20 2014 Oct

What do You Know: A Royals vs. Giants World Series

The World Series begins tomorrow with two teams that I doubt any baseball expert would have predicted. If you expected to see the Royals facing the Giants, you must be psychic. Maybe you think Giants because of the every other year magic they’ve had lately, but a Royal team that hadn’t even been to the playoffs in 29 years! If you think about it, the best teams in baseball lose one third of their games and worst teams in baseball win one third of their games. The difference between a good team and a bad team is what happens in the other one third of their games. That’s why it takes a 162 game season to filter out which teams are the best.

So what’s the difference between two good teams? Let’s look at the regular season of the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers. They played each other 18 times. The Giants won 7 out of the first 9 games, then the Dodgers won 7 out of the next 9 games. There were minor changes in personnel and injuries that might account for the difference. Or is it just a question of timing. Every team good or bad will have a good week and a bad week. So once you get 2 good teams to the playoffs is it merely a question of who’s having a good week?

To me, the pivotal game in the Cardinals vs. the Dodgers series was the first game. The Dodgers are cruising along with a 6 to 2 lead in the seventh inning and inexplicably the best pitcher in baseball Clayton Kershaw suddenly falls apart. Kershaw pitched 7 to 9 innings consistently all season long and never lost a game when the Dodgers scored at least 4 runs. Did he get tired? Did pitching out of the stretch mess up his mechanics? Did the high temperatures in L.A. or the pressure of a playoff game get to him? You might replay that inning 20 times and Kershaw would probably go on to win the game 19 out of 20 times, but that day he didn’t.

When the Nationals played the Giants, the key game had to be the 18 inning marathon. Think about it. All the things that happened or didn’t happen to score one run or not score one run.

Half of the Royals playoff games were won in extra innings, including the first wild card game in which they came from 4 runs behind in the 8th inning. That’s how close they came to only having one playoff game.

More about the unpredictable MLB playoffs later.

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17 2014 Oct

It’s a Wild Card World Series

The Major League Baseball 2014 World Series is set, and we have 2 wild card teams, the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants. The Detroit Tigers who beat the Royals to win the American League Central Division and the Los Angeles Dodgers who beat the Giants to clinch the National League West Division title have to be scratching their heads wondering how this happened.

This postseason the strengths of the Royals and Giants, which is deep bullpens and great defense, propelled them to become League Champions. The playoff format actually helped accentuate one of those strengths. With days off between rounds and additional off days to travel, the relief pitchers receive rest they normally wouldn’t have during the regular season. This way Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland were able to pitch in nearly every game for the Royals and Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla were able do the same for the Giants. With these guys posting zeros, the Royals and Giants were able to outlast their opponents in tight ballgames.

The Royals have gone a perfect 8 and 0, but this team was almost eliminated in the wild card game against the Oakland A’s. They were 4 runs behind in the 8th inning when they launched this amazing run that has seen them go undefeated, The team with the fewest home runs, suddenly began hitting game winning home runs, while robbing opponents of base hits with highlight film catches by Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas.

Similarly, the Giants had catches by guys like Hunter Pence, but primarily they played solid defense while waiting to take advantage of the miscues of their opponents. In the 10th inning of game 3, Cardinal relief pitcher, Randy Choate made a horrible throw in the vicinity of first base to give the Giants that game. In game 4, Cardinal first baseman,  Matt Adams made shaky throws to home and to second base to allow the Giants to score the tying and go ahead runs. San Francisco is like a pest you can’t get rid of. They keep hanging around and the moment you make a mistake they take advantage of it. Tonight, they closed out the Cardinal season by scoring in more conventional fashion, with a walk off 3-run home run by Travis Ishikawa. Not that it’s conventional for Ishikawa to hit a home run. At least the Cardinals fans still have their memories of 2011. Regardless, in this post season, the Giants and the Royals are very good at finding ways to win.

 

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11 2014 Oct

MLB Post Season Update

The St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants advanced to the National League Championship Series by winning 3 out of 4 games in the Divisional round. Clayton Kershaw lost 3 games the entire season and in 4 games the Cardinals beat him twice. The Cardinals hit 105 home runs, the fewest in the National League and yet they hit clutch home runs throughout this series including the 3-run shot by Matt Adams off Kershaw in the 7th inning to win game four. It was the first home run by a left-handed hitter off a Kershaw curveball in history. Go figure.

Throughout the Giants run of recent success, including World Series titles in 2010 and 2012, I’ve always marveled at how they seem to capitalize on every scoring opportunity and manage to come up with just one more run than their opponent. Game four against the Nationals was a perfect example as the Giants scored the winning run on a wild pitch. Nothing fancy, they just win.

