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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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Nats over Yankees? Re-ranking the final four playoff contenders

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We’re down to the MLB playoffs‘ final four teams. Most of the national attention will focus on the colossal showdown in the American League between the 107-win Houston Astros and 103-win New York Yankees, a rematch of the 2017 American League Championship Series that went seven games, with the home team winning every game. Don’t overlook the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals, however, two fun teams with rising stars in slugger Juan Soto and pitching ace Jack Flaherty.

With the National League Championship Series kicking off Friday in St. Louis and the ALCS starting Saturday in Houston, let’s rank the top four teams as they stand right now:

No. 1: Houston Astros

What worked in the American League Division Series: Mostly, Gerrit Cole, who allowed one run in 15⅔ innings over two starts, striking out 25 batters and allowing just six hits. Justin Verlander dominated in his first start (although he wasn’t as good working on short rest in Game 4). Jose Altuve, who basically played last year’s ALCS on one leg, is healthy and mashing. He hit .350 in the series with three home runs, and now has 11 career home runs in the postseason, most ever by a second baseman. Career in the postseason: .278/.339/.536, 11 home runs, 28 runs and 25 RBIs in 37 games.

State of the rotation: Cole hasn’t lost since May 22, when he was 4-5 with a 4.11 ERA. Since then he’s gone 18-0 in 24 starts, with a 1.66 ERA and staggering 251 strikeouts in 162⅓ innings. He’s allowed more than two runs just once in his past 15 outings. Then you have Zack Greinke, who struggled in his Game 3 start against the Rays, giving up a couple of home runs on changeups up in the zone. He’ll be in line to start Game 1, and it seems like everyone is overreacting to one poor outing that came on 11 days of rest. This is still the guy who had a 2.93 ERA between the Diamondbacks and Astros and walked 30 batters in 33 starts. Verlander will be ready in Game 2, but we’re unlikely to see him on short rest again this season. The only concern is the No. 4 starter. Wade Miley fell apart in September, so that one probably lines up as a bullpen game with Jose Urquidy, Miley and Josh James in some order in the early innings.

Let’s talk about the bullpen: Everyone overlooks the Houston bullpen, but it actually had a lower ERA than the Yankees’ pen, and the top three were dominant:

Roberto Osuna: 2.63 ERA, .190 average, .555 OPS allowed

Will Harris: 1.50 ERA, .196 average, .540 OPS allowed

Ryan Pressly: 2.32 ERA, .188 average, .543 OPS allowed

Among relievers with at least 50 innings, this trio ranked fifth, seventh and 11th, respectively, in lowest OPS allowed. The Astros probably won’t need much more than those three, but sidearmer Joe Smith is tough on righties and James can light it up at 100 mph (he fanned 100 in 61⅓ innings). The only blip is that Osuna did struggle in Game 2, a 3-1 Houston victory, and had to be pulled for the final out after allowing two hits and two walks in two-thirds of an inning. Harris had to come in and get the final two outs.

Player to watch: It’s pretty hard to ignore Cole the way he’s pitching. If this series is as close as most everyone expects, we’ll get Cole taking the mound in Game 7 at Minute Maid Field, perhaps riding a 19-game winning streak and looking to pitch the Astros into the World Series. Yeah, I’ll sign up for that one.

Man on the spot: Greinke is the obvious choice, with the added pressure of trying to get the series off to get a good start. His career postseason ERA is 4.58 in 12 starts — hey, that’s worse than Clayton Kershaw. Here’s another guy: Josh Reddick is an awful hitter in the postseason, with a career line of .212/.274/.285 and three home runs in 165 at-bats. With the Astros the past three Octobers, he’s at .188/.248/.238. He struggles against velocity and you wonder if manager AJ Hinch will keep running him out there, play rookie Kyle Tucker or just play Jake Marisnick every day in center and George Springer in right, eliminating the Marisnick/Reddick platoon.

