LSU began Southeastern Conference play and in the third game of the season for the Tigers, finally looked like the team projected by some to end the season in the playoff picture. The Tigers (2-1, 1-0 SEC) beat Mississippi State 23-20 in their conference opener last week in Tiger Stadium as Danny Etling stabilized the quarterback position in his first start, Leonard Fournette returned from injury to have a 100-yard rushing game, the defense was dominant at times, and the special teams were solid. No. 18 LSU plays its first SEC road game against Auburn (1-2, 0-1) at 6 p.m. ET Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, and LSU coach Les Miles is looking for improvement in every phase of the game." It wasn't perfect in any way," Tigers coach Les Miles said of his team's win over the Bulldogs. "But we got a real good start in conference play." Etling, a junior transfer from Purdue who earned the start with a solid but unspectacular performance in relief of Brandon Harris in a win over Jacksonville State a week earlier, completed 19 of 30 passes for 215 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions against Mississippi State." He extended plays, ad-libbed and did things he was supposed to do," Miles said. "He made plays with his feet." On third-down plays, Etling was 6-of-9 passing for 96 yards and the touchdown. As for Fournette, after resting a sore ankle a week earlier, he carried 28 times for 147 yards and two touchdowns against the Bulldogs, but he fumbled twice and lost one, the first time he had lost a fumble in 414 carries. Miles, who has been known to immediately bench others runners in the wake of even one fumble, is more forgiving with Fournette." He's one of the most ball-secure runners that I've ever had," Miles said. "I'm sure he'll continue to be. It will just be a little refresher course there." The defense had six sacks and helped the Tigers to a 23-6 fourth-quarter lead before Fournette's fumble and an onside kick recovery helped the Bulldogs score two touchdowns in a 40-second stretch." We've got to finish out games," LSU safety Jamal Adams said. "We've got to finish stronger. We've got to put a nail in them." If LSU has managed to turn things in the right direction after losing its opener 16-14 at Wisconsin, Auburn is still searching for answers after dropping its second game in three outings, all at home, this time 29-16 to Texas A&M. With only the one win over an overmatched Arkansas State team, coach Gus Malzahn's team looks to have issues getting consistent play from its offense, especially at quarterback. Sophomore Sean White has not performed all that badly -- he has completed 63.4 percent of his passes with just one interception in 71 attempts -- but his 45 completions have produced only 510 yards, an average of 170 a game. After starting the game against Texas A&M last week by completing his first six attempts, he bogged down and completed only 12 of his last 21 throws. When he couldn't get the offense moving against the Aggies, Malzahn turned to junior college transfer John Franklin III in the fourth quarter. Franklin had two drives end with Auburn giving up the ball on downs, but he did get his team into the end zone for a late touchdown." We felt like we needed a shot in the arm, so we gave John Franklin a chance and he did a good job moving the football," Malzahn said. "I thought he did some good things." He created some things for us when the protection broke down and made a couple of good throws. He's still learning the offense, but I think he gave us a spark." Still, White will get the start against LSU with Franklin, who has rushed for 117 yards on 13 carries but passed for just 34 yards, waiting on the bench. Senior Jeremy Johnson, who gained back his starting job last year when White was hurt, hasn't played since the opener this season. Malzahn acknowledges his team has to find a way to get more consistent." The inconsistency on offense was the key to the game," he said, looking back on the loss to the Aggies. "We have to find a way to get better. We just weren't consistent enough to win the game."
Time: 06:10 P.M. EST Venue: Tropicana Field ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Boston Red Sox have won nine straight, their longest win streak in more than five years, and as they look to extend that stretch Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays, their bullpen has been an underappreciated part of their success. Friday was an excellent example, as closer Craig Kimbrel and reliver Koji Uehara got the night off for rest and the bullpen still came through with four scoreless innings to make a two-run home run in the first hold up for a 2-1 victory." Can't say enough of the run that entire group has been on," manager John Farrell said. "When you consider tonight we were staying away from Kimbrel and Koji. We were able to match up all the way through ... They continue to come in and execute extremely well." Brad Ziegler pitched the ninth for his fourth save with the Red Sox -- and 22nd of the season -- but four relievers helped get the game there. Joe Kelly pitched a scoreless sixth, Robbie Ross got two outs, Matt Barnes three and Robby Scott one in a high-leverage situation. Boston might not need the bullpen as much Saturday, with right-hander Rick Porcello on the mound with a 21-4 record and 3.08 ERA. He's thrown at least seven innings and allowed three runs or less in 11 straight starts, matching Cy Young (1904) and Pedro Martinez (2000) for the longest such streaks ever in a single season by a Red Sox pitcher. His toughest challenge in his last five starts came against the Rays, who got him for six hits and three runs in seven innings in a game the Red Sox still pulled out on Aug. 29. Not as fortunate down the stretch has been Matt Andriese, whose win last weekend at Baltimore ended a personal seven-game losing streak. Andriese has pitched well against Boston in his career -- 1-1 with a 4.58 ERA, including a 2.08 ERA at Tropicana Field. His last outing against Boston was a rough one, giving up a career-high seven runs and 10 hits, including seven for extra bases, on August 29. Rays manager Kevin Cash got a strong night from his bullpen in Friday's loss, as four Rays relievers combined for three innigns of scoreless, two-hit relief, but that hasn't been the norm in the final two months of the season. The final week and a half of the season is a chance for not only the team, but for individuals to finish the season with momentum going into the offseason, like OF Mikie Mahtook, who had a home run among two hits in Friday's 2-1 loss." It's been a little bit of a different season for me," Mahtook said. "Obviously I haven't played to my expectations or my ability. We still have a few games left, and I think I can repeat what I did last September over these last 10 games or so."
