Friday, October 31, 2014

Philography: Chris Short

Chris Short was an outstanding lefty starting pitcher who in these parts is forever associated with the ill-fated 1964 Phillies.

But he had a lengthy career in Philadelphia, a Phils pitcher for parts of 14 seasons spanning Connie Mack Stadium in the 1950’s and Veteran’s Stadium in the 1970’s.

For a 6-year stretch, from 1963 through 1968, he was one of the top starting pitchers in all of baseball.

Short was also an interesting story off the field. His nickname was “Style”, given him by teammates because he actually lacked any in his dress. He was described in a recent article by Frank Fitzpatrick as “different…in a harmless way” by former road roommate and fellow Phillies pitcher Art Mehaffey, and as “happy-go-lucky” by fellow Phils pitcher and Baseball Hall of Famer Jim Bunning.

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

Yasmany Tomas and Phillies: a Perfect Match

Cuban defector Yasmani Tomas looks perfect for Phillies
Ever since it was announced that Cuban phenom Yasmany 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.

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.

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

Philography: 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.

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.

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.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Philography: Greg Luzinski

Greg "The Bull" Luzinski, Phillies 1970-1980
With next year’s 2015 season being the 45th that I hope to enjoy as a fan of the Fightin’ Phils, I’ve decided to take on a Phillies history project moving forward.
Once a week, I’ll be presenting a short biography of an interesting figure from the Philadelphia Phillies long and storied past. This might be a player, a coach or manager, a team executive, a broadcaster, maybe even the occasional fan.
To kick things off, we’ll start with someone who not only has nostalgic interest to me personally, but also someone who the majority of today’s Phillies fans are familiar with: Greg “the Bull” Luzinski.
If you were born in the early-1970’s or beyond, your memories of ‘the Bull’ as an active ballplayer are likely few or none at all. But many of today’s younger generation of fans know him from “Bull’s BBQ”, the popular food joint out in right field adjoining Ashburn Alley at Citizens Bank Park.
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Luzinski is a Windy City native, born in Chicago on November 22nd, 1950. He became a slugging high school star at Notre Dame College Prep in Niles, Illinois, and the Phillies made him their 1st round selection, 11th overall, in the 1968 MLB Draft.
At age 17, Luzinski headed for Huron in the Northern League, where he belted 13 homers in his first 212 professional at-bats. The following season he was moved up to the High-A Carolina League, where at Raleigh-Durham he crushed 31 homers and had 92 rbi.
With the big league club struggling in the final years of Connie Mack Stadium, speculation was quickly rising as to how fast the kid masher would reach Philly. The talk grew louder when he moved to AA Reading in 1970 and, at age 19, he hit .325 while powering 33 homers and driving in 120 runs.
It was then, at the tail end of the 1970 season, in the final month of the club’s stay at old Connie Mack, that Luzinski got the call.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Little Girl Who Stole My Ball

I have a theory that if you attend enough professional baseball games over a long enough period of time, eventually you are going to see and experience almost everything that the great game has to offer.
I just completed my 44th season of attending Philadelphia Phillies games. I’ve seen a lot of things in person: a World Series game in 1980. Numerous playoff games, including Doc’s 2010 no-hitter.
But over the course of hundreds of games during that span, there is one thing that I’ve never experienced: catching a foul ball at a game. I did get close once. Should have had one. And then a little girl stole my ball. Sort of.
I’ll always remember the night of my should-have-been foul ball, because after 30 years it would be my final night at Veteran’s Stadium. For three decades, since the stadium opened in my South Philly neighborhood at age 9, I had been attending games here, and this would be the last.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

NLCS: Cardinals over Giants

Managers Bruce Bochy & Mike Matheny meet again in NLCS
For the last four years, either the Saint Louis Cardinals (2011, 2013) or the San Francisco Giants (2010, 2012) have won the National League pennant.

The Giants in both their winning years, and the Cards in 2011, would ultimately also win the World series.

During these last four years in which the two franchise' have dominated the NL postseason, they met just once. The Giants edged out the Cardinals in 7 games in the 2012 NLCS, rallying after falling behind 3-1 in games.

The two clubs took different paths to this 2014 rematch. The Cards again won the NL Central Division crown for the 2nd straight season, and for the 8th time in the last 15 years. The Giants got in as an NL Wildcard team after finishing 6 games behind the LA Dodgers in the NL West race.

