Major League Baseball announced on Friday that it is moving the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta in response to Georgia legislation passed in March that restricts voting rights.  

MLB has yet to announce a new site for this year's Midsummer Classic, which had been scheduled for July 13 at the Braves' Truist Park, but said a new host city would be chosen "shortly". 

The league had also planned on holding the draft in Atlanta but that also will be switched to another location, along with All-Star break staples like the Futures Game and Home Run Derby.   

The decision comes just over a week after the passage of a bill in the Georgia legislature that president Joe Biden and others have criticised and characterised as voter suppression.  

Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement that he consulted with current and former players – as well as officials with the Players Association – before making the decision.  

"I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year's All-Star Game and MLB Draft," Manfred said. "Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box. 

"We proudly used our platform to encourage baseball fans and communities throughout our country to perform their civic duty and actively participate in the voting process. Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support."

Reigning NL MVP and Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman previously said that he hoped the game would still be held in Atlanta but used as a platform to promote voting rights.  

The move is reminiscent of the NBA's activism in the summer of 2016, when it pulled the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte, North Carolina after a law was enacted that did not allow transgender people to use bathrooms in accordance with their gender identities in government buildings, public schools and public universities.  

The North Carolina "bathroom bill" was later altered and the NBA held the 2019 All-Star festivities in Charlotte.  

Change in Georgia may be more difficult, as the state has become a lightning rod for passionately divided political issues after its pivotal role in the 2020 elections for president and U.S. Senate.  

Proponents of the bill, titled SB 202, say that it will ensure election integrity, while opponents say that the new restrictions are targeted to reduce turnout by black and other minority voters.  

Among the provisions in the bill that has since been signed into law by govenor Brian Kemp are heightened identification standards for absentee ballots and a ban on distributing food and water to voters waiting in lines at polling places. 

President Biden called the law "Jim Crow on steroids", while MLB's position was further complicated by its plans to celebrate the life and career of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, who was the target of racism when he broke Babe Ruth’s home run record and throughout his 23-year career.  

Other major sports figures connected to Atlanta have also publicly condemned the new law. Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons and Major League Soccer's Atlanta United, denounced the legislation, saying: "We should be working to make voting easier, not harder for every eligible citizen." 

Tony Ressler, owner of the Atlanta Hawks, also made a statement against SB 202 and said that the franchise will continue to "promote equality and encourage participation by all who seek to cast a ballot".

Dave Roberts refused to blame either Cody Bellinger or Justin Turner for the bizarre mix-up that cost the Los Angeles Dodgers in their Opening Day defeat to the Colorado Rockies.

World Series champions the Dodgers outhit the Rockies 15-11, had eight runners on base via walk and 20 total bases, but they scored only five runs.

While an 8-5 defeat ultimately was not decided by one play, the first run of the game summed up a day on which manager Roberts said "all the way around, we didn't play well".

Bellinger hit a home run at the top of the third, with Turner already at first base.

But rather than a two-run homer, Bellinger ended up being given out and had to settle for a one-run RBI.

His hit slipped through the glove of left fielder Raimel Tapia before clearing the park and Turner thought the ball had been caught, meaning he hared back to first and passed the advancing Bellinger in the process.

"I don't think there's blame to be placed," Roberts said.

"I think Cody was coming out of the box hard, which he should have, and he's looking at where the ball was at, going hard.

"Justin was just past second base and when he saw the ball in Tapia's glove, he retreated and put his head down to try to get back to potentially be doubled up.

"And then at that point in time, they just kind of crossed between first and second."

The Dodgers finished with a 43-17 record last season and went 7-3 against the Rockies, with their results against the rest of the NL West a slightly more modest 20-10.

They will hope there are few further mishaps in 2021, although Roberts was also reluctant to criticise the umpire.

"From what I understand, he didn't give the out call, so he was just trying to see it," Roberts said. "And once he did see the ball go over, he gave the home run call.

"At that point in time, Justin had already retreated.

"It's just one of those funky plays that I don't think is going to happen again this year."

Three of first baseman Bellinger's 12 homers last season came against the Rockies and he will get the opportunity to atone for Thursday's error on Friday.

World Series champions Los Angeles Dodgers were humbled on the Opening Day of the new Major League Baseball season 8-5 by the Colorado Rockies on Thursday.

