Minnesota Twins v Detroit Tigers

Top 111 Free Agents: Nos. 50-31

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It’s time for part four, which will cover free agents Nos. 50-31. Now we’re going to start to see more players likely to command multiyear deals this winter. That’s particularly true of the relievers listed below.

Free agents Nos. 111-91
Free agents Nos. 90-71
Free agents Nos. 70-51

50. Jim Thome (Twins – Age 40) – Unwanted and unsigned until February, Thome made a bunch of teams feel silly for overlooking him by clubbing 25 homers in 276 at-bats this season. He was one of just six major leaguers to post an OPS over 1000 in at least 100 at-bats. Thome is no longer any sort of option at first base and he probably shouldn’t be asked to start more than 120 games as a DH, but he’s never failed to produce when healthy. He won’t have to settle for a $1.5 million contract again.

49. Kevin Gregg (Blue Jays – Age 32) – The Jays have three choices with Gregg: they can retain him for $4.5 million in 2010, exercise a two-year option that would pay him $8.75 million through 2011 or they can set him free. My guess is that they’ll go with the one-year option. Gregg performed admirably after quickly taking over the closer’s role in April, saving 37 games in 43 chances. He’s never really excelled at any point — his career-best ERA was a 3.41 mark in 2008 — but he is durable and he’s struck out a batter an inning everywhere he’s been.

48. Chris Young (Padres – Age 31) – Young was limited to four starts by another round of shoulder problems this year, but at least they were all exceptional outings: he allowed just two runs in 20 innings. The negatives with Young are obvious: his career high for innings is 179 1/3, he hasn’t even made 20 starts since 2007 and, as an extreme flyball pitcher, he probably wouldn’t fare nearly as well if he didn’t pitch in Petco Park half of the time. Ideally, the Padres could re-sign him for about half of the $6.25 million he made this year. However, some team with a bigger budget might be willing to give him an incentive-laden contract that would allow him to make much more if he stays healthy.

47. Jon Rauch (Twins – Age 32) – Pressed into the closer’s role by Joe Nathan’s injury, Rauch was 21-for-25 saving games before the Twins acquired Matt Capps. He slid down the depth chart as the year went on, but he never lost his effectiveness and he finished with a 3.12 ERA. He also pitched 1 2/3 hitless innings in the ALDS. That Target Field turned out to be such a tough home run park likely did him a lot of good. The Twins are expected to emphasize re-signing fellow free agents Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier, so Rauch may have to go elsewhere for his two-year deal.

46. Aaron Harang (Reds – Age 32) – Never the same pitcher since hurting his elbow in 2008, Harang finished 2010 with a 5.32 ERA and a 1.59 WHIP in 111 2/3 innings. He hasn’t lost any velocity from his glory days, but he doesn’t miss bats like he used to. I think a switch to a bigger ballpark will allow him to hang on as at least a fourth starter for a couple of more years, but unless he suddenly picks up a quality changeup or cutter, his upside would seem to be limited.

45. Frank Francisco (Rangers – Age 31) – Francisco saved 25 games in 29 attempts in 2009, but when he had a bad week to open this season, the Rangers went right to Neftali Feliz in the closer’s role. Francisco bounced back quickly and was a major asset in a setup role until August, when he strained a muscle in his side and it turned into a season-ending injury. At least Francisco avoided arm woes this year, but the fact remains that he’s turned in just one 60-inning season since debuting in 2004. What chance he had of securing a three-year deal this winter was probably erased by the injury, but he’s one of the most talented relievers available and he should be attractive both to contenders looking for a setup man and weaker teams seeking a closer.

44. John Buck (Blue Jays – Age 30) – Sick of his low batting averages, the Royals sharply reduced Buck’s role in 2009 and then cut him following the season. He landed with the Blue Jays and made the All-Star team after hitting 13 homers in the first half. He ended up at .281/.314/.489 in 409 at-bats for the season, making him one of the league’s top offensive catchers despite an awful 111/16 K/BB ratio. With Buck probably in line for a multiyear deal, the Jays may choose to move on to J.P. Arencibia now. Buck’s lofty average was a fluke, but he’s a solid enough defender and he should be a capable regular for a couple of more years.

