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Do nothing, Ned: Yost does most when he doesn’t do anything at all

Aug
29

During MLB’s Sunday Night Baseball showcase, Royals manager Ned Yost put his inability to simply sit still on full display, until finally his hands were tied.

Every one of those thoughts should have been suppressed, because they all lead to justifications for the wrong answer. Either Mondesi is a professional baseball player, or he’s not. If his true talent level is that of a sub-Mendoza Line hitter, then the Royals are guilty of terrible lineup construction for a crucial game, and that falls on the manager as well (and perhaps the front office). Further, the primary reason it’s proper to sacrifice pitchers isn’t because they have poor batting averages or because they strike out a lot, it’s because they are a huge threat to ground into a double play. That’s the downside of swinging away with runners on first and second and nobody out. Mondesi has blazing speed. In 101 career plate appearances, he’s grounded into one double play. (A deep dive into the invaluable Baseball-Reference.com reveals that Mondesi has batted with a runner on first and fewer than two outs 22 times. His double play rate of 4.6 percent in that situation is way below the 2016 league average of 11.1 percent.)

Why they’ll flourish: A year after becoming the first team ever to score 12 million runs in a season (give or take), the Blue Jays’ offense is still pretty darned good (4.9 runs per game, second in the American League). But it’s their surprising starters that have been the difference-maker this season. Led by Cy Young contender J.A. Happ, Toronto’s starting five six boasts a 3.76 ERA, the best in the American League by a bunch. In fact, no other rotation has an ERA below four.

Why they’ll flounder: The Jays and Red Sox are practically twins. Both feature stacked offenses and solid rotations. Both have bullpen issues. Both have square-jawed 54-year-old skippers named John. So it could come down to the little things — such as schedules. Aside from 13 games against the Yanks and Rays (Boston and Baltimore have that too), Toronto gets a seven-game West Coast swing featuring the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels, two teams that they’re a combined 2-4 against this season. The Red Sox head West too but get the gift that is the Oakland Athletics and San Diego Padres, while the O’s host the Arizona Diamondbacks and visit the Detroit Tigers. Disadvantage, Blue Jays.

X factor: Jose Bautista has been banged up. Michael Saunders has cooled off. And since being acquired in a deadline deal, the artist formerly known as B.J. Upton has been, well, the artist formerly known as B.J. Upton. In other words, the outfield situation is less solid than dried ice. If Joey Bats can stay healthy and get back to doing Joey Bats things, it’ll go a long way toward helping the Jays become the first AL East team to make back-to-back postseasons since the Yankees in 2011 and 2012.

Rangers hope taking chance on Carlos Gomez pays off

Aug
26

ARLINGTON, Texas — Carlos Gomez, the former All-Star who was released earlier this month by the Houston Astros, stepped into the batter’s box as a member of the Texas Rangers for the first time Thursday night.

Whenever the Rangers add a player who could disrupt the chemistry they’ve worked so hard to create, the club spends considerable time vetting the player. The Rangers speak to former managers, teammates, trainers and scouts. Not everyone survives the process, but we usually don’t hear about those players.

“You want an accountability and contrition,” Daniels said. “We’ve tried to stay away from guys who don’t own their past.

“If you own it, acknowledge it and you’re making changes, that’s a different deal than if you’re indignant and saying, ‘I didn’t do anything.'”

Before the Rangers added Gomez, they spoke to players in their own clubhouse such as Jonathan Lucroy and Jeffress, who played with Gomez when he was an All-Star in Milwaukee.

And they spoke with Carlos Beltran, who has mentored Gomez throughout his career.

“He’s very loved by his teammates,” said Young, “but he’s a very emotional player, and in baseball the emotional guys tend to grind on other teams. Everything we got back, we had just fantastic reports.”

When Gomez attempted to bunt for a hit in his second at-bat Thursday, it was Beltran who gently chastised him.

“Carlos Beltran is a guy who has taken care of me in my career,” Gomez said. “He been straight with me. We always keep in touch. I love Carlos. He my second dad.”

The Rangers believe Gomez will fit because they won’t rein in his personality. Banister has never wanted a club full of robots.

