One. More. Win.
What a difference a weekend can make.
The Houston Astros -- viewed as an overwhelming favorite over the Washington Nationals to begin the World Series -- had dropped the first two games at home on Tuesday and Wednesday behind their star right-handed duo of Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander.
They then had to travel to Washington over the weekend for a three-game set where their goal had to be just making it back to Houston for Game 6. Challenge accepted.
The Astros went out on Friday and secured a 4-1 victory over the Nats behind a solid pitching performance by Zack Greinke. The right-hander struck out six over 4 ⅔ innings of one-run baseball and the Astros’ bullpen chipped in 4 ⅓ shutout innings to close it out.
On Saturday, they evened up the series with a lopsided 8-1 victory over Patrick Corbin and the Nationals. Alex Bregman led the way in that one with a grand slam and five RBI to pace the offensive attack. Robinson Chirinos left the yard as well -- the second consecutive game in which he had done so, making him just the second player in Astros’ history to homer in consecutive World Series starts.
The story on the mound in that one was rookie right-hander Jose Urquidy. The 24-year-old hurler allowed just two hits while striking out four over five scoreless innings on baseball’s biggest stage.
With everything knotted up at two games apiece, the baseball world was ready to witness a pitcher’s duel of epic proportions for Sunday’s pivotal Game 5. Nationals’ ace Max Scherzer going toe-to-toe with American League strikeout champion Gerrit Cole.
Then, the Nationals made a stunning announcement a few hours before first pitch -- Scherzer had been scratched from his scheduled start due to severe neck spasms. The pain was reportedly so bad that he wasn’t even able to dress himself. He received a cortisone injection on Saturday and is hopeful that he’ll be able to start in Game 7 on Wednesday, should the series go to a decisive seventh game.
In his stead, the Nationals were forced to turn to Joe Ross. The 26-year-old hurler hadn’t started a game since September 29, and his only appearance since then was his two innings of work out of the bullpen in Game 3 of the World Series on Friday.
A difficult assignment for Ross became even more challenging in the second inning on Sunday as Yordan Alvarez crushed a two-run homer to give the Astros an early lead. Ross battled back nicely though, worked a scoreless third inning and got the first two outs in the fourth without any trouble. That’s where Alvarez lined a two-out single into right field to get things going for the Astros again. The next hitter, Carlos Correa, would foul off a pair of tough two-strike pitches, and even take what could have easily been a called third strike, before clobbering a two-run homer into the seats in left field to turn a 2-0 game into a 4-0 ballgame. That’s all the damage that was done against Ross in his five innings of work, but that was more than enough run support for Cole.
The Astros’ right-hander delivered another brilliant performance, racking up nine strikeouts over seven innings of one-run ball to earn his first World Series victory. Cole scattered just three hits and a pair of walks on the evening. The only blemish on his night was a solo blast off the bat of Nationals’ phenom Juan Soto in the seventh inning.
The Astros would extend their lead in the eighth inning on a two-out RBI single by Yuli Gurriel and again in the ninth on a two-run blast by George Springer, ultimately finishing with a 7-1 victory and a sweep of the three-game set in Washington.
The Astros now head back home just one win away from securing their second World Series title in the last three seasons. They’ll do so with Justin Verlander taking the hill in Game 6 on Tuesday night, with Zack Greinke lurking behind him for a potential Game 7 on Wednesday.
For the Nationals, all of the joy and optimism that ran wild after they took the first two games in Houston is gone, and they’ll now be playing for their lives when Stephen Strasburg takes the hill against the Astros on Tuesday night. Strasburg earned a victory over the Astros in Game 2 of the series -- striking out seven over six innings of two-run ball.
Red Sox hire Chaim Bloom
The Red Sox have found their replacement for Dave Dombrowski, naming Rays’ senior vice president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom as their new head of baseball operations on Friday.
A press conference has been scheduled to formally announce the 36-year-old on Monday afternoon in Boston.
Bloom has spent the last 15 seasons working his way up in the Rays’ organization, working in minor league baseball operations, player development, salary arbitration, contract negotiation and international scouting along the way.
The Red Sox ownership has already announced their plans to cut payroll heading into the 2020 season in order to get under the luxury tax threshold. Bloom’s experience with the Rays -- where they routinely operated with one of the lowest payrolls in all of baseball -- should prove to be critical in his new role.
In addition to Bloom taking over as the team’s head of baseball operations, the Red Sox announced that former assistant general manager Brian O’Halloran will be promoted to general manager.
O’Halloran and fellow assistant general managers Eddie Romero and Zack Scott finished the 2019 season running the Red Sox’ front office following Dombrowski’s departure. For the time being, Romero and Scott will continue to function in the same capacity as assistant general managers, though they could become options for other teams looking to fill major roles in their respective front offices this winter.
Reliever(s) of the Year
Josh Hader was recognized on Saturday at the National League Reliever of the Year. The Brewers’ southpaw took home the hardware by notching 37 saves with a 2.62 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and 138/20 K/BB ratio across 75 ⅔ innings.
While Padres’ right-hander Kirby Yates certainly deserved consideration for the honor, Hader was truly the most dominant bullpen arm in the National League in 2019. He’ll also earn a sizeable raise this winter after being granted Super 2 arbitration status on Friday.
On the American League side of the ledger, it was Yankees’ closer Aroldis Chapman who was named American League Reliever of the Year. While the 31-year-old southpaw was certainly good -- posting a 2.21 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 85/25 K/BB ratio over 57 innings while ranking second in the American League with 37 saves -- many had speculated that Liam Hendriks would win the award instead.
That’s not to discount Chapman though, as he’s still one of the truly elite closers in all of baseball and has been doing a tremendous job closing out games for nearly a decade now.
American League Quick Hits: Shin-Soo Choo underwent successful surgery on his left shoulder. He’s expected to need 6-to-8 weeks to recover, meaning he should be ready to go for the start of spring training. … Shohei Ohtani (elbow, knee) has been throwing from a distance of 100 feet as he continues to progress in his recovery. He’s on track to begin throwing off of a mound in late November. … Twins’ prospect Royce Lewis was named as the MVP of the Arizona Fall League after hitting .353/.411/.565 with three homers, 20 RBI and five stolen bases in 22 games. … Former Reds’ manager Bryan Price is a strong candidate for the Red Sox’ vacant pitching coach job. … The Angels’ hired former Mets’ manager Mickey Callaway to be their next pitching coach.
National League Quick Hits: Rays’ bench coach Matt Quatraro and Dodgers’ first base coach George Lombard interviewed for the Pirates’ managerial opening -- joining a lengthy list that includes Jeff Bannister, Derek Shelton, Ryan Christenson, Mark Kotsay, Mike Bell, Stubby Clapp and Joey Cora. … There’s mutual interest between the Diamondbacks and Alex Avila about the veteran backstop re-signing for the 2020 season… Michael Saunders officially retired from professional baseball and took a job as a manger in the Braves’ minor league system. … Eduardo Perez and Tim Bogar have emerged as the front-runners for the Mets’ managerial opening, though there are still believed to be other candidates in the mix. … The Pirates outrighted Jake Elmore, Corban Joseph and Steven Baron to Triple-A Indianapolis. … Kurt Suzuki (hip) is hopeful to return to the Nationals' starting lineup for Game 6 of the World Series on Tuesday in Houston.