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What Clayton Kershaw’s back injury means for Dodgers in NLCS Game 2 and beyond

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Just hours before Clayton Kershaw was scheduled to take the mound in Game 2 of the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves, the Los Angeles Dodgers announced the left-hander won’t make his start because of back spasms and rookie Tony Gonsolin will take his place.

What does the injury mean for Kershaw, the Dodgers and the rest of the 2020 MLB playoffs? When could we see L.A.’s ace on the mound again? And who is Gonsolin, and what should fans expect from Kershaw’s Game 2 replacement? We asked ESPN MLB experts Alden Gonzalez, Bradford Doolittle and David Schoenfield to weigh in.

What does this mean for the Dodgers in Game 2?

Alden Gonzalez: It means Tony Gonsolin will start, and that’s a very good option for a team left scrambling. Gonsolin was among the best rookies in a crowded field for the National League Rookie of the Year Award, posting a 2.31 ERA with 46 strikeouts and only seven walks in 46⅔ innings. Gonsolin completed at least six innings in four of his eight starts, and the Dodgers will need something similar in Game 2, the second of as many as seven games in seven days. They need to keep their high-leverage relievers as fresh as possible, especially if Kenley Jansen no longer resides in that group.

David Schoenfield: The one concern here is that Gonsolin reportedly threw four or five innings of a sim game on Saturday in preparation for a start later in this series, so in a sense he’s working on short rest. I wouldn’t expect him to go especially deep in this game, especially with the Dodgers carrying 15 pitchers. Despite the performance in the ninth inning on Monday, the Dodgers do have a good and deep bullpen. Brusdar Graterol and Victor Gonzalez got out of two big jams in Game 1 and will likely have to play a huge role in Game 2. Then Dave Roberts just has to figure out who pitches the ninth inning.

Bradford Doolittle: You have to worry about the domino effect with the L.A. bullpen after the troubles of Game 1. Can Dave Roberts afford to continue to mix in Julio Urias and Dustin May as super-relievers? If he doesn’t, does that mean he has to dip into a layer of his bullpen he’d prefer to avoid in medium- to high-leverage spots? The Dodgers covered themselves for this to some extent by carrying 15 pitchers on their NLCS roster, though the decision to do that was likely more driven by worries over Walker Buehler‘s blisters than Kershaw’s back. Still, having so many pitchers doesn’t help in the postseason if you aren’t comfortable deploying them in tight, tense games, which is about all we get this time of the year.

What does this mean for the Dodgers the rest of this postseason?

Gonzalez: Assuming Kershaw isn’t ready within a matter of days — and keep in mind he was when back issues derailed his Opening Day start earlier this year — the guess here is that Julio Urias will go in Game 3 and the Dodgers will stage a bullpen day in Game 4. After that it gets tricky, especially with Dustin May being used against eight batters in Game 1. If May isn’t needed any of these next three days, he can provide a starter’s workload — or close to it — in Game 5. If he is needed before then, it gets tricky. Walker Buehler on short rest, even though he is continually dealing with blisters? Alex Wood, who hasn’t necessarily been trusted for a while and might not have much length? It’s complicated.

Doolittle: In addition to the points above, the double-whammy aspect of the timing of this is that it removes the possibility of Kershaw going in a potential Game 7 on normal rest. If the spasms were to clear up quickly and Kershaw was able to start in Game 3, then it’s theoretically possible he could go in Game 7 on short rest. That is less than ideal for him at this point in his career. The last time we saw the Dodgers try it with Kershaw was when he went in Game 1 of the 2018 World Series against the Red Sox, three days after throwing two innings of relief in the NLCS clincher over Milwaukee. Boston shelled him.

Schoenfield: Yeah, the unknown here is what the Dodgers’ plans were with May entering the series. Remember, Roberts used him as an opener in the Padres series, having him throw just one inning, with Urias coming in as the bulk guy. But that was a shorter series. Was May to be a permanent part of the pen in this series? Was he going to pitch in Game 1 and then be the Game 5 starter? The unknown over Kershaw’s health clouds the plans for May and might force him back into the rotation. And Wood seems like the last guy you would trust right now — over his past five appearances in the regular season he allowed eight runs and 12 hits in 6⅓ innings.

