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Tricky travel as teams head out for LCS

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Tricky travel as teams head out for LCS

The San Francisco Giants had their travel schedule perfectly planned.

Until their plane in Cincinnati needed more fuel and then experienced a mechanical problem.

``Unbelievable,'' manager Bruce Bochy said Saturday, back to work after sleeping from 6:30 a.m. PDT until just after 9. ``Everything right, last out, ready to go.''

The condensed schedule this year and the wacky Game 5s in every division series sent traveling secretaries spinning to get clubs where they needed to be on short notice.

The Giants - who stayed put in Cincinnati to wait out their next opponent - were delayed more than three hours sitting on the tarmac in Ohio as their plane refueled.

Initially, the plane had enough gas to take the NL West winners to Washington, where they thought they would be playing Game 1 of the NL championship series against the Nationals on Sunday.

When the Cardinals rallied to win in the ninth, the plan changed and more fuel was needed to get back to the Bay Area. The Giants finally landed in San Francisco at 5:09 a.m.

They began watching Game 5 of the Cardinals-Nationals at their team hotel, then watched the remainder in the team plane - gathered around iPads and personal computers.

Some San Francisco players were even talking their wives on the phone to get live game updates.

``Something I learned in 2010 is the travel's not always the easiest part of the postseason,'' Giants catcher Buster Posey said. ``You get in late, you're flying four, five hours from coast to coast. I think you learn how to make sure your body's ready to go in order to play the next day. We were in a weird position just having to stick around Cincinnati. Whoever made the call to stay and watch the end of the game, I give them credit because I was ready to hop on the plane to D.C.''

The Giants barely beat the Cardinals to the West Coast. St. Louis landed shortly after 6 a.m.

Pitcher Kyle Lohse said he got a ``little bit'' of sleep.

``Enough,'' he said. ``You get used to the crazy travel schedule. I got up at noon and convinced them (at the hotel) to still make me breakfast - to cook me up some eggs, so that was nice.''

The Tigers had it only slightly better than San Francisco, leaving Detroit for New York to arrive at their hotel just before 1 a.m. EDT.

``I don't worry about the small stuff. That's small stuff to me,'' Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. ``At this time of the year if you are playing and you are complaining, there is something wrong with you. We are still playing and we are in the final four, it is what it is.''

But, the Tigers had just won Game 5 in Oakland on Thursday night. They flew home from the West Coast, landing at 8 a.m. PDT. It was a quick turnaround after that once the Yankees eliminated the wild-card Orioles.

``We were in the position where we let everybody go home, get some rest, get packed up,'' Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski said. ``And we said, `We'll just watch the game and if New York wins, be ready in two hours,' and everybody was there.''

Lohse wasn't feeling too awfully sorry for San Francisco.

``It was tough,'' he said. ``I'd like to say I feel bad for them.''

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NOW STARTING: Anibal Sanchez is finally feeling comfortable with his new Detroit teammates, and it shows in his performance.

He'll get a chance to prove his erratic start is fully behind him when he gets the ball for the Tigers in Game 2 on Sunday in New York.

``Right now I'm really, you know, together with the team. I say that when I come here it is really tough for me because nobody knows me, especially with the teammates, how to make friends on the team,'' Sanchez said before Game 1. ``But right now everybody's on the same page. I am really excited to be part of this team, especially the rotation, a pretty good rotation right now.''

The Yankees will send Hiroki Kuroda to the mound on short rest for the first time in his major league career.

Sanchez came to Detroit with second baseman Omar Infante in a July trade with Miami for highly touted Jacob Turner and two minor leaguers. He was 4-6 with a 3.74 ERA in 12 starts for Detroit but gave up only one run in 15 1-3 innings in his final two regular-season starts. And he was the hard-luck loser in Game 3 of the division series, giving up two runs in 6 1-3 innings of a 2-0 loss to the Oakland A's.

Jim Leyland says the 28-year-old Sanchez just needed to get acclimated to his new environment before he would realize the potential he's showed at 22 with a no-hitter for Miami.

``I just think he got to know the manager, the pitching coach. He got to know his teammates. His wife was pregnant and going to have a baby, they just had a child here recently,'' Leyland said. ``There's a lot of stress and things that go along with moving to another team, particularly a team in a pennant race with a lot of responsibility.''

