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Beltran, Freese hit 2-run HRs, Cards beat Giants

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Beltran, Freese hit 2-run HRs, Cards beat Giants

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) The St. Louis Cardinals' unheralded bullpen is making quite a name for itself in October right along with proven postseason stars Carlos Beltran and David Freese.

A group that takes pride in being ready for anything had six relievers combine to deliver 5 1-3 scoreless innings of relief to lead the reigning World Series champions to a 6-4 victory over the San Francisco Giants in Game 1 of the NL championship series Sunday night.

``We feel like we're an asset. We don't get talked about much, and I guess that's a good thing,'' said right-hander Mitchell Boggs, who pitched the eighth. ``We don't have big name guys. Tonight was a good night for us.''

Beltran and Freese did their part with two-run homers as the Cardinals built an early 6-0 cushion and held on. Only two nights earlier, the Cardinals came back from the same deficit, using a four-run rally in the ninth inning at Washington in the deciding Game 5 of the division series.

``I'm thinking about the D.C. game,'' Freese said. ``They were up 6-0. We were up 6-0. And that shows that you've got to keep playing. ... We were fortunate enough that our bullpen came in and closed the door the rest of the way.''

Starter Lance Lynn was done after 3 2-3 innings. Edward Mujica, the fifth St. Louis pitcher, struck out the side in order in the seventh for the win, then Jason Motte finished for his second save of the postseason.

The Cardinals gave first-year manager Mike Matheny a win against his former club.

Matheny's crew hardly looked road weary after a cross-country trip. The Giants dropped to 0-3 at home so far during these playoffs, outscored 20-6 at AT&T Park.

Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Monday night. Chris Carpenter pitches for the Cardinals against Ryan Vogelsong.

This is the first time the previous two World Series winners are facing off in the postseason since the 1958 World Series between the Braves and Yankees.

Beltran's fourth-inning drive into the seats in left-center chased San Francisco starter Madison Bumgarner, who has been a far cry from the impressive pitcher he was during the 2010 World Series run.

It was Beltran's 14th career postseason home run and third this October.

``Right now I'm really enjoying myself,'' Beltran said. ``Right now I'm seeing the ball well. I feel like I have a good approach at the plate, I feel like I'm not trying to do too much, and good things are happening.''

Beltran spent the second half of the 2011 season with San Francisco after a trade from the Mets, but the Giants missed the playoffs last fall a year after the capturing an improbable championship the previous season. The orange towel-waving sellout crowd of 42,534 booed him at every opportunity - during pregame introductions and each time he stepped into the batter's box.

Both teams were well rested a day after a rough night of travel. The Giants barely beat the Cardinals to the Bay Area early Saturday after they were delayed three hours on the tarmac in Cincinnati on Friday night - to refuel and for a mechanical problem after waiting out the Cardinals-Nationals game to know where they were headed next.

Matheny stuck with the same lineup that he sent out for Game 5, and some of the same faces came through again.

``They put together some better at-bats than us,'' Giants center fielder Angel Pagan said. ``They hit some homers and were up 6-0. That's a pretty good lead in the playoffs. We tried to battle back. We did our best but it wasn't our night.''

Daniel Descalso, who hit a tying, two-out single in Friday's 9-7 win, added two more hits.

Descalso hit a one-out double in the fourth, then rookie Pete Kozma drove him home with a double of his own. In the ninth inning Friday, Kozma followed Descalso with a go-ahead, two-run single.

Descalso, who spends the offseason in San Francisco's Marina district, did well playing in his native Northern California.

But he was quick to praise all the pitchers out of the pen.

``The last two games they've been huge for us, coming in early, a lot earlier than we anticipated,'' Descalso said. ``They've been outstanding.''

St. Louis 18-game winner Lynn didn't allow a hit until Marco Scutaro's single to left leading off the fourth. Hunter Pence singled two outs later and Brandon Belt drove him home with a single. Gregor Blanco followed with a two-run triple, then Brandon Crawford hit an RBI double. Pinch hitter Aubrey Huff - a 2010 postseason star now in a diminished role - drew a walk to cheers of ``Aubrey! Aubrey!''

And, just like that, Lynn was done.

``The bullpen did a great job,'' catcher Yadier Molina said. ``We struck first, and to hold that lead, we won with the bullpen.''

Bumgarner and Lynn each lasted only 3 2-3 innings. That made for a long night in both pens.

Beltran and Freese each got Bumgarner with two strikes.

``I think that's been very much of a strong suit for us all season,'' Matheny said. ``And it's a beautiful thing when these guys trust themselves when they get to two strikes. They can be a little more selective early in the count and then they're not going to panic when we do get to two strikes. I give the guys a lot of credit.''

The pressure is now on for the Giants not to fall behind 2-0 at home again. They lost the first two games of their division series here to the Reds last weekend before winning three in a row at Cincinnati. They went 48-33 at AT&T Park this season.

``We've shown how resilient we can be,'' manager Bruce Bochy said. ``We hate to lose them at home, but it happens. And we've got to wash this one off and come out and be ready to go tomorrow.''

