Scott Kazmir is back and better than ever

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Scott Kazmir finished last season very strong with a 2.57 ERA and 43/4 K/BB ratio in five September starts and pitched well overall for the Indians, but when it came time to cash in as a free agent teams proved skeptical about his career being back on track after he fell all the way down to independent ball.

Kazmir ended up signing a two-year, $22 million deal with the A’s, which was less than half of what fellow free agent starters like Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, and Rickey Nolasco got and even a step below the money that went to clearly inferior talents like Scott Feldman and Jason Vargas.

Now the A’s look brilliant for taking the risk on Kazmir and the 30-year-old left-hander looks every bit like the dominant pitcher who starred for the Rays from 2004-2008. Last night Kazmir tossed seven innings of two-run ball against the Red Sox, improving to 9-2 with a 2.08 ERA on the season. Dating back to June 20 of last season–one calendar year–Kazmir has started 33 games with a 2.59 ERA and 187/44 K/BB ratio in 198 innings while allowing just 13 homers.

Kazmir went four years without being an effective big leaguer and two of those seasons without throwing a single pitch in the majors, but now at age 30 he looks as good as ever.

Astros clinch AL West for third consecutive year

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For the third consecutive season, the Astros are AL West champions. The ‘stros clinched the division on Sunday afternoon with a convincing 13-5 win over the Angels. They were backed by three homers from leadoff man George Springer and individual homers from Alex Bregman and Aledmys Díaz.

Springer has the 22nd three-homer game in baseball this season. He’s the first Astro to hit three homers in a game since Yordan Álvarez last month, on August 10.

Justin Verlander lasted five innings in Sunday’s start, yielding two runs on six hits and a pair of walks with five strikeouts. The right-hander is arguably the frontrunner for the AL Cy Young Award, now 20-6 with a 2.53 ERA and a 288/42 K/BB ratio in 217 innings on the year. Verlander is 12 strikeouts shy of the 300-strikeout milestone and six strikeouts short of 3,000 for his career. If the Astros stay on schedule, Verlander would pitch the second-to-last game of the regular season against the Angels.

Sunday’s win marked No. 102 on the season for the Astros. The franchise record is 103 wins set last year. With six games remaining, it seems likely the Astros will set a new record.

The Astros and Yankees both won on Sunday, meaning the Astros remain a half-game ahead in the race for home field advantage. The No. 1 seed will also have the privilege of playing the Wild Card winner, which is down to the Athletics, Rays, and Indians.