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What the Rays and Dodgers need to do from here to win the World Series

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If the Los Angeles Dodgers go on to win this World Series, remember that 1 inch — the 1 inch that Manuel Margot needed to complete the first steal of home in the World Series since 2002. Instead, he was the third out of the bottom of the fourth inning as Clayton Kershaw escaped a first-and-third jam with an infield popup, a strikeout and Margot’s failed theft attempt. The Dodgers maintained their 3-2 lead, added a run on Max Muncy‘s home run and held on for the 4-2 victory.

Now the Dodgers are win one away. The previous 46 times the World Series was tied after four games, the Game 5 winner went on to win 30 times (65%). Eight of the past 14 times, however, the team behind in the Series won the final two games, including the Nationals last year.

As we take a day to reload after all the action from Saturday and Sunday, let’s go through five keys to victory for each team.

Los Angeles Dodgers

1. Two games to win one. Look, you don’t want it to go seven games, but Dave Roberts can manage Game 6 knowing he has another game in his back pocket — with Walker Buehler ready on regular rest and coming off two terrific starts (allowing just one run over 12 innings).

Tony Gonsolin will start Game 6. He hasn’t been great in the postseason with a 9.39 ERA in three games, with Roberts cutting his leash shorter and shorter with each outing: 88 pitches in Game 2 of the NLCS, 41 pitches in Game 7 and then just 29 pitches and four outs in Game 2 against the Rays. Still, he was very good in the regular season with a 2.31 ERA, two home runs in 46⅔ innings and a 46-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The Dodgers’ offense has been scoring enough runs. I don’t think you necessarily have to pull Gonsolin as quickly as Roberts did in Game 2.

With 15 pitchers on the roster, however, Roberts can certainly construct a bullpen game and still keep everyone in good shape for Game 7. He also knows he likely has Julio Urias available in relief of Buehler for Game 7 if necessary. Dustin May did throw 30 pitches in Game 5 and looked much better than he had in his past couple of appearances. Do you save him for Game 7? Maybe you use him only like Roberts did in Game 5 — later in the game with a lead, leaving some of the other relievers as the first guys out of the pen if Gonsolin gets a quick hook.

2. Consider starting Austin Barnes at catcher. When Blake Snell started in Game 2, the Dodgers rolled out their usual lineup when facing a lefty, with Will Smith behind the plate, A.J. Pollock at DH, Enrique Hernandez at second base and Chris Taylor in left field. Now, for what it’s worth: The Dodgers are 6-1 when Barnes has started at catcher this postseason (including 3-0 in the World Series) and 7-5 when Smith starts. That’s small sample size stuff and some of that is the pitcher they have caught. Barnes, for example, has caught all of Kershaw’s innings.

Most importantly, Barnes is the better framer. According to ESPN TruMedia data during the postseason, Barnes has an expected called strike number of 119 and an actual called strike number of 129, so he’s plus-10. Smith has an expected called strike number of 235 and 225 actual called strikes, so he’s minus-10. Furthermore, with Smith catching, Gonsolin has allowed eight runs in 7⅔ innings. You also can question some of Smith’s pitch calls, especially the four-seam fastball that Pedro Baez threw to Brandon Lowe in Game 4 on a 2-2 count that Lowe hit for a three-run homer. Baez was in the game there specifically because his changeup is a good weapon against lefties, but with two strikes they went with the fastball instead.

L.A. can keep Smith’s bat in the lineup as the DH. So maybe you lose Pollock’s bat, but that’s not a big deal given that he’s hitting .231/.286/.282 in the postseason. The risk is that if you have to hit for Barnes or if he gets injured, the Dodgers aren’t carrying a third catcher (because they needed those 15 pitchers!), so they would lose the DH if Smith had to catch. But they’ve gone with that strategy several times this postseason.

Roberts alluded to the possibility of Barnes catching on Monday. “Yeah, it is a thought,” he said. “I love both of our catchers, what Austin does behind the plate. It is on the table and we will put a lineup out there that gives us the best chance to win.”

