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Will taking a seat bust New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez’s slump?



NEW YORK — Gary Sanchez has begun his week spending more time on the New York Yankees‘ bench than squatting on his knees behind home plate.

That’s probably a good thing. At long last, it’s probably the right thing.

The catcher, who went 0-for-4 Sunday against the Mets to drop his batting average to just .190, wasn’t in the Yankees’ lineup for Tuesday’s series opener against the Nationals. He won’t be in there Wednesday, either. With Sonny Gray on the mound, the Yankees are planning to once again have backup catcher Austin Romine work with the pitcher, much the way he has the past month.

Sanchez’s back-to-back bench days — barring a last-minute decision by manager Aaron Boone to use him as the designated hitter — come on the heels of Monday’s team off-day. This means the struggling slugger likely will have three days down before returning to action Thursday.

The combination of a heavy recent workload, what Sanchez calls an “aching” calf, and a string of disappointing at-bats led the typically patient Boone to finally sit the slumping star.

“He’s had just the wear and tear of catching, whether it’s shoulder, knee, calf,” said Boone. “He’s fine, he’s good to play, but overall he’s a little banged up and maybe that’s leaking in a little bit.”

Across his past 15 games, Sanchez has compiled an .075 (4-for-53) average with 18 strikeouts. His batting average in that span is the worst among major leaguers with at least 40 at-bats since May 22.

In addition to struggling to simply make contact, Sanchez’s power numbers have taken a massive hit. He’s on a 16-game homerless streak, the longest of his career by four games.

“The reason I’m not hitting is because I’m missing pitches I usually hit,” Sanchez said through an interpreter. “Maybe I’m overthinking a little too much and that’s why I’m missing those pitches I don’t usually miss. I’ve swung at some pitcher’s pitches, really good pitches, and I’ve missed those.”

He didn’t miss the last pitch he swung at, a line drive right into the glove of Mets third baseman Todd Frazier to end a Yankees loss Sunday night. According to Statcast, the liner left his bat at 92.2 mph. A few feet in any other direction and Sanchez could’ve had himself a timely RBI double.

Sanchez might be banged up, but this time off appears to be a much-needed mental break too.

It hasn’t been all that common for Boone to bench his struggling players for multiple games. Save for an occasional off-day, the first-year manager has regularly opted to give his scuffling hitters their at-bats, hoping routine will eventually ease them out of it.

Boone has done that with Giancarlo Stanton, Didi Gregorius, Brett Gardner, and, until now, Sanchez. For Gardner, who went through one particularly horrid 5-for-42 (.119) stretch in May, the manager’s patience was reassuring and confidence-building.

“It’s important for guys to know that their manager, their hitting coach or whoever it is has their back,” Gardner said. “I think to myself, those four or five, however many weeks to this season, and just to keep running me out there in the leadoff spot, getting me my at-bats and letting me continue to see pitches and work out of it. That’s important to kind of just stay the course.”

It’s easier to give players who aren’t hitting more opportunities to turn it around when others around them are hitting well, the outfielder acknowledged.

“We’ve got a great lineup, and when you’re winning and scoring runs and pitching well and things are going well, you can afford to give guys a little more time to work out of things,” Gardner said.

Gregorius, who had his own 1-for-42 slump that at one point last month dropped his average by nearly 100 points, took comfort in other hitters — such as Gardner, Aaron Judge, Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres — heating up as he struggled.

“Like I say, if it was just about one person, then the team would not be doing good. But everybody picks each other up. That’s one thing that we always have here,” Gregorius said. “One guy’s struggling today, but then the same day, somebody else is going to pick him up anyway.”

Regularly this season, Romine has been there to not only pick up Sanchez but to help carry the team. In 76 plate appearances, Romine is batting .348 with a 1.027 OPS. He’s been especially good with runners in scoring position, hitting .474 with 15 RBIs in 24 chances. On Tuesday, he drove in a runner with a sacrifice fly.

Meanwhile, Sanchez has posted a .721 OPS to go along with a batting average below the Mendoza Line. In 69 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, he’s batting .236 with 24 RBIs and 18 strikeouts.

Boone’s patience isn’t only evident in the opportunities he gives struggling players. It has been evident in comments he’s made publicly about those players. The phrase “I believe he’s close” has been a mainstay in the manager’s lexicon.

Before Sunday’s game, he said something similar about Sanchez.

“He’ll settle in and the hits will start to follow and the hitter we know will be soon after,” Boone said. “One of the things I talk to Sanchie about a lot is go up there and have a good at-bat. Because of who you are and the talent you have, the results will be there. The results will follow when you’re having good at-bats.

