Astros keep finding new ways to dominate

Major league batters are very good at hitting fastballs. They aren’t very good at hitting fastballs thrown by Astros pitchers. The Astros held batters to a .225 average on four-seam fastballs, the lowest rate in the majors. They also held batters to the lowest OBP and lowest wOBA on four-seam fastballs. If you include all fastballs, including two-seamers, the Astros rank first in lowest slugging percentage and lowest wOBA allowed. In fact, the four remaining playoff teams all rank among the top five in lowest wOBA allowed on fastballs.nfl cheap jerseys nike

As a staff, the Astros had the second-highest average four-seam fastball velocity at 94.8 mph, as well as the highest average spin rate. The Astros have constructed an entire staff of Tom Seavers. No wonder it’s one of the best team-pitching seasons we’ve ever seen. Houston’s ERA+ (adjusted ERA) of 130 — 30 percent better than league average — ranks sixth best in the divisional era, since 1969. (Last year’s Cleveland Indians staff actually ranks first at 138.) Via FanGraphs WAR, Houston’s staff ranks second since 1969 to the 2017 Indians and tied for third in adjusted ERA.

In one sense, modern analytics merely confirm age-old baseball theories with new data and specifics. The smart teams, however, find the best ways to apply that data and make their players better.6

So how did the Astros turn a so-so reliever on a bad team into one of the best relievers going? They noticed the spin rate on his curveball. Studies show that a high spin rate on breaking balls leads to more effective results. Among pitchers with at least 50 innings, Pressly’s average spin rate on his curveball ranks second in the majors, behind Garrett Richards.

With the Twins this season, Pressly threw his curveball 24.4 percent of the time; with the Astros, he has thrown it 36.9 percent of the time (while throwing fewer of his mid-90s fastballs and maintaining a similar rate with his slider). Batters are 2-for-34 against the curveball since he joined the Astros.nfl nike jerseys for cheap

“They’ve reiterated that my curveball’s probably one of the best in the league, so you should be able to use it more,” Pressley told The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan in September.

Cole has been a talented pitcher since the Pirates selected him first overall in 2011. He finished fourth in the 2015 National League Cy Young voting, but he had stagnated in Pittsburgh and had a 4.06 ERA in 2017. The Astros acquired him in the offseason — and promptly changed his approach.

The Pirates aren’t averse to analytics; heck, Travis Sawchik wrote an excellent book titled “Big Data Baseball” that outlined how analytics helped the Pirates end a 20-year streak of losing seasons and make the playoffs three seasons in a row. The Pirates, however, had a different philosophy: They linked two-seam fastballs and ground balls.


Donaldson, Encarnacion look to take care of unfinished October business

One of them is flamboyant and boisterous; the other one is discreet and introverted. One hails from Alabama (via nearby Pensacola) and was a standout All-American with the Auburn Tigers. The other moved to Puerto Rico at age 14 from his childhood home in the Dominican Republic, which at the time did not have the impressive farm systems we know today, to pursue his dream of playing major league baseball.

Donaldson would go on to have a standout career that saw him dealt from the Oakland Athletics to the Toronto Blue Jays after the 2014 season, a year before he was crowned American League MVP. And much like his personality, Encarnación flew mostly under the radar with the Cincinnati Reds, right up until he was picked off waivers by the Blue Jays in 2010 and went on to establish himself as one of the best and most consistent power hitters in the game.

When Donaldson arrived in the Blue Jays’ clubhouse, he came armed with the Athletics way, reaching across the proverbial Latino players’ aisle in trying to establish a winning clubhouse culture that he believes in to this day. Encarnación was skeptical at first, but eventually grew to trust and believe in the good intentions of that brash, quirky kid.

“When I came in to Toronto you had Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista, Navi [Dioner Navarro] and Edwin, a pretty big Latin culture. I always want to talk to everybody, so I made it a point that I was trying to communicate with everybody, so I let them know,” said Donaldson, laughing.new nike nfl jerseys for sale cheap

“I played in the Dominican and I know what it feels like to be part of a smaller group,” he said. “So I made it a point to let them know I was interested in them and wanted to show that I am here to help you guys win. So we started building a relationship. And yes, some people wonder how, but some of my best friends have been more of the quiet type.”

