Thursday, October 30, 2014

Gillick's Way

Hall of Famer Pat Gillick creates "The Phillies Way"
On November 2nd, 2005, the Philadelphia Phillies announced that Pat Gillick was hired as their new General Manager. 
The former 2-time World Series winner as GM with the Toronto Blue Jays then took a group of players already on board from the previous Ed Wade regime, and crafted the rest of the roster that would eventually win the 2008 World Series.
Following that World Series victory, Gillick turned over the GM reigns to organizational man Ruben Amaro, and took on the role of senior advisor to both Amaro and club president David Montgomery. In the last few months, with Montgomery battling cancer, Gillick was elevated to the role of “acting” club president.
One of Gillick’s more influential acts has just been announced through Amaro. “The Phillies Way”, a guide book that reveals the club’s direction and process. It is believed to reflect largely what Gillick feels are, as stated by Amaro, per Matt Gelb, the “best practices for player development” as the organization moves forward.
Pat Gillick has had a huge influence on the present and future direction of the Philadelphia Phillies ever since first being hired back in 2005. Now with “The Phillies Way”, his influence is going to be felt for years to come. Fans of the team can only hope that what appears to be Gillick’s way turns out to be a consistently winning way.

Phillies Receive 7 GIBBY Awards Nominations

7 Phillies nominations for 2014 GIBBY's
“Greatness In Base Ball Yearly”, that’s what MLB’s GIBBY Awards celebrate. The awards were begun by Major League Baseball back in 2002. They are awarded for extraordinary performances by players, managers, executives, and others in the game.
For 2014, the Philadelphia Phillies organization has been announced as having nominees in 7 categories. Those are:
BEST PLAY: September 1st, Marlon Byrd makes a diving catch to preserve the team’s combined no-hitter vs. Atlanta.
BEST MOMENT: June 14th, Jimmy Rollins singles for his career franchise record-setting 2,235th hit.
BEST PITCHING MOMENT: September 1st, the combined no-hitter, first in franchise history, by Hamels/Diekman/Giles/Papelbon.
Sep 1, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Ken Giles (53), starting pitcher Cole Hamels (35), relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon (58), and relief pitcher Jake Diekman (63) are interviewed after a combined no-hitter against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
BEST HEROICS: Ryan Howard, for a trio of walkoff hits that came on May 28th, August 5th, and August 10th.
BEST CLOSER: Jonathan Papelbon, who had 39 Saves, a 2.04 ERA, and a 0.90 WHIP, with a 63/15 K/BB ratio, allowing just 45 hits in his 66.1 innings pitched.
ODDITY: Jerome Williams, registered wins against the Oakland A’s during 2014 with 3 different teams – Phils, Astros, Rangers.
'CUT4' TOPIC: Tom McCarthy, June 27th – while broadcasting with the team’s announcers from center field, TMac donned his baseball glove, reached out, and snagged Freddie Freeman’s massive homerun on the fly while still calling the play-by-play.

Voting is conducting by MLB alumni, the media, baseball front office personnel, SABR, and fans. The fans can vote by going to MLB.com/gibbys until 11:59pm on November 21st. The winners will be announced at MLB.com and on the MLB Network on December 6th.

Phillies Coaches Return for 2015

Pitching coach Bob McClure and all other coaches return
The Philadelphia Phillies announced today that all coaches would return for the 2015 season, as reported first by MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki.
Zolecki: “The team said today each coach is signed through next season. The Phillies announced late last month that they had invited every coach to return following a 73-89 campaign in Ryne Sandberg’s first full season as manager.”
Returning as a group then for 2015 are:
Manager: Ryne Sandberg, Bench Coach: Larry Bowa, Pitching Coach: Bob McClure, Hitting Coach: Steve Henderson, Assistant Hitting Coach: John Mizerock, First Base Coach: Juan Samuel, Third Base Coach: Pete Mackanin, Bullpen Coach: Rod Nichols.

It is believed that all of the coaches have contracts only for the 2015 season. All except Bowa were operating on one-year deals during 2014, with Bowa signed through the 2015 season. Sandberg, 93-111 (.456) in one full and one partial season, has a contract through 2016, with a club option for 2017.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Yasmani Tomas and Phillies: a Perfect Match

Cuban defector Yasmani Tomas looks perfect for Phillies
Ever since it was announced that Cuban phenom Yasmani Tomas had left the island nation and would be seeking a job in Major League Baseball this past summer, speculation has run rampant as to which organization was his most likely landing spot.
In recent weeks, that speculation has focused squarely on the Philadelphia Phillies, with the Fightins now considered the odds-on favorites to land the power-hitting corner outfielder.
Tomas played for 5 years in Cuba’s top league, Serie Nacional, and Baseball America rated him as the #6 prospect performing at the 2013 World Baseball Classic. He is graded as having a ’70’ in raw power on the standard 20-80 scouting scale.
There is little doubt that Tomas would not need much developmental time in the minor leagues, if any at all. He would project to plug immediately into the Phillies starting lineup in either right or left field, and would likely become the #3 hitter in the batting order, with Chase Utley moving up into the 2-hole.
There has been much speculation that the Phils would try to change the face of the team this off-season, with pretty much everyone available at the right price. It is unclear if landing Tomas, and assuming a healthy return from Cliff Lee, would alter those plans in any substantive way.
The Phillies are the favorites for three reasons: they have the clear need, they have the resources, and they have the motivation. The 2014 corner outfielders were 37-year old Marlon Byrd and the wildly inconsistent Domonic Brown. Playing time will be no problem.

