Edwin Encarnacion Injury: Updates on Star’s Recovery from Sports Hernia Surgery

As a long offseason begins for the Toronto Blue Jays, star slugger Edwin Encarnacion will be on the shelf for a period of time due to a sports hernia.   

Continue for updates. 


Encarnacion Undergoes Surgery

Tuesday, Oct. 27

According to Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca, Encarnacion had surgery to fix the sports hernia Tuesday and "will be fine" when the Blue Jays open spring training in February. 

Encarnacion also offered an Instagram update on the procedure:

Encarnacion has a $10 million team option for 2016 that is almost certain to be picked up. There's no logical reason it wouldn't be, as the 32-year-old is a bargain at that price after posting an OPS over .900 each of the last four seasons. 

The postseason was a struggle for Encarnacion, which may be explained in part by the sports hernia. He had just three extra-base hits in 11 games, including none in the first five games of the American League Championship Series against the Kansas City Royals.

Despite losing in the ALCS, the Blue Jays are set up to be playoff contenders again in 2016 with a potent lineup that features Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki.

Encarnacion has more than three months to recover from his sports hernia surgery before spring training starts, so there's no reason to think he won't return next season ready to post another 30-homer, 100-RBI campaign. 

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Matt Klentak Reportedly to Be Named Phillies General Manager

The Philadelphia Phillies' search for a new general manager is reportedly over, as the team is expected to hire Matt Klentak. 

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported Klentak's hiring. ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick confirmed the move. 

The Phillies were in the market for a general manager after announcing Sept. 10 they would not be renewing the contract of Ruben Amaro Jr., who had been in charge since November 2008.

Andy MacPhail, who is entering his first offseason with the Phillies as president of baseball operations, said when the search for a new general manager started the organization wanted to cast a big net to ensure it brought in the best person for the job, per Jack McCaffery of the Delaware County Daily Times:

I would think it would be a mistake if we pigeon-hole ourselves into saying, "We're going to go for young analytics," or "We're going to go for an experienced baseball guy." I see that out there with other clubs. Why would you restrict your ability to talk to whoever you want? I think you have a responsibility, like I said two months ago, to look at everything.

Klentak previously worked with MacPhail in Baltimore. He spent the past four seasons as assistant general manager with the Los Angeles Angels under Jerry Dipoto, even interviewing for their GM vacancy after Dipoto resigned in July. 

A new era of Phillies baseball has arrived, with many reasons to be optimistic despite a 63-99 record in 2015. They were able to integrate young, promising talent like Aaron Nola and Maikel Franco into the big leagues this season. 

There should be more high-upside talent on the way, led by shortstop J.P. Crawford, and a front office led by MacPhail and Klentak that can shape the roster in its image with the winter meetings approaching in December. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Matt Klentak Reportedly to Be Named Phillies General Manager

The Philadelphia Phillies' search for a new general manager is reportedly over, as the team is expected to hire Matt Klentak. 

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported Klentak's hiring. ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick confirmed the move. 

The Phillies were in the market for a general manager after announcing Sept. 10 they would not be renewing the contract of Ruben Amaro Jr., who had been in charge since November 2008.

Andy MacPhail, who is entering his first offseason with the Phillies as president of baseball operations, said when the search for a new general manager started the organization wanted to cast a big net to ensure it brought in the best person for the job, per Jack McCaffery of the Delaware County Daily Times:

I would think it would be a mistake if we pigeon-hole ourselves into saying, "We're going to go for young analytics," or "We're going to go for an experienced baseball guy." I see that out there with other clubs. Why would you restrict your ability to talk to whoever you want? I think you have a responsibility, like I said two months ago, to look at everything.

Klentak previously worked with MacPhail in Baltimore. He spent the past four seasons as assistant general manager with the Los Angeles Angels under Jerry Dipoto, even interviewing for their GM vacancy after Dipoto resigned in July. 

A new era of Phillies baseball has arrived, with many reasons to be optimistic despite a 63-99 record in 2015. They were able to integrate young, promising talent like Aaron Nola and Maikel Franco into the big leagues this season. 

There should be more high-upside talent on the way, led by shortstop J.P. Crawford, and a front office led by MacPhail and Klentak that can shape the roster in its image with the winter meetings approaching in December. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

World Series 2015 Schedule: TV, Live Stream Coverage for Fall Classic

The New York Mets and Kansas City Royals took very different paths this season, but both franchises have reached the pinnacle of baseball with an opportunity to win the 2015 World Series starting on Tuesday from Kauffman Stadium. 

New York's run through the National League didn't really start until the midseason acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes and promotion of outfielder Michael Conforto to bolster the lineup. Daniel Murphy's off-the-charts October has also been a key component—as has dominant pitching by three of the four starters. 

Kansas City followed its run to the World Series last year by virtually having the American League's best record from the first day of the season. The Royals' combination of speed, contact and dominance in the bullpen is a formula no other team has been able to replicate. 

 

World Series Schedule

 

What They Are Saying

Even though pitching matchups have yet to be officially announced, the Mets rotation should be set up as it was during the division series against Los Angeles by virtue of having five days off after sweeping Chicago out of the postseason. 

ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted out the rotation Mets manager Terry Collins is expected to use:

This is a World Series of strength against strength, as the Mets rotation features arguably the best collection of power arms, per Daren Willman of MLBFarm.com:

That trio has started eight games this postseason, covering 45.2 innings, and have allowed 34 hits, three home runs and 12 earned runs with 63 strikeouts and 15 walks. 

Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen told Jennifer Langosch of MLB.com that the dominance of his rotation is not a surprise after seeing these young players groomed for the big stage. 

"For the last two or three years, watching these guys, knowing what was going to happen, there has really been a lot of enjoyment," Warthen said. "The incredible part of this is that we have grown together."

Experience is one thing that gets talked about a lot in October, with no real basis in fact. The Mets' quartet of starting pitchers are all aged 27 or younger and had never been to the postseason. 

Last year, the Royals weren't loaded with playoff-tested veterans who knew what the October stage was all about. Both teams have just been playing great baseball at the right time. 

Countering the Mets' velocity-rich pitching staff is Kansas City's lineup, which is a nightmare to strike out. The Royals have been the only team to be punched out less than 1,000 times each of the past two seasons.

The most underrated element of Kansas City's offense is speed, which was on display in its Game 6 win over Toronto to seal the American League pennant, via MLB.com:

The Royals are so difficult to put away, as Houston and Toronto already found out this postseason, because they have perfected the art of stringing together hits, which manager Ned Yost touched on after the ALCS, per Gregor Chisholm and Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com. 

"Our players, they had such a great season, they would never quit, they continued to battle, even when the chips were down a little bit," Yost said. "And it enabled me to put on this new hat here today that has World Series on it, and I'll see you guys on Tuesday."

Kansas City was six outs away from being eliminated by Houston in Game 4 of the division series before six consecutive batters reached base in a five-run eighth inning to keep hope alive. 

One reason the Royals are able to fight back is Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis are money in the late innings. 

Yost knows he can depend on that duo, as well as Luke Hochevar, that he doesn't need his starting pitchers to go deep into games. Edinson Volquez was the only starter in the ALCS who pitched at least six innings, for example. 

There are times when Yost's insistence on sticking to set roles with his relievers, with Herrera only in the seventh and Davis only in the ninth, hurts the Royals.

There was no reason to take Herrera out after the seventh for Ryan Madson in the eighth, but Yost made the decision, and Jose Bautista tied the game with a two-run homer. Davis should have come in to face Bautista, if not Josh Donaldson before him, especially since the right-hander hadn't pitched since Game 2.

Lorenzo Cain's dash from first to home bailed Yost out, but his bullpen management in the World Series will have to be better if the Royals want to win a championship. 

Normal baseball logic says that a deeper starting rotation will lead to success, but the Royals have defied the odds all year with a starting rotation that got a combined 75 starts from Volquez, Jeremy Guthrie and Chris Young during the regular season. 

Yet Kansas City has proved it is anything but a normal team, capable of winning games with speed or defense or dominant relief pitching, that the starters don't have to be very good.

The Royals have avoided long slumps virtually all year and are going to finish what they started last season with the franchise's first championship since 1985. 

 

Stats via Baseball-Reference.com.

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MLB Free Agents 2016: Predicting Destinations for Most Coveted Stars

Starting pitching doesn't dominate MLB's free-agency storylines every year.

But that will be the case this winter.

Plenty of big-name pitchers will be commanding top-dollar offers from teams around the league. With that, the landscape in both the American League and National League could change, and teams could put themselves in prime position to contend next October.

Free agency will begin Nov. 9, but it's never too early to speculate about where some of baseball's biggest names will end up. Here are some early predictions.

 

Zack Greinke, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers

It wasn't expected, but Zack Greinke's reported plans to opt out of his contract, per CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, have begun a journey of uncertainty for the Dodgers. The NL Cy Young candidate is leaving $71 million on the table in Los Angeles to go after a bigger contract and a better chance to win a World Series ring.

The right-handed hurler turned 32 years old Oct. 21, ensuring this will be his last big-time payday. He's coming off a season in which he posted the lowest ERA in baseball (1.66) and could become the highest-paid free agent in the winter.

Heyman noted that the Dodgers are still favorites to sign Greinke, but other teams will be in play.

Two years ago, he turned down an offer from the Texas Rangers that was slightly lower than the $147 million the Dodgers offered him.

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels will get a second chance to sign his guy, and he'll pull it off this time.

Texas already boasts a quality one-two punch atop its rotation with Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish. The Rangers also made the playoffs this year, when they had no business doing so. A quality cast around him, plus a chance to get paid and win a championship, will entice Greinke to come to Texas.

 

David Price, SP, Toronto Blue Jays 

David Price has been nothing short of a blessing for Toronto since coming over from Detroit at the trade deadline.

The Blue Jays had the power. They had the offense. Days before acquiring Price, they traded for Troy Tulowitzki, and their offense became more unstoppable. All that was left was an ace, and they got it in Price.

