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And That Happened: Saturday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the rest of Saturday’s scores and highlights:

White Sox 5, Blue Jays 2: The White Sox extended their winning streak to three games on Saturday, bolstered by six solid innings from Mike Pelfrey and three home runs from Todd Frazier, Matt Davidson and Jose Abreu. Frazier tacked on an insurance run in the eighth inning, capitalizing on a fielding error by Josh Donaldson to put the Sox up 4-2, while Yolmer Sanchez delivered a sac bunt for the fifth and final run of the game.

Indians 9, Twins 3 (Game 1): The Twins relinquished first place to the Indians, tying their division rivals at the top of the AL Central standings after their first loss of Saturday’s doubleheader. Jose Ramirez and Bradley Zimmer combined for eight of the Indians’ nine RBI, a performance that was highlighted by Ramirez’s first-inning home run off of Adam Wilk and Zimmer’s line drive double in the third.

Indians 6, Twins 2 (Game 2): After a short break between games, during which the Twins kept busy by signing first-round draft pick Royce Lewis, the Indians cemented their first-place status with another win. Mike Clevinger went 4 1/3 innings before the teams entered a one-hour rain delay, distributing two hits and a run and striking out four of 15 batters. At the plate, the Twins struck first on a Joe Mauer double in the third inning, but the Indians responded in full force, lashing four home runs to gain a four-run advantage.

Rockies 5, Giants 1: Sometimes, it’s not the quality of hits that matters, but the quantity. The Rockies racked up 13 singles and one double during their five-run rout of the Giants, forcing opposing starter Matt Cain to exit after just five frames, nine hits and two runs. Kyle Freeland, meanwhile, went a full six innings for his eighth win of the year, and survived a scary moment when he took a line drive off of his left forearm in the third inning:

Diamondbacks 5, Phillies 1: Jerad Eickhoff was having a pretty good night, all things considered. He outlasted the Diamondbacks’ Zack Godley, tossing six frames on five hits and one run, and appeared to be in line for his first win of the season. That all changed in the seventh inning, when the D-backs pounced on relievers Edubray Ramirez and Casey Fien for a four-run lead that proved insurmountable. With the loss, the Phillies are now just 1-10 in their last 11 games.

Athletics 5, Yankees 2: Ryon Healy may not be drawing the same kind of attention lavished on sluggers like Aaron Judge or Eric Thames, but he’s creeping up on their home run totals after completing his third multi-homer game of the month. He went 3-for-4 on Saturday, connecting twice for his 16th and 17th blasts of the season.

His first home run came courtesy of a 1-2 cutter from Masahiro Tanaka, knotting the score 2-2 in the second inning:

His second, a 3-2 solo shot in the fourth, propelled the A’s past the Yankees with a one-run lead:

Orioles 15, Cardinals 7: Adam Wainwright didn’t stand a chance against the Orioles. The Cardinals’ right-hander issued back-to-back runs to Adam Jones and Mark Trumbo in the first inning, which looked like child’s play compared to the seven-run spread that awaited him in the second inning. Baltimore lost little time establishing a lead, collecting five hits, two walks and seven runs off of Wainwright before he was forced off the mound. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the bullpen fared little better in Wainwright’s absence, handing over another four runs before the game’s 15-7 conclusion.

Dodgers 10, Reds 2: The Reds are 5-13 against NL West opponents this season, thanks in no small part to their current eight-game losing streak against the Dodgers and Rockies. Saturday’s game was the worst of the eight losses, led by a five-run third inning and a rare two-homer effort from Yasiel Puig. With the win, the Dodgers maintained their second-place status in the division, just on the heels of the 45-26 Rockies.

Braves 8, Marlins 7 (10 innings): The Freeze rebounded for another win on Saturday night, an omen of good luck as the Braves stormed back from a 7-5 deficit to clinch their 30th win of the season in extras. More exciting than Matt Adams‘ four-RBI night, Nick Markakisgame-tying double and Brandon Phillipswalk-off base hit in the 10th? This postgame interview with the Marlins’ Dee Gordon, who discussed a potential race against the Braves’ racing phenom… even one without the standard 200-foot head start.

