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Cubs must beat Dodgers in Game 5 to send NLCS back to LA

It's not over yet! Only one team in the history of Major League Baseball has come back from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series. Could the Chicago Cubs be the second?

Cubs must beat Dodgers in Game 5 to send NLCS back to LA

It's not over yet! Only one team in the history of Major League Baseball has come back from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series. Could the Chicago Cubs be the second?

Cubs must beat Dodgers in Game 5 to send NLCS back to LA

It's not over yet! Only one team in the history of Major League Baseball has come back from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series. Could the Chicago Cubs be the second?

Cubs must beat Dodgers in Game 5 to send NLCS back to LA

It's not over yet! Only one team in the history of Major League Baseball has come back from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series. Could the Chicago Cubs be the second?

New York Yankees: Ex-Trainer Gene Monahan Says He Knows How to Win

Yankees fans already know this....

But, for those of you who are more interested in Wall Street than sports, here's an update. The New York Yankees head to game 3, against the Houston Astro's. Tonight, it's a must-win scenario. Deep breath. A bit of hopeful news, the Yankees have home-field advantage where they are undefeated in the 2017 post-season.

TheStreet sat down with ex-trainer Gene Monahan. After forty-nine years with the team, he says he is convinced of one thing.

"They [the Yankees] are a wild bunch," Monahan told TheStreet on Tuesday, Sept. 26, at an event for Conair, of which he is a spokesman. "What makes them great is they are a wild bunch of young people."

"I think they are going to do very well," added Monahan, who has seven World Series rings, a testament to the powerhouse that is the Yankees. He was wearing one of the diamond-encrusted rings on Tuesday.

"It's a young team. They have their veterans, which are great," he said.

Monahan also spoke to us about starting his second career with Nascar.

"I loved racing all my life, even as I loved baseball when I was a kid. They [racing reps] came a-calling on my door."

"I go, 'What do you want with me?' They said very, very nicely. 'We'd like you to come and help our kids out.' "

 

The game will take place at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and it will be broadcast on FS1 the sports affiliate of Fox News, a subsidiary of 21st Century Fox (FOXA - Get Report) .

Watch More with TheStreet :

Editors' pick: Originally published Oct. 12.

New York Yankees: Ex-Trainer Gene Monahan Says He Knows How to Win

Yankees fans already know this....

But, for those of you who are more interested in Wall Street than sports, here's an update. The New York Yankees head to game 3, against the Houston Astro's. Tonight, it's a must-win scenario. Deep breath. A bit of hopeful news, the Yankees have home-field advantage where they are undefeated in the 2017 post-season.

TheStreet sat down with ex-trainer Gene Monahan. After forty-nine years with the team, he says he is convinced of one thing.

"They [the Yankees] are a wild bunch," Monahan told TheStreet on Tuesday, Sept. 26, at an event for Conair, of which he is a spokesman. "What makes them great is they are a wild bunch of young people."

"I think they are going to do very well," added Monahan, who has seven World Series rings, a testament to the powerhouse that is the Yankees. He was wearing one of the diamond-encrusted rings on Tuesday.

"It's a young team. They have their veterans, which are great," he said.

Monahan also spoke to us about starting his second career with Nascar.

"I loved racing all my life, even as I loved baseball when I was a kid. They [racing reps] came a-calling on my door."

"I go, 'What do you want with me?' They said very, very nicely. 'We'd like you to come and help our kids out.' "

 

The game will take place at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and it will be broadcast on FS1 the sports affiliate of Fox News, a subsidiary of 21st Century Fox (FOXA - Get Report) .

Watch More with TheStreet :

Editors' pick: Originally published Oct. 12.

New York Yankees: Ex-Trainer Gene Monahan Says He Knows How to Win

Yankees fans already know this....

But, for those of you who are more interested in Wall Street than sports, here's an update. The New York Yankees head to game 3, against the Houston Astro's. Tonight, it's a must-win scenario. Deep breath. A bit of hopeful news, the Yankees have home-field advantage where they are undefeated in the 2017 post-season.

TheStreet sat down with ex-trainer Gene Monahan. After forty-nine years with the team, he says he is convinced of one thing.

"They [the Yankees] are a wild bunch," Monahan told TheStreet on Tuesday, Sept. 26, at an event for Conair, of which he is a spokesman. "What makes them great is they are a wild bunch of young people."

"I think they are going to do very well," added Monahan, who has seven World Series rings, a testament to the powerhouse that is the Yankees. He was wearing one of the diamond-encrusted rings on Tuesday.

"It's a young team. They have their veterans, which are great," he said.

Monahan also spoke to us about starting his second career with Nascar.

"I loved racing all my life, even as I loved baseball when I was a kid. They [racing reps] came a-calling on my door."

"I go, 'What do you want with me?' They said very, very nicely. 'We'd like you to come and help our kids out.' "

 

The game will take place at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and it will be broadcast on FS1 the sports affiliate of Fox News, a subsidiary of 21st Century Fox (FOXA - Get Report) .

Watch More with TheStreet :

Editors' pick: Originally published Oct. 12.

New York Yankees: Ex-Trainer Gene Monahan Says He Knows How to Win

Yankees fans already know this....

But, for those of you who are more interested in Wall Street than sports, here's an update. The New York Yankees head to game 3, against the Houston Astro's. Tonight, it's a must-win scenario. Deep breath. A bit of hopeful news, the Yankees have home-field advantage where they are undefeated in the 2017 post-season.

TheStreet sat down with ex-trainer Gene Monahan. After forty-nine years with the team, he says he is convinced of one thing.

"They [the Yankees] are a wild bunch," Monahan told TheStreet on Tuesday, Sept. 26, at an event for Conair, of which he is a spokesman. "What makes them great is they are a wild bunch of young people."

"I think they are going to do very well," added Monahan, who has seven World Series rings, a testament to the powerhouse that is the Yankees. He was wearing one of the diamond-encrusted rings on Tuesday.

"It's a young team. They have their veterans, which are great," he said.

Monahan also spoke to us about starting his second career with Nascar.

"I loved racing all my life, even as I loved baseball when I was a kid. They [racing reps] came a-calling on my door."

"I go, 'What do you want with me?' They said very, very nicely. 'We'd like you to come and help our kids out.' "

 

The game will take place at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and it will be broadcast on FS1 the sports affiliate of Fox News, a subsidiary of 21st Century Fox (FOXA - Get Report) .

Watch More with TheStreet :

Editors' pick: Originally published Oct. 12.

New York Yankees move towards esports, with an investment in Echo Fox shareholders Vision Esports

Baseball team New York Yankees have today announced a "major investment" in company Vision Eports, paving the way for the team to be more involved in the industry by helping manage Vision Esports properties. The extent of the Yankees' investment was not disclosed, although Vision Esports stands as the single largest single shareholder for Echo Fox, Twin Galaxies, and Vision Entertainment. Together with Vision Esports, the New York Yankees will offer marketing and management advice, with Yankees and Vision Esports aiming to "collaborate on marketing and sponsorship initiatives across assets." Echo Fox are likely the main focus in the collaboration, being the esports organisation led by ex-NBA player Rick Fox that has teams for League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and more. A recent ESPN report claimed Echo Fox have been granted access to the next year of League of Legends' pro scene, joining the ranks of some of the largest esports organisations in a franchised tournament. The full press release, detailing the partnership, was posted to Twitter by the New York Yankees. Twin Galaxies, on the other hand, is an organisation that tracks records and achievements in games, both new and old. The organisation has, in past, worked with Guinness World Records on gaming-related records, and is now both a collection of records and player rankings for esports. Vision Entertainment, finally, creates "esports content", for a variety of platforms. The New York Yankees will be working with Vision Esports in managing Echo Fox, Twin Galaxies, and Vision Entertainment moving forward. Rick Fox has promoted the parternship on Twitter, showing the impact the New York Yankees may have on Echo Fox moving forward.  