Interestingly, the teams with the best performing middle relief pitching won each series. Never mind high profile clean-up hitters, ace starting pitchers or lock-down closers. It’s the guys pitching in the 7th and 8th innings, usually unknown and often replaced. The Cardinals scored 4 critical runs in those innings against the mediocre middle relief of the Dodgers. The Giants scored key runs in the 7th innings of games 1 and 4. Give me Seth Maness or Sergio Romo and a team’s chances to make it to the World Series go up!

Dodger fans who are upset over another elimination at the hands of the Cardinals, can console themselves with distant memories of better times. Check out this DVD of the Dodger’s last World Series title in 1988.

In the American League, the Kansas City Royals did it again. Another extra inning game, another game winning home run. This is the same team that hit only 95 home runs the entire regular season. I guess they were saving them up for the post season.

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6 2014 Oct

American League Divisional Series are Over

That was quick! After just 3 games, the Detroit Tigers and their 3 Cy Young pitchers, and the Los Angeles Angels with their top run producing offense, are both vanquished from the 2014 playoffs.

In the case of the Angels, the writing was on the wall once they lost both extra inning games to the Royals, because the quality of their starting pitching drops off after Weaver and Shoemaker. C. J. Wilson and Hector Santiago both demonstrated the inconsistency they had shown all year, as the Royals scored 8 runs to easily eliminate the Angels.

For the Tigers, much was made of their acquisition of David Price and he didn’t pitch badly, but he was outpitched by unheralded Bud Norris. Of course, this series was lost in the first two games, when the Tigers bullpen imploded. The result is a sweep by the Baltimore Orioles, and can be sited as another example that a single great player helps, but does not guarantee post season success.

In the National League, it would behoove the Giants to follow the example of the Royals and Orioles and finish off the Nationals with their ace Madison Bumgarner on the mound. The first two games were tight and could have been won by the Nationals, so the difference between the two teams is not much. I wouldn’t want to give the Nationals more opportunities to reverse the results if I were the Giants.

The Cardinals and Dodgers are my one hope for a competitive Divisional Series.

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4 2014 Oct

MLB Divisional Playoffs: Good Relievers Needed

After winning 3 consecutive games in extra innings, it’s easy to begin thinking the Kansas City Royals are a team of destiny. But there may be a more logical reason for their success. The Royals bullpen is ASSUME! 9 innings without allowing a run, the Royals relievers have outlasted a good Angels bullpen. In fact, looking around at every Major League Baseball playoff series, the importance of a deep bullpen has become very evident.

The most glaring example is the performance of the Detroit Tigers relievers, which has been the exact opposite of the Royals. The Tigers bullpen is AWFUL! I think their ERA is something like infinity. In the first game they took a close 4-3 ballgame and in a single inning turned it into a blowout for the Orioles. Yesterday, they gave up a 3 run lead in the eighth inning and placed their team on the precipice of elimination.

In the first game of the Dodgers vs. the Cardinals series, the impact of the bullpen was more subtle. In the 7th inning the Dodgers 4 run lead stunningly turned into a 4 run deficit. One thing that was evident was how reluctant Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was to take out his starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw as the Cardinals compiled hit after hit in that critical inning. If you had watched the Dodgers all season, you could understand his thinking, because the Dodgers setup relievers have been so inconsistent. He even turned to rookie Pedro Baez to relieve Kershaw before going to pitchers who had been with the team all year. Unfortunately, that move failed as Baez gave a up a 3 run home run to Matt Holiday that became the difference in the outcome of this game. If it’s any consolation to Dodger fans, the Cardinal bullpen didn’t look bulletproof either, so we may yet have a competitive series here.

In the other National League playoff series, the San Francisco Giants have a good bullpen. Enough said.

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3 2014 Oct

The National League Division Series Begins

When Madison Bumgarner is on his game he’s as good as any starting pitcher in baseball. He demonstrated that the other night as he shut out the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League wild card game. Once Brandon Crawford hit the grand slam that game was over.

The bad news for the San Francisco Giants is that they no longer have their ace available to start the series against the Washington Nationals. Jake Peavy has been good, but after that the consistency of the Giants starting pitching drops off. In contrast the top four Nationals starting pitchers look solid. The Giants have also struggled to generate consistent offense ever since their leadoff man, Angel Pagan went down with an injury.

The Nationals offense led by Denard Span at the top is solid. Look for the Nationals in the League Championship series.

The two teams that met in last year’s National League Championship series the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers face each other in this year’s Divisional round.

