And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights

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Sorry it’s coming a bit late this morning. Your author was under the weather last night and decided that rather than stay up watching baseball and reading box scores that an early bedtime was in order. Anyway:

Cubs 4, Phillies 3: Ryan Madson had been gold in save situations, but came up pyrite last night: Geovany Soto hit a game-tying homer off him in the ninth. Then in the 11th, Tyler Colvin scored from second when Placido Polanco threw away what would have been the third out of the inning. Colvin actually thought he had a homer in the ninth too, but it was overturned when replay showed that a Philly fan interfered with it, rendering it a ground rule double.  I can’t find a replay of that, but I’m going to assume, based on ample historical evidence, that the fan reached over the railing and barfed santa clause-themed batteries on the ball, with his nausea caused by excessive booing and cheese steak consumption.

Red Sox 8, Yankees 3: Finally, the plunkings happen. Josh Beckett hit Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia hit David Ortiz. If you’re the kind of person who keeps a ledger of these sorts of things it strikes me that Ortiz would still require about three more plunkings under the rules people like to espouse about when you hit someone. But really, given the woodshedding that the Yankees got in this series, it would come off kinda desperate and sad.  And let’s face it: that’s just not how the Yankees have ever really rolled. They tend to get their revenge by signing your free agent target and then winning a championship and acting all smug about it, not by throwing at people.

Braves 3, Marlins 2: The eighth straight loss for Florida, seven of which have been one-run games. Just awful luck for them. The law of averages — one run game edition — usually treats you more fairly than that. Jair Jurrjens is now tied with a number of fellows for the MLB lead in wins. Not bad considering he missed the first two weeks of the season on the DL.

Royals 3, Blue Jays 2: Hey, I’m not made of stone, so I gotta give Jeff Francouer some love here. Two RBI for the guy I love to loathe, while Luke Hochevar picks up his first win since May 1st.

Reds 3, Giantos 0: Seven shutout innings for Johnny Cueto. On Wednesday the Reds played a game in 90+ degree temperatures at home. Game time temperature for this one in San Francisco: 59 degrees.

Padres 7, Nationals 3: Anthony Rizzo debuts with by going 1 for 2 with a triple, two walks and a run scored. Not bad. Meanwhile, the Aaron Harang rejuvenation tour of Petco Park continues apace. He’s 7-2 now with a 3.71 ERA. In other news, it seems like Washington has been on this west coast swing for a month.

Rockies 9, Dodgers 7: Troy Tulowitzki drove in four and the Rockies finally got to Clayton Kershaw, who had thrown five shutout innings at them before stumbling though the sixth and seventh.

Mets 4, Brewers 1: A nice bounceback win after having their guts ripped out the night before. Jonathon Niese was solid into the eighth inning. Terry Collins’ actual quote after the game:

“This team was flat last night, they just came back today and just realized today was another day. I think with all that’s happened, it just rolls off their back now. It’s another obstacle they’ve got to climb over. They’re just kind of getting immune to it.”

I’m assuming that he has a metaphor/cliche punch card that he’s trying to get filled up before the end of the month so he can get a free sub or something.

Cardinals 9, Astros 2: St. Louis put up a 5-spot in the sixth inning when Lance Berkman continued to haunt his old mates with an RBI single to kick the scoring off. Berkman has played six games at Minute Maid Park this year. In those games he’s hitting .480 with five home runs and 12 RBI.

Twins 5, Rangers 4: Minnesota blew an early three-run lead, but Alexi Casilla hit an RBI single with two outs in the ninth inning to salvage it. The Twins have won seven of ten.

White Sox 9, Athletics 4: Bob Melvin’s debut didn’t look any different than Bob Geren’s last nine games, but I guess A’s players were happier about it. Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko each had two-run homers. Mark Buehrle started for the Sox and the game lasted 2:51. Which for him had to feel like 11 hours. He’s 5-1 with a 3.00 ERA in his last seven starts.

Tigers 4, Mariners 1: Justin Verlander faced a Mariners’ lineup that featured Adam Kennedy starting at first base and hitting in the three-hole, and the results were fairly predictable: 8 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 10K. Alex Avila hit two triples. The game took 2 hours, 17 minutes.

Diamondbacks 2, Pirates 0: A zero-zero tie until Chris Young hit a two-run homer in the eighth and — surprise surprise — the Dbacks’ bullpen made it stand up.

