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Cubs, reliever Brandon Morrow agree to minor league deal

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CHICAGO — The Cubs are bringing back oft-injured reliever Brandon Morrow on a minor league deal, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Morrow, 35, last pitched in the majors on the final day before the 2018 All-Star break. He has been plagued with elbow issues ever since.

Morrow signed a two-year, $21 million contract with Chicago before the 2018 season after pitching in all seven games of the World Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers the previous October.

Morrow was 22-of-24 in save opportunities before going on the injured list. He spent the entirety of last season at the Cubs’ spring facility, attempting to get healthy, but eventually had nerve decompression surgery on Sept. 1. He’s “full go” for spring training, according to the source.

Morrow is a 12-year veteran with a career 3.96 ERA as a starter and then reliever. But he has had nine disabled/injured list stints over the course of his career. His deal pays him $1 million, plus bonuses, if he makes it back to the majors.

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Fantasy baseball pickups – Matt Carpenter has more left in 2020

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In a season filled with injuries thus far, fantasy managers are surely seeking replacements. Here are three players well worth adding in ESPN leagues:

Matt Carpenter, 3B/1B, St. Louis Cardinals

You’re going to want a piece of the Cardinals offense during these final 11 regular-season days. The team has more games remaining on the schedule (13) than anyone except the Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals, who have the same number left — and that’s excluding the two games the Cardinals had postponed against the Detroit Tigers that appear unlikely to be made up. The games they do have look quite favorable for hitters. There’s five against a Pittsburgh Pirates team that has a 5.19 team ERA, three against a Kansas City Royals team lacking in experience in the rotation, and a season-ending five against the Milwaukee Brewers at home.

Considering the Brewers’ current rotation is entirely right-handed, the Royals have only two left-handed rotation members, and the Pirates have just one (and that’s Steven Brault, who might not even be considered locked-in), Carpenter’s left-handed bat stands out. He picked up his play at the onset of September, slashing .250/.382/.500 in his first 10 games. While he did go hitless in 13 at-bats during the just-completed series at Milwaukee’s Miller Park, his matchups make him well worth taking the chance of a bounceback. It’s also worth seeing whether lefty-hitting Brad Miller is available in your league for the stretch run.

Craig Kimbrel, RP, Chicago Cubs

I’ll say it upfront: I’m skeptical that he’s going to reclaim the Cubs’ closer role before the conclusion of the regular season — and I’m not so sure he should do so, with Jeremy Jeffress handling those chores well. Still, when it comes to relievers, I want strikeouts and I want the kind of upside that can quickly snatch such a role.

Kimbrel, who struggled massively in 2019 and the first month-plus of 2020, has been effectively “lights out” in September. He has six straight scoreless appearances (11-of-12 if you extend back into mid-August) and has struck out 11 of the 20 hitters he has faced without walking any in the process. During that time, his four-seam fastball has averaged 97.1 mph, 22nd-fastest of the 332 pitchers who have faced at least 20 batters during that time frame. He has poured it into the rulebook strike zone 67.7% of the time and he has generated a 14.5% swinging-strike rate with the pitch.

Those numbers rival the best such rates at any time in his big-league career, and they signal that he might well have straightened out the command issues that had previously plagued him. If you need help in ERA, WHIP, or strikeout punch for these final 11 days, Kimbrel is the kind of high-ceiling choice to ponder. You can be sure that, with the Cubs trying to decipher his postseason role, they’re going to test him as much as they can during what time is left.

Jared Walsh, 1B, Los Angeles Angels

Between Shohei Ohtani‘s season-long hitting funk and Walsh’s own recent hot hitting, the 27-year-old fellow hitter/pitcher has seemingly captured the starting 1B chores for the Angels. Walsh has homered six times in his past nine games and, since his recall, has slashed .390/.413/.902 in 46 trips to the plate spread across 12 games. He has long possessed the kind of raw power that could generate 30-plus homers annually if given the chance to play, having hit 36 blasts in 98 games of Triple-A ball in 2019. While he does have a lot of swing-and-miss in his game, he has cut his miss rate to 10.6% this year.

What if the Angels decide that Ohtani, who was already ruled out from pitching this season due to injury, isn’t worth the risk of using him at the plate either? What if they shut him down for the season in the coming days? At the rate Walsh is performing, they might as well take a longer look at him to figure where he might fit for them in 2021.

