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Mastrodonato: Red Sox couldn’t hit the fastball, and other leftover thoughts from ALCS defeat

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Mastrodonato: Red Sox couldn’t hit the fastball, and other leftover thoughts from ALCS defeat

HOUSTON — The Red Sox hitters were stunned that an offense that scored 25 runs over the first three games could muster just 10 hits combined over the final three.

Alex Cora thought it was a simple change from Astros catcher Martin Maldonado in the middle of Game 4, when the Astros started pumping in more fastballs and the Sox weren’t ready for it.

As good as the Sox were at hitting off-speed pitches all season, they weren’t quite as adept at hitting fastballs. And after the Astros threw just 67% fastballs in Games 1 through 4 of the American League Championship Series, there was a clear change of attack in Games 5 and 6, when they threw 76% fastballs.

The Red Sox chased too many, struggled to make good contact and became the same team they were late in September, making quick outs and appearing like they had a home run swing every time up.

In the first four games, the Astros needed an average of 167 pitches. Over the final two, they threw just 235 pitches combined, a 29% decrease in pitches thrown.

“He gets out of his script, and that’s something that is very impressive,” Cora said of Maldanado. “And I think it was halfway through Game 4, I felt that they were changing, and they used the fastballs in different spots. Their righties. Especially their righties. And we just weren’t able to catch up with the fastball.”

Some other leftovers as the Red Sox took an early flight home from Houston on Saturday and will spent the rest of the postseason on the couch:

1. Xander Bogaerts spent most of the series looking like the hitter he was in 2014, the last time he was a below-average offensive player.

The Astros threw everything low and away and Bogaerts was in swing mode. When he’s going well, those are pitches he lays off or pokes to right field for easy singles. He’s almost always content with singles. It’s why he ranks fifth in MLB since the start of 2015 with 1,099 hits and also ranks fifth with 717 singles in that time.

But when it’s going wrong, he’s taking big swings on those pitches and trying to drive them to his pull side. He swung over everything on the lower, outer half in the final game and was beside himself about it afterwards.

“Man, I wish I had answers for that,” he said. “Today, we kind of expanded the zone a little bit more. At home, I don’t feel like that was the case. Framber Valdez threw a great game and we just hit a lot of balls on the ground. Coming here, we chased some pitches, me included. It didn’t work out.”

2. The Astros clearly changed their plan of attack against Kiké Hernandez, who went 8-for-13 in the first three games and just 2-for-13 over the final three.

The Astros made more of a point to pitch outside to Hernandez too, giving him more fastballs after he did so much damage on breaking balls in the first few games.

“Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the other team,” he said. “They made a quick adjustment. They adjusted to us and we were not able to be as quick as they were at making the adjustment ourselves.”

3. In the bottom of the seventh inning in Game 4, the Red Sox had a 79% chance of winning the series, according to Baseball Reference win expectancy chart.
4. The decision to have Alex Verdugo steal with one out and runners on the corners in the seventh inning was the fifth-most impactful play of the series, according to Baseball Reference, and it lowered the Sox’ chances of winning the series by 4%. It was a full count and Travis Shaw was at the plate. The Sox were down two runs and getting them both in scoring position would’ve been huge. It seemed like a risk worth taking to Cora.
“I just bet on my players in a 3-2 count,” he said. “We put the ball in play against a sinker-baller, we score one. Maldonado threw like a 1.4-second to second base… We were trying to score one, and we felt that we had the right guy (on the mound). The times were 1.6, 1.65, and it just mattered that their catcher just came out shooting and he made a perfect throw.”

5. Where was Garret Whitlock in Game 6? Cora said he liked the matchup with Adam Ottavino late in the game. Whitlock and Tanner Houck combined to throw 7 1/3 innings in the series.
6. The Sox clearly needed another left-handed reliever. Josh Taylor was the choice against Michael Brantley and Yordan Alvarez, but once he was burned the Sox had few options. It seems inexcusable that Martin Perez made four appearances in this series.
7. Kyle Schwarber’s play at first base when he turned a double play but let the run score from third was a great athletic play, but one that experienced first basemen don’t let happen. Schwarber admitted afterwards he should’ve prioritized the guy going home.
8. Danny Santana had just three big league at-bats in the last 42 days and he’s 0-for-3 with three strikeouts in those at-bats.
9. The Sox begin the 2022 season on March 31 at Fenway Park against the Rays.

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Dolphins’ first-round pick pushed further back by 49ers’ win over Cowboys

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Dolphins’ first-round pick pushed further back by 49ers’ win over Cowboys

The Miami Dolphins didn’t play a wild-card round playoff game, but they still found a way to lose over the weekend.

The Dolphins’ first-round draft pick took another blow with the San Francisco 49ers’ upset win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday evening.

Now, Miami will be selecting No. 25, at best, in the draft’s first round after the 49ers advanced to the divisional round of the postseason.

San Francisco now plays at the NFC’s top-seeded Green Bay Packers. With another upset, the pick that goes to the Dolphins falls to 29. A 49ers loss Sunday would’ve likely given Miami the 22nd pick.

The Dolphins own the 49ers’ selection while the Philadelphia Eagles have Miami’s pick due to the two trades the Dolphins pulled off with the NFC teams last offseason ahead of the 2021 NFL draft. Miami traded back to No. 12 with San Francisco, sending the No. 3 pick, which previously belonged to the Houston Texans, to the 49ers. A move up from 12 to 6, where wide receiver Jaylen Waddle was selected, followed and sent the Dolphins’ 2022 first-rounder to Philadelphia.

