And That Happened: Sunday's Scores and Highlights

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Mariners
8, Tigers 1
: Sure, Cliff Lee struck out 11 and allowed a single
run, but (a) he didn’t pitch a complete game; and (b) he walked a guy.
Stick a fork in him.

Reds 14, Cubs 3: Drew Stubbs goes nuts — no doubt motivated by rage over the All-Star snub of his teammate Joey Votto — hitting three homers and driving in five.  For his part Votto was ejected in the first inning. He wasn’t mad about the All-Star stuff. He just woke up on the wrong side of the bed yesterday. It happens.

Cardinals 7, Brewers 1: Yovani Gallardo allowed six runs in less than three innings, gave up a three-run double to the opposing pitcher and left with a side injury. But hey, at least it was miserably hot out and he was away from his family on a holiday.

Pirates 8, Phillies 5: OK, I’ve been riding the “don’t worry, the Phillies are going to find themselves soon and turn this thing around” train for a while now, but I’m hoppin’ off at the next station. Good teams just don’t drop three of four to the Pirates. Even injured ones. The Phillies aren’t a good team.

Rays 7, Twins 4: Three hits a piece for Evan Longoria and Sean Rodriguez as the Rays take three of four from the AL Central co-leaders. Nick Blackburn with the latest in a string of blah starts.

Padres 3, Astros 2: San Diego shuts down the Astros’ offense for the third game in a row and continues to lead the league in pitching. In other news, no Padres pitchers made the All-Star team.

Orioles 6, Red Sox 1: Brian Matusz picks up his first win in forever, shutting down the Sox on two hits over seven innings while striking out eight. Ronan Tynan sang “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch for reasons that are known only to God and someone in the Red Sox’ promotions office. Frankly, I would have been less surprised to see the corpse of Woody Guthrie out there singing “This Land is Your Land.”  Probably would have enjoyed that more too, as long as he kept in the good socialist lyrics I like from the often-overlooked fifth and sixth verses.

Mets 9, Nationals 5: Last week I complained about the fact that Jason Bay was benched by Jerry Manuel on Canada Day. I had forgotten that he became a U.S. citizen last year, so maybe it wasn’t as big a deal. For what it’s worth he busted out the whuppin’ stick on his new nation’s birthday, going 2 for 5 with a triple and driving in four. Jerry Manuel brought in K-Rod with a four run lead despite the fact that he got shelled on Saturday and despite the fact that he has now pitched in five of the last six games. Save situation or no, you gotta give that guy a break, don’t you?

Yankees 7, Blues Jays 6: Mariano Rivera blew a save but the Yankees overcame their understandable shock and won it on a Marcus Thames walkoff single in the tenth. Brett Gardner hit a two-run inside the park home run that should have been scored an error on Dewayne Wise. Sun or no sun, the ball bounced off his friggin’ glove. How is that a home run?

Athletics 3, Indians 1: Vin Mazarro gave up a lone run on seven hits in seven and a third beating the Indians’ All-Star pitcher Fausto Carmona. Guess someone has to be an Indians’ All-Star what with that “everyone needs a representative” rule. Little known fact: there are also now rules which specify that everyone gets pizza after the game and that Jacob’s mom drops off and Aiden’s mom picks up.

Dodgers 3, Diamondbacks 1: Dan Haren = good. Diamondbacks’ bullpen = bad. Pretty much the story of the season. Matt Kemp continues to mock my criticism of him in last week’s HBT Extra by hitting a two-run homer. I mentioned B.J. Upton in that too, and he also had a good day yesterday. All I need now is Carlos Zambrano to make a surprise return tomorrow and pitch a perfect game to make my humiliation complete.

Marlins 3, Braves 2: Braves fans of a certain stripe — and I’m one of them — have been fretting about Tim Hudson’s low strikeout totals this year. But hey, he struck you seven yesterday and that’s good!  Braves fans who tend to take a bigger picture view of things realize that the strikeout total that matters more is what the other guy is doing to you, and Ricky Nolasco mowed down 11 Braves yesterday. Dan Uggla did all of the offensive damage for the Feesh, driving in two on a double and hitting a solo dinger.

