And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights

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Tigers 2, Royals 1: For the second time this week the Tigers got a nice debut from one of the pieces they got in the David Price trade. Here it was Matt Boyd, who outdueled Johnny Freakin’ Cueto, allowing one run on seven hits in seven innings. This morning Peter Gammons noted that Boyd got 15 fly ball outs, three grounders, and then quoted a scout who told him that Boyd was “born to pitch in Comerica Park.” I’d say. And based on that kind of ratio we can see why pitching in Rogers Centre was basically death for him.

Red Sox 2, Yankees 1: A nice debut for Luis Severino, who struck out seven and allowed only one unearned run in five innings. But it was a nicer night for Steven Wright who allowed only one over eight while striking out nine. David Ortiz welcomed Severino to the bigs with a solo homer. He had a good day, but he’ll have better days.

Giants 6, Braves 1: Madison Bumgarner pitched into the eighth, allowed only one run and struck out nine. Kelby Tomlinson drove in three, which has to be the best ever MLB performance by a guy who sounds like the second string QB for a second-tier SEC team that liked to feature a spread offense before it was fashionable. Coach would bring in Tomlinson after LSU ran up a big lead on his boys and he’d flash a lot of moves, but so much of it was based on facing the B-team defense and taking off and running before going through all of his reads. Can’t pull that in the first quarter against Georgia next week. They’ll eat him alive.

White Sox 6, Rays 5: A walkoff walk! The second one in less than a week, in fact, as the Cardinals beat the Rockies this way last Thursday. Here it was Avisail Garcia doing the taking and Brad Boxberger doing the giving in the bottom of the tenth. Garcia is a on a roll lately. Earlier in this game he hit a three-run homer. He also went deep on Tuesday night.

Rockies 7, Mariners 5: An extra innings walkoff of a different, more exciting kind as Michael McKenry hit a two-run homer in the 11th. Nelson Cruz’s homer streak ended at five but he kept a 16-game hitting streak alive. This game took four hours and seven minutes. Or as we call it in the business, a DoubleBuehrle.

Angels 4, Indians 3: Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but the home team won in a walkoff. This was a three-run ninth inning rally by the Angels, won on a wild pitch that scored Taylor Featherston. Just before that C.J. Cron had hit a tying two-run single with two out. Tough day at the office for Indians closer Cody Allen. In other news, Mike Trout was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and is 4-for-27 in the last week. Maybe someone should ask him if he’s really healthy, because it’s not often we see the TroutUnit malfunction like this.

Three walkoffs and Mike Trout struggling is weird. It’s not Ryan Adams staying up all night and laying down an entire cover album of Taylor Swift’s “1989” in the style of The Smiths weird, but it’s weird. And in case you think I’m joking:

Orioles 7, Athletics 3: Not a walkoff as the O’s are on the road, but it was a four-run rally in the 10th inning. All four runs came courtesy of Chris Davis’ bat when he hit a grand slam off Arnold Leon. Davis, by the way, has six homers in his last nine games and moved his line up to .248/.330/.517 and is now on pace for a 42-homer, 120-RBI season. That’s the sort of year, back before anyone paid attention to on base percentage and stuff like that, which really impressed awards voters. It’s nothing of the sort this year, but it’s a nice bounceback season for a guy who had only 26 homers and 72 RBI all last year, both numbers he has already surpassed.

Diamondbacks 11, Nationals 4: The Nats lose their fifth of six games and ended up putting their utility guy, Tyler Moore, on the mound. Totally the kind of game you want to have less than a week after you traded for a bigtime closer. For Arizona, Wellington Castillo hit a three-run homer and Paul Goldschmidt, Ender Inciarte and A.J. Pollock each got three hits in the Nats’ 17-hit attack. Goldschmidt did get retired by Moore, though, so he was kinda humbled.

Dodgers 4, Phillies 3: Brett Anderson allowed one run in six innings and Yasiel Puig hit a three-run home run as the Dodgers won for the fifth time in six games, cooling off the Phillies. Jeff Francoeur homered, though, because you can’t keep a good man down.

Pirates 7, Cubs 5: Gregory Polanco and Andrew McCutchen homered and the Cubs’ six-game winning streak ended. Dan Haren gave up both of the bombs. I said when he was traded away from Miami that homers, already a problem for him but somewhat minimized by his old home park, would become a problem. Get ready to watch the homer odometer roll on him now that he’s a Cub.

Blue Jays 9, Twins 7: The fourth win in a row for the Jays, this with the help of a grand slam from some guy I’ve never heard of. Just a sort of nobody. Forgetting his name. One sec, let me go back and check the box score. “Jose Bautista.” No clue. Any ideas, anyone?