The final word: “We were tested and responded well,” Cole said after the hard-fought victory over the Rays. “Had to get hit in the face twice. I like the way we answered the bell. Looking forward to the next series.” The Yankees will be a tougher test than the Rays were, with a much better offense. The Astros are looking for a second title in three years, with three consecutive 100-win seasons. If they win the World Series, they’ll go down as one of the great teams of all time.

Why they’re No. 1: Do you want to bet against Cole and Verlander right now? Not to mention Greinke, the back of the bullpen, the offense, the defense, Altuve, Springer … heck, we haven’t even mentioned Alex Bregman, who might be the AL MVP. Astros in a sweep isn’t a crazy notion.

No. 2: Washington Nationals

What worked in the National League Division Series: Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer allowed five runs in 20 innings and struck out 27 batters. Anthony Rendon hit .412 with four extra-base hits. Juan Soto had a 1.020 OPS and two home runs, including the clutch blast off Clayton Kershaw that landed in the Hollywood Hills. In other words, the stars stepped up. Given that the Nationals are a team built around those stars, that’s a very good thing.

State of the rotation: The big three of Strasburg, Scherzer and Patrick Corbin went 43-20 with a 3.18 ERA in the regular season, but the starter for Game 1 will be … Anibal Sanchez. That’s because Scherzer and Strasburg started Games 4 and 5 in the NLDS, and Corbin threw 57 pitches in relief in Games 3 and 5. Sanchez is better than your average fourth starter, however, going 11-8 in the regular season with a 3.85 ERA. He allowed one run in five innings against the Dodgers with nine strikeouts. Still, this is a minor break for the Cardinals, as it sets up Sanchez for two starts in the series instead of Corbin.

Manager Dave Martinez was not ready to name the rest of his rotation, but presumably it would be something like this:

Game 1: Sanchez (four days’ rest)

Game 2: Scherzer (four days’ rest)

Game 3: Strasburg (four days’ rest)

Game 4: Corbin

And then back to Sanchez-Scherzer-Strasburg. Corbin could theoretically be available in relief for Game 1 and start Game 4 on three days’ rest. Or, given that after his Game 4 start, Scherzer said, “My arm is hanging right now,” maybe Corbin goes in Game 2 and Scherzer gets pushed back to Game 3. That would set up Strasburg for just one start, however.

Let’s talk about the bullpen: Yes, we have to. Obviously, Martinez used his starters in relief in both the wild-card game and NLDS. Corbin had one bad outing in Game 3, but Scherzer had a scoreless inning with three K’s in Game 2 and Corbin bounced back to go 1⅓ innings in Game 5 with three strikeouts. Again, the short nature of the division series makes it more imperative to win now, worry about tomorrow when it arrives. Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle showed they could be OK at the ends of games and Tanner Rainey and his 100 mph heater have probably leapfrogged Fernando Rodney and Hunter Strickland to become the No. 3 guy. (Strickland has now allowed nine home runs in 13 career postseason innings, so I think you’re more likely to see the Abraham Lincoln statue pitch in a key moment than Strickland.) As for Rainey, he throws hard but doesn’t always throw strikes.

The bottom line: As good as the starting rotation is, you’re going to need more than two relievers to get through a potential seven-game series. Hudson had two six-out saves in September, so that is a possibility, and Doolittle has looked much better since his stint on the injured list for a sore knee in August. Martinez could try and push his starters an extra out or three, but managers are very reluctant these days to do that in October — nobody wants to lose a game with a tiring starter in the seventh or eighth inning.

Player to watch: Juan Soto. Sticking to the young studs theme, Soto introduced himself to that world with his home run off Kershaw. He hit .282/.401/.548 as a 20-year-old, only the sixth 20-year-old since 1900 to post a .400 OBP and the first since Alex Rodriguez in 1996. The other four: Al Kaline, Ted Williams, Mel Ott and Jimmie Foxx. I suspect we’re going to see a lot of Andrew Miller-vs.-Soto matchups late in games.