Time: 07:05 P.M. EST Venue: Oriole Park at Camden Yards BALTIMORE -- The Baltimore Orioles will see if Friday night's stirring come-from-behind win has any carryover effect when they host the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday night at Camden Yards. Trailing 2-0 after two innings, the Orioles tied it with solo homers by Pedro Alvarez and Matt Wieters in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively, and won it when Mark Trumbo hit his 44th homer of the season leading off the 12th. The win snapped a four-game losing streak and allowed them to remain a half-game behind Toronto and Detroit." Momentum is your next game, it really is," manager Buck Showalter said afterward. "I'm glad our guys feel good about themselves for one night, they've been frustrated." Trumbo was asked if Friday's win takes some pressure off a team that had just been swept by Boston." That's the million-dollar question. I hope so," he said. "We're giving it everything we have and obviously we have to keep it going. We know what we have to do, and we've got the guys to do it." Saturday's game matches a pair of 8-13 pitchers, and the starter for Baltimore will be left-hander Wade Miley (8-13, 5.65 ERA), who will make his first career start against the team that drafted him. Miley was the taken by the Diamondbacks with the 43rd overall pick in the 2008 draft and won 16 games for Arizona in 2012, his first full season. Since joining the Orioles in trade with Seattle on July 31, Miley is 1-5 with a 7.60 ERA. He allowed one single over four shutout innings in his last start, but left with a muscle strain in his upper back before the fifth. The Orioles (83-71) won despite stranding 14 baserunners, relying on the long ball." That's what they're known for," said reliever Matt Koch, who gave up Trumbo's game-winner when his fastball caught too much of the plate. "If you make mistakes, they'll make you pay." The Diamondbacks (64-89) have lost three of four. Arizona's starter on Saturday will be left-hander Robbie Ray (8-13, 4.66), who will face the Orioles for the first time. In his last four road starts he is 1-1 with a 3.33 ERA, 31 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings, and has held opponents to a .163 batting average. In seven career road interleague starts, he is 2-3 with a 3.64 ERA. He is second in the majors (behind Jose Fernandez of the Marlins) with 11.39 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. Arizona left fielder Brandon Drury has reached base safely in 16 of his last 19 games, batting .370/.439/.644 with five homers and 14 RBIs in that span. Second baseman Jean Segura drove in one of the Diamondbacks' runs Friday night with a double and is hitting .409/.458/.818 with five homers and nine RBIs over his last 10 games. Segura extended Friday night's game with a fine defensive play, backing up first base on a bunt attempt and corralling an errant throw." (Baltimore) did a great job of battling back and tying the game and we did a great job of stopping them from winning the game a couple of times," Arizona manager Chip Hale said. "We had some great plays."
Time: 07:05 P.M. EST Venue: PNC Park PITTSBURGH -- It might feel like a do-over Saturday when the Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates play the second game of their three-game series at PNC Park. Thanks to Pittsburgh's 11-inning, 6-5 win Friday, Washington is still trying to clinch the National League East title, and the Pirates are still clinging to long odds that they will get into the postseason. Actually, even if the Nationals had won Friday, they would not have clinched because their magic number was two and the New York Mets won. But a win would have left Washington in control and needing just a win Saturday -- or in any of its last nine regular-season games -- to capture its third division title in five years. Pittsburgh also has nine games left, but a 3 1/2-game mountain to get into a wild-card position might be insurmountable. Still, getting the win Friday to help keep their hopes alive and avoid a scenario where Washington gets to celebrate at their home park was something positive for the Pirates -- and especially for rookie Jacob Stallings, who hit a walk-off pinch-hit RBI single with two outs and a full count in the 11th." Obviously, it's a big win for us trying to make the playoffs," Stallings said. "It was pretty cool." Washington's Joe Ross (7-5, 3.48 ERA) is slated to start Saturday, his second start since coming off the disabled list after recovering from a shoulder injury. After being out 2 1/2 months, Ross allowed one run on six singles in three innings on Sunday, throwing 51 pitches, in the Nationals' rain-shortened loss against Atlanta the Braves." I felt good, and that was what I was mainly concerned with," Ross told the Washington Post after that game. "Just going out there feeling good and competing." The Nationals hope for a little more from Ross, and look for him to go longer Saturday. That is particularly true now after Washington used seven relievers Friday. Before he got hurt, Ross struck out a career-best 11 in 7 1/3 innings in a 4-1 Washington win over Pittsburgh that was Ross' third major league start. Ross will be matched against one of the Pirates' steadiest starters over the past seven weeks. Ivan Nova (12-7, 4.19 ERA) has been more than steady since the Pirates acquired him from the New York Yankees Aug. 1. In his first nine starts with Pittsburgh, he is 5-1 with a 2.93 ERA with 46 strikeouts and just three walks. He has made just one career start against Washington, a 4-1 win while pitching for the Yankees in 2012. Nova has been so good that reports abound that the Pirates will not be able to afford to re-sign him despite their interest in doing so. For now, Pittsburgh needs him to keep its playoff hopes alive Saturday.
