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  • Cubs confident they can make Dodgers sweat
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, October 18, 2017

    CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs have a history of coming from behind when their season is on the line.

    • If the Cubs -- who erased a three-games-to-one deficit in the 2016 World Series to capture their first championship since 1908 -- are to return to the Fall Classic, they will have to pull off a comeback achieved just once in baseball history.

      A 6-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Tuesday night put the Cubs within a loss of being eliminated. The Dodgers are just a victory away from their first World Series appearance since 1988 heading into Game 4 at Wrigley Field on Wednesday, but the Cubs' recent history of comebacks provides them with confidence they can do it again.

      Even so, they also realize they are running out of time.

      "We are down, but we're not out -- we have a pulse," Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant said after the Tuesday loss. "As the saying goes, we really need to take it one game at a time. Now, we've got to win them all."

      The Boston Red Sox pulled off the only escape from a 3-0 postseason deficit, beating the New York Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series.

      The Cubs again struggled to score runs on Tuesday night when they couldn't manage anything more than Kyle Schwarber's first-inning solo home run. Now, with their season on the line, they will hope their bats can catch fire while Jake Arrieta takes the mound looking to extend the series to a fifth game on Thursday at Wrigley Field.

      Arrieta is just 1-3 with a 3.77 ERA in five career starts against the Dodgers, who beat him in his only start against Los Angeles this season. But given the dire reality of the must-win game, Arrieta knows how much a solid outing on Wednesday could do for the Cubs' chances.

      Arrieta, a free agent at season's end who could be making his final start for the Cubs on Wednesday, said the feeling in the clubhouse remains upbeat despite the series deficit.

      "The mood is really very similar to the way it is in our clubhouse every day," Arrieta said before the Game 3 loss. "You know, we really don't ever expect that to change."

      Said Cubs shortstop Addison Russell: "We've got nothing to lose -- we just have to go out and play our hearts out."

      The Dodgers will counter with Rich Hill, who hadn't made a career start against the Cubs before last week. The left-hander pitched five innings in Los Angeles' Game 2 win, surrendering just three hits and one run while striking out eight and walking one.

      With another strong showing by Hill and continued dominance by the Los Angeles bullpen, the Dodgers would carry a seven-game unbeaten streak into the World Series.

      The Cubs, meanwhile, would be swept in the NLCS for the second time in three years after the New York Mets won four straight games against Chicago in 2015.

      "(We're) just getting after it tomorrow," Dodgers left fielder Andre Ethier said Tuesday night. "(We have to) come back with the same intensity, embrace all the emotion, embrace all the energy that is flying around this ballpark, on the team, and get the job done.

      "Like I said, you can't give opportunities and too much open space for a team like the Cubs to get back in it. So tomorrow's the most important game. We've got to figure out a way to close it out tomorrow."

  • Dodgers continue postseason perfection
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, October 18, 2017

    CHICAGO -- Twenty-nine years have gone by since the Los Angeles Dodgers last reached the World Series.

    • During that time, half a dozen presidents have lived in the White House. The Berlin Wall came down. Something called the Internet turned out to be pretty important.

      All the while, Los Angeles' boys in blue tried and failed to return to the Fall Classic.

      Now, the Dodgers are on the doorstep. They hold a commanding 3-0 advantage over the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series after cruising to a 6-1 victory Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.

      Yet Dodgers manager Dave Roberts insists that he is not thinking about what is at stake for his team.

      "No," Roberts said without hesitation. "I think that right now, we're just laser focused on trying to win baseball games. If that presents itself, obviously it will be great. But right now our focus is on (Wednesday's opposing starter) Jake Arrieta and trying to figure out a way to win a baseball game tomorrow night."

      The Dodgers have figured out how to win plenty of games so far this month. They improved to 6-0 during the postseason, which marks the best streak in franchise history.

      Streaky play is nothing new for Los Angeles, which posted a remarkable 43-7 record from June 7-Aug. 5, only to drop 11 consecutive games in early September. That was the longest drought by any team this season.

      Now, the Dodgers are the right kind of streaky once again.

      "We're kind of back to being the fun Dodgers now the way we've played so far," said left-hander Alex Wood, who will take the mound in Game 4. "And that energy is back in our clubhouse."

      The energy was apparent on the field during Tuesday's win. Andre Ethier and Chris Taylor each went deep, and Yu Darvish drew a bases-loaded walk to subdue a Wrigley Field crowd that arrived ready to party.

      Instead, thousands of dejected Cubs fans left before the final out.

      "There is nothing inspirational I could possibly say that's going to make a difference," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "We've just got to go out and play our normal game tomorrow."

      Trouble is, the Dodgers' normal game has proved to be better.

      A talented rotation featuring Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Yu Darvish and Alex Wood challenges opposing hitters because each starter features a different style. Meanwhile, the Dodgers bullpen did not allow a hit in 29 consecutive at-bats before Cubs catcher Alex Avila singled off Ross Stripling in the ninth inning Tuesday.

      In each game of the series, the Cubs have scored first. In each game, the Dodgers have stormed back.

      "You have a lot of guys (on this team) that don't take things for granted," Ethier said. "You know things aren't going to always come easy, and you don't have many opportunities when you're in this position.

      "I think that's something we try to pass on to some of the younger guys is don't take these opportunities for granted, and going back to that five NL West championships in a row. This doesn't really happen, and you can't get complacent to think that year after year, this is going to be a thing."

      The World Series has not been a thing for the Dodgers in nearly three decades. The team never has been closer to returning to the top of the mountain than it is now.

      "These guys are really good over there -- NLCS three years in a row and a World Series champion," Ethier said. "So they know how to win. We're the ones who have to knock them off, and that's what we're trying to do."

  • MLB playoff roundup: Dodgers go up 3-0 on Cubs
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, October 18, 2017

    CHICAGO -- Chris Taylor homered and drove in two runs, and Yu Darvish allowed one run over 6 1/3 innings as the Los Angeles Dodgers moved to within a victory of the National League pennant with a 6-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday night.

    • The Dodgers, who last reached the World Series in 1988, can advance with a win in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field.

      Darvish struck out seven, scattered six hits and walked just one as Los Angeles took a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven NLCS. Darvish also drove in a run with a bases-loaded walk in the sixth inning.

      Taylor broke a 1-1 tie in the third inning with a 444-foot solo home run to dead center field. Taylor provided the Dodgers with a 3-1 lead with a fifth-inning RBI triple down the third base line that scored Joc Pederson, who led off with a double.

      Yankees 6, Astros 4

      NEW YORK -- Gary Sanchez hit a tiebreaking, two-run double with one out in the eighth inning as New York stormed back to beat Houston and even the American League Championship Series 2-2.

      Aaron Judge started the comeback by opening homering off Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. on the first pitch of the seventh. Judge then tied the game in the eighth with a long double off the left field wall against Ken Giles (0-1).

      After Judge moved to third on a base hit by Didi Gregorius, Sanchez laced Giles' 2-0 fastball to deep center field, scoring both runners. McCullers held the Yankees to one run on two hits in six-plus innings before the Astros' bullpen imploded.

  • Astros look to Keuchel to get back on track
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, October 18, 2017

    NEW YORK -- Masahiro Tanaka and Dallas Keuchel twice squared off in a postseason setting.

    • Both games went in favor of Keuchel and the Houston Astros.