Indians All-Star OF Brantley undergoes right ankle surgery,

FILE - In this Aug. 8, 2017, file photo, Cleveland Indians' Michael Brantley, right, is looked at by a trainer in the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies, in Cleveland. Brantley had surgery to repair a right ankle injury that limited him in the playoffs. Brantley had ligaments stabilized in his ankle, which he injured while playing left field on Aug. 8. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

FILE - In this Aug. 8, 2017, file photo, Cleveland Indians' Michael Brantley, right, is looked at by a trainer in the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies, in Cleveland. Brantley had surgery to repair a right ankle injury that limited him in the playoffs. Brantley had ligaments stabilized in his ankle, which he injured while playing left field on Aug. 8. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

FILE - In this Aug. 8, 2017, file photo, Cleveland Indians' Michael Brantley, right, is looked at by a trainer in the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies, in Cleveland. Brantley had surgery to repair a right ankle injury that limited him in the playoffs. Brantley had ligaments stabilized in his ankle, which he injured while playing left field on Aug. 8. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

The Cubs live for another day, but death will come soon

And this man, who is well-rested and ready, will likely be on the one delivering them to baseball heaven

The Cubs live for another day, but death will come soon

And this man, who is well-rested and ready, will likely be on the one delivering them to baseball heaven

The Cubs live for another day, but death will come soon

And this man, who is well-rested and ready, will likely be on the one delivering them to baseball heaven

Sam (Robin Lord Taylor)

Season 4, “Indifference”
Rick and Carol meet Sam and his girlfriend Ana when Rick takes Carol out for a drive to banish her from the prison after she kills Karen and David. Sam and Ana are the only survivors from the camp they were living in, which was overrun with walkers. The four split up to look for supplies in the neighborhood they’re in — Rick even gives Sam his watch so he’ll know when it’s rendezvous time — but when Rick and Carol happen upon Ana being eaten by a walker, and Sam’s nowhere in sight, we don’t know what happened to him. Until… in the Season 5 premiere, as Rick and company are learning that Gareth and his Terminus gang are cannibals, Sam is brought in, clubbed with a baseball bat, and his throat is slit. (Photo: AMC)

Sam (Robin Lord Taylor)

Season 4, “Indifference”
Rick and Carol meet Sam and his girlfriend Ana when Rick takes Carol out for a drive to banish her from the prison after she kills Karen and David. Sam and Ana are the only survivors from the camp they were living in, which was overrun with walkers. The four split up to look for supplies in the neighborhood they’re in — Rick even gives Sam his watch so he’ll know when it’s rendezvous time — but when Rick and Carol happen upon Ana being eaten by a walker, and Sam’s nowhere in sight, we don’t know what happened to him. Until… in the Season 5 premiere, as Rick and company are learning that Gareth and his Terminus gang are cannibals, Sam is brought in, clubbed with a baseball bat, and his throat is slit. (Photo: AMC)

How Carlos Beltran Sparked Traditional Clubhouse Chemistry for the Data-Crazed Astros

The Nerd Cave keeps expanding. In 2014, the Astros’ formidable analytics department, which gave itself its own nickname, employed four members. Three years later, there are nine. Even so, while all of that computational power helped to build a 101-win ALCS participant almost from scratch, it still can’t begin to measure, or even understand, what is perhaps the most elusive component of a championship hopeful.

“I don’t think you can quantify it,” says the Astros’ data-devouring general manager Jeff Luhnow. “But that certainly doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. You know it’s there. Everybody feels it.”

It is chemistry, by which, among other things, a club’s culture allows it to play better than the sum of its parts. It does this while simultaneously propelling individual players to new heights and a heightened resilience. That’s the theory, anyway. Metrics-minded skeptics often contend that while it may exist, its impact on a club’s bottom line success is likely negligible. Chemistry, they say, comes only from winning—never the other way around—and not even always. While there have been champions with excellent chemistry (like the `15 Royals), and champions with bad chemistry (like the late `70s Yankees and `86 Mets), there has never seemed to have been a bad team with great chemistry.

Still, Carlos Correa, the Astros’ star shortstop, can attach a number to how much his club’s chemistry improved his season over its potential baseline: seven. “I’d say of my 24 home runs this year, at least seven have been from that,” Correa says. Specifically, those seven dingers were directly the result of one new teammate: Carlos Beltran, the 40-year-old who signed with the Astros in the offseason.

Under Beltran’s tutelage, Correa’s work in the video room became more focused. Whereas in his first two seasons, he’d watch only to get an idea of the contents of an opposing pitcher’s arsenal, Beltran helped him to learn how to analyze how the pitcher liked to deploy it. “This year I look at 2–0 counts, 1–0 counts, 3–0 counts, all the counts,” says Correa. “I see where and how pitchers do damage.”

Beltran is also a master of the dark art of picking up on if an opponent tends to tip his pitches—that is, whether he does anything different at all when he is throwing one type of pitch versus another—and he’s passed that on to Correa, too. “Maybe they do something with their glove that allows you to figure out if it’s a fastball or a curveball,” Correa says. Despite playing in just 109 regular season games because of a torn ligament in his left thumb that caused him to miss half of July and all of August, Correa still hit a career-high 24 homers.

“He hasn’t been afraid to try whatever I tell him about tipping, counts, game situations—but he is the one who had done it,” says Beltran. “I’ve been the provider of information, but at the end of the day it depends on the player to be receptive and say, ‘OK, I like that, let me use it.’ All of a sudden you get results. You gain confidence. Then you start doing it, again and again.”

Last winter, Luhnow searched for a productive bat to slot into his DH spot, but also for something more. Says Luhnow, “We were also looking for some presence, leadership and experience to separate us from the 2015 team.” That team had jumped the organization’s own rebuilding time by reaching the ALDS, only to wilt in a decisive Game 5 to the cohesive Royals. “We had a lot of young players on the 2015 team, a lot of guys having good seasons. We had some veterans in there, but they weren’t necessarily the types of guys that create followership.”

The front office identified two candidates: Beltran and Matt Holliday, himself a 14-year veteran. It signed Beltran to a one-year, $16 million contract in early December; two days later, Holliday went to the Yankees on a one-year, $13 million pact.

This season, Beltran’s age finally seemed to catch up with him on the field. While he did drive in the Astros’ series-clinching run in Game 4 of their ALDS against the Red Sox, during the regular season he hit just 14 home runs, less than half as many as in a 2016 he split between the Yankees and the Rangers, and his OPS dropped by nearly 200 points, from .850 to .666. Still, the ripple effect of his presence seemed to be even greater than Luhnow could have imagined, and it reached well beyond Correa.

“You don’t walk into the clubhouse and see him sitting there checking his phone,” says Luhnow. “He’s watching video, he’s into the game. They’re working the whole time. When a rookie player comes into the big leagues and walks into the clubhouse and sees him doing that, you don’t need to tell him how to behave. It’s like, This guy is potentially a Hall of Famer. He’s towards the end of his career. And he’s still working this hard to get better every day?”

During games, between his at-bats, Beltran spends much of his time in the clubhouse consuming video of not just the opposing pitcher and his own at-bats, but of the plate appearances of his teammates as well. If they’ve developed a bad habit, he sees it and lets them know, with video evidence. “I could be pulling off the ball, I could not be following through,” says George Springer, who also set a career high in homers this year, with 34. Couldn’t an astute coach, earning a sliver of Beltran’s salary, do the same thing? “I think you always just think a coach doesn’t know what he’s talking about, as a player,” says Springer. “He’s a player.”

“I’ve done it for a long time,” says Beltran, the owner of 435 regular season homers and 16 more in the playoffs—eight of them coming in one magical postseason, in 2004 during his first stint in Houston. “They’ve seen what I have done.”