3. Don’t change anything at the plate. The Dodgers have outhit the Rays .264 to .228. They have more home runs (11 to 8), more doubles (9 to 5), more walks (23 to 14) and fewer strikeouts (50 to 54). Heck, they even have more stolen bases. They’re going to stick to being selective and making the Rays’ starters (Snell in Game 6, Charlie Morton in Game 7) run up their pitch counts. Corey Seager has deservedly been in the spotlight for his monster playoff numbers, but cleanup hitter Muncy has quietly been a key, thanks to 20 walks and a .461 OBP in the postseason. He’s hitting .389/.522/.611 with a team-leading six RBIs in the World Series. If the Dodgers are to close it out, it is likely because Seager and Muncy keep getting on base or doing some important damage.

4. Repeat to yourself: We’re not worried about the ninth inning. I have a feeling that with Blake Treinen getting the save in Game 5, he is now Roberts’ choice for the next save situation. Look, Kenley Jansen did run into some bad luck in Game 4, with two soft hits and the misplay in the field. But he’s a tightrope walker these days, and his stuff just isn’t what it used to be. In the postseason, he has a swing-and-miss rate of 27.1%. Guess what, though? Treinen’s rate isn’t that much better at 30.3%, and while he got the save Sunday, he has allowed six runs in 11⅓ innings in the postseason. Brusdar Graterol is another high-leverage option, and his swing-and-miss rate in the postseason is also 27.1%. All are viable candidates. If you save Treinen for the ninth, that means you might need Jansen or Graterol or Victor Gonzalez or Baez at a key moment earlier in the game. All are reasonable options, even if Dodgers fans are convinced Roberts will make the wrong choice no matter what.

Roberts didn’t tip his hand after Game 5 when he explained his choice to go with Treinen over Jansen. “They’re both great choices,” he said. “I just felt that Margot, I liked Blake right there. Gave up a grounder [for a single]. And then the lefties, and then another righty. I just felt like we’ve leaned on Kenley. We haven’t done three [days] in a row in quite some time. We’ve done three in a row with Blake. I just liked it right there. But Kenley is high leverage. And they’re both unbelievable guys in high leverage.”

(I’m reminded of what made Bruce Bochy so smart when the Giants won in 2010, 2012 and 2014. His top relievers in those years — Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, Brian Wilson, Javier Lopez, Yusmeiro Petit, plus some Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner — combined to allow 13 earned runs over 125 innings, a 0.94 ERA.)

5. Do not use Clayton Kershaw. He has done his job this postseason, going 4-1 in five starts with a 2.93 ERA and 37 strikeouts and five walks over 30⅔ innings. If the series does go to seven games, however, I fear Roberts will be tempted to use the future Hall of Famer, just like he was in Game 5 of the division series last year against the Nationals. Roberts may even think back to Game 7 in 2017, when Kershaw came on in relief against the Astros after starting Game 5 and tossed four scoreless innings. Do not do it. Do. Not. Do. It.

1. You’re down, but not out. Just play — and plan — with urgency. Look, the easiest scenario for Game 6 is your starting pitcher crushes it like Stephen Strasburg did last year for the Nationals when he pitched 8⅓ innings in a 7-2 victory. That’s not how it will work for the Rays, however. No starter has gone more than six innings this postseason. Snell’s longest outing this postseason is 5⅔ innings. Morton’s is also 5⅔.

So manager Kevin Cash will have to factor in that even if Snell and Morton are great, he probably needs eight innings over two days from his pen. Anything less than that is a bonus. So who can go multiple innings? Who will he use to get through that difficult Seager-Justin Turner-Muncy part of the order that has been particularly lethal? One thing we know: The Rays will have a plan.