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2020 World Series matchups we’d love (or hate) to see

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Fun fact: Once the 16 playoff teams are determined, there will be 64 potential World Series matchups. Right now, there are even more series in play, given the tight nature of the National League playoff race standings. Of course, all matchups are not created equal from an interest standpoint. Thus, here is my annual list of World Series matchup tiers — the best World Series showdowns I want to see. (Needless to say, we all want to see our favorite team in the World Series, but most of us will not have that fortunate outcome.)

I like to see teams that were great in the regular season rewarded. This season is a little different given the 60-game schedule and expanded postseason format, which makes it more likely that a mediocre team — or even a sub-.500 team — could find its way all the way to the World Series. Other factors for me include how exciting a team is to watch, recent playoff appearances or World Series droughts, and the historic nature of a matchup.

This year, we’re adding the Doolittle Classic Score, courtesy of colleague Brad Doolittle. He created a formula that rates each matchup based on a set of criteria, such as how old the franchises are, whether this is a World Series rematch and whether the teams are from the same city. Baseball history is important, and the Doolittle score is one way of weighing the historic nature of a series. We’ve also included Brad’s odds of each matchup occurring, based on the latest results of his simulation engine.

On to the tiers … with my five favorite matchups at the end.

Matchups we don’t want to see

Indians vs. Braves
Doolittle Classic Score: 74.51
Odds: 1.8%

This would be the opposite of the classic 1995 World Series showdown between these franchises, in which Atlanta’s dominant rotation of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz bettered Cleveland’s formidable lineup featuring Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez and Kenny Lofton. This time, it would be Cleveland’s stellar rotation facing Atlanta’s powerful lineup. Shane Bieber battling Freddie Freeman? Thank you very much. The issue is that the protests of the Native American nicknames would overshadow the baseball. That’s an important discussion to have, of course, so maybe this pairing would be the quintessential 2020 World Series matchup.

A’s vs. Giants
Doolittle Classic Score: 90.56
Odds: 0.3%

No, no, no. Because we know all that would happen. The A’s, on the heels of an impressive run through the Astros, Rays and Yankees in the American League playoffs to finally reach a World Series under Billy Beane, would face a Giants team that squeaked into the playoffs with a .500 record and then stunningly defeated the Dodgers, Padres and Braves. The Giants would win. Of course they would. It would probably be a sweep. Chadwick Tromp would be World Series MVP.

Yankees vs. Cardinals
Doolittle Classic Score: 96.21
Odds: 1.1%

This one rates high on the Doolittle scale — the Yankees are first and the Cardinals second in all-time championships, and they’ve met five times in the Fall Classic, though not since 1964 — but for the sake of my friend KJ’s sanity, we cannot allow this to happen. This potential series would be so 2020, of course: a World Series between a Yankees team that could very well have the seventh-best record in the AL facing a Cardinals team with the seventh- or eighth-best record in the NL.

Twins vs. Phillies
Doolittle Classic Score: 31.81
Odds: 0.6%

Some matchups just don’t feel right, you know? The Twins and Phillies don’t seem to have any interconnected history beyond Jim Thome playing for both franchises, there is obviously no rivalry here, and even though both are Original 16 franchises (the Twins as the Washington Senators), this series doesn’t score particularly high on the Doolittle score (46th overall). There are more alluring matchups involving these teams, including:

• Yankees vs. Phillies: Joe Girardi’s revenge, Gerrit Cole versus Bryce Harper

• Twins vs. Braves: a rematch of the 1991 World Series, arguably the most exciting ever played

• Blue Jays vs. Phillies: a rematch of the wild 1993 World Series

• Twins vs. Brewers: an old AL rivalry, with the Brewers still trying to win their first title

• A’s vs. Phillies: The A’s were born in Philadelphia, so that bit of history is neat. Plus, we could make the A’s play every game in their Kelly green tops and the Phillies in their beautiful, cream-colored jerseys (my two favorite uniforms).

Astros vs. Dodgers
Doolittle Classic Score: 34.35
Odds: 2.5%

This would certainly be interesting, given the 2017 World Series and the subsequent fallout of the Astros cheating scandal last offseason. The Dodgers have made 13 playoff appearances since their most recent World Series win in 1988 — and this will be their eighth year in a row playing in October — and it would be a cathartic release for them to end their bad October luck against the evil Astros. On the other hand, this one loses value for a few reasons. Nobody wants to see the Astros in the World Series. The Astros have bumbled their way through the regular season and don’t deserve to play for a title. Most importantly, my heart couldn’t take Clayton Kershaw starting Game 7 against Justin Verlander with everything on the line.

Intriguing intrastate showdowns

Rays vs. Marlins
Doolittle Classic Score: 8.11
Odds: 0.1%

Of the 116 potential World Series matchups currently in play, this one ranks 115th on the Doolittle Score (only Rays-Rockies scores lower). If there’s a reason to root for this one, it would be the perennially awful Marlins — they never finished above .500 in the previous decade — reaching the World Series after posting a .352 winning percentage last season (57-105). The teams that had the five worst winning percentages the year before they made the World Series (in the divisional era):

1. 1991 Braves (.401, 65-97 in 1990)
2. 2008 Rays (.407, 66-96 in 2007)
3. 2013 Red Sox (.426, 69-93 in 2012)
4. 1993 Phillies (.432, 70-92 in 1992)
5. 2006 Tigers (.438, 71-91 in 2005)
5. 1987 Twins (.438, 71-91 in 1986)

The Miracle Mets of 1969 don’t even make it — they went 73-89 in 1968. If the Mets were a miracle, what would that make the 2020 Marlins? A sign of the apocalypse? (Don’t answer that question.)

Indians vs. Reds
Doolittle Classic Score: 54.91
Odds: 0.1%

A little aside: The 2010s don’t get enough credit for the parity in the decade. The Royals won a World Series. The Giants won three without ever having a super team. The Astros won for the first time, and the Cubs for the first time in forever. The A’s made the playoffs five times, the Indians and Rays made the postseason four times, the Brewers had success, and even the Pirates and Reds had little runs at the start of the decade. Anyway, I thought the Reds would be more interesting this season, but the offense has really struggled, and they could end up with their seventh straight losing season, which would be a huge disappointment, given their offseason moves. However, they made a bit of a push this week, and though the odds of a Bieber-Trevor Bauer showdown are slim, it would be fun to see the guys who have been arguably the two best starters this season face off in the Battle of Ohio. Given that the World Series will be played at a neutral site, I suggest moving this one to Columbus.

Yankees vs. Mets
Doolittle Classic Score: 36.71
Odds: 0.1%

This one would feel empty because it wouldn’t be played in New York, even though it would be the 20th anniversary of their 2000 showdown. Still, it would inevitably lead to a letdown, unless you think we would see Cole chucking the broken shard of a bat at Pete Alonso.

A’s vs. Padres
Doolittle Classic Score: 20.21
Odds: 2.8%

This would be a worthwhile matchup, but when you think of California rivalries, you don’t think of Oakland versus San Diego.

White Sox vs. Cubs
Doolittle Classic Score: 90.01
Odds: 1.7%

Similar to Yankees-Mets, this would lose a lot of luster if played in Arlington, Texas, instead of Chicago. But this matchup has everything else you would want for a great World Series matchup: the upstart White Sox trying to knock off their spoiled big brothers, built-in storylines with the young and exciting White Sox and David Ross in his first year as Cubs manager, two teams that played well and would be deserving World Series participants. The teams have met only once in the World Series, back in 1906, when the Hitless Wonder White Sox beat the 116-win Cubs in one of the biggest World Series upsets of all time.

Original 16 showdowns

A’s vs. Braves
Doolittle Classic Score: 80.01
Odds: 2.4%

All of the matchups in this tier will score high on the Doolittle Scale. This one is a little odd given that the A’s moved from Philadelphia to Kansas City to Oakland (in 1968), and the Braves moved from Boston to Milwaukee to Atlanta (in 1966). The Braves have a high-powered offense with Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna Jr., Marcell Ozuna and the suddenly scorching-hot Adam Duvall (10 home runs in September), while the A’s rely heavily on a tremendous bullpen. It will be difficult for the A’s to get here without Matt Chapman, who is out for the season because of a torn hip labrum. Also, though we all know about Oakland’s tortured postseason history under Beane, don’t underestimate the Braves’ recent October foibles: They’ve lost 10 straight postseason series (including one wild-card game).

Twins vs. Dodgers
Doolittle Classic Score: 81.46
Odds: 6.7%

The game that cemented Sandy Koufax’s legend was Game 7 of the 1965 World Series, in which he started on two days of rest and fired a three-hit shutout to stifle the Harmon Killebrew-led Twins and outduel Jim Kaat. Koufax and Kaat can throw out the ceremonial first pitches in this one — and then maybe Kershaw could go out and toss a three-hit shutout in Game 7.

Yankees vs. Cubs
Doolittle Classic Score: 101.31
Odds: 1.0%

This matchup would have had a lot more drama before 2016, of course, but Yankees-Cubs would still feel like something special (it ranks fourth on the Doolittle Classic scale). Although the Cubs were an NL powerhouse for the first 45 years of the 20th century — reaching 10 World Series — they played the Yankees just once, in 1932. That was the year Babe Ruth called (or didn’t call) his home run off Charlie Root. Forget bat flips; let’s bring back the 1932 version of bravado and see Giancarlo Stanton and Javier Baez call their shots.

