The Opening of the Baseball Season

The last regular seaon NFL games are pver and there will be a Super Bowl sometime in the future, but this is really the beginning of the baseball season. This fact is marked by the Winter Meetings that ended two weeks ago and caused some commotion with a numbe or teams making dramatic moves to add players. The two that stick out in my mind, at least, were the San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. The Cubs also added talent.
Without getting into names and stats, it is my obsevation that teams add winter meeting free agent and traded for talent and that this talent is very expensive and seldom helps all that much. .
The cost of free agent talent is pure cash and, usually multiyear deals. That means a team has a burden to carry for sometime, It will consider the new player, who is usually older and declining in skills, a major asset, but he will be a major liability soon. The players who are traded for are also expensive, but in a different way. To acquire Jock Donaldson from the A’s (OK, I’ll mention one player!!), the Blue Jays gave up a number of young players. I don’t know who they are, but I doubt if Billy Beane would take chopped liver. So the Jays have a great third base man, but have been diminished, probably, by a like amount of talent elsewhere.  
The Padres took Matt Kemp.  (OK second player) from the Dodgers in exchange for some players and the Dodgers are paying SD like $25million to pay Kemp’s salary. I look askanse at teams that give away an old star and pay his salary to get rid of him. They know more about Kemp than SD, so what’s up with that.
The whole point here is that there was a lot of action this month, and the season is now on. I don’t think however, that much has been changed as baseball is the ultimate team sport and it takes a whole team to win a pennant. For example, the last place added free agents Torii Hunter, a 39 year old outfielder and Erivn Santana, (OK, Players 3 and 4 and that’s it) a 33 year old starting pitcher. Now, if the Twins can outbid Detroit and Atlanta for these guys, they are going to help a little, maybe, But even with these additions, the Twins will be last in the AL Central again. It pains me to say that, by the way, I am a huge fan, but that’s the reality of it.

So we are off to the MLB Season, opening day is looming in just over 90 days. Stay tuned. 

MLB Races With A Week To Go.

Last year I wrote article nearly every day on the complicated MLB pennant race. This year, it is very siimple. In the American League, only the Central DIvision is undecided as Detroit leads KC by a single game. The Royals are playing Cleveland in Cleveland today and finish at Chicago. The Tigers host Chicago and then the Twins over the final weekend. That gives the Tigers at least a one game advantage and they will probably win the division, leaving the Royals as one of the two wildcard teams.

The other AL wild card will be the A’s who lead Seattle by 2. Seattle ends with the Angels, not the place to be if you are trying to sweep a series. Look for a playoff between Oakland and Kansas CIty for the fourth playoff spot. Of interest here, is that Oakland with 86-70 wins has a one game home field advantage over KC. 85-71 that may be determined by a coin lip in a week. Hang on.

In the National League, it is all over. St. Louis, Baltimore, and the LA Dodgers won divisions and Pittsburgh and San Francisco will play the wild card game. Pittsburgh has a 1/2 game home field advantage there, so another coin toss may occur. 

This season will end without the great drama I like to see, but that drama will likely come in the playoffs.  There are great teams playing and the chance of a Washington World Series is a lot to consider for me. Having just watched the Angels recently, I am leaning toward them as well. I would go to a game just to see Mike Trout play centerfield. There is also the possibilty of Baltimore-Washington, a LA-LA, or a KC-St.L World Series matchups.  Could be interesting, don’t you think?

For now, it is just a matter of waiting, unless, of course, something unexpected happens, and that happens often in the wonderful world of Major League Baseball. 

Unending Playoffs Continue; Red Sox/Tigers Tied In The AL;Cardinals lead LAD 3-2.

Today is another day in the seemingly endless MLB Playoff Scheme that started with a playoff to see who was the second wild card, that little twist that was added to increase interest in the postseason, but actually will reduce interest in the World Series that starts some time later this month. Nevertheless, the League Championship Series continues with the Red Sox and Tigers tied at 2-2, with one game left at Tiger Stadium, and the Cardinals leading the Dodgers 3-2 as that series moves back to St. Louis.

