And That Happened: Thursday's scores and recaps

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Giants 5, Nationals 1: 300. My first memory of The Big Unit was watching him on TV as he pitched against the Braves on May 7, 1989.
He was gangley and ineffective that afternoon, going four innings and
giving up six runs and walking six guys on the second worst offense in
the National League. There was nothing about him that made me think the
guy would be in baseball in a year, let alone winning his 300th 20
years later. When he was traded to the Mariners the following month I
thought “they gave up Mark Langston for THAT guy?” Mark Langston was an
All-Star who could strike guys out. Why on Earth would Seattle give
that up for this tall drink of water? Shows you what I know.
Congratulations to Randy Johnson, one of the most unique and impressive
talents to ever play the game.

Yankees 8, Rangers 6: Is everyone cool with Hughes to the pen
and Wang to the rotation? Because I’m not sure I am, and I don’t even
much care about the Yankees. Wang gave up five runs on seven hits in
four and two-thirds. On the bright side he only gave up one home run
and struck out five, so this could just be rust which, according to
conventional wisdom, is particularly hard on sinkerballers. I don’t
know if the CW is true in this regard, but at least Hughes is around in
case Wang simply can’t find it again. Compensating for Wang was Melky
Cabrera, who provided late-game heroics once again, this time in the
form of a two-run homer in the eighth that proved to be the game
winner.

Red Sox 6, Tigers 3: Reports of Dontrelle Willis’ return to form
were slightly exaggerated. D-Train was cruising along fine until he was
derailed in the third, when he went HBP-walk-K-walk-walk-walk. Leyland
pulled him at that point — getting himself ejected during the pitching
change, which is a nice trick — and then Zach Miner let eveyone Willis
put on score and then some. To top off this craptacular series for
Detroit, Miguel Cabrera hurt his hamstring running the bases and had to
leave the game.

Marlins 4, Brewers 3: Josh Johnson does it all. He hits!
(three-run homer!) He pitches! (7.2 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 8K). He’ll slice
your onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and make mounds of Julienne fries!

Twins 11, Indians 3: After watching Fausto Carmona performance yesterday, Rob Neyer said
“every time Carmona pitches he just embarrasses himself and the rest of
the organization.” Ouch. True, but ouch. Jason Kubel played a big hand
in the embarrassment, smacking two three-run homers off of Carmona.

Angels 6, Blue Jays 5: Not that every recent Neyer subject plays to form. As Rob notes, Howie Kendrick has been terrible,
but after the Angels’ bullpen blew the lead in the eighth, Kendrick
dropped a bunt single when he noticed Jose Bautista playing behind the
bag a third, advanced to third on a Chone Figgins single, and then
scored on a grounder to second that may have frozen a lot of guys at
third base. He’s still playing terrible baseball overall, but at least
for one inning he did something right.

Pirates 11, Mets 6: Welcome Andrew McCutchen! The Pirates’ new
centerfielder went 2-4 with a walk, a stolen base, scored three runs
and drove in another. But really everyone hit for Pittsburgh. Ramon
Vazquez went 4 for 4 and Andy LaRoche had a couple of RBIs as well. The
Mets hit too, but Mike Pelfrey had the worst day of his life, and there
really wasn’t any recovering from the nine runs he had given up by the
time he left in the fourth.

Athletics 7, White Sox 0: Young Brett Anderson pitched a gem (7
IP, 6 H, 0 ER) and for once the A’s bats responded. Everyone had a hit
except Orlando Cabrera and Adam Kennedy. Even Aaron “.158/.200/.158”
Cunningham, who hit a homer. The other day Ozzie Guilled said “if we have Beckham here, we’re in trouble.” Well, he’s here, and he debuted with an 0-3.

Cardinals 3, Reds 1: Overheard during Chris Carpenter’s
2007-2008 surgery and rehab: “Chris Carpenter: pitcher. A man whose arm
is barely alive. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology.
We have the capability to build the world’s first bionic starting
pitcher. Chris Carpenter will be that man. Better than he was before.
Better, stronger, faster.” If you have a better explanation for 4-0
with a 0.71 ERA, I’d really like to hear it.

Rays 3, Royals 2: The Royals have dropped seven games in a row. The Rays are back to .500.

Rockies 10, Astros 3: It was going to happen eventually, so why
not last night: Wandy Rodriguez was shelled (5 IP, 10 H, 7 ER). Garrett
Atkins had a couple of homers for the Rockies, but really everyone got
in on the hit parade.

Giants 4, Nationals 1: Matt Cain gets a rain-shortened win in
the second, afterthoughty and rainy half of the doubleheader. I can
only assume that there were about six people there by the time the rain
started coming down in earnest.

Phillies 3, Dodgers 0: Cole Hamels spins the pitching performance of the night (CG, SHO, 5 H, 5K). The Phillies have won seven straight.

