Pedro Alvarez

Pedro Alvarez flexing his muscle for Pirates

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Pedro Alvarez quietly tied for the NL lead with 36 home runs this year.

He quietly became the first Pirate in seven years to drive in 100 runs.

He quietly made the All-Star team for the first time.

He even pretty quietly went 4-for-8 with two homers as the Pirates beat the Reds last weekend to clinch home field in the wild card game.

Now Alvarez is going to start getting some more attention. After homering for the Pirates’ only run in Thursday’s Game 1 loss, he homered again and doubled Friday as Pittsburgh evened up the NLDS with a 7-1 victory over St. Louis.

It’s not so say that Alvarez is a star. He hit just .233 this year after slumping in the second half. His OBP, never a strong suit, tumbled from .317 in 2012 to .296 this year. The Pirates had him batting cleanup in the middle of the season, but he was dropped back down to the sixth spot following the Justin Morneau acquisition.

The problem is that Alvarez is just dreadful against left-handers. He hit .180 with three homers in 133 at-bats against them this year, compared to .249 with 33 homers against right-handers. His lifetime average versus southpaws is .200.

Alvarez is also limited at third base. Many figured he would have already made the move to first base by now. His defensive numbers, though, have gotten better since he entered the league, and no position switch seems likely to come in the near future, even though the Pirates will have first base open this winter.

Next year will be Alvarez’s age-27 season. If he doesn’t break through with a .260, 40-homer campaign then, it may never happen. Next year also figures to be his last season as a relatively cheap player; he’s arbitration eligible for the first time and likely to make somewhere around $4 million-$5 million. He’s a definite asset as is, but given his inconsistency and the possibility of more league-leading strikeout totals, he could be a risky long-term proposition. One imagines Alvarez’s showing this month will play in to whether he gets a nice multiyear contract offer from the Pirates this winter.

Dusty Baker on struggling Jonathan Papelbon: “He doesn’t look very good.”

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 24:  Jonathan Papelbon #58 of the Washington Nationals looks on after coming out in the ninth inning during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on July 24, 2016 in Washington, DC.  The Padres won 10-6.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
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The Nationals lost a heartbreaker on Tuesday night, as the Indians overcame a two-run deficit in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Nationals 7-6. Closer Jonathan Papelbon faced five batters but was unable to record an out, yielding a leadoff walk, a double, a bunt that ended up very successful due to a Ryan Zimmerman throwing error, an intentional walk, and a single. Oliver Perez came in and eventually allowed one of his inherited runners to score, saddling Papelbon with the loss.

Papelbon also served up four runs in the outing before Tuesday’s, on Saturday against the Padres. The two clubs entered the top of the ninth tied 6-6, but a walk followed by three two-out singles and a bases-clearing double off of Papelbon allowed the Padres to take a 10-6 lead.

On the season, Papelbon is 19-for-22 in save chances with a 4.18 ERA and a 30/12 K/BB ratio in 32 1/3 innings. If the season were to end today, the right-hander’s 21.4 percent strikeout rate would be the lowest mark of his career and his 8.6 percent walk rate would be his highest mark since 2010.

Manager Dusty Baker didn’t indicate that he’s going to make a change at closer, but he sounded dissatisfied with Papelbon’s performance thus far. Via Mark Zuckerberg of MASN, Baker said, “He doesn’t have his command, which is evident when you walk the leadoff hitter. But it’s like, what do you say? How does he look? Right now he doesn’t look like Pap. He doesn’t look very good. Usually he doesn’t walk people like that.”

The non-waiver trade deadline is on Monday, August 1. The Nationals, at 58-42, still have a four-game lead over the Marlins and a 4.5-game lead over the Mets. Tuesday’s loss has motivated the club to attempt to upgrade the bullpen, Jon Morosi reports. The Nationals were in the mix for Aroldis Chapman before the Yankees sent him to the Cubs. Perhaps Andrew Miller could be next on the Nats’ wish list.

Blue Jays trade Drew Storen to the Mariners for Joaquin Benoit

TORONTO, CANADA - MAY 29: Drew Storen #45 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch in the eleventh inning during MLB game action against the Boston Red Sox on May 29, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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The Blue Jays announced on Tuesday night that the club traded reliever Drew Storen and some cash to the Mariners in exchange for reliever Joaquin Benoit.

Storen, 28, was designated for assignment by the Jays on Sunday after posting a 6.21 ERA with a 32/10 K/BB ratio in 33 1/3 innings. The Jays acquired him during the offseason from the Nationals in exchange for Ben Revere and a player to be named later.

Benoit, 38, struggled as well, putting up a 5.18 ERA with a 28/15 K/BB ratio in 24 1/3 innings with the Mariners.