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Imagine walking into the Chicago Cubs clubhouse with a Magic 8 Ball, giving the thing a shake and asking it whether the Cubs will make the playoffs in 2019. An answer floats into view: “My reply is no.” It is unlikely the Cubs would care.

Imagine walking into the Chicago Cubs clubhouse with David Ross, Vin Scully and Anthony Rizzo’s mom and dad. If you were to ask them whether the Cubs will make the playoffs in 2019, and they were all to say “no,” it’s likely the Cubs would care a lot. Maybe too much!

So that’s the spectrum: On one end you have an impersonal toy, and on the other you have the people they love and care most for in this world. Where does a website’s statistical projection system fall on this spectrum?

Last week, the Cubs went to war with one of those. PECOTA, the forecasting system run by Baseball Prospectus — a site I used to edit, but whose projections I had no role in — issued its annual standings forecast, and among 29 not-that-surprising win totals was one whopper: Chicago, last place in the NL Central, with 80 wins. (Now 79 wins, after updates to the depth charts.) Various Cubs have smirked and scoffed, and one Cub used it for bulletin board material:
Jesse Rogers/ESPN

It is natural to critique or question projection systems, especially in a sport as unpredictable as baseball. It has always seemed a little silly, though, when a team would actually take them personally, considering the things are literally nonpersons. They seem closer to the 8 Ball side of the spectrum.

But should it be silly? To answer that, let’s review two things: The History of Teams Actually Responding to Bad PECOTA Projections, and The Types of Conflict Typically Found in a Narrative.

In the latter category, there are four main conflicts, which you might remember from 11th-grade English class: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Society, Man vs. Nature and Man vs. Self.

Taking a look back through history, we have four classic examples preceding this latest incident with the Cubs:

1. Man vs. Nature: The 2007 White Sox
Chicago was coming off a 90-win season, which had followed a World Series win in 2005, but before the 2007 season PECOTA offered a 72-win forecast. “That’s a good sign for us, because usually they’re wrong about everything regarding our dealings,” White Sox general manager Ken Williams said, and then the White Sox famously won 72 games.
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At the time, the White Sox had an aging core of stars, and PECOTA saw (among other things) reason to fear steep declines. It was, in other words, simply the forces of nature pulling the White Sox further from their peak and toward the inevitable. But Williams resisted that inevitability: “Maybe we’re a year better then,” he said.

They weren’t, but maybe Williams had a point: We are all in a fight against nature. And we are also, by our very existence on Earth, proof of the durability of our stock. Each of us comes from a long, long, long line of survivors — outliers, each of us, when you think about it. A projection system isn’t made for the outliers.

2. Man vs. Society: The 2015 and 2016 Royals

PECOTA undershot the Royals badly in 2014, when Kansas City went to the World Series, but was at least in crowded company with the miss. The next spring, the system said 72 wins — the Royals won 95 games and the World Series — and the next spring 75 — think pieces abounded, and the Royals finished .500. Probably no team before or since has so regularly mocked the projections as the Royals did.

For example, manager Ned Yost and GM Dayton Moore argued projections didn’t value the same things the Royals did. “The stat people and the people that predict the numbers, they don’t understand our style of play,” Yost said. “We know, as a group, that we never stop fighting, we never quit, we continue to battle. If we’re close in a game from the fifth inning on, we know that we have the ability to put the ball in play and manufacture one or two runs that we need to win a ballgame. We feel like if we’re ahead, our bullpen’s going to lock it down and we’re going to win those games. That’s a great confidence to have, and it’s a teamwide confidence that our offensive players have with our bullpen, knowing, hey, all we’ve got to do is be close by the fifth, and we’re going to lock this game out.”

So the Royals weren’t mad at a computer system. They were mad at the societal values the computer system represented. In particular, they dismissed the notion that a team is merely 25 individuals summed, rather than 25 (or, even, more) parts of one mysterious and unknowable whole.
Is it silly to care about baseball predictions? Bettmann

3. Man vs. Self: The 2016 Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks, who were coming off a 79-win season, added Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller but were projected to win only 78 games. GM Dave Stewart called it “a joke” and explained, “You know, I just think that without those guys we won 15 more games [in 2015] than we [did] the year before, so we’ve got to be better at least by a couple more games.”

Stewart’s argument, though, was basically the same as PECOTA’s: The Diamondbacks won 15 more games in 2015 than they did in 2014, when they won 64. To PECOTA, that doesn’t mean a team that’s on the incline, or even a 79-win team, but something in between 64 and 79. That’s what it means to have a long memory, as projection systems invariably do. Projections are all based on the idea that a player is who he has shown you he is, and the Diamondbacks of the previous two years had shown themselves to be a 64- and 79-win team. Adding Greinke and Miller made them better, but regression to their normal, more established performance level had already pulled them back. This is a fairly bleak and miserable way of seeing oneself, especially coming off a personal success, so it’s understandable an athlete or team would resist it. Arizona went 69-93 in 2016.

4. Man vs. Man: The 2011 Angels, and to some degree all of these examples
The Angels had a trick, for a while, of winning more games than their run differential would suggest. This is trouble for most projection systems, which estimate how many runs a team will score, how many it will allow, and then convert those into expected wins — so it could theoretically have the player projections all correct but the team projection all wrong. PECOTA was getting walloped by the Angels every year, and — when the system projected them to win only 78 games in 2011 (they ended up winning 86) — the Angels noticed.

