Piniella is cute when he talks about Cubs, World Series

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You’ve got to love baseball’s offseason. In addition to the non-stop carousel of rumors, free-agent signings and blockbuster trades, you’ve got the sense of eternal optimism heading into the upcoming season (unless you’re a Royals fan). No one is in last place. No one is cursed, and no one is worried about Milton Bradley.

Which brings me to Lou Piniella’s statements on his Cubs, as told by Carrie Muskat of MLB.com.

“I’m looking forward to a team that will win this division again and give itself another chance to go on and get a World Series win,” the Cubs’ manager said Wednesday at Harry Caray’s Restaurant, a stop on the winter caravan. “That’s what I’m hoping for, and that’s what we’re striving for.”

Piniella points out that the Cubs won 83 games and finished second in the NL Central despite having 10 players miss at least 20 games, and also hints that the removal of Bradley from their delicate clubhouse will help.

… if we can win 83 games with all those problems and all those injuries and we stay relatively healthy this year, we can add another eight, 10 wins and get to the postseason and win in the postseason.”

He’s so adorable when he’s optimistic. I hate to rain on his parade, but here’s why the Cubs won’t win the World Series:

  • The Cubs are 0-6 in the postseason under Piniella, and those teams were relatively healthy and sans-Bradley. Though I don’t believe in curses, those previous playoff teams folded as soon as they ran into any adversity, almost as if they expected to lose.
  • The Cubs are already battling injury problems, with left-handed starter Ted Lilly, their only All-Star in 2009, expected to miss at least the first month of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery.
  • Carlos Silva, the man Chicago acquired in the Bradley trade, is expected to improve clubhouse chemistry and possibly take Lilly’s spot in the rotation. The problem is, Silva sucks. Also, he was not a particularly good clubhouse presence in Seattle, calling out teammates publicly despite carrying no leadership weight because, well, he sucks. Did I mention he sucks?
  • And finally: Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and the St. Louis Cardinals.

A championship for the Cubs? Go ahead and dream about it while you can, Lou.

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).