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What you need to know about Dak Prescott’s injury: Barnwell answers eight big questions

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On Sunday, a Dallas Cowboys team that was seemingly going through a nightmare season saw its worst fears realized. In the third quarter, Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a gruesome ankle injury. If you were watching the play, you’re not going to forget what you saw for a long time. If you didn’t see the play, consider yourself lucky. Injuries are part of football, and they don’t discriminate against good or bad people or between stars and ordinary players, but it was difficult not to be overwhelmed as a crying Prescott was carted off the field.

The Cowboys put in backup Andy Dalton, who led a late drive to set up a game-winning field goal and a 37-34 win over the Giants. The 2-3 Cowboys are now in first place atop the putrid NFC East, but what happens next could go many different ways. Let’s reset the scene and establish everything you need to know after Prescott’s heartbreaking injury:

Jump to a section:
Could this be a career-threatening injury?
Should Prescott have taken Dallas’ offer?
Is Andy Dalton actually any good?
Can the Cowboys still win the NFC East?
Should the Cowboys try to get another QB?
What happens if they decide to move on?

What happened?

With the game tied 23-23 in the third quarter, the Cowboys dialed up a designed quarterback draw. Prescott broke through one tackle attempt and then tried to stiff-arm Giants defensive back Logan Ryan. As Ryan dragged down Prescott, the quarterback’s ankle got caught underneath Ryan. We often see players suffer high ankle sprains when their ankles are caught at that sort of angle, but when Prescott came out of the tackle, his ankle was facing in the wrong direction.

There was nothing malicious or untoward about the tackle or anything anyone could have realistically done to prevent the injury. The Cowboys use Prescott as a runner on designed plays, but his workload isn’t exorbitant or unreasonable. He had been remarkably healthy as a pro, as the 27-year-old had never even been on the injury report before going down on Sunday.

Officially, the Cowboys announced that Prescott suffered a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle, meaning that the bone penetrated through his skin as part of the injury. ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen reported that he underwent surgery on the ankle Sunday evening. His season is likely over, and the Cowboys will place Prescott on injured reserve sometime this week.

Could this be a career-threatening injury?

By all accounts, Prescott should be able to return. While the injury was unquestionably gruesome, players across sports have been able to return from similar injuries in the past and continue their careers. In baseball, Jason Kendall, Moises Alou, and Robin Ventura were able to return from compound ankle fractures and sustain long careers. In basketball, we recently saw Celtics forward Gordon Hayward dislocate his ankle and fracture his tibia, miss an entire season, and then return the following year.

Most importantly, we’ve seen football players overcome this injury, including ball carriers. Veteran running back LeSean McCoy suffered a compound ankle fracture in high school. At the pro level, Connor Barwin and Allen Hurns were able to overcome dislocated ankles and return to the sport. No two injuries are identical, of course, but there’s precedent for players making it back to play at the highest level.

Given that Alex Smith made his return to the field on the same day in which Prescott was injured, it’s only natural to try to compare Prescott’s injury to the Washington quarterback’s. They’re not the same. Smith suffered a broken tibia and fibula and then dealt with a life-threatening infection, which led doctors to perform a total of 17 surgeries. We won’t know until Prescott leaves the hospital and begins rehabilitating, but the hope is naturally that he will be able to avoid any infections or other complications after surgery.

No one can can say for sure that he will be the same player upon returning. Ankle injuries can cause serious problems for quarterbacks. While his injury is nowhere near as severe, take Jimmy Garoppolo as an example. When the 49ers quarterback suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 2, I mentioned that quarterbacks who suffer high ankle sprains have a habit of sailing their throws when they come back, leading to sailed passes and interceptions. Garoppolo made his return on Sunday and was 7-of-17 passing for 77 yards with two sailed picks before being benched at halftime.

Prescott will have to re-establish his footwork as a passer. He also might not be as explosive or impactful as a runner, which has been an underrated and valuable part of his game over the last five years. He might come back as the same guy, looking like the injury has never happened. He could also come back as a less mobile and versatile player, which would take a chunk out of his game.

How does this impact his future with the Cowboys?

In the short-term, nothing changes. Prescott is playing on the franchise tag, which guarantees him $31.4 million for 2020. He’ll still collect that money even after being placed on injured reserve. As was the case before the injury, he is not under contract after Week 17, although Dallas has ways to keep him around.

