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Chris Sale named Red Sox’ Game 1 starter in ALCS despite recent struggles: ‘We’re very comfortable with him’

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Chris Sale named Red Sox’ Game 1 starter in ALCS despite recent struggles: ‘We’re very comfortable with him’

HOUSTON — Whatever Chris Sale found in the bullpen earlier this week must be giving Alex Cora a lot of confidence.

In something of a surprise, the Red Sox manager announced here Thursday that Sale will start Friday’s Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Astros. The decision carries some risk, with the lefty recording just 10 outs combined in his last two starts, but with full rest and after ironing out some things over the last week, Cora has full faith in Sale in a crucial game.

Nathan Eovaldi, who was expected to start Game 1 on regular rest, will start Saturday’s Game 2.

“It’s Chris Sale,” Cora said. “At one point he had to pitch in this series, and we’re very comfortable with him going tomorrow. I think the structure of the series and the structure of our bullpen tomorrow is going to be — we’re going to be aggressive regardless. I don’t expect him to come out in the first inning. I expect him to go out there and pitch a good game and give us a chance to win.

“You got to trust everybody in this roster. We got 26 guys that they have to do a job for us to advance to the World Series, and he is one of them. And that’s the reason he is pitching tomorrow, and then Nate will follow him.”

Sale, after going just 2 1/3 innings in the season finale against the Nationals, followed that up with a one-inning disaster in Game 2 of the ALDS in Tampa, where he gave up a grand slam. Sale now owns a 7.27 career postseason ERA, which includes his first career playoff start at Minute Maid Park in 2017, when he was tagged for seven runs.

But Cora remains confident in Sale, especially as he continues to find his way after returning from Tommy John surgery. The manager expressed excitement Wednesday about something Sale discovered during a bullpen. The pitcher said Thursday that he’s been keying on fastball command and consistency with his changeup in those sessions.

And even though it’s looked bad recently, Sale is cherishing the opportunity and the trust rewarded by his manager.

“I don’t take that lightly,” Sale said. “There’s no hiding from it, no secret. I’ve been absolutely horrible. Probably my two worst starts of my career back-to-back leading up to this. I know what I had to do in between. I know I had a job to do, and I knew I had work to get in. Following my last start in Tampa, I got off the mound every single day because I knew I had to get something going if we were going to be successful, and I know that I’m going to be a part of that.”

Martinez likes lineup balance

When J.D. Martinez returned from an ankle sprain in Game 2 of the ALDS, he batted sixth, lower than he usually would. The decision was rooted in the designated hitter’s uncertainty in how his ankle held up.

Then, he went 4-for-5 and the Red Sox scored 14 runs. The lineup hasn’t been messed with since, and that’s just fine by Martinez. Expect the same look Friday night.

“Honestly, I think it’s better,” Martinez said. “I think being able to split righty, lefty, righty, lefty, I think it’s — especially with the team with Tampa and the team with Houston, a very analytic team, they’re going to be looking for the best matchups constantly. And I think they’re going to have to choose at some point if they want a righty to face (Alex) Verdugo or a lefty to face either me or (Xander Bogaerts). You know what I mean? They’ve got to bite the bullet somewhere. For me personally, I think it’s a better lineup for the team.”

Martinez said his ankle is doing better, but that it’s still not 100 percent.

“The swelling has gone down a lot,” he said. “Night and day from what it was. It obviously still hurts. You know, certain things, certain movements still bother it, but it’s a lot better than it was yesterday and the day before and the day before.”

Odds & ends

The Astros suffered a big blow Thursday, as ace pitcher Lance McCullers will reportedly miss the ALCS due to a forearm strain he suffered in the ALDS. Manager Dusty Baker said they’re still awaiting results of an MRI, but the Astros named Framber Valdez and Luis Garcia as their starters for Games 1 and 2.

