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.

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.