Saturday, October 26, 2013

Cardinals Gain Several Advantages over Red Sox in St. Louis

The St. Louis Cardinals accomplished their goal in Boston and that was to shift home-field advantage their way in the World Series. The Boston Red Sox are certainly not intimidated by playing outside of Fenway Park but there are some distinct benefits swinging the Cardinals’ way.


First, the Cardinals won 54 games at Busch Stadium this season, the second most home wins in the majors. They won 21 out of their last 26 regular season games in St. Louis and are 5-1 at home thus far in the postseason.

The Redbirds hit better at home than on the road -- .274/.336/.403 versus .264/.328/.400 -- while the Red Sox offense slows down just a bit -- .285/.354/.464 at Fenway, versus .269/.344/.429 away from Boston. Matt Holliday (.318/.419/.559 with 14 HR in 283 PA) and Matt Carpenter (.360/.432/.540, 73 R in 345 PA) excelled at Busch in 2013.

On the mound, the Cardinals boasted a team ERA of 3.10 in St. Louis and 3.77 elsewhere. The staff held runners off the bases at a much better clip at home as well -- 1.149 WHIP at Busch and 1.345 on the road. For the Red Sox, their staff ERA jumped from 3.57 in Boston to 4.03 on the road, and their team WHIP rose from 1.256 to 1.346 once away from home.

Apart from the regular season team stats favoring the Cardinals when they play on familiar ground, the Red Sox will be losing their second best power/impact bat in the lineup as Mike Napoli will ride the pine so that David Ortiz, the team’s regular designated hitter, can play first base and stay in the lineup. The Red Sox are in a bit of a bind here as they need Ortiz in the lineup at all costs, but there is a distinct disadvantage here for the Red Sox.

The most obvious argument is there could be some fielding deficiencies with Ortiz manning first base, but he’s proven able to not kill the team’s chances in limited time at first over the last few seasons. That being said, limited reps are surely an issue that cannot be completely discounted.

So while Red Sox are able to keep Big Papi’s bat in the lineup, it comes at the cost of losing 3-4 plate appearances for Napoli, which could prove to be damaging. Potentially more important in the long run, the Cardinals should be able to pitch around Ortiz a bit more effectively without fearing that Napoli’s bat is due up down the line. This is the time of year that Ortiz ramps up an already powerful bat, and if the Cardinals can successfully work around him, they essentially miss two potent hitters. It is true the Red Sox have plenty of formidable bats, but after Ortiz, there is little to suggest Boston's next best basher is anyone but Napoli.

Additionally, Ortiz’s bat went cold in the six games he played the field in 2013, going just 3-for-19 with one homer and a .673 OPS, versus .964 OPS as the DH. Normalcy matters in baseball and playing first base for Ortiz is simply not common. To go back further, since 2007 he’s had 127 plate appearances as the first baseman in the regular season and has hit .231, though he drilled nine home runs among his 25 hits. Ortiz has 4 hits in 14 ABs in World Series play as the first baseman in the National League parks.

Do the Red Sox gain any edge with Napoli as a pinch-hitter? Nope. He’s 4-for-38 with a .132 slugging percentage in such circumstances in his regular season career, and 0-for-3 in postseason pinch-hitting attempts.

Of lesser note, but it’s worth mentioning, the Red Sox pitchers in 2013 had one hit in 29 plate appearances, while laying down three sac bunts. The Cardinals staff (370 PA, .126 AVG, 39 sacs) is obviously more used to handling the bat and thus gain another edge, albeit slight. If it comes down to the need to generate scoring opportunities with the pitcher at the plate, the Cardinals have more experience than the Red Sox.

Of course, these advantages may prove to be minute once play begins. But, it is not hard to speculate that the Cardinals could make the most of their time in St. Louis if they can hold Ortiz at bay and the trends established by both teams hold true.

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference

World Series logo courtesy of sportslogos.net

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Besides his work here, Chris is a New York Yankees contributor for Yahoo Sports. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Balanced Cardinals will be too much for Red Sox

Two storied franchises are set to do battle in Major League Baseball’s 109th World Series beginning Wednesday night. The St. Louis Cardinals, who are in their 19th World Series and fourth in the last 10 seasons, have won 11 titles. They take on the Boston Red Sox, who are making their third appearance since 2004 and have won seven World Series crowns in 12 previous tries. The teams have met three times in the World Series with the Cardinals winning in 1946 and 1967 while the Red Sox took the last meeting in the 2004, when they swept St. Louis and wiped away 86 years of agony without a championship.


Let’s take a glance at each team.

St. Louis Cardinals
Manager – Mike Matheny

How They Got Here
  • Won NL Central with 97-65 record
  • Beat Pittsburgh Pirates 3-2 in NLDS
  • Beat Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2 in NLCS

Probables
What to Watch For

The Redbirds will want to make a strong statement with their one-two punch of Wainwright and Wacha with the series starting in Boston. Should they be able to steal one of these games, or even both, it would make things very difficult for Boston in St. Louis.

The Cardinals will get Allen Craig back, but he’ll likely be rusty after missing seven weeks with a left foot injury. He was having a fine season before the injury, hitting .315/.373/.457 with 13 homers and 97 RBIs. Craig hit .457 in 152 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. It will be crucial that Craig and the other Cardinals batters to take advantage of any such situations against a formidable Boston pitching staff.