Sep 28, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies left fielder Domonic Brown (9) watches from the dugout against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park. The Braves defeated the Phillies, 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Dom Brown may never be what Phillies hoped

The contract is likely to be something like 7 years in the$130-140 million range. For a true slugger turning just 24 years old next month, that is reasonable and the Phillies have the cash. And off a last place finish, there is obvious motivation. There are most definitely other suitors with need and money, most notably the division-rival New York Mets, but few to the extent of the Phillies.

Should 3rd base prospect Maikel Franco continue to develop as hoped, he could team with Tomas to begin building a true bridge to the next contending Phillies team. The signing of Yasmani Tomas should be considered a litmus test for general manager Ruben Amaro, who has much to prove to an unimpressed fan base.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Writers Write

Press box at Comerica Park in Detroit, home of the Tigers
The great Flannery O'Connor was quoted regarding writing: "I'm a full-time believer in writing habits...You may be able to do without them if you have genius, but most of us only have talent and this is simply something that has to be assisted all the time by physical and mental habits or it dries up and blows away."

What she was saying in her oh so elegant way was that we writers need to do: it's not good enough to call yourself a writer, or to say you want to be a writer. Writers write. It's in the doing. O'Connor was emphasizing that you need to do, and do regularly, or your talent will waste away.

I've been thinking about this a lot over the last few years, but in particular over the last few months, as I prepare to transition from one career to the next. Whether I ever draw a paycheck, a royalty check, a residual check, whatever - my next career will be as a writer.

The importance in writing is not whether you make money from your creative output, though I will never undervalue the importance of earning a living. The earning is an entirely separate issue. What is at it's most basic for a writer is that very output.

Writers write.

Flannery O'Connor, one of the great American writers

It's the very thing that makes you a writer: the output. The creative release from inside. The rolling around in your head of an idea, of words and thoughts and images, and then transferring those into a piece for someone else to enjoy, or to learn from, or both.

In choosing to combine my God-given talent for writing with my love for the greatest game that was ever invented, baseball, I have stumbled across some very interesting opinions, thoughts, and considerations held by other baseball writers.

One that I've found of particular interest is the expressed thought from more than one "professional" baseball writer, and I use that term in parentheses only to differentiate someone who is currently drawing a paycheck for their efforts from someone not currently being paid, to not understand why someone would write "for free" for another entity.

Frankly, it's difficult for me to understand how such writers don't get it. It's actually a fairly simple concept. You write for someone else, some other entity: a website, a newspaper, a magazine, because of opportunity. They are willing to give you not only the opportunity to express yourself, but they are giving you a forum that is likely larger than you would have on your own.

For instance, in my own writing, I have my own website. Have had it for years: www.mattveasey.com, and you can find my thoughts on a wide variety of topics going back over the last decade: politics, society, faith, life, family, media, sports, and many others. But beyond a few dozen of my own friends and family, who is actually ever visiting my website and reading my articles?

About six months ago, I specifically and intentionally decided to dedicate myself to writing almost exclusively about baseball. Why? It's fairly simple. I have frequently heard throughout my life that if you can make a living doing something you love, you won't actually work a single day. For me, baseball is a love. So I choose to write the game.

After I write an article, I put out a link to that article on social media, at Facebook and Twitter. At some point a few months ago, someone who had read my work offered me a position writing for the Fansided network, the fastest-growing independent network of sports, entertainment, and lifestyle sites on the web, which had entered into an agreement with Sports Illustrated to get more voices heard.

Within Fansided, I specifically am writing for their MLB arm, with the Philadelphia Phillies team feed called That Ball's Outta Here, or TBOH for short. The name, of course, is based on the old home run call by the legendary Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas.

I don't get paid. But what I do get is exposure. My words go out through a multitude of social media methods from both TBOH and Fansided, so any article that I write under their banner is exposed to thousands of social media users. By extension, some percentage of these are going to actually read my article. Some percentage of those are going to follow my writing more.

That is what you get from writing for an entity that is not paying you. They receive product from me, and other writers, in the form of my writing efforts. I get the exposure that their network receives. Fansided, for instance, has over 113,000 followers at it's Facebook page.