Yesterday’s games were just normal baseball games where one team just beats the other. The Tigers, for example, beat the Red Sox 7-3, scoring five in the second inning as the Red Sox blew a possible double play, but the Sox weren’t going to win this one, anyway.  Doug Fister started for the Tigers, and I’ve been a Fister Fan for some time, (he once struck out nine straight batters,) as he pitched six innings giving up one run. He just seems to get it done when it counts.  For the Red Sox, Jake Peavey just got hammered as he gave up seven runs in three innings. He allowed just five hits, but his three walks hurt his chances, as did Dustin Pedroia’s bobbled double play ball that would have gotten him out of the second inning. But that’s baseball and this was not the Red Sox game.

The Dodgers hit four solo homeruns in beating the Cardinals who lead this series 3-2. The Dodgers pitched Zach Greinke in this critical game and he won, while pitching seven innings, giving up two runs. The Dodgers will start Kershaw in game six. When the Cardinals took a 3-1 lead, Dodger Manager Mattingly mentioned that he was confident with Greinke and Kershaw starting the next two games, a sensible position. Mattingly also said that he thought the Cardinal fans would like to see a seventh game! Wrong, Don, the Cardinals will want to beat Kershaw Friday night.  I will be driving back from Milwaukee during that game and will be searching for the game on a variety of Wisconsin stations.

After these games are over, the World Series will start on October 23 (not a typo). I am starting to think we have sacrificed the World Series for the additional wild card that was played over in the first week of month.  More on this later, but the games are great anyway.  

Dodgers Win Game LCS Game Three With A Little Help From The Cardinals

The Dodgers beat the Cardinals 3-0 last night, and it wasn’t that close. The Dodgers scored two in the fourth when Mark Ellis doubled with the help of the Cardinal outfield, and then scored on an Adrian Gonzalez double. Gonzalez then scored on a Yasiel Puig triple.

The third Cardinal run scored in the 8th when Carl Crawford scored from second on a ball hit just over second baseman Kolten Wong’s head. Wong was late throwing the ball home and Crawford was barely safe, but safe non the less. 

Dodger pitcher Ryu gave up three hits in seven innings, as the Cardinals continue their batting woes, but still lead in the best of seven series, 2-1. For highlights of this game look here.

League Championship Series; Three Great Games, Then Last Night in Boston, Wow.

The League Championship Series is well underway and the drama is intense.The St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers have played twice in St. Louis and the Cardinals have won both times, They won the first game 3-2 in 13 innings as Carlos Beltran batted in all the runs and threw out one at home. They won the next game 1-0 as Michael Wacha pitches 6 2/3 shutout innings. The Cardinals in this second game, used four pitchers to finish 2 1/3 innings, three for the next 1 1/3 and Trevor Rosenthal struck out the three Dodgers, Yasiel Puig, Juan Uribe and Andre Ethier, he faced in the 9th. Nothing to it, as they say, and the Cardinals have a two game lead over the Dodgers going to Dodger Stadium.

In the American League, the Tigers and Justin Verlander beat the Red Sox in Fenway 1-0 in a very good game on Saturday, but it was Sunday’s game that will get all the attention for the next century, especially in New England, where the town of Nonantum voted last night to change its name to Ortiz.

In Sunday’s game, the Tigers were cruising behind Max Sherzer’s pitching and were leading 5-1 in the 8th inning when the wheels fell off. First, Scherzer was replaced by Jose Veras who gets one out and then gives up a double to Will Middlebrooks. Then Drew Smyly replaced Jose Veras and walked Jacoby Ellsbury, so he gets replaced by Al Alburquerque, who strikes out Shane Victorino, but then gives up a single to Dustin Pedroia, loading the bases.

