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Walking an Adventure Playground

The view from the eastern shore of Slovenia’s Lake Bohinj on a recent afternoon was the picture of Alpine summer leisure. On three sides, the gray peaks of the Julian Alps stood hazy and indifferent in the high sun. Flotillas of rowboats and paddle boarders skimmed across the water. The lake stretched out like a sheet of polished jade.

The view represented an essential truth about this region of northwest Slovenia: that it offers panoramas out of all proportion with its physical scale. Based on vital statistics alone, first-time visitors might be forgiven for anticipating a modest mountain range. The Julian Alps are a tight oval of limestone knuckles, comparable in area to Rhode Island; their apex, Mount Triglav, rises to 9,396 feet, a mile shy of the more familiar Alpine peaks of Western Europe. But what the mountains lack in size they make up for in accessibility. Erupting sheer from the lowlands, just 35 miles from Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital and largest city, the region is best thought of as an adventure playground for a country that loves to be outdoors.

Pre-Covid, this had started to become a problem. On the range’s eastern periphery, Lake Bled, with the Instagram-friendly Church of the Assumption sitting on its teardrop island, had become a fixture of whirlwind coach tours. And the upper valleys were heaving. “The last time I climbed Mount Triglav there was someone selling beer on the summit,” Klemen Langus, the director of tourism for the municipality of Bohinj, told me.

A couple of years ago, the local tourist boards collaborated on a solution: a new 167-mile walking route, circling the entire massif and never exceeding 4,350 feet. They hoped it would act as a pressure valve, enticing visitors to lower ground. “There’s a saying in Slovenia that you have to climb Triglav once in a lifetime to prove that you are Slovenian,” said Mr. Langus. “This trail is to help us erase this saying.”

The Juliana Trail, as the new route was called, was inaugurated in late 2019. I had originally planned to visit the following May. But by then the threat of Covid had closed Slovenia’s borders, and while the country’s initial experience of the pandemic was relatively merciful, a winter surge hit long and hard. It wasn’t until this July that the photographer Marcus Westberg and I finally took our first steps on the Juliana, setting out from the village of Begunje under a cloudless sky.

The plan was to travel east to west along the massif’s southern fringe. The trail is divided into 16 stages of varying lengths and grades, some short and flat, others undulating over foothill passes. The trail goes from town to town, meaning that you can spend each night in a comfortable hotel; the Juliana Trail Booking Service can arrange the details.

As we only had a week to experience the trail, the booking service arranged a pick-and-mix itinerary for us, starting among the popular lakelands and culminating in the southern valleys that most foreign visitors overlook. (We walked Stages 4, 7, 10, 13 and 14.) An extensive public transport system enabled us to skip sections along the way.

The opening days — from Begunje to Bled, then in the environs of Lake Bohinj — served as a gentle introduction.

Mostly, they provided an opportunity to enjoy vignettes of a country in the throes of reanimation. With new daily Covid cases down to double-figures, Slovenia was undergoing a collective exhale. Restaurants were full to bursting. Lakeshores were abuzz. In the old square of Radovljica, a town that marked the midpoint of our first day’s walk, cyclists sipped espressos in al fresco cafes. A pair of musicians warbled a melodic folk anthem as an audience of septuagenarians sang along and swayed.

On the third morning, we caught an early train along the Bohinj Railway, which burrowed through the ridgelines south of the lake, cutting out two of the trail’s stages. To mark the fact that the day’s hike was set to be more rigorous, we’d enlisted a guide. When the train’s graffiti-covered carriages pulled into the station at the village of Grahovo, Jan Valentincic was waiting for us on the platform. He led the way onto the tracks of Stage 10, over dewy pastures, then into beech forest, where the trail was delineated by yellow signposts and, more regularly, an orange symbol — a ‘J’ and ‘A’ inside interlocking diamonds — stenciled onto trees and boulders.

