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Athletics to retire Dave Stewart’s number

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Dave Stewart pitched for five different teams in his 16-year big league career but his eight seasons with the Oakland A’s are, without question, what he is best known for. Next year, the team announced yesterday, the A’s will honor him for what he did for those in those eight seasons by retiring his number 34.

Stewart first joined the team as a free agent after being released by the Phillies in May of 1986. Stewart was at a career low point, having seen a good amount of success as a reliever and swingman for the Dodgers but losing effectiveness as he journeyed to Texas and then Philly. For the rest of that 1986 season the A’s used him mostly as starter before he became a full-time member of the rotation in 1987 at which point he took off, improbably, at the age of 30.

Stewart won 20 games and came in third in Cy Young voting in 1987. The next season his A’s teammates took the leap forward with him as Stewart won 21 games, leading the league in games pitched, complete games, and innings pitched as the club won 104 games and the American League pennant. Two more 20+ win seasons by Stewart helped the A’s win two more pennants in 1989 and 1990, as well as that World Series. In all — including a final, 16-game stint with the A’s at the end of his career in 1995, Stewart went 119-78 with a 3.73 ERA (103 ERA+) in green, white, and gold.

While that’s not the stuff of a Hall of Fame career, Stewart was certainly one of the key players of a remarkably successful run in franchise history. That — in my view and, obviously in the view of the A’s — is the stuff of a number retirement. Congratulations

Astros, Nationals set to face off in the World Series starting Tuesday

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Saturday night’s wild ALCS finale will live in the mind of Astros and Yankees fans for a long, long time, but the Astros only have two days to bask in it because they have other business to attend to: the Washington Nationals, who they will host Tuesday evening in Game 1 of the World Series.

For the Astros, this year’s World Series presents the chance to forge a dynasty. To carry on a journey in which they’ve risen from a three-time 100-loss club to a three-years-straight 100-win club with not just one, but two World Series titles in the space of those three seasons.

For the Nationals, the World Series presents an opportunity to complete a pretty compelling narrative in which they’ve grown stronger as the year has gone on: from a near disastrous 19-31 start, to a late, come-from-behind victory in the Wild Card Game, to beating the favored Dodgers in the NLDS to simply dominating the Cardinals in the NLCS. The Nats are nobody’s Cinderella, but a win over the Astros would certainly make them one of the more notable giant-killers in recent memory. And, of course, would give them their first World Series title in franchise history and the city of Washington its first World Series winner since the Senators won it in 1924.

We’ll break down this Series in greater detail over the next couple of days, but for now it’s worth noting that this matchup presents us with, arguably, the best possible group of starting pitchers in the game. Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin are six of the top — what? — 15 starting pitchers going right now? And Aníbal Sanchez has been pitching pretty dang good for Washington of late as well. Bullpenning is all the rage these days — and Houston’s Game 6 win was a bullpen affair — but there is something classic and compelling about a handful of aces facing off in October.

The difference-maker could very well be an Astros offense that — last night’s José Altuve walkoff blast notwithstanding — has, somehow, gone relatively quiet this postseason. Postseason pitching is always tough — and in beating the Rays and Yankees they faced two of the best bullpens going — but their collective 3.7 runs per game and .645 team OPS is very un-Astro-like. To beat the Nats, they’ll definitely want to see those numbers go higher.

For Washington, it’ll be about figuring out how to beat Gerrit Cole, Game 1’s starter, and Justin Verlander, who will likely go in Game 2. They’ll have to face each of those 20-game winners/Cy Young contenders twice if this series goes long. That seems daunting, but so too did climbing out of the hole they found themselves in in late May and beating the Dodgers in a five-game series. The Nats have dealt pretty well with “daunting” thus year and, at the moment, they’re playing their best baseball of the season.

So the stage is set. Washington vs. Houston in the 115th edition of the Fall Classic. Things get underway just after 8PM Eastern on Tuesday evening when Gerrit Cole fires in a near-100 m.p.h. fastball to Trea Turner. Stay with us over the next three days for our breakdown of what looks to be an epic matchup.