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MLB Playoffs Daily: Dodgers look to bounce back against Braves; Rays eye sweep of Astros

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It’s Wednesday in league championship series week in the 2020 MLB playoffs, and two teams have yet to notch their first wins. With one more win, the Rays could complete a sweep of the Astros and earn their first pennant since 2008. The Braves are aiming for an upset, having jumped to a 2-0 lead over the favored Dodgers.

Here’s a breakdown of the games, some numbers to know, a hot take of the day and more as you prep for Wednesday’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 3: No. 2 Atlanta Braves (Kyle Wright) vs. No. 1 Los Angeles Dodgers (Julio Urias), 6:05 p.m. in Arlington, Texas

We get two young starters in Wright, who threw six scoreless innings against the Marlins in the NLDS but had a 5.21 ERA in eight starts in the regular season, and Urias, who has allowed one unearned run with 11 K’s in eight innings in the postseason. His big matchup will be Marcell Ozuna, who has hit .333/.439/.813 against lefties. For Wright, it’s all about throwing enough strikes, especially his two breaking balls. He averaged 5.7 walks per nine innings in the regular season and had a couple of early walks against the Marlins, but he escaped damage, throwing his curveball and slider nearly half the time.

How both managers handle their bullpens will be fascinating. The Dodgers’ pen had a 2.74 ERA in the regular season, but Dave Roberts suddenly doesn’t know whom he can trust. Do you overreact or stay the course? You certainly won’t see Alex Wood, who never should have seen the field in Game 2, even in a 6-0 game (he gave up a run, which proved costly). Given the dire circumstances, Roberts is probably looking at Dustin May, Victor Gonzalez, Blake Treinen and — yes — Kenley Jansen as his options. That might leave Roberts without a starter for Game 5 (assuming Clayton Kershaw goes in Game 4), but if you need May to win this game, you have to use him.

Brian Snitker has to be mindful of the potential for seven games in seven days, but he can still have a quick hook with Wright. The Braves are carrying 15 pitchers, and the bullpen has not been too stressed these first two games (though you know he hated using Mark Melancon to get the final out in Game 2). If it’s close in the fourth or fifth, the Braves should consider pulling Wright and going for the kill and a 3-0 lead — even if Games 4 and 5 shape up as bullpen games. — David Schoenfield

Game 4: No. 1 Tampa Bay Rays (Tyler Glasnow) vs. No. 6 Houston Astros (Zack Greinke), 8:40 p.m. in San Diego

As good as the Astros looked against the A’s, when they bashed the ball all over the park, the first three games in this series have shown why they finished 29-31. They haven’t hit enough, and when they have hit, they hit into some bad luck. Jose Altuve has made two critical throwing errors that the Rays have taken advantage of — three unearned runs in Game 2 and the five-run sixth inning in Game 3. (Only one of the runs was unearned, but Altuve’s bad throw to second base opened the floodgates.) We might see Aledmys Diaz at second base with Altuve the DH.

Zack Greinke gets the ball, and he says his arm feels fine, but he has lasted four and 4 2/3 innings in his two playoff starts — a sign that Dusty Baker will have to go to his shaky bullpen early. Meanwhile, all the Astros have to do on offense is figure out Tyler Glasnow, who will be starting on regular rest after throwing 37 pitches on two days’ rest in Game 5 of the ALDS. Of note: This could be the final game for this core of Astros players. George Springer, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick are all free agents, and Justin Verlander, of course, will miss the 2021 season. That doesn’t mean it’s the end of this run of success, but the 2021 Astros could look a lot different than the 2020 Astros. — Schoenfield


Updated odds for every series

Based on projections of ESPN’s Bradford Doolittle

Astros-Rays: Rays 96.4% to advance
Braves-Dodgers: Braves 70.3% to advance

Running World Series odds

NL: Braves 35.8%, 21.1%
AL: Rays 42.1%, Astros 1.1%


Hot take of the day

This is where greatness must shine. The 2016 Cubs, winners of 103 games and trying to break a 108-year curse, were down three games to one in the World Series. The 1998 Yankees, winners of 114 games, were down 2-1 to the Indians in the ALCS. The 1986 Mets, winners of 108 games, lost the first two games of the World Series at home to the Red Sox, yet rallied to win (with a little help in Game 6). We now think of those three clubs as among the best of recent decades.

The Dodgers are a great team — have been a great team for several years now — but regular-season dominance is not the same as postseason glory. Maybe that almost dramatic, ninth-inning rally will get the bats going — certainly, Max Muncy (.143 in the postseason until his home run) and Cody Bellinger (0-for-8 in the series before his triple) needed those hits. I think the Dodgers will come out swinging and knock around Kyle Wright. They get back in the series. — Schoenfield


Stat of the day

The first sacrifice bunt of the 2020 postseason: Manuel Margot‘s in Game 3 of the ALCS, which also happened to be the first sac bunt by a Rays player this year.


About last night …

The Dodgers’ ninth-inning rally against the Braves’ bullpen mop-up crew made the final score interesting, but Atlanta’s 8-7 win sealed a 2-0 NLCS lead after the offense pounced on Tony Gonsolin early. Gonsolin was on the hill because scheduled Game 2 starter Clayton Kershaw was scratched because of back spasms. Can the Dodgers come back? They think so.

The Rays are one win away from an ALCS sweep of the Astros after their 5-2 victory to take a 3-0 series lead. Tampa Bay scored all of its runs in a wild sixth inning, plating one of the runs on consecutive hit batters and benefiting from another throwing error by Astros second baseman Jose Altuve. The Rays also stymied the Astros at the plate, putting on a show on defense.


Social media post of the day

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Braves reliever Mark Melancon catches Ozzie Albies’ home runs on back-to-back nights.


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

Randy Arozarena has gone from an unknown outfielder to this October’s breakout star. Coming into the playoffs, you might have been asking, “Who is this guy?” but the Rays’ trade for him has been a huge factor in their postseason dominance. Since Sept. 1 across regular-season and postseason games, Arozarena is second among MLB hitters and tops among those on playoff teams with a 1.194 OPS, beating Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman, who’s No. 3 overall at 1.166. Arozarena’s four postseason home runs have already made a big impression, but Arozarena also leads all hitters in the postseason with 35 total bases (and is leading in hits and extra-base hits). Also, he has been flashing some leather in the outfield and some sweet celebration dance moves on the field.

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

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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.”

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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

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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

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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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