      The next matchup will occur Wednesday in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium, where one team will move within a game of clinching a berth in the World Series.

      The series is tied 2-2 after New York rallied for a 6-4 victory in Game 4 on Tuesday. Aaron Judge homered off Lance McCullers Jr. before New York scored four runs in the eighth. Judge's double tied the score, and Gary Sanchez's two-run double off Houston closer Ken Giles gave New York the lead.

      "This is a great series," Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. "This is two really good teams fighting for the chance to represent the American League. I don't think anyone thought the series was over two games ago."

      The first postseason meeting between Tanaka and Keuchel occurred in the 2015 AL wild-card game in New York. In Houston's 3-0 victory, Keuchel struck out seven and allowed three hits in six innings while Tanaka allowed two runs on four hits in five innings.

      The second playoff meeting occurred in the ALCS opener on Friday in Houston. Keuchel allowed four hits in seven scoreless innings while striking out 10. Tanaka gave up two runs on four hits in six innings during the Astros' 2-1 victory.

      "He's a very good pitcher," Keuchel said of Tanaka. "And if it weren't for some extraordinary performances, we'd be singing his praises multiple times.

      "When I've pitched against him in the regular season and in the postseason, it's a feeling that you have to be on top of your game because there's not going to be a lot of runs produced from our part. That brings a challenge."

      In Game 1, Keuchel threw one changeup. In the 2015 wild-card game, he threw the pitch five times. During the regular season, he threw it 13 percent of the time. He threw just seven changeups May 11 in a start at New York.

      "It was just the fact that I had some really late movement on my two-seam and my slider was really good, the cutter was decent," Keuchel said of Game 1. "So, I didn't feel the need to change speeds with the changeup, and hopefully that comes into play (Wednesday)."

      Including his two playoff wins over Tanaka and the Yankees, Keuchel is 6-2 with a 1.09 ERA in eight starts versus New York, with three of those outings occurring against Tanaka.

      Overall, the left-hander is 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA in five postseason appearances (four starts). Before beating the Yankees again, Keuchel allowed one run and three hits in 5 2/3 innings in Game 1 of the AL Division Series against the Boston Red Sox.

      "We haven't done a whole lot off him in the starts we've seen him," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Hopefully seeing him twice in one series, our guys are able to adjust a little quicker."

      It will be the second postseason series Keuchel is appearing in for a second time. He started Game 3 of the 2015 ALDS against Kansas City, then three days later, he allowed three runs in the eighth inning in a relief appearance in Game 5.

      The Yankees are hoping to become the fourth team to win an LCS after losing the first two games since it expanded to a best-of-seven in 1985. New York is 5-0 at home in the postseason after pulling off its biggest postseason comeback at home since Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS against the Red Sox.

      Tanaka finished an inconsistent regular-season with a dynamic 15-strikeout showing against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sept. 29. He followed it up with two outstanding postseason starts.

      The right-hander pitched seven dominant innings in a 1-0 victory in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Cleveland Indians before running into Keuchel again.

      "I think the biggest thing is that I was able to experience the 2015 wild-card game," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "I think having that experience under my belt has helped me pitch the way I'm pitching right now."

      Tanaka will be pitching Wednesday on four days' rest. Although he went 5-3 with a 4.04 ERA in eight starts on four days' rest this year, Tanaka said he believes it is not a big deal by now.

      "I feel comfortable pitching four days' rest," Tanaka said. "Obviously I've done that through the season and on top of that, I've been here for four years and done that as well. So yes, I do feel comfortable."

  • Yankees feast on Astros' bullpen
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, October 18, 2017

    NEW YORK -- In the sixth inning Tuesday, the specter of Houston Astros co-aces Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander loomed over the remainder of the American League Championship Series.

    • Then the seventh and eighth innings of Game 4 happened, and the New York Yankees' bullpen-heavy blueprint suddenly looked a little sturdier than the Astros' top-heavy rotation approach.

      The Yankees busted out for six runs over their final two at-bats against Lance McCullers Jr. and wave after wave of overwhelmed Astros relievers. New York rallied to beat Houston 6-4 and tie the series at two games apiece.

      Game 5 is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. Thanks to the Yankees' stunning comeback, it will not, as it appeared for a little while Tuesday, serve as a pennant-winning coronation for the Astros, who are scheduled to send Keuchel to the mound against Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka.

      Keuchel has thrown 13 scoreless innings in two career playoff starts against New York, whom he blanked over seven innings Friday in a Game 1 win.

      "That's always in the back of your head," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Keuchel pitching Game 5. "I was focused on trying to keep it as close as we could. Give us a chance to win. Bullpen, just do your job, and they did."

      The Astros entered the seventh inning up 4-0 behind McCullers, who had allowed one hit and one walk while completing six innings for the first time since June 8. However, manager A.J. Hinch sent McCullers out for the seventh, which began with Aaron Judge crushing a first-pitch homer to center field.

      Hinch then pulled McCullers, and the performance of four relievers proved why he went as far as he possibly could and then some with his starter. Chris Devinski gave up a triple and a sacrifice fly to the first two batters he faced, Didi Gregorius and Gary Sanchez, before Joe Musgrove recorded the final two outs of the seventh.

      Yankees right-hander Chad Green, who allowed an unearned run in the seventh, threw a perfect eighth inning to set the stage for the completion of the comeback in the bottom of the frame.

      "Tack-on runs are the difference in a lot of games," Yankees infielder Chase Headley said. "For us to be able to climb back in it a little bit, and then (for) 'Greenie' to go back out there and get us back in quick, that's a big deal."

      Musgrove gave up singles to Todd Frazier and Headley to open the eighth, at which point Hinch went to closer Ken Giles for the six-out save. Giles wound up retiring just one of the five batters he faced, and he gave up the go-ahead hit, a two-run double by Sanchez, that made Yankee Stadium shake as it did during the Yankees' dynastic years.

      "It's painful," Giles said. "I let the whole team down."

      The Yankees ended up sending 10 batters to the plate in the bottom of the eighth, which lasted nearly 40 minutes.

      "It's not a great visual from my side of the dugout," Hinch said. "We just couldn't get the inning to end. We were trying to match up and make pitches. They were putting really great at-bats together."

      Aroldis Chapman threw a perfect ninth inning to earn the save for the Yankees, whose relievers have combined to post a 2.09 ERA in 43 innings this month.

      Astros relievers, on the other hand, have a 6.21 ERA in 24 1.3 innings, a performance that threatens to render irrelevant the brilliance of Keuchel and Verlander, the latter of whom was acquired Aug. 31 and is in line to start Game 6 on Friday night.

      Counting the postseason, Keuchel and Verlander have combined to go 12-2 with a 1.74 ERA in 14 starts.

      Hinch spoke confidently of his relievers Tuesday night, but it sure looks as if the best way for the Astros to reach the World Series for the second time is to make sure nobody other than Keuchel and Verlander sees the mound over the next two games.

      "Dallas Keuchel, he's pretty good at getting deep in the game," Hinch said. "We'll hand the ball to this bullpen with the lead tomorrow feeling good about it if that's the case."

      After Tuesday, so will the Yankees.

