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Atlanta Braves back in World Series for first time since 1999 after upsetting Dodgers in NLCS

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ATLANTA — For the first time since 1999, the Atlanta Braves are going back to the World Series.

Eddie Rosario continued a torrid postseason with a three-run homer just inside the foul pole in the fourth inning, breaking a 1-1 deadlock and propelling Atlanta to a 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday. One season after the Braves lost to the Dodgers in a seven-game NLCS, Atlanta knocked off the defending champions in six.

The Dodgers got the tying runs on base with no one out in the seventh, but lefty reliever Tyler Matzek came on and struck out three straight to electrify a thundering Truist Park gathering. The last of the three was former MVP Mookie Betts.

Rosario, who was named NLCS MVP, went 2-for-3 with a walk and finished the NLCS with a .560 average, 1.040 slugging percentage, three homers and nine RBIs in six games.

The loss ends the title defense of the Dodgers, who won the World Series after last year’s pandemic-shortened season. It was an abrupt end for Los Angeles, which won 106 games during the regular season and beat the 107-win San Francisco Giants in the NL Division Series.

Instead, it’s the 88-win Braves who take the NL pennant during a season in which they did not climb over the .500 mark until Aug. 6. According to Elias, that’s the latest first-day-over-.500 date ever for a team that reached the World Series. The previous record was Aug. 3 held by another version of the franchise — the 1914 Boston Braves, known to history as the “Miracle Braves.”

While the 2021 Braves looked like a longshot to end their pennant drought when the postseason began, nothing about the way Atlanta dismantled the Milwaukee Brewers during the NLDS and the Dodgers during the NLCS seemed miraculous.

The pennant is the latest step for a franchise that began a long rebuild during the middle part of the past decade and reemerged as a contender in 2018. This season marked the Braves’ fourth straight season in the playoffs. Saturday’s win snapped a string of 12 straight postseason runs for the franchise without a World Series appearance, tied with the Athletics for the longest streak of that kind.

Braves starter Ian Anderson held the Dodgers to one run over four innings, before giving way to a pinch-hitter during Atlanta’s fourth-inning rally. A.J. Minter came on after Anderson and set down all six batters he faced, striking out four in a dominating performance.

With the win, Braves franchise stalwart Freddie Freeman earns his first trip to the Fall Classic. Drafted by the Braves in the second round of the 2007 draft, Freeman was the one player the Braves kept when they methodically dismantled their last contending club, signing him to an eight-year extension in 2014.

Freeman starred for a number of losing teams during the early years of that contract, but now with the pact due to expire after this season, he’s also experienced the team’s complete turnaround.

The win was also the cherry on the top of the long career of manager Brian Snitker, a Braves lifer who has been with the organization since 1977. Snitker, who turned 66 during the series, played for the franchise in the minors then worked as a roving instructor after being hired to remain with the organization by Hall of Famer Hank Aaron. He managed in the minors for years before coaching in the majors. Now he’s at the pinnacle of his profession with the only organization he’s known.

For the Dodgers, the loss kicks off what could be an offseason of change, with several of their star players headed for free agency. The list includes Max Scherzer, Albert Pujols, Corey Seager, Kenley Jansen, Chris Taylor and longtime ace Clayton Kershaw.

With the Dodgers’ repeat bid ending, baseball will go without a back-to-back champion once again. No one has repeated as champions since the Yankees’ three-year streak from 1998 to 2000. It’s baseball’s longest-ever stretch without a repeat champ.

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MLB Players Association to make counteroffer to league in Monday meeting

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The Major League Baseball Players Association plans to make an in-person labor proposal to the league on Monday, sources told ESPN, countering MLB’s offer last week that did little to loosen the gridlock that has gripped the sport after the league locked out the players Dec. 2.

Should the players’ offer do little to advance the negotiations that thus far haven’t yielded any substantive progress, the scheduled start to spring training in mid-February will grow that much unlikelier. And the longer discussions on a new collective-bargaining agreement last, the more they jeopardize Opening Day on March 31.

