And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights

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Indians 5, Tigers 4: Michael Brantley with the walkoff job ends Cleveland’s four-game losing streak. It wasn’t easy to get there — Detroit’s J.D. Martinez hit a pinch-hit homer in the ninth to tie it up at four — but the Indians will take a win any way they can get it these days.

Reds 4, Nationals 3: Todd Frazier connected for a two-run homer in the 15th inning off Ross Detwiler. But the real story was the leather flashed by the Redlegs in order to get to the 15th inning in the first place. Brandon Phillips robbed Wilson Ramos of a hit with a catch behind second base with a runner on third to end the 12th inning. Then, in the 14th, Billy Hamilton made a diving grab to rob Anthony Rendon of a hit and, in all likelihood, the game-winning RBI given that there was a runner on second. Check them out here.

Braves 9, Brewers 3: Atlanta’s offense has been turrible, turrible, but they finally broke out. Every player except Chris Johnson had a hit and Freddie Freeman, Ryan Doumit And Justin Upton all had homers. I’m assuming that the offense was caused by me not watching the game, as every time I’ve tuned in lately they’ve been pathetic. Instead I watched the first four innings of the Tigers-Indians game followed by the first two hours or so of “Magnolia” because I apparently didn’t want to be happy last night.

White Sox 7, Royals 6: Kansas City was up 5-0 after one inning. But that’s why they play nine. The Chisox scored three in the third, one in the fourth and then had one run in in the fifth to make it 6-5 Kansas City before Paul Konerko connected with a two-run homer. Lots of great bullpen work from the Sox, first after Scott Carroll struggled and then after closer Matt Lindstrom ran into trouble in the ninth.

Astros 5, Angels 2: Dallas Keuchel continues to be a stopper for Houston. He ran out of gas in the ninth, falling one out short of pitching his second straight shutout, but he picked up his fifth win anyway, despite two runners he put on coming around after he gave way to a reliever. Having someone step up like he has been can be the difference between a team being super, dispiritingly bad and merely bad, as the avoidance of big losing streaks and the occasional preservation of a the bullpen is a nice thing, mentally speaking.

Editor’s Note: Hardball Talk‘s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $40,000 Fantasy Baseball league for Tuesday night’s MLB games. It’s $25 to join and first prize is $6,000. Starts at 7:05pm ET on TuesdayHere’s the FanDuel link.

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.