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Real or not? Astros are headed for another 100-win season

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Well, that wasn’t very nice of the Houston Astros.

The Seattle Mariners returned home from a road trip as the hottest team in baseball, owning a 13-2 record, mashing home runs like a beer league softball team and creating buzz around the sport as the early surprise team of 2019.

Then this happened:

Friday: Jose Altuve and Yuri Gurriel hit grand slams as the Astros pounded out 16 hits in rallying from a 3-0 deficit to win 10-6.

Saturday: The Mariners got a quality start from Felix Hernandez, but Justin Verlander fanned 11 in six innings and Altuve homered for the fifth straight game for a 3-1 victory.

Sunday: Gerrit Cole matched Verlander with 11 K’s in six innings, the bullpen tossed three hitless innings and Aledmys Diaz hit the decisive home run in the seventh inning for a 3-2 victory.

It’s only the first three of 19 games between the teams, but in case you were starting to buy some of the Mariners mojo, the Astros sent notice to the Pacific Northwest that they’re still the boss of the AL West. The three big takeaways from the series are pretty obvious:

• The Astros have Verlander and Cole, and the Mariners don’t.

• The Astros turned to hard-throwing relievers Brad Peacock, Hector Rondon, Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna to get key outs and finish off games. The Mariners turned to no-names like Shawn Armstrong (making his season debut), R.J. Alaniz (making his major league debut) and Brandon Brennan (a rookie Rule 5 pick).

• Altuve looks healthy and locked in again after the knee injury that curtailed his production down the stretch last season.

The Astros have won nine in a row — hitting .314 with a .932 OPS during the streak — and what’s impressive is it hasn’t come against the AL Central bottom feeders, but against the A’s, Yankees and Mariners. The road to a third straight 100-season has begun.

Marquez digs Rockies out of the bunker: It’s been a nightmare start for the Rockies. They entered Sunday with an eight-game losing streak, including an 18-inning loss to the Giants on Friday. They had been shut out three times in 15 games while hitting .203. Nolan Arenado had yet to homer. Ian Desmond had batted 56 times and hadn’t scored a run.

So, yes, they needed German Marquez‘s one-hit gem to beat the Giants 4-0. Marquez took a no-hitter into the eighth — the perfect game was ruined when he hit Kevin Pillar leading off the sixth — and had thrown just 76 pitches, so pitch count wasn’t the issue it has been with so many no-hit bids these days. Brandon Crawford led off the eighth and grounded a one-hopper to third base, the ball bounding off Arenado and into the air, where he grabbed it and threw out Crawford. With a little luck like that, the final five outs felt like a sure thing.

Instead, Evan Longoria, the next batter, grounded a base hit past a diving Arenado, who threw down his glove in disgust at not making what would have been a miracle play. Marquez got the final five outs, and while he missed throwing the second no-hitter in Rockies history (Ubaldo Jimenez threw one in 2010), he did record the first complete game in the majors this season. Via game score, it was the second-best game in Rockies history:

Jon Gray, 9/17/2016 vs. Padres: 95
Marquez, 4/14/2019 vs. Giants: 94
Jeff Francis, 7/24/2006 vs. Cardinals: 91
Darryl Kile, 9/20/1998 vs. Padres: 91
Chad Bettis, 9/5/2016 vs. Giants: 90

Jimenez walked six and fanned seven in his no-hitter, which scores an 88.

Make no mistake: Marquez has become one of the best pitchers in the majors. Going back to last year’s All-Star break, he’s 8-4 with a 2.48 ERA and 149 strikeouts in 120 innings. In that span, he ranks sixth in ERA, first in innings, third in strikeouts and tied with Jacob deGrom in quality starts.

P.S: Arenado finally hit his first home run.

Anderson tees one up: Big weekend for the White Sox to take two of three at Yankee Stadium — the first time since 2003 that they’ve won two straight series at Yankee Stadium. On Friday, Eloy Jimenez hit the first two home runs of his career, and Tim Anderson delivered the big blow in Sunday’s 5-2 win with a fourth-inning grand slam off Masahiro Tanaka:

Anderson is a key player for the White Sox if this current rebuild is going to work. He hit 20 home runs and swiped 26 bases last season, but a poor approach at the plate negated those positives and led to a .240 average, .281 OBP and 149 strikeouts. Anderson’s chase rate last season was 38 percent, one of the highest figures in the majors; indeed, pitchers knew he was going to hack away so fewer than half the pitches he saw were in the strike zone.

That’s why Tanaka’s 0-1 pitch was especially terrible — an 0-1 splitter that didn’t split. Obviously, he wanted it in the dirt, hoping Anderson would swing over the top of it. Fueled by a .500 BABIP, Anderson is off to an excellent start with a .429/.440/.653 line — but with the same high chase rate and aggressive approach, don’t expect a big improvement over his 2018 numbers to stick.

