And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights

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Reds 5, Angels 4: Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton finally upped their averages north of .000 — each went 1 for 4 and drove in a couple — but not enough to matter. Aroldis Chapman came in to pitch the ninth against the top of the order. Mike Trout singled but then he got Aybar — who sacrificed — Pujols and Hamilton, with his velocity going up a couple miles per hour each pitch. It was a nice closing job, but boy howdy I’d like to see him start a game at 93 and slowly crank it up to 99, Verlander-style, someday.

Yankees 4, Red Sox 2: Pettitte-to-Mariano. If you’re struggling, go back to what works. This has worked for about 17 years or so. In other news, the Yankees and Red Sox played a game against each other that lasted two hours and thirty eight minutes. I didn’t think such things were possible, but it actually happened.

Royals 3, White Sox 1: An impressive outing from Jeremy Guthrie (6 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 9K). Then the hard-throwers in the bullpen did their thing for three innings. This is what the Royals pretty much drew up happening every game this season. It won’t, but this is what success looks like for this team.

Twins 8, Tigers 2: We all laughed a bit yesterday afternoon when the Tigers signed Jose Valverde. But after watching Brayan Villareal stink up the joint to the tune of fives runs in two-thirds on an inning, it’s not as if Valverde would be the worst part of this bullpen. At the moment the entire bullpen is the worst part of the bullpen.

Cubs 3, Pirates 2: I watched way more of this one than the Angels-Reds game which was on TV at the same time. Guess I just wanted to see teams I’ll see less of over the course of the year. Travis Wood was good and Carlos Marmol was his usual shaky self. My favorite thing was the Pirates, though. In the seventh inning, with the Cubs up 1-0, Clint Hurdle had his cleanup hitter bunt with a fast runner on second and no one out. The cleanup hitter could not get the bunt down and strikes out. The next two batters pop out and strike out. Oh, and the fast runner stole third in the meantime. Maybe if they had one more out. Maybe if Hurdle put a guy in the cleanup spot that he trusted to, you know, clean up.

Padres 2, Mets 1: Eric Stults and five relievers combined for 14 strikeouts and kept the Mets scoreless until the ninth. If you had New York at 162-0, well, sorry.

Nationals 6, Marlins 1: I suppose if you had the Marlins at 0-162 that you still have a lot of life in that proposition. But hey, at least they finally scored a run. The Nats’ 2-3-4 hitters combined to drive in all six of the team’s runs. I suppose Werth, Harper and Zimmerman are gonna do that a lot.

Orioles 6, Rays 3: Chris Davis, have yourself an Opening Week. He homered for the third straight day and drove on four. For the series he went 7 of 11 with three homers, three doubles and 11 RBI. And if we’re gonna mention the Nats’ 2-3-4, we should mention the O’s 3-4-5. In taking two of three from Tampa Bay they went 17 for 37 with four homers, six doubles, 13 runs scored and 15 RBI.

Phillies 2, Braves 0: Cliff Lee dominated, allowing only two hits — both singles — and striking out eight. Last year Cliff Lee didn’t win his first game until the fourth of July. Speaking of wins, this was the first time in 24 tries that the Braves lost a Kris Medlen start. Which, to be honest, makes me happy in some strange way. Seemed like that streak — which stretched over years, a Tommy John surgery and a lot of improbable stuff — was giving people a sense that this kid was somehow magical rather than simply good and fortunate. And from there it’s a short slide to people thinking pitcher wins matter. If you want to see how awful it is when people think that, just ask folks if they think Cliff Lee is still an ace. Those poor deluded sods who say “no” are basing this on his win total last year.

Athletics 8, Mariners 2: L.A. Woman-era Jim Morrison hit a homer and drove in four runs for Oakland. Wait, sorry. That was Josh Reddick. Michael Morse homered for the third straight day.

Blue Jays 10, Indians 8: J.P. Arencibia hit two homers. Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista did too. But some bad news: Bautista left the game early with a twisted ankle. Probably not serious, but Toronto needs him healthy all year.

