LOS ANGELES — Wrapping up an NL West title has become routine for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but in a year in which no one was sure three months ago if there would be a baseball season, manager Dave Roberts wanted his team to still savor the moment.
The Dodgers clinched the NL’s top postseason seed and eighth straight division title Tuesday night with a 7-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics. They are third team to win at least eight straight division titles, joining the Atlanta Braves (14 straight from 1991-2005) and New York Yankees (nine straight from 1998-2006).
“To fast forward a couple months and be crowned NL West champs is a credit to everyone. It should never be taken for granted,” Roberts said. “Truth be told a lot of guys didn’t know we could clinch. We were responsible but I let it know that it has to be appreciated.”
The Dodgers, who own the best record in the majors at 39-16, were the first team in the majors to clinch a playoff berth on Sept. 16. They will open postseason play on Sept. 30 by hosting every game in a best-of-three series against the No. 8 seed.
Los Angeles came into the day with a magic number of two and got help with the Angels’ 4-2 victory over the San Diego Padres.
Instead of a wild celebration on the mound after Jake McGee struck out Sean Murphy for the final out, players briskly walked out of the dugout to celebrate with teammates. Everyone grabbed a division clinching shirt and cap before heading to the mound for a group photo.
The clubhouse celebration was also muted. Champagne was still involved, but it was players toasting each other with a glass instead of being showered in it.
“We talked about it instead of dumping stuff on people. It’s a moment you need to celebrate and we did,” said Corey Seager, who had three hits and one of Los Angeles’ four home runs. “It stinks not being able to do champagne and beer showers because some of the younger guys haven’t been able to experience that.”
“This whole year has been weird. There’s no other way to describe it,” Muncy said. “It’s sad not to be celebrate as usual but we know there is a lot more at stake.”
Dustin May went five innings and allowed two runs on three hits. The 22-year-old red-headed righty set a team record by not allowing more than three earned runs in his first 13 career starts, which include 10 this season.
Seager tied it at 1 in the first with an RBI single and then led off the fifth with a drive to center off T.J. McFarland to extend LA’s lead to 6-2.
Muncy gave the Dodgers a 3-2 lead in the third inning with a two-run homer. Taylor and Pollock extended it with solo shots in the fourth off Oakland starter Frankie Montas.
Cody Bellinger added two hits for the Dodgers, including an RBI single with the bases loaded in the seventh.
Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner was scratched from the lineup less than an hour before first pitch due to left hamstring discomfort. He came off the injured list on Sept. 15 and has not played in the field since Aug. 28.
Joc Pederson was in the lineup at DH after missing five games while on the family emergency medical list. Roberts said before the game that he wasn’t sure if Pederson will remain with the team during the entire postseason.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Nelson Cruz, Freddie Freeman winners at Players Choice Awards
NEW YORK — Minnesota Twins designated hitter Nelson Cruz has been voted Marvin Miller Man of the Year and Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman has been picked as Player of the Year in annual Players Choice award voting by the Major League Baseball Players Association.
Freeman was voted the National League’s outstanding player, Cincinnati’s Trevor Bauer outstanding pitcher, San Diego infielder Jake Cronenworth outstanding rookie and Colorado pitcher Daniel Bard comeback player.
Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu was voted the American League’s outstanding player, Cleveland’s Shane Bieber outstanding pitcher, Seattle outfielder Kyle Lewis outstanding rookie and Cleveland pitcher Carlos Carrasco comeback player.
Washington Nationals re-sign Josh Harrison to one-year contract
Harrison spent the 2020 season with the Nationals after signing with them in July, less than a week after he was released by the Philadelphia Phillies. The 33-year-old hit .278 with three home runs and 14 RBIs in 33 games for Washington.
He is a two-time All-Star and right-handed hitter who has started games at second base, third base, shortstop and both corner outfield spots during his 10 years in the majors.
Harrison played eight seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates before joining the Detroit Tigers in 2019 and has compiled a career .273 batting average with 56 homers and 291 RBIs. He was a National League All-Star in 2014 and 2017 for Pittsburgh. But Harrison hit .175 with one homer in 36 games for the Tigers last year before getting released in August 2019.