“It’s simply a matter of time before he gets rolling again.”

Sanchez’s teammates echo that.

“For me, he’s too talented to continue doing what he’s doing,” Gardner said. “That’s not a knock on him; it’s just a matter of things will find a way of evening themselves out over the last half of the season.”

That’s how Sanchez feels, too.

“Slumps are part of baseball,” Sanchez said. “The same way they begin, they end.”

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Dave Roberts says Los Angeles Dodgers playing ‘our best baseball’ of season right now



LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers have spent most of the year profiling as one of the greatest teams in the sport, with an impressive run differential, unrivaled depth and a wealth of star talent. But it never really came together for them — until, perhaps, right now, in the most important juncture of their season.

The Dodgers beat the division-rival Colorado Rockies for the second straight night on Tuesday, riding the walk-off home run of utility infielder Chris Taylor to capture a 3-2 victory in 10 innings.

It pushed the Dodgers 1½ games ahead of the Rockies for first place in the National League West and gave L.A. six wins over the past seven games, with three of them coming against a St. Louis Cardinals team that also is in the thick of playoff contention.

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MLB — Chicago Cubs’ revived offense could make bullpen questions irrelevant



PHOENIX — Perhaps the Chicago Cubs found the secret to playing without a true closer: Dominate the opposition at the plate while taking save opportunities out of the equation. There was no need for any ninth-inning nail-biting on Tuesday, as a team in a hitting slump for much of the second half is beginning to wake up.

“We stacked them one on top of the other,” second baseman Daniel Murphy said of Cubs at-bats after a 9-1 win over Arizona. “Sustained pressure on the opposing pitcher. Traffic early in innings.”

The Cubs were up 5-1 after two — thanks in part to a single and a home run by Murphy — then added on runs later, taking some sting out of the pregame news that righty Brandon Morrow is finished for the year. The closer’s nagging bone bruise in his forearm, which has sidelined him since the All-Star break, hasn’t healed. Meanwhile, his backup, Pedro Strop, is also down, so the Cubs will be mixing and matching more than ever late in games.

At least, they will be in the ones that aren’t blowouts. Tuesday’s drama ended early, thanks to first baseman Anthony Rizzo. His 17-pitch, first-inning at-bat against Matt Andriese was a thing of a beauty. He fouled off five pitches on a 0-2 count, then six more at 2-2.

The sequence set things up for the next hitter, MVP candidate Javier Baez. Rizzo eventually made an out, but it didn’t feel like one moments later, when Baez hit his 33rd home run of the season into the stands in right-center.

“When you wear pitchers out like that, it sets up the next guy and the next guy for success,” Rizzo said. “We want to have that team culture to continue to do that.”

That sets the Cubs up to be at their best, especially when their left-handed hitters come through. It’s an October essential, as most teams — outside the Cubs at least — have righty starters and dominant righty bullpen arms. The platoon advantage comes in handy, and with the return of lefty Jason Heyward from a hamstring injury — he doubled in his first at-bat this month — the Cubs can boast a dangerous array of lefty hitters. That depth was on display Tuesday, as Murphy, Heyward, Rizzo and Ben Zobrist all contributed to the win.

“I like the fact we have a bunch of lefties,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I did like our lineup a lot tonight with Jason back in there.”

Maddon will have two more to choose from when Kyle Schwarber and Tommy La Stella return from minor back ailments as soon as this weekend. It’s as good a time as any to begin a swarming mentality, as the Cubs are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Their magic number is just eight after the second-place Milwaukee Brewers lost to the Cincinnati Reds while the Cubs were pounding the fading Arizona Diamondbacks.

“It’s always nice to move in one direction and see another team move in another direction,” Murphy said with a smile.

Come Thursday, most Cubs won’t be moving anywhere, as it will be their first day in 31 not at a ballpark. Their grueling stretch is coming to an end on a high note, as they’ve already won the series against Arizona after a 5-1 win on Monday. Tuesday’s Game 2 victory was even better. While Murphy had to be at the ballpark on Monday, he got the night off. It showed in his at-bats the next day.

“Joe has done a great job with all of us to get us some time,” Murphy said. “I thought the entire offense was awesome. Great at-bats starting with Rizzo’s at-bat in the first.”

Maybe that’s the answer to the Cubs’ new ninth-inning question: Make it meaningless. It’s doubtful that a team can do that for three rounds of the playoffs, but perhaps that’s not what the Cubs need. Rather, just a break here or there will do for the guys who are filling in for Morrow and Strop. They got that break on Tuesday, as the Cubs continued to inch toward a third straight NL Central division title, thanks to an offense catching its second wind.