“They’ve had us losing 90 games for the last [seven] years, and we managed to win 90 [five times],” manager Mike Scioscia said — an exaggeration, but he’d earned the right to exaggerate. Then, he said this: “I think it’s a young science.”
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In other words, Scioscia didn’t care that a computer was saying bad things about the Angels. The computer is a tool, and the tool could do only what it was told, and we could tell it only what the science had advanced to. It was a young science! Scioscia’s concern was with anybody who treated it as anything but a young science.

This is a common theme in teams’ responses: The projections are just whatever. They are what they are and they have an excuse. But the people who treat the projections as more than whatever don’t have an excuse. They should know better.

When a player or executive criticizes a PECOTA projection, he will refer to it almost as though it’s a person (“They want to get some publicity,” the Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber said last week) which seems strange, unless you consider the criticism to be of the person who either oversells the projection or who, upon reading it, takes it too seriously.

Which brings us back to the Cubs. The Cubs were told that a thing they maybe hadn’t even heard of didn’t think they were a very good team. They had to decide how much they cared. They could have said “Magic 8 Ball” and blown it off. Teams often do. The Rockies’ Bud Black, on his team’s mediocre projections last year: “You will see some prognosticators that don’t think we are a contending team, but I think you will also find those people that think we are. But ultimately it doesn’t matter.” (The Rockies made the playoffs.)

But one of the most important things in baseball is to care. It can be hard to care as much as you need to, and a good reason to care is basically free money. Somebody told the Cubs that some … thing didn’t like them, and they found in that thing a reason to run out to the practice field that day and prove the thing wrong. Good for them.

(Now nobody tell them I think they’ll win a lot more than 80 games this year, and so does almost everybody else.)

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SAN DIEGO — Ian Kinsler finalized an $8 million, two-year contract Thursday with the San Diego Padres, who cleared space on the 40-man roster by designating veteran left-hander Clayton Richard for assignment.

It’s expected that Kinsler will play second base, allowing rookie Luis Urias to play shortstop until top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. arrives in the big leagues sometime during the 2019 season.

Kinsler will make $3.75 million in each of the next two seasons. The Padres hold a $3.5 million option for 2021, with a $500,000 buyout.

Kinsler, 36, won his second career Gold Glove Award last season, which he split between the Los Angeles Angels and the World Series champion Boston Red Sox. The four-time All-Star batted .240 with 14 home runs and 48 RBIs in 128 games.

Richard, 35, was 7-11 with a 5.33 ERA.

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LAS VEGAS — Maybe it softens the sting of the Paul Goldschmidt trade a bit for Arizona Diamondbacks fans knowing that manager Torey Lovullo is just as sad as they are to lose the franchise icon.

The six-time All-Star and two-time MVP runner-up was traded last week to the St. Louis Cardinals, a deal that netted the Diamondbacks pitcher Luke Weaver, catcher Carson Kelly, minor league infielder Andy Young and a draft pick.

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Lovullo and general manager Mike Hazen met with Goldschmidt at Lovullo’s house to tell the first baseman about the trade.

“It was different than anything I’ve been associated with in this game,” Lovullo said Tuesday at the winter meetings. “And inside of my baseball life, it was probably one of the hardest days I ever had.”

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Trades are part of the game, but Lovullo and Hazen wanted to inform Goldschmidt in person.

“It was a sad moment for me,” Lovullo said. “I didn’t talk a lot because I probably couldn’t. And I had a little bit of a conversation with him once Mike left that I’d like to keep private, but it meant a lot to me, and I got a little more color to the picture.

“One of the things I did share is that he felt like there was so much unfinished business in Arizona. He felt bad about that. So I had to reassure him that he left everything he had on the field. The culture that he helped us and me create will be carried on, and one day, when we do win a world championship, he’s going to be a part of that, even though he won’t be there physically.”

Goldschmidt was an eighth-round pick by the Diamondbacks out of Texas State in 2009 and reached the majors in 2011, helping the Diamondbacks to a division title that year and a trip to the division series in 2017. He’s second in franchise history behind Randy Johnson in career WAR, and since his first full season in 2012, he’s second in the majors behind only Mike Trout among position players in WAR.

He hit .290/.389/.533 with 33 home runs in 2018 and finished sixth in the MVP voting, but with just one year remaining on his contract, the Diamondbacks decided to flip him for some younger players with more years of team control.

Lovullo understands why the trade was made, but that didn’t make it easy.

“I think you fight to get over those things, you have a once-in-a-generation type of player in front of you,” he said. “For a lot of reasons, physically and fundamentally, he’s off the charts. He’s just such a special human being. When that steps out of your environment, it’s a hard thing to get used to. But we know that it’s post-Paul now and we’ve got to start pressing on for 2019, which is what we’re doing right now. The last things we were talking about was wishing each other luck. And he’s going to win a World Series, no doubt in my mind, because he’s very forward thinking and that’s what he wants to do.”

“The culture that he helped us and me create will be carried on, and one day, when we do win a world championship, he’s going to be a part of that, even though he won’t be there physically,” manager Torey Lovullo said of Paul Goldschmidt. Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Goldschmidt moves to a Cardinals team that finished 88-74 in 2018, third in the NL Central behind the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs. St. Louis missed the playoffs for a third straight season for the first time since 1999, but Goldschmidt’s powerful bat should improve a lineup that finished fifth in the NL in runs scored.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon had a reaction to the trade as well: “I don’t like the Diamondbacks right now at all, I really don’t,” he joked.

