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Astros clinch AL West behind Springer’s 3 HRs

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HOUSTON — George Springer hit a career-high three homers, Justin Verlander posted his MLB-leading 20th win and the Houston Astros clinched their third straight AL West title in grand fashion, routing the Los Angeles Angels 13-5 on Sunday.

A crowd at Minute Maid Park that was cheering from Verlander’s first pitch got even louder as Springer homered three times in the first four innings. The Astros kept breaking away and improved to 102-54, a half-game ahead of the New York Yankees for the best record in the majors.

After the final out, the Astros held a bouncing group hug in the middle of the diamond and posed for a team picture. It hasn’t been determined who they will face in the playoffs as they try for their second World Series championship in three years.

Manager AJ Hinch spoke to the team in the clubhouse as the players broke out the bubbly and began a spraying celebration.

Springer, the MVP of the 2017 World Series, had two chances to tie the big league record for home runs in a game. He popped up with the bases loaded in the fifth and grounded out in the seventh.

Verlander (20-6) yielded six hits and two runs in five innings to reach 20 wins for the second time in his career and the first since winning the AL MVP and Cy Young Award in 2011 when he went 24-5 for Detroit. This year’s AL Cy Young front-runner struck out five to leave him six strikeouts shy of becoming the 18th pitcher in MLB history to reach 3,000.

The 36-year-old righty has fanned 288 this season, second most in his career and second in the majors behind teammate Gerrit Cole.

Verlander, who leads the AL with a 2.53 ERA, is the first Astros pitcher to win 20 games since Dallas Keuchel went 20-8 in 2015 when he won the Cy Young.

The Astros won their ninth division title. They took the NL West in 1980 and 1986, the NL Central in 1997-99 and 2001 and their three most recent titles in the AL.

Springer homered on his first three at-bats to help Houston take a 4-2 lead in the fourth inning. The Astros added six runs in a fifth, highlighted by a two-run homer from Alex Bregman to make it 10-2.

Springer, who has a career-best 38 home runs this season, got to work immediately, sending Jose Rodriguez‘s first pitch into left-center field for his franchise-record 12th leadoff homer this season. That left him one shy of the MLB record for leadoff homers in a season set by Alfonso Soriano with the Yankees in 2003.

Jared Walsh and Michael Hermosillo hit back-to-back triples with two outs in the second to tie it up.

Aledmys Diaz singled with no outs in the second and Springer connected off Rodriguez (0-1) again with two outs to put the Astros up 3-1.

There were two outs in the fourth when Springer sent a fastball from Jose Suarez into the seats in left field to make it 4-2.

The record of four homers has been done 18 times, mostly recently by J.D. Martinez for Arizona in 2017. This was the 14th time in a regular-season game in franchise history that an Astros player has hit three homers and the second time this season after rookie Yordan Alvarez also did it.



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Former long-shot Nationals favored over Cardinals in NLCS

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The Washington Nationals overcame a slow start and long odds to reach the National League Championship Series and are now the favorites to reach the franchise’s first World Series.

The Nationals stunned the Los Angeles Dodgers with a late-inning rally in Wednesday’s decisive Game 5 victory to advance to the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals.

At Caesars Sportsbook, the Nationals opened as -120 favorites over the Cardinals in the NLCS.

Washington was considered a contender entering the season but got off to a disappointing start. The Nationals were 19-31 in late May and were listed as a 70-1 World Series long shot at that point at SugarHouse sportsbooks in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. They are 7-2 now at SugarHouse.

The Nationals winning the World Series would be a boon for some sportsbooks and costly for others. Entering the postseason, only the Tampa Bay Rays had attracted fewer bets to win the World Series at William Hill sportsbooks. There were some big World Series bets on the Nationals, though, including a $15,000 wager in October when Washington opened at 22-1 at William Hill. That ticket would pay a net $330,000.

Before the season, a bettor at DraftKings sportsbook placed three World Series bets on the Nationals, totaling just under $5,000, for a chance to win $102,476 if Washington wins it all.

Jeff Davis, head of risk for Caesars Sportsbook, told ESPN that Washington winning the World Series would be an “incredible” result for his shop. The Nationals also are the best possible result for Las Vegas sportsbook operator CG Technology.

However, the Borgata sportsbook in New Jersey said it is facing a “$200,000” net liability on the Nationals in its World Series futures market.

“They are [the] biggest loser in our book, more than the Yankees,” Darren Darby, head of sports at Roar Digital, which operates the sportsbook at the Borgata, told ESPN in a text message. “Astros and all others are winners for us.”

The Nationals were facing long odds Wednesday, trailing the Dodgers 3-1 entering the eighth inning, with Los Angeles ace Clayton Kershaw in the game. Bookmaker William Hill had the Nationals as 10-1 underdogs to pull off the comeback.

Washington’s Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto led off the inning with back-to-back home runs off Kershaw to tie the score, and Howie Kendrick hit a grand slam in the 10th inning to help send the Nationals to the NLCS.

A bettor at FanDuel’s sportsbook placed a $2,000 bet in-game on the Nationals at 7-1 when they were down 3-0 to the Dodgers. The bettor won a net $14,000.

The Astros host the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday night in Game 5 of their division series. The winner will take on the Yankees in the ALCS.

Houston furniture store owner Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale has placed nearly $6 million in bets on the Astros in an effort to mitigate potential losses from a promotion he is running. McIngvale also has a $1 million bet on an AL team winning the World Series.

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Anibal Sanchez, Miles Mikolas get NLCS Game 1 starts

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Washington Nationals right-hander Anibal Sanchez will start Game 1 of the National League Championship Series on Friday night, facing right-hander Miles Mikolas of the St. Louis Cardinals, the teams announced Thursday.

Nationals starters Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin both pitched in Wednesday’s Game 5 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Max Scherzer started a Game 4 win Monday.

Sanchez started Game 3 of the series on Sunday, giving up one run on four hits and two walks, recording nine strikeouts over five innings with no decision.

In Game 2, the Cardinals will start Adam Wainwright, followed by ace Jack Flaherty in Game 3 and Dakota Hudson in Game 4.



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Marlins keep pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr., Fredi Gonzalez leaving

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MIAMI — Mel Stottlemyre Jr. has been retained as the Miami Marlins‘ pitching coach for 2020 after guiding a young staff that ranked 20th in the majors in ERA this year.

The Marlins also retained first base coach Trey Hillman. He and Stottlemyre both joined manager Don Mattingly’s staff this year.

Third base coach Fredi Gonzalez, a former manager for the Marlins and the Atlanta Braves, has informed team officials that he’d like to pursue other career options and was not retained.

“I think it’s the right time right now to move on,” Gonzalez told MLB.com on Thursday.

Gonzalez had a 276-279 record with the Marlins from 2007 to 2010, and was 434-413 in six seasons with the Braves — with one postseason appearance — from 2011 to 2016.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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