For Mr. Valentincic, who is 32, bearded, with long brown hair and an off-center nose that compliments his rugged mien, this was easy going. For the last seven years, he had been working as a guide abroad, leading ski tours in the Caucasus and hikes in the Tian Shan Mountains of Kyrgyzstan. He was raised in the hills that the train had bypassed, and his peripatetic lifestyle exemplified the region’s history of depopulation: According to the World Bank, the proportion of Slovenes living in cities has doubled since 1960 to 55 percent. In the forest, hints of human presence — some moss-quilted stone wall, a tree sprouting from the roof of an old hay barn — betrayed the sites of long-abandoned farms. Though portions of the day’s hike stuck to drivable roads, I don’t recall seeing a single car.

The pandemic, and the arrival of a baby son, had drawn Mr. Valentincic home. He dreamed of establishing a homestay on the escarpment where he grew up, he told me — an escape for visitors who wanted to avoid the relative bustle of the lakesides. “People from the city want to sit and do nothing, enjoy the silence,” he said. As someone who had rarely left London in over a year, this was a sentiment I understood too well.

At 2 p.m., in fierce heat, the trail topped out above a broad valley, dotted with the terra-cotta roofs of two neighboring towns, Most na Soci and Tolmin. Twisting along the valley’s base was the river that carved it: the Soca, its passage made ponderous by a dam downstream.

At this juncture we really have to talk about the water. The bedrock in Slovenia is mostly Early Triassic limestone. When sunlight hits a river carrying white limestone crystals in suspension, the water turns dazzling and iridescent, its spectrum ranging from limpid green to deep, cerulean blue. At times, the color of the Soca and its tributaries is so preternaturally opulent that it is tempting to imagine some conniving public relations person hiding upstream, dousing the headwaters with chemical dye.

This interplay between water and calcium carbonate reached a crescendo in the hillsides above Tolmin. Some of the most impressive reaches were stand-alone attractions. At Tolmin Gorges, a network of stairways, balconies and bridges offered views of a ravine system from every conceivable angle. Turquoise streams bubbled between the steep-cut cliffs. Hart’s tongue ferns spilled in great profusion down the walls. It was dizzying to think of these canyons and cascades as previews of even grander erosive marvels underground. The longest discovered cave system in Slovenia, Tolminski Migovec, honeycombed the surrounding karst for a total of 141,000 feet. On the walk from Grahovo, Mr. Valentincic had described the mountains as “basically hollow.”

For the locals, such imaginative vertigo didn’t cut it. The consensus seemed to be that the best way to experience this landscape was to throw yourself down it. After taking the half-hour bus-ride from Tolmin to Kobarid, the next major settlement upriver, we visited the nearby Kozjak waterfall, where a slender cataract burst through a cleft into a chamber of layered rock. Without warning, a figure appeared at its head, wearing a helmet and a suit of red neoprene. Seconds later a rope unspooled down the cliff-face, and a succession of canyoners rappelled down to a ledge, then jumped off, plummeting 20 feet into the pool below.

This wasn’t the only time that the national predisposition for daredevilry made me feel lazy. Henceforth, as the trail cleaved to the frothing Soca, we often spotted rafts and kayaks bouncing over river rapids. Throughout the walk, it was rare to look up without seeing two or three paragliders corkscrewing groundward from some distant ridge.

For my part, at least, the more sedate pace of adventure on the Juliana Trail seemed entirely in tune with the moment. After months of immobility, the slow cadence of a multiday walk felt like the ideal way to re-engage with the wider world. The length of the stages — usually between seven and 12 miles — allowed us time to dawdle, to pause, to absorb the sounds and scenery of a foreign countryside. On Stage 13, a long kick that crisscrossed the Soca, we took our time.

In hindsight it was the pick of the legs. We set off that day at 6 a.m. Belts of cloud, vestiges of the previous night’s thunderstorm, still clung to the ridgelines. Condensation beaded on leaf and cobweb. Viviparous lizards emerged to warm themselves on trailside stones.

As the temperature rose, so, too, did the scenery. Ascents were rewarded with views of the river’s blue-green ribbon. Descents brought relief, as we could usually bushwhack down to the water’s edge and dip our hands in the torrent to cool down. In the afternoon, we frequently found ourselves sharing the pebble spits with other holidaymakers, splayed on towels, often with a bag of beer chilling in the water, whose presence prefaced the approach to each village.

The Soca Valley’s other claims to fame came together in a famous line from Frederic Henry, the protagonist of Ernest Hemingway’s novel “A Farewell to Arms”: “I was blown up while we were eating cheese.”

