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Everything you need to know about MLB’s playoffs bubble ballparks

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For the first time, the MLB postseason is headed to neutral stadiums amid the COVID-19 pandemic. That means it’s time to get your eyes ready for the unusual sights ahead. Think Clayton Kershaw exorcising his playoff demons in Texas, cardboard celebs taking in the action at Dodger Stadium (sans Dodgers) or a Yankees slugger belting a walk-off home run in … San Diego. Here’s how their new homes away from home will affect this season’s contenders and what to expect while you watch.

NLDS (Dodgers vs. Padres), NLCS, World SeriesThe Texas Rangers’ ballpark that was scheduled to open its doors for the first time to a packed house in March will instead host a playoff series before ever having fans in attendance. Picked as the site of all 2020 World Series games, the stadium will have fans for the first time when limited crowds are allowed at the National League Championship Series and World Series — but will first host the NL Division Series in front of empty seats.

Globe Life Field is located just across the street from the still-standing Globe Life Park, the old home of the Rangers — that’s not confusing at all, right? So why did Texas decide to build a new ballpark in the same area as the old stadium, which was only 25 years old? Well, the new stadium has a roof and air conditioning for those hot summer days, and that will make a big difference when fans return — and it was an advantage that helped it land this World Series.

You’ll quickly notice that the new ballpark is a break from the recent trend of retro stadiums across baseball, focusing much more on modern amenities than nostalgia — from the polarizing outside big-box store feel to the upper-deck brewery with front-porch-style rocking chairs for taking in the game and even a hidden speakeasy in the concourse behind home plate.

On the field, Globe Life plays big so don’t expect to see lots of long balls here this October — but early returns show hitters can make up for some of that with ground-ball hits thanks to the fast artificial turf.

Dodgers’ Home Field ComparisonThe outfield distances and overall run scoring at Dodger Stadium and Globe Life Field are quite similar, but L.A. ranks in the top half of baseball in home run park factor while Globe Life Field comes in dead last.
Dodgers’ Long Fly Locations The Dodgers hit almost 30 points higher at home this season, with 64 of their 118 home runs coming at Dodger Stadium.
Padres’ Home Field ComparisonOnce known as the toughest place in baseball to hit a home run, Petco Park has played much closer to neutral since the Padres moved the fences in. Now, San Diego’s powerful offense will be tested by the cavernous Globe Life Field.
Padres’ Long Fly LocationsThe Padres absolutely mashed at Petco Park this year, belting 54 home runs in 30 games — not to mention a historic Game 2 power display last round — but struggled on the road. A player to watch: Manny Machado, who hit just five of his 16 long balls in away games.

Pro Tip: “Center field and the gaps are going to play really, really deep. You can already see a little bit of a look of shock on guys’ faces as they round first base when they crush a ball and it gets not even to the warning track.” — Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo

Who It Helps/Hurts: Unlike the old ballpark across the street, which was a launching pad in the hot Texas sun, the new stadium is much more favorable to fly ball pitchers. This could be a very good thing for Dallas native Clayton Kershaw, who could be pitching three consecutive rounds in Arlington. Kershaw’s 17.4% home run/fly ball rate is 19th among pitchers with at least 50 innings thrown this season, and being victimized by the long ball in key spots is an October theme the Dodgers ace knows all too well, so a park that keeps the ball in the yard should play well for him.

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Only in 2020: Does it get any more 2020 than the fact that the only major league ballpark that has never had fans in it at the time you are reading this will be the only major league ballpark with paying fans in attendance all year by the end of the postseason? Major League Baseball is putting 11,500 tickets on sale for fans to attend each of the NLCS and World Series games at the stadium, with social distancing rules in place.

ALDS (Astros vs. A’s)The most well-known of the four MLB bubble postseason ballparks, Dodger Stadium will host just one round of playoff action instead of serving as the backdrop for the Dodgers’ latest run at a World Series title. L.A. was also supposed to host the 2020 MLB All-Star Game as an opportunity to show off renovations throughout the iconic stadium but will instead get the 2022 Midsummer Classic.

