And That Happened: Thursday's Scores and Highlights

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Smoltz.jpgYankees 13, Red Sox 6: Lord, deliver us from Red Sox-Yankees
baseball, because this game was positively interminable. Bob has the details here. And while
we’re petitioning the Lord here, let us ask Him to prevail upon one
John Smoltz (3.1 IP, 9 H, 8 ER) to hang up his spikes, because this is
just way too painful for a fan of 22 years to witness. And what’s with
you, Joba? What happened to that fast-working, strike-throwing ace we
saw four or five days ago? Seven walks? 108 pitches in five innings? Is
there some NESN/YES deal in place none of us are aware of that pays
everyone by the hour?

Phillies 3, Rockies 1: I can’t tell you how thrilled we NL East
fans are that the Phillies got Cliff Lee. Truly, we’re so, so happy for
Philadelphia. The figurative cherry on top of our giant ice cream
sundae of misery went seven innings, giving up one run and striking out
nine.

Angels 9, White Sox 5: Jon Danks gave up seven runs on nine hits
and three walks in 6 1/3 innings. “I got my butt kicked, that’s all you
can say.” Well in that case, let’s move on.

Rangers 6, Athletics 4: I gotta start reading more prospect
books and stuff in the spring. Even though I’ve noted Tommy Hunter’s
existence this season — even wrote about him once — I see “T. Hunter”
in the box score and my first thought is “When did Torii Hunter get
traded to Texas and why is he pitching?” My second thought is “I wonder
if Tab Hunter is still alive?” He was in “Damn Yankees,” you know, so
there’s a baseball connection. So I went and checked Wikipedia. Yep,
still kickin’ at 78. And though I knew Tab Hunter and Tony Perkins were
both gay, I had no idea that they were a thing for a while. Too bad it
didn’t work out for those two. Tony Perkins played Jimmy Piersall once,
you know. Basically everything’s about baseball. Oh, Tommy/Torii/Tab
pitched well (7 P, 3 H, 2 ER).

Nationals 12, Marlins 8: The Fish blow a 6-0 lead and wind up
getting slaughtered — and swept — by Washington. Ryan Zimmerman
walked, hit two singles, a triple, a homer and had three RBIs. Elijah
Dukes was 3-4 with four RBI.

Tigers 7, Orioles 3: Alex Avila — the son of the Tigers’
assistant GM — made his major league debut and hit a two-out RBI
double in the third inning. The only thing worse than working with the
boss’ kid is when the boss’ kid actually knows what he’s doing so you
can’t claim to have been given the shaft. Game story: “Porcello (10-7)
became just the second pitcher in franchise history with double digits
in wins at the age of 20 or younger, joining Dave Rozema, who had 11
victories before his 21st birthday.” Of course Rozema never won double digits again after his 15-win, 16-CG, age-20 season in 1977. Thanks, Ralph Houk!

Indians 2, Twins 1: That’s three earned runs in 11 innings
pitched since returning to the bigs for Fausto Carmona. That’s
deceiving, though, because he’s only struck out three guys, walked
seven and has given up ten hits in those innings. Oh, and his season
ERA is now at 6.66, so like that whole Satan/Goethe/Faust/Fausto
thing that everyone always talks about is just underscored now. Wait,
you mean I’m the only one who brings that up? Moving right along . . .
If I were a betting man, I’d bet that 2007 was just one of those
magical one-off years for Carmona, and that he’ll never touch that
level again. How many personnel decisions did Mark Shapiro make based
on the opposite assumption?

Dodgers 5, Braves 4: Three-run walkoff homer for Andre Ethier. I didn’t see it, so let’s hear from tHeMARksMiTh, who did:

It was signed, sealed, and delivered with Soriano coming in
for the ninth, and though it was only a two-run lead, it felt like it
was five. But he just didn’t have his command, and two pitches before
Ethier hit that home run I said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with
Soriano tonight, but I don’t have a good feeling about this.”

God damn it that one hurt.
 

Royals 8, Mariners 2: Bruce Chen wins the “scattered” award for the night, by allowing ten hits in 6.2 innings yet only giving up two runs.

Diamondbacks 11, Pirates 6: Wow, when the Pirates lose in extra
innings, they lose big. Even Dan Haren had an RBI in the 12th., and he
thought he had the night off. Pirate reliever Steven Jackson gave up
five runs on four hits in 12th, and was demoted to Triple-A
Indianapolis right after the game.

Padres 8, Mets 3: New York has lost six in a row in Petco Park.
Strange place to be having trouble. The Padres extended Bud Black’s
contract through 2010 after the game.

The Phillies are trying out prospect J.P. Crawford at third base

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On Sunday, for the first time in his professional career, Phillies shortstop prospect J.P. Crawford started at third base. He picked up three hits in five at-bats, continuing his torrid pace. Since the start of July, he’s hitting .306/.397/.595 with 11 home runs, 28 RBI, 33 runs scored, and a 37/25 K/BB ratio in 199 plate appearances.

