MLB

Astros and Braves clinch division titles, Yankees beat Jays

By Sports Desk October 01, 2021

The Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves became the latest MLB teams to clinch postseason spots with wins Tuesday. 

Houston wrapped up the American League (AL) West title with a 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, with Carlos Correa's three-run homer in the fourth inning doing all the damage for the Astros. 

Lance McCullers held the Rays without a hit through the first five innings before Tampa Bay got on the board in the sixth with a two-run homer by Brandon Lowe, but that was all the AL East champions could muster. 

While Houston (93-66) reached the playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven seasons, the Braves (86-72) locked down their fourth National League (NL) East title in a row. 

Atlanta got home runs from Jorge Soler and Austin Riley to back a strong start by Ian Anderson in a 5-3 defeat of the second-place Philadelphia Phillies to clinch the division. 

The Braves will face the NL Central champion Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Division Series, while the Astros are set to play the Chicago White Sox in the AL. 

 

Yankees down Blue Jays, Giants rally again

The New York Yankees closed in on securing an AL wild-card spot by beating the Toronto Blue Jays 6-2. New York got to Toronto's Cy Young Award candidate Robbie Ray in the sixth inning as Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo and Gleyber Torres hit home runs to erase a 2-1 deficit. The Yankees (91-68) can clinch a playoff spot Friday with a win against the Rays and a Toronto loss to the Baltimore Orioles. 

LaMonte Wade's bases-loaded single in the bottom of the ninth gave the San Francisco Giants a 5-4 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, bringing the team with MLB's best record one step closer to taking the NL West title. Giants starter Scott Kazmir lasted only six batters as San Francisco fell in a 3-0 first-inning hole, but the home side chipped away throughout the game until Wade's walk-off hit. San Francisco (105-54) can clinch the division Friday with a win against the San Diego Padres and a Los Angeles Dodgers (103-56) loss to the Brewers. 

 

Red Sox drop series to Orioles

The Boston Red Sox continue to flounder with a postseason berth on the line, falling 6-2 to the lowly Orioles (52-107) for their fifth defeat in the last six games. The Red Sox (89-70) dropped into a tie with the idle Seattle Mariners for the final AL wild-card spot as they head to Washington to face the Nationals in the final three games of the regular season. 

 

Tatis hits one out of Dodger Stadium

Fernando Tatis Jr. hit a monstrous 467-foot home run that cleared the left-field pavilion at Dodger Stadium, a highlight in another disappointing game for the Padres as they fell 8-3 in Los Angeles. 

 

Thursday's results

St Louis Cardinals 4-3 Milwaukee Brewers
Texas Rangers 7-6 Los Angeles Angels
Chicago Cubs 9-0 Pittsburgh Pirates
Baltimore Orioles 6-2 Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees 6-2 Toronto Blue Jays
New York Mets 12-3 Miami Marlins
Atlanta Braves 5-3 Philadelphia Phillies
Detroit Tigers10-7 Minnesota Twins
Cleveland Indians 6-1 Kansas City Royals
Houston Astros 3-2 Tampa Bay Rays
San Francisco Giants 5-4 Arizona Diamondbacks
Los Angeles Dodgers 8-3 San Diego Padres

 

Angels at Mariners

The Seattle Mariners (89-70) open a three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels (75-84) with an AL wild-card spot hanging in the balance. 

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  • From back to front, and Haaland – five players for Rangnick to consider for Man Utd From back to front, and Haaland – five players for Rangnick to consider for Man Utd

    Ralf Rangnick has been confirmed as interim manager of Manchester United, meaning that thoughts can now turn to more important matters.

    Yes, transfers.

    While the 63-year-old is only set to be in the dugout until the end of the season, his deal includes a further two years in a "consultancy" role, meaning he will presumably have a say on comings and goings at Old Trafford for the foreseeable future.

    As well as showing his qualities as a coach and tactician during his career, Rangnick has also shown himself to be adept at identifying and recruiting talent, scouting the likes of Joshua Kimmich, Sadio Mane and Erling Haaland over the years.

    While funds have been readily spent by United in recent times, it seems clear that the current squad needs more adding to it if they are to trouble their rivals for Premier League and Champions League glory any time soon.

    Using Opta data, Stats Perform has taken a look at five players who may be near the top of Rangnick's wish-list over the next few transfer windows.

     

    Gleison Bremer (Torino)

    The Brazilian centre back has predominantly been linked with other clubs, including Liverpool, but his ability to win the ball high up the field as well as make interceptions regularly could make him an attractive prospect for Rangnick's pressing style.

    Bremer has the most interceptions for a defender in the top five European leagues this season (51), and since the start of last season has made 121, which is almost twice as many as Harry Maguire (68) from just one more game played.

    The 24-year-old has also won possession in the middle-third of the pitch (127) more often than any of United's current centre back options (Maguire 85, Victor Lindelof 78, Raphael Varane 62), which is something the new boss will likely be demanding of his players.

