The Los Angeles Dodgers fought back on Saturday, getting to San Francisco Giants starter Kevin Gausman early and knocking him out later in the game as the reigning World Series champions evened their National League Division Series (NLDS) with a 9-2 road victory. 

The Dodgers got their offence back on track after being blanked by Giants starter Logan Webb in Game 1, pounding out 11 hits at Oracle Park before heading home for Monday's Game 3 in the MLB playoffs. 

Oddly enough, it was Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias who got everything going with a run-scoring single in the second inning as Los Angeles earned a 2-0 lead that the Giants answered with one in the bottom of that inning. 

Both teams' bats stayed quiet until the sixth, when the Dodgers drove Gausman from the game and broke it open with two-run doubles from Cody Bellinger and AJ Pollock. 

They piled on three more against the Giants' bullpen in the eighth thanks to a Will Smith solo homer and RBI singles from Matt Beaty and Corey Seager. 

Urias did his job on the mound, too, limiting NL West champions San Francisco to one run in his five innings of work before four Dodgers relievers finished it off. 

Urias lowered his postseason ERA to 2.68 in 19 career appearances while improving his record to 7-2. The seven wins equal former Giants ace Madison Bumgarner for the most postseason victories by a pitcher aged 25 or younger. 

In the other NLDS matchup, Max Fried was brilliant on the mound as the Atlanta Braves evened the series with a 3-0 defeat of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Fried allowed just three hits and did not walk a batter while striking out nine in his six innings of work before three Atlanta relievers finished off the shutout. 

The Braves scored twice in the third inning on an RBI single by Freddie Freeman and a double by Ozzie Albies, and Austin Riley added a home run in the sixth for insurance. 

The series moves to Atlanta on Monday for Game 3.

 

Rays at Red Sox

After pounding out 20 hits in a 14-6 Game 2 rout to even the series, the Boston Red Sox will look to keep it going as they return to Fenway Park for Monday's Game 3, with Nathan Eovaldi set to start against the Tampa Bay Rays' Drew Rasmussen. 

The San Francisco Giants shut out the prolific Los Angeles Dodgers led by Logan Webb as they secured a 4-0 win and a 1-0 lead in the National League Division Series on Friday.

The Dodgers, who were shut out just five times in the regular season, could not convert any of their five hits on Friday, while the Giants delivered three home runs.

Seven-time All-Star Buster Posey got the Giants on the board with a two-run blast in the first inning from Walker Buehler, who allowed six hits across six-and-one-third innings.

Buehler still managed five strikeouts on the mound for the Dodgers but he was over-shadowed by Giants right-hander Webb, who tossed down 10 Ks across seven-and-two-thirds scoreless innings.

Kris Bryant, who had three hits to mark an outstanding game, padded the Giants' lead in the seventh inning with a left-field home run from a tiring Buehler.

Brandon Crawford, who had 24 home runs across the regular season added, another in the eighth inning, recording his second career post-season homer to add insurance.

 

Astros launch into 2-0 lead

The Houston Astros produced a five-run rally in the seventh inning to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the American League Division Series (ALDS) against the Chicago White Sox with a 9-4 victory.

But the Astros had to come from behind, trailing 4-2 after Luis Robert, who had two runs, three hits and one RBI for the game, touched down at the top of the fifth inning.

Jose Altuve, who had a great defensive game in the field, and Alex Bregman levelled it from a Yuli Gurriel base hit, before the five-run rally in the seventh underlined by Kyle Tucker's two-run shot.

With two out and two on leading 5-4, Carlos Correa's powerful shot to right-field eluded Leury Garcia, driving in two runs before Tucker padded the advantage.

 

Sale loses his puff

Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale endured a nightmare first inning, allowing four hits and five earned runs as the Tampa Bay Rays opened up an early 5-2 lead. Sale was pulled after that before the Red Sox launched an admirable fightback in a run-fest 14-6 victory over the Rays to square up their ALDS. Tanner Houck steadied on the mound, with five strikeouts across five innings allowing only one run and two hits.

 

 

Burnes still on fire

Corbin Burnes continued his excellent regular season form in the Milwaukee Brewers' opening game of their NLDS with six scoreless innings and six strikeouts in a 2-1 win over the Atlanta Braves. Burnes, who finished the regular season with an MLB-best 2.43 ERA, set up the victory before Josh Hader closed it out, with Rowdy Tellez scoring a two-run homer in the seventh inning.