43. Pedro Feliciano (Mets – Age 34) – We’re about to find out just how much value the Mets place on Feliciano’s ability to pitch practically every day. The lefty specialist made 86 appearances in 2008, 88 in 2009 and then he became just the fifth different pitcher to work in 90 games, finishing at 92, in 2010. Despite the heavy workload, he’s been consistently terrific against lefties throughout. However, righties have fared well against him two of the last three years. He probably won’t command as much cash as the top righty setup men on the market. However, he may well land a three-year contract.

42. Brad Penny (Cardinals – Age 32) – He’s probably never going to do it for six months, but Penny opened last season as well as any pitcher not named Ubaldo Jimenez. He was 3-0 with a 0.94 ERA after four starts, and he didn’t fail to turn in a quality start until his eighth appearance of the season. Unfortunately, that proved to be his next-to-last start, as what was originally thought to be a minor back injury ended up costing him the rest of the year. The Cardinals are focused on signing Jake Westbrook at the moment, so Penny is likely to head elsewhere this winter.

41. Mark Ellis (Athletics – Age 33) – Ellis is a $6 million player when he’s in the lineup, but given that he’s played in 130 games just twice in his career, the A’s aren’t going to want to pick up his option and pay him that amount next year. They likely will attempt to re-sign him at a cheaper price, possibly to a two-year deal. While second basemen often lose it in their early 30s, Ellis is coming off his best season since 2007 and he remains a well above average defender.

40. J.J. Putz (White Sox – Age 34) – Credit Ken Williams for seeing that Putz would reemerge as a quality late-game reliever when he looked like anything but before undergoing elbow surgery in 2009. If not for a knee injury that shut him down for a spell in August, Putz probably would have taken over as the White Sox’s closer and rebuilt his value further headed back into free agency. He did return in September, and he was effective in allowing three runs over seven innings. Still, it was somewhat telling that the White Sox didn’t often let him face tough left-handed hitters with the game on the line. Putz’s strong work has put him back in line for a multiyear deal. If the White Sox are nervous about giving him one, he could sign on as a closer elsewhere.

39. Vicente Padilla (Dodgers – Age 33) – Padilla was effective when healthy this year, going 6-5 with a 4.07 ERA, but he missed most of May, June and September due to a bulging disk in his neck. That should serve to make him pretty affordable if the Dodgers want to bring him back. Because of Padilla’s attitude and occasional off-the-field problems, many teams view him as not being worth the hassle. However, he hasn’t appeared to be the source of any strife in the Dodgers clubhouse. Another one-year deal worth about $5 million would be appropriate.

38. Grant Balfour (Rays – Age 33) – While Rafael Soriano and Joaquin Benoit got most of the credit, Balfour’s rebound was another big reason the Rays had one of the game’s best bullpens this year. He had a 2.28 ERA during the regular season, and he pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings in the ALDS against the Rangers. Often set back by arm problems, Balfour took a long time to establish himself. However, he’s been on the DL just once the last three years and that was for a strained rib muscle. Since he has a power arm and he won’t be too expensive, he could be pursued by as many teams as any free agent this winter. It might get him a three-year deal in the $12 million range.

37. Juan Uribe (Giants – Age 32) – Uribe has spent his entire career alternating between being underrated and overrated. He’s almost always had dreadful OBPs, and he’s frustrated his teams with occasional lackadaisical play. On the other hand, he was a legitimately excellent defensive shortstop for a few years and he hit 80 homers over a four-season span with the White Sox. Two years ago he was so underappreciated that he had to take a minor league contract from the Giants. Now the pendulum is going to swing the other way. Uribe set new career highs with 24 homers and 85 RBI while making $3.25 million this year, guaranteeing that he’ll receive a nice raise. The problem is that he’s no longer much of a shortstop, and he might be better off at third than at second. A utility role suits him best, but he’ll be paid like a starter this winter.

36. A.J. Pierzynski (White Sox- Age 34) – Nobody likes him, he doesn’t throw out basestealers and his offense took a significant dip this year, yet Pierzynski will still likely be regarded as the No. 2 catcher on the market. And deservedly so. He is durable, and he’s always seemed to handle pitchers well. Disappointed by Tyler Flowers’ progress this season, the White Sox will try to keep the veteran. Ideally, it’d be a one-year deal. There could be enough interest to force the team to go to two years, though.

