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And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Pirates 14, Cubs 3: The Pirates scored ten runs off of Jon Lester in the first inning. Only four were earned but that’s just by virtue of one error that itself didn’t cause a run to score. They hit Lester hard — six hits, two of which were homers and one of which was a double — and walked three times. People keep wondering why the Cubs are struggling this year. There are a lot of reasons for it, including a lot of their hitters falling back from last year. But I think we all overlooked how unlikely it was to expect some of their veteran starters to repeat the years they had in 2016.

Dodgers 5, Royals 2: Clayton Kershaw, man. Complete game, two runs, 13 strikeouts no walks. Justin Turner hit two homers. The Dodgers enter the break with 60 61 wins and a 7.5 game lead in the West — their biggest of the season — and a +163 run differential. Most teams love the All-Star break. The Dodgers have to wonder if they can somehow just keep playing. And it may get even worse for the NL foes. For now the Dodgers have . . . The Rally Granny:

They should have a bobblehead night for her soon. Or at least a bobblesomething night.

Brewers 5, Yankees 3Travis Shaw hit a three-run homer in the first inning and Stephen Vogt hit a solo homer in the second. From the AP Gamer:

The Milwaukee Brewers have scored 81 runs in the first inning this season, more than any team in baseball. That’s not exactly a fluke. In fact, it’s by design . . . “A lot of starters settle in after the first inning and we’ve kind of taken that same approach with every pitcher,” Shaw said. “Try to jump on them early and grab the momentum and then work on it after that. We’ve been a really good first-inning team.”

Shaw shouldn’t say that out loud. If other teams hear him they may try to steal the Brewers’ “score a lot of runs early” strategy. Because before now no one has thought to try to do that.

Astros 19, Blue Jays 1:

Carlos Correa homered twice and drove in five. Jose Altuve got three hits for the fifth straight game. The Astros become the fifth team to notch 60 wins by the All-Star break, joining the 1998 Yankees, 2001 Mariners, 2003 Braves and this year’s Dodgers.

Rays 5, Red Sox 3Brad Miller hit a tiebreaking, two-run homer in the eighth as the Rays take three of four from the Red Sox. The Rays are four over .500 and only three and a half back of the Sox.

Nationals 10, Braves 5: Nats starter Joe Ross left after just three and a third due to some triceps soreness but the Nats’ pen picked him up. Matt Wieters drove in three and Anthony Rendon drove in two and reached base five times. Freddie Freeman went 2-for-4 with three driven in in a losing cause. He’s 10-for-26 with two homers, three doubles and eight RBI in six games since coming off of a two-month DL stint. Dude is a machine.

Phillies 7, Padres 1: Six homers for the Phillies, two from Freddy Galvis. Nick Williams, Cameron RuppOdubel Herrera and Aaron Altherr went deep as well. Jerad Eickhoff struck out eight in five innings. Philly snapped a five-game losing streak.

Orioles 11, Twins 5: Adam Jones hit two homers and drove in five. Ruben Tejada and Seth Smith each had three hits. The win aside, the O’s could use the All-Star break.

Cardinals 6, Mets 0: Lance Lynn tossed seven shutout innings, allowing three hits and Trevor Rosenthal and John Brebbia .  finished off the shutout. Tommy Pham, Paul DeJong and Luke Voit all went deep.

Angels 3, Rangers 0: JC Ramirez tossed six shutout innings and three relievers finished it off. That made the Angels one reliever less-efficient than the Cardinals I guess. Albert Pujols homered, Andrelton Simmons doubled in a run and Juan Graterol hit a sac fly. Ramirez after the game, when asked about what he plans to do during the All-Star break:

“I’m going to Vegas for a couple of days. I need my mind to get away from baseball.”

I’d read the hell out of a story about what non-All Stars do during the break. They’d have to be honest, though.

Rockies 10, White Sox 0Kyle Freeland flirted with a no-no, losing it with one out in the ninth. He struck out nine and walked only three. Shortstop Pat Valaika had his back with five driven in thanks in part to a three-run homer.

Mariners 4, Athletics 0: Yet another shutout. Here Felix Hernandez looked King-like again, allowing only two hits over six innings and striking out eight in his best start of the season. Nelson Cruz hit a two-run shot. He leads the AL in RBI with 70, tied for the MLB lead with Nolan Arenado and Macell Ozuna.

Reds 2, Diamondbacks 1: Homer Bailey was shelled in his first two games back from the DL, allowing fourteen runs in four and two-thirds. In his last two: two runs in twelve and two-thirds. Here he allowed one and worked around four walks and seven hits. Joey Votto singled in a run, Scott Schebler doubled in one. The Dbacks enter the break having lost five of six.