Time: 07:10 P.M. EST Venue: Marlins Park MIAMI -- Atlanta Braves right-hander Aaron Blair and Miami Marlins left-hander Wei-Yin Chen are looking for redemption for seasons gone terribly wrong. They will face each other on Saturday when the Braves (63-91) take on the Marlins (76-78). Even though the Braves are in last place, they are one of the hotter teams in baseball, having won seven games in a row for their best win streak in two years. Blair, a 24-year-old from Las Vegas who played his college ball at Marshall, was acquired by the Braves in December in the deal that sent star pitcher Shelby Miller to the Arizona Diamonbacks. The Braves also got shortstop Dansby Swanson and center fielder Ender Inciarte back as part of that deal. Swanson and Inciarte have worked out well so far, but Blair (1-6, 7.71 ERA) has been a disaster. Blair started the season ranked No. 4 among Braves prospects, and he made his major league debut on April 24. But Blair, after making 11 starts and going 0-5 with a 7.99 ERA, was sent back down to Triple-A Gwinnett on June 25. While in the minors, Blair injured his knee and didn't pitch well there, either, sporting a 5.98 ERA. The Braves, though, gave him another chance, and -- on Sept. 19 against the New York Mets -- Blair finally earned his first major league victory, allowing just two runs in six innings. Braves manager Brian Snitker said Blair changed his delivery, an improvement that led to victory." All the work he put in, making changes, it's nice to see that being rewarded," Snitker told the media after his win. In essence, Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell worked to keep Blair more upright during his delivery. By eliminating a turn in his motion, Blair kept his weight on his back leg longer, and that has made a difference." Giving up a run per inning wasn't great," Blair said, exaggerating only slightly his poor performances this season. "I was open to any changes." Chen, a 31-year-old native of Taiwan, may want to make some adjustments as well because he is just 5-4 with a 5.04 ERA this season. Much more was expected from Chen when the Marlins signed him to a five-year, $80 million contract. He was supposed to be the Marlins' second-best pitcher behind Jose Fernandez, but he hasn't been. He was supposed to be a fly-ball pitcher who benefits from the spacious dimensions at Marlins Park, but that hasn't been the case either. His numbers were really good the past two years with the Baltimore Orioles -- 16-6 with a 3.54 ERA in 2014 and 11-8 with a 3.34 ERA in 2015. The expectation was that those numbers would get even better in a big ballpark and in a league with no designated hitter. Chen figured to have the element of unfamiliarity to his advantage since few NL batters had faced him consistently as had their AL counterparts. None of those theories worked, however, and Chen also missed two months due to an elbow injury. He returned on Monday against the Washington Nationals, allowing three runs in 4 1/3 innings." I felt pretty good overall," Chen said. "But in the fifth inning, I couldn't get outs." He will need to do so on Saturday as the Marlins' extremely remote playoff chances are hanging by a thread.
Time: 07:10 P.M. EST Venue: Citi Field NEW YORK -- The term "next man up" is most often associated with the NFL. But the injury-plagued New York Mets are winning with the mantra as they pursue a National League wild-card berth. The next "next man up" is left-hander Sean Gilmartin, who tries to nudge New York closer to the playoffs when he makes his first start of the season Saturday night in the third contest of a four-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citi Field. The Mets won the first two games of the series including Friday, when they used six pitchers to piece together a 10-5 victory. New York (82-72) moved one game ahead of the San Francisco Giants (81-73) in the race for the NL's first wild card by virtue of Giants' 7-2 loss to the San Diego Padres late Friday night. The St. Louis Cardinals, who lost 5-0 to the Chicago Cubs earlier Friday, are a half-game behind the Giants. Gilmartin is taking the rotation spot usually occupied by ace right-hander Noah Syndergaard, who was supposed to start Saturday but was pushed back at least a couple days because of a bout with strep throat. Gilmartin made 18 starts this season at Triple-A Las Vegas, but has not pitched more than two innings or thrown as many as 20 pitches since he was recalled by the Mets on Aug. 25." Got to turn to Sean Gilmartin (and) say 'Hey look, you've got to step up, here's your chance,'" Mets manager Terry Collins said. Syndergaard's illness is the latest roadblock encountered by the Mets, who expected right-hander Jacob deGrom (right elbow) and left-hander Steven Matz (left shoulder) to return to the rotation this week but instead learned they are done for the season. The Mets have three rookies in their rotation -- Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo and Gabriel Ynoa, the latter of whom started Friday in place of Matz and allowed two runs in two innings." You're numb to it now, it's happened so much," Collins said of the constant upheaval. The Phillies, meanwhile, send rookie right-hander Alec Asher to the mound as Philadelphia (69-85) looks for the consistency it lacked the previous two nights. The Mets came back from ninth- and 11th-inning deficits to win Thursday's series opener 9-8 and trailed 3-1 after four innings Friday." The next step is for all these guys to get better," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "That's how you win. You've got to have consistency." Gilmartin is 1-1 with a 1.93 ERA in 10 career appearances against the Phillies, who were the opponent for his lone previous career start last Oct. 1. He took the loss after giving up two runs over five innings in Philadelphia's 3-2 victory. Asher gave up five runs over a career-low two-thirds of an inning in his lone previous start against the Mets last Sept. 30.
Time: 07:10 P.M. EST Venue: Miller Park MILWAUKEE -- Taylor Jungmann isn't looking at his next start as a kind of redemption; he's just excited to get another chance to pitch for the Milwaukee Brewers this season. Jungmann will take the mound Saturday as the Brewers continue their final home series of the season against the Cincinnati Reds at Miller Park. It will be his first big league start since April 28, when he gave up five runs in just 3 2/3 innings of a 7-2 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The outing dropped his record to 0-4 on the year and raised his ERA to 9.15. A day later, Jungmann was on a plane to Colorado Springs, where he would join Milwaukee's Triple-A affiliate in the hopes of getting back on track. Things didn't go much better there, either. Jungmann made eight starts for the Sky Sox, going 1-3 with a 9.87 ERA and was ultimately sent to the Brewers' spring training complex in Phoenix to regroup on June 19." We're giving him a mental break and allowing him to refresh," general manager David Stearns said after the decision. "Then, we'll get him going again." Ten days later, Jungmann was headed to Biloxi, Miss., where he joined Milwaukee's Double-A affiliate, and finally, things started to click. He started 13 games for the Shuckers, posting a 3-4 record and 2.87 ERA while striking out 81 in 75 1/3 innings of work." I think that was a turning point, getting an opportunity to work on some things with a couple of live BPs, where I didn't have to worry about results," Jungmann said of his time in Arizona. "It was just working on the mechanics of things. It was all young guys there." Milwaukee's third-round pick in the 2011 draft, Jungmann made a strong impression as a rookie in 2015, going 9-8 with a 3.77 ERA in 21 starts, and was considered a long-term building block in the rotation prior to this season. Now, he has a chance to put his name back in the mix for next season as the Brewers continue their rebuilding project." He struggled at the start of the season," Counsell said. "I don't see it as redemption. That's a nice 'plot.' It's his career. He struggled, made some adjustments, figured some things out. You hope he comes back a better person. Really, it's about the path to getting better and be more equipped to get big-league hitters out and have success." We need major league starters. We've gone with six for the last three weeks and that's great but six isn't enough (for a full season). We're going to need more. It's the process of identifying these guys and getting them in a place where they can be major league starters." Jungmann will face Reds right-hander Dan Straily, who faces Milwaukee for the third time this season. Straily leads the Reds in victories, innings pitched, strikeouts and quality starts and has held opponents to a .220 batting average this season. Straily has been especially good in the second half, leading the National League with nine victories while posting a 3.14 ERA in 13 starts." I'm trying to figure out a way to get better and better, because I also have time playing against me," Straily told the Cincinnati Enquirer earlier this month. "It's just one of those things where you never know. You don't know. You don't know if it's going to be a Cy Young season or if it's going to be a we'll-see-you-later season." Against the Brewers this season, Straily is 2-0 with a 1.77 ERA.