35. Brad Hawpe (Rays – Age 31) – Hawpe’s furious fall from grace culminated in him getting released by the only organization he had ever known in August. Remarkably, there was little enough interest in him after he became a free agent, and he ended up playing only a bit role for the Rays down the stretch before he was left off their ALDS roster. The real fresh start will come next year. Hawpe is a lousy defender in right field, but he posted OPSs right around 900 each season from 2006-09 and he was nearly as good on the road as at Coors Field. What kind of career he has in his 30s will largely be determined by his ability to readapt to first base. It was his original position in the minors, and if he can pick it back up now, he should spend several more seasons as a regular. He wouldn’t have nearly as much value as a DH or an outfielder.

34. Joaquin Benoit (Rays – Age 33) – Just an unbelievable season: after missing all of 2009 following shoulder surgery that left his career in doubt, Benoit came back and posted one of the best WHIPs ever in 2010. He ended up with a 1.34 ERA and a 0.68 WHIP in 60 1/3 innings following his April 29 callup. Benoit had a couple of nice seasons previously, particularly in 2007 (2.85 ERA in 82 innings), but he was largely viewed as a disappointment in his Rangers career. It’s going to be very interesting to see how he’s treated this winter. He was always durable before the shoulder surgery, and he performed well on a big stage in October, throwing 3 2/3 hitless innings in the ALDS. It’d seem worth gambling $10 million over two years to see if he can do it again.

33. Jeff Francis (Rockies – Age 30) – Back from a labrum tear that cost him all of 2009, Francis was expected to put in a full season in 2010. However, he suffered a setback with his shoulder in spring training and didn’t make his first start until mid-May. After an encouraging initial run — he had a 3.53 ERA through eight starts — he began to struggle and he went back on the DL in August with shoulder tendinitis. Upon returning in September, he allowed 11 runs in 11 2/3 innings. Francis’ velocity has come all of the way back, and he displayed surprisingly good command for someone who figured to be rusty. He’s far from a sure thing to stay healthy, but he has the potential to be one of the winter’s top bargains.

32. Coco Crisp (Athletics – Age 31) – Crisp’s A’s career got off to a very rough start, as he was limited to two games in the first 10 weeks by a broken finger and a strained intercostal muscle. Finally healthy in late June, he was exactly the player the A’s hoped he’d be; he hit .279/.342/.438, stole 32 bases in 35 tries and played quality defense in center field. Expectations are that the team will pick up his $5.75 million for 2011.

31. Kerry Wood (Yankees – Age 33) – While all of the wildness remains a cause for concern, Wood certainly helped his stock during his time with the Yankees. After posting a 6.30 ERA in 20 innings as the Indians’ closer in the first half, he came in at 0.69 ERA in 26 innings with the Bombers. He also had a 2.25 ERA in eight postseason innings. Including October, Wood walked 23 batters in 34 innings. However, he allowed just 20 hits and he struck out 38 in that span. Last time he was a free agent, Wood chose closing for a mediocre team over setting up for a contender. I’m guessing he’ll go in the other direction this time, though it’s possible he could get the best of both worlds if the Rays want him.

Mets win 8th straight, Conforto and Flores HR to beat Giants

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NEW YORK — Michael Conforto and the bats are booming. Jacob deGrom and the pitchers are peaking. And the defense is making the key plays.

A year after the New York Mets stamped themselves as serious contenders with a big winning streak in April, they’re rolling again.

“There’s not much that we’re not doing,” manager Terry Collins said.

Conforto and Wilmer Flores homered and the Mets won their eighth in a row, building an early lead for deGrom and holding off the San Francisco Giants 6-5 Saturday.

“It just seems relentless,” Conforto said.

At 15-7, the defending NL champions have won 11 of 12. They could be poised for an even more impressive run – next week, they play seven games against last-place Atlanta and San Diego.

The crowd of 44,466 was the largest for a regular-season game at Citi Field since the park opened in 2009, with a lot of fans attracted by the Noah Syndergaard Garden Gnome giveaway.

The Mets almost gave away the game, too.

