Nationals’ Matt Williams selected as NL Manager of the Year

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Rookie skipper Matt Williams, who led the Nationals to a first-place finish in the NL East, got 18 of the 30 first-place votes to claim NL Manager of the Year honors in balloting released Tuesday.

Williams topped Pittsburgh’s Clint Hurdle (eight first-place votes) and San Francisco’s Bruce Bochy (three first-place votes) for the award. He was named on 25 of the 30 ballots, compared to 24 for Hurdle and just 12 for Bochy. Marlins manager Mike Redmond got the other first-place vote, that coming from a Miami writer (Luis E. Rangel).

Voting, of course, took place for Williams made a mess of the NLDS in a loss to the Giants. The Nationals improved from 86-76 in their final year under Davey Johnson to 96-66 with Williams at the helm. Still, expectations were plenty high going in, with most predicting the Nationals would win the NL East. Williams is likely being credited for his handling of the clubhouse, in particular his benching of Bryce Harper for not running out a groundout in April. He did a fine job of handling the closer switch in September when Rafael Soriano fell apart.

Still, it’s hard to believe any of the writers who voted for Williams would currently say anyone except Bochy is the NL’s best manager. His Giants won their third World Series in five years last month, doing so with less frontline talent than the Nationals possessed. Voting was done before the postseason, but it’s bizarre that 60 percent of the voters couldn’t find room for him on their ballots.

Astros push ALCS to Game 7 with 7-1 stunner against Yankees

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There’s just something about playing in your home ballpark. The Astros decimated the Yankees at Minute Maid Park on Friday, riding seven scoreless innings from Justin Verlander and a pair of big runs from Jose Altuve to win 7-1 and force a Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

Through the first four innings, however, the teams looked equally matched. Luis Severino no-hit the Astros through 3 2/3 innings, losing his bid on Carlos Correa‘s line drive single in the fourth. The Astros returned in the fifth to do some real damage, drawing two walks and plating the first run of the night with Brian McCann‘s ground-rule double off of the right field wall. Things didn’t get any easier for Severino. Jose Altuve lined a two-RBI base hit into left field, upping Houston’s advantage to three runs.

Verlander, meanwhile, muted the Yankees’ offense with seven innings of five-hit, eight-strikeout ball. While he didn’t come close to matching his complete game effort in Game 2, he was still plenty dominant against a struggling New York lineup. No player reached past first base until the sixth inning, when a pair of base hits from Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees their first runner in scoring position. That didn’t last long, though, as Gary Sanchez grounded out on a 3-0 slider to end the inning.

In the seventh, Houston’s ace got into another spot of trouble. He walked Greg Bird on six pitches to start the inning, then plunked Starlin Castro on the wrist. Aaron Hicks struck out, in part thanks to a questionable call by home plate umpire Jim Reynolds, but it was Todd Frazier who presented the biggest threat after returning an 0-1 fastball for a 403-foot fly out to left field. Luckily for Verlander, George Springer was there to bail him out with a leaping catch at the wall.

The Yankees kept things exciting in the eighth, too. Aaron Judge ripped his third postseason home run off of Brad Peacock, taking a 425-footer out to the train in left field to spoil the Astros’ shutout. That was the only real break the Yankees got, however, as Altuve, Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis returned in the bottom of the inning to tack on another four runs, including Altuve’s solo shot off of David Robertson:

Ken Giles handled the ninth, expending 23 pitches and giving up a base hit and a walk before retiring Frazier and Headley to end the game. Thanks to Houston’s winning efforts, the two teams will compete in their first seven-game Championship Series since 2004 — and this time, at least one of them is guaranteed to come away with a win.

Game 7 of the ALCS is set for Saturday at 8:00 PM ET. Houston right-hander Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA) is scheduled to face southpaw CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA).