MLB

Marlins blank Cubs en route to NLDS, Padres earn Dodgers showdown

By Sports Desk October 02, 2020

The Miami Marlins won their first MLB playoff series in 17 years after eliminating the Chicago Cubs, while the San Diego Padres topped the St Louis Cardinals to reach the National League Division Series (NLDS).

Miami completed a two-game Wild Card Series sweep of NL Central champions the Cubs courtesy of Friday's 2-0 victory at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

Garrett Cooper homered against Yu Darvish in a two-run seventh inning for the Marlins, who lost 105 games last season and dealt with a COVID-19 outbreak during the coronavirus-shortened 2020 campaign.

It was the Marlins' first postseason series success since going on to win the 2003 World Series as they prepare to face the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS.

"That's probably the best feeling I've had in my baseball career, the biggest home run that I've had in my baseball career," said Cooper, who gave the Marlins a 1-0 lead before Matt Joyce's double. "It's just something that you can't explain."

Sixto Sanchez dominated for five innings, striking out six and giving up just four hits, while walking two and hitting two.

The Padres earned a date with the star-studded Los Angeles Dodgers after shutting out the Cardinals 4-0 in Game 3 of their NL Wild Card matchup.

Nine pitchers blanked the Cardinals in a record-setting effort as the Padres won a playoff series for the first time in 22 years.

The nine pitchers used is the most in a nine-inning shutout in any big league game since 1901.

Padres star Fernando Tatis Jr. also showed he is more than just an elite batter, producing a stunning acrobatic catch in the third inning.

 

Yankees at Rays

The New York Yankees and top-seeded Tampa Bay Rays will open their American League Division Series on Monday. The Houston Astros will also visit the Oakland Athletics in Game 1.

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  • Braves bolster rotation with signing of former pitcher Morton Braves bolster rotation with signing of former pitcher Morton

    The Atlanta Braves signed right-handed pitcher and free agent Charlie Morton following his exploits during the Tampa Bay Rays' run to the MLB World Series.

    Morton returns to the Braves on a one-year, $15million deal, having been drafted by Atlanta in 2002, while he debuted in 2008 before leaving the following year.

    The two-time All-Star played a key role as Tampa Bay reached the World Series for the first time in 12 years in the shortened season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

    Tampa Bay turned down a $15m club option as Morton opted to reunite with the Braves, who fell to eventual champions the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series (NLCS).

    A World Series winner with the Houston Astros in 2017, Morton tallied 42 strikeouts and an ERA of 4.74 in nine regular-season appearances in 2020.

    The 37-year-old stepped up in the playoffs, with 23 strikeouts and a 2.70 ERA in four games, while he had a 3-1 win-loss record.

    Morton also became the only pitcher in MLB history with four winner-take-all victories after pitching 5.2 scoreless innings as the Rays prevailed in the American League Championship Series (ALCS).

    "We saw him trending back to where he was in 2019," Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos said. "In September and into the postseason, his stuff was back to where it was in 2019."

    After debuting for the Braves 12 years ago, Morton was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009 and he spent seven seasons at the NL franchise.

    A brief spell with the Philadelphia Phillies followed before moving to the Astros and then the Rays in 2019.

  • Epstein leaves Cubs after franchise transformation and World Series title Epstein leaves Cubs after franchise transformation and World Series title

    November 2, 2016 was a night many Chicago Cubs fans never thought they would see.

    After generations of fans witnessed their beloved Cubs come up short, the 2016 team ended the franchise's 108-year title drought by capturing the World Series.

    The events that transpired that night in Cleveland – as well as the raucous celebrations taking place 350 miles to the west in Chicago – were set in motion five years earlier when the Cubs named Theo Epstein the team's president of baseball operations in October 2011. And just over four years after the Cubs hoisted the championship trophy, Epstein determined that his time with the franchise had come to an end, announcing Tuesday he would be stepping down from his position.

    His contract was set to expire at the end of the 2021 season, and he was then expected to move on with general manager Jed Hoyer filling his position. Over the last few months, however, Epstein decided that since the franchise is facing several big personnel questions this offseason that will shape the future of the team, and that the one making the decisions should be around for the long haul, so Hoyer will take over now.

    Epstein will forever be remembered in the Cubs' storied history – as well as the Boston Red Sox's – for delivering a championship to a long-suffering fan base. Though a Cubs dynasty never materialised like some fans envisioned after the 2016 title, Epstein successfully transformed a team known as the loveable losers into perennial contenders.

    "The best part of this journey with the Cubs has been the feeling of togetherness: the friendships, trust, camaraderie, and collaboration inside the organisation as well as the deep connection with the fans," Epstein wrote in a letter to Cubs fans.

    "Nine years ago, after I laid out some lofty goals at my introductory press conference — a pledge to create a foundation for sustained success that would mean playing baseball regularly in October as well as a promise, over time and together, to build a team that would ultimately win the World Series — our first act as a baseball department was to set out a collective vision for how we could meet those goals and make our fans proud."

    Building a contender began with "The Plan".

    Epstein had no intention in competing immediately, his vision was a complete tear down to rebuild with high draft picks of position players, develop those picks into a core of the team and acquire pitchers.

    As far as being bad in those first few years under Epstein's watch, the Cubs excelled.

    In his first three seasons at the helm, the Cubs had the league's second-worst winning percentage at .412. Chicago's poor play, however, led to high draft picks, and Epstein and the Cubs drafted Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ with top-10 picks from 2012-15.

    Over that same span, the Cubs traded for Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks, and prior to the start of the 2015 season, they signed free agent Jon Lester. Also before the 2015 season, they landed highly coveted manager Joe Maddon.

