And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights

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Pirates 4, Marlins 3: A walkoff homer for Josh Harrison — the utility infielder if you didn’t know — gave this one to Pittsburgh, as the Pirates show no inclination to give up first place. Andrew McCutchen had a fantastic diving catch to save at least one run in the seventh when the game was tied and the Marlins were threatening. My anticipation to go see this team play a week from Saturday is at about an 11 on a ten-point scale.

Braves 2, Nationals 1: The 12th straight win for Atlanta who are tied with the Red Sox for the most wins in baseball. Costly, though, as the recently-hot Jason Heyward left in the first inning with a neck strain. Also: there was attempted fisticuffsmanship when Julio Teheran plunked Bryce Harper. The Braves said it wasn’t on purpose, but Harper had hit a home run the at bat before, so hmmm. Still, given the lack of overall threat the Nats represent these days, the Braves should no more be throwing at them than they should throwing at their mamas.

Tigers 5, Indians 1: Ten in a row for the Tigers as Verlander beats Masterson in the Battle of the Justins. A gimpy Miguel Cabrera broke the 100-RBI barrier and the Indians are revealing themselves to not be much of a direct threat to Detroit. If the Tigers sweep this series and give themselves a nice cushion they should maybe consider DL-ing Cabrera — or at least resting him a ton — so that he’s not so gimpy come playoff times.

Phillies 9, Cubs 8: Darin Ruf played right field for the first time ever but it was his bat that helped out the most. He homered and doubled and extended his streak of games in which he reached base to 33, which is the longest in the majors at the moment and longest Phillies streak since 2009. His move to right field likely spells the end of Delmon Young’s time in Philly. Chase Utley had three hits.

White Sox 3, Yankees 2: Chris Sale outduels Hiroki Kuroda in the Battle of the Lone Bright Spots. If you care, A-Rod went 1 for 2 with a walk.

Twins 7, Royals 0: Andrew Albers makes his major league debut and all he does is pitch eight and a third shutout innings, allowing only four hits. In other news, it was very considerate of the Twins and Royals to trade embarrassing losses like this.

Reds 3, Athletics 1: The A’s have lost five of six and the offense is sputtering. The Reds needed to face a team like that given how things have been going for them. Here Mat Latos struggled with his stuff, but it didn’t matter as he still tossed seven and a third shutout innings. Jay Bruce homered and had a nice running catch.

Red Sox 15, Astros 10: The Bosox were down 5-0 after two inning, thanks in part to four — four! — passed balls from Ryan Lavarnway, who was trying to catch knuckler Steven Wright. But just when John Farrell was about to call Doug Mirabelli, Wright came out of the game and the Sox’ bats came alive. Including Lavarnway’s, who had a two-run double in a five-run fifth inning which ended up being the turning point. This was Boston’s 69th win. They had 69 wins all of last season.

Mets 3, Rockies 2: The Eric Young Jr. show, as he made a fantastic diving catch to save runs and then later scored from second on an infield single. Wheels, baby. Wheels.

Rangers 8, Angels 3: The Rangers pull to within one of the A’s. Eight runs without the benefit of an extra base hit. Struggling to think of the last small ball Rangers team. Failing.

Cardinals 5, Dodgers 1: And thus endeth the Dodgers road wins streak. Carlos Beltran and Matt Adams homered in the eighth off Brandon League and the Cardinals bullpen tossed three and two thirds scoreless innings to back up Joe Kelly.

Blue Jays 7, Mariners 2: Toronto’s bats didn’t hail to the King: Hernandez is touched for six runs — three earned — in five innings. Jose Reyes homered on the first pitch of the game and added an RBI single.

Diamondbacks 6, Rays 1: Wade Miley allowed five hits in seven one-run innings. Cody Ross hit a three-run homer off Jeremy Hellickson. Ross is 14 for his last 31.

Orioles 4, Padres 1: Adam Jones must love the San Diego home cooking. He had four hits including a homer and scored twice in front of a crowd that skewed Baltimorian (Baltimorite? Baltimorish?) despite the game being at Petco.

Brewers 3, Giants 1:  The Giants offense continues to sputter despite a nice outing from Matt Cain. This is not a repeat from every season apart from 2012.

2017 Preview: Seattle Mariners

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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 Seattle Mariners.