“When I first met him in Toronto, you could tell right away what kind of guy he is. Yes, we are completely different. But that doesn’t matter; everyone has their own way. He does things his way and I do things my way, but that didn’t stop us from becoming good friends,” Encarnación said. “It’s all based on respect towards each other. That’s the main thing between us. The respect and trust we have developed in each other. He trusts and believes in me and I trust and believe in him. We have a close relationship on and off the field.”12

Alongside José Bautista, they became not only good friends, but one of the best power-hitting trios in baseball, combining for 221 home runs between them in 2015 and 2016. That Blue Jays team would go on to make back-to-back American League Championship Series in those two seasons, winning the AL East the first year and earning a wild card in the second while making the playoffs for the first time since winning the World Series in 1992 and 1993.nfl nike jerseys cheap china

That means both Donaldson and Encarnación have some unfinished business in October, having gotten to the ALCS but no further than that. And while neither would openly admit it, there is a chip on both of their shoulders to show the Blue Jays what they could have accomplished with some more time together.

Encarnación has always taken the high road in his comments following his departure as a free agent from Toronto, but it is unclear how hard the Blue Jays tried to re-sign him before he decided to head to Cleveland in the winter of 2015.

Donaldson’s departure from Toronto was messy, with plenty of reports about the mishandling of his most recent calf injury and contract negotiations. The 32-year-old had been limited to just 36 games for Toronto, and no one knew when or if he’d play again in 2018.


Welcome to the postseason, Giancarlo Stanton, now comes the hard part

Successful pressure-packed postseason moments can really provide that life. After spending eight postseason-less years with a Marlins franchise that had trouble even getting to .500 regularly, Stanton — a key cog in the Bronx Bomber machine — can finally say he’s truly chasing a championship.

But in order for a title to come, with the Yankees already trailing the Boston Red Sox 0-1 in the American League Division Series following Friday’s 5-4 loss, and with Stanton coming up short in two clutch spots in the game, he still has work to do for his postseason impact to be felt.

“I wasn’t able to get it done,” Stanton said, just after he struck out in two late-game situations in which he represented the tying run. “I should’ve put the ball in play.”cheap official nike nfl jerseys

These moments of failure were tangible examples of something Stanton intimated earlier this week ahead of his playoff debut. He knew then that this postseason run, regardless how long it ultimately lasts, won’t be easy.11

“You know, it’s been a long road so far, and we’ve got work to do,” Stanton said. “But it’s going to be fun.”

Take one look at his body language coming into October and it’s plainly evident just how much of a blast he had been having.

Perhaps no moment better exemplified his enthusiasm for finally playing on the postseason stage than when he tagged a hanging inside slider in the eighth inning of Wednesday’s 7-2 win over the Oakland Athletics in the American League wild-card game. Extra insurance, the 443-foot home run Stanton crushed came off a mistake pitch from A’s reliever Blake Treinen. Stanton sent it, seemingly, into outer space.new nike nfl jerseys for sale cheap

“What a moonshot. I was looking for that thing to go out the stadium he hit it so far,” Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge said.

It was how Stanton reacted to the homer, though, that best let the Yankees know how at ease he was entering his first career playoff series.

As soon as the ball left his bat, going on a towering fly, Stanton paused for a moment, admiring its arc before slowly jogging up the first-base line.

“It’s kind of what happens in the postseason when you’re feeling hot and you’re feeling great about what’s going on in that game,” New York center fielder Aaron Hicks said of Stanton’s stare-down.


For a few hours, Mikolas kept Cardinals’ postseason hopes alive

The silver lining in all of this for St. Louis was that it had Mikolas, one of baseball’s breakout performers who dons one of baseball’s breakout mustaches on his upper lip. Mikolas bears the nickname “The Lizard King” which is what The Doors’ Jim Morrison called himself, saying, “I am the Lizard King. I can do anything.”

All the Cardinals needed was one more king-like performance from Mikolas, and they got it. Mikolas cruised through eight innings against the Cubs, allowing only an unearned run in the first. St. Louis scratched out a pair of runs to back him, one those also being of the unearned variety, and escaped with a 2-1 win.