When people read and enjoy your work, they tend to regularly follow you as an individual writer. Over time, you build an individual brand and fan base. If you're good enough, and lucky enough, and produce enough, then at some point you have a shot at actually landing one of those paying gigs.

"Insiders" like Buster Olney enjoy one tremendous advantage: access

There is very little to distinguish a good writer who gets paid for his output from one who does not. The biggest difference is usually two-fold. First, the person getting paid for their writing can often concentrate solely on that writing. Others, such as myself, have another job/career and just can't devote the time or effort that we would often like to our writing craft.

The other distinction, and it can be a key one in the world of baseball and other sports, is access. Writer's who cover teams for Major League Baseball, or Comcast, or Sports Illustrated, ESPN, Fox Sports, CBS Sports, etc are given access inside ballparks and locker rooms. They get to interview players, team officials, and others first-hand, and/or are inside the room during press conferences.

That first-hand access is the single most valuable resource held by those covering the game for a living today. Individuals such as Jon Heyman, Buster Olney, and Ken Rosenthal in baseball are considered "insiders" due to their particular access, and the contacts inside the game that they have developed over a period of years covering the sport.

This does not, however, grant these individuals some special knowledge of the game itself that makes their opinions any greater than those of us on the "outside", but writing and commenting on the game. Having watched, followed, played, managed, and written on the game for decades, my opinions are as valid as any of these individuals regarding the game itself.

As a for instance, Heyman put out on social media this statement in regards to tonight's Game 6 of the World Series, with Kansas City trailing San Francisco 3-2, but hosting the final two games: "that home teams won games 6 and 7 in recent year(s) isn't relevant. what matters is Giants experience. kc in tough spot imo."

So Jon Heyman, baseball "insider", is basically saying that history is not relevant, and that the only thing that matters is the experience of one of the two teams, and that this is all in his opinion (imo - in my opinion.) So his opinion should be taken as more important than history. Ludicrous.

The best predictor of an outcome, be it in politics, personal behavior, or baseball, is history. What is past is prologue. What Jon Heyman thinks, his opinion, is what is irrelevant. That the Giants have experience is not irrelevant, but it also is not the overriding factor here.

What is important? 74% of teams down 3-2 in a World Series and playing Game 6 at home have forced a Game 7. And since 1979, no team has won a World Series Game 7 on the road. Bottom line? That Game 5 gem from Madison Bumgarner, in fact both the Giants wins in Games 4 and 5, were must-wins. And even with those, the odds are against them and with the Royals.

I don't mean to pick on Heyman. He generally does a nice job reporting on the game. But remember that when you are reading, listening, and following sports-related writers, columnists, reporters, commentators, etc that all you are usually getting is their opinion, which is frankly no better than yours or mine. The big difference? These folks have a platform to sound their opinion.

Ernest Hemingway, great American bleeder

It's 2014: you have the opportunity to have your own platform. Think you know something about baseball, football, hockey, golf, politics, music, art, banking, teaching, public safety, religion, romance, or any topic on Earth? Start a blog. Go to Blogger, or WordPress, or any similar site, and start writing.

Think you're a writer? If you have the gift, you'll find out soon enough. But you'll never find out if you don't start writing and keep on writing. Ernest Hemingway said it most colorfully: "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." Get bleeding. Get writing. Writers writer.


Monday, October 27, 2014

RIP Oscar Taveras

Cardinals prospect Oscar Taveras, 22, killed in auto accident
Francisco Taveras must have known from early on that his son Oscar, 2nd of his 8 children with wife Marisela, was going to be something special on a baseball diamond.

After all, Francisco had first-hand knowledge of what it took to make it in the game. He himself had been a prospect once, reaching the AAA level in the Milwaukee Brewers organization back in the 1980's.

Francisco, who taught Oscar the game that he himself loved, and Marisela surely watched with pride as Oscar not only competed in baseball, but as he excelled at it. Over the last few years it became apparent to everyone that Oscar was not only likely to match, but would most certainly exceed his father's accomplishments in the game.

That's what every parent hopes for, of course. That our children will grow to make more of themselves than we have, to succeed and make their mark on the world. To enjoy success and happiness and achievement. At the age of 22, Oscar Taveras could say that he had all of those things. His parents had to be very proud indeed.

Oscar would indeed surpass his father's achievements in the game. Signing for $145,000 with the Saint Louis Cardinals organization as a 16-year old in November of 2008, he quickly rose to become one of the top prospects in the game. Entering the 2014 season, Taveras was considered one of the consensus top 3 prospects in all of baseball.

Taveras finally got his call up to the big leagues this past May 30th at just age 21. The following day, in just his 2nd at-bat with the Cardinals, Taveras launched a homerun, announcing his presence with authority.

Still, as many youngsters, Taveras struggled in his first exposure to major league pitching. He was sent back down to the minors in the middle of the month, but was then recalled once again on June 30th, this time to stay. He played part-time for the rest of the season as the Cards won the N.L. Central Division crown, and was named to their postseason roster.