He had signed a minor league contract with the Phillies in November before they let him go in July and he wound up in Washington.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
‘Travel day’ roundtable — everything we learned in Games 1 and 2
It’s a travel day in the 2020 World Series … just without any travel.
While they do, ESPN baseball writers Sam Miller and David Schoenfield answer some key questions so far this Fall Classic.
What has stood out to you most over the first two games of this World Series?
Sam Miller: How much deeper the Rays’ lineup looks when Brandon Lowe and Joey Wendle aren’t helpless. Tampa Bay got through three playoff rounds behind good pitching and Randy Arozarena, but every inning seemed to start with slumping Rays hitters making two quick outs. Lowe, their best regular-season hitter/worst postseason hitter, broke out with two homers in Game 2. Wendle, in a similar slide, hit one oppo-rocket for a sac fly and pulled a double so hard that Mookie Betts took a bad route at it. Austin Meadows and Yandy Diaz each hit his hardest ball this postseason in Game 2, and Manuel Margot is showing that he might have actually turned into a star sometime in mid-August. The Kershaws and Buehlers of the world might still shut this lineup down, but the Rays should scare the rest of the Dodgers’ staff.
David Schoenfield: That maybe this isn’t going to be the low-scoring, grind-it-out, home runs-or-die series that we expected. With scores of 8-3 and 6-4, we’ve seen a little more offense than perhaps anticipated given the two pitching staffs. Also, that second-guessing in the World Series will forever remain a fun parlor game. Did Kevin Cash leave Tyler Glasnow in too long in Game 1? Did the Dodgers outthink themselves with a bullpen game in Game 2? Why does Dustin May not strike out more batters given his fastball? What is with all these “contact” plays by the runner on third base this postseason? OK, it worked for Mookie Betts on Tuesday, but it has failed several other times. Are 28-man rosters too many players? (Yes.) Are you tired off bullpen games? (Yes.) Is Corey Seager locked in right now? (Yes.) Do Dodgers fans want to see Joe Kelly in a close game? (No.)
What do the Dodgers need to do to win the series from here?
Miller: It sounds like the worst kind of cliche, but they just need to do what they do. The Dodgers are (no offense, Tampa Bay!) the better team here, and even in two split games it has showed: The Dodgers have 50 points of OBP on Tampa Bay so far in this series and 80 points of slugging. The regular-season Dodgers were only the 11th team in modern history with a winning percentage over .700, and so far in the postseason, against other postseason teams, they have the run differential of a .700 team. If they don’t make any gaffes and they just [serious cliche voice] play like they’re capable of playing, they’re going to win every seven-game series that isn’t beset by weirdness.
Schoenfield: Picking up where Sam left off, keep working those counts. They made Tyler Glasnow throw 112 pitches in just 4⅓ innings. Blake Snell was great in Game 2 through four innings, but in the end they drew four walks off him and knocked him out after 4⅔ innings. They’ve seen Nick Anderson and Pete Fairbanks now and the more they see of them, the better they will adjust. As good as the Tampa Bay pen is, Cash doesn’t really want to go too deep, and with three games in three days, reliever fatigue becomes a potential issue.
What do the Rays need to do to win the series from here?
Miller: Get Nick Anderson right. Anderson was the best reliever in baseball for the year prior to this month, and the Rays use him so aggressively that it’d be easy to see him being named MVP of this series. But arguably his four worst outings of the year — OK, probably four of his worst five — have come in his past four appearances. His rightness obviously carries extra importance, because he comes into the biggest moment of every close game. He doesn’t have the freedom to fail just a little bit. But beyond the direct impact his pitches have, the Rays’ trust in him sets the rest of the pitching plan. If you’re counting to 27 outs and you don’t have Anderson for four to seven of them, that has ramifications for Charlie Morton and Blake Snell, for Pete Fairbanks and Diego Castillo, for the whole story the Rays are trying to tell.