The franchise’s three choices on what to do with Prescott also haven’t changed. The Cowboys can let him leave and hit unrestricted free agency. If that happened, they would not get direct compensation, although they would likely collect a third-round compensatory pick in the 2022 draft if they didn’t sign a similarly-expensive player in free agency. They can also sign him to a contract extension, something they’ve tried and failed to do in each of the past two offseasons.

The most likely outcome both before and after the injury is the third option: a second franchise tag. The Cowboys can offer Prescott another one-year deal, with this one guaranteeing the Mississippi State product $37.7 million for the 2021 season. The move would amount to a $6.3 million raise, but with the cap set to drop from $198.2 million in 2020 to $175 million as a result of the hit in local revenues, the team would feel the pinch of a second tag even more. Prescott currently takes up 14.4% of Dallas’ cap space, but he would be in line to take up something closer to 18.9% next year. With a $175 million cap, $37.7 million is the equivalent of paying Prescott something close to $42.7 million on this year’s cap.

At the same time, a second tag makes sense for both sides. The Cowboys might not want to commit to Prescott in the long-term until they see that their starter has returned to full health, something which they won’t be able to see on a football field before the franchise tag deadline comes up in March. Franchising him is the only way they would be able to retain his rights before free agency, and it would give them five months to negotiate an extension in advance of the July deadline for handing franchised players long-term contracts.

Likewise, for Prescott, a franchise tag seems preferable. He has repeatedly declined contract extensions from the Cowboys in the hopes of going year-to-year and getting the exact sort of deal he wants, whether it be from the Cowboys or another organization. This summer, while the two sides were reportedly close on the average salary of a new deal, the deal fell apart over disagreements about its length.

Dallas, which typically likes to hand out the longest contracts in football to retain control over its players while also leaving cap flexibility, wanted a longer deal. Prescott sought a three- or four-year deal, hoping to sign a short-term contract while getting back to free agency after the league signs its new television deals over the next two years, at which point the cap is expected to rise dramatically.

It’s possible that Prescott’s injury could change his outlook and encourage the veteran to take whatever the team is offering as part of the longest possible deal. Given that he has continually bet on himself and made more than $31 million in base salary alone this year, though, it wouldn’t be shocking if he continued along that path, even after the injury.

Should Prescott have taken Dallas’ long-term offer?

In the aftermath of the injury, the worst people on Twitter were excited to talk about how Prescott was foolish to decline the team’s long-term offers before suffering his injury. Never mind that we haven’t seen any of the contract offer specifics or how much money he realistically would have been passing up as part of a deal. Every player has to deal with risk, and as often as a player passes up a long-term option and then gets hurt, we see players who take below-market value deals before staying healthy and regretting their choice, like Chris Harris Jr. and Adam Thielen.

While we don’t know what a Prescott deal would have held, the reality is that he was already guaranteed $31.4 million by the franchise tag. Unless he is unable to play in 2021, the Cowboys are likely to franchise him again and pay him $37.7 million for a total of $69.1 million over two seasons, at which point he would be able to either collect a third franchise tag for $54.3 million or hit unrestricted free agency. He almost definitely would have had his 2022 base salary guaranteed as part of an extension, but I’m not sure he would have actually made all that much more money by signing an extension than he would going year-to-year.

If Prescott isn’t able to play in 2021 for some reason, he might also be protected. During the quarterback’s negotiations in 2019, Schefter reported that Prescott had loss-of-value and disability insurance and endorsement deals worth more than $50 million. It’s unclear whether he is still carrying that sort of insurance, but it’s clear that he’s been thinking about what might happen if he does get injured over the last couple of years. At the very least, he was aware of this possibility and the risk he was taking.

Andy Dalton is now the Cowboys’ starter. Is he good?

Dalton was solid on Sunday. While a bad exchange led to a fumble, a short field and a Giants touchdown, the longtime Bengals starter went 9-of-11 passing for 111 yards after taking over. With the game tied at 34, Dalton completed three passes for 72 yards to set up a game-winning field goal from Greg Zuerlein. It was the one positive to take away from an awful Sunday for the Cowboys.

There are two questions here. One of them is easy to answer: I don’t think Dalton has any hope of matching up to Prescott’s production in this offense, whether it be what we saw in 2019 or over the first four-plus games of 2020. Remember: Prescott threw for more yards than any quarterback in football history through the first four games of 2020, and it wasn’t particularly close. Dalton just won’t absorb that kind of volume.