The local cheese, honestly, I could take or leave. In Kobarid, we sampled its distinctive floral flavor in a lunch of “frika,” a traditional peasant’s meal comprising a fried disc of potato and cheese hash. The surprise of the young waitress who took our order should have forewarned us that the eating of it — two bites of unctuous pleasure followed by the slow apprehension that your arteries are clogging — would require more stamina than I could muster.

But the echoes of Hemingway’s explosions were more indelible. Kobarid’s sobering museum told the story. In May 1915, having initially declared its neutrality in the First World War, Italy sent soldiers into these mountains to retake contested border regions from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As the Central Powers deployed troops to stymie the Italian advance, the two sides dug in. The resulting Isonzo Front would witness months of futile bloodshed to rival the better-documented horrors of Flanders. In the eleventh offensive alone, in the summer of 1917, five million shells detonated across the line. More than 250,000 soldiers died.

As we pressed into the western reaches of the Juliana, toward the town of Bovec and the present-day Italian frontier, ghosts of this so-called White War haunted the valleys. The path skirted concrete trenches reclaimed by the moss, and passed through a military tunnel where eight-inch apertures showed the positions of machine-gun emplacements.

That I found these relics so incongruous was perhaps a product of my Anglocentric education. But I also wondered whether it owed something to the seclusion and uncommon beauty of what Hemingway, whose time volunteering as a Red Cross ambulance driver inspired his 1929 novel, described as “the picturesque front.”

On the gorgeous woodland trail above Bovec, early on Stage 14, we found a rusted helmet sitting on a boulder. How its owner had been separated from it a century ago was left to the imagination.

Later that day, we climbed up the road to the tranquil village of Log pod Mangartom. Behind it, the high peaks formed an amphitheater bracketed by the bare fangs of Mangart and Jalovec, two of the Julian Alps’ most imposing mountains.

Part of me rued the distance. It felt counterintuitive to spend time in mountain country without succumbing to the lure of its upper reaches. But I also appreciated that this was part of the Juliana Trail’s charm, and its rationale. At this watershed moment for tourism, here was a bellwether for a traveling public that needed to appreciate the value of less. Less haste. Less mileage. Less altitude. Tomorrow we would depart the mountains from this respectful distance. A deferential farewell to suit a tentative rebirth.

Henry Wismate is a writer based in London. Find him on Twitter: @henrywismayer.

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Disappointing Race? Reframe It.

Call it the great reframing.

After a big race, professional athletes and amateurs often face the same challenge: how to react when the run doesn’t go according to Plan A, B or C.

It’s something Ryan Hall knows well. A two-time Olympian, and the only American to run a marathon in under 2 hours 5 minutes, Hall has had to strengthen that mental muscle as an athlete and now as a coach to runners including his wife, Sara Hall, the second-fastest female marathoner in American history.

“I went through this process throughout my career, and it’s one I continue to cultivate as a coach,” Ryan Hall said over the phone last week. “When you have a bad race, you don’t want to talk about it to your co-workers or peers. But I’ve learned that actually every single one of those conversations is an opportunity to reframe this narrative in my own mind and with other people.”

It can take time. Hall points to his 10th-place marathon finish at the 2008 Beijing Olympics as one of the most difficult disappointments of his career. He went into the race as a podium contender and was absolutely dejected at the finish. He is able to see that experience in a positive light now, he said, but it took him three years after the race to get there. “It’s a learned skill,” he said.

For some people, talking about a disappointing race with others can be an isolating experience, said Justin Ross, a clinical psychologist. He calls it disenfranchised grief. “We use that term when the loss of something may not be widely understood, and we see that a lot with amateur runners,” Ross said. “The marathon is so important for us that when it’s done, the general public, our family and friends, they don’t understand it. Why is it so hard?”

After this year’s Chicago Marathon and Boston Marathon — both of which were run in warm weather, slowing down athletes — many runners were eager to reframe how they thought about their races.

Sara Hall was among them. After failing to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics at the U.S. marathon trials last year, she refocused on another big goal: setting an American record. She ran the London Marathon — an elite-only event held last year on Oct. 4 instead of its usual April date — in a personal best, 2:22:01, placing second. On Dec. 20, she raced in the Marathon Project in Chandler, Ariz. (she races relentlessly), finishing in 2:20:32, the second-fastest marathon run by an American woman.