Man on the spot: The obvious answer is Hudson and Doolittle, anchoring the bullpen that had the worst ERA ever for a playoff team. But here’s another pair: Trea Turner and Adam Eaton. If the table-setters get on base, then you can’t pitch around Rendon and Soto so easily or you force the Cardinals into a lot of one-batter matchups and burning through several relievers just to get past the two big boys. The Nationals’ lineup thins out a bit after the top five (assuming Howie Kendrick plays every day), so Turner and Eaton have to make this more than a two-man murderer’s row.

Final word: On Thursday, Ryan Zimmerman — Mr. National — had an interesting comment about Martinez: “I have had a lot of managers, obviously, and they all come into spring training and say they’re going to stay this way no matter what, we’re going to be here for you, it’s going to be us, we don’t care what anyone says. And then as soon as stuff goes bad, every manager has pretty much kind of thrown that out the window and sort of gone into self-preservation mode, where Davey, honestly, has stayed the same way. He’s positive every day, his energy, he always trusts his players and has his players’ backs. And I don’t think it’s been any different this year, even when we started as poorly as we did, he stayed the same.”

Zimmerman was alluding to the Nationals’ 19-31 record on May 23. Since then, they’ve matched the Astros and Dodgers for the best record in baseball. And they just beat the Dodgers. For four-plus months, they’ve been as good as any team, bullpen warts and all. They’re going to be tough to beat.

Why they’re No. 2: Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin and Sanchez. Call me old school: I still like a starting rotation that can go deep into games and dominate. Soto is a star and I think Hudson and Doolittle are good enough to close out the leads.

No. 3: New York Yankees

What worked in the ALDS: Pretty much everything as the Yankees outscored the Twins 23-7, holding the powerful Minnesota lineup that averaged 5.8 runs per game and set the single-season home run record to just four homers and a .218 batting average. The Twins failed to put up a crooked number in any inning in the three games. The bullpen allowed three runs in 13⅓ innings and enters the ALCS well rested.

The defense also played exceptionally. Aaron Judge showed why he’s a Gold Glove-caliber right fielder in a league that doesn’t include Mookie Betts (Judge was credited with 19 defensive runs saved in the regular season), Gleyber Torres made a couple of outstanding plays at second base and DJ LeMahieu provides second-base range at first base. The defensive metrics rated the Yankees as a slightly below average team during the regular season, but the eye test suggests the Yankees’ defense is another positive element.

State of the rotation: Aaron Boone, learning from last year’s ALDS when he left a couple of struggling starters in for a batter or two too long, had quick hooks this year:

James Paxton was pulled after 4⅔ innings with a 3-3 tie and 86 pitches;

Masahiro Tanaka left after five innings and 83 pitches even though the Yankees were up 1-0;

Luis Severino threw four shutout innings and left with a 2-0 lead.

Boone gave a blueprint on how he’ll handle his starters in the ALCS. He will not let games get away early like he did against the Red Sox in 2018. Because of the sweep of the Twins, however, the Yankees weren’t tested with their fourth starter. One potential option there is using Chad Green as the opener — something he did 15 times in the regular season — with J.A. Happ as the bulk guy. Paxton looked a little better than his three runs suggested, striking out eight. Severino waffled a bit with his command and efficiency (he threw 83 pitches in his four innings), but he’s showing the big-time stuff he had in 2018.

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MLB Playoffs Daily — What do Nationals, Cardinals have left in the tank?

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There was plenty of drama and thrills in both National League Division Series. Now we see what the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals have left in the tank as they meet with a trip to the World Series on the line.

What’s on tap

Friday’s schedule

8:08 p.m. ET: Nationals at Cardinals, Game 1

The most important thing of the day: The Cardinals and Nationals barely had a chance to catch their collective breath, but both teams are in the same boat. Neither side has its preferred pitching choice on the mound, but it sure beats sitting at home and both Game 1 starters have been better than you may think. St. Louis’ Miles Mikolas had a 2.81 ERA with 37 strikeouts and nine walks over his past seven starts plus one inning of relief in the NLDS, while Washington’s Anibal Sanchez had a 3.28 ERA over his last eight starts, including a solid five-inning start in Game 3 against the Dodgers.