Ahead 6-3 in the eighth inning, they walked a pair of batters and let the Giants load the bases with no outs. Hunter Pence‘s bid for a go-ahead grand slam was caught just in front of the center-field wall for a sacrifice fly.

Brandon Crawford followed with another sacrifice fly, a liner that right fielder Curtis Granderson jumped to backhand on the warning track.

“Two long popups,” Collins kidded.

Jeurys Familia took over in the ninth and closed for his eighth save in as many chances.

“That’s a tough one for the guys, because they put up quite an effort there to get back in it and try to win that ballgame,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “Two balls to just miss like that, that’s a tough one for them.”

Conforto tied a Mets record by hitting a double in his sixth straight game. He also singled and drove in three runs. In his first full season, the 23-year-old outfielder who homered twice in a World Series game last October has comfortably settled into the No. 3 spot in a potent lineup and is batting .365.

“Really had no nerves about it,” he said, adding, “Getting the pitches I know I can hit and not missing them.”

Neil Walker capped a productive first month for his new team with a two-run single.

DeGrom (3-0) overcame his first four walks of the season, pitching two-hit ball for six innings and leaving with a 1.02 ERA. All three runs against him were unearned and came after a throwing error by Flores, who played third base to give David Wright a day off.

New York’s defense also helped deGrom. Pence fisted a bases-loaded, two-run single with two outs in the third, but first baseman Lucas Duda took the accurate relay from Granderson and threw out Brandon Belt trying to reach third.

After setting a club mark by scoring 12 runs in the third inning Friday night, the Mets quickly struck against Matt Cain (0-3).

Walker’s two-out single in the first made it 2-0. Conforto launched a two-run double off the top of the left-field wall in the second for a 4-0 lead.

Overall, the Mets have outscored opponents 50-21 during their winning string.

“It’s nice pitching with a lead,” deGrom said. “You can go right after guys.”

Cain has gone a career-worst 12 starts without a win, dating to his last victory July 22. Slowed by injuries and inconsistency in recent years, the three-time All-Star who once pitched a perfect game is saddled with a 7.00 ERA this season.

Conforto hit his fourth homer in the fifth. Flores connected the next inning for his first of the year. The Mets have 31 home runs in their last 14 games.

STREAKS

Conforto tied Joe Christopher’s team mark in 1964 with doubles in six straight games. Conforto has reached safely in 17 straight. … Yoenis Cespedes‘ club-record string of nine games in a row with an extra-base hit ended.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Giants: 2B Joe Panik was out of the lineup a day after tweaking his groin.

Mets: Wright and C Kevin Plawecki got to sit for a day. C Rene Rivera, who started 87 games for the Rays last year, made his Mets debut. He was hit by a pitch in the back his first time up.

UP NEXT

A prime pitching matchup on deck – if the weather holds. Steady rain is in the forecast Sunday and well could dampen the duel between Giants ace Madison Bumgarner (2-2, 3.64 ERA) and Syndergaard (2-0, 1.69). Bumgarner has won all three of his starts at Citi Field with an 0.78 ERA. Syndergaard has struck out 38 this season, matching Pedro Martinez for the most by a Mets pitcher in the first four starts of a season.

Zimmermann goes 5-0, Upton homers as Tigers top Twins 4-1

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MINNEAPOLIS — Jordan Zimmermann hasn’t required much run support this year. Justin Upton gave him all he needed in the first inning Saturday.

Zimmermann won his fifth straight start to begin his first season with Detroit, and Upton hit a three-run homer for the Tigers in their 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins.

“Give him a three-run lead, we’re pretty confident he can work with that,” said Upton, whose second homer of the year reached the second deck in left-center. “If we can fight and get on the board early, and let our guys work, we’ll be all right.”

Zimmermann (5-0) gave up one run and six hits with no walks and seven strikeouts over seven innings. His ERA actually rose to 0.55 as he became the first Tigers pitcher to win five games in April since Frank Tanana in 1988, according to STATS.

Upton and Zimmermann both signed as free agents with Detroit for more than $100 million this past offseason. Zimmermann knew he would be joining a team with a high-octane offense, though he hasn’t relied on the Tigers’ bats much yet.

