Thursday Morning Musings…

First off, congratulations to the Kansas City Royals for their first World Series appearance since 1985. The Royals have steamrolled their way in, starting with a come from behind victory in the wild card game over the A’s and following that up by sweeping the Angels and Orioles, respectively. KC definitely deserves to be there, and will be a formidable opponent for whoever emerges from the national league.

Now, as to last night’s game between the Giants and the Cardinals, the less said, the better.

Still, some thoughts:

Why is it, when the Cards score four or more runs, our opponent always seems to score more, but when we score three or less, we get a pitching gem? Maybe that’s just the games I managed to catch, but it sure seems like the Cardinals tend to lose when the runs pile up.

Release the LOOGY as soon as the season is over! I don’t think Randy Choate is a bad guy, per se, but if we have him, Mike’ll use him, and probably beyond Choate’s defined role, which often leads to trouble.

Was it me, or were we giving all of San Fran’s players free passes to first base?

Here’s a question for the bloggers with a taste for baseball history:

Has there been any manager who has been fired after making the playoffs? Offhand, I think it happened to Dusty Baker after he guided the Reds there, but I could be wrong. Anybody else?

I ask because, as the evidence mounts, it seems like the Card’s talent will get them to the playoffs, but Mike Matheny won’t be able to get them the World Series trophy unless everything breaks just right (like it has been for the Royals.) Short of a major comeback (and it has been done before, by the Giants two years ago, against the Cards, no less.) Matheny won’r do it this year.

Mike has made the playoffs three years in a row, including three straight NLCS appearances and (so far) one World Series appearance. How much of that is the team’s talent and willpower, and how much of that is Mike? The more I watch, the more I think we’re winning in spite of our manager, not because of him.

That doesn’t mean to say the Cards don’t have flaws. They could use a deeper bullpen, another solid starting pitcher, and more offensive punch. Overall though, the town of St. Louis has a verey talented baseball team, when managed well, is a legit World Series contender. Is it currently managed well though? Something to think about, and comment on if you feel like it,

As always, thanks for reading.

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Hey Matheny! Look Up The Word Flexibility!

Last night’s loss, ultimately can be laid at Randy Choate’s feet, or so one would think. In all actuality, the blame lies at the feet of Mike Matheny, due to his bullpen management.

The Cards tied the game in the top of the seventh inning thanks to a Grichuk homer, before any relievers had been used. You’d think, with the score tied, Matheny would manage to the tie, not to the win, because the Cards (and baseball teams in general) never know when or if they’re going to score another run, so it pays to used relievers they can stretch out for more than one inning. Hey, here comes Marco Gonzales! He’s been a swing man this year, so Mike can easily get more than one inning out of him. Marco even set the side down in order, so he’s on form, and you didn’t need to pinch hit for him, so onto the eighth with him right, especially since we’re still tied?

Nope.

The eighth inning is Neshek time, and he admittedly did a good job. In fact, Pat set down the side in order as well. The Cards didn’t score again, and since Neshek’s spot in the order didn’t come up, Mike could have kept Pat in to pitch the ninth right?

Nope.

In comes Maness, and he, too, sets the side down in order. Now in the bottom of the inning, Matheny *does* pinch hit for Maness, sending in Bourjos. (Bourjos? Really? What happened to that Taveras guy, you know, the one who has already hit a pinch hit home run in this series?) And Bourjos goes meekly. Jon Jay does single, but nothing comes of it.

So who do we bring in? The LOOGY! Randy Choate comes in, promptly walks the first guy he faces (Brandon Crawford) and stays in. Then he allows a single to Juan Perez….and stays in! Never mind that I wouldn’t have started the inning with him, either extending Maness or bringing in Carlos Martinez, surely you pull Choate now right? Nope. He gets left in, and disaster ensues.

Now it should be noted that Matheny’s counterpart, Bruce Bochy, managed pretty conservatively himself, using a reliever an inning until the final inning, when Jon Jay singled. Then he pulled Javier Lopez and put in Sergio Romo, a risky move as Romo had struggled previously in the series. In this case though, I agree with the move, as action is better than inaction. Plus the move worked, as Romo retired Matt Holliday.

Heck even Ned Yost managed his bullpen better than Matheny did yesterday. In the sixth inning of KC’s game against Baltimore, the inning Yost usually struggles with, he played it smartly, bringing in Jason Frasor, who set down the side in order. Then he turned things over to his Bullpen Cerberus, each of whom also set down the side in order, finishing up the victory.

