29 2014 Oct

The 2014 World Series Goes to Game 7

So here we are; Game 7 of the 2014 World Series between the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants. The Royals, who haven’t appeared in the post season, never mind being in a World Series, since 1985. It took an improbable, dramatic late inning rally and extra innings, for them just to survive the Wild Card game against Oakland. A game some might argue was a sign that the Royals were a team of destiny. Facing them are the Giants, the team that has won two of the last four World Series and is attempting to build a dynasty. Two wild card teams, evenly matched, in a single, winner-take-all game to become champions of Major League Baseball!

It all sounds exciting, right? The fact is, that each individual game leading up to this moment, with the exception of Game 3, has been pretty dull. There are no late inning comebacks. Although, you really don’t expect them since both teams have good bullpens. Plus, the games haven’t been close. The Giants easily win the first game 7-1, the Royals respond the next day by winning 7-2. The Giants blow out the Royals 11-4 in Game 4 and last night the Royals answer with their own lopsided victory 10-0. In Game 5 the Giants led 2-0 for most of the game, before tacking on 3 runs in the 8th inning, but the way Bumgarner was pitching the outcome never seemed in doubt. So none of these games will go down as classics in the history of baseball.

As baseball fans, lets hope tonight’s game will be entertaining.

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28 2014 Oct

Mo’ne Davis and Women in Baseball

Watching the World Series, I couldn’t help noticing the media attention that continues around 13 year old Mo’ne Davis. The girl who demonstrated that she could play with the boys during the Little League World Series. She threw out the first pitch (for a strike) at the beginning of game four and she’s featured in the Chevrolet commercial. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a great story and if she can get the publicity and endorsements without interfering with school or being exploited by shady advertisers, then it’s all good.

Her story does bring up the question of why don’t we have women playing baseball. Anyone who saw the movie “A League of Their Own,” saw that if you had an institution that cultivated women playing baseball, that you could find talent. Unlike more physical sports like football or basketball, where size is a big advantage, although it still helps to be 6’-5” and 250 pounds as far as hitting the ball farther or throwing it harder, we’ve seen a lot of smaller guys succeed in baseball. David Eckstein and Brett Butler had good Major League careers. Among current players, Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon looks like he would be blown over in a stiff wind. Among pitchers, Greg Maddux and Jamie Moyer proved that you don’t have to throw hard to get hitters out. So beyond having a culture that simply doesn’t encourage it, there doesn’t seem to be a physical reason why an athletic woman couldn’t play baseball at a very high level.

Whether or not Mo’ne Davis or any other woman ever makes it to the Major Leagues, her story has a more important lesson for us as a society. Never to put limitations on ourselves saying that just because something hasn’t been done before, that it’s not possible. Also, never to judge what a person is capable of based on gender, race, religion, or simply what a person looks like.

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27 2014 Oct

Giants Close to Another Championship

After a 5-0 victory, the San Francisco Giants are one win away from a third World Championship in 5 years. If they achieve it, they’ll owe a lot to the efforts of Madison Bumgarner who pitched a complete game shutout in game 5. It seems like Bumgarner knows how to keep his emotions in check and pitch like it’s just another regular season game.

In contrast, the Kansas City Royals bullpen has shown signs of cracks in the last couple of games. Some credit has to go to the Giants hitters. They’ve been disciplined. They don’t chase many bad pitches and they don’t overswing. Throughout the post season they’ve done a good job of scoring runs without many home runs. Hunter Pence exemplifies their approach to hitting. His swings don’t look pretty, but he manages to make good contact with the baseball and he keeps getting hits.

The bright side for the Royals is that they are coming home, and they won’t have to face Bumgarner as a starting pitcher in anymore games in this series.

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24 2014 Oct

Royals Bullpen Outperforms Giants Bullpen in Game 2

The Kansas City Royals had one of the best bullpens in baseball last year. This year they might be even better. The playoffs are showcasing just how good Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, Greg Holland and company are. They remind me of the “Nasty Boys” from the 1990 Cincinnati Reds and they might achieve the same result. Similar to that Reds team the Royals don’t have a dominant, ace starting pitcher. But what they do have is a group of starters that can provide 5 or 6 quality innings before turning the game over to the relievers. All teams in the post season have quality closers. This year we’re seeing what a difference relief pitchers who enter in the 6th or 7th inning make in the outcome of games.

The other day Giants manager, Bruce Bochy brought in a rookie Hunter Strickland, in the 6th inning of game two in the World Series. Strickland gave up a double to Salvador Perez and a home run to Omar Infante and the game was essentially over.

