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Braves try build on NLCS lead against Kershaw; Rays look to sink Astros

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Baseball’s crackling playoff schedule yields more action as Tuesday provides the second of this week’s league championship series doubleheaders in the 2020 MLB playoffs.

The action starts with Game 2 of the National League Championship Series after the two teams saw their starting pitchers shut down two high-powered offenses Monday, only to witness the Braves bust out against the L.A. bullpen to grab a 1-0 series lead. The nightcap is Game 3 of the Rays-Astros American League Championship Series, with Houston already behind 2-0 and hoping to get in the win column before Tampa Bay can break out the brooms.

Here’s a breakdown of the games, some numbers to know, a hot take of the day and more as you prep for Tuesday’s twin bill.

Key links: Power Rankings | Predictions | Schedule, bracket | Playoff Baseball Classic

What’s on tap

All times Eastern; all series best-of-seven played at neutral sites

Game 2: No. 2 Atlanta Braves (Ian Anderson) vs. No. 1 Los Angeles Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw), 6:05 p.m. in Arlington, Texas

Clayton Kershaw makes his 28th career postseason start while Braves rookie Ian Anderson makes his third. Anderson didn’t allow a run in his first two, with 11⅔ scoreless innings and just five hits allowed against the Reds and Marlins. Of course, the Dodgers’ offense will be a much tougher test. It will be fascinating to see the Dodgers’ approach as Anderson has three plus pitches, including a changeup batters have hit .079 against (including the postseason). He throws it a lot to right-handed batters, which helps his sinking fastball play up.

The big story with Kershaw this year is that he regained some velocity on his fastball (90.3 mph average to 91.6). He is somewhat vulnerable to the home run, and allowed two in his previous start, against the Padres. If the Braves are to get to him, it will likely be a couple long balls in a tough home run park in Arlington. — David Schoenfield

Game 3: No. 1 Tampa Bay Rays (Ryan Yarbrough) vs. No. 6 Houston Astros (Jose Urquidy), 8:40 p.m. in San Diego

The Rays become the visiting team for Game 3 and will go with lefty Ryan Yarbrough, and not go with an opener like they did for Yarbrough’s game against the Yankees in the division series, when he allowed two runs over five innings as the long man out of the bullpen. The Tampa Bay pen is in pretty good shape. Nick Anderson, after a day off in Game 1, threw 18 pitches in getting a shaky save in Game 2. Pete Fairbanks pitched two innings in Game 2 but threw just 20 pitches. Diego Castillo got the game off, so Rays manager Kevin Cash should have all three of his top relievers available if needed.

Alex Bregman is key for the Astros. He went 0-for-5 in Game 2, but it was a great 0-for-5: He hit all five balls at 98 mph or higher. Maybe he just needs to hit one or two over the fence. — Schoenfield


Updated odds for every series

Based on projections of ESPN’s Bradford Doolittle

Astros-Rays: Rays 63.4% to advance
Braves-Dodgers: Dodgers 71.6% to advance

Running World Series odds

NL: Dodgers 54.8%, Braves 15.0%
AL: Rays 21.3%, Astros 8.9%


Hot take of the day

Now, the easy hot take here would be to declare the Astros dead. After all, the team that leads 2-0 in a best-of-seven series has won 85% of the time (72-13). So the Astros have a 15% chance to come back and win the series. That means they are not dead!

The best sign is that the Astros have run into some bad luck in the first two games, with several balls hit right at the Rays. A hard-hit ball is classified as 95 mph or higher, and the Astros had 16 in Game 2 compared to eight for the Rays. In Game 1, they had nine compared to four for the Rays. “You just know that we keep hitting the ball like that we’re gonna get some breaks and we’re gonna get a lot of them,” manager Dusty Baker said after Game 2. Indeed, the Astros are due. They take Game 3. — Schoenfield


Stat of the day

Sarah Langs of MLB.com noted that Dodgers Game 1 starting pitcher Walker Buehler has now had at least seven strikeouts in each of his nine career postseason appearances. That’s tied with Randy Johnson (1997-2001) for the longest streak of postseason appearances with at least seven K’s in MLB history.


About last night …

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Manuel Margot goes all-out, leaping over the wall in right field to make a catch and get the out on George Springer.

