Cubs blow ninth-inning lead then rally to beat Giants

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Starlin Castro homered in the fifth and played hero in the ninth, delivering a game-winning double as the Cubs avoided what would have been an ugly loss and defeated the Giants 4-3.

The Giants scored all three of their runs off new Cubs closer Kyuji Fujikawa in the ninth, taking Matt Cain off the hook and erasing a strong outing from Carlos Villanueva.

However, Sergio Romo, who was a perfect 6-for-6 in save chances this year, couldn’t hold the lead. He surrendered a rare homer to switch-hitter Dioner Navarro — just the fourth homer he’s ever allowed to a left-handed hitter — and then gave up two more hits, including Castro’s game-ender.

Some thoughts:

– Villanueva is the game’s unluckiest pitcher 12 days in. He left with a 5-1 lead over the Braves in his first start, only to see that blown. Today, his relievers needed to get just five outs, but still couldn’t hold a 2-0 lead. That’s left Villanueva 0-0 despite a 0.64 ERA.

– Castro could have ended the game 20 minutes earlier if he wanted. Hunter Pence hit what appeared to be a rally-killing double play ball Castro’s way in the top of the ninth, but Castro, even though he was as close to third as he was to second, went with an underhand toss to Alberto Gonzalez. The relay ended up being a bit slow, allowing Pence to barely beat it out.

– Castro also chose not to run on his game-ending double to the wall in center, thinking it was a homer. It didn’t matter a whole lot — the runner at first base was the one that mattered — but the game’s outcome would have still been in doubt had David DeJesus not come all of the way around to score.

– The homer hit by Navarro was an incredible oddity. Romo had allowed just three homers in 290 at-bats against left-handers previously, and the switch-hitting Navarro had homered off righties once every 65 at-bats, compared to once every 29 at-bats versus lefties.

– Before he became a closer, Romo was really more of a righty specialist in the San Francisco pen, often sharing innings with Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez. His numbers against lefties were still terrific, but part of that is because he wasn’t typically getting to face the good ones. That’s changing now that the ninth inning is his alone, so it will be interesting to see if he proves more vulnerable to lefties.

Buyers and Sellers at the Trade Deadline: American League West

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With Manny Machado’s trade completed, the rest of baseball can now turn its attention to the non-blue chip players on the market.

Yesterday, in our look-ahead to the second half, we mentioned some of the top players likely to be made available. Today we look at each team to see who is buying, who is selling, what they’re seeking and what they have to offer. Note: almost every contender, always, needs relief help.

As a reminder, the non-waiver Trade Deadline is July 31. Players traded after that date but before August 31 need to pass through waivers unclaimed before they can be traded. All players traded before August 31 are eligible to be on their new team’s playoff roster should they make the postseason.

Next up, the American League West:

Astros
Status: Buyers, but nothin’ too fancy.
Wanted: They, like all contenders, could use a bullpen arm, but they’re not in dire straits in that regard or anything. They certainly won’t deal top prospects to get one. They have to like where they are right now, especially given that both the Mariners and the Athletics have outperformed their Pythagorean record, suggesting they’ve already thrown their hardest punch. Note: people said the Astros would stand pat last year too and all they did was go out and get Justin Freakin’ Verlander, so take this analysis with a Dead Sea’s worth of salt.

Mariners
Status: Buyers. Jerry Dipoto is always wheelin’ and dealin’.
Wanted: A starter would be key, as the M’s front four have pitched a lot of innings. They could also use some relief help even though Dipoto has overhauled the bullpen in the past year or so. Seems that, sometimes, overhauls don’t make things as good as new. Robinson Cano comes back in mid-August and that’s like getting a free bat at the deadline, but he’ll be ineligible for the playoffs and his return may create some positional musical chairs for the M’s, meaning that they probably shouldn’t say no to at least hearing teams out on offers of bats, should they come.

Athletics
Status: Buyers, surprisingly. I don’t even think they thought they’d be in the Wild Card hunt. Heck, the vast majority of preseason coverage of this team assumed that they’d be shopping Jed Lowrie and Jonathan Lucroy at this point right now. Heck, I figured they signed Lucroy for that express purpose.
Wanted: Probably pitching. Who doesn’t need pitching? The question is what the A’s will give up. See above point about not expecting to be in this position.

Angels
Status: Sellers, but reluctant ones. The Angels loaded for bear this year but injuries have just curb-stomped them. Even their biggest trade chit — Garrett Richards — is hurt.
For Sale: Some relievers mostly.  Blake ParkerCam Bedrosian and Justin Anderson come to mind. They’d buy if they could but their farm system is a mess. It’s just the worst of both worlds for a team that could’ve done so much better this year.

Rangers
Status: Sellers
For Sale: Cole Hamels is the most obvious candidate to be traded, but they’ll listen to offers on most of their players. Even Adrian Beltre has said he’d be willing to waive his no-trade rights for a contender.