Time: 07:10 P.M. EST Venue: Minute Maid Park HOUSTON -- The Astros had established such a comfort in the reliability of their high-leverage relievers that little could prepare them for what unfolded on Friday night against the Angels. Right-handers Luke Gregerson and Ken Giles, half of the Astros' quartet of rock-solid relief pitchers (a group that also includes right-handers Chris Devenski and Will Harris) combined to cough up a three-run lead in a 10-6 loss that severely damaged the Astros' playoff aspirations. Gregerson allowed a run on two hits in the eighth inning; Giles blew his fifth save by coming apart at the seams in the ninth. Giles surrendered six earned runs on three hits and three walks, inflating his ERA from 3.47 to 4.31 in the process. With eight games remaining in their season and their deficit for the second American League wild card now 21/2 games behind the Tigers, the Astros were left floored by the development involving Giles in particular." Toughest inning of the year," Astros manager A. J. Hinch said. "For a lot of reasons." Added Giles: "I didn't do my job. Didn't make my pitches. That's all I can say. I just didn't do it." The Astros (81-73) have lost twice as many games to the Angels (68-86) over the first two games of this series than they did in the first 12 meetings between the teams this season. At best, they can salvage a split of the four-game set with victories on Saturday night and Sunday. Right-hander Brad Peacock (0-0, 2.86 ERA) will make his fourth start for the Astros in the third game of the series. Peacock, who has filled in admirably for injured left-hander Dallas Keuchel (left shoulder inflammation), is 3-0 with a 4.50 ERA in five career games (three starts) against the Angels. He has not pitched against Los Angeles this season. Angels right-hander Jhoulys Chacin (4-6, 5.26 ERA) will make his 33rd appearance and 21st start of the season. Chacin is 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA in five career games (four starts) against the Astros, including 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA in two games this season. Chacin, who will make his 16th start for the Angels, has toggled between the rotation and bullpen for the Angels, rejoining the rotation on Sept. 14 against the Mariners after making four appearances out of the bullpen between Aug. 27 and Sept. 10. In his last four starts for the Angels, Chacin has pitched to a 0.87 ERA." I think Jhoulys has the ability to do both," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's done very well out of our pen and recently with some adjustments that he's made he's been very effective as a starter. I think his upside is still as a major league starter and I know that's what he wants to do and I think he can be effective doing that but if not he's shown he can throw out of our bullpen."
Time: 07:10 P.M. EST Venue: Progressive Field CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Indians are close to clinching the Central Division title, but are also trying to piece together their injury-riddled starting rotation to get them through the remainder of the regular season. That fact will be apparent Saturday in the second contest of their three-game series with the Chicago White Sox. The pitching matchup will be Cody Anderson (2-4, 6.24 ERA) for the Indians and Jose Quintana (12-11, 3.26) for the White Sox. Anderson is making a spot start in the Indians' makeshift rotation. With Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar out with season-ending injuries, it's created an opening in the No. 5 spot, which Anderson fills Saturday." We told him to treat as though he's a reliever coming into the game," manager Terry Francona said. "We want him to try to impact the game for two or three innings, not try to go five or six." Anderson has started and relieved for the Indians and Triple-A Columbus this year. He began the season in the Indians' rotation, but got off to a bad start and was demoted to Columbus. In eight starts for the Indians, he is 1-3 with a 7.65 ERA. In nine relief appearances, he is 1-1 with a 3.06 ERA. At Columbus, Anderson appeared in 13 games (six starts) and he was 0-2 with a 3.62 ERA. He has had success as a starter at the big league level. In 15 starts for the Indians in the second half of the 2015 season, Anderson was 7-3, 3.05 ERA. Anderson has also fared well against Chicago. In three appearances (two starts) against the White Sox this year he is 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA. In his career he has four appearances (three starts) versus Chicago and is 2-0 with a 1.66 ERA. Francona is reluctant to talk about the postseason until the Indians officially clinch the Central Division title -- their magic number for doing so is three -- but said he thinks his healthy pitchers, in the rotation and in the bullpen, are holding up well over a long season's worth of work." Nobody looks like they are on fumes," Francona said. "And a lot of these guys have never pitched in September, much less October." Quintana is 1-2 with a 2.60 ERA in four starts against the Indians this year. In 18 career appearances (16 starts) versus Cleveland he is 6-3, 2.58. The White Sox will likely play short-handed as center fielder Adam Eaton is expected to be unavailable. Eaton had to leave Friday's game in the sixth inning after running into the center field wall while making a catch on a fly ball hit by Roberto Perez. Eaton hit the wall running at top speed, and fell to the warning track on his back, but held onto to the ball. He remained on the track for several minutes and needed assistance walking off the field." He's pretty banged up," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "It knocked the air out of him. He hit his hip, and felt that his back locked up on him. His shoulder -- everything. We're going to get him checked out."