The Cardinals will need to continue to get good performances from their bullpen and more importantly from their late-inning options of John Axford, Kevin Siegrist and Carlos Martinez along with closer Trevor Rosenthal should they hold a late lead. Once a team is up in a World Series game, there is no room for error and teams certainly do not want to drop any momentum by failing to hold in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.

Carlos Beltran will be participating in his first World Series. Beltran, a prolific postseason batter, would love nothing more than to duplicate his success on the biggest stage of all.

Boston Red Sox
Manager – John Farrell

How They Got Here
  • Won AL East with 97-65 record
  • Beat Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 in ALDS
  • Beat Detroit Tigers 4-2 in ALCS

Probables
What to Watch For

The Red Sox will need to find a way to score on Wainwright and Wacha. This is no easy task. Wainwright has allowed four runs across 23 innings this postseason and holds a 2.10 ERA in 55.2 postseason innings in his career. Wacha has been nearly untouchable since his final regular season start. He parlayed a near no-hitter against the Washington Nationals into three fantastic playoff starts where he has accumulated 21 IP and has given up just eight hits and one run.

The Red Sox top two hurlers, Lester and Lackey, will have to match Wainwright and Wacha, though Boston may hold an edge with Clay Buchholz the potential Game 3 starter over Cardinals’ suspected starter Joe Kelly.

Farrell has said that David Ortiz will play first base for at least some of the time when the series shifts to St. Louis and the DH is not available. This is a downgrade in defense for sure, but it also removes Mike Napoli’s stick from the equation which could be a cause for concern.

The Red Sox must take advantage of run-scoring opportunities by putting together big hits. The Red Sox have already had their fair share of such hits this postseason and they’ll need to continue to get clutch performances, because they will not be able to run much on Cardinals’ backstop Yadier Molina.

How many innings can Koji Uehara pitch? Expect Farrell to test the boundaries if he has a one-run lead in the eighth.

Prediction

I didn’t pick either of these teams to reach the World Series. The one reason I chose their opponents to move on was based mostly on pitching. While I thought it was close, I felt the Tigers starters would outperform the Red Sox starters and they did. The difference was that Boston got to the Tiger’s bullpen on more than one occasion with big hits.

I also thought the Dodgers one-two punch of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke would carry them to the World Series. That did not work out so well, as the Cardinals rode Wacha over Kershaw in a tight 1-0 win in Game 2 of the NLCS and then routed the NL Cy Young candidate in the NLCS clincher.

I’ll still lean toward the stronger pitching staff at the front end, where I think the Cardinals hold a slight edge with Wainwright and Wacha. Wainwright is a proven winner in the postseason and Wacha is simply on fire. Another big difference is the Cardinals have a much better bullpen than the Tigers. I would not suspect many leads being blown by the Cardinals.

Plus the Cardinals offense matches up fairly well against a superb Boston lineup which led MLB in runs scored. They may not have as many bashers as the Red Sox, but the Cardinals can score with timely hits and an occasional bomb.

The Cardinals have just a bit more balance than the Red Sox and will win their 12th World Series title in six games.

Logos courtesy of sportslogos.net

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Besides his work here, Chris is a New York Yankees contributor for Yahoo Sports. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Trout, McCutchen among my Baseball Bloggers Alliance Award Selections

The Baseball Stance is a proud member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. Each year, the BBA membership votes on a series of regular season awards. Since this blog is part of the general chapter, I have the ability to vote for both the American League and National League awards and I will take advantage of the opportunity. Below is a roundup of my votes with a short explanation for my choices.


American League

Connie Mack Award – Top Manager
John Farrell – Boston Red Sox

Farrell, in his first season as Red Sox manager, completely changed the culture left behind by 2012’s manager Bobby Valentine. The team went from last to first in the incredibly tough AL East, increasing their win total from 69 to 97. Farrell helped to foster a winning attitude and kept the clubhouse focused on one thing, winning.



Willie Mays Award – Top Rookie
Wil Myers – Tampa Bay Rays

Myers, 22, received in the trade that sent James Shields to the Kansas City Royals, was called up in mid-June and made a significant impact with the club over the remainder of the season. In 88 games and 373 plate appearances, Myers clubbed 13 home runs and drove in 53 runs. His slash line .293/.354/.478 made him an important middle of the lineup contributor to the Rays as they reached the postseason for the fourth time in the last six seasons.

Goose Gossage Award – Top Reliever
Koji Uehara – Boston Red Sox

Uehara, a 38-year-old Japanese veteran, was given the chance to close games after Boston lost Joel Hanrahan and then Andrew Bailey to injuries. Uehara never looked back. He posted an ERA of 1.09, a BAA of .129 and his WHIP was 0.57, the lowest qualified measure ever. Uehara recorded 101 strikeouts and walked just nine batters over 74.1 innings. These are video game numbers. He went on a streak of retiring 37 consecutive batters without allowing a baserunner. He was by far the most dominant reliever in the American League, if not the majors this season.

Walter Johnson Award – Top Pitcher
Max Scherzer – Detroit Tigers

Listen, it’s not just about the wins, though Scherzer did lead the majors with 21. He also compiled 240 strikeouts, just 52 walks, recorded a 2.90 ERA, .198 BAA and a 0.97 WHIP in 214.1 innings. Those are pretty impressive numbers. Scherzer didn’t lose a game until July 13 and lost only three for the entire season. No matter which way you cut it, there is significant value in have 18 more wins than losses.