Kuroda, on the other hand, felt right at home in New York. The 37-year-old right-hander was 11-6 with a 2.72 ERA in 19 regular-season starts. He pitched into the ninth on Wednesday night in a Game 3 win for the Yankees on an extra day's rest.

``This is probably the shortest rest that I have ever had in my baseball career, but at this point of the season, you know, we can't really be talking about anything but to win,'' Kuroda said. ``So I'm just going to prepare myself to win this game, like I always have been, throughout the season.''

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DESCALSO'S PLACE: Daniel Descalso already has made his mark on this postseason for the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.

He hit the hit a tying, two-out single that sparked the Cardinals' ninth-inning rally on the way to a 9-7 victory at Washington on Friday night that sent St. Louis back to the NL championship series to play San Francisco.

Now, the 25-year-old second baseman gets to play back home in the Bay Area, where he mostly grew up rooting for the Oakland Athletics - along with the Giants.

Descalso lives in San Francisco's hip Marina neighborhood in the offseason, some 25 minutes from where he grew up along the Peninsula in San Carlos.

He does remember the 1989 Bay Bridge World Series, which was interrupted by an earthquake before the A's swept the Giants.

``My dad tells me we were going to games and we had two season tickets at A's games and I would sit there at 2 years old and just watch the game,'' Descalso said Saturday at AT&T Park, a day before Game 1. ``That's my earliest memories of baseball, sitting over at the Coliseum watching the A's play.''

Oakland was eliminated in Game 5 of the AL division series by the Tigers on Thursday night.

Descalso, a third-round draft pick by the Cardinals in 2007 out of UC Davis, got teased plenty for his choice of teams along the way.

``When we got into middle school and stuff, the A's weren't very good, so I'd always catch a bunch of heat for being an A's fan,'' he said. ``That was my team that I grew up going to games to watch them play. I always rooted for the Giants, I didn't root against them, but it was A's No. 1, Giants No. 2.''

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Max Scherzer to the Yankees? Probably not

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Max Scherzer to the Yankees? Probably not

Bryce Harper held a State of Bryce Harper press conference every spring. It occurred inside the cramped clubhouse in Viera, Florida, outside in the sunshine of a new facility in West Palm Beach, Florida, then, for the final time in 2018, in the bland press conference of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Harper threatened to walk out that day if asked about his pending free agency.

No matter the location, New York reporters showed. Year after year, they asked Harper about the prospect of playing for the Yankees -- he, apparently, was the only person to ever like Mickey Mantle -- in order to produce new churn about the possibility of Harper to New York. It happened so frequently, and irked him so much, Harper managed his time accordingly when a New York team was in Washington or he was in New York. He was not around during those times, if he could help it.

This is how it goes with the Yankees, a truth earned by decades of titles and lore, as the preeminent franchise in baseball. Big-name player A is attached to the Yankees by thread or whim because they are the Yankees. This process was kickstarted last weekend for Max Scherzer via a report which said New York would do “whatever it takes” to acquire Scherzer. Ignore it. He’s not being traded.

Scherzer crept back into the National League Cy Young race by pitching with a damaged face last week and showing supreme command his last six starts: 0.88 ERA, 41 innings pitched, 27 hits, .179 batting average against, 59 strikeouts, eight walks and 70% of his pitches thrown for strikes. He leads the National League in strikeouts and FIP. He’s third in walk-to-strikeout ratio, fourth in ERA, sixth in WHIP and 11th in batting average against. Like the Nationals, Scherzer recently turned into something to take further notice of.

And even if the recent team surge is a mirage, Scherzer is unlikely to be traded. He’s the black-and-blue face of the team. Multiple other parts -- an unextended Anthony Rendon, Howie Kendrick, Brian Dozier, Matt Adams, Yan Gomes, even Michael A. Taylor -- could be moved out for several prospects. Trading those players does not necessitate a rebuild or rule out Rendon’s return. Trading Scherzer with two years remaining on his deal means the spine of the team is removed when his contract cost is about to modestly recede as the competitive balance tax threshold goes up.

The lone wrinkle is Scherzer’s current service time status: At the close of 2019, he will hold 10 and five rights -- meaning he has been in the league at least 10 years and five with the same team -- enabling him to veto any trade. He can’t do that now. However, it’s hard to envision that has enough onus to send him anywhere this season.

