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J.A. Happ Jersey

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HOUSTON – Relegated to be the bullpen for the post-season, former Blue Jays all-star J.A. Happ was itching to be a factor for the New York Yankees in this ALCS.

The personable lefty got the chance to do so as Sunday night almost turned to Monday morning here in Texas, but was the victim rather than the victor.

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Astros shortstop Carlos Correa took the first pitch of the bottom of the 11th inning over the wall in right field as the Astros scored a 3-2 win to even the best-of-seven ALCS at a win apiece.

The series resumes in New York for Games 3, 4 and 5, starting on Tuesday, with the drama now on high.

“Trying to go elevated fastball which I did, and he put a good swing on it and got it,” Happ said of the mighty miscue. “It was a well-pitched game for both sides, obviously. Those were two really good lineups and it was a battle all night long.”

And what a long night it was – four hours and 49 minutes in a game that felt like it had vastly more significance than just one of seven.

The Astros knew they couldn’t afford to go down 0-2 and into the mayhem of the Bronx. The Yankees know they still have to win a game started by either of the Astros aces, Justin Verlander or Gerrit Cole, who gets the ball in Game 3.

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The Toronto Blue Jays and Washington Nationals records both stood at 20-31 on May 24th. Their seasons diverged from there, but what can we learn from the 2019 World Series Champions?
Congratulations to the Nationals on their World Series Championship. After only qualifying for the wildcard with 93 regular season wins, they trailed in all five elimination games they faced in these playoffs and came back to win it all, winning the wildcard play-in against the Brewers, beating the 106 win Dodgers in the series deciding fifth game of the NLDS, sweeping the Cardinals in the NLCS, and then coming back against the 107 win Astros in a decisive game seven of the World Series, winning all four of their games in Houston. All with Los Viejos (“The Old Ones”), and the oldest average age roster in MLB at 31 years young.

Happily, there are some strong parallels for Jays fans to draw from this improbable Championship, suggesting our team might not actually be that far away from meaningful October baseball. We have a young core of twenty-something studs to build around in Vlad Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., which could turn in to our version of Juan Soto, Víctor Robles, and Trea Turner. Both teams have Spanish-speaking managers with Puerto Rican connections in Dave Martinez and Charlie Montoyo. And both teams woke up this past May 25th with identical 20-31 records.

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So besides the ongoing “rebuild” in Toronto, what explains the difference between how the Nationals went 73-38 from that point onwards, only the fifth time a team under .500 in their first fifty games has gone on to win the World Series, and how the Jays only won 47 more games from that point on? Maybe that gap of 26 fewer wins could be closed surprisingly quickly if Jays ownership and management are willing to learn from the success of these Nationals?

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The most obvious gap is payroll. The Nationals spent $200 million this year on their competitive balance payroll according to Spotrac; the Jays, by comparison, spent $126 million, but that included $45 million in retained salaries for Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin, and Kendrys Morales. There’s no getting around the fact that Blue Jays ownership and management has to spend more and be in the top half of Opening Day payrolls by at least 2021 when General Manager Ross Atkins has promised fans a “competitive” team. World Series teams spend. And in an earlier article I’d written comparing the gaps with both the Nats and Astros, more than 50% of that payroll needs to go to your starting rotation, set-up men and closer. It’s dominant pitching, premium pitching, and ace pitching.

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Baseball America

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24 of the last 25 World Series champions ranked in the top half of Opening Day payrolls.

The one outlier?

The 2003 Marlins. https://buff.ly/2PAFQhm

World Series Champion Opening Day Payroll Ranks Over The Last 25 Years
Spending money doesn’t guarantee a World Series ring, but 24 of the last 25 champions all crossed one particular payroll threshold.

baseballamerica.com
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Veteran Talent

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The next gap is veteran talent. The average Jays player on the current 40-man roster was 26 years old at the start of the 2019 season. The average age of the Nationals on their World Series roster was 31, a five-year average age difference. That experience can be explained in part by Nats starters Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin – aged 35, 31 and 30, respectively. These three combined to pitch 34 1/3 innings of the 63 innings in the World Series and win all four games. World Series MVP Strasburg went 5-0 in the playoffs with the third-lowest World Series ERA ever.

“I see two incredible teams going at it with strengths on both sides,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “What a big win. We just have really good players and really good feel for the moment. We’ve had some really big wins in this ball park.

“We heard the talk in the last 24 hours – we got pushed in the face yesterday. I’m just really proud of how our guys stayed in the moment.”

Through two games, anyway, it certainly feels that we’re in for a reprise of the thrilling seven-gamer these two put on two years ago, with the Astros winning on their way to a World Series title.

Happ actually got the Yankees out of a jam in the 10th after Jonathan Loaisiga walked Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman, by striking out Yordan Alvarez and inducing a weak pop-up from Yuli Gurriel.

But when the Yanks were unable to take advantage in the top half of the next inning – with Correa flexing and the crowd buzzing – it ended in a flash in the 11th.

“Going into that last inning I thought, ‘I feel like I got this,’” Correa said. “And I had the right approach against (Happ).

“I saw a good pitch down the middle and I drove it the other way.”

The road to get to that emphatic game winner – punctuated with a mini bat flip and Correa putting his hands to his ears as the crowd went wild – was a long one.

The game winner was the first score since the fifth inning, almost two hours earlier – as savvy pitching and lengthy at bats fuelled the duel.

The big moments were many, however.