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Titans run out of fourth-quarter magic, fall to Steelers for first loss

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The streak of fourth-quarter comebacks came to an end for the Tennessee Titans in their 27-24 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Titans trailed by 27-7 at one point in the third quarter. But the Titans made it close, pulling to within three points in the fourth quarter. With just over two minutes left, the Titans started on their 20-yard line after an interception by Amani Hooker in the end zone resulting in a touchback. Tannehill drove the Titans to the 28-yard line to set up a 45-yard field goal attempt by Stephen Gostkowski that was off the mark with 19 seconds left in the game.

Entering this week, Ryan Tannehill had led the Titans to four fourth-quarter come-from-behind victories this season. The Steelers jumped to an early 14-0 lead to make the fourth-quarter comeback necessary. According to ESPN Stats & Info, entering this week, Tannehill was 1-28 as a starter when his teams fall behind by at least 14 points. The lone win came in 2014 against the Vikings. Conversely, including the playoffs, Ben Roethlisberger is 97-1-1 in his career in games where the Steelers had a 14-point lead. The only loss was 2018 Week 13 vs the Chargers and the tie was 2018 Week 1 at the Browns.

The game described in two words: Third downs. The Titans were unable to stop the Steelers from the start on third down. Pittsburgh converted on 13 of their 18 third downs in the game.

Troubling trend: Tennessee’s defense failed to get off the field, especially on third down. The Titans had the ball for only one minute and 21 seconds in the first quarter. That was the least time of possession for any team in a quarter this season. The early struggles were in large part due to Pittsburgh’s ability to keep drives going by converting on third downs. At one point, the Steelers were 7 for 7 on third downs. Their first punt didn’t come until the third quarter.

Biggest hole in the game plan: Constantly playing off coverage on the outside made it easy for Roethlisberger to connect with the Steelers wide receivers. Diontae Johnson had his way with the Titans secondary, getting a free release on both of his short touchdown receptions. Tennessee normally plays a lot of man defense, but they played more zone against the Steelers. Roethlisberger carved them up to the tune of 32 completions on 49 attempts for 268 yards and two touchdowns.

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Mayfield outduels Burrow as Browns nip Bengals

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Baker Mayfield‘s first quarter Sunday against Cincinnati couldn’t have gone any worse.

But from then on, the Cleveland Browns quarterback was perfect.

Literally.

Mayfield rebounded from a 0-of-5 start, including an interception on his first throw, to break a franchise record with 21 consecutive completions, propelling Cleveland to a thrilling 37-34 comeback victory over the Bengals.

Mayfield finished 22 of 28 passing with 297 yards and five touchdowns, with three coming in a wild back-and-forth fourth quarter.

His final touchdown was a game-winning 24-yard strike to rookie Donovan Peoples-Jones with just 15 seconds remaining. His only incompletion after the first quarter was a spike to stop the clock on the final drive.

Mayfield passed Bernie Kosar (1989) and Kelly Holcomb (2003), who previously shared the Browns’ record with 16 straight completions. No other Cleveland quarterback in the last 30 seasons had tossed three touchdowns in a fourth quarter, either, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and none since Derek Anderson in 2007 had thrown five in a game.

Mayfield out-dueled Cincinnati rookie quarterback Joe Burrow in a shootout of former Heisman Trophy winners and No. 1 overall picks.

Burrow completed 35 of 47 passes for 406 yards, the first 400-yard passing game of his pro career. Despite losing three starting offensive linemen to injury during the game, Burrow also threw three touchdowns and rushed for another. On fourth-and-1, he connected on a 3-yard, go-ahead touchdown pass to running back Giovani Bernard with just over a minute to play, which set up Mayfield’s late-game heroics.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first game in NFL history with five go-ahead touchdown passes in a fourth quarter.