Valdez was dominant against the Red Sox this season, giving up two runs and striking out 18 across 14 1/3 innings in two starts. …

The Red Sox were still finalizing their 26-man ALCS roster that they need to submit by 9 a.m. central on Friday. Darwinzon Hernandez, who threw a live bullpen at Fenway on Wednesday, seems to be a consideration for the roster. …

The broadcast schedule for the first three games of the series were released. Friday’s Game 1 will start at 8:07 p.m. eastern on Fox, with Saturday’s Game 2 at 4:20 p.m. eastern on Fox and FS1. The series then shifts to Fenway Park for Monday’s Game 3, which starts at 8:07 on FS1.

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Twins sign Dylan Bundy; have plenty of work left to do after lockout

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Twins sign Dylan Bundy; have plenty of work left to do after lockout

Three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer is now a Met. Reigning American League Cy Young winner Robbie Ray will call Seattle home for the next five years. All-Star left-hander Kevin Gausman is going north of the border to Toronto.

Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, two of the top infielders on the market, both landed mega-deals with the Texas Rangers, and Javier Báez wound up with division-rival Detroit Tigers.

Many of the premier free agents have flown off the board in recent days in anticipation of a lockout. A flurry of activity marked the period of time ahead of the sport’s first work stoppage since the players’ strike of 1994-95.

The Twins made a move Wednesday, too, agreeing to a one-year, $4 million deal with starting pitcher Dylan Bundy. Bundy’s deal comes with a club option for $11 million in 2023 and a $1 million buyout. Minnesota’s seven-year, $100 million contract extension with center fielder Byron Buxton was also made official Wednesday.

And now, all will be quiet.

At 10:59 Wednesday night, the sport’s Collective Bargaining Agreement expired, with recent negotiations between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association failing to produce a deal.

Rosters are set until the lockout ends, transactions frozen for the foreseeable future. So, what shape is the Twins’ roster in at the moment?

Extending Buxton was a major offseason objective, and the Twins have now accomplished that. But aside from that, the Twins still have needs that must be addressed before spring training begins.

Bundy became the first free agent addition to the Twins’ rotation this offseason. The right-hander, who was selected No. 4 overall by the Orioles in the 2011 draft, has a career 4.72 earned-run average. With the Angels last season, he was 2-9 with a 6.06 ERA in 23 games, including 19 starts.

Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said the club had targeted Bundy as a trade candidate in the past.

“He dealt with some injuries towards the end of this year which I think caught up to him a little bit, but we feel like with a full offseason and a good plan going into spring training, this is a guy we think has real bounce-back ability, and (he’s) a guy we’ve always liked,” Falvey said.

While the free agent pitching market has been especially active and the Twins have been engaging in discussions, Falvey said they’ve looked at the trade market “maybe more so” than at free agents, having conversations with other teams about potential fits to bolster their rotation.

Bailey Ober and Joe Ryan, both rookies last season, figure to be in the rotation. But plenty of question marks remain.

“It’s always hard to find quality pitching and enough depth there,” Falvey said. “I think that’s going to be a big part of the rest of our offseason, continuing to find ways to add to it, both at the minor league level and at the major league level, the non-roster level and all of the above, to try and get as much depth as possible to help us through a season.”

The Twins remain in need of an answer at shortstop. Andrelton Simmons is a free agent. Top prospect Royce Lewis isn’t ready to assume the mantle yet. The Twins weren’t expected to be players at the top of a very strong shortstop market, but it’s still a position that will need to be addressed.

Buxton and Bundy aside, the only other moves the front office has made thus far have been minor. The Twins declined their mutual option on relief pitcher Alexander Colomé. They cut ties with pitchers John Gant, Danny Coulombe and Juan Minaya and utility player Willians Astudillo, among others. Outfielder Jake Cave was outrighted to St. Paul.

Roster subtractions have been happening since October. Roster additions will need to happen after the lockout ends. And when that time comes, whenever it might be, there’s still plenty left for the front office to accomplish.

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More St. Louis-area schools may get rid of their mask mandates

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More St. Louis-area schools may get rid of their mask mandates

ST. LOUIS — A ruling from a judge in Jefferson City could lead more St. Louis-area school districts to end their mask mandates.

Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green ruled last week that Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services regulations empowering local, unelected, health officials to impose sweeping orders like quarantines, mask mandates, and shutdowns, are unconstitutional.

“Missouri statutes give elected legislative bodies, not individual health agency directors, authority to create county-wide laws related to communicable diseases,” Green wrote.

The ruling has reignited the fiery debate about mask mandates in St. Louis County.

Area school officials are now scrambling to decipher the impact on their schools.

The superintendents of schools in the Rockwood and Parkway Districts have sent letters to parents this week saying, “No changes for now”.

Still, the letters say the ruling may impact the districts’ COVID-19 health and safety protocols, which have included quarantines and masking for much of the pandemic.

A group of 60 area superintendents that has held weekly “virtual” meetings throughout most of the pandemic has met twice this week in the wake of the ruling.

They have not released any details on potential changes being discussed.

At the beginning of the current school year, Ft. Zumwalt Schools in St. Charles County made masks optional for the district’s 17,000 students. Under the new policy, if three or more students in a class are COVID-positive, then there’s a mask mandate for that class. If more than 4% of students at any school are positive, the mask mandate becomes school-wide but not district-wide.

“We’re doing it by building,” said Supt. Dr. Bernie DuBray. “We have one building with 23 cases and one building with 11 cases. Then, throughout the rest of school district we have just less than 1% in any of the buildings. So, why would you mask up your whole school district for something that just needs to be dealt with by building?”

The district’s positivity rate is currently .006.

“I think there are districts that are watching and seeing how our numbers are going. In terms of the whole district, numbers are pretty stable. I think if people see that the numbers stay stable they make look more at our plan,” DuBray said.

None of the district’s 27 schools currently has a mask mandate.

Any changes in mask policies for other St. Louis area districts would likely take effect after the new year.

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Festus daycare center to shut down, affecting more than 100 children

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Festus daycare center to shut down, affecting more than 100 children

FESTUS, Mo. – A daycare center in Festus will permanently close its doors this month, forcing families of more than 100 kids to find new help.

The Wee Care Learning Center plans to shut down on Dec. 17 due to costs. Staff members said they received notices over the past couple of months, warning them that the daycare would eventually close — but the owner’s decision to shut down earlier than anticipated hit them hard.

“It was so sudden. We don’t know what to do, and we’re in limbo,” said Dianne Russom, the lead teacher at the Wee Care Learning Center.

Retirement isn’t in the cards, but it’s the kids they’re more concerned about.

“I mean there are some still starting next week,” said Russo. “They’re going to do the last two weeks that they can do with us because they were on maternity leave, and they have nowhere else to go.”

Parents like J.R. Hamilton said they don’t know what to do, as many daycare centers in the area have a waitlist.

“Everyone is scrambling, not just ourselves to find childcare, but the whole Jefferson County is just inundated,” said Hamilton.

Some parents said they will have to temporarily leave their jobs or reduce their work hours to stay at home with their kids.

“I’m going to have to take three to six months off from work just to be home,” said parent Nicole Kilian.

Another parent, Ryan Fonner, said: “My wife and I both work at Mercy at the outpatient treatment center and we’re actually having to go down to part-time care for them.”

Donna Ames, the assistant director at the Wee Care Learning Center, said the closure is especially hard because the staff has built a connection with all the children.

“You can tell that the parents have told their kids that they’re going somewhere else, and they’re having the same emotions that we all are,“ said Ames.

In 2019, a ballot measure was approved by Festus School District voters to raise taxes to pave the way for new projects, including an early childhood program.

In a statement, the Festus School District Superintendent said: “It is a facility that checks all of the boxes that would be required to start an early childhood education program in the district. The district has not yet closed on the facility, but we are hopeful that will occur in the coming weeks.”

The district’s early childhood program, won’t start until later in 2023.

For those still looking for new childcare, the school district is in talks with other childcare agencies to provide care after they close.

A Wee Care parent also made a Facebook group called “Families of Wee Care” to connect parents from the past and present.

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