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Bellinger hits for cycle as Wood, Dodgers beat Marlins 7-1

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MIAMI — Cody Bellinger became the first Dodgers rookie to hit for the cycle and Alex Wood became the first Dodgers pitcher in more than a century to win his first 11 decisions in a season, helping the NL West leaders beat the Miami Marlins 7-1 Saturday night for their eighth straight victory.

Bellinger singled in the first inning, hit a two-run homer in the third, added an RBI double in the fourth and hit his second career triple on the first pitch of the seventh. His triple off Nick Wittgren barely cleared the glove of right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, who tried to making a running backhanded catch.

Wood (11-0) struck out 10 in six scoreless innings, allowed only four baserunners and lowered his ERA to 1.56 in 16 games this year.

An angry Yasiel Puig took several steps toward the mound after he was nearly hit by a pitch from Miami’s Jose Urena in the first inning. Puig hit two home runs in Los Angeles’ win Friday, including a go-ahead three-run homer in the ninth inning.

The Dodgers (63-29) climbed 34 games above .500 for the first time and have won 28 of their past 32 games. Their bandwagon included an entire section at Marlins Park, where a group that follows the team on the road unfurled its enormous blue flag with the Dodgers logo during the sixth inning.

Los Angeles took a 5-0 lead in the third when Bellinger hit his 26th homer and Yasmani Grandal added a three-run shot, his 12th.

Bellinger’s cycle – his first four-hit game – was the fifth in the majors this year, and came against three pitchers. He became the third Dodger to hit for the cycle since the team moved to Los Angeles, and the first since Orlando Hudson on April 13, 2009.

Bellinger is the ninth player in the Dodgers’ 128-year history to hit for the cycle. They improved to 54-18 (.750) since he was promoted from the minors.

Urena (7-4) allowed all five runs and needed 82 pitches to get through three innings, his shortest start of the year.

CONFRONTATION

Urena’s first pitch to Puig was a 96 mph fastball that just missed the slugger’s left thigh. Puig shouted at Urena and took several steps as some players and both managers ran onto the field.

Catcher J.T. Realmuto stepped in front of Puig, and after some yelling the confrontation quickly ended. Puig then flied out.

Benches cleared when the teams met in Los Angeles in May, prompting the ejections of Marlins manager Don Mattingly, Dodgers reliever Ross Stripling and Dodgers bench coach Bob Geren.

BATTING ORDER

Puig remained in the No. 8 in the order even though he’s second on the Dodgers with 18 homers.

“You look at the numbers and the production he has had, and the easy thing is to put him right in the middle of the order,” manager Dave Roberts said before Saturday’s game. “But I think the right thing at this moment is to stay the course. It puts him in a good spot in the order, and the results are there.”

The Dodgers improved to 31-6 (.838) when Puig bats eighth.

MISMATCH

Stanton went 0 for 2 with a walk against Wood and is 3 for 25 lifetime (.120) against the left-hander.

UP NEXT

LHP Rich Hill (5-4, 3.69) is scheduled to start the series finale Sunday for the Dodgers. Hill made his most recent appearance at Marlins Park last September, when he threw seven perfect innings before Roberts pulled him, mindful the lefty had been sidelined by a blister earlier in the season. Three relievers completed a two-hit shutout.

RHP Tom Koehler (1-4, 8.00) will start for Miami as a replacement for RHP Edinson Volquez (left knee tendinitis).

More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

Astros exemplify the player-unfriendly bent of analytics

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Even as recently as a decade ago, Sabermetrics was a niche interest among baseball fans. As various concepts began to gain acceptance in the mainstream, players slowly began to accept them as well. Players like Brian Bannister and Zack Greinke were hailed as examples of a new breed of player — one who marries his athleticism with the utilization of analytics. This year, much was made of certain players’ data-driven adjustments, including Daniel Murphy and J.D. Martinez. Both had great seasons as a result of focusing more on hitting more fly balls instead of ground balls and line drives.

Statistics can clearly benefit players. They can also be used against them, and not just by opposing players. The Astros, who are in the World Series for the first time since 2005, are a great example of this. The Astros spent a few years rebuilding after a complete overhaul of the front office, which included bringing in analytically-fluent Jeff Luhnow as GM after the 2011 season. That overhaul instilled so much confidence that, in 2014, Sports Illustrated writer Ben Reiter predicted that the Astros would win the 2017 World Series. He’s only four Astros wins away from being proven correct.

The Astros’ front office, though, took advantage of its players at various times throughout the process. Their success is owed, in part, to exploiting its players. On Twitter, user @chicken__puppet chained a few tweets together exemplifying this:

At its core, analytics is about optimization: getting the most bang for your buck. If you read Moneyball, you know this. Wins Above Replacement (WAR) quickly became synonymous with the field and $/WAR was a natural next step. Sabermetrics defaulted to ownership’s perspective, so highly-paid players who performed poorly were scorned. Cheap players who performed well were lauded.

It is no mere coincidence that once most front offices installed analytics departments, teams stopped handing out so many outrageous contracts to free agent first baseman/DH types. Instead, teams focused on signing their young players to long-term contract extensions to buy out their arbitration years ahead of time, ostensibly saving ownership and the team boatloads of money. Teams began to pay close attention to service time as well. Service time determines when a player becomes eligible for arbitration and free agency, so teams that are able to finagle their players’ service time can potentially delay that player’s free agency by a year. The Cubs tried to do this with third baseman Kris Bryant in 2015, as Craig wrote about.

There is a very real ethical component to covering and being a fan of Major League Baseball, despite the common plea to separate sports from politics. The Astros and Cubs aren’t the only ones exploiting their players; the Angels, for example, made some odd personnel choices earlier this season that happened to allow them to avoid paying some players incentive bonuses. Every front office, in one way or another, games the system because the system is set up to benefit ownership first and players second. And if the likes of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa can be taken advantage of so freely and openly, what hope does anyone else have?

Fans have been conditioned to group players and owners together as one group of rich people. In reality, the player earning $30 million has more in common with the office worker making $35,000 a year than with team owners. When fans hear about Correa making $507,500 instead of $550,000, or about free agent who wants a nine-figure contract, they wonder why he had the nerve to ask for so much money in the first place. We praise players, like Cliff Lee, who “leave money on the table.” Both the player and that fan, by virtue of existing and participating in this system, are locked in an eternal battle with those who cut their paychecks. Regardless of salary differences, the player deserves to benefit from the fruits of his labor as much as the office worker. Part of being a baseball fan should also include rooting for the players’ financial success and not just the owners’.

Praising the Astros for being smart and savvy will only create more incentive for other front offices to mimic these unethical behaviors. The whole theme of the World Series shouldn’t be about smart, analytically-inclined teams reaching the summit; it should in part be about teams getting ahead with a multitude of exploitative practices against their players.