Not bad for an unsung free agent, signed out of Japan last winter, who hadn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2014. He’s come a long way, literally and figuratively.nike nfl jerseys cheap china

“To be the guy that they’re looking to,” Mikolas said. “That’s another dream come true. A lot of hard work and effort.”

Still, under the elimination column, the number remained ‘1.’12

“It’s fun,” Mikolas said. “A lot of intensity. I think that’s why a lot of these guys play baseball, to compete against the best and have a great time. We played a great game, and it was a lot of fun.”china nike nfl jerseys cheap

Mikolas won his 18th game with the performance and lowered his ERA to 2.83. He finishes a perfect 10-0 on the road. In a topsy-turvy season for the Cardinals, Mikolas has been the constant. He reached the 200-inning mark, during which he walked just 29 batters all season. He posted his 20th quality start in 32 outings.

True to form, Mikolas did not walk a batter on Saturday, the 12th time he has done that this season. His rate of 1.3 walks per nine innings is the lowest of all qualifying pitchers in baseball. That, and a well-developed ability to work off the inner part the plate, has allowed him to succeed in the Era of Strikeouts, even though his own whiff rate (6.6 K/9) is well below the big league average.

“Miles is a microcosm of what we look at,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said, “That’s consistent competition, and that’s what you’re going to get out of him. That’s what wins. Credit to him. He shows up well-prepared, even-keeled, and goes out and pitches. Just a fantastic job today.”

It was a nice bounce-back performance for St. Louis after Friday’s 8-4 loss, during which St. Louis committed three errors in one of the more ragged efforts of the brief Shildt era. For a time on Saturday, it looked like more of the same, like the Cardinals were doing an ugly face-plant to finish their season.


Watch out, October, here come the new Baby Bombers

Both were in Tampa, Florida, left behind to wrap up their spring training work with other Yankees minor leaguers. Without invitations to join the big league roster, they were to head north a few days later for the start of the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders’ season.

Who, then, could have foreseen any of what was coming off the bats of both players in the big leagues?

Well, Reggie Jackson sort of did (more on that later). But even Mr. October, in March, could not have expected the scenario that played out Saturday, when the Yankees’ two young infielders — called up within five weeks of Opening Day — played key roles in setting a pair of major league and franchise records.nike nfl jerseys cheap china

In back-to-back innings of an otherwise meaningless final-week game, both rookies slugged a pair of extra-base hits that put them in the Yankees’ record books.11

Rest assured, it won’t be the last time either of their names goes down in Yankees lore. The Bronx Bombers certainly hope that isn’t the case, particularly with the postseason looming nearby.

“They just really have not only been impact players, but just been impressive with how they’ve gone about it and handled every situation,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

During the Yankees’ 8-5 win at Fenway Park over the Red Sox in the penultimate game of the regular season, Torres dropped a 93.7 mph two-seam fastball into the Red Sox bullpen to give the Yankees the single-season major league home run record.

His home run was the team’s 265th, surpassing the previous record of 264 set by the 1997 Seattle Mariners. The Yankees later hit one more home run in the game.

“Everybody knew what was the number,” said Torres, who excitedly pumped his fist a few times as Torres rounded first base.

The homer also marked the 20th the Yankees had hit from the No. 9 spot in their batting order, making them the first team in big league history to have players hit 20 or more homers from all nine places in the lineup.


Yankees’ Didi Gregorius confident he’ll return before postseason

Injured New York Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius said Monday that he believes he will be back in the starting lineup before the regular season ends.

“Yes,” Gregorius said at his Tropicana Field locker, affirmatively answering a reporter’s question about his belief in a return. “Before the end of the season.”