The Dodgers had 14 stranded runners throughout the game while Cody Bellinger hit a ball into the stands which did not count as a home run on a strange afternoon.

With crowds returning to MLB, the Dodgers were unable to get off to a flying start.

"Honestly, we just didn’t play a good baseball game," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "All the way around, we didn’t play well."

In the Houston Astros' first game back playing in front of crowds since their cheating scandal emerged they were jeered and boed in an 8-1 win on the road against the Oakland Athletics.

Back-to-back home runs from Michael Brantley and Alex Bregman in the eighth put the Astros out of sight and silenced the crowd.

 

Trout lifts Angels, Mariners mighty comeback

Mike Trout flexed his muscle as the Los Angeles Angels rallied to beat the Chicago White Sox 4-3. At the bottom of the eighth, a visibly pumped Trout's hit gave him an RBI and tied the game. Shohei Ohtani then got on the board after an error by second baseman Nick Madrigal.

The Seattle Mariners trailed 6-1 in the eighth inning against the San Francisco Giants before mounting a remarkable fightback and eventually prevail 8-7. The winning run came when Jake Fraley walked with the bases loaded.

The New York Yankees' bats let them down as they were beaten 3-2 by the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Tampa Day Rays shut out the Miami Marlins in a 1-0 win earned by Austin Meadows' solo home run in the ninth.

 

Bellinger denied by mix-up

Bellinger was denied his first homer of the new season in a moment of confusion, when team-mate Justin Turner, who was on first base, thought Bellinger had been caught in the outfield and ran back. Bellinger's hit was actually fumbled by Raimel Tapia over the fence so when Turner reversed and passed by the left-hander that made him out and resulted in only an RBI single.

 

First homer of season

Detroit Tigers hitter Miguel Cabrera claimed the maiden homer of the new season in driving snow, which left him confused, sliding into base just in case it had not cleared the fence.

 

Thursday's results

Toronto Blue Jays 3-2 New York Yankees
Detroit Tigers 3-2 Cleveland Indians
Milwaukee Brewers 6-5 Minnesota Twins
Pittsburgh Pirates 5-3 Chicago Cubs
Philadelphia Phillies 3-2 Atlanta Braves
Tampa Bay Rays 1-0 Miami Marlins
St Louis Cardinals 11-6 Cincinnati Reds
Colorado Rockies 8-5 Los Angeles Dodgers
San Diego Padres 8-7 Arizona Diamondbacks
Kansas City Royals 14-10 Texas Rangers
Los Angeles Angels 4-3 Chicago White Sox
Houston Astros 8-1 Oakland Athletics 
Seattle Mariners 8-7 San Fransisco Giants 

 

Dodgers to bounce back

The Dodgers will look to bounce back from their opening day loss on Friday on the road again versus the Colorado Rockies.

The Washington Nationals and New York Mets will not be facing each other on the opening day of the new MLB season after Thursday's game was called off due to COVID-19 issues.

Washington were set to host the Mets at Nationals Park, but members of the home team's organisation are currently involved in contact tracing.

On Wednesday, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo revealed they would be without five players and a staff member following a positive coronavirus test result.

In announcing the postponement, Major League Baseball said the decision had been taken "out of an abundance of caution" but ruled out the fixture taking place on Friday instead.

Earlier on Thursday, the Boston Red Sox announced their opener against the Baltimore Orioles needed to be pushed back for a different reason.

With rain set to fall throughout the day, Boston made the pre-emptive decision to switch the game to Friday.

The Red Sox have been granted permission to have up to 4,500 fans in attendance too, the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic that spectators will be allowed at Fenway Park.

With the return of Major League Baseball on Thursday already sparking excitement among fans across the world, could Tom Brady be suiting up on Opening Day next year?

Of course not! But the NFL superstar enjoyed pretending it was a possibility on April Fools' Day.

Brady was actually drafted by MLB's Montreal Expos in 1995 but did not sign with the team as he instead pursued a career in football.

That worked out quite well for the great quarterback, who last season claimed his seventh Super Bowl ring.

The Expos did not fare quite so well, with the Montreal franchise folding in 2004 and relocating to DC to become the Washington Nationals.

But Brady's hijinks on Thursday suggested he was ready for a sensational return - as player, coach and owner.

"With opening day today, excited to announce we're bringing the Expos back to the MLB in 2022," the Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB posted on Twitter.

"Excited to be the first player/coach/owner in MLB history."

That move would certainly not wash with the Bucs, who extended Brady's contract this offseason as they go for a second straight championship.

The 43-year-old will instead have to leave America's pastime to neighbours the Tampa Bay Rays, as they start their 2021 season against the Miami Marlins on Opening Day.

Francisco Lindor has agreed to a mammoth 10-year, $341million contract extension with the New York Mets, according to reports.

Lindor arrived in New York as part of a blockbuster six-player trade with the Cleveland Indians on January 7.

The four-time MLB All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner – who was due to become a free agent after this season – had set a deadline of Opening Day to reach a deal over a new contract in New York.

MLB.com and ESPN reported on Wednesday a deal had been struck on the eve of the 2021 season, with the 27-year-old shortstop's contract beginning in 2022.

It is one of the richest contracts in MLB history, only behind Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout ($426.5m) and Mookie Betts of the Los Angeles Dodgers, ($365m), though it trumps the $340m deal signed by San Diego Padres sensation Fernando Tatis Jr. this offseason.

Lindor hit .258 with eight home runs and 27 RBIs in the coronavirus-shortened 2020 campaign.

A career .285 hitter, Lindor has averaged 29 home runs, 86 RBIs and 21 steals over his six major league seasons. 

Amid speculation over Lindor's future with the Mets, team-mate Pete Alonso had told reporters on Tuesday: "I hope they pay him $400m. He's worth every penny."

The Toronto Blue Jays will be without prized recruit George Springer on Opening Day after he was added to the injured list with an oblique strain.

Springer – lured to Toronto on a six-year, $150million contract via free agency, the largest deal in franchise history – was in doubt for Thursday's season opener against the New York Yankees after straining his oblique muscle during Spring Training.

The youthful and exciting Blue Jays, who returned to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2016, have exercised caution over their big-money addition as they prepare to face American League (AL) East rivals the Yankees in New York.

"I'm hoping for as soon as possible but we have to go day-to-day," Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo told reporters on Wednesday.

"Of course he's got to face pitchers, live BPs and stuff, so how he responds from there we'll know more [about a timeline].

"Hopefully, the first or second day when it's time to come back, he'll be ready."

Springer – World Series champion and MVP with the Houston Astros in 2017 – leads MLB with 136 home runs from the lead-off spot since 2015. The Blue Jays as a team have 129 homers from the lead-off spot over that time, per Stats Perform.

A two-time Silver Slugger, Springer has 39 lead-off home runs in his career – fourth most all-time behind Rickey Henderson (73), Ian Kinsler (48) and Brady Anderson (44).

Springer has recorded seven career World Series home runs – most from the lead-off spot all-time – and he is 19-for-56 (.339) in the World Series in his career. No other current Blue Jays player has a World Series hit in their career.

The three-time All-Star's 174 home runs since debuting in MLB via Houston are third most by an Astro in a player's first seven career seasons, behind only Jeff Bagwell (187) and Lance Berkman (180).

Opening Day.

A term synonymous with baseball across the United States and the globe. For fans, it is nothing short of a national holiday.

The highly anticipated start to the season on April 1 is an occasion steeped in history, with tradition front and centre.

This year's Opening Day means more than most. It is the latest signal of American life and sport returning to normal amid the COVID-19 crisis.

The coronavirus pandemic led to an enforced break and a reduced 60-game regular season schedule behind closed doors, with a limited number of fans allowed to attend the playoffs as the Los Angeles Dodgers went on to end their 32-year World Series drought.

But 2021 will see the return of the usual 162-game calendar and more importantly, spectators in the stands. All but one of the 30 teams will start at reduced capacity – the Texas Rangers hosting a full house for their home opener against the Toronto Blue Jays.

As America's pastime begins anew, we preview the upcoming season, in which the Dodgers look to defend their World Series crown, using Stats Perform data.
 

Kershaw gears up for a franchise-record start

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw – entering the final season of his three-year, $93million deal – will be on the mound when the Dodgers open their title defence against the Colorado Rockies.

