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Braves LF Duvall exits with hip injury vs. Dodgers

  • Joined ESPN in 2016 to cover the Los Angeles Rams
  • Previously covered the Angels for MLB.com

ARLINGTON, Texas — Atlanta Braves left fielder Adam Duvall exited Monday’s National League Championship Series opener with an injury near his left hip, prompting rookie Cristian Pache to replace him in the middle of his second-inning at-bat.

Duvall grabbed at his left side immediately after fouling off a 1-1 fastball from Los Angeles Dodgers starter Walker Buehler. The 32-year-old right-handed hitter, who re-emerged as an everyday player and posted an .833 OPS in 2020, noticeably winced and eventually disappeared down the tunnel alongside members of the Braves’ training staff.

Pache, 21, took just four plate appearances for the Braves during the regular season. If Duvall misses time, the Braves can also play Charlie Culberson in left field if they decide to keep Marcell Ozuna at designated hitter. Pache stayed in the game at center field after drawing a walk, prompting Ronald Acuna Jr. to move to right and Nick Markakis to move to left.

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Vandy-Mizzou 1st SEC game postponed by virus

  • College football reporter
  • Joined ESPN.com in 2007
  • Graduate of the University of Tennessee

The Missouri-Vanderbilt football game scheduled for Saturday in Columbia, Missouri, has been postponed to a later date, tentatively Dec. 12, making it the first SEC game to be moved this season because of issues related to COVID-19.

Vanderbilt was down to 56 scholarship players last week in a 41-7 loss to South Carolina, and the school said Monday in a release that the postponement of the Missouri game was due to a lack of scholarship athletes. The SEC’s Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force stipulates that a team must have at least 53 scholarship players available to play a game.

Vanderbilt’s shortage of available scholarship players was due to the quarantining of individuals with positive COVID-19 tests and those designated as close contacts, along with injuries and opt-outs, according to the school.

This is the 28th FBS game overall to be postponed or canceled since Aug. 26.

“The league and universities have been prepared for the likelihood of disruptions within the season while we navigate the various challenges and complexities of competing during a global pandemic,” Vanderbilt vice chancellor for athletics Candice Lee said in a statement. “As always, we are committed to taking whatever steps necessary for the health and safety of our students and community.”

Vanderbilt’s next scheduled game is Oct. 31 at home against Ole Miss. The Commodores are 0-3. Missouri is next scheduled to face Florida on Oct. 24 in Gainesville, Florida. The Tigers are 1-2 after winning their first game of the season last week, 45-41, over defending national champion LSU.

“While we share in the disappointment that this Saturday’s game will be postponed, our program is deeply appreciative of the tireless efforts put forth by student-athletes, university officials, conference administrators and medical experts who have risen to the challenge of helping us navigate these unprecedented circumstances,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said in a statement. “The safety and well-being of our student-athletes will remain a top priority as we continue this season, and we look forward to returning to competition.”

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Opinion: Rick Renteria’s firing highlights cruelties, inequities toward MLB managers in era of the rebuild

So maybe Rick Renteria will never be known as a master tactician, a La Russian runner of bullpens, a Hall of Fame-caliber manager.

That doesn’t erase the ugly lens through which baseball views him:

Good enough to run a team until the team gets good.

Renteria was fired Monday morning, shown the door for the second time in six years by a Chicago baseball club crawling from the depths of a miserable rebuild.

In 2014, it was the Cubs, who handed Renteria the job and a pitching staff that would finish 13th in the National League in ERA, its top starter, Travis Wood, lugging a 5.03 ERA through 30 starts.

Though he increased the Cubs’ win total from 66 to 73, Renteria was gone after one year. And the new guy, Joe Maddon, had all kinds of shiny gifts to open: A $155 million ace, Jon Lester. A Rookie of the Year and future MVP, Kris Bryant. A fully reborn Jake Arrieta and future All-Stars in Javy Baez and Addison Russell.

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Rick Renteria went 236-309 in four seasons with the White Sox. (Photo: David Richard, USA TODAY Sports)

A year later, Maddon led the Cubs to the World Series title, he and the executive suite led by Theo Epstein lauded for “turning around” a club that lost 101 games as recently as 2012.

Renteria? The White Sox hired him in 2017 after the ineffectual Robin Ventura regime and handed him a rotation including Derek Holland (6.20 ERA), Mike Pelfrey (5.93) and James Shields (5.23).