Matt Boyd earns No. 5 spot in Tigers’ starting rotation

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Matt Boyd has earned the No. 5 spot in the Tigers’ starting rotation, which means veteran Anibal Sanchez will pitch out of the bullpen, MLB.com’s Jason Beck reported on Wednesday.

Boyd, 26, pitched well this spring, compiling a 2.49 ERA with a 21/0 K/BB ratio in 21 2/3 innings. The lefty’s numbers in the majors last year weren’t nearly as good.

Sanchez, 33, is coming off of the worst season of his career and overall didn’t have a great spring, putting up a 5.03 ERA with a 20/4 K/BB ratio in 19 2/3 innings. He came on strong at the end, however, tossing 14 consecutive scoreless innings. Manager Brad Ausmus didn’t rule out the possibility of Sanchez returning to the rotation at some point.

2017 Preview: Oakland Athletics

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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 Oakland Athletics.

The A’s aren’t gonna be that great this year, you guys. Sorry about that, but it’s true. In this it will be much like last year.

But it will look a bit different than last year at least. The A’s signed Santiago CasillaMatt JoyceTrevor Plouffe and Rajai Davis to a combined $33.25 million in contracts. I don’t see how that makes them appreciably better, but they will be different.

Khris Davis is the biggest offensive weapon. He hit 42 homers last year. Marcus Semien hit 27. And despite those heroics, the A’s offense was dead last in the AL in 2016. Rajai Davis gives them a stolen base threat and Joyce had nice resurgence in a little under 300 plate appearances, but I’m not seeing how this crew is all that better than they were. I mean, I’m sure Trevor Plouffe is a nice young man, but he’s not an offensive difference maker. The biggest chance for improvement comes from a full season of Ryon Healy, who hit quite well in 72 games last year. He was also moved off of third base for Plouffe and into the DH role at the age of 25, so temper your expectations.

Turning to the rotation, Sonny Gray at the top of things looked great heading into last season, but then he regressed badly, posting an unsightly 5.69 ERA in 2016. The A’s don’t need him to be be third in the Cy Young voting again, but they certainly need him to be their ace, and last year he wasn’t that. He’ll get a late start to the season due to a back injury — he may miss the entire first month — so things are already starting off badly.

After Gray comes Sean Manaea, who debuted last year and improved as the season went along. Kendall Graveman was serviceable last year, but he doesn’t miss many bats and it’s hard to pitch well in this league when you’re striking out as few batters as Graveman does. Jharel Cotton is an intriguing fourth starter. He came over in the Rich Hill deal and continued his excellent work in the minors before a late season callup. He is homer-prone but doesn’t walk a ton of guys. Definitely a guy to watch for the future. Andrew Triggs is a swingman who was pressed into the rotation late in the year. The A’s liked what they saw, but he has been a reliever all through the minors. Organizations tend to do that to guys who they don’t think will be decent starters, so I’m not sure what a few starts at the end of a season really mean.

If Gray bounces back to 2015 form, Graveman continues to be lucky on batted balls and the other guys deliver on their small-sample-size promise, hey, things aren’t too bad! But when was the last time that kind of five-for-five gamble paid off? Odds are on a nice surprise here, some stasis there and some regression and/or growing pains mixed in to form a pretty meh rotation. And given that the A’s defense was terrible last year and doesn’t look all that better this year, look for a lot of unearned runs. And earned runs that should’ve been unearned.

The bullpen features some notable names — Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle, John Axford and Santiago Casilla have all been closers in the past — with Ryan DullLiam Hendriks and Raul Alcantara providing more depth. Dull is anything but his name. His excellent K/BB ratio last year — 73/15 in 74.1 innings — is downright interesting. These guys will inherit a lot of deficits instead of leads, however, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see the A’s trade off a one or two of the ~Proven Closers~ at the deadline as well.

The A’s won 69 games last year. There are three contenders in the division who are significantly better and an Angels team that employs some considerably more talented players despite its obvious flaws. The A’s have just as many flaws and top out with Khris Davis, a rebound candidate starting the year on the DL as their best starter and some interesting young arms. All of that adds up to a long, long summer from where I’m sitting.

Prediction: Fifth place, American League West.