Dodger Stadium has a reputation as a pitcher-friendly ballpark but has played more neutral in recent seasons. Keep an eye on the weather forecast if your team is going to play at Dodger Stadium this fall, as warm Santa Ana winds sweeping through the area could benefit hitters taking aim at the outfield bleachers, whereas cooler ocean air on autumn nights would be an advantage for pitchers.

Don’t get too used to watching for celebrity card cutouts and taking in the beautiful view of palm trees and mountains beyond the outfield at Dodger Stadium this October, though: The historic venue will host just one round of playoff baseball, with the Astros-A’s winner moving on to San Diego for the ALCS.

Astros’ Home Field ComparisonIn addition to playing their American League Division Series without the luxury of a short porch to take aim at in left field, the Astros will be playing a “home” postseason game outside for the first time since having the Minute Maid Park roof open in the 2005 World Series.
Astros’ Long Fly LocationsThe Astros’ recent home-road splits are an ongoing point of discussion in relation to their sign-stealing scandal, but in 2020 the team posted almost identical offensive numbers at Minute Maid Park and on the road.
A’s Home Field ComparisonThe big difference between the A’s home ballpark and Dodger Stadium comes in foul territory: Oakland has an MLB-high 40,700 square feet of foul territory compared to just 19,300 in L.A., which could turn outs into foul balls and more chances for Athletics hitters to succeed.
A’s Long Fly LocationsDespite playing in one of the toughest hitting environments in baseball, the A’s home/road splits were remarkably similar in 2020 as the team hit .224 with 33 long balls at home and .226 with 38 homers on the road.

Pro Tip: “Sometimes during the day, the third basemen — the corner guys, especially — the way the sun’s glaring that day could be a bit of a problem, but not as bad as people would think because the cardboard cutouts set them off. When it’s hit at you, you have no problem. It’s on foul balls or when it’s hit in another direction that you might lose it for a second.” — Dodgers third-base coach Dino Ebel

Who It Helps/Hurts: Late-afternoon local time starts in Los Angeles could be a pitcher’s best friend (and a hitter’s worst nightmare) this month thanks to the shadows that will creep across the diamond at Dodger Stadium. Hitting hard throwers such as Oakland’s Jesus Luzardo and Frankie Montas is difficult enough under normal circumstances, but picking up the ball from high-velocity pitchers with premium stuff could be almost impossible for innings at a time.

Will Navarro/Icon Sportswire

Only in 2020: Located in the shadow of the famous Hollywood sign, picking out which A-list celebrities are seated in the sections just behind home plate is usually part of the excitement of watching playoff games at Dodger Stadium. This year, those celeb sightings will be limited to fan cutouts, with Mary Hart, Rob Lowe, Mario Lopez and Bryan Cranston among those who have been featured in cardboard form this season.

ALDS (Yankees vs. Rays), ALCSWhen you think of San Diego’s Petco Park, you probably think of perfect weather and a baseball stadium where it is almost impossible to hit home runs. While a quick look at this week’s forecast proves the first part true, the ballpark isn’t the hitters’ nightmare it has a reputation for being since the Padres moved the fences in after the 2012 season.

Warm nights in an empty downtown ballpark is going to be a particularly jarring experience for Yankees fans used to watching their team play its home postseason games on cold October nights in tradition-rich Yankee Stadium rather than a place that hosted just six total playoff games in its history. Rays fans who associate their team’s home games with indoor baseball under the Tropicana Field roof have another thing coming, too.

Petco Park is guaranteed to host at least eight games this month, with the Yankees-Rays winner set to take on the winner of the Astros-A’s ALDS, with a World Series berth on the line.

