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Johnny Cueto shines in Game 5 as Royals advance past Astros to the ALCS

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It’ll be the Kansas City Royals doing battle with the Toronto Blue Jays in this year’s American League Championship Series.

Johnny Cueto turned in a vintage-yet-surprising performance in Game 5 of the ALDS on Wednesday night in Kansas City, holding the visiting Astros to two runs over eight innings as the Royals marched to a 7-2 victory and advanced to the best-of-seven ALCS.

Cueto gave up a two-run homer to Astros third baseman Luis Valbuena in the top of the second inning but he was otherwise brilliant, whiffing eight, walking none, and retiring the final 19 batters he faced. This from a guy who posted a 4.76 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 81 1/3 innings after being acquired from the Reds in July. He also got bashed for four runs in six innings by the Astros three games earlier in the best-of-five Division Series.

Houston starter Collin McHugh looked strong in the early going on Wednesday, but Eric Hosmer drove in Lorenzo Cain in the bottom of the fourth inning when Carlos Gomez slipped in center field and Alex Rios smacked a go-ahead two-run double in the bottom of the fifth. Ben Zobrist then added the Royals’ fourth run on a sacrifice fly that scored Rios from third. Zobrist, a deadline acquisition like Cueto, also made a terrific tracking-back catch at second base in the top of the eighth.

Kansas City wasn’t done making bold statements yet, with Kendrys Morales adding three more runs on a towering blast against Astros ace Dallas Keuchel in the bottom of the eighth.

Cueto probably could have finished it off himself — he only needed 91 pitches to get through eight — but Royals manager Ned Yost turned to dominant right-hander Wade Davis in the top of the ninth and the newly-anointed closer retired all three batters he faced.

Our prediction for this upcoming ALCS: lots and lots of blue.

Marlins sign Brandon Kintzler to one-year, $3.25 million deal

Brandon Kintzler
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Jon Morosi reported on Saturday that the Marlins signed veteran reliever Brandon Kintzler to a one-year contract worth $3.25 million. The deal includes a club option for 2020 worth $4 million with a $250,000 buyout, according to ESPN’s Jesse Rogers.

Kintzler, 35, put up a terrific 2.68 ERA with 48 strikeouts and 13 walks over 57 innings for the Cubs last season. He’s been mostly good in recent years, but relievers in their mid-30’s have had a tough time finding multi-year deals.

The Marlins have a handful of players who could rack up saves this coming season, namely Drew Steckenrider and José Ureña along with Kintzler. The club will likely use spring training to determine an official closer, if they name one at all. The Marlins have also expressed interest in free agent Pedro Strop.