The Week Ahead: Smoltz returns, a day early

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John Smoltz makes his anticipated return to the mound on Thursday. It
is also his anticipated debut for the Boston Red Sox, who signed him
away from Atlanta in the offseason after the Braves showed somewhat
tepid interest in keeping their aging star.

There is one problem with Smoltz’s return, it would have been a lot more fun if it had come a day or two later.

On Thursday, Smoltz will take the mound in Washington against
baseball’s worst team – the Washington Nationals. On Friday, Boston
begins a three-game series at Turner Field against the Atlanta Braves.

Clearly the Red Sox are easing the veteran right-hander back into things, and Smoltz himself says that’s fine with him.

“I’m not afraid of any challenge or anything that comes about. It’s
just, I’ve got to be realistic to see that this scenario would have
been much more than just a regular first-game start.”

Smoltz already paid respects to his former teammates when the Braves
were in Boston this past week, but it still would’ve been fun to have
them face off against each other. Now the only way that happens this
year is if both teams reach the World Series – unlikely to say the
least.

Meanwhile, Boston fans, already undoubtedly pleased with Dice-K’s trip to the disabled list,
can get excited about adding another strong, veteran pitcher to the
rotation. A guy who has made it a habit to be dominant on the mound, even when injured.

“Even when he’s not healthy, his numbers don’t fluctuate,” marveled
Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. “He’s had a remarkable career.”

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH

  • Cardinals at Mets, June 22-25: This four-game set could go a
    long way toward determining whether the Mets can hang with the
    contenders for the rest of the season.
  • Phillies at Rays, June 23-25: A rematch of last October’s World Series. Only this time, Pat Burrell will be wearing the home whites at Tropicana Field.
  • Cubs at White Sox, June 26-28:
    The Cubs enter the week on a four-game winning streak and have climbed
    within 2 ½ games of the NL Central lead. The White Sox have won two
    straight and have climbed within throwing distance of .500.
  • Red Sox at Braves, June 26-28: Smoltz is back in the house, though he won’t pitch for the Red Sox in Atlanta. Unless … anyone want some rain on Thursday?
  • Yankees at Mets, June 26-28: The Subway Series, Part Deux. The
    Yankees took two of three at Yankee Stadium, but now we’re travelling
    to Queens. Will it make a difference? Will A-Rod take a break?

    ON THE TUBE

    Monday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Cardinals at Mets (ESPN2)
    Wednesday, 7:10 p.m.: Yankees at Braves (ESPN2)
    *Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Cubs at White Sox (FOX)
    *Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Red Sox at Braves (FOX)
    *Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Angels at Diamondbacks (FOX)
    Sunday, 1:30 p.m.: Red Sox at Braves (TBS)
    Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Yankees at Mets (ESPN)

    *Check local listings

  • Homer Simpson was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame

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    Twenty-five years ago, “Homer at the Bat” became one of the most iconic Simpsons episodes of all time. Legendary talents like Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, Ozzie Smith, Jose Canseco, Mike Scioscia, Steve Sax, Don Mattingly and Ken Griffey, Jr. lent their talents to the episode while their cartoon doppelgängers were put through the ringer, leaving only Homer Simpson and Darryl Strawberry to clinch the city softball championship for the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant squad. On Saturday, the show’s creators were recognized when Homer Simpson was awarded a long-overdue membership in the Hall of Fame.

    The full text from Homer’s honorary plaque is below:

    Inept safety inspector turned city-wide softball hero. Right fielder led Springfield nuclear plant to city championship game, then sacrificed his body to win it all. Nearly supplanted by lineup of all-world superstar ringers, came through in a pinch — and came to in time for the next episode. Girthy right-handed hitter powered many a mighty wallop during celebrated 1992 season with “Wonderbat” — his secret weapon. Lack of mobility in the field was no match for moves atop the dugout. Found fame as bush league mascot phenom, parlaying his “elephant walk” into a taste of the majors. Unacquainted with scientific concepts, only isotopes of which he was aware played at Duff Stadium, where uncanny knowledge of southwestern palate exposed team’s impending move to Albuquerque.

    “Homer at the Bat” will be enshrined in Cooperstown with a special display, featuring the plaque alongside some of the more memorable moments of the episode.

    And That Happened: Friday’s Scores and Highlights

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    Here are the rest of Friday’s scores and highlights:

    Reds 5, Phillies 2: Tim Adleman tapped into some kind of magic on Friday, redeeming his 6.19 ERA with eight innings of one-hit ball against the Phillies. Any hint of a no-hitter was erased in the first inning, when the right-hander served up a 1-2 base hit to Andres Blanco and plunked Aaron Altherr in the next at-bat. He undid the Phillies’ damage with an inning-ending double play and proceeded to retire the next 16 consecutive batters, finally breaking his streak on a pair of walks in the seventh and eighth.

    Granted, Adleman’s breakout came against the fifth-worst offense in the National League — but a win is a win, and the Reds will take any leg up in the standings they can get.

    Athletics 4, Yankees 1: After seven fierce innings of a pitcher’s duel, including Masahiro Tanaka‘s career-high 13 strikeouts and Sean Manaea‘s first seven-inning outing since 2016, the Yankees’ bullpen proved to be their undoing. Tyler Clippard advanced Adam Rosales to third base on an errant pickoff throw, then allowed a stolen base, walk, and back-to-back singles to give the A’s a two-run lead in the eighth inning. Jonathan Holder fared little better, losing a 2-0 battle with Stephen Vogt in the ninth and giving up the two-run homer that would seal the A’s 22nd win of the season.

