And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights

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Phillies 5, Marlins 3: The Phillies had and blew chances to score in the 10th, 11th and 12th innings. In the 13th, Jimmy Rollins singled and Chase Utley deposited a Chris Hatcher pitch into the right field seats. Also impressive: the Phillies’ pen, which combined to pitch seven scoreless innings of three-hit relief in this game. The guys who did it? Goldust, Eddie Guerrero, Diamond Dallas Page, Rey Mysterio, Ric Flair and Jake the Snake Roberts.

Astros 6, Braves 1: The Astros salvage one on the strength of Matt Dominguez and George Springer homers. That’s 15 homers in 61 games played for Springer.

Pirates 5, Mets 2: Speaking of awesome rookies, Gregory Polanco homered and drove in four runs. His heroism also prevented me from having to talk about a matchup between Vance Worley and Daisuke Matsuzaka, which may rank near the bottom of the “matchups I’d be excited about if I bought tickets to this game” index.

Angels 6, Twins 4: No one is hotter than the Angels right now. They won their sixth straight as Trout and Pujols combined to go 5 for 8 with four RBI and Jered Weaver allowed one run over seven.

Tigers 6, Rangers 0: Wait, I take that back. The Tigers are hotter than the Angels as they’ve won seven in a row. Rick Porcello got his first career shutout allowing three hits and striking out six. This time last week the Tigers found themselves behind the Royals. Now they’re four and a half games up in first place.

Cubs 5, Nationals 3: Justin Ruggiano went 2 for 4 with a two-run double in the seventh to give the Cubs the final lead of the game. Starlin Castro had two RBI and Anthony Rizzo went 3 for 4 with two doubles.

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

Blue Jays 7, White Sox 0: Adam Lind had three hits and three RBI and J.A. Happ had his best start of the season, tossing seven and two-thirds shutout innings.

Brewers 7, Rockies 4: Not a bad second base combo they got in Milwaukee. Scooter Gennett has been on fire lately, but he sat in place of Rickie Weeks against a lefty. All Weeks did was hit a home run on the first pitch he saw and added a single and a double. Oh, and Gennett pinch hit in the eighth and hit a two-run homer.

Dodgers 1, Cardinals 0: Adam Wainwright and Josh Beckett matched zeroes for seven and a half innings, but the Dodgers managed to string together three singles in the eighth for the game’s only run. note: a game started by Josh Beckett lasted only two hours and thirty-two minutes.

Reds 3, Giants 1: Mike Leake struck out 12 batters over eight one-run innings. Brandon Phillips had three hits, including a home run and double, and scored twice. The Giants lead over the Dodgers in the West has shrunk to two games.

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.