     

    Aurelien Tchouameni (Monaco)

    Despite their pre-season spending, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was unable to cross a defensive midfielder off his shopping list, with poor Scott McTominay and Fred continuing to be castigated by fans and pundits for not being Declan Rice.

    Someone else who isn't Declan Rice is Tchouameni. The Monaco midfielder has been linked with a move to the Premier League for a couple of years now, and this could be the ideal club at the ideal time.

    Of players to have played at least 40 games, only three midfielders in the top five European leagues have won possession in the middle third more often since the start of last season, while only five have made more interceptions, and only Frenkie de Jong (64.36) has a higher duel success percentage than his 62.06.

    During his time recruiting for Red Bull Salzburg and Leipzig, Rangnick primarily focused on young players who can grow in the immediate term. Tchouameni turns 22 in January, and with Monaco missing out on Champions League football after losing in qualifying in August, they may be tempted to cash in on their star sooner rather than later.

     

    Amadou Haidara (RB Leipzig)

    it was always inevitable that United would be linked with Leipzig players, so here's the first of two.

    The new United boss will no doubt be familiar with Haidara, with the midfielder making his way through the Red Bull route of FC Liefering and Salzburg before Leipzig.

    The Mali international arrived at the Red Bull Arena when Rangnick was in charge in the 2018-19 season, but due to a cruciate ligament injury, was only able to make nine Bundesliga appearances under the German.

    Comparing him to McTominay and Fred, this season he has more chances created (9), more successful passes in the opposition half (317), more passes into the final third (95) and more dribbles completed (16).

    It should be noted though that he has played two games more than McTominay and measures closely to the Scot in the first and last metric, with worse passing accuracy percentage in the opposition half (78.86) and tackle success percentage than both (38.46).

     

    Dani Olmo (RB Leipzig)

    Olmo has unfortunately missed most of the current season with a muscle injury, but combined with last term, there is a certain number that may interest the Red Devils boss.

    Verona's Antonin Barak is the only midfielder to have won possession in the final third more often than Olmo's total of 44 in the top five leagues in Europe since the start of last season, made all the more impressive by the fact Olmo has played 12 fewer games.

    The 23-year-old scored seven and assisted 12 last season for Leipzig in all competitions, and also impressed for Spain at Euro 2020, and having someone who so regularly wins the ball high up the field could be exactly the sort of thing Rangnick can build a new United team around.

     

    Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)

    Arguably the name likeliest to be linked with the Red Devils given it was Rangnick who apparently spotted his talents and brought him to Salzburg, before he burst onto the scene and headed for the German Bundesliga.

    Rangnick was working as Salzburg's director of football when he was able to secure the signing of Haaland from Molde.

    Of course, United already have Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani, but both are hardly long-term solutions, while Haaland's former team-mate Jadon Sancho already resides in the red half of Manchester.

    The 21-year-old has scored 71 goals in 70 games since moving to Dortmund (January 2020), the same amount as Ronaldo but in 15 fewer games.

    You would imagine Haaland, his agent and his father would need to see some fairly drastic improvements at Old Trafford before committing his future there, but with Rangnick on board, the Red Devils will be hoping that to be exactly what happens.

  • Stafford not blaming injuries as Rams slump continues Stafford not blaming injuries as Rams slump continues

    Matthew Stafford insisted he was feeling "fine" physically as he faced questions over his fitness following the disappointing loss at the Green Bay Packers.

    The Los Angeles Rams fell to 7-4 after losing 36-28 in an entertaining road game against Green Bay on Sunday.

    Stafford threw for 302 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, but also had his lowest completion percentage (55.3) of the season so far.

    After making an electric start to the season, Stafford has thrown five interceptions in a run of three straight loses for the Rams, going for a pick-six in each of those defeats.

    Stafford also had a lost fumble against the Packers and a report before the game suggested he was battling with back, elbow and ankle problems despite not appearing on the injury report.

    "I am feeling fine," said Stafford, per ESPN. 

    "Back was kind of barking at me a little bit that week [Week 9], but I haven't missed any time since then. 

    "The rest of my body, is it 100 per cent? No, nor is anybody else's in this league at this point of the season.

    "You have to take them all [my turnovers] individually. I know that is probably tough for you guys to hear, but that is the truth of the matter. That's the way I see it."

    Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey has been surprised by a losing streak that he says must end given the team's star quality.

    "It's not a good mood – I can say that," he said.

    "Of course I am [shocked]. We have guys that are way too good for us to be losing games like this and losing games on the road. 

    "We've just got to get it right. We have to play better, everything has to be better because we're too good to be losing games like this but we're not playing like we're that good right now, so we got to correct our stuff."

    Stafford still sits third in the NFL with 3,316 passing yards, second in the league with 27 TD passes and has a fourth-best passer rating of 105.2.

    He has had 27 passing plays which have gone for 25 or more yards, which is third-best in the league in a tie with Aaron Rodgers, who was the winning QB in Sunday's game at Lambeau Field.

    The impressive Rodgers had 307 passing yards and two touchdowns without an interception, as well as rushing for a score.

