And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights

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Nationals 8, Padres 5: Bryce Harper golfed one more than 400 feet to straightaway center for his first ever major league homer. He also struck out on four pitches to Joe Thatcher and launched a really loud f-bomb. I love him for both reasons, frankly. And I love how the back end of the Nats bullpen continues to struggle. Henry Rodriguez came in with a three-run lead in the ninth and walked the bases loaded. Sean Burnett came in and induced a 1-2-3 double play to end it, but man, Davey has to figure out what to do about Rodriguez. Guy throws a billion miles per hour but he has no idea where it’s going half the time.

Reds 3, Braves 1: Jonny Venters: a lot closer to mortal this year than last. Brandon Phillips knocked a double off him as the Reds plated two in the eighth to break a 1-1 tie. Then Chris Heisey drove in Phillips with a double of his own. I was blacked out from watching this one and didn’t know what was going on until the ninth when I saw on the scoreboard that Livan Hernandez entered the game. He’s the Braves’ living white flag.

Rays 7, Blues Jays 1: Good news: the Rays win. Bad news: Jeff Niemann was knocked out in the first inning after taking a grounder to his ankle. Cesar Ramos and the bullpen brigade came to the rescue.

Mets 3, Brewers 1: Milwaukee mustered only four hits off Miguel Batista, who threw seven shutout innings. No offense to Batista, but the Brewers need to take a long look in the mirror after getting stifled like that by a pitcher like that.

Red Sox 6, Mariners 1: Jon Lester pitched a complete game, allowing only one run. Four in a row for Boston.

Pirates 3, Marlins 2: My daddy said “son you’re gonna drive me to drinkin’ if you don’t start games with old Brad Lincoln.” Um, let’s forget I said that. Anyway: Lincoln allowed two runs in six innings after switching from starting to the pen.

Phillies 5, Astros 1: Placido Polanco is in a season-long funk, but a homer gave him his 2000th career hit. One of the more under-the-radar 2000-hit players in big league history, I’d reckon. Joe Blanton continues his nice recent work, allowing one run on six hits in seven innings.

Indians 5, Twins 4: Jeanmar Gomez pitched seven strong innings but his bullpen betrayed him. Shin-Soo Choo came through in the ninth with the go-ahead single.

Cubs 6, Cardinals 4: The Cards have cooled off big time, dropping their fourth straight. The Cubs finally scored some runs in a Ryan Dempster start, but not all when he was in the game. Meanwhile Dempster himself allowed four. Bryan LaHair went 3 for 4 and hit a two-run homer.

Royals 3, Rangers 1: Bruce Chen and four relievers douse the scorching Rangers lineup. A Nelson Cruz homer was all that was doin’ for Texas.

Yankees 8, Orioles 5: Ivan Nova was first ineffective and then injured, spraining his right ankle while fielding a tapper back to the mound. the Yankees pen hurled three and two-thirds innings of shutout ball, however, while a Mark Teixeira homer led the late Yankees charge. A-Rod, Robinson Cano and Teixeira were a combined 7 for 14 with two RBI and seven runs scored. That’s the sort of middle-of-the-order production New York hadn’t been getting in the early going.

White Sox 7, Tigers 5: Detroit had a 5-2 lead but then starter Drew Smyly ran out of gas and reliever Luke Putkonen — who if you asked me before I saw this box score, I would have said wasn’t a real person — unraveled. Detroit is now under .500. Dayan Vicido drove in four on a two-run homer and a two-run single. Adam Dunn homered again too and is slugging over .600 on the season.

Giants 3, Rockies 2:  Buster Posey and Brett Pill RBI singles in the eighth bring the Giants back after Christian Friedrich shut them down bigtime in his seven innings, in which he struck out ten.

Dodgers 3, Diamondbacks 1: No Matt Kemp? No problem, as with Clayton all things are possible (7 IP, 4 H, 0 ER).

Athletics 5, Angels 0: Anaheim’s nightmare season continues, as Tyson Ross shuts them out for six and the pen shuts them out for three. Oakland has won eight of 12.

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