Following Monday’s series opener at Tampa Bay, the Yankees, who are still pushing for home-field advantage in the American League wild-card race, have six games remaining.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone was encouraged by Gregorius’ optimism, which backed up similar comments the 28-year-old infielder made Sunday at Yankee Stadium. Still, Boone isn’t quite as confident about the speed of a potential return.nike nfl jerseys wholesale cheap

“I mean, he felt significantly better, and [with] just some of the range-of-motion things he’s able to do,” Boone said. “But I also would temper it. The true indicator will come Wednesday when he gets re-evaluated.”9

After tearing cartilage in his right wrist on a daring headfirst slide that won Saturday’s game over the Orioles and clinched the Yankees a spot in the wild-card game, Gregorius was administered a cortisone shot following an MRI on Sunday.cheap nike nfl jerseys paypal

Gregorius said he felt fine when he went home following the celebrations that ensued after Saturday’s slide. It was when he woke up Sunday morning that he started feeling sore.

The follow-up Gregorius has with doctors later this week could give the Yankees a clearer idea of when the shortstop might be able to play again.

Part of the reason he believes he’ll be playing sooner than later is the shot he received. Gregorius said Monday that it helped ease the soreness.

“It’s my first time doing it,” Gregorius said of the cortisone shot. “It’s feeling stronger, and I’ll get some exercises in. We’ll wait and see what’s going to happen.”

During the Yankees’ early batting practice Monday, cameras caught Gregorius sporting a massive wrap over his right wrist. While speaking to reporters with a smaller, dramatically thinner wrap, Gregorius said he had been icing the wrist during batting practice. He’ll be primarily wearing the wrap moving forward, he said, while working on strengthening his wrist with a grip.


Angels’ Shohei Ohtani will have Tommy John at start of offseason

The Angels announced Sept. 5 that an MRI showed Ohtani had new damage to the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow and that Tommy John surgery was the recommended course of action. However, Ohtani hadn’t yet committed to the procedure.nfl nike jerseys for cheap

Ohtani, who throws right-handed and bats left-handed, said when the surgical recommendation was revealed that he planned to finish this season as the team’s designated hitter. The 24-year-old rookie also maintained he would be able to return next season as a DH, even though he might not be able to throw again until 2020.

“It obviously puts him out of pitching in 2019, but he’ll be able to hit, and I think he’s at peace with that,” Scioscia said. “He wants to excel at both phases of the game. The fact he can’t pitch (next season), there is a little bit of a void. But he’ll be able to hit and focus on that.”8

“Swinging doesn’t affect my elbow in any way,” said Ohtani, who went on a homer hot streak shortly after the diagnosis. “I feel like I’m progressing as a hitter right now. I’m getting as many experiences as I can while the games count.”

Ohtani is hitting .280 with 21 home runs and 56 RBIs in 307 at-bats. As a pitcher, he went 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 10 starts.

Ohtani was diagnosed with a sprained right ulnar collateral ligament after a start June 6. After receiving a platelet-rich plasma injection and an injection of stem cells, he was hitting again in early July, and he returned to the mound with a start Sept. 2 against the Houston Astros.nike nfl jerseys wholesale cheap

Ohtani lasted only 2⅓ innings against the Astros, and he had a drastic drop in velocity during the game. He had been scheduled to throw a light bullpen session a few days later but never did after reporting that his elbow was sore. The medical staff then decided that he should get the new MRI, leading to the surgical recommendation.

Ohtani was in the lineup Tuesday night against the Rangers. The team finishes play Sunday.


Boston’s Mookie Betts leaves game after getting hurt, says he’ll play Tuesday

Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts left Sunday’s 4-3 win over the New York Mets in the sixth inning after appearing to hurt his side while making a throw to home plate.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

Red Sox manager Alex Cora said postgame that Betts will get treatment Monday and is expected to play Tuesday afternoon when the Red Sox open a three-game series with the New York Yankees in the Bronx.12

“I’ll be ready to go Tuesday,” Betts said, adding that the side doesn’t hurt when he bats, but that when he throws it’s a little sore.

Betts caught a fly ball from Jeff McNeil in the sixth inning and threw home as Austin Jackson held at third. Wilmer Flores followed with another drive to right, and Betts unsuccessfully threw home as Jackson scored on the sacrifice fly.

Betts went down to one knee, and was stretching his left side and back as a team athletic trainer and Cora jogged to the outfield. Betts walked off slowly and was replaced by Tzu-Wei Lin, who went into center. Jackie Bradley Jr. moved to right.

