And That Happened: Sunday's Scores and Highlights

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Phillies 9, Mets 7: Unassisted triple plays are cool and all, but they’re really more about luck than anything else, aren’t they? You hit the ball to just the wrong place at just the wrong time and bam-bam-bam it’s over. Oftentimes the middle infielder who turns the thing isn’t even 100% sure he’s done it until he looks around a bit, tags a guy he forced out just to be sure, etc., because it’s really more a matter of reflex than anything else. It’s sort of like most inside the park home runs (like the one Angel Pagan hit earlier in this game): happenstance or maybe a bad play on the part of the opposition makes it possible. So, even though I’d love to rag on Jeff Francoeur for hitting into one of these things or praise Eric Bruntlett for turning it, blame and credit has to go to chance more than anyone.

Cardinals 5, Padres 2: Before people start talking about how wrong the Sox were to release Smoltz, or how much worse the NL is than the AL, or how the release motivates Smoltz or any of that, let us just remember that yesterday’s strong performance (5 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 9K) came against the worst offense in baseball, playing in the friendliest pitchers’ park in baseball.

Cubs 3, Dodgers 1: The Cubs salvage one, as Jake Fox goes 4 for 4 with a homer and two RBI. Game story: “[Ryan Dempster] credited his breakfast of ‘pancakes and a little bowl of whip-your-butt cereal’ for his solid outing.” I can only assume he got the cereal from this chick.UPDATE:  Sadly, the nice lady in Los Angeles who advertised her butt-whipping services has taken her ad down. Still, it’s L.A., so if you’re interested in getting “the Ryan Demptser treatment,” I’m sure there are still many places you can find such a service.

Yankees 8, Red Sox 4: Three game series between the Sox and Yanks: 58 runs scored, game times of 3:57, 3:17, 3:13, and not one single extra inning. Watching the Yankees play the Red Sox is like watching WAC football from the 1980s. If the AL East is the best baseball has to offer, baseball can friggin’ keep it.

Athletics 9, Tigers 4: Jack Cust hit two homers, Landon Powell hit one, and Brett Tomko of all people continues to pitch like an ace. The win brings him to 98-101 for his career. For purely subjective reasons — including the fact that Tomko is my age and the fact that I have a soft spot for journeyman swingmen, I’d like to see him even up that record before the end of the season.

Orioles 5, White Sox 4: Mark Buehrle has had one decent start since his perfect game (which the Sox lost, but that’s neither here nor there). Beat up again yesterday for five runs on eleven hits in five and a third, one wonders what the heck has happened to the guy. He’s not walking a ton of guys. He’s just getting pounded. As for the Sox, they just played six against the Royals and Orioles at home, and they split those. You’d think that a playoff team wins four or five against those teams. If they finish one or two behind the Tigers, that little stretch may look pretty big in hindsight.

Rangers 4, Rays 0: Scott Feldman was on (7 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 11K). Chip Caray and Buck Martinez weren’t, however, so instead of this game, I watched . . .

Indians 6, Mariners 1: The Tribe beat up on Felix Hernandez, chasing him in the four-run sixth inning and Fausto Carmona (7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 8K) looked better than than I’ve seen him since 2007. Jhonny Peralta iht an RBI single, ohmered, and reahced on error and came ohme to score.

Rockies 4, Giants 2: Jiminez beats Lincecum, and the Rockies have extended their wild card lead over the Giants by taking two of three thus far in the series. This is a wraparound, though, so the Giants have a shot to get back where they were on Friday morning with a win tonight.

Twins 10, Royals 3: Mike Cuddyer homered twice. Kyle Farnsworth, the man whose presence in the pen required that Alex Gordon be sent down to Omaha — gave up five runs on five hits in one inning of work.



Reds 4, Pirates 1: With this won the Reds are now .005 points
ahead of the Pirates in the Central! This one is going down to the
wire, folks! Pirates starter Kevin Hart: “I don’t think you’re going to
win a lot of games at this level throwing the ball like I did today.”
He’s right. And just imagine how bad a day it would have been for him
at the Major League level.

Nationals 8, Brewers 3: I mock the Reds and Pirates, but the
Brewers are closer to them in the standings than they are to the
Cardinals. As for the Nats, a win tomorrow in the finale of this series
and they’ll be at .500 since the break. Not bad for a team that has
rarely looked as bad this season as their record indicates.

Blue Jays 8, Angels 3: I think the Jays, at least when
Halladay doesn’t start, are like the AL’s version of the Astros for me
in that I can rarely find anything on interest in their box scores.
Something fun from the AP story, though, was the fact that Vladimir
Guerrero fouled off a pitch that bounced in the dirt in the ninth. He’s
Vlad, though, and that’s just what he does.

Braves 7, Marlins 5: Brian McCann provided the bookends to the
scoring in this one with a three run homer in the first and a two-run
single in the eighth which proved to be the game winner.

