Archive

Posts Tagged ‘MLB’

Both the Cubs and the Indians have reasons to be optimistic heading into Game 7

November 2, 2016 Leave a comment

1205px-2016-world-series-svgEveryone is excited for Game 7 of the World Series tonight. Rightfully so, and I am as well, but I’m also feeling a bit glummy with the realization that this is the final meaningful baseball game for five months (unless you count the World Baseball Classic in March, which my baseball-starved mind definitely will come that time). 

One game left, and what a game it is. Two very worthy teams with — in case you hadn’t heard — two lifetime-spanning championship droughts. One from each side will fall tonight. Which ones? I’m not going to make a pick; let’s just enjoy the game without predictions. However, both the Cubs and the Indians should be supremely confident that they will feel the sweet, sweet burn of champagne in their eyes by the end of the night. Here’s why.

Chicago Cubs

Another late-series surge by the offense

Cub Fan was freaking out after Chicago’s loss in Game 3 of the NLCS. After being shut down by Rich Hill and the Dodgers, the Cubs trailed in the series, 2-1, and had scored one run in the previous two games. 

Then came Game 4. Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell, who were in the slumpiest of slumps, both homered and the Cubs rolled from there. They won the next three games with the help of 23 runs (17 earned). 

This all feels familiar because the Cubs’ bats had taken an early winter hibernation for most of the World Series as well. That lasted until yesterday’s Game 6. Buoyed once again by an offense highlighted by home runs from Rizzo and Russell, the Cubs won easily, 9-3. We’ve seen very recently how this attack can heat up in a hurry and stay hot. It took care of Clayton Kershaw on short rest just 11 days ago, so what’s the big challenge of facing Corey Kluber on short rest (again) when this lineup is clicking?

They have their own advantage in the bullpen

The Indians have the better overall bullpen, sure. But tonight being Game 7 and all, everyone who can throw a pitch is available. That’s good news for the Cubs since, if Joe Maddon’s usage of Aroldis Chapman in the past two games is any evidence, they could use some more trustworthy arms in the ‘pen. So how about Jon Lester and John Lackey in relief? No matter how it works out after starter Kyle Hendricks departs, that looks good on paper. Both are World Series winners. As for Lester, it would be pretty cool to see the possible 2016 National League Cy Young Award winner come into the game in the sixth or seventh inning. Lackey, you may remember pitched one-run ball over five innings in a World Series Game 7 as a rookie. Granted, that was 14 years ago, but the point remains that he won’t have any stage fright if called upon. Cleveland’s bullpen is better, but the Cubs’ bullpen is as deep and has more talent than ever before tonight.

Aroldis Chapman is available

I am one of the millions who disagreed with how Maddon used Chapman in Game 6. Bringing him in during the middle of a seventh inning for the second consecutive game seemed like an unnecessary reach. Doing so with a five-run lead seemed like overkill. But I’m not concerned with how it will affect him tonight. Yes, he has thrown four innings and 62 pitches over the past three days. He has logged 6.1 innings and 102 pitches in this series, which he didn’t appear in until Game 2. 

And I really don’t think it matters all that much. The Cubs will call upon Chapman whenever they feel like it tonight, and he will try to give them what they want. He and his fastball will be amped, that’s for sure. Pain be damned. I wouldn’t be shocked if he is asked to get more than three outs. As a free agent-to-be and one who likely won’t be re-signing with Chicago during the winter, the Cubs will fire the Cuban Missile for as long as they can. 

They were the best team this season

The regular season may mean nothing now, but if the Cubs want a mental boost before tonight’s game, they need to remember how they got here: 103 wins. Third-most runs scored in the league. Fewest runs allowed. Largest run differential by more than 60. The better team doesn’t always win, but the Cubs should remind themselves that obtaining that lofty win total didn’t just happen by chance. 

