Settling the Score: Friday’s results

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Last night was a rare Friday night where I was at a baseball game rather than working right here on HardballTalk. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, as I finally had the chance to meet our blogger-in-chief Craig Calcaterra and take in the Mets-Nationals game. Yes, we are allowed out of the basement on occasion.

When I first moved back to the D.C./Maryland area in 2009, I used to be able to stroll around Nationals Park at my leisure and without much worry for long lines or crowded corridors. It’s not like that here anymore. Hey, everybody loves a winner, right? This has been a Redskins town for as long as I can remember and one winning season for the Nats may not change that overnight, but it’s easy to see that something pretty cool is being cultivated here.

As for last night’s game, well, it wasn’t pretty for Johan Santana. He unraveled after three hitless innings, giving up a grand slam to Michael Morse in the fourth inning and a two-run shot to Bryce Harper in the fifth. Santana has now allowed six runs or more in five straight starts. He has an ugly 8.27 ERA in 10 starts since his no-hitter and a 4.85 ERA overall.

Can we blame Santana’s prolonged funk on his unprecedented workload from the no-hitter? Tough to say, as it’s possible he would have hit a wall at some point anyway in his first season back from major shoulder surgery. But the possibility of a shutdown looms large at the moment.

The Nationals improved to a major-league best 74-45 with last night’s 6-4 win and remain four games in front of the surging Braves in the National League East. With just eight more victories, the Nationals will have their most wins in a season since moving to D.C. in 2005. I’d say they have a pretty decent chance at pulling that one off.

Your Friday box scores:

Orioles 3, Tigers 5

Cubs 3, Reds 7

Red Sox 4, Yankees 6

Dodgers 3, Braves 4 (11 innings)

Rangers 2, Blue Jays 3

Diamondbacks 3, Astros 1

White Sox 2, Royals 4

Phillies 2, Brewers 6

Indians 4, Athletics 6

Pirates 2, Cardinals 1

Rays 12, Angels 3

Marlins 6, Rockies 5

Twins 3, Mariners 5

Giants 10, Padres 1

Red Sox look to punch their ticket to the World Series tonight

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Thanks to some amazing defense, some big hits and — to continue to beat this horse, a bad call by Joe West — the Red Sox have a 3-1 lead in the ALCS and look to clinch the AL Pennant tonight down in Houston.

If you believe in momentum, you’d have to say it’s on Boston’s side. If you believe that momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher, however, you’d have to say things favor Houston more than the standing of the series would suggest. All of which makes me wish Game 5 was starting right now, because it figures to be a tense and exciting affair.

ALCS Game 5

Red Sox vs. Astros
Ballpark: Minute Maid Park
Time: 8:09 PM Eastern
TV: TBS
Pitchers: David Price vs. Justin Verlander
Breakdown:

If someone told you that you had to win one baseball game against the Martians to save the human race, you could do far worse than calling on Justin Verlander to be your starting pitcher. Among the pitchers still in the postseason, he’d almost certainly be your choice right now.

Does Verlander himself appreciate the situation? This is what he said about that yesterday:

“I mean, these are all must-win games at this point. Every time you take the mound I don’t think there’s any difference whether it’s 2-2 or 3-1.”

Look, we’re asking him to beat the Martians here, not win the National Math Bee, so let’s let that go. The point is that after all of these years he’s still one of the most dominant pitchers in the game and after the exhausting, see-saw battle of Game 4, he stands the best chance of giving Houston what it needs: a quick, quiet and drama-free win.

Not that the Red Sox are likely to roll over for that. They didn’t the first time they faced Verlander in this series. They Astros won, yes, and Verlander limited them to two runs on two hits. But he also issued four walks and wasn’t his sharpest overall. Boston didn’t capitalize on his mistakes as best they could, but he’s not invincible.

For Boston it’s David Price. He allowed four runs on five hits and four walks over four and two-thirds innings in Game 2, not factoring in the decision. That’s not great, but given the talk leading up to that game being all about how Price is a postseason flop, the fact that the Sox won it in the end had to bouy him at least a little. As does the fact that, here, tonight, it’s not 100% on his shoulders. Sure, the Sox want to close this out, but with a 3-1 lead there is less pressure on Price than on his former teammate Verlander. Worth noting, though: Price is on short rest and warmed up in the bullpen last night in case he was needed to bail out Craig Kimbrel. He may not go deep into this game.