Diamondbacks 7, Astros 5: Arizona halts a seven game losing
streak. The Dbacks drew five walks, which was a big deal, because
before those, not a single player on the team had walked since last
Monday.

Kevin Gausman to start Opening Day for the Orioles

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The Orioles have tabbed Kevin Gausman to start on Opening Day, April 3 against the Blue Jays at Camden Yards, MASN’s Roch Kubatko reports. Chris Tillman started the previous three Opening Days for the O’s. This will be Gausman’s first Opening Day nod.

Gausman, 26, finished the 2016 season with a 3.61 ERA and a 174/47 K/BB ratio in 179 2/3 innings. The Orioles selected him in the first round (fourth overall) of the 2012 draft and moved him through their minor league system quickly. Gausman debuted in the majors in May 2013.

2017 Preview: Detroit Tigers

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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 Detroit Tigers.

I feel like every year, for the past several years, our Tigers preview has been some variation of “do the Tigers still have a run left in them with the Cabrera-Verlander core?”

If you’re tired of reading that one I have some bad news for you: it’s the same dang story this year as it has been every year. A great pitcher and a great hitter, a very solid supporting cast, a handful of holes that could be critical weaknesses and enough to make them look strong enough to contend but not enough to contend strongly, if that makes any sense.

Let’s start with the pitching. Justin Verlander returned to Cy Young-caliber form in 2016, thanks mostly to health and a big, big leap in his strikeout rate, suggesting that it was health and not an overall decline which harmed him in 2014 and 2015. He’ll lead the way again, followed by Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer, who was a wonderful surprise last season. The back end of the rotation is problematic, however, with Jordan Zimmermann and Anibal Sanchez stinking up the joint for most of last year and young Daniel Norris suffering through injuries. For the Tigers to contend, they’ll need at least one of those veterans to return to their old form — or someone like Matt Boyd or Mike Pelfrey to, well, not be Matt Boyd and Mike Pelfrey– and for Norris to be healthy.

Fine, let’s say Verlander and Fulmer repeat their 2016 success and say that Norris is a strong, healthy and effective number three. Who then does Brad Ausmus turn the ball over to in the late innings? If you think the overall take on the Tigers is rehashed from year to year, well, the same goes for the pen. It, as always, is a liability in Detroit. And it’s not going to be terribly different than it was last year. Francisco Rodriguez will close. A couple of Wilsons in Alex and Justin. Shane Greene. Maybe one of the veteran starters who doesn’t make the rotation. The always interesting Bruce Rondon. It’s not terrible but it’s not the strongest bunch in the world and it’s being handled by a guy in Ausmus who has yet to show that he can get the most out of a less-than-steller relief corps. You can Google the phrase “Tigers bullpen woes” and find results from every season for most of the past decade. You’ll probably be able to do it again this year.

The offense, of course, is fantastic, at least at the top end. Miguel Cabrera is still an MVP-caliber player and even when his decline begins he’ll be better than almost any hitter in the game. Ian Kinsler is still low-key excellent. Nick Castellanos took a big leap forward last year. J.D. Martinez is going to miss the first month or so of the season with a sprained ligament in his foot, but he’s in his walk year and will likely be fine once he returns. Justin Upton has always been super uneven and has always failed to meet the insane expectations he set early in his career, but as he showed late last season, he’s capable of carrying a team for a stretch. I’ve been saying it for a pushing a decade, but one of these years he’s going to put it all together.

The big question is going to be the bottom third of the lineup where catcher James McCann, shortstop Jose Iglesias and center fielder Tyler Collins all look to be offensive liabilities at the moment. A bigger than usual year from any of them could help matters greatly.

Of course all of this — the strong lineup with critical holes, the rotation that starts well but has question marks and the spotty bullpen — has been the Tigers story for years. It’s a story that could end happily with 85-90 wins, a playoff spot and a bunch of seasoned veterans getting hot at the right time and riding it to glory. It could just as easily get sprinkled with a slow start or a few injuries and result in a 75-80 win season like they had back in 2015.

In the past, that would lead to yet another “wait until next year.” This year, however, you get the strong sense that there is no next year if this year is disappointing. There was talk that the Tigers could sell off veteran parts this past winter, but they didn’t. Then longtime owner Mike Ilitch, who was seen as a man who pushed to win now despite the costs, passed away in February. It’s not hard to imagine his son giving different instructions to GM Al Avila if the Tigers don’t get off to a fast start this year. It’s not hard to imagine the great unwinding of the core that has kept this Tigers team in contention for so long if 2017 is a disappointment.

I’m still optimistic, though. The Indians are the class of the division but the Royals are likely taking a step back and the Twins and White Sox are not yet a threat. I won’t predict October glory for them, but I think, barring major injuries to key players, the Tigers will be playing meaningful baseball in September.

Prediction: Second place, American League Central