Thursday, December 31, 2009

And We're Back... Hall of Fame, Anyone?

On this last day of 2009, I do recognize that as a baseball blogger I have been almost completely missing in action during December. Well see, I got married on December 5th, and was pretty busy before and after that, then I had to play catch up with everything I didn't do while I was getting married and away on my honeymoon, then I had to get ready for the Holidays which I had done nothing for because, well, I was getting married. But now I'm back. I will cover the major baseball related events since my last post on December 1st, including the big transactions, the moves made by the Phillies, and a few other tidbits. However, I first want to turn my attention to the 2010 Hall of Fame class.

Earlier this week, Joe Posnanski wrote an interesting piece about the Hall, and a system devised by the Baseball Think Factory called The Hall of Merit. It's worth reading, and sets the stage well for the inevitable debate that occurs this time of year.

As a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (BBA), I had the opportunity a couple of weeks back to cast a vote for who I would elect to the Hall of Fame in 2010. You can find the story detailing the results of the BBA election here. From the BBA, only Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven received enough support for enshrinement.

I cast my vote for five men. Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, Tim Raines, Barry Larkin and Mark McGwire. Let's look at the case for each.

Robert Alomar- Alomar played for seven teams over 17 seasons between 1988 and 2004, and was perhaps the finest combination of hitting and fielding that the second sack has ever seen. A career .300 hitter (on the nose), Alomar was named to 12 All-Star games, won 10 Gold Gloves (most for a 2B) and four silver sluggers (second most for a 2B). He is in the top 100 in Major League history in games, at-bats, plate appearances, runs, hits, total bases, doubles, walks, steals, extra base hits, and sacrifice flies. He was also a member of back to back World Series champions with the Blue Jays in 1992-93. Detractors point to an ugly spitting incident with John Hirschbeck in 1996 and his relatively rapid decline upon joining the Mets in 2002. However, his 12 consecutive All-Star Game appearances from 1990-2001 illustrate his greatness over a prolonged period, and his early decline could be due at least in part to breaking in young, playing over 140 games as a 20-year old for the Padres in 1988. Alomar should get in comfortably, but not overwhelmingly.

Bert Blyleven- Perhaps one of the more hotly contested candidates of recent vintage, with opinions strong on both sides of the argument. I voted for Blyleven because I believe that he is equal, if not superior, to other pitchers who are already immortalized in Cooperstown. I'm not here to debate the Hall of Fame merits of Don Sutton or Gaylord Perry, but if they're Hall of Famers, so is Blyleven. The red-headed Dutchman is probably best known for having what many consider to be the greatest curveball of all time. One former player who had faced Blyleven told me that his curveball seemed to start above your head and then hammer down until the catcher caught it down by your knees. But one great pitch does not a Hall of Famer make (even though, as Posnanski pointed out, Candy Cummings is in the HoF for inventing the curveball, even though he probably didn't invent it... but I digress). Detractors will point out that Blyleven made only two All-Star Games, never led his league in wins or ERA, never finished better than third in Cy Young voting, and while he ranks 27th in wins, he also ranks 10th in losses. Also, as strikeout pitchers are known to, Blyleven gave up a ton of home runs, including an astounding 50 in 1986. I'll tell you that there are numbers, and then there are NUMBERS. For a pitcher, wins, losses, saves (and more) are just numbers. The NUMBERS for a pitcher are strikeouts, H/IP and (for a starter) complete games and shutouts, because these statistics shows dominance and the overpowering of competition. Blyleven is fifth all-time in strikeouts, allowed 338 fewer hits than innings pitched, completed 242 games (while most of the 90 pitchers ahead of him pitched in the early 1900s) and ranks ninth all-time with 60 shutouts. On his page on, of the 10 pitchers who Blyleven's similarity scores match up with, eight are in the Hall of Fame, with the two holdouts being lefthanders Jim Kaat and Tommy John, two guys who pitched forever and compiled a lot of numbers because of it. Blyleven's vote percentages have risen each year he's been on the ballot, and I think this year he finally gets in.

Tim Raines- A consummate leadoff hitter, Tim Raines suffered the severe misfortune of playing at a time when the best leadoff hitter anyone has ever seen, Rickey Henderson, was running roughshod over the American League. But had it not been for Henderson, many fans and media alike would have been forced to really examine and appreciate what a great player Raines was. Besides Henderson, another factor that worked against Henderson was playing most of his career in Montreal, away from the bright lights and big city of New York, Philadelphia or Chicago. I'll freely admit that Raines' career numbers look fairly pedestrian. But kept in context of what he was- and what he was supposed to do- I believe he is a Hall of Famer, and his numbers support that. Raines was a leadoff man, which made his jobs threefold- get on base, create havoc and score runs. Raines his .294 for his career, hitting over .300 eight times and winning the NL batting title in 1986. He stole 808 career bases, fifth all-time (behind four Hall of Famers), and stole at least 70 every year between 1981 and 1986. He also had six 100 plus run seasons, including leading the NL twice. Raines made the All-Star team seven times, showing his standing among his contemporaries. Again, his overall numbers are not necessarily overwhelming, but he does overwhelmingly pass the eye test, which is why I included him on my ballot. Based on his previous support, I'd say Raines won't get in, but his numbers do seem to be trending upward.

Barry Larkin- In many ways, I think Larkin is similar to Tim Raines in that our perception of him was not as great as it should have been because there was a guy in the other league who garnered all the headlines. In Raines' case it was Rickey Henderson, and in Larkin's, its Cal Ripken Jr. Not that Henderson and Ripken weren't great, but Raines and Larkin were great too. The 1995 NL MVP, Larkin was a Cincinnatti kid who played his whole career for the hometown Reds. Larkin was named to 12 All-Star teams, won three Gold Gloves and took home nine Silver Slugger Awards. One of the problems that I believe people have in evaluating a player in a historical context (such as Hall of Fame balloting) is remembering to evaluate the player against the other players of his time. When seeing such offensive dynamos of the 2000s such as Jimmy Rollins, Miguel Tejada, Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter, it's easy to see the numbers that Larkin compiled and think of them as nothing special. But look at the Silve Slugger award. The four guys I just mentioned, all premier offensive players this decade, have won eight Silver Sluggers combined. Larkin has nine by himself. Which means, he was the best offensive shortstop at his position in the NL nine times. Nine. No one has ever won more than 10 (although I'm sure A-Rod will win his 11th at some point). Barry Larkin was the best offensive shortstop in the National League for over a decade. And, as his three Gold Gloves attest, he was also an outstanding defender. Barry Larkin is a Hall of Famer. This being his first year of eligibility, I don't think Larkin will be enshrined in 2010, but I do expect that he will be someday.

Mark McGwire- We had to save this one for last, didn't we? I don't think there actually is much debate about whether or not he belongs in the Hall if you consider what he did on the field. Sure, he was one dimensional, but so was Reggie Jackson and a host of other power hitters. Ryan Howard is one-dimensional, but you want to tell me that if his career trajectory stays the same, he's not a Hall of Famer? Didn't think so. By way of review, McGwire hit 583 home runs in his career (8th all-time), led the league four times, made 12 All-Star teams and even won a Gold Glove in 1990. He also broke Roger Maris' single-season home run mark when he hit 70 in 1998, and melted before your very eyes in front of Congress in March of 2005. That's the long and the short of it. The debate since that infamous day on Capitol Hill is whether or not McGwire (and others of his era) belong in the Hall. I say yes. Do you know McGwire took steroids? I mean KNOW. Do you? Did you see him do it? Did he tell you he did it? If not, you don't know. By the same token, you don't know that Barry Bonds did (as most people believe), or that Ken Griffey Jr. didn't (as most people also believe). To me, the Hall of Fame debate comes down to this. What do we actually, verifiably, undoubtedly know to be true about players and performances in the steroid era. The ONLY answer- the only one- is what happened on the field of play. We get into dangerous territory when we start to decide that we know more than that. It would be easy for a player who used steroids but has not been suspected of steroid use to slide into the Hall because the voters hold up some arbitrary standard of what they think they know. Maybe that has already happened. But I can assure you, if voting is done based upon anything except what happened on the field, it will. And if we vote on what happened on the field Mark McGwire is a Hall of Famer. Period. End of discussion. If we find out more (such as a player like Jose Canseco, who admitted steroid usage) we can have a different discussion. But as of now, we must vote based upon what happened on the field. Having said that, and given his level of support in the 23% range thus far, I highly doubt McGwire will get in this year. As the hitting coach for the Cardinals, Big Mac will have to face the media at some point, and if he comes clean about what he did or didn't do, his chances may improve.

So how will all of this shake out? Stay tuned, as the Baseball Writers Association of America will announce its' voting results on January 6th. But if it were up to me, I'd have Alomar, Blyleven, Raines, Larkin and McGwire start writing their acceptance speeches for this summer in Cooperstown.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Lukewarm Stove

I'm getting married on Saturday, so as you might expect, I've been kept from blogging on the baseball offseason lately. Especially since nothing of consequence has happpened yet.

I was very excited for the start of the Hot Stove League, officially kicking off with the start of free agency on November 20th. However, to date, pretty much nothing has happened. Where is all the action?

Maybe moving past the deadline to offer arbitration will enable the market to start to settle a bit. Who knows. But when the most impactful signings so far are Andruw Jones signing with the White Sox and/or Billy Wagner reportedly joining the Braves, you know it's a slow moving free agency period.

Given the slowness of the market, it's only a matter of time before Donald Fehr begins beating the drum of collusion amongst the owners. While you can't put anything past the owners, especially since collusion has happened before, I don't think that's what is happening here. I think there are just a lot of teams that are trying to be very fiscally conservative in a tough economy, and so the number of teams with money to spend is even lower than normal. Can you blame a team like Detroit or Tampa for not ponying up for a middling player?

- Bud Selig says he'll retire when his contract expires after the 2012 season. We'll see. We've heard similar pronouncements before, only to be disappointed when the Commish decides to continue on. New blood in the Commissioner's Office cannot come soon enough. No matter how much he tries to downplay it, Selig's tenure will be defined by the steroid mess he oversaw. His reputation will be further sullied if a new commissioner comes in and makes progressive, needed changes, such as expanding replay, doing something to close the gap between the haves and have nots, or creating actual trust between the labor and management sides.

