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What’s on Tap: Previewing Sunday’s action

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The Mariners are set to clinch a three-game sweep over the Athletics on Sunday, provided they can keep their starter together. Literally. Left-hander James Paxton ripped the middle fingernail of his throwing hand on August 30 and, though the injury isn’t serious enough to land him on the disabled list, it has kept him on a strict pitch limit during the first week of September.

The lefty used a combination of tape and glue to keep his finger intact during a throwing session on Friday and should be in fine form to toss a few innings for Seattle over the weekend, albeit without his cutter. He went 4 ⅓ innings in his last start with Seattle, delivering six runs, a Jonathan Lucroy home run, and eight strikeouts to the Rangers while using a fake fingernail to protect his nailbed. Despite the barrage of runs allowed, the most the 27-year-old had given up since July 15, Paxton joined Matt Young, Kazuhiro Sasaki, and Felix Hernandez as one of four Seattle hurlers to strike out four batters in a single inning.

Against Paxton and a 74-68 Mariners’ lineup, the A’s will send out rookie right-hander Raul Alcantara, whose major league career got off to a rocky start last week with five hits, five runs, three HBP, and zero strikeouts in three innings pitched. The series finale is set to commence in Oakland at 4:05 PM EDT.

The rest of Sunday’s action:

Tampa Bay Rays (Matt Andriese) @ New York Yankees (Luis Cessa), 1:05 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Clay Buchholz) @ Toronto Blue Jays (Aaron Sanchez), 1:07 PM EDT

Baltimore Orioles (Chris Tillman) @ Detroit Tigers (Justin Verlander), 1:10 PM EDT

Los Angeles Dodgers (Kenta Maeda) @ Miami Marlins (Jose Urena), 1:10 PM EDT

Cincinnati Reds (Brandon Finnegan) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (Ryan Vogelsong), 1:35 PM EDT

New York Mets (Seth Lugo) @ Atlanta Braves (Williams Perez), 1:35 PM EDT

Philadelphia Phillies (Adam Morgan) @ Washington Nationals (Gio Gonzalez), 1:35 PM EDT

Cleveland Indians (Corey Kluber) @ Minnesota Twins (Jose Berrios), 2:10 PM EDT

Kansas City Royals (Ian Kennedy) @ Chicago White Sox (Chris Sale), 2:10 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers (Zach Davies) @ St. Louis Cardinals (Luke Weaver), 2:15 PM EDT

Texas Rangers (Colby Lewis) @ Los Angeles Angels (Jered Weaver), 3:35 PM EDT

San Francisco Giants (Matt Moore) @ Arizona Diamondbacks (Zack Greinke), 4:10 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Chad Bettis) @ San Diego Padres (Edwin Jackson), 4:40 PM EDT

Chicago Cubs (Jake Arrieta) @ Houston Astros (Mike Fiers), 8:05 PM EDT

Red Sox look to punch their ticket to the World Series tonight

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Thanks to some amazing defense, some big hits and — to continue to beat this horse, a bad call by Joe West — the Red Sox have a 3-1 lead in the ALCS and look to clinch the AL Pennant tonight down in Houston.

If you believe in momentum, you’d have to say it’s on Boston’s side. If you believe that momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher, however, you’d have to say things favor Houston more than the standing of the series would suggest. All of which makes me wish Game 5 was starting right now, because it figures to be a tense and exciting affair.

ALCS Game 5

Red Sox vs. Astros
Ballpark: Minute Maid Park
Time: 8:09 PM Eastern
TV: TBS
Pitchers: David Price vs. Justin Verlander
Breakdown:

If someone told you that you had to win one baseball game against the Martians to save the human race, you could do far worse than calling on Justin Verlander to be your starting pitcher. Among the pitchers still in the postseason, he’d almost certainly be your choice right now.

Does Verlander himself appreciate the situation? This is what he said about that yesterday:

“I mean, these are all must-win games at this point. Every time you take the mound I don’t think there’s any difference whether it’s 2-2 or 3-1.”

Look, we’re asking him to beat the Martians here, not win the National Math Bee, so let’s let that go. The point is that after all of these years he’s still one of the most dominant pitchers in the game and after the exhausting, see-saw battle of Game 4, he stands the best chance of giving Houston what it needs: a quick, quiet and drama-free win.

Not that the Red Sox are likely to roll over for that. They didn’t the first time they faced Verlander in this series. They Astros won, yes, and Verlander limited them to two runs on two hits. But he also issued four walks and wasn’t his sharpest overall. Boston didn’t capitalize on his mistakes as best they could, but he’s not invincible.

For Boston it’s David Price. He allowed four runs on five hits and four walks over four and two-thirds innings in Game 2, not factoring in the decision. That’s not great, but given the talk leading up to that game being all about how Price is a postseason flop, the fact that the Sox won it in the end had to bouy him at least a little. As does the fact that, here, tonight, it’s not 100% on his shoulders. Sure, the Sox want to close this out, but with a 3-1 lead there is less pressure on Price than on his former teammate Verlander. Worth noting, though: Price is on short rest and warmed up in the bullpen last night in case he was needed to bail out Craig Kimbrel. He may not go deep into this game.