MLB

MLB playoffs 2021: Dodgers avoid elimination to force Giants decider as Astros and Braves clinch

By Sports Desk October 12, 2021

There will be a winner-takes-all Game 5 in the National League Division Series (NLDS) after MLB World Series champions the Los Angeles Dodgers avoided elimination with a 7-2 win over the San Francisco Giants.

The Giants had the chance to book their spot in the NL Championship Series (NLCS) on Tuesday, but they were instead blown away by the Dodgers, who levelled the best-of-five matchup at 2-2.

Mookie Betts and Will Smith homered for the Dodgers in Los Angeles, where ace Walker Buehler gave up just one run on three hits while striking out four batters in 4.1 innings.

The deciding Game 5 will take place at Oracle Park in San Francisco on Thursday.

 

Astros reach fifth straight ALCS

The Houston Astros will face the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series (ALCS) after crushing the Chicago White Sox 10-1. Houston became the third team ever to appear in five successive league championship series. Astros star Carlos Correa tied Albert Pujols for the most playoff RBIs among active players after reaching 54, while Jose Altuve also hit his 19th postseason homer – matching George Springer and future Hall of Famer Pujols for fourth all-time.

 

Houston get to Hendriks and White Sox

On a rough day for the White Sox, closer Liam Hendriks conceded a three-run homer off Altuve in the top of the ninth inning. White Sox team-mate Michael Kopech allowed three runs on three hits in 0.2 innings.

 

Freeman sends Braves through

Freddie Freeman was the hero in Game 4, hitting a two-out home run in the bottom of the eighth inning as the Atlanta Braves came from behind to top the Milwaukee Brewers 5-4 en route to the NLCS. Freeman's 428-foot go-ahead bomb was the furthest opposite-field homer of his career. The Braves will feature in back-to-back championship series for the first time since they advanced to eight straight from 1991 to 1999.

 

Tuesday's results

Houston Astros 10-1 Chicago White Sox
Atlanta Braves 5-4 Milwaukee Brewers
Los Angeles Dodgers 7-2 San Francisco Giants

 

Dodgers at Giants

NL West rivals the Dodgers and Giants will put it all on the line in Thursday's do-or-die showdown. Both teams have won an incredible 107 games this season as the Dodgers prepare to pit Julio Urias against Logan Webb.

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  • Haaland, Palmer, Watkins? Assessing the Premier League's Golden Boot candidates Haaland, Palmer, Watkins? Assessing the Premier League's Golden Boot candidates

    There is a thrilling three-horse race for the Premier League title as we approach the run-in, but there is also another tussle on the cards.

    The Golden Boot is up for grabs, with Erling Haaland having not quite hit the same heights as he did last season, when he broke the Premier League record for goals, with 36.

    Manchester City star Haaland is, as it stands, level with his former club-mate Cole Palmer at the top of the competition’s scoring charts, with 20 goals apiece.

    Palmer, who will go up against his old club in the FA Cup semi-finals this weekend, moved way up in the charts after he netted four times in Chelsea’s 6-0 rout of Everton on Monday.

    But with Palmer and Haaland in FA Cup action, there are plenty of other Golden Boot candidates looking to take advantage and nudge themselves to the front of the pack.

    Using Opta data, we assess the numbers behind the players vying for this individual accolade.

    Erling Haaland (20)

    Sure, Haaland might not quite have scaled the same heights as last season, but he has still scored 20 goals in 26 league games, scoring a goal every 109 minutes on average.

    However, the Norwegian has actually underperformed his expected goals (xG) of 23.7 – that 3.7 differential is actually the biggest xG underperformance of any player on this list.

    What about Haaland’s expected goals on target (xGOT)? That metric can be used to measure the quality of a player’s finishing, and Haaland’s xGOT of 20.3 suggests the 23-year-old is about on track based on where he has been placing his shots.

    Haaland has also chipped in with five assists, giving him an overall goal contributions tally of 25. He has created 28 goalscoring chances for team-mates across the campaign.

    Of course, Haaland is a penalty box poacher – 16 of his goals have come from inside the area, while 14 of them have come with his stronger left foot.

     

    Cole Palmer (20)

    Palmer has stolen the show this season for Chelsea, and is arguably the Blues’ driving force behind their push for European football.

    Having signed from City last summer, Palmer has made an instant impact despite only playing 27 times – he averages a goal every 103 minutes, which is better than any of the other candidates featured here.

    He scored a perfect hat-trick in the first half of the demolition of Everton, before adding a fourth from the penalty spot after the break – that was Palmer’s ninth successfully converted spot-kick in the league this term.

    Unlike Haaland, Palmer has overperformed his xG (15), with his non-penalty xG coming in at 7.9, while also proving his creative talents with nine assists from 53 chances created, which ranks behind only Mohamed Salah (60) of players featured here.

