Mike Scioscia to manage U.S. in Olympic baseball qualifying

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Mike Scioscia has the tough task of reaching the Olympic baseball tournament with a U.S. roster likely to include players cut during spring training and prospects not needed by their clubs this summer.

Scioscia was hired Tuesday by USA Baseball as the third manager of the U.S. baseball team in this Olympic qualifying cycle and will try to get the Americans to the tournament in Japan this summer.

The former Los Angeles Angels manager will lead the U.S. at the pandemic-delayed second-chance qualifying event, the Baseball Americas Qualifier, to be played in June in Florida.

Only players not on 26-man major league rosters and injured lists will be eligible to play.

“I’m very, very comfortable that we’re going to put together the type of team, particularly a pitching staff, that’s going to be able to carry us through a short series,” Scioscia said. “We’re going to look within and play the way we need to play with this group of guys.”

Scioscia said he has had a good response from general managers about making players available.

“There’s naturally guys that are on the roster or close to the roster that they’re going to hold tight for common-sense reasons,” he said. “But I think the response has been terrific. It is incumbent on every general manager of every team to worry about their organization first, but that being said, the guys – I think the GMs recognize the great opportunity they have to move some players forward, and they’ve been very, very cooperative.”

Joe Girardi quit as U.S. manager in October 2019 to pursue a major league managing job – he was hired by the Philadelphia Phillies – and Scott Brosius took over.

The U.S. was three outs from qualifying for the Olympics in November 2019 at the Premier12 tournament in Tokyo when Matt Clark hit a tying home run off former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Brandon Dickson leading off the bottom of the ninth inning, Efren Navarro had a broken-bat single against Caleb Thielbar to drive in the winning run in the 10th and Mexico beat the United States 3-2 to reach its first Olympic baseball tournament.

That roster included top prospects Bobby Dalbec and Jo Adell but also older players such as Clayton Richard and Erik Kratz. Scioscia says he will have a blend of veterans, prospects from the low minors and Triple-A pitchers.

“These are playoff games. You’re going to go into these games with every bit of the intensity you’re going to need if you’re in a major league playoff game or a pennant race game,” he said.

Scioscia, 62, led the Angels to a 1,650-1,428 record from 2000-18 and won the 2002 World Series.

The U.S. plays the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Nicaragua in Group A at the Americas tournament, and the top two teams advance to the super round along with two teams from Group B, which includes Canada, Colombia, Cuba and Venezuela. The top team from the super round joins Japan, Israel, Mexico and South Korea at the Olympic baseball tournament, to be played from July 28 to Aug. 7 in Fukushima and Yokohama.

Second- and third-place teams advance to a final qualifier in June in Taiwan, which will include Australia, China, Netherlands and Taiwan.

Baseball is returning to the Olympics after being dropped for 2012 and 2016. Cuba won the gold medal in 1992, 1996 and 2004, the United States in 2000 and South Korea in 2008.

Baseball is likely to be dropped for the 2024 Olympics in Paris and then restored again for 2028 in Los Angeles.

Swanson, Olson go deep vs Scherzer, Braves take NL East lead

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered off Max Scherzer, lifting the Atlanta Braves to a crucial 4-2 victory Saturday night over the New York Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East.

The defending World Series champions beat aces Jacob deGrom and Scherzer on consecutive nights to take their biggest lead of the season in the division. New York, which held a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, faces its biggest deficit of the year with four games remaining.

Atlanta will try for a three-game sweep Sunday night, with the winner earning the season-series tiebreaker between the teams. Even though both teams are headed to the postseason, that’s important because the NL East champion gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Swanson’s 24th homer, a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, touched off a frenzy among the sold-out crowd at Truist Park, the ball sailing a few rows up into the seats in left-center to make it 3-2. Olson hit his 32nd homer in the sixth, a solo shot into Chop House seats in right to put Atlanta up 4-2.

Austin Riley led off the fourth with a double and scored on Olson’s single to make it 1-all.

Kyle Wright (21-5) gave up two runs and seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings as he won his eighth straight decision. The Braves have won 16 of his last 17 starts.

New York went up 2-1 in the fifth when Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil hit consecutive two-out singles.

The Mets led 1-0 in the first when Brandon Nimmo singled, advanced on a walk and a single and scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s groundout. Wright, who threw 30 pitches in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position to prevent further damage.

Scherzer (11-5) allowed a first-inning single to Riley and a third-inning infield single to Ronald Acuna Jr., who advanced to third on a fielding error by Lindor at shortstop but was stranded when Michael Harris II lined out to center. Scherzer patted his glove and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

Scherzer was charged with nine hits and four runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings as the Mets were knocked out of first place for only the third day all season.

The Braves have won five of the last six against New York to tie the season series 9-all, outscoring the Mets 37-16 over that stretch.

Atlanta’s bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA in September, got a perfect inning from Dylan Lee in the sixth. Jesse Chavez faced four batters in the seventh, Raisel Iglesias faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his NL-leading 39th save in 46 chances.

Since the Braves were a season low-tying four games under .500 at 23-27 after play on May 31, they have gone 76-32, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the majors over that span. They were a season-worst 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets on June 1.

Wright, the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, hasn’t officially become the first Braves pitcher to lead the league in wins outright since Russ Ortiz had 21 in 2003, but the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has 17 and can’t reach 20 before the regular season ends.

Wright will become the first Braves pitcher since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000 to lead the majors in wins. Houston ace Justin Verlander also has 17.

Wright began the game 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in six career starts and one relief appearance against the Mets.

The Braves, who got homers from Riley, Olson and Swanson off deGrom on Friday, lead the NL with 240 homers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte is experiencing less pain but not enough to take the next step in his recovery. Marte has been sidelined since Sept. 7.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique. Manager Brian Snitker said there is no timetable for the rookie’s return. Strider has been sidelined since Sept. 21.

NICE GLOVE

Harris ran back and jumped to catch Nimmo’s fly against the wall in center field for the first out of the third.

UP NEXT

Mets RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27 ERA) will face RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) as the teams conclude a three-game series.