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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 slate, none cooler than the way Red Sox fan Thomas Hastings has been spending his days lately.

Pirates 5, Braves 4: The most impressive part of Ivan Nova‘s season debut wasn’t the way he stifled the Braves’ offense through six innings, allowing one run on an Ender Inciarte RBI double, nor was it the four scoreless frames he pitched to start the game nor the four strikeouts he collected. It was the way he managed all of these things while pitching in 37-degree weather during the Pirates’ home opener. The cold didn’t appear to bother the rest of the lineup, either, as they collected 11 hits against the Braves with RBI hits from Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte and back-to-back homers from David Freese and Francisco Cervelli.

Tigers 6, Red Sox 5: For all the back-and-forth on Pablo Sandoval‘s ideal weight, his attitude in the clubhouse, and his waning production over the last two seasons, it’s difficult to remember he’s still capable of doing this:

Unfortunately, the Red Sox needed more than the three-run blast to power their efforts against the Tigers, and were unseated by a two-run rally in the eighth inning.

Nationals 7, Phillies 6: Remember when a fractured finger cost Max Scherzer his Opening Day start? Apparently he doesn’t. The 32-year-old ace looked no worse for wear on Friday, firing seven strikeouts and allowing two runs over 6 2/3 frames against the Phillies. He held opposing batters scoreless through the first five frames, backed by a comfortable seven-run cushion with home runs from Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Jayson Werth.

Rockies 2, Dodgers 1: The Rockies kicked off their first homestand of the season with a dominant major league debut by southpaw Kyle Freeland. Freeland snagged a roster spot after impressing in spring training with a 3.48 ERA and looked just as solid against the Dodgers in regular season play, holding them to four hits, one run and six strikeouts through six quality innings.

Padres 7, Giants 6: One man can only do so much for his team in a single game. That was likely how Giants’ first baseman Brandon Belt felt during a 7-6 loss to the Padres, during which Belt drove in five runs on two home runs, including his first career grand slam. The bullpen blew their tenuous one-run advantage in the sixth inning, allowing San Diego to notch three runs on a two-run double and an RBI bunt and take their second win of the season.

Orioles 6, Yankees 5: The Orioles are one of two undefeated teams left in the American League (along with the Twins, which we all predicted) after squeezing past the Yankees in Friday night’s series opener. Neither pitching staff could suppress the other’s offensive drive, but it was Seth Smith‘s first home run in a Baltimore uniform that became the deciding factor for the Orioles in the seventh inning.

Marlins 7, Mets 2: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only four players since 1900 have started their major league careers with hitless streaks greater than 50 consecutive at-bats. Marlins’ left-hander Wei-Yin Chen broke his streak of 51 at-bats with his first career hit on Friday, a blooper that rolled toward shortstop for an infield hit against the Mets’ Zack Wheeler.

Rays 10, Blue Jays 8: After taking home their first win of the year on Thursday, the Blue Jays hit another speed bump with shaky performances from Francisco Liriano and their bullpen on Friday. Whatever stability Liriano found with his 2.00 spring training ERA dissolved in Tropicana Field, as the veteran right-hander was forced out of the game after giving up three hits, four walks and five runs through the first 1/3 of the first inning.

Rangers 10, Athletics 5: If there’s been one bright spot in the Rangers’ lineup this week, it’s 21-year-old Nomar Mazara, who helped catapult the team to their first win of the season with an RBI single and grand slam against the A’s. Mazara is looking to follow up an impressive rookie performance in 2016, during which he batted .266/.320/.419 with 20 home runs and a .739 OPS. Sample sizes notwithstanding, his .588/1.059/1.647 slash line through the first four games of 2017 indicate that he’s on the right track.

Brewers 2, Cubs 1 (11 innings): After ten innings of mostly dominant pitching, this wasn’t the way the Cubs planned to lose. In the eleventh, with one out and the bases loaded, Chicago right-hander Mike Montgomery served up a wild pitch that bounced over the shoulder of catcher Wilson Contreras. Contreras missed the throw to home plate and the ball skirted back into the infield as Ryan Braun crossed the plate for the game-winning run.

Royals 5, Astros 1: Carlos Beltran slugged his way into the history books during the Astros’ second loss of the season. He snagged an RBI double in the seventh inning, scoring Carlos Correa and tying the Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio with 1,537 career RBI — good for 49th-most among all past and present major leaguers.

Twins 3, White Sox 1: There are two ways to consider Twins’ center fielder Byron Buxton. You can choose to isolate his superb defense…

…or you can focus on the fact that he’s collected 11 strikeouts in 19 PA this season, including a coveted “golden sombrero” during Friday’s fiesta.

In other news, the Twins haven’t started a season 4-0 since 1987. If they can stretch their streak to five wins, it’ll be the club’s most successful start to a season since the Washington Senators went 5-0 in 1913.

Reds 2, Cardinals 0: Rookie left-hander Amir Garrett looked calmer and more polished than many veteran major leaguers on Friday. He made his major league debut with six dazzling frames against the Cardinals, striking out four and issuing just two walks and two hits.

Diamondbacks 7, Indians 3: The Indians’ AL Central crown won’t be tossed aside anytime soon, but they had a rough go of it in their season opener against the Diamondbacks. Arizona came close to a collective cycle in the fifth inning, stockpiling five runs on a single from Jake Lamb, doubles from Paul Goldschmidt and Yasmany Tomas, and a two-run triple from Brandon Drury.