    Those 29 goal contributions are matched by only one other Premier League player…

    Ollie Watkins (19)

    One goal behind Palmer and Haaland, and someone who will be looking to get ahead when Aston Villa face Bournemouth on Sunday, is England international Watkins.

    A deft chip in Villa’s brilliant 2-0 win over Arsenal last time out brought up Watkins’ 19th top-flight goal of the campaign – he is now the club’s joint-leading scorer in a single season in the Premier League, matching Christian Benteke (2012-13).

     

    What separates Watkins from Palmer and Haaland is his minutes per goal ratio – Watkins has netted every 147 minutes on average, which is 44 minutes worse off than Palmer and 38 than Haaland.

    However, with 10 assists, the former Brentford forward leads the goal contributions charts along with Palmer. Interestingly, however, Watkins’ assists have come from an expected assists (xA) of just 3.6, suggesting he has been the benefactor of some particularly excellent finishing from his Villa team-mates.

    A goal against Bournemouth on Sunday would see Watkins become just the third English player to score 20+ goals and assist 10+ goals in a 38-game season, along with Frank Lampard in 2009-10 (22 goals, 14 assists) and Harry Kane in 2020-21 (23 goals, 14 assists)

    Watkins has proved to be a deadly finisher under Unai Emery, though the trick for opposing defences could be to prevent him getting space in the area to begin with, given that all 19 of his goals have come from inside the box. Obviously, that is easier said than done.

    Mohamed Salah (17)

    Liverpool will be hoping to bounce back from their damaging defeat to Crystal Palace last week when they take on Fulham on Sunday, and key to the Reds’ clinching success in Jurgen Klopp’s farewell tour will surely be the form of Salah.

    Since sustaining an injury at the Africa Cup of Nations, Salah has not quite hit top form, but he has still netted 17 goals across 26 league appearances this term, though five of those have been penalties.

     

    With an xGOT of 18.4, Salah can point to some above average goalkeeping as a reason for a small underperformance.

    Creatively, Salah has been excellent, providing nine assists and crafting 60 opportunities, but the Reds will need him at his very best in the run-in.

    Alexander Isak (17)

    Isak was at the double in Newcastle United’s 4-0 thrashing of Tottenham last time out. He has now scored 12 goals in as many Premier League appearances at St James’ Park this season.

    His opener against Spurs saw him become the fourth player to score in six consecutive Premier League home matches for Newcastle, with only Andrew Cole (eight) and Alan Shearer (15) having longer such runs, with Isak now level with Les Ferdinand’s best such run. The only other Swede to have netted as many Premier League goals in a single campaign as Isak has this term is the great Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored 17 times for Manchester United in 2016-17.

    Only Palmer has a better minutes per goal ratio than Isak (104) of the players on this list, while he has overperformed his xG by 1.1.

    Isak has not provided quite as much creatively as others on this list, providing just one assist, but his 28.3 per cent shot conversion rate tops this list by some distance, with Palmer (24.4) next best.

    Dominic Solanke (17)

    Another player on 17 goals, and the final selection here, is Bournemouth talisman Solanke.

    His 18.1 per cent shot conversion rate may short fall of the other stars on this list, but Solanke is having a fantastic season, having become Bournemouth’s top Premier League goalscorer in a single campaign, surpassing Joshua King’s tally of 16 from the 2016-17 season.

    Only one of Solanke’s strikes has come from the spot, with the 26-year-old outperforming his 15.7 non-penalty xG, though his minutes per goal ratio of 167 is quite a stark drop-off from most of his Golden Boot rivals.

    The Chasing Pack

    Former Golden Boot winner Son Heung-min (15), Jarrod Bowen (15), Bukayo Saka (14) and Phil Foden (14) are all well in the hunt.

    The fact that 10 players are within six goals of each other shows just how tight this Golden Boot race is shaping up to be, though the chasing pack are running out of time if they are to make a late push for the award.

  • Premier League relegation battle: Crucial weekend in the scrap for survival Premier League relegation battle: Crucial weekend in the scrap for survival

    While the Premier League title race unfolds, there is another tussle playing out at the bottom.

    And this weekend, six of the teams at the wrong end of the table fight it out against each other.

    On Saturday, Luton Town will hope to propel themselves out of the relegation zone by overcoming Brentford at Kenilworth Road, though the 15th-placed Bees will know that another win could all but end their worries of dropping down to the Championship.

    At the same time, the two bottom clubs go head-to-head at Bramall Lane, with Sheffield United hosting Burnley. Both the Blades and the Clarets look likely to go down, though if either are to survive, then taking three points from this one is a must.