ESPN’s Ben Baby contributed to this report.

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Sources: Arizona hit with 9 alleged violations

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The University of Arizona has been charged with nine alleged rules violations, including five Level I charges, the most serious under NCAA rules, following a multiyear investigation of its men’s basketball program, sources confirmed to ESPN on Sunday.

The Athletic, which first reported the number of allegations, also reported on Sunday that Arizona has been charged with lack of institutional control and failure to monitor, and Wildcats coach Sean Miller has been charged with lack of head coach control.

The Athletic reported that it obtained the information from a letter that Arizona’s outside attorney, Paul Kelly, sent to the NCAA requesting that the infractions case be referred to the Independent Accountability Resolution Process (IARP), which was formed to handle complex cases.

On Friday, Arizona officials acknowledged receiving a notice of allegations from the NCAA, but declined to release it or provide details.

A special meeting of the Arizona board of regents is scheduled for Monday.

The Athletic reported that Wildcats women’s swimming and diving coach Augie Busch also is charged with a head coach control violation.

Arizona is the eighth university to publicly acknowledge receiving an NCAA notice of allegations related to information obtained from a federal investigation into bribes and other misconduct in college basketball, joining Kansas, Louisville, NC State, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, TCU and USC.

The NCAA enforcement staff also accused LSU coach Will Wade of either arranging for or offering “impermissible payments” to at least 11 potential recruits or others around them, according to documents obtained by ESPN in August. The LSU case also will be handled by the IARP, along with those involving Kansas, Louisville and NC State.

Sources had previously told ESPN that Alabama, Auburn and Creighton were also under investigation, but none of those schools have confirmed receiving a notice of allegations.

Former Arizona assistant Emanuel “Book” Richardson was one of four former assistant coaches who pleaded guilty for their roles in the federal bribery case. He pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to commit bribery in a plea deal, after prosecutors accused him of accepting $20,000 to steer Arizona players to certain managers and financial advisers once they turned pro. A judge sentenced him to three months in prison and two years of probation.

During one of the federal criminal trials, prosecutors played a wiretap recording to the jury in which Richardson told aspiring manager Christian Dawkins that Miller was paying then-Wildcats star center Deandre Ayton $10,000 per month while he was enrolled at the school.

Dawkins and Richardson were discussing how to recruit Ayton as a client to Dawkins’ fledgling sports management company.

While talking about Ayton, Richardson told Dawkins, “Sean’s got to get the [expletive] out of the way and let us work.”

“We’ll see how Sean plays it out,” Dawkins said.

“You know what he bought per month?” Richardson asked.

“What he do?” Dawkins asked.

“I told you — 10,” Richardson replied.

“He’s putting up some real money for them [expletive],” Dawkins responded. “He told me he’s getting killed.”

“But that’s his fault,” Richardson said.

During the same recording, Dawkins indicated then-Wildcats guard Rawle Alkins was also receiving improper benefits while playing at Arizona.

“You already know Sean is taking care of Rawle and them,” Dawkins said.

In the HBO documentary “The Scheme,” which was released earlier this year, Dawkins said, “Book was loyal to Sean. Arizona was definitely more open to getting some s— done.”

When director Pete Kondelis asked Dawkins about his conversation with Richardson in which they discussed Ayton, Dawkins said, “I’m being told that Sean is the one financing the Deandre Ayton situation.”

Miller has denied paying Ayton, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, or any other player to sign with Arizona.

“I never have, and I never will,” Miller said during a news conference in March 2018.

When Kondelis asked Dawkins about Miller’s comments during that news conference, Dawkins said,

“When Sean Miller had his press conference, I literally thought of Book, and I was like, ‘S—, I mean Sean should have his own like movie agent or a manager, like he should be an actor. That was a very high-level … I was convinced, honestly.”

When Dawkins was asked by Kondelis if Miller was telling the truth, he replied, “When Sean Miller had his press conference and said has a player from Arizona ever received money or did he know anything about a player from Arizona receiving money, did he lie? Yeah, that wasn’t true.”

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