And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights

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Pirates 6, Cardinals 5: For the second straight day the Pirates win in extra innings in walkoff fashion. On Saturday it was Andrew McCutchen with a homer, last night it was Gregory Polanco with an RBI single. Both times the Cards took a lead in extras only to see the Buccos claw back. Pittsburgh took three of four from St. Louis in this series and pulled to within two and a half. It’s only the All-Star break and there’s a lot of baseball to be played, but this is the kind of series on which a team that finishes the season triumphant looks back and says “yeah, that’s when we knew something special was happening.”

Athletics 2, Indians 0: Sonny Gray was absolutely fan-frickin’-tastic, with a two-hit complete game shutout. It wasn’t a Maddux — he needed 107 pitches — but it was pretty close. He has ten wins and a 2.04 ERA heading into the break and has been, by far, the brightest spot in an otherwise dim first half for Oakland.

Mets 5, Diamondbacks 3: When the Mets signed Nieuwenhuis recently, the move was widely mocked. Not so much for what Nieuwenhuis is, but for what he was not: a game-changing bat the sort of which the Mets sorely need. There was nothing mock-worthy about his bat here, however, as all he did was hit three homers and drive in four. The Mets head into the break winners of six of seven and, for all of the up-and-down drama of their season so far and for all of the complaining about the front office people have done, they stand only two games back of the Nationals.

Marlins 8, Reds 1: I listened to this game on WLW while driving into Cincinnati for the All-Star festivities. Jeff Brantley had the call. It’s saying something that listening to Jeff Brantley describe the carnage that has become the Reds’ season in his smooth drawl is best thing about this team in 2015. As it was, Johnny Cueto probably deserved better — his defense let him down a few times — but given credit to Marlins’ first baseman Justin Bour for reaching up and out of the zone in consecutive at bats to drive some balls he or no one else had any business driving with authority. Dan Haren, meanwhile, allowed one run over six innings and wouldn’t be the worst pickup for a team who doesn’t play in a homer-friendly park and could use a starter.

Rays 4, Astros 3: The Rays sweep the Astros, who dropped their sixth in a row heading into the break and find themselves out of first place for the first time since April 18. Matt Moore, making his third start since coming back from Tommy John surgery, allowed three runs and five hits over five innings and notched his first victory since Sept. 29, 2013.

Yankees 8, Red Sox 6: Rob Refsnyder, playing his second big league game, had two hits, including a two-run homer. The Yankees took two of three from the Red Sox and are now three and a half up in the East. It’s their biggest lead in a tight division since they had a four game margin back on May 11.

Nationals 3, Orioles 2: Here’s something that sucks: two of the best pitchers in the game — Sonny Gray and Max Scherzer — pitched yesterday and thus won’t be available to pitch in the All-Star Game. Which, well, maybe doesn’t suck THAT much given that these games matter and the All-Star game doesn’t. Still. Scherzer allowed two runs in eight and two-thirds, winning his tenth and leaving his first half ERA at 2.11.

Royals 11, Blue Jays 10: The Royals had a 7-0 lead after five, completely blew it in the sixth by giving up an eight-spot to Toronto, but then scored three more in the bottom of the sixth and then held the hell on. Not a game for pitching enthusiasts. Or defense enthusiasts. Or comfortable weather enthusiasts, as it was hot and gross. Basically everything that would make me miserable at a baseball game went down here.

Twins 7, Tigers 1: Kyle Gibson won his fourth straight, allowing one run — unearned — in seven innings. Miguel Sano hit a two-run homer. The Twins are four and a half back at 44-40. The Tigers are nine back at .500. With old fading stars on one side and young rising stars on the other, this feels like a matchup between the future and the past.

Cubs 3, White Sox 1: Jake Arrieta went the distance and allowed only one run. He also [altogether now] helped his own cause with a homer as the Cubs salvage one in their series against their crosstown rivals.

Padres 2, Rangers 1: Tyson Ross outdueled Yovani Gallardo, tossing six and two-thirds of shutout ball. Ross hasn’t allowed a homer in 86 and two-thirds innings.

Giants 4, Phillies 2: The Giants sweep the Phillies. What’s the right adjective to use here for Philly? “Lowly?” I feel like we’re well past lowly right now, but all of the other adjectives that spring to mind are not really suitable for a family baseball blog like Hardball Talk Dot Com.

Angels 10, Mariners 3: With the Houston skid and their very own surge, the Angels claim first place heading into the break. They’ve won 11 of 14. Here Chris Iannetta hit a two-run home run and David Freese hit a two-run double in the Angels’ six-run sixth inning.

Dodgers 4, Brewers 3: Adrian Gonzalez hit a two-run homer as the Dodgers came from behind late. A lot of pitching injuries and a lot of ups and downs, but the Dodgers have 51 wins and lead the West by four and a half. I’m sure they’ll take it.

Rockies 11, Braves 3: The Rockies sweep the Braves behind a Troy Tulowitzki homer and a 3-for-4, four-RBI day from Charlie Blackmon. A seventeen hit attack against the Bravos, with ten of them — and seven runs — coming off of Alex Wood. Wood threw two pitches on Thursday in that game that had the weird rain delay. After what happened yesterday, he was probably praying for more rain.

Ahoy, San Diego: 2019 Winter Meetings Preview

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Over the weekend the baseball world will descended on San Diego, California for the 2019 Winter Meetings. Let’s talk about what’ll go down there in the next week.

