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And That Happened: Friday’s Scores and Highlights

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Yesterday was a weird day for baseball. Eight teams had the day off immediately following their season openers on Thursday, and those who did take the field ended up getting into some shenanigans — from Mike Trout‘s first home run of the year to the Marlins’ 17-inning marathon, Johnny Cueto‘s near-perfect game and Scott Kingery‘s first MLB hit.

These are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Pirates 13, Tigers 10 (13 innings): Nicholas Castellanos nearly capped the Tigers’ first win of the season on Friday, narrowly evading the tag at the plate from Pirates backstop Francisco Cervelli as he scored the go-ahead run in the 10th. After the Tigers finished celebrating on the field, they were called back during what they thought was a “courtesy review”:

Instead of sealing their victory, the tag was retroactively confirmed and the game plodded on for another three innings before Gregory Polanco bit down on a 3-0 fastball for the game-winning shot in the 13th. Even more alarming: Home plate umpire Mike Everitt got dinged in the face mask by a George Kontos pitch in the eighth inning and was removed from the game with a concussion.

Nationals 2, Reds 0: It probably makes more sense to wait until the end of the year to determine the Cy Young Award winners, but if the season were to end after just two days, Max Scherzer would have a compelling case for the title. The Nationals’ ace twirled six scoreless innings of five-hit, 10-strikeout ball during the club’s season opener against the Reds, backed by two productive outs from Ryan Zimmerman and Brian Goodwin. Only two Nationals/Expos starters have done as well in their Opening Day starts: Stephen Strasberg, who whiffed 10 batters en route to a no-decision in 2014, and four-time All-Star, ERA leader and Cy Young runner-up Steve Rogers, who pitched a complete three-hitter to rout the Phillies in 1982.

Yankees 4, Blue Jays 2: Aroldis Chapman made things interesting for the Yankees in the ninth inning — though, thankfully, not in the same way he livened up a spring training game last Wednesday. He fanned Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak on six straight pitches, then gave up back-to-back doubles to Steve Pearce and Yangervis Solarte to bring the tying run to the plate. Luckily for the Yankees, Chapman still had some gas left in the tank… enough to catch Randal Grichuk looking with a 100-m.p.h. fastball.

Red Sox 1, Rays 0: The Red Sox recovered from their ugly loss on Thursday and looked every bit the potential postseason contender on Friday as David Price blanked them over seven sharp innings of four-hit, five-strikeout ball. Blake Snell held his ground for 5 2/3 scoreless innings as well, but it only took one Rafael Devers RBI single to poke a hole in the Rays’ defense and give the Sox an irreversible lead.

Marlins 2, Cubs 1 (17 innings): It’s only the third day of the 2018 season, and already we’ve had six extra-inning games. This one was a doozy — at five hours and 19 minutes, it was still shorter than the Pirates/Tigers five-hour, 27-minute debacle earlier in the day — and its 17 innings tied a major-league record for the longest game in the first two days of any regular season to date. Despite only managing to attract a crowd of 12,034, the Marlins put on a playoff-worthy show: top prospect Lewis Brinson collected four hits, tying J.T. Realmuto‘s rookie record from 2015; Miami starter Caleb Smith (5 1/3 innings) was outpaced by reliever Jarlin Garcia (six innings); a fan made a heroic (or stupid, depending on how you look at it) barehanded catch; and Miguel Rojas recorded his first career walk-off hit.

Phillies 4, Braves 4 (11 innings): While Gabe Kapler shied away from further controversy during his second game of the season, he continued to play fast and loose with the bullpen. A record nine pitchers were used over the course of 11 innings; barring September contests, the Phillies haven’t deployed that many pitchers in a game since 2013 (h/t MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki). This time, it appeared to work in his favor. The bullpen allowed just one run over seven innings, while the offense took care of the rest: Rhys Hoskins and Carlos Santana put up their first homers of the year, highly-touted prospect Scott Kingery collected two laser-beam, 108 m.p.h. base hits and Santana returned with a sac fly in the 11th to secure Kapler’s first win in Philadelphia.

Rangers 5, Astros 1: The Astros’ 2017 season must have ended on Thursday, because they entered Friday looking… a little lost. Dallas Keuchel was knocked around by the Rangers’ left-handed batters in a rare moment (or four) of weakness. Nomar Mazara did the most damage, returning a fastball to center field for the Rangers’ first run of the night — and the team’s first homer of the season.

At least they still have the World Series championship ring ceremony to look forward to this week.

Diamondbacks 9, Rockies 8: The pitching might need some tweaking still, but the Diamondbacks’ offense already looks like it’s in midseason form. At least, Nick Ahmed does. The D-backs’ shortstop clobbered a three-run homer in the first inning and returned for a pair of RBI base hits later in the game. Neither starter could hold their own for long — Tyler Anderson was pulled in the third after issuing seven runs; Robbie Ray hung on through the fifth with seven of his own — and the battle of the bats eventually fell in Arizona’s favor following John Ryan Murphy‘s anticlimactic run-producing groundout in the fifth.

Angels 2, Athletics 1: I’m pretty sure the season doesn’t officially start until Mike Trout hits his first home run of the year, so happy new Opening Day, y’all. Trout ripped a 374-footer off of Sean Manaea in the first inning for his 26th career knock against the Athletics. The bats stayed fairly quiet after that — Tyler Skaggs pitched a clean 6 1/3 innings and Manaea saw just three more baserunners before making his eventual departure in the eighth. Trout returned in the ninth to score the winning run off of Justin Upton‘s one-out, go-ahead RBI single, handing the Angels their first win of the year and making me harbor some serious doubts about my AL wild card picks.

Brewers 8, Padres 6: Ryan Braun entered Friday’s game without a hit and exited it with a three-run, 402-foot blast off of Brad Hand in the ninth. The home run not only put the brakes on his scoreless skid, but also helped extend the Brewers’ winning streak to two games — a meaningless record in the grand scheme of things, but a feat the Brewers haven’t pulled off in a decade.

Giants 1, Dodgers 0: Raise your hand if you pegged Joe Panik to set an MLB record for home runs hit in consecutive 1-0 games. Keep your hand up if you thought Panik could pull that kind of nonsense off during a Clayton Kershaw/Ty Blach matchup on Opening Day, then turn around and decimate a ninth-inning fastball from Kenley Jansen the next night. Don’t put that hand down unless you failed to foresee that Blach’s pristine Opening Day start would be followed by six perfect innings from Johnny Cueto, who finally lost his bid on Chris Taylor‘s leadoff bloop single in the seventh. (Wow, you’re good.)

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.