The Indians entered tonight’s action with a half-game lead over the Rangers for the second Wild Card in the American League. The two teams have been trending in opposite directions, with the Rangers having lost nine of their last ten contests, while the Indians have won seven of their last nine. The Tribe sent lefty Scott Kazmir to the hill tonight to help defend their lead and bolster their post-season hopes.
Kazmir received some early run support, scoring three times in the first inning against Astros starter Lucas Harrell thanks to a Jason Kipnis sacrifice fly and a two-run home run by Michael Brantley. Lonnie Chisenhall added another run in the fourth inning with an RBI single.
Kazmir held the light-hitting Astros scoreless over seven innings of work, allowing a meager three hits and walking one while striking out ten. He lowered his ERA to 4.14 in the effort and logged his third multi-strikeout performance of the season. He was pulled in the eighth after allowing a lead-off double to L.J. Hoes. Cody Allen relieved Kazmir and ended the eighth without any damage. In the ninth, reliever Joe Smith allowed a two-out solo home run to Astros slugger Chris Carter to mar the shutout, but was able to eventually record the 27th out to wrap up the 4-1 victory.
The victory moves the Indians to 85-70 and will finish the night no worse than a half-game up on the Rangers, who are currently leading the Royals 3-0 as of this writing.
During the Pirates’ FanFest on Saturday, right-hander Gerrit Cole announced that he is back up to full health after being shut down with elbow inflammation in September. Per Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Cole said he’ll start a throwing program on Monday as he works on regaining his form for the 2017 season.
The 26-year-old pitched through 116 innings for the Pirates in 2016, delivering a 3.88 ERA and 2.5 WARP before landing on the disabled list in June with a triceps strain and again in August with elbow inflammation. It was a steep drop for the right-hander, who saw a considerable spike in his ERA and BB/9 rate and struggled to strike out batters at the 8.7 mark he managed in 2015.
The upside? Inflammation was the worst of Cole’s issues in 2016, and while the newfound health issues didn’t help his case for an extension, a more serious injury doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.
The Astros, Braves and Nationals came sniffing around White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana during the Winter Meetings, but each appeared to find the Sox’ asking price well beyond what they were willing to give up for the starter. On Saturday, Peter Gammons revealed that the White Sox had floated Francis Martes, Kyle Tucker and Joe Musgrove as a possible return for Quintana.
It’s a strategy that worked well for Chicago in the past, most recently when they dealt Chris Sale to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, among others, and flipped Adam Eaton to the Nationals for a trio of pitching prospects. Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow didn’t appear eager to sacrifice some of his core talent to net a high-end starter, however, and told the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan as much on Wednesday:
We’re prepared to trade players to improve our club right now. […] We’re just not prepared to trade away players that are core to our production in 2017, and those are sometimes the players that are required to get these deals done.
While Lunhow was speaking specifically to the inclusion of third baseman Alex Bregman in future deals, it’s not unrealistic to think that top prospects Francis Martes and Kyle Tucker would also be considered instrumental to the Astros’ plans for the next few seasons.
Martes, 21, currently sits atop the team’s top prospect list on MLB.com. The right-hander blazed through his first full season in Double-A Corpus Christi, posting a 3.30 ERA and career-best 9.4 K/9 over 125 1/3 innings in 2016. Tucker, meanwhile, profiles as the Astros’ second-best prospect and made a successful jump to High-A Lancaster last season, slashing .339/.435/.661 in 69 PA. Rookie right-hander Joe Musgrove is the only player left off the top prospect list, but he got off to a decent start with the club in 2016 as well, going 4-4 with a 4.06 ERA and 3.44 K/BB rate in 62 innings during his first major league season.