He’s also changed the Astros’ culture in other ways. Most big league clubhouses, including many in which Beltran resided when he was younger, naturally have two factions: one that includes Spanish-speaking players and the other for English-speaking ones. Though most of their Latin stars, like Altuve and Correa, are fluent in English, the Astros’ clubhouse was still divided. “When Beltran came over, that kind of merged it, really,” says third baseman Alex Bregman.

Bregman, the 23-year-old who is in his first full big league season, helped. While he received straight-A’s in Spanish in high school in Albuquerque, he committed himself to becoming truly bilingual after the Astros drafted him second overall in 2015. “I want to be able to connect with guys from all different backgrounds,” explains Bregman. “I think that’s what leaders do.”

Now, says Bregman, “I’m speaking Spanish 50% of the day.” First baseman Yuli Gurriel, who arrived in Houston from Cuba last August speaking not a word of English, is a regular conversation mate; the two tutor each other in their respective native languages. “We just talk with each other every day, say different stuff in Spanglish,” says Bregman. “Then we tell each other how to say it in proper English or Spanish. He’s picking it up really fast. He’s doing a great job.”

“I’ve been on a lot of teams,” says Beltran. “There’s always division. But here, it’s like—I would say, less. People still hang out with the people they’re comfortable with. But when we’re here, you see people talking to everyone, which is great.”

So when Beltran walked into the Astros’ clubhouse in the minutes after Wednesday evening’s ALCS Game 5, Beltran was surprised by what he encountered: silence. His teammates sat in their lockers, their heads bowed. “I saw people acting different than they did during the regular season,” he says.

That’s what a night like Wednesday, and the two that preceded it, will do. The Astros had coughed up a two games to none lead in the series, losing three straight in New York in desultory fashion. A club that led baseball in runs and hits during the regular season had over the course of three games produced just five of the former and 11 of the latter, and was about to head back to Houston a single loss from elimination.

Beltran reached his locker, and then turned to face the room. It’s not a big deal, he told his rapt teammates. We gotta look at where we’re at, be realistic. We’re going home. We gotta win two games. We’ve done that a lot of times this year. Let’s not feel sorry for ourselves. Let’s go home and play baseball.

Beltran’s address won’t appear in a compendium of great speeches, but it seemed to do the job. The Astros’ sights were reset— from the immediate past to the future. They stood up and began chattering, in English and Spanish and Spanglish, and packing for Houston. “There’s never a moment that’s too big for him, and I think that calms everybody else down,” says Luhnow. The numbers suggest that Astros are now a long shot to reach the World Series, but as even the probability-obsessed inhabitants of the Nerd Cave have come to realize, numbers aren’t everything.

How Carlos Beltran Sparked Traditional Clubhouse Chemistry for the Data-Crazed Astros

The Nerd Cave keeps expanding. In 2014, the Astros’ formidable analytics department, which gave itself its own nickname, employed four members. Three years later, there are nine. Even so, while all of that computational power helped to build a 101-win ALCS participant almost from scratch, it still can’t begin to measure, or even understand, what is perhaps the most elusive component of a championship hopeful.

“I don’t think you can quantify it,” says the Astros’ data-devouring general manager Jeff Luhnow. “But that certainly doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. You know it’s there. Everybody feels it.”

It is chemistry, by which, among other things, a club’s culture allows it to play better than the sum of its parts. It does this while simultaneously propelling individual players to new heights and a heightened resilience. That’s the theory, anyway. Metrics-minded skeptics often contend that while it may exist, its impact on a club’s bottom line success is likely negligible. Chemistry, they say, comes only from winning—never the other way around—and not even always. While there have been champions with excellent chemistry (like the `15 Royals), and champions with bad chemistry (like the late `70s Yankees and `86 Mets), there has never seemed to have been a bad team with great chemistry.

Still, Carlos Correa, the Astros’ star shortstop, can attach a number to how much his club’s chemistry improved his season over its potential baseline: seven. “I’d say of my 24 home runs this year, at least seven have been from that,” Correa says. Specifically, those seven dingers were directly the result of one new teammate: Carlos Beltran, the 40-year-old who signed with the Astros in the offseason.

Under Beltran’s tutelage, Correa’s work in the video room became more focused. Whereas in his first two seasons, he’d watch only to get an idea of the contents of an opposing pitcher’s arsenal, Beltran helped him to learn how to analyze how the pitcher liked to deploy it. “This year I look at 2–0 counts, 1–0 counts, 3–0 counts, all the counts,” says Correa. “I see where and how pitchers do damage.”

Beltran is also a master of the dark art of picking up on if an opponent tends to tip his pitches—that is, whether he does anything different at all when he is throwing one type of pitch versus another—and he’s passed that on to Correa, too. “Maybe they do something with their glove that allows you to figure out if it’s a fastball or a curveball,” Correa says. Despite playing in just 109 regular season games because of a torn ligament in his left thumb that caused him to miss half of July and all of August, Correa still hit a career-high 24 homers.

“He hasn’t been afraid to try whatever I tell him about tipping, counts, game situations—but he is the one who had done it,” says Beltran. “I’ve been the provider of information, but at the end of the day it depends on the player to be receptive and say, ‘OK, I like that, let me use it.’ All of a sudden you get results. You gain confidence. Then you start doing it, again and again.”

Last winter, Luhnow searched for a productive bat to slot into his DH spot, but also for something more. Says Luhnow, “We were also looking for some presence, leadership and experience to separate us from the 2015 team.” That team had jumped the organization’s own rebuilding time by reaching the ALDS, only to wilt in a decisive Game 5 to the cohesive Royals. “We had a lot of young players on the 2015 team, a lot of guys having good seasons. We had some veterans in there, but they weren’t necessarily the types of guys that create followership.”

The front office identified two candidates: Beltran and Matt Holliday, himself a 14-year veteran. It signed Beltran to a one-year, $16 million contract in early December; two days later, Holliday went to the Yankees on a one-year, $13 million pact.

This season, Beltran’s age finally seemed to catch up with him on the field. While he did drive in the Astros’ series-clinching run in Game 4 of their ALDS against the Red Sox, during the regular season he hit just 14 home runs, less than half as many as in a 2016 he split between the Yankees and the Rangers, and his OPS dropped by nearly 200 points, from .850 to .666. Still, the ripple effect of his presence seemed to be even greater than Luhnow could have imagined, and it reached well beyond Correa.

“You don’t walk into the clubhouse and see him sitting there checking his phone,” says Luhnow. “He’s watching video, he’s into the game. They’re working the whole time. When a rookie player comes into the big leagues and walks into the clubhouse and sees him doing that, you don’t need to tell him how to behave. It’s like, This guy is potentially a Hall of Famer. He’s towards the end of his career. And he’s still working this hard to get better every day?”

During games, between his at-bats, Beltran spends much of his time in the clubhouse consuming video of not just the opposing pitcher and his own at-bats, but of the plate appearances of his teammates as well. If they’ve developed a bad habit, he sees it and lets them know, with video evidence. “I could be pulling off the ball, I could not be following through,” says George Springer, who also set a career high in homers this year, with 34. Couldn’t an astute coach, earning a sliver of Beltran’s salary, do the same thing? “I think you always just think a coach doesn’t know what he’s talking about, as a player,” says Springer. “He’s a player.”

“I’ve done it for a long time,” says Beltran, the owner of 435 regular season homers and 16 more in the playoffs—eight of them coming in one magical postseason, in 2004 during his first stint in Houston. “They’ve seen what I have done.”

He’s also changed the Astros’ culture in other ways. Most big league clubhouses, including many in which Beltran resided when he was younger, naturally have two factions: one that includes Spanish-speaking players and the other for English-speaking ones. Though most of their Latin stars, like Altuve and Correa, are fluent in English, the Astros’ clubhouse was still divided. “When Beltran came over, that kind of merged it, really,” says third baseman Alex Bregman.