  • Red Sox's Ramirez, Rodriguez undergo successful surgeries
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, October 17, 2017

    Boston Red Sox first baseman and designated hitter Hanley Ramirez underwent successful left shoulder surgery on Tuesday and is expected to be ready for the start of the 2018 season, the team announced.

    • Ramirez, 33, had a left shoulder arthroscopy and debridement procedure performed by Dr. James Andrews at the Andrews Institute in Pensacola, Fla.

      "Hi my people, went in for left shoulder surgery today, keep me in prayers. Coming back stronger in '18, love you all #RedSoxNation @RedSox," Ramirez wrote on his Twitter account Tuesday accompanied with a picture of himself in a hospital bed.

      Ramirez, a 13-year veteran and three-time All-Star, had a career-worst .242 batting average with 23 home runs and 62 RBIs this past season, his third full campaign with the Red Sox after joining the team on a four-year, $88 million contract.

      The former National League Rookie of the Year has a $22 million vesting option for a fifth year with 1,050 plate appearances between the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

      Ramirez needs 497 more plate appearances for the option to kick in after 553 trips to the plate in 2017.

      Boston also announced that left-handed pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez underwent a successful right knee patellofemoral ligament reconstruction surgery on Tuesday. The procedure was also performed by Dr. Andrews.

      Rodriguez, 24, is expected to return to pitching in six months, per the team.

      The young southpaw posted a 6-7 record with a 4.19 ERA in 25 games (24 starts) last season, his third in the big leagues. Rodriguez is 19-20 with a 4.23 ERA in 66 career appearances (65 starts).

  • Home is where runs are for Yankees
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, October 17, 2017

    NEW YORK -- Throughout the postseason, the New York Yankees are proving to be a different team offensively at home than on the road.

    • The Bronx dominance helped the Yankees rally from a 2-0 deficit in the American League Division Series against the Cleveland Indians, and now the Yankees hope it helps them stage a comeback against the Houston Astros in the AL Championship Series.

      New York will try to remain unbeaten at home in the postseason and even the ALCS at two games apiece Tuesday in Game 4 against Houston.

      New York posted a league-leading 51-30 record at home during the regular season. In four postseason home games, the Yankees have scored 24 times despite hitting .232 (29-for-125). They produced 14 of those runs on eight homers after Todd Frazier and Aaron Judge slugged three-run shots in an 8-1 win Monday.

      "We're somewhat built for this ballpark, number one," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "No. 2, you're familiar with it. You're familiar with everything that you do on a daily basis. You have your routine and you're able to be in your routine.

      "I find that baseball players like routine. We're told where to be all the time. Whether it's in spring training, this is what time we report, we have (batting practice), this is what time we meet. I think the routine is normal for them, and I think it helps."

      Despite amassing more runs (eight) than hits (seven) on Monday, the Yankees raised their series batting average from .159 to .183 and earned their first ALCS win since beating the Texas Rangers in Game 5 in 2010 at home. The Yankees are now looking to post consecutive ALCS wins for the first time since winning the first two games in 2009 against the Los Angeles Angels.

      The Yankees will be trying to get the split knowing Houston's ace pitchers are looming. Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel will pitch Game 5 on Wednesday, and right-hander Justin Verlander would start Game 6 on Friday in Houston, if necessary.

      Meanwhile, Houston will try to get its offense going again. Despite holding the series lead, the Astros have scored five times just and are hitting .169 (15-for-89). Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa are a combined 9-for-23 (.391), while the rest of the team is 6-for-66 (.090).

      Among the more notable players slumping for Houston, George Springer is 1-for-11 with four strikeouts while Josh Reddick is 0-for-10.

      The Astros also hope that Lance McCullers Jr. can deliver a better outing than Charlie Morton's 3 2/3 innings in Game 3.

      McCullers was named the starter for Tuesday after the Monday defeat. Manager A.J. Hinch kept his explanation short by saying: "He's really good."

      McCullers was very good against the Yankees in New York on May 12 when he struck out seven and allowed four hits in six scoreless innings in a 5-1 win. He allowed three runs on six hits in 5 1/3 innings during a 13-4 home loss to the Yankees on June 30.

      McCullers is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA in three career outings against New York.

      The right-hander ended the regular season with a 7-4 record and a 4.25 ERA. His ERA rose due to some late-season struggles that saw him go 0-3 with an 8.63 ERA in his final eight starts. In three starts since returning from a back injury, he was 0-1 with a 6.92 ERA.

      He made one appearance in the ALDS against the Boston Red Sox, allowing two runs on three hits in a relief appearance in Game 4. Houston lost 10-3, though he wasn't involved in the decision.

      McCullers said of his Tuesday night start, "It's a big game for us. It's a big game for the team. The Yankees have a great home record and are a great team. And we do the job putting ourself in the situation getting up 2-0.

      "We knew it was going to be hard-fought innings, hard-fought games. It's a big situation to be able to pitch in, put us within a game of the World Series."

      Sonny Gray will make his second postseason start for the Yankees, and he hopes it goes better than the first.

      Gray started Game 1 of the ALDS on Oct. 5 in Cleveland and allowed three runs on three hits in 3 1/3 innings while throwing 73 pitches in a 4-0 loss. He gave up a solo homer to Jay Bruce, and he has allowed 12 homers in 68 2/3 innings since being acquired from the Oakland Athletics.

      Due to the long layoff between starts, Gray pitched a simulated game before Game 1 in Houston while getting looks at the Astros' lineup from the dugout during the games.

      "I feel good -- I got to work on a lot of stuff," Gray said. "That's something that has been pretty beneficial to me. I've thrown a handful of bullpens and got to throw a sim game the other day. The positive thing is, I feel really good. I feel fresh and should be ready to go."

      Gray's postseason debut for New York also continued his trend of recent struggles. He went 2-4 with a 4.58 ERA in his final six regular-season starts.

      Over his career in the postseason, Gray is 0-2 with a 3.31 ERA.

      Gray is 4-3 with 3.09 ERA in nine career starts against the Astros. He last faced the Astros on June 20 in Oakland, and he allowed five runs and seven hits in five innings.

      Houston's current roster holds a combined .287 (31-for-108) average off Gray. Altuve is hitting .367 (11-for-30) against the right-hander, while Correa is 1-for-14 (.071).

      "I know these guys pretty well," Gray said. "I think they know me pretty well. I've faced them quite a bit."

  • Yankees veteran Sabathia schools Astros
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, October 17, 2017

    NEW YORK -- When CC Sabathia signed his first professional contract in 1998, Carlos Correa was three years old. When Sabathia made his major league debut in 2001, Alex Bregman was seven years old. When Sabathia won the Cy Young Award in 2007, Jose Altuve was 17 years old.

    • All of which is to say the elder statesman taught the young Houston Astros a thing or two Monday night, when the 37-year-old Sabathia tossed six shutout innings and earned the win as the New York Yankees got back into the American League Championship Series with an 8-1 victory in Game 3 at Yankee Stadium.

      The Astros lead the best-of-seven series two games to one. Game 4 is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

      The power of his youth long gone after logging nearly 3,700 professional innings, Sabathia nonetheless flummoxed the prolific and patient Astros by mixing sliders, changeups and the occasional 90-92 mph fastball in authoring a scoreless outing for the first time in 22 career postseason starts back to 2001.

      "It's weird, me being 37, (using) smoke and mirrors, getting a shutout," Sabathia said with a grin.