Angels 5, Mariners 1: The Mariners are averaging just 1.8 runs per game in 2017. While a slump isn’t unusual this early in the season, it’s not exactly a good sign, either. Angels’ right-hander Jesse Chavez served up 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball, backed by an airtight performance from the bullpen and a four-run lead.

2017 Preview: Baltimore Orioles

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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 Baltimore Orioles.

Hey Orioles fans: Do you want to know the terrifying truth, or do you want to see guys sock a few dingers?

“Dingers! Dingers!”

Well, then, you’re in luck! The 2017 Baltimore Orioles will, in all likelihood, sock a bunch of dingers. They led all of baseball in homers in 2016 — by a lot — and there’s no reason to think they won’t lead it again in 2017. That’s despite the fact that Matt Weiters (17 HR) and Pedro Alvarez (22) are leaving. Buck Showalter’s lineup will still have Mark Trumbo (47), Chris Davis (38), Manny Machado (37), Adam Jones (29), and Jonathan Schoop (25). The longball will not be an issue.

The problem, of course, is that all of those dingers only led to the O’s ranking 7th in the American League in runs last season. That’ll happen when you strike out a lot, are only 10th in the league in walks and 8th in hits. The Orioles hit the ball a long way when they hit it, but they need to hit it more.

Unfortunately, that’s not the terrifying truth I was referring to above. The terrifying truth is that the O’s are shaping up to be pretty darn bad at run prevention in the coming year.

Baltimore’s rotation had the third-worst ERA in the American League (4.72), edging only the Twins and A’s. Their starters walked more batters than anyone this side of the Texas Rangers, were only 11th in strikeouts and were near the bottom of the AL in innings pitched. Gone is Yovani Gallardo, who was not good last year, to that will help. Not gone are Ubaldo Jimenez and Wade Miley who were basically train wrecks. The O’s simply don’t have many more options. Tyler WilsonMike Wright? T.J. McFarland(oops, he’s gone)? No offense, but those randos aren’t good enough to be starting pitchers on a playoff contender.

One starter who was good last year, Chris Tillman, may begin the season on the DL due to rehab from shoulder surgery, but he is throwing now and things look to be on the upswing for him. The top of the rotation seems OK as well, with Kevin Gausman, who took very well to full-time starter duties and last year, and Dylan Bundy, who finally showed everyone what all the fuss was about back when he was drafted, returning. If Tillman is healthy and the other two build on their 2016 seasons, there is something to work with here. If Tillman has a setback and the two younger starters regress, things may get super ugly super fast given the lack of starting pitching depth.

Defense is likewise going to be a problem, particularly in the outfield. As an outfielder, Mark Trumbo makes for a passable first baseman. Newcomer Seth Smith is not known for his leather either. Adam Jones has four gold gloves, but he has regressed as a fielder and was actually a sub-par center fielder last year. He’ll be forced to run down a lot more balls than most center fielders this year. A lot of O’s opponents will be running for extra bases.

The clear strength in Baltimore remains the bullpen. Buck Showalter may have gotten a lot of bad press for poor bullpen management in the Wild Card Game last October, but over the course of 162 games he’s one of the best bullpen managers in the game today. Maybe the best. Zach Britton was the game’s best closer last season and he’s back. So too are Darren O'Day and Brad Brach. Overall the Baltimore pen was the best in the AL. The problem is that they had to pitch a lot more innings than any other playoff team’s pen did and likely will be forced to again. Like Jones in the outfield, the Orioles relievers will be leaned on heavily.

What does that give us overall? A team that may be hard to watch for folks who like well-rounded, fundamentally-sound teams. There will be some bad starting pitching and some bad defense. There will also, however, be a lot of bashing, some good relief pitching and, in all likelihood, the continued improvement of one of the game’s brightest stars in Manny Machado. That’s not nothing and, with the Yankees rebuilding and the budget-challenged Rays always a bit of a question mark, it could very well be enough to put Baltimore back in the playoff hunt in 2017.

But I think it’s a marginal playoff hunt, with the Wild Card as their best bet. If things break right, they could win 89 games again. If things don’t, it could be an ugly season at Camden Yards. Prediction: Third Place, A.L. East.

Report: Brandon Moss drawing interest from Orioles

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The Orioles netted a serviceable outfielder and potential leadoff hitter in Seth Smith during Friday’s trade with the Mariners, but comments from Baltimore GM Dan Duquette suggest that the club’s search for outfield depth isn’t quite over. The latest name to pop up on their radar could be that of free agent Brandon Moss, per a report from MLB Network’s Jon Morosi.

Moss, 33, finished a two-year stint with the Cardinals in 2016, slashing .225/.300/.484 with 28 home runs during his last season in St. Louis. While the veteran hitter suffered an untimely slump during the second half of the year, bottoming out with a .191 average to finish the season, his overall value rose from 0.5 fWAR in 2015 to 1.4 in 2016.

Like Smith, Moss could give the Orioles another left-handed hitter to try in the leadoff spot, as well as another platoon option in the outfield corner. His power potential has already drawn some interest from the Phillies this winter, who have reportedly been in talks with him since late December.