Getty Images

And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

32 Comments

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Cubs 7, Phillies 5: Jose Quintana left with a 3-0 lead in the sixth, but Aaron Altherr hit a three-run shot to tie things up. In the ninth, the Phillies’ Dylan Cozens hit a two-run homer to put the visitors up by two. The Cubs loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth. It was dicey, but there were two outs and Gabe Kapler had a lefty, Adam Morgan, facing a lefty who has trouble with lefties in Jason Heyward. The odds favored Morgan, as Heyward had not had an extra base hit against a lefty all year and often looks lost against them. Never tell Jason Heyward the odds:

Walkoff grand slam. That’ll do.

Yankees 3, Blue Jays 0: Nothing but goose eggs for 12 innings as Sonny Gray tossed eight shutout frames, Sam Gaviglio tossed seven and the bullpens kept up the work for five more innings a piece. The problem was that the Jays pen had to pitch six innings of relief, and that sixth one went sideways, when Aaron Judge hit a two-run homer and Giancarlo Stanton followed it up with a solo shot. Judge, you’ll recall, struck out eight times on Monday and was given a blow on the bench for Tuesday’s game against the Jays. The rest did him well. You can’t keep those bats down for long, I suppose.

Nationals 11, Rays 2: Over before it began as the Nats scored 5 runs in the first innings off of he Rays reliev–, er, I mean “starter,” Jonny Venters. Venters, who had never started a game following 244 relief appearances and three Tommy John surgeries, began things because the Rays did that thing where they begin with a reliever as their “opener” for the eighth time in 17 games. I’m sure it makes everyone feel clever, but it hasn’t been working very well so far. Tampa Bay is 3-5 in those games and has lost six overall. Anthony Rendon had four hits and drove in three runs, Michael Taylor had three hits and three RBI. Trea Turner and Juan Soto had two hits each and even starter Tanner Roark drove in a couple. In other news, Taylor stole third base with a 9-2 lead while Sergio Romo was pitching, the throw to get him went wild and Taylor scored. You’ll be shocked to hear Romo didn’t like it:

“I’m just pretty sure no one is stealing with Scherzer on the mound with a seven-run difference, no matter what the inning . . . I understand it. It’s foot on the gas pedal. I get it . . . There’s just things that were here before you and will be here after you that definitely don’t need to be said or written about . . . I’ve got no quarrels. I just didn’t like that he took off.”

Counterpoint: Scherzer wouldn’t be down by seven runs or let a guy reach third base because he’s Scherzer.

Indians 3, Brewers 1: The Indians Chased Chase Anderson with a three-run fifth inning and Carlos Carrasco allowed one run over seven while striking out ten. Brewers manager Craig Counsell got ejected for complaining about a strike call. In describing it he noted that he did not use profanity and that there had not been any previous barking back and forth with the umps. “Nothing was brewing all day,” he said, in a phrase that, if you think about it, could’ve been the whole recap here.

Orioles 1, Mets 0: Dylan Bundy tossed seven shutout innings and two relievers helped finish the shutout of the listless Mets. In other news, I watched the Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate, the Norfolk Tides, take on the Columbus Clippers last night. It was beautiful out so I had fun, but there were three disconcerting things about the evening:

  1. Mike Yastrzemski is the Tides’ left fielder. He is the grandson of Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski, who I saw play in person once or twice in the early 80s. I realize Yaz was, like, 132 years-old at the time, but it’s still rather sobering to realize that I was watching the GRANDSON of someone I had seen play baseball himself;
  2. Seeing Orioles minor leaguers was kind of sad. The Tides are a winning team this year and they looked like they were having fun, but every once in a while you detected their underlying feelings of horror that, one day soon, they might have to go be Baltimore Orioles. The pitchers, particularly, seemed to be filled with this dread; and
  3. The game was tied at two after regulation and, per the new rules, extra innings started with a runner on second base. The Clippers won on a Francisco Mejia RBI single in the 10th, but it was, of course, preceded by a bunt and an intentional walk, which about 95% of these situations are likely going to do because it’s a dumb setup which dictates boring strategy, all in the name of pace of play, which was not really affected by this at all.

All that aside, it was a nice night out at the old ball game.