So when even Ned Yost outmanages you, you know you screwed up.

As always, thanks for reading.

Admiring Yadi and Waino…

This isn’t my typical post, backed with stats and whatnot…

Rather, I simply wanted to admire the toughness of our two leaders, Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina.

Did you know, that other than in his Tommy John year, Waino has averaged 225.8 Innings pitched in the last five years he’s been active?

Did you know, that until this year, Yadi had not appeared in fewer than 136 games in the past five years? That’s pretty good for a catcher, which is the most demanding position on the field.

Neither of these stats include the playoffs, and given that the Cards have been to at least the NLCS the past four years, they’ve accumulated quite a few innings/appearances. there.

So when Yadi acts like he’s going to play again in this series, regardless of a strained oblique, or when Waino acts like he’s not going to miss a start, despite struggling in his last two outings, not making out of the fifth inning in either one, I just smile and nod, not surprised at all. I fully expect both of them to return in this series. Not only that, I expect them to contribute.

Is that realistic? Probably not. But that’s what we’ve come to expect of those two. They’ve always found a way to contribute, always found a way to be involved.

We have other options, to be sure, but those two are so used to carrying the load, they’re not going to sit idly by. I half expect Mike Matheny to be forced to chain them to the bench to keep them out of the game.

And when they do force their way in, as I expect them to, I’m going to be watching, holding my breath, expecting something special, as they’ve given me no reason to expect anything less.

Thanks for reading.

Four Ourfielders Outfielders For Two Spots

Oscar Taveras, Randall Grichuk and Peter Bourjos all have cases for playing in the outfield right now. The problem is there’s only one spot open, as Jon Jay has been hitting well lately. Assuming Jay continues to hit, who gets the spot? We’re also going to say that consistency equals production, so rotating on a daily basis is out of the question (though defensive replacement in later innings is allowed)

For today, let’s forget the long term situation and decide who starts against Jake Peavy…

Taveras bats left while Grichuk and Bourjos bat right. Peavy allows a higher average to righties .265 vs .249 to lefties) but allowed over twice as many home runs (16 to 7) to lefties.

Given our power struggles during the regular season, I say we take the slight hit in average and slot Taveras in the lineup and have him play right with Jay playing center. Yes we’ve hit some home runs during the off season but who knows if it’s going to last, so my feeling is you take advantage of any power boost you can get.

As for long term…

Since Jon Jay is a lefty, you could technically keep all four and play the platoon split game, with Jay n Taveras pairing up one day and Grichuk and Bourjos the next, with any of the four giving Matt Holliday a rare day off. However, since I doubt management wants to pay five outfielders, the odd man out, to me, seems to be Bourjos. Both Grichuk and Taveras have high upsides management can dream on and Jay has become something of a fan favorite. That leaves Bourjos. While I like Bourjos, if Jay can keep his high OBP (.372 this year) I’m ok with moving Bourjos. Jay has had a .370+ OBP in the past, with a .373 OBP in 2012, so it’s possible. Plus, his career OBP is .359, so it’s not that far off the mark.

As always, thanks for reading.

Five Things To Watch For The NLCS

I did the ALCS yesterday, so it’s time for the NLCS and find out what to watch for in the NLCS.

1) Pitching Duels

We were promised these in the NLDS, but we didn’t get as many as we thought we would, especially in the STL/LA series. Well, depending on whether Madison Bumgarner starts game one or not, and whether Jake Peavy’s resurgence is for real, we might get them here. Adam Wainwright’s health is an issue, but we have three other steady options in Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller and John Lackey.

2) Battle Of The Franchise Catchers

Neither team would be where they are right now without their catcher. Yadier Molina is known more for his defense while Buster Posey is known more for his offense, but the truth is both have all-around games. Posey is an excellent pitch framer, while Yadi’s BA was .282, solid, but also his lowest since 2011, indicating it has a good chance to rebound next year, particularly due to the fact he was injured part of the year.

3) Cluster Bombing

Our top three hitters in our projected lineup (Matt Carpenter, Jon Jay, and Matt Holliday) all have OBP’s of .370 or higher, giving them a good chance to get on base together and create some havoc, especially if the hitters behind them like Matt Adams and Jhonny Peralta are having good days. In contrast, the Giants only have one projected starter with an OBP over 360 and that’s Posey.