Cardinals 4, Reds 3: More extra inning heroics, this from Randal Grichuk who hit a homer in the 13th inning. The Reds lead this one 3-0 into the sixth but the Cards chipped back with Matt Carpenter tying it in the eighth with a solo shot. Cardinals relievers blanked the Reds for the final eight innings of the game.

Mets 8, Marlins 6: New York keeps rolling, winning their sixth in a row and extending their lead in the NL East to two games. They had to work for this one, holding off the Marlins who rallied for six runs in the ninth. Not the best night when you enter the ninth with an 8-0 lead and you actually see the other guys bring the potential winning run to the plate. Before that messiness, however, Juan Uribe hit a three-run homer, Lucas Duda drove in three and Matt Harvey tossed seven shutout innings. Bullpen probably bought dinner for everyone later.

Rangers 4, Astros 3: The Rangers sweep the first place Astros. This despite the fact that they walked eight Houston hitters and hit another one with a pitch. The Astros’ first inning defense was clownshoes, however, with Scott Kazmir allowing a runner on with an error and Hank Conger committing a throwing error on what would’ve been a sacrifice. It was 4-0 after the second inning and after that Nick Martinez and the bullpen — well, most of the bullpen — did a nice job.

Brewers 8, Padres 5: Taylor Jungmann struck out eight, scattered six hits and didn’t walk anyone. Jonathan Lucroy, Shane Peterson and Jean Segura each drove in two runs. Philosophical question: is this the most meaningless series of the season? I realize there are worse teams, but could this be the most meaningless? I guess Milwaukee is close enough to 30th in MLB to where there could be draft implications, so maybe, say, a Rockies-A’s series is less meaningful. But this has to be up there.

World Series Preview: Marquee starting pitching matchups lead the way

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The Astros were the best team in baseball in 2019, winning 107 games, so everyone expected them to be here. As you’ve heard a thousand times by now the Nationals started out poorly in 2019, standing at 19-31 in late May. After that, however, they went on a 74-38 tear in 112 games. A tear which, if extrapolated to 162 games is a . . . 107-win pace.

Which is to say that, despite whatever the oddsmakers are telling you, this is not quite the mismatch some may want to make it out to be. The Astros are a great team, no question, but the Nationals as they stand right now are a strong match for them. If you doubt it, go ask the Dodgers and Cardinals about whether Washington played like a 93-win Wild Card team when they met in the earlier rounds.

No matter how you think the teams matchup overall, however, you can’t help but love the matchups between the clubs’ starting pitchers.

The Astros feature the top two Cy Young candidates in the American league in Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander and feature a third starter, Zack Greinke, who would be most teams’ ace. The Nationals, meanwhile, counter with Max Scherzer, who won the Cy Young in 2016 and 2017, finished in second place last year and, before for an injury this season, was a strong contender to take home the hardware again. After him comes Stephen Strasburg, also a 2019 Cy Young candidate, and Patrick Corbin, who was last offseason’s big pickup and who won 14 games and posted an ERA+ of 141 this season. It may be the Era of Bullpenning and all of that, but this Fall Classic looks to be a throwback to a time when — gasp! — starting pitchers mattered.

Here’s how it all breaks down:

THE ROTATIONS

We just listed the big names. The exact order in which they appear is not yet officially known but you’ll color me shocked if Game 1 isn’t Max Scherzer vs. Gerrit Cole, Game 2 isn’t Stephen Strasburg vs. Justin Verlander, and Game 3 isn’t Zack Greinke vs. Patrick Corbin. In Game 4 the Nats will likely go with the hot Aníbal Sánchez who, if he stays on his game like he has been of late, gives them depth the Astros can’t quite match. Brad Peacock or “Bullpen” could get the ball for A.J. Hinch in Game 4, depending on the circumstances of the series at that point.

As for Game 1, Scherzer is coming off two strong postseason outings, allowing one run on five hits with 18 strikeouts in 14 innings in those starts. Cole was somewhat human in his last start, walking five guys. But, um, yeah, he still tossed seven shutout innings. It seems like all he has done since before Memorial day is toss seven or eight shutout innings or something close to it.

We simply couldn’t ask for a better head-to-head matchup to start this bad boy. There isn’t a hitter on either of these teams happy about who they’ll have to face in this series.