“Anytime anybody gets going, I feel like we’re going to be dangerous,” Murphy said.

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Aaron Judge returns to Yankees lineup for 1st time since July



NEW YORK — Aaron Judge was back in the New York Yankees‘ lineup Tuesday night, going 0-for-4 in his first start since July.

Judge batted second and finished with two fly outs to right field, a double play and a check-swing strikeout. Still, after Neil Walker‘s three-run homer in the eighth inning, the Yankees won the series opener against the Boston Red Sox in the Bronx 3-2.

Despite the hitless performance, Judge was still generally pleased with how he played.

“I felt like I never left. Everything felt good,” said Judge, who had spent nearly eight weeks on the disabled list. “Felt like my at-bats were good, I’m seeing the ball well. That’s all I can really ask for, coming back after missing that many weeks.

“I’m excited with the start, we got the win, and we’ve just got to keep that rolling.”

Judge’s first-inning at-bat against Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi marked his first plate appearance since he suffered a chip fracture of the right wrist when he was hit by a pitch July 26. Judge came off the 10-day disabled list on Friday and had played two innings in the field, but the Yankees hadn’t cleared him to hit until Tuesday afternoon.

“We’ll kind of watch it closely and see how he bounces back,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said before Tuesday night’s game. “We’ll pick our spots to maybe try and get him out of there, and we’ll just kind of go day-by-day with this — as far as how he’s bouncing back and how he’s feeling — but I’m looking at it as: ‘We’re going.'”

Judge’s return comes with the Red Sox a win away from clinching the American League East. The Yankees, meanwhile, are trying to retain their lead in the AL wild-card standings over the Oakland Athletics.

If it hadn’t been for Mother Nature, Judge likely would not have gotten this start until Wednesday.

When Boone arrived at the ballpark and first wrote out the lineup Tuesday morning in advance of the game’s original 1:05 p.m. ET start time, he did not put down Judge’s name.

But around 9:30 a.m. ET when the Yankees and Red Sox were debating moving the game’s first pitch to 7:05 p.m. ET due to rain showers that were forecast over the Bronx all afternoon, Judge had a chance to change his skipper’s mind.

“I told them if the game’s at 1, the game’s at 7, I’m going to be in there,” Judge said.

During one late-morning window of dryness, Judge participated in a simulated game on the field, hitting for several pitches off a minor league pitcher, while Boone and various Yankees assistant coaches and executives watched. It was the second time in as many days that Judge participated in a sim game. He had faced three pitchers across 11 at-bats on Monday.

“Kind of deliberated on [playing Judge] after we got finished,” Boone said.

After spending the noon hour thinking about giving Judge the start, Boone went first to general manager Brian Cashman, then his assistants, his training staff and ultimately Judge before determining whether the 26-year-old slugger would hit Tuesday.

“He was like, ‘I’m ready to go,'” Boone said. “So … we go.”

Judge believes his relentless push to play after repeatedly pleading to do so finally got Boone and others to cave.

“I just voiced my opinion — a lot,” Judge said. “They kind of got tired of me telling them I’m going to be playing. They finally said, ‘Let’s put him in there and let’s see what happens.'”

Judge’s return marked the first time since July 2 that the Yankees have had their six 20-homer players in the same lineup. In the 38 games that Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Didi Gregorius, Miguel Andujar, Gleyber Torres and Aaron Hicks all have played together this season, the Yankees are 28-11.

Boone isn’t sure how long it might take Judge, who batted .285 with 26 homers and 61 RBIs before his injury, to return to his dangerous power-hitting form.

“As I’ve kind of said leading up to this, hitting’s a funny thing,” Boone said. “Sometimes it happens real quick. Sometimes it takes a little bit of time.

“It’s just a matter of getting that good timing. That’s something that even for great hitters, it can come and go a little bit. So we’ll see as the next couple days unfold.”

Before Judge was hurt, Yankees right fielders had combined to bat .273 with a .918 OPS; they also averaged 13.7 at-bats per home run. Since Judge last hit July 26, the right fielders that the Yankees have used to replace Judge batted .187 with a .652 OPS, and they averaged 20.8 at-bats between home runs.

New York hopes Judge’s addition will not only shake up those numbers, but also give life to a team that went 26-22 after his injury.

“I definitely think certain guys energize a situation,” Boone said. “When we’re talking about Aaron, not only is he a special player, but he’s a special presence on our club.

“Writing that [name] down on a long day at the ballpark for us, it was nice to write him in and just to see the effect it has on lengthening our lineup. We’re certainly excited to have him back.”

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