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Tigers’ pitching staff finally looking solid for stretch run

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A younger rotation might not have been what Tigers manager Brad Ausmus envisioned at the start of the season, but he’s finding little to complain about these days. With Mike Pelfrey and Jordan Zimmerman crowding the disabled list, rookie right-hander Michael Fulmer and sophomore lefties Matt Boyd and Daniel Norris have bolstered the rotation, while tried-and-true veterans like Anibal Sanchez have shown signs of consistency in the second half.

Since July, the Tigers’ rotation has played off of a collective 3.43 ERA, good for second-lowest among major league clubs. Their 2.12 BB/9 is also good for second-lowest in the league, although their 7.49 K/9 skews more toward the middle of the pack. Much of the credit can be given to Justin Verlander, and deservedly so, as Detroit’s ace halved his ERA to 2.04 during the second half of the season. The club has benefited from an airtight bullpen, too, one that doesn’t appear to have any major holes in it despite a couple of sub-par outings from left-hander Justin Wilson last month and a lingering blister that moved Shane Greene to a relief role earlier in the year.

On Saturday, the Tigers added to their ranks with left-hander Joe Mantiply, another promising rookie out of Triple-A Toledo. Prior to his Triple-A promotion, during which the 25-year-old allowed one home run, one walk, and struck out seven in 8 ⅓ innings, Mantiply worked a 2.47 ERA with Double-A Erie, polishing off a 62/11 K/BB rate through 51 innings. As for his role within Detroit’s pitching staff, Ausmus envisions Mantiply in middle relief, according to Jason Beck of MLB.com:

Mantiply certainly isn’t the only important cog in this machine, but with Verlander leading the charge, a slew of young, talented arms in the rotation and the ‘pen, and the eighth-best run percentage in the majors, he’ll help keep it running smoothly.

Umpire Cory Blaser made two atrocious calls in the top of the 11th inning

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The Astros walked off 3-2 winners in the bottom of the 11th inning of ALCS Game 2 against the Yankees. Carlos Correa struck the winning blow, sending a first-pitch fastball from J.A. Happ over the fence in right field at Minute Maid Park, ending nearly five hours of baseball on Sunday night.

Correa’s heroics were precipitated by two highly questionable calls by home plate umpire Cory Blaser in the top half of the 11th.

Astros reliever Joe Smith walked Edwin Encarnación with two outs, prompting manager A.J. Hinch to bring in Ryan Pressly. Pressly, however, served up a single to left field to Brett Gardner, putting runners on first and second with two outs. Hinch again came out to the mound, this time bringing Josh James to face power-hitting catcher Gary Sánchez.

James and Sánchez had an epic battle. Sánchez fell behind 0-2 on a couple of foul balls, proceeded to foul off five of the next six pitches. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Sánchez appeared to swing and miss at an 87 MPH slider in the dirt for strike three and the final out of the inning. However, Blaser ruled that Sánchez tipped the ball, extending the at-bat. Replays showed clearly that Sánchez did not make contact at all with the pitch. James then threw a 99 MPH fastball several inches off the plate outside that Blaser called for strike three. Sánchez, who shouldn’t have seen a 10th pitch, was upset at what appeared to be a make-up call.

The rest, as they say, is history. One pitch later, the Astros evened up the ALCS at one game apiece. Obviously, Blaser’s mistakes in a way cancel each other out, and neither of them caused Happ to throw a poorly located fastball to Correa. It is postseason baseball, however, and umpires are as much under the microscope as the players and managers. Those were two particularly atrocious judgments by Blaser.