Thanks to Charlie Morton and four relievers, the Rays stymied the Astros’ bats a second time to expand their ALCS lead to 2-0. Key to the victory on the offensive side was Manuel Margot, whose three-run home run keyed a 4-2 victory. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve committed two throwing errors, one of which set up Margot’s blast; postgame, Astros manager Dusty Baker talked about how Altuve needs to avoid a case of the yips.

In the nightcap, the Dodgers and Braves had a nice little pitching duel going on, tied 1-1 going into the eighth inning before Atlanta’s potent offense busted out for four runs, starting with Austin Riley‘s home run, to romp to a 5-1 victory.


Social media post of the day


Best moment of the MLB playoffs to date

The stage was set for another Fernando Tatis Jr. moment, but Cody Bellinger snatched it away. Bellinger’s home run robbery, plucking what would have been a go-ahead shot by Tatis in the seventh inning of Game 2 of the National League Division Series, kept the Padres at bay — barely — and will take its place in Dodgers lore, particularly if L.A. wins it all.


The running MLB playoffs MVP

The Astros’ offensive juggernaut has been in high gear, and the leader of the pack is Carlos Correa, who hit a go-ahead three-run homer in the division series clincher against the A’s. Through six games, the numbers are staggering: 11-for-26, five home runs, 13 RBIs, a 1.559 OPS. Correa’s 11 RBIs against Oakland is tied for the most by a shortstop in any series in postseason history (matching Boston’s Nomar Garciaparra, 1998 LDS vs. Cleveland), and his five homers is one shy of tying the single-postseason record for a shortstop (Rich Aurilia hit six in 2002).

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Carlos Correa hits a solo home run in the sixth inning to score the Astros’ first run of the game as they cut the Rays’ lead to 3-1.

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Joe Thornton spoke to Joe Montana about leaving Bay Area

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While considering a move to the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent, center Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks sought as much advice as possible.

He spoke with family and friends. He spoke with Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau, former San Jose teammates who left the team via free agency. But Thornton said the most memorable guidance he received was from another Bay Area sports legend.

“I actually talked to Joe Montana. I think Joe gave me some good advice. He just talked about leaving San Francisco and going to Kansas City,” said Thornton, who signed a one-year deal with the Leafs on Friday.

In 1993, Montana requested a trade from the 49ers, who shipped the 37-year-old quarterback to Kansas City, where he finished his career with the Chiefs.

“I had so many people I talked to over the last week. I’m just blessed I had a chance to talk to some great people. He was one guy who offered me some good advice,” Thornton said.

Thornton, 41, is skating with HC Davos in the Swiss National League in preparation for the upcoming NHL season. His contract with the Leafs is for $700,000.

The decision to join Toronto ended Thornton’s 15-season run with the Sharks. In 1,636 games with San Jose and the Boston Bruins, he amassed 1,509 points — most among active players. He’s 14th all time in career points and seventh in career assists (1,089). He won the NHL scoring title and MVP honors in 2005-06.

“The emotions I feel are appreciation and reflection. It’s hard to put into words what Joe meant for this franchise over 15 seasons,” San Jose general manager Doug Wilson said. “I think there are very few players in pro sports that can alter a franchise the way he did.”

Thornton praised the organization and the fans in San Jose.

“They loved me and I loved them right back,” he said. “The Shark Tank was one of the best buildings to play in, and we had a lot of memories there.”

But after he and Wilson were unable to find a landing spot for Thornton on a contender at the most recent trade deadline, the veteran center found one through free agency.

“It was probably the hardest hockey decision I ever had to make. But with the roster [the Maple Leafs] have, the guys that they picked up this offseason, they’re ready to win now and I’m ready to win,” Thornton said.

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Zeke on Dallas loss: ‘I’m sorry; this one is on me’

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was not blaming any part of the 38-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Dak Prescott‘s absence. He was putting it all on himself.

“I don’t think we can use that as an excuse,” Elliott said of not having Prescott because of a compound fracture and dislocated right ankle. “I’m just going to keep saying it over and over — I started the game out with two fumbles, gave the ball away and gave them all the momentum they need to go take off. I want to say I’m sorry and this one is on me. I need to be better.”

Elliott finished with 49 yards on 12 carries and caught a team-high eight passes but for just 31 yards. However, it was fumbles on back-to-back drives in the first and second quarters that changed the complexion of the game.

The first fumble came after catching a short pass from Andy Dalton on second down, but safety Budda Baker stripped the ball free and Jordan Phillips recovered. Eleven plays later Kyler Murray and Christian Kirk hooked up for a 6-yard flip for a touchdown.

