Nelson Cruz, baseball’s $8 million man, ends May at 20 HR, 52 RBI

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Nelson Cruz was jobless into the month of February, after spring training had already begun. Cruz had rejected the Rangers’ $14.1 million qualifying offer back in November, and remained unsigned through the winter because of the draft pick compensation to which he was attached. Finally, the Orioles relented, signing him to a one-year, $8 million deal on February 22.

Just over three months later, Cruz is baseball’s home run and RBI leader with 20 and 52, respectively. Cruz ended the month of May with a home run and three runs batted in against the Astros, and is slashing a cool .315/.383/.675. If not for Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion, Cruz would be a frontrunner for AL Player of the Month honors, as he has belted 13 home runs and knocked in 27 runs in May. Encarnacion is at 16 and 33 on the month, respectively.

As our own Drew Silva pointed out on Twitter, Cruz is on pace for 60 HR and 156 RBI. Should he keep it up, he would set the Orioles’ club record for RBI in a single season, surpassing Ken Williams’ 155 in 1922 with the St. Louis Browns. Miguel Tejada holds the modern Orioles record with 150 in 2002. Chris Davis drove in 138 last season.

Sox, Astros look to take a lead, Brewers look to take command in tonight’s LCS action

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The Red Sox and Astros felt each other out for Games 1 and 2 and now things shift to Houston for Game 3. Each team faces a challenge of sorts here, with the Astros facing a right-handed starter for the first time in the series — they have hit better against lefties on the season — and the Red Sox entering the game with some questions about their bullpen, particularly closer Craig Kimbrel. Also of note: each team has a big bit — Jose Altuve and J.D. Martinez — which has been cold thus far. Altuve has gone 1-for-8 in the first two games and Martinez is 0-for-7. Altuve is nursing a sore right knee and may be the DH this afternoon. Martinez, of course, will DH for Boston. It’ll be interesting to see if either one of ’em gets of the schneid.

In Los Angeles, the Brewers would take a commanding 3-1 lead with a victory tonight. As noted below, things are set up nicely for them from a pitching perspective, having basically everyone available in what will be, essentially, a bullpen game. The Dodgers have a traditional starter on the mound in Rich Hill, but since Walker Buehler went seven innings and Dave Roberts did not have to use his top relief arms, he’ll likely be calling down to the pen earlier than usual as well. Indeed, expect him to pull out all the stops he can to avoid falling into a 1-3 hole in this best-of-seven series.

Your viewing guide:

ALCS Game 3

Red Sox vs. Astros
Ballpark: Minute Maid Park
Time: 5:09 PM Eastern
TV: TBS
Pitchers: Nathan Eovaldi vs. Dallas Keuchel
Breakdown:

Eovaldi is coming off seven innings of one-run ball with five strikeouts and no walks in his Game 3 start against the Yankees in the ALDS. Earlier this year he faced the Astros when he was still with the Rays — as you probably heard by now, that didn’t go too well — but he’s been solid as a rock for Boston since the beginning of September, not allowing more than two runs in any start and blanking the opposition three times. Keuchel is working on seven days of rest since giving up two runs over five innings in his Game 3 of the ALDS. Sometimes people say guys with sinking stuff like his do worse with more rest but I feel like every time I’ve heard that for the past decade, a guy like him has either been just fine on extra rest or has gotten shelled on the allegedly good short rest they get. It’s mostly noise. So much small sample stuff this time of year is noise. Including the fact that Keuchel is 0-1 with a 9.15 ERA over four appearances against the Sox in his career. People say that stuff to have something to say. Like I just did.

NLCS Game 4

Brewers vs. Dodgers
Ballpark: Dodger Stadium
Time: 9:09 PM Eastern
TV: FS1
Pitchers: Gio Gonzalez vs. Rich Hill
Breakdown:

Gio Gonzalez will start the game, but as was the case in Game 1 when Gonzalez pitched just two innings, look for him to be an opener here once again. In Game 1 Craig Counsell used seven pitchers, with Brandon Woodruff going two innings and Josh Hader going three. Hader pitched yesterday but it was only two-thirds of an inning in which he only threw eight pitches, so expect to see him once again. The Dodgers, blanked yesterday, will need to show that they can do something against the Brewers’ best or this thing isn’t going back to Milwaukee for a Game 6 or 7. As for their starter, Rich Hill hasn’t pitched in eight days, last going four and a third against the Braves in the NLDS, allowing two runs. He’ll be pitching to Austin Barnes after Yasmani Grandal’s boo-inspiring performance in the postseason thus far sends him to the pine.