Braves outfielder Jason Heyward was carrying a sub-.700 OPS near the end of July when Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez decided to move him from the #2 spot in the lineup, where he had hit for most of the season, to the lead-off spot. Despite owning baseball’s best record at 74-47, the Braves have lacked a “true” lead-off hitter for most of the season. Andrelton Simmons (.643 OPS) has led off 62 times and Jordan Schafer (.828 OPS) has led off 20 times but has also been injured for most of the season. Even B.J. Upton led off 13 times at the beginning of the season.
On July 27, Gonzalez moved Heyward up a spot in the lineup and it has been just what the doctor ordered. In 18 games since, Heyward is hitting .382/.455/.603. He has had multiple hits in six out of his last seven games. The Braves, meanwhile, have won 16 of those games (89%), averaging 5.4 runs per game. Their first place lead in the NL East has increased from 8.5 games to 14.5 games.
Because of his size and power potential, Heyward was never really thought of as a lead-off hitter, but he has the second-best walk-to-strikeout ratio on the team (0.67). He trails Simmons, but has reached base overall nearly seven percent more often, which is what really matters. Designating Heyward as the lead-off man was certainly not an obvious move, but considering how well things have gone for the Braves since, it was a necessary move.
Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports reports that Indians manager Terry Francona has set his starting rotation for the first three games of the World Series against the Cubs. Corey Kluber will start Game One, followed by Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin for Games Two and Three, respectively.
Kluber, the ace of the staff, has had a terrific postseason. He’s made three starts with a 0.98 ERA and a 20/7 K/BB ratio in 18 1/3 innings. The Indians won two of his starts — Game Two of the ALDS and Game 1 of the ALCS.
Bauer was unable to make it out of the first inning of his ALCS Game 3 start against the Blue Jays after the stitches on his pinky opened up and caused blood to pour out. He suffered the injury repairing one of his drones, which he builds as a hobby. Bauer insists he’ll be good to go in Game Two, though he also insisted that the injury wouldn’t be an impediment against the Jays.
Tomlin has made two solid starts for the Indians, allowing a total of three runs over 10 2/3 innings. The Indians won both games he started, Game 3 of the ALDS and Game 2 of the ALCS. MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian notes that if Bauer can’t go in Game Two, Tomlin will be moved up to start in his place.
It isn’t difficult to see the fingerprints left by Cubs’ president Tom Ricketts and general manager Theo Epstein on the club’s remarkable 2016 season. In a piece for FOXSports.com, former Yankee Alex Rodriguez highlighted the duo’s effectiveness in liberating the Cubs from a five-year losing streak and six-year postseason drought, citing both the unrelenting work ethic and passion that Ricketts and Epstein brought to the club as major factors in their success.
Rodriguez’s first brush with sabermetric savant and all-around baseball wizard Theo Epstein came in 2003, when the then- 27-year-old All-Star was eyeing a deal with the Red Sox. The Major League Baseball Players Association eventually nixed the trade, and the Rangers’ young shortstop was sent to the Yankees shortly thereafter, but not before Rodriguez glimpsed the inner workings of Epstein’s mind.
What I remember best about that time was watching Theo furiously scribbling out the Red Sox lineup for the upcoming season on a room-service napkin. That’s when I saw Theo’s baseball mind at work. I saw he had a passion for the game, a depth of knowledge, and a thirst to be great. Theo’s passion was contagious. We were three 20-somethings convinced we were about to turn baseball upside down together. Though I never got a chance to work with Theo, I knew then that he was going to be a force.
A-Rod also referenced Ricketts’ thorough approach to rebuilding the organization. Ricketts, who purchased the franchise for $875 million in 2009, first made it his mission to transform Wrigley Field into a comfortable and enticing playing environment, then targeted top-tier management to run the show behind the scenes. With Ricketts fully backing Epstein’s transformative approaches — including an overhaul of the Cubs’ farm system, investments in international player development, and a comprehensive understanding and practical application of sabermetric advances — the Cubs’ path to a 97-win season in 2015 seemed a natural consequence of the pair’s hard work.
This year, the attention has been even more intensely focused on the Cubs’ elusive third World Series title. Rodriguez, however, believes that winning a championship is secondary to the strides Ricketts and Epstein have taken with the club.
Together, Ricketts and Epstein have built one of the greatest franchises in baseball and transformed 1060 W. Addison St. It’s a task that no one could quite get right for a hundred years. While four more wins would put a giant exclamation point on five years of focused work and determination, I won’t worry if this team doesn’t win the World Series in the next nine days.