Red Sox acquire infielder Mike Aviles from Royals

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Worried about their infield depth with Jed Lowrie absent, the Red Sox acquired utilityman Mike Aviles from the Royals for infielder Yamaico Navarro and right-hander Kendal Volz on Saturday.

Aviles, who opened the season as the Royals’ primary third baseman, has hit .286/.317/.417 in 1,148 at-bats over the last four seasons.  He’s capable of playing shortstop in addition to second and third, though he’s not really an asset there.  What he does do is pummel lefties: he’s hit .296/.343/.464 against them in his career.

To bring in the insurance policy, the Red Sox surrendered Navarro, a 23-year-old who took a big step forward last year to turn himself into a candidate to start in the majors.  He had spent some time on Boston’s bench this year, hitting .216/.275/.351 in 37 at-bats.  Much more encouraging is his .265/.356/.486 line in 181 Triple-A at-bats the last two seasons.

Still, Navarro wasn’t ever likely to crack Boston’s lineup as a starter.  He may have more luck in Kansas City someday, though he will be behind Alcides Escobar at short and Mike Moustakas at third.  Having picked up some outfield time this year, he may prove to be a great fit in a super-utility role.

Volz didn’t rank among Boston’s better pitching prospects.  The 2009 ninth-round pick was moved to the pen at high-A Salem this year and had a 3.33 ERA and a 56/12 K/BB ratio in 51 1/3 innings.

Aviles will be arbitration eligible for the first time this winter.  The Red Sox will control his rights through 2014, so not only can he help out this year, but he can step in for free-agent-to-be Marco Scutaro next year.

Nationals’ starting pitching carrying them into World Series

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In my postseason preview at the end of September, I listed the Nationals’ starting rotation as a strength and their bullpen as a weakness. Anyone who had followed the club this season could have told you that. Even the Nats are aware of it as manager Dave Martinez has leaned on his rotation to hide his sometimes unreliable ‘pen.

In Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, Martinez was burned by his bullpen as Tanner Rainey, Fernando Rodney, and Hunter Strickland combined to allow six base runners and four runs. Martinez used ace Max Scherzer in relief in Game 2, sandwiched by Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. Starter Patrick Corbin pitched in relief in Game 3 and it backfired, but the bullpen after Corbin continued to allow more runs — three officially, but Wander Suero allowed two inherited runners to score on a three-run homer by Max Muncy. Martinez only had to rely on Doolittle and Hudson in Game 4 and he again went to Corbin in relief in Game 5.

The strategy was clear: use the actual bullpen as little as possible. If Martinez absolutely has to, Doolittle and Hudson get top priory by a country mile, followed by a starter, then the rest of the bullpen.

Thankfully for Martinez and the Nationals, the starting pitching has done yeoman’s work in the NLCS, jumping out to a three games to none series lead over the Cardinals. Aníbal Sánchez famously brought a no-hit bid into the eighth inning of Game 1, finally relenting a two-out single to José Martínez before his night was over. Doolittle got the final four outs in the 2-0 win. Max Scherzer flirted with a no-hitter in his Game 2 start as well, losing it when Paul Goldschmidt led off the seventh with a single. He was erased on an inning-ending double play. Doolittle, Corbin, and Hudson got the final six outs in the 3-1 victory.

It was more of the same in Game 3. While Stephen Strasburg didn’t flirt with a no-hitter, he was dominant over seven innings, yielding one unearned run on seven hits with no walks and 12 strikeouts. The Nats’ offense woke up, amassing eight runs through seven innings which allowed Martinez to give his main relief guys a night off. Rodney and Rainey each pitched a perfect inning of relief with two strikeouts in low-leverage situations, their first appearances in the NLCS.

The Nationals starting pitching has been outstanding by itself, but it has also had the secondary effect of allowing Martinez to hide his team’s biggest weakness. Now Martinez just has to hope for more of the same for one more game, then at least four more in the World Series.