Blue Jays pick up option on Josh Thole; decline on Justin Smoak, Brandon Morrow, Dustin McGowan

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It’s all Blue Jays, all the time at HardballTalk today.

The Blue Jays announced this afternoon that they have exercised their $1.75 million club option on Josh Thole for 2015 while declining options on Justin Smoak ($3.65 million), Brandon Morrow ($10 million), and Dustin McGowan ($4 million).

Smoak is the most noteworthy one in this bunch, as he was just claimed off waivers from the Mariners earlier this week. While the Blue Jays declined his option, he is still under team control for one more season and will now go through the arbitration process. He’s expected to fill the role of Adam Lind, who was traded to the Brewers today.

Morrow will receive a $1 million buyout and become a free agent. The 30-year-old has great potential, but injuries have limited him to just 87 2/3 innings over the past two seasons. McGowan has had health issues of his own in recent years, but he managed to throw 82 innings this season between the rotation and the bullpen — his most innings since 2008 – while posting a 4.17 ERA and 61/33 K/BB ratio. However, the Blue Jays opted to cut ties with a $500,000 buyout.

Thole owns an ugly .213/.289/.261 batting line over two seasons with the Blue Jays, but he’ll stick around as R.A. Dickey’s personal catcher.

Yankees keep ALCS hopes alive with 4-1 win over Astros

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The Yankees defeated the Astros 4-1 during Game 5 of the American League Championship Series on Friday night, staving off a potential postseason elimination and forcing the series to at least six games.

In just the third playoff appearance of his career, Yankees southpaw James Paxton turned in another impressive performance, limiting the Astros to four hits and four walks over six innings of one-run ball. According to MLB Stats, his nine strikeouts made him the second Yankees lefty to record multiple starts of 8+ strikeouts in the same postseason campaign, two decades after David Wells did so for the 1998 championship-winning club.

Paxton’s strong outing was backed by a handful of runs from DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Hicks, both of whom went deep against Astros ace Justin Verlander in the bottom of the first inning. LeMahieu’s leadoff solo shot marked his first postseason home run since Game 1 of the ALDS, while Hicks’ three-run 347-footer was his first home run of any variety since July 24 (and his first in the playoffs since the 2017 ALDS).

Neither team managed a single run after the first inning, leaving the two pitching staffs to duke it out for eight quick innings. Verlander outlasted Paxton — taking the game through the seventh with five hits, four runs, and nine strikeouts — but even with a flawless contribution from Brad Peacock in the eighth, there was little the hurlers could do to help the Astros solve Paxton and an airtight Yankees bullpen.

With the win, the Yankees will try to push the series to a full seven games in order to snatch the AL pennant from the Astros. They’ll have to do in Houston, however, as the Astros will regain home field advantage when Game 6 kicks off on Saturday at 8:08 PM EDT. Neither starter has been announced yet; per Houston skipper A.J. Hinch, it will likely be a bullpen day.