There will be questions, however, about how valuable Price can be while pitching for a contender in the postseason, as ESPN Stats & Info showed us:

If Greinke isn't the highest-paid free agent this year, Price will be. Although he has yet to win a playoff game in his career, he possesses a powerful cannon for a left arm and can win 20 games per season. That alone should be why Price stays in Toronto.

Albeit winless in the postseason, Price is the reason why Toronto has gotten as far as it has in October. The Blue Jays had been searching for a starting pitcher who could go 18-5 and throw 225 strikeouts for a long time. Toronto can build its rotation around Price and Marcus Stroman for the next five years and rule the AL East for the foreseeable future.

 

Jordan Zimmermann, SP, Washington Nationals

Jordan Zimmermann had a down 2015 campaign, going 13-10 with a 3.66 ERA. He hadn't posted an ERA higher than 3.50 since 2010.

He's 29 years old and ready to be an ace for a team that wants him. It's easy to forget that he posted a Cy Young-caliber season with a 19-9 record three years ago. The following year, he went 14-5 with a career-low 2.66 ERA.

If he wants to get away from the mess in Washington, D.C., this is his chance to do so. But he shouldn't leave the NL, because there's a team in Chicago that could have used some more starting pitching during its playoff run.

The Cubs would be a perfect landing spot for Zimmermann. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein told ESPN.com's Jesse Rogers that Chicago will address starting pitching in the offseason to complement Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester:

I'm not sure what direction we're going to go in yet. Free-agent pitching is a necessary evil at times. And it's only evil because it's inherently risky. But it's necessary because you can make an impact right away.

We need quality pitching. I'm not going to rule anything out or anything in, except to say whether it's through trade or free agency we'd like to add one quality pitcher this winter.

If the Cubs get anything close to the Zimmermann of 2013 and 2014, it could vault the team to the top of the crowded NL Central.

 

Chris Davis, 1B, Baltimore Orioles

Even though it was a down year for the Orioles, it was another power year for All-Star first baseman Chris Davis.

He hit 47 home runs in 2015, two years after hitting 53. Davis showed he has enough power left to command a lot of money from a team that is looking for a left-handed bat. 

But he's the superstar in Baltimore. Adam Jones and Manny Machado are there, but Davis is the main run producer for the Orioles.

It'd be tough to see him leave Baltimore, but Toronto is a sleeper team that could be a match made in heaven.

Toronto features right-handed power bats from second to sixth in the lineup. If the Blue Jays had at least one guy who could provide the same kind of power from the left side of the plate, it would almost be unfair for the rest of the AL.

However, Davis will likely stay in Baltimore as the Orioles try to turn it around in 2016.

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MLB Playoffs 2015: Latest Odds Guide, Ticket Info and Bracket Predictions

This year's Major League Baseball postseason is winding down, though there is still plenty to be decided. The New York Mets are awaiting the winner of the Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals series to determine which franchise will be crowned the American League champion.

The Royals can lock up their spot in the World Series Friday, while the Blue Jays need a win to force a winner-take-all seventh game at Kauffman Stadium Saturday. 

It's been a wild unpredictable ride thus far, so let's take a look at what the oddsmakers are looking at heading into the Fall Classic. 

 

Latest Playoff Odds

MLB Playoff Ticket Info

World Series tickets at Citi Field can be found at ScoreBig.com.

American League Championship Series tickets at Kauffman Stadium can be found at ScoreBig.com.

 

Playoff Predictions

Starting with the ALCS, it seems unlikely the Royals won't reach the World Series. As formidable as the Blue Jays are, having won four straight games this postseason when facing elimination, they face an uphill climb. 

Toronto was a sub-.500 team in the regular season on the road (40-41), while the Royals had the American League's third-best home record (51-30). Despite having more talent on paper, this hasn't been a good series for the Blue Jays.

The one thing working to the Blue Jays' advantage is David Price and Marcus Stroman will start Games 6 and, if it gets there, 7. Those two are better than Kansas City starters Yordano Ventura and, presumably, Johnny Cueto

However, as ESPN's Baseball Tonight shows on Twitter, Price hasn't had much success in the postseason:

The misery isn't all Price's fault, as Kevin Burkhardt of Fox Sports 1 notes the former Cy Young winner has only gotten 12 runs of support in those seven starts. 

The Blue Jays do have a potent lineup, but Kauffman Stadium isn't the place to hit homers. Per ESPN's Home Run Tracker, the Royals' park surrendered the fewest home runs in the American League (130) this season. 

The Royals have won their last three home games in the postseason; they have a lineup that doesn't strike out, and the BABIP gods have been kind to them throughout October. They will be the first team to repeat as AL champions since Texas in 2010 and 2011. 

This sets up a New York vs. Kansas City World Series. The Mets boast one of the best young starting rotations any of us have ever seen, with Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz all aged 27 or younger. 

New York's starting rotation is not just shutting down opponents, it's blowing them away with power stuff, as noted by Joel Sherman of the New York Post (h/t ESPN's Jayson Stark):

Yet if it is Kansas City on the other side of the field, the Mets will face a lineup the likes of which they have yet to see. 

The Royals aren't an overpowering offense, but they make contact better than anyone and frustrate pitchers who are used to racking up strikeouts. 

Kansas City has proved in series against Houston and Toronto that just being able to put the ball in play can lead to a lot of good things. 

Eventually, the Mets will have to win one against Kansas City's bullpen, which is a monumental task. Wade Davis, per ESPN's Buster Olney, has been virtually untouchable since 2014:

If Davis was the only weapon Royals manager Ned Yost had out of the bullpen, there would be a problem. Being able to use Kelvin Herrera, who has allowed just one run in seven innings this postseason, and Ryan Madson allows Yost to limit how much starting pitchers need to do. 

The Mets offense has been very good, scoring 45 runs through nine playoff games, but eventually Daniel Murphy has to come back down to earth. 

One big potential problem for New York's lineup is Yoenis Cespedes' shoulder, which caused him to leave Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. The slugger is expected to play in the World Series, but his effectiveness will be worth watching in the early games. 

It's stunning the Mets have made it this far. It would be a great story if they finished this run off, but the Royals can win games in many different ways and are going to redeem themselves after San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner shut them down in Game 7 last year. 

Prediction: Royals win World Series in six games.

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MLB Playoffs 2015: Latest Odds Guide, Ticket Info and Bracket Predictions

This year's Major League Baseball postseason is winding down, though there is still plenty to be decided. The New York Mets are awaiting the winner of the Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals series to determine which franchise will be crowned the American League champion.

The Royals can lock up their spot in the World Series Friday, while the Blue Jays need a win to force a winner-take-all seventh game at Kauffman Stadium Saturday. 

It's been a wild unpredictable ride thus far, so let's take a look at what the oddsmakers are looking at heading into the Fall Classic. 

 

Latest Playoff Odds

MLB Playoff Ticket Info

World Series tickets at Citi Field can be found at ScoreBig.com.

American League Championship Series tickets at Kauffman Stadium can be found at ScoreBig.com.

 

Playoff Predictions

Starting with the ALCS, it seems unlikely the Royals won't reach the World Series. As formidable as the Blue Jays are, having won four straight games this postseason when facing elimination, they face an uphill climb. 

Toronto was a sub-.500 team in the regular season on the road (40-41), while the Royals had the American League's third-best home record (51-30). Despite having more talent on paper, this hasn't been a good series for the Blue Jays.

The one thing working to the Blue Jays' advantage is David Price and Marcus Stroman will start Games 6 and, if it gets there, 7. Those two are better than Kansas City starters Yordano Ventura and, presumably, Johnny Cueto

However, as ESPN's Baseball Tonight shows on Twitter, Price hasn't had much success in the postseason:

The misery isn't all Price's fault, as Kevin Burkhardt of Fox Sports 1 notes the former Cy Young winner has only gotten 12 runs of support in those seven starts. 

The Blue Jays do have a potent lineup, but Kauffman Stadium isn't the place to hit homers. Per ESPN's Home Run Tracker, the Royals' park surrendered the fewest home runs in the American League (130) this season. 

The Royals have won their last three home games in the postseason; they have a lineup that doesn't strike out, and the BABIP gods have been kind to them throughout October. They will be the first team to repeat as AL champions since Texas in 2010 and 2011. 

This sets up a New York vs. Kansas City World Series. The Mets boast one of the best young starting rotations any of us have ever seen, with Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz all aged 27 or younger. 

New York's starting rotation is not just shutting down opponents, it's blowing them away with power stuff, as noted by Joel Sherman of the New York Post (h/t ESPN's Jayson Stark):

Yet if it is Kansas City on the other side of the field, the Mets will face a lineup the likes of which they have yet to see. 

The Royals aren't an overpowering offense, but they make contact better than anyone and frustrate pitchers who are used to racking up strikeouts. 

Kansas City has proved in series against Houston and Toronto that just being able to put the ball in play can lead to a lot of good things. 

Eventually, the Mets will have to win one against Kansas City's bullpen, which is a monumental task. Wade Davis, per ESPN's Buster Olney, has been virtually untouchable since 2014:

If Davis was the only weapon Royals manager Ned Yost had out of the bullpen, there would be a problem. Being able to use Kelvin Herrera, who has allowed just one run in seven innings this postseason, and Ryan Madson allows Yost to limit how much starting pitchers need to do. 

The Mets offense has been very good, scoring 45 runs through nine playoff games, but eventually Daniel Murphy has to come back down to earth. 

One big potential problem for New York's lineup is Yoenis Cespedes' shoulder, which caused him to leave Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. The slugger is expected to play in the World Series, but his effectiveness will be worth watching in the early games. 

It's stunning the Mets have made it this far. It would be a great story if they finished this run off, but the Royals can win games in many different ways and are going to redeem themselves after San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner shut them down in Game 7 last year. 

Prediction: Royals win World Series in six games.