Schoenfield: Sam took my suggestion. Indeed, the dirty little secret for the Rays is that Anderson hasn’t actually been that good in the postseason. He has now been scored on in five straight appearances and in six of his eight games in the playoffs. After averaging 14.3 K’s per nine innings in his limited action in the regular season, he has only eight in 13 postseason innings. Anyway, let’s go with this: Ride Charlie Morton. Given Anderson’s struggles, it’s important that Morton shuts down the Dodgers in Game 3 … and then again in Game 7 if the series goes the distance. Morton is riding a streak of five straight postseason starts dating to 2019 where he has given up one earned run or fewer (including his past two). His longest outing in this stretch has been just 5⅔ innings, but if he gives up one run in five innings, the Rays will be in a great position.
Who is the MVP of the series through two games?
Miller: Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw took control of this series for the Dodgers on the fourth batter of the first game, when — with two on and one out — he got Hunter Renfroe on a checked swing for a huge strikeout. He then retired 16 of the next 17 batters as the Dodgers’ offense chewed through three Tampa Bay pitchers to first take a small lead and then build a big one. No, they couldn’t keep control of the series after Kershaw left, and we go into the first “travel” day tied. But nobody looms over the rest of this series quite so much as Kershaw, the pitcher Tampa Bay couldn’t hit, lined up for a Game 5 start and a probable Game 7 (if necessary) relief appearance.
Schoenfield: Kershaw is in the best shape to win it for the entire series since he’s now guaranteed a start in Game 5 since the Rays avoided the sweep. It’s hard for a pitcher to win MVP honors though. If it’s close — like Steve Pearce and David Price in 2018 — it seems as if the hitter usually wins. We’ve had 21 MVPs since 2000 (Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling shared it in 2001), but pitchers have won only six.
What have you noticed the most about the neutral site, limited fans World Series so far?
Miller: I haven’t noticed their presence very much, to be honest. I certainly haven’t noticed fans affecting the game the way 40,000 delirious partisans can. Maybe it’s different for the players in the middle of it, but if there’s a spectrum that ranges from “empty” to “full and Octobery,” it has felt closer to empty.
Schoenfield: Now, this wouldn’t have been a problem with a regular Tampa Bay-Los Angeles World Series since both are warm-weather cities and the Rays play indoors, but it has been nice that the entire postseason has been played in warm-weather locations — the way baseball is supposed to be played. No winter jackets. No heaters in the dugouts. No turtlenecks or ski masks. Am I advocating for a permanent warm-weather World Series? Well, it’s supposed to snow in Minneapolis on Thursday with a high of 35.
How will a travel day off — without travel — impact the rest of this series?
Miller: Probably a lot less than we would have guessed 36 hours ago! The break (and the break between Games 5 and 6) will let the Dodgers use Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin in relief during the games “in” Tampa Bay, which seemed important except that neither of them has looked very good lately. None of either team’s high-leverage relievers are gassed, thanks to the blowout Tuesday. I guess the day gives Tampa Bay a chance to reset its bullpen after Anderson’s and Fairbanks’ extended outings Wednesday, but neither threw that many pitches. Uh … it gives Kevin Kiermaier‘s wrist another day to get healthy, if that’s still a factor? Dave? Got something better?
Schoenfield: More time for the Dodgers to outthink themselves? I kid! I kid! The Dodgers will definitely make all the right choices in their pitching decisions, just like in the 2017 World Series and 2018 World Series and … OK, here’s the deal. They can play the next three games straight with Walker Buehler, Julio Urias and then Kershaw going. I think Dave Roberts has finally decided on who his top relievers are: Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol, Pedro Baez and Kenley Jansen from the right side and then maybe Victor Gonzalez and Jake McGee from the left side. Trouble is, he had all those righties available in Game 2 (only Baez pitched in Game 1), yet he used the struggling May and then Joe Kelly and those two combined to give up four runs (he got away with using Alex Wood, the worst pitcher on the staff). This is the World Series. It’s not time to save your best relievers for only when you’re ahead. It’s important to hold down the fort at all times and … oh, wait, you were asking about the “travel” day, not the Dodgers’ bullpen. My bad.
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