And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights

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Red Sox 5, Yankees 1Michael Pineda: master criminal. I have a longer, more in-depth post about this here. Short version: the “Jeez, Pineda! How can you be so dumb?!!” angle everyone has jumped to in the hours since he got caught misses the important point of all of this. In the meantime, remember: some have claimed that about 90% of pitchers do what Pineda did. If that’s true, perhaps it’s worth looking at the signals baseball has sent about pitchers using foreign substances before we decide either how bad or how dumb a guy Pineda is. As for Pineda: thankfully no one in New York will turn this into a week-long drama and try to compete with one another for the hottest take on it all. Oh, wait. That’s exactly what’s going to happen.

Rangers 3, Athletics 0: Martin Perez has tossed two straight shutouts and has 26 consecutive scoreless innings overall, as he shut out the Astros for eight innings a couple of starts ago. After the game, Ron Washington said Perez “has weapons and he can throw them all for strikes.” I don’t know about pine tar, but I feel like having weapons is TOTALLY against the rules, so maybe someone should check Perez’s pockets next time out.

Braves 3, Marlins 1: Aaron Harang (6 IP, 6 H, 1 ER 11K) is no Martin Perez, but he continues to be one of the better last-week-of-spring-training pickups in baseball history and is either (a) proof that the Indians made a big mistake cutting him in March; (b) proof that pitching in the National League is easier than pitching in beer league softball. or (c) proof that baseball is just a weird game you can’t predict sometimes.

Diamondbacks 7, Cubs 5: It’s probably fitting that the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field featured a pull-your-guts-out loss for Cubs fans. They had a three-run lead entering the ninth inning and, even though Pedro Strop and some bad defense allowed the Dbacks to load the bases and score two runs, they did get the Dbacks down to their final out. Then James Russell and Justin Grimm came in and threw matches on the kerosene Strop poured all over the place. Aaron Hill’s two-run triple gave the Snakes the lead and, ultimately, the win.

Mariners 5, Astros 3: Two homers for Kyle Seager helps the Mariners avoid the sweep.

Giants 12, Rockies 10: Hector Sanchez hit two homers to help his team avoid a sweep too, but his second one was a grand slam in extra innings that gave the Giants the game so he gets extra points over Seager.

Nationals 5, Angels 4: Let’s mix up the Dbacks’ come-from-behind victory with the sweep-avoiding big hits from the Mariners and Giants games: a come-from-behind, sweep-avoiding victory for Washington, this one thanks to a two-run double by Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche’s game-winning RBI single.

White Sox 6, Tigers 4: Wait, here’s another twist: how about a come-from-behind grand slam? Eh? Like that? Marcus Semien and his teammates did. What I liked: watching Jose Abreu hit his second home run of the series into the bushes behind the center field wall at Comerica. That is seriously, seriously far and not a ton of folks can reach that place. Abreu has done it on two swings that looked pretty effortless. That dude is stronger than all get-out.

Indians 5, Royals 3: Michael Bourn had three hits and two RBI, while Bourn, Nick Swisher and Kipnis — Cleveland’s 1-2-3 hitters — combined for six hits and three RBIs. Kipnis’ RBI double in the seventh put the Tribe ahead.

Reds 5, Pirates 2: Alfredo Simon started out a bit shaky. He said it was cold and he had a hard time feeling the ball. Gee, if only there were something he could put on his fingers to help him out … Alas, he settled down and ended up pitching six and two-thirds of two-run ball. Simon is in the rotation filling in for the injured Mat Latos. He has a 1.30 ERA in that role.

Orioles 10, Blue Jays 8: Baltimore spotted Toronto a 6-1 lead but won anyway, thanks in part to Nelson Cruz’s two homers. Chris Tillman gave up seven runs on nine hits and after the game Buck Showalter said “in a lot of ways, it might be one of his best outings this year.” OK.

Mets 3, Cardinals 2: The Mets came close to blowing this in the ninth, but with one out shortstop Ruben Tejada fielded a throw from center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis to nail Matt Carpenter at the plate in a play so close they had to go to replay. In other news, Michael Wacha struck out ten and walked five in four innings. Nuke LaLoosh is going to sue him for stealing his bit.

Brewers 5, Padres 2: Yet another win for the Brew Crew, yet another save for K-Rod. Next year when someone asks me to write up my predictions I’m just gonna post a picture of the 2014 Brewers with the words “There is no God, the universe is chaos” scrawled across it.

Twins 6, Rays 4: All Chris Colabello does is drive in runs. Four more here for 26 on the year, which is a franchise record for the month of April. The best part though was Colabello’s quote about RBI after the game:

“RBIs are a product of opportunity, and I’m thankful to this coaching staff for believing in me enough to put me in the middle of this order, and to the guys in front of me for getting on base. My job is to knock them in, and it just so happens this month there’s quite a few of them.”

Would that anyone remember that at MVP voting time.

Dodgers 5, Phillies 2: Zach Greinke won his fourth, striking out 11. Cole Hamels made his season debut, allowing two runs in six innings and then getting yanked after 86 pitches. About which he wasn’t pleased. More on that later this morning.

Nationals’ starting pitching carrying them into World Series

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In my postseason preview at the end of September, I listed the Nationals’ starting rotation as a strength and their bullpen as a weakness. Anyone who had followed the club this season could have told you that. Even the Nats are aware of it as manager Dave Martinez has leaned on his rotation to hide his sometimes unreliable ‘pen.

In Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, Martinez was burned by his bullpen as Tanner Rainey, Fernando Rodney, and Hunter Strickland combined to allow six base runners and four runs. Martinez used ace Max Scherzer in relief in Game 2, sandwiched by Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. Starter Patrick Corbin pitched in relief in Game 3 and it backfired, but the bullpen after Corbin continued to allow more runs — three officially, but Wander Suero allowed two inherited runners to score on a three-run homer by Max Muncy. Martinez only had to rely on Doolittle and Hudson in Game 4 and he again went to Corbin in relief in Game 5.

The strategy was clear: use the actual bullpen as little as possible. If Martinez absolutely has to, Doolittle and Hudson get top priory by a country mile, followed by a starter, then the rest of the bullpen.

Thankfully for Martinez and the Nationals, the starting pitching has done yeoman’s work in the NLCS, jumping out to a three games to none series lead over the Cardinals. Aníbal Sánchez famously brought a no-hit bid into the eighth inning of Game 1, finally relenting a two-out single to José Martínez before his night was over. Doolittle got the final four outs in the 2-0 win. Max Scherzer flirted with a no-hitter in his Game 2 start as well, losing it when Paul Goldschmidt led off the seventh with a single. He was erased on an inning-ending double play. Doolittle, Corbin, and Hudson got the final six outs in the 3-1 victory.

It was more of the same in Game 3. While Stephen Strasburg didn’t flirt with a no-hitter, he was dominant over seven innings, yielding one unearned run on seven hits with no walks and 12 strikeouts. The Nats’ offense woke up, amassing eight runs through seven innings which allowed Martinez to give his main relief guys a night off. Rodney and Rainey each pitched a perfect inning of relief with two strikeouts in low-leverage situations, their first appearances in the NLCS.

The Nationals starting pitching has been outstanding by itself, but it has also had the secondary effect of allowing Martinez to hide his team’s biggest weakness. Now Martinez just has to hope for more of the same for one more game, then at least four more in the World Series.