HOUSTON — For a third consecutive start on Sunday Alex Cappa Jersey , Houston Astros right-hander Gerrit Cole encountered a stretch where he wrestled with his control, a span of innings that called for his battery mate to help steer him through the rough patch and into smoother waters.
Cole needed 33 pitches to post a scoreless first inning, and while he logged a season-low-tying five innings in the Astros’ 11-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals, Cole was effective enough to pick up his ninth victory of the season and produce a line than plenty of pitchers would envy.
Cole allowed only one run, two hits and three walks with eight strikeouts. Despite a challenging start, Cole rebounded and retired the side in order in the third and fifth.
The backstop — Max Stassi caught Cole on Sunday — is responsible for helping the starting pitcher navigate trouble.
Veteran Brian McCann will likely be back behind the plate on Monday when the Astros open a three-game series with the Toronto Blue Jays at Minute Maid Park.
“You’ve got to try and find whatever the correction pitch is,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “If a guy’s delivery is one way you might find a correction pitch to get him kind of locked in. You have to keep going to the secondary pitches even if he doesn’t have a feel for it until it clicks for him. You’ve got to keep going to the well as much as you can to hopefully where he finds it.
“Whether that’s rhythm or timing of pitches, every pitcher has a key that will get him back in line with his delivery, his arm action, and his execution. You’ve got to find that by how you sequence your pitches along with attacking the hitter. It’s a nice challenge for the catcher.”
Right-hander Justin Verlander (9-2, 1.60 ERA) will start the series opener for the Astros (52-27). Verlander suffered a defeat in his lone start against Toronto last season, allowing three runs, three hits and three walks with five strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings of a 7-2 setback on July 14 with Detroit.
He is 3-5 with a 4.67 ERA in 12 career starts against the Blue Jays.
Verlander leads the American League in ERA, WHIP (0.78), opponent batting average (.164) and OPS (.506), and is tied for second in innings (107) and ranks fourth with 130 strikeouts.
The Blue Jays will counter with left-hander J.A. Happ (9-3 Robbie Gould Jersey , 3.56 ERA) on Monday. He is 4-2 with a 3.33 ERA in eight career starts against Houston, with whom he spent parts of three seasons (2010-12) and compiled an 18-28 record and 4.84 ERA in 59 starts.
Happ allowed six runs (two earned), seven hits and three walks with three strikeouts in four innings of a 19-1 loss to the Astros on July 9 at Rogers Centre.
Happ is 5-0 with a 2.35 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 46 innings during his last seven starts.
Toronto (36-41) split its four-game series with the Los Angeles Angels with a 7-6, 10-inning road win on Sunday. The Blue Jays are 6-6 in their last 12 games and were last above .500 on May 16.
Marc-Andre Fleury has been the foundation for the Vegas Golden Knights‘ run to the Stanley Cup Final.
Yet while he has a 1.68 goals-against average and .947 save percentage, he’ll be the first one in the locker room to credit the defensemen in front of him.
”It’s a team game – win as a team, lose as a team,” said Fleury, who looks to become the 11th goaltender in NHL history to have his name on the Cup at least four times – and the fourth of that group to win with multiple teams.
”These guys are a big part of our success. We’re well balanced, we got some veteran guys, some younger guys, got some offensive guys, some defensive guys playing together. Those guys have been rallying all playoffs, trying to help me out, blocking shots and letting me see the puck, so it’s been a lot of fun.”
The pairings of Nate Schmidt and Brayden McNabb, Shea Theodore and Deryk Engelland Kentavius Street Jersey , and Colin Miller with Luca Sbisa or Jon Merrill, have helped the Golden Knights become a very tight defensive team during the playoffs, something that will have to carry into Game 1 at T-Mobile Arena, on Monday against the Washington Capitals.
Schmidt has developed into the team’s top defenseman after struggling to find consistent ice time in Washington last season, when he averaged 15:29 on the ice. The fifth-year pro leads the Golden Knights with an average 22:14 on the ice and brings a familiarity to the Final, having played with Washington’s top scorers Evgeny Kuznetsov (24 points) and Alex Ovechkin (22), who rank first and second, respectively, in overall playoff scoring.
”I know a lot of those guys, I know what they like to do,” said Schmidt, who has six points (2 goals, 4 assists) in the postseason. ”For what I want to do on the ice, it helps me and I think it helps our group as well that we’ve had success against them. But it’s a whole other type of animal this time of year.”
The Golden Knights swept the regular-season series against Washington, winning 3-0 on Dec. 23 in Vegas and 4-3 on Feb. 4 in D.C.
With five more Capitals have double-digit points – Nicklas Backstrom (16), John Carlson (16) Nate Solder Jersey , T.J. Oshie (15), Lars Eller (13) and Tom Wilson (11) – Vegas will need one last big effort from a defensive group that has helped allow the second-least number of goals among playoff teams that have played 10 games.
Washington coach Barry Trotz said he knows the Golden Knights have three dynamic duos that each feature one offensive guy who can skate and move the puck – that being Miller, Theodore, and Schmidt – paired with more of a traditional stay-at-home defenseman who isn’t afraid to get physical, block shots and slow the opposing team’s pace – such as Sbisa, Engelland, Merrill and McNabb.
”But they still bring some offense, too,” Trotz said. ”They play 5-5-5 all three zones just as we talk about with the Capitals. Watch the TV, you see five guys in the picture, then you’re doing good.”
Schmidt said using speed against them worked during the regular season, by moving their feet more than Washington did, and helping to develop plays in transition. But again, this is the Stanley Cup Final, and Schmidt said he knows Washington can skate well and will be a challenge.
”I think another thing is just making sure you’re really disciplined against this team,” Schmidt said. ”You’ve got to make sure you stay out of the penalty box Odell Beckham Jr Jersey , keep Ovechkin off the power play and keep that unit off the power play.”
To Vegas’ credit, however, it does have the fourth-best penalty kill in the playoffs, stopping 82.5 percent of the power plays it has seen. And, as Sbisa said, that circles back to Fleury and the chemistry that’s been built with the defensive pairings.
”That bond is definitely there,” Sbisa said. ”You don’t have to worry about anything else, play it loose, play to your strengths and that’s what we’ve been doing as a group. The six Ds that are playing that night, they’re tight; we play as a three-man group (with Fleury). Flower’s a guy that doesn’t take too much credit for himself, even though he should, because he’s been that good and it’s obviously nice to hear stuff like that coming out of his mouth. But he definitely deserves all the credit here.
”As a D-man, knowing that you have the best goalie in the world behind you, saving you when something happens, it makes a huge difference because it allows you to play your game. Praise has to go both ways.”
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