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Indians punch ticket to the World Series, take down Blue Jays 3-0 in ALCS Game 5

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Indians starter Ryan Merritt became a household name on Wednesday afternoon after his ALCS Game 5 start against the Blue Jays. Merritt made his major league debut on May 30 this season, making three relief appearances and one start through the end of the regular season. He looked like a seasoned veteran on Wednesday, despite becoming the second pitcher ever to start a postseason game with only one career regular season start. The other pitcher was Matt Moore, then with the Rays.

On Tuesday, after the Blue Jays staved off elimination in Game 4, outfielder Jose Bautista said of Merritt, via The Canadian Press, “With our experience and our lineup, I’m pretty sure he’s going to be shaking in his boots more than we are. I like where we’re at.”

In what has become a trend this postseason, Bautista’s foot has been placed firmly in his mouth. Merritt’s fastball topped out at 88 MPH, but he blanked the Jays’ offense over 4 1/3 innings. He gave up just two hits with no walks and three strikeouts on 49 pitches. Merritt allowed a one-out single to Russell Martin in the fifth, prompting manager Terry Francona to take a trip out to the mound, ending the 24-year-old’s afternoon. Bryan Shaw came in and, after allowing another single, got back-to-back strikeouts of Ezequiel Carrera and Kevin Pillar to end the inning.

The Indians gave Merritt three runs of support against Jays starter Marco Estrada. Francisco Lindor singled with one out and came around to score on a Mike Napoli double in the top of the first. Carlos Santana drilled a solo homer in the third, and Coco Crisp added another solo shot in the fourth.

Shaw remained in the game to start the sixth. He got Darwin Barney to ground out for the first out, but then gave up a single to center to Jose Bautista. As expected, Francona decided it was Andrew Miller time. Miller came in and induced an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play. In the seventh, Miller got Edwin Encarnacion to fly out, then Troy Tulowitzki and Martin each grounded out to end the frame.

Pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro singled to left field to begin the bottom of the eighth. Miller rebounded by striking out Carrera on three pitches. Kevin Pillar hit into a fielder’s choice ground out and Darwin Barney flied out weakly to left field to send the game to the ninth.

Cody Allen took over in the ninth. He gave up a leadoff double down the left field line to Bautista, giving the Rogers Centre crowd a reason to get loud. Allen, however, quieted the crowd down again by blowing a 95 MPH fastball past Josh Donaldson for strike three. He then got Encarnacion to wave at a slider in the dirt for out number two. Tulowitzki then fouled out to Carlos Santana to make it official: the Indians are back in the World Series for the first time since 1997. They’ll hope to win it for the first time since 1948.

Expect Andrew Miller to be named ALCS MVP. He pitched 7 2/3 innings, giving up zero runs on three hits with no walks and 14 strikeouts. If he does win the ALCS MVP award, he’ll be the first reliever to win it since Koji Uehara in 2013 for the Red Sox.

The Indians await the winner of the NLCS between the Cubs and Dodgers. The World Series begins on Tuesday, October 25.

Yasiel Puig is still a free agent

Yasiel Puig
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Around this time last year, the ink was drying on Manny Machado‘s 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres and Bryce Harper was about to put the finishing touches on his 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies. We had gotten used to premier free agents hanging out in limbo until late February and even into March. This past offseason, however, was a return to normal. The top three free agents — Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, and Stephen Strasburg — all signed in December. Once the big names are off the board, the lesser free agents subsequently tend to find homes. There were a handful of noteworthy signings in January, but pretty much everyone was off the board when February began.

There are a handful of free agents remaining as I write this, with one name really sticking out: Yasiel Puig. Last season, between the Reds and Indians, Puig hit .267/.327/.458 with 24 home runs, 84 RBI, 76 runs scored, and 19 stolen bases in 611 plate appearances. He was one of only seven players in the league last year to hit at least 24 home runs and swipe at least 19 bases. While Puig has had some problems over the years, he still possesses a rare blend of power and speed that would seem useful.

The Marlins, White Sox, and Rockies have been linked to Puig this offseason. His market has been otherwise quiet since he became a free agent. The Athletic’s Jim Bowden suggests Puig will have to settle for a “pillow contract” — a one-year deal with which Puig reestablishes his market value, aiming to pursue a multi-year deal the following offseason. Along with the aforementioned three teams, Bowden suggests the Mariners, Indians, Pirates, Giants, Red Sox, and Cardinals as other teams that could potentially fit with Puig, which is not to be confused with teams having expressed interest in his services.