Altuve leads the Astros to World Series matchup with the Nats


This will be a two for the price of one post as we will reflect on a terrific triumph by the Astros in the ALCS over the Yanks and then take a look at the upcoming matchup with the Washington Nationals in the World Series. (I can’t type the words Astros and World Series in the same sentence enough….)

ALCS

Carlos Correa turned the ALCS on a dime when he tied it up 1-1 with his walk-off homer in Game 2. His double play mate, Jose Altuve drove a stake through the heart of the Yankee monster (and their monstrous fans) with his series-winning walk-off homer in the ninth inning of Game 6.

There were two things running through the minds of most Astro fans during that final at-bat. First, why in heck were the Yankees pitching to Altuve after George Springer‘s 2 out walk against premier closer Aroldis Chapman, especially behind in the count? Yes, a walk to Altuve would move Springer within a Jake Marisnick single of a walk-off, but that would seem like a less likely conclusion than Altuve coming through with Springer on first. The second thing running through Astro fans minds a millisecond after bat met ball was “Gone”. We have seen Jose square up on balls up in the zone so many times, that as soon as he connected with Chapman’s hanging slider, our hearts leapt with anticipation of the ball sailing out of the park.

Looking back at the ALCS, the Astros were lucky to win with such a poor offense (.179 BA/ .281 OBP/ .600 OPS). For perspective, Jon Singleton circa 2014 put up a .168 BA/ .285 OBP/ .620 OPS that season, so this was like facing the vaunted Yankees with 13 Jon Singletons as your position players. The Astros barely outscored the Yankees 22-21 in the series, but importantly outscored them 21-10 in their 4 wins (we will ignore getting outscored 11-1 in their 2 losses).

The only Astro to hit better than his norm in the ALCS was the MVP Altuve (.348/.444/ 1.097 – 6 runs, 2 HRs, 3 RBIs). OK – Marisnick hit .333 (one single and 2 Ks) and Brantley hit .304 (7 singles and 1 RBI). When you look at Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, Robinson Chirinos, Aledmys Diaz, Yuli Gurriel, Martin Maldonado, Jake Marisnick, Josh Reddick and Kyle Tucker – they combined for a .120 BA/ .219 OBP/ .413 OPS with 8 runs scored, 2 HRs and 6 RBIs in 108 at bats. This is like throwing 9 guys out there hitting worse than Max Stassi (.167/ .235/.446) did this season. Yuck!

A quick look at that old school stat (ERA) shows the Yankees (3.13) outpitched the Astros (3.44). But that does not take into account that the Yanks gave up 3 unearned runs, while the Astros gave up none. The Yanks had 5 errors to the Astros 2 in the series and their pitchers had 6 wild pitches and Gary Sanchez had 2 passed balls (plus not blocking some of those wild pitches) while the Astros only had one wild pitch in the series.

For the series, the Astros’ superior fielding was a difference-maker. In game 6 alone, Josh Reddick’s diving catch, Michael Brantley‘s brilliant dive and throw for a double play and another terrific double play by Altuve, Correa and Gurriel allowed the Astros to be tied heading into the bottom of the 9th inning.

One of the biggest differences between the pitching in the ALCS was the bullpen usage. The Astros got 32.2 IP out of their starters and their bullpen pitched 22.1 IP, while the Yanks received only 24.2 IP from their starters while their bullpen pitched 30 innings. The threesome of Chad Green, Adam Ottavino and Aroldis Chapman pitched in 12 games combined and gave up 11 of the 22 runs the Yanks allowed during the series. Gerrit Cole bent but did not break in his one start, Justin Verlander had one bad inning in two starts and Zack Greinke pitched good enough in both his starts to keep the team in the games. Will Harris has taken over the high leverage spot that Ryan Pressly‘s injury has taken away from him and Joe Smith, Jose Urquidy and Brad Peacock pitched the best behind him. Roberto Osuna had his 6th game meltdown, but had three other scoreless appearances.

In the end, the Astros and Yanks were a pretty even match with the Astros doing what great teams do. They won the two critical games (Games 2 and 6) with out-of-the-blue walk-offs and sent the Yanks home to pack for the off-season.