They lost 95 games, would lose 100 a year later, but, after an 89-loss 2019, gave him some tools to work with. Dallas Keuchel would join forces with All-Star Lucas Giolito. The trade of Jose Quintana forced Renteria through many grim nights of terrible pitching but now, promising outfielder Eloy Jimenez, acquired for Quintana, would play his first full season. International star Luis Robert arrived.

And despite a still-thin pitching staff, the White Sox won 35 of 60 games in pandemic ball and reached the postseason for the first time since 2008.

And that meant it was time for Renteria to go.

Rick Hahn made no bones about it even if he didn’t say it out loud Monday: A.J. Hinch, probably, will play Maddon to Renteria’s Renteria once Hinch’s one-year suspension for his part in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal is up. A prettier model arrived on the showroom floor so, once again, so Renteria is shipped to the used-car lot.

This is no new pattern, of course. GMs may hire a manager who really isn’t Their Guy, but rather is asked to withstand the hard times before a true No. 1 choice is identified.

There’s a reason for this: Losing sucks. Even in a year when expectations are low, failure breeds tension, which breeds distrust, which creates communication breakdowns. It is why proven managers carefully choose their destinations, avoiding even the shiniest franchises if it seems the runway to success is too long.

Yet in the wake of Renteria’s two-time two-timing by Second City franchises, it’s fair to ask: Who gets placed in these untenable positions? And who bounces back from them to get more plum assignments?

When he was hired in 2017, Renteria, a Mexican-American, was the lone Latino manager in the game. Since then, Alex Cora and Dave Martinez, both of Puerto Rican descent, have managed teams to World Series titles. You’d think that would speak well of MLB franchises’ hiring practices, but it does not.

Martinez had been highly regarded since 2008, when he began a stint as Maddon’s bench coach in Tampa Bay. He had to wait a decade for his shot.

Cora practically broke down the door, very highly regarded as the bench coach on Hinch’s Houston Astros teams, and the Red Sox pounced on him before another team could.

Hinch and Cora both served one-year suspensions this year for their roles in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, which brings us to another root of this problem.

Houston.

The Astros’ biggest imprint on baseball, incredibly, may not be the sign-stealing scandal but rather the enhanced “tanking” model that “inspired” so many teams to take several steps back in hopes of stockpiling young talent (while also saving a ton of money).

It’s easy to forget that now-disgraced Astros GM Jeff Luhnow’s first managerial hire was not Hinch but Bo Porter, who was handed a 107-loss team that, filled with unfinished and ill-fitting parts, lost 111 games.

He was fired in Year 2, the club 59-79 and suffering from communication breakdowns at multiple levels. Luhnow made few bones about checking out on Porter early, not even informing him that the club’s top pitching prospect, Mark Appel, was headed to Minute Maid Park for a workout, a scenario that created a rift with veteran players.

Porter, who is Black, has not yet managed again. Neither has Manny Acta, a native of the Dominican Republic who performed ably with some terrible teams in Washington and Cleveland. It’s somewhat fitting that in 2009, Acta was given a hideous pitching staff with which to work in Washington, and fired two weeks after the drafting of Stephen Strasburg No. 1 overall, the first glimmer after a five-year non-plan sputtered in D.C.

This isn’t to say no managers of color get a real, second chance. Fredi Gonzalez was hired to manage a good Braves team in 2011 after making do with some disjointed Marlins clubs for four years in Miami. He took the Braves to the playoffs twice; we’ll see if he gets a third chance.

More often, as a manager of color, you better be great immediately – and have the horses. Had the San Francisco Giants not tabbed Dusty Baker to manage in 1993 – the same year Barry Bonds signed with the club – there’s a decent chance we wouldn’t be singing his praises today, for a Hall of Fame dugout career that’s seen him guide five franchises to the playoffs.

This is why Cora will get another shot: He did amazing things with an amazing ballclub, the 119-win Red Sox. Right place, right time, kind of like Dave Roberts, who may become the first Black manager to win a World Series this year after five years with a usually stacked Dodgers team.

Other managers are rarely so fortunate. And it’s worth asking who it is we place into the no-win cauldron of managing a tanking team, and who we hire to push a more finished product over the finish line.

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Return of ‘Matrix Mode’: Alvin Kamara carrying undermanned Saints offense

  • Covered Saints for eight years at New Orleans Times-Picayune
  • Previously covered LSU football, San Francisco 49ers
  • Iowa native and University of Iowa graduate

NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Saints were trailing 14-7 last Sunday in Detroit, facing a fourth-and-4 from the Lions’ 43-yard line early in the second quarter.