Stan Musial Award – Top Player
Mike Trout – Los Angeles Angels

Thank goodness the BBA defines this as a “top player” award. No worries about whether the player’s performance was part of a team effort to reach the postseason. It's a factor for me but not a rule. That said, I’ll go with Trout over Miguel Cabrera in what has become an annual debate. Here’s what Trout did in his sophomore campaign – 157 G, 699 PA, 109 R, 39 doubles, 9 triples, 27 HR, 97 RBI and 33 SB. Add a better than average glove to that mix and Trout recorded WAR totals of 9.2 from Baseball-Reference and 10.4 from FanGraphs, both tops in the majors. If I’m given one offensive player pick to start a franchise with, Trout is at the top of my list.

National League

Connie Mack Award – Top Manager
Clint Hurdle – Pittsburgh Pirates

Hurdle will forever be remembered as the manager that pushed the Buccos to the postseason for the first time in 21 years. Once he took over the helm in Pittsburgh, the Pirates improved each season, and in 2013 they finally flourished, finishing with 94 wins. The players respect him and play hard for him. He doesn’t have a roster filled with the best players, but he kept his team in the hunt for the NL Central crown in the National League's toughest division until the final week of play.

Willie Mays Award – Top Rookie
Jose Fernandez – Miami Marlins

This was a tough one, but I went with Fernandez over Yasiel Puig. Mainly it came down to Fernandez playing for a longer period of the season (which I realize is not much of an argument) and his amazing improvement throughout the season. He finished 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA, 187 Ks, 0.98 WHIP and ridiculous .182 BAA across 172.2 innings. After a slow start in April, Fernandez was fantastic and could have improved on his numbers if he had not been shutdown with a couple of weeks left in the season.

Goose Gossage Award – Top Reliever
Craig Kimbrel – Atlanta Braves

Kimbrel is the premier closer in the majors. He tied for the MLB lead with 50 saves and did so in grand fashion. He had a measly 1.21 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, .166 BAA and 98 Ks in 67 innings. He blew just four save chances all season.

Walter Johnson Award – Top Pitcher
Clayton Kershaw – Los Angeles Dodgers

This one was not hard to choose. Kershaw is the best big league pitcher alive at the moment. He went 16-9 with a 1.83 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and .195 BAA. He struck out 232 batters and walked only 52 in 236 innings. Kershaw gives length (7.15 IP per start) and doesn’t make many mistakes (just 11 homers allowed). My guess is he could win many Walter Johnson (and more importantly to him Cy Young) awards before his career comes to an end.

Stan Musial Award – Top Player
Andrew McCutchen – Pittsburgh Pirates

McCutchen does it all. He can hit for average and power, he’s fast, he can take a walk, plays above average in the field and he is a leader. McCutchen didn’t lead the league in any one category but he was among the leaders in many of the major metrics which taken together put him at the top of FanGraph's NL WAR listing with an 8.2.

So, there you have it. Each of these selections can surely be argued against, but that’s the beauty of voting for these types of awards. Everyone has an opinion and some good debate can come out of the different choices. Feel free to leave your comments below.

Photos courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr


Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Besides his work here, Chris is a New York Yankees contributor for Yahoo Sports. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Red Sox reach World Series, Uehara named ALCS MVP

The Boston Red Sox entered the 2013 season with a mission, grow some insane beards, eliminate the bad taste of the 2012 season and get back to the postseason. They’ve accomplished all of that in incredible fashion reaching the World Series for the third time in the last 10 seasons after eliminating the Detroit Tigers four games to two in the American League Championship Series.


Shane Victorino, who the Red Sox received criticism for obtaining  in the offseason, launched a seventh-inning grand slam to turn the tables on the Tigers, who had taken a 2-1 lead in the sixth. Victorino was elated after the ball went over the Green Monster in left field and briskly ran the bases in tune with his nickname, The Flyin’ Hawaiian. From that point the Red Sox rode their lockdown bullpen (21 IP and one run allowed in ALCS) to the finish.

Junichi Tazawa had already snuffed a rally in the top of the seventh, getting Miguel Cabrera to ground out with two men on giving way to the Red Sox offense in the seventh. Lefty Craig Breslow took the eighth inning and continued his great postseason run with a flawless inning, setting down Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez in the process. Breslow has now thrown seven scoreless innings in the postseason.

While Victorino was the no-doubt hero of Game 6, 38-year-old Koji Uehara, whose spectacular performance throughout the regular season and playoffs has brought stability and confidence to the bullpen since being named closer, was named the ALCS MVP. Uehara allowed one hit in last night’s contest, but came away with two more strikeouts to give him nine in six innings during the ALCS. Uehara made five appearances and notched three saves in the series.

Uehara has the ability to get more than three outs and seems unfazed by the pressure of his role and the magnitude of the postseason. The Japanese right-hander posted dominant numbers during the regular season (74 IP, 1.09 ERA, 0.57 WHIP and 101 K) and it has continued throughout the playoffs in which he has allowed only one run in nine innings on five hits and no walks. He’s struck out 13 batters.

The Red Sox will face the St. Louis Cardinals, who punched their ticket to the World Series Friday night. It will be a rematch of the 2004 World Series which ended the Red Sox drought of championships in a dominant sweep. The World Series begins Wednesday night in Boston.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Besides his work here, Chris is a New York Yankees contributor for Yahoo Sports. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Cardinals “Wacha” into World Series

Michael Wacha was not part of the St. Louis Cardinals original equation for their 2013 rotation. But, injuries opened the door and now the 22-year-old rookie should be a mainstay in the rotation for years to come.