World Series Look Ahead

There are a lot of parallels between the Houston Astros and their upcoming opponents the Washington Nationals (nee Montreal Expos), especially between the 2019 Nats and the 2005 Astros.

  • Both teams are/were expansion teams with a poor history of success
  • Both teams entered the 2019 and 2005 seasons respectively having won just one playoff series in their history – the Astros beating the Braves in the 2004 division series, the 1981 Expos beating the Phillies in that odd-wad division series brought on by an in-season strike
  • Both teams had to come back from terrible starts. On May 23rd this season, the Nats were 19-31 and in 4th place in the NL East 10 games back of the Phillies. They were 14th out of 15 teams in the NL and 8.5 games back of the 2nd Wild Card. In 2005, the Astros were 15-30 on May 24th, the day the Houston (spit!!!) Chronicle ran the tombstone headline burying their season. They were in 5th place in the NL Central, 14 games back of the Cards, 15th out of 16 teams and 11.5 games back of the only wild card spot. Both teams turned their seasons around and earned wild card spots and rolled to World Series berths.
  • Both teams had one of their best seasons wiped out by the strike in 1994 with the Expos sporting the best record in the majors when it went down the drain
  • Both teams are/were headed to their first World Series appearance

Beyond that, Astro ace Justin Verlander and Nats ace Max Scherzer were teammates in Detroit from 2010 thru 2014 until Scherzer left for Washington as a free agent. Third men in the rotation the Nats Patrick Corbin and the Astros Zack Greinke pitched together in Arizona from 2016 thru 2018 until Corbin also signed as a free agent with Washington.

(By the way – the Nats and Astros share a Spring Training home at West Palm Beach and played each other 6 times with the Nats taking 5 of those contests in the pre-season).

Starting Pitching

With the Astros struggling to fill in the 4th spot in the rotation after Wade Miley‘s crash and burn, the Nationals are the one team around that appears to be better on paper. Scherzer (11-7, 2.92 ERA), Stephen Strasburg (18-6, 3.32 ERA) and Corbin (14-7, 3.25 ERA) would seem to off-set the Astros Big 3 of Cole, Verlander and Greinke. The Nats edge would seem to come from 4th starter Anibal Sanchez (11-8, 3.85 ERA), who has given up 1 run in 12.2 IP of 2019 playoff pitching. Sanchez appears to be a better choice than either a bullpen game or a Jose Urquidy / Brad Peacock tandem game. The Astros do have a hitting advantage with Zack Greinke hitting like a positional player and likely starting game 3 at Washington.

Advantage – Nats

Position Players

The Astros have an advantage at 1B (Yuli Gurriel over Ryan Zimmerman), 2B (Jose Altuve over Brian Dozier), SS (Carlos Correa over Trea Turner), and CF (George Springer over Victor Robles). The Nats have a small advantage at LF (Juan Soto over Michael Brantley). It is a bit of a toss-up at Catcher (Chirinos/ Maldonado vs. Kurt Suzuki/Jan Gomes), 3B (MVP candidates Alex Bregman vs. Anthony Rendon – out of Rice University) and RF (Josh Reddick vs. Adam Eaton). The Astros would seem to have an advantage at DH with Yordan Alvarez, but not if he continues to be a lost boy in the desert at bat.

Advantage Astros

Relief Pitching

The Nationals bullpen is their biggest question mark heading into the World Series. They had an NL worse 5.66 ERA this season. In the playoffs they have taken all sorts of actions to work around their problems as they had Strasburg throw 3 relief innings in the wild card game against the Brewers, had Corbin pitch a couple times in relief against the Dodgers and only used 4 relievers – Sean Doolittle (6-5, 29 saves, 4.05 ERA), Daniel Hudson (3-0, 6 saves, 1.00 ERA), Tanner Rainey (2-3, 3.91 ERA) and Fernando Rodney (0-3, 2 saves, 4.05 ERA) in the sweep of the Cards in the NLCS. The Astros have had good appearances from Will Harris, Joe Smith, Jose Urquidy, Brad Peacock and closer Roberto Osuna (with one exception) through two rounds. Josh James was so-so, Hector Rondon was used for one out, and Bryan Abreu looked like a rookie in one appearance. This is an area that an Astro team that works the starters early can take advantage of.

Advantage – Astros

Fielding

The Astros are one of the best fielding teams around – the Nats are slightly above average. The Astros have the second least errors (71) in the majors, the Nats are 8th (87). The Astros have the best defensive efficiency (calculation of number of balls in play converted to outs) at .717, while the Nats are 13th at .689. The Astros are 2nd in Rtot (a calculation of preventing runs) at 54, while the Nats are 18th at 1.

Advantage – Astros

Managing

Dave Martinez in his second season has done a great job in keeping the Nats from cratering with their early problems and working around a suspect bullpen. A.J. Hinch has led the Astros to three consecutive 100+ win seasons, one World Series title and 2 wins in three ALCS attempts.

Advantage – Astros

Summary

The Nats are on a roll after a game 5 comeback against the Dodgers and a sweep of the Cards. As a wild card, they may feel less pressure vs expectations. This will be a tough matchup for the Astros, but they seem to have the answers when they need them.

Prediction – Astros in Six

71 comments on “Altuve leads the Astros to World Series matchup with the Nats

  1. I don’t think the Nats starting pitching is better than the Astros and the numbers seem to agree with me.
    The Yankees were on a total roll coming into the ALCS, just as the Nats seem to be. All year long we have seen the Astros catch their opponents on a winning streak and all year long their winning streak ended playing the Astros. No team in baseball ran into buzzsaws like the Astros have. It started with Oakland, New York and Seattle in the very first month of the season and it was that way the entire year. The Angel had won 5 in a row going into Mexico City.
    The Astros played hot teams all year long.
    One more series to go.

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    • Wasn’t Seattle 13-2 and leading the division? They had lost a 1-run game in Japan in one of those.

      Astros have proven at every turn who is the most dominant. Even when we had losing streaks, the players didn’t change what they were saying.

      “We still haven’t seen this team play its best baseball.”
      –Alex Bregman

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  2. I’ve been watching MLB today and on “High Heat” and Chris Russo and his guests were really giving the Yankees the business. I didn’t disagree with what they said but was surprised that they said it. Having watched a Mets game many years ago their fans (New York) are fanatic when they win and brutal when they lose. They did do the breakdown for the upcoming series and the consensus was the Astros in 6. I don’t care if it takes 4 or 7 games but we should “Take It Back”. I just hope our offense decides to show up because you can’t always expect the pitching to be lights out. The one thing that was evident with the Yankees was that it was almost always all or nothing from the hitting perspective. Remember 5 singles back to back will usually get you 3 – 4 runs. And that’s food for thought in this upcoming series.

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  3. ERA is best judged by how close it resembles FIP, and xFIP
    (Expected) ERA Independent of Fielding

    Scherzer 2.88
    Corbin 3.59
    Strasburg 3.17

    Cole 2.48
    JV 3.18
    Greinke 3.74

    Sanchez has a 5.10 xFIP (ESPN AGS, 52)
    Urquidy has a 4.30 xFIP (avg. game score, 53)
    I do not see a decided advantage with Sanchez, except in his experience and recency.

    You brought up the Peacock tandem. I lean toward Peacock being pulled in Gm6, not because he was gassed as much as we had other options in the “bullpen game.” So, I’m not sure if the Astros trust Urquidy enough with a start yet, but I think they have him stretched out for a reason.

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  4. All I’m saying is that Sanchez has 1.86 ERA in his last 6 starts including 2 in the playoffs – it may not mean anything but it might.

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    • You brought up very interesting parallels about how the Nationals organization mirrored our 2005 season.

      I find it intriguing they didn’t deal us Harper at the 2018 deadline. maybe the league would think it was collusion, since we went in with Nationals on the West Palm Beach Complex. The longtime Owner Ted Lerner had just ceded principle ownership to his son, Mark. Perhaps they didn’t want to make us any stronger, knowing their window of opportunity was this close? tey sure surprised a lot of people in Vegas, considering all the Dodger love out there.