Cleveland Indians

They are playing at home

This actually might be a plus for the Cubs given that the away team is 4-2 in this series, Chicago brings a massive fan base to every city, and we just saw in Game 6 how quickly the home-field advantage can be squashed. But if you gave each team the option of where they would want to be playing Game 7 of a World Series, of course they would pick their home yard, for good reason. The Indians had the league’s second-best home record during the regular season, tied with the Rangers and the Dodgers at 53-28. Only the Cubs were better at 57-24. For what it’s worth, the Cubs also carry MLB’s best road record, 46-34. That’s what happens when you win 103 games!

Home field isn’t worth much, but it’s nice to have in the most important game of the season. For some players, it will be the most important game of their career.

Corey Kluber is dang good

He’s on short rest for the second time in as many starts, and this will be the Cubs’ third look at him in eight days. OK, I got it.

Counterpoint: Corey Kluber is still a beast.

He has allowed just three runs over 30.1 innings this postseason while compiling a 0.99 WHIP and a 35:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Chicago got to him in the first inning of Game 4 for a run on two hits, but then Kuber didn’t allow a runner past second base for the rest of his outing. A first-inning pounce is probably a big key to a Cubs victory tonight. As we’ve seen already, Kluber can dominate on three days rest once he settles in. If that happens, look out, because …

Miller, Shaw and Allen are locked and loaded

What’s a good nickname we can give this trio? Miller had it so easy with “ABC” as a member of the Yankees. The possible three-initial combinations just don’t work as well here. Sigh ….

Anyway, while I don’t think using Aroldis Chapman in Game 6 puts the Cubs at a clear disadvantage for tonight, the Indians staying away from their Big Three on Tuesday leaves them in an absolutely perfect situation IF they can just be leading after five innings.

Kluber for 5, Andrew Miller for 2, Bryan Shaw for 1, Cody Allen for 1. 

Or Kluber for 6, Miller for 2, Allen for 1.

Or Kluber for 5, Miller for 4. Truly, the Indians should keep Miller in the game until he gives up consecutive hits or he tears his shoulder out — whichever comes first, and my money’s on the shoulder giving way. The run that he gave up in Game 4 was the first and only one he has allowed in 25.1 career postseason innings.

Miller has had three days off; Shaw and Allen have had two. Here is their collective pitching line for these playoffs:

38 innings, 27 hits, five runs (four earned), 11 walks, 62 strikeouts. That’s a 0.95 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP.

If the Indians are leading once the sixth inning arrives and lose this game, it will be pretty surprising.

One more baseball game for the next five months. It should be one to remember.

Pace of play? The Diamondbacks and Rockies hold the longest 9-inning game in National League history

3dclocksYou don’t hear about pace of play this season as much as you did when the new rules to speed up baseball games were instituted in 2015. But don’t be mistaken; it remains one of commissioner Rob Manfred’s top initiatives.  And frankly, he’s fighting a losing battle right now.

Game times are up in 2016, surpassing the dreaded three-hour mark as of mid-May. The biggest culprit? There’s just more of stuff. More pitches, more walks, more strikeouts and more balls staying out of play. Those add up, and you had the perfect storm Friday night when the Rockies hosted the Diamondbacks.

It took 4 fours and 30 minutes for the D’Backs to pull off the 10-9 comeback victory. The game time bested a 15-year National League record for longest nine-inning game by 3 minutes. The previous record-holder was a Dodgers-Giants tilt from 2001.

This one had all the ingredients for a extraordinarily long game: 19 runs; 30 hits; 13 walks; 16 strikeouts (eh, that’s not too bad); six mid-inning pitching changes (serenity now!).

As pointed out by the Rockies’ SB Nation blog, Purple Row, the teams combined for 46 at-bats with runners in scoring position. That is pretty amazing to fathom but easy to understand when you see that there were 12 doubles (tied for the most in a game this year), six stolen bases, five errors, three wild pitches, two balks and all of those damn walks. There were actually 60 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, and imagine how much longer this game would have lasted if the teams had hit better than .196 in those RISP situations.