Since the Saints were also facing a potential 1-3 start to the season — and missing six starters due to injuries — coach Sean Payton said they spent the whole week talking about how they planned to be “very aggressive” in such situations. But only if they were confident they had the right play dialed up.

Well, if you’ve been watching the Saints at all this season, you can guess whose number they dialed.

Running back Alvin Kamara, who lined up as a receiver in the slot, cut to the outside and beat cornerback Amani Oruwariye down the right sideline for a 29-yard gain.

The Saints (2-2) have been without the NFL’s reigning Offensive Player of the Year, Michael Thomas, for the past three weeks after he suffered an ankle injury, and he’s been ruled out by the team for Monday night against the Los Angeles Chargers (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN) after the star wide receiver had an altercation with a teammate at practice this weekend.

So to help fill the void, the Saints have leaned heavily on Kamara — who might be the early front-runner for this year’s Offensive Player of the Year award. Kamara lead the NFL through four weeks with 557 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns (the most in Saints history through four games and tied for the most by any running back since LaDainian Tomlinson had eight in 2005).

“I think that’s been the biggest key is with the No. 1 wide receiver in football out, Alvin has raised his game,” Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson said — referring to Saints receiver Michael Thomas, who has been sidelined since Week 1 with an ankle injury.

Kamara also helped New Orleans cement its six-point victory over the Lions with a 5-yard run on third-and-3 late in the fourth quarter and matched his career high with 19 carries in the game.

“It’s been really fun to see. He just makes it look effortless — the way it seems like he’s just gliding out there. And when people come to tackle him, they bounce off of him,” said Tomlinson, now an NFL Network analyst. “And then in the passing game, there is nobody out there that can cover him.”

“You know, I told him before the season that I still had that record, 31 touchdowns [in 2006], and he can go and break it whenever he’d like. And he laughed about it. But I was dead serious about it — because if anyone can do it, he can, because of the different ways he’s able to score the football.”

Kamara’s 321 receiving yards are the third most by a running back through four games in the Super Bowl era, according to ESPN Stats & Information — behind the San Francisco 49ers’ Paul Hofer (376 in 1980) and Kamara himself (336 in 2018).

And Kamara’s 127.7 fantasy points in PPR leagues are the fifth most of any player since 1950 through the first four weeks, according to ESPN’s Tristan Cockroft — a list that includes all-time greats Jim Brown and Emmitt Smith and a double dose of Kamara.

“Alvin is amazing. He’s a special talent, generational talent. His balance is unreal,” Saints left tackle Terron Armstead said. “Just his anticipation and the way he prepares his body to absorb contact is Black Panther-like.”

“We need somebody like that,” Saints receiver Tre’Quan Smith said of Kamara’s role during Thomas’ absence. “Somebody who’s just gonna put the team on his back and make a play.”

No longer playing on ‘one leg’

There are a number of traits that make Kamara “Black Panther-like.” But the most important one is his health.

Kamara described himself as playing on “one leg” and about 75% healthy over the final three months of last season, after he returned from missing two games with a sprained MCL in his knee. He also battled an ankle injury in 2019 and finished with career lows of 1,330 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns.

But now that he is back to full health, Kamara is reminding everyone of the player who won the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 2017 and scored a staggering 32 touchdowns over his first two seasons.

“I think we’ve all seen him make some plays here over the last few weeks that we’re used to seeing,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “And yet at the same time, it’s like there’s this extra gear. Like there’s this extra juice. You see defenders take angles on him that look like they’re gonna be able to make the play, and all of a sudden he gets to the edge or he breaks the tackle or whatever it might be. And you just shake your head.

“He’s a special athlete, a special talent.”

Kamara’s signature play this year was a sensational 52-yard touchdown catch against the Green Bay Packers in Week 3, which he caught behind the line of scrimmage and eventually turned into a score by making at least five defenders miss.

It was reminiscent of what Kamara once described as being in “Matrix mode,” seeing the field as if it were in slow motion and mapping out all of those missed tackles by “downshifting” and “upshifting.”

“Yeah, I’m back in rhythm,” Kamara said. “Obviously last year, we’ve talked about it, I was injured. A lot of those things that I normally do, I couldn’t do. Couldn’t really move how I wanted to, couldn’t be as physical as I wanted to.

