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Everything you need to know for final week of the MLB season



Did you think we would get here? With one week remaining in this shortened, 60-game season, without the benefit of a bubble to keep the players completely isolated from the COVID-19 virus, the 30 teams and 1,295 different players who have worn a major league uniform in 2020 are going to make it to the end. With a mandatory quarantine date set for Wednesday, some teams will leave for the road this week — packing for a trip that could extend to 50 days if they reach the World Series.

It didn’t look like we would get here after the first weekend of the season, when the Miami Marlins had an outbreak in the organization and then the St. Louis Cardinals had one a few days later. The Marlins didn’t play for eight days, the Cardinals for 16, and doubleheaders piled up for those two clubs and their opponents who had their own schedules interfered with. Remarkably, both the Marlins and Cardinals enter the final week in a playoff position.

With the 16-team postseason tournament looming next week, we still have a few things to decide — most notably, which teams, especially in the National League, will actually get in. Here’s what to watch these final seven days:

The National League playoff race

The Dodgers, Cubs, Braves and Padres are in. After that, it’s a fight between six teams for four spots; sorry, Mets fans, your squad is seventh in this sprint, and its odds are slim. Look, this is a race to a .500 record, and it’s not exactly reliving the NL West race from 1993. With the recent talk about keeping the postseason at 16 teams, hopefully this will serve as a guide as to why that’s a bad idea. Of course, if your team is one of those scrambling to get in, enjoy the games. The teams and their remaining schedules:

Miami Marlins (28-25, 83.4% playoff odds): at Atlanta (4 games), at Yankees (3). After a slew of doubleheaders over the past two weeks, it’s seven games on the road. They’ll miss Gerrit Cole the final weekend, since he’ll be set up for New York’s first game of the playoffs. But they still have the toughest remaining schedule with the Braves and Yankees and a pitching staff that has been prone to blowout games (like Sunday’s 15-0 loss).

St. Louis Cardinals (26-24, 80.4%): at Kansas City (3), vs. Milwaukee (5): The Milwaukee series includes a Friday doubleheader. The Cardinals will have played 53 games in 44 days — thanks to 11 doubleheaders — and that only gets them to 58 games played. A final doubleheader against the Tigers will be played on Monday if it affects the playoff race — which is likely.

Philadelphia Phillies (27-26, 73.7%): at Washington (4), at Tampa Bay (3): The good news is the Rays will be setting up their rotation for the playoffs, so the Phillies will probably miss both Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell. The Phillies also are battling injuries, without Rhys Hoskins and hoping J.T. Realmuto makes it back into the lineup on Monday. Their two aces, Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, are scheduled to go Monday and Tuesday, so they would be ready to go on Saturday and Sunday if needed. The Phillies hope Nola won’t have to make that final start and instead be ready for the first game of the postseason.

Cincinnati Reds (27-27, 52.2%): vs. Milwaukee (3), at Minnesota (3): A six-game winning streak last week got the Reds back into the mix, but there are no Pirates matchups left on their schedule. Luis Castillo will start Monday, so he’ll get two starts in the final week, but Trevor Bauer won’t pitch again until Friday — lining him up for Game 1 of the wild-card round if the Reds make it.

Milwaukee Brewers (26-26, 58.6%): at Cincinnati (3), at St. Louis (5): Your fun fact of the day: The Brewers might make the playoffs despite not being over .500 at any point of the season. They started 0-1 and have been 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 5-5, 10-10, 11-11 and now 26-26 after winning four in a row.

San Francisco Giants (26-26, 42.7%): vs. Colorado (4), vs. San Diego (4): They get four at home, including a Friday doubleheader against the Padres. They’re 6-16 against the Dodgers, Padres and A’s, but they went 8-2 against Arizona and 4-0 against Seattle.

The Marlins are the surprise story of the season, given their 57-105 record last year and how they had to scramble just to fill their roster; they’ve used an incredible 61 players this season — 11 more than they employed last year in 162 games.

The Reds are the team the Dodgers don’t want to face in the best-of-three first round, even though they’re hitting just .212. Bauer and Castillo can shut down any lineup and send even the Dodgers home early. The Brewers also struggle at the plate, but they suddenly have a formidable one-two punch, as well, in Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff, plus the one-two bullpen punch of Devin Williams and Josh Hader.

The American League playoff race

The eight teams are pretty much set here; it’s just a matter of what order they finish. The Rays, White Sox and A’s lead their divisions, with the Rays and White Sox sitting on 19 losses and the A’s at 20, so any of them could get the No. 1 seed. That’s not necessarily a big factor since everybody will be playing on the road after the initial wild-card series; but with the Indians the likely No. 7 seed, you really don’t want to finish with the No. 2 seed and have to face Shane Bieber in your first playoff game.

The Yankees and Twins look like they will face each other, as well, which is bad news for the Twins. The Twins have lost 16 playoff games in a row going back to 2004, 13 of them to the Yankees. No, the 2020 Twins don’t care what happened in 2004, but many will remember last year’s sweep or the loss in the 2017 wild-card game. The Yankees also are getting hot again at the right time, with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton both back, Gerrit Cole back in a groove and J.A. Happ on a roll (1.93 ERA over his past six starts). For what it’s worth, the Yankees (21-7) and the Twins (21-5) have both been excellent at home, and that first-round series is played at the higher seed’s home stadium.