    With the core in place, the Cubs went from 73 wins in 2014 to 97 victories in 2015 and a berth in the National League Championship Series (NLCS) – their first since 2003. Over the last six seasons, their 505 wins are the third most in baseball behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers (528) and Houston Astros (510).

    Excluding the 2020 season because of the truncated 60-game schedule amid the coronavirus pandemic, the five-year stretch from 2015-19 was also one of the best in franchise history – the 471 wins only behind the 530 between 1906 and 1910.

    Four straight 90-win seasons from 2015-18, helped the Cubs pile up many of those victories. Since 2015, only the Dodgers have more 90-win seasons.

    What makes the Cubs' recent success even more incredible is that it followed a particularly forgettable four-decade stretch. Chicago had the fewest seasons with 90-plus wins between 1970 and 2014 with four, only the Miami Marlins and Colorado Rockies (both two) fared worse.

    With the exception of the Cubs, every other team on the list – including the San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays – started in the division era, and the two clubs with fewer 90-win seasons than the Cubs did not even begin play until 1993. So, Chicago had 23 more opportunities than the Rockies and Marlins to reach 90 wins in a season, 28 more seasons than the Diamondbacks and Rays (both started in 1998) and seven more than the Mariners and Blue Jays (both started in 1977). The Padres first season was in 1969.

    Chicago's turnaround was a result of Epstein's moves and the team's player development. Bryant would go on to win the 2015 NL Rookie of the Year Award, while Arrieta took home that year's NL Cy Young Award. A year later, Bryant earned NL MVP honours, Lester finished second in 2016 NL Cy Young voting while Hendricks finished third.

    While Arrieta signed with the Philadelphia Phillies after 2017 and Epstein inked Yu Darvish prior to 2018, the tandem of Lester and Hendricks has been one of the most reliable in the majors over the past six seasons.

    Since 2015, the Cubs' pitching staff has posted the majors' third-best ERA at 3.66, while Lester (77 wins), Hendricks (62) and Arrieta (54) are also one of just two trios to have at least 50 wins for one team - along with the Cleveland Indians' Carlos Carrasco (69), Corey Kluber (67) and Trevor Bauer (61).

    With Hendricks, Lester and 2020 NL Cy Young runner-up Darvish heading the rotation, the offense has compiled the majors' second-highest on-base percentage since 2015 at .332 behind a familiar line-up.

    Rizzo and Bryant have each made three All-Star teams, while shortstop Javier Baez – the Cubs' first-round pick from the year before Epstein took over in 2011 – has earned two trips to the Midsummer Classic. Those three stars along with Schwarber have provided consistent home-run power only two other teams can match over the past six seasons – the Minnesota Twins and Houston Astros with four players with 100 or more homers since 2015.

    The Cubs have had an incredible run since 2015, reaching the postseason five times – one of four teams with at least five playoff berths in the last six seasons, along with the Dodgers, Astros and New York Yankees. Not every move Epstein has made worked to perfection like signing Craig Kimbrel or trading Eloy Jimenez for Jose Quintana. And the team have not won a playoff game since 2017 with their offense inconceivably scoring two, one, one, three, one, one, one and 0 runs in their last eight postseason games, but the last six years overall will still be considered one of the best stretches in Cubs history.

    ''If you look at my track record in Boston and then here, in the first six years or so, we did some pretty epic things,'' Epstein said Tuesday. ''And then the last couple years weren't as impressive. Maybe what that tells me is I think I'm great at and really enjoy building and transformation and triumphing. Maybe I'm not as good and not as motivated by maintenance.''

    Epstein is not sure what the future will bring, but will take the next year off of baseball. At least, working at the ballpark. He did say he plans to buy season tickets for the Cubs to enjoy the game as a fan.

    "Getting dropped into this situation nine years ago, feeling like a stranger, Chicago, the Cubs, Cubs fans all being foreign to me," Epstein said. "And now I look, nine years later, and I feel like it's in my blood too. I don't think that would’ve been possible elsewhere. The closeness of the connection with the fans as you go through the Cubs experience, that stands out to me."

  • Mets star Cano suspended for entire MLB season after second PED violation Mets star Cano suspended for entire MLB season after second PED violation

    New York Mets second baseman Robinson Cano has received a 162-game suspension from MLB for violating the league's Joint Prevention and Treatment Program, ruling him out of the entire 2021 season.

    MLB said in a statement on Wednesday that Cano, 38, tested positive for Stanozolol, a banned performance-enhancing substance.

    The eight-time All-Star's suspension will begin at the start of the 2021 campaign and prohibits the World Series champion from participating in any postseason games as well. Cano will also forfeit his $24million salary for the upcoming season.

    Cano, who batted .316 with 10 home runs and 30 RBIs in 49 games during the abbreviated 2019 season amid the coronavirus pandemic, was previously suspended 80 games in 2018 for testing positive for furosemide, a potential masking agent also on MLB's list of banned substances.

    "I understand that everything that goes into my body," Cano said in a statement. "I'm responsible for that."

    "We were extremely disappointed to be informed about Robinson's suspension for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program," Mets president Sandy Alderson said in a statement. "The violation is very unfortunate for him, the organisation, our fans, and the sport.

    "The Mets fully support MLB's efforts toward eliminating performance enhancing substances from the game."

    Cano has three seasons remaining on a 10-year, $240m contract he signed with the Seattle Mariners in December 2013 following a distinguished nine-year tenure with the Mets' crosstown rivals the New York Yankees.

    The Mets acquired the five-time Silver Slugger and two-time Gold Glove winner from Seattle prior to the 2019 season.

    A .303 career hitter, Cano bounced back from a disappointing first season with the Mets in which he batted a career-low .256 in 107 games.

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