Maybe Maddon has seen the numbers. Goldschmidt has hit .353/.471/.699 in his career against the Cubs, his best OPS against any NL team. He also has hit .366/.478/.652 against the Brewers, his second-highest OPS against an NL team.

“I have a total appreciation for this guy’s game,” Maddon said. “You put him in the lineup, and [Marcell] Ozuna is another guy. [Matt] Carpenter had a great year last year. [Harrison Bader] is ascending right now also. … When he sashays into the clubhouse and everybody sees him walking in there, they all become better. That definitely makes them much more difficult to beat next year.”

Lovullo said he’s already talked to Weaver and Kelly about replacing Goldschmidt and the pressure of replacing a great player.

“They know who they’re traded for. It’s obvious. One of the best players in the National League,” Lovullo said. “And they gotta block that out and just be themselves as quickly as they possibly can. Not try to validate things. You try to validate things in this game, you get into the have-tos in this game, you’ll back up.”

Jake Lamb is the likely replacement for Goldschmidt at first base. The team re-signed Eduardo Escobar, so Lamb will slide over to first. He was an All-Star in 2017 when he hit .248 with 30 home runs and 105 RBIs (including .279 with 20 home runs in the first half). After struggling in the second half in 2017, he hit .222 with six home runs in 56 games in 2018 before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery in late July.

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BALTIMORE — New Orioles general manager Mike Elias spoke excitedly Monday about rebuilding the worst team in the majors by drafting wisely, stocking the farm system and delving deep into the International market.

After finishing 47-115 this year, the Orioles essentially will start from scratch under the 35-year-old Elias and a yet-to-be named replacement for manager Buck Showalter, who was fired after 8-plus seasons.

Sitting between John Angelos and Lou Angelos — Baltimore’s top officials and sons of owner Peter Angeles — Elias warned at his introductory news conference there are no shortcuts to the reboot. But the former Houston Astros assistant GM added, “We’re going to do this as quickly as we can.”

Elias wore a gray suit and an orange tie. His fashion choice was entirely appropriate because orange is the prominent color of both the Orioles and Astros, and his success in Houston is why he got the job.

“There is exciting potential here,” Lou Angelos said. “Mike’s deep background in scouting really made quite a difference in the discussions that we had. His success with the Astros, hearing about it in detail, he’s been through this.”

The Orioles shifted into rebuild mode in July under Dan Duquette, the former executive vice president of baseball operations who traded away many of the team’s stars — most notably Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Jonathan Schoop and Kevin Gausman — for 15 prospects and International bonus pool money in moves that cut payroll from $151 million to $136 million.

Elias figures that saved him the trouble of dealing veterans himself.

“Those were the right moves. The team had left a period of competitiveness,” Elias said. “It was clear it was time to bring in new, younger talent into the organization. We’re going to build off of that work.”

Still, Baltimore’s farm system is ranked in the bottom third by Baseball America.

Elias arrived in Houston in 2012, when the Astros were in the midst of three straight 100-loss seasons. They won 70 games in 2014, reached the playoffs in 2015 and won the World Series in 2017. Houston won 100 games this year for a second consecutive season before falling to Boston in the ALCS.

“We’re going to do everything in our power to move things in the right direction,” Elias said. “We’re not going to be perfect with our decision making. Nobody is. But we’re going to add talent in every direction until the wins pile up.”

Lou Angelos noted: “This is a time for fans to invest along with us in the process.”

Getting a manager is one of the first steps in the plan.

“The process and the background work have already begun,” Elias said. “I have a lot of contacts around the game and have already started tapping into those networks. But this is an important hire, just like this was an important hire for (the Orioles), and it’s not something you rush. We want to get the right person for this time.”

Elias got the job by impressing the Angelos brothers with his enthusiasm, knowledge of analytics and his blueprint to get the Orioles closer toward earning their first World Series title since 1983.

“We all came into the conversations with very specific plans and ideas and visions in mind for what this should look like and how we should go about these things,” Elias said. “We were on exactly the same page with what the approach should be.”
It didn’t hurt that Elias was graduated from Yale, where he went 9-10 with a 5.15 ERA in 22 starts and 22 relief appearances as a pitcher from 2002-05.

“Well, he went to Yale, and my brother went to Hopkins and I went to Duke, so we had Ivy League envy,” John Angelos said with a grin. “Really though, Mike made a fantastic impression, not just initially but all throughout the process. He was incredibly prepared, thoughtful.”

Elias grew up in Northern Virginia and spent plenty of time at Camden Yards and visiting Baltimore. Now he feels right at home as part of the team.

“I already have a lot of positive memories and positive impressions of this city,” he said. “I already know this city, I already love his city. I also got a chance to be at Camden Yards at a time when the stadium was filled to the brim and the city was supporting a championship caliber team. So I know there’s no place better in baseball when that is the case.”

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The Washington Nationals have agreed to a two-year, $10 million contract with free-agent catcher Kurt Suzuki, according to multiple reports.

Suzuki, 35, would get $4 million next year and $6 million in 2020, up from $3.5 million last season, his second with the Atlanta Braves.

The deal was first reported by MLB.com.

Suzuki played for the Nationals for parts of the 2012 and ’13 seasons, hitting .239 with 8 home runs and 50 RBIs in 122 games. He was acquired by the Nationals from the Oakland Athletics in 2012 and then traded back to the A’s in 2013.

Suzuki is coming off the best two offensive seasons of his career and is strong defensively. He hit .271 in 2018, and he had 31 home runs with 100 RBIs in 186 games over his two seasons with Atlanta.