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  5. I am slowly coming to a place of relative peace with the Astros’ ‘home run or nothing’ approach to offense. I didn’t say I like it – seeing as how it runs totally counter to my OTBG way of thinking; but I am coming to peace with it now, since I have to admit it is working.

    Statistically/cybermetrically, it has apparently been calculated that against play-off level pitching the percentages favor scoring ‘quick strike’ style via the long ball over scoring by stringing several hits/doubles together. We certainly have not been good at getting singles or doubles back-to-back or even in the same inning. So, an occasional home run is deemed more likely to score runs than trying to just put the ball in play and wear out pitchers the old fashioned way.

    Just hope it keeps working against the Nats -and that maybe Mr. Alvarez will get his swagger back a little bit and join the parade.

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    • Speaking of Alvarez, does anybody remember how our pitchers totally shut down and embarrassed then phenomenon rookie Cody Bellinger back in the 2017 WS? He batted just .143, with an OBP of .172, and struck out 17 times in 28 ABs.

      The bad news is, I think the league has watched the videos, and is applying the same strategy against Alvarez – with even better results so far. Alvarez’ ALCS line was a ‘check the guy’s pulse!’ low of: 045/.125/.170, with 0 EBHs, 0 RBI, and 12 strikeouts in 22 ABs.

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  6. I called the Astros and tried to get them to designate my wife and I as official good luck charms since we were at games 2 and 6 but they turned us down. Oh well, my living room will work great for the WS. I had hoped that we would win in five games, that we would have closed out game 6 in conventional fashion but the way game 6 ended was magical. As Dan said, as soon as Jose hit the ball it was OMG!!!!!!!!! and to see Gardner take one futile step back and see his shoulders slump was something I’ll never forget. I hope someone picked up the ball after it caromed back on the field and gave it to Jose after the game.
    Some random observations: I know a lot of folks were down on Osuna blowing the save but I chose to give the credit to LeMahieu for a great AB and being an incredibly tough out. I had texted my son saying that the guys I really feared in the 9th were Urshela and LeMahieu and it played out. I have a lot of confidence in Osuna and Harris has been nails.
    Chirinos and Maldonado really looked good behind the plate. I hope we can keep them both in 2020. Sanchez looked lazy and inept. He can be a lethal bat but a pretty darn sorry catcher.
    Brantley’s play was electrifying not so much for the catch but for the quick recovery and awareness to make a fantastic throw. Correa’s footwork around second base was awesome. Watching live I was afraid that he was just in the neighborhood and I half expected a challenge but on the replay he tapped the base perfectly. Good defense is such a joy to watch.
    High Heat Russo predicted the Yankees in five but he was also the same guy who said in the preseason that the road to the AL pennant went through New York. Looks like that road took a decided redirect to Houston.
    I hope we win the WS for a lot of reasons but if there is ANY chance to re-sign Cole a WS win might make it possible. I can’t see him going to the Angels who despite Trout, Ohtani and Maddon are still an inept organization. I can see the Dodgers and Padres making a big play but perhaps a WS ring and Texas’ much lower tax burden will be enough to make him stay.
    I’m going to enjoy this series and hope it is well played by both teams. The Nats are relatively easy to like and hard to hate, unlike the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs and Dodgers. Go Stros, win in six.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gardner picked up the ball, gave it to Brocamonte, who then gave it to Mike Acosta.

      Gardner told him, “congrats, you’re a great team, now go represent the American League and win.”

      Here you can see at the end, Aaron Judge hugs Broc, too. And the moment the bullpen catcher delivers the ball on his knees to the Astros Historian.

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    • I posted for you the details of that Altuve HR ball, and Brett Gardner’s kind words. But the post was deleted after pending.

      If you look at Mike Acosta’s twitter page, it’s there.