The win over the Mets cut Boston’s magic number to two for a third straight AL East title.cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

Cora also said that infielder Eduardo Nunez (right knee soreness) likely will be back in the starting lineup Tuesday.


Dodgers’ recent success has been built on sacrifice

Joc Pederson, who accumulated 10 total bases in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 8-2 surge over the Colorado Rockies on Monday night, has started only 51 percent of the time since the beginning of August. Max Muncy, who essentially put the game away with a 400-foot three-run homer, has been on the bench to start 20 of 55 games since nearly making the All-Star team.

The Dodgers, who hold a half-game lead in the National League West with only 11 remaining, have been built largely on sacrifice.nike nfl jerseys wholesale cheap

Five of their eight positions — all except catcher, third base and shortstop — feature some semblance of a timeshare, and two of their most accomplished starting pitchers are currently occupying nondescript bullpen roles.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has been tasked with the grueling sales job.11

“A lot of conversations,” Roberts said of what it entails, “and selling them on giving us the best chance to win a championship. And understanding that, and appreciating that, although you’re not starting, you have a chance to impact our game that particular night. Which if you look at the way we’ve managed things, it’s really played out that way. There’s a lot of guys, in games that we’ve won, that haven’t started and have made an impact, whether it be defensively or taking an at-bat. When you kind of see it play out like that, it validates it.”

The Dodgers’ enviable position-player depth has pushed a franchise icon (Matt Kemp), a World Series hero (David Freese) and a future Hall of Famer (Chase Utley) into part-time roles. The same can be said for one of the game’s best first-half hitters (Muncy) and, in some ways, the reigning National League Rookie of the Year (Cody Bellinger). Brian Dozier, a stalwart at second base for the past half decade, and Pederson, a budding young player with all the tools, have not been exempt either.

On the pitching side, the mix-and-match has been even more noticeable. Alex Wood, who fashioned a 3.65 ERA and hadn’t missed a start, recently was sent to a bullpen that already included Kenta Maeda, a solid starting pitcher with incentives in his contract that hinge on innings pitched. Replacing Wood in the rotation was Ross Stripling, who was sent to the bullpen shortly after making the All-Star team as a starter.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

Roberts met with the entire team earlier this season and told his players that he basically had two options: He could utilize basically the same lineup each day, or he could try to capitalize on matchup advantages, maximize his depth and keep more players involved.


Pursuing foul ball, Blue Jays’ Randal Grichuk slams face-first into security guard’s chair

Blue Jays right fielder Randal Grichuk was checked for a possible concussion after slamming face-first into a security guard’s chair while chasing a foul ball Sunday during Toronto’s 6-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians.

Grichuk had a swollen mark across his face as he left the game. He was injured while chasing Brandon Guyer’s fly in the fourth inning.

As Grichuk sprinted toward the ball, a security staffer seated along the wall stood up and backed away from the area, carrying his stool and seemingly unaware the outfielder was closing in. Grichuk slid to make the catch, but crashed into the stool the staffer was holding by his side.cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

Grichuk stayed down for several minutes and was treated on the field by Blue Jays trainers. When he stood up to walk off, television images showed a long, swollen mark on his face, running across his nose and between his eyes.

“I peeked at him and I saw him sliding, trying to make a play there, so I peeled out,” said first baseman Justin Smoak, who also pursued the foul ball. “All of a sudden I heard him get clocked with a chair in the face. Scary right there for a second, but hopefully he’s all right.”12

The Blue Jays said Grichuk was in routine concussion evaluation and would receive follow-up tests on his face.

Smoak said it’s difficult to be aware of obstacles, particularly because Toronto’s domed roof makes it hard to look away from fly balls.

“We’re worried about each other and the ball at the same time,” Smoak said. “There’s no chance either of us was thinking about the security guard.”nfl cheap jerseys nike

Manager John Gibbons said he saw Grichuk in the clubhouse following the game.

“He was laughing a bit, so that was a good sign,” Gibbons said. “He’s a pretty boy, you don’t want to hurt that face.”

Teoscar Hernandez entered the game for Grichuk to play left field with Billy McKinney moving from left to right. The security staffer remained in place.