Red Sox trade John Lackey to Cardinals for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly

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Not satisfied with adding Justin Masterson to the rotation yesterday, the Cardinals have added another veteran starter by acquiring John Lackey from the Red Sox. And, much like Boston’s deal to get Yoenis Cespedes from Oakland for Jon Lester, the Red Sox have prioritized the present by getting veterans Allen Craig and Joe Kelly in exchange.

[MORE: Trade deadline tracker]

Not only has Lackey bounced back from a lost 2012 season with two consecutive solid years as a mid-rotation starter in Boston–posting a 3.55 ERA in 50 total starts since last season–he’s under contract for 2015 at the bargain price of $500,000 thanks to an odd wrinkle in his original deal with the Red Sox.

In return the Red Sox get a rotation replacement for Lackey in the 26-year-old Kelly, who has a 3.25 ERA in 38 career starts. However, his modest 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings in the National League are reason for skepticism that he’ll thrive long term, especially in the American League.

[MORE: Breaking down the Jon Lester-Yoenis Cespedes trade]

Craig had three straight excellent seasons for the Cardinals, hitting a combined .312 with an .863 OPS in 328 games from 2011-2013, but he’s collapsed this year at age 29 with a .638 OPS and has three years and $25 million left on his contract. St. Louis has stud prospect Oscar Taveras ready to replace Craig in the outfield and in the lineup.

Boston is betting on a big bounceback from Craig and Kelly’s ability to step into Lackey’s rotation spot with similar results. St. Louis is betting on Taveras developing into a star, Lackey being better than Kelly for the next one-and-a-half seasons, and Craig staying on the decline heading into his thirties. It’s a helluva interesting deal.

The Astros gave the Yankees an opening. Keuchel and Verlander will try to close the door.

Associated Press
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If Game 4 of the ALCS had been even remotely conventional, it’d stand at 3-1 in favor of Houston right now. The Yankees’ starter pitched well but got no run support. A mighty Astros team with an ordinarily good closer in Ken Giles had a 4-0 lead in the late innings. As the Yankees set out to mount a comeback, a base runner fell down in between first and second and should’ve been dead to rights. This is playoff baseball, however, so stuff, as they say, happens. The runner was safe, the closer struggled, the Yankees rallied and now we’re tied 2-2.

But are we even at 2-2?

On paper, no, because the Astros now will send Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander out in Games 5 and 6, and that gives them a clear advantage. Keuchel dominated the Yankees in Game 1, tossing seven scoreless innings and striking out ten batters. Verlander struck out 13 batters in a 124-pitch complete game in which he allowed only a single run. Beyond the mere facts of the box scores, however, the Yankees have looked profoundly overmatched by both of the Astros’ aces, in this postseason and on other occasions on which they’ve faced off against them. Most notably in the 2015 wild-card game at Yankee Stadium when Keuchel pitched six scoreless innings in the 3-0 victory.

But remember: stuff happens.

Stuff like Aaron Judge‘s and Gary Sanchez‘s bats waking up. The two most important sluggers in the Bombers lineup combined to go 3-for-6 with two doubles, a homer, a walk and five RBI in last night’s victory. Each of them had been silent for the first three games of the series but if they’re heating up, the Yankees will be a lot harder to pitch to.

Stuff like Masahiro Tanaka showing that he can tame the Astros’ lineup. Which he did pretty well in Game 1, giving up only two runs on four hits in six innings. He was overshadowed by Keuchel in that game, but it was a good performance against a strong lineup in a hostile environment. Tanaka pitches much better at Yankee Stadium than he does on the road, so don’t for a second think that the Astros bats will have an easy time of it today.

Stuff like the Yankees bullpen still being the Yankees bullpen. Yes, the Astros got to David Robertson yesterday, but it’s still a strong, strong group that gives the Yankees a clear advantage if the game is close late or if they hold a lead.

All of which is to say that we have ourselves a series, friends. While, 48 hours ago, it seemed like we were on our way to an Astros coronation, the Yankees have shown up in a major way in Games 3 and 4. If you’re an Astros fan you should feel pretty confident with Keuchel and Verlander heading into action over the next two games, but we have learned that absolutely nothing is guaranteed in the postseason.