And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights

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Cardinals 9, Pirates 2: And the sweep. Four losses in a row overall for Pittsburgh which is back in wild card territory, looking up at the Cards, still stuck on 81 wins.  Michael Wacha pitched seven shutout innings, allowing only two hits, and drove in two runs to boot. He hasn’t allowed a run in 19 and two-thirds consecutive innings.

Yankees 4, Red Sox 3: Just your standard walkoff wild pitch after the best closer in history blew a save. Is it rude of me to note that he’s blown a lot of saves for him lately and that, just maybe, the “never retire, you’re invincible, Mo!” stuff is probably a bit overstated.  Moving on … nice for the Yankees to salvage one. It was pretty dreary for them, I presume, losing three straight games in which they scored eight or nine runs.  To lose a lower scoring one too woulda been hard to take. As it was they didn’t lose too much ground to the Rays this weekend. Problem was, they got passed up by Baltimore and Cleveland.

Royals 5, Tigers 2: Eric Hosmer had three hits including a three-run homer and Bruce Chen baffled the Tigers. And, by extension, continued to baffle all of us. The guy has pitched in 15 major league seasons. If you lined up every pitcher in the big leagues in 1999 or 2000 or so and said “which of these guys is gonna pitch in 15 major league seasons,” I’m guessing Chen would not have been on many folks’ list.

Reds 3, Dodgers 2: Clayton Kershaw and Homer Bailey were pretty close to even for seven innings but then the Reds got to Ronald Bellisario in the ninth, with Zack Cozart singling and Ryan Hanigan doubling him in.

Phillies 3, Braves 2: Nice day for Evan Gattis — he hit two homers including an absolute moon shot — but that’s all the Braves could do against Cole Hamels. Literally, those were the only two hits he gave up in eight innings. Meanwhile Darin Ruf broke the tie with an eighth inning homer of his own after driving in a run earlier.That’s four straight losses for Atlanta. Guess that’ll put the kibosh on any of that “maybe they peaked too soon” talk.

Athletics 7, Astros 2: A seven-run third gives Bartolo all the run support he needed, as he held the Astros to one run in six. It was big Bartolo’s first win since July 26.

Rangers 4, Angels 3: Texas avoids a sweep and stays one and a half back of the A’s. Alex Rios homered in the first and drove in the go-ahead run with a seventh inning double.

Brewers 3, Cubs 1: Yovani Gallardo with another nice start. He’s strung a few of those in a row since coming off the DL last month. Too bad he couldn’t have done this in June and July and gotten Doug Melvin some prospects in a deal.

Padres 5, Rockies 2: Three game sweep for the Padres, all three games with late-inning runs. Here Nick Hundley cleared the based with a double in the Pads’ four-run seventh.

White Sox 4, Orioles 2: The Pale Hose end a nine-game losing streak. Game ended with a nice deke on baserunner Chris Dickerson too. He was trying to steal second when Brian Roberts fouled out. Alexi Ramirez made Dickerson think the ball was on the ground in play so Dickerson made no effort to turn around and head back to first. Double play and ballgame.

Mets 2, Indians 1: Only one run on three hits in five and two thirds innings for Daisuke Matsuzaka, and that run was an inherited run that Vic Black allowed in when he plunked a guy with the bases loaded. Not too shabby for him, and probably satisfying too given that it came against the team that kept him in the minors all year and then cut bait.

Nationals 6, Marlins 4: A hot mess of a day for Stephen Strasburg — he balked in two runs, hit a guy and threw a wild pitch — but he also struck out seven and got his first win in close to a month. Wilson Ramos and Ian Desmond each had three hits and drove in two.

Giants 3, Diamondbacks 2: Angel Pagan singled home the winning run in the bottom of the 11th. Madison Bumgarner tossed six shutout innings but was denied a win yet again. Run support is not always an abundant commodity in San Francisco.