 

Saturday's results

Houston Astros 9-4 Chicago White Sox
Milwaukee Brewers 2-1 Atlanta Braves
Boston Red Sox 14-6 Tampa Bay Rays
San Francisco Giants 4-0 Los Angeles Dodgers

 

Dodgers at Giants

The Dodgers will look to bounce back in Game 2 against the Giants, with Julio Urias and Kevin Gausman starting on the mound for the respective sides.

Randy Arozarena's memorable steal of home base during the Tampa Bay Rays' 5-0 defeat of the Boston Red Sox in their ALDS Game 1 opener had been a long time in the making.

It was a historic night for Arozarena, who became the first player in playoff history to steal home and hit a home run in the same game.

Arozarena was also the first to pull off the feat in a playoff clash since 2016 and the first to complete a straight steal of home since 1955.

Rays manager Kevin Cash said the leading contender for Rookie of the Year had been in his ear about attempting the move for some time.

"He's asked me all season long, 'Verde, verde, verde' – green light," Cash said. 

"We finally gave it to him."

Arozarena explained why he opted to pull off the audacious move.

"I noticed the pitcher kind of wasn't keeping attention to me. I was able to take a big enough lead and take that base," Arozarena said. 

"That's the first time I've ever stolen home."

With 11 playoff homers, Arozarena is tied second with Carlos Beltran and Jim Thome for the second most of all time, behind only Babe Ruth on 12.

His number is the most of any rookie in MLB history, with Evan Longoria a distant second on six.

"I just focus a little bit more [in playoff games],"Arozarena said. 

"Luckily it's happening in October, when it means it's closer to the World Series."

A trio of rookies starred as the Tampa Bay Rays began the road back to the World Series with a 5-0 win over the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Division Series (ALDS). 

After posting an AL-best 100-62 record during the regular MLB season, the Rays got standout performances from pitcher Shane McClanahan and hitters Wander Franco and Randy Arozarena as they opened their defence of the AL pennant at Tropicana Field. 

McClanahan scattered five hits in five shut-out innings on Thursday, striking out three without walking a batter in his first postseason start. 

The Rays became the first team in MLB playoff history to have two rookies post an extra-base hit and another rookie toss a scoreless start in the same game, per Stats Perform.

His team-mates gave him run support early, as Franco doubled home a run in the first, then came around to score on a Yandy Diaz single. The 20-year-old phenom would add another double in the seventh.

Nelson Cruz, who at 41 is more than twice as old as his Dominican countryman Franco, went deep in the third for his 18th postseason home run. 

Not to be outdone, the breakout star of the 2020 playoffs – though still technically a rookie – Arozarena added a majestic solo shot to left in the fifth inning, then stole home in the seventh. 

According to Stats Perform, Arozarena is the first player in MLB postseason history to hit a home run and steal home in the same game. 

Tampa Bay will send another rookie to the mound in Game 2 as Shane Baz takes the ball against Red Sox veteran Chris Sale. 

The Houston Astros opened the other ALDS with an emphatic 6-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox as Lance McCullers Jr. was dominant on the mound for the home side. 

McCullers allowed four hits and did not walk a batter in 6.2 shut-out innings while striking out four, making him the first Astros pitcher to go at least that long in a postseason game without a walk since Brandon Backe against the White Sox in the 2005 World Series.

In 15 career postseason games, McCullers has a 2.87 ERA and has struck out 9.62 batters per nine innings. 

Yordan Alvarez entered the game with just 14 hits in 58 postseason at-bats (.241) but he was the hitting star for Houston in Game 1.

The designated hitter reached base three times in four trips to the plate, driving in a run with a double in the third inning and another with a solo homer in the fifth. 

While Alvarez did the heavy lifting, Jose Altuve provided the highlight of the night with a nifty slide to score from third on an Alex Bregman grounder to third base in the third inning. 

Game 2 is Friday in Houston with the Astros sending Framber Valdez to the mound against Chicago's Lucas Giolito. 

 

Dodgers at Giants

Eternal rivals the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants have each won 107 games this season, and they open their National League Division Series (NLDS) with Walker Buehler and Logan Webb on the mound on Friday. 

Up until this point, it has been a season to remember for the San Francisco Giants, who are playoff-bound for the first time since 2016.

A franchise-record 107 wins and the best record in baseball saw the Giants fend off reigning World Series champions and rivals the Los Angeles Dodgers for the National League (NL) West title.

It was San Francisco's first division crown since 2012 as they ended the Dodgers' streak of eight straight NL West trophies.

