Eye on the prize

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So much and so little has changed.

It was 10 years and three weeks ago that I discovered Rotoworld.com,
clicked on the contact button and suggested to anyone who was listening
that I was the perfect candidate to write some columns for the site.
Not that this college dropout had any sort of resume. Besides my
willingness to write cheap, I went with the only other thing working in
my favor: I was leading an ESPN baseball contest played by about 50,000
people.

It took nearly four weeks to get a reply, but when it finally did
come, I was welcomed aboard with open arms and I kicked off my
sportswriting career making $25 a week for writing the Strike Zone and
the Prospects Report.

Obviously, things got better from there, or I probably wouldn’t have
made it the 10 years. In January 2000, Rotoworld essentially became my
life, as I took over the baseball, football and basketball news, and
with plenty of hard work and some luck along the way, the site got big.
I gradually received the chance to scale back my workload as we could
hire new people, and I’ve been able to strictly focus on baseball,
always my love, for five years now. We even eventually went corporate,
as the original site owners chose to sell to NBC in 2006. This year, we
started up this blog on NBCSports.com and I’ve been allowed to focus as
much on actual baseball as fantasy baseball for the first time.

I think that’s part of the reason why, 10 years later, I’m again leading that baseball contest, ESPN’s Baseball Challenge.
If I were smarter, I would have switched focuses long ago to a pay game
or two and tried to make myself some real money. But BBC gets more
attention from me than anything else I’ve ever played. When it first
started up in 1997, I got a little obsessed with it, or at least the
chat room attached to it. Among the people I met there was Troy Beech,
who later joined me at Rotoworld and who became very important in
helping the site grow in the early part of the decade.

As for the game itself, I’ve always loved the way it saps luck from
the equation. 10 different players, every single day. No worries about
injuries or players simply falling off a cliff. It comes down to
knowledge and dedication when you have to make 900 picks to win.

And I was really good at it, of course. BBC has always been two
contests per year: one pre-All-Star break, one post. In 1997, I
finished second in the first half and first for the whole year, though
that didn’t count for anything. In 1999, I went on to win the first
half, earning myself a big-screen TV. Ever since, I’ve been on the
leaderboard more often than not, though I’ve never really been in a
position to win coming down the stretch, at least until this year. I
think it’s partially because I’m less burned out on fantasy stuff than
usual, but I’ve been sitting in first place since the third week of the season.

The lead has fluctuated. It was almost 150 points at one time, but it
got down as low as 15 points last week and could have disappeared
entirely if not for a poor outing from Chad Billingsley (unlike most, I
went with Josh Outman and the A’s staff on Friday, only to cringe when
he was forced from the game in the second inning due to a sore elbow).
While the nine hitters account for the majority of the team’s points,
it’s still the pitcher that makes or breaks most days.622

We’re down to the final three weeks now. There are no more flukes high
on the leaderboard, and several of the names below me have won or
challenged for the title before. I’m not going to mind losing if that’s
how it works out; I play the game because it’s a tradition and it’s
still fun for me, even if there are days that I don’t feel like picking
my team. Plus, there’s the added bonus now that it keeps me on my toes
and gives me a good reason to check over every box score even on those
days that my job no longer requires it.

That was convincing, right?

OK, so I want to win. I want to pummel everyone by 200 points. I
want to tease Matthew Berry about it afterwards. I want ESPN to not be
able to interview their two-time champ because, in doing so, they’d be
promoting Rotoworld and NBCSports.com

And I like that the old standby hasn’t changed. The rest of the
daily routine is different, the house is new and the job is nothing
like what I originally signed on for. But six months of the year, I
still spend 20 minutes or so every night writing down the matchups,
checking tomorrow’s weather and then picking my BBC team.

Now that I’ve gone public, I’ll provide weekly updates through the end of the first half.

Sanchez hits another home run, Yankees rout Orioles 13-5

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NEW YORK (AP) Rookie Gary Sanchez kept up a most remarkable run, homering for the third straight game as the New York Yankees routed the Baltimore Orioles 13-5 Saturday.

Sanchez hit a drive that bounced off the top of the right-center field wall and over in the fourth inning. He reached 11 career home runs faster than anyone in major league history – 23 games, including two hitless games last year.

After the switch-hitting catcher connected, the crowd of 38,843 emphatically chanted his name. Mark Teixeira stepped out of the batter’s box, pausing the game and allowing the 23-year-old to tip his batting helmet to the fans from the top of the dugout steps.

Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks also homered as the Yankees won their fourth in a row. A day after trouncing the Orioles 14-4, New York moved within 2 1/2 games of them for the second AL wild-card spot.

Chris Davis homered twice and Mark Trumbo hit his big league-leading 39th home run for Baltimore, which has dropped three straight.

Sanchez is now hitting .400 with 21 RBIs in 21 games this year.