“So now that I’m healthy, I’m just kind of returning back to my normal self and feeling good.”

Tomlinson said he loved hearing that “Matrix” comparison because he has used the same description in the past.

“I think at a certain point a runner gets to a place where it does slow down — but not only that, you can see things happen two steps before it happens,” said Tomlinson, who also commended Kamara for the unique balance workouts he has seen him do in the offseason.

“You can see the safety coming down and he’s gonna try to fill this hole. And after a point, you start playing games with these guys out there on the field. And I believe that’s what Alvin is referring to when he says he’s not always at full speed, because it’s a game of cat and mouse that sometimes you play with these guys to make them think you’re gonna be in one spot.”

ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Louis Riddick said the way the Saints depend on Kamara “speaks to his all-around game.”

“Running the football, those inside-outside zones, tosses, he’s got excellent vision, he’s got great feet behind the line of scrimmage, he’s got very good acceleration, great contact balance,” Riddick said. “He doesn’t have [4.3-second speed in the 40-yard dash], he’s not gonna blow people away in the open field, but he still is plenty fast enough. And then in the passing game, I mean, he can run routes like a wide receiver, he can catch ’em out of the backfield, he can split out like a wide receiver, he’s got soft hands, he’s got a great feel for zone coverage.

“I mean, he can do it all.”

Managing his workload

Kamara (5-foot-10, 215 pounds) fell to the third round of the 2017 NFL draft because he didn’t put up astounding numbers while splitting time in Tennessee’s backfield and didn’t turn heads with a 40 time of 4.56 seconds at the scouting combine.

But his balance has always been elite, which is a big reason he has 17 broken tackles this year, according to Pro Football Reference (he had 25 through the first four games last year before finishing with 39, and he had 28 in 2018).

“The one trait that until you see him on the field [you may not appreciate] is his physical balance. He’s got a skill set that can come off contact and stay very upright, and that becomes challenging to tackle. So there’s a size or a strength element that’s maybe undervalued with him,” said Payton, who loves to create mismatches with such a potent runner/receiver.

“We’re always looking for a way maybe to get him [matched up against] someone they’re uncomfortable with,” he added.

At the same time, Payton is careful not to overuse Kamara, who split time with Mark Ingram in 2017 and ’18 and Latavius Murray in 2019 and ’20.

That hasn’t changed this season, even after the Saints signed Kamara to a lucrative contract extension, which is worth $50 million in new money over the first four years and up to $75 million over five years.

Kamara’s 20 touches per game are only slightly above his average of 18.2 over the past two seasons. And his 41.25 snaps per game are actually a tad below his average of 41.9 over the past two seasons.

“There’s a great medium there, obviously. Latavius is playing well. The two of them complement each other,” Payton said. “And here is one of the great things I can say about Alvin: He’s very unselfish. If he scores or if someone else scores, you’re gonna see that big smile. He’s gonna be running over there [to celebrate]. And that’s something that in today’s football is refreshing — and certainly as a coach is appreciated.”

Kamara is still selfish on behalf of his position group, however.

He said he loved Sunday’s game, when the Saints had 42 carries as a team — their most since 2018.

“My tone and my message to our [running back] room every week is, ‘Make it run through us. Make the game flow through us. Make Sean give us the ball,'” Kamara said. “We’ve got the best O-line in the league, and when those guys get going it’s hard to stop them.”

Kamara said he didn’t really feel like he had anything to prove coming into this year after his stats were down a bit in 2019 and his value was dissected during his contract talks with the Saints.

“I mean, if you know, you know,” Kamara said.

Although there is a constant debate about how much any running back is worth in the NFL, Riddick said Kamara has quickly silenced any doubts about the Saints’ investment.

“Alvin is someone who if you didn’t have him in this offense right now, you’d be in trouble. So he’s already established what his value is and his importance to this team,” said Riddick, a former NFL front office executive. “So they made the right choice, there’s no doubt about that. And I think he would have the same effect no matter what team he was on.”

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Saban: Tide defense felt always ‘one play behind’

  • Covers the SEC.
  • Joined ESPN in 2012.
  • Graduate of Auburn University.

Alabama coach Nick Saban on Monday sought to clarify the comments he made after Saturday’s 63-48 win over Ole Miss in which he said it felt as if the Rebels, who racked up 647 yards of offense, had figured out their defensive signals.

