James McDonald is growing into the Pirates’ ace at age 27

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James McDonald pitched well for the Pirates in the one-and-a-half seasons after they acquired him from the Dodgers for Octavio Dotel in mid-2010, but so far this season he’s taken a major step forward at age 27 to emerge as a potential top-of-the-rotation starter.

McDonald threw 244 innings with a 4.15 ERA in 2010 and 2011, but after shutting out the Reds for eight innings Monday he now has a 2.20 ERA through 10 starts this year. And just as importantly his secondary numbers show a significant improvement that goes beyond ERA.

McDonald averaged 7.1 strikeouts and 4.0 walks per nine innings in 2010/2011, but this year he has 8.7 strikeouts and 2.6 walks per nine innings. He’s always had good raw stuff, but McDonald is throwing his straight fastball less and relying on his sinker/slider combination a lot more, resulting in 22 percent more missed bats and 10 percent more ground balls along with 35 percent fewer walks and a much better job keeping the ball in the ballpark.

Obviously 10 starts are just 10 starts, but McDonald’s performance looks much more like legitimate improvement than some sort of early season fluke and that would be a huge development in the Pirates’ never-ending quest for a winning record.

Astros, Red Sox announce lineups for ALCS Game 5

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The Red Sox are looking to punch their ticket to the World Series in Houston on Thursday night Game 5 of the ALCS. If they do, they’ll return to the Fall Classic for the first time since 2013, knocking out the defending champs in the process.

Red Sox

RF Mookie Betts
LF Andrew Benintendi
DH J.D. Martinez
SS Xander Bogaerts
1B Mitch Moreland
2B Ian Kinsler
3B Rafael Devers
C Christian Vázquez
CF Jackie Bradley, Jr.

SP David Price

Chris Sale is still feeling weak after his brief stint in the hospital earlier this week, so Price is getting the start instead. If the series goes to a Game 6, Sale would start.

The lineup is a little different than it was when they faced Verlander in Game 1. Moreland and Kinsler are new additions. Devers draws another start with Eduardo Núñez banged up.

Astros

3B Alex Bregman
RF George Springer
DH José Altuve
SS Carlos Correa
1B Yuli Gurriel
2B Marwín González
LF Tony Kemp
C Martin Maldonado
CF Jake Marisnick

SP Justin Verlander

Bregman hits leadoff again. He hasn’t hit for average — just .182 — but he has drawn seven walks across four games. González handles second base again as Altuve’s right knee remains sore. Marisnick is getting his first start of the postseason. He’s had just one plate appearance, coming in Game 2 of the ALDS and he struck out.