And That Happened: Sunday's Scores and Highlights

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Heyward shaving cream.jpgBraves 4, Rockies 3: Heymaker. The Braves trailed 3-2 with two-down in the bottom of the ninth. Heyward comes to the plate with the bases juiced and hits a two-run single to left field and that’s the ballgame. He had earlier walked with the bases loaded, giving him three RBI on the day. Martin Prado drove in the other Braves run, as he, Heyward and Brian McCann continue to be the entirety of the Atlanta offense. The Braves should have had much more, however. They walked 11 times, had eight hits yet only the four runs, suggesting a team that is fairly allergic to hitting with runners in scoring position. But hey, Heyward’s legend grows.

Dodgers 2, Giants 1: The Platonic ideal of a Giants-Dodgers game. A sunny 75 degree afternoon in L.A., a fabulous pitchers’ duel and a big bomb from the big-name slugger. Zito and Kershaw both gave up one run in seven innings, more or less, but the run charged to Zito came when Sergio Romo gave up a pinch hit homer to Manny Ramirez allowing both Ramirez and an inherited runner to score. Manny’s homer tied him with Mike Schmidt for 14th place on the all-time list.

Rays 7, Red Sox 1: Four straight losses for the Sox and five of their last six. This one was a textbook wood-shedding. Matt Garza stifled the Sox’ bats, shutting them out on four hits over eight innings. Two run homers for Carlos Pena and B.J. Upton provided more than enough offense. The heart of the Red Sox’ lineup — Pedroia, Martinez, Youkilis and Drew — combined to go 0-12 with one measly walk, though Dustin Pedroia did have a sacrifice fly in the ninth. I suppose there will be much written tomorrow in the “what’s wrong with the Red Sox” vein, but the fact is that they just played the Rays and the Twin, and it’s not unreasonable to think that the Rays and the Twins are simply better than the Red Sox this year.

Brewers 11, Nationals 7: Jason Marquis surges past Mike Gonzalez in the race for worst signing of 2010! The man who styled himself a mentor to Stephen Strasburg over the winter didn’t get any of the seven men he faced in game out. Four of them got hits, one of them walked, the other two were hit by pitches and all seven of them scored. They went on to score three more on Miguel Batista’s dime. Doug Davis’ day was pretty ignominious too. Staked to a 10-run lead, he couldn’t even lodge the five he needed to qualify for the win.

Cardinals 5, Mets 3: La Russa and Manuel probably started drinking straight from the bottle when they realized that it was 3-3 in the eighth and extra innings loomed again, but Ryan Ludwick wanted no part of it and hit a two-run jack to end it in regulation. Adam Wainwright went the distance for St. Louis, which may be a sign that La Russa is losing confidence in Joe Mather’s ability to close a game.

Pirates 5, Reds 3: The two homers from Jay Bruce were not enough to break the Reds’ losing streak, which is now up to five games. Lots of people — myself included — figured the Reds could be a bit frisky this season. Not frisky enough to make the playoffs or anything like that, but frisky enough to turn some heads and make them the trendy pick for next year. If they’re going to make that kind of noise they’d better get hoppin’. They’re 5-8. The Pirates, in contrast, picked by many to challenge for the worst record in baseball, are 7-5.

Marlins 2, Phillies 0: The Phillies have suddenly lost three of four, the last two due to lack of offense. It was Nate Robertson — Nate Robertson?! — yes, Nate Robertson who silenced the Philly bats yesterday, shutting them out for six and a third. Not that he was infallible or anything — he walked four — but he dodged bullets. Cole Hamels was excellent (8 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 8K) but if you don’t score, you can’t win. Dan Uggla was the entire Florida offense, homering once and doubling in the second run.

Angels 3, Blue Jays 1: And now the Angels have won four of five, this time behind Evin Santana’s almost shuotout. How almost? He was 3-2 on Adam Lind with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning when he gave up a solo shot. Next batter was Vernon Wells who lined out, ending the game.  Ricky Romero — who came close to a no-no his last time out — was excellent too (8 IP, 1 ER), but just like Cole Hamles in the Phillies’ game, he couldn’t do better than a shutout. Or even a near-shutout.

Yankees 5, Rangers 2: Mark Teixeira hit his first homer of the year helping the Yankees sweep the Rangers. Ramiro Pena, playing short for the Yankees because Derek Jeter had a cold, was quite an admirable substitution, hitting a two-run single. Andy Pettitte was Andy Pettitte, pitching four-hit ball. Rich Harden was awful, walking six guys and hitting two more in three and two-thirds.

Indians 7, White Sox 4: Shin-Soo Choo hit a grand slam and drove in another run on an RBI single. He has now hit in seven straight, raising his average a couple hundred points over that time, which is the sort of thing that makes April awesome. To say that Gavin Floyd didn’t have it today would be an insult to the concept of having it (1 IP, 6 H, 7 R, 4 BB). He faced five guys in the second inning and all of them reached. It was the first time the Tribe has swept the Chisox at home in seven years.

Astros 3, Cubs 2: After giving up a two-run single to Marlon Byrd in the third, Wandy Rodriguez and the Astros’ pen shut the Cubbies down. Ryan Dempster gave up only one run himself, but Carlos Marmol couldn’t close the deal. Pedro Feliz’ sacrifice in the 10th provided the winning margin.

Royals 10, Twins 5: Alberto Callaspo hit two three-run homers and Carl Pavano added to the fairly lengthy list of disastrous starting pitching performances on Sunday (3.1 IP, 11 H, 7 ER).

Orioles 8, Athletics 3: A homer and 4 RBI for Ty Wigginton helps the O’s end their skid at nine. Brett Anderson, the Athletics’ new $12.5 million man, got beat up (5 IP, 8 H, 6 R). He’s a professional so I’m sure it wasn’t because he went on a two-day bender to celebrate his new contract, but it’s the sort of thing I like to imagine happens once in a while. Like, he woke up in Tijuana yesterday morning with a woman named Sharlene on one side of him and a donkey on the other, couldn’t find his ID so he paid a man with an eye patch to smuggle him back over t
he border and then stowed aw
ay in a crop duster to get back up to Oakland in time for the game. What with all of that — which I’m almost certain didn’t happen — only giving up six runs is something of an accomplishment. But shhhh!  No one tell Brett than he and Sharlene are married!

Padres 5, Diamondbacks 3: On Friday night Chase Headley hit a three-run homer with two outs in the
ninth to seal a come-from-behind victory. Yesterday’s two-run double in the seventh was not quite so dramatic, but it served San Diego’s interests just fine. That’s four straight losses for the Dbacks. Indeed, there are a lot of streaky teams in baseball right now: the Yankees and Indians have won four in a row and the Rays have won six in a row. Meanwhile, the Red Sox, White Sox and Rangers join Arizona with four straight in the tank, and the Reds have their five-game skid.

Tigers 4, Mariners 2: Eric Byrnes subbed-in for the sore-calfed Milton Bradley yesterday and really got his money’s worth. He was in a collision at the plate (out), he slammed into the wall trying to catch an Austin Jackson fly ball (triple) and laid out to catch a hit off the bat of Carlos Guillen (popped out of his glove). Open question as to whether 110% of nothin’ is still worthwhile, but it’s kinda fun to watch.

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.