I never want to complain about game times; my life is always better at the ballpark. But it’s games like this one that make Manfred tear out what’s remaining of his hair. Moreover, there’s really nothing he can do to stop these types of games from occurring. For all of his rules and suggestions, he can’t force pitchers to throw strikes. He can’t stop fielders from booting balls. He can’t stop hitters from taking so many pitches. Like the fans, he just has to sit there and wait for the game to, at some point, end.

Yordano Ventura needs another, longer timeout

On Tuesday night, we were treated to yet another example of Yordano Ventura’s desire to start fights.

The fuse was lit in the second inning when Ventura threw a couple of fastballs up and in to Manny Machado, who responded with a stiff glare and some trash talk after he flew out. Then in the fifth inning and trailing 5-1, Ventura sent a fastball at 99 MPH — his fastest pitch of the night — right into Machado’s back.

A melee ensued. Machado immediately charged at Ventura, hit him with a right and then basically DDT’ed Ventura into the mound. It was ugly and it certainly could have been avoided.

But this is what Yordano Ventura does when he’s not striking batters out at a declining rate or issuing walks at a rising rate. A similar incident occurred last April when Ventura, once again on the losing side of things, decided to drill Brett Lawrie with a 99 MPH fastball.   

A week before that, Ventura got in Mike Trout’s face for … some reason. In his start directly following the Lawrie beaning, Ventura instigated a brawl with the White Sox after mouthing off to Adam Eaton because … I really don’t know why. It’s quite difficult to identify Ventura’s modus operandi all the time. He was tagged with a seven-game suspension for his role in that donnybrook, a ban that felt like a make-up call on MLB’s part after it only fined Ventura for throwing at Lawrie.

And now he has done it again to one of the biggest stars in the game. Already frustrated with the look of his box score, Ventura decided to take it out on Machado at ninety-freaking-nine miles per hour.

What’s to come of this? It’s tough to say. Baseball has sent a message in recent years with its penalties — or lack thereof — for beanball pitchers. Since the start of 2012, only two pitchers have been suspended more than six games for intentionally throwing at batters. That’s one fewer than the number of pitchers who have received such suspensions for using pine tar. The Diamondbacks’ Ian Kennedy set the recent high-water mark in 2013 when he was banned for 10 games after throwing at the heads of Yasiel Puig and Zack Greinke.

Perhaps Ventura won’t get 10 games (I mean, he tried to hurt only one batter). But he should. He is now a repeat offender, choosing on multiple occasions to throw as hard as he can with the intention of inflicting pain on another baseball player. The fact that he did it to an MVP-level player this time should carry some weight as well. 

Ventura was compared to Pedro Martinez as he made his way through the minors for his delivery, slight build, eye-popping velocity and nasty offspeed stuff. He’s got another thing in common with Martinez now*. People romanticize how Pedro would pitch inside and intimidate hitters. Shortly following the brawl, I heard some TV broadcaster say, in relation to Ventura, at least Martinez never tried to hurt anyone (Hey, Gerald Williams! Hi there, Karim Garcia!).

That is ridiculous. This shouldn’t be dolled up “old school” baseball. This is dangerous and could be construed as criminal. Yordano Ventura can continue to jabber and piss off opponents and likely some of his teammates when he tries to get under a batter’s skin. The larger issue is the 25-year-old has hit a batter in consecutive years on purpose with a 99 MPH fastball. That really, really needs to be seen as more egregious than scuffing the ball with pine tar.

*Actually, an affection for the beanball should be considered the only thing Ventura and Martinez share as pitchers currently because Yordano has been one of the league’s worst on the bump this season and hasn’t come close to living up to the hype. 

The new ‘Killer Bs.’ And I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords

e8ec8ab8a39705da6c6bcb54c7e664ccIf you are a baseball fan and were born before, say, 1990, the nickname “Killer Bs” should create a distinct image in your mind.

Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and a revolving door of players made up Houston Astros’ trio of “Killer Bs” from the late-90s and early 2000s. I’m not sure why everyone felt the need to always group Biggio and Bagwell with a third alliterative surname, but that’s how it was done. I guess three bees are so much more intimidating than a measly duo of bees. I can’t say since one actual bee is enough to send this phobic man into a catatonic state.

In the ’90s, Derek Bell or Sean Berry played the role of the third man. (I think Bill Spires even snuck in there for a bit too). At the turn of the millennium, Lance Berkman fit right in. Carlos Beltran was part of the band for a few incredible weeks in 2004. But Chris Burke was never included. I don’t know what the makers of that poster were thinking. Also, the nickname shouldn’t have an apostrophe. But I digress.

Together, Biggio, Bagwell and the other guy were the “Killer Bs.”

That time has passed, and the nickname’s legacy remains pretty much in tact, at least in baseball. The Pittsburgh Steelers are using it to describe Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and, when he’s not suspended, Martavis Bryant. Honestly, the usage there makes more sense on the surface considering the Steelers’ uniform color scheme.

But it’s time for baseball to dust it off and get it to catch on across the country en masse with Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. 

Too soon? Yeah. Collectively, they have fewer than 4,000 MLB at-bats between them. Bradley looked like an overrated prospect prior to 2016, and Betts has just one full season under his belt. Biggio is a Hall of Famer, Bagwell should be one, and both were established studs by the time they were tagged with the moniker 20 years ago.

But baseball should be doing whatever it can to market its young stars — Bradley Jr. is the elder at 26; Betts and Bogaerts are 23 — and three all-around quality ballplayers in a big, diehard baseball market seems like a perfect opportunity. I know baseball is strongest at the local level; its low national ratings are commonly overrated when discussing the sport’s well-being. That doesn’t mean baseball should just ignore attempts to get fans everywhere interested in particular players. Why not make Betts, Bogaerts and Bradley Jr. poster children?

Bradley Jr. was already a spotlight player in May as his hitting streak was the top story around the league — whenever Clayton Kershaw wasn’t pitching. And when Bradley’s streak stopped at 29 games, Betts took over the lead by hitting basically every ball he saw out of the park. In the span of seven at-bats on Tuesday and Wednesday, Betts hit five home runs. Meanwhile, Bogaerts entered tonight leading Major League Baseball in hits and batting average. That’s all.

Sell that burgeoning talent, that youth, and the excitement those three create on the diamond, package it with a gimmick that ties eras together and see what happens. And yes, the fact that all three are not white should make this an even more important matter to the powers that be.

At the very least, wait a year, let David Ortiz have the going-away party he deserves and then plaster these guys all over any media outlet you have. I trust that none of them fall into a horrendous slump that sees them benched or flown back to the minors. In the near future, they may even be batting back-t0-back-to-back in the Red Sox’s order. Plus, Boston is their baseball home, so the “Killer Bs” will be playing in the “B-hive?” OK, that’s a little ridiculous. Or a lot ridiculous.

I think a committed, multi-player nationwide campaign would be fun. I’m a Yankees fan, and I have loved watching Betts, Bogaerts and Bradley Jr. this year. I think everyone outside of Boston and who doesn’t pay for the MLB Extra Innings package would love them as well. Baseball should expose them to the hilt and keep alive the charm of the “Killer Bs” nickname.

The Dodgers’ phenom is here

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers-Photo DayIn 1980, an unimposing, 5-foot-11 lefthander from Mexico named Fernando Valenzuela made his debut for the Los Angeles Dodgers at the age of 19. He didn’t allow an earned run in 17.2 innings that year and followed that up in 1981 by becoming the first player to ever win the Rookie of the Year and the Cy Young awards. He began that season by posting five shutouts and allowing just two earned runs through his first seven starts. He ended it as the best player on a World Series champion. Through it all, Valenzuela was so beloved by Los Angeles’ large Latino – specifically, Mexican – community, his starts became must-see events. The craze was known as “Fernandomania.”