      It might have been weird, but it wasn't a surprise to the Yankees, who are becoming accustomed to watching their second-oldest player (Matt Holliday was born six months before Sabathia in 1980) thrive on the October stage in the autumn of his career. Sabathia has a 2.30 ERA and has allowed just 17 baserunners over 15 2/3 innings in three starts this month.

      "He's a bulldog," said Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier, who provided Sabathia all the support he'd need with a three-run homer in the second inning. "Look at the size of him. He looks like a bear out there just on the mound, just ready to pounce on somebody."

      The Astros entered Monday ranked first among remaining playoff teams in postseason batting average (.293), tied for first in extra-base hits (21) and second in OPS (.846), but Sabathia allowed just a quartet of singles as well as four walks while striking out five. He was particularly stingy with runners in scoring position, a situation in which Houston batters went 0-for-4 with a walk.

      Sabathia wriggled out of his biggest jam in the third, when he allowed three straight batters to reach with two outs before inducing Correa to pop out weakly to short on a 91 mph fastball.

      "He can pitch with the elevated fastball," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "He's got a pretty good breaking ball, especially when he gets you in the swing mode. We were a little swing happy tonight against him, and he took advantage of being able to pitch in the outer parts of the strike zone."

      The Astros stranded four runners in Sabathia's final two innings and left runners on the corners in the sixth, when Sabathia fielded a slow comebacker by Josh Reddick, who was a downright ancient 14-year-old when Sabathia made his major league debut.

      Sabathia then proved his competitive fires haven't aged a day by cursing at Reddick as he walked off the field. It was quite the exclamation point to the longest scoreless postseason start by a pitcher age 37 or older since 37-year-old Pedro Martinez threw seven shutout innings in Game 2 of the 2009 National League Championship Series.

      "That was just me being me, man," Sabathia said of the exchange with Reddick.

      All these years later, that's still good enough.

  • Trailing 2-0, Cubs turn to Hendricks vs. Dodgers
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, October 16, 2017

    CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs return home in a two-games-to-none hole in the National League Championship Series and with plenty of questions left unanswered after back-to-back losses to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    • Will their struggling offense find a way to recover? What's wrong with a bullpen that yielded late runs in both losses, including surrendering a walk-off, three-run home run Sunday night in Chicago's 4-1 setback in Game 2 at Dodger Stadium?

      With time now running short on his team's World Series title defense, Cubs manager Joe Maddon realizes that if his team is going to bounce back, it has to be soon.

      Heading into Game 3 on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, Maddon points back to the NL Division Series against the Washington Nationals, when many of the same concerns arose before Chicago found a way to win and advance.

      "I obviously wanted to win one out of those two (games in Los Angeles). We didn't. That's reality," Maddon said Monday. "There is reality and there is fantasy. People like to tend to deal with fantasy. It's reality. So we've got to come back here and get ourselves back together."

      In need of a win, the Cubs will turn to Kyle Hendricks, who pitched four innings in the NLDS-clinching victory last week over the Nationals. Chicago won both of Hendricks' NLDS starts, but the Cubs will need to find a way to produce some offense after scoring just three runs and collecting only seven hits in the two weekend losses to the Dodgers.

      Hendricks is 2-1 with a 3.15 ERA in three career starts against the Dodgers, whom he will face for the first time this year on Tuesday night. Despite the Cubs' 2-0 hole in the best-of-seven series, Hendricks said Monday he doesn't consider Tuesday a must-win.

      "Our team doesn't really approach games like that," Hendricks said. "You hear the way Joe (Maddon) speaks about it. For us, this is just Game 170, I think it's going to be. So, yeah, we're down 2-0. Obviously we know we need to get wins at this point. But approaching it as a must-win is a little extreme. We've just got to go out there and play our brand of baseball."

      The Dodgers head into Tuesday still unbeaten in the postseason and confident after Justin Turner's ninth-inning, three-run blast Sunday night. Yu Darvish takes the mound for Los Angeles, having won his lone playoff start to date this year. On Oct. 9 against the Arizona Diamondbacks, he allowed one run, two hits and struck out seven over five innings in a 3-1 victory.

      Darvish has allowed just two earned runs and struck out 28 in his past four outings dating back to the regular season. The right-hander will make just his second career start against the Cubs, after allowing two runs in 4 1/3 innings during a loss with the Texas Rangers in 2016.

      The 31-year-old Japan native hopes to continue the mastery that the Dodgers have had in silencing Chicago's bats in the first two games of the series. But as much as the Cubs have struggled to hit thus far, Darvish realizes he has to be careful with a lineup that possesses plenty of dangerous hitters.

      "They've got (a) really good lineup from top to bottom, and they play as a team so there is nobody in that lineup that I can get easy on," Darvish said. "So it's going to be a battle, and I just want to take one pitch at a time, one guy at a time."

  • Cubs' Maddon expects to be fined for critical comments
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, October 15, 2017

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Sunday he expects to get fined for his comments criticizing a call at home plate getting overturned in the seventh inning of Game 1 of the NLCS on Saturday.

    • Charlie Culberson scored the final run of the Los Angeles Dodgers' 5-2 win after it was ruled Chicago catcher Willson Contreras did not clear a path to home plate.

      "I expect it," said Maddon, who was scheduled to meet with MLB Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre on Sunday.

      Maddon said he has no problem with the fine, which will be donated to charity.

      Maddon, however continued to express frustration with the ruling.

      "The only thing I'll say is the more I watch it, it was a tremendous baseball play on our part," Maddon said. "I could not be happier with the technique, and you can also argue about the bad base running on their side.

      Maddon was ejected in the seventh inning after arguing the overturned call with plate umpire Lance Barksdale.

      Barksdale initially called Culberson out on a throw from left fielder Kyle Schwarber on a single by Justin Turner.

      Following a video review, umpires ruled Contreras violated the obstruction rule for not clearing a path for Culberson.

      After the game, Maddon did not hide his disdain for the rule, which came into place in 2014, three years after San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey fractured his left ankle during a play at the plate in May 2011.

      "I saw a great baseball play," Maddon said after the game. "I saw (Kyle) Schwarber come in on a grounded ball, use his feet perfectly, make a low, great throw to the plate that could have been cut off, had we needed it to be, but did not because we chose to have it go to home plate. Perfect skip-hop, great play by Contreras.

      "The ball kind of taking Willson towards the line, towards foul territory. He catches the ball, and his technique was absolutely 100 percent perfect."

  • Red Sox interview Cora, ask to talk with Gardenhire
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, October 15, 2017

    Astros bench coach Alex Cora took a break from Houston's playoff run to interview for the Boston Red Sox's vacant managerial position Sunday.

    • Cora met with Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski in New York on the Astros' off day. Houston, which won the first two games of the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees, plays Game 3 on Monday at Yankee Stadium.

      The Red Sox previously asked for and received permission from the Astros to speak with Cora, 41.

      Dombrowski told the Boston Herald in an email that the interview "went fine."

      Baseball analyst Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and The Athletic reported that Cora is the Red Sox's top choice.

      Multiple media outlets reported that the Red Sox also asked for permission to interview Arizona Diamondbacks bench coach Ron Gardenhire. The former Minnesota manager spent the last year in Arizona after compiling a 1,068-1,039 record in 13 years with the Twins.

      Gardenhire, 59, was the 2010 American League Manager of the Year.