Time: 07:10 P.M. EST Venue: Target Field MINNEAPOLIS -- Already battling the Tigers, Astros, Orioles and Blue Jays for a wild-card slot in the American League playoffs, the Mariners now face another potentially daunting opponent as they head into the second game of their current six-game road swing -- distraction. Seattle faces the Twins on Saturday evening in Minnesota having won big in the series opener on Friday by a 10-1 score. The Mariners will send lefty Ariel Miranda (5-1) out to face Minnesota right-hander Tyler Duffy (8-11). But the weekend started with some big Mariners news off the field, when the team on Friday suspended catcher Steve Clevenger for the rest of the season, without pay. Clevenger, who was already on the 60-day disabled list with a broken right hand, sent out a pair of Tweets on Thursday that were critical of Black Lives Matter protestors in Charlotte and of President Obama." As soon as we became aware of the tweets posted by Steve yesterday, we began to examine all of our options in regard to his standing on the team," said Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto in a statement on Friday. "Today we have informed him that he is suspended for the remainder of the season without pay." It's an unnecessary sideshow for a Mariners team still in the thick of the wild-card race, but needing to leapfrog at least two teams to get to the postseason. But after manager Scott Servais addressed the team about the Clevenger situation on Friday, the Seattle players say they're focused on the task at hand." The only thing we care about is what we can do on the field," said designated hitter Nelson Cruz. "Don't worry about what's going on outside the lines, and we'll be all right." For Minnesota, pretty much nothing inside the white lines is going right lately. The season was lost weeks ago, and the Twins are limping to the offseason having dropped seven in a row. With 99 losses, they're likely to have just the second triple-digit loss season in franchise history." I think we just need to forget about what's happened here the last week or so," said pitcher Tommy Milone after Friday's blowout. "Obviously we know that things haven't been good. I guess we just have to forget about it, go out there. We know that we're a better team than the way we're playing. It's easier said than done, so obviously you can look back and just really kind of dwell on it. But I think we really need to dig down and use these last eight games and kind of see what we're made of and go after them." The Twins also lost 99 games in 2011 (63-99) and are currently at risk of recording the most losses in franchise history. The 1982 Twins went 60-102 in their first season in the Metrodome, but the lineup featured a core of young players who would make up the nucleus of the franchise's first World Series title five years later.
Baylor remains the only undefeated team in the Big 12 Conference. But the 16th-ranked Bears will get a better gauge of how just good they are when they open Big 12 play on Saturday night against visiting the Oklahoma State Cowboys at McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas. The Bears played arguably the weakest nonconference schedule in the Big 12, romping to a 55-7 win over FCS Northwestern State, a 40-13 win over SMU and a 38-10 victory over Rice." The best measuring stick is going to be on the field Saturday," Baylor wide receiver Lynx Hawthorne told the Waco Tribune. "We'll hopefully come together and put some points on the board and get our first conference win." Oklahoma State went 2-1 in nonconference play but would be 3-0 if not for a botched call by the officials that allowed Central Michigan an extra play two weeks ago in Stillwater. The Chippewas were inadvertently awarded an extra play after the Cowboys committed intentional grounding on what would have been the game's last play. Central Michigan then pulled out a 30-27 victory when quarterback Cooper Rush threw a Hail Mary pass to Jesse Kroll who then lateraled to Corey Willis for the touchdown. Oklahoma State bounced back for a 45-38 win over Pittsburgh last weekend as junior quarterback Mason Rudolph completed 26 of 46 passes and set an Oklahoma State record with 540 yards, averaging 20.8 yards per completion. Any reservations or doubts that lingered from the confusing, and controversial loss to Central Michigan were wiped with a 91-yard strike to wide receiver James Washington on the very first play. Washington finished with nine receptions for 296 yards in the contest." Mason came back. It's tough being a quarterback when you lose a game like that," Oklahoma coach Mike Gundy said of the Central Michigan fiasco." I don't think anyone who watched that game wasn't impressed with how well the quarterback throws the deep ball," Baylor acting head coach Jim Grobe said. "He gets great height on the ball and that makes it really tough on the defensive backs. They have good speed at all the skill positions offensively and a couple of running backs that are very talented." Baylor's defense is off to an outstanding start, ranking third nationally in scoring defense by allowing 10 points per game and seventh in total defense by allowing 249.3 yards per game. Opponents have completed just 31 of 90 passes for 291 yards and a touchdown through the first three games. The Bears, who led the nation in both scoring offense and total offense for the last three years, have sputtered at times so far this season. Baylor is averaging 557.3 yards in total offense -- nothing to sneeze at -- but that ranks just fourth in the pass-happy Big 12 and eighth nationally. Part of the reason for that have been some unusually slow starts to games." We'd like to figure things out a little quicker," Grobe said. "Slow starts are a little bit of a problem but we've played pretty good overall. I think going forward, with the Big 12 games getting cranked up, we probably would like to start faster." The Bears failed to score in the first quarter last week at Rice -- that's headline material for this offense -- but quarterback Seth Russell, inconsistent at the start for the second straight game, rebounded to pass for 337 yards and three touchdowns. KD Cannon continued to show he can be Baylor's go-to receiver as he hauled in nine passes for 213 yards and two TDs. Baylor's ground game is averaging 282 yards per game which leads the Big 12 and ranks ninth nationally. Three running backs -- Shock Linwood, Terence Williams and JaMycal Hasty -- are averaging at least 71 yards per game. Linwood finished with 57 yards rushing at Rice and passed Walter Abercrombie's career rushing mark at Baylor in that contest. He now has 3,674 yards for his career with nine games left. Oklahoma State leads the all-time series with Baylor, 19-15. The Bears won 45-35 last year in Stillwater, Okla., however, and are hoping for more of the same Saturday.