“Are there things in his game that can be frustrating?” Banister asked. “Yes, he’s not unlike any other player. This is not a perfect game. ”

But it was a perfect start for Gomez.

Bruce Bochy was pacing a rut in the dugout. Moore had thrown 24 pitches in the eighth inning, which brought him to 119 for the game. His career high was 120, back in 2013, before he had Tommy John surgery. In this era of carefully monitored pitch counts, no starter had thrown more than 125 pitches in a game this season. But Moore went out there with a 4-0 lead trying to pitch the 19th no-hitter in Giants history and the team’s fifth in five seasons. Kike Hernandez lined out to center field, with Denard Span making a sweet diving catch. Then Howie Kendrick grounded out to third.

Pitch No. 131 to Corey Seager was a curveball low for a ball. Pitch No. 132 was another curve, a swing-and-miss. Pitch No. 133 was a 94 mph fastball in on Seager’s hands, a good pitch … he swung … and blooped a single to right field.

“It seems almost unfair,” said the great Scully, who nearly saw the 21st no-hitter of his career.

That was it for Moore. Santiago Casilla threw one pitch to close it out.

Just another night in the Giants-Dodgers rivalry. The Giants are two games back in the NL West. We have six more games between the teams before the end of the regular season. The season concludes with the Dodgers playing at the Giants — in case you want to mark your calendar.

Bryant’s learning curve is off the charts. In discussions with his youth coaches, his ability to make adjustments at a young age constantly comes up. He has carried that through college and the minors right into the big leagues.

The talent is there — no question — but there are many talented players about whom you would stop short of making such grand Hall of Fame pronouncements. It’s about much more than talent when it comes to Bryant: It’s a focus on the game — not the opponent, not the standings, not the money or fame — that sets him apart and sets him up for greatness.

“Kris is an animal with his process,” Bryant’s college coach, Rich Hill, said earlier this week. “The attachment of an award or numbers doesn’t enter into his brain. He has a laser-like process and focus every day that he doesn’t know he’s playing at Wrigley Field or he’s an MVP candidate or 40,000 are cheering. He’s just locked into the game.”

Bryant is like a robot, one that can learn and adjust but plays and thinks without emotion. That’s not to say he doesn’t have a passion for baseball, but no amount of adversity sets him back. It’s always about learning and improving for that next at-bat. He embraces the struggle like few athletes around him.

“I always told him when he was younger, when you’re 4-for-4, you have to take the same kind of approach when you’re 0-for-4,” his dad, Mike Bryant, said. “If you have the same consistent mental approach to the game, the physical part will follow.”

The elder Bryant, a youth hitting coach, said he started to instill that in his son at “9 or 10 years old.”

“I always thought Kris was far and away ahead of everyone else, mentally,” he said.

Jake Arrieta stakes his claim for Cy Young

Aug
24

SAN DIEGO — Hold everything.

“Learning lessons from last year I didn’t want him to go 110, 115 pitches,” Maddon said. “He understood that.”

He may have understood it but it may have also taken a quick conversation to convince him he was done after only 99.

“I was mad at Joe for taking me out,” Arrieta said. “At the same time he came over to me and said, ‘Remember last year, let’s conserve some things for October, end of September.’ That’s our game plan.”

If you fault Maddon for pulling him then you better keep quiet if Arrieta hits a wall as he did last year in the National League Championship Series. And remember the Cubs want to play one round longer. Saving pitches has been a year-long exercise. Why wouldn’t they pull Arrieta with a five-run lead in the game and a double-digit lead in the division?

“Could I have finished the game?” Arrieta asked. “Yes. But does it play in our favor to maybe conserve that for later?

“Joe is a really smart guy. He knows what he’s doing. I feel like he makes the right moves in the right situations. That’s why we’ve been playing as well as we have.”

The rotation has been doing it all season long. In terms of that batting average against, Arrieta isn’t the only starter giving up very little contact. In fact the Cubs starting staff is approaching historic numbers in that the opposition is hitting only .213 overall against them. For comparison, the Los Angeles Dodgers are second in the league but trail the Cubs by 20 points. According to research by ESPN Stats & Information, it would be the second lowest batting average against for a starting rotation since 1920, eclipsed only by the 1968 Cleveland Indians. And Arrieta is at the head of the pack. It gives hope for a repeat personal honor and the team a chance at something special this October. So Maddon says forget the near ninth-inning meltdown — the bullpen gave up three runs — Tuesday was about Arrieta.