At this point, where getting one out is critical and the batter, David Ortiz, is the most dangerous of the Red Sox, I was thinking a left handed pticher would be brought it to face the left hand hitting Ortiz, Phil Coke, maybe, but Manager Leyland brought in Benoit, his closer. He did this after consulting data on Ortiz v. Benoit, and Oritz v. Coke. Benoit was the choice. I have another objection to Benoit at this time. He is a closer and is accustomed to pitching the bottom of the ninth on the road when he has a lead and no baserunners. Here he had three baserunners and Ortiz. His first pitch,  a fast ball that was over the plate and had no sink, was hit into the Red Sox bull pen to tie the game. One pitch by Benoit, and the series is changed.

Baseball is a curius game in that one game is seldom critical, unless it is the last game. So the Tigers will come steaming back and probably, with Verlander on Tuesday against Lackey, then Fister aganst Peavey and then back to Sanchez and Scherzer, will win this series. However, that will not happen if it plays in the field like it did Sunday. In the ninth inning alone three plays gave away the game. Jonny Gomes hit the ball in the hole to short. Jose Iglesias fielded the ball moving away from first, threw awkwardly towards first eventhough he had little chance to getting the runner, and the ball went past Prince Fielder, who, as a first baseman, had to stop the ball. He simply waved at it as it almost hit him.  This puts the winning run on second, scoring position! Fielder wasn’t finished yet. Jarrod Saltalamacchia popped the ball up foul and Fielder tried to catch it while standing against the low fence. The ball went off his glove. He just blew that one too. He claimed he was interferred with by a fan, but he was not. The ball hit his glove on the back side. Then Tiger pitcher Porcello wild pitched Gomes to third. Where it should have been one on, one out, it was none out, runner on third. Saltalamacchia, batting with the infield drawn in, singled to left scoring Gomes. Game over.

Baseball is a wonderful game and we have the Dodgers and Cardinals tonight. Wainright 19-9 for the Cards aganist Ryu 14-9 for the Dodgers. I can’t wait to see what they have in order for us. It will be interesting.
  

Playoffs Mean War, Baseball at Its Best

Yesterday I lamented the one sided games that had dominated the playoffs to that point. Last night saw a flurry of heated, competitive, last gasp wins that showed baseball at its best. The best is where games are determined by a hit, pitch or catch that wins or saves a game in the last innings. These games are the Fifth Games that determine championships. See “Fifth Game Theory” here.
The first of these games was St. Louis 2-1 win at Pittsburgh. Rookie pitcher Michael Wacha took a no hitter into the eighth inning where the Pirates scored their lone run on their only hit, a homerun by Pedro Alvarez.. St. Louis had scored two on a Matt Holiday homer in the sixth. The Cardinals made the pitches and plays in the field, scored enough and the Pirates failed to do so. The last out was on a fly ball to center by Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates best player, who said “I wish it got more of the barrel (of the bat).” Such is the way Fifth Games are decided. He took his swing and just missed, and his team lost

The next such game was in Tampa Bay where the Rays beat the Red Sox 5-4 on a walk-off homerun, and this one had an incredible twist involving the DH rule.  The game was tied through seven innings at 3-3, when the Rays scored their fourth run, setting up the incredible ninth. The eighth had its incredible moments as well. It started with a walk to James Loney who was replaced by Sam Fuld, the fellow who stole a run against Cleveland this week. Desmond Morriss then bunted the ball (not a sacrifice as he was bunting for a hit) that was fielded by the pitcher Morales. As the first baseman had also tried to field the ball, no one was covering first and Morriss beat Morales to the bag. Two on, no outs.  Matt Joyce then popped up his attempted sacrifice bunt in foul territory and Red Sox catcher Matt Saltalamachia made a sliding catch behind homeplate. Two on, one out.  Yunel Escobar then singled up the middle on a ball fielded by Stephen Drew who could not make a play on it. Bases loaded, one out, and the ball has not yet left the infield!! Delmon Young then hit a ground ball to short and was thrown out as the runner on third scored. That runner had reached base on a lead off walk. The next batter flied out. 4-3 Rays, ninth innning.