4) The Defenses

Both teams have solid defenses, but it’ll be how they use them that matters. For example, the Giants starting the recently returned Michael Morse in LF and absorbing his atrocious glove, or keeping him on the bench as a valuable bench bat. Chances are he’ll be a late inning sub for his bat. The same is true for the Jon Jay / Peter Bourjos, only in reverse as Bourjos would come in for his glove.

5) Bullpen Management

Both teams have versatile bullpens, but while Matheny is pretty rigid in his usage, Bochy is flexible, and as I’ve written before, that could be the key to the series.

So who wins? I like our lineup better, especially our top three, and I think we’ll get on base and score more, and be backed up by our solid pitching staff.

As always, thanks for reading.

Five Things To Watch In The ALCS

Kansas City versus Baltimore. Let those four words float in your mind for a moment. Two teams who weren’t on anybody’s top five list to *make* the playoffs at the beginning of the season not only made it, they swept each of their respective division series.

1) The battle of the bullpens:

I know, I know, I use this one quite a bit, but given that these are two of the best bullpens in the game, this is something to keep an eye on. There’s a possible injury to one of KC’s bullpen beasts, Kelvin Herrera, but that’s ok, they’ll just slot a kid who was in the last College World Series into his spot.Finnegan’s ascendance means the Royals Cerberus is intact, meaning that they only need six innings from their starters, just like they have all year.

As for Baltimore’s ‘pen, it may not be as well known as KC’s, but it may be just as good, with their own trio to cover the back end. The emergence of Zach Britton as the closer when Tommy Hunter faltered, combined with the excellence of Darren O’Day and mid-season acquisition Andrew Miller, gives the Orioles a ‘pen to watch.

2) Battle of the no name rotations:

Quick, name a starter from either team other than James Shields! Times up! You probably got Chris Tillman, and maybe Yordano Ventura, but chances are, unless you’re a Royals or Orioles fan, or a baseball nut in general (raises hand. I mean, I asked someone about a GM on another team the other day, and he gave me a the equivalent of a blank look) you don’t know these rotations. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good, just not well known. Danny Duffy for example, may have had a losing record for the Royals, but he had an excellent ERA and WHIP at 2.53 and 1.112, respectively. He admittedly did this in 149 innings, the fewest of the rotation, about 30 less than Ventura. It was the most innings of his career though, and he’s still relatively young at 25, so this year could be the launching point of a solid career as a starter. The Orioles’ with Tillman and Kevin Gausman, have two young guns 26 or under to anchor their staff for years to come. Duffy and Gausman may not start during this series, but expect to see them in either long relief or other bullpen roles.

3) Power vs. Speed:

While the Royals showed off surprising power during the LDS, contact and speed was their calling card during the season and given Baltimore’s effective pitching staff, they need to continue to rely on it. It’ll be interesting to see how much they run on catcher Caleb Joseph, who’s got a good arm who caught 40 percent of runners that tried to steal on him. Plus, the Orioles pitchers as a whole are quick to the plate, making them harder to steal on.The Orioles, rely on the boomstick. Nelson Cruz is having a good post-season, and they have additional power in the form of Steve Pearce and Adam Jones. Jones’ patience will be key here as he only drew 19 walks all year, resulting in a low .311 OBP despite a solid .281 BA. He needs to be more patient and wait for his pitch, or his bat will be neutralized.

4) History:

Neither of these teams have been to the World Series in a long time. While the Orioles did make the playoffs 2 years ago, they lost in the LDS. Their last appearance in the LCS was in 1997, where they lost to Cleveland. Their last World Series appearance was in 1983, when they beat the Phillies.

The Orioles have nothing on the Royals though, as they haven’t even sniffed the playoffs since they won it all in 1985. They did have a 92 win season in 1989, but even then they finished seven games behind the A’s back in an era when there was no wild card.

The bottom line is both of these teams are playing for the chance to do something they haven’t done in a very long time: Appear in a World Series.That’ll heighten the tension, because neither team knows when they’ll be in this position again, especially with key players like James Shields and Nelson Cruz heading off into free agency after the season in search of megabucks.