It will be Kershaw's ninth Opening Day start – the most in franchise history – after injuries prevented him from beginning the 2019 and 2020 campaigns, the eight-time All-Star getting the nod ahead of Walker Buehler and high-profile recruit Trevor Bauer, the reigning National League (NL) Cy Young winner.

Future Hall of Famer Kershaw boasts a 5-1 record on Opening Day, with a 1.05 ERA (6/51.2), 59 strikeouts and eight walks. The 2014 NL MVP's only loss came in his previous start in 2018 as he allowed eight hits and one earned run, while tallying seven strikeouts in six innings against the San Francisco Giants.

Since 1913, when ERA became an official stat, Kershaw has managed the lowest Opening Day figure among pitchers with six starts – 1.05. The 32-year-old's ERA is ahead of Bob Feller (1.21), Jim Palmer (1.40), Hal Newhouser (1.41) and Walter Johnson (1.51).

As for the star-studded Dodgers, they are 74-62 (.544) all-time on Opening Day, winning nine of their 10 season openers since 2011, losing only in 2018.

Their 9-1 (.900) Opening Day record over this stretch is the best in the league, ahead of the Houston Astros (8-2), Baltimore Orioles (8-2), Seattle Mariners (7-3), Detroit Tigers (7-3) and New York Mets (7-3).
 

All eyes on Tatis and Padres

Fernando Tatis Jr. heads into the 2021 season fresh off signing his eye-popping 14-year, $340m contract with the San Diego Padres.

The Padres – winners of two NL pennants – are pinning their hopes on MLB's new poster boy delivering a first World Series to San Diego.

Tatis won a Silver Slugger award last year, having hit .277 with 17 home runs and 45 RBIs in the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season.

The powerful 22-year-old is the first player in MLB history to have at least 35 home runs and 25 stolen bases within the first 150 games of his career.

Tatis – the youngest Padres player to debut on Opening Day (20 years and 85 days) in 2019 – became the fastest player in franchise history (24 team games) to reach the double-digit home run mark in a season in 2020 after hitting his 10th and 11th homers in August.

In the postseason, Tatis homered twice against the St Louis Cardinals in October, becoming the youngest Padre to ever homer in a playoff game (21 years and 273 days) and the third-youngest player in MLB history to homer twice in a postseason match, behind Carlos Correa (21 and 20 days old) and Andruw Jones (19 years, 180 days old).

When it comes to on-base plus slugging, Tatis stacks up well. Since 1920, Tatis (150.8) is only behind Juan Soto (153.9 – 2018-20), Albert Pujols (159.3 – 2001), Jimmie Foxx (160.0 – 1925-29), Ted Williams (161.5 – 1939-40) and Trout (165.0 – 2011-13) for highest OPS-plus up until the age of 21.

Across his two Opening Day appearances, Tatis has three hits in seven at-bats and two runs while slugging at .571. The Padres will be hoping he can improve on that when they host face the Arizona Diamondbacks.

By comparison, Philadelphia Phillies star Bryce Harper and New York Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton love Opening Day.

Harper – the 2015 NL MVP and six-time All-Star – has nine hits, five homers and six runs in eight appearances, while 2017 NL MVP Stanton has 13 hits, four homers, 10 runs and 12 RBIs through 10 games.

Blue Jays recruit George Springer, a World Series winner with the Astros, has also impressed on Opening Day following five hits, three homers and six RBIs in six games.
 

Can Abreu and Freeman go back-to-back?

Chicago White Sox star Jose Abreu was crowned the American League's best in 2020.

Becoming the 28th player to win both the MVP and Rookie of the Year in his career, Abreu beat Jose Ramirez of the Cleveland Indians and Yankees star DJ LeMahieu.

Abreu – the fourth White Sox player to win the award – was second in MLB with 19 home runs and fourth in the AL with a .317 batting average.

Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves trumped Dodgers star Mookie Betts and Padres sensation Manny Machado to the NL honour.

Freeman's 1.102 OPS was the second highest in MLB, trailing only Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto, while he led the majors with 51 runs scored and was second in the NL in batting average (.341), on-base percentage (.462) and slugging percentage (.640).

Does it bode well for the pair in 2020?

In a season after winning the MVP award, a player averages 135.9 hits, 21.5 homers, 80.5 runs and 79.5 RBIs with a slugging percentage of .516.

