The Astros are on a nine-game winning streak

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Despite allowing two home runs to the red-hot Nelson Cruz, the Astros beat the Mariners again on Saturday night, taking the first three games of a four-game set and extending their winning streak to nine games, their longest winning streak since 2006. They have also won 13 of their last 14 games. They’re now 17-7 with the best record in the American League, and are six games ahead of the second-place Angels, who lost to the Giants on Saturday afternoon, and seven games ahead of the third-place Mariners.

Starter Collin McHugh allowed four home runs over seven innings, but they were all of the solo variety. Meanwhile, the Astros used their own power to swat a total of five home runs against Mariner pitching, including three against starter Taijuan Walker. They powered their way to scoring 11 runs, besting the Mariners by seven runs in the contest.

The Astros entered the game with a +29 run differential, good for second-best in the American League. Now it’s up to +36, still behind the +46 Royals. The Cardinals (+40) are the only other team with a better run differential. While the hot start is a surprise, it’s not totally out of left field. After finishing with 106, 107, and 111 losses between 2011-13, the Astros improved by a whopping 19 games to finish 70-92 last season.

Pirates hire Ben Cherington as their new general manager

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The Pittsburgh Pirates have hired Ben Cherington as the team’s new general manager. They do so after the general manager meetings ended, but better late than never.

Cherington served as GM of the Boston Red Sox for four years, winning the World Series in 2013, but resigned during the 2015 season after Dave Dombrowski was named Boston’s new president of baseball operations. Which was a defacto demotionn for Cherington who, until then, had the final say in baseball decisions. Dombrowski, of course, was fired late in the season this year. Cherington went on to work for the Toronto Blue Jays as a vice president, but was seen as biding his time for another GM position. Now he has one.

Cherington takes over in Pittsburgh for executive vice president and general manager Neal Huntington, who was fired after a 12 years at the helm. Also fired was team president Frank Coonelly. Travis Williams replaced Coonelly recently. While the Pirates experienced a few years of contention under Huntington and Coonelly, they have slid out of contention in recent years as the club has traded away promising players for little return, all while cutting payroll. There’s a very big rebuilding job ahead of Cherington.

The first move he’ll have to make: hire a manager, as the team still hasn’t replaced Clint Hurdle since he was dismissed in the final weekend of the regular season.