5) The Rigidity of Ned Yost versus the Flexibility of Buck Showalter:

Remember KC’s bullpen cerberus I mentioned earlier. It’s that way because Yost is very rigid. Once you’re assigned a role, you stay there forever unless you’re injured. Admittedly many managers are pretty rigid these days, but nobody’s as inflexible as he is. Whenever his starters run into trouble in the sixth inning, I think Yost develops brain cramps, because it doesn’t seem like he knows what to do. Showalter, on the other hand, adapts. He asked for five outs from Miller in one of the LDS games and got them. He’s not afraid to adapt on the fly, especially with his bullpen.

One thing I forgot to mention: Defense. Both teams have good defenses and rely on them (with the Royals outfield being the best in the business) so don’t expect many errors or defensive lapses.

The pick:

I think it’ll come down to the managers, and Showalter has the clear advantage there. Orioles in 6.

As always, thanks for reading.

The Chess Master Versus another Checkers Player

I’ve called Bruce Bochy a chess master in the past, and it still stands. Well, now we get to face him in the NLCS. Frankly, from a managerial standpoint, I’d much rather have faced Matt Williams. The Nationals were the more talented team, but Bochy managed his team better. I wouldn’t necessarily say the same thing about our series with the Dodgers. With that series, Mike Matheny simply screwed up less than Mattingly, there’s a big difference.

Lineup Management

Things have gotten better lately (although Pete Kozma starting in place of Kolten Wong in a NLDS game nearly set Twitter on fire) but throughout most of the season, Matheny was lambasted for starting “his guys” IE veterans who’d been around a while, guys like Allen Craig and Mark Ellis, who struggle, while the young talent in need of at-bats to develop (Oscar Taveras and Kolten Wong come to mind) rode the bench. Matheny’s hand was forced a little when Craig was traded and Ellis was injured, but he still made some questionable lineup decisions.

Bochy, on the other hand, kept his team afloat despite injuries to key position players. Such as Michael Morse and Angel Pagan. He’s got a relatively deep lineup, but he’s filled his holes well when they’ve popped up. Particularly helpful has been the emergence of Joe Panik at second base, filling a position that was a black hole for the team.
Bullpen Management

Matheny has a stubborn streak when it comes to his bullpen. When Trevor Rosenthal was struggling, he stuck with him, when many people (myself included) believed Mike should’ve given somebody else a shot. Rosie has stabilized a bit, but it’s worth noting that in his last two games against the Dodgers, he allowed runners to get into scoring position both times before pulling an escape act. One wonders if his Houdini act will finally fail against the Giants.

In contrast, when Bochy, had a struggling closer in Sergio Romo, he replaced him with Santiago Casilla, who did a much better job. Sounds simple right? Apparently not. Sure, it helps that Casilla had prior experience as a closer in 2012, but even if we didn’t have a former closer on our staff, we had options, like Carlos Martinez or Pat Neshek, to name two.

In short, Bochy manages his team better, while Mike does ok, but is often carried by the talent of his team. We’ll see if that continues in the LCS.

As always, thanks for reading.

My NL MVP And Manager of the Year votes

I was nominated to vote on the NL manager and MVP awards. I take this honor very seriously and have given it quite a bit of thought.

First, let’s go with the manager.

1) Bruce Bochy
2) Clint Hurdle
3) Mike Matheny

Bochy had the toughest job, yet he’s kept his team afloat, winning the wild card, and has his team up 2-0 in the NLDS against Washington. Regardless of whether or not they finish the job, Bochy still has does a great job as manager. He’s dealt with injuries, the continued decline of his former ace (Tim Lincecum) and still kept his team at or near the top of the NL West. Hurdle did a good job getting the Pirates back to the playoffs. Matheny must be doing something right as he won the Central Division and has the Cards in good position to win their division series.

MVP

1) Andrew McCutchen
2) Clayton Kershaw
3) Giancarlo Stanton
4) Jonathan Lucroy
5) Anthony Rendon
6) Adam Wainwright
7) Jhonny Peralta
8) Johnny Cueto
9) Cole Hamels
10) Yasiel Puig

Which player is more critical to his teams success? Kershaw got roasted by the Cardinals, but had Greinke to back him up and they won the next game of their series. By contrast, if McCutchen were injured or on a different team, I don’t the Pirates even sniff the playoffs. Sure, Russell Martin had a great year, but Andrew’s the center of that team. Plus, his numbers this year were even better than they were in last years’ MVP season. Kershaw should absolutely win the Cy Young, but I think McCutchen is more valuable to his team than Kershaw is to his.