- The Red Sox are toying with the idea of moving Dustin Pedroia to shortstop. I'm going to first guess that move and say that even if he can do it, it will diminish his abilities and wear him out too much. Pedroia is an MVP caliber player at second, may become David Eckstein at short. I don't think he's got enough arm to be really good on the other side of second base. Additionally, I don't believe in filling a hole on your club by creating another. The Sox usually do the right thing when it comes to their on-field decisions, so it will be interesting to see this one play itself out.

-Finally, this is why you can't use statistical measures to tell you what's going on in the game of baseball. This may pass the statistical test, but it fails the eye test miserably. If you watched Cole Hamels at all in 2008 and 2009, you know that this analysis has zero credibility.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Award Season

Before the official start of free agency on Friday, the BBWAA has already given out a few of the major awards for the 2009 season. Let's recap the awards given so far, and I'll provide my own opinions too.

American League Rookie of the Year-
Andrew Bailey handily took home top honors after an outstanding season with the A's in which he earned 26 saves and posted a 1.84 ERA. I would have voted for Rick Porcello, who in my opinion has the biggest upside of the lot, and pitched like a stud as a 20-year old for a team that almost went to the playoffs. Bailey made the All-Star game for the not-so-playoff contending A's, and now looks to avoid the similar regression experienced by the last two A's ROY winners, Huston Street and Bobby Crosby.
My Pick: Rick Porcello, Detroit. Although, in the final analysis, I don't think I realized how good of a season Bailey had.

National League Rookie of the Year-
Chris Coghlan won the NL Rookie of the Year award, besting Philadelphia's J.A. Happ in a much closer vote. Coghlan wasn't called up to the Majors until May, but wasted no time in making an impact, hitting .321 with 31 doubles in 128 games. Ironically, a good portion of his production came against the Phillies, against whom he hit .432 with an on-base percentage over .500 in 2009.
My Pick. J.A. Happ, Philadelphia. He was the most consistent starter in 2009 for a team that won the pennant. Even though the vote does not take the playoffs into consideration, he was wire-to-wire the best pitcher for the defending champs.

American League Cy Young-
Zach Greinke lapped the field, taking 25 of 28 first place votes. I'm happy for this young man, who battled back from an anxiety disorder in early 2006 to shed the 'bust' label and establish himself as a legitimate front of the rotation horse. Despite playing for the moribund Royals, Greinke led the league in ERA, WHIP and HR/9 innings. In 229.1 innings, Greinke struck out 242, walked 51, gave up only 195 hits and allowed 11 home runs. The only thing that would have hurt him was having only 16 wins, but wins is a stat often beyond the pitcher's control, particularly on a bad team
My Pick: Greinke. He is the AL version of Tim Lincecum, without the hair or avatar.

AL/NL Manager of the Year-
Mike Scioscia and Jim Tracy. When I worked with Delaware's baseball team in 2007, our head coach Jim Sherman won the conference's Coach of the Year award. One thing he told me about that award that I think is very true is that Coach or Manager of the Year awards don't honor the individual so much as the team. This principle is very true in both the AL and NL recipients of the Manager of the Year award for 2009. Scioscia led his Angels team to a fifth division title in six year despite losing their record-setting closer from 2008 in Francisco Rodriguez, as well as perenial All-Star Mark Teixeira. Additionally, they had to battle through the unthinkable loss of 22-year old pitcher Nick Adenhardt in the season's first week. Despite all of the obstacles, Scoscia's crew kept it together and won the AL West handily over Texas. Tracy wasn't even employed by the Rockies when the 2009 season kicked off, but took over a team that was 18-28 in May when Clint Hurdle was let go. From that point forward, Tracy guided the Rockies to a record of 74-42 in securing Colorado's second playoff berth in three seasons.
My Picks: Scioscia and Tracy. Who else? Joe Girardi only had to roll the ball out on the field and let his team play. Ron Gardenhire brought the Twins back from a big hole, but without the adversity the Angels faced. In the NL, Charlie Manuel and Joe Torre had the best two teams, and Tony LaRussa probably loses some credit because of who good his pitching coach Dave Duncan is.

NL Cy Young-
Despite having an admitted man crush on Tim Lincecum, I fully understand the merits of voting for one of the two aces from St. Louis. Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter were as good a 1-2 punch as there is in all of baseball, and largely on the strength of their right arms did the Cardinals waltz to the NL Central crown. Carpenter led the NL in ERA, while Wainwright led in starts, wins and innings, and Lincecum led in strikeouts, complete games and shutouts. To me, the statistical categories Wainwright led in are compiler stats and not nearly as impressive as Carpenter's or Lincecum's. In a lot of ways, my decision here is like the Gold Glove awards--- I know who the top candidates are, and I don't care what the numbers say, I know what I saw watching each of these guys throughout the season. Wainwright and Carpenter were great, don't get me wrong. But I never got the sense with them that if either was on top of his game, you just had no shot. Lincecum had that. When Tiny Tim is rolling, just pack up and go home, because his combination of fastball, change and curve is nasty. Lincecum is also the reigning NL Cy Young champ, and if you want the crown, you've got to beat the champ, not play him to a draw. I don't think Wainwright or Carpenter did that, so I'll keep my vote with Lincecum. I also think he will win, if for no other reason, because Carpenter and Wainwright will split votes. We shall see.
My Pick: Lincecum.

AL Most Valuable Player-
In what I think is the toughest of the post-season awards to call, the AL MVP award for 2009 blends a very different group of candidates. I'll limit mine to three. I think the most deserving candidates for 2009 are Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Joe Mauer. Jeter had the highest batting average (.366) of any shortstop as old as he is since Honus Wagner the season after Noah landed the Ark. He also hit 18 homers and drove in 66 from the leadoff spot, from which he also scored over 100 runs. He played well defensively (probably not as well as the Gold Glove he got suggests), and was the ever present heart of the best team in baseball in 2009. He also played the full season, which neither Mauer nor A-Rod can say. Mauer had an unbelievable season for a catcher, leading the AL in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, and then of course OPS. He put up 28 homers and 96 RBI for a Minnesota team that needed every single one of them to overtake Detroit in a one-game playoff, and he did this all without former MVP Justin Morneau in the lineup for most of the second half. Mauer was also solid behind the dish, working with a young Twins staff and earning his second Gold Glove. A-Rod is an interesting case. He didn't make the All-Star team, didn't win a Gold Glove, hit under .300. But, he hit 30 home runs and 100 RBI in only 124 games played after returning from hip surgery on May 8th. The other factor to consider is that with Rodriguez out, the Yankees were sputtering along at 14-15, looking up at Boston. Once A-Rod returned, the Yankees went 89-44 the rest of the way, cruising to a division crown.
My Pick: Mauer. If you took A-Rod or Jeter away from the Yankees in 2009, they're probably still a playoff team. If you took Mauer away from the Twins in 2009, they'd probably win about 70 games.

NL Most Valuable Player-
Albert Pujols. He had this award wrapped up by August 1st. Ryan Howard should finish second. That's all there really is to say about that.
My Pick: Pujols

Thursday, November 12, 2009

This and That After the GM Meetings

With the GM meetings in Chicago now behind us, here are some predictions for the Hot Stove...

- The Yankees will sign John Lackey and either Matt Holliday or Jason Bay. Is it even fun to be a Yankee fan and just buy everybody?

- Detroit will unload at least one top-shelf player. They probably don't want to, but if your city is featured on the cover of Time because of how economically depressed it is, that can't be good news for the payroll of the baseball team.

- Roy Halladay gets traded, but not to where you think. I'll say he doesn't go to New York, Boston or Philadelphia, and I'll suggest that he does go to Texas, St. Louis or the Angels. But the Jays can't hold him any longer.

- The Phillies will sign Adrian Beltre and a relief pitcher who has closed before, such as Mike Gonzalez or Fernando Rodney

- The Orioles, Nationals, Royals and Pirates will do nothing of substance

- Milton Bradley will go back to the Rangers for pretty much nothing

- Pedro Martinez will pull another Roger Clemens and decides he'll be ready to pitch in July. Maybe even in Philadelphia again.

- At least two more high profile names will get snared by the infamous "list" of players who failed steroid survey testing in 2003.

- Keep an eye on and for all of your Hot Stove needs

In other news...

- What is it about the Angels? It seems every year they lose a high-profile free agent, plug the gap and win a bunch of games. But why do they lose guys? They're a big money team, but they didn't seem real interested in keeping Francisco Rodriguez last offseason, and might well lose John Lackey and Chone Figgins this year. Weird. Their continued success is a tribute to their farm system, GM Tony Reaggins and manager Mike Scioscia, however.

- Jim Riggleman is now officially the manager of the Nationals. Yawn.

- Brad Lidge may have been ailing more than he let on. Lidge was a stand-up guy through the entire nightmare that was his 2009 season, and refused to make any excuses for his ineffectiveness. However, it now appears that he toed the line between "hurt" and "injured" all year, and may have been too "injured" to contribute like he could have. At the same time, given the Phillies lack of alternatives, it's hard to get on the guy for going out and giving it all he had to try to help the team.

- The American League and National League Gold Glove awards were announced earlier this week, with few surprises on either list. As usual, there was handwringing from many SABR-metric 'experts,' most of whom trot out statistics the vast majority of even avid baseball fans have not heard of and wouldn't understand. I agree with the general consensus that the Gold Glove vote is not taken seriously enough by those that vote for it, but let's settle down on the indignation that someone like Orlando Hudson won.

