And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Blue Jays 7, Indians 4: I was invited to go to this game by the Indians, where I would have watched it for free from the Tribe Social Suite. Because of family entanglements I was not able to go, and when I sent the Indians my regrets, I was very sad about it. But 16 innings on a 44 degree day, with beer sales being cut off for more than half the game? Er, kinda glad I didn’t go.

What I missed, of course, was an excellent Justin Masterson getting boned and a bunch of near-fisticuffsmanship, en route to the longest game in Opening Day history. J.P. Arencibia won it with a three-run homer in the 16th. Casey Kotchman and Colby Rasmus each went 0 for 7, which surpasses golden and platinum sombreros by a mile. I think they were unobtanium sombreros. Good show!

Reds 4, Marlins 0: Johnny Cueto tossed seven shutout innings as the Marlins did their part to contribute to the NL East’s collective offensive ineptitude on this Opening Day v3.0.  Indeed, the entire division played yesterday, and they scored a total of four runs.

Phillies 1, Pirates 0: Eight shutout innings, two hits, no walks and five strikeouts for Roy Halladay. Ho-hum. Remember when we were supposed to care about his lack of velocity? Nah, me neither.

Tigers 3, Red Sox 2: Wrote this up yesterday, both here and here.  So for now, I’ll leave you with this depiction of Jose Valverde’s day.

Mets 1, Braves 0: The Red Sox and Braves both lose in dispiriting fashion. It’s like 2011 never ended. Not that the Braves didn’t have a couple of chances, but they’re the Braves and they don’t win games unless three guys hit homers and stuff.  Johan Santana got headlines for being impressive — and given his recent history, he was impressive — but Atlanta squandered a couple of good opportunities here.

Nationals 2, Cubs 1: The Cubs waste a fantastic Ryan Dempster start in which he struck out ten in seven and two-thirds. Stephen Strasburg was nearly as good, but neither figured in the decision. Ian Desmond singled in the winning run in the ninth.  The Cubs, in contrast, ran their way out of a scoring opportunity in the bottom of the ninth when pinch-runner Joe Mather was thrown out trying to score on a grounder to third. Too bad my little league coach wasn’t there to yell at Mather to make sure the ball got through. He was really good at teaching 11 year-olds that.

Dodgers 5, Padres 3: Clayton Kershaw started this game despite suffering from a nasty flu that had him vomiting and — according to Vin Scully — having diarrhea. Which I’m going to go out on a limb and guess was the first and last time in his 60+ year career that Scully said the word diarrhea during a broadcast.  Kershaw looked like he was going to be able to hold up for a while — he threw three shutout innings and he even hit a double — but ran out of mojo. Five Dodgers relievers held the Padres off, while Edinson Volquez walked in two runs with the bases loaded. Matt Kemp hit a homer and was caught stealing, so his quest to become the first member of the 50/50 club was partially successful.

Only one more Opening Day, folks!

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.