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Blue Jays vs. Royals: ALCS Game 6 Time, TV Info, Live Stream and More

After missing their chance to clinch a World Series berth on Wednesday, the Kansas City Royals return to Kauffman Stadium, where they have won their last three postseason games, with a chance to eliminate the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series on Friday. 

The Blue Jays have been at their best in the playoffs when facing elimination, winning four consecutive games in those situations and averaging 6.5 runs per game. 

Something has to give on Friday with the Royals looking to set up a showdown with the New York Mets in the Fall Classic and the Blue Jays hoping to force a winner-take-all seventh game on Saturday. 

 

What They Are Saying

Even though the Blue Jays kept themselves in the playoffs, Royals manager Ned Yost said after Game 5 that there's no reason for his team to be lacking in confidence right now, per Gregor Chisholm and Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com.

Now we're going back to a place where we're completely comfortable. That's why home-field was so important to us. We really wanted to play four games in our park. And we're taking a 3-2 lead back to where we are comfortable and back to our home fans that support us and are fantastic.

While that can be passed off as manager speak, Yost isn't wrong to be feeling good. His team's success at home in these playoffs has already been mentioned, but the Royals also had a 51-30 mark in front of their home fans this year. 

That is the third-best home record in the American League this season, behind the two teams Kansas City has played in the postseason—the Houston Astros and Toronto tied for the best home record at 53-28. 

Waiting for the Royals in Game 6 is David Price, who was virtually unhittable for six innings in Game 2 until Ryan Goins and Jose Bautista botched a routine pop-up off the bat of Ben Zobrist in the bottom of the seventh inning that led to a five-run inning and a 6-3 win for Kansas City. 

All eyes will be on Price. He's been one of the best pitchers in baseball for years, winning a Cy Young Award in 2012 and leading all American League pitchers with a 6.4 FanGraphs' WAR this season. 

Yet for all of the accolades Price has already won and could win this offseason, his playoff results have left a lot to be desired, per High Heat Stats on Twitter:

There's no logical reason why a pitcher as consistently good, dominant and talented as Price, who is still very much in the prime of his career at the age of 30, has struggled in the postseason.

It's a small sample size relative to a 162-game regular season, but these are the moments by which pitchers are judged. Position players can flip their narrative in a heartbeat because they get at least four at-bats every game. Playing once every fifth day doesn't afford starting pitchers that same luxury. 

The Royals are turning to Yordano Ventura, who has had his own problems this postseason. The 24-year-old has allowed nine runs on 16 hits in 12.1 innings over three starts, so the Blue Jays should be able to keep their offensive momentum going. 

However, Yost has the luxury Toronto manager John Gibbons doesn't when going to the bullpen. Lee Judge of the Kansas City Star wrote after Game 4 that the Royals are an unusually structured team:

The Royals are one win away from going to their second World Series in a row, and two of their starting pitchers in the playoffs finished the regular season with ERAs over 4.00. The starting pitchers do not have to be great; they just need to avoid disaster and give the Royals’ offense and bullpen a chance.

The Royals lost Greg Holland to Tommy John surgery late in the season but don't worry because Wade Davis remains an unhittable monster with his 0.94 regular season ERA and no runs allowed in the playoffs since Game 5 of last year's World Series. 

Before Yost turns things over to Davis, he brings in Kelvin Herrera, who throws 100 mph fastballs, or starter-turned-playoff-reliever Danny Duffy to do his thing, per Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

All the Royals need Ventura to do is throw five innings of decent baseball—which could amount to three runs allowed—before turning things over to the slew of talented relievers who can shut down a lineup as good as Toronto's. 

 

Prediction

The postseason went from being drama-filled in the division series, with three out of four matchups going all five games. The National League Championship Series was disappointing unless you are a New York Mets fan because it ended in four games. 

The Blue Jays kept hope alive for a decisive seventh game on Wednesday, needing one more win to put pressure on Kansas City. 

Kauffman Stadium does not line up for Toronto's offensive strength, which is power. It's a big ballpark that takes a lot of power to drive the ball out. One reason the Royals are so great at home is because their hitters make contact and have the speed to take an extra base. 

Eventually, Price will put everything together in the playoffs. He's too good not to, as the Royals saw for six innings in Game 2. 

The Blue Jays have to come out of the gate strong, force Yost to go to the bullpen in the third or fourth inning rather than fifth or sixth and get Price to throw seven strong innings. 

If for no other reason than hoping to see a Game 7, the Blue Jays get the slight edge in Friday's matchup. 

Blue Jays 5, Royals 2

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Blue Jays vs. Royals: ALCS Game 6 Time, TV Info, Live Stream and More

After missing their chance to clinch a World Series berth on Wednesday, the Kansas City Royals return to Kauffman Stadium, where they have won their last three postseason games, with a chance to eliminate the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series on Friday. 

The Blue Jays have been at their best in the playoffs when facing elimination, winning four consecutive games in those situations and averaging 6.5 runs per game. 

Something has to give on Friday with the Royals looking to set up a showdown with the New York Mets in the Fall Classic and the Blue Jays hoping to force a winner-take-all seventh game on Saturday. 

 

What They Are Saying

Even though the Blue Jays kept themselves in the playoffs, Royals manager Ned Yost said after Game 5 that there's no reason for his team to be lacking in confidence right now, per Gregor Chisholm and Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com.

Now we're going back to a place where we're completely comfortable. That's why home-field was so important to us. We really wanted to play four games in our park. And we're taking a 3-2 lead back to where we are comfortable and back to our home fans that support us and are fantastic.

While that can be passed off as manager speak, Yost isn't wrong to be feeling good. His team's success at home in these playoffs has already been mentioned, but the Royals also had a 51-30 mark in front of their home fans this year. 

That is the third-best home record in the American League this season, behind the two teams Kansas City has played in the postseason—the Houston Astros and Toronto tied for the best home record at 53-28. 

Waiting for the Royals in Game 6 is David Price, who was virtually unhittable for six innings in Game 2 until Ryan Goins and Jose Bautista botched a routine pop-up off the bat of Ben Zobrist in the bottom of the seventh inning that led to a five-run inning and a 6-3 win for Kansas City. 

All eyes will be on Price. He's been one of the best pitchers in baseball for years, winning a Cy Young Award in 2012 and leading all American League pitchers with a 6.4 FanGraphs' WAR this season. 

Yet for all of the accolades Price has already won and could win this offseason, his playoff results have left a lot to be desired, per High Heat Stats on Twitter:

There's no logical reason why a pitcher as consistently good, dominant and talented as Price, who is still very much in the prime of his career at the age of 30, has struggled in the postseason.

It's a small sample size relative to a 162-game regular season, but these are the moments by which pitchers are judged. Position players can flip their narrative in a heartbeat because they get at least four at-bats every game. Playing once every fifth day doesn't afford starting pitchers that same luxury. 

The Royals are turning to Yordano Ventura, who has had his own problems this postseason. The 24-year-old has allowed nine runs on 16 hits in 12.1 innings over three starts, so the Blue Jays should be able to keep their offensive momentum going. 

However, Yost has the luxury Toronto manager John Gibbons doesn't when going to the bullpen. Lee Judge of the Kansas City Star wrote after Game 4 that the Royals are an unusually structured team:

The Royals are one win away from going to their second World Series in a row, and two of their starting pitchers in the playoffs finished the regular season with ERAs over 4.00. The starting pitchers do not have to be great; they just need to avoid disaster and give the Royals’ offense and bullpen a chance.

The Royals lost Greg Holland to Tommy John surgery late in the season but don't worry because Wade Davis remains an unhittable monster with his 0.94 regular season ERA and no runs allowed in the playoffs since Game 5 of last year's World Series. 

Before Yost turns things over to Davis, he brings in Kelvin Herrera, who throws 100 mph fastballs, or starter-turned-playoff-reliever Danny Duffy to do his thing, per Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

All the Royals need Ventura to do is throw five innings of decent baseball—which could amount to three runs allowed—before turning things over to the slew of talented relievers who can shut down a lineup as good as Toronto's. 

 

Prediction

The postseason went from being drama-filled in the division series, with three out of four matchups going all five games. The National League Championship Series was disappointing unless you are a New York Mets fan because it ended in four games. 

The Blue Jays kept hope alive for a decisive seventh game on Wednesday, needing one more win to put pressure on Kansas City. 

Kauffman Stadium does not line up for Toronto's offensive strength, which is power. It's a big ballpark that takes a lot of power to drive the ball out. One reason the Royals are so great at home is because their hitters make contact and have the speed to take an extra base. 

Eventually, Price will put everything together in the playoffs. He's too good not to, as the Royals saw for six innings in Game 2. 

The Blue Jays have to come out of the gate strong, force Yost to go to the bullpen in the third or fourth inning rather than fifth or sixth and get Price to throw seven strong innings. 

If for no other reason than hoping to see a Game 7, the Blue Jays get the slight edge in Friday's matchup. 

Blue Jays 5, Royals 2

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Don Mattingly, Dodgers Part Ways: Takeaways from Former Manager’s Presser

The five-year marriage between Don Mattingly and the Los Angeles Dodgers came to an end Thursday as the two sides announced they had mutually agreed to part ways, per Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.

It was a disappointing finish to Mattingly's tenure as manager of the team. The Dodgers finished over .500 in each of his five seasons at the helm, making the postseason in each of the last three years, but their last two playoff appearances ended in the National League Division Series.

To put a final bow on this era of Dodgers baseball, Mattingly and members of the Los Angeles front office met with the media to discuss Thursday's decision and what it means for both the former skipper and the franchise in the future.

Starting off, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman emphasized that the parting of ways was mutual, per Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register:

Mattingly would expand on why he agreed to the decision, per Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times:

The use of the phrase "part ways" will always lead to skepticism, though it isn't always wrong. Los Angeles hired Mattingly when Ned Colletti was the general manager. When Friedman came on board in October 2014, he brought in Farhan Zaidi as general manager and Josh Byrnes as senior vice president of baseball operations.

