Eduardo Nunez

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And That Happened: Friday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores and highlights from Friday’s games:

Brewers 6, Cubs 3: The Brewers extended their win streak to four games on Friday night, capsizing the third-place Cubs with five shutdown innings from the bullpen and a late-game rally by Orlando Arcia, Jesus Aguilar and Domingo Santana. The only thing that would have made this win sweeter? A custom beer crafted by Eric Thames and Oliver Drake.

Orioles 5, Blue Jays 3 (10 innings): It looked like the Blue Jays had a much-needed win in the bag in the seventh inning. With the bases loaded and two outs, Justin Smoak swung at a pitch from Darren O'Day, which appeared to graze his knee before ricocheting behind the plate. Chris Coghlan came home to score, but a challenge from the Orioles prompted the umpires to overturn the play after Smoak was ruled out on a swinging strike three.

The game dragged on for another three innings, ending on Wellington Castillo’s second home run of the night and bringing the Orioles just half a game within the division lead.

Phillies 7, Pirates 2: If anyone is due for a break these days, it’s the Phillies. They’re 4-12 through the first half of the month, due in large part to an extended slump by their starting rotation. Jeremy Hellickson turned out an impressive showing in his ninth start of the year, but left in the seventh inning after tweaking his lower back at the plate. That’s four injured pitchers for the Phillies now, though an early diagnosis has Hellickson slated to return for his next start, so all hope isn’t lost just yet.

Mets 3, Angels 0: The Mets have been down lately, but don’t count them out just yet. Their Friday night win halted a seven-game losing streak, which had sunk the club just below the Braves in the NL East standings. Spearheading the win: Jacob deGrom, who clinched his third victory of the year, issuing three walks and decorating seven scoreless frames with nine strikeouts. It marked the right-hander’s first shutout performance since April 5 and his first seven-inning shutout since last August. Partial credit goes to Jose Reyes, however, whose run-saving grab ended a bases-loaded threat in the seventh, preserving deGrom’s efforts and the Mets’ three-run lead.

Rays 5, Yankees 4: The Yankees are now 1-3 when bench coach Rob Thomson sits in the manager’s chair, an unenviable position after the team dropped their second consecutive game against the Rays on Friday. Evan Longoria powered the Rays’ offense with his first four-hit game against New York, capping his run with a game-winning RBI single in the eighth.

Rangers 5, Tigers 3: The only thing better than nine consecutive wins is ten consecutive wins. The Rangers vaulted over the Tigers on the back of Joey Gallo‘s 13th home run of the season, good for second-most among major league batters.

They’ll look for their 11th win on Saturday evening against Detroit ace Justin Verlander, who is 9-5 over his past 17 outings against the Rangers.

Braves 7, Nationals 4: Don’t look now, but the Braves are on a roll. They took their fourth win of the week after Nick Markakis and Kurt Suzuki combined for a three-run rally in the eighth inning. That’s enough to keep the club in second place in the NL East, which would look a lot more impressive if any of the four trailing teams were above .500.

Indians 5, Astros 3: You can hang the Astros’ loss on any number of factors: their inability to solve Trevor Bauer, Lonnie Chisenhall‘s two-run effort, the 10,000 fedoras they handed out before the game… anything, really.

Twins 4, Royals 3 (10 innings): The Twins kept their lock on first place with some late-game heroics by Kennys Vargas, who delivered a one-out, game-tying home run in the ninth inning of Friday’s win.

The Twins stranded the winning run in the ninth, but returned in the tenth to finish the job. Kansas City relievers Al Alburquerque and Travis Wood combined for a disastrous finish, issuing three consecutive walks and allowing Jorge Polanco the walk-off sac fly to end the game.

Giants 6, Cardinals 5: There’s nothing like a good ol’ game-winning replay review to get your heart racing. The Giants saved all their runs for the last three innings of Friday’s game, putting up the go-ahead run on an Eduardo Nunez two-run double in the top of the ninth. The real excitement came in the bottom of the inning, however. Mark Melancon caught a comebacker from Dexter Fowler, flipping the ball to shortstop Brandon Crawford and first baseman Brandon Belt for a game-ending double play. Crawford’s throw sailed a bit wide of the base, prompting the Cardinals’ challenge after Belt stumbled on the catch.