The view from inside the ballpark

ST. LOUIS — After very different Game 5 experiences, the lead-up to Friday’s NLCS Game 1 was as much about catching up on sleep as gearing up for the opener after Washington’s late-night thriller in L.A., which the Cardinals watched from Atlanta while waiting to see where they were headed next. When things start up again Friday, it will be a cold, cold night in St. Louis as temperatures are expected to dip into the 30s for Game 1. — Dan Mullen

A stat to impress your friends: We’re guaranteed to see something new and fresh in the World Series as the only possible matchup that could be a repeat is Yankees-Cardinals, and they haven’t met for all the marbles since 1964.

Predictions

There’s something about cold October air in The Lou that makes it really hard to pick against the Cardinals. The biggest thing about Game 1 is that St. Louis isn’t facing one of the Nationals’ top three starters, and I fully expect the Cards to make the most of facing Anibal Sanchez and not Max Scherzer or Stephen Strasburg. Cardinals 5, Nationals 3 — Mullen

No, Anibal Sanchez isn’t Max Scherzer or Stephen Strasburg, but he’s a quality No. 4 starter and he’ll be good enough in the opener. Plus, the Juan Soto home run off Clayton Kershaw is just the beginning of a spectacular postseason for him. He hits two more in this game. Nationals 6, Cardinals 3 — David Schoenfield

About last night

Stud of the night: It’s got to be Gerrit Cole, who crushed the dreams of the underdog Rays to the tune of eight innings, two hits allowed, 10 strikeouts and one trip to the American League Championship Series secured.

Dud of the night: Rays starter Tyler Glasnow gave up hits to the first four batters he faced, and by then the Astros had all the runs they would need.

Highlight of the night:

play

0:54

Gerrit Cole’s 10 strikeouts against the Rays in Game 5 mark the 11th straight game with 10-plus K’s, which sets an MLB record.

Off the diamond

Social media says:

Quotes of note: “I don’t think you have to look any further than this city to see how big of an impact you can make. We see guys come in, particularly David Freese, gosh, playing against the Dodgers this year. The reception for what he did in the postseason here, you can turn yourself into a legend in a place like this.” — Cardinals reliever Andrew Miller on playing in October

Best of the playoffs so far …

Our running postseason MVP: There are a lot of ways to break down the dominance of Astros starter Gerrit Cole so far — a 0.57 ERA and 0.57 WHIP, 25 strikeouts, 3 walks, 6 hits allowed over 15⅔ innings, including eight stifling innings in Game 5 against the Rays. Then there’s this: Cole joins Mike Mussina in the 1997 ALCS as the only pitchers with at least 25 strikeouts and one or fewer runs allowed in a single series in postseason history.



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Dominant Gerrit Cole again too much for Rays as Astros reach ALCS

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HOUSTON — This was exactly the way Astros manager AJ Hinch scripted it.

Houston ace Gerrit Cole dominated the upstart Tampa Bay Rays for the second time during the American League Division Series as the Astros beat the Rays 6-1 at Minute Maid Park on Friday, winning the best-of-five series 3-2. It was not easy.

“I’m exhausted after this series against Tampa,” Hinch said. “We’ve got high emotions today. We played an incredibly intense game.”

No one was more intense than Cole.

Cole went eight innings, holding the Rays to two hits and one run — a solo homer by Eric Sogard — and struck out 10. It continued a historic run by the big right-hander who, along with teammate Justin Verlander, is viewed as a leading contender for this season’s AL Cy Young Award.

Cole held the Rays scoreless over 7⅔ innings in a Game 2 Astros win. His 15 strikeouts in that outing were just two shy of Bob Gibson’s record for a postseason game. His 25 strikeouts overall in the series broke the record for the division series round, breaking the mark of 22 held by Verlander and Stephen Strasburg. Gibson (27) is the only postseason pitcher to strike out more hitters in consecutive outings.

