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The Dodgers Went From A Stunning Loss To The Brink Of A Championship

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The Los Angeles Dodgers could have imploded after a historic series of miscues allowed the opposing Tampa Bay Rays to tie the World Series at two games apiece Saturday night. Game 5 starter Clayton Kershaw could have lived down to his less-than-perfect postseason reputation, and the Dodgers could have let yet another title shot slip away. Instead, though, they got back to work and produced a businesslike 4-2 victory Sunday night, showcasing all of the myriad reasons why Los Angeles is just one win away from its first championship in 32 years.

Tampa Bay’s win in Game 4 was an all-timer — and an all-time gut-punch of a loss for the Dodgers, who had fought hard to stake themselves to a 7-6 lead with two outs in the bottom of the ninth before all hell broke loose. According to win probability added (WPA), the single by backup Rays outfielder Brett Phillips (and the two Dodger errors that followed) swung the odds of Game 4 by 81 percentage points, making it one of the most game-changing plays ever in a World Series. And if we take into account the leverage of the game itself, that play lowered Los Angeles’s championship odds by 29.7 percentage points, making it probably the costliest set of errors in baseball history.

The Dodgers’ Game 4 blunders made history

Costliest World Series plays that contained at least one error, according to championship win probability added (cWPA)

Teams
Year Game No. Inning Outs Batting Pitching Error(s) Walk-Off cWPA
2020 4 Bot 9 2 TBR LAD CF, C -29.7
1912 8 Top 10 1 NYG BOS CF -29.2
1923 6 Top 8 2 NYY NYG CF -26.9
1912 8 Bot 10 0 BOS NYG CF -24.4
1986 6 Bot 10 2 NYM BOS 1B -21.5
1997 7 Bot 11 1 FLA CLE 2B -19.0
2001 7 Bot 9 0 ARI NYY P -18.2
1952 7 Bot 5 1 BRO NYY LF -15.7
1909 6 Top 9 0 PIT DET 1B -14.7
2002 6 Bot 8 0 ANA SFG LF -14.7
1912 2 Bot 10 1 BOS NYG C -14.6
1982 7 Top 6 0 MIL STL P -14.4
1907 1 Top 8 1 DET CHC C -13.4
1924 7 Top 6 1 NYG WSH SS -13.0
1940 7 Top 3 2 DET CIN 3B -12.3

Championship WPA measures the change in each team’s odds of winning the World Series between the start and end of each play.

Source: Baseball-Reference.com

Again, you might have thought the way that game went down would weigh heavily on the Dodgers going forward. But all L.A. had to do was glance at the stat sheet to realize the balance of the series was still tipped in its favor. Entering Sunday’s game, the Dodgers had a 158-point advantage in OPS during the World Series, a 1.20-run advantage in fielding independent pitching and a 6.2-point advantage in defensive efficiency ratio.1 That it took a historic sequence of events for Tampa Bay to even tie things up also spoke to how well Los Angeles had played for the vast majority of the series.

And the Dodgers got back to that formula in Game 5. Though they were held to just six hits — after banging out 25 in Games 3 and 4 combined — three went for extra bases (including two home runs), and they managed five walks. L.A. jumped out to an early lead, scoring first for the fourth time in five games, further adding to Tampa Bay starter Tyler Glasnow’s postseason frustrations. After allowing four earned runs in five innings Sunday, Glasnow has a 6.28 postseason ERA (including a 9.64 mark in this World Series). As is customary at this point, L.A.’s deep lineup also delivered RBIs from the Nos. 2 (Corey Seager), 4 (Max Muncy), 6 (Cody Bellinger) and 8 (Joc Pederson) slots in the batting order.

But the biggest factor to turn the tide of the series back toward the Dodgers was their pitching. Kershaw shrugged off his past failures to give the team a solid 5⅔ innings in Game 5, allowing just two runs and setting up the Dodger bullpen to close the door late. On a night he set the new all-time postseason strikeout record, L.A.’s ace outdueled Glasnow for the second time in the series. Meanwhile, the Dodgers’ relievers found redemption 24 hours after a disastrous performance in which they allowed six runs in four innings (including one unearned during the comedy of errors at the end).

Tampa Bay had its chances, particularly with runners on the corners and no outs against Kershaw in the fourth (which ultimately yielded no runs after Manuel Margot was tagged out when trying to steal home), and when Randy Arozarena, the new single-postseason home run king, came up as the potential go-ahead run against lefty Victor González in the eighth (he harmlessly flied out to center). But the Rays were unable to muster any runs from the fourth inning onward.

And so, the Dodgers now have a chance to clinch their long-awaited championship in Game 6 on Tuesday. Our prediction model gives them a 59 percent chance of wrapping things up then and an 83 percent chance overall. L.A. is up 3-2 and, statistically, it has done a thorough job of outclassing the Rays across pretty much every key metric during the series so far:

The Dodgers have dominated statistically

Head-to-head comparison in key metrics for the 2020 World Series

Los Angeles Category Tampa Bay
.264 Batting average .228
.354 On-base % .288
.506 Slugging % .420
.859 On-base plus slugging .708
4.03 Earned run average 5.93
4.06 Fielding-independent pitching 5.83
71.3 Defensive efficiency % 69.3
75.4 Left-on-base %* 75.1

*Measures the rate at which a team’s pitchers have stranded opposing base-runners.

Source: ESPN STATS & INFORMATION GROUP

Of course, lest we coronate the Dodgers too early, Game 4 reminded us that baseball fortunes can turn in an instant, on the wildest of plays. But at the same time, it also proved that those are the kinds of improbable plays it will take to beat a team as deep and talented as the one Los Angeles has assembled this season.

Check out our latest MLB predictions.

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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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2:00

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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