Quality shortstop play won't make Encarnacion tolerable

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encarnacion fielding.jpgNot to pick on MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian, who is hardly the only one saying it, but included in his writeup of the Jays’ Alex Gonzalez signing is the following note:
“Strong “D” at the position will be important in helping make up for having Edwin Encarnacion in place as the starting third baseman.”
In fact, it’s being repeated so often that one gets the idea that the Jays really think it’s true.
But, really, it’s a ludicrous idea.
Signing a limited player at shortstop to make up for a limited player at third base is an awful way to go about building a team.
Sure, Jimmy Rollins and Jack Wilson could help out a lead-footed third baseman with their impressive range at shortstop. But Gonzalez? In 2010? He’s still very good at handling everything he towards him, but he’s not going to head deep into the hole and still throw guys out with regularity.
Plus, Encarnacion’s range isn’t a problem. He makes as many fine plays as an average third baseman. It’s just that he tends to botch far more than most. Gonzalez isn’t making up for that. I mean, there’s actual visual and statistical evidence that it doesn’t work that way, considering that the two played side-by-side in Cincinnati throughout 2007 and for part of last season.
So, the real question is why Encarnacion is still being penciled in at third base when everyone knows he’s a liability there. It’s not as though the Jays don’t have some flexibility. At the moment, both outfield corners, first base and DH are all question marks, with only Adam Lind guaranteed of filling one of the spots on Opening Day. Encarnacion has enough speed to play the outfield, and while it could be ugly at first, he might even become adequate in left or right eventually.
The Jays would just as soon see Encarnacion and his $4.75 million salary go away, but it’s doubtful he’ll be traded this winter since there’s so little respect for his defense. His bat, on the other hand, remains very promising. Encarnacion is just turning 27 in January, and even though he’s never busted out offensively, he has a solid 790 career OPS. He even finished strong in his into to the AL, hitting .274 with seven homers and 20 RBI in 95 at-bats between September and October. He’s not a third baseman, regardless of who is put next to him at shortstop, but he could be a valuable player if the Jays are willing to try something different.

Astros advance to the World Series with 4-0 finale against Yankees

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The Astros punched their ticket to the World Series on Saturday, shutting out the Yankees 4-0 to take their first Game 7 victory at home. Charlie Morton was nearly untouchable on the mound, holding the Yankees to two hits, a walk and five strikeouts en route to his first career postseason win.

Morton and Sabathia carried their duel through three solid innings. Morton struck out three batters and allowed just one baserunner. Sabathia worked in and out of jams in the second and third innings, supplying and stranding two runners in scoring position.

Evan Gattis was the first to strike. In the fourth inning, he punched a 2-2 slider from Sabathia into the left field wall, where it registered a projected 405 feet and broke a homer-less streak of 115 at-bats by designated hitters in the 2017 postseason. The home run signaled the beginning of the end for the Yankees’ starter. He induced a groundout from Marwin Gonzalez, then walked Brian McCann on six pitches and allowed Josh Reddick his first base hit of the playoffs. That was enough for Joe Girardi, who pulled Sabathia for righty Tommy Kahnle and an inning-ending double play to close out the fourth.

Even with Sabathia gone, there was still some hope that the middle of the order could bail the Yankees out. Greg Bird led off the fifth with a first pitch double and Aaron Hicks took a four-pitch walk. A wild pitch from Morton allowed Bird to reach third base, but Alex Bregman and Brian McCann weren’t about to let the Yankees spoil their starter’s shutout. Todd Frazier bounced a ball toward third base, where Bregman grabbed and fired it to home plate, catching Bird just as McCann put his glove down.

The bottom of the inning wasn’t any easier for Sabathia’s successors. Jose Altuve went oppo-taco on a 1-1 changeup from Kahnle, postmarking it 364 feet into the right field stands. Kahnle labored through the next four at-bats, handing out a pair of singles to Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel before sending Gattis down swinging. The next at-bat was even more troublesome. McCann roped a two-out, two-RBI double to the warning track in right field, clearing the bases and boosting the Astros’ to a cushy 4-0 lead.

The excitement fizzled a little over the next few innings. Brett Gardner muscled a leadoff single off of Lance McCullers, but was later caught at second on a force play to end the sixth. McCullers didn’t let go of the ball again. He was lights-out through the end of the game, scattering a walk and six strikeouts over four innings and clinching the pennant with a 1-2-3 performance in the ninth.

Whatever confidence the Astros had coming off of their three-game sweep in the Division Series was tested and tested again in their pennant run. They battled through three tough losses in Games 3 through 5, staved off elimination with a gem from Justin Verlander in Game 6, and finally emerged victorious tonight. Three days from now, when they enter Dodger Stadium for Game 1 of the World Series, they’ll have the chance to do it all again.