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What’s on Tap: Previewing Monday’s action

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Now that the regular season schedule has normalized somewhat, we can introduce something we would like to do for you here at HardballTalk: preview the baseball action every night. We’ll give you the pitching matchups and any important aspect of the game that might make it compelling. As it’s a new feature, we are certainly open to hearing your feedback and will make adjustments as needed. These might not always be as thorough; sometimes less is more.

Chicago White Sox (Jose Quintana) @ Minnesota Twins (Kyle Gibson), 4:10 PM EST

Jose Quintana is among the most unlucky pitchers in baseball. Since he came into the league in 2012, only one pitcher has recorded more quality starts (at least 6 innings pitched, three or fewer earned runs allowed) without getting the win: Cole Hamels (53). Quintana is tied for second place with James Shields (45), followed by Jeff Samardzija (42). Quintana came one out shy of a quality start in his season debut last Tuesday against the Athletics. He’ll try to grab that elusive W tonight against the Twins.

Milwaukee Brewers (Taylor Jungmann) @ St. Louis Cardinals (Michael Wacha), 4:15 PM EST

How about Scooter Gennett‘s hot start? The Brewers’ second baseman, in 22 plate appearances, has four singles and three solo homers while walking more times than he has struck out (four to three). Gennett’s career-high in home runs for a full season is nine, set in 2014. While he started on Opening Day against a lefty starter (Madison Bumgarner), he sat on Sunday against Dallas Keuchel in favor of Yadiel Rivera. Gennett’s career platoon split is pretty severe — .803 OPS vs. righties, .349 vs. lefties — so expect that to happen often throughout the season.

Atlanta Braves (Bud Norris) @ Washington Nationals (Max Scherzer), 7:05 PM EST

Braves prospect Mallex Smith is making his major league debut on Monday and he’ll immediately be tested against Max Scherzer. Outfielder Ender Inciarte suffered a strained hamstring, opening the door for Smith, who began his minor league season with four singles, two doubles, a triple, and a stolen base in his first 16 plate appearances with Triple-A Gwinnett. The Braves acquired Smith along with three others from the Padres in the Justin Upton deal.

Miami Marlins (Jarred Cosart) @ New York Mets (Steven Matz), 7:10 PM EST

During the offseason, the Mets brought back Yoenis Cespedes, replaced Daniel Murphy with Neil Walker, and bolstered the shortstop position by signing Asdrubal Cabrera. The offense should be even better than it was last year, right? It hasn’t so far. As a team, the club has mustered only a .529 OPS and their two home runs are tied with the Marlins and Pirates for the fewest in the league. David Wright and Michael Conforto are the Mets’ only regulars with an above-average OPS, and it’s only because they have drawn seven walks in their 38 combined plate appearances. While the Mets have the tough task of facing Jose Fernandez on Tuesday, they’ll get Jarred Cosart on Monday night and Adam Conley on Wednesday afternoon. That’s as good a time as any for the offense to make an appearance.

Cincinnati Reds (Brandon Finnegan) @ Chicago Cubs (Jon Lester), 8:05 PM EST

The Reds last season finished with the second-worst record in baseball. In the midst of a rebuild, the club traded Johnny Cueto to the Royals ahead of the trade deadline last year, and sent Todd Frazier to the White Sox during the offseason. One would think they’d get off to a rough start in 2015, but they’re currently 5-1. They beat the Phillies on Opening Day with a five-run rally in the eighth inning. The next game, they walked off against the Phillies on a Scott Schebler double. The Reds completed the sweep with an eight-run fourth inning the next day. On Friday, the Pirates slowed their roll, pulling off a 6-5 victory, but the Reds exacted revenge with a 5-1 win on Saturday. On Sunday, they walked off again as Jay Bruce tripled off of Arquimedes Caminero. They’ll have their hands full with Jon Lester, who pitched excellently on Opening Day against the Angels, hurling seven innings of one-run ball.

Kansas City Royals (Chris Young) @ Houston Astros (Collin McHugh), 8:10 PM EST

So far, the Astros’ pitching has been a nightmare. Their 7.02 ERA over six games is by far the worst in the league and a lot of it has to do with tonight’s starter, Collin McHugh. The right-hander recorded only one out before being pulled against the Yankees last Wednesday, serving up six runs (five earned) on three hits and a pair of walks. McHugh has always been the inconsistent sort, but he finished eighth in AL Cy Young balloting last season with a 19-7 record, 3.89 ERA, and 171/53 K/BB ratio over 203 2/3 innings. If he is to rebound tonight, he’ll have to do it against the defending world champs.