Wacha’s incredible run continued Friday night as he tossed seven scoreless innings of two-hit ball propelling the Cardinals to a 9-0 pummeling of the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the National League Championship Series, 4-2. It is the Cardinals 19th World Series appearance, tying them for the most National League pennants with the San Francisco Giants.

The Cardinals dismantled Cy Young candidate Clayton Kershaw, tallying seven runs on 10 hits off the southpaw in just four innings. Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran, who will be making his first World Series appearance, led the 13-hit attack with three hits and two RBIs.

While the Cardinals are happy to have found some life in their bats, especially against such a quality pitcher, this game, series and postseason run has been about Wacha's brilliant performances. He’s become known to more than just Cardinals fans and landed into the national spotlight.

Wacha was the easy choice for NLCS MVP, grabbing two wins and delivering 13.2 innings of shutout baseball. He allowed just seven hits and three walks (one intentional) while racking up 13 strikeouts against a talented Dodgers offense.

Since Wacha’s last regular season start against the Washington Nationals, when he came within one out of a no-hitter, he has gone on an amazing run. In 29.2 innings across four starts, he has given up only one run and nine hits. He has now won the clinching game in both of St. Louis’ playoff series.

The Cardinals will now be able to set their rotation whichever way they’d like with four days off until the World Series begins on Oct. 23. Anticipate Adam Wainwright to get Game 1 honors and Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny to tab Wacha for the Game 2 start.

Can Wacha keep this up into the World Series? The Cardinals hope so and right now I wouldn't bet against it.

Photo courtesy of Brad Tutterow via Flickr


Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Besides his work here, Chris is a New York Yankees contributor for Yahoo Sports. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Friday, October 18, 2013

NLCS and ALCS Providing Plenty of Drama

The baseball season begins in February in Florida and Arizona with each team feeling optimistic as they head into Spring Training. By mid-October there are four teams remaining. At this point each game and every inning is more pressure-packed than the last.

The National League Championship Series, which resumes with Game 6 Friday night in St. Louis, and the American League Championship Series that now moves back to Boston for its Game 6 on Saturday, have provided a little bit of everything and nothing short of drama.

As expected there has been dominant pitching in both series. The Red Sox own the “worst” team ERA of the four clubs remaining with a 3.27 mark. Ironically, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Detroit Tigers own the top two ERAs among the LCS participants at 2.09 and 2.45 respectively, yet find themselves down in their series. The Cardinals are just off the Tigers’ mark with a 2.49 ERA. There shouldn’t be any surprises here considering the top-flight names like Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Adam Wainwright and Jon Lester leading the way.

There have also been terrific displays by rookie pitchers. Michael Wacha continued his hot stretch with 6.2 innings of shutout ball in Game 2 and will hope to continue the trend in Game 6. Hyun-Jin Ryu, the Korean hurler for the Dodgers had his moment in Game 3, tossing seven scoreless innings.

Another rookie, Yasiel Puig, continues to be a lightning rod for conversation about celebrating on the field. He caused enough of a stir along with his teammate Adrian Gonzalez to prompt Wainwright to proclaim they were “Mickey Mouse” antics. Gonzalez more or less retorted, get used to it, this is Hollywood.

Virtually every game of the series has been tight and many have come down to the final out. There have been four shutouts (including three 1-0 beauties), six one-run games and of course we’ve witnessed a walk-off. Not coincidentally, the teams up front right now have dominant closers, with rookie Trevor Rosenthal (4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB & 6K) and Koji Uehara (5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB & 7 K) shutting down the opposition.

Both of the teams with home field advantage, the Cardinals and the Red Sox, are up 3-2, but it could just as easily be the Dodgers and Tigers with the advantage. Despite St. Louis and Boston “sitting in the driver’s seat” a Game 6 victory by the visitors is hardly impossible. The Dodgers have their best pitcher on the mound in Kershaw and the Tigers will lean on Scherzer, the AL wins leader.

I believe it is safe to say that whichever way the Game 6’s go down, they will be hotly contested and likely finish in dramatic fashion. We can only hope that each brings about a climactic Game 7 for a chance to play in the World Series. Is there anything better than a winner take all game to reach the World Series? Just two of them!

Logos courtesy of sportslogos.net

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Dodgers’ and Tigers' bats come alive

Both sides of the League Championship Series have been dominated by incredible pitching performances. This is not uncommon for playoff series and as the cliché goes, good pitching beats good hitting in the postseason. Leading up to yesterday’s Game 5 in Los Angeles and Game 4 in Detroit, the Dodgers and Tigers were aching for some runs.

National League Championship Series - Game 5
St. Louis Cardinals (4) at Los Angeles Dodgers (6)
Cardinals lead series 3-2

In Los Angeles, the Dodgers staved off elimination with a 6-4 victory, displaying a power outburst not yet seen in the NLCS. The Dodgers rocked four Hollywood style home runs, including two from first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who added a single and scored three times. Carl Crawford and A.J. Ellis hit the other bombs for L.A.

The Dodgers also received another fine pitching performance, as Zack Greinke scattered six hits across seven innings of two-run ball. The game got interesting in the ninth as Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen gave up two runs on four hits and allowed the go-ahead run to get up to the plate. He settled down and struck out pinch-hitter Adron Chambers to end the game, sending the series back to St. Louis.