Yankees’ Home Field ComparisonAn ALDS in San Diego and any rounds beyond that will take New York away from the short 314-foot distance down the right-field line at Yankee Stadium and put the Bombers in a more challenging home run environment the rest of the way.
Yankees’ Long Fly LocationsYankees hitters posted record home-road splits in 2020, batting .273 with 67 home runs and a robust .907 OPS at home and just .220 with 27 homers and a .668 OPS on the road, though the offense handled Cleveland’s ballpark just fine in the AL Wild Card Series.
Rays’ Home Field ComparisonThere isn’t a team in this postseason with a more drastic change in venue than what the Rays will experience this year when trading in their tilted dome with its fiberglass roof and catwalks for the clear skies of San Diego.
Rays’ Long Fly LocationsThe Rays finished in the top half of MLB in home runs, but also struck out more than any team and are now headed to a challenging place for hitters to pick up the ball — especially during night games.

Pro Tip: “It’s a high sky. Sometimes it’s difficult in the daytime to catch pop-ups. Guys lose them because they’re not used to playing there in the day. … They may be bunting more because the ball’s curving in down the third-base line a little more often. … Getting used to the hitter’s eye takes some time. There’s a little beach to the right. It’s a good background, but it’s wide open back there, and your eyes can wander.” — A veteran NL West scout

Who It Helps/Hurts: San Diego isn’t quite as tough on hitters as it once was, but it’s still a difficult place for left-handed hitters in particular. The collective wOBA by left-handed hitters there over the past five years ranks 26th (visiting players only). It’s 22nd in at-bats per home run but 29th in batting average on balls in play (BABIP) by lefties. The Yankees’ lineup leans heavily toward right-handed bats, but that could spell trouble for left-handed-hitting Rays infielder Brandon Lowe, who pulled the ball 45.3% of the time in 2020, and other southpaw sluggers.

AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo

Only in 2020: Unlike the NLCS and World Series in Texas, there won’t be fans at any of the postseason games at Petco Park this year — but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some watching live in San Diego. The downtown location of the ballpark has made it one of the few places where some lucky fans in neighboring buildings have been able to look out of their windows for an in-person view of the action.

NLDS (Braves vs. Marlins)Houston’s Minute Maid Park became synonymous with the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal this offseason, but we’ll save the trash can jokes and buzzer references for another time since none of the teams playing here this week has anything to do with the usual tenant’s transgressions.

The first thing Marlins and Braves fans will take note of when watching their team take the field in Houston is the unusual outfield dimensions, with the Crawford Boxes in short left field and a large train on railroad tracks behind them yet still within reach for the series’ biggest right-handed sluggers. The Astros’ home since 2000 features a retractable roof that will almost certainly be closed during this series, so weather won’t be a factor here.

Fans watching their teams play their NLDS here instead of Miami and Atlanta shouldn’t get too used to the unusual surroundings, though, as it will be one series and done for Minute Maid Park this October, with the winner moving on to the NLCS about four hours north on I-45 in Arlington.

Braves’ Home Field ComparisonAtlanta’s home ballpark quickly developed a reputation as a hitters’ park after opening in 2017 but has played close to neutral since with dimensions slightly favoring left-handed pull hitters hitting to right field, which just happens to be the most challenging area of Minute Maid Park.
Braves’ Long Fly LocationsThe Braves have crushed the baseball at home and been much more ordinary on the road this season. No Atlanta hitter exemplifies this more than Ronald Acuna Jr., who hit .282 at Truist Park … and just .213 everywhere else.
Marlins’ Home Field ComparisonEven after the Marlins moved their fences in prior to the season in an attempt to help hitters, the ballpark remains one of the toughest in baseball for home runs, so a short porch in left field will be a welcome sight for their hitters.
Marlins’ Long Fly LocationsNo team hit fewer home runs in its home ballpark this season than the Marlins, who finished with just 24. Miami hitters were a much more respectable 15th in the majors in road home runs.

Pro Tip: “It’s perfect. You’re indoors. You don’t have to worry about heat or wind. It’s a bubble, which means you can’t leave the hotel, which sucks because you don’t get to enjoy the great city. The ballpark is great. The mound is great.” — Astros pitcher Josh James

Who It Helps/Hurts: While the ballpark plays pretty neutral overall, the very short porch in left field is going to be a popular target for right-handed pull hitters throughout this series. The Crawford Boxes sit just 315 feet from home plate, and that could help Miami’s Jesus Aguilar, who pulls the ball 44.5% of the time, including more than a few shots this season that would have reached the boxes in Houston but were held in by the dimensions of Marlins Park.

Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire

Only in 2020: What would you have said this winter if we had told you that the site of the biggest cheating scandal in recent MLB history would be home to two National League teams while the hated Astros were playing their playoff home games at Dodger Stadium? 2020, folks.

Destination: Arlington

ESPN.com Illustration

Whether their first step in the MLB playoff bubble begins in California or Texas, the 2020 postseason will look and feel like none before it for every team that has made it this far. In addition to playing in unfamiliar ballparks without the usual legion of fans cheering them on (or rooting against them), 2020 health and safety protocols will be present at every point.

“Once you’re in the bubble, if you look at some of the protocols, the strictness of being in the [hotel] room, being able to walk around. There’s some wording in there about having to ask for permission to go on a walk,” Cubs outfielder Ian Happ said last month. “It feels more like a zoo animal than a baseball player or a human, so I think there are a lot of those challenges that guys are going to face.”

All eight remaining teams in October’s playoff field have one common goal: raising the World Series trophy in Arlington as the last team standing in the most unusual season in baseball history — even if the scene and the celebration might look quite a bit different.

PHOTOS BY ASSOCIATED PRESS and GETTY IMAGES

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Report: USC bans WR amid possible fraud probe

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A USC Trojans football player was suspended last month by the school in connection to a possible federal investigation into fraud related to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times.

Sophomore wide receiver Munir McClain has been suspended since mid-September, his mother, Shan McClain told the Times. But she said the school has not given her or her son a clear reason for the suspension. Michael Blanton, USC’s vice president of ethics and professionalism, told Shan that Munir’s name surfaced in relation to a complaint that had been filed involving USC students and a plan to apply for Employment Development Department benefits, the Times reported.

Munir acknowledged he applied for financial relief from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program but was under the impression he qualified because his source of income — reselling high-end shoes — had dried up during the pandemic, the Times reported. A lawyer representing the McClain family told the Times they planned to challenge the suspension.

“We are cooperating with the authorities,” USC said in a statement. “We understand there may be many questions and concerns, but we are unable to discuss this matter because of our obligation to protect students’ privacy.”

Earlier this week, federal agents visited Munir’s dorm looking for his older brother and roommate, redshirt sophomore linebacker Abdul-Malik McClain, the Times reported. He wasn’t home, so an agent left behind a card that identified her as a special agent with the U.S. Department of Labor-Office of Inspector General and Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations.

The Times reported that other USC football players have recently received similar visits from federal agents inquiring about Munir McClain.

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Trojans WR to appeal suspension, lawyer says

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A USC Trojans football player was suspended last month by the school in connection to a possible federal investigation into fraud related to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times.

Sophomore receiver Munir McClain has been suspended since mid-September, his mother, Shan McClain told the Times. But she said the school has not given her nor her son a clear reason for the suspension. Michael Blanton, USC’s vice president of ethics and professionalism, told Shan that Munir’s name surfaced in relation to a complaint that had been filed involving USC students and a plan to apply for Employment Development Department benefits, the Times reported.

Munir acknowledged he applied for financial relief from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program but was under the impression he qualified because his source of income — reselling high-end shoes — had dried up during the pandemic, the Times reported. A lawyer representing the McClain family told the Times they planned to challenge the suspension.

“We are cooperating with the authorities,” USC said in a statement. “We understand there may be many questions and concerns, but we are unable to discuss this matter because of our obligation to protect students’ privacy.”

Earlier this week, federal agents visited Munir’s dorm looking for his older brother and roommate, redshirt sophomore linebacker Abdul-Malik McClain, the Times reported. He wasn’t home, so an agent left behind a card that identified her as a special agent with the U.S. Department of Labor-Office of Inspector General and Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations.

The Times reported other USC football players have recently received similar visits from federal agents inquiring about Munir McClain.