The Red Sox lead off hitter was walked by close Fernando Rodney. Walking the lead off hitter is a cardinal sin in baseball and it happened twice here and both runners scored.  Jacoby Ellsbury then blooped the ball over third. Two on, no outs. The next batter, sacrificed the runners to second and third. Dustin Pedroia then drove in the tying run on a grounder to short. One on, two out, game tied. Then Jacoby Ellsbury stole third but Mike Carp was called out on strikes.

In the bottom of the ninth the first two batters made outs so up comes Jose Lobaton. He was in the game because of a subtley in the Designated Hitter rule. Will Myer had injured himself striking out in the seventh. The rule says that if a DH enters the game in a defensive position, the DH is lost for the rest of the game. This prevents managers from substituting players in and out of the DH slot during a game. The best substitute was DH Matt Joyce who entered the game in right field, eliminated the DH. There was the a double switch and Lobaton entered the game as catcher batting fifth, Myers’ slot. He hit a homerun on a 0-1 pitch to win the game. Such is the stuff of Fifth Game baseball. The Rays and Red Sox play tonight in St. Petersburgh. The Red Sox lead 2-1.

The third incredible game of the night was in Los Angeles where the Dodgers won the series on an eighth inning, two run homerun by Juan Uribe.
The Braves had taken the lead in the seventh on a triple by Elliott Johnson and a single  by Jose Constanza. Again, a magical Fifth Game.

The other game was an A’s 6-3 victory over the Tigers to take a 2-1 lead in the series that continues in Detroit today. 

The three games described above were played in the best baseball tradition, Fifth Game victories.  Those games came down to a hit made, a ball missed, and the other small events that determine baseball games that are bitterly contested. There will be more such games in this playoff season, stay tuned and pay attention.

MLB Playoffs: Excitement in the Last Innings

The fabulous Wild Card race has given way to a somnambulistic Division Series. The scores of the games, without team names, tells the story. 9 -1, 7-1, 12-2, 7-4, 6-1, 13-6, but the other games give me hope that games will be fought to the last out going forward as four games of the ten played qualify as the epitome of baseball games, the “Fifth Game.” See Fifth Game Theory here .  That theory says that one game in five is a Fifth Game and here we have four of ten as Fifth Games. The teams playing here are the masters of Fifth Games, so this is not surprising.

The contested games in this Division Series started with Detroit scoring three in the first inning and holding on, per Max Scherzer, to three hit the A’s who scored two in the 7th in Oakland on a Yoenis Cespedes homerun. One run short; fifth game stuff. Oakland came back in the next game with a perfect Fifth Game victory 1-0 over Detroit, scoring the one run in the bottom of the ninth. Yoenis Cespedes opened the inning with a single, Seth Smith then singled, Josh Reddick was walked intentionally, and Stephen Vogt singled to win the game. The starting pitchers in that game were Justin Verlander and Sonny Gray (Oakland) who were superb as it was the first time in Playoff history where both pitchers had nine strikeouts and no runs scored.

The Pirates 5-3 win over the Cardinals in game three was a fifth game victory as the winning runs were scored in the eighth inning after St. Louis tied it on a homerun in the top of the inning.

In the second game in Atlanta, the Braves scored two in the seventh to go ahead 4-1, the Dodgers scored twice in the top of the eighth to make it 4-3. In classic Fifth Game style, Atlanta made four defensive changes and brought in a new pitcher to start the inning and changed pitchers again after Hanley Ramirez hit a two run homerun and Yasiel Puig struck out. In the top of the ninth for the Dodgers, after a strike out, A.J. Ellis walked, Dee Gordon pinch ran and was thrown out trying to steal while pinch hitter Andre Eithier was at bat, he ultimately walked and was replace by pinch runner, Scott Van Slyke, but Carl Crawford struck out.  A great game and well played Fifth Game.

I pay attention to Fifth Games. Embrace the theory and you will understand a season and enjoy it well. This theory, by the way, allows Tampa Bay to accept their two losses to the Red Sox as not being Fifth Games. They were never going to win those two in Fenway anyway.  Alex Cobb will pitch for the Rays and he was 7-0 at home this year.

I only want four five game series in the Divisional Series, and seven gamers in the League Championship and World Series. Tag’em.