Athletics in Houston for big AL West showdown

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The Oakland Athletics took three of four from Minnesota this weekend while the Astros completed a sweep of the Angels. The puts Houston a mere one and a half games ahead of Oakland in the AL West, setting the stage for the final head-to-head series between the two clubs.

These two teams met last weekend in Oakland with the A’s taking two of three. Now the series shifts to Houston, kicking off tonight with Brett Anderson — who has not allowed a run in his past two starts and is on a streak of 17 consecutive scoreless innings — taking on Gerrit Cole. On Tuesday it’s Edwin Jackson vs. Charlie Morton. On Wednesday it’s Trevor Cahill vs. Dallas Keuchel.

The Athletics were double digits out of first place as late as July 10 but in the past nine days have tied the Astros in the standings on three occasions before falling just a bit back. A sweep by either team would certainly make a statement. Whether that statement is “we’re not going anyplace, champs” or “know your place, upstarts” remains to be seen, but it’s easily the most important series going on this week.

Phillies select active duty Navy aviator in MLB Rule 5 draft

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SAN DIEGO — The Philadelphia Phillies took U.S. Navy aviator Noah Song in the Rule 5 draft Wednesday, hoping the former top pitching prospect can still be effective once he completes his military service.

There is no definitive date on when the 25-year-old Song might be able to join the Phillies.

Song was picked from the Boston Red Sox system in the draft for unprotected minor league players. Philadelphia put him on the military list while he continues his active duty and he won’t count on the 40-man roster, the pool from which major league teams can select players for the 26-man active roster.

Song impressed in his only pro season, making seven starts for Boston’s Class A Lowell affiliate in 2019, with a 1.06 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 17 innings. With a fastball clocked in the upper 90s mph, the right-hander dominated that year as a senior at the U.S. Naval Academy, going 11-1 with a 1.44 ERA and 161 strikeouts in 94 innings.

The Red Sox drafted Song in the fourth round – he likely would’ve gone much higher, but his impending military service caused teams to back off.

In November 2019, Defense Secretary Mark Esper signed a memo clearing the way for athletes at the nation’s military academies to delay their service commitments and play pro sports after graduation. Song’s request to have those new rules retroactively applied to his case was denied.

Song began school as a flight officer in the summer of 2020 and finished that phase last April. He started additional aviation training in May.

Song was among the 15 players, including three Boston pitchers, taken in the big league phase of the Rule 5 draft, which wasn’t held last year because of the MLB lockout.

Washington took righty Thad Ward from Boston’s Triple-A roster with the first pick. Baltimore took Red Sox minor league pitcher Andrew Politi with the ninth choice and the Phillies chose Song with the 11th selection.

Teams pay $100,000 to take players in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft. The players must stay on the big league roster next season or go on waivers and, if unclaimed, be offered back to their original organization for $50,000.