    Sunday’s early game is a huge one at Goodison Park, as Everton and Nottingham Forest – both impacted by points deductions for breaches of Profit and Sustainability Rules (PSR) – face off. The Toffees are 16th, a point better off than the Tricky Trees, but Sean Dyche’s team are on a dismal run of just one win in 15 league matches.

    Crystal Palace are perhaps not out of the woods just yet, though after their stunning win at Anfield last time out, the Eagles will hope to carry on the momentum when they face West Ham.

    And using Opta data, we can assess the likelihood of the Premier League relegation scrap, as well as the underlying metrics behind each of these teams.

     

    Let’s work from the top down.

    Palace, after that shock 1-0 win over Liverpool, are now not considered to be relegation candidates by Opta’s predictive model, which gives them a 46.5 per cent chance of staying right where they are in 14th.

    The Eagles are six points clear of Everton in 17th, and while not mathematically safe, Oliver Glasner’s team are certainly within touching distance.

    It is worth noting, though, that according to the Opta power rankings, Palace have the most difficult run-in of all these seven teams, with the average rating of their remaining opponents coming in at 87.9. Like the Toffees and Sheffield United, Palace have six matches left to play, though they do not play any of the teams below them in that run.

    Next come Brentford. The Bees have five games remaining but, with 33 points, are likely just a win away from tying up their safety, and they will be hoping that comes against Luton (as well Everton and Forest fans).

    According to Opta’s model, Brentford have the second-easiest fixture list of any team in the league, with their average opponent rating of 85.1 higher only than Newcastle United’s (84.1).

    The Bees do, though, face a trip to Everton after they head to Luton, so should the worst occur and they lose those matches, then Thomas Frank’s team could find themselves firmly back in danger. As it stands, Brentford’s chances of going down are a meagre 0.3 per cent.

    Brentford are the second-worst expected goals underperformers in the competition this season, having scored six fewer goals than would have been anticipated based on the quality of opportunities they have created, suggesting that with better finishing, and a bit more luck, they would likely be clear of danger already.

    And if that can be said for Brentford, then it can be emphatically repeated for 16th-placed Everton.

     

    Even factoring in the eight points that have been taken off them this term, Everton – who were thrashed 6-0 by Chelsea on Monday – could have been out of danger had they simply come close to matching their xG. They are by far the Premier League’s biggest underperformers when it comes to that metric – Dyche’s side have scored 32 goals (which ranks 19th in the league) from an xG of 48, a whopping underperformance of 16.

    Sunday’s clash with Forest kick-starts a huge week of home games for the Toffees, with a Merseyside derby against Liverpool following on April 24, before Brentford then visit Goodison Park.

    With Forest, Brentford, Luton and Sheffield United among their final four fixtures, Everton should still have some confidence – they have taken seven points off those sides already this term, and a repeat of that could be enough, though a final-day away outing at Arsenal is ominous, given the Toffees have shipped nine goals in their last two visits to Emirates Stadium. Opta predicts they will stay up, but Everton do have an 8.9 per cent chance of slipping out of the top tier for the first time in over 70 years.

    Below them, Forest will no doubt have been buoyed by Everton’s sorry performance at Stamford Bridge. However, Nuno Espirito Santo’s team do have a rather sizeable 29.9 per cent chance of going down, so a victory at Goodison Park could be vital.

    Especially considering Forest’s next fixture comes against Manchester City, albeit it is at home, where they also face Chelsea in between away clashes with Sheffield United and Burnley.

    Perhaps worrying for Forest, however, is that in their three matches against Everton, the Blades and Burnley this term, they have taken only four points. Interestingly, while Forest have shipped 58 goals – a figure which betters only the bottom three, they have been unfortunate to concede so many based on their expected goals against (xGA), which is actually the sixth best in the league at 47.4.

    Then we have Luton. The Hatters have been one of the stories of the season, and despite their small budget have a brilliant chance of survival.

    That being said, Opta’s predictive model does anticipate they will go down, with Rob Edwards’ side having a 54.3 per cent chance of finishing where they are in 18th, with their chances of finishing in 17th being 29.6 per cent.

    Victory over Brentford, who beat them 3-1 earlier in the campaign, would see Luton move out of the bottom three, though, and with five games left, they do have what is considered a relatively easy run-in when it comes to the average rating of those teams they are going up against, at 85.4.

    That being said, Luton’s defensive record this season is awful. The Hatters have shipped 70 goals from an xGA of 69.7. They will need to tighten up if they are to complete the great escape.

     

    What about the bottom two?

    Well, they are perhaps down and out. After visiting South Yorkshire on Saturday, Vincent Kompany’s Burnley team have to go to Old Trafford and the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium either side of hosting Newcastle, and Opta’s predictive model suggests they will go down – they have just a 1.6 per cent chance of survival.

    There is an even smaller chance of the Blades, who are 20th, staying up, at just 0.2 per cent.