She was just under one minute off the American record — 2:19:36, set at the London Marathon by Deena Kastor in 2004. She targeted the 2021 Chicago Marathon with the record in mind.

“It’s hard not to envision it going a certain way,” she said, days after finishing in third place in Chicago with a time of 2:27:19. “I envisioned a great weather day, that I would be in the hunt to win, to set an American record.”

Unlike professional athletes in many sports who have the opportunity to make up for a disappointing performance almost weekly, many runners compete in fewer than half a dozen races a year. At the Tokyo Olympics, some athletes cried openly when they were disappointed by race results. Others were able to quickly reframe their narratives by the time they posted to social media.

“The word disappointed doesn’t quite feel strong enough,” Scott Fauble wrote on Instagram after his 16th-place finish at the Boston Marathon on Monday. “I don’t think I need to belabor that fact, so I’ll sign off with some positives. The crowds were amazing — you guys carried me home those last 10 miles. My body feels generally whole. There will be more races in the future — more chances to live up to my expectations.”

“This race certainly wasn’t everything we’d hoped for,” Reed Fischer posted after his ninth-place finish at the Chicago Marathon, “but it’s a massive step in the right direction and proof (to me, at least), that I belong at this stage and in this event.”

In this process, Ross said, professionals and amateurs alike are able to normalize feeling two things at once: sadness and gratitude.

“I think there is a really powerful shift that we need to make between outcome goals and performance standards,” Ross said. Outcome goals are usually time or place goals. Performance goals can be much more about mentality.

“When the day is not your day, we get lost and upset because we are able to recognize that the outcome goal is out of reach. That’s when falling on performance standards is so important. It’s less about the outcome. It’s how you show up.”

It’s a concept that Sara Hall took to heart in the days after the Chicago Marathon. She loves being process focused, looking to little victories and identifying the next goal.

“Out there, you have to do whatever you can to stay positive, and I did stay positive the whole time,” she said. “That was a win in itself. I told myself I was still in it. I focused on how good my stride felt and how grateful I was to be in the race.”

It will be no surprise to see her show up again.

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Boston Found Garrett Whitlock in the Yankees System. Blame Instagram.

The Jeep Wrangler with the Yankees tire cover became a familiar sight at the Central Alabama Baseball Academy in 2020.

The vehicle belonged to Garrett Whitlock, who received the navy cover with the interlocking “NY” insignia as a gift after the Yankees drafted him in the 18th round in 2017. Whitlock drove the Jeep to his job as one of the academy’s pitching coaches, a paid gig he picked up while recovering from Tommy John surgery amid a minor league season canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. He frequented the travel program’s facilities, often throwing bullpens as he restored his arm’s strength.

So when the Red Sox scooped up the right-hander with the fourth pick in the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 10, 2020, those at the academy instantly noticed the naked tire when he arrived later that day.

“It was pretty funny,” said the academy’s founder, and former minor league catcher, Kennon McArthur, who employed Whitlock for about six months. “Getting picked up by the rival.”

Whitlock was a revelation for Boston in 2021 after the Yankees opted to protect other pitchers on their 40-man roster. The 25-year-old recorded a 1.96 E.R.A. and struck out 27.2 percent of the batters he faced in the regular season. He threw three and a third scoreless, high-leverage innings in Boston’s division series against the Tampa Bay Rays and contributed two scoreless innings in the team’s Game 2 win in the American League Championship Series on Saturday. In the biggest gut punch to the Yankees, however, he was on the mound, working around a solo homer to close out Boston’s wild-card game win over his former club.

Whitlock hadn’t pitched above Class AA before this season, yet he has stepped up as the most valuable reliever for a team with championship aspirations. Just don’t tell him that.

“I’m still just trying to earn my spot on the team,” Whitlock said of his lofty status despite his limited résumé.

Recently Whitlock said he had joked with Chris Messina, Boston’s strength coach, about how he was officially a member of the team now that the regular season had been completed, thus finishing off the terms of the Rule 5 draft, in which a player has to stick with the team that chooses him all year or be returned to his original club. All the Yankees received for the young pitcher was $100,000.

