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And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Rockies 3, Braves 1: This was a makeup game. For the Braves it meant they had to fly from New York for one game in Colorado and then back east to Toronto. Which, well, tough, it happens, but you wonder how mentally prepared everyone is when it does. The starting pitchers were certainly ready to go, as Julio Teherán and Tim Melville traded zeros for six and five innings, respectively. Then the teams traded sac flies before the Rockies’ Ryan McMahon hit a two-run homer in the ninth to put an end to the Braves eight-game winning streak:

Cardinals 12, Brewers 2: This was a shellacking. St. Louis smacked Gio Gonzalez around for eight runs in the first two frames, with a six-run second inning — highlighted by Marcell Ozuna‘s bases-loaded double — burying the Brew Crew. Yadier Molina and Paul DeJong each homered and drove in three. The Cardinals have won five in a row and find themselves up two and a half over the Cubs in the Central and a full five games over the Brewers.

This is now off by one game as it was tweeted before the Brewers lost this one, but really, kinda puts things in perspective about this Milwaukee team, eh? Saved by a quick start and everyone else sort of treading water most of the summer, but now all that treading has them sinking, relatively speaking:

Phillies 6, Pirates 5: The Battle of Pennsylvania. The loser gets the Turnpike. I dunno. I just hate the Pennsylvania Turnpike. If you’re ever going east just hang a right onto I-79 in Washington, Pennsylvania to Morgantown, West Virginia and then bop east on I-68 to Hancock, Maryland where you can either jog back up to Breezewood and points northeast or continue on to Baltimore/DC on I-70. It’s a gorgeous stretch of road with hills and nicely-banked curves through the mountains and very, very little truck traffic. Tell ’em your uncle Craigy sent ya.

Anyway, the Pirates and Phillies traded late homers, with Corey Dickerson hitting a two-run shot in the eighth to give Philly a one-run lead, Josh Bell hit a solo homer in the ninth to tie things at five and force extras, and then Sean Rodriguez hit a walkoff solo shot for Philly in the bottom of the tenth to win it:

Dickerson and Rodriguez used to play for the Pirates. Dickerson a few weeks ago, Rodriguez last year and a couple of years ago. This is important. This means something.

Reds 6, Marlins 3: Sonny Gray wins his tenth game after allowing two runs over six. Freddy Galvis backed him with a three-run homer on his four-RBI night while Eugenio Suárez and Phillip Ervin each hit dingers as well. Gray struggled a bit, walking five, but he settled down after an early rough start. How?

After a difficult first three innings, Gray went to the clubhouse and switched into a new uniform.

“I changed everything, it was weird,” Gray said. “You do some weird things every now and then. After the third I just tried to resettle and start over. Who cares what happens. Start this day over. I was in the clubhouse — didn’t have any clothes on. From the fourth inning on, I tried to go as long as I could.”

Maybe he should’ve tried pitching without any clothes on? Attendance for this one was like 5,500, so it’s not like there were many people in the ballpark to offend and/or excite. Pitch naked. It’s the only way to be, man.

Athletics 19, Royals 4: Someone ought to do a movie about Homer Bailey. Sort of a “Forrest Gump” thing in which he just sort of stumbles into the serendipity of $105 million contracts and getting traded to contenders and getting 19 runs of support and double-digit win totals long after he, objectively, ceased being a particular good pitcher. I truly mean no offense to Bailey with that. But the dude has had exactly two seasons — 2012 and 2013 — in which he either pitched in 30 games or more and/or was an above-average starter yet he’s in his 13th season, is richer than Croesus, and stands a decent shot at pitching in the playoffs this year. Jacob deGrom goes half a season not getting this kind of run support and he’ll be catching up on DVR stuff in October, most likely. The world is weird sometimes.

Anyway, Bailey allowed three over six against his former team while his hitters went hog wild. Marcus Semien homered, tripled and drove in a career-high seven. Jurickson ProfarMatt Chapman and Khris Davis all homered.  Josh Phegley had a career-high four hits, drove in three runs and scored three times. Three other dudes had three hits as the A’s put up the most runs they’ve scored all year. Oakland is tied with Tampa Bay for the second Wild Card.

Diamondbacks 6, Giants 4: It was 3-2 after six, but Eduardo Escobar — who had earlier scored on a wild pitch — knocked in two with a single in the seventh and Adam Jones hit a pinch-hit homer in the eighth. The Giants scored a couple in the ninth, but the Snakes held on. They also got a couple of great defensive plays from Jarrod Dyson, both in the sixth inning:

Yankees 5, Mariners 4: Mike Ford hit two homers and Gleyber Torres went deep as well to power the Bombers. Ford is hitting .353 with five homers in his last 12 games and would’ve have a place on this team if not for a ton of injuries. He was once a Rule 5 pick for the Mariners but they couldn’t find room for him on their roster. Funny how that works.

Padres 4, Dodgers 3: The Dodgers led 3-1 after the top of the sixth but the Padres rallied for three in the bottom half on an RBI single/run-scoring throwing error by A.J. Pollock and an RBI groundout by Manny Machado. Los Angeles is in a rare slump, dropping their third in four games.

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.