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#pounditWednesday, September 30, 2020

Baseball

Carlos Correa calls out Astros’ critics after advancing to ALDS

Carlos Correa

The Houston Astros are moving on, likely to the chagrin of many Major League Baseball fans. Don’t think their players don’t know that, either.

The Astros beat the Minnesota Twins 3-1 on Wednesday, finishing off a two-game sweep in the best-of-three Wild Card Series. It ensures that the Astros will advance to the ALDS, where they will take on the winner of the series between the Chicago White Sox and Oakland Athletics.

Houston is playing its first season since it was revealed that they extensively and illegally stole signs during the 2017 season. Plenty of fans don’t want to see them win for that reason. Shortstop Carlos Correa acknowledged that — and essentially told those fans to keep hating.

To the victors go the spoils. While the Astros have a long way to go to get back to the World Series, winning a playoff series — even a short one — is a big step for them. Winning isn’t going to stop the hate, even from within the league. If anything, it might intensify it. As long as they are winning, though, don’t expect Astros players to care.

Correa was a huge part of Houston’s victory, going 3-for-6 with a home run in the two games.

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.

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.

Bryce Harper pushing for Phillies to re-sign JT Realmuto

Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper will be in Philadelphia for the next decade-plus, and he is making clear what he wants the team to do in order to complement him.

After the Phillies were eliminated from playoff contention Sunday, the ex-NL MVP called for the team to bring back catcher JT Realmuto next season.

“JT Realmuto needs to be our catcher next season,” said Harper, per Scott Lauber of the Philly Inquirer. “I don’t think that should even be a question.”

The 29-year-old Realmuto will be a free agent this offseason. He continued to demonstrate why he is one of the game’s elite two-way catchers this year. Realmuto hit .265 with an .840 OPS, 11 home runs, and 32 RBIs in just 46 games. He has also thrown out 42.9 percent of would-be base stealers over the last two seasons.

The Phillies have made little progress on extension talks with Realmuto in recent months. The two-time All-Star has been vocal that he does not want to be paid according to the market for catchers but instead should be paid according to what he believes is his true value.

As for Harper, he has made no secret about not wanting to lose Realmuto. Thus, the pressure seems to be on for the Phillies heading into the winter.

Shohei Ohtani weighs in on his future as a pitcher

Shohei Ohtani

Shohei Ohtani’s status as a two-way player is in real doubt for the first time since he moved to MLB, but the Los Angeles Angels star refuses to give up just yet.

Ohtani was shut down from pitching in 2020 after only two starts due to elbow concerns. Those came on the back of Tommy John surgery, which caused Ohtani to not pitch at all in 2019.

Still, Ohtani affirmed quite clearly on Sunday that his two-way ambitions have not changed.

“I feel the exact same way about being a two-way player as I did in the past,” Ohtani said through an interpreter, via Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com. “I just need to get past me being able to throw without any worries or any setbacks, and once I get through that point, I think everything’s going to fall in place.”

Ohtani is not lacking in confidence. As he alludes to, though, this will depend on how his body responds. Even he knows it’s not a sure thing, judging by some of the backup preparation he’s been engaged in.

Even if Ohtani doesn’t pitch again, he’ll still have ample value as a hitter. The 26-year-old has been a reliable bat in both 2018 and 2019. He struggled in 2020, though, hitting just .190 in 44 games.

Trevor Bauer has new beef with MLB over family attendance rules

Trevor Bauer

Trevor Bauer has never been shy about taking on Major League Baseball, and the Cincinnati Reds pitcher was at it again on Monday.

Bauer took aim at MLB and suggested that the league is not allowing the families of players on designated road teams to attend playoff games.

MLB hasn’t announced anything specific policy-wise on this. Players will be allowed to bring their families into the bubble, but the league had not clarified any rules about them attending games. Bauer seems to have been told that home players will have families attending games, but visiting families will not.

If true, Bauer is definitely right about the silliness of the rule. Limiting attendance makes sense, but doing it based on this doesn’t really hold up when home and away team status is just a designation in the bubble. MLB hasn’t clarified this policy publicly, though.

Bauer has never been afraid to call out the league. This is yet another example of that.