Every regime will have a different philosophy. Mattingly worked with this group for a year and had some success before the two sides went different ways. 

Per Shaikin, Mattingly did say that he felt wanted by the Dodgers and added that he "loved" the various analytics that were presented to him by the new-look front office before adding that this is best for both sides:

Per Plunkett, Mattingly offered high praise to the trio of Friedman, Zaidi and Byrnes and where the franchise is going:

Friedman did note, per Plunkett, that today's decision "wasn't tied to the outcome of the NLDS" against the New York Mets. 

Looking to the future, Mattingly and the Dodgers have a lot of big decisions to make. He doesn't sound like someone who wants to be out of the dugout for long, per Shaikin:

The Dodgers will become the most attractive managerial opening in the offseason. No team can match their combination of financial resources, front-office credentials and willingness to adapt.

It also doesn't hurt to have Clayton Kershaw leading the rotation, though Zack Greinke's opt-out clause will create some panic behind the left-hander if the Dodgers can't reach a deal with their right-handed ace.

Friedman said during the presser, per Plunkett, that the Dodgers "expect to have a new manager in place" before the winter meetings begin December 7. 

Also of note, from Plunkett, Zaidi anticipates that the Dodgers will "have a younger team going forward." Age is key for this franchise, as it started 2015 with the eighth-oldest roster in baseball. A lot of the team's older players—in this case, anyone over 30—are eating up a lot of money. 

Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins, Andre Ethier and Brandon McCarthy combined to make roughly $94.7 million last season. Using FanGraphs' wins above replacement, those six combined for a WAR of 8.3; Kershaw's WAR in 2015 was 8.6. 

There were many problems for the Dodgers this season, beyond Mattingly's tactics or understanding of the analytics at his disposal. 

Sometimes, being able to get a clean break can work out best for everyone. Mattingly will now have an opportunity to interview for other managerial openings if he wants. The Dodgers can conduct a thorough search to get the right manager for what the franchise needs moving forward.

Thursday's press conference between the Dodgers and Mattingly gave them an opportunity to clear the air before taking the next steps in their baseball journeys. 

 

Contract info via Cot's Baseball Contracts.

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World Series 2015: Full Schedule and Examining Potential Pitching Matchups

As the New York Mets anxiously await their opponent in the 2015 World Series, manager Terry Collins has everything set up exactly as he wants with five days off to set up the pitching staff however he chooses. 

The Kansas City Royals are one win away from securing their second consecutive berth in the Fall Classic, going back to Kauffman Stadium with two chances to close out the Toronto Blue Jays starting on Friday. 

Looking ahead to the World Series, the potential pitching matchups that could happen regardless of who the Mets are playing will be stellar. Johnny Cueto can get another opportunity to prove himself on the big stage, or David Price can exorcise all of his postseason demons.

 

World Series Schedule

 

Projected Pitching Matchups

 

Mets Rotation

There is no mystery for the Mets rotation, at least as things stand right now. Collins did have to rearrange some things for the National League Championship Series against Chicago because their previous series went the distance, so Matt Harvey took the hill in Game 1. 

However, by virtue of having additional time off before the World Series, Collins can go back to how he had things set up in the division series with Jacob deGrom starting the first game. 

After deGrom, Collins could turn to Harvey or Noah Syndergaard. In the division series against Los Angeles, Thor got the call in Game 2. There has been so much focus on Harvey's arm over the final month, thanks in large part to his agent Scott Boras

In September, Tim Rohan of the New York Times quoted Boras recalling a conversation with Mets general manager Sandy Alderson on how the two sides agreed to handle Harvey in his first season back following Tommy John surgery.

“I told him as the doctors go along, there’s going to be an innings limit, Boras said. “He goes, ‘We understand there’s an innings limit.’ ” 

New York's playoff run has obviously changed many things, with Harvey's 2015 innings total currently standing at 202 after his two playoff starts. 

Collins was concerned about swelling in Harvey's arm after he was hit by a comebacker in Game 1 of the NLCS, per ESPN.com's Adam Rubin

"He's pretty sore and pretty swelled up," Collins said. "He, as we sit here today, is a go (for Game 5, if it was needed). But that could certainly change in next couple of days. ... I was pretty surprised at how swelled up it was yesterday. So we certainly are going to keep a really close eye on it the next couple of days."

By clinching early, the Mets were able to avoid having to rush Harvey back in order to give his arm more time to heal. 

New York's starters have been dominant this postseason, as noted by Hardball Talk's D.J. Short:

One notable difference for the rotation in the World Series, whether it's against Kansas City or Toronto, is neither team strikes out with much frequency.

The Cubs, for all their lineup strengths, were a bad matchup against the Mets because they led MLB with 1,518 strikeouts during the regular season. The Blue Jays had the seventh-fewest strikeouts (1,151), while the Royals are the only team that didn't strikeout at least 1,100 times (973). 

As impressive as deGrom, Syndergaard, Harvey and Matz have looked in the playoffs, they will be facing a lineup the likes of which they have not seen in the postseason. They are good enough to dominate anyone, but seeing a repeat performance from the NLCS is asking a lot.

 

Royals/Blue Jays Rotation

Price's playoff struggles have been well documented thus far, though Toronto manager John Gibbons continues to make questionable decisions with his star left-hander, as noted by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

There was Price, again, in a repeat of the division series, when Blue Jays manager John Gibbons inexplicably used him in relief during a game Toronto led by six runs. Price never got into Game 5 on Wednesday, spared by Kansas City's inability to create a scenario that would have goaded Gibbons into deploying him again.

Even though there is the lingering question of Price's ability to succeed consistently in the playoffs, he's not been horrible every time out. 

Passan provided the pitches from Price's first five innings of Game 2 against Kansas City:

Price added another 1-2-3 frame in the sixth inning, but things came undone in the seventh inning starting with a botched play by Ryan Goins in which he called off Jose Bautista on a lazy pop fly, the ball dropped and flood gates opened for a five-run inning. 

The Blue Jays best starter in the playoffs, surprisingly, has been Marco Estrada. The 32-year-old was a back-end starter, at best, with Milwaukee the previous three years. He moves to Toronto, posts a 3.13 ERA during the regular season and has allowed five earned runs in 19.1 innings this postseason. 

Yet even with those numbers, Estrada should still be Toronto's No. 3 option if it gets to the World Series because Price and Marcus Stroman are superior talents. 

The problem for Gibbons is Price and Stroman haven't been at their best this postseason. In Game 3 against Kansas City, Stroman did battle his way through 6.1 innings, allowing 11 hits and four runs in an 11-8 win. 

Stroman's arm is as fresh as any starting pitcher still playing. He missed most of this season with a torn ACL, limiting him to four starts late in the year and three in the playoffs covering a total of 46.1 innings. 

The Royals' rotation is fascinating because manager Ned Yost is basically letting his starters go five innings, regardless of how they perform, then turning things over to his dominant bullpen. 

Kansas City has played 10 games so far this postseason, with starters lasting just 49.2 innings. Cueto (twice) and Edinson Volquez are the only two starters that have made it through at least six innings. 

Despite having a bullpen that's thrown three more innings than anyone else so far this postseason, Royals relievers have an astounding 53-9 strikeout-to-walk mark in 37.1 innings and a 2.65 ERA. 

Per Richard Justice of MLB.com, the Royals seem to have found the perfect bullpen that blends dominance and longevity:

Yost doesn't need Cueto, Volquez or Chris Young to dominate for his team to win. The starters can give up three or four runs over four innings, turn things over to Luke Hochevar or Danny Duffy as a bridge to Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis, and win a lot of games. 

It's why the Royals are so hard to beat in October, but also why their formula is impossible to replicate. Bullpens are among the most volatile spots to fill on any roster, which is why there is so much turnover for teams during the regular season. 

The Royals can call on Davis and Herrera to get nine outs, if needed, so opponents know they have to strike early or they are out of luck late in games. 

 

Stats via ESPN.com

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World Series 2015: Full Schedule and Examining Potential Pitching Matchups

As the New York Mets anxiously await their opponent in the 2015 World Series, manager Terry Collins has everything set up exactly as he wants with five days off to set up the pitching staff however he chooses. 

The Kansas City Royals are one win away from securing their second consecutive berth in the Fall Classic, going back to Kauffman Stadium with two chances to close out the Toronto Blue Jays starting on Friday. 

Looking ahead to the World Series, the potential pitching matchups that could happen regardless of who the Mets are playing will be stellar. Johnny Cueto can get another opportunity to prove himself on the big stage, or David Price can exorcise all of his postseason demons.

 

World Series Schedule

 

Projected Pitching Matchups

 

Mets Rotation

There is no mystery for the Mets rotation, at least as things stand right now. Collins did have to rearrange some things for the National League Championship Series against Chicago because their previous series went the distance, so Matt Harvey took the hill in Game 1. 

However, by virtue of having additional time off before the World Series, Collins can go back to how he had things set up in the division series with Jacob deGrom starting the first game. 

After deGrom, Collins could turn to Harvey or Noah Syndergaard. In the division series against Los Angeles, Thor got the call in Game 2. There has been so much focus on Harvey's arm over the final month, thanks in large part to his agent Scott Boras

In September, Tim Rohan of the New York Times quoted Boras recalling a conversation with Mets general manager Sandy Alderson on how the two sides agreed to handle Harvey in his first season back following Tommy John surgery.

“I told him as the doctors go along, there’s going to be an innings limit, Boras said. “He goes, ‘We understand there’s an innings limit.’ ” 

New York's playoff run has obviously changed many things, with Harvey's 2015 innings total currently standing at 202 after his two playoff starts. 

Collins was concerned about swelling in Harvey's arm after he was hit by a comebacker in Game 1 of the NLCS, per ESPN.com's Adam Rubin

"He's pretty sore and pretty swelled up," Collins said. "He, as we sit here today, is a go (for Game 5, if it was needed). But that could certainly change in next couple of days. ... I was pretty surprised at how swelled up it was yesterday. So we certainly are going to keep a really close eye on it the next couple of days."