“This is probably the best lineup I’ve ever seen,” Zimmermann said. “They’re going to score runs. It’s just a matter of when and what inning. For me, they’ve been scoring early and allowing me to settle in and just throw strikes.”

Victor Martinez doubled twice for the Tigers, who have won five of six. Francisco Rodriguez pitched a scoreless ninth for his sixth save in seven opportunities.

Eduardo Escobar had three singles for the Twins, who lost their third straight and fell to 7-17 overall.

Tyler Duffey (0-1) gave up just one earned run in 6 1/3 innings, striking out seven and walking none. But one mistake in the first marred an otherwise solid performance.

With two on and two outs, Duffey tried to get ahead in the count with a first-pitch fastball. But the pitch caught too much of the plate and Upton drove it an estimated 417 feet for his second homer with Detroit.

“It’s easy to look back and say I should have gotten out of that. I know I was more than capable of doing it,” Duffey said. “That mistake is a lot larger when you’ve got a guy like Zimmermann throwing against you.”

Zimmermann cruised through the first three innings, but Byung Ho Park homered in the fourth to break up the shutout. Park lined a 1-2 pitch into the bullpen in left-center, his team-leading sixth homer of the year.

It was the first home run allowed by Zimmermann in 29 2/3 innings this season.

After that, each time the Twins threatened, Zimmermann had an answer. John Ryan Murphy reached second on an error by right fielder J.D. Martinez with one out in the fifth before Zimmermann struck out Danny Santana and Brian Dozier to preserve the two-run cushion.

Minnesota got its leadoff man on in the seventh, but Zimmermann promptly induced a double-play grounder from Eddie Rosario.

CATCHER KNOWS BEST

Zimmermann might have kept the Twins off the board entirely if he’d just listened to catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who didn’t want to throw Park the slider he hit into the bullpen.

“That was really my only mistake all game. I tried going front door with it, and obviously that wasn’t the right pitch. I’m sure Salty will say the same thing. He didn’t really want to throw it and I did, so that was my fault,” Zimmermann said. “It didn’t work out, but solo home runs aren’t going to kill you, so it’s all good.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

Tigers: C James McCann (sprained ankle) caught nine innings for Triple-A Toledo on Friday, but manager Brad Ausmus said McCann will continue his rehab assignment through the weekend. McCann was expected to catch nine more innings Saturday and five innings on Sunday before rejoining the Tigers for their three-game series in Cleveland that begins Tuesday.

Twins: 3B Trevor Plouffe (strained intercostal muscle) was scheduled to begin a rehab assignment with Class A Fort Myers on Saturday. Plouffe has been on the DL since April 19. Barring any setbacks, he is expected to join the Twins in Houston on Tuesday.

UP NEXT

Tigers: RHP Mike Pelfrey (0-4, 4.64 ERA) faces his former team in Sunday’s series finale. Pelfrey spent the past three seasons in Minnesota. He pitched a season-high 6 2/3 innings in his most recent start, a 5-1 loss to the Athletics on Tuesday.

Twins: RHP Ricky Nolasco (1-0, 3.25) has been the team’s most effective starter this season. He’s averaged just shy of seven innings in his four starts and is second in the AL in strikeout-to-walk ratio with 24 strikeouts against three walks.

Rockies’ Story ties rookie mark with 10th HR in April

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PHOENIX (AP) Trevor Story is undoubtedly the story of the Colorado Rockies’ first month of the season.

The shortstop tied a major league rookie record with his 10th home run in April, a two-run shot that helped the Rockies cruise to a 9-0 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday night. In hitting his 10th home run in 21 games, Story tied George Scott in 1966 as the fastest player in major league history to reach that home run total.

Story tied Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox, who hit 10 in April 2014, for the rookie mark. Teammate Nolan Arenado, who also homered, is tied with Story for the major league lead in home runs.

Story took Diamondbacks starter Robbie Ray (1-1) deep in the fifth inning.

“Maybe when it’s all said and done it will be something cool to look back on, but right now I’m just worried about winning games,” Story said.

Arenado, Ryan Raburn and Nick Hundley hit solo home runs, Arenado’s blast immediately following Story’s in the fifth to knock Ray out of the game.

Hundley added a two-run double in the eighth after Gerardo Parra‘s RBI double.

