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

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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.

 

Zack Cozart thinks the way the Rays have been using Sergio Romo is bad for baseball

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The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.

In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.

The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.

Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”

It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.

It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.