Can Dalton be good enough to win games, though? That’s within the realm of possibility, although he had a much better shot at leading the Cowboys as constructed on paper heading into this season than he does with the current version of this team. Dallas is missing five starters on offense, including Prescott. Three of them are along the offensive line: Center Joe Looney is out for a few weeks, but starting tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins are out for the season. The Cowboys started three offensive linemen on Sunday with one combined start in the NFL before 2020 in Tyler Biadasz, Terence Steele, and Brandon Knight.

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Michael Gallup makes a spectacular sideline catch to get the Cowboys in field goal range and set up Greg Zuerlein’s game-winning field goal.

Dalton has a borderline-MVP season on his résumé from 2015 in Cincinnati, when he had prime weapons like A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu and Tyler Eifert and arguably the league’s best offensive line. The Cowboys can give Dalton the weapons, but their pass protection is suspect. Over his last two seasons in Cincinnati, a decaying offensive line let down Dalton, and the TCU product wasn’t able to compensate. The Bengals ranked 31st in pass block win rate between 2018-19, and Dalton’s numbers nosedived in the process. He ranked 28th in both passer rating and QBR when pressured over that two-year span, and while the Cowboys still have one star lineman left in Zack Martin, their line otherwise might be worse than what Dalton worked behind in Cincinnati.

The Cowboys have been pass-friendly and played at one of the league’s fastest rates this season, in part because of circumstances: teams have to throw a lot and play fast when they go down by two touchdowns in the first half every week. With Dalton in the lineup, even given the line issues, I would expect Dallas to slow down and rely more heavily upon Ezekiel Elliott. Slowing down also reduces the pressure on the Dallas defense, which ranked 24th in DVOA through four weeks. Dalton still has one of the NFL’s most talented wide receiver groups, but he’s not going to use them as frequently.

Can the Cowboys still win the division?

Absolutely, although that’s more of a commentary on what is unaffectionately become known as the NFC Least than Dallas’s performance. The Cowboys were the only NFC East team to win on Sunday and jumped into first place at 2-3, putting them a half-game ahead of the 1-3-1 Eagles. Washington (1-4) has lost four straight and is down its top two quarterbacks, while the Giants are 0-5 and trying to hide behind the Jets on the back pages of the New York tabloids.

The Eagles haven’t lost their quarterback, but they have brutal injury issues in their own right. If you listed their top 11 players on offense on paper, just four are healthy and playing right now: Carson Wentz, Miles Sanders, Jason Kelce and Zach Ertz, the latter of whom caught one pass for six yards on six targets on Sunday. Ertz had 70 yards in the Week 3 tie against the Bengals and has 76 yards across his other four games despite playing virtually every snap. He’s on the field, but the star tight end doesn’t look like his usual self.

Heading into Week 5, the Cowboys were still favored to win the division, with the ESPN Football Power Index (FPI) giving Dallas a 62.1% chance of claiming the NFC East. Those odds will rise with the Cowboys winning and moving into first place. The Caesars sportsbook still lists them with +1100 odds of winning the NFC, well ahead of the Eagles at +2200 and good for the sixth-highest odds in the conference.

Nobody in the Cowboys organization would have wanted to start out 2-3 and lose Prescott for the season, but if those two things were going to happen, these are basically the best possible surrounding circumstances in which the team could find itself.

Should the Cowboys go out and get another quarterback?

The Cowboys will move forward, for now, with Dalton and seventh-round pick Ben DiNucci under center. Former backup Cooper Rush is a free agent after being cut by the Giants in September, and if Dallas was going to make a move to add replacement-level depth behind Dalton, Rush would seem like the first option for the Cowboys. Clayton Thorson, who was on the Dallas practice squad in 2019, is on the Giants’ practice squad and could be claimed. The Cowboys would likely prefer one of those two to other practice squad options like Davis Webb, Trevor Siemian or Garrett Gilbert.

They signed Dalton for the scenario where Prescott got injured, so I don’t think they would make a move for a more significant quarterback immediately. If Dalton were to get hurt or struggle, though, remember that Jerry Jones has been aggressive making in-season moves in the past. The Cowboys sent a fifth-round pick to the Bills for Matt Cassel and a seventh-round pick when Tony Romo was injured during the 2015 campaign and then inserted Cassel into the lineup ahead of Brandon Weeden. (Kellen Moore, now the team’s offensive coordinator, eventually finished the year as the Dallas starter.)

