And That Happened: Wednesday's scores and highlights

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Cardinals 5, Brewers 1: Albert Pujols hits two homers and Adam
Wainwright throws seven shutout innings to claim his 18th win. Tony La
Russa was asked after the game if Pujols should win the MVP. What’s
Tony say? “Those are the kind of questions that are distracting and I
don’t answer them.” Pujols is hitting .331 with 47 homers and 124 RBIs
and is the most important player to the St. Louis Cardinals since
Musial retired and you can’t go way the hell out on a limb to say that,
yeah, in your considered opinion he’s the MVP? Christ on a crutch,
Tony, this is why so many people can’t stand you.

Diamondbacks 4, Dodgers 3: L.A. walks in the winning run– or
losing run, depending on how you view these things — in the ninth.
Before the winning/losing walk, however, there was a runner on third,
and Torre offered intentional passes to two Dbacks to load the bases.
I’ve never understood that move, especially with less than two outs.
Colorado is 2.5 back.

Astros 2, Braves 1: I’m guessing that after this one, Javier
Vazquez took young Tommy Hanson aside and told him that this is just
how pitching for the 2009 Braves goes, ya know? Eight innings, no runs,
no walks, seven strikeouts, no decision and the team loses because they
simply can’t score any runs. Oh, and Rafael Soriano is a shell of
whatever he was for those handful of games over the past couple of
years when he actually looked good. Bobby Cox: sit everyone down who
has a future with this team, play out the rest of the season with
whatever organizational soldiers you can muster, and regroup for 2010.

Marlins 6, Mets 3: The Mets took their team photo before the
game, with Jose Reyes, Johan Santana and Carlos Delgado in uniform. I
hope the stadium was closed to the fans at the time, because if not,
that’s pretty damn cruel, ain’t it?

Twins 4, Blue Jays 1: After a stellar start his last time out,
Roy Halladay’s nightmare second half continues. Well, nightmare is a
relative term — he pitched well despite taking the loss — but when
Carl Pavano outshines you, it’s not your best day. The crowd — 11,159
— was the smallest in the 20-year history of Rogers Centre/Sky Dome.
In the Jays’ defense, the Leafs’ rookie team was playing a preseason game in Kitchener last night.

Red Sox 7, Orioles 5: A pinch hit, three-run double from Victor
Martinez helps the Sox maintain their two-game lead over Texas. And if
you’ll pardon the partisanship here, allow me to say that in light of
the thirteen pitchers used and the 3:41 it took for this nine-inning
affair, I’m rooting like hell that the Rangers eke these guys out so
that I can get to bed at a decent hour once the playoffs start.

Phillies 6, Nationals 5: And your closer is . . . Ryan Madson.
This despite the fact that Manuel sorta kinda put his support behind
Lidge on Tuesday night. Having Manuel say that and then send Madson out
is the baseball equivalent of having your boss tell you how much he
likes you and then turning around and deactivating your keycard.

Padres 4, Giants 2: If the Giants want to look anywhere when
trying to figure out why they never caught the Rockies this year, they
can look at their 6-9 record against the Padres. Heath Bell is tied for
the league lead with 27 saves. Not bad for a team currently in a
dogfight to avoid last place.

Yankees 4, Rays 2: Another one of those silly three-inning Joba
Chamberlain starts doesn’t prevent the Yankees from handing the Rays
their eighth straight loss. And oh yeah, Jeter tied Gehrig for the team
lead in hits. I know no one is really tracking that, so I thought I’d
remind everyone.

Cubs 8, Pirates 5: Carlos Zambrano wins for the first time since
July 22nd as the Pirates just go through the motions and their fans
await Steelers and Penguins season.

Rangers 10, Indians 0: I’m guessing Marlon Byrd would like to
hit against Cleveland every day (2-4, HR 4 RBI). Esteban German, too,
as he went 5 for 5. Fausto Carmona lasted two whole thirds of an
inning, and from the looks of him, if the Indians are planning on
entering spring training 2010 counting on him to be in the rotation,
they’re deluding themselves.

Rockies 4, Reds 3: The Reds take the lead on a Scott Rolen homer
in the top of the ninth, but lose it on a Francisco Cordero meltdown in
the bottom of the ninth.

Royals 5, Tigers 1: Break up the Royals, as they’ve won three in
a row. Verlander takes the loss, which is relevant only insofar as it
relates to his Cy Young chances. Fernando Rodney probably has a beef
with the suspension he was given, but one wonders why he didn’t just
accept it and sit these games out against the Royals. He appealed,
however, and allowed himself the opportunity to give up three runs on
two hits with a walk in a basically meaningless game.