The first rule of snapping playoff droughts is: You do not talk about snapping playoff droughts. The second rule of snapping playoff droughts is: You do not talk about snapping playoff droughts.

For the uninitiated, we’re now up to 15 years in which the Mariners have failed to contend for a championship title. The highlight reel of their 1995 and 2001 playoff runs has worn thin; so, too, have the slogans and promises of the nine managers and four general managers who have cycled through the franchise during their 15-year drought.

That all could change under the direction of general manager Jerry Dipoto, who is approaching his third year at the helm of the Mariners’ organization after making the most single-year offseason trades in club history. In February, MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince estimated Dipoto’s totals had reached 13 trades involving 36 players since the start of the 2016-17 offseason. “Go back to when [Dipoto] arrived in Seattle at the tail end of the 2015 season,” Castrovince writes, “and it’s 37 swaps involving 95 players.”

That’s an insane number of players to be moving around, especially when a team is leaning toward playoff contention rather than a fire sale, and you have to hope that Dipoto has a reason for the high-stakes shuffling.

One possible reason? There’s an expiration date on Seattle’s most treasured veterans, including Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, even Hisashi Iwakuma. Hernandez hasn’t received a Cy Young award in seven years, hasn’t tossed a perfect game in five years, and hasn’t maintained an ERA below 3.00 in three years. Iwakuma nearly crested 200 innings for the second time in his career, but his good health and durability was punished by a career-worst 1.3 HR/9, 6.6 SO/9 and 4.12 ERA. As expected, Cano, Cruz and Seager all turned out solid performance at the plate, and but it’s the hazards that come with aging and inevitable decline that exert pressure on Dipoto and the rest of the Mariners to deliver a postseason finish sooner rather than later.

Dipoto’s machinations have, for the most part, been both team- and fan-friendly this offseason. He didn’t move any major contracts or trade away any familiar faces on the Mariners roster, choosing instead to excise fringe players and adding short-term depth where it was needed. He reinforced a rotation of Hernandez, Iwakuma and James Paxton with right-handers Yovani Gallardo, Chris Heston, Max Povse and Rob Whalen and left-hander Drew Smyly. The bullpen received right-handers Shae Simmons, Dan Altavilla and lefty Marc Rzepczynski, the latter of whom inked a two-year, $11 million deal, while Carlos Ruiz gave the Mariners another option behind the plate. Jarrod Dyson was thrown into the outfield mix alongside Leonys Martin and Mitch Haniger, Jean Segura took over for Ketel Marte at short, and infielder/outfielder Danny Valencia lined up behind Dan Vogelbach at first base, where he later won the starting role.

It’s enough to make your head spin, but the takeaway is simple enough. Investing in younger, cheaper players provides the Mariners with enough defense and athleticism to compete for a postseason berth without the drawbacks of weighty contracts and long-term commitments. If the experiment doesn’t pan out as expected, there’s nothing to stop Dipoto from making another dozen trades during next year’s offseason and restarting the whole process.

As with any roster overhaul, there’s no predicting how much the Mariners of 2017 will improve on their 2016 counterparts. The starting rotation still leaves much to be desired, and without productive turnarounds from Hernandez and Iwakuma, even the cavernous maw of Safeco Field won’t be able to stave off another collapse. James Paxton and Drew Smyly, while not rotation headliners, project to be the most stable of the bunch so far.

The bullpen profiles a little better, notwithstanding Steve Cishek’s lengthy recovery from hip surgery this winter, Ariel Miranda’s demotion to Triple-A Tacoma and the unexpected forearm issues that cropped up in Shae SImmons’ right arm. At one point, manager Scott Servais said he was considering an eight-man bullpen featuring Edwin Diaz, Dan Altavilla, Casey Fien, Marc Rzepczynski, Nick Vincent and Evan Scribner, though the details have yet to be worked out before the team opens their season on Monday.

While some kinks still need to be worked out among the Mariners’ pitching staff, their offense and defense look sharper than they have in years. According to FanGraphs, Dipoto invested in some pretty sizable upgrades with Jarrod Dyson, Mitch Haniger, Jean Segura and backup outfielder Ben Gamel, enough to make them the most improved outfield defense in the league.

It’s plausible that the 2017 Mariners have improved as a whole. It’s also plausible that all of Dipoto’s frenzied offseason moves were more focused and premeditated than they appeared. It’s even plausible that the tinkering and trimming and restructuring of the Mariners’ defense could attract a heftier win-loss record and a participation trophy — heck, even a championship title — in this year’s postseason.