There are a few quarterbacks who could be on the market, although some of them aren’t great fits for the Cowboys for one reason or another. Possible trade candidates:

Dwayne Haskins could be available after Washington benched its 2019 first-round pick in favor of Kyle Allen. Haskins wasn’t at the stadium on Sunday as he dealt with a stomach virus, although his future with the team seems murky. Haskins was reportedly a choice thrust upon the prior football regime by owner Daniel Snyder, and new coach Ron Rivera apparently had enough clout within the building to bench him. The former Ohio State star still has two years and $4.2 million in guaranteed money left on his deal after this year, but while the money wouldn’t be an issue for the Cowboys, Washington probably wouldn’t deal Haskins within the division.

Nick Mullens was benched by the 49ers for C.J. Beathard after a disastrous run against the Eagles last Sunday. The 49ers resisted trade talks for Mullens last offseason, but the 25-year-old is a restricted free agent after this season and an unrestricted free agent the following campaign. With Jimmy Garoppolo struggling and the 49ers likely eyeing a wild-card spot after falling to 2-3, they might not be willing to ship Mullens off to a possible rival, especially given that the 49ers play Dallas in Week 15.

Blake Bortles was signed by the Broncos and is on the active roster as one of four Denver quarterbacks. If Drew Lock is able to return from his shoulder injury and play the Patriots next week, the Broncos would probably be ready to move on from either Bortles or Jeff Driskel. Dalton is likely better than either Bortles or Driskel, but the Cowboys might be able to pick one of them up for free in a week or two.

Tyrod Taylor lost his job to rookie Justin Herbert in Los Angeles after suffering a punctured lung at the hands of team doctors. Taylor is a safe pair of hands and only has a $1 million base salary for 2019, but the Chargers might want him as a veteran backup behind Herbert, and we’re now three years removed from Taylor’s last effective run as a quarterback in Buffalo. It’s unclear whether he is a viable pro starter outside of offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s scheme.

Brian Hoyer is another quarterback who lost his job after a brief run as the starter, with the Patriots benching him midway through the second half of his Week 4 start against the Chiefs. New England spent all offseason talking up Jarrett Stidham and would likely continue with the second-year quarterback if Cam Newton is unable to play. Hoyer wouldn’t cost much, and he has been a competent backup in years past. He might be the most plausible trade addition for the Cowboys if Newton is able to return next week.

The most fascinating deal would be for Sam Darnold, who was the subject of some preliminary trade chatter this weekend. The Jets are 0-5 and on pace to finish with the worst record in football, which would clear out a path to take Clemson signal-caller Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft. Darnold, who missed Sunday’s loss with a shoulder injury, has flashed brief moments of potential during his time with the Jets, only to be let down by subpar decision-making and one of the league’s worst supporting casts.

The Darnold situation looms large for the Jets because of a change in the league’s fifth-year option language. After this year, they will have to decide whether to pick up Darnold’s option for the 2022 season, which would include a substantial raise. In years past, the fifth-year option was only guaranteed for injury at signing, which allowed teams to move on if their player wasn’t impressive in year four. Under the new CBA, the fifth-year option is fully guaranteed at the time a team picks it up, meaning they would then be on the hook for Darnold in 2022, when they might not even use Darnold as their starter.

If the Jets decline the option, though, 2021 turns into a lame-duck year for the former third overall pick. If the Jets can get Lawrence, declining the option would be the obvious move, and moving on from Darnold would give the Jets a better chance of grabbing Lawrence. Schefter reported that general managers around the league didn’t see the Jets picking up a first-round pick for Darnold via trade, but a second-round pick could be a more realistic haul.

The Cowboys would be able to surround Darnold with significant weapons. Trading for Darnold would also put them in a fascinating situation. If Darnold stepped in and played well, the Cowboys could pick up his option and move on from Prescott, trade Darnold or decline his option and pick up a compensatory pick when Darnold moves elsewhere. If he struggles, well, the Cowboys would be out a second-round selection minus a possible mid-round compensatory pick. I’m not sure the Jets are willing to deal Darnold, and I don’t think it makes sense for the Cowboys to go after him unless Dalton is not as good as expected, but there’s a narrow band where a Darnold trade could make sense for Dallas.

What happens if the Cowboys decide to move on?