No. 20 Nebraska finds itself back in the Top 25 for the first time since 2014 thanks to a 3-0 start capped by last Saturday's 35-32 victory over then-No. 22-ranked Oregon. Head coach Mike Riley's challenge this week is to make sure his squad avoids a letdown heading into Nebraska's Big Ten Conference opener at Northwestern on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Riley started on Sunday morning the process of moving on from the team's first nonconference home win over a ranked opponent since 2001 when it defeated No. 17 Notre Dame. The fact Huskers (3-0) are playing a Northwestern squad that has given them fits in recent years -- four of the past five meetings have been decided by three points or less including a 30-28 Wildcats win in Lincoln last season -- should make the task a little easier." I think you have to enjoy the fact that you won the game, but then the next day when you start watching the film you better get on to the next one," Riley said. "There is kind of a euphoria of winning the game, and then a reality when you watch the video, and you have to take it like that for real. You have to use that game as a tool, and you've got to convince the players that this is real." I think this can be one of your hardest coaching jobs, actually." Northwestern comes in with just a 1-2 record, with losses to Western Illinois and Illinois State, but seemed to right the ship with an impressive 24-13 victory over Duke last Saturday." You have to play extremely well," said Nebraska wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp, who had two touchdown receptions against the Ducks to give him 17 in his career. "On any given day, any Big Ten team can beat another Big Ten team. That's kind of how it's been for the past three years that I've been here. But I'm fairly confident if we continue to do what we do and prepare our tails off like we did last week for Oregon, we should have no issue going forward." "We were excited, but like we said, we're not done yet," Huskers quarterback Tommy Armstrong said. "This was just a statement game for us. Everybody said that we had a couple easy games, but (Oregon was) going to test our will. That just shows how well we work, how hard our team works to prove to everybody that we're better than what we were last year." Armstrong battled through severe leg cramping in the second half to lead Nebraska to the fourth-quarter comeback over Oregon. He ended the day with 295 yards of total offense (200 passing, 95 rushing) and four combined touchdowns, but Nebraska's final drive was the highlight for Armstrong. Down 32-28 with less than three minutes to play, Armstrong kept the game alive with a clutch fourth-down conversion pass to Westerkamp, and he later scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 34-yard keeper. Northwestern also comes into the contest with some momentum, bouncing back for the win over the Blue Devils after dropping their first two games by a combined three points." You'd love to have those games back, but you are your record -- and you have to work to get better," said Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald. "I think it just shows if you have perseverance and grit and you stay the course that you can do whatever you set your mind to." Wildcats quarterback Clayton Thorson threw for a career-high 320 yards against Duke and had touchdown tosses to Garrett Dickerson, Solomon Vault and Austin Carr, who had a career-high 135 receiving yards. Running back Justin Jackson gained 94 yards rushing. Thorson also tied career highs with three touchdown passes and 18 completions. Northwestern's defense held the Blue Devils without a score on four drives inside the Wildcats 35, including two turnovers and a missed field goal. Linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. had five tackles, including two for loss, while Jared McGee led the game with nine total tackles." I thought our defense had a pretty good plan," Fitzgerald said. "I thought we tackled better except for a few plays. And I was really proud of those young guys in the secondary. They were assaulted, they were attacked and I thought they stepped up and played very well." To hold a team to 13 points and outside of that last drive -- It was pretty solid."
After failing to stop Stanford's Christian McCaffrey last season, UCLA will try its luck again on Saturday (8 p.m., ET) when the Bruins play host to the seventh-ranked Cardinal. McCaffrey rushed for a school-record 243 yards and finished with 369 all-purpose yards in last season's 56-35 victory over UCLA." He has to be a tremendous focus," Bruins coach Jim Mora said. "He can't be all our focus, but he has to be the main focus. In my opinion, it's not even arguable - he's the best player in college football. He was last year and he is this year. ..." He does so many things so well. He's dynamic, elusive, tough to tackle, has great physical and mental toughness. Intelligent. And what I appreciate is the way he competes. He's a great competitor." Stanford (2-0 overall, 1-0 Pac-12) is coming off a 27-10 victory over USC. UCLA (2-1) dropped out of the national rankings after its season-opening loss at Texas A&M, but rebounded with wins over UNLV and BYU, respectively. The Bruins are second among "others receiving votes" in the AP poll. In addition to his happy memories against UCLA, McCaffrey has a good history at the Rose Bowl. On Jan. 1, he set a Rose Bowl-record with 368 all-purpose yards in a thumping of Iowa. In beating USC last week, the Cardinal ran the ball 47 times for 295 yards, with just 15 pass attempts. While top wide receiver Michael Rector isn't getting much action in the old-school offense, he did have a 56-yard end around for a touchdown against the Trojans. McCaffrey rushed 30 times for 165 yards against USC, also catching four passes for 73 yards - scoring on a 56-yard catch-and-run." I think our MO is pretty much set in stone," said David Shaw, in his sixth year as Stanford's head coach. "If we get a two-score lead in the second half, we're going to run it. We're going to be physical. We talk about intellectual brutality; we're trying to end the game with the ball in our hands." Stanford outrushed USC 295-117, with 51 yards on 11 carries coming from backup running back Bryce Love, the team's fastest player. UCLA sophomore Josh Rosen, one of the top NFL quarterback prospects in the nation, has thrown for 917 yards, with four touchdowns and four interceptions. Rosen threw for 307 yards and two touchdowns in last week's 17-14 victory at BYU, but it was the Bruins' defense that was key. UCLA held BYU to 23 yards on 25 rushes, including four sacks. That's a standout performance against running back Jamaal Williams and dual-threat quarterback Taysom Hill." Anytime the quarterback is sacked, you have to look at the reason why he was sacked," Mora said after the game." I think as much credit should go to the secondary as it does to the front. It's a team thing. We played a ton of man coverage, and those young men did a tremendous job under a lot of stress. That allowed our rush to get there. When they're working together like that, it allows good things to happen." A potential difference-maker in this year's matchup is UCLA defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, a 325-pound run-stuffer who missed last year's game after suffering a torn ACL in the opener. He and 325-pound defensive lineman Eli Ankou have the kind of beef needed to counter Stanford's power attack. That ground game has taken the pressure off new starting quarterback Ryan Burns, who completed 9 of 15 passes 109 yards, with one touchdown and one interception, against USC. Stanford is in the midst of a difficult first half of the season. After this, the Cardinal plays at Washington on a short week, then hosts Washington State and goes to Notre Dame. The Cardinal has won eight in a row against UCLA, with an average margin of victory of 37-18 in the past three. UCLA, though, is 13-7 against ranked opponents under Mora, including a 4-1 mark in each of the past two seasons.