Thirty-five years later, there’s another 19-year-old, 5-foot-11 lefty from Mexico ready to become the Dodgers’ next phenom. And he will begin his journey tonight.

That’s Julio Urias, a pitcher whom MLB.com has listed as a top-10 prospect two years running. He will take on the Mets at Citi Field, and the Dodgers clearly believe he is ready for such high-end competition. They could have called up someone else and held Urias back until next week’s home series versus the pitiful Braves. Instead, he will be thrown into into the orange and blue flames tonight. Urias has done nothing to second-guess his preseason rankings as he has a 1.10 ERA and a 44:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 41 innings at Triple-A Oklahoma City.  He threw six no-hit innings in a start earlier this month.

Urias does compare slightly to Valenzuela as a pitcher, but that doesn’t mean he will throw a bunch of shutouts right away – it’s a different era. However, Urias pitches with more power and better control. His career K-to-walk rate through more than 250 minor league innings is better than 3:1. Scouts have marveled at his feel for pitching at such a young age, and there was a belief that Urias was MLB-ready last year, at the age of 18, when he was baffling mature hitters in Double-A. Even at age 16, Urias was striking out more than 11 men per nine with a sub-2.50 ERA and a WHIP barely over 1.10. He is a player well beyond his years.

Urias has a full repertoire of pitches, too. A mid-90s fastball, an excellent changeup, a developing curveball and a slider. He can throw all of those pitches for strikes and spot them on different horizontal and vertical planes. His combination of age and stuff has led to comparisons with not so much Valenzuela, but Felix Hernandez.

Felix was the last pitcher to debut at such a young age. Bryce Harper was game’s most recent teenage hitter. Those players had a surplus of hype surrounding their first games, and it should be no different with Urias. I won’t be able to watch tonight’s game because living in Los Angeles and seeing the Dodgers on TV is not something many people can do around here. Also, I’ll be at Angel Stadium for Astros-Angels. Because who needs to watch the game’s next great arm introduce himself when you can just go see Mike Fiers battle Matt Shoemaker, right?

Anyway, I’m just giddy and glad that Urias is here. He looks like the nerdy, scrawny babyface who gets bullied by the jocks in high school. But he is about to make a bunch of grown men look stupid. I’m not sure how many starts he will make; the Dodgers will monitor his pitch and inning counts very closely and may stick him in the bullpen for this season. But for one night, everyone should want to see what he brings. Maybe he won’t produce anything close to “Fernandomania” in the long run, but if he is as good as billed, I, for one, welcome the age of “U-phoria”

Presenting the last word on Rougned Odor vs. Jose Bautista

May 19, 2016 1 comment
wp-1463636060487.jpg

More action than any recent Floyd Mayweather fight

I’m so late to this party, the cake is stale and the only person left in the room is the janitor sweeping up the streamers and balloons. So let me just hit you with some bullet-point opinions about baseball’s Fight of the Century.