Marlins 10, Giants 8: Giancarlo Stanton is ready for the Home Run Derby. He homered twice here, but it was A.J. Ellis‘ tie-breaking two-run home run in the 11th which loomed the largest for Miami. Not that Stanton was chopped liver: he scored four times and walked twice. He was also hit by a pitch. They needed it all as Miami blew a 7-3 lead in the seventh before winning in extras.

Tigers 5, Indians 3: First time I’ve watched Sunday Night Baseball in a few weeks. David Ross was in the booth which gave him and the other two guys an excuse to talk more about David Ross than the Indians and Tigers playing in front of them. Which is quite a trick given that the game lasted almost four dang hours. Corey Kluber was alright but inefficient, so he was out after five and the bullpen didn’t have his back. Michael Fulmer was more effective, allowing two earned runs over six innings. But again, that just distracted from us all thinking about David Ross’ career, the 2016 World Series, Dancing with the Stars and all of that. What a time to be alive.

Two injured MVPs is a major bummer for baseball

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Last week Christian Yelich‘s season ended with a fractured kneecap. At the time he went down he was neck-and-neck with Cody Bellinger — I think a tad behind, though people may reasonably differ — and, at least by my reckoning, a hair or three above Anthony Rendon, Ketel Marte and Pete Alonso in the race for the NL MVP Award. As I wrote last week, I think that means Bellinger is going to walk away with the hardware when the winner is announced in November. Yelich’s injury will prevent him from making a late season surge to surpass Bellinger, but I think it would’ve taken a surge for him to do it.

Over the weekend we learned that Mike Trout’s season is over as well. He’ll be having foot surgery to deal with a nerve issue causing him pain. At the time he went down he was the clear frontrunner to win his third MVP Award. Unlike Yelich, I’m pretty sure Trout will still win the trophy. Sure, Trout hasn’t played since September 7, meaning that he’ll miss more time than Yelich will, but strained articles stumping for alternative candidates notwithstanding, his lead in the MVP race was more secure.

Trout’s 2019 ends with him setting a career high in homers with 45 and slugging percentage at .645—both of which lead the American League. He likewise leads the league in on-base percentage (.438), OPS (1.083), and in both Baseball-Reference.com’s and FanGraphs’ versions of WAR at 8.3 and 8.6, respectively. With just under two weeks to go it seems likely that Jorge Soler of the Royals will pass Trout for the home run lead, but he’s not an MVP candidate himself. Alex Bregman will likely pass him in walks. Trout seems pretty certain to finish with his lead in all or most of the other categories intact. That’s an MVP resume even if he’ll only have played in 134 games. To give the award to anyone else would be an exercise in narrative over reason. Something born of a desire to reward a guy — like, say, Bregman — for playing on a winning team as opposed to his individual accomplishments. Sure, voters are allowed to do that, but they’ve mostly eschewed such tendencies in recent years. It’d be a surprise if they backslid.

Even if Yelich’s and Trout’s injuries aren’t likely to radically change the MVP race — again, I think the NL’s was Bellinger’s to lose — they’re both still lamentable separate and apart from the fact that all injuries stink. Lamentable in a way that, unfortunately, creates a downer for baseball as it gets ready for the postseason.

The Brewers won the game in which Yelich went down and have won four of five since then. In so doing they have remained close in the race for the second Wild Card and currently stand one game back. They also have an insanely favorable schedule the rest of the way, exclusively facing the weak sisters of the National League in the Padres, Pirates, Reds and Rockies. Even so, it’s no gimmie — those Reds and Rockies games are on the road, and Great American Ballpark and Coors Field makes those bad teams better — and the reward at the end of this is likely to be a one-game play-in. You want your best player in any and all situations and the Brewers don’t have theirs. And won’t, even if they make the postseason and even if they win the Wild Card game. Having one of the game’s brightest stars on crutches for the playoffs is not something anyone at the league office wants.

The Angels have no such postseason concerns and haven’t had them for most of the season. Once again they’re terrible. As they have been for almost the entirety of Trout’s career. They’ve made the postseason only once in his career — back in 2014, losing the LDS in three games — and do not appear poised to put a winner on the field any time soon. Trout is still in his prime, obviously, but like all players he’ll either slow down or break down eventually. Given the state of the club, I’m not sure I’d put a ton of money on them being good, let alone consistently good, while Trout is still the best or even one of the few best players in baseball. The upside to me seems to be an Al Kaline situation with the Tigers, in which the team finally put it together behind him only after he began to age and miss time to injuries. Having the best player in baseball outside of the playoffs looking in is not something anyone at the league office should want either.

Yet here we are.

Injuries happen. Every contender is missing at least one and in some cases several important players. But for one MVP candidate to miss the postseason this year and another one to miss the postseason every year is a major bummer for a league that has a tough go of it marketing itself even under the best of circumstances.