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Are The Tigers Losing With Their “Win Now” Approach?

November 9, 2014 Leave a comment

The Kansas City Royals’ miraculous run through the 2014 MLB playoffs exposed baseball fans across the country to the idea that, contrary to popular belief, a team could win in today’s game in a small market. A team could spend multiple first-round picks across several years and build a truly homegrown lineup and have success.

Meanwhile, over in Detroit, the Tigers could only sit and watch as the team they pulled away from late in the season to win their fourth consecutive American League Central Division title pushed the San Francisco Giants to Game 7 of the World Series. The Tigers had put together a team full of recognizable names — Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler, Justin Verlander, and so forth — and spent a lot of money in the process to end up being swept out of the American League Division Series by the Baltimore Orioles.

One team’s small-market success by no means defines a trend or proves one system better than another, but the question is worth asking: do the Tigers have the right approach in building their team?

Read more…

I Miss Baseball Already

October 31, 2013 Leave a comment

It’s been less than 24 hours since Koji Uehara struck out Matt Carpenter to finish off the World Series, and I want Spring Training to be here already. Unfortunately, I can’t control time, so the best we can do is wait and keep looking forward to February.

In the meantime, congratulations to the Boston Red Sox for knocking off my Cardinals 4 games to 2 for their eighth World Series title. Boston now sits alone in 4th place for most World Series championships. Looking back on the six games, it was pretty clear that the Red Sox were just the better team–they deserved the title.

Nothing against the Cardinals–they put together an outstanding season in the toughest division in baseball. However, their style of play ended up hurting them at the end, like it did during their major slumps throughout the regular season. The Cards were a single-double team that depended on timely hitting rather than home runs to drive runs in. For the most part, it worked–97 wins doesn’t happen by accident. But when a team like that encounters a pitching staff as hot as the Red Sox staff (minus Craig Breslow), it doesn’t bode well.

Throughout the regular season, St. Louis hit .330 as a team with runners in scoring position, and shattered the previous record of .311 by Detroit in 2007. During the World Series, Boston pitchers held Cardinals hitters to a .242 average in those situations. Time after time, Red Sox pitching eluded big innings by forcing weak groundouts and pop flies.

Boston’s staff also got a boost from Jon Lester, who pitched like a true ace in his two wins. Lester’s combined line: 15.1 IP, 9 hits, 1 ER (1 HR), 1 BB, 15 K, 0.65 WHIP, 0.59 ERA. Lester did this against a Cardinals lineup that hit .269 in the regular season, and against the Cardinals’ ace, Adam Wainwright, who still pitched well despite his two losses.

And who can forget about David Ortiz–the World Series MVP–who hit .688 in the six games, reaching base 19 times throughout the series. Cardinals pitchers eventually got the hint, and resorted to walking Big Papi intentionally, because every time Ortiz made contact, he hit the ball hard. It’s tough to lose when your #4 guy is on base more than 3 out of 4 plate appearances.

Some Cardinals fans have pointed the finger at Mike Matheny for his treatment of the bullpen, but I don’t think that’s fair. In Game 4, Matheny pulled starter Lance Lynn in favor of ground-ball machine Seth Maness, who promptly gave up a 3-run shot to Jonny Gomes. In Game 5, fans criticized Matheny for leaving Wainwright in too long, allowing Jacoby Ellsbury to single home another run before the inning ended. Who knows what would’ve happened if Lynn had faced Gomes, or lefty Kevin Siegrist had faced Ellsbury? Maybe we’re talking about Game 7 tonight. But I don’t think it’s fair to criticize Matheny for trusting two guys (Maness and Waino) who have gotten out of some very difficult situations this entire season, over an inconsistent Lynn and rookie Siegrist.

So in the end, Boston’s staff and lineup simply outplayed those of the Cardinals. It wasn’t a question of who wanted it more, or a question of what if? Nor was it one player or manager’s fault. The Red Sox simply deserved this championship.

If nothing else, we can at least remember this Series as one of many unique happenings:

  • The umpires’ painful, albeit correct decision to overturn the “out” call at 2nd base in the first inning of Game 1, allowing the Red Sox to load the bases with one out rather than have runners on the corners with two outs. Mike Napoli later cleared the bases with a double.
  • Uehara picking off pinch-runner Kolten Wong to end Game 4 and knot the series at 2-2. Poor Wong–he’s a good player, and he’ll rebound from that.
  • Most bizarre of all, the walk-off obstruction call to end Game 3. We may never see that end another game, let alone a World Series game–for years to come.

I’ll be back to run down some offseason plans for a few teams, and to look forward to next season. But for now, I offer the words of Rogers Hornsby:

People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.

Until 2014, baseball.

2013 World Series Preview: Red Sox v. Cardinals

October 23, 2013 Leave a comment

I cannot wait for tonight. This World Series is going to be fantastic on so many levels. I originally picked Tigers over Dodgers when the playoffs started, but I have no problem with this outcome. I just hope the games are as good as advertised.

