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And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Astros 10, Rangers 1: Remember last year when the Rangers owned the Astros, losing 14 out of 19? That’s over. Houston takes its third in a row off of Texas, powered by Marwin Gonzalez‘s fourth homer in the past three games. Carlos Correa and Brian McCann each hit solo homers and Correa went 4-for-5.

Royals 6, White Sox 1: Nate Karns allowed only one hit over six shutout innings. The AP headline for their recap on this is “Nate Karns Dazzles.” That was also the working title for my coming of age dramedy series I’ve been trying to sell to Netflix, but I guess THAT’s gotta change now. Politics, man.

Yankees 8, Blue Jays 6: Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but Aaron Judge homered again. Gonna go out on a limb here and say that maybe people should stop throwing him strikes? Matt Holliday hit a homer, his 300th. And Brett Gardner got four big hits too. Except they were all on a trash can:

Nationals 2, Diamondbacks 1: Gio Gonzalez allowed one run over five and (all together now) helped his own cause with a RBI groundout. Ryan Zimmerman, the Player of the Month for April, is doin’ OK in May as well, doubling in Bryce Harper for the go-ahead run in the sixth inning.

Red Sox 4, Orioles 2: Before the game there was a conference call with the umps and the league and everyone in which it was stated that there would be a zero tolerance policy for shenanigans given all that has happened between these two teams this year. Apparently no one on the call mentioned the fact that zero tolerance policies are almost always dumb. And this was all dumb. Kevin Gausman threw a first-pitch slider to Xander Bogaerts that stayed too far inside and hit him. It was clearly not intentional, but home plate umpire Sam Holbrook immediately ejected him anyway. Later in the game Adam Jones was ejected for arguing balls and strikes. The game itself: Boston built a 4-0 lead by the fourth inning and that was kind of it. One more game in this series to get through. My preview:

Indians 3, Tigers 2: Carlos Carrasco (6 IP, 5 H, 2 ER 5K) outdueled Matt Boyd (7.2 IP, 5 H, 3 ER 4K). Andrew Miller struck out four in two scoreless innings, his first multi-inning outing of the season. There will be more. Or his arm will fall off. Hard to say.

Reds 7, Pirates 2: Billy Hamilton, who hadn’t hit a homer since *mashes fingers on calculator* the Ford Administration, hit a three run blast. Wait, my calculator is broken *looks it up* it was Hamilton’s first homer since June 28 of last year. Devin Mesoraco ended a home run drought of a couple of years, but he had the excuse of being on the disabled list since *mashes fingers on calculator* the Ford Administration.

Marlins 10, Rays 6: The Fish break out for ten runs on 17 hits, including a stretch in the sixth inning when they strung together seven consecutive hits. J.T. Realmuto drove in four runs. Marcell Ozuna hit a homer that went 468 feet. Before the game players’ families played a charity softball game and Ozuna’s wife — Genesis Ozuna — hit a homer of her own:

Give that woman a contract.

Mets 16, Braves 5: Jose Reyes had five RBI, Rene Rivera drove in three and Michael Conforto and Jacob deGrom had two RBI apiece. It’s been a bad stretch for the Mets, but playing the Braves is quite a tonic for what ails ya. The victim of much of that abuse: former Met Bartolo Colon, who surrendered five runs on seven hits in four innings.

Cubs 5, Phillies 4: Willson Contreras hit a two-run double and then came around to score on a Matt Szczur infield hit on which he had no business scoring. Watch it here. Freddy Galvis held the ball forever, apparently thinking Contrearas wouldn’t try to score, but Contrearas just kept running. Then the throw stunk, otherwise he’d be out. Joe Maddon appreciated the run but you can tell the whole thing gave him heartburn:

“You plug into this guy. As he learns to play with his hair on fire — maybe not a forest fire, maybe just the burning bush or something, I don’t know — he’s going to learn how to control all that.”

Then Maddon said this:

Twins 7, Athletics 4: Kenny Vargas hit a three run homer and drove in five. Hector Santiago allowed three run over six, and pitched while wearing custom cleats showing an airbrushed picture of the late grandmother Nelly. Gettin’ dusty in here. The Twins have won seven of ten.

Mariners 8, Angels 7: A late rally for Seattle, with Jarrod Dyson hitting a two-out, two-run double in the eighth to tie things up and Jean Segura following that with a two-run single to put the M’s over. The only reason Seattle had to come back was because their bullpen blew a four-run lead by allowing six runs to the Angels in the sixth inning, but let’s try to forget that, shall we?