San Francisco's World Series charge is being spearheaded by their golden oldies – Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and Buster Posey – after a tough couple of years, with Gabe Kapler overseeing dramatic improvement with a stacked roster of experienced veterans.

 

From afterthoughts to contenders

As the Giants prepare for the NL Division Series (NLDS) against the aforementioned Dodgers, it is safe to say they entered the 2021 season as afterthoughts in their own division, despite missing the playoffs by just one win in last year's coronavirus-shortened campaign.

All eyes were on the star-studded Dodgers and a surging San Diego Padres franchise hot off signing Fernando Tatis Jr. to the third-richest contract in MLB history – a 14-year, $340 million deal – after both bolstered their already impressive squads. The Dodgers brought in reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer and eventually future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols plus ace Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. The Padres acquired frontline starters Yu Darvish and Blake Snell in blockbuster trades.

Without a postseason berth since losing to the Chicago Cubs in the 2016 NLDS, the Giants needed an historic campaign to dethrone the Dodgers in the NL West and hold off an exciting Padres squad.

Despite boasting the oldest roster in the majors with an average age of 30 years and 313 days, they achieved just that and became the first NL team to win more than 106 games since the 1986 New York Mets.

 

 

Rejuvenated veterans thriving under Kapler

Eyebrows were raised when the Giants and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi hired Kapler to succeed beloved San Francisco figure and future Hall of Famer Bruce Bochy in 2019. Kapler's two-year stint with the Philadelphia Phillies left a lot to be desired. But his shortcomings have long been forgotten as the Giants and their roster reap the rewards of Zaidi's decision.

"They're a teaching staff," reliever Tony Watson said of Kapler's coaching staff, which included MLB's first full-time female assistant Alyssa Nakken. "You could see the improvement of guys throughout the roster, one through 26. It wasn't just the young guys that were coming up and still developing, you saw Buster, [Crawford], [Longoria] and Belt changing their swings and changing the way they go about their days. That's a tribute to all 14-15 staff members and being able to relay information and ideas."

Belt (33), Crawford (34) and Posey (34) were all part of San Francisco's World Series-winning team in 2014, and, despite their advancing years, have all improved under Kapler's management.

Belt enjoyed the best 162-game campaign of his career thanks to his .597 SLG, .975 OPS and 29 homers (surpassing the 18 he hit in 2015 and 2018). It was the same for Crawford (.522/.895 and a career-best 24 home runs).

Belt, Crawford and Darin Ruf (.519/.904) have all enjoyed career years in both SLG and OPS. When factoring at least 100 plate appearances and a team playing in 155 or more games, the 2021 Giants are the first franchise since the Cardinals in 2004 to have three-plus players with career years in both SLG and OPS.

Posey – who is looking to become the first NL player since Sandy Koufax and Johnny Podres to win four World Series rings with the same team – boasted his best SLG (.499) and OPS (.889) since the Giants were crowned world champions in 2012. His 18 homers were his most since his 19-homer campaign six years ago.

Fellow veteran Evan Longoria also enjoyed a return to form, with the 35-year-old’s SLG (.482) and OPS (.833) numbers his best since his penultimate season with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2016.

It is a similar theme with San Francisco's pitchers – starters Kevin Gausman (2.81), Anthony DeSclafani (3.17) and Logan Webb (3.03) finishing the regular season with career-high ERAs.

Gausman (227) heads into the postseason with a career-best 227 strikeouts, while DeSclafani (152) only managed more strikeouts in 2019 when he struck out 167 batters during his time with the Cincinnati Reds. Gausman finished the year behind only Corbin Burnes in Stats Perform's Strike+ metric, which measures which pitchers rack up both whiffs and called strikes.

 

Depth shines in the Bay Area

The Giants achieved a first in their 137-year existence, hitting 241 home runs in a season for the first time. They achieved the feat without a single 30-homer hitter on their roster – the highest number of homers without a player reaching at least 30 home runs in MLB history.

It was a collective effort. Case in point: The Giants had 17 players with at least five homers this season – an MLB record. Belt (29), Mike Yastrzemski (25), Crawford (24), Wilmer Flores (18), Posey (18), LaMonte Wade Jr. (18), Ruf (16), Alex Dickerson (13), Longoria (13) and Austin Slater (12) all reached double digits.

Rather than rely on stars like Posey, Belt and Crawford, the Giants – who hit 103 game-winning RBIs, the second highest in the majors since 1974, ended the season with six players aged 30 or older among the team's top four in home runs – the highest figure since 2014, ahead of the 2018 Giants (five).