Bumgarner, a 16-game winner for the NL West champs, lost Game 2 of the division series at home to the Reds exactly a week earlier.

He pitched a 1-2-3 first on Sunday but ran into trouble in the second when Molina singled on an 0-2 pitch with one out. Freese then drove a 3-2 pitch over the wall in left-center to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.

Bumgarner needed 30 pitches to get through the second, and now has an 11.25 ERA in his two postseason starts this year.

Lynn returned to the rotation for the NLCS and his first career postseason start after making four relief appearances in the division series. Matheny needed another starter after left-hander Jaime Garcia injured his left shoulder in Game 2 against the Nationals.

``Right now we feel like everyone's feeding off each other,'' reliever Joe Kelly said. ``If one guy does something, you want to go out and match it and try to keep that momentum going. It shows the confidence that Mike has in this bullpen. It makes us want to play better for him. He hands the ball off and he knows what he's doing.''

NOTES: Matheny caught for the Giants in 2005-06. He received a nice ovation during pregame introductions. ... Freese's two RBIs gave him 25 for his postseason career, tied with Molina for third most on the Cardinals. Albert Pujols is No. 1 with 52 and Jim Edmonds has 41. ... Both teams kept their rosters intact from the division series. ... The clubs split their season series 3-all. ... Giants assistant batting coach Joe Lefebvre took over 1B coaching duties in place of Roberto Kelly, who sustained a concussion after being hit by a ball off Buster Posey's bat during batting practice Saturday.

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Hunter Strickland explains the weight-room mishap that broke his nose

Hunter Strickland explains the weight-room mishap that broke his nose

PITTSBURGH -- Hunter Strickland’s face has been fixed. A small piece of tape still resides in the middle of his broken nose, but the good news is the break was clean. When he went to a local hospital for X-Rays, his nose was reset and clearance to pitch was provided. His ego remains a work in progress.

Strickland broke his nose Tuesday when a weight-lifting bar was inadvertently pulled onto his face. The Nationals large reliever -- 6-foot-3, 225 pounds -- went to use a red cord tethered to a squat rack above the empty bar for hip mobility exercises. And, well, we’ll let him tell it:

“So I pulled the cord in front of the bar so this wouldn’t happen, and obviously it didn’t work out too well,” Strickland said. “When I sat down to get on the ground to do the hip stuff, I went to reach up and grab the cord, and I guess one of the loops still got hung up behind it. And when I grabbed it, I guess my weight pulled the bar off it, and it crushed me.”

Tuesday, Strickland went to throw afterward and felt fine. The doctors also told him he couldn’t further damage his reset nose -- harken back to the wise words of Max Scherzer, “You don’t pitch with your nose” -- so he felt ready to pitch. Davey Martinez opted not to use him a few hours after the incident. 

Strickland had never broken his nose prior. He comes from a large family which jousted in athletics, where he is the middle child with two older brothers, a younger brother and two younger sisters, but never broke his nose. So, the shot to the face was a surprise, to say the least.

“I had no idea,” Strickland said. “I didn't know what happened. Obviously, it hit me pretty good so it kind of dazed me for a second there. After that, I looked up in the mirror. My nose was crooked and bleeding everywhere. Just kind of put two and two together -- got knocked out by a bar.”

Members of the Nationals medical staff immediately came to him in the cramped visitor’s clubhouse workout space. The area is so tight, players were throwing a medicine ball off the concrete wall just outside entrance Wednesday. Blood and confusion made Strickland briefly worry something more significant had happened. Wednesday, he was relieved and available.

“That’s why I’m thrilled it’s not as bad as it could be,” Strickland said. “That’s one of the things they look at with the X-rays, to make sure the passages are still straight and clear. I’m able to breathe and get the blood out of there, so we’ll be good to go. It’s good. Everything checked out.”

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Evaluating the state of 2019 MLB awards races: Mid-August update

Evaluating the state of 2019 MLB awards races: Mid-August update

It's the dog days of August in Major League Baseball, and most teams have fewer than 40 games lest in the season. Still, that's plenty of time to shake things up in most awards races. Let's take a look around baseball to see who should be favored in each of the major races in both leagues.

AL MVP

1. Mike Trout, Angels
2. Alex Bregman, Astros
3. Matt Chapman, Athletics

Even with some minor shuffling behind Trout, it's the same three names here. Rafael Devers would be an obvious choice in the top three as well if he didn't struggle so mightily in the field. Chapman's all-around game keeps him easily ahead of the Red Sox third baseman in terms of both WAR and these rankings.

Again, though, this award is over. Lock it in. Write it in stone. Mike Trout is the 2019 American League Most Valuable Player. No one else is even in the same ballpark (pun very much intented) as maybe best baseball player to ever walk the Earth, who just so happens to currently be in his prime. 