Suzuki, who has a .258 career batting average, has played with Minnesota, Washington, Oakland and Atlanta over his 12 seasons. He was named to the 2014 American League All-Star team while with the Twins.

He has thrown out 219 baserunners, which ranks fourth among active catchers. He also ranks fourth in games caught (1,229) and putouts as a catcher (8,250).

Veteran catcher Matt Wieters, who appeared in 76 games for the Nationals during an injury-marred 2018 season, is a free agent.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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There are plenty of deserving candidates among the finalists for the 2018 Rawlings Gold Glove Awards. Let’s take a look at the fielding merits of the finalists, and some potential historic accomplishments that are on the board. The winners will be announced on Nov. 4 (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET) on the “2018 Rawlings Gold Glove Awards Presented by Dick’s Sporting Goods” show.

American League

A’s third baseman Matt Chapman led the majors in defensive runs saved. AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Pitcher

Reigning AL Gold Glove winner Marcus Stroman is not a nominee. But Dallas Keuchel, who won the three previous AL Gold Gloves before Stroman in 2017, is. Keuchel had a 55 percent ground ball rate this season, the highest among qualified starters — and he allowed just a .212 BA on ground balls. His 27 assists were tied for second most among AL pitchers.

Neither of the other two nominees has ever won a Gold Glove: Corey Kluber threw 215 innings this season without an error. That was the most innings pitched without an error this season.

Masahiro Tanaka had seven defensive runs saved (DRS), tied with Zack Greinke and Julio Teheran for most among pitchers this season.

Catcher

Martin Maldonado snapped Salvador Perez’s streak of four straight Gold Gloves last season. Both are nominated this year. Maldonado had a 45.5 percent caught stealing rate, second highest in the majors. The catcher with a higher rate? Perez at 46.0 percent.

The Indians’ Yan Gomes also is nominated. He handled their pitching staff well all year and they went on to become the first team in MLB history with four pitchers with 200 strikeouts. His strikes looking rate above average — a framing metric — was above MLB average.

First base

Last year’s winner, Eric Hosmer, is now in the National League, and Mitch Moreland is the only one of the three nominees who has won a Gold Glove. Justin Smoak had just one error this season, the fewest as a first baseman of any player with at least 50 games played at the position. Matt Olson had 14 DRS at the position, the most among first basemen in the majors.

Second base

Yet another position where the reigning winner has switched leagues — Brian Dozier ended the season in the NL. Ian Kinsler, who won a Gold Glove in 2016, had 10 DRS, tied for most in the AL at second base with Rougned Odor. Jed Lowrie and Odor each had 336 assists, tied for the most at second base in the AL.

Shortstop

Will Andrelton Simmons continue to add to his trophy chest? The three-time Gold Glove winner had 21 DRS, tied for the most at the position with Nick Ahmed — who’s in the NL. Simmons also led shortstops in double plays turned and putouts. Marcus Semien led shortstops in assists. Francisco Lindor had 14 DRS, second most in the AL at shortstop.

Third base

Matt Chapman is one of four A’s nominees in the infield — one each at 1B, 2B, 3B and SS. The Athletics have never had multiple infielder Gold Glove winners in a single season, let alone four. Chapman had 29 DRS, 19 more than any other player in the majors at the position. Alex Bregman was fifth in the league in assists, and Jose Ramirez was fifth in putouts.

Left field

Five-time Gold Glove winner Alex Gordon had 18 DRS, the most in the majors in left. He was second and tied for second, respectively, in the AL in putouts and assists. Brett Gardner won a Gold Glove in 2016. Andrew Benintendi has never won one — but he was tied for the most assists in left field this season with Kyle Schwarber.

Center field

Adam Engel robbing home runs felt like a frequent occurrence by the end of the season. He had three, the most of any outfielder. He also had 17 outs above average according to Statcast, the most in the AL. Mike Trout — who has never won a Gold Glove — had more double plays than any other center fielder this season. And Jackie Bradley Jr. was tied for the second-most double plays among AL center fielders and was tied for the most assists.

Right field

Mookie Betts has won three straight Gold Gloves and doesn’t show any signs of stopping soon. He led all right fielders with 20 DRS. Aaron Judge was right behind him with 14 DRS. Kole Calhoun was tied for most double plays among right fielders.

The Red Sox have an outfield nominee at each OF position. No team has ever had three players win outfield Gold Gloves in the same year. The Red Sox have had two win it in the same year three times: in 1979 (Fred Lynn and Dwight Evans), 1978 (Lynn and Evans) and 1968 (Carl Yastrzemski and Reggie Smith).

National League

Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire
Pitcher

Zack Greinke is the four-time defending NL Gold Glove winner. He threw 207⅔ innings this season and did not commit an error — the most innings pitched with zero errors among NL pitchers. His seven DRS were tied for most among pitchers with Tanaka and Julio Teheran, who’s also nominated in the NL. Clayton Richard had 38 assists, most among pitchers.

Catcher

After Yadier Molina won eight straight Gold Glove Awards from 2008 through 2015, there have been two different winners at the position in the past two years: Buster Posey in 2016 and Tucker Barnhart in 2017. Posey is nominated again this year along with Manny Pina, who turned six double plays this year. Molina’s eight Gold Gloves are third most at catcher all time.

First base

Joey Votto (2011) and Anthony Rizzo (2016) have won one Gold Glove each. Votto was third in the NL in DRS among third baseman. Freddie Freeman had 12 DRS, which was third most at the position overall.