- The link above about handwringing takes you to a piece by Rob Neyer, who I like. While I like him, I disagree with him a lot, and in arguments like this, he seems to put no stock in actual events, relying solely upon numbers. I don't care what Chase Utley's defensive metrics say. I don't. Not even a little bit. I saw him play every game this year, and I know he was not a Gold Glove second baseman. Period. I also know that David Wright's metrics in 2007 may have been better than Jimmy Rollins', but again, I don't care. I watched every game in September of 07 for both the Phillies and the Mets. And guess what? Rollins was an MVP, Wright wasn't (I'm being polite in describing that El Foldo by the Mets). But don't tell Rob Neyer. He insisted that Wright was the MVP. Again, I like Neyer, but we've got to have a sane discussion about the merits of statistics versus what your eyes tell you. My eyes tell me Chase Utley isn't a Gold Glover, and they tell me you're not an MVP if your team blows a seven game division lead with 17 to play. Period.

- Because of his new role as the Cardinals hitting coach, sooner or later Mark McGwire is going to have to face the media and questions regarding allegations of his steroid use. McGwire, of course, diappeared from public view after his Congressional testimony in 2005 where he refused to talk about the past. Having a sense of McGwire as a decent man, my guess is that if he is assured by lawyers he will not find himself in legal trouble, Big Mac will come clean about what or may not have happened in the past he has been so reluctant to talk about.

- Finally, McGwire's former friendly home run rival Sammy Sosa is white now.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Baseball Bloggers Alliance

Over the past few months, a new baseball website has emerged  in an effort to combine the efforts of baseball enthusiasts in one easily accessable place. And that place, I am pleased to report, is the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, whereby you can find up to date information from multiple sources on any team in the Major Leagues, as well as several blogs that deal with baseball in general. Included as part of the Alliance, of course, is your humble narrator.

Perhaps it is the 21st century version of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) without the snobbery and stringent membership requirements.

One of the most entertaining aspects of the site is reading the clever names of some of the blogs out there, including Crashburn Alley, which deals with the Phillies, Camden Crazies about the Orioles, or True Grich about the Angels. Either way, check out some of the other blogs pulled together on this one site, especially if you're looking for commentary and updates on any team in particular. I know I will.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Onto the Offseason

Now that the World Series has finally ended, the baseball calendar moves into the stage collectively known as the Hot Stove League. Several other on and off-field moves have taken place already that will effect the 2010 season and beyond...

- San Diego hired Jed Hoyer as its general manager, filling the hole left by longtime GM Kevin Towers. Hoyer is part of the new breed of baseball executives, a young individual who never played in the majors and cut his teeth in various front offices on his way up the ladder. The 36-year old spent the last several years working along side Theo Epstein in Boston. Hoyer had interviewed for both the Pirates and Nationals GM positions, and has long been seen as a GM in waiting.

- I'd be surprised if Towers doesn't find another high execuvtive slot if he wants one. He had a pretty successful 15-year run in San Diego, and still is a fairly young man.

- Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan will return to the Cardinals in 2010, after speculation arose that one or both would leave, potentially for Cincinatti or Houston. Of course, the bigger news in all this is that Mark McGwire has returned from his self-imposed exile of the last several years, and will be the hitting coach for the Cardinals in 2010. Some see this as a terrible thing, decrying the absurdity that McGwire be allowed back into the game. Why? He (probably) took steroids, just like hundreds of other players in the time period in which he played. He didn't lie about it. And I don't buy that McGwire has been in hiding because of the infamous Congressional hearings in 2005 either. McGwire never was comfortable in the spotlight, and seemed content to do his job and be left alone. As a hitting coach, I wouldn't expect that to change now.

- The Marlins got an early start on their annual trading away of useful pieces, sending Jeremy Hermida to Boston for two young lefty pitchers. I'm not sure how much Hermida will play there, but alot of that will depend on what happens with leftfiedl (Jason Bay is a free agent) and DH (will Big Papi be back or not).

- Tampa sent Akinori Iwamura to Pittsburgh for relief pitcher Jesse Chavez. Yawn. Chavez will appear in 65-75 games for Tampa out of the pen, Iwamura will play a decent half-year in Pittsburgh before being traded to a contender that needs middle infield help around the deadline. Why do the Pirates even bother? Iwamura is set to be their highest paid player in 2010, at $4.5 million. If you know nothing else about baseball economics, know this: if your highest paid player is scheduled to make p$4.5 million, you're probably going to stink.

- The Phillies somewhat surprisingly declined their 2010 option on third baseman Pedro Feliz. Feliz is maddening at the plate, but provides an outstanding glove at a premium defensive position for a relatively low cost. Rumors abound that the Phillies are now in the market for Adrian Beltre (who I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole) or Chone Figgins (who I wouldn't pay what he'll be looking for). The Phillies, publicly at least, have not ruled out Feliz returning in 2010, but at terms more advantageous to the club.

- The General Managers' meetings take place in Chicago this week. Several deals may or may not go down, but there's sure to be a lot of dialogue. And in baseball where there's dialogue, there's fire. Just enough to warm the good old Hot Stove...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

World Series Wrap-Up

I have to admit that I'm disappointed. I don't mean because the Phillies lost (although I am certainly disappointed by that), but rather that this series was just kind of mediocre, that it just kind of happened. The Yankees and Phillies had clearly been the best teams in their respective leagues all year, and I expected an intense, thrilling, clean, well-played series on both sides. But we didn't get that.

I expected a series where both teams would put their best foot forward, and at the end you would say "Wow, they both deserve to win and it's a shame one of these teams has to lose." Kind of like the Cardinals-Steelers Super Bowl back in February. But as a baseball fan, I feel a little cheated that we didn't get that from two great teams.  The Yankees won, and were definitely the better team in the Series, but they were very beatable. Who had a great series? Before Hideki Matsui driving in six runs against Pedro Martinez, a pitcher he has owned, Chase Utley most likely would have won MVP honors for the losing squad. Just a weird series in that regard.

Onto my final thoughts about the 2009 World Series...

- Looking at the two lineups, and the two teams, it's hard to see an advantage. Look how they matched up. You can find a comparable player in both lineups. Ryan Howard (.174, 1 HR, 3 RBI) matches with Mark Teixeira (.136/1/3). Raul Ibanez (.304/1/4) and A-Rod (.250/1/6). Jayson Werth (.263/2/3) and Jorge Posada (.263/0/5). Chase Utley (.286/5/8) and Hideki Matsui (.615/3/8 in 13 at-bats). Carlos Ruiz (.333/1/2) owned Nick Swisher (.133/1/1) and Robinson Cano (.136/0/1).

- So how did the Yankees win? What is the difference? The top of the orders. Jimmy Rollins was .217 with 0 home runs, 2 RBI and 3 runs while Derek Jeter was .407/0/1/5. In the second slot in the order, Shane Victorino was .182/0/2/3 while Johnny Damon was .364/0/4/6. The top two guys in the lineup were always on base for the Yankees. They were rarely on base for the Phillies. And that made all the difference.

- It really is striking how close the correlation between Rollins scoring runs and the Phillies record is. In the 2009 playoffs, they were 7-0 when he scored a run, 2-6 when he didn't.

- On top of that, one of the games they won when Rollins didn't score was game four against Colorado, when Ryan Howard's two-run, two-out double gave the Phillies the win. Victorino scored the tying run, after reaching base on a fielder's choice that forced Rollins. So what I'm saying is, that's a run Rollins shoul've scored, but Victorino vultured. Which just furthers the point that the Phillies win when Rollins scores runs.

- The other major difference, obviously, was that the Yankees had Mariano Rivera, and the Phillies didn't.

- Both teams had their struggles in middle relief, and not surprisingly, whoever's middle relief struggled more lost that particular game.

- The umpiring in the World Series was much better than the earlier rounds of the playoffs, with the only real complaints coming in the form of the age-old griping about the strike zone.

- Alex Rodriguez is receiving plaudits for his post-season performance, but let's be real about it. Rodriguez struggled offensively and defensively in the Series, delivering five hits, eight strikeouts, and an error. He also looked whiny complaining about getting hit three times when the Phils were clearly trying to pound him in, and a few balls got away? The Phils weren't throwing at you, Mr. Rod, they were pitching you inside. And do you know why? Because you weren't getting any hits when they were doing it effectively.

- A common complaint amongst myself and many baseball fans is that that the Yankees buy championships, and Yankee fans retort that they have alot of players that are homegrown or developed in the Yankee system. Oh really? Let's examine that a bit further. We'll look at the World Series roster for both teams. In this matchup, we'll separate players that each team acquired because of wealth (scrap heap acquisitions have details in parenthesis)...

Homegrown/Scrap Heap:
Phillies: Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino (Rule 5 draft), Jayson Werth (non-tendered by LAD), Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Ryan Madson, Scott Eyre (waivers), Antonio Bastardo, J.A. Happ
Yankees: Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Melky Cabrera, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Mariano Rivera, Brett Gardner, David Robertson, Alfredo Aceves, Brian Bruney, Phil Coke

Acquired through wealth:
Phillies: Eric Bruntlett, Ben Francisco, Matt Stairs, Raul Ibanez, Cliff Lee, Brad Lidge, Joe Blanton, Pedro Martinez
Yankees: Alex Roriguez, Johnny Damon, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, A.J. Burnett, Damaso Marte, Andy Pettitte (was a Yankee, but only able to come back because of Yankee wealth), C.C. Sabathia, Hideki Matsui

Normal acquisitions (relatively average priced free agents, trades, etc):
Phillies: Pedro Feliz, Chad Durbin, Chan Ho Park, Paul Bako
Yankees: Jerry Hairston Jr, Chad Gaudin, Jose Molina, Eric Hinske

First off, not to sound like an elitist, but if you don't know what 'Rule 5,' 'non-tenedered,' or 'waivers' means, you're not qualified to argue the point.

Yes, the Phillies and Yankees both have 12 of their 25 players who were developed and/or rose to their current level with their respective teams. But the Phillies 12 includes six All-Stars, six of eight everyday position players, three of their top five starting pitchers and their best setup man. The Yankee 12 includes three All-Stars, four of nine everyday position starters, one starting pitcher and the closer.

