Joakim Soria’s struggles should have Royals worried

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For a long time Joakim Soria was a rare bright spot on terrible Royals teams, closing out their few late-inning leads with dominance, but now that the Royals are playing a little better and the influx of young talent has started migrating to Kansas City he’s struggling.

Soria blew a save and took a loss yesterday, allowing three runs to the Orioles as his ERA ballooned to 5.18. Early season ERA figures can be misleading, particularly for relievers with just 15-20 innings, but Soria’s other numbers paint a similarly gloomy picture.

Prior to this season he struck out 9.9 batters per nine innings, but that has dropped to 6.1 per nine innings so far this year. Similarly his walk rate has risen from 2.5 per nine innings to 4.7 per nine innings. And he’s allowed opponents to hit .268 with a .774 OPS after previously holding them to .197 with a .546 OPS.

Twenty bad innings hardly means Soria is washed up at age 27, but his ERA rising from 2.01 to 5.18 while his secondary numbers all collapse and his average fastball velocity falls from 91.9 miles per hour to 90.3 mph is worrisome for an improving team that may soon have a whole lot more late-inning leads for their stud closer to protect. Remarkably, if you remove Soria’s numbers the rest of the Royals’ bullpen has a 3.79 ERA.

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.