A.J. Burnett pitches Pirates within one game of home field advantage in the NL Wild Card playoff

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Pirates starter and potential upcoming retiree A.J. Burnett shut the Reds down over eight solid innings of work, allowing just one run on five hits and a walk while striking out six. The lone run came on a Todd Frazier solo home run in the fourth.

Homer Bailey wasn’t sharp, allowing four runs on four hits and four walks while striking out three in five innings. The Pirates scored twice in the third on Marlon Byrd’s two-run single to left and twice in the sixth on Pedro Alvarez’s two-run homer. The Cincinnati bullpen did their part to keep the game close, but Burnett was just too good, lowering his ERA on the season to 3.30.

Jason Grilli entered the game in the ninth and worked around two lead-off singles to record his 33rd save of the season.

The win moves the Pirates to 92-68, two games ahead of the Reds, meaning that a win either tomorrow or Sunday will give the Pirates home-field advantage in the NL Wild Card playoff game. As Travis Sawchik explained in a column posted last night, home-field advantage could prove to be an important asset to the Pirates specifically. Francisco Liriano projects to be the starter and he carries a 1.47 home ERA compared to a 4.32 road ERA.

Royals sign Drew Storen to minor league deal

Drew Storen
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The Royals are in agreement with right-handed reliever Drew Storen on a minor league deal, the team announced Friday. Per Jon Heyman of MLB Network, the deal is worth $1.25 million if the veteran righty breaks camp with the club this spring. Additional, albeit unspecified incentives will be included in the contract as well.

Storen, 31, is coming off of a protracted absence from any MLB duties. After inking a one-year deal with the Reds in 2017, he sustained a right elbow sprain toward the end of the year and underwent Tommy John surgery that October. He was effectively decommissioned for the club’s entire 2018 run and generated little interest around the league this winter, perhaps due in part to the uninspired 4.45 ERA, 3.8 BB/9, 7.9 SO/9, and career-low -0.2 fWAR he posted across 54 2/3 innings during his last healthy season.

While it’s not immediately clear what kind of performance the Royals can expect from Storen in spring training, they’re not exactly in a position to be choosy. Their bullpen ranked dead last among all MLB teams with a collective 5.04 ERA, 4.85 FIP, and -2.2 fWAR last year, and still appears to be in a state of flux as they approach Opening Day. Skipper Ned Yost told reporters Wednesday that he intends to eschew the traditional closer appointment in 2019 and will instead utilize a combination of right-handers Wily Peralta and Brad Boxberger, lefty Tim Hill, and various others as he tackles high-leverage situations in the future.