Despite their different methods of reaching the NLCS, both are here again, and that can likely be attributed to their previous recent playoff experience. Both of these teams, their managers, and many of the individual players are used to competing in the increased glare and under the added pressure of October baseball.

The teams met twice during the regular season. Back at the end of May, the Giants took 3 of 4 at Busch Stadium. Then at the very beginning of July, the Cards travelled to AT&T Park and took 2 of 3. So the GMen owned a 4-3 edge in the regular season series. It's my pick here that this series will be decided by that same margin, just as their 2012 NLCS. But this time, Saint Louis comes out on top.

The Cardinals finished as the 3rd best team in the National League, and at #9 overall, in the final Power Ranking back at the beginning of October. The Giants meanwhile finished just 17th overall in MLB. The belief here is that the holes causing San Fran to finish that low will ultimately prove the difference between these battled-tested squads.

Cards' ace Adam Wainwright is one of the best pitchers in baseball today

The difference makers between the teams are team pitching and defense. While the Cards were the 5th-ranked team in all of baseball in the Fangraphs WAR team defensive rankings, the GMen finished just 16th. Now especially missing injured outfielder Angel Pagan, the Giants lineup is even more challenged.

On the mound, the Cards staff rated out at #18, not an impressive finish at all. However, the Giants at #28 had some of MLB's worst-performing overall pitching. Saint Louis should be able to parlay those pitching and defensive edges to a victory in the series.

As for the offense, the Giants 6th-rated offense gives them the old "puncher's chance" against a Cardinals offensive group that finished as MLB's 11th-rated WAR group. But again, injuries have weakened San Fran on offense as well. Not just the loss of Pagan, but an oblique strain has made slugger Mike Morse' ability to contribute questionable at best, sapping the Giants of some clout.

Historically, these are two of the most storied, successful teams in all of Major League Baseball, and in the National League in particular. The Cardinals have won 19 NL Pennants and 11 World Series crowns, most in NL history and 2nd only to the Yankees overall. The Giants have won 22 NL Pennants, a league record, and 7 World Series crowns.

There is star power to be had here, with the Giants led by the hitting trio of Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Hunter Pence, and the Cardinals hitters by Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, and Matt Carpenter.

"The Big Panda", Pablo Sandoval, is a proven postseason clutch performer

On the mound, the Giants rotation has a true young ace in lefty Madison Bumgarner, and they also rely on unflappable veterans Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson. Yusmeiro Petit has developed into a reliable option as well. For the Cards, it's righty Adam Wainwright as the ace, with Lance Lynn a solid #2, Carlos Martinez emerging as a strong 3rd option, and either John Lackey or Shelby Miller also likely to see work.

The bullpens of both clubs can be schizophrenic, with the Giants having changed from Sergio Romo to Santiago Casilla in the closer role, and with Cards closer Trevor Rosenthal alternating between dominant and erratic. The Cards have a tremendous arm in Pat Neshek in reserve. He may be the best reliever on either team. Both clubs have an assortment of options that run hot and cold.

The best chance for the Giants would be for Bumgarner, Peavy, and Hudson to all be at their best through the series, giving their veteran bats a chance to win it with clutch hits. For the Cards, it should be simply about playing to their full potential as an overall team.

Posey (L) and Molina (R) may be two best catchers in baseball today

Perhaps the biggest highlight of this series will be the showdown between two of the best all-around catchers in the game. Posey led the Giants to titles when he was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2010 and the NL MVP in 2012. Molina, widely considered the best defensive catcher in the game, is a 6-time Gold Glover and All-Star.

The Cardinals will have the home field advantage here. While I don't think that is necessarily a very big factor in the playoffs, I do think that in the end it will be those Saint Louis fans at Busch Stadium who are witnessing their team in a victorious pileup after a win in that ultimate Game 7 next weekend.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

ALCS: Royals over Orioles

On Sunday night, October 27th, 1985, Hall of Famer George Brett and the Kansas City Royals put an 11-0 beat down on the Saint Louis Cardinals to win Game 7 of the 1985 World Series.

The victory clinched the first and only World Series championship in the history of the Royals organization. It would also prove to be the last time the team would reach the MLB postseason until now.

The current incarnation of the team ended that postseason drought by clinching an American League Wildcard playoff berth on the final weekend of the regular season. Then they put on one of the wildest comebacks in history to win that Wildcard Game over the Oakland Athletics.