White Sox 4, Athletics 3: Tons of zeros put up by the bullpens
in this 13-inning affair. Octavio Dotel’s three scoreless innings to
end it were the most important.

Angels 6, Mariners 3: Jered Weaver allows two runs in six and a
third, and the Angels, unlike the Dodgers, keep their lead over the
upstart team behind them.

World Series Preview: Two power teams face off in a marquee matchup

Associated Press
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The suits at MLB headquarters and Fox Sports have to be happy to see the Dodgers and Red Sox facing off in the World Series. Both are marquee teams from major markets, giving the Fall Classic its biggest potential national exposure in many, many years. That’s money in the bank, folks.

But let’s not be cynical here: we should be happy about this matchup too because it really does pit the AL’s best and the NL’s best against each other.

The Red Sox, as we’ve already discussed, were the best team in baseball all year and, Vegas lines notwithstanding, are not anyone’s underdogs. Meanwhile in the National League, yes, I know the Brewers had home field advantage and a better overall record than the Dodgers, but after getting over their horrible start, it’s fair to say Los Angeles was the class of the Senior Circuit for most of the year. They certainly were as measured by run differential and, of course, dispatched the Brewers, primarily due to their depth.

Stars taking on stars. History facing history. A whole lot of celebrities in the stands in both parks and — if we’re truly lucky — Red Sox/Dodgers star Manny Ramirez will throw out the first pitch.

Wait, that’s NEVER going to happen. But some good baseball is over the next week or so. Here’s how it all breaks down:

 

THE ROTATIONS

In the regular season, based on ERA anyway, the Dodgers rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Walker Buehler were better than the Sox’ rotation of Chris SaleDavid PriceNathan Eovaldi and Rick Porcello. In the postseason, though, the Dodgers’ starters have all mixed in some clunkers with their fine performances while Boston’s quartet has been pretty consistent, leading to each team’s starters doing about as well as the other’s. Of course Boston has faced far tougher offensive competition than L.A. has — they had to go through the Yankees and the Astros — so adjust your analysis accordingly.

David Price will probably be the difference maker here. If his excellent ALCS Game 5 performance, the product of going heavy with his changeup, was harbinger as opposed to fluke, it’s a huge boost to Boston. Same goes for Chris Sale’s durability. He didn’t pitch much late in the season and we don’t know if his ALCS illness is going to play a factor. If there are any issues with Price or Sale, I give the Dodgers’ rotation an edge. If not, well, the Dodgers are still going to have a tall order in facing the Sox’ relentless offense, so it’s not like the edge is massive. At he moment I’ll lean in their direction, but it’s not a heavy lean. ADVANTAGE: DODGERS

 

THE LINEUPS

The Dodgers are no offensive slouches — they led the National League in runs and homers this year — but top to bottom I don’t think they’re anywhere near as scary as the Red Sox’ balanced lineup is. Indeed, Boston led all of baseball in runs, average, on-base percentage, slugging, total bases and OPS+. Oh, and they also scored 29 runs in five games after an excellent Astros pitching staff. There are no weak links here.

Once you take pitchers batting stats out of it, the Dodgers actually look pretty darn similar to the Red Sox, statistically speaking, and their superior bench — see below — is a big plus, but it’s very hard to make a case that they have a better offense than the Red Sox. Indeed, it’s hard to make a case that any team has a better offense than the Red Sox in all of 2018. ADVANTAGE: RED SOX

 

THE BULLPENS

The bullpen was the part of the team Red Sox fans worried about most heading into the postseason, but Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier and Joe Kelly have allowed only two runs in 18 and two-thirds innings in October and Alex Cora’s use of starters Rick Porcello, Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi in relief has actually made it a strength. Indeed, Craig Kimbrel has been the shakiest part of the reliever corps so far, but perhaps that was because of tipping pitches? Hard to say as that is a go-to excuse for a lot of struggling pitchers, but it’s also hard to say that Red Sox bullpen is as serious a weakness as some feared a few weeks ago.

