Pedro Alvarez is becoming unplayable at third base

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Pedro Alvarez’s 24th error of the year didn’t cost the Pirates in Saturday’s 8-3 win over the Diamondbacks, but one wonders if it might have been the final straw. After the game, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review beat writer Rob Biertempfel quoted Pirates GM Neal Huntington saying that all options are open right now and that “everything will be taken into consideration.” Biertempfel added that he’ll be very surprised if a roster move isn’t made in an effort to give more stability at third base.

Alvarez was never a particularly strong fielder anyway, but his throwing problems have never been this bad they’re the cause of him leading the majors in errors (no one else has more than 18). He’s also been a disappointment offensively, with a modest 15 homers and .402 slugging percentage this year, though his OBP is up to .322 at least (he had a .296 OBP while hitting 36 homers and driving in 100 runs last year).

The Pirates declined to move Alvarez to first base last winter, even though they had no luck trying to replace Justin Morneau in free agency or through a trade; they opened the season with Gaby Sanchez at first and later traded for Ike Davis. Having Alvarez replace Davis now is a possibility, but it wouldn’t necessarily make the team any better. Alvarez is currently hitting .247/.338/.434 with 37 RBI in 279 AB against righties, compared to .250/.365/.390 with 33 RBI in 236 AB for Davis. And Alvarez probably would be a downgrade defensively, at least initially. Neither should be playing against left-handers.

What is a given is that the Pirates are best off with Josh Harrison at third base right now. Harrison’s .330/.341/.498 line is almost certainly a fluke, but he’s so much better defensively than Alvarez that he doesn’t have to hit like that to remain an upgrade. The Pirates, though, like to use Harrison at other positions as well, so they may look to add another third base option rather than commit to Harrison there. They also have former White Sox prospect Brent Morel up, but he seems unlikely to stick after hitting a subpar .246/.318/.342 in Triple-A. He’s 3-for-16 so far in the majors.

UPDATE: The roster move has come, though it’s probably not quite what Pirates fans were looking for: Jayson Nix was signed to a one-year deal and Morel was sent back down to Triple-A. Nix had just been let go by Tampa Bay after hitting .274/.341/.411 in 190 at-bats for Triple-A Durham.

Umpire Cory Blaser made two atrocious calls in the top of the 11th inning

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The Astros walked off 3-2 winners in the bottom of the 11th inning of ALCS Game 2 against the Yankees. Carlos Correa struck the winning blow, sending a first-pitch fastball from J.A. Happ over the fence in right field at Minute Maid Park, ending nearly five hours of baseball on Sunday night.

Correa’s heroics were precipitated by two highly questionable calls by home plate umpire Cory Blaser in the top half of the 11th.

Astros reliever Joe Smith walked Edwin Encarnación with two outs, prompting manager A.J. Hinch to bring in Ryan Pressly. Pressly, however, served up a single to left field to Brett Gardner, putting runners on first and second with two outs. Hinch again came out to the mound, this time bringing Josh James to face power-hitting catcher Gary Sánchez.

James and Sánchez had an epic battle. Sánchez fell behind 0-2 on a couple of foul balls, proceeded to foul off five of the next six pitches. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Sánchez appeared to swing and miss at an 87 MPH slider in the dirt for strike three and the final out of the inning. However, Blaser ruled that Sánchez tipped the ball, extending the at-bat. Replays showed clearly that Sánchez did not make contact at all with the pitch. James then threw a 99 MPH fastball several inches off the plate outside that Blaser called for strike three. Sánchez, who shouldn’t have seen a 10th pitch, was upset at what appeared to be a make-up call.

The rest, as they say, is history. One pitch later, the Astros evened up the ALCS at one game apiece. Obviously, Blaser’s mistakes in a way cancel each other out, and neither of them caused Happ to throw a poorly located fastball to Correa. It is postseason baseball, however, and umpires are as much under the microscope as the players and managers. Those were two particularly atrocious judgments by Blaser.