NL MVP

1. Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
2. Christian Yelich, Brewers
3. Ronald Acuna Jr., Braves

For the second straight season, Acuna is enjoying an otherworldy August, the kind that lets us squint and see a player who can potentially challenge Trout for "best player in the universe" status. It could happen, one day. But today is not that day.

Per bWAR, the gap between Mike Trout and the next-best player in the AL is 2.3 Wins Above Replacement. In the NL? Bellinger's lead over Yelich is 2.1.

Yelich's unbelievable power surge has colored the fact that Bellinger has been, far and away, the best non-Trout player in the sport in 2019. His incredible defensive metrics, combined with a true offensive breakout, show us a player who will win multiple MVP awards before all is said and done. Bellinger could already hit for power against righties. Now? He leads baseball in home runs against lefties, while playing the best outfield of any fielder in baseball, and still crushing righties.

Last update, I said this is a two-horse race, but that wasn't fair to Bellinger. It's his award to lose, and the only chance Yelich has is finishing with a historic home run total. Even then, it probably won't be enough.

AL Cy Young

1. Justin Verlander, Astros
2. Charlie Morton, Rays
3. Mike Minor, Rangers

Verlander remains the obvious favorite, thanks to his strikeouts and sterling ERA (first and second, respectively, in the American League). It doesn't hurt that he's doing it all for baseball's best team, even despite a career-high in home runs allowed.

Morton, of course, is the one who actually leads the AL in ERA, in addition to currently placing top six in WHIP, wins, WAR, and strikeouts. Minor was left off the last update, but it's difficult to ignore his 7.3 bWAR (no one else in the AL even has 6 WAR), and his adjusted ERA+ leads the league.

In fact, Verlander, Morton and Minor are top three, in varying orders, in several of Baseball Reference's more advanced pitching metrics, including adjusted ERA+, adjusted Pitching Runs, adjusted Pitching Wins, Base-Out Runs Saved, Base-Out Wins Saved, Situational Wins Saved, and Win Probability Added. Most of those statistics are pretty in the weeds, even for sabermetrically-inclined baseball fans. But it's telling that the same three names continually pop up across the board.

NL Cy Young

1. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers
2. Jacob deGrom, Mets
3. Max Scherzer, Nationals

If and when Max Scherzer returns to the mound, he may be able to make this a true race again, but for now, Ryu looks to have a comfortable lead thanks to historic run prevention in an era defined by run scoring.

Let's give a shout out to deGrom too, who moves into the second spot with Scherzer's continued absence. It's well-earned, as the Mets ace leads the National League in strikeouts, is fourth in ERA and has allowed just one home run in his last seven outings at the time of this writing.

AL Rookie of the Year

1. Yordan Alvarez, Astros
2. John Means, Orioles
3. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays

This is our biggest change from the last awards race check-in. Brandon Lowe and John Means led AL rookies in Wins Above Replacement at the time of the last update, but their continued struggles/absence has created enough of an opening for a new arrival.

We were deservedly called out for leaving Yordan Alvarez off a few weeks ago, which we did simply because of his lack of games played compared to the other contenders. We won't be making that mistake again.

Alvarez has been one of the best hitters in baseball, rookie or otherwise, since making his delayed debut in June. As a hitter who came up hot and has yet to slow down for the best team in baseball, it's fair to project forward a bit rather than look back on stats accumulated to this point. If Alvarez finishes the season with anything even remotely close to his outrageous current 196 wRC+, then he's going to run away with this award, plain and simple. 

Means' WAR is still more than a full win higher than Guerrero, but it wouldn't surprise anyone to see Vladito jump into one of the top two spots before the year is up.

NL Rookie of the Year

1. Pete Alonso, Mets
2. Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres
3. Mike Soroka, Braves

Well, this stinks. Tatis stays in the top two for now on the basis of his unbelievable rookie season so far. But with his season-ending injury, it appears this award has become Pete Alonso's to run away with as he continues to set home run records. It's unclear who will ultimately replace Tatis in the top three, but for now, no one else is particularly close, even in a truncated year.

AL Manager of the Year

1. Rocco Baldelli, Twins
2. Kevin Cash, Rays
3. Bob Melvin, Athletics

The biggest question here is how much voters might knock the Twins if they end up losing the AL Central to the Indians after jumping out to such a big early lead. Will voters choose to appreciate the surprising run in Minnesota, looking past a late season "collapse"? It's hard to say for sure. Any of these three still could come away with the award, considering where each sits in the standings compared to modest preseason expectations.

NL Manager of the Year

1. Bruce Bochy, Giants
2. Brian Snitker, Braves
3.Torey Lovullo, Diamondbacks

Just like in the American League, the top three here haven't changed, and each looks pretty set in some order. But unlike with the AL race, we are going to reorder these three, swapping Bochy and Lovullo.

It makes sense, considering the Giants currently sit higher in the standings. And more and more it feels preordained for future Hall of Famer Bruce Bochy to win the Manager of the Year award in his final season, as he rides into the sunset of retirement.

Snitker remains an intriguing possibility as well, though the Braves likely need to maintain their grip on the NL East for him to actually win.

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