"It's just been such a collective effort. Contributions up and down," Posey said. "We set the [franchise] record for homers [in a season] and pinch-hit homers. Those are some examples. You've got most the home runs ever for the team and nobody has 30."

 

Of San Francisco's home runs, 18 came in pinch-hit situations – a single-season MLB record, eclipsing the 2016 Cardinals.

This season's Giants are unlikely to produce an MVP or Cy Young Award winner, but their championship run is fuelled by a selfless approach.

San Francisco's quartet of Gausman, Logan Webb, Alex Wood and DeSclafani further solidified the team-first mentality – helping the Giants rank second in the majors with a 3.24 ERA in 2021. Run suppression was aided by the Giants suppressing the longball, as the team finished with an average of 0.93 homers allowed per game this season, the best in the majors.

While their NLDS opponents may have more star power, the Giants counter with one of the deepest and most talented squads in franchise history. Their opening playoff series should be an instant classic, and the Giants have proved they'll be a tough out for any team they face.

Los Angeles Dodgers' match-winner Chris Taylor was only trying to hit a single before his walk-off home-run in Wednesday's 3-1 win over the St Louis Cardinals in the National League Wild Card Game.

Taylor, who did not start the game, came up with the decisive moment from Cardinals closer Alex Reyes at 1-1 in the ninth inning with Cody Bellinger on base.

The 31-year-old, who was a 2021 All Star before losing form late in the season, hit the fifth walk-off winner in a winner-take-all game in majors' history.

Taylor became the first player with a walk-off home run in a winner-take-all game since Edwin Encarnacion in the 2016 Wild Card game.

" I was taking that pitch all the way," Taylor told ESPN after the game. "Let him [Bellinger] get in a scoring position. Once he got there [to second base], I was honestly only trying to hit a single.

"Not try to do too much. He gave me a good sighter to hit and I was able to get it up in the air."

Taylor finished the regular season batting at .254, with 20 home runs, 129 hits and 73 RBIs, with a .782 OPS, although he had not homered in his past 15 games.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts opted not to start Taylor due to his form but praised him for his impact.

"Honestly the openness from a lot of the players and being ready when called upon," Roberts said.

"I know it sounds trite and easy, to be ready to perform when your number gets called. You might not start the game but you can still impact the game. Clearly you saw Chris Taylor won the game for us."

It was also the second walk-off win to advance in the postseason for Dodgers in their history, with the previous time occurring in 1978 in the NL Championship Series against the Philadelphia Phillies.

The result means the Dodgers will take on the San Francisco Giants in the NL Division Series, marking the first time two teams with 105-plus regular season wins have met in the postseason.

"That's going to be fun," Taylor said. "Two of the best regular season records of all time. We've been battling all year. I expect a hard-fought series."

Justin Turner also homered to level the game in the fourth inning after Tommy Edman got home in the first inning to give the Cardinals an early lead. Turner's home run extended his franchise record for postseason homers with 13.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and their pursuit of back-to-back World Series championships remains alive after conquering the St Louis Cardinals via a 3-1 walk-off victory in the National League (NL) Wild Card showdown.

With a date against the San Francisco Giants in the NL Division Series on the line, Chris Taylor hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to take down the Cardinals in walk-off fashion and progress to the MLB playoffs on Wednesday.

One out away from extra innings in Los Angeles, Taylor went deep off Alex Reyes to spark wild celebrations at Dodger Stadium midweek.

According to Stats Perform, Taylor became the second player in MLB history to hit a walk-off home run in a winner-takes-all playoff game despite not starting. The other was Aaron Boone in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series (ALCS).

The Cardinals got on the board early, Tommy Edman scoring on Max Scherzer's wild pitch in the opening inning. Dodgers ace Scherzer gave up three hits, one run while striking out four in 4.1 innings.

Edman became the first player in MLB history to have three-plus hits and two or more stolen bases in a winner-takes-all playoff game, according to Stats Perform.

The Dodgers levelled things up in the fourth inning – Justin Turner's 401-foot homer sailing into the crowd off Adam Wainwright, who struck out five batters as he allowed one run on four hits in 5.1 innings.

There was nothing between the two franchises until Taylor stepped up to the mound and produced the game-winning homer at the death.

The Dodgers will now resume hostilities with NL West champions the Giants, who ended their streak of eight consecutive division crowns, starting in San Francisco on Friday.

 

Red Sox at Rays

The AL Division Series will get underway as the Tampa Bay Rays host the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 in the best-of-five matchup on Thursday. Elsewhere, the Chicago White Sox will also visit the Houston Astros in the American League.