Notes:

  • Joe Kelly took the loss – 5 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 3 K
  • Matt Carpenter and Matt Holliday are showing signs of coming around with the bat
  • David Freese (.118) and Carlos Beltran (.176) are struggling at the plate in the series
  • Gonzalez now has four extra base hits in the NLCS
  • Dodger starters have allowed five runs (four earned) across 28 innings

Friday’s Game 6 Probables
Los Angeles – Clayton Kershaw
St. Louis – Michael Wacha

American League Championship Series - Game 4
Boston Red Sox (3) at Detroit Tigers (7)
Series tied 2-2

Detroit manager Jim Leyland sensed there needed to be some sort of change and did it with a completely new lineup card. He moved Austin Jackson from the leadoff spot to eighth and shifted the rest of his hitters up a spot. It is not unheard of to move a guy who is slumping and Jackson fit the bill, hitting .091 for the postseason entering the game. But, Leyland didn’t just swap Jackson, everyone found themselves in unfamiliar territory.

It worked.

The Tigers erupted for five runs in the second inning off Red Sox starter Jake Peavy en route to a 7-3 win. Even better for the Tigers, Jackson was on base four times with two walks and two singles. He added two RBIs and his first stolen base of the series. Miguel Cabrera, who took over the #2 spot, had two hits and two RBIs.

The Tigers win ensured this series would go back to Boston, and yes Leyland will trot out the same lineup card to the umps for Game 5. Why not?

Notes:

  • Victor Martinez is hitting .400 for the ALCS
  • Doug Fister was the winning pitcher – 6 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 7 K
  • Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit allowed his second run of the series and has a 6.35 ERA in the postseason
  • Jacoby Ellsbury laced four hits including a double and triple
  • David Ortiz is 1-for-15 in the series, though the one hit was the massive grand slam in Game 2
  • The Red Sox are hitting a combined .186 in the ALCS

Tonight’s Game 5 Probables
Boston – Jon Lester
Detroit – Anibal Sanchez

Logos courtesy of sportslogos.net

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Containing Emotions in Baseball is Bad Business

One of the hot button topics in Major League Baseball these days is that some of the young stars of the game display too many celebratory actions on the field. For example, some young players like Los AngelesDodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig and Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harperhave demonstrated great talent and also the ability to flaunt it. This irritates the old-school players, coaches and fans. I’ll argue that these types of players are exactly what MLB needs now if it hopes to contend with the NFL and NBA.

Baseball is inherently a slow sport. It’s a function of the game. So, when there is exciting action on the field in the middle of the game, why is it that the players have to “act like they’ve been there before?” What is the harm of fists to the sky, flipping the bat or admiring a long drive over the fence? Why can’t a pitcher be demonstrative after a crucial strikeout? Why is it that the only time a team can celebrate something on the field is after a walkoff hit or the final out by its closer? In the NFL, players dance and strut after every first down, even when down by 28 points with two minutes to go. In the NBA, every dunk is followed by screaming and flexing, no matter the score.

I’m not suggesting getting into the opponents face or use of verbal taunting tactics. The game has built in mechanisms for handling these situations, which seem to keep things in line most of the time. In my view, shouting at a pitcher as you trot around the bases is uncalled for and probably deserves some sort of retaliation. But, the pitcher needs to suck it up if a batter hits a ball off of an upper-deck and watches it the whole way. He should get back on the mound and go after the next batter. He needs to stop wallowing and not voice his displeasure at the hitter as he rounds the bases. The pitcher has a job to do -- get outs -- not worrying about whether he is being shown up.

It’s the same if a pitcher throws a nasty slider for the final out of the fourth inning with runners in scoring position and pumps his fists, stomps the mound and shouts, “YES!” The hitter in that situation should walk back to the dugout, grab his glove and deal with it. He was beaten in that at-bat and should use it as fire for his next plate appearance. There is no need to get bent out of shape because the pitcher is happy he did his job.

Instead, baseball “purists” get angry with professional players who are outwardly expressive. But, you know what? This enthusiasm sells. Is there anyone more exciting in baseball than Puig right now? Are Dodger fans buying Mark Ellis jerseys or Puig jerseys? Yes, youngsters may emulate Puig’s style and yes it may be over the top for a 12-year-old, but it is the parents’ and coaches’ responsibility to explain that to Little League players.

I’ll choose to teach my kids that the extra bits of celebrating are not necessary. I was always told to demonstrate my displeasure by simply being better. I’d also explain to them that they are watching professional players being paid to entertain.

The baseball traditionalist can be happy that there are many young players who exhibit the old-school mentality of containing excitement and pleasure in success. I actually like when a player simply puts his head down and runs when he knows he’s hit a home run. I used to love that about former Reds and Yankees outfielder Paul O’Neill. But you what I liked even more about O’Neill? He would tear up the dugout when he struck out. He wore his frustrations on his sleeve and I can’t see any reason why today’s players can’t wear elated emotions on theirs. No one seems to mind when a player demonstrates dissatisfaction; it means he loves the game. But displaying excitement in personal performance or soaking up the attention of fans is contrary to baseball’s unwritten code. Nonsense.

Thinking that there is a time and place for celebrating a good play has become ridiculous. As a fan if there is an opposing player fired up for something he did well on the field, deal with it. You’ve probably got a player or two on your own team that does pretty much the same thing.