But you didn’t hear it here. The first rule of playoff droughts, after all, is that we don’t talk about them until they’re finally, mercifully snapped.

Prediction: 2nd place in AL West.*

(Note from Craig: I did the Rangers preview and picked them to be in second place. I did so without coordinating with Ashley on where she’d place the M’s because, let’s face it, details are not my strong suit. Upon reading the preview above and thinking harder I’m probably leaning more toward the Rangers coming in third to be honest, but I won’t change either preview because taking predictions seriously is pointless. We’ll all just check back in October and see who was right. Ashley was probably right). 

2017 Preview: Houston Astros

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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 Houston Astros.

Every preview of the 2017 Astros is obligated to mention that, back in 2014, Sports Illustrated projected them to win it all this year. It got a lot of laughs at the time, but that was actually sort of bearish given that they pushed the eventual World Series champs to five games in the 2015 ALDS, which suggested 2016 could’ve even been a step beyond that. Houston faltered last year, however, and in their latest baseball preview, SI didn’t repeat that World Series claim from three years ago. They’re picking the Dodgers. So sad to see such lack of courage in one’s convictions.

I’m not sure I’d pick them to win it all this year either, but it should be a better year for the men in orange.

It all starts with their core. Jose Altuve, is a batting champ and MVP contender. 2015 Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa was just 21 last season and still put up a line of .274/.364/.451 in his first full season, fighting through some nagging injuries to do it. George Springer isn’t as good those two but he’s talented enough to feature as a key supporting player on a championship-caliber club. Alex Bregman had a nice debut season last year and will now look to consolidate success at multiple minor league levels into a solid full season in the bigs.

While last year the hope was that success would be be ensured by the young players progressing, the front office decided this past winter to beef up the roster by adding some quality veterans. In comes Josh Reddick and Carlos Beltran via free agency, and in comes Brian McCann via a trade. Reddick will slot in right field, Beltran will take over at DH and McCann becomes the starting catcher. Those additions make the Astros lineup one of the best in the American League. And that’s before you allow for the possibility that young guys like Correa and Bregman could break out in a big way. It’s also before you realize that Evan Gattis — who hit 32 homers last year — is now basically a bench bat. It’s a deep offensive attack that gives A.J. Hinch a lot of options, both to play the best matchups and to rest veterans.

Things aren’t perfect, however. The rotation is a problem.

2015 Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel had a profoundly disappointing 2016 campaign. As did just about everyone else to whom Hinch gave the ball. Only Lance McCullers had an ERA+ over 100, but he only started 14 games. Jeff Luhnow went out and got Charlie Morton, but that’s not a big get. Otherwise the rotation is going to be fairly similar to last year: Keuchel, McCullers, Morton, Mike Fiers and Joe Musgrove. Collin McHugh will likely start the year on the DL and contribute eventually.

Keuchel had shoulder problems. Morton is coming off a big hamstring injury. McCullers was hurt last year and McHugh has dead arm now. It’s not a pretty picture. A bounceback season from Keuchel or a full season of health from McCullers would go a long way toward solidifying things. As of now, though, Houston may score a ton of runs, but they are going to have some trouble preventing them. There’s a reason why they are still rumored to be in on Jose Quintana. They could use him.

Thankfully the bullpen was a clear strength last year and it should look pretty similar this year, personnel-wise. Ken Giles will close with Luke Gregerson and Will Harris setting up with Tony Sipp, Chris Devenski and Michael Feliz contributing. It’s a nice group that, while not featuring any Andrew Miller-type relief aces, was the most valuable bullpen in baseball as measured by WAR. Even if WAR is not your favorite stat, it’s still a super solid group.

What does a a great lineup, a solid bullpen and a rotation full of question marks amount to? In the AL West I think it amounts to a good bit, actually, as no contender is perfect. If you do a bit of wishcasting with the rotation, it’s not hard to find a ton of separation between it and Texas’ overall. If Jeff Luhnow goes out and gets a starter, which I think he will, it could easily be better. That doesn’t make the Astros a runaway favorite, but I think it gives them a shot at a win total in the high-80s to low-90s, and I think that amounts to . . .

Prediction: First Place, American League West. But they’ll be battling for it all year in what I think will be a close division.