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.
With the 2017 World Baseball Classic around the corner, Team Israel has reportedly reached out to Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. Tournament rules stipulate that a player’s roster eligibility can be achieved in one of several ways: they were born in the country in question or hold citizenship/permanent legal residence there (or are simply capable of qualifying for citizenship), or one of their parents was born in the country or holds citizenship/permanent legal residence there.
For Kipnis, it’s the latter. Kipnis’ father, Mark Kipnis, is Jewish. That gives Kipnis the status he needs to suit up for Team Israel, despite the fact that he is a practicing Roman Catholic. He has yet to confirm or deny his participation in the competition.
Fifteen players have confirmed for Team Israel so far, including Mets’ infielder/outfielder Ty Kelly and free agents Sam Fuld, Nate Freiman, Jason Marquis and Jeremy Bleich. Per MLB.com’s Chad Thornburg, eight minor leaguers will also appear for the team. Like Kipnis, at least three other major leaguers are eligible for Team Israel’s roster but have yet to accept or decline involvement in the WBC: Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson, Mariners infielder/outfielder Danny Valencia and free agent left-hander Craig Breslow.
Free agent first baseman James Loney has reportedly signed a minor league deal with the Rangers, per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman. The deal includes an invite to spring training and a $1 million salary if he makes the major league roster in 2017.
Loney picked up a one-year stint and starting role with the Mets in 2016, slashing .265/.307/.397 with nine home runs in 336 PA. While his numbers were down a hair from the .280/.322/.357 batting line he produced with the Rays in 2015, he provided the Mets with a necessary, if underwhelming upgrade over an injured Lucas Duda through most of the season.
The 32-year-old infielder is expected to have some competition at first base, with at least five other candidates in the mix: Jurickson Profar, Ronald Guzman, Ryan Rua, Joey Gallo and Josh Hamilton. Rumor has it that the team is planning on platooning Rua and Profar in 2017, barring any impressive breakouts or injuries during spring training, though Loney could still provide the club with some veteran depth and a decent left-handed bat off the bench.