Meanwhile, the Yankees 'wealth' players include seven All-Stars, five of nine everyday position players and every starting pitching performance in the 2009 playoffs. The Phillies have benefitted from wealth also, no doubt, but have only two All-Star appearances combined (Lidge 2008, Ibanez 2009) out of their so-called 'wealth' players. Let it also be noted out of the Phillies 'wealth' players, six (Lidge, Bruntlett, Blanton, Stairs, Lee, Francisco) were acquired in trades that cost a total of 11 prospects (most of whom are middle to elite level) that the Phillies had drafted and developed, while the Yankees traded for three wealth players (Rodriguez, Swisher, Marte) that cost nine middling prospects and/or marginal major leaguers.

If you take away the 'wealth' players from the Phillies and the 'wealth' players from the Yankees, the Phillies are still in the playoffs, while the Yankees have a few great players and a bunch of nobodys.

I don't begrudge the Yankees for doing what they do. They have an advantage and use it, and why not? But don't tell me the Yankees built their team through scouting and development, because it just didn't happen.

- 151 days until Opening Day

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Games Three Through Six

Mea culpa. You got me. After posting my thoughts on game one, followed by a Phillies loss, then posting my thoughts on game two, followed by a Phillies loss, I intentionally decided to not write again until the end of the Series. Intellectually I know that my superstition had no impact on the outcome of the games, but as a fan, I can't help myself. But now we're back and ready to offer some analysis of the major issues from each game...

Game Three

- Andy Pettitte had nothing. He was hittable, he was on the ropes, and the Phils couldn't deliver the knockout blow. The Phils lefty trio of Utley-Howard-Ibanez went 0-12 with seven strikeouts on the game.

- Cole Hamels was shot. He had good stuff on the first trip through the order, then started to get hit around, which to me was indicative of having a tired arm. However, tired or not, he wilted in the fourth inning when he didn't get a call on a 3-2 pitch to Mark Teixeira, and followed this up by throwing a homer to A-Rod. This was similar to the LA series when he was upset about something that happened on the field and then threw a homer to Manny Ramirez. In the next inning, Hamels inexplicably threw sloppy curveballs to Nick Swisher and Pettitte, and he got hurt on both. Pettitte especially was puzzling, as he was swinging a 75-mph bat, meaning he had no chance of catching up to even a decent fastball. However, Pettitte got a curveball at around 74-mph that he could hit, and did, driving in Swisher to tie the game.

- Jayson Werth may have as much raw power as anyone in baseball, particularly against lefthanders. After a wrist injury ruined the early years of Werth's career, the 2009 All-Star is on the verge of superstardom. Just in time too, as he is a free agent after the 2010 season.

- The Phillies bullpen did a poor job of keeping the game in reach for the offense, allowing tack-on runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth.

- The Yankees got key contributions from several sources that had not produced much during the playoffs, namely Nick Swisher, Joba Chamberlain and Damaso Marte.

Game Four

- Never has the adage that baseball is a game of inches seem so clear as in game four. With the game tied 4-4, two outs and two strikes on Johnny Damon, Brad Lidge's slider was tipped by Damon and just barely fell out of the glove of Carlos Ruiz. Damon, of course, later singled and ignited a rally with two stolen bases on one play, leading to the Yanks 7-4 win.

- Lidge's stuff was outstanding, but after Damon's double-steal he was defeated. He looked scared to throw the slider and Teixeira teed off on a fastball to break the tie.

- Joba Chamberlain, if he's going to have a future as anything but a heartbreaker, has to close it down in the eighth inning. He gave up a bomb to a struggling, no plan Pedro Feliz that tied the game. Chamberlain is 24, the same age that Cole Hamels was World Series MVP and Tim Lincecum won a Cy Young. It's time to put up or shut up for Chamberlain.

- C.C. Sabathia was good again, but not special.

- If the Yankees are Pedro's daddy, Chase Utley is C.C.'s daddy, granddaddy, uncle, godfather, father-in-law, and everything else. Three bombs off him in the Series.

Game Five

- Cliff Lee wasn't as good as in game one, but he was still pretty good. Through seven innings, Lee allowed four hits and two runs before running out of gas against the top of the Yankee order in the eighth. For the 2009 playoffs, Lee was 4-0, struck out 33 and allowed only 27 hits in 40.1 innings of work. A masterful performance from the Phils new lefty ace.

- A.J. Burnett- not so much. Game five showed us 'bad' A.J., as Burnett lasted only two innings plus, walking four and giving up six earned runs. The 2009 World Series showed us both sides of Burnett, as he was great in game two, and historically bad in game five.

- Chase Utley continued his hot streak, belting two more home runs to tie Reggie Jackson's record for most home runs in a World Series with five. Utley took Burnett deep in the first and then followed up with another rocket off of Phil Coke in the seventh.

- Clearly part of why Charlie Manuel left Lee in as long as he did was because he didn't trust anyone out of the bullpen. And why would he?

- Again, the equation is simple. Jimmy Rollins was on base three times. The Phillies won. It's just that easy.

Game Six

- Pedro Martinez is a warrior, but he had nothing in game six. His fastball was consistently 83-87. Nothing he threw had the movement and late life he exhibited in game two. All he had was guts and guile, but in a small ballpark, you've got to have some stuff to get some outs. Pedro had none of it.

- Honestly, Andy Pettitte didn't have much more. The thing that might be most galling to the Phillies is that Pettitte was hittable twice, and they really didn't get to him at all. Pettitte allowed nine baserunners in 5.2 innings, but once again, the Phils couldn't deliver the big blow.

- Hideki Matsui had a great game six, obviously. His six RBI tied a World Series single game record, and without his performance, Utley probably takes home MVP honors for the losers. An impressive performance for a guy that can barely move, which agitates those who hate the DH, but is obviously within the rules at an AL park. His first inning home run could not have been a better pitch to hammer.

- Manuel faced a tough decision in allowing Martinez to face Matsui the second time. Leave in Pedro or bring in J.A. Happ? Martinez had gotten knocked around by Matsui in their matchups, but has the big game experience, while Happ has been wide-eyed this postseason. However, down 3-2 in the series and 2-1 in the game, and facing Matsui with the bases loaded and two outs, your chances in the Series are hanging by a thread. I think you've got to go to Happ there and take your chances with the left-left matchup. Obviously, that's easy to say now, but Happ was up, and if you're not going to use him then, when?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Game 2

- Game 2 was basically the same as Game 1. Pedro Martinez was really good, but A.J. Burnett was just a smidge better. Burnett's fastball had good movement, his curveball was working well, he stayed ahead of hitters and didn't get hurt inside. Burnett stayed away from the Phils hitters, taking full advantage of a generous strike zone away. To Burnett's credit, he recognized Jeff Nelson's zone and kept throwing to it, while the Phils hitters never adjusted and probably weren't aggressive enough to give themselves a chance to get to Burnett.

- Charlie Manuel drew some first-guess criticism for starting Martinez in game two in New York, but it would be hard to argue with Manuel's call now. Martinez was brilliant, making only two mistakes, which both left the yard. He had the Yankees off-balance and guessing for his whole outing, expertly mixing his fastball with the 'Buggs Bunny" change up. Martinez doesn't throw as hard or have quite the stuff that he used to, but he still certainly knows how to pitch effectively. Martinez has allowed three earned runs in 13 innings this postseason, an ERA of 2.08. Even if he doesn't pitch again this year, signing Martinez was a great move by Phils GM Ruben Amaro.

- After a good game one, the umpiring became too much of an issue in game two. Two obviously bad calls and a brutally tilted strikezone did not reflect well upon the men in blue. The first, a line drive down the first base line by Johnny Damon in the seventh was ruled to have been caught cleanly by Ryan Howard, who then threw to second where Jimmy Rollins tagged Jorge Posada to finish a double play. However, replays clearly showed that the ball shorthopped on its way into Howard's glove. Oops. The Yankees would have had the bases loaded and only one out, and instead the inning ended. Not to be outdone, in the top of the eighth inning, maybe 15 minutes after the first blown call, first base umpire Brian Gorman botched another, as he called Chase Utley out at first on the back end of a double play grounder to finish the top of the eighth, even though Utley's foot was on the base before Mark Teixeira had possession of the ball. If called correctly, the Phils would have had runners on the corners and two out with Howard due up in a game they trailed 3-1. Instead, Howard led off the ninth.

- The strike zone leaned too far outside with lefthanded hitters at the plate, as several strikes were called on balls that at best looped around the outter edge of the plate, but at no time crossed it. Give Burnett and Jose Molina credit, though, as they kept throwing out there and the Phillies hitters never adjusted, not even trying emergency hacks to spoil good pitches.

- As good as Burnett was, he didn't come in to a lefthanded hitter more than once or twice. At some point, to be that successful against a powerful lineup, you have to throw in, or the hitters will dive out over the plate and push balls to the opposite field with relative ease.

- Alex Rodriguez became only the second player in World Series history to strike out three times in consecutive games. The other? Jim Lonborg. Lonborg played from 1965 to 1979. And he was a pitcher. Not the kind of historical company A-Rod hoped to be keeping in this series.

- Like so many other New York entities, the Yankee pitching staff has received a generous bailout thus far in the Series. Am I referring to millions in government money? Nope, I'm referring to Pedro Feliz, who has recorded eight outs in his seven plate appearances, and has made Yankee pitchers throw only 19 pitches. More outs than plate appearances? 2.7 pitches per at-bat? Feliz would literally have made Yankee pitching work harder and hurt the Phillies offense less if he had not swung at any pitches in the first two games. If he handn't, he would have recorded at most seven outs (one less than he has), and would have seen at least 21 pitches (two more than he has). Feliz is providing the Yankees an easy out they desperately need in a potent lineup.

- Much has been made of each Phillie getting an at-bat against Mariano Rivera, and making him throw 39 pitches, and this somehow helps the Phillies going forward. Are you serious? To me, this is akin to saying you made Peyton Manning take 14 plays to score a touchdown. So what? He still got the job done. And he's still at such an elite level that you have to anticipate he will get the job done far, far more often than not. This is the World Series, there are no moral victories.