Second base

DJ LeMahieu is the only NL second base nominee who has won a Gold Glove before — and he’s won two. His 18 DRS were second most in the majors at the position. Kolten Wong’s 19 DRS ranked first. Javier Baez is one of two Cubs infielder nominees, along with Rizzo at first base. The Cubs have had two infield Gold Glove winners in the same year only once: in 1968, when Ron Santo and Glenn Beckert won.

Shortstop

Brandon Crawford has won three straight NL shortstop Gold Gloves and is nominated again this year. He turned the second-most double plays as a shortstop and had the second-most assists. Nick Ahmed had 21 DRS, which was tied with Andrelton Simmons for the most at the position. Freddy Galvis had the second-most putouts at shortstop this season.

Third base

Ever since Nolan Arenado debuted in 2013, the NL Gold Glove has belonged to him. He won it in each of his first five seasons. The only other player to win a Gold Glove in at least his first five seasons to start a career was Ichiro Suzuki, who did so in 10 straight, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. But Arenado did not lead NL third basemen in DRS — that belonged to Travis Shaw, with nine. Anthony Rendon had the third-most putouts among NL third basemen.

The Rockies have two infielders nominated in Arenado and LeMahieu. They’ve had two infielders win twice before: in 2014 and 2017, both years when Arenado and LeMahieu won.

Left field
Marcell Ozuna won last year playing left field, and this time his former teammate Christian Yelich is nominated at the position. Yelich won a Gold Glove in 2014. Corey Dickerson turned four double plays, tied for the most as a left fielder, and also was in the top three in DRS and putouts. Adam Duvall, who was traded to the Braves in late July, had the most DRS among NL left fielders with 17.

Center field

Ender Inciarte has won two straight Gold Gloves. He was tied for the most outs above average in the majors according to Statcast. Billy Hamilton led all center fielders in assists. Lorenzo Cain had a flair for the dramatic, with six five-star catches according to Statcast, the second most in the majors. He also had 20 DRS, the most among center fielders.

Cain and Yelich are both nominated. The Brewers have had two outfield Gold Glove winners in franchise history (not in the same year).

Right field

Right field rounds out the Braves’ all-nominated outfield, with Nick Markakis. No team has ever had three outfielders win a Gold Glove in the same year, and the Braves have had two win only once: in 2007 (Andruw Jones and Jeff Francoeur). Markakis had the most putouts among major league right fielders. Jason Heyward has won four straight Gold Gloves and five overall. Jon Jay excelled at positioning and range — tying for fourth-most DRS among NL right fielders.

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PHILADELPHIA — Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis and the NL East champion Atlanta Braves are set to open the playoffs on the road.

All they need is an NL West champion to play.

Needing at least a win to have a shot at home field in the NLDS, the Braves lost to the Philadelphia Phillies 3-1 on Sunday.

The Braves needed a win and a loss by both Colorado and Los Angeles to secure home-field advantage when the division series starts Thursday.

The Dodgers and Rockies both ended up winning big, setting up a one-game playoff to decide the NL West. But the Braves’ second straight loss in Philadelphia made those results inconsequential for Atlanta.

Braves manager Brian Snitker said he’ll watch the NL West-deciding game like a regular fan.

“I don’t have a pick one way or the other,” he said. “I’m just glad we’re going to play Thursday.”

Cesar Hernandez hit a leadoff home run, and Rhys Hoskins’ RBI double in the fifth inning helped a Phillies team that was 15 games over .500 on Aug. 5 finish with 80 wins.

Losing home field was a mild disappointment to a Braves team that was a surprising, resounding success under Snitker. The Braves had lost 90-plus games in three straight seasons in a rebuild that was expected to see them need at least another season to contend for a playoff spot. Freeman, Nick Markakis and NL rookie of the year contender Ronald Acuna Jr. instead helped them become the first NL team to win 90 games (90-72) after three successive seasons of 90-plus losses.

“I’m happy for all the guys in there that endured all that,” Snitker said.

There’s more work ahead before they play either the Los Angeles Dodgers or Colorado Rockies. Snitker said he’ll meet with the coaching staff and other members of the organization on Monday to determine the 25-man playoff roster. Shortstop Dansby Swanson’s sore left wrist may keep him off that roster. He took some swings on Sunday and continued to receive treatment.

With or without him, the Braves are in the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

“It’s a good feeling what we accomplished this year — where we came from, where we started to where we are right now,” Snitker said. “There were multiple boxes we needed to check along the way here, and we did. It’s very gratifying. I’m proud of the guys in that room and how they carried themselves and showed up to play every single day.”

Markakis led the way there, playing all 162 games for the Braves, and Freeman led the NL in hits.

Kevin Gausman (10-11) took the loss in his first start since Sept. 20 and settled down after Hernandez’s leadoff homer.

“I just kind of grooved that first pitch in there. I mean, it was right down the middle,” he said.

Tommy Hunter (5-4) earned the win in relief for the Phillies, and Seranthony Dominguez got his 16th save to end a season where expectations soared in early August only to become unraveled in one of the bigger — but not close to the biggest — late-season collapses in team history. The Phillies went 17-34 after they were 15 games over .500 on Aug. 5.

Rookie manager Gabe Kapler said 2019 could be a special season should his key players continue to improve — something think about in a pivotal offseason.

“It’s going to include probably a lot of thinking about the Phillies,” he said.

HIT KING

Freeman led the National League with 191 hits. He’s the first Brave to lead the NL outright since Terry Pendleton had 187 in 1991.

Freeman went 0 for 1 with a walk against the Phillies.

