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Rumors and Rumblings | Francona has off-field touch too

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 28: Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Trevor Bauer (47) gets a handshake from Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona (17) as he leaves the game during the seventh inning of the Major League Baseball game between the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians on June 28, 2017, at Progressive Field in Cleveland, OH. Cleveland defeated Texas 5-3. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)
(Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

Terry Francona is generally regarded as the best postseason strategist in the game.

The Cleveland Indians manager had a career 40-23 record in the playoffs going into the Game 4 of their American League Division Series against the New York Yankees on Monday night at Yankee Stadium.

Francona won two World Series with the Boston Red Sox in 2004 and 2007, the first ending an 86-year drought for the franchise that dated to 1918. Francona also led the Indians to the World Series last season and they fell just short of their first title since 1948 when they lost to the Chicago Cubs in 10 innings in Game 7.

However, the ability of Francona’s teams to succeed goes beyond his ability to always seem to know exactly the right time to make a pitching change or tweak the lineup. His goofy sense of humor and personality allow him to relate to everyone also helps the Indians play without tension.

Being stress-free during the biggest games of the season can make a difference.

“Our clubhouse is loose,” Indians catcher Roberto Perez said. “He just lets us play. There’s a reason behind it, it’s like go out and play the game the right way and play hard and don’t back off from anybody and that’s what we do.”

In addition to setting a fun atmosphere, Indians center fielder Jason Kipnis feels another one of Francona’s strengths is that his personality stays on an even keel whether his team is winning or losing.

“It’s pretty much what you see is what you get with him,” Kipnis said. “He’s consistent in the fact that he likes to be loose. He likes to keep the environment kind of free and where guys can be themselves.

“You’re not really going out there playing with a mirror on your shoulder wondering what the manager’s thinking. He’ll tell you that and he doesn’t want you to be afraid of making a mistake. You earn his trust. And once you have that, you can go out and play freely.”

As far as Francona’s decision-making? His players don’t even question it.

“Tito’s been in the game a long time,” Perez said. “He knows what he’s doing.”

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The Houston Astros became the first team to reach the League Championship Series round when they finished off the Boston Red Sox in four games Monday in their ALDS.

The biggest concern about the Astros’ chances of winning their first World Series title since entering the league in 1962 is their lack of starting pitching depth. Right-hander Justin Verlander and left-hander Dallas Keuchel are the only two starters the Astros trust to take them very far into games.

Right-hander Brad Peacock’s start in Game 3, the only game the Astros lost, was particularly disappointing. He gave up three runs in 2 2/3 innings following a regular season in which he compiled a 13-2 record with a 3.00 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 34 games, including 21 starts.

However, a scout from an AL team doesn’t think Peacock should be written off after one poor outing.

“You have to attribute at least part of that start to nerves because he had never pitched in a postseason game before,” the scout said. “He’s always had good stuff, especially with his slider, but now he’s learned how to control it. I’d be willing he will pitch a heckuva lot better the next time out if he gets the chance. Not that he’ll throw a shutout but he can take them to the sixth inning with a chance to win the game and that’s really all they need.”

HOUSTON, TX - JULY 18: Houston Astros relief pitcher Brad Peacock (41) delivers the ball in the fourth inning during an MLB baseball game between the Houston Astros and the Seattle Mariners at Minute Maid Park, Tuesday, July 18, 2017. Houston Astros defeated Seattle Mariners 6-2. (Photo by Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire)

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The St. Louis Cardinals are looking for a true cleanup hitter and are reportedly willing to trade third baseman Jedd Gyorko as part of a package to acquire one.

On the surface, it seems odd that the Cardinals would consider trading Gyorko in their search for power. He has hit 50 home runs in 253 games during his two seasons with St. Louis while posting a .258/.324/.483 slash line.

However, the Cardinals have many versatile infielders who can shuffle to fill a potential void at third base, which is why Gyorko can be used as a trade chip. When Gyorko was sidelined late in the season by a hamstring injury, Matt Carpenter took over at the hot corner after spending most of the season at first base.

Gyorko has played all four infield positions during his five-year career, and a scout from a National League feels the Cardinals will field plenty of inquiries on the 29-year-old.

“I don’t know if he’ll ever hit 30 home runs again like he did (in 2015) but he has some pop, he doesn’t chase many bad pitches and he has turned himself into a good defensive player despite not being a great athlete,” the scout said. “He could help a lot of teams.”

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The Minnesota Twins ended any suspense about the future of manager Paul Molitor on Monday by signing him to a three-year contract extension through 2020. His contract was set to expire next month.

The Twins lost to the Yankees in the AL wild-card game last week in their first trip to the postseason since 2010. Minnesota also had a 26-game improvement in the regular season, raising its record to 85-77 after finishing a major-league-worst 59-103 in 2016.

During the final week of the regular season, Twins second baseman Brian Dozier gave a rousing endorsement for Molitor.

“He’s our leader and we have so much respect for him,” Dozier said. “He really has the pulse of everything going on with the team but not in a way where he’s intrusive. He has instant credibility as a Hall of Fame player. Then when you get to know, he’s a great guy and he really cares about the team and the players.”

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