Jose Abreu tested negative for COVID-19 and is set to link with the Chicago White Sox ahead of their American League Division Series (ALDS) opener against the Houston Astros.

Abreu – the reigning AL MVP – had been dealing with flu-like symptoms and did not travel with the White Sox to Houston on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, White Sox manager Tony La Russa confirmed star Abreu would link up with the team and be a game-day decision for Thursday's Game 1 in the best-of-five series at Minute Maid Park.

"He caught a bit of the flu," La Russa told a news conference. "He got to the workout [in Chicago] and he had been through a tough night with fever.

"Now we're all brimming with happiness and excitement because his fever broke and he passed the test, which [is] mandatory and he'll be flying back here tonight [Wednesday]."

Abreu – a three-time Silver Slugger and three-time All-Star – batted .261 with 30 home runs and 117 RBIs during the regular season.

The 34-year-old also had a franchise-best slugging percentage of .481 and OPS of .831 in 2021, along with 86 runs and 148 hits from 566 at-bats.

"I think he's the biggest key that we need healthy," White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson added. "But I'm sure you know, we all know, how stubborn he is, and you know he's not going to want to sit out. He's not going to be happy about that."

The White Sox also announced Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito as their starters for Game 1 and 2 against the Astros.

Chicago finished the regular season at 93-69 to top the AL Central, while the Astros were 95-67 to lead the AL West division.

No team does more with less than the Tampa Bay Rays. It hasn't yet paid off in a World Series title, but that day could be drawing near.

Following the best regular season in history, the 100-win Rays are set to open Thursday's American League Division Series (ALDS) against the Boston Red Sox, who defeated the New York Yankees 6-2 in Tuesday's Wild Card game. Playing in the postseason has become commonplace for Tampa Bay – the Rays lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games in last season's World Series after falling to the Houston Astros in the 2019 ALDS.

This season was particularly gratifying for the budget-conscious Rays, who had the AL's best record in consecutive seasons for the first time. They should have no fear facing the Red Sox following an 11-8 record in the season series, including 7-3 at home.

Tampa Bay went a franchise-record 51–25 against the AL East in a year when four of five times won 90 games, the first time that's happened since baseball went to six divisions in 1994. The Rays accomplished all this with 61 different players, including 38 pitchers, both franchise records.

While the core of this year's Rays team is much the same as last season, their scheduled starting pitchers for Games 1 and 2 of the ALDS are rookies Shane McClanahan and Shane Baz. Tampa Bay will become just the second team in postseason history to start rookie pitchers in the first two games of a playoff series, joining the 2012 Oakland Athletics in the ALDS (Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone).

McClanahan, 24, went 10-6 with a 3.43 ERA and 141 strikeouts in 25 starts in his rookie campaign and the 22-year-old Baz - the team's number one prospect – has just three starts on his major league resume. McClanahan allowed more than three runs just three times in his 25 starts and Baz totalled 18 strikeouts and surrendered only six hits in 13.1 innings as a major leaguer.

The left-handed McClanahan relies heavily on heat and his fastball velocity of 96.5 mph was the fourth highest by an AL starter (minimum 750 thrown as a starter) this season. Only Gerrit Cole (97.7), Nathan Eovaldi (96.9) and Dylane Cease (96.7) were better. McClanahan handled the Red Sox very well this season, posting a 2.81 ERA in three starts with 18 strikeouts in 16 innings.

When the Rays opened the 2020 postseason against the Toronto Blue Jays, their first two starters were Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow. Due to budget constraints for a team that ranked 26th in payroll this season at $76.6million, Snell was traded to the San Diego Padres in the offseason and Glasnow was limited to 14 starts due to a season-ending elbow injury.

 

An injury to their ace and the trade of a former Cy Young Award winner hardly mattered as the Rays led the AL with a 3.67 ERA. Elite pitching has become the norm for Tampa Bay, which has a 3.64 ERA since the start of the 2019 season, a mark bettered only by the mega-payroll Los Angeles Dodgers (3.16) during that span. Dodgers' pitchers Trevor Bauer and Clayton Kershaw – both of whom won't be pitching this postseason – earned a combined $69m this season, just $7.6m less than the entire Rays payroll.

The Rays bullpen is also a major strength and another area where they seem to have an unrivalled ability to find contributors from out of nowhere. The relievers underwent an overhaul during the season and saves leader Diego Castillo was traded to Seattle in late July. J.T. Chargois was acquired as part of that deal, and he went 5-1 with a 1.90 ERA in 25 appearances.