So, believe the Yankees would want to acquire Scherzer. Then envision a line with 28 other teams, scoff and move on.

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Nationals navigate chaos in steps toward contention

Nationals navigate chaos in steps toward contention

WASHINGTON -- How’s this for a week? Five hours of rain delays, two postponements, Max Scherzer breaks his face, Max Scherzer dominates while on the mound with said broken face, a sweep, a rally, a bullpen blowup, a key roster piece dismissed, a Sunday extra-inning loss. 

Welcome to the last week at Nationals Park, where the local nine have gone from finding their bearings to hopping into the fray. Washington went 4-2 against Philadelphia and Atlanta during the rain-stalled week, and it was lamentable. A perfect 6-0 was possible. A more likely 5-1 was quite attainable. But, 4-2 will be acceptable, especially in light of the early-season wandering through the darkness. 

“Hey, we played two pretty good teams,” manager Davey Martinez said. “With everything said and done, we came out 6-4. We got a day off [Monday], which the boys need. We come back, we got Miami for three. So let's have that day off, come back, and play Tuesday.”

The National League East division has enjoyed convulsions even before the midpoint of the season. Atlanta stands 14 games over .500 and firmly in first. Philadelphia has caught all of the Nationals’ former ills -- injuries, bad bullpen pitching, poor base level play -- during its tumble. It has lost seven in a row, 16 of 22 and was swept by Miami over the weekend. New York fired its pitching coach, then went into Chicago and split a series from the first-place Cubs before manager Mickey Callaway swore at a reporter and a starting pitcher charged him. Philadelphia and New York start a four-game series Monday to determine which is more in disarray.

Washington, meanwhile, is 18-9 in its last 27. Baseball Reference says its odds to reach the playoffs went up 17.9 percent in the last seven days. The Nationals now have a 31 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to fivethirtyeight.com. Fangraphs paints a similar picture: It pegs Washington with a 28.8 percent chance to reach the postseason.

The season’s midpoint arrives Friday following three games in Miami. Washington will be in Detroit that night, taking on one of the league’s worst offenses, before another homestand opens against Miami. Woeful Kansas City follows. Those three clubs are math boosters. They could also deliver the final impetus for general manager Mike Rizzo to deploy a strategy he used last season: find early help to keep pushing.

June 18, 2018, Rizzo dealt for Kelvin Herrera to aid a not-quite-there bullpen which was at least an arm short. Herrera was pitching well when he arrived. The cost was three players, two of which remain in the minors, one of which is with the Royals this season. 

Herrera failed in Washington, but the strategy was sound. Rizzo did not wait to fix the clear gap in his club -- yes, this seems an annual adjustment -- by lagging until the trade deadline. He instead aggressively attempted to solve a problem in a manner which carries risk and reward. The risk is overpaying because the work is being done well ahead of the market deadline. The reward is an extended benefit by acquiring help six weeks before running out of time to do so.

The Nationals remain at least one arm short in the bullpen. Trevor Rosenthal was released Sunday morning. Kyle Barraclough continues to watch from the bullpen railing. His right arm no longer hurts. It’s also not ready to throw pitches at full force. He remains weeks away from a return. 

Until then, the Nationals have an open 40-man roster spot to tinker with. Among the numerous restrictions suffered because of Rosenthal’s failures was the inability to move a piece not on the 40-man easily up to the 25-man roster. His departure offers a clean entrance.

The last week provides ammunition for further moves. Even Martinez bent to the idea these recent seven days mattered. Two postponements stalled outcomes before Washington handled free-falling Philadelphia and tussled toe-to-toe with the Braves. Atlanta outscored the Nationals 20-16 in the three-game series. Three of those runs came because of a Rosenthal meltdown. In essence, it was a draw.

“We know we’re capable of keeping up with any of these guys,” Yan Gomes said. “We’ve said it since the beginning: Eighth inning, ninth inning comes around, we’re going to battle ‘til the end. We gave ourselves a chance to win [Sunday], it just didn’t come our way. But no shame, no hanging our heads. We’ve still got to look forward.”

Gomes went back to packing when he was done with reporters. Going on the road with all the equipment is a team which has proven its baby steps toward course correction were not a fluke. Three weeks of good play have been compiled. The two coming weeks offer another trampoline. Expect Rizzo to look for even more bounce.

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