    It was Rodgers' 60th career game with at least 300 yards through the air and two TDs, becoming only the fourth QB to achieve that feat after fellow NFL greats Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

  • Fix the defence and accommodate Ronaldo – five problems for Rangnick to solve at Man Utd Fix the defence and accommodate Ronaldo – five problems for Rangnick to solve at Man Utd

    Manchester United have broken with modern tradition and made a footballing decision that everyone seems to think is a good one.

    The appointment of Ralf Rangnick as interim manager until the end of the season was confirmed on Monday, a day after caretaker Michael Carrick managed a creditable 1-1 draw at Premier League leaders Chelsea.

    While he hasn't been a coach for the best part of three years, Rangnick's legacy in the Bundesliga and his influence on some of Germany's finest minds makes him a shrewd appointment for United, not least because he will take up a two-year consultancy role after 2021-22.

    This, then, is a decision taken by United with a view to long-term changes to their fortunes, not simply a quick fix to arrest poor results. Still, with more than half the season still to go, Rangnick could yet guide the Red Devils to some tangible on-pitch success over the coming months – provided that he gets to work quickly on some of their biggest problems.

    Stats Perform looks at five things Rangnick must address as soon as possible...

     

    Fix the defence

    United conceded 21 goals in the first 12 games of the season; they have never previously let in more at the same stage in the competition's history. In November alone, they have faced 60 shots, the most of any side in the division.

    That tells you something about the state of their defence.

    Of course, Rangnick's gegenpressing system is likely to demand off-the-ball contributions from every player on the pitch (more on that shortly) but the rearguard is in need of some serious fine-tuning. In particular, captain Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw have seen their individual form fall off a cliff since they helped England to the final of Euro 2020; it was telling that a good defensive performance against Chelsea on Sunday came with both players sidelined.

    Getting the best out of Shaw and Maguire, arresting Aaron Wan-Bissaka's decline and getting Raphael Varane fit and integrated into the side will be essential to Rangnick's aims.

    Get Bruno firing again

    So often United's star performer under Solskjaer, Bruno Fernandes is another who has endured a comparatively poor season.

    He tallied his 50 direct goal involvement on his 58th appearance in October (30 goals, 20 assists), which is a tally only Andy Cole (43), Alan Shearer (54) and Eric Cantona (54) reached in fewer games, so it's not all bad. But the Portugal playmaker has scored just once in 19 appearances for club and country.

    He looks a player in need of a lift and, so central is he to United's attack play, he could be Rangnick's first port of call at Carrington. Well, apart from...

    Accommodate Ronaldo

    Like a black hole devouring a gas cloud, all the noise surrounding United's performances seems to be drawn inexorably back to Cristiano Ronaldo.

    It's a beguiling narrative: a five-time Ballon d'Or winner who has to start every game but who should not expect to start every game; a 36-year-old forward who no longer contributes enough to make up for any shortcomings, but one with six goals in five Champions League matches this season, two of them winners and one a last-gasp equaliser.

    There are some writing off Ronaldo's chances of winning over a coach like Rangnick who demands hard graft from every member of his team, while others say the onus is on the incoming manager to construct a unit that brings the best out of the leading male international goalscorer in history. Time will tell what the future holds.

    And just a note for the 'Ronaldo doesn't press' crowd: he made three more sprints and 21 more intensive runs against Chelsea than Jesse Lingard, who came on at the same time.

    Tie down Pogba and tidy the squad

    Some of Solskjaer's best work at United was putting together a strong squad, but that seemed to unravel in his final few months in charge.

    Lingard returned rejuvenated from West Ham but, rather than cash in when there was a demand, Solskjaer kept the England international yet gave him just 63 minutes of league action. It's now likely he'll leave for nothing next June.

    There were similarly strange decisions behind contract extensions for Eric Bailly and the seldom-seen Juan Mata, while Phil Jones is still at the club after two years of injury hell and Anthony Martial was retained despite falling way down the attacking pecking order. Goalkeeper Dean Henderson also appears unlikely now to dislodge David de Gea.

    Then there is Paul Pogba, still yet to sign a new deal or announce plans to leave for free next year, whose agent wastes few opportunities to discuss potentially interested parties. The word is that Pogba is excited to work with Rangnick, but the France star is just one of several members of the United squad who needs clarity on their positions.

    Give Donny a chance

    It felt almost pre-ordained when Donny van de Beek scored the final goal of the Solskjaer era against Watford, having come on as a substitute to rapturous (and ironic) cheers from the visiting fans.

    Van de Beek has spent most of his time at United being assured his chances would come, then left wondering when that would be. Having only started four league games in 14 months, the Netherlands international – who has lost his place in the national squad – would almost certainly have pushed to leave in January had Solskjaer stayed in the job.

    Now, Van de Beek has the opportunity to prove himself to a new manager. Rangnick's methods might not be Cruyffian exactly, but they are certainly more closely aligned to the Ajax way than Solskjaer's focus on individual inspiration.

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