  • For me, seeing this type of baseball fight — a true rarity compared to those from days gone by — is sort of like passing a massive car crash on the freeway. I don’t get any intrinsic enjoyment out of the sight, yet I can’t take my eyes off of it because the curiosity is overwhelming. Baseball fights, unlike some car crashes, are wholly avoidable, and it’s rather ridiculous that the level of hatred can reach such high levels. But in the moment, that was some compelling.
  • A few Blue Jays said after the game that the Rangers acted cowardly by hitting Bautista in what was likely his final at bat of the season series between the two teams. That sounds like a lot of sour grapes. The Rangers felt the need to retaliate for what happened during last year’s postseason — All of this over a bat flip? Really? — and they did so at a time that left the Blue Jays with little to no time for payback. That’s not cowardly, that’s called picking your spots. And then Toronto lost the actual fight. The Rangers basically got the best of their playground nemesis on the last day before summer break. Smart. All Toronto could do was hit Prince Fielder in the thigh with a pitch. Ooooh, that’ll show ’em. Not like Prince has a lot of meat on his legs to cushion that blow or anything.
  • Please let these teams meet in the playoffs again. Please let these teams meet in the playoffs again. Please let this teams meet in the playoffs again …   
  • No player or team was “right” in this matter, but Rougned Odor was the No. 1 jerk by far. Not just because of his push-punch combination, but as Jose Bautista is sliding into second base, Odor clearly drops down and attempts to either nail Bautista with the ball or his fist. If you can stand to watch it again, just look at how the throw comes out of his hand. Yeah, Bautista slides in illegally, but he didn’t really contact Odor much before the throw, and that ball almost went into right field. Odor had no intentions of completing the double play.
  • With that said, Odor is a Texas Rangers legend for life (assuming he doesn’t torment the Rangers with another team or disparage the franchise in the future). Clips of that punch will be shown around Globe Life Park and the Dallas-Fort Worth area for years. He’s basically the newest personification of “Don’t Mess with Texas.” He is right up there with Nolan Ryan, Ivan Rodriguez and Cordell Walker. Who knew his first name was Cordell?
  • Major League Baseball obviously said publicly that it doesn’t condone this violence. However, if that’s completely honest, I don’t think this would have been this lead story — with numerous replays of the fight — on every show that aired on its own network for the following two days. Plus, you know that photos of this thing will find itself on MLB-licensed material in the future. Fighting is bad, mmmkay? But the league won’t turn down the extra attention.
  • I’m surprised there weren’t heavier suspensions and more in total. Bautista gets just one game while Jesse Chavez gets three? Maybe Joe Torre felt Joey Bats had taken enough punishment already. Elvis Andrus had to sit for a game while Kevin Pillar did not. And Josh Donaldson gets only a fine? That seems inconsistent with the video.
  • To anyone who thought the brawl would piss off the Blue Jays or fire up the Rangers, both of these teams were swept in their next series. Toronto got thrashed by Tampa Bay at home, and Texas had a forgetful few days in Oakland. So much for those narratives that were all over the place on Sunday and Monday.

Weird, wild, wacky stuff. Fortunately, baseball went back to normal on Tuesday when real baseball fight took place.

Look at that fake machismo and all of that wasted energy from the bullpen pitchers! That’s how you do it, boys.

The Angels were *this close* to having a Rally Cat

mlbf_688810883_th_45I am a cat person. Not to be confused with a crazy cat person, but cats are better than dogs. I grew up with a few of each, and cats, while obviously being more independent and self-sufficient, can be just as loving. If you disagree with that last sentence, you haven’t found the right cat for you, but they are out there and are absolutely the best.

On Thursday night, two of my greatest loves, cats and baseball, collided and almost formed a beautiful long-term relationship.

In the bottom of the fourth inning at Angel Stadium, a cat — I’ll call it an orange tabby, although I’m sure a true feline aficionado can correct me — dashed across the middle of the infield during the Cardinals-Angels game. And this being a 2016 Angels game, a cat on the field is the usually the most exciting non-Trout play of the night.

051216_laa_cat_onthe_field_medres_rok8epvs.gif

But this was no ordinary night. The Cards and Angels slugged it out until a nearly four-hour affair ended in St. Louis’ favor, 12-10. The Angels’ TV broadcasters said repeatedly during the game that if the Angels were able to win this one, that cat had to become the franchise’s unofficial mascot. Which would have been fine by everyone, since the Rally Monkey’s best days occurred when “Gettin Jiggy Wit It” was nesting in your brain.

Alas, Los Angeles’ comeback attempt in the ninth fell short, and I assume this will be forgotten shortly. Maybe some PR intern will come up with a funny campaign using the cat, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

The cat, which is apparently one of a few strays that live in and around the park, seems to be getting its chance at a happy ending:

I would take it in if I could, especially because you know what happens to those animals if they don’t find a home soon, right? Actually, let’s not think about that.

Viva the Cat-lifornia Angels!