“I joked, ‘You’re stuck with me now,’” Whitlock said.

While Whitlock comes off as unassuming, Manager Alex Cora immediately saw promise in the young pitcher and said the decision to keep Whitlock around was easy back in spring training.

“We saw him throwing a bullpen and I was like, ‘This kid’s making the team,’” Cora said. “He’s A-plus. He’s great. Talent-wise, you saw it throughout the season.”

The Sox knew about Whitlock’s successful rehab from elbow surgery thanks to social media. He had documented his recovery on Instagram, sharing progressively more intense practice sessions while clad in Yankees apparel.

“Instagram gets a shout out,” Cora said after Whitlock closed out Game 4 of their division series against the Chicago White Sox with two shutout innings. “I’m glad that some of the scouts have Instagram and saw him throwing a bullpen.”

Whitlock said he “never” imagined he would be in such a high-leverage role for the Red Sox.

Before Game 4 of the division series, he recounted the day he officially made the Red Sox. He was in the weight room at Boston’s spring training complex when Cora told him they needed to talk. “This is going to be one of two things,” Whitlock naturally thought. He and Cora joined a Red Sox contingent that included Chaim Bloom, the team’s chief baseball officer, along with Dave Bush, the pitching coach, Jason Varitek, a game-planning coordinator, and Kevin Walker, the bullpen coach.

“Hey, have you got any plans for April 1?” Whitlock remembers Bloom asking in reference to opening day. “We’d love to have you out there.”

Whitlock described making the team as the most memorable moment from a season full of special ones. But it wasn’t until months later that he truly believed he belonged in the majors.

It was Sept. 12, and he had just surrendered a walk-off home run to Leury Garcia, a utility player for the White Sox. The latest stumble in a rough start to the month left Whitlock sitting alone in the visitor’s clubhouse bathroom at Guaranteed Rate Field. “I was down on myself,” he recalled.

Then Kiké Hernandez walked in, ready with a pep talk. Hernandez reminded Whitlock that he had been a pillar of Boston’s bullpen. He would remain one.

“He was just like: ‘Hey, man, you’ve been huge for us all year. You’re going to continue to be huge for us,’” Whitlock said. “Once he said that, that gave me a lot of confidence.”

Lately, Whitlock is trying to “soak up everything.” It has been a year of considerable change, frequent firsts and heightened expectations. “You never know if this will happen again,” he said of his surreal season. As McArthur framed it, Whitlock went from “being an injured minor league player to a stud in the big leagues.” Whitlock doesn’t plan on losing sight of that.

“If I ever have a day where I’m just like, ‘Oh, it’s another day,’ that’s the day you come and take me out,” he said. “I never want to take a day for granted ever again.”

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With Use of Openers, Pitching Six Innings Feels Like a Lot

ATLANTA — There are 38 metal flags running up and down the light poles above right field at Truist Park, saluting standout seasons for the home team. A dozen flags signify titles won before the modern World Series, which seems like résumé padding for the franchise now known as the Atlanta Braves.

But there they are, starting in 1872, when a slim right-hander named Al Spalding started all 48 games for the Braves’ ancestors, the Boston Red Stockings of the National Association. He piled up 404⅔ innings that season, and two years later topped 600.

Max Fried is now Spalding’s spiritual progeny. On Saturday he worked six innings in the opener of the National League Championship Series, a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Fried also worked six innings in the last round, against the Milwaukee Brewers. This is a major accomplishment in the modern playoffs.

“I think six innings in the postseason is huge for a guy, just the energy they expend mentally and physically,” Manager Brian Snitker said. “I feel like we have three guys that can do that.”

The others are Ian Anderson and Charlie Morton, and the Dodgers have three of their own in Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler and Julio Urias. On the American League side, though, the rotations are falling apart.

The Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros used eight pitchers apiece in Game 1 of the A.L.C.S., and the Dodgers used eight on Saturday. That was out of necessity, though, because Urias and Scherzer had just pitched on Thursday to help close out the Giants in San Francisco.

“Clayton Kershaw would be starting this game; unfortunately, he’s hurt right now,” Scherzer said on Saturday afternoon. “So this isn’t by design. As a whole, we looked to have four starters going into the postseason, but we don’t. And so we’re just trying to navigate this as best as possible.”

