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Victor Robles homers in return to lineup as Nats go up 3-0 in NLCS

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WASHINGTON — Victor Robles made an immediate impact in his return to the Nationals‘ lineup.

After missing five games with a hamstring injury, Robles homered, singled and scored twice Monday night as his team took a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series against St. Louis.

The 22-year-old made manager Dave Martinez look like a genius for plugging him right back into center field despite Michael A. Taylor’s homer in Game 2.

It wasn’t a debate for Martinez, who said Sunday that Robles would “get a chance to play” over Taylor when 100% healthy. Robles took swings in the batting cage and made it an easy decision.

“He ran the bases [Sunday] and ran them at full tilt,” Martinez said before Monday’s game. “He looked really good.”

His swings against Cardinals pitching looked even better. Robles, batting eighth, lined a base hit up the middle off starter Jack Flaherty in the third inning and crushed reliever John Brebbia‘s 2-1 fastball over the fence in right-center in the sixth. He finished the night 2-for-4.

Robles hit .255 with 17 home runs, 65 RBIs and 28 stolen bases during his first full season in the majors. He had last played in Game 2 of the NL Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Cardinals made only one lineup change after putting up just one run on four hits in the first two games. Jose Martinez started in right field, with Tommy Edman shifting to third base in place of Matt Carpenter.

Martinez singled to start the seventh inning and later scored on a throwing error by Nationals left fielder Juan Soto. It was St. Louis’ only run on the night in an 8-1 loss.

“We haven’t been able to play our brand of baseball in full,” manager Mike Shildt said. “We haven’t been able to get in rhythm or sync, but we still have more baseball to play.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Vera Clemente, widow of Pirates legend, dies at age 78

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PITTSBURGH — Vera Clemente, the widow of Hall of Fame outfielder Roberto Clemente and a goodwill ambassador for Major League Baseball, has died. She was 78.

MLB and the Pittsburgh Pirates announced her death Saturday. She died in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

MLB says Vera Clemente had health issues recently. The Pittsburgh Pirates tweeted on Nov. 1 that she had been hospitalized in “delicate health.”

Vera and Roberto Clemente were married in November 1964, according to the Roberto Clemente Foundation. Roberto Clemente was a 15-time All-Star with the Pirates. He was killed in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve 1972 while attempting to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred says Vera Clemente “impacted countless children and extended her family’s humanitarian legacy of helping those in need.”

Vera Clemente served as the chairwoman for the foundation, which works “to promote positive change and community engagement through the example and inspiration of Roberto.” Vera and Roberto had three sons: Roberto Jr., Luis and Enrique.

Pirates owner Bob Nutting called Clemente “a cherished member of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Major League Baseball family.” He says she “epitomized grace, dignity and strength in the wake of heartbreaking tragedy and loss.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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Judge says MASN should pay Nats based on MLB panel decision

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NEW YORK — A judge has ordered lawyers for the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles to submit a proposed judgment of what the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network should pay the Nationals for television rights from 2012-16 based on the decision issued in April by an arbitration panel of three baseball executives.

New York Supreme Court Justice Joel M. Cohen wrote in a decision issued Thursday that MASN should pay the Nationals the $296.8 million recommended by the panel, minus rights fees MASN already has paid for that five-year period. Cohen said the clerk of the court should calculate interest on the net amount from April 15 through the date the remaining money is paid.

Cohen heard renewed arguments Tuesday and denied a motion by the Orioles to reargue the case that led to his Aug. 22 decision to confirm the arbitration award. He said the sides should jointly submit a proposed judgment by Nov. 21 and also said the Orioles are not precluded from seeking recalculations of MASN profit distributions.

The Orioles and Nationals jointly own MASN and have been fighting in court for years. MASN was established in March 2005 after the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington and became the Nationals, moving into what had been Baltimore’s exclusive broadcast territory since 1972. The Orioles have a controlling interest in the network.

MASN paid the Nationals for 2012-16 what the Orioles proposed, $197.5 million, and Washington argued it should be paid $475 million.

The parties agreed in 2005 have disputes over rights fees decided by Major League Baseball’s Revenue Sharing Definitions Committee. The decision by the RSDC in April was made by Milwaukee Brewers chairman Mark Attanasio, Seattle Mariners President Kevin Mather and Toronto Blue Jays President Mark Shapiro.

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AL West offseason preview — Can Angels land an ace?

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With MLB free agency underway, the offseason is going to pick up steam. What are the big questions facing all 30 teams?

Here’s a look at the AL West, where the Astros continue to loom, the A’s always seem to find a way to contend and the Angels appear poised to go for it.