Think of it this way, you’ve sat through six innings and watched your team get manhandled by the opponent’s starting pitcher and they are losing 8-0. Aren’t you going to get a little excited if your best player hits a three-run homer in the seventh? Don’t you want him to show some exhilaration as he rounds the bases? Who cares if the team is still down by five runs? He did something good to help his team, right? Why can’t he show his happiness just because they are still losing and may not win? Are you as a fan of the team going to stay in your seat because you think they still can’t win? Why should the opposition get riled up because the player is waving his index finger in the air, especially if they feel they’re going to win anyway?

I say, who cares?  I want players to celebrate their homers whenever they hit them. I want pitchers to be bombastic about a big strikeout no matter the inning. It may be the only time someone on the team does anything positive for his fans on that given day.

It is true that winning is the ultimate time to rejoice on the field, but in this day and age of NOW, old-school baseball players, coaches and fans need to embrace change. Today’s stars want to show they are having fun, at any point in a game, regardless of the score and despite what the opposition believes. It’s the new age of baseball and you all better get used to it.

Photo courtesy of Peter Bond via Flicker

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ryu, Puig help Dodgers flip Cardinals

National League Championship Series - Game 3
St. Louis Cardinals (0) at Los Angeles Dodgers (3)
Cardinals lead series 2-1

The Los Angeles Dodgers received a boost of energy from their two rookies Monday night as the boys in blue settled business with the St. Louis Cardinals with their first win of the NLCS.

Hyun-Jin Ryu tossed seven scoreless innings allowing just four baserunners, while Yasiel Puig demonstrated his exuberance, albeit prematurely, flipping his bat in grand style after launching a run-scoring triple as part of a two-run fourth inning.

Adrian Gonzalez had opened the scoring with an RBI-double in the fourth, just the second Dodgers hit with runners in scoring position for in the series at the time. It broke a 21-inning scoreless streak for Los Angeles. After Andre Ethier, who played with a microfracture in his ankle, grounded out, up came the enigmatic Puig with two outs.

Cardinals’ starter Adam Wainwright threw a sinker that did not sink and Puig drove it the opposite way. The 22-year-old Cuban defector tossed his bat and raised his arms in delight, believing he just homered. Instead the ball hit the right field wall and Puig took off around the bases. Even with the grandstanding, Puig made it to third base standing up and the Dodgers had a 2-0 lead. For good measure, Puig celebrated again, encouraging the crowd to cheer.

Cardinals’ outfielder Carlos Beltran spoke about Puig’s antics after the game.

"I think he doesn't know," Beltran said via MLB.com. "He still thinks he's playing somewhere else, I don't know. He has a lot of passion, no doubt about that. Great ability, great talent and I think with time, he will learn that you have to sometimes act a little bit more calm. Not only with trying to show up other teams, [but also], like, umpires. It's going to take him time, but he's going to learn."

While the Dodgers finally pushed across some runs, Ryu was setting down Cardinals batters and did not allow a hit until the fifth inning. The southpaw rookie from Korea looked worlds better than he did in his NLDS performance against the Atlanta Braves and it came at the right time.

The Dodgers tacked on a run in the eighth when Hanley Ramirez, who was playing with a broken rib, blooped a single over Kolten Wong at second base. Wong neglected to see Carl Crawford charging home as he tossed the ball to second base instead. It was one of several miscues by the Cardinals defense that did not show up in the box score as errors, but did so eventually in the run column.

Wainwright pitched a very good game (7 IP, 6 H, 0 BB, 2 ER, 5 K) but was also victimized by center fielder Jon Jay’s poor defense in the decisive fourth inning. Mark Ellis lofted a fly ball to right center, which Beltran gave way to seeing it was Jay’s ball. But Jay also held up and in dropped in as Ellis hustled to second base. Ellis scored the first run on Gonzalez’s double. Jay also dropped a ball off the bat of Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis which resulted in a triple, but he was stranded by Wainwright.

After Ryu's fabulous start, Brian Wilson struck out two in the eighth inning and then Kenley Jansen earned the save with a clean ninth inning.

In the end, the eccentric Dodgers got what they needed. They received some inspiration from Ramirez and Ethier, excellent pitching and the lineup finally provided some timely hitting. Puig's celebration was just a bonus.

Notes:

  • Mark Ellis is hitting .385 in the NLCS and .321/.387/500 in 31 postseason plate appearances
  • Ramirez sits at .455/.571/.864 in 27 postseason PA
  • There have been just nine runs scored (eight earned) in the entire series
  • The Dodgers team ERA is 0.92 with a 0.68 WHIP
  • The Cardinals have an ERA of 1.50 and a 1.00 WHIP
  • The Cardinals bullpen went 11 2/3 innings without allowing a run until the Ramirez’s RBI-single in the eighth
  • Cardinals third baseman David Freese left the game in the fifth with tightness in his right calf and is day-to-day

Game 4 Probables
St. Louis – Lance Lynn
Los Angeles – Ricky Nolasco

NLCS logo courtesy of sportslogos.net

Monday, October 14, 2013

Red Sox shock Tigers to even ALCS

American League Championship Series Game 2
Detroit Tigers (5) at Boston Red Sox (6) – Series tied 1-1

What a difference two innings makes! The Boston Red Sox, on the verge of getting completely whitewashed on their home field, put together an amazing comeback from four runs down to beat the Detroit Tigers in Game 2 of the ALCS.

Tigers' pitching had thoroughly smothered Boston’s offense as Max Scherzer continued where his fellow staff members finished Game 1. Scherzer held the Red Sox hitless through 5 2/3 innings and finished the night leaving with a 5-1 lead after seven dominant innings. Scherzer struck out 13 batters along the way.