Two plays into the next possession, Elliott fumbled again with Phillips poking the ball free at the Dallas 30. Five plays later, Kenyon Drake scored the Cardinals’ second touchdown and a 14-0 lead.

“I mean, when you’re fumbling every game obviously teams are going to lock in on it and go for it even more,” Elliott said. “That’s even more of a reason I need to figure it out, man. I don’t want to keep talking about it, but I’ve got to figure out a way to figure it out.”

When the Cowboys took the field after Elliott’s second fumble, Tony Pollard was the running back. When Elliott returned to the field after eight snaps, there was a murmur among the crowd.

“Every player that plays in this league, no different on our football team, if you don’t take care of the football, it does affect your opportunities,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “Tony got an opportunity and I thought he did some really good things with his opportunities.”

Elliott has lost a career-high four fumbles in six games and the opponents have turned every takeaway into a touchdown. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the other top-10 rushers have combined for three lost fumbles in nearly 900 fewer touches this season. Elliott has 133 touches, while the nine other backs have 1,014 touches.

“I’m giving the ball away,” Elliott said. “I wasn’t helping my team. I think they did the right thing and gave some of those reps to TP, but I can’t do that. I have to be a guy this team can lean on, especially at times like right now with so many of our starters hurt and not playing. So it’s not acceptable and I need to figure it out.”

Elliott said he focuses on keeping the ball tight in practice. The Cowboys do ball-handling drills every day in practice.

“I just got to have a short memory,” Elliott said. “I’ve got to get that behind me and play some good ball and get on a roll.”

Elliott has gone a career-long six games without a 100-yard outing. He had a five-game drought in Weeks 10-14 last season. He had not gone more than two games to open a season without a 100-yard game to his credit.

Some of that can be pinned on a defense that has struggled, but 84 of the 218 points the Cowboys have allowed this season have come off turnovers.

“He understands that. He knows that,” Dalton said. “Zeke’s going to get this thing fixed.”

He also knows he needs to get it fixed quickly.

“At the end of the day, Zeke is our bell cow, and we need to get it right,” McCarthy said. “He’s part of the plan. He’s going to be part of the success. We have to get it right. We have to take care of the football and that’s for everybody that touches the football on our team.”

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Allen says Bills ‘can’t afford’ his recent struggles

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After a 4-0 start to the season during which Josh Allen resembled a possible MVP candidate, the Buffalo Bills have now dropped two games in a row, with their struggling quarterback acknowledging, “This team can’t afford to have me play poorly.”

Playing in his second consecutive prime-time game Monday night, Allen completed just 14 of 27 passes for 122 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs in a performance reminiscent of his 2018 and 2019 seasons. Although he threw two touchdown passes, he also recorded his fourth interception of the season and missed receivers throughout the game, culminating in a 26-17 loss in Orchard Park, New York.

The third-year quarterback took responsibility for his performance, directly tying his team’s success — or lack thereof — to his play.

“We weren’t good enough — I was not good enough. I got to do a better job, it’s plain and simple,” Allen said. “I didn’t play very good tonight. I know that. I understand that. This team can’t afford to have me play poorly.

“Early on just not being as accurate with the ball as I should have been. Making the right reads, making the right throws, and we turned it on a little too late there.”

Through the first four weeks of the season, only Dallas‘ Dak Prescott threw for more yards than Allen’s 1,326, and only Seattle‘s Russell Wilson and Green Bay‘s Aaron Rodgers threw for more touchdowns than Allen’s 12. After failing to eclipse 300 passing yards in a game during his first two professional seasons, Allen did so in three consecutive outings to open 2020, including a career-high 415 yards against the Miami Dolphins in Week 2.

However, he looked far from an MVP candidate during a 42-16 loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week 5; he completed 26 of 41 passes for a then-season-low 263 yards, two touchdowns and season-high two interceptions.

Against the Chiefs, Allen’s 122 passing yards marked his lowest total since Week 6 of his rookie season, excluding a Week 17 game against the New York Jets last season when he played only one series.

Allen and the Bills get a bounce-back game against the winless Jets in Week 7 before hosting the New England Patriots in Week 8.

Buffalo has publicly stated its goal of winning the AFC East for the first time since 1995, and in order for the Bills to do so, Allen must return to a level of play comparable to what he showed during the first four weeks of the season.

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