The Dodgers have so much depth that three Cy Young Award winners are off the playoff roster: Kershaw is recovering from a forearm injury; David Price was dropped for this round after struggling down the stretch; and Trevor Bauer is under investigation for sexual assault. Each of those pitchers is making more than $30 million this season.

In Game 1, a collection of mustachioed middlemen followed the opener and throttled Atlanta, which fanned 14 times without a walk. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta’s sunny superstar, whiffed four times against four different pitchers. No matter: Third baseman Austin Riley, who had homered earlier, drilled a game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth.

The game was played crisply, mainly because all those pitchers had good stuff and knew it. They filled up the strike zone, nearly making this the first game in N.L.C.S. history without a walk (alas, the Dodgers drew one in the ninth). There were four stolen bases — even a sacrifice bunt! — and the whole thing seemed shorter than its 3 hours 4 minutes. That is when baseball is at its best.

The A.L.C.S., meanwhile, has been a mess, a bloated double feature with a running time of 495 minutes. Boston’s Chris Sale, who returned from Tommy John surgery in August, has made two playoff starts and gotten nine outs. Besides the Red Sox’ Nathan Eovaldi — a sound bet for five innings, if rarely for six — no starter on either team would be called durable.

Some of this is understandable, natural attrition at the end of a long season that followed a very short one. But part of it is on purpose. Pitchers aren’t supposed to be Al Spalding, or even Al Leiter, anymore.

“You’re limiting even your best to 18 outs now,” said the former pitcher Ron Darling, who is calling the N.L.C.S. for TBS. “So if we lower our expectations from 27 outs, then a four-inning start in the postseason is a very good start.”

Teams focus more intently than ever on matchups, deciding in advance whose pitch mix might disrupt a particular hitter. With so many off-days built into the October schedule, most relievers are available every game, and managers — with heavy input from the front office — seem eager to deploy them. Even veteran starters understand the difference.

“As players, all we want to do is win, so if you tell us this is going to help us win, yeah, we’re all on board, let’s go for it,” said Scherzer, who allowed one run in the N.L. wild-card game but was lifted in the fifth inning.

“To speak on the other side of the coin, from a fan’s perspective and baseball as a whole, if you say: ‘Is this something that we want the game to go into? Do we want to see this in the regular season?’ My answer is no. No, you don’t,” Scherzer said. “You want to see starting pitchers. You want to see starting pitchers pitch deep. I think that’s best for the fans, best for the players, everybody involved. I think that’s how we all envisioned the games.”

He added: “But when you get down to elimination games, you get into postseason games, you do whatever it takes to win. So, to me, I think this is more of a question in the off-season if we want to address it.”

Scherzer, who is part of the executive subcommittee for the players’ union, likes the idea of a rule change that could theoretically limit the use of an opener by tying the starting pitcher to the designated hitter. Called the “double hook” by the Hall of Fame writer Jayson Stark, the rule would mandate that a team lose its designated hitter as soon as it pulls its starter.

The viability of that idea, and others, will be debated during off-season negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement. But as sensible as the opener can be as a strategy, it is still a jarring innovation.

Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts, who used Corey Knebel as an opener for Game 5 of the division series and Game 1 of the N.L.C.S., resisted the idea when the Tampa Bay Rays first used it in 2018. Beginning a game with a reliever seemed to be against baseball’s spirit.

“I hated it,” Roberts said. “It wasn’t baseball. I like to see the starters, and starters go deep. But when you sit in this chair, you’re trying to win games. That’s the bottom line. So it doesn’t matter how appealing it is or what it is. The goal is to prevent runs.”

The Dodgers have done better than any other team, with a 3.01 earned run average in the regular season and a 2.05 mark across their first seven playoff games. Their problem now is that Atlanta is also rich in pitching. It is a franchise tradition.

“It’s just kind of the way I was raised in the game,” Snitker said. “I came up with the Braves here and we were all about starting pitching. I don’t know any better.”

The N.L. teams have the arms to keep this series entertaining — or at least to keep it from morphing into the slog we saw in Houston. Just don’t expect the starters, even the really good ones, to stick around too long.

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