By clinching early, the Mets were able to avoid having to rush Harvey back in order to give his arm more time to heal. 

New York's starters have been dominant this postseason, as noted by Hardball Talk's D.J. Short:

One notable difference for the rotation in the World Series, whether it's against Kansas City or Toronto, is neither team strikes out with much frequency.

The Cubs, for all their lineup strengths, were a bad matchup against the Mets because they led MLB with 1,518 strikeouts during the regular season. The Blue Jays had the seventh-fewest strikeouts (1,151), while the Royals are the only team that didn't strikeout at least 1,100 times (973). 

As impressive as deGrom, Syndergaard, Harvey and Matz have looked in the playoffs, they will be facing a lineup the likes of which they have not seen in the postseason. They are good enough to dominate anyone, but seeing a repeat performance from the NLCS is asking a lot.

 

Royals/Blue Jays Rotation

Price's playoff struggles have been well documented thus far, though Toronto manager John Gibbons continues to make questionable decisions with his star left-hander, as noted by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

There was Price, again, in a repeat of the division series, when Blue Jays manager John Gibbons inexplicably used him in relief during a game Toronto led by six runs. Price never got into Game 5 on Wednesday, spared by Kansas City's inability to create a scenario that would have goaded Gibbons into deploying him again.

Even though there is the lingering question of Price's ability to succeed consistently in the playoffs, he's not been horrible every time out. 

Passan provided the pitches from Price's first five innings of Game 2 against Kansas City:

Price added another 1-2-3 frame in the sixth inning, but things came undone in the seventh inning starting with a botched play by Ryan Goins in which he called off Jose Bautista on a lazy pop fly, the ball dropped and flood gates opened for a five-run inning. 

The Blue Jays best starter in the playoffs, surprisingly, has been Marco Estrada. The 32-year-old was a back-end starter, at best, with Milwaukee the previous three years. He moves to Toronto, posts a 3.13 ERA during the regular season and has allowed five earned runs in 19.1 innings this postseason. 

Yet even with those numbers, Estrada should still be Toronto's No. 3 option if it gets to the World Series because Price and Marcus Stroman are superior talents. 

The problem for Gibbons is Price and Stroman haven't been at their best this postseason. In Game 3 against Kansas City, Stroman did battle his way through 6.1 innings, allowing 11 hits and four runs in an 11-8 win. 

Stroman's arm is as fresh as any starting pitcher still playing. He missed most of this season with a torn ACL, limiting him to four starts late in the year and three in the playoffs covering a total of 46.1 innings. 

The Royals' rotation is fascinating because manager Ned Yost is basically letting his starters go five innings, regardless of how they perform, then turning things over to his dominant bullpen. 

Kansas City has played 10 games so far this postseason, with starters lasting just 49.2 innings. Cueto (twice) and Edinson Volquez are the only two starters that have made it through at least six innings. 

Despite having a bullpen that's thrown three more innings than anyone else so far this postseason, Royals relievers have an astounding 53-9 strikeout-to-walk mark in 37.1 innings and a 2.65 ERA. 

Per Richard Justice of MLB.com, the Royals seem to have found the perfect bullpen that blends dominance and longevity:

Yost doesn't need Cueto, Volquez or Chris Young to dominate for his team to win. The starters can give up three or four runs over four innings, turn things over to Luke Hochevar or Danny Duffy as a bridge to Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis, and win a lot of games. 

It's why the Royals are so hard to beat in October, but also why their formula is impossible to replicate. Bullpens are among the most volatile spots to fill on any roster, which is why there is so much turnover for teams during the regular season. 

The Royals can call on Davis and Herrera to get nine outs, if needed, so opponents know they have to strike early or they are out of luck late in games. 

 

Stats via ESPN.com

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Don Mattingly, Dodgers Part Ways: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

The Los Angeles Dodgers and manager Don Mattingly are reportedly parting ways Thursday after three straight trips to the playoffs but just a single postseason series victory.

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported the decision is "mutual." He also noted that an official announcement is expected later Thursday and the Miami Marlins are interested in the six-time All-Star to potentially take over the same role.

Mattingly reportedly wants to continue managing, but he had lost long-term support in L.A. As a result, the sides have decided to go their separate ways, according to Heyman.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN reported the Dodgers had offered Mattingly a contract extension over the weekend, but the lingering uncertainty caused both parties to opt instead to terminate the relationship.

As has been the case since the Dodgers' new ownership group took over in 2012, drama has been following the team around. That's one of the unfortunate parts of having a payroll over $270 million in 2015.

Mattingly has seemingly been on the hot seat for two years, dating back to 2013 when the club got off to a slow start. 

Ownership showed faith in him after the Dodgers made the playoffs last year by giving him a three-year contract extension in January. At the time, general manager Ned Colletti praised the job Mattingly had done during his entire tenure, per Ken Gurnick of MLB.com:

I think he's done a great job here. The last three years in the organization have been historic in a lot of different ways. We kept the baseball team steady and the credit goes to a lot of people, including the man who runs the dugout and the leader of the guys. This is well deserved. He gets better and better.

Changes came to the Dodgers once again after they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2014 National League Division Series. Colletti remains with the organization but lost his duties as general manager because Andrew Friedman jumped from the Tampa Bay Rays to Los Angeles as the president of baseball operations. 

Matt Snyder of CBS Sports wrote about a decision Mattingly made in this year's National League Division Series Game 5 that may have sealed the now-former manager's fate:

He pinch hits for Joc Pederson with Chase Utley.

...

Pederson's second-half on-base percentage was still .317. He'd already drawn two walks in Game 5. Utley had a .291 OBP since joining the Dodgers. Pederson was more likely to get on base.

Plus, Utley only hit eight homers all year. Pederson has light-tower power and hit 26 homers, six coming in the second half. Pederson was more likely to homer, too.

Mattingly has always been a hot-button topic in Los Angeles. He's not the most technically savvy manager, but C.J. Nitkowski of Fox Sports 1 pointed out that it can't be easy handling the roster he was handed:

Despite keeping the egos in check enough to make the postseason in 2013 and 2014, the only thing that matters with such a massive payroll is winning a World Series. The Dodgers lost in the division series each of the last two years, including this season to the New York Mets with Zack Greinke starting Game 5.

The Dodgers' payroll will always be a focal point—it's been mentioned in this article multiple times, for example—but it's important to remember that many high-salaried additions like Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier and Alexander Guerrero were products of the Colletti era.

It's also a big problem when Yasiel Puig misses most of the season due to injuries and Joc Pederson falls off a cliff in the second half (.617 OPS). So Mattingly was always fighting an uphill battle with the lineup. 

He was never able to make things better with a lot of questionable decisions, so this is a marriage that has felt destined to fall apart for a long time. 

Friedman is going to build this team how he wants. Mattingly was hired by the old regime, leaving him in a precarious position. He handled the situation as well as possible, but eventually things changed.

He's had enough success to warrant another job somewhere, with a 446-363 (.551) record, according to ESPN Stats & Info. It will also be good for him to get away from the intense scrutiny that comes with having a lot of expensive and aging talent on the roster.

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ALCS Schedule 2015: Game Times, Odds, Live Stream Coverage and More

For the second consecutive season, the Kansas City Royals will have an opportunity to secure a spot in the World Series with one more victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. 

With their season on the line for the third time already this postseason, the Blue Jays got a tremendous start from Marco Estrada and a big sixth inning to force a sixth game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, on Friday. 

Even though the Royals missed their chance to close things out in Game 5, they should still be brimming with confidence after winning their first two games at home in the series and stealing one on the road.

Here's the remaining schedule for the American League Championship Series battle between the Blue Jays and Royals:    

 

 

Key Game 6 Storylines (Toronto)

The Blue Jays should be a confident lineup after scoring seven runs in Game 5 as well as chasing projected Game 6 starter Yordano Ventura out after 5.1 innings last Saturday. The Royals' hard-throwing right-hander did battle his way through that game, allowing three runs despite eight hits and two walks.

All eyes will be on David Price in Game 6, as this could be his final start with the team if it loses. He's also trying to erase postseason demons. 

The possible 2015 Cy Young Award winner appeared as if he had exorcised those playoff monsters in Game 2, as he was cruising through six innings before Kansas City put up five in the seventh to secure a 6-3 win. 

David Schoenfield of ESPN.com summed up Price's postseason shortcomings best after last Saturday's defeat:

It's hard to believe, but Price's teams are now 0-7 in the postseason when he starts. Price is 0-7 with a 5.44 ERA in those starts (his two postseason wins have come in relief). Some people get mad when you say that, like they did about Clayton Kershaw, but you can't say the narrative is wrong: Price hasn't yet proven he can win the big game.

This isn't to say that Price can't win a big game, as he was the pitcher on the mound when the Tampa Bay Rays won the American League pennant in 2008 against the Boston Red Sox, but something strange is going on with the southpaw. 

The encouraging thing for Toronto manager John Gibbons is Marco Estrada pitched 7.2 innings in Game 5, so the bullpen got a much-needed break after R.A. Dickey's disastrous start the previous game. 

Considering that Kauffman Stadium is much more spacious than the Rogers Centre, even with unseasonably warm temperatures expected in Kansas City, offense is likely to be at a premium on Friday night. 

The Blue Jays have a powerful lineup, but they only had four extra-base hits (all doubles) in the first two games of this series at Kansas City. Home runs are great, but as the Royals have proved time after time this season, being able to string together a lot of hits to wear out a pitching staff is just as valuable. 

Royals manager Ned Yost, for whatever reason, has seemed hesitant to go to relievers before his Big Three of Kelvin Herrera, Ryan Madson and Wade Davis. That can work to Toronto's advantage as long as the hitters make Ventura work deep counts and get him out of the game early. 

