And That Happened: Tuesday's scores and highlights

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Padres 3, Reds 2: If the recaps suffer a bit today it’s because I was at a bar saying goodbye to a good friend last night (a friend longtime ShysterBall readers will remember,
actually). Mark and I used to work at the same law firm together, and
once I left at the end of last year he apparently couldn’t go on
anymore either, so he issued his resignation and is now moving down to
Florida to, hell, I dunno, eat seafood and play shuffleboard and stuff.
We had beers last night to celebrate. On the TV over the bar was Mark’s
first love — the Redlegs, as he calls them. The sound was down, but
that didn’t matter, as Mark did his spot-on Jeff Brantley impersonation
all night, going on about Ted DiBiase, UDF ice cream, the Civil War,
and whatever else sounded funny in Brantley’s drawl. Only time he broke
character was to yell at Dusty Baker for leaving Arroyo in to start the
seventh (“quit while you’re ahead, man! He’s gonna explode!”). As soon
as he got done yelling Tony Gwynn hit that triple, and Mark yelled some
more as Dusty made Arroyo issue an intentional walk and then leave the
game. I’m going to miss that guy when he’s gone, and I don’t mean
Arroyo.

Rays 6, Yankees 2: The rumor yesterday was that if the Rays
dropped all three to the Yankees, Scott Kazmir could be shipped out.
That’s kind of a dumb rumor inasmuch as the Rays’ management is a lot
smarter than to make decisions based on the outcome of three piddling
games. And besides, season stats notwithstanding, Kazmir is still good,
as he showed last night, giving up a single run in seven innings. In
contrast, CC Sabathia continued his “meh” season with another “meh”
performance (5.2 IP, 9 H, 6 R). More bad news: the Yankees learned that
Chien-Ming Wang will undergo season-ending arthroscopic surgery.
Girardi: “Hopefully this is will be the end of the surgeries for him
and he’ll have the rest of his career be real healthy.” Yeah, because
that’s how it always works.

Nationals 8, Brewers 3: Memo to Milwaukee: a visit from the
Nationals is supposed to be a cure-all, not a nightmare. The Brewers
were bombed for the second straight night, this time from Nyjer Morgan,
Adam Dunn and Cristian Guzman. Dunn’s was a moon-shot, bouncing over
the Toyota Tundra and clear the hell out of Miller Park.

Twins 5, White Sox 3: Mark Buehrle followed up his perfecto with
perfection through five innings, but then ran into a buzz saw, giving
up five runs on five hits in six and a third. With the win, the Twins
— who never, ever seem to go away — pull into a tie for second in the
Central.

Mets 4, Rockies 0: Drama shmama, the Mets don’t care what’s
happening in the front office or in the tabloids, they’ve won four in a
row. Mike Pelfrey, who was given up for dead a week ago, pitched
shutout baseball into the seventh and the hitters singled and
sacrificed their way past Jason Marquis, denying him his 13th win of
the year.

Marlins 4, Braves 3: The Braves’ two-headed closer system has
worked pretty well all year, but you’re going to have nights when your
guy — in this case Rafael Soriano — is going to have wonky control
and not get the calls. When that happens, guys wait to tee off on the
get-me-over pitches, and that’s what Ross Gload did to end the game.

Rangers 7, Tigers 3: A two-run triple and a sacrifice from Ian
Kinsler chased Luke French (really? “Luke French?” I think that name
was on my fake I.D. senior year of high school) and led the Rangers to
their eighth win in nine games. Kinsler had to leave with a hamstring
problem after six innings, but by then the damage was done. Both to the
Tigers and his hamstring.

Royals 4, Orioles 3: It’s funny to think that, for about a
decade there, this was a the natural preseason prediction for the ALCS
matchup. This one ended in the 11th when the Royals manufactured a run
on a dribbler single, a stolen base and an RBI single. The dribbler
came from Mark Teahen, who topped the ball down the first-base line,
which Matt Wieters watched and hoped would roll foul. I can only assume
that Lex Luthor had the bottled city of Kandor held hostage at the
time, and Wieters was thus coerced into not using his telekinetic
powers to will the ball foul or something.

Man, weren’t those Wieters jokes a lot funnier back in April?

Athletics 9, Red Sox 8: Things that don’t happen every day: (1)
Jonathan Papelbon blows a save, let alone one of the three-run lead
variety; (2) The A’s score nine runs; (3) The A’s get 21 hits; (4) The
A’s win. Twenty-one hits! From the A’s! In other news, walking trade
chit Clay Buchholz was again largely inefficient, throwing 107 pitches
in less than six innings. One wonders if the Sox couldn’t have left him
in the minors where he still looked alluring to would-be trade partners
rather than expose him so blatantly in the Majors. Not that it’s
important, but I recall thinking the same thing when the Madonna
Penthouse issue came out back in 1985.