Time: 08:40 P.M. EST Venue: Petco Park SAN DIEGO -- There's too much at stake for the San Francisco Giants on Saturday night for Madison Bumgarner to be, well, Madison Bumgarner. While their National League West title chances fade with every Los Angeles win -- the Dodgers' magic number is two -- the Giants are locked in a three-way battle for the two National League wild-card berths with the New York Mets one game ahead and the St. Louis Cardinals one-half game behind. The Padres should be easy prey for any playoff bound team, except for the fact that San Diego has won seven of its last eight games against the Giants -- a fact that has had much to do with San Francisco's second-half plunge. Also, Bumgarner has not had the greatest career marks against the Padres (10-7, 3.27 ERA in 27 games and 26 starts) and at Petco Park (4-5, 3.87 ERA in 13 games and 12 starts). On Saturday night, however, the 27-year-old left-hander attempts to become the third-youngest Giant to win 100 games. This should be Bumgarner's game to win, unless ... In his last start, for example, Bumgarner decided to take on the Dodgers' Yasiel Puig while apparent cruising to a victory in Los Angeles. Well, the wheels fell off that one in a loss for the Giants after Bumgarner had departed. The Giants certainly don't need a repeat performance Saturday night, although Bumgarner has already been party to one ugly incident at Petco Park this season. On May 18, Bumgarner stared down Wil Myers after striking out the Padres' main threat in the third inning. Myers' offense was glancing up at the video board to check the velocity and the replay. When he noticed Bumgarner's reaction, Myers said: C'mon man, don't stare me down." A benches clearing face-off ensued. Bumgarner later said: "I just wanted to be mad for a second." Bumgarner and Myers made up later in the game when the pitcher reached first. Now there's a rematch, and Myers is one of the few Padres holdovers from that May 18 lineup that Bumgarner faced. Two nights ago, the 25-year-old Myers was the veteran of a Padres lineup that numbered six rookies. Bumgarner is 14-9 with a 2.57 ERA. He ranks third in the majors in ERA and strikeouts (241). Bumgarner needs four more strikeouts to pass Cy Seymour as the Giants' single-season record holder. Seymour's record of 244 has stood for 118 seasons. Bumgarner is 2-2 with a 3.18 ERA against the Padres this season. He was 2-0 in the first half with a 1.72 ERA as the Giants beat the Padres nine straight times. He is 0-2, 4.97 in the second half. Starting for the Padres Saturday night will be right-hander Jarred Cosart, who is 0-3 in eight starts for the Padres with a 5.45 ERA. He will be facing the Giants for the first time as a Padre.
Texas A&M and Arkansas will present an interesting contrast in quarterbacks on Saturday (9 p.m. ET) when they clash at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Graduate transfer Trevor Knight, who had 15 starts in his first two years at Oklahoma before losing his job to Baker Mayfield in 2015, will lead the No. 10 Aggies (3-0, 1-0 SEC). Junior Austin Allen, the understudy to his brother Brandon the last two seasons, will be behind center for the 17th-ranked Razorbacks (3-0, 0-0). Both seem to be exactly what their respective teams have needed in the early going. Knight, who won the starting job in the spring after coming to College Station in January, has passed for 830 yards and five touchdowns despite completing only 52.9 percent of his passes. Part of the reason for Knight's low completion percentage is that he was on target on only half of his 40 attempts against Auburn last week. But Knight was the victim of some drops and also had a long completion to Ricky Seals-Jones nullified when the wide receiver had a foot land inches out of bounds. When it counted, Knight was 8 of 11 after falling behind at Auburn to help the Aggies take a 10-7 lead. He ended up passing for 247 yards and rushing for a net 42 against the Tigers." He was really good early," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said of Knight. "For him to play the way he did really gave us a chance to get ahead." Knight also has rushed for 151 yards in the three games on 28 carries." I think he's a deceptive big man with speed," Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. "He's got good size. They list him at 6-foot-1 and 215. To me he looks a lot taller than that, and moves." Allen has been the straw that stirs the drink for Arkansas. In the win over TCU in Week 2, he was named SEC Player of Week after passing for 233 yards and three touchdowns on 17-of-29 passing. Allen's 5-yard run in the second overtime gave the Razorbacks a 41-38 victory. He wasn't all that pressed last week in the 42-3 rout of Texas State, but still was 16-of-21 passing for 241 yards and two more touchdowns. Allen has completed 67.1 percent of his passes for the year for an average of 218.3 yards a game with seven touchdowns against two picks. He is just the fourth quarterback to go 3-0 in his first three collegiate starts for Arkansas since it joined the SEC in the 1992 season. The others were Tyler Wilson in 2011, Mitch Mustain in 2006, and Robby Hampton in 2000. His seven touchdown passes over that span are tied with Ryan Mallett (2009) and Mustain for the high in that category over that same span." Austin does a lot of things very well," Bielema said. "I think he throws on the move very well, and he throws well to the left and to the right which you've seen a little glimpse of." He can run the football, but I wouldn't say we want to make a heavy dose of it. That jump cut he gave to his left wasn't quite as good as our running backs, but it sufficed. I'm just excited to watch him continue to grow." The Aggies, however, will be the toughest test yet for Allen when it comes to facing pressure." They have two perimeter rushers that are as good as anybody in the country," Bielema said. That would be ends Daeshon Hall, a 6-foot-6, 270-pound senior, and Myles Garrett, a 6-5, 270-pound junior. Together, they averaged 1.5 sacks a game in 2015 with Garrett leading the SEC with 12.5 total. Garrett also had 10 quarterback hurries. Hall had 7.0 sacks and another four hurries. This season, Garrett has three sacks and four hurries. Hall is looking for his first sack, but has been credited with three hurries. The two teams will be meeting in Arlington for a third consecutive season and seventh time overall. The first meeting in Arlington was way back in 1906 when the Aggies won 6-0. So far, the five games at AT&T Stadium have gone the way of streaks. Arkansas won the first three from 2009-11. The Aggies have won the last two in Arlington and the last four meetings overall.