 

Key Game 6 Storylines (Kansas City)

Even though the Royals were unable to close out the series on Wednesday, there is no reason to think they are in serious trouble at this point. They have already beaten Price in the series and, in the event of a Game 7, racked up 11 hits against Marcus Stroman on Monday. 

The one area Kansas City does have to be concerned is starting pitching. Ventura has electric stuff but always seems to be in a constant battle with his command. Things get particularly dicey as teams get additional looks at him, per Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Yet the Royals have never been fazed by what seemed to be apparent shortcomings in their rotation. No one predicted Chris Young would start a game in Toronto, pitch effectively for 4.2 innings in which he allowed just three hits and two runs, and give way to Luke Hochevar for 1.1 innings of shutout baseball. 

Royals manager Ned Yost said after the Game 4 blowout win (14-2) that his team seems to be doing everything right, per Jeffrey Flanagan and Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com:

"I felt great going into this game because we had Chris Young on the mound, and I felt he would give us a really, really good performance," Yost said. "We like the way we're playing right now. Our offense has been really, really good."

Offense has been a story for Kansas City in this series, as the defending American League champions have scored 34 runs in five games. Toronto was supposed to do the mashing after leading all of MLB in runs scored (891) during the regular season. 

Because the Royals are built to make contact—they are the only team to strike out fewer than 1,100 times the past two seasons—they can frustrate opposing pitchers who are used to missing bats. Price was able to work through the lineup quickly in Game 2, but Kansas City's ability to put the ball in play made its comeback in the seventh inning possible. 

As long as the Royals keep the game close before going to their late-inning relievers, they are going to have a shot because Herrera and Davis are as close to sure things in the postseason as anyone right now. 

 

Stats courtesy ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.

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Yoenis Cespedes Injury: Updates on Mets Star’s Shoulder and Return

The New York Mets have a World Series championship in their sights, but the last thing they need to see is Yoenis Cespedes on the bench with a shoulder injury.

Continue for updates. 


Juan Lagares Replaces Cespedes

Wednesday, Oct. 21

Cespedes was removed in the second inning from Wednesday's Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, and the Mets noted it was for a sore left shoulder. Juan Lagares came in for the star center fielder in a game New York had full control of in the early innings.    

Manager Terry Collins told the TBS crew Cespedes was unable to lift his shoulder, according to Adam Rubin of ESPN New York. 

While any setback to Cespedes is concerning for Mets fans, Bob Nightengale of USA Today pointed out he will have six days to recover before the World Series. 

Cespedes has been solid all year, especially since the Mets acquired him. He helped provide much-needed power to the middle of the lineup and slugged over .600 after the trade. 

There was a time when Cespedes' injury would have been crippling to New York's title hopes. Fortunately, the team is in a better position to stay afloat thanks to the return of star third baseman David Wright and rise of Daniel Murphy. 

The Mets don't have an incredibly deep lineup, so Cespedes' presence will be essential as the postseason continues. But there is enough there now in addition to a talented young starting rotation to keep them going well into October.

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World Series 2015: Full Schedule and Predictions for LCS Action

After a suspense-filled division series, the two league championship series appear to be over at this point. The Kansas City Royals and New York Mets have respectively put the Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago Cubs against the wall, with history not looking kind for the two teams trailing. 

The champagne will be on ice in Toronto and Chicago on Wednesday, though it will be waiting for the two road teams to close things out. Being able to clinch early would be a huge relief for the Royals and Mets to line up their rotations and get extra rest before the World Series. 

Here's a look at the upcoming schedule for the rest of the postseason, as well as predictions for the rest of the two league championship series:

As dominant as the Royals and Mets have been thus far, nothing that has happened is out of character. Kansas City is winning with effective-enough starting pitching, high-contact hitting and a dominant bullpen. New York has had impressive starting pitching, timely hitting and Jeurys Familia locking down the ninth. 

Well...Daniel Murphy continues to rake, but that is one of those weird October anomalies, like Cody Ross in 2010 or Jeff Suppan in 2006. 

Nothing in baseball is over until the final out has been recorded, so the Blue Jays and Cubs each have a pulse. Their odds are long, so let's examine what needs to happen for the two trailing teams in their efforts to make comebacks. 

 

The Leadoff Problem

Looking at how the Blue Jays and Cubs have gotten to this point, one area that jumps out is baserunners

Specifically, the leadoff hitters for Kansas City are torching Blue Jays pitching, while their Cubs counterparts cannot get on base against the Mets. 

According to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick, Kansas City leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar is starting off games by putting pressure on Toronto starters:

Escobar is hitting .417 with a .611 slugging percentage in 36 postseason at-bats, and all he did Tuesday was reach base three times and contribute two sacrifice flies. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Escobar is the first player in major league history to hit safely to lead off the first inning in four straight games in a postseason series. 

When Royals manager Ned Yost made Escobar his leadoff hitter for the postseason, it seemed like a curious move. The 28-year-old had a .293 on-base percentage during the regular season and owns a .298 mark in eight MLB seasons. 

Those numbers are relevant when examining Escobar's value over an entire season, but short playoff series don't always play by normal rules. Kansas City's All-Star shortstop has provided the necessary spark that sets the tone for high-contact hitters like Ben Zobrist, Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer to drive in runs.

The Royals aren't known for having a potent offense but have scored at least five runs in all four ALCS games, forcing Toronto manager John Gibbons to use a bullpen that wasn't deep to begin with and grew even weaker when Brett Cecil was injured against Texas. 

In the National League, the Cubs would love to have a chance at getting to New York relievers not named Familia. The problem is, unlike Escobar for the Royals, they aren't getting anyone leading off an inning on base this series, as noted by ESPN Stats & Info:

For all the firepower in Chicago's lineup, this isn't a team that can consistently play small ball. It worked a couple of times in the division series against St. Louis when Joe Maddon used two suicide squeezes in an inning. 

However, looking at numbers during the regular season, the Cubs had the fifth-worst batting average with runners in scoring position, according to Yahoo Sports.

Given how reliant the Cubs are on the home run this postseason—three of their five runs in the NLCS have come on solo homers—it's impossible to put together a big inning against the Mets' stellar pitching staff if no one around hitters like Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber and Kris Bryant is getting on base. 

Of course, it's difficult to string together a rally when Matt Harvery, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom combine for this box score line, provided by Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com:

As unpredictable as baseball can be, sometimes a series is as simple as saying that "the team with the most dominant starting rotation wins." That's what the Mets have used to move within one win of their first World Series appearance since 2000. 

 

The Comeback Question

The real drama will lie in figuring out if the Blue Jays and Cubs can at least make these series interesting, if not win outright. 

As entertaining as it would be for both series to reach a decisive seventh game, history is very much working against Toronto and Chicago. 

The Blue Jays have a better chance, because there are eight instances since 1985 in which a team trailing 3-1 has come back to win a series. The most recent example was San Francisco knocking off St. Louis in the 2012 NLCS

However, looking at what the Royals have done in this series, it's not a realistic proposition. The lineup has eventually figured out all of Toronto's best pitchers. David Price was cruising through Game 2, recording 18 straight outs through six inning after a leadoff single until Ryan Goins let a ball drop in the outfield, and Kansas City score five runs. 

Matt Snyder of CBS Sports wrote after the second game that the 2015 Royals appear to have become what the Cardinals were at their very best in past years:

After that unlikely run last season that started with a ridiculous comeback and then an extra-inning win in the wild-card game and continued nearly to a World Series win, they were those guys.

This time around, they were down 2-1 in the ALDS to the Astros, facing a 6-2 deficit with only six outs left. And they came back. They came back in Game 5, too, to win the series.

Even though the Royals don't feature the same punch in their lineup like Toronto, they are so difficult to pitch to because they don't strike out. They struck out a total of 973 times; Atlanta had the second-lowest strikeout total in 2015, going down 1,107 times on strikes. 

Home runs are great and make scoring runs easier, but the ability to put the ball in play and force the defense to make a play is a lost art that only the Royals have practiced. 

Toronto's lineup looks lost right now, save for that 11-run outburst in Game 3. The Blue Jays have scored a total of five runs in their three losses this series. Playing close games against Kansas City isn't a formula for success, because the Royals relievers are going to win that battle every time. 

For the Cubs, it turns out Back To The Future lied to everyone. It's easy to say that they can end their championship misery the same way Boston did, with a historic comeback in the league championship series before sweeping the World Series. 

The reality is that the 2004 Red Sox were one of the greatest stories in sports history, but they also made that comeback when New York was starting Jon Lieber, Kevin Brown and Orlando Hernandez in three of the last four games of that series. 

The Mets will be able to bring back Harvey, Syndergaard and deGrom for one more start before this series ends, and at least one of them could be available in relief if the series requires them to be used. 

Adam Rubin of ESPN New York, citing ESPN Stats & Info, tried to instill some semblance of hope for the Cubs by pointing out their last four-game playoff winning streak:

History and a blind sense of optimism are about all Cubs fans have to latch on to at this point. The Cubs are making the decision to stick with Jason Hammel, who pitched just three innings in Game 4 of the division series, as the starter on Wednesday. 

Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports did note that Jon Lester's history on three days' rest is not long or impressive:

Lester has done so twice in the majors, according to STATS LLC, most recently with the Red Sox on the final day of the 2011 regular season. (Yes, that was the game at Camden Yards that completed Boston’s late-season collapse.) Lester turned in a quality start that night — 6 innings, 2 earned runs — but Maddon remains committed to Jason Hammelin Game 4 on Wednesday.

Joe Maddon is essentially turning Wednesday into a bullpen game, which wouldn't be a problem if he didn't just have to do that on Tuesday by using six pitchers after Kyle Hendricks lasted four innings. None of the relievers went more than one inning, but there's a limit to how deep a pen can go on consecutive days. 

 

Predictions

Things are going so well for Kansas City and New York right now that the only question is when they will clinch their respective series. It would be nice to go against the grain and predict one comeback, but nothing about the way Toronto and Chicago are playing right now suggests it will happen. 