      Cora played for the Red Sox from 2005-08, part of a 14-year major league playing career that included time with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, New York Mets, Texas Rangers and Washington Nationals.

      ESPN reported that Cora is also a possible managerial target of the Mets and the Detroit Tigers.

      "He's very sharp, sees the game in an extraordinarily deep way, has really connected well with players in our clubhouse and spent a lot of time developing relationships and being the bench-coach liaison to the clubhouse that I asked him to be," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "For him to be able to learn, to grow, to evolve, become a better bench coach, continue to learn the game, those are characteristics as to why he is a hot name in every opening that's coming up so far and why one day he's going to manage, whether it's now or later."

      Boston fired manager John Farrell after the season even though the team won the AL East with a 93-69 record. The Red Sox fell in four games to the Astros in the AL Division Series. Farrell, who led the Red Sox to the 2013 World Series title, had a 432-378 record over five seasons in Boston.

  • Former White Sox pitcher Webb dies in ATV accident
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, October 15, 2017

    Daniel Webb, who pitched from 2013-16 for the Chicago White Sox, died Saturday night in an ATV accident in Humphreys County, Tenn.

    • According to WKRN in Nashville, police said Webb was killed when his ATV hit an object in the woods. The ATV rolled over and Webb broke his neck.

      Webb, 28, was recently married with a newborn child.

      "Daniel left many friends within the Chicago White Sox organization, and we are all shocked and stunned by the news of last night's terrible accident," the team said in a statement released Sunday. "He was a terrific young man with a full life ahead of him. All thoughts and prayers go to his family and friends as they deal with today's tragic news."

      Webb was 7-5 with a 4.50 ERA with 93 strikeouts over 110 innings in his major league career, all with Chicago.

      Webb was released by the White Sox last November and was a free agent since being cut.

  • Yankees try to dig out of another 2-0 hole
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, October 15, 2017

    NEW YORK -- For the second straight week, the New York Yankees are returning home facing a 2-0 deficit against an opponent who won at least 100 games in the regular season.

    • After rallying against the 102-win Cleveland Indians, the question is can New York do it again in the American League Championship Series against the 101-win Houston Astros?

      The Yankees get their first opportunity to climb out of their deficit Monday night when they host Houston in Game 3.

      The Yankees are down 2-0 in a best-of-seven for the ninth time and second straight time in the ALCS. In 2012, they were swept by the Detroit Tigers after beating the Baltimore Orioles in the fifth game of the ALDS.

      After a pair of 2-1 losses in Houston when the Yankees did little offensively against Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, they are looking to win their fifth best-of-seven series when losing the first two games. The Yankees won the World Series in 1996, 1978, 1958 and 1956 after dropping the first two games.

      New York enters Game 3 hitting .159 (10-for-63) with 27 strikeouts, four walks and 16 total bases. New York entered Game 3 against the Indians hitting .179 (14-for-78) with 26 strikeouts and 25 total bases.

      "We have a whole lot of baseball left to play with a seven-game series," Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner said.. "We're going back home. We've played really well at home all year, especially recently. We haven't lost a playoff game there yet. Hopefully we can keep that streak going."

      The Yankees will hope to include Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez in their home success.

      Judge is 1-for-7 with three strikeouts in this series, and 2-for-27 with 19 strikeouts since getting two hits in the wild-card game against the Minnesota Twins. Sanchez is 0-for-7 in this series, 4-for-30 since the wild-card game and hitless in his last 12 at-bats since homering in the sixth inning of Game 4 against Cleveland last Monday.

      "I think they're seeing a lot of good pitching," New York manager Joe Girardi said. "They're making good pitches on those kids."

      Said Judge: "Everyone wants to hit 1,000. I think you can ask everyone in this room. I think they're not satisfied with their stats."

      The Astros are hitting .190 in the series after batting .333 in the ALDS against Boston.

      Jose Altuve is 5-for-8 in this series after going 8-for-15 in the ALDS while Carlos Correa is 3-for-7 with three RBIs, including a homer and the game-winning double that scored Altuve from first base Saturday.

      Houston's dynamic middle infield has put the Astros up 2-0 in a best-of-seven series for the first time in team history. Since the format expanded to best of seven, teams with a 2-0 lead in the LCS have won 25 of 28 series.

      "They're going to be loud," said Astros catcher Brian McCann, who played the previous three seasons in New York. "We took care of business at home, and now we need to go on the road and continue to play good baseball. The Yankees are a team that has been here before, so we need to continue to play good baseball and show up and expect to win."

      Houston would also like to get some more offense from others beyond Altuve and Correa. Houston's other hitters are a combined 3-for-43 against New York, which has posted a 2.20 ERA.

      During the regular season, the Astros led the majors in runs and scored 24 runs on 18 extra-base hits in the ALDS

      "We have just been able to stay present in the moment and win the games the way that they needed to be won," Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. "We can't ask their pitching to sit it out there over the plate and give up the home run ball that we're pretty good at. We just continue to put up good at-bats and see if we can manufacture some runs."

      CC Sabathia, who pitched 4 1/3 innings in the series clincher in Cleveland will start Game 3. He is 3-3 with a 5.85 ERA in seven career starts in the ALCS with five of those starts for the Yankees.

      Sabathia did not face the Astros during the regular season and is 2-1 with a 4.15 ERA in three starts against them.

      Houston's pitching has posted a 1.00 ERA and Charlie Morton has a tough act to follow when he starts Monday. He will be pitching two days after Verlander struck out 13 in a 124-pitch five-hitter on Saturday.

      Morton started Game 4 of ALDS last Monday in Boston and did not get a decision after allowing two runs on seven hits in 4 1/3 innings during an 83-pitch outing. During the regular-season, Morton was 14-7 with a 3.62 ERA with a 51.8 percent ground ball rate.

      Morton is 1-1 with a 5.68 ERA in two starts against the Yankees. He struck out 10 in a 10-7 win at New York on May 14 when he allowed four runs on four hits in 5 2/3 innings.

  • MLB playoff roundup: Astros take 2-0 series lead on Yankees
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, October 15, 2017

    HOUSTON -- Carlos Correa homered and delivered a walk-off double against Aroldis Chapman, salvaging an incredible effort from Justin Verlander and giving the Houston Astros a 2-1 victory over the New York Yankees in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday.

    • With Jose Altuve on first base following a one-out single, Correa lined a 3-2 fastball from Chapman (0-1) into the right-center field gap. Altuve rounded the bases and scored when Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge made his relay toss toward the middle of the infield. The subsequent throw home short-hopped catcher Gary Sanchez, allowing Altuve to score.

      Altuve and Correa both recorded two hits, with Correa scoring once and driving in two runs. The Astros will take a 2-0 series lead to New York for Game 3 at Yankee Stadium on Monday.

      Verlander (1-0) pitched nine innings, allowing one run on five hits and one walk with 13 strikeouts. He threw a whopping 124 pitches (93 strikes).

      Dodgers 5, Cubs 2

      LOS ANGELES -- Chris Taylor hit a go-ahead home run and Charlie Culberson added an RBI and a run scored as Los Angeles opened the National League Championship Series with a victory over Chicago.

      Culberson started at shortstop only after Corey Seager was not placed on the active roster for the series because back injury suffered in Game 3 of the NLDS. His sacrifice fly in the fifth inning tied the score 2-2.