Lucas Giolito has perfect game spoiled by Tommy La Stella in Game 1 win

Lucas Giolito

Lucas Giolito nearly did it again.

Giolito pitched a no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Aug. 25. On Tuesday, he was perfect through six innings against the A’s in Game 1 of the Chicago White Sox’s best-of-3 Wild Card series in Oakland.

Just when he was cruising, Giolito allowed a single up the middle to Oakland leadoff hitter Tommy La Stella to begin the bottom of the seventh. Though that ended the perfect game and no-hit bid, Giolito got two more strikeouts and a foul out to end the inning.

Giolito returned for the eighth inning and allowed a leadoff walk and hit before being replaced. He was charged with a run after Oakland scored on a fielder’s choice. The White Sox ended up taking the game 4-1.

Giolito, 26, went 4-3 with a 3.48 ERA in the regular season, a year after going 14-9 with a 3.41 ERA.

Brutal Jorge Polanco error helps extend Twins’ awful postseason losing streak

Minnesota Twins logo

The Minnesota Twins’ awful postseason losing streak continued, and a costly error by Jorge Polanco did not help.

The Houston Astros beat the Twins 4-1 in Game 1 of their Wild Card series on Tuesday in Minnesota. That handed the Twins their 17th straight postseason loss, dating back to 2004. That streak is the worst in MLB history. The Red Sox had a 13-game postseason losing streak from 1986-1995, while the Phillies had an 11-game streak from 1915-1976. The Twins are even worse.

Things might not have gone that way if not for Polanco’s error.

The game was tied 1-1 in the top of the ninth inning and Sergio Romo was pitching. He allowed two singles to start the inning and then got two outs. Then George Springer hit a sharp ball to short that one-hopped Polanco, who threw to second. Polanco’s throw was wide of the bag, allowing the Astros to load the bases.

The next batter was Jose Altuve, who walked to break the tie. Michael Brantley followed with a two-run single to make it 4-1, which was the final score.

Polanco making a defensive stop on that ball was the hard part. The throw was the easy part, but he blew that.

Minnesota actually got two hits in the bottom of the ninth but grounded into a double play to end the game. They now need to beat Houston two times in a row to advance to the ALDS.

Shane Bieber has worst outing of season in playoffs against Yankees

Shane Bieber

Shane Bieber picked a bad time to have his worst outing of the season.

Bieber is a lock to win the AL Cy Young Award for the shortened season. The 25-year-old went 8-1 with a 1.63 ERA and 122 strikeouts for the Cleveland Indians in the regular season. His wins tied for the most in MLB and he was first in ERA and strikeouts.

Bieber never allowed more than three runs and six hits in a single start. Until Tuesday.

Pitching against the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the Indians’ Wild Card Series, Bieber allowed seven runs. He surrendered three runs through three innings; five runs through four innings; and seven runs in five innings. He allowed a 2-run home run to Aaron Judge to fall behind 2-0 two batters into the game. He allowed two other run-scoring doubles. Gleyber Torres chased him from the game with a 2-run home run in the fifth.

The seven runs and nine hits allowed were a season-high mark for Bieber.

Bieber was dominant during the regular season. Seeing him get bombed by the Yankees was probably the last thing Cleveland expected.

Fernando Tatis Jr. almost signed with Cardinals

Fernando Tatis Jr

Fernando Tatis Jr.’s upcoming playoff series against the St. Louis Cardinals will be juicy for more reasons than one.

The San Diego Padres phenom revealed to reporters on Tuesday that the Cardinals once offered him a contract but that it ultimately never came to fruition. Tatis Jr. also said that he will always be a part of the Cardinals through his father, Fernando Sr.

“But when we step on the field tomorrow we’re not friends,” Tatis Jr. added however, per Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Padres and Cardinals are set to face off this week in the NL Wild Card series. It will be the convergence of multiple different storylines since Fernando Sr. famously played for St. Louis during his MLB career. Fernando Sr. had also said that his son received numerous tryouts with the Cardinals.

Now the younger Tatis is one of the brightest stars in all of baseball. As the 21-year-old continues to rack up the highlights, the Cardinals are probably kicking themselves big-time over the one that got away.