Padres 3, Braves 1: A bullpen game — by necessity, not by some bold new strategic plan — worked out well for the Padres, as Johnny Wholestaff allowed a Freddie Freeman homer in the first but nothing the rest of the way. Cory Spangenberg, who himself pitched in relief the night before, tripled in a run and would then come in to score three batters later. The Padres take two of three from the first place Braves who, as a result of this one and the Nats’ win, became the tied-for-first-place Braves.

Giants 5, Diamondbacks 4: The Dbacks led 4-2 in the bottom of the ninth when Alen Hanson came in and hit a pinch-hit two-run jack with two outs to force extras. In the tenth came another two-out rally when Andrew McCutchen doubled and then Brandon Crawford singled him home to give the Giants the walkoff win. All of those late heroics spoiled Clay Buchholz‘s pretty nice start for Arizona (6 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 7K). One of those strikeouts came against Pablo Sandoval, which predictably caused a lot of Boston people on Twitter to make jokes because Boston, for all of the culture, history, glory and success which embodies that city and its sports teams, are the most provincial people on the planet.

Pirates 11, Dodgers 9Josh Harrison went 2-for-3 with a three-run double , David Freese and Gregory Polanco drove in two runs each and Corey Dickerson had three hits and scored four times. Matt Kemp homered and drove in five, but the Dodgers four-game winning streak came to an end. Not that it ended easily: the Pirates had four-run leads three times in this game, blew the first one, came close to blowing the second one and were halfway to blowing the third one when the final bell rang. Figuratively speaking, of course, as there are no bells in baseball. Well, except at Columbus Clippers games:

Red Sox 7, Tigers 1: Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts and Christian Vazquez each drove in a pair — Benintendi and Vazquez both dingered and doubled — as the Sox romped. Eduardo Rodriguez pitched into the sixth allowing one and the bullpen put up zeroes for three and a third.

Rockies 6, Reds 3: Ian Desmond hit a two-run homer and Gerardo Parra and Tony Wolters each drove in a pair. That accounted for all six of the Rockies runs. It was the one-year anniversary of Scooter Gennett hitting four homers in a game. He still had a nice night — he drove in a pair of runs with a double and a sac fly — but it was, predictably, a tad less dramatic.

Rangers 8, Athletics 2: Bartolo Colon got his 243rd career win, tying him with Juan Marichal for the most wins for a Dominican-born player. He tossed five innings allowing two runs and did not attack John Roseboro with a bat. He’s two more wins away from the all-time record for a Latin American player. Dennis Martinez holds that mark. In non-Bartolo news, Jurickson Profar homered twice and Joey Gallo and Ronald Guzman each went deep as well.

White Sox 5, Twins 2: Hector Santiago faced his old mates and he wasn’t screwing around, allowing just two runs on six hits in five innings pitched. Actually, he was screwing around because he throws a screwball. Get it. I made a screwball joke. I’m pretty sure I’ve never done that even though Santiago has pitched for eight years. What a terrible oversight on my part.

[Editor whispers to me].

My apologies, but I will never make that joke again.

Astros 7, Mariners 5: Houston was down but a four-run seventh inning put ’em up. Evan Gattis hit a two-run homer and Yuli Gurriel‘s two-run single helped fuel that rally. Nelson CruzDenard Span and Kyle Seager all homered for the Mariners, but the loss snaps a three-game skid for Houston and a five-game win streak for Seattle.

Marlins 11, Cardinals 3Lewis Brinson hit two solo homers and Derek Dietrich had four hits including a homer of his own, driving in three, as the Marlins pound the Cardinals. The top of the order did a lot of damage here, as Starlin Castro, Dietrich and J.T. Realmuto combined for 11 hits, seven runs and four RBI. The Marlins scored three unearned runs, thanks in part to three errors from St. Louis shortstop Yairo Munoz. Munoz has made six errors in his last five games. That’s not what you want.

Angels 4, Royals 3: Shohei Ohtani left early with a blister on his finger but the Angels didn’t fold, as Ian Kinsler hit a two-run homer in the sixth and Justin Upon hit a solo shot an inning later.

World Series Preview: Marquee starting pitching matchups lead the way

Getty Images
2 Comments

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.