In Game 2 of the National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants, Taveras was called on by manager Mike Matheny to pinch-hit. It was an important situation, as the Cards trailed the Giants 1-0 in the series, and were down 3-2 in the bottom of the 7th here.

Taveras and the Cardinals celebrate his game-tying NLCS homerun


Oscar Taveras stepped to the plate in the rain against veteran pitcher Yusmeiro Petit, and delivered like a veteran. He crushed a game-tying homerun just inside the rightfield foul pole. The blast inspired the Cardinals to victory, tying the NLCS at a game apiece.

It would end up being the only game that Saint Louis would win, as the Giants took the NLCS 4-1. In total, Oscar received 7 at-bats in the postseason, all as a pinch-hitter, and went 3-7 with a pair of runs scored. He got to play right field briefly in the Game 5 finale of that NLCS. It was a disappointing end for the team, but appeared to be just the beginning of a promising career that would yield many more opportunities for playoff heroics from the now 22-year old.

And then, this weekend, unspeakable tragedy struck. Oscar Taveras and his girlfriend, 18-year old Edilia Jamali Arvelo, were killed in a car crash in his native Dominican Republic. His Cardinals-red Chevy Camaro somehow veered off wet roads as they were driving to his hometown of Puerto Plata. Those at the scene reported that the front end was heavily damaged.

It's too soon to know exactly what caused the accident. Any speculation about their ages and the sports car vehicle would be irresponsible. What is definitely not speculative is the nature of the roads in the D.R., which are notoriously deficient. Another Dominican native, future Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez, stated this morning in response to the accident: "To all the authorities in my country: please, please do something about the highways."

Outgoing Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig spoke for everyone involved in the game in part of his statement following the announcement of the news: "Oscar, a young member of the baseball family, was full of promise and at the dawn of a wonderful career in our game, evident in his game-tying homerun against the Giants exactly two weeks ago."

Oscar Taveras and Edilia Arvelo

Now, all we have left is the memory of another brief, bright shining star taken far too soon. Baseball is game. Those of us who love it understand that, but we sometimes take it too seriously. Every once in awhile, real life steps in like this and reminds of that fact.

Oscar Taveras got to enjoy life in Major League Baseball, which will, in the end, be only a dream never realized for many millions around the world who play and share that dream. The record books will show that he appeared in exactly 80 games with the Cardinals, hitting .239 with 3 homers, 22 rbi, and 18 runs scored. He played 62 games in right field, 3 in center field, and made the rest of his appearances as a pinch-hitter.

But those are only his major league numbers. In the minor leagues, where he was almost always at least a couple of years younger than the league average age for his level, Taveras excelled. He batted .320 and drove in 324 runs across parts of his age 17-22 seasons, and consistently showed that he was going to be one of the game's best hitters in the years to come. Now that is all we have left, his dream, ended just as it was beginning.

Now families will grieve. Most importantly, the families of these young people taken far too soon. But also the larger family of baseball, of which we who love it are all a part. We grieve the loss of one of our own in Oscar Taveras. May God bless his family, friends, and teammates during this difficult team. And may God rest the souls of these youngsters in His loving embrace.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Phillies Biography Series: Mitch Williams

Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams, Phillies 1991-1993
It's hard to believe, but Mitch Williams only pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies for 3 seasons, from 1991-1993.

But in those three short years, particularly for his final game in red pinstripes, he is forever remembered by most as a Fightin' Phil.

That final game was, of course, Game 6 of the 1993 World Series. Williams was the Phils' closer, and was called on by manager Jim Fregosi to protect a 6-5 lead in the 9th inning. The Phillies were now just 3 outs away from tying the series with the Blue Jays and sending it to a decisive Game 7 at Toronto.

Baseball Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson led off with a walk against the "Wild Thing", but Williams got Devon White to fly out to left field. The Phils were now just two outs away from Game 7. But the Jays had yet another Hall of Famer next. Paul Molitor smacked a line single to center, with Henderson stopping at 2nd base.

Up to the plate stepped Jays' cleanup hitter Joe Carter. He was the type of slugger who could easily end it with one swing, and was also veteran enough to not shrink from the moment, and sling a base hit to score Henderson with the game-tier. However, he also had little speed, and could end the game with a doubleplay ball. And he was also a strikeout candidate.

Williams battled with Carter, and the count went to 2-2. One more strike, and the Phils would be just an out away from Game 7. Williams delivered. Carter swung. Every baseball fan alive at the time knows what happened next, and every Jays and Phillies fan will never forget it.

But that next moment should never be the moment for which Williams is remembered exclusively in Philly, or in general baseball circles. The man had an 11-year MLB career, the first 10 of which were fairly successful.

For the Phillies, Mitch saved 102 games across his 3 seasons, striking out 218 in 231.1 innings pitched, while allowing just 181 hits. But in the 200 games that he appeared in that time he fully earned his "Wild Thing" nickname. While he could strikeout a hitter, he was also prone to wildness. He walked 170 batters here, and finished those three seasons with a 1.517 WHIP mark.

