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Cubs eke out 2-1 win in Game 3 of NLDS against Nationals, take 2-1 series lead

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Nationals ace Max Scherzer made his postseason debut on Monday. The Nationals held him back to give him more time to heal from a “tweaked” hamstring suffered during his last start of the regular season. It worked, as he tossed six no-hit innings against the Cubs, issuing three walks while striking out six.

The Nationals gave Scherzer a 1-0 lead to work with in the top of the sixth. Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber botched a catch on a Daniel Murphy fly ball, then scooted it away with his glove trying to get it back. With Murphy on third base with two outs, Ryan Zimmerman ripped a double to right-center field off of Cubs starter Jose Quintana to give the Nats a 1-0 lead.

Scherzer lost the no-hit bid in the bottom of the seventh when Ben Zobrist swatted a one-out double to left-center field. That brought manager Dusty Baker out to the mound who, after a 30-second conversation with his pitcher who pleaded to stay in, brought in lefty reliever Sammy Solis to face lefty Kyle Schwarber. Cubs skipper Joe Maddon countered by bringing Albert Almora, Jr. in as a pinch-hitter. Almora — a fantastic hitter against lefties — drilled a 3-2 fastball from Solis into left field for an RBI single, knotting the game up at 1-1. Solis gave up another single to Jason Heyward, but was bailed out of trouble when Addison Russell lined out on a nice play by Michael Taylor in center field. Heyward was way too far off the bag and was doubled off first base to end the inning.

For a franchise that, until last year, had been famous for its bad luck, the Cubs had some luck go their way in the bottom of the eighth. Tommy La Stella led off the frame by drawing a walk against Nats reliever Brandon Kintzler. Jon Jay then moved Leonys Martin, who pinch-ran for La Stella, up to second with a sacrifice bunt. Kintzler struck out Kris Bryant for the second out, but Baker opted to bring in lefty Oliver Perez to face Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo blooped a first-pitch slider from Perez into shallow left-center field, almost exactly between left fielder Jayson Werth, Taylor in center, and shortstop Trea Turner, which plated Martin for the go-ahead run. Rizzo ventured too far off the first base bag in the action and was caught in a rundown to end the inning.

Closer Wade Davis took the hill to start the ninth. As he did so often during the regular season, he nailed the game down with ease. He struck out Murphy, got Zimmerman to ground out, then got Werth to pop out to Rizzo just behind the first base bag for a 1-2-3 ninth inning.

The Cubs will try to punch their ticket to the NLCS on Tuesday at home, starting at 5:30 PM ET. They’ll send Jake Arrieta out to the mound to face the Nationals’ Tanner Roark.

Angels’ Andrelton Simmons opts out of final 5 games

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Shortstop Andrelton Simmons has opted out of the remainder of the Los Angeles Angels’ season.

The Angels announced the four-time Gold Glove-winning shortstop’s decision Tuesday before they faced the San Diego Padres.

Los Angeles (24-31) is still technically in the playoff race with five games left in the regular season, and Simmons clearly caught the Angels by surprise, although the club said it respected his decision.

The 31-year-old Simmons, who can be a free agent this winter, is finishing his fifth year with the Angels. After spraining his ankle in late July and missing 22 games, Simmons is currently batting .297 with 10 RBIs while playing his usual stellar defense, albeit with four errors in 30 games.

“At this time, I feel this is the best decision for me and my family,” Simmons said in a statement. “We don’t know what the future holds, but we would like to sincerely thank the Angels organization and Angels fans for welcoming and making us feel at home.”

Manager Joe Maddon acknowledged he was caught by surprise when general manager Billy Eppler told him about Simmons’ decision Monday night after Simmons went 1 for 4 with an RBI single in the Angels’ home finale. Maddon texted Simmons, but hadn’t heard back by Tuesday afternoon.

“I’ve really enjoyed this guy a lot,” Maddon said. “I’m a big fan. This guy is a good baseball player, and I’ve enjoyed the conversations, too. It’s just unfortunate. He’s really a big part of what we’re doing right now.”

Simmons is a favorite of Angels fans for his defensive wizardry, and owner Arte Moreno has described Simmons as perhaps his favorite player to watch on the roster. Simmons has batted .281 with 36 homers and 281 RBIs during his five seasons with Los Angeles, and he won the Gold Glove in 2017 and 2018.

“He’s a thinking kind of a player, and I’ve enjoyed him a lot,” Maddon said.

Simmons will be a free agent this winter, and the Angels have an obvious replacement for him in David Fletcher, who has a .374 on-base percentage while regularly hitting leadoff for the Angels during his breakout major league season. Fletcher has been playing second base since Simmons’ return from injury.

But the Angels haven’t publicly closed the door on Simmons’ return, and he could be given a qualifying offer. Maddon has repeatedly said he would like Simmons to return in 2021 if possible.

The Angels haven’t had a winning season during Simmons’ five years in Anaheim, although Simmons said last week he wasn’t discouraged by the lack of team success. Simmons played his first four major league seasons in Atlanta, and he hasn’t appeared in the postseason since 2013.

Simmons also said he hadn’t been involved in any recent contract talks with the Angels, but he had enjoyed playing for the club. When asked if he wanted to return to the Halos, Simmons said he would have to “plead the fifth.”