- Charlie Manuel has gotten a lot of grief for not starting the runners with two on and one out and Chase Utley at the plate in the eighth. I agree with Manuel. Utley grounded into a double play to end the inning, leaving Ryan Howard on deck. First, Utley doesn't ground into many DPs (five all year). Secondly, with as many times as Rivera jams hitters, especially lefthanders, a line drive or easy pop-up double play is possible. Third, Utley strikes out some. Not as much as Howard, but he will strike out. Third, as good a runner as Rollins and Victorino (the runners on base at the time are), and as poor as Jorge Posada throws, Posada would still have an easy shot at Rollins at third with the lefty hitting Utley at the plate. Then what? Manuel would get killed for having Rollins make the last out at third base (a cardinal sin in baseball) and leaving Howard on deck without the chance to hit.

- Game three features two guys with a playoff history. Cole Hamels was the NLCS and World Series MVP in 2008, but he's been terrible in 2009, which has carried over into the playoffs. He hasn't pitched in 10 days, so the Phils certainly hope the time off has rejuvenated him. Pettitte is still playoff clutch, but he's not a lefty that is especially tough on lefthanded hitters. Pettitte has thrown well, but doesn't go as deep into games as he used to, which brings the ever shaky Yankee middle relief into the picture. However, Pettitte is as good as anyone in baseball at holding runners on, as his balk-ish move to first is rarely, if ever called. More than the first two, this game is likely to come down to the bullpens.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Game 1

- Cliff Lee was outrageous. Complete game, zero earned runs, 10 strikeouts, no walks, didn't allow a runner to third base until the ninth inning with a 6-0 lead. An all-time all-time performance from the Phils new lefty ace. Lee looked almost bored, like he was toying with the Yankees, and was as loose as anyone could possibly be, non-chalantly catching a pop-up and then tagging Jorge Posada on the butt for an out in the middle innings. Lee had excellent command of all of his pitches, moved the ball around, changes speeds, disrupted timing, and was just dominant. He has allowed two earned runs in 31.1 innings in the 2009 playoffs. What a game from Lee.

- Chase Utley appeared to benefit from the extended time off. Two bombs off C.C. Sabathia, only the second lefthanded hitter to hit two home runs in a World Series game against a lefthanded pitcher, joining some guy named Babe Ruth. The other great thing about Utley, after both of his home runs, he touched home plate and walked back to the dugout like he was the baddest mother out there. In the words of the late, great Harry Kalas "Chase Utley, you are the man!"

- Utley's game was the 19th multi-homer performance in World Series history. Three of these now belong to Phillies, following Ryan Howard's two in game four of the 2008 series against Tampa Bay and Lenny Dykstra in game four in 1993 against Toronto.

- Sabathia pitched well, just not well enough, proving the old playoff adage that you don't have to pitch well, you have to win. While he didn't get roughed up like he did against the Phillies in the playoffs last season, the Phils did make him work very hard and ran up his pitch count, forcing him out of the game after seven innings. The game broadcast seemed to indicate that C.C.'s ability to come back on short rest for game four would be dependent upon how game one went... so, now we'll wait and see.

- Joe Girardi can't like what he saw from his non-Rivera relievers. Five pitchers combined to throw two innings, giving up five hits, three walks and four runs. Only Damaso Marte even looked servicable out of the group.

- Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino were on base four times between them and scored three runs. When those two, especially Rollins, get on base and score, the Phillies are virtually unbeatable.

- Raul Ibanez looked bad against C.C. Sabathia, striking out twice and grounding out to second on a ball out of the strike zone on a 3-1 count with the bases loaded and two out in the first inning. Ibanez made up for it in the eighth, however, when his two-out, two-strike, bases loaded single through the right side off David Robertson scored two and gave the Phils two crucial tack-on runs, pushing the score to 4-0.

- Umpiring, which has been terrible all postseason, got a potentially controversial call right in game one, properly determining that Rollins had caught a flare by Robinson Cano on the fly and then doubled Hideki Matsui off of first. The men in blue needed a lengthy meeting to get it right, but ultimately they did, which is all you can ask for.

- In game one, the Yankees 3-4-5 hitters went 0-12 with seven strikeouts. The Phillies 3-4-5 went 5-11 with two homers, three RBI, three walks and two runs scored.

- Derek Jeter was the only Yankee who had a good night, tallying three of the six Yankee hits and scoring the only run.

- Carlos Ruiz (Senor Octubre) continued his hot hitting, ripping another double into the gap off of Brian Bruney in the ninth, and eventually came around to score the Phils fifth run.

- The Phils had one real opportunity to run on Posada in game one, with Rollins easily taking second with Victorino at the plate.

- Pedro Feliz is lost at the plate. He has no idea what he's doing up there, and pitchers don't even have to work very hard to get him out right now. In the words of Earl Weaver, "If you think you're going to hit into a double play, do the right thing and strike out."

- He's still making some nice plays defensively, however.

- For game two, Pedro Martinez could pitch great, like he did against the Dodgers in game two in Los Angeles, or he could get lit up and not make it to the third inning. I have no earthly idea. The ball hasn't carried as well in New York as it did throughout the regular season, but Pedro did give up alot of fly balls to the Dodgers. However, they were lazy fly balls that wouldn't go out of any park. But, the Yankees lineup is much better than the Dodgers. I could argue with myself about this all day. All of which to say again, I have no idea what to expect out of Pedro.

- A.J. Burnett takes the ball in game two for the Yankees. Like Pedro, I doubt anyone feels any confidence regarding what Burnett will do in game two. Burnett has the tendency to get erratic, and if he's wild in the strike zone, he could give up a lot of hard hit balls early. However, if he locates his pitches, Burnett could have an outstanding game.

- So, I won't be surprised if game two is 2-1 or if it's 10-8.

- Game two is Burnett's first ever World Series appearance, and a lot (read: A LOT) of pressure is on his shoulders. If the Yankees lose game two, they will head to Philadelphia for three games trailing 0-2 and knowing they will have to start Chad Gaudin on the mound at some point. Gaudin can likely only give the Yankees five innings max, as he is not stretched out, and he has a tendency to get rocked by lefthanders, which the Phillies (Rollins and Victorino switch, Utley, Howard, Ibanez) have no shortage of. That would be dicey for the Yankees.

- Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of the Phils closing out the Rays in the continuation of game five of the World Series. A win in Thursday's game two would go a long way towards winning their second title in a row.

The 2009 Fall Classic

With absolutely no apologies to William Rhoden of the New York Times, who wrote that America deserved a Yankee-Dodger World Series, THIS is the matchup we all deserve. The best team in the American League against the best team in the National League, which happens to be the defending World Series champs. New York vs Philadelphia. Free agent acquisitions vs a home grown core. Slugging offense vs... slugging offense. Former Cleveland ace vs... former Cleveland ace. Broadway vs Broad Street.

So how do these two titans matchup? Let's take a look. I would be willing to wager that you will not find a more comprehensive and informative preview anywhere. Not ESPN, not Sports Illustrated, not in a New York or Philadelphia media outlet. And not just because I wrote it...

Catcher- NYY- Jorge Posada vs. PHI- Carlos Ruiz
Posada had a very good offensive year for a 38-year old catcher, hitting .285 with 22 home runs, while Ruiz hit .255 with nine home runs in the eight hole for the Phils. Both backstops hit far higher at home than on the road (80 points for Posada, 110 for Ruiz), which doesn't figure to be important since both parks are good places to hit. However, in the playoffs, Posada is hitting only .258 with two HR and three RBI, while Ruiz is hitting .346 with a home run and seven RBI, including several big knocks. While both call a good game and block balls in the dirt well, Ruiz is outstanding at controlling the running game, while Posada, it could charitably be said, isn't. This is a bigger issue with Posada behind the plate than Ruiz, as the Phils have plenty of guys (SS, CF, RF, 2B, even 1B and C) who will swipe a bag, especially on a poor thrower. Four of the eight Phillie regulars stole 20 or more bags this year, while the Yankees had only one regular take more than 14. Jose Molina will likely continue to catch A.J. Burnett, which improves the defense, but is a severe dropoff at bat. Phillies backup Paul Bako has not appeared in the playoffs, and probably won't.
Advantage: None. This wouldn't be a tie except for Ruiz' offensive output in the playoffs and the Phillies' propensity to run.

First Base- NYY- Mark Teixiera vs PHI- Ryan Howard
Both Teixiera and Howard are outstanding players, but Howard is on another level right now. This playoff run he has tied records held by guys named Ruth and Gehrig, on his way to taking home NLCS MVP honors. Teixiera has it all over Howard with the glove (like maybe 10-2), but the glove isn't nearly as important at first base as it is at shortstop or catcher. Besides that, Tex has been awful at the plate so far in the playoffs.
Advantage: PHI. Defense is nice, but you can't pitch to Howard right now.

Second Base- NYY- Robinson Cano vs PHI- Chase Utley
Cano hit .320 this season and added 25 bombs, which makes him a nice second baseman. However, he never walks and hit 35 points higher at home headed towards the friendly right field stands of new Yankee Stadium. Utley, at this point, is the best second baseman in baseball. His defense still has room for improvement, but he gets on base almost 40 percent of his plate appearances and sets the hard-nosed attitude for the rest of the Phillies. He could probably use a few more off days throughout the season, because his slight frame and grit leave him worn down come September. Cano's defense isn't as good as it should be, and he was caught stealing more times (seven) than he was successful (five), traits that reflect poor baseball instinct and acumen. Utley was 23-23 in stolen base attempts.
Advantage: PHI. Cano is a good player, but he's not a winner on his own right at this stage. He's a complimentary player, while Utley is an engine that powers a great team.

Shortstop- NYY- Derek Jeter vs PHI- Jimmy Rollins
Easily the most evenly matched aspect of these two teams, each serves as his teams leadoff hitter and inspirational leader. They're both very cool, good leaders and consummate professionals. Jeter hit .334 this season, the highest batting average for a shortstop as old as he since Honus Wagner. Yes, the million dollar baseball card guy Honus Wagner. Rollins struggled offensively for much of the year and into the playoffs, but he's a red light guy, the type that hits much better when it's 2-1 in the ninth than when it's 10-1 in the fifth. Rollins' arm and range are far superior to Jeter's (much more important at SS), as is his speed, evidenced by stealing one more base than Jeter in 75 fewer opportunites on base. Rollins got the majority of the time at SS for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, but you can't go wrong in either direction here.
Advantage: None. Say whatever you want, but would you complain if you missed out on one guy but got to have the other on your squad? Didn't think so.