There are a few scenarios in which Prescott could become a free agent in the spring. If he’s dealing with complications from the injury, the Cowboys might not be willing to use a second franchise tag. If Dalton excels, the Cowboys might try to sign Dalton to a Teddy Bridgewater-sized deal and use the savings to shore up their defense. If they trade for someone like Darnold and he breaks out, they could try and go with a cheaper option at the position. None of these scenarios is especially likely, but they’re worth discussing as we wrap up.

If Prescott were to become a free agent, as long as he was able to prove that the ankle was healing, I don’t think he would have much trouble getting a significant contact, albeit something short of what Deshaun Watson‘s extension looks like with the Texans. It’s not difficult to imagine Prescott signing a three-year, $105 million deal on the open market, giving him the chance to hit free agency again as he turns 30.

As it stands, there could be as many as eight teams in the market for a new quarterback, including the 49ers, Bears, Broncos, Colts, Jaguars, Jets, Patriots and Washington. The Buccaneers, Saints and Steelers would join in if their future Hall of Famers retire this offseason. Some of those needs are going to be met by draft picks, and the Saints probably don’t have the cap space to go after Prescott, but there would be a significant market for the former fourth-round pick.

Of those teams, the Colts come to mind as the most obvious suitor. They’ll have the cap space and a clear path to a starting job, given that Philip Rivers is on a one-year deal. They value accuracy and are an analytically-inclined organization, suggesting they may see more in Prescott than other teams. General manager Chris Ballard also places a significant importance on character, and Prescott is regarded as a leader and an excellent presence in the locker room.

The most likely outcome, though, is that not much changes at all. I still think Prescott is earmarked for a second franchise tag, and it’s an outcome both sides will likely see as a fair outcome after a difficult 2020 campaign. Prescott and the Cowboys hoped for 2020 to be a coronation year, with the fifth-year quarterback living up to lofty expectations and leading them on a deep playoff run.

Instead, Prescott’s big year came to an end in the middle of October in front of a quarter-full AT&T Stadium. The season isn’t over for Dallas, but its dreams of making it to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995 probably rode off on a cart Sunday evening.

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Man United, Arsenal, Juventus, Real, Bayern get Adidas kit makeover via Pharrell

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Adidas have produced a very special array of custom hand-painted jerseys for a selection of the world’s top football clubs.

In collaboration with singer, songwriter, record producer, fashion designer, and entrepreneur Pharrell Williams and his Humanrace creative label, each shirt is inspired by the club in question and significant moments from their respective histories.

Adidas x Pharrell Williams “Humanrace” line of kits have been designed for Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Manchester United, and Real Madrid — as well as London-based grassroots club Romance FC.

The aforementioned moments and memories have been reverse engineered and reworked in a raw and expressive manner to reflect contemporary football culture, as interpreted by Pharrell and the Humanrace design team.

“History is what shapes the future, and sometimes in order to look forwards, first we need to look back,” said Pharrell of the collection.

“The most important part of the process with this collection was to learn of each club’s legacies and how each defining moment of their histories were captured and preserved from a design perspective.

“Each of the new jerseys are symbols of the five club’s legacies and a true celebration of the universality of sport.”

Arsenal

It all started with Pharrell trawling back through the Adidas archives and plucking the cult classic “bruised banana” Arsenal away shirt of the early 1990s as his starting point.

The iconic zigzag design was then reworked with a loose “paint bleed” effect (using spray paint and stencils) to give the jersey a washed-out and watery look, with the badges and club crest hand-stencilled on the chest.

Manchester United

Another classic Premier League away kit was dredged up for United’s offering, with Pharrell selecting the popular white and blue “snowflake” shirt from 1990-92 to remix.

Still a favourite among United fans to this day, the design was originally born of the “Madchester” house music scene that swept the city in the late 1980s and has now been updated using a mottled tie-dye effect.

Bayern Munich

Bayern saw their 1991-93 home shirt selected from their back catalogue to undergo the Humanrace treatment, with the bold and blocky design reimagined using daubs of thick acrylic paint.

Juventus

Rather than their famous black and white stripes, Juventus saw their gaudy pink away shirt from 2015-16 given an blotchy artistic overhaul — quite possibly as it marks a treble-winning season and also the first year of the Italian club’s kit partnership with Adidas.

Real Madrid

Rounding off the main collection, Pharrell decided to use a Madrid shirt which was itself originally created by his friend and past collaborator, Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto.