In 1993, Williams had his best season ever as the Phillies won the NL East in a wire-to-wire, worst-to-first magical season that was, by far, the most fun full season that this writer and fan ever experienced. Mitch save 43 games that season, then won 2 and saved 2 more in the NLCS vs the Braves. His joyous leap after striking out Bill Pecota to put the Phillies into the World Series for the first time in a decade sent the Veteran's Stadium crowd and the entire city into delirium.

Mitch leaps into Darren Daulton's arms on clinching 1993 NL Pennant

The road to that 1993 World Series had begun for Mitch Williams on the opposite coast. Born in Santa Ana, California, Williams came to the attention of scouts while playing at West Linn High School in Oregon. He was selected by the San Diego Padres in the 8th round of the 1982 MLB Draft, and began his career at age 17 with the Padres low-A affiliate at Walla Walla, Washington.

In those early years with the San Diego organization, Mitch was a starting pitcher, and despite his wildness he rose to the A-ball level at Reno. In 3 seasons across 3 stops in the Padres system, Williams went 20-25 and struck out 362 hitters in 372.2 innings. However, he also walked 314 batters.

Tired of his wildness, the Padres left him unprotected, and he was taken by the Texas Rangers in December of 1984 in the rule 5 draft. The following April, the Rangers worked out a trade to keep Williams, and that season kept him as a starting pitcher where he rose to the AA level.

In 1986, Mitch finally made the big leagues out of spring training, but as a reliever. Still he was with the Texas Rangers, pitching in the Majors. Over his first three Big League seasons with Texas, Williams was a bullpen workhorse. He pitched in 232 games, striking out 280 hitters in 274.2 innings. He remained wild, walking 220. But his ERA was a respectable 3.70, and in his final Rangers season, Williams saved 18 games.

Following the 1988 season, Williams was the key part of an 8-player trade between the Rangers and the Chicago Cubs in which Texas would receive a young pitcher named Jamie Moyer and a young 1st baseman named Rafael Palmeiro.

After 1988 trade involving Jamie Moyer, Mitch became an all-star with Cubs

With the Cubbies, Mitch became an NL All-Star for the first time in 1989. As their full-time closer he would save 36 games and had just a 2.76 ERA. He would finish 9th in the NL Cy Young and 10th in the NL MVP Awards voting. In 1990, however, his ERA ballooned to 3.93, his saves dropped to 16, and his K/BB ratio was just 55/50 in 66.1 innings.

Due to become a free agent the following off-season, Mitch was dealt by the Cubs to the Philadelphia Phillies just before the 1991 season got underway in exchange for pitchers Chuck McElroy and Bob Scanlan. He bounced back with perhaps his best-ever statistical season. In 1991, Williams went 12-5 and saved 30 games for the Phils, registering a career-low 2.34 ERA with 84 strikeouts in the 88.1 innings that he pitched across 69 games.

The off-season came, and Williams became a free agent. But the Phillies and general manager Lee Thomas liked what they had seen of him in 1991, and signed the 26-year old just entering his prime to a multi-year free agent contract that would ultimately earn him over $10 million total.

His Philly history is well known, and was documented here earlier. What I failed to mention was the immediate, short term aftermath of that 1993 finish. Williams received numerous death threats for his personal role in the losses of not only the decisive Game 6, but also the pivotal Game 4 of the World Series. His final two games in a Phillies uniform were a disaster, and a certain vocal, crazed segment of the local fan base was unwilling to forgive.

Believing that the break with Phils fans was untenable, Thomas looked to deal Williams, and in December of 1993 would send him to Houston in exchange for pitchers Doug Jones and Jeff Juden. His brief 2-month stint with the Astros in 1994 would prove to be the beginning of the end. A 7.65 ERA and 2.250 WHIP ended his stay at the end of May. His poor performance and the August work stoppage put an end to his season.

For the 1995 season, Mitch caught on back on the west coast again, this time with the California Angels. As baseball finally got back to business, he got back to pitching and he started well. In a dozen games through May 25th, Mitch had a 3.00 ERA and had yielded just 5 hits in 6 innings. It didn't last, however. He was bombed on back-to-back outings by the Red Sox on May 26th and 27th, his ERA ballooned to 9.82, and he was on his way out of California, gone by the middle of June.

Out of the game for over a year, Mitch was signed as a free agent in July of 1996 with, of all places, the Phillies. Still the GM, Lee Thomas gave him another shot. Williams pitched in the Phils minors with High-A Clearwater and then at AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre. In AAA, Mitch proved a shell of his former self, and he got shelled, allowing 25 hits and 11 walks in 15 innings. On August 19th, the Phillies released him for the final time.

