And That Happened: Thursday's Scores and Highlights

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Rays 5, Indians 2: Cleveland was done in yesterday by two homers for
Carl Crawford, a strong start from Wade Davis and a
sociopathic heel-turn from LeBron James
.  Cleveland is a tough city, though.  They handled a burning river. They handled the implosion of basically the entire economy. They handle about ten feel of snow every winter.  They’re hurt and angry today, but they’ll get over this. It takes a hell of a lot more than the vicissitudes of some rude young basketball player to keep Cleveland down.

Yankees 3, Mariners 1: Alex Rodriguez took well to his first night of no longer being sports’ most hated figure, hitting a two run RBI single in the ninth which proved to be the game winner.

Padres 7, Nationals 1: Mat Latos shut out the Nats over seven innings and went 2 for 3 with a home run. Four homers in all for the Padres.

Rockies 4 Cardinals 2: Look on the bright side Cardinals fans: the pen didn’t blow this one. And hey, you probably penciled in the Ubaldo Jimenez start as the one you’d drop in this series anyway, right?

Giants 9, Brewers 3: Nothing like a trip to Milwaukee to cure what ails an offense. The Giants busted out the whuppin’ sticks in sweeping the Brewers this week. Four RBI for Aubrey Huff and another home run for Buster Posey. Only bad part: Barry Zito was staked to a 6-0 lead but couldn’t even last the five innings necessary to claim the win.  The Z-man — which no one has ever called him to my knowledge, but why the hell not? — hasn’t won a game in a month.

Phillies 4, Reds 3: Both Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge blow leads in the late innings, but the pen held once the game went into extras and Philly won it on a walkoff bomb from Brian Schneider. Newly-named All-Star Joey Votto stayed hot, hitting a homer of his own.

Orioles 6, Rangers 4: A day after I give them the Detective Munch treatment the O’s show some friggin’ moxie. Down 4-0 in the fifth, Baltimore claws back. They had help in the eighth though, with Frank Francisco plunking a guy to load the bases, Darren Oliver coming in and  plunking the very next guy to force in a run and then walking the guy after that to force in yet another run. Oh, and Nolan Ryan is telling reporters he might not be the next owner of the Rangers now, so all in all a pretty craptacular day for Texas fans.

Astros 2, Pirates 0: I hit this one up yesterday, but suffice it to say that Roy Oswalt did nothing to discourage the many scouts following him around.

White Sox 1, Angels 0: Aaron hit this one up yesterday, but suffice it to say that Torii Hunter is not a happy camper.

Blue Jays 8, Twins 1: The Twins get bombed and are now two back of the Tigers and a game and a half behind Chicago.  Are they getting desperate to trade for Lee yet?

Dodgers 3, Cubs 2: Clayton Kershaw struck out 12 and Rafael Furcal went 3 for 3 with a homer and 2 RBI.  Fact from the game notes: “The Dodgers took a 1,019-1,017 lead in the all-time series between the
teams that began in 1890.” What people don’t know is that the Dodgers had a distinct advantage in the series for a while, but that in 1911 it began to even up when the Cubs called up a young starting pitcher named Jamie Moyer.

Diamondbacks 10, Marlins 4: Smallest crowd in Diamondbacks’ history at 16,664. The Marlins were impressed, though.  They can’t draw that on Free Money and Donuts Night.

UPDATE: Donald Trump declines Nats offer to throw out the first pitch

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UPDATE: Welp, we wont’ get to see that:

Sad!

8:53 AM: It’s just gossip now, but Politico is hearing that Donald Trump is in talks to throw out the first pitch at Nationals Park on Opening Day. The Nats are not commenting. Neither are the Palm Beach Cardinals of the Florida State League, who no doubt feel slighted given that the president effectively is a local.

With the caveat that, on Opening Day, tickets are likely to be more expensive and thus you’re likely to have a lot more rich people and friends-of-the-owners in attendance, thereby ensuring a more conservative crowd, I’m struggling to imagine a situation in which Trump strolls on to a baseball field in a large American city and isn’t booed like crazy. He’s polling as low as 36% in some places. He’s not exactly Mr. Popular.

Oh well. I look forward to him three-bouncing one to Matt Wieters and then grabbing his phone and tweeting about how it was the best, most tremendous first pitch in baseball history. Or blaming Hillary Clinton for it in the event he admits that it was a bad pitch.

2017 Preview: Texas Rangers

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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 Texas Rangers.

The Rangers somehow won the AL West last year despite not being super great at any one aspect of the game. There are stars here — Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Rougned Odor are all spiffy players — but the Rangers won the division by being greater than the sum of their parts. They scored a decent number of runs despite some bad collective peripheral numbers and they allowed more runs than anyone in the AL except the Twins and Athletics. Yet they had a great record in one-run games and outperformed their pythagorean record by a WHOLE lot. Luck shined brightly on the 2016 Rangers.

It’s hard to expect luck to hold in any instance, but that’s especially the case when there have been some pretty significant changes. Changes like the loss of Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond and Mitch Moreland. In their place: A full season, the Rangers hope, from Shin-Soo Choo, a converted-to-outfield Jurickson Profar and Mike Napoli. That may wash out OK, especially if Choo is healthy, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see some regression in two of those offensive slots.

Starting pitching is also a big question mark. Cole Hamels at the top is not a problem, obviously, and if Yu Darvish is healthy and durable the Rangers have an outstanding 1-2 punch. Martin Perez in the third spot presents promise, but he’s been exactly average so far in five major league seasons. The back end of the rotation has some real problems. Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are hurt at the moment and even if healthy, Cashner seems to be a shell of his once-promising self. A.J. Griffin is looking to pitch in his first full season since 2013. If the Rangers are strong contenders all year it’s gonna be on the “Spahn and Sain and two days of rain” model, but I have no idea what rhymes with “Darvish” and that’s sort of a problem.

The bullpen is going to look a lot like it did last year. Sam Dyson will close, but manager Jeff Banister has shown in the past that he’s not a slave to keeping guys in any one role down there. Jeremy Jeffress will likely set up but he’s closed before. Some think Matt Bush or Keone Kela could close. We’ll see Tanner Scheppers and lefty Alex Claudio. Banister has a Manager of the Year Award on his mantle and while that often doesn’t mean anything, it usually suggests that a guy knows how to deal with his pen. Banister will do OK with what he has.

Really, though, the rotation is a concern, as is hoping that a 35-year-old Mike Napoli and a soon-to-be 38-year-old Adrian Beltre can continue to be the types of players who can form the offensive core of a playoff team. There’s talent and a track record here, but there’s a lot of uncertainty. For that reason, I suspect the Rangers will fall back a smidge this year, even if they’re a playoff contender.

Prediction: Second Place, American League West.