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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25 2014 Sep

Los Angeles Dodgers Win the Western Division

Last night the Los Angeles Dodgers beat their arch rivals, the Giants, to clinch the National League Western Division title. The Dodgers won their last three series against the Giants, winning 7 out of 9 games to take control of the division. Manager Don Mattingly lined up his two aces Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw to pitch in each of those series and the move paid off as the Dodgers won every game they started. This points out the challenge facing any team confronting the Dodgers in the playoffs.

The other night Greinke outpitched Giants ace Madison Bumgarner. The Dodgers used a classic formula for beating a quality pitcher. First, score in the first inning before the pitcher has a chance to settle into a rhythm. Second, hit homeruns. Good pitchers don’t make many mistakes, so it’s difficult to put together a rally comprised of multiple hits. On the rare occasions when you get a mistake pitch, hit it out. That and have your own top-notch pitcher to match up.

Last night their other All-Stars Kershaw and Yasiel Puig stepped up. Kershaw not only pitched 8 innings allowing only one run to lower his Major League leading ERA to a microscopic 1.77 with 11 more strikeouts which adds to his National League leading total of 239, but he started the Dodger offense with a triple to drive in their first run. For those who want to argue that a pitcher shouldn’t win an MVP award, consider this; with the Dodgers 23 games over .500 Kershaw has 21 wins. He also throws 7 innings or more almost every time he pitches. Think that day off for the bullpen doesn’t help the Dodgers in games the next day? With regard to Puig he hit the go ahead homerun and over the last two weeks is getting hot along with the rest of the Dodger offense and he made an amazing throw to get Blanco out at third base. The team seems to be peaking in time for the playoffs.

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18 2014 Sep

Major League Baseball’s Pennant Races

The Major League Baseball regular season is winding down. Half the divisions are locked up with the Angels, Orioles and Nationals coasting into the postseason. The other baseball division races are two team affairs with the Royals challenging the Tigers, the Pirates chasing the Cardinals, and the Giants trying to catch the Dodgers.

The story of the Angels and the A’s calls into question the value of adding a “quality” starting pitcher. The A’s had the best record in baseball, but after a collapse that has you wondering if the trade of Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester didn’t ruin the team’s chemistry, will be fighting for a wild card spot along with the second place team from the Central division and the Mariners. The Angels on the other hand, lost arguably their best starting pitcher, Garret Anderson, to an injury and have been playing great.

In the National League the Brewers will be vying for a wild card along with whoever comes second in the West and Central. Several other teams still have mathematical chances, but not very realistic opportunities to play in October.

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