There have been 13 players to win back-to-back MVPs; 11-time All-Star Miguel Cabrera (AL) was the last to do so in 2012 and 2013. The most recent player in the NL was Albert Pujols (2008-09).
 

The end of Cleveland as we know them

After 106 years, this will be the last season the franchise will be known as the Indians, following the example of the NFL's Washington Football Team, who dropped their Redskins nickname in 2020 amid a long-time controversy.

Since 1915, Cleveland have won two World Series – in 1920 and 1948 – with their current streak of 71 seasons without a World Series title the longest active run in the majors.

In 1954, Cleveland went 111-43 (.721) in the regular season, before being swept in the World Series by the Giants. It stands as the highest single-season win percentage in AL history, and the best by any MLB team in the past 100 years.

Cleveland have had a winning record in each of the past eight seasons (2013-20), making them one of four MLB teams with an active streak of eight-plus (also Yankees 28, Cardinals 13, Dodgers 10). It is tied for the second-longest streak of winning seasons in franchise history (10 straight 1947-56; eight in a row 1994-2001).

Three Cleveland players have won the AL MVP Award – George Burns (1926), Lou Boudreau (1948) and Al Rosen (1953) – while five have claimed the AL Cy Young Award: Gaylord Perry (1972), C.C. Sabathia (2007), Cliff Lee (2008), Corey Kluber (2014 and 2017) and Shane Bieber (2020).

Minnesota Twins bench coach Mike Bell, the brother of Cincinnati Reds manager David, has died following a short battle with cancer.

The Twins announced Bell's passing aged 46 in a statement on Friday.

Bell, who was appointed to Minnesota's coaching staff prior to the 2020 season, had missed spring training after being diagnosed with kidney cancer earlier this year.

"The Minnesota Twins are devastated by the loss of Mike Bell," a team statement read.

"In his short time with our club, Mike had an indelibly positive impact - not only on the quality of our team on the field, but most importantly upon everyone whom he met.

"Widely respected in our game, all who knew Mike, on and off the field, are better for the experience."

The Twins said "at the request of the Bell family" they would fulfil Friday's preseason game against the Atlanta Braves "in honour of Mike".

As well as being the brother of Reds manager David, Bell was the son of five-time All-Star Buddy and grandson of four-time All-Star Gus.

Bell had a short playing career in Cincinnati before a 13-year association with the Arizona Diamondbacks in a variety of roles.

Houston Astros star Carlos Correa said he is preparing to become a free agent as the two parties struggle to agree a new contract.

Correa reportedly turned down a lucrative six-year deal worth $120million to re-sign with the Astros earlier this month.

The 26-year-old shortstop – selected first overall in the 2012 MLB Draft – helped the Astros to World Series glory during his All-Star season in 2017.

Correa doubts he will reach an agreement with the Astros, telling reporters on Thursday: "I'm preparing like I'm going to be a free agent this year."

Earlier this year, Correa said he would become a free agent if he was not re-signed by Opening Day on April 1.

Asked if there was room to move on his deadline imposed ahead of the season opener against the Oakland Athletics, Correa replied: "Absolutely not.

"Once the season starts and I start playing, I'm playing my last season before I become a free agent.

"For me, it doesn't make any sense to be dealing while I'm trying to focus and trying to perform and trying to help my team win ballgames. So, yeah, absolutely not."

During the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season, Correa hit .264/.326/.383 with five home runs and 25 RBIs in 58 games for the Astros.

In the postseason, Correa batted .362/.455/.766 with six homers and 17 RBIs as the Astros reached the American League Championship Series (ALCS).

"I understand it's a business and I know how it goes," Correa said. "There's never emotions involved. I've given five, six years of my career to this organisation -- Rookie of the Year, All-Star Games, World Series champions, multiple great playoff performances.

"And if they don't see me here long-term, then another team will. It's never hard feelings. It's a business and how it works."

Throughout his career, Correa has hit .276/.353/.480 with 107 home runs and 397 RBIs in Houston.

Correa – Rookie of the Year in 2015 – added: "When I share my feelings towards the city and towards the team, obviously, I love what we built here. I've been a part of it since I got drafted in 2012, when the team was losing 111 games.

"I kind of feel like I'm one of the leaders of the team and I love everything about this organisation, but at the same time, I know what I'm worth. I understand the business. I'm educated on this matter. I would love to stay, but it's gotta be the right deal."

