Brandon Woodruff
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Brewers edge past Dodgers to claim 1-0 lead in NLCS

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Thanks to Brandon Woodruff‘s unexpected home run and a strong showing from Milwaukee’s bullpen, the Brewers hung on for a nail-biting 6-5 finish over the Dodgers to take a 1-0 lead in the NLCS on Friday.

Clayton Kershaw‘s eight-inning shutout in Game 2 of the NLDS may have put a temporary moratorium on the old “regular season ace falters in the postseason” narrative, but Friday’s performance resurrected it in full. The southpaw labored through a 23-pitch first inning, during which he surrendered a leadoff single to Lorenzo Cain, struck out Christian Yelich following a labored 10-pitch at-bat, then induced back-to-back groundouts from Ryan Braun and Jesus Aguilar to end the inning.

By the end of the second, however, the Dodgers had gained a slight advantage. Manny Machado lined a 115.6-MPH home run into the Brewers’ bullpen for a one-run lead, while Kershaw breezed through a 10-pitch inning after inducing a hit from Manny Piña and three more groundouts. The Brewers, on the other hand, had yet to advance a man past second base and decided to pull starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez for right-handed reliever Brandon Woodruff in the third.

It turned out to be a fortuitous decision: Woodruff retired Kershaw, Chris Taylor, and Justin Turner in order, then launched a home run over the center field wall to tie it up, 1-1. He’s one of just three relievers to hit a postseason homer in the last 94 years, and the only left-handed hitting pitcher to go deep against a left-handed pitcher.

Things only escalated from there. Cain laced another single into center field, followed by a seven-pitch walk to Yelich. Ryan Braun popped a slider into foul territory for the first out of the inning, but two consecutive mistakes by Yasmani Grandal — a passed ball, then a catcher’s interference call — allowed Milwaukee to load the bases. By the time Hernan Perez came up to bat, all the Brewers needed was a sac fly to take the lead, 2-1. Kershaw finished off the inning with a called strikeout against Mike Moustakas, but the damage had already been done.

Woodruff cruised through another scoreless inning after striking out the side on 14 pitches, and in the bottom of the fourth, the Brewers continued their hit parade against Kershaw. Piña drew a leadoff walk from the lefty, then scooted around to third base on Orlando Arcia‘s line drive to center — and a misplayed catch attempt from left fielder Chris Taylor. The final nail in the coffin for Kershaw? A two-RBI single from Domingo Santana, who plated another pair of insurance runs and boosted the score to 4-1 in the Brewers’ favor.

Los Angeles skipper Dave Roberts pulled Kershaw from the mound after three innings of six-hit, five-run ball, marking the starter’s shortest postseason outing to date. His replacement — veteran righty Ryan Madson — fared little better. He retired Cain and Yelich in order, then gave up another RBI single to Braun before bringing the fourth to a close.

The next several innings passed with little fanfare. Dylan Floro and Pedro Báez combined for two scoreless frames against the Brewers, while Josh Hader singlehandedly shut down the Dodgers for three straight innings, backed by a five-run lead after Aguilar unloaded a solo home run in the seventh.

The momentum finally started to shift in the Dodgers’ favor by the eighth, when they loaded the bases against an ever-revolving carousel of relievers — Xavier Cedeno, Joakim Soria, and Jeremy Jeffress — and put up a three-run spread on two RBI singles from Machado and Matt Kemp. They finished the inning just two runs shy of a tie, but managed to mount a last-minute rally in the ninth after Cain dropped a would-be game-ending line out, giving Taylor the time he needed to sprint to third base and plate the Dodgers’ fifth run of the night.

Turner, meanwhile, wasn’t quite so lucky. Down by one with two outs, he battled through a six-pitch at-bat against Milwaukee closer Corey Knebel, then struck out swinging on a 97-MPH fastball to cement the Brewers’ 6-5 win.

The teams will meet again on Saturday, when left-hander Wade Miley goes up against fellow lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu for Game 2 of the NLCS at 4:09 PM EDT. Both pitchers held their opponents scoreless in their last postseason appearances and will try to extend their respective streaks as the Brewers look for a 2-0 lead in the series and the Dodgers attempt to pull even with their first Championship Series win.

Rays’ Erik Neander named Executive of the Year

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At the GM meetings in Scottsdale, Arizona on Monday, Rays GM Erik Neander was named the recipient of Major League Baseball’s Executive of the Year Award for the 2019 season. The Yankees’ Brian Cashman was the runner-up while the Athletics’ Billy Beane and the Twins’ Derek Falvey tied for third place.

Neander has worked for the Rays since 2017 but has operated in his current role since November 2016, taking over for Matthew Silverman who was promoted to president of the Rays alongside Brian Auld.

The Rays had, by far, the lowest payroll in baseball at $53.5 million, according to USA TODAY. Neander’s peers voting him Executive of the Year on the same today the league had to curtail its awarding of a prize belt to the team that suppressed salaries the most in arbitration is… certainly interesting timing.

At any rate, Neander’s Rays went 96-66 in 2019, finishing in second place in the AL East behind the 103-59 Yankees. The Rays claimed the second AL Wild Card and defeated the A’s to earn entry into the ALDS where they lost in five games to the Astros. It was the Rays’ first playoff appearance since 2013 and their regular season win total was second-most in franchise history behind the 2008 team (97).