Fake trade: Carlos Lee for Derek Lowe

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Braves acquire OF Carlos Lee from the Astros for RHP Derek Lowe and OF Brandon Jones.
Why it works for Atlanta: the Braves would love to bring Tim Hudson back, yet they already have five starters in Lowe, Javier Vazquez, Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson and Kenshin Kawakami. One of the vets needs to go, and the Braves could surely use some right-handed power in return. Enter Lee, who has three years and $55.5 million left on his contract. He’s not an ideal choice, given that the Braves could have an inexpensive and productive Nate McLouth-Jordan Schafer-Jason Heyward outfield in 2011. However, he’d look awfully nice in the middle of the order next year and the Braves probably aren’t going to be able to move Lowe without taking another large contract in return.
Why it works for Houston: the Astros finished 13th in the NL in ERA and 14th in runs scored this season, so they need help any way they can get it. Lee’s poor defense in left field really cuts into his value, and there’s a good case to be made for Lowe, as a consistent 200-inning-per-year guy, as the better property even before salary gets factored in. Lowe, like Lee, is signed through 2012, but the Astros would save $3.5 million per year by making the deal. It’s money that could be used to shore up the infield defense. That’s something they need to do anyway, but it’d be a must with a sinkerballer like Lowe in the rotation. They’d also get a possible fourth outfielder in Jones, who hit .281/.360/.419 in Triple-A this season.
Why it won’t happen: Lee has a no-trade clause through the end of next year, and he owns a ranch outside of Houston. He might want to stick around even if he realizes that the Braves are in a much better position to contend next year. The Astros have already foolishly committed $3 million to Brian Moehler, a pitcher who wouldn’t have much business remaining in the rotation with Lowe around. The Braves are concerned about their defense, which is one reason they didn’t pursue Adam Dunn when he was served to them on a platter last winter. They’ll likely focus on finding short-term upgrades for the offense.

Red Sox look to punch their ticket to the World Series tonight

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Thanks to some amazing defense, some big hits and — to continue to beat this horse, a bad call by Joe West — the Red Sox have a 3-1 lead in the ALCS and look to clinch the AL Pennant tonight down in Houston.

If you believe in momentum, you’d have to say it’s on Boston’s side. If you believe that momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher, however, you’d have to say things favor Houston more than the standing of the series would suggest. All of which makes me wish Game 5 was starting right now, because it figures to be a tense and exciting affair.

ALCS Game 5

Red Sox vs. Astros
Ballpark: Minute Maid Park
Time: 8:09 PM Eastern
TV: TBS
Pitchers: David Price vs. Justin Verlander
Breakdown:

If someone told you that you had to win one baseball game against the Martians to save the human race, you could do far worse than calling on Justin Verlander to be your starting pitcher. Among the pitchers still in the postseason, he’d almost certainly be your choice right now.

Does Verlander himself appreciate the situation? This is what he said about that yesterday:

“I mean, these are all must-win games at this point. Every time you take the mound I don’t think there’s any difference whether it’s 2-2 or 3-1.”

Look, we’re asking him to beat the Martians here, not win the National Math Bee, so let’s let that go. The point is that after all of these years he’s still one of the most dominant pitchers in the game and after the exhausting, see-saw battle of Game 4, he stands the best chance of giving Houston what it needs: a quick, quiet and drama-free win.

Not that the Red Sox are likely to roll over for that. They didn’t the first time they faced Verlander in this series. They Astros won, yes, and Verlander limited them to two runs on two hits. But he also issued four walks and wasn’t his sharpest overall. Boston didn’t capitalize on his mistakes as best they could, but he’s not invincible.

For Boston it’s David Price. He allowed four runs on five hits and four walks over four and two-thirds innings in Game 2, not factoring in the decision. That’s not great, but given the talk leading up to that game being all about how Price is a postseason flop, the fact that the Sox won it in the end had to bouy him at least a little. As does the fact that, here, tonight, it’s not 100% on his shoulders. Sure, the Sox want to close this out, but with a 3-1 lead there is less pressure on Price than on his former teammate Verlander. Worth noting, though: Price is on short rest and warmed up in the bullpen last night in case he was needed to bail out Craig Kimbrel. He may not go deep into this game.