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#pounditThursday, October 1, 2020

Baseball

MLB playoff bracket released

Rob Manfred

The 2020 MLB regular season has come to an end, and we now know what the playoff bracket looks like.

Eight teams from each league — 16 total — made the postseason this year. The expanded playoff field is a condition intended to offset the shorter regular season.

Here is what the bracket looks like:

The American League begins play on Tuesday with the following matchups:

8 Toronto at 1 Tampa Bay
7 Chicago at 2 Oakland
6 Houston at 3 Minnesota
5 New York at 4 Cleveland

The National League begins play on Wednesday.

8 Milwaukee at 1 Los Angeles
7 Cincinnati at 2 Atlanta
6 Miami at 3 Chicago
5 St. Louis at 4 San Diego

The first round of the playoffs is best-of-3, with all games played at the higher-seeded team’s home park.

The rest of the playoffs look like usual.

– The second round will be a best of 5 – the division series
– The third round will be a best of 7 – the league championship series
– The final round will be a best of 7 – the World Series

The NLDS will be held in Houston and Arlington. The NLCS and World Series will be in Arlington. The ALDS will be in San Diego and Los Angeles. The ALCS will be in San Diego.

MLB is planning to allow fans to attend the NLCS and World Series.

Billy Eppler has been fired and never should have been hired in the first place

Angels logo

The Los Angeles Angels will need a new general manager after firing Billy Eppler on Sunday, finally ending a five-year mistake.

The Angels made the move with Eppler, firing him even though he had a year left on his current deal. The Angels reportedly quietly gave Eppler a 1-year contract extension over the summer, The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya reports.

The move is long overdue from the Angels, and truthfully, Eppler never should have been hired in the first place.

The Angels had a losing record in all five seasons of Eppler’s tenure from 2016-2020. The best they did was get to 80-82.

At the time the Angels hired Eppler, they should have gone into a quick rebuild and tried to acquire some young pitching to help replace the losses of Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, who were rotation mainstays. Instead, they wanted to compete right away despite the vast talent differences between them and the division-leading Astros. Eppler likely got the job because he convinced owner Arte Moreno that competing in the AL West was possible. That proved to be a fantasy, as the team lacked the pitching throughout his tenure as GM. One of Eppler’s first moves — trading two young pitchers for Andrelton Simmons — seemed to be proof of this misguided belief.

Eppler’s best moves were signing Mike Trout to a long-term, lifetime-type deal, and winning the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes. Beyond signing Ohtani, Eppler never built a pitching staff and even continued to spend his resources on position players despite the team’s pitching being a glaring weakness. The team acquired Justin Upton at the trade deadline in 2017. Acquiring Upton under the belief that they were contenders was proof of their delusion. Signing Upton to an extension rather than using the money in other ways compounded the error.

The Angels’ strong run from their World Series year in 2002 to their last division title in 2014 had ended, and the team was heading the wrong direction. It was obvious. The Angels hired Eppler and tried to fight the truth, but the truth prevailed, and the best they could manage was an 80-82 season. At least the Angels appear to have a real winner in mind as a replacement to get them back on track.

Alex Cora to return to Red Sox following Ron Roenicke firing?

Alex Cora

The Boston Red Sox announced on Sunday that Ron Roenicke will not return as the team’s manager next season. That immediately led to speculation that the team could be planning to bring back Alex Cora.

Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Braves is the final one of the season for the Red Sox. They got off to a horrible start to the shortened season and are just 23-36 in their first and only year under Roenicke. The move is hardly a shock, even after Boston removed the interim tag from Roenicke prior to the season.

The Red Sox said in a statement that they will begin their search for a new manager immediately. Some are wondering if the search will be brief and lead them right back to Cora.

Cora was fired by the Red Sox during the offseason over his role in the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal. He was eventually suspended for the 2020 season, and there was also an investigation into allegations that the Red Sox cheated under Cora. However, Cora’s suspension stemmed only from what went on in Houston. MLB’s investigation into the Red Sox found that their violations were very minor in comparison with Houston’s.

Cora enjoyed tremendous success in his two seasons as Red Sox manager, and he would still be with the team if not for the Astros scandal. Boston won 108 games and steamrolled its way to a World Series title in his first year in 2018. The Red Sox then went 84-78 in Cora’s second year.

Red Sox players have been extremely open in defending Cora. It’s obvious he is still well-liked among the team. He may have been painted as the mastermind behind what went on in Houston, but he served a hefty suspension for that. If the Red Sox are willing to deal with some backlash, Cora may still be the best man for the job.

Kris Bryant is done with criticism from Cubs fans

Kris Bryant

Kris Bryant has had absolutely enough criticism from Chicago Cubs fans.

Bryant has been enduring a rough season and is batting .205/.289/.331, which are all career-low marks for him by far. But on Saturday, Bryant finally delivered a big game, though the Cubs lost 9-5 to the Chicago White Sox.

Bryant smashed a grand slam in the third to put the Cubs up 5-2, though they blew the lead the next inning and lost.

The home run was only Bryant’s third of the season and his first since Aug. 12. Finally hitting a home run may have given him an opportunity to respond to Cubs fans who have been critical of him.

Bryant said he is done worrying about the criticism.

“I don’t give a sh–. I really don’t. That’s a good answer. I’m over it. Sometimes I go out there and go 4 for 4 and its not good enough for some people so I DON’T GIVE A SH–,” he said, via ESPN’s Jesse Rogers.

Blocking out the criticism as much as possible could be helpful in Bryant overcoming the issues. The more you dwell on that sort of criticism, the more it becomes a negatively-reinforcing loop and harder to break out of a slump.

The Cubs are headed to the playoffs after clinching the NL Central and need Bryant in the proper mindset. The home run and his dismissal of the fan criticism indicates he may be in a better spot.

Rob Manfred pushing for Blue Jays to play in Toronto in 2021

Rob Manfred

It’s not clear if the Toronto Blue Jays will be able to return to their home city in 2021. Major League Baseball is prepared to do whatever it takes to bring that about.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said he’s hopeful of convincing the Canadian government that it will be safe for the Blue Jays to play games in Toronto even if restrictions continue into 2021.

“The one thing I can say is that we will do everything humanly possible to convince the government that the Blue Jays should play in Toronto next year,” Manfred told Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.

It’s a question that likely won’t be answered for a while. It largely depends on where the pandemic stands early next year. The Canadian government cited travel from high-risk areas as the major factor behind keeping the team from playing in Toronto in 2020. That will likely have to change before the Blue Jays are allowed to play home games. Either that, or both the government and the league will have to explore creative options to make things work.

Derek Jeter had neat reaction to Marlins clinching playoff berth

Derek Jeter

The Miami Marlins officially clinched a playoff berth on Friday night, solidifying themselves as one of the biggest surprises of the 2020 MLB season. Instead of a big celebration, CEO Derek Jeter had a different reaction to the news.

According to Peter Gammons of MLB Network, Jeter spent the night calling Marlins’ staff members and thanking them for their efforts in helping the team reach the playoffs.

This is part of why Jeter is such a respected figure in the game. It’s a pretty neat touch that he went out of his way to do this.

Jeter generated a lot of bad headlines after taking over the Marlins. Ultimately, he, along with ownership, have really turned things around.

Video: Aaron Boone screams at umpire John Tumpane over strike calls

Aaron Boone John Tumpane

Aaron Boone had yet another heated run-in with an umpire over balls and strikes.

Boone ripped into umpire John Tumpane over some strike calls in the first inning of the New York Yankees’ 4-3 loss to the Miami Marlins on Friday night. Boone was upset with a strike three call on Aaron Judge. Then he got upset with a strike call on Aaron Hicks and was ejected.

Boone raced out of the dugout and started yelling at Tumpane over the calls. He could be heard on the YES telecast dropping some F-bombs.

Marlins starter Sandy Alcantara has a wicked sinker with some late break, which likely causes trouble for umpires. But that strike three call on Judge did look low, making Boone’s argument seem legitimate.

Tumpane is known for having a generous zone at times, so the favorable calls probably should not be too surprising.

As for Boone, this wasn’t even his best performance, which actually came last year.

David Ross not happy with White Sox hitting Willson Contreras over bat flip

David Ross

Chicago Cubs manager David Ross backed Willson Contreras after the catcher/designated hitter was hit by a retaliatory pitch from the Chicago White Sox on Friday night.

Contreras absolutely launched his bat on a celebratory bat flip in the top of the third inning of the Cubs’ 10-0 win over the White Sox (video here). Two at-bats later, Contreras was hit by a pitch from Jimmy Cordero.

Contreras said he knew he was going to be hit and could see it coming.

Ross said after the game that Contreras did not deserve to get hit for celebrating.

“It wasn’t to disrespect the other group,” Ross said of the bat flip, via ESPN’s Jesse Rogers. “It was because we’ve been struggling offensively and he brought some swagger. He brought some edge. I loved every second of it.

“I don’t think he deserved to get hit, at all.”

Ross also pointed out some hypocrisy with the White Sox. Their shortstop, Tim Anderson, is one of the most notorious bat flippers in the game.

“All the hype is on the guy on the other side when he bat flipped, right? I thought Tim Anderson’s bat flip last year where he flipped it and looked in his dugout, that’s what you want. That’s what Willson did,” Ross added, via Rogers.

Contreras said he didn’t mean to throw his bat so high.

Sometimes players get caught up in the moment over the excitement of their accomplishment. That’s what Contreras says happened to him.

It’s odd to see the White Sox do that to Contreras if they don’t want the same thing happening to one of their guys. Cordero was ejected from the game and is likely facing discipline from the league.

Video: Willson Contreras delivered an amazing bat flip after his home run

Willson Contreras bat flip

Willson Contreras went deep on Friday night and delivered a bat flip for the ages afterwards.

Contreras was batting with two on in the top of the third inning of the Chicago Cubs’ game against the intracity rival White Sox. He took Dylan Cease deep to right field for a 3-run home run. The only thing that matched how far the ball was launched was Contreras’ bat after he flipped it.

That was incredible.

The home run put the Cubs up 4-0 and marked Contreras’ sixth of the season.

Where does Contreras’ bat flip rank among others we have seen? Here are many more to compare it to.

Mike Clevinger could pitch for Padres in Wild Card round despite injury

Mike Clevinger

The San Diego Padres appear to be holding out hope that Mike Clevinger could make a fairly quick return to the rotation.

Manager Jayce Tingler said Friday that the Padres are optimistic about getting Clevinger back, and hope he can pitch in the Wild Card round.

The NL Wild Card round opens next Wednesday, so this is an ambitious timeline. That’s especially true when it’s an elbow sprain that Clevinger is dealing with. He was a big part of the Padres’ playoff plans, so the desire to get him back is understandable. Talk of a return is a positive sign to begin with considering what the Padres feared when he left Wednesday’s start.

Clevinger has a 3.02 ERA between Cleveland and San Diego in 2020, striking out 40 in 41.2 innings.