The two most explosive offenses in the league got together Monday, so naturally it was a pitcher's duel for eight innings.
Tied 1-1 in the ninth, the Braves reminded everyone of their offensive firepower with a four-run inning to take Game 1 of the National League Championship Series with a 5-1 win over the Dodgers. The Braves still have yet to lose a game this postseason.
Monday's game was marked by early and late highs bridged by a long stretch of scoreless innings. The Braves had a lead after just two batters when Freddie Freeman cranked a Walker Buehler offering over the wall in right field in the first inning, but Buehler and three Dodgers relievers would keep the Atlanta club off the scoreboard for the next seven frames.
On the other side, Max Fried was nearly spotless but served up a solo homer of his own to Enrique Hernandez in the third inning that tied the score at 1-1. Fried finished with six innings of one-run ball, striking out nine. Buehler exited after five innings, allowing just the lone run with seven strikeouts but also five walks allowed.
Things went on with neither team even mustering much of a threat through the middle innings, and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts turned to reliever Blake Treinen to continue the trend in the top of the ninth. Things quickly went awry when ninth-place hitter Austin Riley belted a fastball off the second deck in left-center field to energize the Arlington, Texas crowd and give the Braves a lead.
Ronald Acuna Jr. followed with a double inside the third base line, and Freeman narrowly missed his second homer of the game when his high drive died at the warning track in center field. Marcell Ozuna then dumped a Treinen offering into right field for an RBI single that ended the right-hander's forgettable evening.
Ozzie Albies tacked on two more runs with a two-run shot into the Braves' bullpen off lefty Jake McGee to make it a four-run Braves lead. Braves closer Mark Melancon didn't have any such troubles in putting away the Dodgers in the bottom of the inning, working a perfect frame to slam the door in the opener.
Looking ahead to Tuesday, the pitching matchup is one that pits one of the most green pitchers in this postseason, Ian Anderson, against one of the most experienced, Clayton Kershaw. Of course, it's also one that features two of the guys throwing the best right now, and has the potential to be another low-scoring affair between two high-powered offenses.
We'll see if the Dodgers can be the ones to finally crack the rookie Anderson, or if the Braves can get to Kershaw and grab a commanding 2-0 series lead.
Margot stars as Rays take Game 2
This spring, the idea of Manuel Margot performing postseason heroics at Petco Park was far-fetched for myriad reasons.
The world was in the grips of a pandemic that threatened to keep professional sports off the field entirely for 2020 and possibly beyond.
Even if there were games, Margot hasn't progressed past being a part-time player to this point in his career, despite a pedigree that suggested he was capable of more.
And perhaps most importantly -- regardless of whether there was baseball being played and Margot was part of it, he'd just been traded across the country, being shipped from the Padres to the Rays in a deal for Emilio Pagan.
Against all those odds, though, it was Margot who starred at the dish and in the field in Monday's 4-2 win over the Astros in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. The win gave the Rays a strong 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The 26-year-old was at the center of the action almost immediately, coming up to the plate with two on and two outs in the first inning. Facing Lance McCullers Jr. -- who was terrific for most of the afternoon -- Margot lifted a McCullers breaking ball over the wall in center field to give the Rays a quick 3-0 lead. The homer was Margot's third this postseason after he hit just one in 145 at-bats during the regular season.
That in itself would have been enough for Margot to make headlines Tuesday, but he wasn't done. With two runners on and two outs in the Astros' half of the second inning, Rays starter Charlie Morton was facing the dangerous George Springer in a pivotal early spot. Springer skied a foul ball down the right field line and toward the stands, but a running Margot reached over the high wall along the foul line -- going head over heels over the wall a second later -- to spear the ball for the third out of the inning.
"That was unbelievable. Incredible, man.”
The support was enough for Morton and the Rays bullpen, as the veteran right-hander went five scoreless innings before handing it off. The usually reliable Nick Anderson got into some trouble in the ninth, allowing a run on three hits and loading the bases to put the winning run on first base with two outs, but Alex Bregman flew out to end the threat and give the Rays the two-game lead in the series.
McCullers, meanwhile, gave up just four hits and didn't walk a batter while striking out 11, but two of those four hits were home runs -- a Mike Zunino solo shot in the seventh inning extended the Rays' lead -- to saddle him with the tough loss. Only one of the four runs he allowed was earned.
If it wasn't already, Tuesday now becomes all-important for the Astros as they try to hang in the series. The Rays have said they will start Ryan Yarbrough in lieu of an opener, and if the Astros can't come away victorious they'll face arguably the Rays' best pitcher, Tyler Glasnow, in an elimination Game 4. The Astros on Tuesday will counter with Jose Urquidy, holding back Zack Greinke for that Game 4 contest Wednesday.
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Sox, Renteria 'part ways'
Rick Renteria may find a distaste for deep-dish pizza, dyed-green rivers and oversized metallic beans after the way the city of Chicago has treated him.
