And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Indians 15, Reds 6: The Ohio Series! Loser gets Ohio? They should play this series in Columbus, by the way. Actually, the exact geographic center between these the two ballparks is just north of Columbus, 3-4 miles north of the Polaris Mall on I-71, before you get to the exit for Route 37/36 a few miles east of Delaware. Lots of land to build a ballpark there. Which is also fairly close to Governor Kasich’s house. MAKE IT HAPPEN, JOHN. Anyway, the Reds actually led this one 4-0 entering the bottom of the third before the Indians went off. Yan Gomes went off more than anyone, driving in four. The Tribe notched 19 hits.

Marlins 5, Phillies 3: Marcell Ozuna has a 16-game hitting streak, and homered in this one. Bill wrote last night about how Ozuna has been using hitting coach Barry Bonds’ bats during the streak. Well, at least the same model with Bonds’ name on it, which Bonds orders for him. When he was hired as hitting coach a lot of people made jokes about how he could “help” Marlins hitters by supplying them with some of his, ahem, special products. Who knew it would be bats?

Pirates 8, Braves 5: The Pirates had a 6-0 lead before the Braves decided to wake up and start hitting, but as usual it was too little, too late for Atlanta. Actually, most of the season it’s been simply too little, full stop, so the “too late” part is an improvement. Matt Joyce homered and drove in three off the bench. Joyce is hitting .372/.500/.767 with five homers as a pinch hitter/bench dude this year. That’s the stuff of an epic player in those 1980s computer sim baseball games I used to play, none of which controlled for plate appearances and would thus give a player that kind of production over a full season’s worth of work. I DESTROYED people with Pedro Guerrero’s 1978 season. The last time I played one of those, in college, I used Chipper Jones’ 1993 line. Triples and doubles out the yang from those two.

Rays 13, Blue Jays 2: The Rays hit four homers —Curt Casali hit a three-run shot, Tim Beckham and Steve Pearce each hit two-run shots and Desmond Jennings soloed —  and won in a laugher. There are probably angry Jays fans on the Internet right now saying that they were all sucker hits or are unearthing old video of Rays hitters not signaling before turning or throwing styrofoam in recycling bins as a means of proving their poor character or something. They spent a lot of time doing that yesterday and old habits die hard.

Tigers 10, Twins 8: The Tigers blew an 8-0 lead and Brad Ausmus got ejected after one of those classic “uh-oh, they’re speculating about my job in the papers so I had better show them I still have some fire in me” meltdowns. I don’t know if him getting ejected led to the late Nick Castellanos and J.D. Martinez homers which salvaged the game for Detroit, but if the team somehow turns things around now and the season is saved, they’ll say that his meltdown did it. That’s how storytelling works.

Diamondbacks 12, Yankees 2: Jake Lamb singled, doubled and homered — a three-run shot — as the Dbacks cruised. Arizona scored six runs in four games against the Giants and doubled that in one night here. Lamb on his homer, which went over the swimming pool: “I got the barrel on it and the ball flew.” Still holding out hope that one day a hitter describes his home run with a total non-sequitur instead of a basic, literal description of what happened. Reporter: “talk about what happened with that homer in the sixth.” Player: “Well, I just I mambo dogfaced to the banana patch.”

Athletics 3, Rangers 1: Sean Manaea got his first major league win. He did so after cutting off his long, curly locks before the game. Or, as they used to say in the business back in the day, he “pulled a reverse Samson.” In the 90s my generation replaced that by saying he “listened to Pavement.” I don’t know what they say now. Damn Millennials.

Angels 7, Dodgers 6: The exact geographic midpoint between Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium is Norwalk, California. If anyone has any leads on a place where these guys could play there, forward it on to Stan Kasten or Arte Moreno or someone. We’ll figure it out. Albert Pujols and Mike Trout combined to drive in six runs as the Angels win their fourth in a row.

Red Sox vs. Royals — POSTPONED: Rain ammunition
The foreign prey
Winter is rapt
And it’s a cold, bitter trap
Ride away
Lose the virgin tribe (yeah)

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.