Astros 11, Cubs 6: The ‘Stros lost Roy Oswalt to a back injury,
but beat up Ryan Dempster and the back end of the Cubbies’ bullpen to
win it. In the fifth inning, Fukudome hit a ball to Astros’ pitcher
Jeff Fulchino. The ball bounced inside Fulchino’s jersey and he wasn’t
able to find it in time, allowing Fukudome to reach. Then the gang put
on a show, with Mike Fontenot performing an off-key rendition of “The
Barber of Seville” while Derek Lee and Aramis Ramirez fed red hots to a
mule, which rampaged through Miss Crabtree’s classroom. Or maybe I
daydreamed that.

Angels 7, Indians 6: What? The Angels came from behind to win
another game? That’s unpossible! Of course they almost didn’t hold on
in this one because their closer, Brian Fuentes, can’t seem to get
anyone out these days (0 IP, 2H, 2 R, 2 BB). Before Monday, he hadn’t
given up a run since the end of May. Now it two days he’s given up six
runs and hasn’t retired a batter.

Cardinals 10, Dodgers 0: They scored ten, but only needed one,
because Adam Wainwright was on (8 IP, 8 H, 0 ER). Three losses in a row
for L.A.. The game was delayed an hour and a half at the outset due to
a threat of rain which never materialized. I can’t recall that
happening any time recently. Unless it’s raining you go out and play,
don’t you? It’s a rain delay, not a threat of rain delay, right?

Mariners 4, Blue Jays 3: Ichiro with the game-winning hit in the
ninth. Talk in the game story of him intentionally flailing at a curve
ball right before his hit so as to trick Scott Downs into throwing him
another curveball. Um, OK, but if he had that all planned it meant he
knew what was coming before the first curveball, and why didn’t he just
hit that one? Guess that’s not as good a story. In other news, if
Jarrod Washburn is getting traded, he’s leaving Seattle on a high note
(7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER). Finally, the game story says it’s supposed to be 100
degrees in Seattle today and they have a day game. That’s interesting
in a schadenfreude-tastic kind of way (Midwest summers make one jealous
of those in the Pacific northwest), but why does that matter for the
game? They still got a roof on that ballpark, don’t they?

Phillies 4, Diamondbacks 3: Cole Hamels was dominant, giving up
an early home run and then nothin’ else for the rest of the game (8 IP,
4 H, 0 ER, 9K). “Hamels is getting there,” Philadelphia manager Charlie
Manuel said. “He’s real close.” Close? Jesus, I’d hate to see him once
he actually arrives.

Giants 3, Pirates 2: Barry Zito is like a box of chocolates. A
lucky box of chocolates at any rate, giving up only one run despite
allowing nine hits in less than six innings. The Ryan Garko Era
officially begins in San Francisco with an 0-4. Oh, and the Big Unit has learned that he has a torn rotator cuff.
He’s on the 60 day DL retroactive to July 5th, and there’s a distinct
possibility that he won’t be back at all this year. Which, one doesn’t
have to be a genius to surmise, could mean that we’ve seen the last of
perhaps the greatest lefthander in the history of baseball.

Eddie Perez likely to be Braves’ interim manager if Fredi Gonzalez is fired

Atlanta Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez, left, stands with manager Fredi Gonzalez during a spring training baseball workout, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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There’s been a lot of rumbling that Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez will soon get the pink slip. His team is 7-20 entering Thursday’s action. Historically, front offices — particularly those of rebuilding/restructuring teams — respond to that by making coaching and/or managerial changes.

Per MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, bullpen coach Eddie Perez is likely to fill in as the Braves’ manager on an interim basis if and when Gonzalez is fired. Perez has been with the Braves as a coach since 2007. He played for the Braves in 10 out of his 11 seasons from 1995-2005. Perez wasn’t known for his bat, but was respected for the way he called games and handled the Braves’ then-elite pitching staff.

Bowman notes that Gonzalez isn’t expected to be fired over the weekend. If the team plays well, that could extend Gonzalez’s leash, so to speak.

First baseman Freddie Freeman issued a vote of confidence for his skipper, saying, “I think everything is getting magnified since we’re off to this start. I don’t know if it’s fair to put it all on [Gonzalez] because he’s not a player. We’re the 25 guys [who have to] go out there and play every day. We’re obviously not playing to our capabilities. To say that’s Fredi’s fault is unfair in my opinion.”

What’s on Tap: Previewing Thursday’s action

Chicago Cubs' Anthony Rizzo, left, and Kris Bryant celebrate a 7-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, May 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
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The Phillies and Cardinals got started a little early, finishing up their four-game series on Thursday afternoon. In the evening, we have 10 games on our slate, including Cubs-Nationals.

