Red Sox near deal with Japanese left-hander Itsuki Shoda

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Patrick Newman of NPB Tracker passes along a Nikkan Sports report which says the Red Sox are expected to sign Japanese left-hander Itsuki Shoda to a minor league contract.

Alex Speier of WEEI.com translates the report, where Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein is quoted as saying a deal is near completion and that Shoda will report to minor league camp.

Shoda, 29, won the Rookie of the Year Award in 2002 after going 9-11 with a 3.45 ERA as a member of the Nippon Ham Fighters, but has had a difficult time replicating his early success. He was eventually traded to the Hanshin Tigers following the 2006 season, where he spent two seasons in the minor leagues. The southpaw has spent the past two seasons in Taiwan as a member of the Sinon Bulls. He went 11-5 with a 2.81 ERA last season, striking out 116 batters over 166 1/3 innings. As Speier notes, he is regarded as a curveball specialist.

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.