      Culberson followed Yasiel Puig's home run in the seventh inning with a double to left. He sprinted home on a Justin Turner single but appeared to get thrown out at home when catcher Willson Contreras applied the tag in time while blocking the plate with his foot before he had the ball.

      But on a replay challenge, Culberson was called safe. The official ruing from MLB offices in New York was that Contreras was in violation of the "home plate collision rule." Cubs manager Joe Maddon was ejected for arguing the replay reversal.

  • Injured SS Seager off Dodgers' NLCS roster
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, October 14, 2017

    The Los Angeles Dodgers left All-Star shortstop Corey Seager off their 25-man roster for the National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs due to an injured back, the team announced Saturday.

    • Seager suffered a back injury on Monday night in Game 3 of the NL Division Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was injured on a first-inning slide into second base but played the entire game.

      Seager, 23, missed workouts for three consecutive days because of what manager Dave Roberts described as a "muscular issue" in his back. Roberts said Friday he was "very optimistic" that Seager would play in Game 1 on Saturday.

      Seager batted .295 with 22 home runs and 77 RBIs in 145 regular-season games this season. He went 3-for-11 (.273) with a triple and two RBIs in three games against the Diamondbacks in the NLDS. He was the National League's Rookie of the Year last season.

      The Dodgers also dropped reliever Pedro Baez from the NLDS roster, adding infielder Charlie Culberson and outfielder Joc Pederson.

  • Cubs to start LHP Quintana in Game 1
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, October 14, 2017

    The Chicago Cubs named left-hander Jose Quintana as their starter in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday night.

    • The Cubs made the announcement Saturday after manager Joe Maddon still was deciding Friday night between Quintana and right-hander John Lackey as his starter at Dodger Stadium.

      "We'll go back, try to get information, and try to make our best decision," Maddon said Friday night.

      The Cubs used all four of their primary starters across the final two games against the Washington Nationals in the National League Division Series. Quintana recorded two outs and threw 12 pitches in a Game 5 clincher on Thursday night that the Cubs won 9-8.

      Lackey, the team's fifth starter, was in the bullpen but did not pitch against the Nationals.

      Quintana went 7-3 with a 3.74 ERA with the Cubs after being acquired in a mid-July trade from the Chicago White Sox. He threw 5 2/3 innings against the Nationals in Game 3 of the NLDS, allowing one unearned run on two hits.

      "I will tell you I am ready," Quintana told reporters Friday.

      The Dodgers announced their rotation Friday with ace left-hander Clayton Kershaw taking the mound in Game 1. He will be followed by Rich Hill, Yu Darvish and Alex Wood -- the same alignment used by manager Dave Roberts during their three-game sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLDS.

  • Astros' Verlander, Yanks' Severino square off for Game 2 of ALCS
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, October 14, 2017

    HOUSTON -- On the heels of his first career relief appearance in Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros right-hander Justin Verlander was certainly positioned to discuss how pitcher usage changes when the postseason commences.

    • Verlander will start Game 2 of the AL Championship Series against the New York Yankees on Saturday at Minute Maid Park, seeking to deliver the Astros a 2-0 series lead following their 2-1 win in the series opener on Friday. Verlander logged six solid innings in Game 1 of the ALDS before working out of the bullpen in the clincher and allowing one run on one hit over 2 2/3 innings.

      "I want to go as deep as possible," Verlander said. "Every time I take the mound, I have the mentality of trying to go nine. But, hey, I know the playoffs are different. I would like to have the ability to do that, I would like to be rolling and have our team score some runs and (Astros manager) A.J. (Hinch) just kind of let it ride and let me stay out there. I don't know if that's the case.

      "So it's kind of a dying breed that the postseason starter going nine innings, especially with the chance of coming back on short rest. I think that's what's being protected. But that's what I want to do, that's my mentality, and I go out there until the manager takes the ball out of my hand, and sometimes I don't like it but that's why he's the manager."

      The Yankees will counter with right-hander Luis Severino, who has taken a rollercoaster in his first postseason, lasting just 1/3 of an inning in the AL Wild Card Game against the Minnesota Twins before working seven strong innings in Game 4 of the ALDS against the Cleveland Indians.

      Severino struggled in both of his starts against the Astros this season, allowing three runs on six hits and three walks over 2 1/3 innings on May 14 at Yankee Stadium before surrendering six runs on nine hits and one walk with seven strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings in Houston on July 2.

      "I had to make adjustments," Severino said. "They hit the ball a lot, so I just know to be careful with the hitters, try to reverse my pitches, try to be down some, because they have power, and try to be consistent with my stuff."

      At just 23 years old, Severino comes with a bit of volatility. He was by most metrics the third-best pitcher in the AL this season, and his uneven performances thus far this postseason have required some nursing by Yankees coaches and his veteran teammates.

      "Well, I think (Yankees pitching coach) Larry (Rothschild) talked to him a lot," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I'm sure some of the other guys got to him and talked to him. And the thing about this game is, Derek Jeter said it great, he said, 'Stay humble or this game will humble you.'

      "And you really have to learn to bounce back in this game. And really, anything in life, any sport, any job, you're going to have your bad days and you got to learn to bounce back. I think Seve understands that."

  • Dodgers look to turn tables on Cubs in NLCS
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, October 14, 2017

    LOS ANGELES -- One year later, the teams in the National League Championship Series are the same so it makes sense that the plot lines are similar.

    • There is a team four victories away from getting a chance to vanquish a long World Series drought. There is a fan base starved for a championship, hanging on every pitch. And there is a group of players who have bonded together to craft a memorable summer, while moving into the fall where destiny appears to be on its side.

      The twist is that it is the Los Angeles Dodgers who carry all those credentials into the NLCS this time. The Cubs wore all those same markers on their sleeve as they plowed their way through the postseason last year.

      Further solidifying the role reversals are the facts that the Dodgers are owners of home-field advantage this time, while the Cubs are the team arriving at the NLCS following a hard-fought division series. Both the Dodgers last year, and the Cubs this year, had to dispatch a determined Washington Nationals team in Game 5 in the nation's capital.

      Added to Chicago's plate was a travel issue while flying overnight from Washington to Los Angeles early Friday. The plane was diverted to Albuquerque when a family member of somebody on the charter flight fell ill. Then the pilots had to go off duty because of accumulated flight time. The Cubs finally arrived to their Los Angeles hotel at 12:30 p.m. Friday.

      "Everybody understood the reasoning behind it," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I thought our guys handled it extremely well. Biggest concern was that there might be enough food for everybody. But big 767, plenty of room. We all settled in."

      Maddon had not decided Friday night between left-hander Jose Quintana and right-hander John Lackey as his Game 1 starter. The Cubs announced Saturday that Quintana would get the start at Dodger Stadium.

      Quintana went 7-3 with a 3.74 ERA with the Cubs after being acquired in a mid-July trade from the Chicago White Sox. He threw 5 2/3 innings against the Nationals in Game 3 of the NLDS, allowing one unearned run on two hits. Quintana recorded two outs and threw 12 pitches in the Game 5 clincher on Thursday night.

      The Dodgers will enter the NLCS with a well-rested Clayton Kershaw starting Game 1. Manager Dave Roberts said Kershaw will be followed in the rotation by Rich Hill, Yu Darvish and Alex Wood, in that order.

      Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager was limited in recent days with a sore back and was expected to play in Game 1. But the team announced Saturday that Seager was left off the 25-man NLCS roster due to the injury.

      For Kershaw, having plenty of rest before a playoff series is a rare luxury. He did not pitch until Game 2 of the 2016 NLCS after getting the save in the deciding victory of the NLDS. When he returned to the mound again in Game 6 of the 2016 NLCS, he appeared tired and vulnerable as the Cubs pounced.

      The Dodgers were eliminated last year after a 5-0 defeat at Wrigley Field and they were left to wait for another season, just as they have done every year since Kirk Gibson delivered his 1988 miracle that baseball fans in Los Angeles still clutch close to their collective heart.

      "We want to win this series; we want to go to the World Series," Kershaw said Friday. "We didn't get to do that last year, and the Cubs were the reason why. No doubt about it, we know that. But if the Nationals won this, I'd be saying the same thing. I don't hold grudges, it's not billboard material for me or bulletin-board material that we've got to get revenge on the Cubs."

      After defeating Los Angeles in the NLCS last year, the Cubs went on to get past the Cleveland Indians in seven games of the World Series. Fans filled the streets in Chicago as the Cubs vanquished a 108-year championship drought.

      The Dodgers are working on a 29-year dry spell of their own. They haven't even been to the World Series since their underdog team upended the mighty Oakland Athletics for their last title. They have made 10 postseason appearances since and have come up empty each time.

      "It's very clear what our ultimate goal is," Roberts said. "But our guys, all year long have done a very good job of not getting ahead of themselves. So our only focus is tomorrow, it really is, and whatever we can do to win a baseball game tomorrow."

      Roberts' Dodgers went 52-9 at one stretch this season. They also went 1-16 late in the year in what appeared to be a collective exhale. But a three-game sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLDS had the Dodgers looking more like the team that dominated most of the season.

      The Cubs had their woes during a sluggish first half of the season. But they scored more runs than anybody in the NL since the All-Star break and their OPS was best in the league too. Only one NL team hit more home runs in the second half.

      Starting Saturday, it is the Dodgers and their major-league-best 104-58 record against the 92-70 Cubs, the reigning champs. The credentials of both are clear.

      "They were the best team last year, and until somebody beats them, they're the best team," Kershaw said. "So we've got to go get them."

  • Phillies name former coach Bowa senior advisor
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, October 13, 2017

    The Philadelphia Phillies named Larry Bowa as the team's senior advisor to general manager Matt Klentak on Friday.

    • Bowa served as the team's bench coach and infield instructor over the last four seasons. The 71-year-old spent 33 of his 52 seasons with the Phillies, including as the starting shortstop during their World Series championship year in 1980.

      "Philadelphia has been my home for the last four decades and I bleed Phillies red," said Bowa, who also managed the Phillies from 2001-04 and won National League Manager of the Year honors in 2001.

      "Whether it is at the major or minor league level, my No. 1 goal is to help the Phillies organization bring home another championship for our fans."

      Bowa was originally signed by the Phillies in 1966 and played from 1970-81 with the club. Following his playing career, Bowa was third-base coach for the Phillies from 1988-96.

      "Larry Bowa is a genuine Phillies icon and he has made enormous contributions to this franchise during his 33 years in uniform," Klentak said. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for what Larry has accomplished throughout his baseball career and I am thrilled that he has agreed to continue to impact the organization in this new role."

      Bowa also managed the San Diego Padres for parts of two seasons (1987-88) and coached for the then-Anaheim Angels (1997-99), Seattle Mariners (2000), New York Yankees (2006-07) and Los Angeles Dodgers (2008-10).

  • Cubs arrive late in L.A. after unscheduled stop
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, October 13, 2017

    The Chicago Cubs' overnight flight to Los Angeles lasted into Friday afternoon before arriving more than five hours behind schedule.

    • The United charter plane landed at Los Angeles International Airport at 12:09 p.m. PT (3:09 p.m. ET) after a five-hour stop in Albuquerque, N.M. when a person on board became ill.

      The Cubs open the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday. They wrapped up the NL Division Series against the Washington Nationals on Thursday night.

      According to flight tracking logs, Chicago departed Washington Dulles airport at 4:07 a.m. ET. The flight diverted to Albuquerque just more than three hours later when a non-player was ill. That person was transported to an Albuquerque hospital.

      The unexpected landing created another problem -- the pilots ran out of flight time and needed to be replaced. Five hours later, at 10:28 a.m. MT (12:28 a.m. ET) the flight departed Albuquerque for Los Angeles.

  • Cubs' bats come alive at right time entering NLCS
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, October 13, 2017

    WASHINGTON -- The Chicago Cubs endured a prolonged slump during the first four games of their National League Division Series with the Washington Nationals.

    • Chicago held a .159 team batting average and had scored only eight runs entering the series finale.

      Then, everything changed in the decisive Game 5 on Thursday night.

      The Cubs' offense awakened as Addison Russell knocked in four runs and led Chicago to a wild 9-8 victory over the Nationals to lock up the series. Chicago now hopes this offensive outburst will help as it heads to Los Angeles for the start of the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers on Saturday.

      In Game 5, the offense wasn't perfect, scoring runs on, as manager Joe Maddon called them, "outs and awkward plays."

      Still, Chicago finished with nine hits -- after getting just 18 in the first four games -- and came through with a few big ones.

      "Hopefully, (it helps) a little bit," Maddon said. "(The Dodgers), they have Mr. (Clayton) Kershaw, obviously, and now they have (Yu) Darvish, etc. Listen, we just went through (Stephen) Strasburg and (Max) Scherzer. I mean, that's no day at the beach either. When you get to this time of the year, you really have to be prepared to beat good pitching."

      The Cubs finished with just a .180 team batting average but still won the series. Washington batted just .186 and left 13 runners on base in Game 5.

      Chicago stranded nine and went just 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position, but Russell's two-run double to left field off Scherzer (0-1) in the fifth gave the Cubs the lead for good in the midst of a wacky four-run inning.

      "That was a big turning point in the game," Baker said of the Russell hit.

      Russell (2-for-4) said that even though the Cubs had not scored much and lacked a good batting average, they were hitting the ball well.

      "I think the bats have been there this whole series," Russell said. "It's just balls fell tonight. It was a great ballgame played, and (we're) just happy to come out on top."

      Maddon said afterward that they had not really talked much about who would start in Game 1 against the Dodgers on Saturday night. John Lackey is in the mix, but no decision was made.

      On Thursday, though, the offense kept working and hitting and doing enough to get the Cubs back to the NLCS for a third consecutive season.

      "We needed to chip away, and we did," Maddon said. "Give the boys credit. That's one of the most incredible victories I've ever been part of."

      Russell certainly agreed.

      "I would say this is the most fun I've had playing in a baseball game, and it ranks right up there with winning the World Series (after) being down 3-1 in the World Series," Russell said. "It was awesome."

  • Astros hope Keuchel continues success vs. Yankees
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 12, 2017

    HOUSTON -- It was difficult to determine whether Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel was entertained or exhausted by the number of times he was asked the same question on Thursday, a query seeking perspective on his career success against the New York Yankees.

    • "I've been asked that question like 10 times already," he said with an indecipherable smile.

