And That Happened: Monday's Scores and Highlights

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Phillies 8, Nationals 0: Fitting. Fitting that it was Halladay on the mound, throwing bullets and likely clinching the Cy Young Award (CG, SHO 2 H, 6K). Fitting that it came in Nats Park in front of thousands of friendly fans, just as the season began. This one also clinches the best record in the NL, giving them home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Braves 2, Marlins 1: They’re still not scoring runs, but a win is a win. Omar Infante singled in the winner in the 11th. Trouble, though: Martin Prado left the game with a “hip pointer,” whatever that is, and is likely going to be out for some time. Time the Braves — clinging to a half-game lead in the wild card — don’t have much of.

Cubs 1, Padres 0: Carlos Zambrano blanked the Padres (7 IP, 3 H, 0 ER), dropping them a half game back of Atlanta. They’re still tied in the loss column, though.  Allow me to observe at this point that virtually no one who is not a Braves fan wants Atlanta to beat the Padres for the wild card. Like, I think there’s hostility to the idea.  I can live with that.

Blue Jays 7, Yankees 5: Another A.J. Burnett disaster start (2.1 IP, 7 H, 7 ER). Open question right now if he’s in the playoff rotation. Playoffs which, thanks to this loss and the Red Sox’ win, the Yankees will have to wait at least one more day to clinch. Oh, and no home runs for Jose Bautista. I guess he’s off those ‘roids which, none of us would dare accuse him of taking, but about which “questions remain.” Jackass.

Cardinals 6, Pirates 4: If Pittsburgh had won, the Reds would have clinched the division from the comfort of their own living rooms. Now they have to go out and clinch on the field against the Astros. A two-run homer and three RBI for Matt Holliday.

Dodgers 3, Rockies 1: Colorado digs itself into a deeper hole. Ubaldo Jimenez remains stuck on 19 wins. Remember when people were asking if he could win 30 this year? Yeah, spring was fun.

Indians 6, Tigers 3: Miguel Cabrera sprained his ankle while coming back to first base on a pickoff attempt. Jim Leyland thought it looked bad. Two of the top MVP candidates — Cabrera and Hamilton — may end the season on the shelf.

Orioles 4, Rays 0: Brian Matusz shut down the Rays for seven innings, striking out eight. Nick Markakis had a nice night: 2 for 5, 3B, 2 RBI. He was involved in every scoring play, either knocking in the run, scoring the run of running around the bases while his teammates did those things.

Mariners 7, Rangers 5: Justin Smoak went three for four and hit a three-run homer against his old team. The Mariners started five rookies. 2011 spring training begins now. It actually began back in June or so, really.

Red Sox 6, White Sox 1: Boston pushes off elimination for one more day thanks to eight strong innings from Clay Buchholz. David Ortiz hit the 100 RBI mark. Mark Buehrle hit the 200 inning mark. Round numbers are fun.

Royals 10, Twins 8: Jarrod Dyson had one home run in 1245 minor league plate appearances, and none since his September callup to Kansas City. He knocked a two-run job last night, though, to go with ten putouts in centerfield, which tied a Royals record. Who knows what may happen, but I dare say he just had the best night playing baseball he will ever have in his life.

Angels 6, Athletics 5: Justin James plunked in a run with the bases loaded in the seventh and then walked in a run immediately thereafter. That’s no fun. Both Oakland and LAA are trying hard to finish at .500 or above. There’s a good chance neither do.

Brewers vs. Mets: Postponed:  See the sky about to rain, broken clouds and rain. This washout has led to a rarity: a single-admission doubleheader at Citi Field tonight. Here’s hoping the rain holds off and some die hards get eighteen innings of baseball for the price of nine.

It’s May 4 and Daniel Murphy is still out-hitting Bryce Harper

Washington Nationals' Daniel Murphy hits an RBI single during the first inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals Saturday, April 30, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
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Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy flirted with the cycle in Wednesday afternoon’s 13-2 drubbing of the Royals, as he went 4-for-5 with a pair of singles, a two-run double, and a solo home run. That brings his triple-slash line on the season up to .398/.449/.663. Comparatively, teammate Bryce Harper — the defending NL MVP and arguably the best player in baseball — is currently hitting .266/.372/.649.

Murphy has always been an above-average hitter, but this level of hitting is something else. Of course, he flashed it in the post-season last year when he homered in six consecutive games, helping the Mets advance past the Dodgers in the NLDS and sweep the Cubs in the NLCS.

The Nats signed Murphy to a three-year, $37.5 million contract in January. If Neil Walker, acquired from the Pirates to replace Murphy, wasn’t hitting so well, the Mets would probably be jealous. Walker is hitting .296/.330/.582 with nine home runs and 19 RBI.

Video: Jon Lester tosses his glove to get the out

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester throws against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, May 4, 2016, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
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It’s always fun when this happens. Cubs starter Jon Lester snagged a grounder hit back up the middle by Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli in the bottom of the second inning. The only problem was that the ball got stuck in the webbing of his glove. Rather than fight to pry the ball out, Lester just lobbed his glove over to first baseman Anthony Rizzo to get the first out of the inning.

