Hisashi Iwakuma continues to quietly dominate

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It’s tough to get much attention when AL ERA leader Felix Hernandez is your teammate, but Hisashi Iwakuma is quietly emerging as a formidable sidekick at the top of the Mariners’ rotation.

Iwakuma gave up two runs over seven innings last night in a 6-3 win over the Athletics. The 32-year-old struck out nine and walked none while retiring 16 batters in a row at one point. Brooks Baseball notes that he had 12 swings and misses, including five on his splitter, which has emerged as a legitimate weapon during his brief time in the majors.

Just to give you a sense of how good Iwakuma has been this season, his ERA actually went up from 1.61 to 1.74 with last night’s start. Still, he hasn’t allowed more than three runs in any of his eight starts this season and owns a stingy 51/8 K/BB ratio over 51 2/3 innings. His 0.74 WHIP is the best in the American League. And to think, he has pitched most of the season with a blister on the middle finger of his throwing hand.

Iwakuma’s dominance actually dates back to last season, as he has a 2.33 ERA in 24 starts since moving to the rotation last July. Only Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Harvey, and Kris Medlen have a lower ERA in the same timespan. It’s unlikely that he’ll be able to maintain his .198 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and 84.4 percent strand rate, so some regression should be expected, but the Mariners’ decision to keep him around on a two-year, $14 million deal looks pretty smart right now.

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).