“Subtract the drama, Jake was outstanding,” Maddon stated.

Making his third straight start after pitching most of July out of the bullpen, Buchholz gave up only one run, five hits and two walks in 6 1/3 innings. The innings output was his highest since early May. He struck out a season-high nine batters using a four-pitch medley led by a surprisingly vibrant fastball.

Regardless of how well he has pitched, with Steven Wright set to return Friday after throwing 55 pitches off the mound in a bullpen session, and Eduardo Rodriguez pitching three innings of a simulated game with no limitations, Buchholz might find himself once again without a spot in the rotation as the club does not plan to expand to six starters. After the game, Buchholz said he wanted to make the decision a “hard one” for Farrell.

Rookie Andrew Benintendi, who dazzled Red Sox Nation with his home run-robbing catch Monday night, set the tone with his bat in this one. With runs at a premium, Benintendi recorded his eighth multihit game in just his 18th career start. He opened the scoring in the third inning, racing home on an RBI single from David Ortiz.

A night after catching Hank Aaron on MLB’s all-time doubles list, Ortiz’s hit marked his 2,043th with the Red Sox, moving him past Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr for sixth on the franchise’s all-time hit list. Ortiz would come around for the Red Sox’s second run after a single by Mookie Betts and an error by right fielder Steven Souza allowed the 40-year-old to score from first base.

Once again, Boston received a tremendous defensive play made by an outfielder in the eighth inning. This time it was Betts, who threw out Kevin Kiermaier trying to stretch a double into a triple. Instead of the tying run just 90 feet away, Betts’ 10th assist of the season marked the second out of the inning.

Nick Franklin exits after two innings, goes on 7-day concussion DL

Aug
19

Kiermaier smacked the back of Franklin’s head with a bat when Franklin bent to grab some pine tar in the on-deck circle before leading off the first inning Wednesday against San Diego. Kiermaier was stretching a few feet in front of Franklin, swinging the bat over his head with one arm. Franklin was wearing a helmet.

Franklin drew a walk and scored in the first inning Wednesday before leaving with a head bruise. He passed concussion tests Wednesday and Friday.

Tampa Bay had a day off Thursday.

CINCINNATI — Michael Lorenzen could barely make it to the plate after recording the third out of his first inning following the death of his father.

Once he got there, he made it count. The Cincinnati reliever hit a three-run homer to cap the Reds’ 9-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night.

“Even after the third out of my first inning, I needed to go back into the bathroom because I broke down,” said Lorenzen, activated from the bereavement list before the game. “There were some teammates who helped me out, and I was able to go out and hit.”

Joey Votto also hit a three-run homer as the Reds snapped a nine-game losing streak against the Dodgers.

Tim Adleman pitched into and out of trouble in his first start since May 19 and added his first career hit and runs batted in as the Reds matched their season high with a fourth consecutive win and first against the Dodgers since Aug 13, 2015.

Los Angeles hit four balls to the outfield wall, but three were caught for outs in Adleman’s five scoreless innings. Adleman (2-1), who was sidelined because of a strained left oblique, gave up five hits with two walks and three strikeouts. He also hit Joc Pederson twice with pitches.

The Dodgers were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position against Adleman, leaving runners on third four times.

“That was tough,” he said. “We were sitting pretty good. That went from feeling pretty good to feeling rotten pretty quick.”

Mike Napoli hit an RBI single in the sixth for Cleveland.

Toronto played without third baseman Josh Donaldson (jammed right thumb) and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (sore calf).

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Tampa Bay Rays utility man Nick Franklin has been placed on the seven-day concussion list after briefly playing in Friday night’s 6-2 loss to the Texas Rangers.

Commissioner also discusses Ichiro’s milestone, A-Rod, pace of play

Aug
09

Additionally, Manfred addressed a series of recent happenings in the game, including Ichiro’s milestone. Ichiro became the 30th player to reach 3,000 hits on Sunday afternoon in Colorado, and he is the first MLB player to debut after age 25 and reach the milestone.

