Phillies pay heavy price for overvalued Hunter Pence

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The Phillies got their middle-of-the-order hitter Friday, picking up two-time All-Star Hunter Pence from the Astros for first baseman Jonathan Singleton, RHP Jarred Cosart, RHP Josh Zeid and a still undisclosed fourth player.

It’s the right-handed bat the Phillies felt they needed to slot in behind Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the order.  Pence, though, hasn’t been all that much better than Domonic Brown of late.  He’s batting .200 with just two RBI in 45 at-bats since the All-Star break.  Since June 1, he’s hitting .297/.344/.424 with three homers and 19 RBI in 172 at-bats.

Maybe now that he’s finished with the trade rumors, he’ll improve.  The Phillies are certainly banking on it after surrendering their top two prospects.  Singleton, who is just 19, was hitting .284/.387/.413 for Single-A Clearwater this season.  Because of Howard’s presence, the Phillies tried him in left field earlier this year.  But that didn’t take.  Singleton should be a 30-homer guy down the line, and he could be an upgrade over Brett Wallace by the end of 2013.

Cosart, 21, was also at Clearwater and was 9-8 with a 3.92 ERA and a 79/43 K/BB ratio in 108 innings.  He lacks polish for someone regarded as a top pitching prospect, but he throws in the mid-90s and shows a plus curveball.  He’s a definite candidate to flame out, but he has top-of-the-rotation potential.

Zeid isn’t so talented.  The 24-year-old had a 5.65 ERA and a 56/27 K/BB ratio in 63 2/3 innings while splitting time between the rotation and the pen for Double-A Reading.  If he makes it in the majors, it’ll be as a middle reliever.

Pence is the Phillies’ answer to Carlos Beltran, and the fact that he’s under control through 2013 necessated the big offer.  He will give the Phillies offense a lift, and he may well make a difference as a No. 5 hitter come playoff time.  Still, it’s debatable whether he was really enough of an upgrade to justify the investment.  He has a 119 OPS+ since 2009, which puts him a bit below fellow corner outfielders Nick Swisher and Josh Willingham and barely above Corey Hart and Bobby Abreu.  He is an above average defender and an asset on the basepaths, but he’s not truly a star and he’s about to get paid like one.

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).