Heading into the NLCS all of the talk was about the Brewers’ bullpen, but Dodgers relievers were better, combining for a 1.45 ERA over 31 innings in those seven games. The signature game for them was, in hindsight, the series turning point: Game 4, with the Dodgers down two games to one and starter Rich Hill knocked out after five innings. Dave Roberts called on eight — eight! — relievers to shut Milwaukee out after that, and L.A. won it on a Cody Bellinger walkoff single. Can he do that every day? Nah, but it certainly was the case that Roberts has had confidence in every single member of his pitching staff this postseason and that confidence has been rewarded. That kind of depth will allow him to be aggressive in the World Series. ADVANTAGE: DODGERS

 

THE BENCHES

If each team follows form, they will utilize platoons, so expect to see Rafael Devers and Mitch Moreland to come off the bench later in games with lefty starters. Same for Joc Pederson and Max Muncy when the Sox go with their southpaws. The Red Sox lineup is superior, but the Dodgers have more depth and flexibility, utilizing every player on its roster during the postseason in ways no team has come close to matching. Indeed, they basically used 12 everyday players despite having only eight positions in which to put them and got the most out of everyone. It’s a nice luxury for Dave Roberts to have. ADVANTAGE: DODGERS

 

THE MANAGERS

The “Alex Cora played for Los Angeles and Dave Roberts played for Boston” thing is going to be the “Jerome Bettis is from Detroit” storyline of this World Series, I imagine. And I suppose that’s fine, as storylines like that have never killed anyone. Still, there are more fun ones:

  • How about “Dave Roberts: drought-ender?” As you may have heard, he was a hero for the Red Sox in 2004, helping to end an 86-year title drought for Boston. While the Dodgers’ drought has been nowhere near that long — 30 years — it has been long for that historically successful franchise.
  • How about “Terry Francona managerial tree” as both Roberts and Cora played for Tito in Boston, with Cora arriving the year Roberts left in 2005? If you go with that one, forgot momentarily that they both played much longer for Jim Tracy in Los Angeles, where they were teammates. The “Jim Tracy managerial tree” is nowhere near as fun a storyline.
  • How about “For the first in in baseball history, two minority managers will face off in the Fall Classic.” Take that, baseball’s hopefully-dead-and-buried history of not giving minorities a fair shot at such jobs due to the racist belief that they couldn’t handle it. Famously advanced, unfortunately, by a Dodgers figure once upon a time

In the end, though, storylines won’t matter. Both Cora and Roberts have proven themselves to be outstanding managers and neither of them has ever stood accused of screwing things up which, given the nature of managerial evaluation, is often the first thing anyone notices.

Each will have their challenges here, as the Red Sox’ superior lineup will make Roberts’ decisions about who to call on from the pen and when far more difficult than those he faced in Milwaukee. Cora, like most AL managers, has to decide what to do in the three games in the NL park when he does not have a DH. It’s a much bigger problem for Cora than a lot of teams, however, as his DH — J.D. Martinez — will have to displace the likely AL MVP in Mookie Betts on defense. As we’ve discussed, that will likely send Betts to second base, which takes away a big advantage the Sox have in terms of outfield defense. A tough call, the alternative for which is strategically using Martinez to pinch hit. Better that Cora have to make it than any of us.

A manager’s specific call could very well decide this World Series, but heading into it, there is little reason to doubt the ability of either skipper to make the right call when necessary. I suppose one could give Roberts a nod here simply because he’s more experienced, but that ignores the fact that Cora has already been to the Series as a bench coach and that managing one year in Boston is probably like managing four years anyplace else thanks to the scrutiny and stress. He’s not gonna be a deer in the headlights, folks.  ADVANTAGE: PUSH

 

PREDICTION

As my friend Joe Sheehan likes to say in his previews, the last three words of any preview — “[Team] in [Number of Games]” are the least important of them all. That’s thanks to randomness and the overall difficulty in predicting baseball outcomes of an insufficiently large sample size of games and all of that. Still, y’all expect a prediction and I, obviously, have never been afraid of looking wrong or dumb, so I’ll offer one in a second. First, I’ll talk my way through it.

The Dodgers have more areas of advantage as broken down above, but in most areas those advantages are slight. I think Boston’s offense, meanwhile, is significantly better and will prove to be far more exhausting for the Dodgers pitchers to face than anything they’ve seen so far.

This series is no mismatch, though, and one can easily imagine a scenario in which Clayton Kershaw reminds everyone why he was the best pitcher in baseball for several years running, L.A’s big playmakers Justin Turner and Yasiel Puig and come up big and the L.A. bullpen continues doing what it did in the N.L. playoffs and neutralizes the big Boston bats.

Ultimately, however, the Sox need less to go right than the Dodgers do. They simply need their lineup to continue doing what it has done, Chris Sale to be Chris Sale and David Price to simply not be a liability, which he was not the last time we saw him. Simply from an imagination standpoint, it’s easier to imagine the Sox running through the Dodgers than vice-versa. So I’ll call it this way:

BOSTON IN SEVEN