Team-by-team offseason previews: NL East | NL Central | NL West | AL East | AL Central

Houston Astros: How high will Houston’s payroll go?

2019 record: 107-55
2020 World Series odds: 4-1

Astros owner Jim Crane has paid lip service to the idea of tracking superstar free-agent Gerrit Cole, but that’s likely all it is. There simply does not appear to be the kind of financial flexibility the Astros would need to commit to a $300 million deal, or whatever the final number on Cole turns out to be. And Houston has some key roster spots to address this winter — catcher, bullpen — and little wiggle room against the tax line with which to address them.

According to Cot’s Contracts, Houston currently projects to carry an MLB-high payroll of $228.9 million for its 40-man roster next season. That number can and will change as moves are made and arbitration-eligible players are dealt with. Still, it sure looks like Houston will have to wade into luxury-tax territory (approximately $208 million) to not only keep its group together, but to fill in missing pieces with veteran options. This year’s free-agent chase for Houston takes on added importance because for the first time since Jeff Luhnow’s rebuild blossomed, there doesn’t appear to be the kind of prospect depth required to swing the kind of splashy deadline trades that the Astros have made to land win-now talents like Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke.

That’s not to say that Houston doesn’t have a number of quality, MLB-ready prospects in the system. It’s more to say that given their looming payroll constraints, Luhnow will need those cost-efficient prospects to hold down key roles in 2020. The return of Lance McCullers Jr. from Tommy John surgery will be key for the rotation, but so too will the continued progress of in-house pitching prospects such as Jose Urquidy, Forrest Whitley, Bryan Abreu and Rogelio Armenteros.

All of these calculations have to be made under the cloud of an MLB investigation into alleged sign-stealing malfeasance that could carry with it stiff penalties. — Bradford Doolittle

Oakland Athletics: Can the A’s short-circuit the Astros’ bid to dominate the West?

2019 record: 97-65
2020 World Series odds: 30-1

After consecutive wild-card appearances, you can ask if the A’s are just amid another one of their short runs, or if they have the core talent to challenge the Astros. With Matt Chapman and Matt Olson locked down for years to come, the lineup has anchors to win with. The A’s also have top prospects Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk, as well as a fully healed Sean Manaea for a full season. Put that together with Chris Bassitt, Frankie Montas and veteran Mike Fiers as starting pitching may finally be a recognized strength instead of a winter question mark.

With those strengths going for them, what’s on the A’s to-do list? Perhaps more than anything else, seeing if they can get MVP candidate Marcus Semien to keep close to his East Bay roots before he becomes a free agent after 2020. However that plays out, they could also see if there’s a major outfield bat in their price range to take over in either corner. Assuming Billy Beane & Co. are working around their usual budget constraints, the A’s might have to be careful, but they’re also on the cusp of unseating the Astros — super-team status or not — and making a play for the AL West division title in the next several seasons. Play their cards right, and they could put the Astros in their rear-view mirror. — Christina Kahrl

Texas Rangers: How will they build excitement for their new digs?

2019 record: 78-84
2020 World Series odds: 150-1

The Rangers, who have spent the last three years navigating baseball’s dreaded middle space, do not possess a roster that is on the verge of contention. What they do have, however, is a forthcoming new stadium that was partially funded by the City of Arlington, and, one would think, the desire to create some excitement around it with a star, particularly one from Texas.

Did someone say Anthony Rendon?

The Rangers have been in search of a permanent third baseman ever since Adrian Beltre played his final season in 2018. Rendon, a Houston native who has turned himself into a perennial MVP candidate, would be ideal. But the competition for his services will be stiff, which means the chances of landing him are probably slim. Given that, the Rangers must navigate free agency with caution.

They have a litany of questions outside of third base. Their catchers have been astoundingly bad offensively. Rougned Odor, Delino DeShields Jr. and Nomar Mazara have not developed the way they would have hoped. And their pitching staff, outside of the surprising contributions from Lance Lynn and Mike Minor, leaves a lot to be desired. The Rangers, in other words, are not one or perhaps even two stars away; the gap between them and the in-state, division-rival Astros remains massive. They can’t place another bad contract on their payroll. — Alden Gonzalez

2019 record: 72-90
2020 World Series odds: 75-1

Sometimes, on rare occasions, it’s actually very simple — and this, friends, is one of those times. The only way the Angels can conceivably compete for a division title next season is to land either Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg. That’s it. They want to win now, have a desperate need for elite starting pitching and — given the lack of depth on their 40-man roster and the dearth of impact talent in their farm system — can only really attain it through free agency.

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