Wiggling by The Bay: Johnny Cueto signs with the Giants for $130 million

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San Francisco is spending big on free agent pitching, agreeing to a six-year, $130 million contract with right-hander Johnny Cueto two weeks after signing right-hander Jeff Samardzija to a five-year, $90 million deal. Cueto’s pact includes an opt-out clause after two years, potentially allowing him to hit the open market again following the 2017 season.

Cueto and Samardzija join a rotation that already boasted Madison Bumgarner in the ace role and with Chris Heston, Jake Peavy, and a rehabbing Matt Cain also in the mix the Giants are making a big bet on high-end starting pitching getting them back to the World Series.

Cueto’s injury history and underwhelming performance following a July trade from the Reds to the Royals are why some teams apparently viewed him as a risky signing, but he’s topped 200 innings in three of the past four seasons–including a league-leading 244 innings in 2014–and when healthy few pitchers are better than the wiggling righty.

In fact, combined during the past five seasons (2011-2015) only Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw has a lower ERA than Cueto among all pitchers with at least 500 innings. Here’s the top 10:

2.11 – Clayton Kershaw
2.71 – Johnny Cueto
2.82 – Zack Greinke
2.89 – Cliff Lee
2.94 – Chris Sale
2.99 – Adam Wainwright
3.02 – David Price
3.03 – Felix Hernandez
3.05 – Madison Bumgarner
3.11 – Stephen Strasburg

There’s certainly room to haggle over where exactly Cueto ranks among the game’s elite starting pitchers and where he’ll rank during the life of his six-year contract, but there’s no real argument against him being a top-10 starter from 2011-2015. Zack Greinke, who ranked third on the above list, just signed a six-year, $206.5 million deal with the Diamondbacks. David Price, who ranked seventh on the above list, just signed a seven-year, $217 million deal with the Red Sox. Within that context, six years and $130 million for Cueto seems perfectly reasonable and maybe even a bargain.

Handing out huge contracts to veteran starters hasn’t always worked out well for the Giants, as the Barry Zito contract and Matt Cain’s current deal have shown recently, but San Francisco now has a pair of aces–a 26-year-old lefty in Bumgarner and a 30-year-old righty in Cueto–along with strong options in the 3-5 spots.

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.