As for the Yankees, this wasn’t exactly the lineup Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone envisioned back in spring training: Clint Frazier at DH, Brett Gardner in center, Gio Urshela at third, Kyle Higashioka at catcher and Mike Tauchman in left. The Yankees’ depth has been tested early on and while it’s easy to blame the injuries for the 6-9 start, the bullpen is 4-4 and entered Sunday ranked 25th in win probability added. Plus, starters J.A. Happ and James Paxton are off to slow starts. It’s worth noting that they’ve had an easy schedule so far other than three games in Houston (they lost all three), with six games against the Orioles. They’ll get a test this week with their first two games against the Red Sox.

Driving range: The Phillies beat the Marlins 3-1 on Jean Segura‘s two-run home run in the 14th inning:

Terrific job by the Phillies’ bullpen, tossing seven innings of three-hit baseball with 14 strikeouts — including six from Victor Arano, who fanned every batter he faced.

Fly like an eagle: Byron Buxton made some magic in center field as the Twins beat the Tigers 6-4:

Buxton also is off to a nice start at the plate, hitting .324/.378/.559. He hasn’t homered, but he has six doubles and a triple in 34 at-bats, so he’s doing some good things at the plate. At this point, it almost feels like any offense from Buxton will be a bonus, but his second half in 2017 will always serve as a teaser to what he might do at the plate. I still feel like he’s one of the most important players in the league, a potential 5-WAR player if he can stay healthy and do some damage at the plate. Good to see him off to a positive start after a lost 2018.



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Pujols jumps Ruth for 5th place with 1,993 RBIs

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols surpassed Babe Ruth for fifth place in baseball history with his 1,993rd career RBI.

Pujols passed the Babe in the ninth inning on Saturday night with a solo homer to center field off Anthony Swarzak, though the Angels lost to the Seattle Mariners 6-5.

Earlier, Pujols had tied Ruth’s mark in the third inning when he drove home Andrelton Simmons with a double off Seattle’s Yusei Kikuchi.

The Angel Stadium crowd gave a standing ovation to Pujols, who acknowledged the cheers on second base with a wave of his helmet.

Pujols only passed Ruth according to baseball’s official starting point for the mark. RBIs weren’t an official statistic until 1920 — Ruth’s first year with the Yankees, though his career began in 1914 with the Boston Red Sox.

Pujols is also closing in on Lou Gehrig (1,994) and Barry Bonds (1,996) on the career RBIs chart. Hank Aaron (2,297) and Alex Rodriguez (2,086) lead the list.

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Michael Chavis’ mad scramble to reach The Show

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — As he packed for a quick three-game road trip to Syracuse, New York, on Thursday, Michael Chavis stared at his bag, then his locker, and again at his bag.

He’d packed too much stuff. He didn’t need all those gloves, bats and knickknacks, he thought. Just three T-shirts and a pair of jeans. After all, the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox were scheduled for only three games out of town, just a quick weekend getaway. He figured he’d be back in Pawtucket on Monday.

But a phone call, a turbulent flight, a hectic trip into an airport clothing store and a quick ride to the ballpark later, Chavis found himself standing in front of a locker at Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays. So he was very much not in Syracuse, let alone Pawtucket, Rhode Island. He was more than 1,300 miles away and not even knowing the day of the week off the top of his head.

“I should’ve brought all that stuff,” Chavis said with a chuckle. “I need that now.”

Everything started a little over 24 hours earlier, when Chavis woke up at 10:45 a.m. on Friday in Syracuse to three missed calls from PawSox manager Billy McMillon, who told him he’d been called up to the big leagues. As he began to gather his stuff, Chavis FaceTimed his mom, Dorothy, who immediately began crying. She’d taken up a second job at night to help pay for Chavis’ travel baseball as he was growing up.

“I knew she was going to be the first person to call ’cause she’s done so much for me,” Chavis said. “I honestly think the headlines should be more about everything she’s done for me until this point more than anything I’ve done.”

Then came phone call after phone call after phone call, from friends to family. As the news broke, text messages began piling up, nearly 600 by the end of the night.

“You don’t even remember everything you said,” Chavis said. “The next person, you’re repeating everything.”

Chavis quickly packed his stuff at the hotel and the ballpark before jolting to the Syracuse airport to catch his 1 p.m. flight to Detroit, where he’d connect through to join the Red Sox in Florida. The plane, a small jet, hit turbulence on the short hourlong flight.

“They couldn’t even do drinks or snack service ’cause everyone was falling,” Chavis said. “I felt like I was in ‘Snakes on a Plane’ going to my debut.”

When he landed at the Detroit airport with 45 minutes to spare before his next flight, Chavis realized he didn’t want to walk into his first big league call-up wearing a T-shirt and sweatpants. “I need something to look nice,” he told himself. Frazzled and hungry, he hustled into a clothing store, not even checking what store he was entering, and immediately sought help from the retail employees. He had 10 minutes to find a button-up shirt, jeans and shoes that fit him.

“What’s going on?” one employee asked.

“I’m going to the big leagues, dude,” Chavis responded. “I don’t know what’s happening.”