No matter the plan, the Rays need to grab an early lead for a change. The Dodgers have scored first in four of the five games. “We are going to get aggressive tomorrow,” Cash said Monday. “If we can somehow get a lead and limit them, we’ve got some of the big guys in the back end of the bullpen that are ready to go. That is kind of our MO. That is what makes us special at times, especially from the pitching department. … It just hasn’t happened yet because they are up 1-, 2- or 3-0 by the second or third inning every night it feels like.”

2. Snell and the fifth inning. The 2018 Cy Young winner is making his sixth postseason start of 2020, and the overall numbers look pretty solid: 2-2, 3.33 ERA, 28 strikeouts in 24⅓ innings. But it’s really a tale of two Snells. Through the first four innings he’s allowed three runs in 20 total innings (1.35 ERA) and two home runs. From the fifth inning on, he’s allowed six runs and three home runs in 4⅓ innings. In Game 2 against the Dodgers, he tossed 4⅔ no-hit innings but then gave up a walk, a two-run home run, a walk and a base hit and couldn’t finish the fifth.

So Snell’s limit appears to be four innings or 75 pitches before he hits the wall. The Rays obviously know this and have had a pretty quick hook with him, but what if he’s sailing along like he was in Game 2? Does Cash you take him out if he’s pitching well and the Rays have a small lead? Does he try to get a few extra outs from Snell to save the bullpen — even a little — for Game 7? If it’s the third time through the order, does Cash go to the bullpen no matter what? The numbers this postseason seem to justify that, even if the eye test says Snell is pitching well.

3. Be realistic about your expectations for Nick Anderson. Anderson was dominant in 2019 and allowed just one run in 16⅓ innings in the regular season this year, so it’s understandable that Cash keeps trying to milk longer outings from him — but it simply hasn’t worked. Anderson has allowed a run (or two) in six straight appearances and in seven of nine in the playoffs (including three home runs). Yet seven of those appearances have been for more than three outs. He isn’t necessarily throwing a lot of pitches, making two appearances in the World Series in Games 2 and 4 while throwing 19 and 23 pitches. He has had at least two days of rest in each outing except one since the wild-card round, so I’m not necessarily sure if it’s fatigue or something else. Whatever the reason, Anderson just hasn’t dominated.

What it all means is Cash can’t just count on using Anderson, Diego Castillo and Peter Fairbanks, like he did in Game 5 against the Yankees. He’s already adjusted to that by using Aaron Loup in high-leverage moments; as the primary lefty in the pen, he’ll certainly be one guy to navigate through Seager and Muncy. But barring Snell and Morton going deeper than expected, Cash will likely need one of the deeper relievers — Ryan Thompson, John Curtiss, maybe Ryan Yarbrough — to get some big outs.

4. Get some hits with runners in scoring position. The Rays are hitting .192 in the postseason with runners in scoring position (although they’ve been a little better at .233 in the World Series). Yes, they’ve hit 33 home runs in 19 postseason games, but the Dodgers hit home runs too. The Rays are going to have to produce some runs the old-fashioned way.

One key here: Getting somebody on base in front of Randy Arozarena. Rays leadoff hitters — Cash has started six different guys there — are hitting just .173/.271/.320 in the playoffs and have scored just four runs. Yandy Diaz has a .409 OBP from the leadoff spot, but he only starts against lefties. Austin Meadows started there in Games 2 and 3, but he’s hitting .154 in 39 playoff at-bats with 16 K’s and one walk. Heck, if Arozarena is going to be batting with the bases empty, maybe you just hit him leadoff.

5. Run the bases … smarter. While I love the idea of the Rays using their speed to put pressure on the Dodgers — like Margot’s bunt single in Game 5 — their exploits on the bases have been a net negative. Margot’s attempted steal of home was daring and exciting, but in the end it didn’t work. Arozarena got thrown out trying to advance on a ball in the dirt earlier in the game. Overall in the postseason, the Rays have just four steals and have been caught stealing five times. So keep up the aggressiveness … just make sure you don’t get thrown out.

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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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