As always, thanks for reading.

Lackey Is Starting Game Three, But Should He Be?

John Lackey has an excellent Post Season history, but it’s just that, history. The past is only a tiny indicator of what can happen in the present.

This season he’s struggled a bit for us since his acquisition around the trade deadline. Meanwhile Shelby Miller has turned things around thanks to an improved sinker and increased usage of his curveball.

Here’s their respective stats since The beginning of September:

Lackey
ERA            WHIP
September           4.43            1.388

Miller
ERA             WHIP
September          1.48               0.857

This is over five starts for Miller and four for Lackey, respectively.

Therefore momentum appears to be on Millers side. While I realize momentum can also be a little controversial, it’s not as bad, in my mind, as trusting a guy for what he’s done in previous years and disregarding recent history.

Of course there’s another factor, one which favors Lackey, and that’s exposure. Being a guy who’s pitched mostly in the AL, the Dodgers haven’t seen much of him, if at all. (I’m not sure if they’ve faced him in inter-league match-ups or not) Miller has only pitched in the NL in his brief career, so the Dodgers have seen him a few times.

Even with that though, I still think that you should ride the hot hand, and that’s Miller.

I hope I’m wrong.

As always, thanks for reading.

Five Things To Watch For The NLDS

I did the ALDS, so I figured I’d do the same for the NLDS

  • The Bullpens

Like the ALDS, the bullpens are going to play a big part of the proceedings. Things were more adventurous in the NL in the first half, as the Giants, Cardinals and Nationals all had closers who struggled, things have stabilized since then, as the Giants and Nats switched closers to Santiago Casilla and Drew Storen, respectively and the replacements have done a better job. As for the Cards, things are still a bit adventurous with Trevor Rosenthal as their closer, but he has been better lately. We’ll see if that lasts. As For the Dodgers, the problem was (and continues to be) their setup men. Kenley Janssen is a good closer, but they have problems getting the ball to him when the starter doesn’t go eight innings. Brian Wilson in particular has struggled as a setup man this season.

  • Rotation Depth

The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke lined up for the first two games, then either Hyun-jin Ryu or Dan Haren for the third game, which is a bit of a drop. Meanwhile the Cards third starter would likely be Shelby Miller, who’s been on fire lately. Haren has admittedly done well lately as well, but I still think I’d rather have Miller. Thanks to the Cards depth, they were able to slot Michael Wacha in the bullpen, where he might turn out to be a deadly weapon and a bridge to their late innings relievers if any starter struggles. That’s depending on whether Mike Matheny has a quick hook or not. He should, as their offense tends to struggle to score runs, so he needs to manage as if every run scored was as precious as gold.

  • The Chess Master Versus A Checkers Player

Matt Williams is a rookie manager who inherited a talented team, including one of the best rotations in baseball. He’s made some smart moves, certainly, but he has room to grow. Conversely, Bruce Bochy is starting to put together a resume for the Hall of Fame, having had a long successful career with two different teams and garnering a pair of World Series trophies. In the end it’ll come down to the talent on the field, but chances are Bochy will maximize his talent better than Williams will maximize his, and that could be the difference in the series.

Gordon stole 64 bases, but he was also caught 19 times. Will he try to challenge Yadi, or will the Dodgers respect his arm and reign in their resident speedster? That’ll be something to keep an eye on. After all, nothing disrupts a pitcher quite like a pesky base stealer dancing off of first base, and given the Cardinals’ pitching depth, the Dodgers need to distract those pitchers any way they can.

Posey is the fulcrum of the Giants’ offense. He leads the team in batting average, OBP, and slugging. If the Nats’ stellar rotation can shut him down, things get a whole lot easier for the Nats. Conversely, if he does some damage, he’ll increase the Giants’ chances by a lot. I rarely subscribe to the “one position player can change the world!” theory, as baseball is a team game. In this case, however, it’s true. As goes Buster Posey, so go the Giants.

So who am I picking? Well, the Cardinals of course, in five. I think we’ll find a way to get to Kershaw and/or Greinke and sneak into the LCS against…

The Nationals, who I think will take their series in four games as long as Matt Williams doesn’t get in his own way.

As always, thanks for reading.

Posts about baseball in general, the cardinals specifically, and anything else that comes to mind.