Third Base- NYY- Alex Rodriguez vs PHI- Pedro Feliz
What? Seriously? A-Rod is in the same category as Ryan Howard right now, which is to say that you can't get him out. He's also very good defensively, so there are no holes in his game as of today. Feliz consistently shows no plan and no patience at the plate, often gets himself out, but can run into a ball once in awhile and pop one. Feliz is about as good as it gets defensively, but his bat is just average for a premium offensive position.
Advantage: NYY. Nothing else to say here.

Left Field- NYY- Johnny Damon vs PHI- Raul Ibanez
The leftfield position for both teams features pros who have been at it quite a long time. Damon was one of the 'idiots' with the 2004 Red Sox, while this year marks the first trip to the Series for the 37 year old Ibanez. The two had similar numbers for the year, with Damon holding an edge in batting average and on-base percentage, while Ibanez had more home runs and and RBI. Ibanez was actually better against lefthanded pitching than righties, but Damon held his own against lefties. The biggest difference in the two is that Damon hit 70% of his home runs and 68% of his RBI at home, while Ibanez actually produced more power wise away from home. Neither is an especially good fielder at this stage, and Ibanez is likely to DH in the games in New York.
Advantage: None. Ibanez hits good pitches better than Damon does at this stage; Damon runs better, but also throws very poorly. They're close enough to call it a draw.

Center Field- NYY- Melky Cabrera vs PHI- Shane Victorino
Playing centerfield for any team carries a certain amount of cache with it, especially for historically significant franchises like the Yankees and Phillies. Cabrera is fine as a nine hole hitter for a powerful lineup, but, like Cano, he's not a player that should be a difference maker in a series like this. Victorino is the yappiest and spunkiest of the Phillies, a player who loves the stage when everyone's looking at him, and when everyone's yelling at him. Victorino has a higher average, higher on base percentage, and stole more bases. Cabrera had more home runs and RBI, but hits ninth in an order where everyone is on base, while Victorino is one of the guys always on base in a similar lineup. Cabrera's home/road power number splits also skew homeward. Defensively, Cabrera is a guy, while Victorino's range and arm are as good as any centerfielder in baseball.
Advantage: PHI. Cabrera is still only 25 and may develop into an All-Star, but Victorino is one right now.

Right Field- NYY- Nick Swisher vs PHI- Jayson Werth
For the last of the everyday positions, I'm going to be blunt. Nick Swisher stinks and Jayson Werth is an emerging premier player. Swisher hit only .200 this season against 2009 playoff teams, and while his numbers look ok, they're inflated against bad pitching. Werth, like Utley, is a hard nosed attitude player that doesn't talk about it, he just is about it. 36 home runs, 99 RBI, and 20 steals tell the story. He's also got great range and a good arm.
Advantage: PHI. Not even close. Swisher brings some levity and fun to otherwise uptight and corporate team, but those are his biggest contributions. Werth can do it all, and is currently doing just that.
Designated Hitter- NYY- Hideki Matsui vs PHI- Ben Francisco
Matsui has been the Yankees DH all year, and in fact hasn't played in the field at all in 2009. He remained productive in the DH role, hitting .274 with 28 home runs and 90 RBI in numbers that were relatively constant across home/road and left/right splits. Francisco has DH'd some in the AL, but will likely play LF in NY as a better fielder, thus moving Ibanez to the DH slot. He has some pop, but his average hasn't been great since arriving in Philadelphia as part of the Cliff Lee deal. He is, however, the best the Phils bench has to offer.
Advantage: NYY. Matsui is a legit DH, while the Phillies always seem to struggle in the DH slot, be it in interleague or in the World Series last year. However, Matsui's bat is out of the lineup in Philadelphia, which is a much bigger loss than the Phillies losing Francisco.
Bench- NYY- Brett Gardner, Jose Molina, Jerry Hairston Jr, Eric Hinske vs PHI- Ben Francisco, Matt Stairs, Paul Bako, Greg Dobbs, Eric Bruntlett
The Yankees have a servicable sub in Jerry Hairston, good backup catcher in Jose Molina and speed in Brett Gardner. The Phillies bench hasn't given them much of anything this year, as Dobbs has been hurt, Staris has looked old, Bruntlett's modest ability has been tempered even further by not playing consistently, and Bako is a zero offensively.
Advantage: NYY. The only real impact is likely to be Gardner's speed vs nothing of substance coming from the Phils bench.
Overall Baserunning
Advantage: PHI. The Phils run alot, and with alarming success, due in large part to the help of first base coach Davey Lopes. Again, the Yankees had only one regular (Jeter) take more than 14 bases, while the Phillies had four of eight (Rollins, Victorino, Utley and Werth) take 20 or more. Ruiz throws better and and controls a running game better than Posada, and he shouldn't have as much to worry about as Posada does.
Overall Defense
Advantage: PHI. The Phillies are better defensively at all the premier defensive positions (catcher, shortstop, centerfield), which by itself wins it for the Phils. Neither second baseman or leftfielder is great (althought Francisco is pretty good if he plays LF in New York), both third baseman are really good. The Yankees are much better at first, the Phils are much better in rightfield. Teixiera is the only Yankee clearly better than his Phillies counterpart.
Ace- NYY- C.C. Sabathia vs PHI- Cliff Lee
Who hates this series more, Met fans or Indian fans? (My money is on Met fans). Both have been horses for their new team, especially in the postseason. Both are lefthanders, which figures to be important against lefty-laden lineups that both teams possess. Neither has started a World Series game before, but don't appear likely to be spooked by the stage. Lee has a bit more history with the Yankees than Sabathia does with the Phils, however, the Phils roughed up Sabathia in the playoffs last season when he was with Milwaukee.
Advantage: NYY. Almost like shortstop, you can't go wrong either way. I give Sabathia the edge, because in order for him to go three times in the Series he'd be on short rest twice, which he's used to, while Lee has never pitched on short rest.
Starting Pitching Depth
The Yankees have only three starters, as evidenced by the fact that they've only thrown three guys so far. They're scared to use Joba Chamberlain or Chad Gaudin in a starting role in the playoffs, and they should be. In order to get through the Series without using one of them, Andy Pettitte would have to go on short rest, which he's not equipped to do. A.J. Burnett could be great, or he could get rocked. He owns a career ERA over 5.00 against Philadelphia. The Phillies have two guys in Cole Hamels and Pedro Martinez who have been great in the playoffs over the years. Hamels looked shot against the Dodgers, but by the time he starts game three, he will have had nine days off, which could be just enough to give him a boost. Or could just make him look bad again. Martinez was untouchable against the Dodgers, and his start in New York is must see TV, given his history with the Yankees and the fans there. Joe Blanton may be the key for the Phillies, as he will likely start game four. Blanton has been the Phils most consistent pitcher all season, has been good in a relief role early in the playoffs while the cavalry (Park, Myers) got healthy, and could shut it down. J.A. Happ has looked scared throughout the playoffs, but he is another option Charlie Manuel can turn to.
Advantage: PHI. Basically, the Yankees have two good starting pitchers they can use after their ace (Burnett and Pettitte), while the Phillies have four (Martinez, Hamels, Happ, Blanton).
Middle and Short Relief
This area is a study in contrasts between the regular and postseason. During the regular season, the Yankees relief corps was pretty sturdy, and did a good job getting the ball to Mariano Rivera at the end. However, during the playoffs, the main setup guys Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain have been really shaky, and have thrown the type of stuff that would get hammered by the Phillies lineup. Hughes and Chamberlain have 'stuff', which makes them the only potentially reliable pieces. Damaso Marte, David Robertson and Alfredo Aceves stink. Sorry. They stink. The Phils whole bullpen was bad during the regular season with the exception of Ryan Madson, and in the playoffs they've been lockdown, with the exception of Ryan Madson. Chad Durbin and Chan Ho Park have been outstanding since returning from injury, and Scott Eyre has made the absence of J.C. Romero much easier to handle. J.A. Happ has looked scared from the outset, and Antonio Bastardo is too young and has one pitch to be a reliable lefty. Brett Myers could be an X factor in the Phils pen.
Advantage: PHI. Like the rotation, the Phillies have more usable pieces than the Yankees.
Closer- NYY- Mariano Rivera vs PHI- Brad Lidge
Rivera and Lidge are 1-2 in career postseason saves and series' closed out, so it's not a surprise their teams meet on the game's greatest stage. Statistically the two greatest closers in postseason history, Rivera and Lidge have taken different paths to this point this year. Rivera, even at age 39, has been his normal great self, posting a 1.76 ERA and 44 saves. Ho-hum. Lidge, after his perfect 2008 season, was abysmal during the regular season, blowing 11 saves, including two at Yankee Stadium. However, in the playoffs, Lidge has looked closer to regaining his dominant form, closing out all three of his chances, not allowing a run and striking out a batter an inning.
Advantage: NYY. Rivera may be the greatest pitcher ever, not just closer. However, if Lidge continues his resurgence, this is pretty close to a draw. Rivera is great, but he isn't unbeaten in World Series. Just ask the Diamondbacks.
Manager- NYY- Joe Girardi vs PHI- Charlie Manuel
Girardi is in his second year managing the Yankees, his second managerial stint after his last season in Florida saw him win NL Manager of the Year honors and then get fired. Manuel is in his fifth season in Philadelphia, and has morphed from country bumpkin to good ole boy genius in the mold of Casey Stengal. Amazing what a title will do for you. Girardi has a tendency to overmanage, as seen in the ALCS where he twice replaced pitchers with like handed pitchers, usually not to great results. He was roundly criticized for consulting a book in the dugout and then immediately making a pitching change against the Angels. From his time in Florida, Girardi showed no interest in pitching to Ryan Howard, and it will be interesting to see if that continues, especially with an improved cast including Werth and Ibanez right behind him. Manuel, on the other hand, has managed the pants off of Joe Torre two years in a row in the playoffs, and what he lacks in rhetorical flourish, he more than makes up for in his handling of his players and feel for what button to push at what time.
Advantage: PHI. Name one instance when Joe Girardi shrewdly outmanuevered anyone. Besides himself. And it worked out well for his team.
Home Field- NYY- Yankee Stadium vs PHI- Citizens Bank Park 
Both parks are newer, gorgeous settings to take in a ball game, and tend to favor hitters over pitchers. Right field in Yankee Stadium is an absolute disgrace, and the Yankees have taken full advantage through most of the season. However, the main advantage the Yankees have in their stadium is their home run prowess, which is completely offset by a team capable of out homering them like the Phillies. Citizens Bank Park plays small in the alleys and to left, but fewer broken bats and pop ups actually leave the yard there. Fan wise, I'll probably get some crap for this, but it's not even close between the Yankee and Phillie crowds. I don't want to hear about how much the fans impact the game in New York, not when seats right around home plate are empty through the first half of a League Championship Series game. This ain't Atlanta folks, come on, you're better than that.
Advantage: None. The Phillies won't be intimidated by Yankee Stadium, or by Mystique and Aura, who Curt Schilling once famously quipped about. But if they Yankees think the stadium helps them play better, then it does. Philadelphia isn't a place likely to give a warm reception to any visitors, from New York or otherwise.
This Phils team is not one that is going to be intimidated by New York or the storied franchise that is the Yankees. The Phils are a team with steely resolve, a million pounds of heart, and fear of no one. The Yankees have been a lot looser this year, thanks in large part to Nick Swisher, but remain a bit corporate and stuffy. The Phillies have been off for a week, which could work wonders for their guys that are clearly tired (Utley, Madson, Feliz, Hamels), but could also leave them a bit rusty at the outset. The actual effect remains to be seen. 17 Yankees will be in the World Series for the first time, while only six Phillies (Ibanez, Lee, Francisco, Bako, Park and Antonio Bastardo) have not been to the Series prior to this year.
Advantage: It's intangible. If we could tell with any certainty, it'd be tangible. 
Yankees Win If - They effectively eliminate middle relief and get the ball to Rivera... A-Rod continues his hot streak and either Teixeira or Posada join in on the hot streak... Sabathia goes 3-0... They improve dramatically at hitting with runners in scoring position... They're not spooked by the Philadelphia crowd, or their 17 World Series newcomers aren't overwhelmed by the moment... Jeter is always on base... They can win twice at Citizens Bank Park, even with homefield advantage... Chad Gaudin doesn't get blitzed as a game four starter in Philadelphia... The Phillies let A-Rod beat them... If all these things go right, the Yankees win in a short series.
Phillies Win If- Rollins and Victorino get on base and cause trouble... Lidge continues to be playoff Brad Lidge, and not regular season Brad Lidge... Cole Hamels or Pedro Martinez pitch like they're capable... Cliff Lee goes 2-0... They get anything substantive from the bench/DH... Ryan Madson looks right... Utley, Werth or Ibanez has a monster series... The bottom of the order (Ruiz, Francisco, Feliz) get on base... The Yankees let Ryan Howard beat them... If all these things go right, the Phillies win in a short series.