Bregman, the 23-year-old who is in his first full big league season, helped. While he received straight-A’s in Spanish in high school in Albuquerque, he committed himself to becoming truly bilingual after the Astros drafted him second overall in 2015. “I want to be able to connect with guys from all different backgrounds,” explains Bregman. “I think that’s what leaders do.”

Now, says Bregman, “I’m speaking Spanish 50% of the day.” First baseman Yuli Gurriel, who arrived in Houston from Cuba last August speaking not a word of English, is a regular conversation mate; the two tutor each other in their respective native languages. “We just talk with each other every day, say different stuff in Spanglish,” says Bregman. “Then we tell each other how to say it in proper English or Spanish. He’s picking it up really fast. He’s doing a great job.”

“I’ve been on a lot of teams,” says Beltran. “There’s always division. But here, it’s like—I would say, less. People still hang out with the people they’re comfortable with. But when we’re here, you see people talking to everyone, which is great.”

So when Beltran walked into the Astros’ clubhouse in the minutes after Wednesday evening’s ALCS Game 5, Beltran was surprised by what he encountered: silence. His teammates sat in their lockers, their heads bowed. “I saw people acting different than they did during the regular season,” he says.

That’s what a night like Wednesday, and the two that preceded it, will do. The Astros had coughed up a two games to none lead in the series, losing three straight in New York in desultory fashion. A club that led baseball in runs and hits during the regular season had over the course of three games produced just five of the former and 11 of the latter, and was about to head back to Houston a single loss from elimination.

Beltran reached his locker, and then turned to face the room. It’s not a big deal, he told his rapt teammates. We gotta look at where we’re at, be realistic. We’re going home. We gotta win two games. We’ve done that a lot of times this year. Let’s not feel sorry for ourselves. Let’s go home and play baseball.

Beltran’s address won’t appear in a compendium of great speeches, but it seemed to do the job. The Astros’ sights were reset— from the immediate past to the future. They stood up and began chattering, in English and Spanish and Spanglish, and packing for Houston. “There’s never a moment that’s too big for him, and I think that calms everybody else down,” says Luhnow. The numbers suggest that Astros are now a long shot to reach the World Series, but as even the probability-obsessed inhabitants of the Nerd Cave have come to realize, numbers aren’t everything.

The Javier Baez Show Arrives To Save the Cubs in their NLCS Game 4 win over the Dodgers

CHICAGO — With hours left before the most important game of the Cubs’ season to this point, leftfielder Kyle Schwarber pushed his way into the cluster of Latin American players eating lunch near second baseman Javy Báez’s locker.

The obituaries were nearly written. Chicago, 349 days removed from a curse-breaking title, couldn’t muster even a single win in the NLCS. The flashy Báez, a darling last October for his majestic tags and timely slugging, had opened the postseason 0-for-20. As the Dodgers filed toward the buses after Game 3, grinning at their 6–1 victory, MLB officials held the so-called clinch meeting in their batting cage, discussing where to hang the plastic sheeting and store the champagne.

“You know what I’m looking forward to today?” Schwarber announced. “The Javy Báez show. Today’s the day.”

Chicagoans hoped so. Imagine if the Cubs had not won the World Series last year. Picture it: Michael Martinez’s grounder gets through and the Indians win Game 7. The Chicago winter is long and cold. The Cubs enter their 109th—an ugly, jagged number; no cute analogue to the number of stitches on a baseball—straight attempt at the title as the favorite and promptly go 25–27 through May. As late as Sept. 10 they seem in danger of giving away the division to the Cardinals or even the Brewers.

They win a wild Game 5 of the NLDS over the Nationals when they benefited from a series of events—intentional walk, passed ball, error on the catcher, catcher’s interference—never before seen in history, but use seven pitchers to get there. They fall apart in Game 1 of the NLCS, letting a two-run lead slip away as the Dodgers seem to win every inch: the inches past the wall L.A. Yasiel Puig’s drive to left lands, the inches Chicago catcher Willson Contreras jabs his knee in front of the plate, illegally blocking the runner and eventually allowing him to score.

In Game 2 manager Joe Maddon inexplicably leaves his closer in the bullpen and instead brings in aging, longball-prone starter John Lackey—pitching on back-to-back days for the first time in his career—to face the Dodgers’ best hitter, third baseman Justin Turner, in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied at 1. Turner lofts the second pitch he sees into the centerfield stands. Chicago is utterly outplayed in Game 3. Wrigley Field falls so quiet you can almost hear the dugout conversations. This would be the most classic Cubs heartbreak imaginable. They’d be sacrificing goats on Clark Street. It would be time to think about next year.

But instead fans are doing the YMCA in between innings. No one is searching for signs from above, although they are there if you try hard enough: a 3–1 deficit, exactly what they overcame in the World Series last year. Forty-two thousand one hundred ninety-five fans in attendance for Game 4, the number of meters in a marathon, which the rest of the postseason will be if they can survive this series. Wednesday’s 3–2 win was the first step.

After all the crippling tension of last year’s run, Wrigleyville has been positively relaxed this October. According to ticket reseller TickPick, the average ticket to Game 5 is selling for $275. A day before NLCS Game 6 last season those seats were going for $1,065. In 2016 the Cubs knew from Day 1 of spring training that they were the favorite. “Embrace the target,” Maddon preached. Now for the first time they are the underdogs, facing a juggernaut Los Angeles group that was on pace for the major league wins record until mid-August.

“I feel like there’s no pressure on us,” says Cubs centerfielder Albert Almora. “There’s pressure on them to finish the job.”

Báez in particular has been the face of Chicago’s struggles recently. He looked lost at the plate, chasing pitches well outside the zone. Only one Cub had ever had such a brutal start to a postseason: Jimmy Sheckard went 0–21 in the 1906 World Series. But Báez tried to remain positive. His teammates were aware of the slump, of course, but he behaved so normally—greeting them exuberantly when they arrived, chirping in the clubhouse and in the dugout—that they almost forgot about it. Asked if he had gone out of his way to encourage Báez over the last few weeks, Almora looks quizzical. “Oh, because of what’s been happening?” he realizes at last. “No, not at all.”

Outfielder Jon Jay smiles. “Things can get blown out of proportion in the postseason,” he says. “It’s only been a few games.”

Báez did feel the pressure, though. “Since the series before I've been trying to get a base hit so hard,” he admits. “Tonight I just said to myself not to try too much, and I didn't, and there you have it.”

Indeed. L.A. starter Alex Wood, pitching on a three-week layoff because the Dodgers did not need him as they were sweeping the NLDS, struggled with his command early. In his first at bat, Báez reached for a curveball on the bottom edge of the strike zone and deposited it onto Waveland Avenue. In his second he put a Wood changeup a few yards in front of the first one. His third ended in a flyball to the deepest part of centerfield.

How did Schwarber know? “Javy loves the big moment,” he says simply.

This was only one win. Chicago is still three away from the World Series. The Cubs and their second baseman may no longer be left for dead, but they face a difficult challenge. L.A. is the superior team on paper, and it has played that way this October, dominating the Diamondbacks in the first round and taking that commanding 3–0 lead on the Cubs.

The last time the Dodgers lost a baseball game before Wednesday—back on Sept. 29—America had been introduced to but one Blade Runner movie. Tom Price over at Health and Human Services was booking his next flight. The Yankees were chasing the Red Sox for the division title. The Los Angeles bullpen has allowed three hits all series; Turner, Puig and second baseman Logan Forsythe have reached base more than half the time they have come to the plate this postseason. In Game 5 the Dodgers will start Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher of his generation, on regular rest.

But Báez was not thinking about any of that when Schwarber interrupted his lunch. “I was like, O.K.!” he says delightedly. “Just let the game start.” He grins. “He better tell me that tomorrow, too!”