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World Series roundtable: Everything we learned in Games 1 and 2

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It’s a travel day in the 2020 World Series … just without any travel.

The Series — tied at 1 — is staying in Arlington, Texas, but the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays have 24 hours to catch their breath before Game 3 on Friday.

While they do, ESPN baseball writers Sam Miller and David Schoenfield answer some key questions so far in this Fall Classic.


What has stood out to you most over the first two games of this World Series?

Sam Miller: How much deeper the Rays’ lineup looks when Brandon Lowe and Joey Wendle aren’t helpless. Tampa Bay got through three playoff rounds behind good pitching and Randy Arozarena, but every inning seemed to start with slumping Rays hitters making two quick outs. Lowe, their best regular-season hitter/worst postseason hitter, broke out with two homers in Game 2. Wendle, in a similar slide, hit one oppo-rocket for a sac fly and pulled a double so hard that Mookie Betts took a bad route to it. Austin Meadows and Yandy Diaz each hit his hardest ball this postseason in Game 2, and Manuel Margot is showing that he might have actually turned into a star sometime in mid-August. The Kershaws and Buehlers of the world might still shut this lineup down, but the Rays should scare the rest of the Dodgers’ staff.

David Schoenfield: That maybe this isn’t going to be the low-scoring, grind-it-out, home-runs-or-die series that we expected. With scores of 8-3 and 6-4, we’ve seen a little more offense than perhaps anticipated given the two pitching staffs. Also, that second-guessing in the World Series will forever remain a fun parlor game. Did Kevin Cash leave Tyler Glasnow in too long in Game 1? Did the Dodgers outthink themselves with a bullpen game in Game 2? Why does Dustin May not strike out more batters given his fastball? What is with all these “contact” plays by the runner on third base this postseason? OK, it worked for Mookie Betts on Tuesday, but it has failed several other times. Are 28-man rosters too many players? (Yes.) Are you tired of bullpen games? (Yes.) Is Corey Seager locked in right now? (Yes.) Do Dodgers fans want to see Joe Kelly in a close game? (No.)

What do the Dodgers need to do to win the series from here?

Miller: It sounds like the worst kind of cliché, but they just need to do what they do. The Dodgers are (no offense, Tampa Bay!) the better team here, and even in two split games it has showed: The Dodgers have 50 points of OBP on Tampa Bay so far in this series and 80 points of slugging. The regular-season Dodgers were only the 11th team in modern history with a winning percentage over .700, and so far in the postseason, against other postseason teams, they have the run differential of a .700 team. If they don’t make any gaffes and they just (serious cliché voice) play like they’re capable of playing, they’re going to win every seven-game series that isn’t beset by weirdness.

Schoenfield: Picking up where Sam left off, keep working those counts. They made Tyler Glasnow throw 112 pitches in just 4⅓ innings. Blake Snell was great in Game 2 through four innings, but in the end they drew four walks off him and knocked him out after 4⅔ innings. They’ve seen Nick Anderson and Pete Fairbanks now, and the more they see of them, the better they will adjust. As good as the Tampa Bay pen is, Cash doesn’t really want to go too deep, and with three games in three days, reliever fatigue becomes a potential issue.

What do the Rays need to do to win the series from here?

Miller: Get Nick Anderson right. Anderson was the best reliever in baseball for the year prior to this month, and the Rays use him so aggressively that it’d be easy to see him being named MVP of this series. But arguably his four worst outings of the year — OK, probably four of his worst five — have come in his past four appearances. His rightness obviously carries extra importance, because he comes into the biggest moment of every close game. He doesn’t have the freedom to fail just a little bit. But beyond the direct impact his pitches have, the Rays’ trust in him sets the rest of the pitching plan. If you’re counting to 27 outs and you don’t have Anderson for four to seven of them, that has ramifications for Charlie Morton and Blake Snell, for Pete Fairbanks and Diego Castillo, for the whole story the Rays are trying to tell.

