HOUSTON — One obvious benefit of a club-record-tying 12-game winning streak and 13 victories in 14 games is the positive impact it has on the standings Garry Gilliam Jersey , something the Houston Astros could attest to before dropping the opener of a three-game set with the Kansas City Royals on Friday.
On June 5, the Astros (50-27) were the scuffling team, falling two games behind the Seattle Mariners in the American League West with a 7-1 loss, their seventh setback over 10 games. The entered this weekend 3 1/2 games ahead of the Mariners and maintained that lead Friday when Seattle lost at Boston 14-10.
Midseason standings are fluid, and it’s far too early to get enthralled by scoreboard watching.
“I think I pay attention to our team,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “I appreciate the stress that comes with whether you’re a game up or a game back or five games up or five games back. I really think we’re chasing ourselves. I think we need to play our best baseball and we’ll sort out the standings as it gets towards the later end of the season.
“I’m aware of it because I’m a baseball enthusiast; I watch the scores all the time. It’s what I do. I’m not emotionally drained when other teams go on win streaks and I’m not emotionally charged by a couple losses. I just want our team to play well.”
Right-hander Lance McCullers (8-3, 3.77 ERA) gets the start in the middle game of the series for Houston. He is 1-0 with a 2.33 ERA over four career starts against the Royals, and he recorded a no-decision in his previous outing against them after allowing four runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks with nine strikeouts over six innings in a 7-4 Astros victory on Sunday at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals will hand the ball to right-hander Ian Kennedy (1-7, 5.31 ERA) on Saturday. Kennedy is winless over his last 13 starts, one behind Athletics right-hander Chris Bassitt for the longest active streak in the majors. He is 0-7 with a 6.12 ERA since his only win on April 7.
Kennedy is 4-1 with a 1.99 ERA over five career starts against the Astros, including 3-0 with a 0.92 ERA over three starts at Minute Maid Park.
The Royals (23-52) on Friday began transitioning veteran Alcides Escobar off shortstop, ending his string of 407 consecutive starts there by moving him to center field for the opener of their series with the Astros. Escobar finished 2-for-2 with two walks, marking the first time since Sept. 6, 2017, against the Detroit Tigers that he reached base in all four plate appearances.
Escobar, a free agent following the season Marquise Goodwin Jersey , has been a mainstay at short for the Royals since 2011. Before making his first career start in center on Friday, Escobar last played that position on Aug. 2, 2010, while with the Milwaukee Brewers, shifting in the eighth inning after starting at shortstop.
“We know that he’s athletic enough to play it and we want Mondi (22-year-old infielder Adalberto Mondesi) playing short,” Royals manager Ned Yost said of Escobar. “We just think that the time is right. We talked to the coaches about it and they feel like he’ll be fine.
“He’s really excited about the opportunity at playing multiple positions, not only center but some third and some second. He knows that his next career move is probably going to be a utility-type player on the field and he’s anxious to start showing people that he can handle it.”
An exceptional medley of great awareness, terrific balance and deft reflexes allowed Stefon Diggs to ad lib and seize both the ball and the moment in the Vikings’ demon-exorcising ”Minneapolis Miracle .”
Diggs was supposed to go out of bounds if Case Keenum threw his way on the play dubbed ”Seven Heaven,” although in countless rehearsals at practice never did the pass go to the deep receiver, according to teammate Jarius Wright.
Ten seconds and no timeouts remained when Keenum dropped back from his 39 on third-and-10 in the hushed U.S. Bank Stadium, another haunting playoff heartbreak looming for Minnesota . New Orleans had taken a 24-23 lead just 15 seconds earlier.
The Saints had three defensive backs guarding the sideline as Kyle Rudolph, Wright and Diggs all ran sideline routes from the right of their formation.
Diggs was the deepest, with his break coming at about 25 yards, and just as he swiveled his hips he noticed nothing but green grass and purple end zone behind rookie free safety Marcus Williams, who was closing fast.
Diggs turned back to see the ball heading his way.
”I was thinking, `Catch it Fred Warner Jersey , get out of bounds and maybe kick a field goal,” Diggs said. ”I took a picture before I turned around to catch the ball. There was only one guy there. If he slipped, then I was going to try to stay up and keep it going.”
Williams, who had a key interception on a floater to Diggs in the third quarter, arrived a tad early. A pass interference flag would stop the clock with about 5 seconds left, giving the Vikings a chance at a field goal.
Williams awkwardly whiffed on Diggs, taking out cornerback Ken Crawley as Diggs came down, tucked the ball in his right arm and stuck his left hand in the turf to stay up.
If he stumbles there, maybe he gets caught and time runs out. But he kept his balance, his cool – and stayed in bounds – shooting toward the end zone like a sprinter coming out of the blocks.
His 61-yard touchdown catch was one of the NFL’s all-time last-play stunners and it erased four decades of heartache for a franchise that was victimized by Drew Pearson’s original ”Hail Mary” catch; Gary Anderson missing his only field goal of the season in the NFC title game; Brett Favre throwing across his body for a game-destroying pick in another NFC championship contest; and Blair Walsh shanking a short field goal against Seattle.
While the delirium echoed, Williams, the 42nd overall selection in last April’s NFL draft, sat sobbing in front of his cubicle in the Saints’ locker room.
”I’m going to take it upon myself,” Williams said after composing himself for a stand-up performance in front of the assembled media, ”to make sure nothing like this happens again to me.”
While the magical ending in Minnesota dominated the playoff discussions, there were other notable calls in the divisional round:
PAYTON’S CHALLENGES: Saints coach Sean Payton unsuccessfully challenged two calls on the same series in the fourth quarter: Wright’s 27-yard catch and Keenum’s knee not being down before he released the ball.
”Two very bad challenges by the Saints Tarvarius Moore Jersey ,” tweeted Tony Dungy. ”Not sure who is talking to Sean Payton in the Coaches booth but they have given him poor information.”
Payton explained afterward that the monitor in the team’s booth was malfunctioning, so he didn’t have an assistant coach warning him not to throw his red challenge flag.
MOVING ON: Tennessee’s 35-14 loss at New England turned out to be Mike Mularkey `s last as head coach of the Titans. He was fired Monday after leading them to their first playoff victory in 14 seasons.
A week after controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk said Mularkey ”will be our head coach moving forward,” she dismissed him, saying, ”It became evident that we saw different paths to achieve greater success.”
Of the six head coaches ousted this cycle, only Mularkey made it to the playoffs.
FORGETTABLE FOURTH-AND-1s: Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley made two curious calls on fourth-and-1 in Pittsburgh’s 45-42 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
One was a pitch to Le’Veon Bell, who was dropped for a loss, and the other an incompletion to Juju Smith-Schuster.
Maybe Haley didn’t know Ben Roethlisberger is 18 for 19 on fourth-and-1 keepers in his career.
LOOKING AHEAD? On Saturday, Bell riled up the Jaguars and their fans when he tweeted, ”I love round 2’s … we’ll have two round 2’s in back to back weeks …”
Bell was assuming a rematch with the Patriots next weekend to avenge a 24-21 loss last month, the Steelers’ only defeat since a 30-9 home loss to Jacksonville early in the season.
Bell wasn’t the only one presuming a Steelers-Patriots conference championship rematch.
In response to a recent quote from Steelers safety Mike Mitchell, who said Pittsburgh would beat New England no matter where the AFC championship was played, the Jaguars had some fun following their big win Sunday, tweeting: ”You can play them on (at)EAMaddenNFL all offseason.”