And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights

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Blue Jays 7, Brewers 4: A three-run walkoff homer for Edwin Encarnacion to give one surprise first place team the win over another surprise first place team. This is what Encarnacion actually, truly said about the hit after the game: “He hanged it, I banged it.” I don’t feel like that’ll turn into the hot new t-shirt of the summer, but then again, I did not expect “Turn down for what” to turn into some thing Tigers players put on their t-shirts either.

Cubs 16, Red Sox 9: A three game sweep for the Cubbies punctuated by a four-homer, sixteen run thrashing. Justin Ruggiano drove in five and had a two-run homer. Mike Olt, Nate Schierholtz and Wellington Castillo added homers of their own. Mookie Betts had his first big league bomb, but the Sox lost their ninth of 13.

Marlins 5, Phillies 0: Tom Koehler tossed six shutout innings and then got the hell out of the park because his wife is about to give birth. This is very similar to what I did the night before my son was born: I went to go see “Batman Begins” by myself. Both of us picked up the win.

Royals 4 ,Twins 0: Jason Vargas threw seven scoreless innings and Raul Ibanez homered for the first time since his return to the Royals. The last time he homered as a Royal was September 22, 2003. Wanna put that date in perspective? It was so long ago that, on that very same date, David Hempleman-Adams became the first person to cross the Atlantic Ocean in an open-air, wicker-basket hot air balloon! Wait, that doesn’t put it in perspective for you? What the hell do you want from me? There wasn’t much that was both historic and perspective-inducing happening on that day, OK? Ibanez being in his 30s is about as crazy-old as it gets.

Padres 3, Reds 0: My phone rings in the middle of the afternoon yesterday. It’s my brother.

Curt: Dude! Are you watching any baseball right now?

Me: I have a game on, sure [I was half watching the Dodgers-Indians]

Curt: Is it the Padres game?

Me: No. Why would I be watching the Padres game? They’re boring.

Curt: Because I’m THERE dude! I’m sitting in left field, wearing a Social Distortion shirt! Turn it on!

Me: I’m probably not going to see you.

My Daughter, who is watching the Dodgers game with me and has caught enough of the conversation to know what’s going on, grabs the remote and switches it to the Padres game. Then yells so my brother can hear it: “I’m looking for you Uncle Curt! Wave!”

Curt: [yelling in an effort to get my daughter to hear him] “HI ANNA!!”

Sometimes I feel like the only adult for miles and miles. Sometimes I also feel like the only one not having any fun. Then again, no one hit a homer to left field — indeed, the only runs scored on a crazy-rare three-run single from Rene Rivera — so I ended up being right. And still boring.

Mariners 5, Astros 2: Chris Young struck out eight and the M’s bullpen once again put up zeroes. That’s four straight wins for the M’s and as I’ll note below, three straight losses for Oakland. The A’s are still in first and the M’s are still in third, but Seattle is now only four and a half back. They were 7.5 back when we woke up on Monday morning.

Braves 3, Mets 1: The sweep gives the Braves their seventh straight win. Julio Teheran gave up a run on four hits and pitched around three walks while getting what was, for him anyway, copious run support.

Pirates 5, Diamondbacks 1: Gregory Polanco hit a two-run homer and reached base three times. The Pirates have won nine of 11.

Tigers 9, Athletics 3: The Tigers finished off a sweep of the A’s behind a better-than-he-has-been-but-not-as-good-as-he-can-be Justin Verlander. Verlander scattered nine hits (if there were ten, those hits would have been “weathered”) as the Tigers put up a six spot in the sixth with three RBI singles and an RBI double. The A’s may be the best team in baseball so far this year, but the Tigers seem to have their number. They probably shouldn’t panic, though. Maybe it’s just one of those Michael-Jordan-can’t-get-passed-the-Pistons situations that will eventually resolve itself.

Not gonna go back and count, but I bet I used more hyphens in that recap than I ever have in the six-year history of “And That Happened.”

Nationals 4, Rockies 3: Ian Desmond hit a go-ahead homer in the seventh. At least it ended up being a called a homer after a four-minute video review. So that was dramatic. The Nats have picked a great time to win five in a row, thereby blunting the Braves’ own winning streak.

Rays 6, Yankees 3: I was on the phone waiting to do a radio spot yesterday and the producer guy was talking to me, telling me that the Rays were going to win the AL East this year. He even said “You can mark it down!” So here I am marking it down. I didn’t have much of a response to that but, if I had been thinking more quickly I probably would’ve told him that sweeping this version of the New York Yankees is probably not a good basis for making any sort of predictions.

Editor’s Note: Hardball Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $25,000 Fantasy Baseball league for Thursday night’s MLB games. It’s $25 to join and first prize is $5,000. Starts at 7:05pm ET on ThursdayHere’s the FanDuel link.

Indians 5, Dodgers 4: A three-run rally against Brian Wilson in the eighth sealed it. Wilson retired only one of the six batters he faced, giving up a tying single to David Murphy and a two-run RBI to Mike Aviles.

White Sox 3, Angels 2: Leury Garcia with a pinch-hit walkoff single. It was the first White Sox win over the Angels in seven tries. Also: it just occurred to me, a decade later, that you’ll probably be able to stump more people with questions about who won the World Series in 2002 and 2005 than you will with almost any other World Series in recent history.

Orioles 6, Rangers 4: Adam Jones and Ryan Flaherty hit solo homers. The Rangers have lost eight straight road games.

Cardinals 2, Giants 0: Adam Wainwright pitched shutout ball into the eighth. Matts Carpenter and Holliday had RBI singles.

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.