“Ichiro’s accomplishments speak for themselves,” Manfred said. “To have the sort of career that he had in Japan and then come here and get 3,000 hits, it’s just unbelievable. He is a class individual and a real tribute to the game.”

Regarding the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez possibly playing his final game on Friday, before he becomes a special advisor to the team, Manfred lauded Rodriguez’s efforts since returning from his full-season suspension in 2014.

“Alex has worked very hard since he came back from the suspension to do the right thing,” Manfred said. “I think that he found a way to go out on his own terms with the Yankees being fully supportive, and that’s a good thing.”

Earlier this season, finding compelling division races was challenging. More than half the division leaders had double-digit advantages over the next-closest team, and it was starting to look like the focus may shift exclusively to the Wild Card races.

Times have changed. Only the Cubs have a lead of more than 10 games, and in three divisions — the American League East, AL Central and National League West — the second-place team is within two games of the leader.
September is still a ways away, but it isn’t too early to predict that the race to the finish line is likely to be highly entertaining (and, for fans of a dozen or more teams, highly nerve-racking).

On to this week’s Power Rankings…

Biggest jump: The Tigers climbed four spots, from 12 to eight. This isn’t solely due to the return of J.D. Martinez from the disabled list, but let’s not downplay the importance of the outfielder’s return to the lineup. Martinez hit a pinch-hit home run off Chris Sale in his first at-bat back, and then three days later, sealed a 6-5 win over the Mets with a laser throw to the plate to prevent the tying run from scoring. Meanwhile, the Tigers have won 10 of their past 12 games and enter the week only two games behind Cleveland.

Biggest drop: Speaking of the Indians, they dropped four spots, from two to six. They were 2-5 last week, losing three of four to the Twins and two of three to the Yankees. In their past 2 1/2 weeks, the only bright spot was a three-game sweep over the A’s at the end of July. As a result, the AL Central is now a two-team race, with the Tigers trending way up.

Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas wants to show ‘what I’m really about’

Aug
06

That meant Thomas got a late start learning Gary Kubiak’s offense. Thomas didn’t look comfortable until deep into the season, and that combined with the drops and two big hits — one by Vikings safety Harrison Smith in Week 4 and one by Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly in the Super Bowl — made for a trying campaign.

“[Thomas] did a lot of good things for us,” Kubiak said. “But he would say, and has said, he has some things he wants to take care of, and I watch him in this camp and I believe he’s done that. He looks good. We want to get the ball into the hands of our playmakers, and he’s certainly one of our best playmakers.”

Peyton Manning consistently said, “There just aren’t very many people in the world who can do what Demaryius Thomas can do, who are built like that, can run like that and play like that.”

Which is why, with Thomas now an elder statesman as the longest tenured position player with the Broncos entering his seventh season, most in and around the team see him poised for big things in the coming season.

Thomas heeded the advice of former alpha players for the Broncos such as Champ Bailey, Brian Dawkins and Manning, and paid more attention to his diet and offseason training. He said he arrived to camp this year at 222 pounds — “the lowest I think I’ve been” — and intends to stay at that weight instead of adding a few pounds as the season wears on, as he has done in years past.

“Your body is the top priority, that’s what I’ve learned,” Thomas said. “There are guys who take better care of their cars than their bodies.”

After his first two years in the league, which included a fractured foot, a torn Achilles and a fractured hand, Thomas has started every game the last four years. And the frustrated guy, fighting another injury, who once stood in front of his locker in 2011 and said, “I was a little afraid of being a bust when I got hurt so much” is intent on lifting his game again.

“I don’t think I’ve hit my peak yet, I’ve got a lot of football left in me,” Thomas said. “I’ve been here seven years. It’s time for me to step up and be the leader I can be, I’m not going to be a leader like Peyton because there’s nobody like Peyton. But I can be a leader on the field, make sure everybody is doing the right thing, and I can be the player I know I can be.”