Saban told reporters during his regular weekly news conference on Monday that what he was referring to after the game was a feeling that his defense was always one play behind.

“Some of that is our issue in terms of how we disguise things,” he said. “They were going fast. We were struggling to get lined up and we didn’t do a very good job of disguising things. So they were able to take advantage of a lot of situations.

“They know us well, so all those things contributed to me feeling a little bit like we were one play behind.”

Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin spent three seasons as Saban’s offensive coordinator at Alabama from 2014 to ’16.

On Monday, Kiffin responded to Saban’s comments, saying that he never knew the Tide’s signals during his time in Tuscaloosa and that going as fast as they do offensively doesn’t allow the time necessary to steal signals in the first place.

“We call a play basically before the last play is even over. Before they mark the ball, we call our play,” he said. “Then they scramble to get their play called. They’re just trying to get their guys lined up. It wouldn’t do us any good. By the time someone would relay that to us, we’re already snapping the ball.”

Ole Miss’ 48 points was the most No. 2 Alabama had allowed to an unranked opponent in the AP era (since 1936).

However, on Monday, Saban took up for defensive coordinator Pete Golding in saying, “I don’t think the call is necessarily the issue. I think the execution of the call has been the issue.

“The only mistake that would be is that we don’t learn from the mistakes that we made so that we can get better in the future, work harder at making corrections and get everybody to be responsible to do their job a little bit better, coaches and players included,” Saban said. “That’s the way we can improve.”

No. 2 Alabama won’t get a break this week when it hosts No. 3 Georgia on Saturday.

Saban called the Bulldogs “probably one of the best teams in the country” with “probably the best defensive team in the country all the way around.”

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Passan: Inside MLB’s plan to have fans in the stands starting with NLCS opener

    ESPN MLB insider
    Author of “The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports”

ARLINGTON, Texas — Every day last week, about 20 Texas Rangers employees fanned out to different parts of their glistening new ballpark, Globe Life Field, armed with what they hope will be vital in preempting the potential spread of the coronavirus at Major League Baseball’s first game with fans in 2020: zip ties.

For months, as it became clear that Globe Life would host neutral-site postseason games in this oddest of seasons, the Rangers had been planning for this moment, which will take place Monday at 8 p.m. ET, when the Los Angeles Dodgers play the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series and as many as 11,500 fans patronize the stadium. The Rangers teamed with MLB on a protocol that would rely on three tenets: mask-wearing, hand-washing and social distancing. As a precaution against those who might be tempted to run afoul of an assigned-seat rule, Rangers employees folded up more than 30,000 seat bottoms and used 5-foot-long zip ties to adhere them to their seat backs.

Fans over the age of 2 — except for those with a medical condition or disability that precludes their use — will be required to wear masks over their noses and mouths. Around 200 employees will roam the stadium to enforce compliance, said Rob Matwick, the Rangers’ executive vice president of ballpark operations. While fans can remove the masks to eat or drink, those seen not wearing them will be given two warnings before being ejected from the game if caught maskless a third time.

Though the decision to allow fans into games is no longer unique — the NFL, college football, MLS and NASCAR are among those who have opened their gates — it’s as much about 2021 as it is 2020. Behind the scenes, sources said, MLB owners have balked at the idea of playing to empty stadiums next season, and holding the NLCS and World Series with fans will provide the league with proof of concept to see whether it can work as a short-term fix.

“When we decided on neutral sites, Texas does have a regulation that permits fans in stadiums,” said Bryan Seeley, a senior vice president with MLB who has helped write the league’s coronavirus protocols. “We started to give some thought about whether it was a good opportunity to do it as a prelude to next year. We didn’t want to do it in [the division series]. We wanted to make sure there was a secure zone and not try to introduce too much. The NLCS was a good opportunity. We talked to health experts, saw what other leagues are doing and decided to move forward with it.”

Following those conversations, MLB decided against requiring temperature checks for those entering the stadium, Seeley said, believing that the benefit to them would be mitigated by the close contact necessary between employees scanning foreheads and fans. The Rangers, Matwick said, have not been testing game-day employees for the coronavirus.

Tarrant County, where Arlington is located, currently has slightly more than 3,000 active coronavirus cases, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. In the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, which includes Arlington, 962 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19. Of the more than 50,000 cases Tarrant County has seen, 763 people have died.

