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And That Happened: Tuesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Seems like every game is nothing but a homer fest anymore. Baseball is nothing but dingers now. I wonder if chicks are gettin’ a bit tired of the longball.

Braves 9, Blue Jays 5Dansby Swanson hit a homer in the seventh inning, breaking a 5-all tie and helping the Braves take both games of the two-game set. Freddie Freeman went 2-for-4, walked and hit another homer, his 14th on the year. Overall the NL East may be the worst division, but it’s got the three best hitters in the NL so far this year with Freeman, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman.

Nationals 8, Pirates 4: Speaking of Harper and Zimmerman, the former went 2-for-4 with a homer and the latter doubled in two. Harper’s homer almost landed in the Allegheny River. After the game he said this:

“I don’t worry about hitting the ball in the water,” Harper said. “Matt [Williams] used to say, ‘It’s not how far. It’s how many.’ Just trying to put the ball in play, and sometimes it goes over the fence.”

Matt Williams was a great player, but man he seems kind of boring.

Rays 6, Indians 4: The Rays hit five homers in all. Corey Dickerson hit two of them, one of them went 450 feet. After the game Dickerson took issue with that estimate and said he thought it went farther than 450. Guess he never met Matt Williams. Danny Salazar gave up four of the homers. No word if he thinks that “you just have to tip your cap” to the Rays hitters.

Orioles 13, Tigers 11: An extra innings homer is pretty special. Chris Davis hit two of them. He led off the 12th with a solo shot as the O’s scored three. The Tigers matched those three runs in the bottom half, however, giving Davis another chance. In the 13th he hit a two-run drive to give the O’s their winning margin. OK, maybe Matt Williams was right about that whole quantity thing. In other news, the Orioles led 7-1 after three innings, only to squander that lead and then some, requiring a Mark Trumbo homer in the ninth to force extras. Seven total dingers in this game. J.D. Martinez drove in five in a losing cause.

Astros 12, Marlins 4: A huge early lead allowed Dallas Keuchel to have a short, 70-pitch night and leave after five, confident that he’d go on to get his 7th win of the year. Jake Marisnick hit two two-run bombs. The Astros have the best record in baseball.

Rangers 5, Phillies 1: Yu Darvish rung up nine strikeouts in seven one-run innings, notching his 50th career win. Maybe I should say he did it in “seven inning, in which he allowed one run overall.” “Seven one-run innings” could mean he allowed one run in each of them. It reminds me of an old SNL sketch in which Ed Asner played the supervisor of a nuclear power plant who told his employees “remember, you can never put too much water in a nuclear reactor.” He leaves and they’re not sure if that means don’t put too much in or, alternatively, that it’s impossible to put too much in. Then it explodes and everyone dies. That was in the Joe Piscopo years, I believe. I realize the Dick Ebersol SNL years don’t get as much pub as the Lorne Michaels ones, but those were the first ones I watched and there was some real quality there that has been lost to history. And not just the Eddie Murphy stuff. Anyway, (a) I’m old; and (b) The Rangers have won seven in a row and, after a horrific start, have pulled to .500.

Cubs 9, Reds 5Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber homered, giving the Cubs the win. It also happened to give Joe Maddon his 1,000th career win as a manager. He celebrated by drinking wine during the press conference:

Somewhere Darren Rovell is tweeting about how much that cost the Gatorade people in forgone postgame drink visibility rights or some nonsense.

Rockies 7, Twins 3Charlie Blackmon hit a two-run homer, drove in three and had three hits on the night. The Rockies early season success is notable enough, but it’s even more notable that they’re 12-5 on the road. Somewhere Darren Rovell is tweeting about how much damage the Rockies are doing to their brand, which was forged in part on road game futility. The AP gamer contains the sentence “Phil Hughes had another disappointing outing.” At least someone is keeping on-brand.

Red Sox 6, Cardinals 3: The second of two former World Series matchups on the night (first person to name the other one in the comments wins a free HBT subscription for life). Here Mookie Betts homered and drove in two, Jackie Bradley Jr. went deep too. Eduardo Rodriguez allowed three runs and five hits. It was only the Cardinals second loss in ten games.

Yankees 7, Royals 1: CC Sabathia tossed shutout ball into the seventh. Gary Sanchez hit a three-run homer and Chris Carter hit a two-run shot. Sabathia is 13-5 in 21 career starts at Kauffman, which ties him for the most career wins there by a visiting pitcher. “I love pitching here,” Sabathia said. “It’s my favorite park.” I’m too lazy to look at which visitor has the most wins at the K. Gonna guess Verlander — has to be someone from the unbalanced schedule era, right? — but I have no idea.

UPDATE:

Diamondbacks 5, Mets 4: Nothing is going right for the Mets lately. They botched a rundown and let Paul Goldschmidt steal home in the process, so that was fun. Yasmany Tomas hit a homer in his fifth straight game against the Mets. Zack Greinke allowed four runs on five hits while striking out eight in six and two-thirds. Not great, but good enough against a team that has taken shooting itself in the foot to new heights. Or depths.

Angels 7, White Sox 6: The Angels had a three-run lead in the ninth but couldn’t hold it. Then the Chisox took a 6-5 lead in the 11th, but couldn’t hold it. Cameron Maybin had five hits on the night, his final one a game-tying double. Then Albert Pujols singled home the winning run for the walkoff win. It was the Angels’ seventh walkoff win this year.

Athletics 9, Mariners 6: “Jesus, everything ends badly, otherwise it wouldn’t end.” Unless you’re the A’s, as this one ended well in their view. They were down one heading into the ninth only to put up five runs thanks to a two-run homer from Matt Joyce and a three-run shot from Mark Canha. The former came off of Steve Cishek, the latter off of Marc Rzepczynski. This a day after their usual closer, Edwin Diaz, walked the whole dang ballpark. I’m no expert, but I think it’s possible the M’s have some bullpen issues.

Brewers 6, Padres 2: Five first inning runs for the Brewers held up. Milwaukee leads all of baseball in bombs, but all of those runs, plus their sixth run later, came without the aid of a home run. Chicks loved this one, I bet. At least the ones who showed up at Petco last night, which wasn’t many.

Giants 2, Dodgers 1: Rich Hill came back and allowed one run over five, but Ty Blach allowed only one run over seven for the Giants and his bullpen was better. Not that the Dodgers’ pen was bad or anything, but Brandon Crawford did single home a run in the sixth for the winning margin. Brandon Belt homered for the fourth time in six games. The Giants have won five of six.

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.