 

Free Agents

So far this has been a much brisker offseason than the past two, during which it seemed like no one signed between November and February. This year, however, we have already seen top-30 free agents Zack Wheeler, Yasmani Grandal, Cole Hamels, José Abreu, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Moustakas, and Michael Pineda sign, and a handful of others have inked pacts as well.

Still, there’s a lot of work to be done. Top free agent Gerrit Cole has had some heat around him lately, with the Yankees reportedly hot on his trail, and New York has at least had a conversation with San Diego native and resident Stephen Strasburg as well. Beyond them, Anthony Rendon, Madison Bumgarner, Nicholas Castellanos, and Josh Donaldson are all looking for new employers as well.

At the end of October Rotoworld’s Matthew Pouliot ran down the top 111 free agents, from highest-ranked to lowest, to help you get a jump on who is available.

 

Trades

Free agent signings notwithstanding, we are in an age in which a lot of teams are in cost-savings mode. For that reason some big, MVP-caliber names are reportedly on the trading block, including Mookie Betts of the Red Sox, Francisco Lindor of the Indians and, perhaps, Kris Bryant of the Cubs and Nolan Arenado of the Rockies. Beyond them, there has been chatter about the Dodgers dealing Joc Pederson, the Tigers dealing Matthew Boyd and the Pirates and Rockies shopping anyone worth a bag of balls.

Whether any of those big names switch teams, it’s already been a pretty active trading season so far, and it would not be at all surprising of the transaction wire is humming in the next week. We, of course, will have near-instant breakdowns of every deal that goes down, so make sure you keep a window open with this site on it and hit refresh early and often.

 

Managers on Parade

 

Trade deals and free agent negotiations take place behind closed doors, so we can only talk about those once they happen. One of the major public activities of the Winter Meetings is when all 30 of the managers meet and greet the press.

We have a boatload of new managers this year, all of whom have had their happy little press conferences back in their home cities so far. The press availabilities at the Winter Meetings are a bit more in depth and, quite often, feature managers giving more detailed answers to their philosophies and their plans as they prepare for the 2020 season.

New at the little tables and under the bright lights this year: Jayce Tingler with the Padres, Mike Matheny with the Royals, Gabe Kapler with the Giants, David Ross with the Cubs, Derek Shelton with the Pirates, Joe Maddon with the Angels, Carlos Beltrán with the Mets, and Joe Girardi with the Phillies.

And, yes, the tradition like no other continues this year, as I will be ranking all 30 of the current managers on the basis of handsomeness. Here’s last year’s rankings. The new rankings will go up first thing Monday morning. It’s the silliest thing I do all year and, for better or for worse, it’s the thing I’m best known for. What a life I have.

 

Hall of Fame Vote

The Modern Baseball Era Committee — formerly known as the Veterans Committee — will meet on Sunday to vote in, or not vote in, new inductees for the Hall of Fame. For the past two weeks I’ve been profiling the candidates. Here are those profiles:

Committee members get four votes each. If I had four I’d give them to Whitaker, Evans, Simmons, and Miller, but you never know what the real voters will do. We’ll have the results up on Sunday evening once the vote is made public.

 

Major League Baseball vs. Minor League Baseball

One thing a lot of people don’t know about the Winter Meetings is that it’s put on, primarily, by Minor League Baseball as an organization and the vast majority of the people on the ground at the Winter Meetings either run or work for or are trying to sell stuff to minor league teams. Almost every team’s owner comes and brings along some staffers. Coaches, trainers, scouts, and other team employees who spend most of their year out in the bushes as opposed to back at the big club’s home base attend meetings and hobnob with one another.

Normally that’s all pretty routine. This year, however, it probably won’t be thanks to Rob Manfred’s plan to contract 42 minor league clubs and rearrange a great many more of them across levels and leagues.

As we noted earlier today, that scheme has set off a political firestorm and is no doubt the top agenda item and point of concern for every single minor league official and employee at the Winter Meetings. There are, reportedly, already meetings going on in San Diego about all of this. Expect some news about it at any point in the next week. At this point I’d expect anything from Manfred totally scrapping the plan, to him doubling down on it, to reports of general acrimony and possible legal action and everything in between.

 

The Boring Business of Baseball 

Outside of the transactions, the Hall of Fame stuff, the managers and the minor league contraction intrigue, we’ll likely have more mundane Winter Meetings business. Most people at the Winter Meetings aren’t there for transactions. They’re there to network, seek jobs and discuss the business of baseball like any other industry convention. Ever year we hear about a rule change or a proposal for future rule changes at the Meetings. There is no single rule change that everyone is talking about at the moment, but something will likely pop up. Sometimes we’re completely surprised with that kind of stuff.

 

The Rule 5 Draft

The final event of the Winter Meetings is the Rule 5 Draft, which will take place at 8am Pacific time on Thursday morning. You likely have no idea who most of the players who will be selected, but by next summer you may very well know some of them who are either picked or who were made available this week. Max Muncy could’ve been had by anyone a couple of years ago, went un-picked and all he’s done is rake like crazy for the team with the most wins in the National League. Given that even the combined minds of 29 front offices didn’t think he was worth a roster spot last year, you’ll be forgiven for not having any idea about the guys in this year’s Rule 5. But, if you want to at least attempt to be prepared for it, here’s a good place to start.

So, yes, there’s a lot to be done. I’ll be on the scene at the Hyatt Manchester in San Diego — and maybe a few other places around town — bringing you all the best hot stove business we have to offer and, as usual, some more fun odds and ends from baseball’s biggest offseason event.