Tyler Chatwood (3-2) held the Diamondbacks scoreless on five hits for 6 1/3 innings with four strikeouts and three walks.

The Rockies won for the third time in four meetings against Arizona in Phoenix, and have hit 14 home runs in those four games at Chase Field this season. Story hit four in the season-opening series.

“I feel like it’s always good weather here. We play spring training here, so it’s a familiar place,” Story said. “I grew up playing in the heat, so yeah, I guess you could say I feel comfortable here.”

Ray had not given up a home run in his previous four starts. The Rockies overtook the Diamondbacks for most home runs in the majors with 37 to Arizona’s 36.

“They obviously like swinging the bat in this ballpark,” Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale said. “It’s very obvious that that’s what it is. If you don’t locate your pitches, they’re going to hit them. That’s what happens with confident hitters.”

Raburn led off the fourth with a line drive into the seats in left field. One out later, Hundley homered to left.

“Great player. He’s got a lot of tools and he’s been pretty even-keel,” Raburn said of Story. “Right now he’s getting pitches to hit and he ain’t missing it.”

The Rockies took control in the fifth when Charlie Blackmon led off with a single. Story and Arenado followed with their home runs, and Ray’s night ended after giving up five runs and seven hits. He struck out five and walked two.

“This place has been tough on us the last few years,” manager Walt Weiss said. “Especially last year. It’s good to see us swing the bats and win games, especially on the road where we’ve had some demons in the past.”

DIAMONDBACKS CLAIM ESCOBAR

The Diamondbacks claimed LHP Edwin Escobar off waivers from the Boston Red Sox on Friday, and sent Escobar to Triple-A Reno. Pitcher Matt Buschmann was designated for assignment. Escobar, 24, was a top prospect for the San Francisco Giants before being traded to Boston in 2014. Buschmann made three appearances for the Diamondbacks this season.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Rockies: Blackmon (turf toe) was activated from the 15-day DL and started in center field as the leadoff hitter. The Rockies optioned OF Brandon Barnes to Triple-A Albuquerque to make room for Blackmon. “Unfortunately, it’s a numbers crunch at this point in the construction of our roster, but he’ll be back,” Weiss said of Barnes. … RHP Jason Motte (sore shoulder) threw a bullpen session Friday and is “moving full steam ahead,” Weiss said. … Hundley got some eye drops administered during the fourth inning, coming out from behind the plate and jogging over to the dugout for help from a trainer. … Raburn fouled a pitch thrown high and tight off the bottom of the bat near his hands, and was checked by a trainer when he shook his hands in pain afterward. He was later hit by a pitch. “Just got a little beat up tonight but it’s part of it,” Raburn said.

Diamondbacks: RHP Josh Collmenter, on the 15-day DL, will pitch three innings at Class-A Visalia on Monday as he comes back from shoulder inflammation.

UP NEXT

Rockies: LHP Chris Rusin makes his first start of the season. He’s appeared four times in relief and has a scoreless streak of 9 2/3 innings. He’s 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA in three starts against Arizona, all at Chase Field.

Diamondbacks: RHP Zack Greinke (2-2, 6.16 ERA) makes his sixth start of the season. He faced the Rockies on opening day and was tagged for seven runs and nine hits in four innings. He gave up seven runs in his most recent outing, Monday against the Cardinals, but got the win.

Cespedes has 6 RBIs during Mets’ record 12-run inning vs SF

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NEW YORK — Yoenis Cespedes and the New York Mets broke loose for a team-record 12 runs in the third inning Friday night, rolling to their seventh straight victory with a 13-1 blowout of the San Francisco Giants.

Cespedes set a club mark with six RBIs in the inning, connecting for a two-run single off starter Jake Peavy (1-2) and a grand slam off reliever Mike Broadway that capped the outburst.

The early barrage made it an easy night for Steven Matz (3-1) in the opener of a three-game series between the last two NL champions. The left-hander tossed six shutout innings to win his third consecutive start.

Michael Conforto had an RBI double and a run-scoring single in the Mets third, which lasted 39 minutes, 47 seconds. He and Cespedes were two of the four players who scored twice. Asdrubal Cabrera greeted Broadway with a two-run double.