The American League Championship Series started Sunday with only cardboard cutouts and a small number of family members in the stands at Petco Park in San Diego. The vibe at the NLCS will be entirely different — aside from the piped-in noise and broadcast enhancements, which MLB said would remain. All of the games for the NLCS and World Series are sold out, according to MLB, with around 10,500 tickets distributed in pods of four that are distanced 6 feet apart. The other 1,000 or so fans will sit in suites, which will hold between 25% and 33% capacity, according to the league.

“I’m overwhelmed with joy to have fans back in the stands,” Braves star Ronald Acuna Jr. said. “The season never felt the same without them, and it goes without saying we miss them dearly.”

Hundreds of signs have been hung throughout the stadium, including on the door of every suite, to remind fans that mask-wearing is compulsory, even inside of suites. The retractable roof at Globe Life is expected to be open for every game of the series, barring a change in weather, as forecasts project near-perfect conditions for each of the potential seven games.

Concession stands with contact-free payments, pre-packaged food and no shared condiment dispensers will be open throughout the stadium, with floor markings to encourage proper distancing. Throughout the concourses, the Rangers set up sinks that are usually used for food preparation to serve as hand-washing stations.

“I’m realistic about this,” said Matwick, the Rangers’ conduit to MLB. “I think we’ll get better as we go. It’s going to be an education process. In order to do these things, we need to follow the rules.”

Although the only games played at the park to date were last week’s fan-free division series between the Dodgers and Padres, the Rangers do have some experience with crowds at Globe Life. Between May and July, Matwick said, the stadium held 61 high school graduations. The organization provided tickets with assigned seats, opened different entrances for the graduates and families, and created specific routes for the students to walk from the stands to the field to receive their diplomas. More than 100,000 people attended the graduations, Matwick said, and another 20,000 have come to Globe Life to tour the $1.2 billion facility.

Gates to the stadium will open two hours ahead of the first pitch thrown by Los Angeles’ Walker Buehler — the same time as the parking lots that abut the ballpark. MLB considered a timed entry with each ticket, but it hopes that the size of the crowd and each pod being given a specific entrance point will prevent long lines from forming. When fans do arrive, they’ll be required to do so with no bags other than diaper bags for babies. All they can bring in is a sealed bottle of water no greater than one liter.

Some small details of the plan could change — if people are seen nursing tubs of popcorn so they can keep their masks down, for example, popcorn could be taken off the menu — but what happens at the NLCS and World Series might well be a blueprint for what baseball looks like next spring. A number of teams asked MLB during the season to allow fans into stadiums and even had local government approval, but commissioner Rob Manfred denied those wishes.

Not anymore. Starting Monday, fans are back in stadiums, and barring an outbreak, they’re not likely to go away, either.

“We’ve missed our fans this whole year,” Dodgers catcher Will Smith said. “I mean, I expect Dodger fans to be out here cheering hard and really giving us that home-field advantage.”

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Your totally not late at all LCS preview

American League: Houston vs. Tampa

Why Houston will win

National League: Atlanta vs. Los Angeles

Why Atlanta will win

Why Los Angeles will win

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Washington QB Allen to remain starter if healthy

  • Covered the Redskins for the Washington Examiner and other media outlets since 1994
  • Authored or co-authored three books on the Redskins and one on the Cleveland Browns

The Washington Football Team won’t make another change at quarterback this week. That is, as long as Kyle Allen is healthy.

“He’s our starter,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said.

Rivera had said this after Sunday’s 30-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams and reiterated it Monday, first in a meeting with Allen and then on a Zoom session with reporters. Washington plays at the New York Giants on Sunday.

Allen was knocked from Washington’s loss to the Rams due to an arm injury suffered late in the second quarter. He was also checked for a concussion. Provided his arm feels fine during the week, he’ll play vs. the Giants.

Allen was cleared to return in the second half Sunday, but Rivera opted to stick with Alex Smith because of an “abundance of caution.” He did not want to risk Allen getting hurt worse. The Rams sacked Washington eight times Sunday. Allen was hurt while diving for a first down at the end of a run on third-and-1. Corner Jalen Ramsey hit him in the neck area with his helmet and drew a 15-yard penalty. Allen immediately got up and headed to the medical tent.

Allen replaced Dwayne Haskins as the starting quarterback last week. In nearly two quarters Sunday, Allen completed 9 of 13 passes for 74 yards and ran for one touchdown.

“He delivered a good ball for the most part,” Rivera said. “He managed well. We’ll see how things go if he’s healthy.”