Schoenfield: Sam took my suggestion. Indeed, the dirty little secret for the Rays is that Anderson hasn’t actually been that good in the postseason. He has now been scored on in five straight appearances and in six of his eight games in the playoffs. After averaging 14.3 K’s per nine innings in his limited action in the regular season, he has only eight in 13 postseason innings. Anyway, let’s go with this: Ride Charlie Morton. Given Anderson’s struggles, it’s important that Morton shuts down the Dodgers in Game 3 … and then again in Game 7 if the series goes the distance. Morton is riding a streak of five straight postseason starts dating to 2019 where he has given up one earned run or fewer (including his past two). His longest outing in this stretch has been just 5⅔ innings, but if he gives up one run in five innings, the Rays will be in a great position.

Who is the MVP of the series through two games?

Miller: Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw took control of this series for the Dodgers on the fourth batter of the first game, when — with two on and one out — he got Hunter Renfroe on a checked swing for a huge strikeout. He then retired 16 of the next 17 batters as the Dodgers’ offense chewed through three Tampa Bay pitchers to first take a small lead and then build a big one. No, they couldn’t keep control of the series after Kershaw left, and we go into the first “travel” day tied. But nobody looms over the rest of this series quite so much as Kershaw, the pitcher Tampa Bay couldn’t hit, lined up for a Game 5 start and a probable Game 7 (if necessary) relief appearance.

Schoenfield: Kershaw is in the best shape to win it for the entire series since he’s now guaranteed a start in Game 5 with the Rays avoiding the sweep. It’s hard for a pitcher to win MVP honors, though. If it’s close — like Steve Pearce and David Price in 2018 — it seems as if the hitter usually wins. We’ve had 21 MVPs since 2000 (Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling shared it in 2001), but pitchers have won only six.

What have you noticed the most about the neutral-site, limited-fans World Series so far?

Miller: I haven’t noticed their presence very much, to be honest. I certainly haven’t noticed fans affecting the game the way 40,000 delirious partisans can. Maybe it’s different for the players in the middle of it, but if there’s a spectrum that ranges from “empty” to “full and Octobery,” it has felt closer to empty.

Schoenfield: Now, this wouldn’t have been a problem with a regular Tampa Bay-Los Angeles World Series since both are warm-weather cities and the Rays play indoors, but it has been nice that the entire postseason has been played in warm-weather locations — the way baseball is supposed to be played. No winter jackets. No heaters in the dugouts. No turtlenecks or ski masks. Am I advocating for a permanent warm-weather World Series? Well, it’s supposed to snow in Minneapolis on Thursday with a high of 35.

How will a travel day off — without travel — impact the rest of this series?

Miller: Probably a lot less than we would have guessed 36 hours ago! The break (and the break between Games 5 and 6) will let the Dodgers use Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin in relief during the games “in” Tampa Bay, which seemed important except that neither of them has looked very good lately. None of either team’s high-leverage relievers are gassed, thanks to the blowout Tuesday. I guess the day gives Tampa Bay a chance to reset its bullpen after Anderson’s and Fairbanks’ extended outings Wednesday, but neither threw that many pitches. Uh … it gives Kevin Kiermaier‘s wrist another day to get healthy, if that’s still a factor? Dave? Got something better?

Schoenfield: More time for the Dodgers to outthink themselves? I kid! I kid! The Dodgers will definitely make all the right choices in their pitching decisions, just like in the 2017 World Series and 2018 World Series and … OK, here’s the deal. They can play the next three games straight with Walker Buehler, Julio Urias and then Kershaw going. I think Dave Roberts has finally decided on who his top relievers are: Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol, Pedro Baez and Kenley Jansen from the right side and then maybe Victor Gonzalez and Jake McGee from the left side. Trouble is, he had all those righties available in Game 2 (only Baez pitched in Game 1), yet he used the struggling May and then Joe Kelly, and those two combined to give up four runs (he got away with using Alex Wood, the worst pitcher on the staff). This is the World Series. It’s not time to save your best relievers for only when you’re ahead. It’s important to hold down the fort at all times and … oh, wait, you were asking about the “travel” day, not the Dodgers’ bullpen. My bad.

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