IRON MAN

Markakis because the fifth Atlanta Brave to start all 162 games since 1962. Markakis started in right field and struck out twice before he was replaced for some needed rest.

“He’s the definition of a pro,” Snitker said.

CHANGEUP

Sean Newcomb retired two batters in the sixth in the first relief appearance of his career. Newcomb went 12-9 in 30 starts this season and had started all 49 of his previous appearances.

GOING FOR THREE

Phillies starter Ranger Suarez struck out five in three innings — and hit a stand-up triple for his first career hit.

BANK ON IT

The Phillies finished 49-32 at home, their third-best record ever at Citizens Bank Park. They finished 31-50 on the road, the first time the Phillies were at least 15 games over .500 at home and 15 games under .500 on the road since 1955.
Hoskins addressed the crowd before the game and said there was “obviously a little bit of disappointment with the way the season ended” but added that the Phillies would learn from it and be better in 2019.

On fan appreciation day, Hoskins said Phillies fans were the best in baseball.

HE SAID IT

“If we had finished .500 this year, it would have been a huge step forward,” Snitker said.

UP NEXT

Braves: Play Game 1 of the NLDS on Thursday, Game 2 Friday and Game 3 Sunday. Mike Foltynewicz is the likely Game 1 starter.

Phillies: GM Matt Klentak and team president Andy MacPhail will meet the media this week to discuss plans for the offseason.

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ATLANTA — The showdown between baseball’s hottest teams is set, in no small part thanks to a big night from a player both teams in that showdown badly wanted in July.

That player is Manny Machado, who drove in four runs Monday to lift the Los Angeles Dodgers to a series-clinching 6-2 victory against the Atlanta Braves. The Dodgers won the National League Division Series against the upstart Braves 3-1.

Next up for the Dodgers is a NL Championship Series matchup against the Milwaukee Brewers, one of several clubs who pursued Machado in advance of July’s non-waiver trade deadline. Of course, it was the Dodgers who ended up with Machado, and it was specifically for nights like Monday.

“Can’t say enough about him,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “Obviously, with Manny and a player of his caliber, there are so many expectations put on him.”

Machado entered the game just 1-for-12 in the series, his only hit a two-run homer in Game 2. He doubled his hit total with an RBI double in the first inning of Game 4, kicking off his biggest performance since moving to the Dodgers.

Atlanta and Los Angeles exchanged the lead, each getting two-run, pinch-hit singles. The Braves went up 2-1 in the fourth on Kurt Suzuki’s hit, but the Dodgers regained the advantage David Freese’s two-out single in the sixth. It was just the latest big October at-bat for Freese, who was MVP of both the NLCS and the World Series when he was with St. Louis in 2011. Still, this is Freese’s first time in the postseason since 2014, and he’s learned to savor these fleeting moments.

“It’s crazy,” Freese said. “You never know what this game is going to give you, what opportunities arise for you. You just gotta be ready. That’s what I’ve learned over the years. Whether you’re in high school, college, whatever, just be ready.

“You don’t have to be the best player in the world. You don’t have to make the most money, but you’re going to have a shot to do something cool. I learned that early in my career, and just try and stick with it.”

When Freese made the “best player in the world” comment, he pointed towards Machado, who sat next to him at the podium. It was Machado who broke Monday’s game open. In the seventh, he launched a laser beam over the left-field bullpen off Braves rookie Chad Sobotka, a three-run shot that gave the Dodgers their final advantage.

Machado hit the ball hard all night. According to Statcast data, Machado authored the four hardest-hit balls of the night, with exit velocities of 104 mph or better in each of his first four plate appearances.

“I’ve been locked in all series,” Machado said. “The results haven’t shown, but you try to stick with the same approach and not try to change anything. I think you put yourself in bad situations when you try to change, and today I was just able to make hard contact and not miss two balls that were a big key to our win today.”

The young Braves battled, loading the bases with one out in the fifth, but Dodgers reliever Ryan Madson wriggled out of the jam by forcing a pair of popouts. That turned out to be the last gasp for a team that emerged as a budding powerhouse and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

“It was a great ride,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “[The season] surpassed everybody’s expectations. It’s sad. I mean, you know, we got this far, and after winning a game last night, kind of thought, well, maybe we can pull this off. But they never quit. They never stopped fighting all year. It was an unbelievable group to be around.”
Manny Machado guided the Dodgers into the NLCS. Rob Carr/Getty Images
Machado was regarded as the biggest prize during the trading season. With free agency looming this winter, Machado was made available after his old team, the Baltimore Orioles, fell far from contention. Weeks of rumors ensued, and in the days before Machado was dealt, the whisper mill suggested that the Dodgers and Brewers were among the finalists for the All-Star infielder.

Los Angeles won those sweepstakes, sending a package of prospects to Baltimore for Machado, who they hoped could fill the void left by the injury to the Dodgers’ young star shortstop, Corey Seager.

That trade went down during the All-Star break and Machado joined his new club in, of all places, Milwaukee. His first news conference was at Miller Park, where Game 1 of the NLCS will be played Friday. Of course, he was asked about the possibility that he might have ended up a Brewer.

“I know they were in the running as well,” Machado said at that introductory conference. “It’s kind of weird being here right away, on the opposite side. It was always fine. Honestly, all the rumors going on, I was beyond grateful that they actually wanted me to help their ballclub out.”

The Brewers did just fine after losing out on Machado, adding key veterans for the stretch run like third baseman Mike Moustakas, reliever Joakim Soria, starter Gio Gonzalez and Machado’s old teammate with the Orioles, second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who said he wept when Machado was traded away from Baltimore.

