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Alex Cora, Red Sox part ways in wake of investigations

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Alex Cora, who won the World Series in 2018 in his debut season as manager of the Boston Red Sox but has been linked this offseason to two sign-stealing schemes, has mutually agreed to part ways with the team.

Cora, 44, led the Red Sox past the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games in 2018, a year removed from winning the World Series in Houston as Astros bench coach.

He is awaiting discipline from MLB for his role in a sign-stealing scheme by the Astros, and is still under investigation for a different sign-stealing scheme that is said to have occurred with the Red Sox in 2018.

In MLB’s findings on Houston announced Monday, Cora is described by commissioner Rob Manfred as being “involved in developing both the banging scheme and utilizing the replay review room to decode and transmit signs. Cora participated in both schemes, and through his active participation, implicitly condoned the players’ conduct.”

In a statement released Tuesday, the Red Sox said given the investigation’s findings, “we collectively decided that it would not be possible for Alex to effectively lead the club going forward.”

Manfred said he was withholding discipline for Cora until after MLB completes its investigation into the allegations against the Red Sox, but he is expected to receive a harsh penalty.

“We agreed today that parting ways was the best thing for the organization,” Cora said in Tuesday’s statement. “I do not want to be a distraction to the Red Sox as they move forward. My two years as manager were the best years of my life. It was an honor to manage these teams and help bring a World Series Championship back to Boston.”

The Astros acted quickly after discipline for the team was announced Monday, firing both manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow. Had they stayed with Houston, Hinch and Luhnow would have been suspended for the entire 2020 season. Houston was also fined $5 million and will lose its first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021.

The Red Sox allegedly used video to decode opponents’ sign sequences and passed the information along to their players. But they are not accused of going as far as the Astros in terms of communicating the knowledge — such as the Astros’ trash-can banging — to players at the plate.

Cora replaced John Farrell as Boston’s manager after the team twice finished last under Farrell, despite having won the 2013 World Series under him. With Cora at the helm in 2018, the Red Sox raced to a 108-54 regular-season record and an easy win in the AL East. They led the majors with a .268 team batting average as well as 876 runs scored.

Boston then dominated the postseason, with an 11-3 mark, posting wins over the Yankees and Astros, in the AL division and championship series, respectively, before defeating the Dodgers in the World Series.

Not long after Cora’s club paraded through the streets of Boston, the Red Sox announced that they had renegotiated his contract, including an extension through the 2021 season, with a club option for 2022.

“This is a sad day for us,” owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner and CEO Sam Kennedy said in a shared statement. “Alex is a special person and a beloved member of the Red Sox. We are grateful for his impact on our franchise. We will miss his passion, his energy and his significant contributions to the communities of New England and Puerto Rico.”

The Red Sox couldn’t sustain 2018’s success in Cora’s second season, finishing 84-78 in 2019, finishing third in the division, 19 games behind New York.

Cora, who worked at ESPN as an analyst before leaving for the Astros, played 14 MLB seasons, including parts of four seasons with the Red Sox, winning the 2007 World Series with Boston. He also played for the Dodgers, Indians, Mets and Rangers, before finishing his career with the Washington Nationals in 2011.

A utility infielder largely known as a shortstop, Cora was a career .243 hitter, and finished with 35 home runs and 286 RBIs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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MLB playoffs 2020 — Wild-card standings, playoff picture and postseason format

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The 2020 MLB playoffs are less than two weeks away, even though it seems like only yesterday that the regular season kicked off. The compressed 60-game schedule is rapidly coming to a close, and the MLB standings are tight heading to the finish with wild-card positioning, postseason seeding and the rest of the playoff picture at stake.

As has been the case with so much this season, the playoffs will have a new look, with an expanded format that includes 16 teams for the first time in MLB history.

This will be the place to visit every day through the end of the regular season for updated looks at the potential playoff field, recaps of the biggest games, analysis of the most important storylines and previews of the critical games ahead.

Jump to …

Current playoff field | The big story | Playoff debates | Key games ahead

Key links: MLB standings | Predictions | Stock watch | Awards watch


If the season ended today …

The matchups: Here’s what the first round of the expanded playoffs would look like, based on the standings entering play Monday, Sept. 14.

Best-of-three series, higher seed is home team

AMERICAN LEAGUE
No. 1 White Sox vs. No. 8 Indians
No. 2 Rays vs. No. 7 Yankees
No. 3 Athletics vs. No. 6 Astros
No. 4 Twins vs. No. 5 Blue Jays

NATIONAL LEAGUE
No. 1 Dodgers vs. No. 8 Giants
No. 2 Braves vs. No. 7 Phillies
No. 3 Cubs vs. No. 6 Cardinals
No. 4 Padres vs. No. 5 Marlins

Magic numbers to clinch playoff spot

NL: Dodgers 4, Padres 6, Braves 9, Cubs 9.