Rookie pitchers, especially ones brought up late in a season are a gamble. Back in 2002 the Anaheim Angels brought up Francicsco Rodriguez late in the year and he played a big role in the success of the Angels during their run to a Championship. Last year rookie Michael Wacha won NLCS MVP for the Cardinals. But Strickland has surrendered 5 home runs during this post season. Fortunately for the Giants, the rest of their bullpen has been much more effective.

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22 2014 Oct

Bumgarner leads the Giants to Game One Victory

In a post season where so many #1 pitchers have struggled, Clayton Kershaw, Jon Lester, Adam Wainwright, Chris Tillman, and now James Shields, one guy who stands out as a #1 starter who performs like one is Madison Bumgarner. He delivered again in the first game of the World Series in Kansas City. When Hunter Pence hit a 2-run home run in the first inning to give the Giants a 3-0 lead, it felt like the game was over. The Royals only opportunity to get back in the game came in the 3rd inning, when Mike Moustakas doubled to put runners on 2nd and 3rd base with no outs. But Bumgarner struck out the next two batters and eventually escaped the inning without a run scoring. He made it to the seventh inning before surrendering a run on a home run to Salvador Perez, but by then the Giants had a 7 run lead and coasted to the 7-1 victory.

Thankfully for the Royals, it doesn’t matter how badly you lose. It only counts as one loss and in baseball momentum depends on who your next starting pitcher is. In this case, hard-throwing rookie Yordando Ventura faces Jake Peavy. Peavy has pitched well lately, but he spent a lot of time in the American League, so the Royal hitters should be familiar with him. If we’re going to see a competitive World Series, the Royals need to find a way to win this one. Otherwise we could witness something similar to 2007 when the Colorado Rockies stormed into the World Series on a hot streak, only to be swept by the Red Sox.

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21 2014 Oct

The Unpredictable MLB Post-Season

Let’s face it, Major League Baseball is the most unpredictable playoff of the major sports in the U.S. Usually, team sports predictions are based on which team has the most all-stars. Let’s face it, all-stars tend to be the most consistent, reliable players, so it makes sense to try to forecast outcomes based on those players.

The NBA is the most predictable. It’s not hard to see why. There are only 5 players on the court at a time, so a superstar player is 20% of the team. They play the majority of the minutes and they contribute on both offense and defense. As long as the all-star basketball player doesn’t get hurt, the teams with the most stars tend to advance the farthest in the playoffs.

Hockey and soccer players are also on the field of play for offense and defense, but their sports are more unpredictable than basketball based on the way the games are played. First, you have someone constantly standing in front of the goal, which makes scoring more challenging. Also controlling the movement of the ball or puck without using your hands is much more difficult. There is an increased chance that a lucky bounce will affect the outcome of a game.

Looking at the National Football League, it’s probably the next most unpredictable of the sports. First, they use the most players. 11 players on offense, 11 for defense plus special teams for kicking and kick returns. A Hall of Fame talent like Dan Marino didn’t win a Super Bowl, not because he wasn’t good enough, but because he was one out of about 40 players and he only plays on offense, so he’s not even playing more than half the time. The rest of his team wasn’t good enough and a quarterback, as important as they are, cannot carry a team with this many players. Another factor working against predicting football is that they only play one game. It’s not the best out of 7 games. You have one bad day and you’re out of the playoffs.

Baseball’s unpredictability is based largely on the minimal influence of a single player. A superstar in baseball probably has less impact than in any other team sport. If you’re a starting pitcher you only work once every 5 games. If you’re a closer you might play in a third of the games, but you usually only get 3 outs out of 27, assuming you don’t play extra innings. The other players play both offense and defense, but as a hitter you only take one out of every 9 at bats. As a fielder, you’re not involved in every play. A quarterback may only play offense, but he participates in every play on offense. The way baseball is played also factors into it’s uncertainty. The pitcher could make a bad pitch and the hitter could hit a screaming line drive, but it might be right at a fielder and they make an out. On the other hand a pitcher could make a great pitch and the batter might hit a dribbler, but it could be in just the right spot where no one can field it, and the batter gets a base hit. No wonder so many baseball players are superstitious.

You might be the eighth hitter in a lineup, but you have the same opportunity to have an at-bat and impact a game, as the clean-up hitter. In this way, baseball might be the most democratic of team sports. No wonder that the Los Angeles teams with their high-priced players and the Tigers with their trio of former Cy Young pitchers are eliminated from the playoffs. There’s only so much a Bryce Harper can do. When Michael Wacha is the guy pitching and Travis Ishikawa is the guy hitting, that is their moment to influence the outcome of a game. Try to predict that.

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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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