Still, Mitch wasn't done. Keep in mind that he was that most sought-after commodity, a power-armed and experienced lefty. And he wasn't old. At age 32 in 1997, Mitch signed with the Kansas City Royals. He began by pitching well in 3 games with AAA Omaha, earning his final Big League promotion. With the Royals, Mitch got into the final 7 games of his career. They proved to be unsuccessful. He allowed 11 hits and 7 walks in 6.2 innings, and was released for the final time on May 12th of 1997.

In the years following the 1993 World Series debacle and subsequent harsh feelings from many Phillies fans, Mitch Williams' cold relationship with them slowly began to thaw. The biggest single factor was that Mitch never ran. He fully embraced his responsibility in the defeat, and combated it with both honesty and self-deprecating humor.

Phillies fans learned to embrace Mitch's responsibility, honesty, and humor

Philly fans, notorious for ganging up on perceived whiners, babies, and "losers" began to feel both sympathy and respect for the way in which Williams handled himself. Within a decade, Mitch Williams became not only a tolerated, forgiven player, but a beloved personality again here in the City of Brotherly Love.

He caught on with an independent league team at the nearby Jersey Shore as both a pitcher and pitching coach with the Atlantic City Surf for the 2001-02 seasons. In 2007, Mitch became a regular with local Philly talk radio and cable TV stations. And then in 2009, with the launch of the new MLB Network, Mitch was hired there as a baseball analyst.

Firmly re-established both in Philadelphia and in the game at large, the married family man with 5 children became a countrified voice of the common man to many. Then came May of 2014. While coaching his 10-year old son's Little League team, Mitch was ejected from a tournament game for yelling profanities at an umpire. He also faced accusations that he had ordered one of the pitchers on his team to throw a beanball at an opposing child.

While the details of the controversial incidents this past spring were disputed and being fought out, Mitch was first suspended and then released from his appearances on the MLB Network. He has since resurfaced in recent weeks, both at his Twitter handle and as host of a Wildfire Radio program which begins broadcasting at 6pm tonight.

For the past three decades, Mitch Williams has been a unique, controversial, colorful character within the game of professional baseball. With his often outstanding, and just as often frustrating, three seasons of baseball played here, Mitch has also proven to be an unforgettable Phillies character.

Follow Mitch: @Mitch99Williams on Twitter
his new radio show "Unleashed" is @99Unleashed 


Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Other Team Shows Up

Omar Infante's HR twisted dagger into Hunter Strickland
A funny thing happened last night on the way to the San Francisco Giants inevitable World Series championship. The other team showed up.

The Kansas City Royals erupted for five runs in the 6th inning, then turned the game over to their shutdown back-end bullpen. The result was a 7-2 victory and a 1-1 tie in the 2014 World Series.

That 6th inning eruption likely came as a surprise to many pundits and scribes who, particularly after San Fran's 7-1 romp in the opener, had already begun the Giants coronation as 2014 champions.

A gentle reminder to them: it's a best-of-seven series, not a one game elimination.

The Giants still may win this thing. They accomplished the bottom line basic of any team that opens such a series with a pair of games on the road, they won at least one. They go home now for three straight in front of their raucous fans. They hold home field advantage in what has become a best-of-five.

But they did not drive a stake into the bodies of the Kansas City team. Instead, it was the hosts who showed the visitors that they'll never be Royals (apologies, Lorde.) Kansas City won for the 10th time in 11 postseason games this Fall. Not only did they stay alive, they made a statement.

In a tight 2-2 game in the 6th inning, longtime Royals slugger Billy "Country Breakfast" Butler, whose 1st inning single had tied it early and kept the Giants from mentally burying KC, delivered again. His 2nd rbi single put the Royals on top 3-2 and opened the flood gates.

Butler served up some Country Breakfast in the 6th to put KC on top

Many of those same scribes and pundits who had already buried the Royals have also taken frequent potshots at manager Ned Yost. But it was Yost, again, who pushed the right buttons with his team. He pinch-ran for Butler, and when Salvador Perez ripped a 2-run double to the power alley just to the left of centerfield that runner, Terrance Gore, came around to score, and the Royals had a 5-2 lead.

The damage was done by the Royals against Giants' reliever Hunter Strickland, who has been consistently crushed during this postseason. But Giants skipper Bruce Bochy, the World Series' "genius" manager in the eyes of the scribes and pundits, continued to run him out there in key moments.

Strickland wasn't done making Bochy, or himself, look bad. The next batter, contact hitter Omar Infante, drove a no-doubt-about-it homerun over the left field fence. It was 7-2, and Strickland lost his mind, as he has previously. His screaming tirade directed towards who-knows-who appeared aimed towards Perez, and the two jawed.

In the end, Hunter Strickland devolved from simply a young flame-thrower who got beat in a couple key moments to a young man acting the fool on the biggest stage that baseball has to offer. For Bochy, it has to go down as a "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me" moment.

