Cardinals’ bullpen finally cracks, Rangers stage comeback to even World Series

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Two games in, this World Series has the look of an instant classic. Wednesday’s thrilling Game 1 saw late-inning heroics that sent a 3-2 victory St. Louis’ way. In Game 2 on Thursday, it was the Rangers who benefited from a dose of last-minute magic.

Facing a 1-0 deficit in the top of the ninth inning, and a closer in Jason Motte who had been nearly untouchable all postseason, the Rangers’ Ian Kinsler blooped a leadoff single over the head of Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal to get the ball rolling. Kinsler then swiped second base, beating Yadier Molina’s on-target throw by inches, and Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus followed with a sharply-struck base hit to right-center field that advanced Kinsler to third.

Those back-to-back hits led Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who’s pulled correct string after correct string throughout these playoffs, to fall back into the trap of over-management. Opting for a lefty-lefty matchup on Rangers slugger and No. 3 hitter Josh Hamilton, he pulled Motte from the 1-0 game in favor of 41-year-old southpaw Arthur Rhodes, who promptly surrendered the tying run on a sacrifice fly to right field.

Hamilton only had to flick his wrist to do the deed on a floater from Rhodes. One has to wonder if the game-tying sacrifice would have been so easily converted against Motte, who can touch 100 mph.

Hamilton’s groin injury — the one he’s been battling since the final month of the regular season — limits his ability to turn his core quickly and effectively on pitches. He barely had to budge against Arthur.

Michael Young gave the Rangers their first lead of the Fall Classic one pitching change later, lifting a ball to deep center field against Cardinals reliever Lance Lynn to score the fleet-footed Andrus from third.

That 2-1 score would hold through the bottom of the ninth as the Cards failed to capitalize on a leadoff walk.

The loss shouldn’t fall solely on La Russa, just as Wednesday’s blame shouldn’t center completely around Ron Washington. Motte cracked against the top of the Texas lineup and the Cardinals couldn’t escape the jam. Jaime Garcia was great. Allen Craig again came through. But the results, in the end, weren’t there.

The Rangers awoke in the ninth and stole this one. They shocked a rocking Busch Stadium crowd and surely sent a sting through the St. Louis clubhouse. The Fall Classic is now a essentially a five-game series, and three of those games will be played in Arlington, Texas over the next four days. Advantage: Rangers?

Report: Qualifying offer to be in the $18 million range

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According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, teams have been told that the qualifying offer to free agents this offseason will be in the $18 million range, likely $18.1 million. The value is derived by taking the average of the top 125 player salaries.

At $18.1 million, that would be $900,000 more than the previous QO, which was $17.2 million. This will impact soon-to-be free agents like Jake Arrieta, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, and Yu Darvish, among others. That also assumes that the aforementioned players aren’t traded, which would make them ineligible to receive qualifying offers. We’ve seen, increasingly, that teams aren’t willing to make a QO to an impending free agent and that trend is likely to continue this offseason.

The QO system was modified by the newest collective bargaining agreement. The compensatory pick for a team losing a player who declined a QO used to be a first-round pick. That was a penalty to both teams and players, which is why it was changed. Via MLB’s website pertaining to the QO:

A team that exceeded the luxury tax in the preceding season will lose its second- and fifth-highest selections after the first round in the following year’s Draft as well $1 million from its international bonus pool. If such a team signs multiple qualifying offer free agents, it will forfeit its third- and sixth-highest remaining picks as well.

A team that receives revenue sharing will lose its third-highest selection after the first round in the following year’s Draft. If it signs two such players, it will also forfeit its fourth-highest remaining pick.

A team that neither exceeded the luxury tax in the preceding season nor receives revenue sharing will lose its second-highest selection after the first round in the following year’s Draft as well as $500,000 from its international bonus pool. If it signs two such players, it will also forfeit its third-highest remaining pick.

Additionally, if a player who rejected a QO signs a guaranteed contract worth at least $50 million and came from a team that receives revenue sharing, that previous team will receive a compensatory pick immediately following the first round in the ensuing draft. If the contract is less than $50 million, that team will get a compensatory pick after Competitive Balance Round B. If the player’s team is over the luxury tax threshold, that team will receive a compensation pick following the fourth round. If that team neither exceeded the luxury tax nor receives revenue sharing, the compensation pick will come after Competitive Balance Round B.

Yeah, it’s a bit convoluted, but you do the best you can with a flawed system.

The Astros’ pursuit of Sonny Gray is “heating up”

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Jon Morosi of MLB Networks reports that talks are “heating up” between the Astros and Athletics on a Sonny Gray trade. Gray, obviously, would represent a big upgrade for the Astros’ rotation. He has a 3.66 ERA and has struck out 85 batters while walking 28 in 91 innings.

Morosi adds that Gray is not the only option for the Astros, as they are also talking to the Tigers about a potential acquisition of Justin Verlander and Justin Wilson. That would obviously be a much tougher deal to negotiate given Verlander’s 10/5 rights giving him veto power over any trade, not to mention the massive amount of money he’s still owed on his contract.

Also: I’m pretty sure that it’s in the MLB rules that any trade between the Tigers and the Astros has to involve Brad Ausmus, C.J. Nitkowski and Jose Lima, and that’s not possible given their current occupations and/or their deaths in 2010.