AL: Rays 6, White Sox 6, Twins 6, A’s 7, Indians 10, Blue Jays 10, Yankees 10.


About last night …

play

0:38

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. crushes a two-run home run 447 feet to left field in Toronto’s 7-3 win vs. New York.

Mookie Betts has received most of the attention — rightfully so — but one of the biggest differences with the Los Angeles Dodgers this season is that their bullpen is especially deep. The best sign of that came Sunday, in an 8-1 victory, when seven relievers combined to limit a desperate Houston Astros team to just one run and five baserunners through the first eight innings. In the ninth, Kenley Jansen, who swiftly blew a three-run lead 24 hours earlier, retired all three batters he faced, giving the Dodgers three wins in four games against the Astros this season.

The Dodgers own an MLB-best 33-14 record and easily lead the sport with a plus-103 run differential. But they’re not perfect. Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy have had a hard time getting going. Second base is still an uncertainty because top prospect Gavin Lux hasn’t quite found his footing. Jansen has had two really bad outings in recent days. And the starting rotation is suddenly vulnerable with Walker Buehler (blister) and Dustin May (foot) nursing minor injuries at the wrong time. But the Dodgers have unmatched depth. It has been that way for years — but now it also resides in their bullpen.

“This is the deepest, most talented ‘pen by a full grade that we’ve ever had,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said after Sunday’s win. “We just got [Pedro Baez] back, we’re gonna get Joe [Kelly] back here soon, guys are having tremendous years. It’s a close group over there. Adding Jake [McGee] to the mix, guys that get left and right out, have specialty pitches that are unique, all that stuff. Certainly the best that we’ve seen.”– Alden Gonzalez

Also of note: The White Sox and Padres are the up-and-comers garnering most of the attention, but don’t sleep on the Buffalo, err, Toronto Blue Jays. New York’s finest haven’t lost any of their past nine series, with staff ace Hyun-Jin Ryu finishing off the Mets 7-3 on Sunday. The Jays open a three-game series at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday. After finishing a four-game sweep of the upstart Orioles that likely put Baltimore in the rear-view mirror for good, the Yankees sit a half-game behind Toronto for second place in the AL East. … Another surprising upstart, however, doesn’t seem to going anywhere. The Marlins swept a Sunday doubleheader with the Phillies to pass them and move into second in the NL East — and the way rookie Sixto Sanchez is dealing (a three-hit, seven-inning complete game Sunday), the Marlins could be a tough out in a best-of-three series. Yes, the Marlins.


Pennant race debate: Which unexpected contender is the biggest surprise and which one is the best bet to get past the first round?

Joon Lee: The emergence of the Orioles as a playoff contender definitely surprised me most, as I expected them to finish in last place in the AL East. Between Anthony Santander and Pedro Severino, the team has had some bright spots this season in terms of team continuity carrying over from last year. But among the surprise playoff contenders, I expect the San Francisco Giants to have the strongest chance to make it to the second round. This team has had its share of surprises this year between Mike Yastrzemski and Donovan Solano emerging as key offensive cogs, but the relatively young Giants still have a bevy of veterans with postseason experience, including Johnny Cueto, Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria, who could help San Francisco pull off a first-round upset in what has already been a chaotic season.

David Schoenfield: I’ll go with the Orioles as the biggest surprise. Coming off a 108-loss season that featured one of the worst pitching staffs of all time and a record number of home runs allowed, Baltimore basically did nothing in the offseason to supplement the roster. In fact, the Orioles’ biggest move was trading away their best position player, Jonathan Villar, just to dump his salary. But the O’s have played respectable baseball and somehow hung close to the eighth playoff seed. The Giants are the best bet to advance, however, thanks to a very good offense. There’s a little bit of 2010 in this team. That year, Aubrey Huff and Andres Torres were their two best players (by WAR). This year, it’s Mike Yastrzemski and Donovan Solano.

Bradford Doolittle: The Giants seem like the best bet just to get into the playoffs, which makes them the most likely to win two games in a first-round best-of-three. If the Marlins can sneak in, however, they seem like the best bet to pull off an upset (if there is such a thing in a best-of-three). That’s especially true if they don’t match up against another team from the NL East, as they’d be able to throw out some dynamic young arms that the opponent will not have seen much, if at all. The Orioles rate as the biggest surprise. I actually thought the Tigers would be a bit worse but also thought Detroit’s Central-only schedule would be considerably weaker, boosting them over the O’s in the standings. Baltimore might be in the process of getting knocked down by its slate right now, but they’ve done a great job of hanging in so far.

