Red Sox

NLCS: Puig, Taylor power Dodgers past Cubs 5-2 in Game 1

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NLCS: Puig, Taylor power Dodgers past Cubs 5-2 in Game 1

LOS ANGELES -- Although Clayton Kershaw once again failed to dominate in a postseason start, these Los Angeles Dodgers don't need one guy to carry them.

With a relentless lineup, flawless relief pitching and a collective charisma epitomized by the bat-flipping Yasiel Puig, the Dodgers are still unbeaten in the postseason and off to a strong start in the NL Championship Series.

Chris Taylor hit a tiebreaking homer in the sixth inning, Puig added a homer and an RBI double to his dynamite postseason, and the Dodgers overcame a short start by Kershaw for a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Saturday night in the NLCS opener.

"We just tried to set the tone early against the Cubs," closer Kenley Jansen said. "We understand they're the defending champions, so they're a really good team. We understand that we won 104 games, but right now it doesn't matter."

Charlie Culberson doubled, drove in the tying run and scored another while replacing injured All-Star shortstop Corey Seager for the resourceful Dodgers, who improved to 4-0 in this postseason."

With another collective offensive effort and four innings of perfect relief for Kershaw, the Dodgers calmly overcame an early two-run deficit and took the first game of this rematch of the 2016 NLCS, won in six games by the Cubs on the way to their first World Series championship in 108 years.

"It's two different ballclubs," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "There are some similar players, but I think that the season we had versus the season they had last year, I think that you could parallel those two, and the confidence we have in our group, and they had in their group last year. I just know that this year we're a very focused group, very confident group."

The Dodgers hadn't won the opening game of an NLCS since 1985. Game 2 is Sunday, with Rich Hill starting at home against Chicago's Jon Lester.

Kershaw pitched five innings of four-hit ball, but the Los Angeles ace fell behind 2-0 before getting pulled for a pinch-hitter during the Dodgers' tying rally.

After winning 104 games in the regular season and sweeping Arizona in the Division Series, the Dodgers have a lineup and bullpen equipped to handle almost anything. They made Kershaw's latest laborious postseason start virtually irrelevant, just as they did after he gave up four homers in his 2017 playoff opener against the Diamondbacks last week.

Albert Almora Jr. hit a two-run homer in the fourth, but the final 18 batters failed to reach base for the weary Cubs, still bouncing back from a 10-hour cross-country flight after finishing off Washington in an epic Game 5 late Thursday night.

"Their bullpen is pretty firm, and we have to really get our feet back on the ground," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

Puig added another huge offensive game to his recent surge with his first career postseason homer - though in a postgame interview on TBS, he was convinced he had hit one before.

The Cuban slugger also included his usual array of creative bat discards and portentous pauses at the plate.

Los Angeles finally got rolling in the fifth when Logan Forsythe and Austin Barnes drew one-out walks before Puig hammered a double to left-center. The ebullient Cuban slugger headed to second only after flipping his bat and spreading his arms wide at the plate.

Puig's sky-high homer off Mike Montgomery in the sixth barely got over the fence in left. Puig is 7 for 15 with six RBIs in the Dodgers' first four playoff games.

"I grew up a little bit," Puig said. "(I'm) going to home plate having fun, because I know (if) I hit nothing, (if) I do nothing in the game, my teammates are going to have my back."

Kenta Maeda got three outs and the victory in his latest standout relief effort, and Jansen struck out all four batters he faced for his third save this postseason.

Kershaw's inability to match his sublime regular-season performances in the playoffs is a central theme of his career. The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner won the NLDS series opener last week despite giving up four homers at Dodger Stadium, and Almora's shot made him the first Dodgers pitcher to yield five homers in a single postseason.

CLOSE CALL

Maddon was ejected in the seventh after a call at the plate was reversed. Culberson initially was ruled out when he attempted to score from second, but was called safe after video review when catcher Willson Contreras was deemed to be in violation of blocking home plate without the ball.

"I saw a great baseball play," Maddon said. "His technique was absolutely 100 percent perfect. I could not disagree more with the interpretation of that."

GOOD START

Jose Quintana pitched five innings of two-hit ball for the Cubs one day after his wife, Michel, was taken off the team plane in Albuquerque with a medical ailment. But the Dodgers tied it against him in the fifth and went ahead in the sixth with Taylor's leadoff shot off loser Hector Rondon.

Despite pitching for the third time in six days after a start and a relief appearance against Washington, Quintana retired 12 of Los Angeles' first 13 batters.

SEAGER OUT

Seager was left off the NLCS roster due to back pain. The All-Star's surprise absence deprived Los Angeles of its No. 2 hitter and prompted the club to play Culberson, who had only 15 big league plate appearances in the regular season. But Culberson came through with a series of big plays at the plate and on the basepaths.

UP NEXT

Cubs: Lester won Game 5 of the 2016 NLCS at Dodger Stadium. He started Game 2 of the Division Series this year and added 3 2/3 innings of relief in Game 4 on Wednesday, but the veteran lefty compared that relief appearance to normal side work between starts. Lester's nine career postseason victories are the most among active pitchers except Justin Verlander, who picked up No. 10 in Houston earlier Saturday.

Dodgers: Hill is a former Cubs pitcher with just one career postseason victory, but the resilient veteran regularly comes through in tough situations for LA. He made it through just four innings in Game 2 against Arizona, but yielded only two runs.