An instant hit at the time, Los Blancos‘ 2014-15 away kit featured a mystical graphic drawn by Yamamoto, with two dragons entwined around each other on a field of black — a symbol of glory, honour and power.

Pharrell and Humanrace have adapted the illustration using a water technique to smudge the intricate drawing to the point of being almost unrecognisable.

Romance FC

London grassroots team Romance FC also had a bespoke shirt created for them to play in this season, which will make just about every single opponent massively jealous as they are in such illustrious company.

Indeed, the Adidas x Pharrell Williams “Humanrace” jerseys will function as exclusive pre-match apparel for Arsenal and Manchester United before their Premier League games on Oct. 24.

Meanwhile, Real Madrid and Juventus will wear their designs in-match on Oct. 25 and Bayern Munich will sport theirs in their next domestic cup game.

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World Series Daily: Will Julio Urias, Dodgers push Rays to brink in Game 4?

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After all the oddities of the MLB regular season and postseason, the 2020 World Series pits baseball’s top two teams against each other, which doesn’t happen every year. And while we’ve grown accustomed to seeing the Dodgers playing for the championship, this is the first Fall Classic for the Rays since 2008 and only the second in franchise history.

Here’s what you need to know for Game 4 on Saturday night, including a look at the pitching matchup, predictions, odds, other key numbers and more.

Key links: Viewers guide | Schedule | Playoff Baseball Classic

What’s on tap

World Series Game 4: Tampa Bay Rays (Ryan Yarbrough) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (Julio Urias), 8:08 p.m. ET in Arlington, Texas

Heading into the series, I thought Game 4 looked like the game that might be the most important, the game most likely to be the tipping point on who ultimately wins. Before Game 1, it looked like a potential bullpen game for both teams, but since the Dodgers did not have to use Julio Urias in their bullpen effort in Game 2, he’s now ready and rested for a conventional start. The Rays, meanwhile, will hope Yarbrough can keep the first three batters (Mookie BettsCorey SeagerJustin Turner) under control well enough to help him get through the first three or four innings.

The pitching advantage on paper in the first half of the game goes to the Dodgers. Urias has been outstanding in the postseason, allowing two runs (one earned) over 16 innings, culminating with his nine up, nine down effort to close out Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. Long a heralded prospect, Urias debuted for the Dodgers in 2016 at 19 years old, battled some shoulder injuries and has been nursed along slowly the past couple of seasons. He is still just 24 but has already made 16 postseason appearances, so the moment shouldn’t be too big for him. He works off a 94 mph fastball, with an excellent curveball and a changeup he throws to right-handers. Both the fastball and curveball come with a high spin rate, helping Urias induce a lot of soft contact even though his swing-and-miss rate is below average (although it’s been higher in the postseason).

Yarbrough is a soft-tossing lefty who needs his cutter working to get in on the hands of righties. It was a great pitch for him in 2019 (.200/.230/.338 against RHB), but hasn’t been as effective in 2020 (.317/.376/.510). Given the state of the series, Rays skipper Kevin Cash will have to play all his cards in this game, which could mean a quick hook for Yarbrough if he gets into trouble. Cash can’t let the game get out of hand early without getting his top relievers into the game. That shouldn’t be an issue since Friday’s blowout meant Nick Anderson, Pete Fairbanks and Diego Castillo didn’t pitch.

Two wild cards to watch for: First, the Dodgers are playing a little small ball, with Betts stealing bases and the Austin Barnes sacrifice squeeze bunt in Game 3; and we still don’t know who the Dodgers closer will be in a close game. — David Schoenfield


Running World Series odds

Dodgers 81.7%; Rays 18.3%


Game 4 predictions

Schoenfield: The Tampa Bay offense is still struggling, barely hitting over .200 in the postseason. The Dodgers, meanwhile, continue to do a lot of their damage with two strikes — all five of their runs off Charlie Morton in Game 3 came with two strikes (and two outs). I like the way Urias has been pitching and the Rays’ lineup against lefties has featured Hunter Renfroe and his .156 average hitting cleanup. Maybe he runs into something. I’ll bet against it. We are due for a close game, however. Dodgers 3, Rays 2.

Alden Gonzalez: The Dodgers’ offense looks dialed in — almost as much as their Game 4 starter, Julio Urias, who has allowed one earned run over 16 innings this postseason. The Rays will counter with what amounts to a bullpen game, giving the Dodgers a premium opportunity to take control of this series. They know it, too. Dodgers 9, Rays 3.