This past weekend, KC put the capper on an ALDS sweep of the West-champion Los Angeles Angels with an 8-3 thrashing. That victory advanced them to the ALCS beginning on Friday night, where their opponents will be the equally impressive Baltimore Orioles.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Bryce Harper's Coming Out Party

In writing up my final MLB Power Ranking last week, I finished up the Washington Nationals comments with this line: "I believe that this postseason could very well be Bryce Harper's true launching pad to on-field stardom."

The Nats finished 2nd in the Power Ranking and were the team that I believed were best positioned to win the World Series. The San Francisco Giants killed that possibility by dumping Washington in four games in one of the National League Division Series.

But the postseason performance of Harper, limited to those four games as it was, may indeed have been that launching pad. Harper launched a few himself, blasting 3 homeruns. He also scored 4 runs and knocked in 4. He hit .294, registering a .368 on-base percentage, an .882 slugging percentage, and had an OPS of 1.251 as well.

Harper began his assault on Giants pitching in the bottom of the 7th inning of Game 1 with the Nats trailing 3-0. Against reliever Hunter Strickland, Harper led off and absolutely crushed a titanic shot into the right field upper deck at Nationals Park to get the Nats on the board.

Harper, who appears to thrive under pressure in dramatic situations, sensed the importance of getting the Nats crowd back into the game: "Get some runs on the board, get this crowd back into it. Getting them going was very exciting." It wouldn't ultimately be enough, as San Fran held on to win 3-2, going up 1-0 in the series.

Game 2 would prove to be historic, the longest postseason game by time in MLB history, tied for the longest by innings.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

MLB FINAL 2014 POWER RANKING

Kansas City Royals finish 2014 atop the Power Ranking
Last week, the Kansas City Royals celebrated reaching the MLB post-season for the first time since 1985.

Two nights ago, after a draining, exhilirating rally, the Royals celebrated a victory over the Oakland A's in the AL Wildcard Game.

And now, the Royals have also finished on top of the 2014 regular season final Power Ranking.

For the first time this season, the full 30-team MLB ranking list is presented below. All season long, I presented the Top 10 teams in a Power Ranking on either/both of the 1st and 15th of a month. This was followed by recognition for any other team that I felt had a shot to make a move into the Top 10, which was any team with a winning record at that point.

At the end of each Power Ranking, I evaluated where the hometown Philadelphia Phillies were during that point in the season. As you can imagine, it usually wasn't a good place. The Fightin' Phils didn't put up much fight this season. In the Ruben Amaro Era, the Phils have steadily regressed: 2009 - lost World Series, 2010 - lost NLCS, 2011 - lost NLDS, 2012 - .500 finish, 2013 - losing record and 4th place, 2014 - losing record and last place. He has to go.

The Power Ranking itself has been arrived at by an evaluation of each team's WAR performance as provided by 'Fangraphs' in the areas of Offense, Pitching, and Defense, with no consideration of the Win-Loss record. There were always some consistencies, and there were surprises as well. Among the consistencies were the season long battle between Oakland and their division rivals, the LA Angels, for the top spot. In the end, both clubs were passed by multiple teams.

Surprises included that the Washington Nationals, who emerged and have finished as the top team in the National League in the Power Rankings, were not even included at all in the first edition back on June 1st. At that point, the Nats were below .500 and floundering. Obviously, they more than righted their ship.

Another surprise was that the Boston Red Sox consistently showed up in the Top 10, despite the fact that the defending World Series champions were sputtering through an awful season when measured by wins and losses. Boston finished in last place in the AL East, 20 games under the .500 mark. However, they finished 6th in the final Power Ranking. This team will be back in 2015.

A final surprise, on the bad side, were the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Buccos made the playoffs as an NL Wildcard team for the 2nd straight season. However, their Power Ranking was never very high, and the finished all the way down at 21 of 30 MLB teams. This was a flawed team, and it showed when they were shutout by the similarly flawed (17 ranked) San Francisco Giants in that Wildcard Game.


POWER RANKING - 2014 REGULAR SEASON FINAL


1. Kansas City Royals
The Royals were on top of the rankings on July 1st, and returned to the top in both the September 1st and 15th rankings. And it is at the very top of the Power Rankings that the team has finished as well. KC earned it's first MLB post-season appearance in 29 years, and it was indeed well-earned. The Royals speedy club finished as the #1 overall team on Defense by a wide margin, a place that they occupied all season long. They also finished as the #5 Pitching team, and their Offense rose to finish at the #10 spot. They were one of only two teams, the other being the club that they would defeat in the AL Wildcard Game, the Oakland A's, to finish in the Top 10 in all evaluation categories. As they showed in that Wildcard Game, this is a dangerous team that needs to be taken seriously in the MLB playoffs moving forward.