White Sox vs. Reds
Doolittle Classic Score: 101.15
Odds: 0.1%

A rematch of the 1919 World Series, when the infamous Black Sox threw the series against the Reds, in 2020 … what could go wrong? This one rates fifth on the Doolittle scale, and though the odds are slim, if the Reds manage to squeak into the playoffs, they could be tough with Trevor Bauer and Luis Castillo (though Sonny Gray is currently on the injured list because of a back issue). I’d love to see Bauer trying to carve up that White Sox lineup.

Yankees vs. Dodgers
Doolittle Classic Score: 117.25
Odds: 5.0%

It’s no surprise, but this would rank as the all-time classic showdown, dating back to their days as New York rivals and their three monumental showdowns in 1977, 1978 and 1981. There would be a lot on the line, of course, with the Dodgers having so much at stake and the Yankees in the Fall Classic for the first time since 2009. That’s right: There are 11-year-old Yankees fans who have never seen their team in the World Series. What a pity. There is an argument to put this No. 1 on my list, but sticking to my criteria, the Yankees get knocked down for their mediocre regular season (including a 2-8 record against the Rays). The Yankees are 7-0 against Boston and 7-3 against Baltimore and might make the playoffs only because of the expanded field. That isn’t World Series-worthy.

The top five matchups

5. White Sox vs. Braves
Doolittle Classic Score: 32.50
Odds: 2.9%

If you like offense, come on down for this one. The White Sox lead the American League in runs per game, and the Braves lead the National League (and the majors). In terms of wOBA, the White Sox have two of the top 12 hitters in the game in Tim Anderson and Jose Abreu, and the Braves have three of the top 11 in Freddie Freeman, Marcell Ozuna and Ronald Acuna Jr. According to defensive runs saved, you also have two of the top defenders in White Sox center fielder Luis Robert and Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson. Sign me up.

4. Indians vs. Padres
Doolittle Classic Score: 20.20
Odds: 2.2%

Longest World Series droughts, American League:

Indians: 72 years (last won in 1948)

Rangers: 59 years (born in 1961, moved to Texas in 1972, no titles)

Mariners: 43 years (born in 1977, no titles)

Orioles: 37 years (last won in 1983)

Tigers: 36 years (last won in 1984)

Longest World Series droughts, National League:

Padres: 51 years (born in 1969, no titles)

Brewers: 51 years (born in 1969, moved to Milwaukee in 1970, no titles)

Pirates: 41 years (last won in 1979)

Mets: 34 years (last won in 1986)

Dodgers: 32 years (last won in 1988)

So, yes, Indians-Padres would be fun. (They would have to agree to play one game in garish 1970s throwback jerseys, however.)

3. Rays vs. Dodgers
Doolittle Classic Score: 16.0
Odds: 5.8%

I’m partial to this one because it was my preseason prediction, but both teams have played up to expectations. What’s interesting is how they’ve done that. The Rays have had a long list of pitching injuries, and their trio of Tyler Glasnow, Blake Snell and Charlie Morton hasn’t been as dominant as projected, but the offense has been better than expected, and the pitching depth has been remarkable. The Rays aren’t flashy, but they’re good, and we could see Kevin Cash pull out all sorts of maneuvers — bullpen games, openers, an all-lefty lineup (the Rays had one earlier this season, the first time that happened in MLB history). The Dodgers, meanwhile, have the best record in the majors despite down years or slow starts from Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Joc Pederson. The rotation has been solid, the bullpen is superb, and Mookie Betts is an MVP candidate. In the 2010s, the Dodgers won the most games; the Rays won the fifth most. Neither won a title. Both are due.

2. A’s vs. Dodgers
Doolittle Classic Score: 97.21
Odds: 6.0%

This matchup has a lot going for it. It rates high on the Doolittle score (sixth overall). Both teams not only are good in 2020 but also have been good in recent seasons. It’s a rematch, of course, of the memorable 1988 World Series in which the Dodgers upset the Bash Brothers. We mentioned that the Dodgers have made 13 postseason trips since they last won it all, but the A’s have made 12 since their 1989 triumph. This would be a contest with two fan bases that have suffered much October pain.

1. White Sox vs. Padres
Doolittle Classic Score: 20.21
Odds: 3.4%

Here are 10 reasons this is the World Series we want in 2020:

10. Fernando Tatis Jr. and Luis Robert: Seeing the two most dynamic players in the majors on center stage would be the perfect finish to this bittersweet season. Colleague Sam Miller just ranked them as the first (Tatis) and third (Robert) most exciting players in the game (with Juan Soto squeezed in between).

9. New aces. The White Sox’s Lucas Giolito has solidified himself as one of the best starters in the majors, averaging 12.2 K’s per nine innings and holding batters to a .187 average. Meanwhile, Dinelson Lamet has become perhaps San Diego’s No. 1 starter, relying on a fastball that averages 97 mph and maybe the most unhittable slider in the game. He’s averaging 12.0 K’s per nine and has lowered his ERA to 2.12.

8. Crafty veteran starters. Dallas Keuchel (6-2, 2.19) and Zach Davies (7-3, 2.69) show that you don’t have to light up the radar gun to succeed.

7. Slugging first basemen. Jose Abreu and Eric Hosmer have been overrated at times in their careers, but both have been bashing in 2020. Abreu leads the majors in RBIs, and Hosmer has knocked in 32 runs in 31 games.

6. Bold moves deserve to be rewarded. The White Sox made their big splash in the offseason (Keuchel, Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnacion), and Padres GM A.J. Preller followed up a busy offseason with a hyperactive trade deadline, acquiring Mike Clevinger, Mitch Moreland, Trevor Rosenthal and Austin Nola.

5. Tim Anderson. Worth the price of admission.

4. Old-school second basemen. Rookies Nick Madrigal and Jake Cronenworth are throwback-type players in that they actually like to put the ball in play. Chicago’s Madrigal is already showing that he is the best contact hitter in the game (albeit with little power), and Cronenworth, who came to San Diego from the Rays in the offseason, is the likely NL Rookie of the Year, hitting above .300 with extra-base pop.

3. New Padres uniforms. Love ’em.

2. It has been a long time since these teams were good. In some ways, this would remind me of the 1991 Twins-Braves World Series, when both teams went from worst to first place. This would be a similar case. The White Sox were 72-89 in 2019 and last finished over .500 in 2012. The Padres were 70-92 in 2019 and last finished over .500 in 2010.

1. They’re the most exciting teams in baseball. They’re young, flashy, full of confidence and absolutely fun to watch. With everything going on, watching baseball hasn’t always been as enjoyable this year as it normally is. This is the World Series we need to remind us how much we love this game.

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‘Lot of emotions’ in possible Wrigley farewell

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CHICAGO — An emotional Jon Lester took the mound Wednesday night for what could have been his final start at Wrigley Field as a Cub.

Lester, 36, will be a free agent after this season unless the team picks up a $25 million option on him for 2021.

“We don’t know what the future holds,” Lester said after the Cubs‘ 3-2, 10-inning win over the Cleveland Indians. “A lot of emotions going into tonight. Trying to make tonight go well. … Maybe the effort was a little too much.”

Lester threw only 62 pitches, coming out after giving up two runs over five innings. With a road trip to finish the season looming, and the possibility he’ll be the third starter in the postseason, Wednesday could have been his last outing at home in a Cubs uniform. The first round of the playoffs is best-of-three and then all remaining postseason games will be played outside of Chicago.

“A lot of things on my mind,” Lester said. “This year hasn’t been easy for a lot of reasons. I’m not sitting here saying ‘woe is me,’ because there’s a lot of people worse off than me. A lot of emotions coming into this. Don’t really know what to say, how to take it. A lot of uncertainties going forward.”

Lester signed a six-year, $155 million contract with the team before the 2015 season and then helped the Cubs to four consecutive playoff berths and the 2016 World Series. In Chicago, Lester is known as one of the best free-agent signings ever.

He said he wanted to walk off the mound to a stadium full of Cubs fans in his last start, but it wasn’t meant to be this year.

“That’s the most frustrating part,” he said. “Going back to 2014, I didn’t get to walk off the field like I wanted to at Fenway. Having an empty stadium [is] not how I envisioned my last start here.”

The door isn’t closed on Lester as a Cub, but with so much uncertainty, the team wanted to make sure they recognized a player who will go down as one of the all-time greats in the organization.

“You just have to absolutely acknowledge that it could be,” teammate Jason Heyward said. “He’s earned that and some. It really, really is unfortunate we don’t have fans here this year to help be a part of that. This is something he’s earned. This dude has been a rock here.”

Lester’s career ERA is 3.59, but it’s a run lower in the postseason. He has 192 career wins, but just two this year. He’d like to win No. 200 as a Cub, but he’s unsure what the future will hold.

“A lot of uncertainties going forward,” Lester said. “I didn’t think six years would go this fast.”

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