Castro had four hits and drove in three runs, Hicks also drove in three runs and Brian McCann got three hits and drove in two.

Every Yankees starter has gotten a hit in back-to-back games for the first time since July 26-27, 2009.

Tommy Layne (1-1) pitched a scoreless inning for the win.

Dylan Bundy (7-5) gave up five runs in four innings.

The Yankees got 18 hits and drew seven walks. For all that offensive output, it was a disputed play on the bases that put them ahead.

Baltimore led 2-1 in the third when with two outs, singles by Teixeira, Didi Gregorius and Castro brought home the tying run.

With runners at the corners, Castro broke for second. Catcher Matt Wieters‘ throw was then cut off by shortstop J.J. Hardy as Gregorius tried to steal home.

Hardy’s throw appeared to be in time, but Gregorius neatly tucked in his right arm and extended his left arm across home plate.

Umpire Ron Kulpa called Gregorius out, but the Yankees challenged and the ruling was overturned. After the review, McCann hit an RBI double for a 4-2 lead.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Yankees: McCann returned to the starting lineup after being away following the death of his grandmother.

Orioles: CF Adam Jones was held out of the lineup after aggravating his hamstring injury on Friday. He tried to talk his way into starting, manager Buck Showalter said.

UP NEXT

Orioles: RHP Kevin Gausman (5-10, 3.92 ERA) is set to make his fourth start this season against the Yankees. He’s 0-1 in the previous three outings despite a 1.31 ERA.

Yankees: LHP CC Sabathia (8-10, 4.33) was originally scheduled to pitch Monday in Kansas City. But manager Joe Girardi made a switch, starting Sabathia instead of RHP Michael Pineda. Manager Joe Girardi cited Baltimore’s better numbers against right-handed pitching and the Royals’ success vs. lefties.

Urias matures on mound in Dodgers’ 3-2 win over Cubs

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Julio Urias allowed one run over six innings, Corey Seager set a Dodgers franchise record for a shortstop with his 23rd home run and Los Angeles defeated the Chicago Cubs 3-2 on Saturday to even the series between NL division leaders.

Urias (5-2) pitched better at home than the last time he faced the Cubs. The rookie left-hander made his second career start in Chicago on June 2 and gave up six runs – five earned – and eight hits in five innings while serving up three homers.

This time, he allowed six hits and tied a career high with eight strikeouts and two walks. He is 4-0 in six games (four starts) since the All-Star break.

Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his 38th save a day after allowing a run on a wild pitch in the ninth in a 6-4, 10-inning loss.

The Cubs’ four-game winning streak ended behind the shortest outing of the season from Jason Hammel (13-7). He gave up three runs and five hits in 2 1/3 innings.

The right-hander was coming off a poor performance against Colorado, allowing a season-high 10 runs (six earned) in 3 1/3 innings of an 11-4 loss. Hammel remained winless in nine career games (six starts) at Dodger Stadium.

The Cubs’ rally in the seventh came up short. They got to 3-2 on pinch-hitter Jason Heyward‘s RBI single off reliever Pedro Baez.

Heyward got caught stealing, and Baez walked Dexter Fowler and Kris Bryant before getting Anthony Rizzo on an inning-ending grounder.

Los Angeles took a 3-1 lead in the third on RBI singles by Chase Utley and Justin Turner. Utley’s hit was the third straight given up by Hammel to start the inning.

Seager tied the game at 1 in the first, giving him the most homers by a Dodgers shortstop in franchise single-season history. He broke the old mark of 22 set by Glenn Wright in 1930.

The Cubs led 1-0 in the first on Rizzo’s RBI single.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Cubs: RHP John Lackey (right shoulder strain) will throw a bullpen session on Monday in Chicago.

Dodgers: OF Scott Van Slyke won’t play again this season. He’s on the DL with right wrist irritation after being out nearly two months earlier in the season with low back irritation. “He doesn’t have the range of motion he needs to contribute,” manager Dave Roberts said. … LHP Clayton Kershaw (mild disk irritation) will face hitters in a simulated game on Tuesday in Los Angeles, Rancho Cucamonga or Arizona.

AT THE TURNSTILES

The announced attendance of 49,522 pushed the Dodgers over the 3 million mark for the fifth consecutive year and made them the first team in the majors to top that number this season.

DAY TRIPPIN’

The game featured the major leagues’ top two clubs in day games. The Dodgers improved to 24-11, while the Cubs fell to 38-21. Los Angeles came in averaging over a run more during the day (5.56) than at night (4.17).

UP NEXT

Cubs: LHP Jon Lester (14-4, 2.81 ERA) is 1-1 with a 4.05 ERA in two career starts at Dodger Stadium. The team is 7-0 in his last seven starts.

Dodgers: RHP Brock Stewart (0-2, 11.25) makes his third career major league start after being recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma City on Friday. He last pitched on Aug. 19 against Albuquerque, allowing four hits in five scoreless innings.