The store’s employees shuffled him into the storage room, the closest thing they had to a changing room, so he could try on the impromptu business-casual uniform. Chavis pulled out his phone and turned on the front-facing camera to make sure everything fit and rushed off to his flight.

Texts kept pouring in as Chavis anxiously awaited landing in Florida. His brother, Fuzzy (real name: Christian), was driving down from Alabama along with five other close friends and family. Meanwhile, Red Sox officials kept texting, asking where he was as the game was about to begin.

“I’m literally in the air right now,” Chavis thought to himself. “I don’t know what you want me to do. I need to fly.”

After landing, Chavis called an Uber, which dropped him off three blocks from the stadium. With his backpack, suitcase and a bag full of personal items on him, Chavis walked toward the stadium. His phone buzzed — a text from Fuzzy.

“Hey, where are you?” the text read. “I’m sitting at the gate waiting for you.”

“You beat me here,” Chavis said.

Chavis arrived in the Red Sox clubhouse in the fifth inning. And before he had a moment to appreciate his arrival in a big league clubhouse for the first time, Boston coach Ramon Vazquez told him that the team might need him to pinch hit in two batters.

“That’s impossible,” Chavis said.

Rookies, he’d heard, always get messed with during their first stint in the big leagues. There he stood, in jeans and a shirt. He hadn’t stretched. He didn’t know what pitcher the Red Sox were facing. He hadn’t seen a single scouting report. But Vazquez wasn’t joking.

“I didn’t even get to tell him congratulations,” Vazquez said.

Panic set in.

“Where are my cleats? Do I need a cup? Where are my batting gloves?” Chavis asked himself. “Where are my bats?”

As Chavis quickly warmed up in the batting cage, catcher Christian Vazquez knocked a two-run homer into center field, giving the Red Sox a 4-1 lead, negating any need for him to pinch hit, giving him a night to rest.

On his second day in the big leagues, Chavis went through his normal routine, trying to stay in the moment and not overthink things just because he’s now in the big leagues. For the past few years, Chavis had slowly started to see the other high school players from the 2014 draft make their major league debuts. But now that he’s made it here, Chavis is trying to keep things as normal as possible, which is much easier said than done.

“Holy crap,” Chavis said before Saturday’s game. “Now I’m in the big leagues. That sounds weird right now.”

When Rays outfielder Tommy Pham hit a solo homer off reliever Matt Barnes to tie the game 5-5 in the eighth inning, Chavis knew he would be hitting in the ninth. And he knew that in Rays star reliever Jose Alvarado, he had a big challenge ahead of him.

“Facing Alvarado in the [Gulf Coast League], he was a starter and he absolutely just destroyed us whenever he faced us,” Chavis said. “I was just joking with [Fuzzy] before today’s game and all, if I get my first AB late in the game today, let’s just not have it be Alvarado.”

With outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. on first base and the score tied 5-5 with one out, the count on Chavis tallied to 1-2, and Alvarado called timeout. Chavis, feeling his knees literally shaking, took a moment to gather himself before driving a 99 mph slider from Alvarado straight over the head of center fielder Kevin Kiermaier. His first big league hit — a double — set up the go-ahead RBI sacrifice fly from Andrew Benintendi for a 6-5 Red Sox victory and put Boston in position to sweep the series with a win on Sunday.

That’s why Chavis, the No. 5 prospect in the Red Sox farm system according to ESPN’s Keith Law, is up in the big leagues in the first place — his bat. In 12 games and 40 at-bats this season in Triple-A, Chavis had four homers and was hitting .250/.354/.600. Manager Alex Cora said Chavis will make his first major league start on Sunday in the series finale. Ultimately, Boston will look to its top prospect to fill multiple positions, including first, second and third base.

“There’s no lack of confidence,” Cora said.

Chavis said he’ll be giving the ball from his first major league hit to his mom, as a thank-you for the sacrifices she made for him. And as the night of his first game ticked away, the rookie infielder stood in the Tropicana Field visitors’ clubhouse, trying to absorb everything that had just happened.

“I can’t tell you how many times at my house, in the backyard we had a garden, how many times I envisioned this exact scenario, pinch hitting for the Boston Red Sox in the ninth inning off a closer who’s nasty and getting a hit,” Chavis said. “I tossed up rocks, pretending I was in this moment. When I was on deck, I looked around, and I was like, wow.”

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Pujols ties Ruth for 5th all time with 1,992 RBIs

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols has tied Babe Ruth for fifth place in baseball history with his 1,992nd career RBI.

Pujols drove home Andrelton Simmons with a double off Seattle’s Yusei Kikuchi in the third inning Saturday night.

The Angel Stadium crowd gave a standing ovation to Pujols, who acknowledged the cheers on second base with a wave of his helmet.

Pujols only tied Ruth according to baseball’s official starting point for the mark. RBIs weren’t an official statistic until 1920, and Ruth’s career began in 1914 with the Boston Red Sox.

Pujols is also closing in on Lou Gehrig (1,995) and Barry Bonds (1,996) on the career RBIs chart. Hank Aaron (2,297) and Alex Rodriguez (2,086) lead the list.

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