Tony Dungy, head coach
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1996-2001
Indianapolis Colts, 2002-2008

Greatest moment

Feb. 4, 2007. That’s the night Dungy led the Colts to a 29-17 win against the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI. It wasn’t just the first championship for the Colts since the franchise moved to Indianapolis before the 1984 season. It wasn’t just the first Super Bowl win of Peyton Manning’s career. It marked the first time an African-American head coach brought his team to the NFL mountaintop. (The Bears’ head coach at the time was Lovie Smith, so history was going to be made that day either way.)

The case could be made, however, that Dungy’s finest moment was two weeks earlier. Hosting the AFC championship game against the New England Patriots, the team that had knocked the Colts out of the playoffs after the 2003 and 2004 seasons, the Colts were down 21-3 with over nine minutes still remaining in the first half and were able to pull off a 38-34 win by putting the clamps on a suspect offense that really had only Tom Brady going for it. After taking the lead for the first time all game with a minute remaining, Marlon Jackson intercepted Brady, sealing one of the greatest comebacks in league history.

Impact on the game

Dungy proved that an NFL head coach doesn’t have to be a cursing, unbending disciplinarian to have his players follow him and for a team to enjoy success. Dungy does not swear, rarely, if ever, shouted, and is a man of great faith. He always wanted to make his players better, of course, but he also was committed to making them better men.

A big part of his approach came from his days as a player with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he was a defensive back for two years (1977-78).

“I picked that up my first year in Pittsburgh,” Dungy said during a recent conference call. “Coach [Chuck] Noll was so tremendous in that regard, talking about your life and not just football. Yes, we wanted to accomplish some things, but you had to get ready for life, you had to figure out what you were going to be all about as a person.

“Also, [team owner] Mr. Rooney, Art Rooney Sr., when the rookies would make the team he would sit down and talk to you about your responsibilities and what it meant to be a Steeler and the fact that you were not only representing Pittsburgh and the National Football League, but the team itself, the Steelers, and you had to do it the right way. And that always stuck with me.”

Rockies SS Story out with torn ligament in thumb

Aug
03

Story was having a record year. He set an NL record for homers by a rookie shortstop with a league-leading 27, breaking the record held by Troy Tulowitzki, who hit 24 in 2007 and helped the Rockies reach their only World Series.

Story is batting .272 with 72 RBIs and was on pace to surpass the major league record for homers by a rookie shortstop. Nomar Garciaparra set the mark with 30 for Boston in 1997.

He hit two home runs in his major league debut on opening day, the first NL player to accomplish the feat, and was named the NL Rookie of the Month for April after connecting 10 times.

Story’s ascension made last year’s trade of Tulowitzki, his mentor, easier to absorb. Colorado’s 12-5 burst out of the All-Star break has helped, too.

”I feel terrible that I won’t be able to play every day,” he said. ”I mean a lot to the team and to not be out there is difficult.”

General manager Jeff Bridich said the focus is on getting Colorado’s 23-year-old shortstop healthy.

”For Trevor, it’s making sure it’s a successful surgery and taking it day by day with the rehab,” he said. ”It’s a tough blow for the kid and I feel terrible for him. He was having a great year.”

Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s decision to lift a dominant Jason Hammel for a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning looked dubious when Miguel Montero struck out and Pedro Strop got into trouble in the seventh.

All it took was a big play in the outfield and some 104 mph heat from Aroldis Chapman to give Maddon and the Cubs another win.

Hammel threw six scoreless innings, Dexter Fowler had three hits and Chicago beat Miami ace Jose Fernandez and the Marlins 3-2 on Tuesday night for its third straight victory.

”Today I was a one-pitch pitcher,” said Hammel, who allowed four hits and set a career high for wins in a season. ”I didn’t really have a feel for any of the breaking pitches, curveball and the slider, and I didn’t throw any changeups. The fastball played well today.”

Hammel (11-5) extended Chicago’s scoreless streak to 24 innings before Strop’s shaky seventh. Aroldis Chapman hit 104.4 mph on the radar gun in a perfect ninth as the Cubs won for the sixth time in seven games and opened a nine-game lead over St. Louis in the NL Central.

”We’re playing really good baseball,” Maddon said.

Hammel threw 80 pitches before being lifted for a pinch-hitter with the Cubs up 3-0, a move Maddon calls a ”National League moment.” But Montero struck out with two on.

”We took a shot, it didn’t play,” Maddon said.