Red Sox pitcher Lackey leaves the game in Toronto

And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights

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Blue Jays 9, Red Sox 3: Who is hated more in Boston right now: John Lackey or Lebron James? Probably Lackey. Dude even hates himself. His quote after the game — and I am not making this up — “Everything in my life sucks right now, to be honest with you.”  Man, way to take all of the fun out of going after a guy.

Nationals 7, Braves 3: Bullpen go boom and any momentum Atlanta had coming off that Philly series is gone. I’ve had the sneaking suspicion that Craig Kimbrel had been used too much lately (Eric O’Flaherty and Johnny Venters even more so), and perhaps it is catching up with him. Kimbrel was unable to hold a 3-1 lead in the ninth and then Scott Linebrick imploded in the 11th. The latter was far less surprising than the former. Anyway, earlier in the season I said some nice things about Fredi Gonzalez not having too quick a hook with some guys and not having too late a hook with others and that he generally had a good feel for his pitching staff. Yeah, I may be coming off that a bit.

Royals 4, Yankees 3: Things could have been worse. Jeff Francoeur was almost the hero here with a 10th inning RBI double.  If that had held up, you would have found me locking my doors to keep Kent Hrbek, Jim Leyritz and zombie Eric Gregg from breaking down my front door and barging into my house to tackle me, to hit an ill-advised slider over my fence and to call me out on extremely wide strikes, respectively.  As it was, Curtis Granderson hit a clutch two-out RBI single to tie it up again in the 10th and then Eric Hosmer won it with a sac fly in the 11th (he also homered earlier). Way, way more comfortable with Hosmer as the hero.

Rays 8, Indians 2: Cleveland had won 14 straight at home, but Cleveland did not rock for them last night. Detroit is only four and a half back now.

Dodgers 2, Pirates 0: Hiroki Kuroda shut the Pirates out over seven and the bullpen continued the job (Note: Vicente Padilla now has as many saves as Fernando Rodney and Ryan Franklin combined).  May I ask anyone who saw this game: how does a 2-0 contest in which there were nine total hits last over three hours?

Phillies 5, Marlins 3: A day after his error helped cost them the game, Jimmy Rollins hit a two-run single in the ninth inning to complete the Phillies comeback from a 3-0 deficit.  Ah, Jimmy. I suppose we’ll keep you.

Orioles 4, Mariners 2: Felix Pie went 1 for 3 against Felix Hernandez (1 for 4 overall), dropping his career average against pitchers named Felix to .500.  As far as I can tell, this leaves Felix Escalona alone at the top of the all-time Felix-on-Felix leader board, with his cool 1.000 average (a double off Felix Heredia).  For those of you wondering, Neither Felix Mantilla, Felix Fermin nor Junior Felix ever faced a Felix pitcher.  If anyone wants to look up who leads the Octavios or Guillermos, be my guest. UPDATE: it’s done. Check the comments. My readers are the best.

Tigers 9, Twins 7: All Victor Martinez does is get three hits and three RBI. Every game! OK, just the last three, but that’s pretty impressive anyway. I don’t think it’s too early to declare declare the Twins the first team that a non-trivial number of people picked to go to the playoffs dead.

Astros 4, Reds 3: Hunter Pence hit a walkoff double, helping the Astros avoid the sweep. The Reds walked nine Astros hitters. Three of them scored. Walks are bad, mmmkay?  Pence has a 15-game hitting streak, by the way.

Padres 13, Brewers 6: Twenty-three hits and thirteen runs for San Diego is a good way to make the season’s offensive numbers look better.  Jason Bartlett and Cameron Maybin each had four hits.  Chris Denorfia and Ryan Ludwick each had three, including a homer.

White Sox 6, Angels 4: Jake Peavy returns and allows four runs in six innings. Not great, but having him back is a positive. Once he left the Sox bullpen held up nicely and the Angels’ pen didn’t, allowing Chicago to come back from a 4-1 hole, with Omar Vizquel of all people driving in runs in the eighth and ninth.

Cubs 11, Cardinals 4: Chicago opens up a can of whoop-ass on Jake Westbrook and the Cardinals, getting 11 runs on 17 hits. The struggling Starlin Castro was 4 for 4 with three RBI.

Giants 4, Diamondbacks 3: Down 3-0, the Giants woke up and scored four unanswered runs. Miguel Tejada was 3 for 4.

Mets vs. Rockies: POSTPONED:  Coalescence occurs when water droplets in clouds fuse to create larger water droplets, which is known as the Bergeron process. Air resistance typically causes the water droplets in a cloud to remain stationary. When air turbulence occurs, water droplets collide, producing larger droplets. As these larger water droplets descend, coalescence continues, so that drops become heavy enough to overcome air resistance and fall as rain.

Athletics vs. Rangers: POSTPONED: Rain is an Edenian who bears witness to Shao Kahn’s invasion of his homeland Edenia as a youth. Many centuries later, he returns during the invasion of Earthrealm and is forced to join Kahn’s forces in order for him to betray his homeland. During the events of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, Quan Chi informs Rain that he is a direct descendant of Argus, the protector god of Edenia, making him a half-god.

Eddie Perez likely to be Braves’ interim manager if Fredi Gonzalez is fired

Atlanta Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez, left, stands with manager Fredi Gonzalez during a spring training baseball workout, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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There’s been a lot of rumbling that Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez will soon get the pink slip. His team is 7-20 entering Thursday’s action. Historically, front offices — particularly those of rebuilding/restructuring teams — respond to that by making coaching and/or managerial changes.

Per MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, bullpen coach Eddie Perez is likely to fill in as the Braves’ manager on an interim basis if and when Gonzalez is fired. Perez has been with the Braves as a coach since 2007. He played for the Braves in 10 out of his 11 seasons from 1995-2005. Perez wasn’t known for his bat, but was respected for the way he called games and handled the Braves’ then-elite pitching staff.