Tampa Bay's relievers led the majors with 58 wins and topped the AL with a 3.23 ERA, holding opponents to a .224 batting average despite pitching a major league-high 703 innings. While that is a lot of innings for a bullpen to cover, Andrew Kittredge led the team with 57 appearances to rank tied for 99th in MLB.

While the Rays and their uncanny ability to develop pitching consistently garners most of the headlines, this season's club also features a potent and diverse offense that scored a franchise-record 857 runs, second most in the majors behind the Astros (863). Just as impressive is Tampa Bay scoring a major league-best 312 runs in the seventh inning or later, with the next-closest team the San Francisco Giants (276).

Austin Meadows spearheads the line-up and is coming off a career-high 106 RBIs this season, one every 4.89 at-bats. That is the third-best RBI rate of any qualified AL player this season. Ahead of Meadows are Toronto's Teoscar Hernandez (4.74) and Jose Abreu (4.84) of the Chicago White Sox. Meadows is the first Tampa Bay player to reach 100 RBIs since Evan Longoria in 2010.

Prized rookie Wander Franco made his major league debut on June 22 and sparked the Rays to a 46-24 record the rest of the way. The 20-year-old Franco reached base in 43 consecutive games at one point, tying Frank Robinson (1956) for the longest such streak by a player 20 years or younger. Franco's .439 on-base percentage against lefties since the All-Star break ranked fifth in MLB.

Randy Arozarena has already proven he can flourish in the postseason. He was the talk of the 2020 playoffs after he slashed .377/.429/.831 and set postseason records for home runs (10) and hits (29) en route to winning MVP honours in the AL Championship Series (ALCS). Arozarena's 2021 was not nearly as devastating, but he did become just the third player in franchise history to collect 20 steals and 20 home runs (BJ Upton and Tommy Pham).

Tampa Bay can mash with the best of teams, ranking tied for third in the AL with 222 home runs, including five players with at least 20. Brandon Lowe finally stayed injury-free, and the result was 39 home runs and 99 RBI, including the first three-homer game by a left-handed batter in team history.  

Those 39 homers tied him for second in Rays history in single-season homers, trailing Carlos Pena's 46 in 2007. Lowe, Mike Zunino (33) and Meadows (27) combined for 99 home runs, tied for third most of any team-mate trio in the majors.

Zunino only batted .216 but he crushed left-handed pitching to the tune of a major league-high .868 slugging percentage (minimum 100 plate appearances). His 33 home runs were the most by a Rays catcher and all came while catching. That total was two shy of the AL record while catching, set by Ivan Rodriguez in 1999.

Nelson Cruz was acquired from the Minnesota Twins in July and the 41-year-old provided exactly what the Rays hoped with 13 homers and 36 RBIs in 55 games with strong leadership. He has always loved to hit at Fenway Park with a .343 life-time average, 14 home runs and 44 RBIs in 49 games at baseball's oldest park. Cruz's batting average at Fenway ranks third among active players (minimum 100 at-bats).

The Rays had the AL East locked up weeks ago and even the best record in the AL wasn't a huge challenge, so they haven't played pressure-packed games in a while. Still, with nothing left to play for this past weekend, they won two of three at Yankee Stadium and proved they have no problem turning it on when necessary.

A case can easily be made that no team is heading into the postseason with such a high level of both offense and pitching as the Rays. Tampa Bay have truly become the city of champions lately with the success of the NHL's Lightning and NFL's Buccaneers and the Rays could very well add their name to that list.

San Diego Padres manager Jayce Tingler has been fired after a hugely disappointing 2021 season.

Tingler guided the Padres back to the playoffs for the first time since 2006 in his first year in the job in 2020, encouraging hopes for a title challenge this season.

But San Diego will now look elsewhere in pursuit of that long-term goal after they failed to even make the postseason.

A highly competitive NL West saw the 107-55 San Francisco Giants and the 106-56 Los Angeles Dodgers both reach the playoffs with the best two records in the major leagues.

That left the Padres in third, but even then they finished 11 games back in the Wild Card race.

Within the NL West, Tingler's team were 34-42, including 8-11 versus the Giants and 7-12 against the Dodgers.

San Diego have aspirations of mixing it with these teams, leading to their decision to cut ties with Tingler, who still had a year to run on his contract.

"Jayce accomplished a great deal in his two seasons with the Padres, leading our team through an unprecedented pandemic and into the postseason for the first time in 15 years," general manager AJ Preller said in a statement.