Allen also scrambled for a 7-yard touchdown run; his mobility adds a different aspect to Washington’s offense. That play stood out to Rivera because of what it showed.

“He saw man coverage, he saw the defenders had their backs turned and he knew he had the opportunity to tuck the ball and run,” Rivera said. “That was a good decision on his part.”

Smith played for the first time since breaking his fibula and tibia in November 2018. He completed 9 of 17 passes for 37 yards and was sacked six times. He understands the situation.

“He played great. He played decisive, quick,” Smith said of Allen. “I was bummed for him, I was excited for his opportunity. He’s a good kid, works really hard and obviously this is out of our control, so whatever coach decides he goes with. That’s his job. Whatever this team needs me to do, I’ll do.”

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‘This is the player he was supposed to be’: Travis d’Arnaud finds home, success in playoffs with Braves

ARLINGTON, Texas — There’s just one player who in the past two seasons played for three of the four teams still vying for a trip to the World Series, which says plenty about the Tampa Bay Rays, Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves and their never-ending quest to get better.

It also says a lot about Travis d’Arnaud.

Now 31, he’s in a heady place, vying for his second trip to the World Series in five years. He bats cleanup in a Braves lineup stacked with power throughout and featuring MVP candidates like Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna.

Behind the plate, d’Arnaud has guided a young and emerging Braves staff through a historic playoff run: Shutouts in four of their first five playoff games, a feat not accomplished since 1905. The nasty young starters, led by Max Fried and rookie Ian Anderson, and a veteran bullpen with Mark Melancon at the back end, could not be better aligned for the National League Championship Series, which begins Monday at Globe Life Field.

His massive contributions in their NL Division Series sweep of Miami – six hits in 10 at-bats, including homers in Games 1 and 2 and a go-ahead double in Game 3 – sent him more than once to the postgame podium, a practically unimaginable place given his travels just 15 months ago.

Atlanta Braves catcher Travis d'Arnaud celebrates after doubling in a run in the third inning of Game 1 against the Miami Marlins. (Photo: Thomas Shea, USA TODAY Sports)

After just five starts and 23 at-bats, he was released by the New York Mets on May 3, 2019, ending a seven-year run with the organization.

Two days later, he was snapped up by the Dodgers, who could keep him only long enough for one plate appearance, given the complexities of their always-deep 40-man roster. So on May 10, he was sent to the Tampa Bay Rays for cash.

Three franchises, one week, a veritable whirlwind for a veteran player.

Yet, given the pedigrees of the Rays' and Dodgers’ talent evaluators, it was also an unlikely boost of self-esteem.

“It made me feel like I was doing something right,” says d’Arnaud. “Something was right in my mindset. I had to just keep continuing that and good things would come.

“It’s crazy how things worked out, but all you can do is keep moving forward and if anything bad happens, keep learning and keep trying to do the best you do.”

Since then, things only keep getting better.

D’Arnaud stuck with the Rays for the rest of 2019, equaling a career-high with 16 homers in just 92 games, for a club that won 96 games and reached the AL Division Series. A free agent for the first time, he and the Braves fell quickly for one another, with them committing $16 million to d’Arnaud over two years, based largely on a half-season of production.

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Yet despite an up-and-down career that included Tommy John surgery, it’s safe to say d’Arnaud has always been valued.

He’s been traded for two Cy Young Award winners, a key to the 2009 deal that sent Roy Halladay from Toronto to the Phillies, who had drafted d’Arnaud 37th overall in 2007. In 2012, he and Noah Syndergaard were shipped from Toronto to the Mets in a seven-player deal highlighted by R.A. Dickey.

But injuries and poor performance – he had a .297 on-base percentage from 2016-2018 – took the sheen off his Mets stint after their surprising 2015 World Series run, to the point he, at least publicly, shifts no blame to the franchise for his 2019 dismissal.

“I went 1-for-22,” he says, actually shortchanging himself a hit. “You can’t blame them. I didn’t play well.”

Or perhaps he wasn’t deployed properly. The Dodgers pounced on him quickly, a brief dalliance that nonetheless centered a player who grew up in nearby Lakewood, California, attending the rival high school of Justin Turner, for one.

“Growing up a Dodger fan,” says d’Arnaud, “it reminded me of who I was, where I’m from, and why I play baseball.”

Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos traded for d'Arnaud as Toronto's GM, and despite Tyler Flowers and Brian McCann being on Atlanta's roster, inquired about him when the Mets released him last year. His track record made it easy to make an aggressive, early pitch in free agency.