It’s not yet time to think about next year in Chicago. It’s not time to think about the next series, either. Javy Báez and his Cubs have bought themselves tomorrow.

The Javier Baez Show Arrives To Save the Cubs in their NLCS Game 4 win over the Dodgers

CHICAGO — With hours left before the most important game of the Cubs’ season to this point, leftfielder Kyle Schwarber pushed his way into the cluster of Latin American players eating lunch near second baseman Javy Báez’s locker.

The obituaries were nearly written. Chicago, 349 days removed from a curse-breaking title, couldn’t muster even a single win in the NLCS. The flashy Báez, a darling last October for his majestic tags and timely slugging, had opened the postseason 0-for-20. As the Dodgers filed toward the buses after Game 3, grinning at their 6–1 victory, MLB officials held the so-called clinch meeting in their batting cage, discussing where to hang the plastic sheeting and store the champagne.

“You know what I’m looking forward to today?” Schwarber announced. “The Javy Báez show. Today’s the day.”

Chicagoans hoped so. Imagine if the Cubs had not won the World Series last year. Picture it: Michael Martinez’s grounder gets through and the Indians win Game 7. The Chicago winter is long and cold. The Cubs enter their 109th—an ugly, jagged number; no cute analogue to the number of stitches on a baseball—straight attempt at the title as the favorite and promptly go 25–27 through May. As late as Sept. 10 they seem in danger of giving away the division to the Cardinals or even the Brewers.

They win a wild Game 5 of the NLDS over the Nationals when they benefited from a series of events—intentional walk, passed ball, error on the catcher, catcher’s interference—never before seen in history, but use seven pitchers to get there. They fall apart in Game 1 of the NLCS, letting a two-run lead slip away as the Dodgers seem to win every inch: the inches past the wall L.A. Yasiel Puig’s drive to left lands, the inches Chicago catcher Willson Contreras jabs his knee in front of the plate, illegally blocking the runner and eventually allowing him to score.

In Game 2 manager Joe Maddon inexplicably leaves his closer in the bullpen and instead brings in aging, longball-prone starter John Lackey—pitching on back-to-back days for the first time in his career—to face the Dodgers’ best hitter, third baseman Justin Turner, in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied at 1. Turner lofts the second pitch he sees into the centerfield stands. Chicago is utterly outplayed in Game 3. Wrigley Field falls so quiet you can almost hear the dugout conversations. This would be the most classic Cubs heartbreak imaginable. They’d be sacrificing goats on Clark Street. It would be time to think about next year.

But instead fans are doing the YMCA in between innings. No one is searching for signs from above, although they are there if you try hard enough: a 3–1 deficit, exactly what they overcame in the World Series last year. Forty-two thousand one hundred ninety-five fans in attendance for Game 4, the number of meters in a marathon, which the rest of the postseason will be if they can survive this series. Wednesday’s 3–2 win was the first step.

After all the crippling tension of last year’s run, Wrigleyville has been positively relaxed this October. According to ticket reseller TickPick, the average ticket to Game 5 is selling for $275. A day before NLCS Game 6 last season those seats were going for $1,065. In 2016 the Cubs knew from Day 1 of spring training that they were the favorite. “Embrace the target,” Maddon preached. Now for the first time they are the underdogs, facing a juggernaut Los Angeles group that was on pace for the major league wins record until mid-August.

“I feel like there’s no pressure on us,” says Cubs centerfielder Albert Almora. “There’s pressure on them to finish the job.”

Báez in particular has been the face of Chicago’s struggles recently. He looked lost at the plate, chasing pitches well outside the zone. Only one Cub had ever had such a brutal start to a postseason: Jimmy Sheckard went 0–21 in the 1906 World Series. But Báez tried to remain positive. His teammates were aware of the slump, of course, but he behaved so normally—greeting them exuberantly when they arrived, chirping in the clubhouse and in the dugout—that they almost forgot about it. Asked if he had gone out of his way to encourage Báez over the last few weeks, Almora looks quizzical. “Oh, because of what’s been happening?” he realizes at last. “No, not at all.”

Outfielder Jon Jay smiles. “Things can get blown out of proportion in the postseason,” he says. “It’s only been a few games.”

Báez did feel the pressure, though. “Since the series before I've been trying to get a base hit so hard,” he admits. “Tonight I just said to myself not to try too much, and I didn't, and there you have it.”

Indeed. L.A. starter Alex Wood, pitching on a three-week layoff because the Dodgers did not need him as they were sweeping the NLDS, struggled with his command early. In his first at bat, Báez reached for a curveball on the bottom edge of the strike zone and deposited it onto Waveland Avenue. In his second he put a Wood changeup a few yards in front of the first one. His third ended in a flyball to the deepest part of centerfield.

How did Schwarber know? “Javy loves the big moment,” he says simply.

This was only one win. Chicago is still three away from the World Series. The Cubs and their second baseman may no longer be left for dead, but they face a difficult challenge. L.A. is the superior team on paper, and it has played that way this October, dominating the Diamondbacks in the first round and taking that commanding 3–0 lead on the Cubs.

The last time the Dodgers lost a baseball game before Wednesday—back on Sept. 29—America had been introduced to but one Blade Runner movie. Tom Price over at Health and Human Services was booking his next flight. The Yankees were chasing the Red Sox for the division title. The Los Angeles bullpen has allowed three hits all series; Turner, Puig and second baseman Logan Forsythe have reached base more than half the time they have come to the plate this postseason. In Game 5 the Dodgers will start Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher of his generation, on regular rest.

But Báez was not thinking about any of that when Schwarber interrupted his lunch. “I was like, O.K.!” he says delightedly. “Just let the game start.” He grins. “He better tell me that tomorrow, too!”

It’s not yet time to think about next year in Chicago. It’s not time to think about the next series, either. Javy Báez and his Cubs have bought themselves tomorrow.

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Let's say you're a baseball coach, but not a "used to play minor league ball and have dedicated my life to the sport" type of coach. You're more like,...

How to Teach Youth and Little League Players Proper Baseball Hitting Mechanics

Let's say you're a baseball coach, but not a "used to play minor league ball and have dedicated my life to the sport" type of coach. You're more like,...

How to Teach Youth and Little League Players Proper Baseball Hitting Mechanics

Let's say you're a baseball coach, but not a "used to play minor league ball and have dedicated my life to the sport" type of coach. You're more like,...

Top 185 Baseball Players in 2019 (51-55)

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How the Yankees' Advanced Youth Development Keyed Their ALCS Game 5 win over Astros

NEW YORK — The idea that the New York Yankees are a “year ahead of schedule” is based on the quaint, if erroneous notion that ballplayers, like Swiss trains, solar eclipses and Gregorian calendars, actually keep to a reliable schedule of development. You understand this fallacy if you watched Game 5 of the American League Championship Series Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium.

While the Houston Astros, famously scheduled to “arrive” this year, mailed in too many non-competitive at-bats against the well-prepared, cold-eyed New York pitching staff, the young, homegrown hitters of the Yankees outfoxed one of the great surgical pitchers of the game, Dallas Keuchel.

Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird were born eight months apart in the same year, 1992. Two years ago they were playing Double-A baseball in Trenton, N.J. Friday night they will play for the American League pennant and a trip to the World Series, thanks to a stepping on the necks of a down Houston team, 5–0.

“All of a sudden,” Bird said, “you look up and you’re in the playoffs. It’s very cool.”

They got here—the majors, the playoffs and the brink of the World Series “ahead of schedule”—because they have learned an advanced approach and keen plate discipline to complement generational kind of power. In Game 5, Judge (the oldest of the bunch at 25 years and 175 days), Sanchez and Bird combined for five hits, four runs batted in and three walks.