The overmatched (sic) Yost then turned to that shutdown back-end bullpen of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and closer Greg Holland. Herrera dominated in the 6th to get starter Yordano Ventura out of a jam, then struggled a bit when called in to also do the 7th after the long wait while KC scored their runs. But he kicked it up a gear, got out of his own jam, and the Giants were effectively done.

Kelvin Herrera did a nice job powering KC out of two jams

Over the final two innings, Davis and Holland did what Davis and Holland do: they allowed next-to-nothing, and they got touched almost as infrequently. The two allowed just one combined hit, and struck out 5 of the 6 batters they faced.

The bottom line of this affair was that the other team in this series, the Kansas City Royals, finally showed up. Maybe it was a game late, but they answered the Giants romp in the opener with one of their own, looking every bit as dominant on this night as the GMen had on Tuesday.

If there is one lesson that those many scribes and pundits learned as a result, it is that you don't bury a good team because of one bad game. The Kansas City Royals are a very good team.

In my Power Ranking at the end of the regular season, the Royals finished as the top-ranked team in all of baseball. That team showed up last night, and now we have a series. It probably should have been expected. It was by me.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Giants Continue to Confound Me

Hunter Pence and Giants crush Royals in Series opener
I have nothing against the San Francisco Giants. I just don't think they are as good as they have been playing this month. I may be wrong.

The Giants continue to confound me with their high level of play, and last night's opening game of the 2014 World Series continued that streak.

San Francisco crushed the previously postseason unbeaten Kansas City Royals, on the road, with the Royals top starting pitcher on the mound. They did it the way that they've been doing much of their winning this October.

The Giants basic formula in their best games is to have ace Madison Bumgarner pitch a gem, shut the opposition down, and allow the clutch bats of Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Hunter Pence to come through with enough offense at some point to win the game. That is exactly what happened last night.

Bumgarner was fabulous. He went 7 innings, allowing just 3 hits, striking out 5, walking just one, and yielding just a single run. That run came via a 7th inning homer by Salvador Perez, my pick at the start to win World Series MVP honors. The Giants ace threw 106 pitches, 71 for strikes.

Meanwhile, the Posey-Panda-Pence combination all struck first inning blows, with the capper being a blast by Pence to dead centerfield. His homerun put San Fran up 3-0 on Shields, who struggled the entire game.

The Royals ace, nicknamed "Big Game James" during his time with Tampa Bay, was acquired by KC to push their young team to the next level. Mission accomplished. But he was also acquired, once there, to deliver in these biggest of games. So far this October, that has not been the case. Just 40 of his 71 pitches went for strikes, and he was gone after 3 innings.

Shields did not pitch the big game that the Royals needed

If there was one saving grace for the Royals, it was that they didn't burn out their starter or their vaunted bullpen in this one. Shields 71 pitches will easily allow him to return for a rematch with Bumgarner in a Game 5, should the Series last that long. Manager Ned Yost used 3 relievers, but none of Danny Duffy, Tim Collins, or Jason Frasor are among the group that have made a real difference in the Royals success.

As I've stated a few times already in evaluating them, the Giants did not fare well in my final regular season Power Ranking. They finished just 17 of 30 MLB teams despite reaching the playoffs as a Wildcard. The PR doesn't factor a team's record. It is purely a reflection of their statistical performance in the areas of Hitting, Pitching, and Defense. The GMen were rated so low because, at least during the season, their defense was mediocre and their pitching often poor.

I did pick them to beat an overrated Pittsburgh team in that one-off Wildcard game. But since then, I had them losing in the NLDS to an all-around superior Washington Nationals squad, in the NLCS to a slightly better LA Dodgers team, and here in the World Series to a hot Royals squad .

What has happened is, the Giants have drawn on the experience of having won in October in both 2010 and 2012 to produce more consistently than any of their opponents in the increased pressure of playoff baseball. It is clear that, once a team reaches October and starts to get on a roll, you can toss the regular season statistics out the window.

Experience and momentum are clearly at work this Fall for the San Francisco Giants. The Royals are a very talented ballclub. They can still recover and win this thing. But if those two factors stay intact for the Giants for just a few more days, KC's talent won't matter a lick.

For the Royals to recover from the Game One debacle, they need to quickly develop some tough skin of their own. There is no magic button to push in order to make that happen. Someone, probably at least a couple of players, need to step up and make it happen. Someone needs to lead the Royals in voice, and more importantly, in deed. If not, the Giants will continue to confound me, all the way to their 3rd World Series title in 5 seasons.


Monday, October 20, 2014

World Series 2014: These Wildcards Are No Jokers

Greg Holland and the KC bullpen should emerge victorious
A year ago when I made my prediction of the Boston Red Sox defeating the Saint Louis Cardinals in the 2013 World Series, it wasn't a difficult prediction to make.

Despite the fact that the 2013 Series featured the best teams by record in both the NL and AL for the first time in 14 years, I felt that Boston was clearly the better team. This time around, I found it much more difficult.