If either team is going to make a comeback, I would expect it to be the Cubs. Let's say they win on Wednesday, setting them up for Lester in Game 5 and Jake Arrieta in Game 6. Even coming off two subpar starts earlier in the series, they are still capable of shutting down any lineup. 

Toronto, on the other hand, is handing its season over to Marco Estrada in Game 5. He's an extreme fly-ball pitcher, as hitters put the ball in the air 52.3 percent of the time, and working in the hitter-friendly environment of Rogers Centre. 

Neither series looks destined to last long, but the Cubs, by virtue of having better starting pitchers on the horizon, are more likely to extend things if they can win on Wednesday. 

That said, fans can prepare for a Mets-Royals World Series starting on October 27. 

 

Stats via FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted

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2016 MLB Free Agents: Rumors and Predictions for Underrated Stars

The Major League Baseball offseason can be as dramatic as the postseason—at least in most years, though this October is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory—providing thrills and heartache for fans and teams in their quests to build championship rosters.

This winter, all eyes will be on marquee names like Toronto Blue Jays ace David Price and New York Mets slugger Yoenis Cespedes, but only a select group of teams will be able to get in on the bidding for those players. The more interesting dynamic at play involves what will happen in the second- and third-tier markets.

Those players aren't going to draw the same attention but will serve valuable functions for teams that have a strong nucleus in place and need to make a tweak here or there to get over the hump. 

For instance, no one would have expected Kendrys Morales to hit 20-plus home runs with over 100 RBI in the middle of the Kansas City Royals lineup when the team signed him last year, yet there he is, doing just that. 

Such under-the-radar deals can make all the difference when the postseason rolls around, so here are some of the latest rumblings about unheralded free agents and where they could end up before 2016's spring training begins.

 

John Lackey to Switch Sides in Rivalry?

The St. Louis Cardinals' season ended in Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Chicago Cubs with John Lackey on the mound as the starting pitcher.

Perhaps the script for Lackey will reverse next season. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported that the Cubs could pursue the veteran right-hander this winter.

"It is not out of the realm of possibility that Lackey could wind up with the Cubs next season as a free agent, according to one major league source," Cafardo noted. "It was Theo Epstein who signed him as a free agent in Boston. Lackey is also a close friend of Jon Lester, who will push Epstein in that direction."

Lackey played this season under one of the most team-friendly salaries in history. When he originally signed with the Boston Red Sox in 2010, there was a provision in the deal that meant his salary for the final season (2015) would be the major league minimum, worth roughly $500,000. 

The 36-year-old responded by having his best season since he was a Cy Young contender with the Los Angeles Angels, posting a career-low 2.77 ERA and throwing over 200 innings for the first time since 2010. His 3.6 wins above replacement were his most since 2007, according to FanGraphs

Adding a veteran starter of Lackey's ability behind the dynamic one-two punch of Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester would make the already formidable Cubs more lethal in 2016, though Lackey is not likely to replicate his numbers from this season, as his 3.57 fielding-independent ERA suggests some regression will come.

Yet even factoring in regression, Lackey is a more reliable option than Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel in the No. 3 spot.

Plus, the Cubs wouldn't have to break the bank to sign Lackey, since he's at a point where a three-year deal might be too much for some teams. That works to Chicago's benefit, because by the time Lackey's contract ends, young stars like Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber will be on the verge of earning big raises through arbitration.

It will be shocking if Lackey doesn't have a robust market this winter, but the Cubs do have a compelling presentation to make.

Prediction: Lackey signs with Cubs.

 

Freese High on Angels' Wish List

David Freese will be one of the most interesting free-agent test cases of the upcoming offseason. The former All-Star has been an above-average hitter in two seasons with the Angels but also missed 69 games during that span.

Injuries have been a problem for Freese, who has played more than 140 games only once since 2010, though that isn't deterring the Angels from keeping a close eye on the 32-year-old, according to Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com.

"When Freese returned, their lineup deepened and their record improved," Gonzalez noted. "It was no coincidence, which is why the Angels are expected to strongly consider bringing Freese back this offseasoneven though they have two promising young players waiting, and even though they'll have other holes to fill in their lineup."

Freese also told Gonzalez that his hope is to remain with the Angels, while admitting both sides will have to explore the situation in greater detail over the winter.

"I think they understand that [I want to return]," Freese said. "With that said, a lot of things have to happen on both sides. It's a new experience for me. We'll see what happens when the World Series is over and go from there."

The Angels, like Freese, will be a fascinating study in the offseason. They have an owner in Arte Moreno who will spend money, at times foolishly, in hopes of winning a championship. New general manager Billy Eppler has to establish his own identity while working within the system, especially since Moreno and manager Mike Scioscia are close.

Being able to spend money in smart ways—Albert Pujols still has power, but a 35-year-old first baseman with a .307 on-base percentage who is still owed $165 million through 2021 doesn't look good—will determine how successful the Angels are moving forward.

Freese was the third-best Angels hitter by OPS+ (109) last season. Like Pujols, he doesn't get on base at a high rate, but he does provide enough pop (41 extra-base hits, .420 slugging percentage) to warrant a modest two-year deal.

Since the Angels don't seem likely to undertake even a short-term rebuild, they have to stick with veteran performers on whom they can depend. Freese falls into that category, even if he's not the impact hitter the Angels hoped they had acquired from St. Louis two years ago. 

Prediction: Freese re-signs with Angels.

 

Torii Hunter's Extended Return

When the Minnesota Twins brought Torii Hunter back last winter, it seemed odd that a young, rebuilding franchise would want a 39-year-old outfielder on its roster. 

Then the Twins went out and won 83 games, with a lot of those young players and Hunter working in unison to make it happen.

According to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, people in the Twins organization hope to bring Hunter back in 2016.

"Twins people loved the job Torii Hunter did in the clubhouse and are expected to try to bring him back for another year," Heyman wrote. "Hunter's influence seems undeniable."

This is one of those cases in which words like "leadership" and "clubhouse guy" will come up. Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe talked about Hunter's skills off the field in July with Dave Campbell of the Associated Press.

"The mentality that he brings in, that we've kind of embraced, of that short memory, forgetting about yesterday, forgetting about the game that happened an hour ago, that's something that's really helped us," Plouffe said. "That's kind of been the difference in the team from the years past."

While those intangibles may hold some type of value, Hunter wasn't good on the field last season:

Another issue is that the Twins aren't lacking for outfielders. Eddie Rosario struggled this season with a .289 on-base percentage but is just 24 years old with the potential to get better. Aaron Hicks finally showed flashes of being a capable big leaguer. Max Kepler and Byron Buxton should get a lot of at-bats in 2016, and Miguel Sano, who played mostly as a designated hitter in 2015, is capable of playing right field. 

At Hunter's age (now 40), his performance isn't likely to get any better than it was this season, which is a problem, given how talented the young nucleus around him is and what it could be next season. 

The notion of clubhouse chemistry became a hot topic late in the season, with USA Today's Bob Nightengale speaking to various players and front-office personnel around baseball about its importance. 

“People that don’t understand what team chemistry means don’t work in baseball,’’ Price told Nightengale. “It makes me mad, because obviously they don’t know how important it is. Ask the Giants. Ask the Royals. Ask the Cardinals."

No one denies that good relationships between players and coaches help over the course of a season that starts in February and ends in October, but the Giants, Royals and Cardinals are loaded with talent. 

Hunter, at this point in his career, serves no purpose for the Twins on the field. Yet it seems the front office believes in his behind-the-scenes skills so much that it would be a surprise if he doesn't play one more season.

Prediction: Hunter re-signs with Twins.

 

Stats via Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Rangers vs. Blue Jays: Game 5 Score and Twitter Reaction from 2015 MLB Playoffs

In one of the most emotional, controversial and unusual baseball games ever played, the Toronto Blue Jays used three Texas Rangers miscues and a Jose Bautista three-run homer to secure a 6-3 victory and their spot in the American League Championship Series. 

Everything happened in the seventh inning, which might actually be one of the understatements of the year, as the two teams were tied at two Wednesday.    

With two outs and Rougned Odor on third base, Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin's throw back to the pitcher hit Shin-Soo Choo's bat when he was still in the batter's box. Odor broke for home plate and easily touched it before the defense could attempt to throw him out. The home plate umpire initially called the play dead, which should have stopped everything, but later reversed the decision after meeting to discuss it. 

Here's the official Major League Baseball rule on the play in question, per TSN's StatsCentre:

Baseball Prospectus' Jason Collette posted an overhead picture of the play in question:

The controversy would cause an 18-minute delay as the umpires reviewed the play—with fans throwing debris from the stands—before Blue Jays reliever Aaron Sanchez struck out Choo to end the top half of the inning.  

Cole Hamels, who took a no-decision in Texas' 6-4 win in Game 2, was in control from the start. The southpaw went 6.1 innings, allowing four hits, two walks and two earned runs with eight strikeoutsand worked out of trouble on a few occasions. 

Following the controversial go-ahead run, Hamels' defense failed him in the bottom of the seventh. Martin, Kevin Pillar and Ryan Goins reached base on three consecutive errors to start the inning. 

Ben Revere grounded into a force out, with pinch runner Dalton Pompey getting thrown out at home plate. Josh Donaldson hit a lazy popup just behind Odor that the second baseman misjudged, and it dropped just beyond his reach to tie the score. Odor recovered to throw Revere out of second, though, which left two on and two out. 

That set the stage for Bautista's dramatics, which featured one of the greatest bat flips in history, per MLB.com:

Bautista's moonshot off Rangers reliever Sam Dyson gave Toronto a three-run lead, with ESPN Stats & Info noting the Blue Jays slugger did something that hadn't been done in nearly a decade:

MLB Memes predicted that fans will eventually be able to see an in-depth look at all of this seventh-inning insanity:

Fans in the Rogers Centre weren't the only ones going insane after Bautista went yard, per Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca:

After the victory, Bautista told Ken Rosenthal on the Fox broadcast that this game was all about emotion (h/t Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News):

Of the six runs scored by Toronto in victory, three were unearned as a result of Texas' unusually sloppy defense. The Rangers ranked fifth in FanGraphs' defensive value (20.8) during the regular season. 