Padres 7, Brewers 5 (11 innings): The Padres prevailed in extras for their 28th win of the season, capping an impressive start by rookie right-hander Dinelson Lamet. Lamet fired 12 strikeouts over six innings, allowing four hits and three runs — one of which was an inside-the-park home run by Brewers’ shortstop Orlando Arcia.

According to MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy, Lamet pitched his way into the history books, becoming just the 22nd rookie hurler to set down 12+ strikeouts within his first five career games in the majors.

Rays 3, Tigers 2: A pitcher’s duel can have only one victor, as the Tigers’ Michael Fulmer discovered the hard way on Saturday. He went toe-to-toe against the Rays’ Chris Archer for four scoreless frames, but lost some of his edge in the fifth inning, surrendering an RBI base hit to Daniel Robertson and allowing another two runs in the seventh on Robertson’s second RBI single and a go-ahead base hit from Mallex Smith.

Nationals 7, Mets 4: After going 1-5 in their last two series, the Nationals are back on top with a three-game win streak against the Mets. Another three-home run effort solidified their lead on Saturday, powered by blasts from Trea Turner, Jose Lobaton and Adam Lind and a five-strikeout performance from Stephen Strasburg.

Rangers 10, Mariners 4: The Rangers may still be a distant second to the 46-23 Astros, but you wouldn’t know it by their dominant run this past week. They’re 7-1 against the Nationals, Astros and Mariners, putting up consecutive 10-4 wins in Seattle to stay one step ahead of the third-place Angels. On Saturday, they got things started with a five-run first inning, highlighted by Mike Napoli‘s two-out homer off of Yovani Gallardo:

The Mariners made a good-faith effort to catch up with an RBI double from Taylor Motter and Mike Zunino’s seventh home run of the year, but it wasn’t enough to overtake their rivals, who returned in the sixth with another five-run spread on three homers from Napoli, Rougned Odor and Shin-Soo Choo.

Astros 7, Red Sox 1: The Astros coasted to a much-needed win on Saturday, banking on six solid innings from rookie right-hander David Paulino. Paulino fanned four of 21 batters, holding the Red Sox to just three hits and one run to clinch his first big league win. Helping matters was the seven runs of support he received from a blistering offensive drive, featuring the Astros’ three-run first inning, home runs from Jose Altuve and Carlos Beltran and a run-scoring double play by Norichika Aoki.

Altuve’s blast crowned the Astros’ impressive run, measuring an estimated 428 feet and ricocheting off the train in left field:

Pirates 4, Cubs 3: The Cubs took a tough loss to their division rival on Saturday night, one that Jake Arrieta later pinned on the high humidity at PNC Park. The heat caused Chicago’s ace to sweat profusely, making the ball too slippery to find consistency within the strike zone. He exited in the fifth inning after loading the bases on a hit by pitch, and issued two wild pitches during his abbreviated start.

It wasn’t all bad news for Arrieta and the Cubs, however. The right-hander struck out the side in the second, registering seven strikeouts before making an early exit. At the plate, he logged his second home run of the year off of opposing starter Ivan Nova, skying it 380 feet into the left field bleachers to put the Cubs on the board in the fifth:

Angels 9, Royals 0: Don’t look now, but Cameron Maybin has a pretty nifty streak going. The Angels’ outfielder has reached base safely in 22 consecutive games, bringing his season batting line to a comfortable .267/.375/.408 through 224 PA. He kicked things off on Saturday with a first-pitch home run off of Jake Junis in the first inning:

Maybin wasn’t the only Angel to earn recognition for his prowess at the plate. Albert Pujols went 3-for-4 against the Royals and smashed a two-run homer in the fifth inning, earning his 1,865th career RBI — good for tenth-most among all past and present major league hitters.

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.