    Nationals 5, Padres 1: The Nationals still have a comfortable lead atop the NL East division, and they appear to have made a full recovery from their slump last week, going 4-1 on the road against the Braves and Mariners. There’s no bad time for a Max Scherzer shutdown performance, however, and that’s just what they got during Friday’s win. Scherzer laid out 13 strikeouts in a season-best performance, holding the Padres to three hits and extending his all-time record to 53 double-strikeout appearances.

    Mets 8, Pirates 1: Jacob deGrom is finally getting his groove back. Following a seven-inning shutout against the Angels last week, the right-hander delivered 8 1/3 innings of one-run ball against the Pirates, whiffing 10 of 32 batters for his fifth double-strikeout performance of the year.

    Unsurprisingly, deGrom’s near-complete game was the longest outing by a Mets’ starter in 2017.

    Blue Jays 7, Rangers 6: Only two weeks ago, Devon Travis had yet to crest the Mendoza line. Now, he appears to be making steady progress toward another .300 average after hitting his second career grand slam in the Blue Jay’s 7-6 win on Friday night.

    The knock preceded Travis’ one-out double in the fourth inning, his 15th of the month and the most by any Blue Jays hitter in the month of May. That might not be enough to dig the Blue Jays out of last place in the AL East, but they’ve now won four consecutive games and have started to close in on the fourth-place Rays.

    Royals 6, Indians 4: The Royals technically edged out the Indians on Friday, but the Indians were treated to a repeat visit from the Rally Squirrel, so who’s to say who the real winner is here?

    Marlins 8, Angels 5: Giancarlo Stanton is made of the stuff superheroes dreamed of. Who else would hit a leadoff home run and manage, through no extraordinary effort, to physically damage the wall in center field?

    The Angels, meanwhile, have now taken three losses in a row. Albert Pujols went 2-for-4 with a single and a double, but is still stuck at No. 597 in his quest for 600 career home runs.

    Red Sox 3, Mariners 0: The Red Sox are fast closing in on first place in the AL East, and nothing is going to stand in their way now — not Dustin Pedroia‘s temporary absence, not the last-place Mariners, and certainly not a couple hours of rain. Eduardo Rodriguez dominated in his fourth start of the year, holding the Mariners at arm’s length through six scoreless innings and striking out four of 24 batters. Not a single run was scored via a hit, from Josh Rutledge‘s RBI groundout in the second inning to a run-scoring wild pitch by Yovani Gallardo and a passed ball by Mike Zunino in the sixth.

    Diamondbacks 4, Brewers 2 (10 innings): There’s never a good time for a blown save, but snapping a scoreless streak of 13 1/3 innings with a blown save in the ninth inning, with two outs and a 404-foot game-tying home run by the .235-average Chris Iannetta is far from ideal.

    The Brewers couldn’t get back on track after Corey Knebel‘s mistake, and lost in the 10th after Wily Peralta allowed a run on a wild pitch and Jake Lamb clobbered an RBI double to secure the win.

    Astros 2, Orioles 0: Don’t worry, the Astros are still the best team in baseball. They padded an impressive nine-game lead on Friday night, taking their fourth win of the week with seven sterling innings from Joe MusgroveKen Giles‘ 14th save of the season and a modest two home runs from Jake Marisnick and Carlos Beltran.

    White Sox 8, Tigers 2: It was a long and rainy night for the Tigers, who were rained out during Game 1 of a doubleheader, sat through a one-hour, 25-minute rain delay in Game 2, and still lost poorly to the White Sox. Matt Boyd continued to look shaky on the mound, delivering nine hits and three runs over 4 2/3 innings, and striking out just three of 23 batters. Alex Avila pulled the Tigers within a run of tying the game, smashing a 419-foot home run to center field in the fifth inning, but the Tigers were left clueless at the plate against the White Sox’ ever-revolving carousel of relievers.

    Rays 5, Twins 2: The best part of the Rays’ win wasn’t the way they extended their win streak to three games, nor was it Logan Morrison‘s home run, Kevin Kiermaier‘s blast or Steven Souza Jr.’s eighth-inning homer. It was the reminder that sometimes, baseball is little more than pure, glorious entertainment:

    Souza Jr. took to Twitter following the game to find out just how far off the mark he was:

    Rockies 10, Cardinals 0: The Diamondbacks and Dodgers are going to have a difficult time catching the Rockies in the NL West if Colorado keeps turning out wins like this one. They were dominant in every aspect of Friday’s game, flummoxing the Cardinals at the plate with eight scoreless frames from Antonio Senzatela and returning in the ninth with a flawless 12-pitch inning by Jordan Lyles.

    The Rockies’ offense was no less formidable at the plate, putting up an eight-spot in the eighth inning that featured, among other things, two home runs from Charlie Blackmon and Mark Reynolds and Nolan Arenado‘s 17th double of the season. Blackmon went 4-for-4 for the first time since 2016, recording an RBI triple, home run and single to come one double shy of hitting for the cycle.

    Dodgers 4, Cubs 0: All the hope that Jake Arrieta gave the Cubs during his last start was erased on Friday. Instead of building on the six-inning shutout he delivered against the Brewers, Arrieta found himself mired in a nine-hit, four-run performance against the Dodgers, striking out nine of 23 batters and allowing two home runs for the fourth time this season. The Cubs’ offense couldn’t catch a break against Alex Wood, or Pedro Baez, or Chris Hatcher, failing to produce a single run and eventually taking their third shutout of the month.

    Braves 2, Giants 0: It wasn’t so long ago that Matt Cain was a workhorse, consistently turning in 200+ innings and 3.0+ fWAR from season to season. While his glory days are well behind him now, Cain flashed a little of that dominance on Friday, going seven innings with two runs, a walk and three strikeouts against the Braves. Alas, it wasn’t enough to carry the Giants to a much-needed win: opposing starter Jaime Garcia‘s two-run single was all the team needed to edge out the Giants for their 21st win of the year.