Two of the errors were charged to shortstop Elvis Andrus—on a botched ground ball and a missed catch on a play at third base. 

Prior to the game, Rangers manager Jeff Banister told reporters, per ESPN.com's Jean-Jacques Taylor, that situations like Wednesday's game were the reason the team acquired Hamels in July.

"It's why you go out and get top performers, elite competitors, [for] situations exactly like this," Banister said. "The comforting feeling is that we've got a guy on the mound that's going to go for us that has been here, has done it, and is quite capable of continuing to do it."

Hamels held up his end of the bargain, as he should have been out of the seventh inning unscathed with the only major blemish being an Edwin Encarnacion homer in the sixth inning. 

In fact, lost in the insanity of that seventh inning was how great both starting pitchers were. Toronto gave Marcus Stroman the ball, with the 24-year-old right-hander providing six solid innings with two runs allowed on six hits with four strikeouts. 

The Blue Jays are the third team to win a best-of-five series after losing the first two games at home, joining the 2001 New York Yankees and 2012 San Francisco Giants, per ESPN Stats & Info. More good news for Toronto: Both of those teams went to the World Series, with the Giants winning it all. 

Per ESPN Stats & Info, much like Bautista's blast, Encarnacion's blast was the first in this particular type of game since 2003:

Toronto is known for its prolific offense, which scored 127 more runs than any other team in baseball this season, and Encarnacion is the most prolific right-handed power hitter in the sport over the past four seasons, per Aaron Gleeman of Hardball Talk:

It took awhile for the Blue Jays bats to wake up, as they were held to seven runs in the first two games of this series. They scored 19 over the last three to reach the ALCS. 

The victory ended two droughts for the Blue Jays, as it's their first home playoff win and first playoff series win since the 1993 World Series, when Joe Carter provided his own fireworks.

After that early offensive lull for the Blue Jays, they are set up nicely heading into the ALCS, whether it's against the Houston Astros or Kansas City Royals. David Price, who threw 50 pitches in relief Monday, should be ready for Game 1, and R.A. Dickey is set up for Game 2. 

Whatever combination manager John Gibbons goes with on the mound to start the series, the Blue Jays bats are locked in. That's bad news for whichever team winds up on the other side of the field beginning on Friday night. 

 

Post-Game Reaction

Not surprisingly, the mood in Texas' locker room after a crushing defeat was somber. Unfortunately for the Rangers, their recent history is filled with painful losses from losing back-to-back World Series in 2010 and 2011 to losing the division on the final day and Wild Card Game in 2012 to missing out on the wild card by one game in 2013.

Andrus, in particular, seemed despondent, per Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post:

Dyson, who was on the mound when Bautista had the bat flip to end all bat flips, was not particularly receptive to the Blue Jays star's display of emotion, per Svrluga.

"Jose needs to calm that down, just kind of respect the game a little more," Dyson said. "He’s a huge role model for the younger generation that’s coming up playing this game, and I mean he’s doing stuff that kids do in Wiffle ball games and backyard baseball. It shouldn’t be done."

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Rangers vs. Blue Jays: Game 5 Score and Twitter Reaction from 2015 MLB Playoffs

In one of the most emotional, controversial and unusual baseball games ever played, the Toronto Blue Jays used three Texas Rangers miscues and a Jose Bautista three-run homer to secure a 6-3 victory and their spot in the American League Championship Series. 

Everything happened in the seventh inning, which might actually be one of the understatements of the year, as the two teams were tied at two Wednesday.    

With two outs and Rougned Odor on third base, Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin's throw back to the pitcher hit Shin-Soo Choo's bat when he was still in the batter's box. Odor broke for home plate and easily touched it before the defense could attempt to throw him out. The home plate umpire initially called the play dead, which should have stopped everything, but later reversed the decision after meeting to discuss it. 

Here's the official Major League Baseball rule on the play in question, per TSN's StatsCentre:

Baseball Prospectus' Jason Collette posted an overhead picture of the play in question:

The controversy would cause an 18-minute delay as the umpires reviewed the play—with fans throwing debris from the stands—before Blue Jays reliever Aaron Sanchez struck out Choo to end the top half of the inning.  

Cole Hamels, who took a no-decision in Texas' 6-4 win in Game 2, was in control from the start. The southpaw went 6.1 innings, allowing four hits, two walks and two earned runs with eight strikeoutsand worked out of trouble on a few occasions. 

Following the controversial go-ahead run, Hamels' defense failed him in the bottom of the seventh. Martin, Kevin Pillar and Ryan Goins reached base on three consecutive errors to start the inning. 

Ben Revere grounded into a force out, with pinch runner Dalton Pompey getting thrown out at home plate. Josh Donaldson hit a lazy popup just behind Odor that the second baseman misjudged, and it dropped just beyond his reach to tie the score. Odor recovered to throw Revere out of second, though, which left two on and two out. 

That set the stage for Bautista's dramatics, which featured one of the greatest bat flips in history, per MLB.com:

Bautista's moonshot off Rangers reliever Sam Dyson gave Toronto a three-run lead, with ESPN Stats & Info noting the Blue Jays slugger did something that hadn't been done in nearly a decade:

MLB Memes predicted that fans will eventually be able to see an in-depth look at all of this seventh-inning insanity:

Fans in the Rogers Centre weren't the only ones going insane after Bautista went yard, per Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca:

After the victory, Bautista told Ken Rosenthal on the Fox broadcast that this game was all about emotion (h/t Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News):

Of the six runs scored by Toronto in victory, three were unearned as a result of Texas' unusually sloppy defense. The Rangers ranked fifth in FanGraphs' defensive value (20.8) during the regular season. 

Two of the errors were charged to shortstop Elvis Andrus—on a botched ground ball and a missed catch on a play at third base. 

Prior to the game, Rangers manager Jeff Banister told reporters, per ESPN.com's Jean-Jacques Taylor, that situations like Wednesday's game were the reason the team acquired Hamels in July.

"It's why you go out and get top performers, elite competitors, [for] situations exactly like this," Banister said. "The comforting feeling is that we've got a guy on the mound that's going to go for us that has been here, has done it, and is quite capable of continuing to do it."

Hamels held up his end of the bargain, as he should have been out of the seventh inning unscathed with the only major blemish being an Edwin Encarnacion homer in the sixth inning. 

In fact, lost in the insanity of that seventh inning was how great both starting pitchers were. Toronto gave Marcus Stroman the ball, with the 24-year-old right-hander providing six solid innings with two runs allowed on six hits with four strikeouts. 

The Blue Jays are the third team to win a best-of-five series after losing the first two games at home, joining the 2001 New York Yankees and 2012 San Francisco Giants, per ESPN Stats & Info. More good news for Toronto: Both of those teams went to the World Series, with the Giants winning it all. 

Per ESPN Stats & Info, much like Bautista's blast, Encarnacion's blast was the first in this particular type of game since 2003:

Toronto is known for its prolific offense, which scored 127 more runs than any other team in baseball this season, and Encarnacion is the most prolific right-handed power hitter in the sport over the past four seasons, per Aaron Gleeman of Hardball Talk:

It took awhile for the Blue Jays bats to wake up, as they were held to seven runs in the first two games of this series. They scored 19 over the last three to reach the ALCS. 

The victory ended two droughts for the Blue Jays, as it's their first home playoff win and first playoff series win since the 1993 World Series, when Joe Carter provided his own fireworks.

After that early offensive lull for the Blue Jays, they are set up nicely heading into the ALCS, whether it's against the Houston Astros or Kansas City Royals. David Price, who threw 50 pitches in relief Monday, should be ready for Game 1, and R.A. Dickey is set up for Game 2. 

Whatever combination manager John Gibbons goes with on the mound to start the series, the Blue Jays bats are locked in. That's bad news for whichever team winds up on the other side of the field beginning on Friday night. 

 

Post-Game Reaction

Not surprisingly, the mood in Texas' locker room after a crushing defeat was somber. Unfortunately for the Rangers, their recent history is filled with painful losses from losing back-to-back World Series in 2010 and 2011 to losing the division on the final day and Wild Card Game in 2012 to missing out on the wild card by one game in 2013.

Andrus, in particular, seemed despondent, per Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post:

Dyson, who was on the mound when Bautista had the bat flip to end all bat flips, was not particularly receptive to the Blue Jays star's display of emotion, per Svrluga.

"Jose needs to calm that down, just kind of respect the game a little more," Dyson said. "He’s a huge role model for the younger generation that’s coming up playing this game, and I mean he’s doing stuff that kids do in Wiffle ball games and backyard baseball. It shouldn’t be done."

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Fan Injured in Fight Outside Dodger Stadium Following Game 1 of NLDS

A fight outside of Dodger Stadium after Game 1 of the National League Division Series between the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday has left one fan with severe injuries.   

According to Kate Mather of the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles police officer Matthew Ludwig said as of Monday night the fan "remained hospitalized...in critical but stable condition."

Per Mather's report, the fight occurred in the Dodger Stadium parking lot around 10:30 p.m. PT after a "verbal argument" turned physical. Detectives from the LAPD robbery-homicide division are still investigating the case. 

Speaking to ABC 7 in Chicago, witness Maria Cerecer said there were people helping the attacked fan by holding rally towels that were passed out prior to the game on the victim's head. Mather's report notes Ludwig could not confirm if the fight involved Mets and Dodgers fans. 

Dodger Stadium is not immune to violent acts involving fans. In February 2014, Louie Sanchez and Marvin Norwood pleaded guilty to felony charges in the attack of San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow that left him permanently disabled nearly three years earlier.   

Mather noted the Dodgers have used increased security since the Stow incident in 2011. This latest incident may be the impetus for the team to bulk up security measures around the stadium once again. 

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