Etc, Etc, Etc- This year's matchup is a rematch of the 1950 Series, which the Yankees won, 4-0... The Phillies are 16-4 in their last 20 postseason games, which has never been done by a National League team... The Phils would have swept the Yankees in New York earlier this season in interleague play, except for two blown saves by Brad Lidge... Jimmy Rollins predicted this World Series matchup in Playboy before the season started... The Yankees had the best home record in baseball, while the Phillies had the best road record... Neither team has a player on its active roster that has played for the other team... Phillies reliever Chad Durbin is on a World Series team for the third time in four years, having reached the Series with Detroit in 2006 and Philadelphia last year... He did not appear in a playoff game for Detroit... Only five Yankees have been to the World Series with the Yankees, and only four (Jeter, Posada, Pettitte, Rivera) have won a World Series with the Yanks... 18 of the Phillies 25 active roster players for the '09 Series were on the roster in '08... Three more Phillies on the '08 roster (J.C. Romero, Jamie Moyer, Clay Condrey) are inactive... Yankee reserve Eric Hinske struck out against Brad Lidge to end the 2008 World Series... The Phillies have never won a playoff series in which they have lost game one... Of course, prior to 2008, they had only ever won four playoff series... They've won five playoff series since since start of 2008, and look to make it one more before the start of 2010... 20 of 23 baseballl analysts picked the Yankees to win the Series, while 11 of 12 baseball analysts at picked likewise.

NYY World Series Roster- 2 Derek Jeter, 11 Brett Gardner, 13 Alex Rodriguez, 14 Eric Hinske, 17 Jerry Hairston Jr., 18 Johnny Damon, 20 Jorge Posada, 24 Robinson Cano, 25 Mark Teixeira, 26 Jose Molina, 30 David Robertson, 33 Nick Swisher, 34 A.J. Burnett, 41 Chad Gaudin, 42 Mariano Rivera, 43 Damaso Marte, 46 Andy Pettitte, 48 Phil Coke, 52 C.C. Sabathia, 53 Melky Cabrera, 55 Hideki Matsui, 62 Joba Chamberlain, 65 Phil Hughes, 91 Alfredo Aceves, 99 Brian Bruney

PHI World Series Roster- 4 Eric Bruntlett, 6 Ryan Howard, 7 Pedro Feliz, 8 Shane Victorino, 10 Ben Francisco, 11 Jimmy Rollins, 12 Matt Stairs, 19 Greg Dobbs, 23 Paul Bako, 26 Chase Utley, 28 Jayson Werth, 29 Raul Ibanez, 34 Cliff Lee, 35 Cole Hamels, 37 Chad Durbin, 39 Brett Myers, 43 J.A. Happ, 45 Pedro Martinez, 46 Ryan Madson, 47 Scott Eyre, 51 Carlos Ruiz, 54 Brad Lidge, 56 Joe Blanton, 58 Antonio Bastardo, 61 Chan Ho Park

Monday, October 26, 2009

LCS In Review

- Closers are scared. Scared. Closers are supposed to be the guys who come in with electric stuff and no fear, who say 'here it is, hit it' and let the chips fall where they may. However, too many closers in the playoffs have pitched scared. They keep going away, away, away. They're nibbling. Blah blah blah. You're the closer. YOU have the lead. YOU have shut down stuff. Use it. What is Jonathan Broxton doing staying away, away, away with Matt Stairs? I know Stairs took him about 9000 feet deep last year, but Stairs is hitting under .200 this year and looks done. And Broxton is throwing 100 mph. Go after the hitters.

- There are only two closers in the playoffs this year who haven't looked scared- Mariano Rivera and Brad Lidge. Their teams are in the World Series. Rivera and Lidge are also number one and two all-time in playoff saves and playoff series' closed out. Think those numbers and the corresponding World Series matchup of their respective teams is a coincidence? I don't either.

- Catchers visting the mound between pitches in the playoffs has got to be curtailed. I understand there are some big spots and some big pitches, but if a catcher needs to run out to talk to his pitcher one more time on a 1-1 count with no on and no out, I'm going to scream.

- Umpires, among other issues, need to keep the game going. Randy Wolf isn't ready to pinch run? Mariano Rivera isn't quite ready to come in, so Joba Chamberlain throws to first 72 times and never has the intent of throwing home? No. The men in blue need to keep the game going. If you're not ready, too bad.

- TBS is brutal at broadcasting baseball games. Brutal. Who's warming up in the bullpen? Who's likely to be used off the bench in a given spot? You would never know watching TBS. The camera work was baseball poor, and the thing that really drives me nuts is how they would remain on a long view shot as a pitch was about to be delivered. Show the game, not how many goofy camera angles you have.

- Chip Caray was alright at best behind the play-by-play mic.

- I like Ron Darling, however.

- Buck Martinez. Yawn. I can take or leave him.

- Great observation by my friend Chip (clearly not Caray), who pointed out that for whatever reason, catchers seem to rise up offensively come playoff time. You've seen it this year and last with Carlos Ruiz, and you've seen it in recent years from Yorvit Torrealba, Jason Varitek and any of the catching Molinas (I don't include Pudge Roriguez in that group, because he's always been a great offensive player). But why are catchers seemingly 'playoff clutch' more than second basemen or right fielders? I've seen this in college too, where the team I worked with had a catcher play better in a conference tournament than I had ever seen him play, and during this run he caught five games in four days. Maybe it's being more in tune with the game because you're a part of every play. Maybe it's the same inner qualities that makes catchers good managers (three of the final four managers were catchers in the bigs). Who knows? I don't. But it is a trend I'd expect to continue.

- Bottom line on the NLCS-  the Phillies are just better than the Dodgers. You can analyze it six ways to Sunday, but that's it. The Phillies lineup is better, the Phillies pitch better, run better, manage better, execute better. Period.

- The Dodgers do have bright days ahead of them, however.

- Cole Hamels stinks. He was as responsible as anyone for the Phils winning in '08, but he's killing them now. Who wouldn't pick the Phils to beat the Yankees if they had 08 Hamels and Cliff Lee at the top of the rotation?

- The umpiring has been terrible across all playoff series. Much worse in the ALCS than the NLCS though.

- The Angels played like a last-place team intimidated by the big, bad Yankees. One thing that drives me nuts is stupid, sloppy baseball. One reason I generally like watching the Angels is that they play clean an execute well. But in the ALCS... not so much. Nine walks in an elimination game? Vlad Guerrero getting picked off first on a shallow pop up to right? Everyone throwing the ball all over the place? Ugly.

- The Yankees were once again the beneficiaries of some horrendous mistakes in the ALCS. I'm not saying they didn't deserve to win either series, because they clearly did. But I am saying they were beatable, and it's unlikely that a team like the Phillies will let them off the hook when they mess up. The Phillies may not win, but they will make you beat them, as opposed to giving away games.

- Not counting NLCS game two, that is.

