Greetings from day two of the Winter Meetings


For the second day in a row I am the first person in the media room. Given that I was not exactly the first person to go to sleep last night, I am far less proud of myself for being an early riser today than I was yesterday. Viva la Winter Meetings.

This is the first of the four Winter Meetings I’ve attended where there was not some fairly major-to major signing after 9pm local time. This was OK in that it meant that there wasn’t cause for me to have to interrupt my evening circulating plans to blog about something, but it was less OK in that it meant that there wasn’t cause for anyone else to clear out either. There are many fine establishments to quench one’s thirst here at the Opryland Resort, but last night they were all crowded.

But it did make for good people-watching. The sports bar here — Fuse — performed a noble service in attracting all of the Ed Hardy shirt-wearing 20 and 30-something men so they did not come into close contact with the rest of us. Next door, Def Leprechaun played once again at the Irish pub, attracting people who seemed around 65% less-amused at a band with a clever name last night than they were the night before. They’re OK and all, but less is more with those guys.

But those were just places where my party and I passed through while looking for the real action of the Winter Meetings, which took place in the large bar off the main lobby, called The Falls. This is where major and minor league lifers found their friends, held impromptu reunions and reminisced about their younger days. “Hey, you sonofabitch! How the hell ARE ya! Hawhawhaw!” [back slap back slap back slap].  It was the real life version of that “Seinfeld” episode when George met the Houston Astros executives. Except the lone Houston Astros executive I saw last night was Kevin Goldstein, and he was calm and dapper.

I tried my best to keep my ear to the ground, but really, there was not a ton of gossip to be had.  The best I could do was to take joy in little moments.  Like seeing Jim Leyland and Bruce Bochy not looking stressed and cold, which is how we last saw them. Like seeing managers, agents, executives and reporters stack their empties on a brick wall that should not have been able to hold that many empties.  Like seeing some jerk at the bar telling Brad Ausmus to “get a job,” and then, when Ausmus looked perplexed, hearing the jerk say what he meant was that he thought he was a great managerial candidate and that “get a job” meant “I’d love to see you managing a team.”  You’ll hear rumors today that that jerk was me, but don’t you believe it. Ahem.

Anyway, back at it today.  Mike Napoli was fun yesterday, but we’re still waiting for a big, big move a la Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke.  Given that we put up 68 posts at HBT yesterday, you know that if something like that happens — or if 66 or so smaller moves happen — we’ll have it for you, so tune us in and rip off the dial.

The Cubs clinch World Series berth with NLCS Game 6 win

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  The Chicago Cubs celebrate defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 in game six of the National League Championship Series to advance to the World Series against the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
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After 71 years, the Cubs are headed back to the Fall Classic.

The dominance with which Clayton Kershaw attacked the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS was nonexistent in Game 6 as the Dodgers’ ace loaded the bases to start the first inning and scattered five extra bases and five runs over five frames. By the time Dave Roberts pulled his starter in the sixth inning, Kershaw was sitting on a Game Score of 33, the lowest he’s mustered since the start of the 2015 season. Only one of his strikes came via curveball, and whether he was having difficulty locating his off-speed stuff or felt more confident with the fastball-slider combo, it was the fewest curves he’d seen land for strikes all year (per David Adler).

Where the Dodgers were able to give Kershaw the edge in Game 2, they found themselves powerless against opposing hurler Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks turned out 7 1/3 scoreless frames with two hits and six strikeouts, preserving the Cubs’ second shutout of the postseason and the first since they bested the Giants in Game 1 of the NLDS. After his 1-0 loss to the Dodgers early in the NLCS, seeing the MLB ERA leader turn out a gem was a relief for the Cubs, especially one as spectacular as an 88-pitch two-hitter.

With Hendricks effectively stymieing the Dodgers’ best attempts to get on base, the Cubs played to their strengths at the plate. Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist cleared the bases in the first inning for a two-run lead, followed by a Dexter Fowler RBI single in the second. Willson Contreras came through in the fourth inning for the Cubs, lifting an 87 m.p.h. slider to left field for his first home run of October, while Anthony Rizzo hit his second homer of the postseason on a 1-1 fastball in the fifth.

Neither bullpen allowed a single run from the sixth inning onward. Dodgers’ right-hander Kenley Jansen took the ball from Kershaw in the sixth, scattering four strikeouts over three innings and denying the Cubs so much as a single baserunner through the end of the game. Aroldis Chapman, meanwhile, issued just one walk in 1 1/3 scoreless frames, inducing a Yasiel Puig double play to clinch the Cubs’ 17th franchise pennant.

With the win, the Cubs will face off against the Indians in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday at 8 PM EDT. And, in case you needed a reminder:

Video: Willson Contreras blasts first postseason home run off of Kershaw

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  Willson Contreras #40 of the Chicago Cubs celebrates after hitting a solo home run in the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game six of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Getty Images

So much for Clayton Kershaw posing a threat tonight. The Cubs got their knocks in early and often against the Dodgers’ ace during Game 6 of the NLCS, racking up three runs in the first three innings before rookie catcher Willson Contreras unleashed his first postseason home run in the bottom of the fourth inning.

According to MLB.com’s Phil Rogers, Contreras became the 10th Cub to homer in the 2016 playoffs, following big hits by Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant, Travis Wood, and Javier Baez. Of the ten home run hitters, Contreras joins catchers David Ross and Miguel Montero as yet another backstop capable of driving the long ball (and, less importantly, as another player capable of a sweet, sweet bat flip).

Rizzo, whose last homer was a deep drive to right field off of Los Angeles right-hander Pedro Baez in Game 4 of the NLCS, piled on Kershaw’s five-run outing with another home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. Kershaw called it a night after five frames, and the Cubs currently lead the Dodgers 5-0 in the sixth inning.