Giants 4, Dodgers 1Jeff Samardzija allowed only one unearned run and three hits while striking out eleven in eight innings, but he couldn’t get much in the way of run support — and Julio Urias and a handful of Dodgers relievers matched him — so we went to extras. In the 11th, Brandon Belt and Gorkys Hernandez each singled in a run and Hunter Pence hit a sac fly. All of this on the night Vin Scully was inducted into the Dodgers Ring of Honor, with the club hanging up a sign with a microphone and Scully’s name. Scully, watching the Giants rally late, said “Jesus, you frickin’ bums. Way to ruin my night — BIG VIN’s NIGHT! I’m insulted.” Then he spit on the ground and threw a few bucks at the Dodgers relievers and told them to go buy some class. Retirement has changed Scully, man.

Rockies 11, Padres 3: Ian Desmond was just activated on Sunday after missing 25 games. He hit two homers last night off of Jered Weaver, who is great to face after coming off of an injury, because it helps make up for all of that batting practice you miss when you’re hurt.

Brewers vs. Cardinals — POSTPONED:

The song came and went
Like the times that we spent
Hiding out from the rain under the carnival tent
I laughed and she’d smile
It would last for awhile
You don’t know what you got till you lose it all again
Listen to the mandolin rain
Listen to the music on the lake
Listen to my heart break every time she runs away
Listen to the banjo wind
A sad song drifting low
Listen to the tears roll
Down my face as she turns to go

Astros exemplify the player-unfriendly bent of analytics

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Even as recently as a decade ago, Sabermetrics was a niche interest among baseball fans. As various concepts began to gain acceptance in the mainstream, players slowly began to accept them as well. Players like Brian Bannister and Zack Greinke were hailed as examples of a new breed of player — one who marries his athleticism with the utilization of analytics. This year, much was made of certain players’ data-driven adjustments, including Daniel Murphy and J.D. Martinez. Both had great seasons as a result of focusing more on hitting more fly balls instead of ground balls and line drives.

Statistics can clearly benefit players. They can also be used against them, and not just by opposing players. The Astros, who are in the World Series for the first time since 2005, are a great example of this. The Astros spent a few years rebuilding after a complete overhaul of the front office, which included bringing in analytically-fluent Jeff Luhnow as GM after the 2011 season. That overhaul instilled so much confidence that, in 2014, Sports Illustrated writer Ben Reiter predicted that the Astros would win the 2017 World Series. He’s only four Astros wins away from being proven correct.

The Astros’ front office, though, took advantage of its players at various times throughout the process. Their success is owed, in part, to exploiting its players. On Twitter, user @chicken__puppet chained a few tweets together exemplifying this:

At its core, analytics is about optimization: getting the most bang for your buck. If you read Moneyball, you know this. Wins Above Replacement (WAR) quickly became synonymous with the field and $/WAR was a natural next step. Sabermetrics defaulted to ownership’s perspective, so highly-paid players who performed poorly were scorned. Cheap players who performed well were lauded.

It is no mere coincidence that once most front offices installed analytics departments, teams stopped handing out so many outrageous contracts to free agent first baseman/DH types. Instead, teams focused on signing their young players to long-term contract extensions to buy out their arbitration years ahead of time, ostensibly saving ownership and the team boatloads of money. Teams began to pay close attention to service time as well. Service time determines when a player becomes eligible for arbitration and free agency, so teams that are able to finagle their players’ service time can potentially delay that player’s free agency by a year. The Cubs tried to do this with third baseman Kris Bryant in 2015, as Craig wrote about.

There is a very real ethical component to covering and being a fan of Major League Baseball, despite the common plea to separate sports from politics. The Astros and Cubs aren’t the only ones exploiting their players; the Angels, for example, made some odd personnel choices earlier this season that happened to allow them to avoid paying some players incentive bonuses. Every front office, in one way or another, games the system because the system is set up to benefit ownership first and players second. And if the likes of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa can be taken advantage of so freely and openly, what hope does anyone else have?

Fans have been conditioned to group players and owners together as one group of rich people. In reality, the player earning $30 million has more in common with the office worker making $35,000 a year than with team owners. When fans hear about Correa making $507,500 instead of $550,000, or about free agent who wants a nine-figure contract, they wonder why he had the nerve to ask for so much money in the first place. We praise players, like Cliff Lee, who “leave money on the table.” Both the player and that fan, by virtue of existing and participating in this system, are locked in an eternal battle with those who cut their paychecks. Regardless of salary differences, the player deserves to benefit from the fruits of his labor as much as the office worker. Part of being a baseball fan should also include rooting for the players’ financial success and not just the owners’.

Praising the Astros for being smart and savvy will only create more incentive for other front offices to mimic these unethical behaviors. The whole theme of the World Series shouldn’t be about smart, analytically-inclined teams reaching the summit; it should in part be about teams getting ahead with a multitude of exploitative practices against their players.