, so his offense his heavily predicated on BABIP (very high in 2017, when he hit .330; low in 2018 as he hit .236; and a high .340 in 2019).
Most obvious fit: The five teams with worst production from their corner outfielders: Marlins, White Sox, Giants, Diamondbacks, A’s.
Other free agents:
Braves: Julio Teheran ($12 million team option/$1 million buyout), Nick Markakis ($6M/$2M), Tyler Flowers ($6M/$2M), Billy Hamilton ($1M buyout), Francisco Cervelli, Darren O’Day, Chris Martin, Brian McCann, Adeiny Hechavarria, Josh Tomlin, Matt Joyce, Jerry Blevins
Nationals: Adam Eaton ($9.5 and $10.5 million team options for 2020 and 20201), Ryan Zimmerman ($18M/$2M Yan Gomes ($9/$1), Sean Doolittle ($6.5 club option), Howie Kendrick, Brian Dozier, Fernando Rodney, Asdrubal Cabrera, Gerardo Parra, Daniel Hudson, Jeremy Hellickson
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