In the movement, the Dolphins are now selecting at least 10 spots lower than they would be had they traded the 49ers’ pick to the Eagles instead of their own. The Miami selection going to Philadelphia in the upcoming draft is No. 15. The Dolphins also got a 2023 first-round pick from the 49ers in the deal.

San Francisco offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel, who is one of the Dolphins’ seven candidates being interviewed for their head coaching vacancy, could theoretically play a role in negatively affecting his first draft pick as Miami head coach should he be the choice for the job.

The Dolphins appear more likely than they once were to keep their first-round pick after the Saturday news that the franchise plans to continue working with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

The NFL draft is ordered by first having the 18 non-playoff teams pick in reverse order of record, with lower strength of schedule serving as a tiebreaker. Picks 19-24 are then reserved for the wild-card round losers in reverse order of regular-season record. Picks 25-28 go to divisional round losers and so on until the Super Bowl champion picks 32nd.

Bears interested in Dolphins exec

The Chicago Bears are already seeking interviews with ex-Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland and ex-Dolphins coach Brian Flores for their two vacancies in the respective roles.

Now, they have requested permission to interview current Miami executive Reggie McKenzie for the general manager job, according to The MMQB.

McKenzie has been with the Dolphins as senior personnel executive since 2019 after spending the previous seven seasons (2012-18) as the Oakland Raiders’ general manager. In 2016, McKenzie was named the NFL’s Executive of the Year by Sporting News, The MMQB and the PFWA.

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State Fair reports 2021 operating loss, raises admission rates for 2022

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State Fair reports 2021 operating loss, raises admission rates for 2022

Although Minnesotans had to go without their beloved State Fair in 2020, it returned despite numerous pandemic-related obstacles in 2021 to become one of the best-attended North American events of the year, according to Fair officials.

In spite of the comeback, the Fair reported an operating loss of $1.3 million last year, general manager Jerry Hammer told the governing body of the Great Minnesota Get-Together on Sunday. When the Fair was canceled in 2020, the loss was $16.5 million, he said.

The Minnesota State Agricultural Society, which oversees the state’s end-of-summer ritual, held its the 163rd annual meeting in Bloomington over the weekend.

The 2022 State Fair will take place between Aug. 25 and Sept. 5. The new admission prices will be $17 for those 13-64 years old; people 5-12 and 65 and older will pay $15. Those under 4 are admitted for free. The increased price begins Feb. 1. Discount tickets will be on sale for $13 for all ages until Jan. 31 at mnstatefair.org/tickets.

Despite the operating loss, the 2021 Fair drew 1.3 million attendees, Hammer said, adding that pulling off the fair in 2021 amid the ongoing pandemic was “miraculous.”

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Baylor WR, 3-star OL commit to CU Buffs

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CU Buffs football early National Signing Day class of 2022

One of the top receivers for the Big 12 champs is coming to Boulder.

On Sunday, RJ Sneed II announced that he will play his final season of college football at Colorado after spending the previous five years at Baylor.

Also on Sunday, Van Wells, an offensive lineman from C.E. King High School in Houston, announced his verbal commitment to the Buffaloes after spending the weekend in Boulder on an official visit.

Listed at 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, Sneed helped Baylor go 12-2 and win the Big 12 championship game, as well as the Sugar Bowl this season. He was second for the Bears in catches (46) and receiving yards (573) and caught two touchdown passes.

During his career, Sneed has 133 catches for 1,564 yards and eight touchdowns. After playing minimally in 2017 and redshirting in 2018, Sneed finished third on the team in receptions (42) and yards (437) in 2019. In 2020, he led the Bears in receptions (39), receiving yards (497) and touchdowns (three) and earned second-team All-Big 12 honors.

A 2017 graduate of Cypress Ranch (Tex.) High School, Sneed was a three-star prospect who had 20 scholarship offers, including from Colorado. He had offers from 17 Power 5 schools, including Alabama, Mississippi, TCU, Arizona State, California, UCLA and Utah.

Sneed graduated from Baylor with a degree in health, kinesiology and leisure studies in August of 2020 and has been working on a master’s in sports pedagogy. He will have one season to play at CU.

With the Buffs, Sneed will provide production and veteran leadership to a group that has lost four players to the transfer portal this offseason: Chris Carpenter, Keith Miller, Brenden Rice and La’Vontae Shenault. Rice has not announced his destination, but Carpenter (UTSA), Miller (Texas A&M-Commerce) and Shenault (Alabama State) have committed to other schools.

Statistically, Rice was the Buffs’ top wide receiver this past season, but the Buffs are slated to return seniors Daniel Arias, Maurice Bell and Jaylon Jackson, junior Dimitri Stanley and sophomores Montana Lemonious-Craig, Chase Penry and Ty Robinson.

Also in the mix will be three incoming freshmen: Grant Page, Chase Sowell and Jordan Tyson.

A three-star prospect, Wells is rated by 247Sports.com as a top-75 interior lineman nationally in the 2022 class. He has 19 total scholarship offers, including from Air Force, Houston and Maryland.

Wells is the third lineman in CU’s class, joining tackles Carter Edwards and Travis Gray.

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