Judge, Sanchez and Bird each had a run-scoring hit. Only twice before in the franchise’s epic postseason history have three players this young had run-scoring hits in the same game, and the names reverberate with gravitas: Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon and Charlie Keller in Game 4 of the 1939 World Series, and Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin and Gil McDougald in Game 5 of the 1953 World Series.

“The key is I feel like we all like each other and pull for each other,” Bird said. “When you build a good clubhouse and you combine it with talent, I think you’ve got something.”

“Bird,” said hitting coach Alan Cockrell, “has the best eye of all. If he doesn’t swing and the umpire calls it a strike, every time we check the video he’s right—it was a ball. We don’t even have to check any more.”

Judge and Sanchez have crazy power. Judge homered in Game 4 and Sanchez in Game 5, running their 2017 combined total to 91. If you check all the players in history to see who hit the most home runs in their first 182 regular season games (Sanchez’s total of games; Judge isn’t quite there yet), you will find that this Yankees team has two of the top five home run hitters at such a start to their careers: Judge, with 56 homers, trails only Rudy York, and by one, and Sanchez, with 53, is fifth, just behind Mark McGwire and Ryan Braun.

Watching how they hit, however, brings a deeper appreciation, not just for their work, but also for the player development system of the Yankees, including general manager Brian Cashman, outgoing farm director Gary Denbo, scouting director Damon Oppenheimer, and the many coaches, scouts and advisers with dirt on their loafers. None were held in higher esteem than the wise and wily Gene “Stick” Michael, who passed away this year.

Before Game 5, I told Judge how impressed I was that in Game 4 the 282-pound rightfielder tagged out a Houston runner headed to third base, a short cab ride away from his position as he alertly hustled to involve himself in a rundown play.

“Brainwashing,” Judge said. “The player development system.”

Judge’s home run in Game 4 off Lance McCullers, the one that triggered the comeback from a 4–0 deficit, as well as Houston manager A.J. Hinch’s quick hook of his effective starting pitcher, was another example of the advanced development of these young New York hitters.

Major league hitters rarely swing at first-pitch curveballs. They don’t normally sit on them because if the pitcher throws a cookie of a fastball—the pitch every hitter yearns for—the hitter can’t pull the trigger and feels awful for the missed opportunity. Pitchers threw 22,441 first-pitch curveballs this year. Hitters swung only 19% of the time at them. And of those 4,288 swings, they hit a home run only 80 times.

That’s 80 home runs out of 22,441 pitches, or 0.3% of the time. You’re six times more likely to win a prize in the New York lottery (1 in 46) than you are to a home run on a first-pitch curveball (1 in 281).

So when Judge stepped in against McCullers in Game 4, the odds were against him hitting a first-pitch hook for a home run. Moreover, Judge had seen 81 first-pitch curveballs in his career and had only one hit, a single. The pitch to McCullers represented a free strike to start the at-bat.

But Judge was having none of it.

“He’s a good hitter with a good game plan who pays attention,” Cockrell said.

Judge knew McCullers had been throwing curveballs on about half his pitches, including 66% to Judge (six out of nine). McCullers threw a get-me-over curve, and Judge smashed it off the batter’s eye in centerfield. It was the swing that turned the series, the Yankees having outscored Houston starting with that swing, 11–1.

Judge was back to his observant ways against Keuchel in Game 5. The crafty Houston lefthander whiffed him his first time up by slipping a cutter past his hands after throwing five straight fastballs. The next time they met, in the third, the count was 1–1 when Keuchel went back to the cutter on his hands. This time Judge was ready, clearing his hips early to bring his barrel around in time, and sending a hard grounder down the third-base line for an RBI double.

So detailed is Judge that he will subtly adjust his feet in the batter’s box. Cubs manager Joe Maddon likes to say the toughest thing to get a young hitter to do is move his back foot in the box; most of them fall on the habit of routine. Not Judge. Against Keuchel in Game 1 he moved four inches closer to the mound to protect against his sinker. And as Cockrell said, “If he feels like he needs more room to work his hands he’ll move back [from the plate]. He’s got a pretty good feel.”

Said Judge, “Depends how I feel. It’s based more on how I feel than anything the pitcher is doing.”

The double put the Yankees ahead, 2–0, with Bird having posted the first run with smart hitting of his own against Keuchel. With Starlin Castro at second and two outs, Keuchel fell behind Bird 2–0 by missing low and inside with fastballs. Incredibly, in a fastball count, Keuchel tried another one, and in the same spot. Trained on that speed and spot, Bird turned on it for a hard single to drive in Castro.

Sanchez had been 1-for-16 in the ALCS, mostly because Houston pitchers kept spinning breaking balls away from him. But in the fifth, when Keuchel tried an 0–1 slider, he left it on the plate and Sanchez pounced on it for an RBI single. Two innings later, he walloped a hanging 0–2 slider from reliever Brad Peacock for a home run.

Keuchel began the night with a career 1.09 ERA against the Yankees, the best ever against the franchise. In Game 1, in classic Keuchel subterfuge, the lefty threw 60% of his pitches out of the strike zone and beat the Yankees by getting them to chase pitches that slipped just off the inside, outside and bottom edges of the plate. The Yankees swung at 20 of the 66 pitches out of the zone, and hit .100 in their chase effort (1-for-10).

Cockrell knew that Keuchel’s magic trick is to stretch the plate horizontally in a hitter’s eyes, not vertically. He turns the 17-inch plate into a 21-inch plate, and those extra two inches on each side are sirens that lure wayward hitters into the rocks.

So before Game 5, Cockrell told his hitters about this trick. There was no way, he told them, that they could cover both sides of the plate. So he gave them this order: simply look for balls over the plate. Instead of worrying about the boilerplate mantra of “make him get the ball up,” (Keuchel almost never elevates the ball anyway) Cockrell told them simply to look for balls that cut the 17-inch wide airspace over the plate, even if it was down. Forget about covering in and out.

It worked. The Yankees hit .333 against Keuchel (7-for-21).

“You can’t miss mistakes,” Judge said about facing Keuchel. “He’s so good that when you have a pitch on the plate you have to take advantage of it. That’s what we were able to do.”

Judge is not a rash person. He is a thoughtful sort, and you can often tell this by the way he answers a question: as if he’s in the on-deck circle preparing for an at-bat. When a reporter finishes a question, Judge sometimes will bow his head as if in serious thought, allow a beat or two to pass, then launch into his carefully considered answer. He reacted exactly that way when somebody asked him how it felt to be one win from the World Series.

After the pause to consider, he softly exhaled, “Whew!” He took another beat, then said, “It’s great. But we’re not done. We can’t get ahead of ourselves.”

The Astros, even those with far more years than the Baby Bombers, swung the bat as if they were tightly wound. In the fifth inning, for instance, when they had two runners and one out and chance to climb back into contention in the game, their 1-2 hitters, George Springer and Josh Reddick, took awful at-bats. Between them they fouled back three eminently hittable pitches, one of which had New York starter Masahiro Tanaka screaming at himself for a mistake he somehow survived. And then both Springer (looking) and Reddick (chasing a terribly wide and low pitch) whiffed. Combined they are 2-for-35 in the series, and forcing Hinch to rethink the top of the lineup for Game 6.

The young ones on the other side continued to grind out their at-bats.

“They’ll give you a good at-bat every time,” Cockrell said. “If it’s late in the game and we’re up by three or down by three, like the other night, it doesn’t matter. You can’t tell. They grind no matter what.”

Judge was a strikeout machine last year in a 27-game cameo. He went home and re-tooled his setup and swing for a more consistent approach, so much so that as he likes to say, “I’ve been doing the same thing since February.” His one-year leap in improvement—from a guy who went to spring training fighting for an outfield spot to the most impactful slugger in the league and, based on jersey sales and All-Star votes, its most popular player—is the greatest reason why the Yankees, after winning 84 games last year, are on the brink of a pennant this year. He is a franchise-changing player. He also happens to have Sanchez and Bird right there next to him, the way they were in places like Trenton and Scranton-Wilkes Barre, learning their craft.