- Andy Pettitte was money in another elimination game. However, getting pushed to six games means Pettitte realistically only gets one start in the World Series.

- If the ALCS went seven, C.C. Sabathia would only have been able to pitch twice in the Series. Another good reason to close it out in six.

- A-Rod and Ryan Howard. I wouldn't pitch to either of them right now.

- Epic World Series on tap. Enjoy. Preview soon.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Around the League Championship Series

- If I learned anything hanging around University of Delaware baseball coach Jim Sherman for several years, it's this... value outs. Don't give them away offensively. Always take them when the offense gives you a chance for one. The reason I bring this up is not to pontificate about an earlier stage in my life, but rather because the teams in this year's playoffs are not treating outs with that respect, and they are often paying dearly for it. How many baserunners have you seen thrown out this playoff season for being just a little too careless on the bases (Bobby Abreu?) How many plays in the field have happened where a defender tried to be a hero instead of just getting an out (Maicer Izturis?). Don't give away outs on offense. Don't give extra outs on defense. If you do this, you have a good chance to win.

- Outs are the only thing that can stop a rally. There's no clock. Get outs. This drives me nuts when it's not executed by paid professionals, if you can't tell.

- The adage that in the playoffs more games are lost than are won is certainly coming true. The NLCS could be over by now, taking that view. The Phillies basically gave the Dodgers five outs in the deciding bottom of the eighth inning.

- People always want to complain about umpiring when there's a bad call, but this year's playoff umpiring has been ridiculous. Game four between the Yankees and Angels had so many clear calls that were missed it was unreal. What's going on here? What's the problem? I don't know what those answers are, but it has to stop.

- There is no accountability for umpires. None. Tom White, a longtime NFL referee, made an egregious error a couple years back, and got docked a game check. That doesn't happen to umpires. But it needs to.

- If there were accountability, about 15 umpires would have some serious cash flow limitations right now.

- Fascinating point made by Tom Verducci in the Wednesday edition of his Five Cuts column... it's so good, I haven't linked to it, I've copy/pasted it...
"Red Sox president Larry Lucchino has a term for playing in the intense conditions of the Northeast: East Coast Baseball. He is on to something. In Philadelphia, Boston and New York, almost every home game carries an intensity (from fans and media) that is a close facsimile to playoff baseball. And when you do get to October, the frequently cold, wet, blustery weather provides something else to battle, too.

I started thinking about East Coast Baseball as I watched the Dodgers and Angels go 0-4 in Philadelphia and New York in the LCS, all the while looking like they were not up to the challenges of the crowd and the weather. And then I thought, is there something to West Coast teams not measuring up to East Coast Baseball in October?

So I looked at all the West Coast teams -- the Dodgers, Angels, Athletics, Padres, Giants, Mariners and, because they fit the criteria except for a nearby beach, the Diamondbacks -- who have played East Coast Baseball in the postseason in the wild-card era, since 1995. In addition to New York and Philadelphia, other cities that fit the definition of East Coast Baseball at the time they hosted West Coast teams in the playoffs were Boston, Detroit and Baltimore.

It turns out there have been 22 playoff matchups when a West Coast team ventured into East Coast Baseball. The result: the West Coast teams are 10-36 in East Coast Baseball venues, a .217 winning percentage. In other words, get them out of their laid-back, warm environment and into the nasty conditions in the East, and they're not even the 1962 Mets.

And it is not getting any easier. Since 2003 the West Coast teams are 3-17 in East Coast Baseball playoff environments. That's the kind of history the Dodgers are up against tonight when they play NLCS Game 5 in Philadelphia. Bundle up, Dodgers."
Wow. What a great observation, but no surprise from Verducci.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

NLCS Games 2-4

- Pedro Martinez and Vicente Padilla were both great in their respective starts. I wasn't real sure what to expect out of either.

- Chase Utley's defense cost the Phillies runs in three straight games, but is ultimately nothing to worry about. He's too good a player and too hard a worker to expect that to continue. The shame of losing game two was that the Phils could have returned home up 2-0 and would have had brooms on the mind.

- Just as damaging to the Phils cause was Ronnie Belliard's bunt that wasn't fielded. The Dodgers effectively got five outs from the Phillies, and scored just enough to win.

- Aside from all that, you can't expect to win when you score one run

- J.A. Happ continued to look scared in game two

- Game three was a classic 'somebody got to pay' game, with the Phils not amused by having their former teammate Padilla shove it to them. Hiroki Kuroda, nothing personal, it was just your turn.

- Find me a trade deadline deal in recent years with as much playoff impact as the Cliff Lee deal. Lee has been untouchable for the Phillies, while the Dodgers thought they had a deal done for him, and didn't end up with him. Think about how this series, the whole second half even, would be different if the Dodgers got Lee instead of the Phillies.

- And humor me a bit and assume that in the scenario above, the Phillies still didn't get Roy Halladay

- I wonder what Roy Halladay thinks when he watches the Phillies in the playoffs these days

- Manny Ramirez made a nice running grab in the eighth inning of game four, temporarily keeping the Dodgers in the lead. I guess that made up for the play in the sixth when Shane Victorino hit a ball into the leftfield corner and Manny loafed after it, then missed the cut off man, allowing Victorino to easily stride into third with a leftfield triple. I don't care how fast the runner is, THAT should never happen, save a ridiculous outfield overshift.

- Jonathan Broxton = Dennis Eckersley. Prior to game four, there had only been two walkoff extra base hits to win a playoff game when the hitting team had two outs and was trailing. One was Cookie Lavagetto in the 1947 World Series (ruining Bill Bevens no-hitter), and the other was Kirk Gibson's pinch-hit home run off of Eckersley in game one of the 1988 World Series. I think I've seen that play once or twice. In post game interviews, Broxton had that same stunned, vacant stare that Eck had after giving up the homer to Gibson.

- If you're Broxton and you throw 100 mph consistently, what are you doing nibbling around with Matt Stairs? I know he took you out 800 feet last year, but Stairs is done, and even the best pitchers get taken really deep every once in awhile. That's not showing the ability to quickly forget about bad pitches that a dominant closer needs, especially this time of year.

- Lost in all the hysteria over the way the Phillies won the game was the fact that Brad Lidge looked really, really good in his appearance. He blew away Matt Kemp and then froze Andre Ethier with a good tight slider to end the top of the ninth. The game was Lidge's first win of the year, regular season or playoffs.

- Once again, Eric Bruntlett finds himself right in the middle of Phillies history. Two game-winning runs in last year's World Series, an unassisted triple play, now he scores as the front half of the dramatic ending to 2009 NLCS Game Four. It's either a knack for being at the right place at the right time or dumb luck, but either way, big ups to Bruntlett.

- THAT boys and girls, is what I'm talking about when I illustrate the differences between the Phillies and the Mets. Or, as Mitch Williams said on the pre-pre-game show on the radio before game four, the Mets are the kid in high school that talks about beating people up, the Phillies are the team that actually beats people up.

Monday, October 19, 2009

ALCS Games 1-3

- In the first two games in New York, the Angels wanted no part of playing in the cold. I have a theory about cold weather baseball games. The team with the most guys wearing ski masks, ear flaps, etc. loses. The reason is that the team wearing all the extra stuff is thinking about staying warm, while the other team is thinking about baseball.

- Is that Angels team in games one and two the same Angel team that played all season long? The Angels under Mike Scioscia are known by playing clean and being fundamentally sound, traits which have abandoned them thus far in the Yankees series.

- My first two point were exemplified best by the ball hit by Hidecki Matsui in the first inning of game one. You may remember this play by Chone Figgins and Erick Aybar looking at each other as a lazy pop up fell in between them, scoring the second Yankee runs.

- I'm tired of teams giving the Yankees games on a silver platter. Good grief. The Yankees have won five games in the playoffs so far, and you could argue that three of those games (ALDS Game 2, ALCS Games 1 and 2) were "lost" by the opponent, and only one was really "won" by the Yankees. I thought for sure the Yankees would have to play better than they did against Minnesota to beat the Angels, but apparently that's not the case.

- Vladimir Guerrero's bat is slow. He hit the home run off Andy Pettitte, but Pettitte doesn't throw nearly as hard as C.C. Sabathia or A.J. Burnett, guys that overwhelmed Vlad in the first two games.

- Did anyone want to win game three? Both teams gave the other plenty of opportunites to take the win, only to have their opponent return the favor.

- Jeff Mathis, for a guy that apparently doesn't hit much, has had some big knocks against the Yankees, knocking three doubles in six at-bats.

- Anaheim's bullpen has to stop giving up the long ball. The Yankees have alot of guys that can hit the ball out of the park, but late in games, home runs are killers.

- By the way, Alex Rodriguez is still only hitting .250 this series. Two of his three hits happened to leave the yard.

- Scioscia is a bit shaken in his confidence in Brian Fuentes as his closer. And he should be. A-Rod took him out on an 0-2 pitch, but he didn't swing at strike one or two, which left Fuentes thinking he could power an 88 mph fastball up and away past A-Rod. Poor choice.

- Joe Girardi overmanaged game three just a little bit. Five Yankee pitchers threw less than an inning each in game three. His last move was especially curious, removing a righthanded pitcher (David Robertson) throwing well with two outs and no one on in the 11th inning for another righthanded pitcher (Alfredo Aceves) against a righthanded hitter. The righthanded hitter, Howi Kendrick, reached base and scored on a hit by Jeff Mathis. Strange.

- I'm going to first guess Joe Girardi using C.C. Sabathia on short rest in game four. It might work out, but if the series goes seven, Sabathia will pitch on short rest again, and then go short again in the World Series. Girardi trying to run through the ALCS and World Series with only three starting pitchers tells me that he thinks his other options aren't that great. In addition, Sabathia pitched Milwaukee to the playoffs last year, but started to show signs of wear with the mounting short-rest starts, ultimately culminating in a poor outing against the Phillies in the NLDS. Girardi doesn't need to throw Sabathia while still in control of the series unless he really doesn't trust any other option, and if that's true, the Yankees may have a bigger problem than is immediately visible.