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Cruz, Polanco homer to lift Dominican Republic to 3-0 win

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SAN DIEGO (AP) The Dominican Republic took a step toward a repeat title in the World Baseball Classic thanks to impressive home runs by Nelson Cruz and Gregory Polanco.

The Dominicans also got some nice pitching in a 3-0 victory Thursday night that pushed Venezuela to the brink of elimination.

“We understand the importance of this game and what we had to do,” Nelson said after he hit his third homer of the tournament. “We woke up. We needed to start moving.”

The Dominican Republic (1-1) had won 11 straight WBC games until losing to Puerto Rico in the Pool F opener on Tuesday night.

Venezuela (0-2) fell victim to a United States comeback on Wednesday night.

The Americans play Puerto Rico on Friday night. On Saturday, Puerto Rico faces Venezuela and the Dominican Republic faces the United States. The top two teams advance to the semifinals at Dodger Stadium. The Pool F winner plays the Netherlands on Monday while the Pool F runner-up plays Japan on Tuesday. The championship game is Wednesday night.

Cruz homered to right off Arcenio Leon leading off the eighth. He hit a three-run homer off Andrew Miller in the eighth inning Saturday night to help the Dominicans rally for a 7-5 victory against the United States in the opening round in Miami.

“We get excited whenever we make a good play,” Cruz said. “That is how we grew up playing. We act like kids. Anytime we score a run, that is how we react.”

Robinson Cano hit an RBI single in the seventh.

Jhoulys Chacin (0-1), who signed with the Padres in December, locked into a duel with former Padres pitcher Edinson Volquez.

Chacin put runners on first and second with two outs in the third before punching out Jose Bautista. Chacin slapped his glove in celebration as he headed to the dugout.

But he still got the loss in his new home ballpark after he allowed Polanco’s homer to right leading off the fifth to break the scoreless tie.

Chacin reached his pitch count two batters later after walking Jose Reyes, leaving after allowing one run and three hits, striking out three and walking three.

“We’re going to have a difficult time if we don’t really tighten that piece up,” Venezuela manager Omar Vizquel said.

Dominican manager Tony Pena pulled Volquez after the Miami Marlins right-hander put runners on first and third with one out in the fifth. Fernando Abad (1-0) came on and got Ender Inciarte to ground into a double play.

“Volqy did a great job and there is no question we have a great bullpen,” Pena said. “And today I was going to use everybody.”

Volquez allowed four hits, struck out six and walked two. Jeurys Familia pitched the ninth for the save, allowing two bloop singles that put runners on the corners before striking out Alcides Escobar to end it.

After Volquez left, five relievers allowed only four baserunners.

Dominican third baseman Manny Machado made a great play to throw out Miguel Cabrera in the sixth. Machado backhanded the ball, spun and threw from deep in foul territory. First baseman Carlos Santana caught the throw and dove at first base, touching the bag with his glove just before Cabrera arrived.

“It’s nothing new,” Cruz said. “He’s one of the best third basemen in the league. He’s just unbelievable.”

Cabrera came out with stiffness in his back.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.