Mariners demote starting catcher Mike Zunino to Triple-A

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Hours after firing general manager Jack Zduriencik the Mariners have demoted one of his worst draft picks, catcher Mike Zunino, to Triple-A.

It’s an unorthodox move, to say the least, because Zunino has been the Mariners’ starting catcher for the past two-and-a-half seasons and demoting him to Triple-A at a time when the minor-league season is essentially already over seems more punitive than anything else. After all, if the Mariners simply waited three days their roster would have expanded on September 1 and it’s not as if there’s any real time for Zunino to get work in at Triple-A.

With that said, he certainly earned the demotion had it come in, say, June or July. Zunino has hit .174 this season and .193 for his career, showing zero ability to control the strike zone with 339 strikeouts and 54 walks in 295 games. He has 20-homer power, but it’s added up to a .605 OPS for the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 draft.

To replace Zunino on the roster the Mariners called up John Hicks, a 26-year-old career minor leaguer hitting .245 with six homers and a .645 OPS in 83 games at Triple-A. He’s a non-prospect having a poor season, which adds to the oddity of the Zunino demotion.

Nationals complete NLCS sweep of Cardinals, punch ticket to World Series

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The Nationals will officially appear in the World Series for the first time in franchise history. The team that had a 19-31 record in late May, putting manager Dave Martinez on the hot seat, improbably fought back to snag a Wild Card slot, won the play-in game, beat the heavily-favored Dodgers in five games in the NLDS, and polished off a sweep of the Cardinals in the NLCS on Tuesday night, winning 7-4.

After Patrick Corbin tossed a scoreless top of the first inning, the Nationals’ offense wasted no time getting to work. Single, double, sacrifice fly, RBI double, intentional walk, reach on error, RBI single, two-run single, sacrifice bunt, two-run single. That’s how the Nats hung a seven-spot in the opening frame against Dakota Hudson and Adam Wainwright.

To the Cardinals’ credit, they cleaned things up from there. The Nationals would not score for the rest of the game while the Cardinals clawed back for a run in the fourth before plating three runs in the fifth. Yadier Molina went yard off of Corbin in the fourth. In the fifth, a Tommy Edman ground out and a José Martínez two-run double accounted for the Cardinals’ runs in the fifth.

Corbin ultimately gave up the four runs on four hits and three walks with, impressively, 12 strikeouts across five innings of work. Tanner Rainey worked a 1-2-3 sixth. Sean Doolittle did the same in the seventh.

Doolittle remained in the game in the eighth, getting the first two outs before relenting a single to Marcell Ozuna. Right-hander Daniel Hudson entered for the four-out save opportunity. Hudson hit Molina with a fastball, bringing the tying run to the plate in the form of Paul DeJong. DeJong worked a full count, then walked to load the bases. Pinch-hitter Matt Carpenter emerged from the dugout to take his cuts against Hudson. After five tense pitches to Carpenter, Hudson got him to ground out to second base to end the inning.

The Nats went down quick in the bottom of the eighth. Hudson emerged from the dugout to send the Nationals into the World Series. He did just that, getting Kolten Wong to fly out to shallow left field for the first out. Matt Wieters popped up to the catcher in fair territory for out number two. At long last, Edman flied out to center field. Nationals win 7-4.

The only other time the franchise reached the Championship Series was in 1981 when the Expos lost three games to two to the Dodgers. The Expos/Nationals then went from 1982-2011 without a playoff appearance. The Nationals lost four Division Series appearances in a row in 2012, ’14, and ’16-17, three of which went the maximum five games. Now they’re in the World Series, improbably. They will await the winner of the ALCS, which the Astros currently lead 2-1.