The Tigers’ offense woke up a bit courtesy of home runs from Miguel Cabrera and Alex Avila wrapped around a run-scoring double by Victor Martinez. Avila drove in three runs on the night. Boston starter Clay Buchholz allowed all the Tigers runs.

The Tigers bullpen, which had pitched nearly flawlessly in Game 1, took over in the eighth but could not contain the Red Sox once again. Three relievers allowed the bases loaded with two outs and in came Detroit closer Joaquin Benoit. Boston designated hitter and postseason masher, David Ortiz, launched Benoit’s first pitch over the right center field wall over the outstretched reach of Torii Hunter, who flipped over the fence and into Boston’s bullpen. One pitch and the game was all tied up.

Tigers lefty Phil Coke, who has held the left-handed hitting Ortiz to just two hits in 18 at-bats, was not used because he hadn't pitched in three weeks according to Detroit manager Jim Leyland. Leyland went to Benoit and he got burned. Yes, the same could have happened to Coke, I just don't understand the point of putting Coke on the roster if he will not pitch to Ortiz in that spot.

After Red Sox closer Koji Uehara set the Tigers down in order, Boston received some good fortune via a former teammate. Jose Iglesias, traded to the Tigers earlier in the season, was in for defensive purposes and threw away the first ball hit to him by Jonny Gomes on a tough play. Gomes moved to second on the errant throw. Tigers’ reliever Rick Porcello induced a pop foul on the first base side, but Price Fielder could not make the play against the fans. That allowed another opportunity for Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who delivered a single by Iglesias easily driving in Gomes, who was on third after a wild pitch. The Red Sox erupted out of the dugout to celebrate an improbable victory.

The series heads to Detroit for three games with the series tied instead of the Tigers holding a firm advantage. That’s postseason baseball!

Notes:

  • Detroit was the 14th team out of 473 games to lose after holding a five-run lead.
  • Ortiz has 15 home runs and 54 RBIs in 72 postseason games. The grand slam was the first of his postseason career.
  • Hunter was banged up after the play but hit in the ninth and indicated he would be fine in the postgame interviews.
  • Tigers’ starters have dominated in the series totaling 25 strikeouts. The team has 32 in all.
  • Tigers’ center fielder Austin Jackson is 3-for-30 this postseason with 16 strikeouts.
  • Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli has two hits in 17 at-bats and has just one RBI in the postseason.
  • Boston’s bullpen has not allowed a run in six innings of work.

Game 3 Probables
Boston – John Lackey
Detroit – Justin Verlander

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sanchez, Tigers' bullpen Stifle Red Sox

American League Championship Series
Game 1 – Detroit Tigers (1) at Boston Red Sox (0)
Tigers lead series 1-0

The Detroit Tigers have not been scoring a lot of runs this postseason, but when a pitching staff holds the opposition to zero runs and just one hit, it doesn’t matter. The Tigers jumped out to a 1-0 American League Championship Series lead, with a 1-0, one-hit victory, snagging home field advantage from the Boston Red Sox.

Anibal Sanchez did not pitch to his ability in the division series, but the AL ERAleader worked in and out of trouble tossing six innings of hitless ball. Sanchez threw 116 pitches due to six walks and 12 strikeouts. It may not have been pretty for Sanchez, but obviously he was effective when it mattered and the Tigers bullpen did the rest.

Sanchez put himself on the ropes in the bottom half of the sixth walking the bases loaded, only to strikeout Stephen Drew on a nasty slider to end the frame. Sanchez pumped his fists in excitement after retiring his final batter of the night.

Tigers’ relievers added five more strikeouts along the way. Closer Joaquin Benoit gave up a one-out no-doubt single to Daniel Nava to break up the Tigers’ no-hit bid.

Detroit scored their lone run off Boston starter Jon Lester in the sixth. Miguel Cabreradrew a walk, Prince Fielder was hit by a pitch and Jhonny Peralta, who listened to a chorus of “steroids” chants all night, dropped a fly ball in front of Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury for an RBI-single. Lester ended the night allowing the one run, six hits and one walk while striking out five to take the hard-luck loss.

Notes:

  • Both teams went a combined for 1-for-17 with runners in scoring position
  • Ellsbury, Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli all struck out three times
  • The Red Sox added two more stolen bases in the postseason – they now have 8
  • Peralta banged out three more hits – he is 8-for-16 on the postseason
  • The Red Sox had five players left in scoring position with two out
  • For the first time in MLB postseason history, there were a pair of 1-0 games completed on the same day
Tonight's Game 2 Probables
Detroit – Max Scherzer
Boston – Clay Buchholz

The Tigers are in a great position now with the Scherzer, the MLB wins leader, taking the ball in Game 2. But, he’ll be facing Buchholz who was stellar this season, even at Fenway Park where he was 6-1, 1.99 ERA. Should the Red Sox go down 2-0 heading to Detroit, they’ll have a very hard battle on their hands.

Rookie Power Arms Put Cardinals up 2-0

National League Championship Series
Game 2 – Los Angeles Dodgers (0) at St. Louis Cardinals (1)
Cardinals lead series 2-0

The St. Louis Cardinals must be feeling very good about themselves as they head to Los Angeles up 2-0 in the National League Championship Series and their experienced ace, Adam Wainwright, has yet to step foot on the mound.