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Drellich: Dombrowski's messaging on lack of Red Sox moves misses mark

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Drellich: Dombrowski's messaging on lack of Red Sox moves misses mark

In the end, I believe the Red Sox will sign J.D. Martinez. It’s the overwhelmingly obvious move. It’s painfully obvious.

Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald reports that the Sox offer is roughly $125 million over five years.

Until that signing — or until that prediction proves wrong — 93 wins is not the hill to die on. 

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We’re not exactly in Dan Duquette more-days-in-first-place territory, but Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is trying to sell something that I’d be surprised to hear anyone is really buying.

“We won 93 games here with basically the team we have coming back and some guys coming back healthy,” Dombrowski said Thursday. “I think some guys will have stronger years. I’ve learned the predictive nature of the game is not something I partake in very much.

“I’ve been with clubs who’ve been the favorites by far and haven’t done quite as well and not the favorites and have done quite well. So you let those things take care of themselves but for our situation, we’ll keep working at it, but I do think we have a good club no matter what.”

Sure. A good club. Everyone knows about the faults of prediction in baseball, how random the game is.

But let’s cut to the chase. Do the Sox have a championship-caliber club? A team built as well as Astros and Yankees? One that’s kept up with those teams this offseason?

The Sox have brought back Mitch Moreland. Addison Reed is gone. The Astros added Gerrit Cole and the Yankees added Giancarlo Stanton.

Now, one may understand why Dombrowski prefers not to partake in the predictive nature of the game. 

Dombrowski mentioned 93 wins earlier this week on MLB Network Radio as well, noting he thinks that figure may have slipped a few minds.

“I think people forget that because of course we got eliminated in the postseason, the first round for us,” Dombrowski said. “But we did win 93 games.” 

That’s nice, Dan — err, Dave.

The protocols of posturing have long been in place in baseball, the code of what executives and agents and any of the rest of them can and cannot say long understood.

Dombrowski is stretching them. 

He’s digging in now on the idea that the Red Sox are good to go if the season starts tomorrow.

“If you told me right now that our starting rotation and our bullpen was going to stay healthy during the season, I’d take our chances right now with our club,” Dombrowski said. “I think that we can stay with anybody.”

Because staying with other teams has always been the goal — not being outright better than them?

Dombrowski said that he hasn’t really looked at the Astros and Yankees rosters because the winter isn't over and that internal rebounds can make up the 40 home run dropoff from 2016 to 2017: “I think quite a bit can be made up.”

Who really believes this? Who really believes the Red Sox could proceed into the season comfortably without some internal improvement? You’re in a market competing with the Patriots, a division with the Yankees and a league with the Astros, and this is what you’re bringing to the table?

And no, Dombrowski's stance isn’t necessary to keep down the cost of adding Martinez.

We can suppose that if Dombrowski were to look into the camera, tear up and plead with Martinez to join the Red Sox, it may be an abnormal amount of leverage shifted to Martinez and agent Scott Boras. 

Even then, reality wouldn’t change. No one is confused by reality here. Dombrowski prefers not to publicly acknowledge it — anymore.

“You know, it's easy to say, we need to score more runs,” Dombrowski said on Oct. 11, the day of John Farrell’s dismissal. “I didn't supply the players that would give us enough runs. I think we do need that. That's part of our offseason goal.”

We assume negotiations to be ongoing. Dombrowski declined to characterize the frequency of conversation he is having with any players/agents (a bizarre thing to decline to discuss, considering how general a subject it is) although he said there are standing offers out there.

The Red Sox' position has long been clear, long been obvious. Dombrowski pretending everything is good to go because the team won 93 games last season misses the mark, even within the accepted constraints of posturing and hooey.

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Pedroia cleared to start running, progressing well

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Pedroia cleared to start running, progressing well

Dustin Pedroia has been cleared to run following October surgery on his right knee.

“It’s been pretty much what they thought it would be,” Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Thursday. “This is always the time they had told me. So you start running at this point, but that’s just running. So you’re not cutting, you’re not doing all things. We still have two and a half months until opening day. 

“I cant say he would never be ready, but we’re not pushing him for that. I think it’s more important he follows step by step. So you run, then cut, then you pick up the pace. But he’s made very positive strides. But that’s why he’s not going to be there this weekend, with the big crowds and all the treatment he has it’s probably not good for him in case someone would run into him accidentally. But he’s making good strides.”

Pedroia told WEEI this month that he’s eyeing Opening Day. Dombrowski said at Alex Cora’s introductory press conference in November that the Red Sox were targeting May. 

“We think Pedey is going to be back in May at some point right now if you listen to what the doctor has to say," Dombrowski said.

  • Dombrowski expects Mookie Betts and the Sox will wind up at a hearing, as assistant general manager Brian O’Halloran also said. The team made clear that if filing numbers were exchanged, a hearing would follow. That’s called a “file and go” approach, or “file and trial” or “file to go.” The Sox don’t employ the approach universally — they exchanged numbers with Drew Pomeranz before settling last year — but it is the approach they’re taking with Betts. A panel of arbitrators will decide if he makes $10.5 million, as Betts filed for, or $7.5 million, as the Red Sox filed for (barring an unexpected settlement before then).

 

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