Pirates announce Joel Hanrahan will begin season as closer

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Joel Hanrahan entered camp as the favorite to claim ninth-inning duties in Pittsburgh and the Pirates wasted little time making it official, announcing this afternoon that he’ll begin the season as closer.

While his 3.62 ERA last season may appear mediocre, Hanrahan had a breakout season with 100 strikeouts and a .221 opponents’ batting average in 70 innings. Among all pitchers with at least 50 innings last season only Carlos Marmol (16.0) and Billy Wagner (13.5) racked up more strikeouts per nine innings than Hanrahan (12.9)

He also cut down on his walks, handing out a career-low 3.4 free passes per nine innings, and served up just six homers in 294 plate appearances. Hanrahan lacks closer experience, but he certainly doesn’t lack closer stuff. Pittsburgh may not have a ton of late leads to protect, but with left-hander Evan Meek (2.14 ERA, 70/31 K/BB ratio in 80 innings) setting up Hanrahan the back of the bullpen should be one of their few strengths.

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.