Milwaukee finished with the NL’s best record and thus will have home-field advantage in series. Machado could have been a part of that, but instead he is part of the Brewers’ next hurdle, and it’s a high one. The Dodgers will play in their third consecutive NLCS and fourth in the past six seasons.

“Just winning overall is always amazing,” Machado said. “Coming over from Baltimore midway through the season, new ballclub, new atmosphere, new teammates, new coaching staff, new front office, I mean, it’s always a bit of an adjustment. But they’ve been nothing but amazing to us, to myself and my family. And coming here to a winning ballclub who’s been determined the whole way since last year to get into this situation and further. I’m just sitting here enjoying everything, enjoying the ride.”

The Dodgers won their sixth consecutive NL West title during the regular season. They entered the campaign as heavy favorites to end up right where they are now, but their path to get here has been far from smooth. Los Angeles didn’t wrap up a playoff spot until the final days of the season and didn’t clinch the division until beating the Colorado Rockies in a tiebreaker last week at Dodger Stadium.

Still, recent trends have been strong. The tiebreaker win gave the Dodgers a 14-4 finish to the regular season. While the Braves squeezed out a 6-5 win in Game 3 of the NLDS on Sunday to force Monday’s game, L.A. largely dominated the four games. After a season of fits and starts, the Dodgers seem to be playing their best baseball.

“I said that sometime in September,” Roberts said. “I felt we were playing our best baseball, collectively. And we took a hard path to get to this point. I do think it made us stronger and kind of galvanized our team. But, you know, we celebrate tonight, but we all know that there’s a lot more work to be done. We have eight more wins to go.”

The first four of those wins will have to come at the expense of the Brewers, and if there is a team hotter than the Dodgers, it’s Milwaukee. The Brewers also needed a tiebreaker win to secure a division crown, beating NL Central rival Chicago last week. That gave Milwaukee an eight-game winning streak to finish the campaign, a streak the Brewers have built to 11 after a three-game sweep of the Rockies.

After a season of parity and uncertainty in the National League, it sure feels like the two best teams in the circuit are getting ready to do battle. Machado will be ready. Ready to win and, especially, ready to have fun.

“To this day, I just try to enjoy the moment, enjoy everything that comes at you,” Machado said. “It’s going to be great. Both ballclubs have worked hard to get to this situation. They’re both two good ballclubs facing off in the championship. And we’re just going to go out there and play baseball, be ourselves, keep doing what we’ve been doing all year, and hopefully we come out on top.”

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ATLANTA — Sean Newcomb is fighting for a spot in the rotation for the Atlanta Braves’ hopeful march to the postseason.

The way he’s been going recently at home, Newcomb is leaving doubt that he can handle the job.

“It’s just more a mentality,” he said. “I’ve got to go out there and get right after guys and not worry about too much about what’s going on as far as what’s working and what’s not.”

Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon hit two-run homers, 19-year-old rookie Juan Soto added an RBI single in the ninth inning and the Washington Nationals beat the Braves 6-4 on Sunday.

Atlanta maintained a 6 1/2-games lead in the NL East over second-place Philadelphia but has lost two straight following a season-best, six-game winning streak. The Braves are 38-36 at home, where they have lost eight of their last 11.

Tanner Roark (9-15) allowed two runs and five hits in 5 1/3 innings, and Sean Doolittle pitched a perfect ninth for his 24th save in 25 chances.

Newcomb (12-9) made 31 pitches in the first and allowed five runs and six hits in three innings. He has lost four of five home starts since coming within one strike of a no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Atlanta on July 29, and he has an 11.32 home ERA over that span.

“I wasn’t commanding the fastball, so it was hard to get everything else going,” Newcomb said. “You could tell they were laying off pitches, waiting on their pitch to kind of do something with.”

Washington built a 3-0 lead in the first when Harper hit his 34th homer and Ryan Zimmerman’s grounded into a run-scoring forceout. Rendon hit his 20th homer in the third to make it 5-0; he has reached safely in 25 straight games.

Soto singled in the first to extend his on-base streak to 21 straight games, tying Mickey Mantle in 1951 for the second-longest by a teenager behind Mel Ott’s 22 in 1928. Soto is batting .357 during a 10-game hitting streak.

“He’s been a blessing for us all year long,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “Just watching him play, he’s just out there having fun and playing the game the right way.”

Atlanta closed to 5-4 on two-run homers by Tyler Flowers in the fourth and by Charlie Culberson in the eighth against Greg Holland.

Roark’s streak of 27 2/3 consecutive innings without a walk ended in the third, and he struck out Freddie Freeman to strand two runners.

Rendon dove to field a grounder at third in the fifth and jumped to throw off one leg to get pinch-hitter Preston Tucker at first. Late in the inning, center fielder Victor Robles ran hard to his left and chase down Ozzie Albies’ liner at the wall.

But it was the Nationals’ offense that dominated the last two games. Harper just hopes Washington can stay in contention despite being 7 1/2 games back of Atlanta.

“It’s a bummer when we’re not winning ballgames,” Harper said. “That was the biggest thing on my mind. I’m not really worried about my numbers or anything like that because I am who I am. That sounds bad, but I am. Any given night I’m able to go out there and do some things for this team that are special, and I was able to do that again today.”

TRAINER’S ROOM
Braves 3B Johan Camargo missed his fourth straight game with left groin tightness, but manager Brian Snitker said he should be back in the lineup on Monday. … Atlanta RHP Arodys Vizcaino was not available after pitching a scoreless ninth inning Saturday, the former closer’s first appearance after he missed 55 games with right shoulder inflammation.

UP NEXT

RHP Erick Fedde (2-3, 5.12 ERA) will make his first career appearance against the Marlins when the Nationals begin a two-game series Monday at Miami. RHP Mike Foltynewicz (11-9, 2.66 ERA) will face 15-game winner Miles Mikolas when the Braves begin a three-game series against St. Louis.

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ST. LOUIS — The month of August has been great for rookie pitcher Jack Flaherty and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Flaherty allowed just one run in seventh innings and Jose Martinez and Tyler O’Neill homered and the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-2 Tuesday night in Mike Shildt’s first game since being promoted to full-time manager.

Flaherty (8-6) retired his first 12 batters and gave up one run and four hits with no walks. He is 4-0 with a 1.13 ERA in five August starts. Flaherty has allowed only 14 hits and three runs in 32 innings, walking nine and striking out 38 batters in those starts.

The recipe for his success is simple, Flaherty said.

“Get ahead and stay ahead. Try not to get into deep counts and try to stay from a 3-2 count,” Flaherty said. “Try to make things happen quick. Move the ball in and out. Trust in my stuff.”

A meeting two weeks ago with Cardinals legend Bob Gibson inspired Flaherty.

“I got the chance to talk to him,” Flaherty said. “I asked him what his mentality was every time he went out. I haven’t talked to him since then but it’s more on me to reach out to him and than the other way around.”

Flaherty improved to 3-1 against the Pirates.

“He’s gotten better the more we’ve faced him I think as this season has shown,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “His stuff has gotten better, the consistency of it, the execution of pitches.”

The Cardinals have won six of seven and are 20-5 in August. Earlier in the day, St. Louis took off the interim tag on Shildt, who was put in charge after Mike Matheny was fired last month a day before the All-Star break.

St. Louis is 27-12 under Shildt. He was rewarded with a contract through 2020 after guiding the Cards back into playoff contention.

“He’s been doing his thing and he hasn’t tried to do too much,” Flaherty said about Shildt. “He hasn’t tried to change anything. It’s just been him. I think the biggest thing is for everybody to be themselves and he’s done the same thing. I’m just happy for him.”

The Pirates have lost eight of 10.

Bud Norris pitched the ninth for his 28th save in 32 opportunities.

Martinez hit a two-run homer in the first off Ivan Nova (7-9). Martinez connected for his 16th homer after Matt Carpenter reached base on an infield single.

“I was trying to drive a ball middle in and he threw it there and I hit it out,” Martinez said.

O’Neill hit a 436-foot homer into the left field bleachers in the fourth inning for a 4-0 lead. Martinez singled ahead of O’Neil’s drive.

“The command, it was not as sharp as it was last time,” Nova said. “I gave up two two-run homers. The first home run, I thought that was a really good pitch that the guy just jumped on. The other one was down the middle of the plate. It’s frustrating.”

Josh Bell scored both runs for the Pirates. He doubled in the fifth and Colin Moran hit an RBI single.

Bell drew a leadoff walk from reliever Jordan Hicks in the eighth, took third on a bloop single by Moran and scored on a double play.

Paul DeJong was hit by a pitch to start the St. Louis eighth and an apparent two-run homer by Jedd Gyorko was overturned in a crew chief review. Gyorko was given a double and he was pulled because of discomfort in his left groin. Greg Garcia’s single made it 5-2.

Gyorko said he hurt himself leaving the batter’s box. He said it’s “tightness” and he will be looked at Wednesday.

“I thought it was a home run,” Gyorko said about his hit. “I ran around the bases. I haven’t looked at it yet.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

Pirates: Josh Harrison didn’t start for the second consecutive game after tweaking his left hamstring Saturday running from first to third. He walked as a pinch-hitter in the eighth and stayed in the game at second base.

Cardinals: 2B Kolten Wong was put on the 10-day disabled list with a left hamstring strain, retroactive to Aug. 26. Wong, who injured his hamstring while running out a ground ball in Saturday’s game in Colorado, was batting .244 with eight home runs and 32 RBI in 110 games.

WACHA START

Starter Michael Wacha (left oblique strain) left in the third inning with a trainer at Double-A Springfield after allowing five earned runs on six hits in 2 1/3 innings Tuesday against Arkansas. He threw 52 pitches and exited because of fatigue, the Cardinals said. Wacha, who will be evaluated Wednesday, went on the disabled list June 21 and has missed 60 games.

ROSTER MOVE
With Wong going on the disabled list, the Cardinals recalled INF Patrick Wisdom from Triple-A Memphis. Wisdom, 27, is batting .288 with 15 home runs and 61 RBI in 107 games for Memphis. Wisdom was purchased from Memphis on Aug. 11 and played in nine games for the Cardinals, batting .333 (4 for 12) with a home run and three RBI. He had played in 747 career minor league game before his major league debut.

UP NEXT

Pirates: RHP Trevor Williams (10-9, 3.44) has allowed just four runs in his last seven starts covering 42 innings. He is 2-4 with a 6.93 ERA in 10 career appearances, including seven starts against St. Louis. He is 1-2 in four starts this year.

Cardinals: RHP Miles Mikolas (13-9, 2.94) allowed a season-high 12 hits and five runs in 4 2/3 innings in last Friday’s start at Colorado. He lost to the Pirates on June 1 at Busch Stadium.


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