Six years after being let go by the Cubs in favor of Joe Maddon, Renteria and the White Sox agreed to "part ways" Monday after he led the club to its first postseason appearance since 2008. Renteria had been the manager for four seasons. Pitching coach Don Cooper also agreed to part ways with the organization.
"This is obviously not an easy decision for any of the parties involved," White Sox General Manager/Senior Vice President Rick Hahn said. "This isn't about any decision-making, it's based on where we are as an organization to put us in the best place to make that next step."
This year's 35-25 record was the first winning record for Renteria in his five years as an MLB manager, but it was arguably also the first time he's had the pieces to put together such a record. The 2014 Cubs roster was a far cry from the club that won a World Series two years later, and his White Sox teams prior to 2020 lacked star power, notably in the team's rotation.
That changed, if only slightly, this year with the addition of veteran Dallas Keuchel and the continued emergence of ace Lucas Giolito, but often Renteria and Cooper were left to try to make chicken salad out of the likes of Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning, Reynaldo Lopez, Gio Gonzalez and Carlos Rodon to round out the rotation. That proved to be an issue and ultimately the team's downfall in a fateful Wild Card Game 3 loss in which Dunning started and lasted just two-thirds of an inning.
Like the Cubs did, the Sox are expected to follow Renteria with a manager whom they believe can get them over the championship hump.
"The ideal candidate will be someone who has experience in a championship organization in recent years," Hahn said.
USA Today's Bob Nightengale reported the club plans to reach out to former White Sox player and manager Tony La Russa about the possibility of managing the club. Other more relevant candidates likely include A.J. Hinch and Alex Cora, both of whom were let go by their respective teams and had to serve suspensions this season after separate cheating allegations leveled against the Astros and Red Sox, respectively.
Other openings around the league include the Tigers and Red Sox. The White Sox job should be the most attractive one to potential candidates after their showing in 2020.
Quick Hits: Braves manager Brian Snitker said on the FOX broadcast that Adam Duvall was removed from NLCS Game 1 on Monday due to a strained left oblique muscle. "I think he did it pretty good too," added Snitker. Duvall suffered the injury while taking a hack at a Walker Buehler pitch in the top of the second inning and was promptly replaced by Cristian Pache. It sounds like the 32-year-old slugger is probably going to be dropped from the NLCS roster, which would also make him ineligible for the World Series, should the Braves advance. Look for something official on Tuesday ... The Dodgers added Edwin Rios (groin) to their roster for the NLCS against the Braves. Left-hander Alex Wood was also added, while infielder Gavin Lux and speedster Terrance Gore were removed. Rios was held out of the NLDS due to a groin strain, but he's made solid progress since and was able to do some running and take batting practice on Sunday. He'll likely be limited to pinch-hitting duties for now, but the Dodgers will gladly take that against the Braves ... Tommy Pham underwent emergency surgery after getting stabbed in San Diego on Sunday night. No organs were damaged, per Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union Tribune, but Pham did require stitches to close a deep wound in his lower back that went through all three layers of skin. Acee writes that "the incident happened when Pham was leaving an establishment and came upon an argument occurring near his car." Pham asked the people involved in the argument to get away from his car and a physical altercation ensued. “I’d like to thank the incredible medical staff at UC San Diego Health for taking such great care of me last night,” Pham said in a released statement. “I truly appreciate the hard work of the (San Diego Police Department) as well as they continue their search for the suspects. While it was a very traumatic and eye-opening experience for me, I’m on the road to recovery and I know I’ll be back to my offseason training routine in no time.” ... White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Monday that Michael Kopech is "fully invested and committed" for the 2021 season. Kopech missed the start of summer camp for personal reasons before deciding to opt out of the season. However, he's been in touch with minor league pitching coaches in preparation for 2021. Kopech is fully recovered from his September 2018 Tommy John surgery and the sky is the limit if he can stay healthy. The 24-year-old should see time in Chicago's rotation next year, though it's unclear what sort of workload he'll get ... Nick Madrigal had surgery on his left shoulder and will require 5-6 months of recovery time. The surgery was expected after he suffered a separated left shoulder on a slide into third base in early August. Depending on how things go, he could still be in rehab mode for the start of spring training next year. Madrigal turns 24 next March and batted .340/.376/.369 over 109 plate appearances as a rookie this season ... Garrett Crochet was diagnosed with a flexor strain in his left forearm. Crochet felt some discomfort during the Wild Card Series against the Athletics, but the good news is that the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow is fine. The 2020 first-round pick will get some rest for now, but he's expected to have no restrictions going into spring training. He pitched in relief down the stretch, but the White Sox will surely stretch him out as a starter next season, so it's unclear what sort of immediate impact he'll have in the majors ... According to Alex Speier of the Boston Globe, the 2021 MLB Draft order will be determined by reverse order of the 2020 standings. There had been some speculation that Major League Baseball might alter the draft order for 2021 after the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a condensed, geographic-oriented 60-game regular season in 2020, but MLB will ultimately stick with the status quo. Next year's first overall pick will go to the Pirates, who finished with the worst record in baseball this year at 19-41. The Rangers (22-38) will pick second. And so on and so on.