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    • Some good points Dr Bill. I was watching it with my son but had turned off the sound because Joe Buck was driving him batty. But when Jose hit that ball we both stood up and got ready to celebrate as we watched it.
      Sometimes you just have to hand it to your opponent and I agree that LeMahieu had as much right to win that battle as Osuna. As soon as I saw it though I asked my son if he thought Reddick might have made that catch?
      I’d sure love to sign Cole, but it’s so common now for players to leave WS-winning teams. It’s gonna be about the money and when was the last time “no taxes In Texas” was a deciding factor to get someone to come here, in any sport?

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  7. Some of the pundits are calling the Astros heavy favorites. I don’t see it. We’ll be facing quality starting pitching every night. So while it would seem the bats have to wake up at some point, there is mo guarantee of that. It think we’ll win another tough series. Our defense is better. Both teams are quite athletic. We’ll get on base more. But I think Washington will run on us. They stole bases at an 80% clip. We have not seen a club focus on that against us in awhile.

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  8. Brian McCann will throw out the first pitch to Evan Gattis tomorrow night!
    I call that pretty AWESOME! Neither one of them is in baseball anymore, McCann retired, and Gattis faded away. We can thank BOTH of them for playing pivotal roles in our eventuall success and winning the World series in 2017!
    Now….this next subject is not good.
    Evidently someone with the Yankees had some pretty ugly words to say about the Astros trading for Asuna. Chapman got in trouble a few years ago in a domestic violence claim with his girlfriend….suspended for 30 games, so they had their own little “problem”.
    Brandon Taubman (my friend) who is Luhnow’s assistant yelled at a group of female reporters from New York, that “we’re real glad we have Asuna” ” we’re (ugly word) glad we have Asuna”. I have NO IDEA why he did that, but it’s not good. REALLY not good. JEEZE.😳

    Liked by 1 person

    • Becky, I have been reading these stories (and Yes, some go off on a tangent) but the Astros response has me floored. They basically called the women and other journalists that were there “liars.” The best advice I ever got was “Never pass up a chance to keep your mouth shut.”

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  9. One of the ways we could “possibly” keep Garrit Cole, is use the money Crane would get (last year $119 million) in revenue sharing for being in the World Series! Don’t cha like that idea?!!! Crane could chip in another $100 million to get it done! Raise your hand if you like my idea🖑🖐!

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  10. Winning baseball games and championship series’ is simple, it seems, compared to navigating the media’s ideology- and emotion-driven killing fields.

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  11. I struggle with this whole Osuna thing. I was not comfortable when they traded for him coming off that suspension. But there has been nothing in his actions since that point to a continual problem.
    The article I just read on this acts like the Astros have 25 domestic violence thugs on the roster.
    The media has an agenda on this and many other issues. They want a reaction so they can keep this alive. I don’t like what Osuna allegedly did but MLB which has the facts in the case punished him more than the law has and judged him clear a year and a half ago.

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  12. Of 30 teams major league baseball teams that started the year seeking to win the WS, only the Astros and the Nationals are left in the chase. Other teams are sitting on their sofas, watching our city’s team go for it all. Each player on both teams – including Osuna – has contributed significantly to this great achievement. This is a time for the player’s contributions to be recognized, not for their alleged misdeeds from years, that have been processed by the legal system, to be brought back up and rehashed.

    Come on, Astros – ignore the ‘gotcha’ media and all the self-righteous, judgmental haters to whom they pander. Just go out and play baseball, and take . . . it . . . back.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I think it’s ironic as heck that the Astros won Game 6 of the ALCS, and got into the WS, by winning a game of openers.
    The Astros hate the idea of openers.

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  14. If Taubman said what is alleged, it was stupid and reckless and in very poor taste, even if he was blindsided by a reporter/writer during the clubhouse celebration. In his role, it’s not something he can afford to do again.

    I think Tucker is on the roster because this club wants very much for him to be our right fielder in 2020. While he might not get a start over Reddick, it’s important that he feel like part of the team now. And hopefully, he’ll get used in a situation where a match up favors him at some point. I’m still on the fence with this guy, but I do think Reddick gets moved this winter. Devemski is a bit of a surprise, but the experts are smarter than me.