With September looming, the Phillies may be considering a promotion for Crawford. Shortstop, however, is currently taken by Freddy Galvis who has appeared in every game this season and has taken on a leadership role with the team. Meanwhile, third baseman Maikel Franco has been mired in a season-long slump as he’s carrying a devilish .666 OPS.

The Phillies haven’t been averse to trying their prospects out at new positions. Prior to his recent promotion, Rhys Hoskins had played only first base throughout his professional career, but the Phillies moved him to left field for a few games, then called him up to the majors. Hoskins has made nine starts in the outfield and two at first base in the majors thus far.

As MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki notes, the Phillies are also considering trying out second base prospect Scott Kingery at shortstop or third base before the end of the minor league season.

These aren’t long-term plans; it’s just a way for the Phillies to find meaningful playing time for their prospects and giving manager Pete Mackanin potential flexibility. Assistant GM Ned Rice said, “It benefits the player and benefits the team when more guys are able to play multiple positions. It just gives Pete [Mackanin] a lot more options at the big league level. The more guys we can bring up who have been exposed to different positions, the better.”

Players having great seasons under the radar

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Yesterday, I watched a myriad of defensive highlights from Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons (who also homered). Curious, I looked up his stats and found him among the leaders in Wins Above Replacement. And then I found a handful of other players having great seasons and realized I’ve hardly heard anything about them. Let this be my contribution towards raising them into the spotlight.

Andrelton Simmons (Angels): The 27-year-old is having the best offensive season of his career. He posted a .751 OPS in his rookie season, but that spanned only 49 games. From 2013-16, he had an aggregate .664 OPS. His defense never wavered, of course, which is why he kept getting regular playing time and why the Angels were eager to trade for him in November 2015. This season, however, he’s been a terrific hitter, batting .292/.345/.451 with 13 home runs, 57 RBI, 62 runs scored, and 17 stolen bases in 502 plate appearances. He’s four home runs away from matching a career-high. Simmons is 11th in baseball in FanGraphs’ version of WAR, heavily predicated on the valuation of his defense, but it’s not too outlandish for me to believe Simmons has added nearly two wins above replacement on defense alone. While Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, and Mike Trout will fight for the lion’s share of AL MVP votes, Simmons could get some down ballot consideration.

Gio Gonzalez (Nationals): Gonzalez nearly threw a no-hitter earlier this season against the Marlins, which brought some eyeballs to his stat line. Still, he hasn’t been talked about much somehow. He’s 12-5 with a 2.39 ERA and a  150/62 K/BB ratio in 162 innings. It’s nothing new for Gonzalez, as he won 21 games with a 2.89 ERA en route to finishing third in Cy Young balloting in 2012. There’s also some reason to believe Gonzalez’s performance is in some part due to great fortune as his batting average on balls in play is about 50 points below league average and his rate of stranding runners on base is more than 11 percent higher than his career average. Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer have had better seasons and will be the first and second place finishers in this year’s balloting, but Gonzalez is looking at likely finishing third again, which is no small feat.

Aaron Nola (Phillies): After a dismal June 16 start against the Diamondbacks, Nola stood with a disappointing 4.76 ERA. After the first two innings of last Thursday’s start against the Giants, he briefly brought it under 3.00. Currently, it’s at 3.26 along with a 128/38 K/BB ratio in 124 1/3 innings. Since that June 16 start, he’s made 11 starts with a composite 2.21 ERA across 73 1/3 innings. The right-hander out of LSU showed promise in his rookie year in 2015, then struggled last year before succumbing to injury. Finally, it’s appearing that Nola is showing the promise the Phillies believed in when they took him in the first round (seventh overall) in the 2014 draft. Perhaps more importantly, he looks like a pitcher the Phillies can build around. If there’s one thing the Phillies have lacked since trading Cole Hamels, it’s a starter capable of throwing seven or eight innings and holding the opposition to one or two runs.

Chris Taylor (Dodgers): On a team that features Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Alex Wood, and recently added Yu Darvish, it’s understandable that Taylor would slip under the radar. He’s played five different positions this season — left field, second base, center field, third base, and shortstop — while batting .311/.383/.549 with 17 home runs, 58 RBI, 69 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases in 413 plate appearances. He’s played average to above-average defense at most of those positions, which is why his 4.6 fWAR ranks 13th in baseball and 10th in the National League. Before the Dodgers acquired him from the Mariners last June in a very little talked about trade, Taylor had been a weak-hitting utilityman. Now, he’s the starting center fielder for baseball’s best team.

Felipe Rivero (Pirates): The Pirates acquired Rivero from the Nationals last year in the Mark Melancon trade. It worked out well for the Buccos. Though the club sits at a disappointing 60-64 in fourth place in the NL Central, Rivero has been a bright spot, owning a major league best 1.31 ERA with 14 saves and a 73/16 K/BB ratio in 61 2/3 innings. The lefty took over the closer’s role when Tony Watson began to struggle in the first half. While Rivero has been terrific against right-handed hitters, limiting them to a .547 OPS, he’s been death to lefties (.227 OPS). After the season, Rivero will be eligible for arbitration for the first of four years, so it wouldn’t be shocking if he got traded at some point, but for now, they’ll enjoy his outstanding 2017 campaign.