And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights

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Rangers 14, Astros 3: The narratives are getting hard to ignore, even for an anti-narrative killjoy like me. The Rangers are coming together! It’s gut-check time for Houston! That stuff aside, this is clearly a moment where things feel like they’ve changed in the NL West. Houston has one more chance to make something, anything, of this series tonight, but the Rangers’ five-homer attack last night has to have them feeling woozy. Postgame quote from Rangers manager Jeff Bannister:

“This is not an exhale moment. This is putting a foot down, continue to do your yard work, stay focused.”

The Rangers are doing their yard work with a brand new EZtrak™ Z625 Zero Turn mower from John Deere while wearing noise-canceling headphones and some sweet mirror sunglasses. The Astros have that unreliable neighbor kid with a slingshot in his back pocket pushing one of these:

Mower

 

Cardinals 5, Brewers 4: AP gamer lede:

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 7.15.21 AM

Look kid. I know the beat can be a long, hard grind. I know this is game 145 for you and that they sort of blend together in a beige swirl of random baseball and that, quite often, trying to make a story out of random events like you have to do every single night is not an easy job. I know the pay sucks, the travel is life-sapping and that you have to interview people who probably don’t care if you live or die and consider you to be an interloper in their land more often than not. For the job you do I have every bit of respect and for the conditions under which you’re forced to do it I have no shortage of sympathy.

But I’m being dead serious here, kid: use a lede like that again and you’re fired. That’s just terrible.

Tigers 7, Twins 4: Tied at four in the 12th before Ian Kinsler‘s two-out RBI single and J.D. Martinez‘s two-run homer. The AP lede on this one was a bit more poetic than the Cards-Brewers one:

MINNEAPOLIS — The home run hit by Detroit’s J.D. Martinez landed on the emptied metal benches in lower left field, causing a clanging noise that was audible throughout the eerily quiet ballpark.

That was the sound of defeat near the end of a long Wednesday night for postseason-chasing Minnesota.

That’s a guy sucking it up after a long season and doing his job. Could he have started it out with “Theeeirrrrr Grrrreeeat!” Of course he could. He’s a human being with agency and I’m sure his editor cuts him some slack. But he didn’t. Because he’s a damn professional.

(note: there is no way in hell I wouldn’t have used the “Phamtastic!” thing if I had to write that Cardinals gamer. Ain’t gonna lie).

Cubs 3, Pirates 2: Jake Arrieta was cruising until the sixth when a run scored on his own error and lasted eight, but left with a tied game. In the 12th, however, his teammates came through against Vance Worley, stringing together a single, a wild pitch, another single and a sac fly to go ahead for good. The Cubs pull to within three of the Pirates for the top wild card slot and the Pirates fall four back of a thankful St. Louis team for the division lead. Cardinals fans can root for the Cubs one more day — today — before they have to face Chicago this weekend.

Red Sox 10, Orioles 1: Party like it’s 2009: Dustin Pedroia homered twice and drove in five and David Ortiz homered as well.  Partying like it’s, oh, I dunno, 2019, was Henry Owens who gave up six hits over seven and two-thirds shutout innings.

Nationals 12, Phillies 2: A homer for Bryce Harper — who was only seven years-old in 1999 — and two for Jayson Werth, who was 20. Not that I can talk as I was 26, but still. Four wins in a row for Washington, though it’s a little too little, it’s a little too late (Pat Benatar’s “Get Nervous” album came out in 1982 when Werth was three and Harper was -10).

Yankees 3, Rays 1: Luis Severino gave up one run over five and two-thirds and beat Chris Archer while Greg Bird homered and drove in two. Struggling to think of a time when young players were as important to the Yankees as these two are here. New York takes two of three from Tampa Bay and stays three games behind Toronto in the AL East.

Indians 5, Royals 1Francisco Lindor‘s push for the Rookie of the Year Award continues as he went 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBI and Danny Salazar  took a three-hit shutout into the seventh. The Royals have dropped nine of 12.

Blue Jays 9, Braves 1: David Price allowed one run in seven innings and Russell Martin hit a homer and drove in four runs. For the Braves, hard luck starter Shelby Miller lost again, but at least he earned this loss, allowing five runs and failing to get out of the fourth inning.

Marlins 6, Mets 0Adam Conley with seven shutout innings as the Fish take two of three from the Mets. This is the first time the Mets lost two in a row since the end of August and the first time they were shutout since way back on July 23. They face the Yankees this weekend and I figure someone will talk about it being a possible preview of a “Subway Series,” which really, is a brand of hype I ain’t ready for yet. Get everyone past the wild card game and I’ll indulge it, but not now guys, OK?

White Sox 9, Athletics 4: A six-run fourth inning for Chicago settled this. Mike Olt homered in that inning. Glad for that, as I was about to send out a search party for him. I mean, how could the Opening Day starting third baseman for the playoff-bound Chicago Cubs just disappear like that between April and September? It’s almost like, maybe, he didn’t really deserve that job and merely had it because of roster shenanigans. But glad to see his year ending on a somewhat higher note.

Padres 4, Diamondbacks 3: Matt Kemp hit a three-run homer in the fifth for the winning margin. With the Padres stinkin’ most of the year it’s easy to forget that Kemp was supposed to be a key acquisition for them. Not a great year on the rate stats but OK on the power — .265/.313/.443 with 22 homers and 97 RBI — but maybe the most significant thing about him is that he’s played in 144 of the Padres 147 games. I don’t think anyone expected MVP Matt Kemp to come back, but durable, useful, second-or-third-level offensive threat Matt Kemp was reasonable and that’s basically what he’s been.

Mariners 3, Angels 1: This time last year Jesus Montero was a disgraced figured, suspended by his team for getting into a fight with a scout over that ice cream sandwich incident which, while sorta hilarious, was kind of funny. Last night he hit a three-run homer which provided all of the offense the M’s needed. He’s certainly not a complete ballplayer and his future in the game is pretty damn far from secure, but at least he’s serving as evidence that anyone can turn things around if they have some talent and determination.

Dodgers 2, Rockies 0: Alex Wood put in a performance showing that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a two-man show in the Dodgers rotation. Eight shutout one-hit innings for the kid, striking out five, needing only 78 pitches to get through those innings. Bully for Wood, but maybe someone should see if the Rockies had late dinner plans or something they were hell-bent on not breaking.

Giants 5, Reds 3: Jake Peavy went six innings, got the win and hit a homer. Not too bad. Giants pitchers have nine homers on the year. No other team’s pitchers have more than two.

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.