ALCS - Detroit Tigers v Boston Red Sox - Game Six

Red Sox emerge victorious in Game 6 of ALCS, will return to the World Series

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It was the Tigers’ game to lose, but ultimately, the Red Sox won it. Shane Victorino delivered a timely grand slam in the bottom of the seventh to give the Red Sox a three-run lead. In doing so, he tasked the sterling Red Sox bullpen with getting six outs to punch their ticket to the World Series. Craig Breslow and Koji Uehara were more than up for the task.

Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz was effective through five innings, but as he attempted to make his way through the Tiger lineup for a third time in the sixth, he wore down. It was to be expected, as he missed half the season due to bursitis in his right shoulder. Reliever Franklin Morales was of no help to Buchholz either, failing to strand runners that were on base for him when he entered the game with no outs.

But even after the Tigers took a 2-1 lead in the sixth inning, it felt like the Red Sox still had the momentum. The Tigers could have blown the game wide open, but Brandon Workman closed what was a gaping wound and got them out of trouble. As long as they could keep the game close, they knew they had a chance against the Tiger bullpen, which ranked among the worst in baseball during the regular season, and which they took advantage of previously in the series.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland kept starter Max Scherzer in the game to start the bottom of the seventh inning. The right-hander had worked his way out of several jams, getting strikeouts when he needed them most. It wasn’t to be after Jonny Gomes led off the inning with a double and Xander Bogaerts drew a one-out walk. Leyland went to his bullpen, asking them to preserve their one-run lead.

They couldn’t. Lefty Drew Smyly allowed a line drive up the middle to Jacoby Ellsbury,  mishandled by shortstop Jose Iglesias, loading the bases up with one out. Leyland brought in right-hander Jose Veras to pitch to Shane Victorino, who was once again a full-time right-handed hitter rather than a switch hitter. Veras got ahead of Victorino 0-2, but hung a curve ball that he wishes he could have back. Victorino smashed it into the stands in left field atop the Green Monster, taking the Red Sox from down 1-2 to ahead 5-2. In terms of odds, the Sox went from 63.5% underdogs at the end of the top of the seventh to 94 percent favorites after the grand slam.

From there, it was a matter of the Red Sox bullpen doing its job. Craig Breslow shut the Tigers down in the top of the eighth and Koji Uehara finished the job in the top of the ninth. Uehara struck out Iglesias with — what else — a splitter in the dirt, sending the Red Sox back to the World Series for the first time since 2007, when they swept the Rockies. They will match up against the Cardinals at home in Games 1 and 2, starting on Wednesday. It will be a rematch of the 2004 World Series, which the Red Sox won to break the 86-year-old “Curse of the Bambino”.

Cubs, Jake Arrieta avoid arbitration at $10.7 million

Jake Arrieta
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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The Associated Press is reporting that the Cubs and starter Jake Arrieta have avoided arbitration, agreeing to a $10.7 million salary for the 2016 season. That marks the highest salary on a one-year deal for a pitcher with four years of service, the AP notes. Arrieta and the Cubs were set to go before an independent arbitrator but now can simply focus on the season ahead.

Arrieta, 29, is in his second of three years of arbitration eligibility. He had filed for $13 million while the Cubs countered at $7.5 million. The $5.5 million gap was the largest among players who did not come to terms with their respective teams by the January deadline. The $10.7 million salary is $450,000 above the midpoint between the two submitted figures.

Arrieta won the National League Cy Young Award for his performance this past season, narrowly edging out Zack Greinke, then with the Dodgers. Arrieta led the majors with 22 wins, four complete games, and three shutouts. With that, he compiled a 1.77 ERA and a 236/48 K/BB ratio across 229 innings.

Once a top prospect in the Orioles’ minor league system, Arrieta struggled in the majors but found immediate success with the Cubs in 2013 after the O’s traded him along with Pedro Strop in exchange for Steve Clevenger and Scott Feldman.

Giants sign Conor Gillaspie to a minor league deal

Los Angeles Angels third baseman Conor Gillaspie is unable to hold on to the ball after catching a grounder hit by Kansas City Royals' Lorenzo Cain in the fourth inning of a baseball game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)
AP Photo/Colin E. Braley
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Per Baseball America’s Matt Eddy, the Giants have signed infielder Conor Gillaspie to a minor league deal. Gillaspie was selected by the Giants in the supplemental round of the 2008 draft, then was traded to the White Sox in February 2013.

Gillaspie, 28, hit a meager .228/.269/.359 with four home runs and 24 RBI in 253 plate appearances between the White Sox and Angels during the 2015 season. Almost all of his playing time has come at third base but he can also play first base if needed.

The Giants, thin on depth, will allow Gillaspie to audition in spring training for a spot on the 25-man roster.

Joe Nathan plans to pitch in 2016

Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Joe Nathan throws against the Chicago White Sox in the ninth inning of a baseball game in Detroit Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports that free agent reliever Joe Nathan, recovering from Tommy John surgery, plans to pitch in 2016 according to his agent Dave Pepe. According to Pepe, Nathan’s workouts are “going well” and the right-hander is “definitely planning on playing this year.”

Nathan, 41, got the final out on Opening Day (April 6) against the Twins before going on the disabled list with a flexor strain in his right elbow, causing him to miss the next 161 games. He will likely be able to contribute out of the bullpen in late May or early June if he has no setbacks. On a minor league deal or incentive-laden major league deal, Nathan could make for a low-risk gamble.

Over a 15-season career that dates back to 1999 (he did not pitch in the majors in 2001 or 2010), Nathan has 377 saves with a 2.89 ERA and a 967/340 K/BB ratio over 917 innings.

The Rays are considering reliever Tyler Clippard

New York Mets pitcher Tyler Clippard throws during the eighth inning of Game 4 of the National League baseball championship series against the Chicago Cubs Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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On Thursday, we learned that the Diamondbacks were still considering free agent reliever Tyler Clippard. You can add the Rays to the list as well, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.

The Rays traded lefty reliever Jake McGee to the Rockies in exchange for outfielder Corey Dickerson in late January, so Clippard would be able to slot right in behind closer Brad Boxberger. Clippard, 30, compiled a 2.92 ERA with 64 strikeouts and 31 walks over 71 innings in a season split between the Athletics and Mets. The strikeout rate was at its lowest since the right-hander become a full-time reliever in 2009, and his walk rate was at its highest since 2010, which may be a factor in his still being a free agent in February.