Dan Mullen: I’m starting to have serious doubts that we’ll have baseball to watch after this weekend now that the Dodgers have a 2-1 series lead as the pitching just does not set up well for the Rays the next two nights. Having Urias head to the mound in Game 4 isn’t quite like having Clayton Kershaw or Walker Buehler, but it is a clear advantage over the bullpen game the Rays are going to deploy. There’s a very good chance that means we see Kershaw on the mound with a chance to clinch in Game 5. Dodgers 6, Rays 3.


Stat of the day

With his ninth-inning home run in Game 3, Randy Arozarena of the Rays set a new MLB record for total bases in the postseason (52) with his 23rd hit of the postseason — a single-season record for postseason hits for a rookie, but now he’s also just three hits shy of Pablo Sandoval’s all-time mark for any player in any single postseason at 26, set with the Giants in their 2014 title season.


Social media post of the day


Best moment of the MLB playoffs to date

Cody Bellinger managed to one-up … Cody Bellinger. The Dodgers outfielder had held this crown since he robbed Fernando Tatis Jr. of a home run in a thrilling Dodgers-San Diego Padres NL Division Series Game 2; but his NLCS-deciding Game 7 home run to put Los Angeles in the 2020 World Series was just enough to take over the top spot.


The running MLB playoffs MVP

Randy Arozarena has gone from an unknown outfielder to this October’s breakout star. Going 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 run. His MLB-high eight long balls have made a big impression — tying him with Barry Bonds, Nelson Cruz and Carlos Beltran for the record for most home runs in a postseason. Arozarena also leads all hitters in the postseason with a new MLB record for total bases with 52, and is leading in hits while second overall in runs scored. Also, he has been flashing some leather in the outfield and some sweet celebration dance moves on the field.

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The Rays are down only 2-1 in this World Series. Here’s why it feels a whole lot worse

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ARLINGTON, Texas — For the moment, the Tampa Bay Rays have answered a question that lingered even after Wednesday’s six-run output in their World Series Game 2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. It went something like this: Was the Rays’ anemic postseason offense waking up, or did they just get a one-day reprieve because the Dodgers pitched a bullpen game that night?

Games 1 and 3 gave us the answers we need, as the Rays put up little fight in the batter’s box in either contest and now find themselves down 2-1 in the series with their own version of a bullpen game looming.

“We need to find a way to win, that’s for sure,” manager Kevin Cash simply stated after the latest loss.

It doesn’t help that the Dodgers have dynamic lefties Julio Urias and Clayton Kershaw lined up for the next two nights. The Rays are just 11-11 this season when a lefty starts against them. In other words, the path to a championship got a whole lot harder for the American League representative. Catcher Mike Zunino is taking the proverbial glass-half-full approach.

“Guys have been hitting the ball hard lately,” he said. “The luck hasn’t been there but that’s all part of it. We have to stay consistent and put our work in. Eventually we’ll get some bounces.”

But are they running out of time?

If the Dodgers were planning several more bullpen games, it wouldn’t be fair to eliminate Game 2 from the Rays’ offensive statistics. But they’re not, so it’s appropriate to look at it this way. Minus that game, the Rays are 10-for-62 (.161) with 23 strikeouts in their two World Series losses. For the entire postseason, minus Game 2 of this series, they’re hitting just .203.

Again, unless the Dodgers are throwing more of their “B” relievers, these are the numbers that matter. And what about all that talk of a Brandon Lowe breakout after his two-home run performance on Wednesday? His three-strikeout night in Game 3 is a nice microcosm of the Rays right now: Their production has been spotty at best this postseason.

“We see it quite a bit when our pitching is on and we go against good offenses,” Cash stated. “That’s what we saw on the flip side [in Game 3]. Just dominant, dominant stuff.”

The scary part for the Rays is Game 3 winner Walker Buehler had a “lofty” ERA of 1.89 coming into the night when compared to Game 4 starter Urias, whose 0.56 mark leads all starting pitchers this postseason. As do his four wins.

The Rays’ best shot is to scratch a run or two across the board as early as possible. They’re a major-league-best 31-7 when scoring first this season.

“We seem to be a much better club when we get early leads,” Cash said. “Whatever we can do to get some runs early.”

Easier said than done for the Rays right now with their 2-1 series hole feeling a lot deeper than just a one-game deficit.

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