      Keuchel is 4-2 with a 1.41 ERA over six career starts against the Yankees, against whom he will start in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Friday at Minute Maid Park. He has totaled 45 strikeouts against only six walks over 44 2/3 innings vs. New York.

      In his lone postseason start against the Yankees, Keuchel twirled six shutout innings with seven strikeouts in the 2015 AL wild-card game, a 3-0 Astros victory at Yankee Stadium.

      On May 11, he limited the Yankees to five hits, one walk and one unearned run with nine strikeouts over six innings in a 3-2 victory.

      Combine those performances with his routinely splendid work at home, and a picture develops as to why Astros manager A.J. Hinch is confident handing Keuchel the ball for the opener. Keuchel, meanwhile, boiled his consistency down to exceptional pitching unrelated to the opponent.

      "It's not just because it's the Yankees," Keuchel said. "I think it's just been a culmination of command, location, maybe a little bit more confidence. And just because it's the Yankees you kind of get a little bit more amped and a little more jittery because it is the pinstripes and such a storied organization.

      "But I think it's just a coincidence that my command and location have been better than what it usually is against them."

      By winning the AL Division Series over the Boston Red Sox in four games, the Astros set the stage for their desired matchup. Keuchel was slated to start Game 5 before the Astros rallied to a 5-4 victory on Monday at Fenway Park. That result allowed Hinch to rejigger his rotation, flipping Keuchel and right-hander Justin Verlander, who started the opener against Boston.

      "Dallas Keuchel has been remarkable as an Astro, he's been remarkable in my three years here," Hinch said. "We hand him the ball and the entire room knows we have a chance to win.

      "So, we're well aware he's had success against the Yankees, we're very confident in this ballpark. He's pitched extraordinarily."

      Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka will get the start for the Yankees in part due to his recent success and also as a reflection of some long-term planning by Yankees manager Joe Girardi. New York advanced to the ALCS by overcoming a 2-0 ALDS deficit against Cleveland Indians, taking the decisive Game 5 on Wednesday, 5-2.

      Tanaka pitched the Yankees to a 1-0 win over the Indians in Game 3 by working seven shutout innings, allowing three hits and one walk with seven strikeouts. Tanaka also twirled seven shutout frames in his last start of the regular season, defeating the Toronto Blue Jays 4-0.

      By scheduling Tanaka for the opener, Girardi can also slot him for Game 5 (if necessary) at Yankee Stadium. Tanaka was 9-5 with a 3.22 ERA over 15 regular-season home starts but 4-7 with a 6.48 ERA over 15 road starts in 2017. He is 0-2 with a 10.38 ERA over four career starts against Houston.

      In his lone appearance vs. the Astros this year, Tanaka allowed eight runs on seven hits in 1 2/3 innings during a 10-7 loss on May 14.

      "Just going into the big game tomorrow, you don't want to sort of have that negative feeling," Tanaka said Thursday of his past struggles against Houston. "So to be honest, I really don't want -- it's not something I really want to get into. But what I can say is that I feel like I'm a different pitcher from that particular game earlier in the season."

      Somewhat negating the Keuchel Effect for the Yankees is their youth movement and subsequently surprise run to the ALCS. Of the nine Yankees to record double-digit at-bats in the ALDS, only four were in the lineup against Keuchel two postseasons ago: left fielder Brett Gardner, third baseman Chase Headley, first baseman Greg Bird and shortstop Didi Gregorius.

      In the interim, the Yankees added twentysomethings Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge and Starlin Castro to positive results, though Judge struggled in the ALDS. The American League home run leader went 1-for-20 with 16 strikeouts in five games against the Indians.

      "We went through some transition here where we have had an older club and ... we made some trades to improve the club, the talent level in the minor leagues," Girardi said. "And these kids have started to come up and make an impact."

  • Dodgers' Seager (back) misses workout
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 12, 2017

    Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager did not participate in the team's workout at Dodger Stadium on Thursday after tweaking his back on a slide Monday night during Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

    • Seager is day-to-day and receiving treatment, but Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters Thursday that he expects Seager to be available for Game 1 of the NL Championship Series on Saturday.

      Seager, the two-time All Star and reigning NL Rookie of the Year, has also been nursing a right elbow injury he sustained in late August.

      "We just felt it was better to keep him inside and getting treatment, and he can also rest his elbow," Roberts said.

      MLB.com reports Seager's elbow injury could require offseason surgery.

      The 23-year-old Seager went 3-for-11 with a triple, four walks, two RBIs and three runs scored during the Dodgers' three-game NLDS sweep of the Diamondbacks.

      Seager hit .295 with 22 home runs and 77 RBIs during the regular season.

      Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal also did not participate in Thursday's workout after flying home to Arizona to be with his pregnant wife. Grandal is expected to return to Los Angeles for the team's workout Friday.

      Los Angeles will face the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs in the NLCS.

  • MLB notebook: Yankees tab Tanaka for ALCS opener
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 12, 2017

    The New York Yankees tabbed right-hander Masahiro Tanaka to start Friday's opener of the American League Championship Series against the host Houston Astros.

    • The Yankees announced their rotation on Thursday, one day after defeating the Cleveland Indians in Game 5 of the AL Division Series. Right-hander Luis Severino will start Saturday's Game 2 in Houston. Left-hander CC Sabathia will start Game 3 when the series moves to New York, and right-hander Sonny Gray will pitch Game 4.

      Houston announced earlier in the week that left-hander Dallas Keuchel was its Game 1 starter. Right-hander Justin Verlander will start Game 2.

      --The Washington Nationals announced left-hander Gio Gonzalez as their starter for Thursday's winner-take-all Game 5 of the National League Division Series against the visiting Chicago Cubs.

      Gonzalez, who was given the nod over right-hander Tanner Roark, will be opposed by Cubs righty Kyle Hendricks. The winner of Thursday's game will advance to the NLCS to face the Los Angeles Dodgers.

      The 32-year-old Gonzalez allowed three runs on as many hits in five innings of a no-decision in Game 2 on Saturday. He struck out six and walked two.

      --Cincinnati Reds right-hander Rookie Davis is expected to be sidelined into spring training after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum and remove a bone spur in his right hip earlier this week, the team announced.

      Davis posted a 1-3 mark with an 8.63 ERA in six starts and one relief appearance this season. The 24-year-old's last start spanned just three innings, as he allowed five runs in a 9-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

  • Tanaka to start Game 1 of ALCS for Yankees
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, October 12, 2017

    The New York Yankees tabbed right-hander Masahiro Tanaka to start Friday's opener of the American League Championship Series against the host Houston Astros.

    • The Yankees announced their rotation on Thursday, one day after defeating the Cleveland Indians in Game 5 of the AL Division Series.

      Right-hander Luis Severino will start Saturday's Game 2 in Houston. Left-hander CC Sabathia will start Game 3 when the series moves to New York, and right-hander Sonny Gray will pitch Game 4.

      Houston announced earlier in the week that left-hander Dallas Keuchel was its Game 1 starter. Right-hander Justin Verlander will start Game 2.

      Tanaka pitched a stellar outing in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Indians when the Yankees were facing elimination. He allowed three hits and struck out seven in seven scoreless innings in a 1-0 victory.

      Tanaka was 13-12 with a 4.74 ERA in 30 regular-season starts.