However, there are some key differences from last season. Michael Wacha who came out of nowhere to lead the Cardinals the last post season, has struggled so much he won’t even start in this Division series. In 2013 the Cardinals led the National League in runs scored while this season they scored only 4 more runs than the last place Arizona Diamondbacks. The Dodgers started the 2013 post season with Matt Kemp on crutches and when Hanley Ramirez had his rib broken by a pitch in the first game with the Cardinals, the Dodgers offense sputtered. This year the Dodger are second in the League in scoring and with a .300 hitter, Juan Uribe batting seventh in the lineup, the Dodgers offense is deep. The one advantage the Cardinals will have is a better bullpen. But on the days when Clayton Kershaw pitches, the Dodgers might not need that. I expect the Dodgers to change the outcome this year.

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2 2014 Oct

American League Division Playoffs Begin

 

After a dramatic thriller in Kansas City and a complete bore in Pittsburgh, the Major League Baseball playoffs proceed in earnest. Next up for the Royals are the “Los Angeles” Angels of Anaheim. If the Royals are to have a chance against the team with the best record in baseball, they’ll need better pitching than they showed in the wild card game. The Angels score more runs than anyone, led by Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, so if the opposing pitcher isn’t sharp the Angels can put up runs fast. It’ll be important for both teams to grab a lead early in any game, because both teams have excellent bullpens. One weakness for the Angels is that the starting pitching is much weaker after the injury to Garrett Richards. Also, there is some concern with how well Matt Shoemaker will pitch coming off of a rib strain. If Shoemaker is okay, I like the Angels chances.

In the other series the Detroit Tigers are led by a trio of former Cy Young winners, David Price, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, except Verlander doesn’t seem to have his Cy Young stuff anymore. Oh well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad. Especially in a best of 5 series. The young Baltimore Orioles comprised of guys most people don’t know yet like Chris Tillman and Wei-Yin Chen just need to hang in against the Tigers starting pitching to get to the more vulnerable relief pitching. The Tigers with aging veterans like Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez invested a lot to get David Price and win this year, but I don’t think they have enough to get past the Orioles.

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29 2014 Sep

The Last Day of the Regular Season in Major League Baseball

Yesterday, Major League Baseball concluded its’ regular season and it was an eventful last day. The Detroit Tigers shutout the Minnesota Twins to win the American League Central title and hold off the Kansas City Royals. An Oakland A’s shutout of the Rangers gave them the final American League wild card spot and knocked out the Seattle Mariners. A Pittsburgh Pirates loss in Cincinnati relegated them to the National League wildcard and gave the St. Louis Cardinals another Central Division title.

Aside from the races, there was a dramatic finish in the Nations Capitol as Jordan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals pitched a no-hitter. In a brilliant move by manager Matt Williams, rookie Steven Souza Jr. was sent in as a defensive replacement in the ninth inning. The change paid off as Souza made an incredible diving catch in left center field to record the final out and preserve the no-hitter.

In Boston, Derek Jeter ended his career with what else, a base hit.

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29 2014 Sep

A Real “Field of Dreams”

Twenty-five years ago Kevin Costner brought us the movie “Field of Dreams.” It was adapted from the novel “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella. On the surface it can be categorized as a baseball movie. But the story transcends that and touches broader human themes of faith, family, forgiveness, and connection. The classic line, “If you build it, he will come.” Has taken on a life of it’s own.

The field used in the movie was built in the town of Dyersville, Iowa. After the film’s release, Costner persuaded the Lansings and Ameskamps, the landowners of the field to temporarily keep it. The word “temporary” no longer applies. As the movie predicted, they came, from all over the country, for multiple reasons. As many as 70,000 people annually come to play catch with a toddler or an aging loved one. They have weddings and they spread ashes. Like a great cathedral it has become a pilgrimage destination. People leave behind clothing and jewelry like offerings.

It wasn’t all perfect. The Ameskamps allowed organized events on their half of the field, while the Lansings restricted their part of the property to games of catch. Eventually Lansing bought out the Ameskamps, then two years ago “Go the Distance Baseball” purchased the farm. The Lansings still do some of the maintenance and run the gift shop. Thankfully the new owners maintain the no fee admission policy accepting only donations. Every other Sunday a group of former amateur players and some towns people dressed up in throwback uniforms, walk out of the corn field to serve as unofficial curators. It is fantasy turned into reality.

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26 2014 Sep

Derek Jeter’s Final Game at Yankee Stadium

Usually, when your closer blows a three run lead in the ninth inning, it’s a bad thing. Last night, Yankee fans couldn’t have been happier. David Robertson surrendered home runs to Adam Jones and Steve Pearce of the Orioles in the top of the ninth inning of last night’s game in the Bronx. It blew a 5 to 2 Yankees lead and sent the game to the bottom of the ninth in a 5 to 5 tie. By the way, it happened to be Derek Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium before his retirement. That extra half inning gave Jeter one more at bat and he delivered a signature base hit to right field to drive in pinch-runner Antoan Richardson with the winning run. Jeter walked off the field a hero one more time. It was another magical moment added to the storybook career of Derek Jeter.

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