2. Washington Nationals
It says here that right now, the Nats are the best team in baseball. They finished just a hair behind KC in the final Power Ranking, but they have been rising steadily ever since missing the first ranking completely. Washington has the #1 ranked Pitching staff and the 5th rated Offense in the game. They finished up at #11 in defense, where they had been 14th in the three previous rankings. Given more time, they would likely have taken over the top spot. Now is that time. The Nationals are my personal choice to win the World Series, and I believe that this post-season could very well be Bryce Harper's true launching pad to on-field stardom.

3. Baltimore Orioles
Buck Showalter is a baseball genius. I have no trouble saying that whatsoever. Have you seen the pitching staff that he has had to work with? At least by past reputation coming into this season, it is easily the least recognizable staff among baseball's serious contenders. The same can be said for their bullpen. Besides that, they lost catcher and team leader Matt Wieters early on for the season to injury. Then they lost talented young 3rd baseman Manny Machado later in the summer for the season to injury. Then they lost slugging 1st baseman Chris Davis to a 25-game suspension for a violation of MLB's drug policy, with Davis ineligible for the first 8 games into the post-season. All that, and the O's still won the always tough AL East by a dozen games. They have the 2nd ranked Defense, and that pitching has been managed to the point that it finished 3rd overall. The Orioles only finished 14th on Offense, and they will have to show that they can consistently score runs if they want to extend their season deep into October.

4. Los Angeles Angels
The Angels battled for the top spot all summer, and were tied for 2nd as recently as the last Power Ranking on September 15th. But like their primary opponents for both the top of this list and the top of their division all summer, the Oakland A's, they were passed at the end. For the Halos, it wasn't so much that they faded, but that other teams simply got hot and passed them. They finished at #2 on Offense and #7 on Defense, so they can score and they don't make a lot of mistakes. However, their Pitching finished just 12th in the rankings. I said at mid-season that the Angels needed to add not just one, but two more proven veteran arms before the trade deadline. They added none, and lost a pair of strong, young starting pitchers, Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs, to the DL for the season. Their failure to bolster the rotation behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson may very well end up costing them a real World Series shot.

5. Oakland Athletics
They met up with the top team on this final Power Ranking, the Kansas City Royals, in the Wildcard Game, and now they are out. Much as with their regular season performance, the A's bolted out hot, but then collapsed at the end, and watched the Royals literally run them out of  Kauffman Stadium. They will finish, along with KC, as the only team to finish in the Top 10 of every category: 9th in Offense, 8th in Pitching, 8th in Defense. They made moves at the trade deadline to bolster a weakness in their rotation to help with a deep October run. Unfortunately, they now don't get to show off that depth. It was a lost opportunity for the A's, who now may be facing a refacing, or even a rebuilding, during the off-season.

6.   Boston Red Sox (O-18, P-7, D-4)
7.   New York Yankees (O-22, P-2, D-9)
8.   Los Angeles Dodgers (O-1, P-13, D-20)
9.   Saint Louis Cardinals (O-11, P-18, D-5)
10. Detroit Tigers (O-6, P-3, D-26)
10. Atlanta Braves (O-19, P-10, D-6)
12. Tampa Bay Rays (O-14, P-9, D-14)
13. Toronto Blue Jays (O-6, P-14, D-22)
14. Seattle Mariners (O-22, P-10, D-12)
15. Milwaukee Brewers (O-13, P-25, D-9)
15. Chicago Cubs (O-24, P-6, D-17)
17. San Francisco Giants (O-6, P-28, D-16)
18. Cincinnati Reds (O-21, P-27, D-3)
19. Cleveland Indians (O-20, P-4, D-29)
20. Miami Marlins (O-17, P-16, D-21)
21. Pittsburgh Pirates (O-4, P-29, D-25)
22. New York Mets (O-15, P-30, D-15)
23. Colorado Rockies (O-12, P-26, D-23)
24. Minnesota Twins (O-16, P-19, D-27)
25. Texas Rangers (O-25, P-19, D-19)
26. San Diego Padres (O-29, P-23, D-12)
27. Arizona Diamondbacks (O-26, P-24, D-18)
28. Philadelphia Phillies (O-27, P-22, D-24)
28. Chicago White Sox (O-28, P-17, D-28)
30. Houston Astros (O-30, P-21, D-30)