Bowman notes that Gonzalez isn’t expected to be fired over the weekend. If the team plays well, that could extend Gonzalez’s leash, so to speak.

First baseman Freddie Freeman issued a vote of confidence for his skipper, saying, “I think everything is getting magnified since we’re off to this start. I don’t know if it’s fair to put it all on [Gonzalez] because he’s not a player. We’re the 25 guys [who have to] go out there and play every day. We’re obviously not playing to our capabilities. To say that’s Fredi’s fault is unfair in my opinion.”

What’s on Tap: Previewing Thursday’s action

Chicago Cubs' Anthony Rizzo, left, and Kris Bryant celebrate a 7-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, May 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
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The Phillies and Cardinals got started a little early, finishing up their four-game series on Thursday afternoon. In the evening, we have 10 games on our slate, including Cubs-Nationals.

The Cubs have jumped out to a 20-6 start, looking like baseball’s best — and scariest — team. Entering Thursday’s action, the Cubs have a +93 run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed). That’s by far the best in baseball. The next best are the Nationals at +50, the Mets at +44, and the Cardinals at +41. In fact, the Cubs’ run differential is so good that they have under-performed relative to their expected won-lost record of 22-4.

This is without Kyle Schwarber. This is with Jason Heyward hitting a miserable .211/.317/.256, Jorge Soler hitting .185/.276/.292, and Addison Russell hitting .224/.356/.329. It’s with John Lackey pitching to a 4.32 ERA.

What makes the Cubs so good? They’re on-base machines. The club’s aggregate .364 on-base percentage is second best in the majors behind the Pirates. Dexter Fowler has an outstanding .470 OBP and Anthony Rizzo is at an elite .403. In fact, of their regulars with 100-plus plate appearances, Heyward is the only one with a sub-.350 OBP. The league average is .319. The Cubs steal bases, too, as they’re 17-for-24 (~71 percent) in that department.

The Cubs have baseball’s best pitching staff, which has yielded a major league-best 2.54 runs per game. Only four teams are below 3.00 runs allowed per game. Of course, reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta is the big contributor to that with a sterling 0.84 ERA, but Jon Lester has put up a 1.58 mark and Jason Hammel 1.24. Closer Hector Rondon has found himself in only four save situations but has converted each of them with an even 1.00 ERA and a 15/0 K/BB ratio in nine innings. The Cubs’ aggregate bullpen ERA of 2.66 is fifth-best in the majors.

It’s too early to use defensive statistics with any degree of certainty, but even the eye test shows the Cubs to be elite defenders at the important positions, particularly shortstop (Russell), right field (Heyward), and third base (Kris Bryant).

The Cubs’ success isn’t exactly surprising. The club rode five consecutive fifth-place finishes into some high draft picks and that talent is starting to establish itself in the majors. Whether it was fans, writers, or Vegas oddsmakers, the Cubs were preseason darlings.

Kyle Hendricks starts for the Cubs opposite the Nationals’ Joe Ross at Wrigley Field tonight at 8:05 PM EDT.

The rest of Thursday’s action…

Detroit Tigers (Michael Fulmer) @ Cleveland Indians (Trevor Bauer), 6:10 PM EDT

New York Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka) @ Baltimore Orioles (Kevin Gausman), 7:05 PM EDT

Texas Rangers (Derek Holland) @ Toronto Blue Jays (J.A. Happ), 7:07 PM EDT

Arizona Diamondbacks (Robbie Ray) @ Miami Marlins (Adam Conley), 7:10 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers (Chase Anderson) @ Cincinnati Reds (Alfredo Simon), 7:10 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Henry Owens) @ Chicago White Sox (Erik Johnson), 8:10 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (Wade Miley) @ Houston Astros (Chris Devenski), 8:10 PM EDT

New York Mets (Jacob deGrom) @ San Diego Padres (Colin Rea), 10:10 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Chris Rusin) @ San Francisco Giants (Matt Cain), 10:15 PM EDT

The Phillies are seeing to it that their minor leaguers eat well

Crop of vegetables. Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and other vegetables.
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For years we’ve talked about how odd it is that baseball teams are in the extraordinarily competitive business of developing highly-trained athletes yet, for whatever reason, it pays minor leaguers virtually nothing and all but forces them to subsist on junk food and other cheap options.

As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, however, the Phillies are changing that. Indeed, they’re plowing serious money into nutritious food options for their minor league players:

The Phillies are teaching their minor leaguers how to play baseball, so why not teach them how to eat well, too?

“We want them to not have to worry about anything other than baseball,” assistant general manager Ned Rice said. “When they’re playing for the Phillies, they’ll have that stuff taken care of for them.”

 

That this is a news story — and it is a good and novel one — is kind of sad in some ways. How teams haven’t been on board with this approach for decades is beyond me.

Tracking baseball’s “Naturals”

The Natural
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Rob Neyer has a great column in today’s New York Times in which he tracks the real life players who, at one time or another, were dubbed “The Natural.” A la Roy Hobbs in the book and movie of the same name.

There are some that a lot of people probably remember: Jeff Francoeur and Ken Griffey, Jr. as “The Natural” come to mind easily. There are some who I don’t ever recall being called “The Natural” but were, apparently, like Terry Pendelton and Karim Garcia. There are also some whose stories were far odder and far more tragic than any version of Hobbs’ tale (oh man, a Toe Nash sighting!). Then there’s Rick Ankiel, whose path may be the closest one to Hobbs’ of them all, at least broadly speaking.

Fun stuff that, in addition to being a walk down memory lane, is also an instructive lesson about how the power of narrative works in sports.