Cubs-Braves: Postponed. They’ll have to schedule a doubleheader
to make this one up, most likely. Doubleheaders can be hard on a
pitching staff. Helps to have an extra starter hanging around for those
things you know. Some guy — maybe a wily vet — who can just bear down
and give you some innings to save the rest of your staff. Too bad the
Braves don’t have anyone like that. AAAAARRRGGH!

2017 Preview: Washington Nationals

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Washington Nationals.

The measure of a successful season varies from team to team. Some prefer to set the bar low. Perhaps they’re in rebuilding mode, content with a few veteran additions to balance out a new influx of young talent. Others raise the bar to a modest level, hoping to secure a division lead or, barring that, a Wild Card berth.

Still others set their sights on the loftiest of goals: a World Series championship. They’ve been around the proverbial postseason block, they know how to dominate in regular season play. Only a championship title eludes them now, and failing that, anything else feels like settling.

Enter the 2017 Washington Nationals, a team that boasts former MVP Bryce Harper, future MVP Trea Turner, the one-two punch of Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer, the 3-4-5 punch of Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross, the 2016 NL East division title, the 2014 NL East division title, the 2012 NL East division title, and three failed attempts to reach beyond the first rung of the playoffs. Should the Nationals once again find themselves unable to make a bid for the World Series, it would be a stretch to call their 2017 season a disappointment, but it’s clear that the stakes have been raised this year.

Every hero has his Achilles heel, and the Nationals’ weakness appears to be the health (or lack thereof) of its starting rotation. Stephen Strasburg worked his way back from a worrisome flexor mass strain in his right elbow this winter, evading a second round of Tommy John surgery but giving the team some pause as he prepared to improve on his 3.60 ERA and 3.9 fWAR from 2016. Max Scherzer sustained a stress fracture in his knuckle, though he’s been cleared to start the team’s third game of the season after successfully pitching through several outings in camp.

It may be a stretch to expect Strasburg to remain healthy for an entire year, something he hasn’t done since 2014, but barring catastrophe, the Nationals’ rotation looks sturdy, if not dominant. The same can be said for the bullpen, though the club lost a big contributor when Mark Melancon reached free agency — and a shiny new deal with the league-rival San Francisco Giants.

No one approaching Melancon’s superstar status remains on Washington’s roster, though 23-year-old hurler Koda Glover has attracted some looks in spring training. With days to go before the Nationals make their regular season debut, club manager Dusty Baker has remained mum on the subject. Veteran right-hander Shawn Kelley is the supposed frontrunner for the position, though his age and declining health put a limit on his availability. The opposite is true for fellow right-hander Blake Treinen, whose stuff is too good to be wasted in a ninth-inning slot, while Glover’s inexperience in the big leagues makes him more of a question mark than a sure thing.

Also troubling is the decline of star slugger Bryce Harper, whose .243/.373/.441 batting line and 3.5 fWAR in 2016 were hardly reminiscent of the league-leading totals that netted Harper his first MVP award in 2015. Anytime a good player shows wear and tear, it’s cause for some concern, but when it happens to one of the best hitters in the league, it tends to generate panic. Thankfully, not everything went downhill for Harper last season. He generated a career-high 21 stolen bases and muscled 24 home runs, second only to Daniel Murphy’s 25 homers. (In case you forgot, that’s one home run for each year that Bryce Harper has been alive, which makes the threat of imminent decline seem almost laughable at this point in his career.)

Life would be easier if Harper returned to his 42-homer, 9.5 fWAR ways, but the Nationals aren’t exactly hurting for lack of offense these days. Daniel Murphy, Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon comprise a fearsome lineup, complemented by the offseason additions of center fielder Adam Eaton and catcher Matt Wieters. The Nationals secured the return of Adam Eaton for a package of pitching prospects, including top-rated right-hander Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning. Despite the appeal of Eaton’s 6.0 fWAR 2016 season and the added benefit of shifting Trea Turner back to short, it’s a move that only makes sense when the stakes involve a championship run.

Short of a viable closer and Bryce Harper’s MVP-caliber production levels, the Nationals figure to be sitting pretty atop the NL East in 2017. Their top prospect gamble should pay off, at least in the short term, and assuming they maintain a healthy pitching staff, nothing appears to be blocking their path to a long and storied playoff battle… except, maybe, the defending World Series champs themselves.

Prediction: 1st in NL East.

Jeurys Familia’s domestic violence suspension to be announced today

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Mike Puma of the New York Post reports that the announcement of Jeurys Familia‘s domestic violence suspension is expected some time today.

Familia was arrested in October following an incident at his home. Criminal charges were dropped in December. As we know, however, MLB’s domestic violence policy does not require criminal proceedings to be commenced, let alone completed, before the leveling of league punishment. MLB has been investigating the incident for the past several months.

Billy Witz of the New York Times reported Monday that the suspension is “almost certain” to be lighter than the 30-game suspension Aroldis Chapman received one year ago. However much time Familia misses, the Mets are expecting Addison Reed to fill in at closer until he returns.