San Diego Padres star Fernando Tatis Jr. is listed as day to day heading into Opening Day after exiting Tuesday's Spring Training matchup with left shoulder discomfort.

Tatis – who signed a record-setting extension with the Padres last month – an eye-popping 14-year, $340million contract – left San Diego's 5-4 win over the Cincinnati Reds in the third inning after making a play at shortstop.

The Silver Slugger will be re-evaluated on Wednesday as the Padres prepare to open their 2021 MLB season against the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 1.

"Talking to Fernando, he didn't think it was that bad," Padres manager Jayce Tingler said post-game.

"He's like: 'In season, I would probably go'. Obviously we're going to be precautious."

Tingler added: "We're going to be just day to day going forward with it.

"Hopefully he comes in tomorrow and it's feeling pretty good. We'll just have to wait and see."

Tatis won a Silver Slugger award last season, having hit .277 with 17 home runs and 45 RBIs in the coronavirus-shortened 2020 campaign.

The powerful 22-year-old is the first player in MLB history to have at least 35 home runs and 25 stolen bases within the first 150 games of his career.

Tatis packs a punch with the bat – he led the majors in average exit velocity (95.9 mph), hard hit percentage (62.2), and balls hit 95-plus MPH (102).

He also enjoyed a remarkable rise defensively following an erratic rookie season at shortstop.

Tatis went from minus-13 outs above average (OAA) to plus-seven – his plus-20 improvement the largest of any player across that period.

When it comes to on-base plus slugging, Tatis stacks up well. Since 1920, Tatis (150.8) is only behind Juan Soto (153.9 – 2018-20), Albert Pujols (159.3 – 2001), Jimmie Foxx (160.0 – 1925-29), Ted Williams (161.5 – 1939-40) and Mike Trout (165.0 – 2011-13) for highest OPS-plus up until the age of 21.

Using the same timeframe, but for wins above replacement (WAR) among shortstops, Tatis (5.6) ranks ninth. Alex Rodriguez is top (13.6 – 1994-97).

The Toronto Blue Jays' prized recruit George Springer is "extremely motivated" to be ready for Opening Day after being diagnosed with an oblique strain.

Toronto lured 2017 MLB World Series champion and MVP Springer to Canada on a six-year, $150million contract via free agency – the largest deal in franchise history.

But Springer's preparations for the April 1 MLB opener against American League (AL) East rivals the New York Yankees have been interrupted by a strained oblique muscle.

Former Houston Astros star Springer, though, is not expected to miss a lot of action for the entertaining Blue Jays.

"The MRI revealed an injury that he is able to play baseball with," Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said on Tuesday.

"He is extremely motivated and driven to be ready for Opening Day."

Springer leads MLB with 136 home runs from the lead-off spot since 2015. The Blue Jays as a team have 129 homers from the lead-off spot over that time, per Stats Perform.

A two-time Silver Slugger, Springer has 39 lead-off home runs in his career – fourth most all-time behind Rickey Henderson (73), Ian Kinsler (48) and Brady Anderson (44).

Springer has recorded seven career World Series home runs – most from the lead-off spot all-time – and he is 19-for-56 (.339) in the World Series in his career. No other current Blue Jays player has a World Series hit in their career.

The three-time All-Star's 174 home runs since debuting in MLB via Houston are third most by an Astro in a player's first seven career seasons, behind only Jeff Bagwell (187) and Lance Berkman (180).

Meanwhile, Atkins said reliever Kirby Yates is expected to have season-ending surgery on his right elbow.

An All-Star in 2019, Yates only joined the Blue Jays from the San Diego Padres this offseason.

 

 

 

Aaron Judge said he is "as fired up as ever" as the New York Yankees star sets his sights on winning the World Series.

The Yankees fell short of expectations during the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season – New York beaten by the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Division Series (ALDS), having finished seven games adrift in the AL East.

Not since 2009 have the Yankees won the World Series, but two-time All-Star and Silver Slugger Judge is continuing to set his sights on MLB glory.

"I'm as fired up as ever," Judge said on Monday. "Every year, I know I come in here and say that's our goal, to win a championship.

"But, for us, the first thing to do is we've got to win our division. That starts with Game 1. … We've got to knock off the Rays first.