The Cardinals rookie power arms starred in this one as Michael Wacha tossed 6.2 innings of shutout ball and the bullpen finished off the shutout with Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal striking out the final five Dodgers to come to the plate. The Cardinals' bullpen has now pitched 9.1 innings without allowing a run in the series.

Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw was predictably very good, but the Cardinals scratched across the only run they would need in the fifth as David Freese doubled and eventually scored on a John Jay sacrifice fly. Kershaw allowed just two hits across six innings. He was removed for a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning and finished with just 72 pitches thrown.

The Dodgers had their chances, but could not push across the big hit when they needed it. Their best chance was in the sixth when they had the bases loaded with one out. Wacha struck out Yasiel Puig and Juan Uribe to end the threat, compiling eight strikeouts in all. Puig struck out four times on the afternoon.

Notes:

  • Wacha last three starts – 22.2 IP, 3W, 1 R, 7 H, 5 BB and 26 Ks
  • Rosenthal threw 14 fastballs in the outing ranging from 97 - 101 mph
  • Dodgers are 1-for-16 with RISP
  • Cardinals’ pitching has racked up 24 strikeouts for the series
  • Puig is 0-for-0 with 6 Ks and 11 runners left on base
  • The Cardinals are hitting just .134 for the series – the Dodgers .184
  • Dodgers were 47-34 at home during the regular season
  • Cardinals went 43-38 on the road during the regular season
  • For the first time in MLB postseason history, there were a pair of 1-0 games completed on the same day

Game 3 Probables (Monday)
St. Louis – Adam Wainwright
Los Angeles – Hyun-Jin Ryu

NLCS logo courtesy of sportslogos.net

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Tigers ready to defend American League title against Red Sox

ALCS Preview: Detroit Tigers versus Boston Red Sox

The Detroit Tigers are in the American League Championship Series for the third straight season, looking to return to the World Series for the second year in a row. They have a rough road ahead of them as they face the Boston Red Sox, the AL’s regular season wins leader.

The Tigers advanced by beating the Oakland Athletics in five tight games, while the Red Sox dismantled the Tampa Bay Rays with a potent and balanced attack in four games.

The teams met seven times during the regular season with the Tigers winning four games, but Boston outscored Detroit 43-35.

The Red Sox were able to line up their rotation while the Tigers will have to make some adjustments due to the length of the battle with the A’s.

Probables

Game 1 – (DET) Anibal Sanchez at (BOS) Jon Lester
Game 2 – (DET) Max Scherzer at (Bos) John Lackey
Game 3 – (BOS) Clay Buchholz at (DET) Justin Verlander
Game 4 – (BOS) Jake Peavy at (DET) Doug Fister

Offense

These were the top two teams in the majors in scoring during the regular season with the Red Sox crossing the plate 853 times and the Tigers, 796. The Red Sox continued bashing the ball in the division series hitting .286 and scoring 26 runs in four games. The Tigers on the other hand were mostly shutdown by the A’s pitching as they slashed just .235/.299/.321 as a team.

The Red Sox are capable of scoring in multiple ways, possessing power and speed. The Tigers have power but don’t run much, stealing just 35 bases on the regular season.

The Red Sox were led by Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino and David Ortiz in the ALDS, while Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta led the Tigers’ offense. The Tigers are also hoping that Miguel Cabrera’s home run in Game 5 is the start of something big. It was the Tigers third baseman’s first homer since mid-September.

Pitching

Again, both teams have very solid pitching. The Tigers rotation was arguably the best in baseball with Scherzer (MLB’s wins leader with 21), Sanchez (AL ERA leader at 2.57) and former Cy Young and MVP Verlander (217 Ks). Doug Fister is a pretty good number four.

The Red Sox top three may slightly below the caliber of the Tigers, but they are pretty good nonetheless. Lester (15-8), Lackey (3.53 ERA) and Buchholz (12-1, 1.74 ERA) combined to make a quality top three. Jake Peavy, like Fister is not too shabby as the fourth starter.

The bullpens are also pretty closely matched. Leading up to the closers each team has quality setup guys, with the Tigers relying on young Drew Smyly (2.37 ERA and 81 K in 76 IP) and the Red Sox using Junichi Tazawa (3.16 ERA, 72 K in 68.1 IP) in the eighth inning.

The Red Sox have a lockdown closer in Koji Uehara (1.09 ERA, 21 SV, 101 K in 74.1 IP), while the Tigers turn to Joaquin Benoit (2.01 ERA, 24 SV, 73 K in 67 IP) in the ninth. Those are very good numbers for Benoit, but Uehara had stretches of being untouchable during the regular season.

Managers

Tigers skipper Jim Leyland has the experience while Red Sox manager John Farrell has brought a team from last to first in his inaugural season as Boston’s manager. Each man gets the most out his team and is respected by its players. In such a tight series, decisions by the managers could be crucial and Leyland’s experience in the postseason could provide the Tigers with a slight advantage.

Prediction
The Tigers have a better rotation, but not by much. The bullpens are more or less even. The Red Sox offense is superior to the Tigers and they did not lose a step in the division series where the Tigers have recently struggled at the plate. Leyland has an edge over Farrell. But, the Red Sox have home field advantage. Can the Tigers slow down the Red Sox bats and find their own? Is Detroit’s rotation too strong for Boston? Will Farrell’s postseason inexperience come into play? I like the way the pitching matchups set up for Detroit here and see Verlander winning Game 7 on the road to propel the Tigers to the World Series for the second straight season.