Rockies 4, Giants 3: This bad boy went 15 innings with Todd Helton winning it for the Rockies on a sac fly. Sixteen pitchers were used. The game went 5:24. I love baseball just as much as the next guy, but jeez . . .

White Sox 5, Rangers 3: Two of three for the Chisox who are a single
game behind the division leaders.

Angels 11, Royals 0: Two home runs seven RBI for Torii Hunter and seven shutout innings for Joel Piniero. A rare national TV game for the Royals didn’t do much to change people’s perceptions about them, did it?

Astros vs. Dodgers is a match made in heaven

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A lot of people who work at the league office or who take paychecks from the Fox network probably wanted to see the Yankees and the Cubs in the World Series. They won’t admit it, of course, but I suspect that many did, as the ratings for a Cubs-Yankees Series might’ve broken modern records. If they are at all disappointed by the Astros and Dodgers winning the pennant, however, they should let that go because they’ve been gifted by a wonderful matchup from a purely baseball perspective. Indeed, it’s one of the best on-paper matchups we’ve had in the Fall Classic in many years.

Before the Dodgers went on their late-August, early-September swoon, this was the potential World Series pairing most folks who know a thing or two wanted to see. At least I did, and I don’t think I was alone. It was certainly the matchup which represented the teams with the two best regular season records and storylines at the time. While Cleveland ended up winning more games than Houston did, for the first time since 1970 we have a World Series pitting two 100-win teams against each other.

Like that Orioles-Reds series in 1970, which featured Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and a host of other All-Stars, the Dodgers-Astros provide us with an embarrassment of big names and future Hall of Famers. Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw and Astros DH/OF Carlos Beltran are destined for induction already. Astros ace Justin Verlander may very well join them, especially if his late 2017 surge is evidence of a second career peak. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve‘s first seven years and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen‘s first eight are the stuff upon which Cooperstown resumes are made as well. People will be arguing Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley‘s Hall of Fame case for years once he retires.

Youth is served as well in this matchup, with each club featuring a handful of the game’s best young players to accompany their big name veteran stars.

The Dodgers will bat their no-doubt N.L. Rookie of the Year first baseman Cody Bellinger second or third in the lineup every game. 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, who sat out the NLCS with a bad back, is expected to be activated for the Series where he’ll be the Dodgers shortstop. The Astros are actually an old team on paper — Verlander, catcher Brian McCann, starter Charlie Morton, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, outfielder Josh Reddick and DH Evan Gattis are all over 30 while Beltran is 40 — but young players are essential to their attack as well. Shortstop Carlos Correa just turned 23 and he’s one of the game’s brightest stars. Third baseman Alex Bregman, also 23, made the play that may very well have broken the Yankees’ back during Saturday night’s pennant clincher. Age aside, the Astros are the product of a major, multi-year rebuild and many of their players are making their first national splash this postseason.

Beyond just the names and resumes, though, the Dodgers and Astros represent a fantastic strategic matchup. The Dodgers attack this postseason has featured admirable plate discipline, with third baseman Justin Turner, right fielder Yasiel Puig and center fielder Chris Taylor all letting balls out of the zone pass them by while abusing pitches left out over the plate. Astros pitchers not named Justin Verlander, however, have lived by getting the opposition to chase bad balls. Game one starter Dallas Keuchel did this by relying on his very fast sinker. Lance McCullers pitched well starting Game 4 of the ALCS and pitched spectacularly closing out the final four innings of Game 7 mostly by virtue of his curveball, which Yankees pitchers could simply not lay off. Indeed, his final 24 pitches of Game 7 were all curves, many of them low and away. Who will give in first in this series?

On the side of things, Dodgers relievers have made a living by pumping in strikes. Particularly strikes high in the zone from Jansen and Brandon Morrow. There may be no better fastball hitter in all of baseball than Jose Altuve, however, and the team as a whole was one of the best in the bigs in dealing with gas in the zone. This was a big reason why the Astros struck out less than any team in baseball this year while simultaneously boasting the best offense in the game. The Dodgers throw strikes. The Astros make you pay when you throw them strikes. Again, something’s gotta give.

Maybe the suits in New York wanted the Yankees and Cubs. But everyone else is getting exactly what we want: a matchup of the two best teams in the game. A matchup of strength against strength. What is, from a purely baseball perspective, the best World Series we could’ve possibly hoped for.