Kevin Gausman to start Opening Day for the Orioles

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The Orioles have tabbed Kevin Gausman to start on Opening Day, April 3 against the Blue Jays at Camden Yards, MASN’s Roch Kubatko reports. Chris Tillman started the previous three Opening Days for the O’s. This will be Gausman’s first Opening Day nod.

Gausman, 26, finished the 2016 season with a 3.61 ERA and a 174/47 K/BB ratio in 179 2/3 innings. The Orioles selected him in the first round (fourth overall) of the 2012 draft and moved him through their minor league system quickly. Gausman debuted in the majors in May 2013.

2017 Preview: Detroit Tigers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Detroit Tigers.

I feel like every year, for the past several years, our Tigers preview has been some variation of “do the Tigers still have a run left in them with the Cabrera-Verlander core?”

If you’re tired of reading that one I have some bad news for you: it’s the same dang story this year as it has been every year. A great pitcher and a great hitter, a very solid supporting cast, a handful of holes that could be critical weaknesses and enough to make them look strong enough to contend but not enough to contend strongly, if that makes any sense.

Let’s start with the pitching. Justin Verlander returned to Cy Young-caliber form in 2016, thanks mostly to health and a big, big leap in his strikeout rate, suggesting that it was health and not an overall decline which harmed him in 2014 and 2015. He’ll lead the way again, followed by Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer, who was a wonderful surprise last season. The back end of the rotation is problematic, however, with Jordan Zimmermann and Anibal Sanchez stinking up the joint for most of last year and young Daniel Norris suffering through injuries. For the Tigers to contend, they’ll need at least one of those veterans to return to their old form — or someone like Matt Boyd or Mike Pelfrey to, well, not be Matt Boyd and Mike Pelfrey– and for Norris to be healthy.

Fine, let’s say Verlander and Fulmer repeat their 2016 success and say that Norris is a strong, healthy and effective number three. Who then does Brad Ausmus turn the ball over to in the late innings? If you think the overall take on the Tigers is rehashed from year to year, well, the same goes for the pen. It, as always, is a liability in Detroit. And it’s not going to be terribly different than it was last year. Francisco Rodriguez will close. A couple of Wilsons in Alex and Justin. Shane Greene. Maybe one of the veteran starters who doesn’t make the rotation. The always interesting Bruce Rondon. It’s not terrible but it’s not the strongest bunch in the world and it’s being handled by a guy in Ausmus who has yet to show that he can get the most out of a less-than-steller relief corps. You can Google the phrase “Tigers bullpen woes” and find results from every season for most of the past decade. You’ll probably be able to do it again this year.

The offense, of course, is fantastic, at least at the top end. Miguel Cabrera is still an MVP-caliber player and even when his decline begins he’ll be better than almost any hitter in the game. Ian Kinsler is still low-key excellent. Nick Castellanos took a big leap forward last year. J.D. Martinez is going to miss the first month or so of the season with a sprained ligament in his foot, but he’s in his walk year and will likely be fine once he returns. Justin Upton has always been super uneven and has always failed to meet the insane expectations he set early in his career, but as he showed late last season, he’s capable of carrying a team for a stretch. I’ve been saying it for a pushing a decade, but one of these years he’s going to put it all together.

The big question is going to be the bottom third of the lineup where catcher James McCann, shortstop Jose Iglesias and center fielder Tyler Collins all look to be offensive liabilities at the moment. A bigger than usual year from any of them could help matters greatly.

Of course all of this — the strong lineup with critical holes, the rotation that starts well but has question marks and the spotty bullpen — has been the Tigers story for years. It’s a story that could end happily with 85-90 wins, a playoff spot and a bunch of seasoned veterans getting hot at the right time and riding it to glory. It could just as easily get sprinkled with a slow start or a few injuries and result in a 75-80 win season like they had back in 2015.

In the past, that would lead to yet another “wait until next year.” This year, however, you get the strong sense that there is no next year if this year is disappointing. There was talk that the Tigers could sell off veteran parts this past winter, but they didn’t. Then longtime owner Mike Ilitch, who was seen as a man who pushed to win now despite the costs, passed away in February. It’s not hard to imagine his son giving different instructions to GM Al Avila if the Tigers don’t get off to a fast start this year. It’s not hard to imagine the great unwinding of the core that has kept this Tigers team in contention for so long if 2017 is a disappointment.

I’m still optimistic, though. The Indians are the class of the division but the Royals are likely taking a step back and the Twins and White Sox are not yet a threat. I won’t predict October glory for them, but I think, barring major injuries to key players, the Tigers will be playing meaningful baseball in September.

Prediction: Second place, American League Central