The call went in the Giants’ favor, but the club still has just 72 double plays on the season — good for third-fewest among major league teams.

Athletics 3, Red Sox 2 (10 innings): Good defense wasn’t enough to bail the Red Sox out on Friday. Chris Sale cruised through seven innings, producing 10 strikeouts to tie an all-time MLB record while Jackie Bradley Jr. made highlight reel-worthy grabs at the wall. The A’s hung on through 10 innings, however, prevailing on a game-winning home run — Mark Canha’s second blast of the season.

Diamondbacks 10, Padres 1: Jered Weaver never stood a chance against the Diamondbacks. An eight-run first inning forced Weaver off the mound after he recorded just two outs, making it his shortest start in five years. Jake Lamb started the hit parade with his tenth home run of the season, followed by Brandon Drury‘s two-run blast and Taijuan Walker‘s second major league RBI base hit. Walker’s hit was the last straw for Weaver, who left reliever Miguel Diaz to serve up another two runs and cement the Padres’ fate. San Diego cycled through four relievers and one relief-pitching shortstop to finish off the remaining eight innings, preserving Saturday’s starter after infielder Luis Sardinas hurled his second career scoreless inning in the ninth.

Rockies 12, Reds 6: The Diamondbacks weren’t the only team to put their dazzling offense on display on Friday night. The Rockies extended their one-run lead with an eight-run effort in the sixth inning, chasing the Reds’ Lisalverto Bonilla and Wandy Peralta from the game with home runs from Alexi Amarista and Nolan Arenado, a two-run double from DJ LeMahieu and another two-RBI single from Amarista. The Reds’ bats weren’t completely cold, either — their six-run spread was the most they’d seen in a game since May 6 — but it did little more than cut the Rockies’ lead in half.

 

White Sox 2, Mariners 1: For a team that has seen their rotation gutted by injuries over the last month, the Mariners looked nearly unbeatable on Friday night. Ariel Miranda fired seven innings of one-run ball, setting a season-high mark with nine strikeouts against the White Sox. He was matched by Jose Quintana, who went eight strong with seven whiffs for the second time since May 2. In the end, however, it was Melky Cabrera who found the weak spot, lining an RBI double off of Seattle’s Tony Zych in the tenth inning to give the White Sox the edge.

Dodgers 7, Marlins 2: Alex Wood improved his record to 5-0 and the Dodgers set down their third win in a row, but Friday night’s victory was largely overshadowed by a ninth-inning fracas between the two teams. The benches emptied after Dodgers’ right-hander Ross Stripling threw behind Giancarlo Stanton, in supposed retaliation for a pitch Brett Eibner took to the ribs in the eighth.

Stripling, Miami manager Don Mattingly and L.A. bench coach Bob Geren were promptly ejected, which Stripling later described as a “bucket-list thing,” according to MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick and Austin Laymance.

2017 Preview: San Francisco Giants

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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 San Francisco Giants.

On a cold autumn night in San Francisco, with a three-run lead in the top of the ninth inning and a three-game deficit to reclaim in the NLDS, the Giants laid their even-year narrative to rest. Short of another championship title, it was the best outcome for a season that had seen massive ups and downs, from the early successes of the first half of the season to the collapse of a beleaguered bullpen and injured lineup down the stretch.

The Giants of 2017 will enter the season with a clean slate and, hopefully, a new narrative to write. They addressed two of their biggest weaknesses — a fragile bullpen and even more fragile left field corner — in the offseason while making little to no improvements in their lineup. On the heels of Angel Pagan’s departure, left fielder Jarrett Parker seems primed to take over the outfield corner, though his .236/.358/.394 batting line and .751 OPS in 2016 leaves a little to be desired.

When it comes to contending, however, the Giants are known for their pitching. AT&T Park is infamous for its appetite for hard-hit fly balls and warning track catches, and on some level it makes sense that the Giants would play to their strengths and double down on elite pitching. It worked for them in 2010 and 2012 with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, and it’s continued to work for them with Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto heading the rotation in recent years.