"Everything we’re seeing now, he’s shown in the past and just hasn’t been able to stay on the field and put it together from a consistency standpoint," Anthopoulos said Sunday. "For me, this is not a surprise. This is the player he was supposed to be. He just got derailed by health and injuries.

"When we were trying to sign him, we told his agent, 'we think you’re about to hit your peak and your prime, and these will be the two best years of your career.' Again, small sample, but we’re thrilled with everything he’s done for us."

To say the least. D’Arnaud posted career-bests in batting average (.321) and OPS (.919) over the shortened season, hitting nine homers in 44 games.

He says it “takes a village” to keep him pointing in the right direction, citing a “loving wife and adoring daughter” that are always reminding him of his best self.

“Just an amazing offseason pickup for us,” says Freeman, the NL MVP favorite.

And not a bad turn of events for d’Arnaud, who, instead of game-planning against the vaunted Braves lineup, is instead helping them do damage.

“I know playing against them, calling a game against them, I wouldn’t go to bed until 5 a.m.,” he says, thinking of his Mets days. “Now I sleep a little better, knowing I’m on that team.”

One that’s afforded him a permanent residence, and another shot at the World Series, to boot.  

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Week 6 Fantasy WR Rankings: Must-starts, sleepers, potential busts at wide receiver

It hasn’t been easy for fantasy football owners to keep up with all the schedule changes that have stemmed from coronavirus-related postponements, and plenty of bye-week plans have already fallen through. This week, the Chargers are getting an unscheduled week off, so if you need a replacement for Keenan Allen — or any wide receivers from the Saints, Raiders, and Seahawks — our Week 6 fantasy WR rankings can help. 

As pass defenses continue to struggle throughout the league, WR sleepers remain plentiful every week. Christian Kirk (@ Cowboys), Chase Claypool (vs. Browns), Russell Gage (@ Vikings), Laviska Shenault and Keelan Cole (vs. Lions), N’Keal Harry (vs. Broncos), and Brandin Cooks (@ Titans) all readily available on waiver wires and have top-10 matchups this week. You could throw in the heavily targeted Jeff Smith (@ Dolphins) in PPR leagues, as well. 

WEEK 6 PPR RANKINGS:
Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | D/ST | Kicker

The biggest question with wide receivers is whether there’s such thing as a bad matchup anymore. Heading into last week, Kansas City, Washington, Arizona, Chicago, the Rams, and San Francisco were the six teams allowing the fewest fantasy points per game to WRs. Kansas City, Washington, and San Francisco were absolutely shredded by Raiders, Rams, and Dolphins WRs, respectively, while the Chicago and Arizona both allowed 100-yard, one-TD games to their opponents’ top wide receivers. Even middling WRs facing these teams can have value (such as John Brown vs. Kansas City, Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel vs. the Rams, D.J. Moore vs. Chicago, Darius Slayton vs. Washington this week), and you certainly don’t want to bench any every-week starters.

WEEK 6 STANDARD RANKINGS:
Quarterback | Running back | Tight end | D/ST | Kicker

As always, there are a few big injuries to watch, with Julio Jones (hamstring) and Chris Godwin (hamstring) leading the way. With no receivers consistently stepping up in Godwin’s absence, there aren’t any sleepers to pinpoint if he’s out, but the aforementioned Gage and Olamide Zaccheaus could have value against Minnesota’s woeful pass defense if Jones is out again. Both disappointed last week, but bounce-back performances are in order. 

Another under-the-radar injury situation to watch is with Philadelphia. Both DeSean Jackson (hamstring) and Alshon Jeffery (foot) are due back soon, and while neither is worthy of starting this week in fantasy, their returns would take away value from PPR sleeper Greg Ward Jr (vs. Ravens) and big-play breakout Travis Fulgham (@ Ravens). We rank both outside of our top 36, but they have flex potential even in a tough matchup.

Fantasy owners of Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb (vs. Cardinals) might be worried now that Andy Dalton is under center for the Cowboys, but Dalton looked decent in the fourth quarter last week and should be able to keep the Cowboys passing offense humming. Unless he locks in other receivers, both should continue to be every-week plays. 

Note: Check back all week leading up to kickoff, as we’ll continue to update our WR rankings and provide analysis based on the latest news and injuries.

Week 6 Fantasy WR Rankings (Standard)

These rankings are for non-PPR leagues.

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