The Astros are a typical Justin Verlander start away from a World Series title


The exhausting insanity of Game 5 is now more than 24 hours behind us, so we can finally breathe a little. For their part, the Houston Astros can breathe relatively easy, because after two of the most improbable, impossible wins in World Series history in the form of Games 2 and 5, they only need something very common and ordinary to happen in order to win it all in Game 6: a good Justin Verlander start.

That’s what the 2017 season comes down to: the best starter over the last couple of months needing only to do what he’s done ever since coming over from Detroit in a late August trade. Give A.J. Hinch between six and nine innings. Allow between zero and three runs. Let the Houston offense do what it usually does and watch the champagne flow with the franchise’s first ever World Series victory. There are no guarantees that it’ll happen, of course, but that’s how one envisions a good Houston outcome. It’s a reasonable, within-the-bounds-of-reality sort of projection.

The vision of a Dodgers Game-7-forcing victory, in contrast, requires a little more suspension of disbelief. It requires one to imagine Rich Hill going deep into the game, outlasting Verlander, even, and giving the Dodgers hitters a good clean shot at the Astros beleaguered pen. In the postseason, though, that has not happened. Hill has had three October starts so far. He’s gone four innings in two of them and five in another. Indeed, he’s only gone as long as seven innings once in the past two months, in a late September blowout against the Padres. The last time he’s gone longer than seven innings? August 23. If he gives Dave Roberts only four or five innings tonight and forces him to go to the exhausted Dodgers bullpen, you can’t like their chances.

Both starters, though, will have a new ally on their side tonight: the weather. Games 1 and 2 were played in dry, near-triple digit heat, which turns Dodger Stadium into a hitters park. Games 3-5 were played in no weather whatsoever, and Minute Maid Park played like a bandbox. For Game 6 and, if necessary, Game 7, it’ll be 65 degrees with even a small chance of precipitation, meaning the air will be moist and heavy. The ball doesn’t carry well when Dodger Stadium is cool and damp, so both Verlander and Hill stand a fighting chance of stopping the barrage of homers that has made the 2017 World Series a record-setting, dinger-filled affair.

All things are not equal, however. With Justin Verlander on the mound and a one-game lead with two to go, things seem weighted in Houston’s favor. In a series characterized by the extraordinary, they need only the ordinary — Justin Verlander pitching like Justin Verlander — to win it all.


Royals fire manager Mike Matheny after 65-97 end to season

Minnesota Twis v Kansas City Royals
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Cal Eldred were fired by the Kansas Cty Royals on Wednesday night, shortly after the struggling franchise finished the season 65-97 with a listless 9-2 loss to the Cleveland Guardians.

The Royals had exercised their option on Matheny’s contract for 2023 during spring training, when the club hoped it was turning the corner from also-ran to contender again. But plagued by poor pitching, struggles from young position players and failed experiments with veterans, the Royals were largely out of playoff contention by the middle of summer.

The disappointing product led owner John Sherman last month to fire longtime front office executive Dayton Moore, the architect of back-to-back American League champions and the 2015 World Series title team. Moore was replaced by one of his longtime understudies, J.J. Picollo, who made the decision to fire Matheny hours after the season ended.

Matheny became the fifth big league manager to be fired this year.

Philadelphia’s Joe Girardi was replaced on June 3 by Rob Thomson, who engineered a miraculous turnaround to get the Phillies into the playoffs as a wild-card team. The Angels replaced Joe Maddon with Phil Nevin four days later, Toronto’s Charlie Montoyo was succeeded by John Schneider on July 13 and the Rangers’ Chris Woodward by Tony Beasley on Aug. 15.

In addition, Miami’s Don Mattingly said late last month that he will not return next season.