In 2014, we don't have the best regular season teams involved in the World Series from either league. Not only that, but we also don't have a division winner. Both the Kansas City Royals, who finished a game behind the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central, and San Francisco Giants, who finished 6 back of the LA Dodgers in the NL West, were Wildcard teams.

This marks just the 2nd time since the concept was introduced for the 1995 season that two Wildcard teams will faceoff in the World Series. In the only other such meeting, the then-Anaheim Angels defeated the San Francisco Giants in a dramatic 7-game series in 2002.

It's my call here that these current San Francisco Giants will again fall short in the Fall Classic to their AL Wildcard counterparts. I am going to call it Kansas City in 6 games.

The Giants have overcome more than the Royals to get this far. Back at the beginning of October, in the final 2014 MLB Power Ranking, San Fran was ranked just 17th of the 30 teams in baseball. Poor pitching and mediocre defense were the main reasons.

But that was the regular season, and frankly, that matters little right now. The Giants are a battle-tested group that has a number of key players still around who won the World Series in both 2010 and 2012. In the increased pressure of the postseason, winning experience can make a difference.

The case for the Giants begins with their bats. Buster Posey at catcher is one of the best and most valuable players in the game today. He is joined by 3rd baseman Pablo 'Kung Fu Panda' Sandoval and right fielder Hunter Pence in a dynamic, clutch middle-of-the-order.

Posey, Pence, and Panda pace the Giants offense

While those three are the engine that drives the Giants offense, the club must get production from supporting players if they want to win this series. In Mike Morse, they will have a true DH-type option when the series opens in KC. Guys like Gregor Blanco, Joe Panik, Brandon Belt, Brandon Hicks, and NLCS walkoff hero Travis Ishikawa are going to have to step up.

On the mound, Madison Bumgarner will start Game 1, and he is a true legit shutdown ace. He has the ability to win at least two games all by himself. Behind him, the Giants must continue to receive fountain-of-youth performances from veterans Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson. Ryan Vogelsong, likely in his last hurrah with the team, will start Game 4.

The Giants bullpen has been coming through in the postseason where it was a bit inconsistent in the regular season. Starters Yusmeiro Petit and Tim Lincecum lengthen that pen now, and the back end will feature the combination of Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Jean Machi, Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, and J.C. Guiterrez.

Trout's July All-Star MVP performance gave Royals home field 

Meanwhile, the Royals will have home field advantage thanks to Mike Trout. Back in July, Trout was the MVP of the All-Star Game, leading the American League to a 5-3 victory and giving it's representative the home field. So baseball's best player has had an effect on the World Series without even playing in it.

They Royals have hitting, but let's face it, talk about their dominance begins with their pitching, defense, and speed. Kansas City finished at the very top of the final MLB Power Ranking thanks to the game's #5 pitching staff, and with the top defense in all of baseball by a wide margin. That defense has been electric so far in the postseason.

On the pitching front, the bullpen back-end of closer Greg Holland setup by Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera has been as impenetrable as the "Massey pre-nup", and been just as intolerably cruel to opposing hitters in the postseason as they were in the regular season. These guys just don't allow anything, meaning you had best do something with the Royals starting pitchers if you want to beat them.

Those starters are no slouches themselves. It all starts with lead man "Big Game" James Shields. While he has been a bit up and down this postseason, he has the experience and repertoire to match Bumgarner pitch-for-pitch, at least for the 6 innings that he needs to last. Yordano Ventura is a power option in the #2 spot, while both Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie are reliable workmanlike 3-4 starters.

On offense, the Royals have emerging star Lorenzo Cain in the outfield, an All-Star catcher of their own in Salvador Perez, and a quartet of organizational veterans in leftfielder Alex Gordon, DH Billy Butler, 1B Eric Hosmer, and 3B Mike Moustakas. They also have solid contributors in Omar Infante, Nori Aoki and Alcides Escobar. Perez is a star in-the-making, and my choice to emerge as the World Series MVP.

Catcher Salvador Perez: my choice to emerge as MVP

Perhaps the most interesting decision for manager Ned Yost will come right up front. Does he continue to carry the blazing speed of Terrance Gore, perfect for an AL series but limited for 3 possible NL-city games, or does he turn to veteran Raul Ibanez off his bench?

That managerial matchup again appears on paper to be a significant advantage for the Giants, who have the highly respected, 2-time World Series-winning skipper Bruce Bochy calling the shots. Some of Yost's calls this postseason have been so unorthodox that he has received extreme criticism. Unfortunately for all his critics, his way has resulted in a World Series appearance.

Ned Yost continues to confound his critics, every single one of whom I trust will talk about how Kansas City won despite, not because of, the decisions made by their manager. Their defense remains air-tight, their bullpen remains impenetrable, and their offense and starting pitching remain competitive. The Kansas City Royals give their fans a treat, winning at home in the 6th game.