Basically, Cole just never allowed a momentum-based Rays offense to get started while he was on the hill.

“The frustrating part is Gerrit Cole is on the mound on the other side and the run he’s been on is second to none,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “That presents its own challenges.”

Houston moves on to play the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. Game 1 is Saturday night at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros jumped on Tampa Bay starter Tyler Glasnow quickly, collecting five hits and four runs from their first six hitters of the game. Jose Altuve drove in the first run with a single to right, followed by a two-run double from Alex Bregman. Yuli Gurriel drove in the fourth run with a single.

That was plenty of offense with Cole on the mound, who departed after striking out Ji-Man Choi with his 107th pitch of the night to end the eighth.

“I was feeling good,” Cole said. “I wasn’t thinking about going the distance. I was pretty locked in. It was one pitch at a time.”

Cole still has not lost a game since May 22, a streak of 24 straight starts without a loss, during which he has gone 18-0 with a 1.66 ERA and 251 strikeouts, including his two playoff outings.

When Cole retired the Rays in order in the third on a grounder and two fly balls, it marked the first time since Aug. 1 that he had not struck out at least one batter in an inning, a stretch of 73 straight innings. According to Elias Sports Bureau research, it’s the longest such streak during the expansion era (since 1961), and second place isn’t even close: Pedro Martinez is next on the list with a 40-inning streak in 1999.

“We were tested and responded well,” Cole said. “Had to get hit in the face twice. I like the way we answered the bell. Looking forward to the next series.”

It was a good thing for Houston that Cole was once again on his game, because after Glasnow’s early struggles, the run-stingy Rays locked down the Houston offense, just as they had done for much of the series. Beginning with Glasnow, the Rays set down 13 straight Houston hitters.

The Astros didn’t collect another hit until a bloop single from Josh Reddick in the seventh. Houston didn’t encounter a Rays reliever it could do damage against until the following inning, when Michael Brantley and Altuve hit back-to-back home runs off Emilio Pagan to provide the final margin.

“The Rays pitching staff was unbelievable to face,” Bregman said. “I think the only time the ball looked that small was opening weekend of the year when we faced them. So they were really, really good. It was a really good test.”

Still, while Hinch might have liked to see more runs tacked on through the game, the beginning of the contest was what he hoped for. After the Rays got to Houston’s starters early in two Tampa Bay wins at Tropicana Field, Hinch called the Rays a “momentum” team. After Game 3, when asked how much of a boost it would be to get a quick lead in Game 4, Hinch said, “Playing with the lead in an elimination game on either side of the elimination is huge.”

The Astros ended up playing with the lead for the entire game.

“We feel we are at our best when we got Gerrit Cole on the mound and in control of the game,” Hinch said.

Everyone on the Astros, from Cole to AL MVP candidate Bregman to Hinch, went out of their way to congratulate a Rays team that they very much see as equals. Cash said he was understandably proud of his club, which in many respects outplayed the Astros for much of the series. In the end, though, the Astros had Cole and Verlander, and the Rays didn’t.

“I think that’s fair,” Cash said. “That’s a lot of it. Yes, that’s a lot of it. We caught JV and then Gerrit twice. I mean, elite pitching like that can really quiet good offense. And we have a good offense. They played their part.”

After a tough five games, the Astros have a quick turnaround to the next round. The Yankees will arrive on Friday and work out on the field at Minute Maid, several days after wrapping up their three-game sweep of Minnesota in their ALDS series. They are talented and rested, and they’ve spent the past few days watching the Astros battle Tampa Bay.

Nonetheless, the Astros are where they felt they were headed all along: one series win away from their second AL pennant in three seasons.

“They’ll come well prepared,” Hinch said. “They’re healthy, and it’s a quick turnaround. But sometimes I think there’s too much gaps in these games. I want to play as many games as fast as we can. When there’s any dead time during the playoffs, you get anxious.

“I’ll play them tomorrow if they want to play.”

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