Olney: Phillies discussed Howard-Pujols swap

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howard pujols.JPGHere’s the craziest thing you’ll read all week (and it’s only Sunday):  According to ESPN.com’s Buster Olney, the Phillies at one point kicked around the idea of offering Ryan Howard to the Cardinals for slugger Albert Pujols. 

Inside Olney’s oddly-formed story we get a flat-out denial of any such talks from Philadelphia GM Ruben Amaro Jr., so it’s safe to say discussions are not ongoing (and may have never actually started).  Even if the Phillies threw around the thought internally, it’s not exactly a fair swap and we highly doubt Cardinals GM John Mozeliak would even hear the idea through.  Howard is an excellent player, but he’s a couple of months older than Pujols and not nearly as valuable. 

Pujols, who turned 30 in January, has a .334/.427/.628 career batting line and is widely regarded as one of the top defensive first basemen in the National League.  Howard, 30 in November, has a .279/.376/.586 career batting line and isn’t nearly as solid in the field.

Sure, Pujols is headed for free agency and is likely to command one of the richest contracts in sports history, but you pay for what you get.  Albert’s stat lines over his first nine major league seasons rank among the finest marks in the game’s 120-plus years of existence.  Thanks for the fun, Buster.  Is it April yet?

Astros clinch postseason berth with 11-3 win over Angels

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No surprise here: The Astros are headed back to the postseason to defend their title following a landslide 11-3 win over the Angels on Friday. This figures to be their third playoff run since 2015, though they have yet to wrap up the AL West with a division title.

First baseman Yuli Gurriel led the charge on Friday, smashing a grand slam in the first inning and tacking on a two-run homer in the second and RBI single in the fifth to help the Astros to a seven-run lead. The Angels eventually returned fire, first with Mike Trout‘s 418-foot homer in the sixth, then with an RBI hit from Francisco Arcia in the seventh, but they couldn’t close the gap in time to overtake the Astros.

On the mound, right-hander Gerrit Cole clinched his 15th win of the year after holding the Angels to seven innings of three-run, 12-strikeout ball. His sixth strikeout of the night — delivered on an 83.1-MPH knuckle curveball to Kaleb Cowart — also marked the 1,000th strikeout of his career to date. He was backed by flawless performances by lefty reliever Tony Sipp and rookie right-hander Dean Deetz, both of whom turned in scoreless innings as the offense barreled toward an 11-3 finish with Jake Marisnick‘s sac bunt and George Springer‘s three-run shot in the eighth.

Despite having qualified for the playoffs, the Astros still carry a magic number of 6 as they look to clinch a third straight division title. They’re currently up against the Athletics, who entered Friday’s contest against the Twins just four games back of first place in the AL West.