Dan Mullen: The Orioles and Tigers aren’t going to catch the Yankees now so we can rule them out, leaving this a choice between the Giants and the Marlins. Here’s why I’m taking Miami – even year or not: If the Giants beat the Rockies for that final spot (San Francisco and Colorado still have four games left against each other), they’re looking at a No. 8 seed and a first-round date with the Dodgers. I know this is a short series and anything can happen, but L.A. is the best team in baseball by a pretty large margin and beating the Dodgers in any series is still unlikely.

Miami, on the other hand, is currently the No. 5 seed and could finish anywhere between there and the No. 7 spot based on how the Marlins, Phillies and Cardinals end the season. In a very only-in-2020 thing, finishing No. 5 spot would be the worst-case scenario here as it means playing the Padres while getting in as the No. 6 or No. 7 could set up a very winnable chance at a Braves team with major starting pitching issues.


Key games ahead

Twins-White Sox, Monday (8:10 p.m. ET on ESPN+): The AL Central race is tight enough, and neither the Sox nor Twins want to risk falling into third place and missing out on an automatic invitation to the postseason tournament.

Blue Jays-Yankees, Tuesday (7 p.m. ET):The battle for second place in the AL East continues. Can rookie starter Deivi Garcia continue to impress for the Yankees?

Dodgers-Padres, Wednesday (4 p.m. ET on ESPN): Both teams in this growing rivalry will be in the playoff field, so this could this be an NLCS preview. Too bad the San Diego fans can’t see this one in person.

Cardinals-Brewers, Wednesday doubleheader (5:10 p.m. ET): The teams, both in the hunt for second place in the NL Central and/or a wild-card spot, play their second doubleheader in five days.

Mets-Phillies, Wednesday (7 p.m. ET on ESPN): The Mets are trying to stay in the playoff hunt, while the Phillies look to secure their spot in the tournament.

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Billionaire Steve Cohen reaches agreement to take majority ownership of New York Mets

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Billionaire Steve Cohen reached an agreement Monday to take majority ownership of the New York Mets.

The sale is subject to the approval of the Major League Baseball club owners. Once that hurdle is cleared, he’ll assume full control of the franchise. At least 23 of the 30 owners will need to approve the transaction, which was announced by the club via an afternoon news release.

“I am excited to have reached an agreement with the Wilpon and Katz families to purchase the New York Mets,” Cohen said in a statement, after signing the agreement.

After the franchise spoke with several potential suitors, Cohen, a hedge fund manager and native of New York, entered exclusive negotiations to buy the Mets last month. An on-again, off-again discussion with Cohen’s group finally began to pick up steam once and for all on Aug. 28, as both sides hoped to salvage a deal after a previous agreement to buy the team fell apart.

The emergence of Cohen as the winning bidder over a group led by Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez came days before the process was expected to conclude. While the Rodriguez-Lopez consortium said in a statement last month that it had made “a fully funded offer at a record price for the team,” its admission that “they are no longer pursuing the acquisition of the team” confirmed Cohen again had the inside track.

Cohen, 64, previously had come to terms on a deal to buy a controlling share of the Mets at a $2.6 billion valuation. The agreement fell apart amid concerns that Jeff Wilpon, the team’s chief operating officer and the son of majority owner Fred Wilpon, wanted to enforce a clause in the contract that allowed him to remain in his current position for five years rather than treat it as an honorary role.

Mets fans had delighted in the possibility of Cohen, a lifelong fan of the team who stands to become Major League Baseball’s richest owner, taking control of the franchise from the Wilpons, who are widely reviled by the fan base.

They now have their wish, as the sale transfers one of the league’s potential jewel franchises, which has been plagued by mismanagement and a propensity for public embarrassment, into the hands of an owner in far better position to leverage the financial advantage that typically comes with being a team that calls New York City home.

Since 2011, the Mets haven’t carried a payroll in the game’s top 10. Over that juncture, they finished with a winning record only three times and advanced past the wild-card game only once, in 2015, when they lost in the World Series to the Kansas City Royals.

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Oakland Athletics sign Jake Lamb to add depth to infield

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The Oakland Athletics have signed former All-Star infielder Jake Lamb, the team announced Monday.

Lamb was designated for assignment last week by the Arizona Diamondbacks after struggling for the majority of three straight seasons.

The 29-year-old Lamb looked like a future star at third base just a few years ago.

He hit 29 homers in 2016 and then made the National League All-Star team in 2017 while setting career-highs with 30 homers and 105 RBIs.

Since then, he’s battled injuries and inconsistency and hit just 12 homers over the past three seasons.

Oakland is looking for some depth with third baseman Matt Chapman and utility man Chad Pinder out with injuries.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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