"That's the team that won the division last year, got all the way to the World Series, beat us in the Division Series. That's our first goal."

The Yankees head into Opening Day against AL East rivals the Toronto Blue Jays on April 1 boasting a stellar bullpen.

Cy Young winner Corey Kluber was acquired to join ace Gerrit Cole and Aroldis Chapman in New York, while the Yankees re-signed batting star DJ LeMahieu on a six-year deal.

Three-time All-Star LeMahieu finished the season with 10 home runs and 27 RBIs, leading MLB with a batting average of .364.

LeMahieu was also first in the AL in on-base percentage (.421) and on-base percentage plus slugging percentage (1.011), while team-mate Luke Voit (22) tallied the most home runs in the league last season.

Judge added: "We're playing 162 games; it's not a sprint like it was last year. But every game still matters. We want to go out there and win our division and put ourselves a good position in the postseason.

"With this depth, with the pitching we have, with this line-up -- we can be in the right position to go out there and win a championship."

"I wouldn't say our road is any easier," Judge said. "We've still got to go through Houston; the Chicago White Sox have been doing something special the past couple of years with the people they've added.

"It's going to be tough either way, but I'm excited about it. I like our team going into it, and I like our chances."

Kansas City Royals star Salvador Perez has signed a record four-year contract extension, the MLB franchise announced.

Perez's new deal with the Royals is reportedly worth a franchise-record $82million, surpassing Alex Gordon's $72m contract in 2014.

The contract extension for the six-time All-Star catcher and World Series champion – one of the league's premier players in his position and a franchise favourite – will begin in the 2022 season.

It comes after Perez was named the American League (AL) Comeback Player of the Year in 2020, having missed the entire 2019 campaign due to Tommy John surgery.

Perez hit .333 with 11 homers and 32 RBIs over 37 games last season.

"I feel so happy and excited that I'm going to stay here for a long time, for four or five more years, and hopefully I can end my career here," said the 30-year-old, who has called Kansas City home since debuting for the Royals in 2011.

"I love the people here, I love the fans. I'm excited. I can't wait for the season to start and to see what happens."

Perez guided the Royals to their second World Series crown in 2015 and first in 30 years, winning the MVP as a result after Kansas City beat the New York Mets 4-1.

The Venezuelan hit .364 with two doubles and two RBIs in five games in the 2015 World Series.

Perez – a five-time Gold Glove Award winner and three-time Silver Slugger – has 138 career home runs as a catcher – third in the league among active players, only trailing Yadier Molina (158) and Matt Wieters (140).

He ranks seventh in Royals history in homers (152), ninth in extra-base hits (351), 10th in RBIs (535) and total bases (1,657) and tied for 10th in slugging percentage (.449).

"I don't ever want to retire from baseball," Perez said. "Never. I don't even think about that.

"I'm going to play, I told Dayton [Moore] the other day, until God comes down and tells me, 'Salvy, go home'. I love baseball. I believe in myself, and this isn't going to be the last one."

Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw will start for the MLB World Series champions on Opening Day.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts announced on Sunday that Kershaw will be on the mound when the team open their 2021 season against the Colorado Rockies on April 1.

It will be Kershaw's ninth Opening Day start – the most in franchise history – after a back injury prevented him from beginning the 2020 campaign.

Kershaw got the nod in a star-studded bullpen, including Walker Buehler and high-profile recruit Trevor Bauer, who is the reigning National League (NL) Cy Young winner.

"There's really no wrong decision," Roberts said. "I just feel that he's earned it, he's the right guy for the spot for 2021 -- for every reason I just think it makes the most sense."

The 32-year-old Kershaw – entering the final season of his three-year, $93million deal – helped guide the Dodgers to their first World Series triumph since 1988 last season.

During the coronavirus-shortened 2020 campaign, eight-time All-Star and 2014 NL MVP Kershaw had a 2.16 ERA with 62 strikeouts and eight home runs allowed.

In the playoffs, Kershaw's ERA was 2.93 with 37 strikeouts and four wins in five appearances.

The Dodgers will open their title defence away to the Rockies at Coors Field.

Kershaw is 11-5 with a 4.44 ERA when pitching at Coors Field, while the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner owns a 24-8 career record against the Rockies, including a 3.22 ERA.

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