“People are making the most of the moment,” Judge said. “But also a lot of hard work is showing up right now.”

It’s a credit to their work, but it’s also a credit to the Yankees’ player development system, to the people who don’t operate under a schedule, but put in the time to maximize a player’s potential, however long or short it takes.

Just before Game 5, one of the many Yankees advisors in that effort, Lee Mazzilli, was in the dugout, joking with Bird about how Yankee Stadium had come alive with passion and euphoria in that Game 4 comeback, almost like the way it was in the old stadium.

“The ghosts,” Bird told him.

“Ah, they’re not here,” Mazzilli said. “That was the old place.”

“No, they moved over here,” Bird said. “And we’ve got one more.”

Bird smiled and said only, “Stick,” and turned to run on to the field, right on time.

How the Yankees' Advanced Youth Development Keyed Their ALCS Game 5 win over Astros

NEW YORK — The idea that the New York Yankees are a “year ahead of schedule” is based on the quaint, if erroneous notion that ballplayers, like Swiss trains, solar eclipses and Gregorian calendars, actually keep to a reliable schedule of development. You understand this fallacy if you watched Game 5 of the American League Championship Series Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium.

While the Houston Astros, famously scheduled to “arrive” this year, mailed in too many non-competitive at-bats against the well-prepared, cold-eyed New York pitching staff, the young, homegrown hitters of the Yankees outfoxed one of the great surgical pitchers of the game, Dallas Keuchel.

Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird were born eight months apart in the same year, 1992. Two years ago they were playing Double-A baseball in Trenton, N.J. Friday night they will play for the American League pennant and a trip to the World Series, thanks to a stepping on the necks of a down Houston team, 5–0.

“All of a sudden,” Bird said, “you look up and you’re in the playoffs. It’s very cool.”

They got here—the majors, the playoffs and the brink of the World Series “ahead of schedule”—because they have learned an advanced approach and keen plate discipline to complement generational kind of power. In Game 5, Judge (the oldest of the bunch at 25 years and 175 days), Sanchez and Bird combined for five hits, four runs batted in and three walks.

Judge, Sanchez and Bird each had a run-scoring hit. Only twice before in the franchise’s epic postseason history have three players this young had run-scoring hits in the same game, and the names reverberate with gravitas: Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon and Charlie Keller in Game 4 of the 1939 World Series, and Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin and Gil McDougald in Game 5 of the 1953 World Series.

“The key is I feel like we all like each other and pull for each other,” Bird said. “When you build a good clubhouse and you combine it with talent, I think you’ve got something.”

“Bird,” said hitting coach Alan Cockrell, “has the best eye of all. If he doesn’t swing and the umpire calls it a strike, every time we check the video he’s right—it was a ball. We don’t even have to check any more.”

Judge and Sanchez have crazy power. Judge homered in Game 4 and Sanchez in Game 5, running their 2017 combined total to 91. If you check all the players in history to see who hit the most home runs in their first 182 regular season games (Sanchez’s total of games; Judge isn’t quite there yet), you will find that this Yankees team has two of the top five home run hitters at such a start to their careers: Judge, with 56 homers, trails only Rudy York, and by one, and Sanchez, with 53, is fifth, just behind Mark McGwire and Ryan Braun.

Watching how they hit, however, brings a deeper appreciation, not just for their work, but also for the player development system of the Yankees, including general manager Brian Cashman, outgoing farm director Gary Denbo, scouting director Damon Oppenheimer, and the many coaches, scouts and advisers with dirt on their loafers. None were held in higher esteem than the wise and wily Gene “Stick” Michael, who passed away this year.

Before Game 5, I told Judge how impressed I was that in Game 4 the 282-pound rightfielder tagged out a Houston runner headed to third base, a short cab ride away from his position as he alertly hustled to involve himself in a rundown play.

“Brainwashing,” Judge said. “The player development system.”

Judge’s home run in Game 4 off Lance McCullers, the one that triggered the comeback from a 4–0 deficit, as well as Houston manager A.J. Hinch’s quick hook of his effective starting pitcher, was another example of the advanced development of these young New York hitters.

Major league hitters rarely swing at first-pitch curveballs. They don’t normally sit on them because if the pitcher throws a cookie of a fastball—the pitch every hitter yearns for—the hitter can’t pull the trigger and feels awful for the missed opportunity. Pitchers threw 22,441 first-pitch curveballs this year. Hitters swung only 19% of the time at them. And of those 4,288 swings, they hit a home run only 80 times.

That’s 80 home runs out of 22,441 pitches, or 0.3% of the time. You’re six times more likely to win a prize in the New York lottery (1 in 46) than you are to a home run on a first-pitch curveball (1 in 281).

So when Judge stepped in against McCullers in Game 4, the odds were against him hitting a first-pitch hook for a home run. Moreover, Judge had seen 81 first-pitch curveballs in his career and had only one hit, a single. The pitch to McCullers represented a free strike to start the at-bat.

But Judge was having none of it.

“He’s a good hitter with a good game plan who pays attention,” Cockrell said.

Judge knew McCullers had been throwing curveballs on about half his pitches, including 66% to Judge (six out of nine). McCullers threw a get-me-over curve, and Judge smashed it off the batter’s eye in centerfield. It was the swing that turned the series, the Yankees having outscored Houston starting with that swing, 11–1.

Judge was back to his observant ways against Keuchel in Game 5. The crafty Houston lefthander whiffed him his first time up by slipping a cutter past his hands after throwing five straight fastballs. The next time they met, in the third, the count was 1–1 when Keuchel went back to the cutter on his hands. This time Judge was ready, clearing his hips early to bring his barrel around in time, and sending a hard grounder down the third-base line for an RBI double.

So detailed is Judge that he will subtly adjust his feet in the batter’s box. Cubs manager Joe Maddon likes to say the toughest thing to get a young hitter to do is move his back foot in the box; most of them fall on the habit of routine. Not Judge. Against Keuchel in Game 1 he moved four inches closer to the mound to protect against his sinker. And as Cockrell said, “If he feels like he needs more room to work his hands he’ll move back [from the plate]. He’s got a pretty good feel.”

Said Judge, “Depends how I feel. It’s based more on how I feel than anything the pitcher is doing.”

The double put the Yankees ahead, 2–0, with Bird having posted the first run with smart hitting of his own against Keuchel. With Starlin Castro at second and two outs, Keuchel fell behind Bird 2–0 by missing low and inside with fastballs. Incredibly, in a fastball count, Keuchel tried another one, and in the same spot. Trained on that speed and spot, Bird turned on it for a hard single to drive in Castro.

Sanchez had been 1-for-16 in the ALCS, mostly because Houston pitchers kept spinning breaking balls away from him. But in the fifth, when Keuchel tried an 0–1 slider, he left it on the plate and Sanchez pounced on it for an RBI single. Two innings later, he walloped a hanging 0–2 slider from reliever Brad Peacock for a home run.

Keuchel began the night with a career 1.09 ERA against the Yankees, the best ever against the franchise. In Game 1, in classic Keuchel subterfuge, the lefty threw 60% of his pitches out of the strike zone and beat the Yankees by getting them to chase pitches that slipped just off the inside, outside and bottom edges of the plate. The Yankees swung at 20 of the 66 pitches out of the zone, and hit .100 in their chase effort (1-for-10).

Cockrell knew that Keuchel’s magic trick is to stretch the plate horizontally in a hitter’s eyes, not vertically. He turns the 17-inch plate into a 21-inch plate, and those extra two inches on each side are sirens that lure wayward hitters into the rocks.