Time: 09:10 P.M. EST Venue: Dodger Stadium LOS ANGELES -- The champagne is chilling as the Los Angeles Dodgers are close to icing another National League West title. Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw (11-3, 1.73 ERA) takes the mound Saturday and opposes Colorado Rockies right-hander Chad Bettis (13-7, 4.79) in the third contest of the four-game series at Dodger Stadium. A win by the Dodgers and a loss by the San Francisco Giants, who are in San Diego, allows Los Angeles to claim a club-record fourth straight NL West championship. Although Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who is in his first season, is preaching caution, he realizes one of the goals for his club is near." We want to clinch as fast as possible," Roberts said. "It's as simple as that." The Dodgers are close to another postseason appearance despite another injury rearing its ugly head in their starting rotation. Left-hander Scott Kazmir returned to the mound Friday night after a one-month absence with neck issues but lasted only an inning after suffering right intercostal spasms, which affects the muscles between the ribs. Kazmir's injury is just the lastest that has plagued the team's starters, including ones to Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy, Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kershaw. Kershaw, though, has been solid since his return from a herniated disk last month. In his last appearance against the Giants, he allowed an unearned run on three hits in six innings but did not factor into the decision in the Dodgers' 2-1 victory. Kershaw struck out seven and walked one. At home, Kershaw has been almost unbeatable. In nine starts this season, Kershaw is 7-1 with a 1.19 ERA and has limited the opposition to a .154 batting average. Kershaw has struck out 80 batters against four walks, while posting a 0.59 WHIP. Kershaw is 17-5 with a 3.20 ERA in 31 career starts against the Rockies. He has limited the Rockies to a .220 average, while striking out 217 against 67 walks. Kershaw last faced the Rockies on Sept. 14, 2015, allowing one run on three hits in seven innings and recording the win in the Dodgers' 4-1 victory. Kershaw struck out five and issued two walks on 105 pitches. Bettis is enjoying one of his best seasons, earning career highs in wins, starts (30) and innings (174 2/3). Bettis is 6-5 with a 4.84 ERA in 17 road starts this season. He faces the Dodgers for the second time this season. On July 2, Bettis allowed four runs on six hits in a 6-1 Dodgers' victory. Bettis has a 0-1 mark with a 4.91 ERA in seven games (four starts) against Los Angeles. Bettis works against a team intent on punching its ticket to the postseason. Robert is confident the Dodgers' offense will find a way to prevail." I do like this lineup," Roberts said. "One through eight we're pretty good and also with the guys we have the bench just adds to our depth. We've got guys who can come off the bench and hit, which makes us a dangerous club."
The No. 9 Washington Huskies were dominant through an easy non-conference schedule. They will be tested more rigorously as their Pac-12 season begins this weekend." We'll find out quickly what we have," Washington coach Chris Petersen said. After home victories over Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State, the Huskies face a road challenge Saturday in Tucson against Arizona, which is 2-1. The game starts at 10:30 p.m. ET at Arizona Stadium. Tougher conference tests await -- the Huskies host No. 7 Stanford and then play at Oregon after this -- but the Wildcats have been known to pull off some big upsets. Arizona is 7-5 at home against top-10 teams since 2005, and it has a win over a top-10 team in each of coach Rich Rodriguez's first four seasons." When you get into your league ... I don't want to say it means more, but it means more," Petersen said." I think everybody plays pretty hard anyway, but everybody plays a little bit harder and all those type of things. And then you factor in that we're going away, night game, first league game -- I know what the energy will be like in that stadium. That will feel completely different to us." Washington is on a six-game winning streak, dating to last season, having scored more than 40 points in each game. Sophomore quarterback Jake Browning has thrown nine touchdown passes in the past two games and leads the nation in passing efficiency with a rating of 206.9." I was impressed with him last year, but you can just see he's more comfortable with everything they're doing," Rodriguez said. "He's almost spot-on in every decision, which, for a second-year player, is pretty remarkable." Washington's first-string defense hasn't allowed a touchdown this season, and the Huskies rank 15th nationally in total defense, allowing 269.3 yards per game. Rodriguez said NFL scouts tell him Washington has at least seven players on defense who will end up playing on Sundays. NFLDraftScout.com ranks three Huskies among the top 100 prospects for 2017 -- safety Budda Baker (No. 34), cornerback Sidney Jones (No. 47) and linebacker Azeem Victor (No. 95). Arizona's offense likely will counter with a different starting backfield combination than it had at the start of the season. Sophomore quarterback Brandon Dawkins has started the past two games in place of injured Anu Solomon, passing for 200 yards and running for 100 in both victories over Grambling State and Hawaii. The status of Solomon (knee) wasn't known early in the week, but Dawkins seems likely to start again. He is a superior running threat, while Solomon, a two-year starter, has more experience." The thing he did well (against Hawaii) was his decision-making was good," Rodriguez said of Dawkins. "His eyes were in the right spot. He was decisive in all of his actions, and I think that is why he gained some confidence as the game went on." Arizona starting tailback Nick Wilson spent the second half Saturday night with his left foot in a boot, so he likely will be replaced by J. J. Taylor, a 5-foot-6, 170-pound true freshman. Taylor dazzled with 18 carries for 168 yards against Hawaii, displaying a variety of spin moves and quick cuts." He has probably learned as quickly as any true freshman I have ever had, and I have had some really good ones throughout the years," said Rodriguez, who compared Taylor's style to that of Noel Devine, one of his former West Virginia backs. "He's not the biggest guy, but he has good strength and he's a very competitive person." Arizona's defense under first-year coordinator Marcel Yates -- a former assistant under Petersen at Boise State -- is a work in progress. The Wildcats allowed second-half touchdown drives of 13, 10 and 12 plays against Hawaii. Arizona is small up front, starting a couple of 247-pounders among its three down linemen. This is the area that could get exposed the most by Pac-12 teams. Washington is averaging 143.3 rushing yards per game but could turn it up against Arizona by delivering a steady dose of running back Myles Gaskin, who gained 1,302 yards last season as a true freshman. Gaskin wasn't needed much in Washington's early blowouts -- 40 carries for 217 yards -- but he should be a bigger factor as the Huskies' competition improves.