THE LINEUPS

Saturday night’s José Altuve walkoff blast notwithstanding, the Astros’ mighty offense has been somewhat less mighty over the past couple of weeks, averaging just 3.7 runs per game and posting a .645 team OPS. A lot of that was due to the scads of fresh and strong bullpen arms the Rays and Yankees trotted out, but it’s not like things will get easier, at least against Washington’s starting pitching. The Astros had timely hitting — and some big home runs — as they made their way to the World Series, but they’ll definitely need to rattle the ball off the walls and get on base at a higher clip like they did in the regular season if they want to win this thing. To do so, I don’t suspect A.J. Hinch will do much shuffling or fiddling with his lineup — his dudes are his dudes — he’ll just have to hope that they snap out of their relative funk and remind everyone that, when everyone is healthy on this club, there is no better offense in baseball.

Washington’s lineup was nowhere near as fearsome during the regular season but it was the second-best unit in the National League, so they’re no slouches. Like the Astros, they have not exactly set the world ablaze offensively in the playoffs, posting a team OPS about a hundred points lower than their regular season mark. Also, like the Astros, they’ve had some huge hits at great times, as do all teams that get this far. Luck and good timing matter a whole heck of a lot in October.

Editor’s note: Need World Series tickets? Click here to see the Nats try to stop the Astros

A bit of a wild card here: the de-juiced ball everyone is talking about. While the Nats, like everyone else, hit a lot more homers in 2019, they were somewhat less reliant on homers than a lot of other winning teams, finishing only sixth in that category in the NL. The Astros were third in the AL and might’ve come close to matching New York and Minnesota’s totals if they didn’t have so many injuries to key offensive performers in the first half. Which is to say that the dead ball’s taking away of a few feet of flight from equally-struck balls probably hurts the Astros a bit more than the Nats, even if the Astros hitters are better on average.

One can overstate all that, of course. At the end of the day both of these teams have MVP-candidates — Alex Bregman for Houston, Anthony Rendon for Washington — and a good supporting cast of thumpers like Juan Soto, José Altuve, Yordan Álvarez and hot-in-October Howie Kendrick, who will likely see DH action in the games in Houston. Ultimately it will come down, as always, to who is hotter over the next 4-7 games.

THE BULLPENS

The bullpen was the Nationals’ biggest weakness all season long. In the NLDS against the Dodgers Dave Martinez masked the problem by creatively deploying starting pitchers in relief, praying a bit, and watching it work. in the NLCS they so thoroughly steamrolled the Cardinals that it didn’t truly matter, though they did get some good innings from guys not named Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. Meaning that, heck, you may even see Fernando Rodney and Tanner Rainey in games that aren’t blowouts. Either way, the week off the Nationals have been given by wrapping up the NLCS so quickly means that every arm is fresh, with extra rest even, so the team’s biggest weakness is about as contained at the outset as it can be. As suggested above, the deeper Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin and Sánchez can go, the better.

Houston’s bullpen has allowed 16 earned runs in 35.1 innings this postseason (4.08 ERA). This after having the third-best bullpen ERA in all of baseball during the regular season (3.75). Sample sizes are obviously an issue here. As is the class of competition. They were more than capable of getting the job done during the ALDS and their failures — like Roberto Osuna‘s blown save in Game 6 — were either contained by the work of others or led to less-than-fatal wounds. They simply have better arms that Washington does down there even if, as is the case with the Nats, they’ll hope to need them as little as possible.

THE MANAGERS

A.J. Hinch has hoisted a trophy before and rarely harms his team. Dave Martinez learned over the course of the season that the less he does the better. Without putting too fine a point on it, if it comes down to a chess match, it’s advantage: Astros. At this point Martinez simply needs to let his horses run and muster enough will to pull them out of the race if they’re tired. That’s easier said than done when it’s, say, Max Scherzer. His arm could be hanging by frayed tendons and he’d still probably glare at Martinez if he walked out to pull him.

THE HISTORY

There is virtually none. These teams share a spring training complex but they have not faced each other in interleague play since 2017. A host of players on each squad has never faced the pitchers on the other. In addition to starting pitchers being so critical here, add “NL vs. AL, in a matchup of unknowns” to the list of things that make this Fall Classic a throwback to olden days.

If we did the usual “Advantage: [TEAM]” for every one of those categories, I feel like we’d probably end up with the Astros coming out on top in each of them. The closest is probably the rotation, with the top-end talent of Cole, Verlander and Greinke outweighing the four-deep depth the Nats have at the moment. But as the earlier rounds showed, it’s not as much of an advantage as you might think and being able to run four starters out there whom you trust matters a lot.

Which is to say that, yeah, I think the Astros are the better team. They’re better in record, better on paper and should be favored. But I don’t think they’re overwhelming favorites. And I don’t think it could or should be considered a massive upset if this better-than-most-people think Nats team comes out on top. I feel like this will be a very, very even and competitive series, in fact.