So before Game 5, Cockrell told his hitters about this trick. There was no way, he told them, that they could cover both sides of the plate. So he gave them this order: simply look for balls over the plate. Instead of worrying about the boilerplate mantra of “make him get the ball up,” (Keuchel almost never elevates the ball anyway) Cockrell told them simply to look for balls that cut the 17-inch wide airspace over the plate, even if it was down. Forget about covering in and out.

It worked. The Yankees hit .333 against Keuchel (7-for-21).

“You can’t miss mistakes,” Judge said about facing Keuchel. “He’s so good that when you have a pitch on the plate you have to take advantage of it. That’s what we were able to do.”

Judge is not a rash person. He is a thoughtful sort, and you can often tell this by the way he answers a question: as if he’s in the on-deck circle preparing for an at-bat. When a reporter finishes a question, Judge sometimes will bow his head as if in serious thought, allow a beat or two to pass, then launch into his carefully considered answer. He reacted exactly that way when somebody asked him how it felt to be one win from the World Series.

After the pause to consider, he softly exhaled, “Whew!” He took another beat, then said, “It’s great. But we’re not done. We can’t get ahead of ourselves.”

The Astros, even those with far more years than the Baby Bombers, swung the bat as if they were tightly wound. In the fifth inning, for instance, when they had two runners and one out and chance to climb back into contention in the game, their 1-2 hitters, George Springer and Josh Reddick, took awful at-bats. Between them they fouled back three eminently hittable pitches, one of which had New York starter Masahiro Tanaka screaming at himself for a mistake he somehow survived. And then both Springer (looking) and Reddick (chasing a terribly wide and low pitch) whiffed. Combined they are 2-for-35 in the series, and forcing Hinch to rethink the top of the lineup for Game 6.

The young ones on the other side continued to grind out their at-bats.

“They’ll give you a good at-bat every time,” Cockrell said. “If it’s late in the game and we’re up by three or down by three, like the other night, it doesn’t matter. You can’t tell. They grind no matter what.”

Judge was a strikeout machine last year in a 27-game cameo. He went home and re-tooled his setup and swing for a more consistent approach, so much so that as he likes to say, “I’ve been doing the same thing since February.” His one-year leap in improvement—from a guy who went to spring training fighting for an outfield spot to the most impactful slugger in the league and, based on jersey sales and All-Star votes, its most popular player—is the greatest reason why the Yankees, after winning 84 games last year, are on the brink of a pennant this year. He is a franchise-changing player. He also happens to have Sanchez and Bird right there next to him, the way they were in places like Trenton and Scranton-Wilkes Barre, learning their craft.

“People are making the most of the moment,” Judge said. “But also a lot of hard work is showing up right now.”

It’s a credit to their work, but it’s also a credit to the Yankees’ player development system, to the people who don’t operate under a schedule, but put in the time to maximize a player’s potential, however long or short it takes.

Just before Game 5, one of the many Yankees advisors in that effort, Lee Mazzilli, was in the dugout, joking with Bird about how Yankee Stadium had come alive with passion and euphoria in that Game 4 comeback, almost like the way it was in the old stadium.

“The ghosts,” Bird told him.

“Ah, they’re not here,” Mazzilli said. “That was the old place.”

“No, they moved over here,” Bird said. “And we’ve got one more.”

Bird smiled and said only, “Stick,” and turned to run on to the field, right on time.

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Class of 2020 Top Baseball Prospect Database

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That classic baseball episode of 'The Simpsons' gets a documentary directed by Morgan Spurlock

The Simpsons has its fair share of classic episodes, and surely "Homer At The Bat" would be up there with the most memorable.

With its enviable list of baseball royalty and highly quotable moments, it's the perfect subject for a mockumentary, which has been titled Springfield of Dreams: The Legend of Homer Simpson.

The hour-long special set to air on Sunday is produced by Fox Sports and Major League Baseball, featuring Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame as the director, according to EW.

It'll be a satirical take on Ken Burns' 1994 miniseries Baseball, with the mockumentary featuring sportscasters like Joe Buck, as well as the players who appear in the episode such as Wade Boggs, Steve Sox and Jose Canseco.

The mockumentary will also feature interviews with The Simpsons characters themselves, including Carl, Comic Book Guy, and Homer.

Sure, the show isn't as good as it was back in the '90s, but eh, maybe this mockumentary won't be half bad. After all, it can't be as terrible as "All Singing, All Dancing."

 

That classic baseball episode of 'The Simpsons' gets a documentary directed by Morgan Spurlock

The Simpsons has its fair share of classic episodes, and surely "Homer At The Bat" would be up there with the most memorable.

With its enviable list of baseball royalty and highly quotable moments, it's the perfect subject for a mockumentary, which has been titled Springfield of Dreams: The Legend of Homer Simpson.

The hour-long special set to air on Sunday is produced by Fox Sports and Major League Baseball, featuring Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame as the director, according to EW.

It'll be a satirical take on Ken Burns' 1994 miniseries Baseball, with the mockumentary featuring sportscasters like Joe Buck, as well as the players who appear in the episode such as Wade Boggs, Steve Sox and Jose Canseco.

The mockumentary will also feature interviews with The Simpsons characters themselves, including Carl, Comic Book Guy, and Homer.

Sure, the show isn't as good as it was back in the '90s, but eh, maybe this mockumentary won't be half bad. After all, it can't be as terrible as "All Singing, All Dancing."

 

That classic baseball episode of 'The Simpsons' gets a documentary directed by Morgan Spurlock

The Simpsons has its fair share of classic episodes, and surely "Homer At The Bat" would be up there with the most memorable.

With its enviable list of baseball royalty and highly quotable moments, it's the perfect subject for a mockumentary, which has been titled Springfield of Dreams: The Legend of Homer Simpson.

The hour-long special set to air on Sunday is produced by Fox Sports and Major League Baseball, featuring Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame as the director, according to EW.

It'll be a satirical take on Ken Burns' 1994 miniseries Baseball, with the mockumentary featuring sportscasters like Joe Buck, as well as the players who appear in the episode such as Wade Boggs, Steve Sox and Jose Canseco.

The mockumentary will also feature interviews with The Simpsons characters themselves, including Carl, Comic Book Guy, and Homer.

Sure, the show isn't as good as it was back in the '90s, but eh, maybe this mockumentary won't be half bad. After all, it can't be as terrible as "All Singing, All Dancing."

 

LEADING OFF: Cubs face Dodgers' Kershaw trailing 3-1 in NLCS

New York Yankees' Gary Sanchez hits a home run during the seventh inning of Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

LEADING OFF: Cubs face Dodgers' Kershaw trailing 3-1 in NLCS

Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant (17), Jon Jay (30), Anthony Rizzo (44), Ian Happ (8) and Jason Heyward (22) celebrate after Game 4 of baseball's National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in Chicago. The Cubs won 3-2. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

LEADING OFF: Cubs face Dodgers' Kershaw trailing 3-1 in NLCS

Fans celebrates after Game 4 of baseball's National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in Chicago. The Cubs won 3-2. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

LEADING OFF: Cubs face Dodgers' Kershaw trailing 3-1 in NLCS

Chicago Cubs' Jon Jay (30) and Javier Baez celebrate after Game 4 of baseball's National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in Chicago. The Cubs won 3-2. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

LEADING OFF: Cubs face Dodgers' Kershaw trailing 3-1 in NLCS

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve sits near the dugout during the ninth inning of Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The Yankee Greeter: Judge always the last man off for NY

New York Yankees' Aaron Judge hits an RBI double during the third inning of Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankee Greeter: Judge always the last man off for NY

New York Yankees' Aaron Judge walks during the fifth inning of Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The Yankee Greeter: Judge always the last man off for NY

New York Yankees' Aaron Judge waits for teammate Aaron Hicks to go in the dugout before he does during Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant (17), Jon Jay (30), Anthony Rizzo (44), Ian Happ (8) and Jason Heyward (22) celebrate after Game 4 of baseball's National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in Chicago. The Cubs won 3-2. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)