    I’ve tried to post today on my iphone sand ipad. No luck. So now I’m in the office. We’ll see if Chip has blacklisted me. But I don’t think I’ve pissed anyone off in awhile.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Welcome Larry! Any friend of Dan’s is a friend to ME! Please excuse me if I say I’m not a football fan……never have been!
    Well folks today is the first day of the final contest for the 2019 season…it’s where these guys wanted to be since the first day of spring training! We have been blessed to witness greatness with this team!
    *Verlander’s *3rd* no hitter!
    *Zack Greinke’s 200th win!
    * Garrit Cole’s UNBELIEVABLE strikeouts!
    *Bregman holding the team together while 5 of our best players were gone for nearly 6 weeks.!
    * Adding Brantley over the winter!!
    * Extending Verlander *2* more years! AWESOME!
    *Extending Bregman for 5 more years!
    * Trading for Greinke…and having him *2* more years.
    We have a LOT to be proud of with our Astros….I never make predictions, but I like our chances.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Umps blow catchers interference (which is the only way Reddick gets on) and it helps kill the rally – Scherzer with 96 pitches thru 4 IP

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  17. Alright guys, Scherzer isn’t all that sharp, high pitch count I see and our most urgent request is for the offense to get untracked and make this a darn game. The Nats have made Cole pay for some mistakes and we need to reciprocate. We’re back to stranding runners again I see & the off feels like its in Siberia. Com’on Stros, let’s go to work, the Nats have gone to their BP now.

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  18. The Nats are a good team, they used the time off wisely, and they were ready for Gerrit Cole. Their rookie – and their grizzled veteran Ryan Zimmerman – both absolutely owned our co-ace.

    Okay, that’s one we gave them. Time to take a deep breath, dig deep, shake off the hype, and get serious about winning.

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  19. The Nationals are dangerous because they are willing to sell out and do anything to win the World Series.
    First of all, they know that we are set in our ways. They know that the Astros two aces refuse to stop throwing high fastballs early in the game and the Nationals are going to sit on them and get a couple at punish them.
    Then the Nats know that the breaking pitches come later in the game and they are going to take those to the opposite field because they have been working on this stuff all week. They are willing to adapt to what the Astros do and take the open field in the shift.
    The Nats also know that the Astros have no LHP to counter Soto so they are going to funnel as much of their offense to his at bats as they can, to bring him to the plate with runners on. That means that the guys in front of him will settle for singles against the shift to get on base for him because they know you have no lefty to bring in to face him and you won’t intentionally walk him because you don’t do it.
    On the mound, they don’t care if you run pitch counts up on them because they don’t care. They know you are patient early in the count so they pour in the strikes early and get the Astros behind in the count and then get them out when the Astros get desperate late in the count and swing at sliders out of the zone. They are going to wear out the six pitchers they can rely on and every time the Astros get rolling one of those six pitchers are going to come into the game, no matter how many games they pitch in.
    They did this to wear out St Louis and they are going to try to do the same thing against the Astros. The only way the Astros can counter this strategy is to hit the damn ball and score against these six pitchers. The Cardinals never did it and by game 3 the Cardinals were burnt toast. If the Astros don’t win tonight, they’re done and the Nationals know it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The way I see it, the phrase “stuck in our ways,”
      Is the key to who wins the series.
      If the Astros won’t adapt then we lose.

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  20. I thought this would be a tough series. This game tonight is the most important of the year. We keep having these darn must win games. But it sure makes for good theatre. Verlander has to match Strasburg. I’m pretty sure Hudson and Dr. Doolittle can’t get away with the stuff they are throwing all series long. Good grief, if our guys just start getting hits when we need them, we’ll be alright. We can’t keep hitting sub Mendoza all throughout the post season, can we?

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    • I’m a blast from the past! Somehow my email address and password got shut out of the system, so I went back to an old email address and uncleknuckle popped up. Still can’t figure out why this happened only on my iphone and ipad. I’m not smart enough.

      Liked by 1 person

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