"I have tremendous respect for him as a coach, colleague and friend.

"After much thought and consideration over the last several weeks, we felt change was necessary at this time to ultimately reach our championship potential in San Diego."

Aaron Boone will be "at peace" regardless of what decision is made over his future with the New York Yankees following their Wild Card loss to the Boston Red Sox.

The Yankees saw their 2021 season come to an end at the hands of their arch-rivals with a 6-2 defeat at Fenway Park on Tuesday.

It means Boone has reached the postseason in each of his four years as Yankees manager, winning 60 per cent of his regular-season games, but has failed to guide them to the World Series. The Yankees lost to the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series in 2019.

Boone's postseason streak is impressive, yet it remains to be seen whether it will be satisfactory to keep him in the dugout for the franchise with the loftiest expectations in baseball, the Yankees having won 27 World Series titles during their prestigious history.

He is out of contract and, asked in his post-game media conference when he expects the situation to be addressed, Boone replied: "I don't know. I have no idea. We'll see.

"I mean, obviously you know, my contract is up, and you know, I haven't had any conversations with anyone about that. So, we'll see. I love being here. I love going to work with this group and love going to work with this group of players. But you know, we'll see."

Only one other manager has reached the postseason in the first four seasons of their career, Mike Matheny doing so with the St. Louis Cardinals between 2012 and 2015.

Pressed on if he felt it would be unfair of the Yankees not to bring him back, Boone said: "I mean, look, all I can say is that I love doing this, I love doing this with this group. I felt incredibly supported from the organisation and ownership and Cash [GM Brian Cashman] and front office and on down.

"Whatever happens moving forward, you know, I'll be at peace with. I walk out of here tonight proud of what a lot of people have done here since I've been here.

"And it's a group and a shared effort, and I love going to battle with all these guys, players, coaches, support staff, front office. So, we'll see what happens on that front. But whatever does happen, I'm at peace with and I know that I can hold my head high."

The Yankees won nine of their final 12 regular-season games to clinch a Wild Card berth and Boone felt their efforts in achieving that feat made the abrupt nature of their postseason exit harder to take. 

"Cruel. I mean, it is," said Boone when asked to describe the Yankees' elimination. "Can't overemphasise how many people pour so much into giving ourselves a chance to compete for something special, and you make it to the postseason – sometimes around here that maybe is taken for granted. You can't take that for granted. The opportunity to compete in the postseason is special.

"And, you know, you had to do some good things to get to this point and give yourselves an opportunity. And when it ends so abruptly after – really, the preparation never ends, that nine, 10, 11-month cycle that you're prepared to get to this point to give yourself an opportunity.

"The ending is really cruel, but there's nothing better than competing for something meaningful."

Alex Cora praised the calm of Nathan Eovaldi as he put his previous performance against the New York Yankees to bed to lead the Boston Red Sox to victory in their Wild Card clash.

Eovaldi was given the start on the mound at Fenway Park on Tuesday as the most famous rivals in baseball squared off for a place in the American League Division Series.

That meant Eovaldi dispelling memories of 11 days prior when he gave up seven runs on seven hits in an 8-3 loss to the Yankees in a series in which New York claimed a critical sweep to propel them to the Wild Card game.

Eovaldi lasted fewer than three innings in that game, which saw him fail to strike out a single hitter and issue two walks.

He was at his best when it mattered most in the postseason opener, however, pitching a shutout through five innings and striking out eight Yankees before being removed by manager Cora in the sixth following a home run from Anthony Rizzo.

His display laid the platform for the bullpen to finish the job, as the Red Sox clinched a 6-2 victory.

"He's so calm. When he shows up to the ballpark, he's the same guy when he pitches and when he doesn't. He was waiting for this one," Cora said of Eovaldi in his post-game media conference. 

"They [the Yankees] did an amazing job on Friday [September 24]. They took some pitches away, they hunted pitches in certain spots, and they did damage. Like I said, we learned a lot from that.

"He's just a great person. He's not only a great pitcher but he's a great person. He cares about everybody; the way he goes about it in the training room, in the weight room, when he doesn't pitch, he's a plus. We had the right guy on the mound today."

The Red Sox now face the challenge of taking on another AL East rival, the Tampa Bay Rays, in the ALDS.

Tampa Bay finished the regular season 100-62, the third-best record in baseball and the best in the American League.

"Now we go to the next one, and we've just got to be ready to face a great baseball team," added Cora. 

"Probably coming into the season, everybody talked about them being the best team in the big leagues, and we have a huge challenge. But we're ready for it."