Bumgarner will lead the Giants’ pitching staff again in 2017, with Cueto, Matt Moore and Jeff Samardzija behind him. Jake Peavy, who was beset with back pain and effectively replaced in the rotation by Moore last year, will not return to the club. In his stead, Matt Cain and Ty Blach will vie for the fifth and final starting role. At 32 years old, Cain isn’t the hard-tossing spring chicken he used to be, and his middling numbers and poor health have compromised his position on the team, even with another $20 million still left on his contract. Blach, while younger, healthier and more dominant in camp, could double as a long reliever in the bullpen and might not secure a starting role until Cain hangs up his mitt for good.

Even an extreme pitcher’s park couldn’t disguise how poorly the Giants’ bullpen pitched in 2016. Santiago Casilla faded over the summer, nearly doubling his ERA during the second half of the season and blowing a career-high nine saves. Sergio Romo missed 84 days with a flexor strain, sidestepping Tommy John surgery but delivering just 30 2/3 innings during the regular season and blowing a save in Game 3 of the NLDS. Losing that pivotal Game 4 of the NLDS was a group effort: Derek Law, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo, Will Smith and Hunter Strickland set the stage for the Cubs’ four-run comeback in the ninth and eventual Division Series win.

The problem was finally addressed over the offseason, when the Giants cut ties with Casilla, Romo and Lopez and signed closer Mark Melancon to a four-year, $62 million deal. The 32-year-old right-hander split his 2016 season between the Pirates and Nationals, delivering a combined 1.64 ERA, 1.5 BB/9 and 8.2 SO/9 and recording 47 saves over 71 1/3 innings.

With Melancon anchoring the back end of the bullpen, Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy should be able to abandon his closer-by-committee approach, though a bit of bullpen tinkering may be in order after left-hander Will Smith undergoes Tommy John surgery this week. With both Javier Lopez and Will Smith out of the picture for 2017, the Giants don’t have a viable lefty left in the bullpen. A midseason acquisition might be one possibility, but until then, Bochy is reportedly expected to utilize left-handed candidates Josh Osich or Steven Okert, leaving Derek Law and Hunter Strickland as potential set-up relievers for Melancon.

On the field, not much looks different in San Francisco. Buster Posey is still the league’s No. 1 performer behind the dish, and even though he regressed with a .288/.362/.434 slash line and just 14 home runs in 2016, he still profiles as one of the Giants’ top hitters entering the 2017 season. Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford and Eduardo Nunez round out the rest of the club’s infield, and if Crawford’s antics in the World Baseball Classic are any indication, he’s poised for a monster season at the plate as well.

Hunter Pence and Denard Span will return to right and center field, respectively, while veteran defender Jarrett Parker takes over for Angel Pagan in left field. Last year, Pagan’s offensive output was the best it’s been since 2014, but debilitating back soreness cut into his playing time and eventually forced him off the roster. Rumor has it he’s in talks with several major league clubs, one of whom could be the Giants, but his return to the team would likely come in the form of a bench spot rather than a starting role.

The same question haunts every team that emerges from the long, dark stretch of the offseason: Have we done enough? Is this team fundamentally better than the last one that took the field, more capable of enduring another 162 games to improve its record, capture a title, sustain a franchise? For the Giants, the answer appears to be ‘yes.’ Mark Melancon isn’t the club’s only ticket to reclaiming the NL West, but he’s an integral part of the younger, healthier bullpen the Giants so desperately needed. With a fully functioning pitching staff, these Giants stand a chance of improving on their 28-27 record in one-run games, and perhaps even edging out the competition in close playoff races as well.

Whether that will be enough to overtake the division-leading Dodgers remains to be seen, but one thing’s for sure: Whatever success the Giants build on in 2017, they won’t need any odd-year magic to do it.

Prediction: 2nd place in NL West.

The Giants have signed yet another backup infielder to a minor league deal

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In the future, every journeyman infielder will be in Giants camp in Scottsdale for 15 minutes — Andy Warhol

The Giants signed Aaron Hill to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. He joins Jimmy Rollins, Gordon Beckham, Kelby Tomlinson Jae-gyun Hwang and Conor Gillaspie as backup infielders. Eduardo Nunez, Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik and Brandon Belt are, obviously, starters.

Hill hit .262/.336/.378 with 10 home runs last season for the Brewers and Red Sox and can play both second and third. Assuming five other dudes aren’t blocking his path.