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And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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There were only four games last night and only three of those were scheduled (Angels vs. Cubs was a makeup game). The reason: Major League Baseball keeps trying to make fetch happen with the amateur draft as a TV event and doesn’t want too many games opposite it to draw attention away.

Which is an OK impulse, I suppose. Kudos to MLB for making an effort along those lines. I just don’t think the baseball draft is ever gonna be a fraction of the big deal that the NFL or NBA drafts are no matter what the league does.

People know the top amateur football and basketball players thanks to big time college sports putting them in our living rooms for at least a year and maybe four years before draft day. Even if they don’t know those guys, though, fans have a big incentive to tune in to meet them because an early round NFL or NBA draftee is going to be playing a huge role on their favorite team in a matter of months. The fruits of those drafts are ripe when picked. In baseball, meanwhile, even the best players are unknown to everyone who doesn’t actively seek out amateur coverage at places like Baseball America. What’s more, the majority of guys picked will never make the big leagues and those who do likely won’t be there for several years. That makes for less-than-appointment viewing.

So, again: credit is due Major League Baseball for trying to promote the draft and the young players who might one day be stars. I just don’t think that, as a TV event, it’ll ever bear the kind of fruit they’re hoping it will and I don’t think it’s worth almost going dark on the regular schedule to do it. Just my two cents.

Anyway: here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Cubs 8, Angels 1: Jon Lester has had a tough run of it of late but he was on his game yesterday, allowing one run in seven innings. He got a five-run sixth inning in support, fueled in part by Javier Báez, who had three RBI on the day. He also got some defensive help from newest Cub Carlos González. Check out this diving grab:

Maybe the Angels were just tired. To play this makeup game they had to fly from Seattle after Sunday’s game and knew that they had a flight back to L.A. to take on the A’s this evening.

Dodgers 3, Diamondbacks 1: Walker Buehler was dominant, striking out 11 in eight innings of two-hit, one-run ball. A Corey Seager three-run homer was all the offense the Dodgers got but it was enough. The Dodgers won their sixth straight and they’re on a 111-win pace.

Padres 8, Phillies 2: I saw this billed as a matchup between Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Which, fine, I get it, but that’s rather silly. Quick, off the top of your head, can you name the top two free agents from any past offseason, let alone how they fared when their teams subsequently met? Do you remember where you were when David Price and Jason Heyward‘s teams met in 2016. Oh, wait, they didn’t meet. How about Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton in 2013? They actually met! Hamilton went 1-for-5 and Greinke gave up six runs in four innings and didn’t figure in the decision. Not that anyone cares. Again: a matchup of big former free agents is not a thing. It’s even less of a thing than the draft is as a TV event. Especially where, as here, the guys aren’t even in the same division.

Still, it happened, and if you are someone who cares about it, know that Manny Machado got the best of Bryce Harper, hitting a big ol’ grand slam in the sixth inning to make a 4-1 game into an 8-1 game. The Padres scored seven runs in all in that sixth inning. To add injury to insult, the Phillies lost Andrew McCutchen to a sprained left knee. He’ll have an MRI today.

Astros 4, Mariners 2: Houston jumped out with a three-run first inning thanks to a Josh Reddick RBI triple and a Robinson Chirinos homer. That all came off of Cory Gearrin, who had pitched in 296 games in his career before last night, never once as a starter. After that they followed with Wade LeBlanc who has started more in his career than he’s relieved and has only started this season. LeBlanc allowed one run over eight innings. I offer all of that because we tend to focus on the whole opener/bullpenning thing when it works and don’t point out when it doesn’t work all that often. Well, last night it didn’t work.

Which inspires a question: for years, whenever a manager has decided to do something unorthodox with his closer, be it bring him in in tight spots in the eighth, tie games on the road, in non-save situations or, say, go with a closer-by-committee, a certain brand of commentator talks about how bad that is. About how pitchers need to know their roles and how the ninth inning is sacred and special and altogether different and, by extension, so too are closers. I’ve done a pretty good job of cutting my exposure to such commentators out of my life, so I don’t hear them much anymore. For those of you who haven’t done that, how do they square the opener thing with the sacred role of the closer? Or do they just let that bit of dissonance linger like an unresolved figure at the end of a jazz movement?

Inquiring minds want to know!

Astros owner Crane expects to hire new manager by Feb. 3

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HOUSTON (AP) — Houston Astros owner Jim Crane expects to hire a new manager by Feb. 3.

The Astros need a new manager and general manager after AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow were fired Monday, hours after both were suspended by Major League Baseball for a year for the team’s sign-stealing scandal.

Crane said Friday that he’s interviewed a number of candidates this week and has some more to talk to in the coming days.

Crane refused to answer directly when asked if former Astros player and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio was a possibility for the job. But he did say that he had spoken to Biggio, fellow Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell and former Astros star Lance Berkman in the days since the firings.

“We’ve talked to all of our Killer B’s,” Crane said referring to the nickname the three shared while playing for the Astros. “They’ve contacted me and they’ve all expressed that they would like to help. Berkman, Bagwell, Biggio have all called and said: ‘hey, if there’s anything I can do, I’m here for you.’”

“So we’ll continue to visit with those guys and see if there’s something there.”

Crane says his list is still rather extensive and that he hopes to have it narrowed down by the end of next week. He added that he expects most of Hinch’s staff to stay in place regardless of who is hired.

Crane has enlisted the help of three or four employees to help him with the interview process, including some in Houston’s baseball operations department.

“We compare notes,” he said. “I’ve learned a long time ago that you learn a lot if four or five people talk to a key candidate and you get a lot more information. So that’s what we’re doing.”

Crane’ top priority is finding a manager with spring training less than a month away, but he said he would start focusing on the search for a general manager after he hires a manager. He expects to hire a GM before the end of spring training.

“We should have another good season with the team pretty much intact … so I don’t know why a manager wouldn’t want to come in and manage these guys,” he said. “They’re set to win again.”

The penalties announced by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday came after he found illicit use of electronics to steal signs in Houston’s run to the 2017 World Series championship and again in the 2018 season. The Astros were also fined $5 million, which is the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, and must forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.

The investigation found that the Astros used the video feed from a center field camera to see and decode the opposing catcher’s signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming, believing it would improve the batter’s odds of getting a hit.

With much still in flux, Crane was asked what qualities are most important to him in his next manager.

“Someone mature that can handle the group,” he said. “Someone that’s had a little bit of experience in some areas. We’ve just got to find a leader that can handle some pressure and there’s going to be a little bit of pressure from where this team has been in the last few months.”

Despite his comment about experience, Crane said having been a major league manager before is not mandatory to him.

“We made some mistakes,” he said. “We made a decision to let that get behind us. We think the future is bright. We’ll make the adjustments … people think we’re in crisis. I certainly don’t believe that.”