    Chris Wilder’s team are the team with the fewest goals scored in the top flight, at 30, while they have conceded 84 – the worst in the division, and while victory over the Clarets would provide a morale-boost, the Blades seemed destined for the Championship.

  • MLB: Blue Jays deal Yanks first losing streak MLB: Blue Jays deal Yanks first losing streak

    Chris Bassitt tossed 6 1/3 effective innings to lead the way as the Toronto Blue Jays dealt the New York Yankees their first losing streak of the season with Monday's 3-1 win to open a three-game series.

    Bassitt allowed just one run on four hits to help Toronto to its season-high third straight win. The right-hander has now won back-to-back starts after losing his first two outings of the season. 

    The Blue Jays managed just four hits but took advantage of seven walks issued by New York starter Luis Gil in five innings of work.

    Gil walked three straight Toronto hitters to force in a run after Cavan Biggio opened the bottom of the second inning with a ground-rule double with the Blue Jays trailing 1-0. The right-hander later uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Alejandro Kirk to cross the plate for a 2-1 lead.

    Kirk recorded two of the Blue Jays' four hits, including a two-out double in the third that scored Bo Bichette, who had reached on an infield single.

    The Yankees had briefly gone ahead in the top of the second on Oswaldo Cabrera's run-scoring single, the last of three consecutive hits off Bassitt.

    Bassitt did not surrender a hit from the fourth inning on, however, and relievers Tim Mayza and Chad Green combined for 1 2/3 scoreless innings before Yimi Garcia retired the side in order in the ninth for his second save.

    Gil struck out six but permitted all three Toronto runs as the Yankees lost consecutive games for the first time in 2024. New York was coming off Sunday's 8-7 defeat at Cleveland in which the Guardians rallied for three runs in the 10th inning.

    Riley helps Braves pull away from Astros

    Austin Riley collected three hits, including an RBI single during a four-run ninth inning that enabled the Atlanta Braves to pull away for a 6-1 win over the Houston Astros.

    Four Atlanta relievers combined for 5 1/3 scoreless innings to protect an early 2-1 lead and allow the Braves to take the opener of this three-game series between the two participants in the 2021 World Series.

    Aaron Bummer was credited with the win after retiring two of three hitters in relief of Darius Vines, who held Houston to one run and four hits over 4 2/3 innings.

    The Astros did touch Vines for a run in the first inning as Kyle Tucker drew a walk, stole second and scored on Alex Bregman's two-out single.

    Atlanta answered by scoring two runs in the second off Houston starter Spencer Arrighetti, all with two out.

    Travis d'Arnaud started the rally with a double and later scored on an error by Houston shortstop Jeremy Pena, who threw wildly to first base after fielding Luis Guillorme's infield single.

    Arrighetti then walked Ronald Acuna Jr. to load the bases before hitting Ozzie Albies with a pitch to bring in the go-ahead run.

    The score remained 2-1 until the Braves erupted in the ninth off struggling Houston closer Josh Hader, who surrendered four hits and a walk while recording just one out.

    Hader also threw a wild pitch that allowed Adam Duvall to advance to second in front of Orlando Arcia's run-scoring single that gave Atlanta a 3-1 advantage. Riley and Marcell Ozuna later delivered RBI singles and the Braves scored another run on a fielder's choice groundout.

    Arrighetti struck out five over four innings in his second major league start, but took the loss after permitting two runs.

    Cubs rally in ninth inning, then beat Diamondbacks in 11

    Nico Hoerner's run-scoring single in the 11th inning capped a late rally that propelled the Chicago Cubs to a 3-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks in the opener of a three-game series.

    Hoerner finished 2 for 4 and also scored the tying run in the ninth when he raced home from second base on a wild pitch thrown by Arizona reliever Kevin Ginkel.

    Michael Busch tied a franchise record for Chicago with his fifth consecutive game with a home run. The first baseman achieved the feat with a solo shot off Diamondbacks' starter Merrill Kelly in the top of the second inning that gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead.

    Kelly did not allow a run over the remainder of his five-inning stint, helping the Diamondbacks eventually move ahead when Randal Grichuk doubled in the eighth and scored on Corbin Carroll's single off reliever Drew Smyly to put Arizona up 2-1.

    Ginkel surrendered one-out singles to Hoerner and Mike Tauchman in the ninth, however, before Hoerner hustled home from second on the closer's errant pitch to the plate with the Cubs down to their final out.

    Hoerner put Chicago ahead in his next at-bat by delivering a bases-loaded single off Bryce Jarvis in the 11th. Keegan Thompson then stranded the tying run at third in the bottom of the inning to wrap up the Cubs' third straight victory.

    Chicago starter Ben Brown worked six innings and yielded just one hit, a single to Jake McCarthy in the second that brought in Arizona's first run.

     

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