Lester has had issues throwing baseballs to first base, so maybe it was a good thing the ball got stuck in his glove.

Lester did this last year, too, by the way.

Alex Rodriguez lands on the 15-day DL with a strained hamstring

New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez follows through on a single to right off a pitch from Texas Rangers' Shawn Tolleson in the ninth inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, April 27, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. The Yankees lost 3-2. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Yankees DH Alex Rodriguez strained his right hamstring running out a ground ball in the fifth inning of Tuesday’s loss to the Orioles. The club announced it has placed him on the 15-day disabled list and recalled pitcher James Pazos from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Rodriguez lands on DL hitting .194/.275/.444 with five home runs and 12 RBI in 80 plate appearances.

Dustin Ackley replaced Rodriguez in Tuesday’s game, but the Yankees will likely cycle a handful of players in and out of the DH spot while Rodriguez heals.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Wednesday evening’s action

Philadelphia Phillies' Aaron Nola pitches to a Milwaukee Brewers batter during the first inning of a baseball game Friday, April 22, 2016, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Tom Lynn)
AP Photo/Tom Lynn
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We were treated to a handful of games this afternoon but we still have eight night games left. Let’s talk about the Phillies.

I wrote this preview of the Phillies just before the season started, predicting them to win only 65 games, which would mark only a marginal improvement over their 63-win season last year. In my defense, I wasn’t alone, as almost every expert as well as the projections had them finishing under 70 wins. And yet, here they are 27 games into the season with 16 wins. That’s on pace for a 96-win season. What the heck.

Aaron Nola pitched seven shutout innings against the Cardinals in a 1-0 victory on Tuesday, marking the Phillies’ sixth shutout of the year, the best mark in the majors. Even as the Phillies prepared to draft him, Nola was described as “major league ready” but no one expected him to be quite this dominant. In his first 19 major league starts, Nola has a 3.37 ERA with a 112/26 K/BB ratio over 117 2/3 innings. This year, not only has Nola been extremely stingy with the walks, but he’s been missing bats at an elite level. He’s only 22 years old.

Nola is joined in the rotation by Vincent Velasquez, the pitcher who highlighted the return from the Astros in the Ken Giles trade. The right-hander made headlines in April with a 16-strikeout performance against the Padres and currently stands with a 1.44 ERA with a 39/10 K/BB ratio in 31 1/3 innings. Unlike Nola, Velasquez was billed as a future ace or a dominant eighth- or ninth-inning guy.

Then there’s Jerad Eickhoff, who came over in the Cole Hamels trade last year. Though he has a ho-hum 4.15 ERA, Eickhoff is occasionally dominant as evidenced by his 32/5 K/BB ratio over 30 1/3 innings. He has a pretty curve. Look at it. Eickhoff probably won’t be an ace, but he wasn’t considered to be a future mainstay in the rotation when the Hamels trade went through. All he’s done so far is exceed expectations. Nola-Velasquez-Eickhoff makes for an outstanding start to a long-term starting rotation.

The offensive tools aren’t quite where the pitching is yet for the Phillies, as third baseman Maikel Franco has wavered between looking like Mike Schmidt and looking completely lost at the plate. He has only five hits (zero home runs) in his last 37 plate appearances. Shortstop prospect J.P. Crawford isn’t there yet, nor is outfielder Nick Williams, catcher Jorge Alfaro, and outfielder Cornelius Randolph. There’s certainly a lot of hope on the horizon.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a Phillies fan, but wearing rose-colored glasses isn’t a crime of which I’ve been often accused over the years. It has been one headache after another being a Phillies fan between 2012-15. The front office under former GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. was stubborn and out of touch. Now, under new president Andy MacPhail and GM Matt Klentak, the team has a goal and is seeing it through. No, the Phillies won’t win 96 games this year — they probably won’t even win 80 — but they’re certainly further along than a lot of us gave them credit for being.

The Phillies play game three of a four-game set in St. Louis tonight at 8:15 PM EDT. Lefty Adam Morgan will oppose the Cardinals’ Mike Leake.

The rest of Wednesday’s action…

Detroit Tigers (Anibal Sanchez) @ Cleveland Indians (Corey Kluber), 6:10 PM EDT

New York Yankees (CC Sabathia) @ Baltimore Orioles (Tyler Wilson), 7:05 PM EDT

Texas Rangers (Colby Lewis) @ Toronto Blue Jays (Aaron Sanchez), 7:07 PM EDT

Arizona Diamondbacks (Rubby De La Rosa) @ Miami Marlins (Jose Fernandez), 7:10 PM EDT

Los Angeles Dodgers (Alex Wood) @ Tampa Bay Rays (Drew Smyly), 7:10 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Clay Buchholz) @ Chicago White Sox (Carlos Rodon), 8:10 PM EDT

Minnesota Twins (Phil Hughes) @ Houston Astros (Mike Fiers), 8:10 PM EDT