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Brad Peacock favored to be Astros’ No. 5 starter

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Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Brad Peacock is the “leading candidate” to open the regular season as the club’s No. 5 starter, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reports.

Peacock has registered a 1.50 ERA in 12 innings of work this spring. His competition, pitching prospect Josh James, has logged just one inning this spring due to a quad injury.

Last season, Peacock pitched almost exclusively out of the bullpen, compiling a 3.46 ERA with 96 strikeouts and 20 walks across 65 innings. He was a fixture in the Astros’ rotation in the last four months of the 2017 season, so this is certainly not a new role.

James, 26, impressed in a cup of coffee last September, yielding six runs on 15 hits and seven walks with 29 strikeouts in 23 innings. MLB Pipeline rates James as the No. 4 prospect in Houston’s system. James could open the season in the bullpen and then transition into the rotation if needed.

Umpire Cory Blaser made two atrocious calls in the top of the 11th inning

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The Astros walked off 3-2 winners in the bottom of the 11th inning of ALCS Game 2 against the Yankees. Carlos Correa struck the winning blow, sending a first-pitch fastball from J.A. Happ over the fence in right field at Minute Maid Park, ending nearly five hours of baseball on Sunday night.

Correa’s heroics were precipitated by two highly questionable calls by home plate umpire Cory Blaser in the top half of the 11th.

Astros reliever Joe Smith walked Edwin Encarnación with two outs, prompting manager A.J. Hinch to bring in Ryan Pressly. Pressly, however, served up a single to left field to Brett Gardner, putting runners on first and second with two outs. Hinch again came out to the mound, this time bringing Josh James to face power-hitting catcher Gary Sánchez.

James and Sánchez had an epic battle. Sánchez fell behind 0-2 on a couple of foul balls, proceeded to foul off five of the next six pitches. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Sánchez appeared to swing and miss at an 87 MPH slider in the dirt for strike three and the final out of the inning. However, Blaser ruled that Sánchez tipped the ball, extending the at-bat. Replays showed clearly that Sánchez did not make contact at all with the pitch. James then threw a 99 MPH fastball several inches off the plate outside that Blaser called for strike three. Sánchez, who shouldn’t have seen a 10th pitch, was upset at what appeared to be a make-up call.

The rest, as they say, is history. One pitch later, the Astros evened up the ALCS at one game apiece. Obviously, Blaser’s mistakes in a way cancel each other out, and neither of them caused Happ to throw a poorly located fastball to Correa. It is postseason baseball, however, and umpires are as much under the microscope as the players and managers. Those were two particularly atrocious judgments by Blaser.