And That Happened: Sunday's Scores and Highlights

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Braves 8, Phillies 7; Giants 3, Padres 0: You gotta feel bad for San Diego. They played above their heads all year. You also gotta feel bad for the people who were wishing for the awesome three-way tie that would have occurred had the Padres won yesterday. Braves and Giants fans are pretty darn pleased, though. 

For their part, the Braves made it way more interesting than it needed to be, frittering away an 8-2 lead in the seventh and making it into an 8-7 nail-biter in which Billy Wagner needed to throw 37 pitches — his highest total of the season — to secure the four-out save. After the game, the Braves let fans stay in the ballpark to (a) watch REO Speedwagon in concert; and (b) watch the Padres-Giants game on the big screen. It was a rough last few days for Atlanta, but they rode the storm out and now it’s time for them to fly. To San Francisco.

The Padres had all kinds of trouble scoring runs as the season wound down, and it continued until their final game. Jonathan Sanchez shut them out for five innings and five relievers pitched in to finish the job. One of them was Brian Wilson who, with that Just For Men beard, that lame haircut, his unbuttoned jersey and his orange shoes is easily the schmuckiest looking pitcher in baseball these days. I will enjoy despising him during the NLDS. Even though his home run likely sealed his Rookie of the Year award, thereby preventing Jason Heyward from winning it, I can’t hate Buster Posey. That guy is awesome, and I look forward to seeing the guy the Giants didn’t think was ready for the majors back in April lead them into the playoffs in October.

At about this time someone, somewhere, is thinking that the wild card made this a pretty interesting weekend. Query: wouldn’t it have been more interesting if four teams in three games — the Padres, Giants, Yankees and Rays — were all playing for their playoff lives yesterday instead of three teams in two games?  Just sayin!

Rays 3, Royals 2: Thanks to the Yankees’ loss it was official before this game was over, but the Rays are your AL East champs for 2010. That’s two division titles in three years, by they way. I remind you in case you’re the type that will yell (again) about how baseball needs a salary cap and realignment and all that jazz when the Yankees sign some 30+ year-old player this winter.

Red Sox 8, Yankees 4: It’s not often you see the Yankees fade late, but a 29-30 record since August 1st constitutes a fade. Still, I’m not too worried about them. Muscle memory has to come into play when it comes to the postseason with these guys, right? They go on to play Minnesota in the first round.

Blue Jays 2, Twins 1: And as you can see, the Twins aren’t exactly finishing the season on a high note themselves. The Jays hit two more dingers in this one, upping their season total to 257. That’s tied for the third most in MLB history.

Astros 4, Cubs 0: And on the last day of the season the Astros edge out the Cubs for fourth place. I’m guessing this will lead to a lot of people overrating Houston heading into next season.

Cardinals 6, Rockies 1: At various times this season both the Cardinals (April-May) and the Rockies (early-to-mid September) seemed like two of the stronger teams in baseball, destined for playoff glory. Fitting they end the season playing one-another. Jeff Suppan with six shutout innings. Where the hell did that come from? The Rockies finished 1-13. Where the hell did that come? It’s going to be a long winter in Denver and St. Louis.

Marlins 5, Pirates 2: And with this loss the Pirates tie the 1963 Mets for the worst road record in baseball history. Sweet. John Russell is probably going to get fired. Which is sweet for him too, but only in the way that a mercy killing can be sweet under the right circumstances.

White Sox 6, Indians 5: I once saw the Indians play the White Sox to close out the season on October 3rd. It was in 1993. In that game Ozzie Guillen went 0 for 1 with a walk and a sacrifice.  A young Albert Belle sealed the AL RBI title. Bob Hope sang “Thanks for the Memories” while standing on home plate of Municipal Stadium. I keyed a car in the parking lot because it parked with its bumper touching that of my midnight blue 1987 Chevy Cavalier RS, which was something You Just Did Not Do, because that car was awesome. In other words, not much has changed in 17 years.

Reds 3, Brewers 2: Jay Bruce enters the playoffs hot, smacking his fourth homer in a week. This was probably Ken Macha’s last game at the helm of the Brew Crew.
 
Tigers 4, Orioles 2: A .500 season for the Tigers. It seems like a million years ago, but they were in first place and ten games over .500 for a brief spell back in July. Baseball seasons are long and there’s absolutely nowhere to hide.

Nationals 2, Mets 1: It’s hard to think of two teams who needed their seasons to end more than the Nats and Mets did, so of course they played fourteen innings. And it’s hard to think of a more fitting way for the Mets season to end than having Oliver Perez walk in the losing run.

Angels 6, Rangers 2: Peter Bourjous hit a homer. He strikes me as the guy who’s going to get a whole bunch of feature stories written about him next spring but who won’t live up to the hype. That homer notwithstanding, I just don’t have faith in the bat. Josh Hamilton finishes at .359 after a one for four. Texas goes on to St. Pete to play the Rays.

Athletics 4, Mariners 3: The A’s finish at .500. As I’ve been saying it for a while now, but they probably have the biggest offseason ahead of them out of everyone. If they load up with some bats, they’re the favorites in the AL West next year. If they don’t, forget it.

Dodgers 3, Diamondbacks 1: Joe Torre wins what will, in all likelihood, be his last major league game as a manager. It’s been a pretty uninspiring year for Torre and the Dodgers, but that will all wash away soon and we’ll remember that Bobby Cox wasn’t the only managerial titan leaving the stage in 2010.

And with that, the regular season ends.

Yes, we have a month’s worth of playoffs ahead of us and that’s wonderful, but the last normal day of the season is always bittersweet to me. Why? Because I enjoy dog day baseball way more than postseason baseball. I get
antsy when games start to truly matter, even if my team isn’t involved. I prefer games after which you can
turn off the TV and not think much about them because, hey, there will be another one tomorrow night.

To me, baseball is about hot nights. Baseball is about low leverage. Baseball is wonderful because it’s there every day.  Don’t get me wrong — the postseason is great — but it’s different, and in some important ways it lacks the stuff I love the most about the game.

And That Happened was launched in order to try and capture the “none of this really matters in and of itself, but taken together it means everything” nature of the regular season. So, even if I continue to recap last night’s games during the postseason, what I enjoy most about the feature is over until April. I mean, you guys are all going to watch all the games now, so me coming up with some factoid or bit of snark like I do about a near-meaningless Marlins-Nationals matchup in August that none of us watched won’t make much sense.  But that’s OK, I guess.

For those of you whose teams are marching on: good luck. For those of you whose teams are done for the year, I offer you the most beautiful thing a Commissioner of Baseball ever said:

It’s designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything is new again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains comes, it stops, and leaves you to face the fall alone.

Thank all of you for showing up each morning to read my little riffs. Let us now put on our jackets and plunge into the playoffs and beyond.

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