Rays 4, Mariners 1: The Rays rally for all four of their runs in the eighth and ninth and, thanks to losses by the Tribe, Orioles and Yankees, up their lead in the wild card race. Still, this road trip started with a four-game lead, now it’s two. And given how badly they’ve played lately, they’re lucky it’s two.

Blue Jays 2, Twins 0: Blue Jays sweep the Twins in the series that was neck-and-neck with the Brewers-Cubs for the “who friggin’ cares?” series of the weekend. At least Brewers-Cubs is a division and geographic rivalry, so I think this one takes the crown.

UPDATE: Donald Trump declines Nats offer to throw out the first pitch

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UPDATE: Welp, we wont’ get to see that:

Sad!

8:53 AM: It’s just gossip now, but Politico is hearing that Donald Trump is in talks to throw out the first pitch at Nationals Park on Opening Day. The Nats are not commenting. Neither are the Palm Beach Cardinals of the Florida State League, who no doubt feel slighted given that the president effectively is a local.

With the caveat that, on Opening Day, tickets are likely to be more expensive and thus you’re likely to have a lot more rich people and friends-of-the-owners in attendance, thereby ensuring a more conservative crowd, I’m struggling to imagine a situation in which Trump strolls on to a baseball field in a large American city and isn’t booed like crazy. He’s polling as low as 36% in some places. He’s not exactly Mr. Popular.

Oh well. I look forward to him three-bouncing one to Matt Wieters and then grabbing his phone and tweeting about how it was the best, most tremendous first pitch in baseball history. Or blaming Hillary Clinton for it in the event he admits that it was a bad pitch.

2017 Preview: Texas Rangers

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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 Texas Rangers.

The Rangers somehow won the AL West last year despite not being super great at any one aspect of the game. There are stars here — Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Rougned Odor are all spiffy players — but the Rangers won the division by being greater than the sum of their parts. They scored a decent number of runs despite some bad collective peripheral numbers and they allowed more runs than anyone in the AL except the Twins and Athletics. Yet they had a great record in one-run games and outperformed their pythagorean record by a WHOLE lot. Luck shined brightly on the 2016 Rangers.

It’s hard to expect luck to hold in any instance, but that’s especially the case when there have been some pretty significant changes. Changes like the loss of Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond and Mitch Moreland. In their place: A full season, the Rangers hope, from Shin-Soo Choo, a converted-to-outfield Jurickson Profar and Mike Napoli. That may wash out OK, especially if Choo is healthy, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see some regression in two of those offensive slots.

Starting pitching is also a big question mark. Cole Hamels at the top is not a problem, obviously, and if Yu Darvish is healthy and durable the Rangers have an outstanding 1-2 punch. Martin Perez in the third spot presents promise, but he’s been exactly average so far in five major league seasons. The back end of the rotation has some real problems. Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are hurt at the moment and even if healthy, Cashner seems to be a shell of his once-promising self. A.J. Griffin is looking to pitch in his first full season since 2013. If the Rangers are strong contenders all year it’s gonna be on the “Spahn and Sain and two days of rain” model, but I have no idea what rhymes with “Darvish” and that’s sort of a problem.

The bullpen is going to look a lot like it did last year. Sam Dyson will close, but manager Jeff Banister has shown in the past that he’s not a slave to keeping guys in any one role down there. Jeremy Jeffress will likely set up but he’s closed before. Some think Matt Bush or Keone Kela could close. We’ll see Tanner Scheppers and lefty Alex Claudio. Banister has a Manager of the Year Award on his mantle and while that often doesn’t mean anything, it usually suggests that a guy knows how to deal with his pen. Banister will do OK with what he has.

Really, though, the rotation is a concern, as is hoping that a 35-year-old Mike Napoli and a soon-to-be 38-year-old Adrian Beltre can continue to be the types of players who can form the offensive core of a playoff team. There’s talent and a track record here, but there’s a lot of uncertainty. For that reason, I suspect the Rangers will fall back a smidge this year, even if they’re a playoff contender.

Prediction: Second Place, American League West.