The gap between the players and league remains significant, with the union seeking major financial gains in a number of areas and owners trying to hold firm with what they currently pay in salaries. Other issues players have said remain a priority include anti-tanking measures and fixing service-time manipulation.

Any concessions players make in their offer could provide a roadmap to the negotiations. Before implementing the lockout, the league asked the union to drop three areas of discussion: earlier free agency for players, salary arbitration after two years instead of three and changes to the revenue-sharing plan. The union did not agree to the condition when presented with it Dec. 1, and the league left the bargaining table, locking out the players hours later.

Forty-three days later, the league returned to the union with an offer that included paying players with two to three years of service based on a formula, slight modifications to the draft lottery it previously had proposed and a mechanism that would reward teams with draft picks when top prospects who started on opening day rosters win awards.

The proposal did little to entice players, who after losing financial ground during the previous labor agreement want to make gains this time around.

News of the MLBPA’s expected counterproposal was first reported by The Associated Press

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Robot umpires at home plate moving up to Triple-A for 2022, one step away from major league baseball

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NEW YORK — Robot umpires have been given a promotion and will be just one step from the major leagues this season. Major League Baseball is expanding its automated strike zone experiment to Triple-A, the highest level of the minor leagues.

MLB’s website posted a hiring notice seeking seasonal employees to operate the Automated Ball-Strike system. MLB said it is recruiting employees to operate the system for the Albuquerque Isotopes, Charlotte Knights, El Paso Chihuahuas, Las Vegas Aviators, Oklahoma City Dodgers, Reno Aces, Round Rock Express, Sacramento River Cats, Salt Lake Bees, Sugar Land Skeeters and Tacoma Rainiers.

The independent Atlantic League became the first American professional league to let a computer call balls and strikes at its All-Star Game in July 2019 and experimented with ABS during the second half of that season. The system also was used in the Arizona Fall League for top prospects in 2019, drawing complaints of its calls on breaking balls.

There were no minor leagues in 2020 because of the pandemic, and robot umps were used last season in eight of nine ballparks at the Low-A Southeast League.

The Major League Baseball Umpires Association agreed in its labor contract that started in 2020 to cooperate and assist if commissioner Rob Manfred decides to use the system at the major league level.

“It’s hard to handicap if, when or how it might be employed at the major league level, because it is a pretty substantial difference from the way the game is called today,” Chris Marinak, MLB’s chief operations and strategy officer, said last March.

MLB said the robot umpires will be used at some spring training ballparks in Florida, will remain at Low A Southeast and could be used at non-MLB venues.

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Tampa Bay Rays say split-season plan with Montreal rejected by MLB

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays‘ proposed plan to split the season between Florida and Montreal has been rejected by Major League Baseball.

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg announced the news on Thursday.

“Today’s news is flat-out deflating,” Sternberg said.

The idea of playing in both the Tampa Bay area and Montreal has been discussed over the past several years after attempts to build a new full-time ballpark locally failed.

Montreal had a big league team from 1969, when the expansion Expos began play, through 2004. The Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals for the 2005 season.

The Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the team has played since its inaugural season in 1998, expires after the 2027 season.

Since Sternberg took control in October 2005, the once-struggling franchise has been a success on the field but not at the box office.

Despite reaching the World Series in 2008 and 2020, the Rays have annually ranked near the bottom in attendance. The Rays averaged about 9,500 for home games last season, 28th in the majors and ahead of only Miami and Oakland.

St. Petersburg mayor Ken Welch feels a new stadium in his city remains a possibility. Governmental officials have been working on a redevelopment plan for the Tropicana Field site.

“We are working with our county partners and city council to put together the best plan possible, which will work in conjunction with my planned evolution of the Tropicana Field master development proposals,” Welch said in a statement. “With this collaborative approach, I am confident we can partner with the Tampa Bay Rays to create a new and iconic full-time home for Major League Baseball in St. Petersburg while also achieving historic equitable economic growth.”

Sternberg said the team will definitely explore options in the Tampa Bay area.

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