Los Angeles Angels (Nick Tropeano) @ Oakland Athletics (Sonny Gray), 10:05 PM EST

Nick Tropeano gets the start Monday in place of Andrew Heaney, who suffered a flexor strain. Tropeano didn’t make the club’s Opening Day roster as he struggled in five spring training starts, but he was quite good in seven sporadic starts and a relief appearance last season. He finished with a 3.82 ERA and a 38/10 K/BB ratio in 37 2/3 innings. Heaney, as a former top prospect, has more upside, but the Angels may not be missing that much in going to Tropeano.

Texas Rangers (Colby Lewis) @ Seattle Mariners (Hisashi Iwakuma), 10:10 PM EST

Robinson Cano is off to a scorching start, having blasted four homers in his first 27 plate appearances. He didn’t hit his fourth homer until June 26 last season. His slow start had many concerned, particularly because he was in the second year of a ten-year, $240 million deal. Cano still finished with fine numbers, hitting 21 homers total with 79 RBI and a .779 OPS. If he doesn’t have such a slow start this year, imagine where his numbers might wind up.

Dusty Baker hired to manage the Astros

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Note: This was first posted yesterday morning. Now that it has been confirmed by multiple outlets, we are updating it.

The Astros and Dusty Baker have an agreement to make Baker the new manager of the Houston Astros. Baker’s hiring was first reported by Bob Nightengale of USA Today yesterday. Today his hiring was confirmed by Marl Feinsand of MLB.com, citing multiple sources.

Baker recently interviewed with Astros owner Jim Crane who, as you know, was in the position of having to find a new manager on the quick given the suspension and subsequent firing of A.J. Hinch in the wake of the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. Crane also interviewed Brad Ausmus in recent days.

In Baker the Astros are getting a manager who needs no training and needs no introduction. He has won basically everywhere he has managed, taking the Giants to the World Series in three postseason appearances, taking the Cubs to the postseason once, taking the Reds to the postseason three times and taking the Nationals to the postseason in both years at the helm. In 22 years as a skipper he has a record of 1,863-1,636. His worst single-team winning percentage is .497 with the Cubs. He was a .593 manager in Washington, a .540 manager in San Francisco, and a .524 manager in Cincinnati.

Baker has a track record of taking over poor-to-decent clubs and, almost immediately, making them winners. He did it in Washington, he did it in Cincinnati, he did it in San Francisco and, though it was only in his first season before running into some bad years, he even did it in Chicago. No one has the market cornered on assessing manager skill and quality, but the fact that Baker has won everywhere he’s gone probably means that, if they do eventually figure out what the special sauce is, Baker will be found to have possessed a vat of it.

He certainly has an interesting challenge in Houston. Unlike his past gigs, he’s taking over a monster of a team, winners of 107 games and the AL pennant last year and, of course, winning the 2017 World Series. With the exception of Gerrit Cole, who departed via free agency, basically all of the players who took the Nationals to Game 7 of the 2019 World Series will be back in 2020.

Which makes figuring out the expectations we should have for Baker an interesting thing. On the one hand, when a team loses Game 7 of the World Series like the Astros did, all but one outcome is a step back. Given that winning a World Series is no guarantee, ever, there’s a chance that even if Baker does an amazing job in Houston he ends his tenure being cast, again, as some sort of disappointment. A guy who couldn’t get it done in the postseason.

On the other hand the Astros have just been busted in a massive cheating scandal and — if you believe they were still cheating in 2019, which some do believe — they will have lost an advantage they once had. Between that, the departure of Cole and the overall fallout of the sign-stealing scandal and the scrutiny under which the team will be in 2020, it would not be at all shocking if they take a step back regardless of who was hired to manage. Which means that if Baker does win it all with Houston, man, it’d be a hell of an accomplishment. Or he could fall short of a World Series win and still be considered a massive success by virtue of keeping a team with every reason to be distracted to stay focused and play good baseball.

No matter how this plays out on the field, however, the fact of the matter is that, in addition to winning everyplace he’s ever been, Baker has long been praised for his management of the clubhouse. For motivating players and keeping them on an even keel. For bringing calm to places where one might expect storms. Win or lose, that’s exactly what this team needs right now. It’s exactly why, in our view, Baker is the perfect hire for the Houston Astros.