Nationals and Pirates swap Milledge for Morgan

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Chico Harlan of the Washington Post reports
that the Nationals and Pirates have agreed to a four-player trade that
sends Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan to Pittsburgh with Nyjer
Morgan and Sean Burnett heading to Washington.

Washington has soured on Milledge
since acquiring him two years ago, in large part because of his
struggles defensively in center field, and Morgan should be a massive
upgrade there. However, the trade still strikes me as a good move for
Pittsburgh, who had been playing Morgan in left field because Andrew
McCutchen’s presence means that they won’t need a center fielder for
the next decade or so.

Morgan’s defense makes him an asset wherever he’s playing, but he’s
28 years old and his career .286/.351/.376 line doesn’t look all that
great from a corner spot. For all the talk of Milledge being a huge
disappointment he’s hit .261/.326/.400 to basically match Morgan’s
production offensively, and at 24 years old has plenty of room to
improve at the plate after posting stronger numbers in the minors.

Plus, the Pirates also pick up a decent reliever in Hanrahan, who
has been yanked back and forth from the Nationals’ closer role amid
talk of him not being able to handle ninth-inning duties mentally.
Whether or not that’s true is unclear and certainly his 7.71 ERA this
season is ugly, but with a 35/14 K/BB ratio and just three homers
allowed in 32.2 innings he hasn’t pitched nearly that poorly and can be
a capable setup man.

Burnett was once thought of as a top prospect, but arm injuries and
poor strikeout rates have the 26-year-old southpaw looking like a
mediocre middle reliever or long man at this point. Pittsburgh did well
to sell high on him while his ERA is in the 3.00s, and cashing in
Morgan with his value at an all-time high makes sense too. On the flip
side, Washington is selling both Milledge and Hanrahan for pennies on
the dollar.

Morgan is a nice all-around player, but will be on the wrong side of
30 by the time the Nationals are ready to contend and in the meantime
they’ve sold low on a 24-year-old who for all his issues still has lots
of upside. Hanrahan and Burnett changing sides swings the deal a little
further in Pittsburgh’s favor, but ultimately the trade hinges on
Milledge’s ability to get his career on track and live up to at least
some of the hype.

Astros push ALCS to Game 7 with 7-1 stunner against Yankees

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There’s just something about playing in your home ballpark. The Astros decimated the Yankees at Minute Maid Park on Friday, riding seven scoreless innings from Justin Verlander and a pair of big runs from Jose Altuve to win 7-1 and force a Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

Through the first four innings, however, the teams looked equally matched. Luis Severino no-hit the Astros through 3 2/3 innings, losing his bid on Carlos Correa‘s line drive single in the fourth. The Astros returned in the fifth to do some real damage, drawing two walks and plating the first run of the night with Brian McCann‘s ground-rule double off of the right field wall. Things didn’t get any easier for Severino. Jose Altuve lined a two-RBI base hit into left field, upping Houston’s advantage to three runs.

Verlander, meanwhile, muted the Yankees’ offense with seven innings of five-hit, eight-strikeout ball. While he didn’t come close to matching his complete game effort in Game 2, he was still plenty dominant against a struggling New York lineup. No player reached past first base until the sixth inning, when a pair of base hits from Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees their first runner in scoring position. That didn’t last long, though, as Gary Sanchez grounded out on a 3-0 slider to end the inning.

In the seventh, Houston’s ace got into another spot of trouble. He walked Greg Bird on six pitches to start the inning, then plunked Starlin Castro on the wrist. Aaron Hicks struck out, in part thanks to a questionable call by home plate umpire Jim Reynolds, but it was Todd Frazier who presented the biggest threat after returning an 0-1 fastball for a 403-foot fly out to left field. Luckily for Verlander, George Springer was there to bail him out with a leaping catch at the wall.

The Yankees kept things exciting in the eighth, too. Aaron Judge ripped his third postseason home run off of Brad Peacock, taking a 425-footer out to the train in left field to spoil the Astros’ shutout. That was the only real break the Yankees got, however, as Altuve, Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis returned in the bottom of the inning to tack on another four runs, including Altuve’s solo shot off of David Robertson:

Ken Giles handled the ninth, expending 23 pitches and giving up a base hit and a walk before retiring Frazier and Headley to end the game. Thanks to Houston’s winning efforts, the two teams will compete in their first seven-game Championship Series since 2004 — and this time, at least one of them is guaranteed to come away with a win.

Game 7 of the ALCS is set for Saturday at 8:00 PM ET. Houston right-hander Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA) is scheduled to face southpaw CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA).