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And That Happened: Friday’s Scores and Highlights

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Friday’s games featured extra-inning drama between the Reds and Giants, Joe Biagini‘s first win of the year and Matt Harvey‘s unsuccessful return from a three-day suspension. Here are the rest of Friday’s scores and highlights:

Astros 5, Yankees 1: There’s little doubt as to why the Astros currently have a lock on the AL West. Lance McCullers Jr. fired seven strikeouts in six shutout innings against the Yankees on Friday, backed by a strong showing from the bullpen that didn’t see a run until Didi Gregorius’ ninth-inning RBI single. At the plate, it was all up to Brian McCann, who unleashed a three-run bomb in the fourth inning to secure the Astros’ four-run lead and improve to 25 wins on the season.

If you’ve been keeping track, that’s the Astros’ fifth consecutive win of the week, making their 25-11 record the best in either league.

Blue Jays 4, Mariners 0: It was a good day for Joe Biagini, who prevailed in a five spotless innings against the Mariners to secure his first win as a starting pitcher. The Blue Jays are in a tight spot with the bulk of their starters sitting on the disabled list, and it looks like Biagini may provide some answers for the rotation going forward. He was helped by a four-run effort from the Jays’ lineup, who scored on two productive outs and a two-run shot by Jose Bautista to keep the Mariners at bay.

Braves 8, Marlins 4: The Marlins are off to a rocky start this year, a point that was only reinforced by their fourth consecutive loss on Friday. They came up empty-handed against Atlanta starter Mike Foltynewicz in the first three innings, finally getting on the board with Justin Bour’s home run in the fourth inning and returning for another pair of homers by J.T. Realmuto in the seventh and Derek Dietrich in the ninth. They were no match for Tyler Flowers, however, whose second-inning blast and two-RBI single in the seventh locked down the Braves’ 12th win of the year.

Rays 5, Red Sox 4: The Red Sox’ infield situation is… something of a mess right now, to put it kindly. Not only do they hold a league-leading 31 errors in 2017, but 13 of those errors have been committed at third base. Utility infielder Josh Rutledge added to that total on Friday, filling in at third base and botching several key plays during the Sox’ 5-4 loss to the Rays. He bounced a throw to first base in the fourth inning, allowing Evan Longoria to reach first and giving the Rays room to score on Tim Beckham‘s RBI single for a two-run lead.

The Rays committed their fair share of errors, too, allowing Jackie Bradley Jr. to reach first base in the seventh inning when Brad Miller inadvertently kicked the ball into center field, then was dinged with a second throwing error that allowed Bradley to reach second base and bring Sandy Leon home to score. Even with that freebie, however, the Sox couldn’t find a way to squeeze one more run out of Tampa Bay’s bullpen, who delivered six consecutive outs to preserve their lead and win the game.

Twins 1, Indians 0: Forget what you saw last Sunday: Ervin Santana is still one of the best arms in the American League. The former ERA leader issued two hits and a season-high five walks over seven scoreless frames, punctuated with four strikeouts against an Indians’ offense that just couldn’t get the ball rolling. Miguel Sano powered Santana’s efforts with a leadoff home run in the first inning, the only blemish on Josh Tomlin‘s pitching line as he went eight innings with six hits and seven strikeouts.

Rangers 5, Athletics 2: Don’t look now, but the Rangers are on a roll. They’ve won their last four games in a row, capping both Thursday and Friday’s contests with three-run, walk-off home runs by Mike Napoli and Joey Gallo. The A’s, meanwhile, struggled to gain a foothold against Texas starter Andrew Cashner, squeaking by on a solo home run through the first six innings. Neither outcome matters too much in light of the recent division standings, however, which have both teams tied for last place behind the second-place Mariners and Angels.

Padres 6, White Sox 3: The Padres and White Sox slugged their way through a mini-Home Run Derby on Friday night, putting up a cumulative five home runs en route to a 6-3 finish in the Padres’ favor. Matt Szczur went yard on the first pitch of the game, skying it 431 feet to left field. His efforts were succeeded by a two-homer game from Leurys Garcia and solo shots from Austin Hedges and Wil Myers, the latter of whom cemented the Padres’ win with a ninth-inning blast off of Chicago’s Chris Beck.

Brewers 7, Mets 4: An extra five days of rest did not do wonders for Matt Harvey, who returned to the mound on Friday after serving a three-day suspension last week. He delivered six strikeouts in six innings, which was overshadowed by the five runs, five walks and three home runs they accompanied. The Mets put up a good fight in the ninth inning, scoring two on a groundout and wild pitch from Milwaukee right-hander Jacob Barnes, but couldn’t close the three-run gap needed to tie the game.

Cubs 3, Cardinals 2: The Cardinals’ six-game win streak game to a disappointing end on Friday, almost entirely due to a two-homer performance from Cubs’ catcher Willson Contreras. Contreras slugged his third and fourth home runs of the year, getting the Cubs out to an early lead while Eddie Butler quieted the Cards’ bats with five strikeouts over six shutout innings. Unfortunately for the Cubs, the win did nothing to improve their standing in the NL Central, where they rank fourth behind the Cardinals, Reds and Brewers.

Royals 3, Orioles 2: Good pitching characterized both sides of the Royals’ 3-2 nail-biter, which hinged on standout performances from Danny Duffy and Dylan Bundy. Orioles’ backstop Caleb Joseph picked up three extra-base hits, doubling home a run in the second inning and scoring on a wild pitch in the seventh to tie the game. The pitchers’ duel was laid to rest in the eighth inning, however, when Eric Hosmer’s double secured the third and final run of the night off of Vidal Nuno.

Dodgers 6, Rockies 2: Clayton Kershaw has yet to pitch a scoreless outing in 2017, but don’t let that fool you — the lefty was every bit as dominant as you’d expect on Friday. He struck out four of 26 batters and held the Rockies to just two runs in seven innings, clinching his sixth win of the year on a six-run effort from the Dodgers’ lineup. It doesn’t hurt that his run support average is a healthy 6.26 runs per game, either.

Diamondbacks 11, Pirates 4: The Diamondbacks jumped out to an impressive lead after putting up a seven-spot in the third inning. Neither Tyler Glasnow nor Josh Lindblom could corral Arizona’s offense, and by the time Johnny Barbato got the ball in the seventh, it was too late to stage a comeback. Barbato closed out the game with two scoreless frames, but his strong performance was marred by an errant 93 m.p.h. fastball that hit Diamondbacks’ catcher Chris Iannetta in the nose and mouth and forced his early exit in the seventh inning.

Angels 7, Tigers 0: On any given night, we all expect Mike Trout to do what Mike Trout does best — crush home runs, make standout defensive plays and generally perform a cut above the rest. He didn’t disappoint in the Angels’ 7-0 shutout on Friday, returning from a five-game absence to smash a 430-foot home run to center field for his longest home run of the year:

Giants 3, Reds 2 (17 innings): Umpiring a professional baseball game requires incredible mental and physical resilience, particularly on days like Friday, when home plate ump Tony Randazzo took three pitches to the face, shoulder and chest during a 17-inning marathon. Randazzo was struck in the fifth inning after Billy Hamilton abandoned a bunt attempt, allowing the ball a clear path to Randazzo’s face mask and throat guard.

The umpire went down immediately and received care from Giants’ trainer Dave Groeschener, but remained in the game to call another nine innings before turning his duties over to second base umpire Clint Fagan. The game continued with just three umpires until the 17th inning, when Buster Posey recorded his longest blast in the Statcast era, cresting 431 feet with a walk-off homer to bring the Giants their much-needed win.

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.