The Boston Red Sox conquered rivals the New York Yankees 6-2 in Tuesday's Wild Card Game to set up an American League (AL) Division Series showdown with the Tampa Bay Rays.

A playoff berth was on the line in MLB after the Red Sox and Yankees both claimed dramatic last-gasp wins on the final day of the regular season to finish in the AL Wild Card spots, ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners.

The Red Sox welcomed the Yankees to Fenway Park and eased to a comprehensive victory, securing an ALDS clash with AL East champions the Rays, starting Thursday in Tampa.

Boston got to Gerrit Cole as the Yankees ace endured a nightmare outing – Xander Bogaerts and Kyle Schwarber both homering off the four-time All-Star, while Red Sox counterpart Nathan Eovaldi allowed just one run on four hits after striking out eight batters in 5.1 innings.

Cole lasted just two innings after giving up three runs, two homers and two walks on four hits as the Yankees' season came to an abrupt end – the storied franchise have not reached the World Series since 2009.

Bogaerts hit a first-inning home run off Cole before Schwarber heaped further misery on the 31-year-old starting pitcher in the third to help the Red Sox move 3-0 ahead.

Anthony Rizzo homered in the sixth to finally get the Yankees on the board as he and Schwarber became the second pair in history to hit home runs in a postseason game as team-mates (2015 NLDS) then later home in another playoff contest featuring for different teams after Carlos Ruiz and Jayson Werth in the 2016 NLDS, according to Stats Perform.

But the Red Sox scored two unanswered runs in the seventh and while Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton homered in the ninth, it was too little too late in Boston.

Alex Verdugo ended the game with three RBI to become the youngest Red Sox hitter with a three-RBI performance in a winner-takes-all clash since Dustin Pedroia in the 2007 ALCS Game 7.

 

Cardinals at Dodgers

The St Louis Cardinals will visit defending World Series champions the Los Angeles Dodgers in Wednesday's National League (NL) Wild Card contest. It will be a battle between St Louis' Adam Wainwright and Dodgers ace Max Scherzer.

The Boston Red Sox will make a gameday decision on slugger J.D. Martinez's availability for Tuesday's American League Wild Card game against the New York Yankees.

All-Star Martinez sprained his left ankle in a freak injury in Sunday's 7-5 win over the Washington Nationals which confirmed the Red Sox's postseason berth.

The 34-year-old suffered the sprain when he tripped on the second-base bag as he ran out to play right field.

"He's getting treatment," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. "We'll probably have to make a decision tomorrow morning [Tuesday morning] roster-wise.

"Of course, let's see how he reacts to treatment and everything that they are doing to him in there. We don't know yet.”

Martinez is hitting .286 with 28 home runs and is equal top for MLB doubles, with 42. He has 99 RBIs, 92 runs and an .867 OPS in the majors this season.

Opposition Yankees manager Aaron Boone was preparing for Martinez to play in the win-or-go-home contest.

"Obviously, he's a great hitter," Boone said. “That's an important cog in a really good offense that wouldn't be available.

"But they can also mix and match other ways that make it difficult as well so I would imagine he would be in there."

The Red Sox must submit their roster to the MLB by 10am Eastern Time on Tuesday.

The New York Mets have opted against keeping Luis Rojas as manager for the 2022 MLB season.

Rojas was promoted to the role in January 2020, but has paid the price for two disappointing seasons.

The Mets finished third in the National League East this year with a 77-85 record after they were 26-34 in 2020.

Just under a year after Steve Cohen's takeover of the Mets, Rojas' tenure as manager is over but he has been offered the chance to stay in the organisation in a yet to be determined capacity.

The Mets on Monday revealed that decisions over the futures of remaining coaching staff will be made "over the next several days."

"The entire Mets organisation is grateful for the dedication and devotion that Luis has exhibited over the last two seasons as manager," said president Sandy Alderson.

"He has shown a great commitment to the Mets over many years in multiple capacities. These decisions are never easy, but we feel a change is needed at this time."

Rojas suggested he will not take up the opportunity to remain with the Mets.

"I want to share such heartfelt gratitude to so many in the Mets organisation for not only the last two seasons as manager, but for the last 16 years in a variety of roles," the 40-year-old said.

"In each and every position I held, striving for excellence was our daily mission. I will always hold the relationships and friendships, developed over the years, dear to my heart, and am forever grateful to have been able to wear the Mets uniform for so long.

"We live in a results oriented business, and am deeply disappointed for our staff and fans that we didn't reach our goals this season."

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