The Cubs have jumped out to a 20-6 start, looking like baseball’s best — and scariest — team. Entering Thursday’s action, the Cubs have a +93 run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed). That’s by far the best in baseball. The next best are the Nationals at +50, the Mets at +44, and the Cardinals at +41. In fact, the Cubs’ run differential is so good that they have under-performed relative to their expected won-lost record of 22-4.

This is without Kyle Schwarber. This is with Jason Heyward hitting a miserable .211/.317/.256, Jorge Soler hitting .185/.276/.292, and Addison Russell hitting .224/.356/.329. It’s with John Lackey pitching to a 4.32 ERA.

What makes the Cubs so good? They’re on-base machines. The club’s aggregate .364 on-base percentage is second best in the majors behind the Pirates. Dexter Fowler has an outstanding .470 OBP and Anthony Rizzo is at an elite .403. In fact, of their regulars with 100-plus plate appearances, Heyward is the only one with a sub-.350 OBP. The league average is .319. The Cubs steal bases, too, as they’re 17-for-24 (~71 percent) in that department.

The Cubs have baseball’s best pitching staff, which has yielded a major league-best 2.54 runs per game. Only four teams are below 3.00 runs allowed per game. Of course, reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta is the big contributor to that with a sterling 0.84 ERA, but Jon Lester has put up a 1.58 mark and Jason Hammel 1.24. Closer Hector Rondon has found himself in only four save situations but has converted each of them with an even 1.00 ERA and a 15/0 K/BB ratio in nine innings. The Cubs’ aggregate bullpen ERA of 2.66 is fifth-best in the majors.

It’s too early to use defensive statistics with any degree of certainty, but even the eye test shows the Cubs to be elite defenders at the important positions, particularly shortstop (Russell), right field (Heyward), and third base (Kris Bryant).

The Cubs’ success isn’t exactly surprising. The club rode five consecutive fifth-place finishes into some high draft picks and that talent is starting to establish itself in the majors. Whether it was fans, writers, or Vegas oddsmakers, the Cubs were preseason darlings.

Kyle Hendricks starts for the Cubs opposite the Nationals’ Joe Ross at Wrigley Field tonight at 8:05 PM EDT.

The rest of Thursday’s action…

Detroit Tigers (Michael Fulmer) @ Cleveland Indians (Trevor Bauer), 6:10 PM EDT

New York Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka) @ Baltimore Orioles (Kevin Gausman), 7:05 PM EDT

Texas Rangers (Derek Holland) @ Toronto Blue Jays (J.A. Happ), 7:07 PM EDT

Arizona Diamondbacks (Robbie Ray) @ Miami Marlins (Adam Conley), 7:10 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers (Chase Anderson) @ Cincinnati Reds (Alfredo Simon), 7:10 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Henry Owens) @ Chicago White Sox (Erik Johnson), 8:10 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (Wade Miley) @ Houston Astros (Chris Devenski), 8:10 PM EDT

New York Mets (Jacob deGrom) @ San Diego Padres (Colin Rea), 10:10 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Chris Rusin) @ San Francisco Giants (Matt Cain), 10:15 PM EDT

The Phillies are seeing to it that their minor leaguers eat well

Crop of vegetables. Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and other vegetables.
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For years we’ve talked about how odd it is that baseball teams are in the extraordinarily competitive business of developing highly-trained athletes yet, for whatever reason, it pays minor leaguers virtually nothing and all but forces them to subsist on junk food and other cheap options.

As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, however, the Phillies are changing that. Indeed, they’re plowing serious money into nutritious food options for their minor league players:

The Phillies are teaching their minor leaguers how to play baseball, so why not teach them how to eat well, too?

“We want them to not have to worry about anything other than baseball,” assistant general manager Ned Rice said. “When they’re playing for the Phillies, they’ll have that stuff taken care of for them.”

 

That this is a news story — and it is a good and novel one — is kind of sad in some ways. How teams haven’t been on board with this approach for decades is beyond me.

Tracking baseball’s “Naturals”

The Natural
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Rob Neyer has a great column in today’s New York Times in which he tracks the real life players who, at one time or another, were dubbed “The Natural.” A la Roy Hobbs in the book and movie of the same name.

There are some that a lot of people probably remember: Jeff Francoeur and Ken Griffey, Jr. as “The Natural” come to mind easily. There are some who I don’t ever recall being called “The Natural” but were, apparently, like Terry Pendelton and Karim Garcia. There are also some whose stories were far odder and far more tragic than any version of Hobbs’ tale (oh man, a Toe Nash sighting!). Then there’s Rick Ankiel, whose path may be the closest one to Hobbs’ of them all, at least broadly speaking.

Fun stuff that, in addition to being a walk down memory lane, is also an instructive lesson about how the power of narrative works in sports.