The NL MVP race

A couple of weeks ago, Fernando Tatis Jt. had this one locked up; but over his past 12 games, he has hit .125 with no home runs and two RBIs. It now looks like a four-player race:

Tatis: .275/.366/.565, 15 HR, 40 RBI, 47 R, 2.55 WAR, 1.1 WPA
Manny Machado: .316/.378/.607, 16 HR, 46 RBI, 41 R, 2.8 WAR, 0.8 WPA
Freddie Freeman: .346/.464/.634, 11 HR, 48 RBI, 46 R, 2.7 WAR, 2.1 WPA
Mookie Betts: .303/.376/.597, 16 HR, 39 RBI, 42 R, 2.85 WAR, 2.1 WPA

WAR here is the average of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference flavors of wins above replacement, and WPA is win probability added from Baseball-Reference. Both are the totals entering Sunday.

Tatis might still be the favorite since he has received the most attention this season: Sometimes the storyline trumps the stats, especially in an otherwise close race, and Tatis owns the storyline with his blend of youth, excitement, style and power-speed combo.

What jumps out, however, is that Freeman and Betts have the much higher WPA than the two Padres hitters. Here is each player’s performance in high-leverage situations, when games are closest:

Tatis: .306/.375/.694, 3 HR, 15 RBIs in 40 PA
Machado: .263/.362/.605, 4 HR, 17 RBIs in 47 PA
Freeman: .333/.500/.633, 2 HR, 16 RBIs in 40 PA
Betts: .314/.385/.543, 2 HR, 11 RBIs in 39 PA

That doesn’t really seem to separate anyone. Tatis has performed his worst in medium-leverage situations, while the others all raked. Betts hit .429 against the Padres, the team the Dodgers battled for the NL West title. Tatis, meanwhile, hit just .205 against the Dodgers; he cleaned up against the Padres’ two worst opponents, the Diamondbacks and Rangers. Machado also struggled against the Dodgers, while killing the AL West (.414, 24 RBIs in 17 games). Freeman has hit .395 or better against three of his NL East rivals, struggling only against the Mets.

I think Tatis probably remains the slight favorite. But Freeman is surging late, a lot of the clutch statistics go in his favor and that big edge in batting average over Tatis could help — and the two Padres could split the vote.

The AL MVP race

This feels like a three-player field and is made more complicated by the fact that one of them is a pitcher and two of them are teammates:

Jose Abreu: .335/.381/.651, 18 HR, 53 RBIs, 39 R, 2.7 WAR, 1.6 WPA
Tim Anderson: .360/.395/.601, 10 HR, 21 RBIs, 43 R, 2.45 WAR, 0.7 WPA
Shane Bieber: 8-1, 1.74 ERA, 72.1 IP, 44 H, 112 SO, 2.95 WAR, 2.8 WPA

Anderson would have a better case if he hadn’t spent time on the injured list. As is, he still leads the AL in runs scored and has a chance to win his second straight batting title. Abreu could lead the AL in RBIs for the second straight year — he is driving in Anderson much of the time — and is second to Luke Voit in home runs and slugging percentage. Abreu also is the team leader of the young and improved White Sox and an important mentor to the Latino players such as Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez and Yoan Moncada.

As good as Abreu has been, you have to really dominate as a first baseman. And no player in the AL has dominated quite like Bieber. He has had to be this good because the Indians don’t score many runs. He has won three games by 2-0 scores, hasn’t allowed more than three runs in any start and has held batters to a .171 average with a 40.6% strikeout rate that would be the all-time record for a starting pitcher. (My take is that even though Bieber will qualify under 2020 standards, his record shouldn’t stand as the single-season mark.)

Anyway, because of the schedule, Bieber has faced the White Sox just once, getting a no-decision when he allowed three runs in six innings. In fact, Abreu hit one of the two home runs off him that game. The teams do play this week, and Bieber is scheduled to pitch on Tuesday. Maybe that contest will determine the MVP race.

Tim Anderson chasing another batting title

The White Sox shortstop was one of the most unlikely batting title winners in history last year, hitting .335 after entering the season with a career mark of .258. Absolutely nobody predicted him to win again, considering his ultra-aggressive approach at the plate (he walked 15 times all of 2019) and a .399 BABIP.

Well, he’s doing it again, with his .360 average trailing only DJ LeMahieu‘s .361 mark. And he is doing it his way. His walk rate ranks 134th out of 143 qualifiers. His .412 BABIP ranks third in the majors. Anderson doesn’t have elite exit velocity, but he hits line drives, his ground balls find holes and he is tied for the MLB lead with 11 infield hits. He is a little bit like Ichiro — though Anderson hits the ball harder and has more power — in that he has a unique style and approach that might not work for anybody else.


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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home



On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
– MLS on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)

Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”



Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.


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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment



The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.


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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls



With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast


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