With Game 1 starting tonight, I thought I would take a look at some of the storylines of the 2013 World Series.

1. Will Yadier Molina’s bat show up?

The Cardinals catcher had an extraordinary slashline in the regular season of .319/.359/.477 (including just 55 K’s in 136 games), but his offense was noticeably absent against the Dodgers in the NLCS. Molina hit .227/.320/.227, with 4 K’s, and 2 huge double plays that killed Cardinals rallies in the team’s Game 5 loss. The Cards will need Yadi’s bat to heat up in the middle of the lineup and put the pressure on Boston’s pitching staff. Molina is a great two-strike hitter, and knows how to push the ball to the opposite field, and showing off those skills is paramount to the Cardinals’ success in the World Series.

For the record, I’m not at all worried about his ability to call a game behind the plate or gun down opposing base stealers. He’ll be fine there–there’s a reason Michael Wacha got out of that bases loaded-one out jam in Game 2.

2. Speaking of Wacha, how will the Cardinals’ rookie pitchers react to the largest stage in baseball?

So far, so good in the 2013 playoffs. But this isn’t just any series, it’s the World Series. Entering the playoffs, I had the Cardinals losing to the Dodgers in the NLCS, in large part due to the youth of their staff. I also did not have much confidence in starting Wacha over 15-game-winner Shelby Miller in the NLDS. Well, I’ve been incredibly wrong so far. However, it’s still concerning to me that the Cardinals depend so much on rookie arms, especially considering the dangerous and experienced lineup that Boston has.

Boston victimized the Tigers bullpen for two grand slams in six games, and while the probability of that happening again is extremely small, the chance of one of the Cards’ rookie pitchers making a mistake is legitimate.

3. Can the Red Sox offense make an impact in the first 5 innings?

Maybe it was just the Tigers pitching that was overpowering, but for the first three games of the ALCS, the Red Sox lineup did just about nothing against the Tigers’ starters outside of a Mike Napoli homer off of Justin Verlander. In fact, the Red Sox offense didn’t score a run in the first 5 innings of the first four games of the ALCS! Boston has two games with the DH until they have to sacrifice either Mike Napoli or David Ortiz, so they need to score early, establish leads, and develop their offense by the time the series heads back to St. Louis if they want to have a shot at winning it all.

4. Can anyone stop Kohi Uehara?

This guy is as money as it gets coming out of a bullpen. According to Bleacher Report and Baseball-Reference.com, Uehara has allowed just two earned runs and two walks since JULY–and of course he’s kept it going throughout the playoffs. That confidence has spread throughout the Sox bullpen, and has made the unit one of the most fearsome in recent playoff history. If Boston can get a lead late into the game, consider it pretty much done.

5. Will Allen Craig be a factor?

The Cardinals made it to the World Series without a guy who hit .454 this season with runners in scoring position. If he can do anything like that, the Cardinals will have a huge boost in their lineup. The big question, though, is if he can even hit at a respectable clip after sitting out the last 6+ weeks. If Craig cannot get his timing back relatively quickly, the Cards are looking at a huge hole sitting in the middle of their lineup.

Prediction: Call it a homer pick, but I’ll take the Cardinals in seven games. If the Cardinals can win one in Fenway before going home to a weakened Boston lineup without the DH, they will have a significant advantage. Plus, Carlos Beltran has waited his entire career to play in the World Series, let’s get him a ring.

Either way, should be a terrific series, and I am so excited to watch (if necessary) seven amazing baseball games.

The Not-So-Infallible Umpire

It’s been a tough year to be a Major League umpire.

Every season has its share of close plays and, inevitably, blown calls by the men in blue, but the 2013 campaign has been particularly difficult. It seems as though this season has seemingly witnessed more missed calls in key moments in baseball games than previous seasons.

Let’s start in Cleveland with the Indians-Athletics game that took place May 8 of this season. A’s batter Adam Rosales looked like he had tied the game in the top of the ninth inning with a solo home run, but umpires award Rosales with just a double. After leaving the field to review the play, Angel Hernandez and his umpire crew still ruled the play a double, citing a lack of conclusive evidence to overturn the original call. The A’s did not drive in Rosales from second, and lost the game.

Need a more recent event? Take the July 29 Red Sox-Rays game for example. Tampa Bay led 2-1 over Boston at Fenway Park in the bottom of the 8th inning. The Red Sox had runners on second and third with one out, and first baseman Brandon Snyder at the plate. Snyder flied to left field, where Rays outfielder Sam Fuld threw out the Red Sox’ Daniel Nava at home. However, video replay clearly showed that Nava was able to slide under the shinguard of Rays catcher Jose Molina and beat the throw. The call by home plate umpire Jerry Meals stood, and the Rays were credited with an inning-ending double play. Tampa Bay went on to win the game 2-1 and take over first place in the American League East.

In both cases, key runs were at stake late in each game, and were ultimately taken off the board by these missed calls. But this isn’t a rant about getting rid of human umpires or how to better do their job. It’s about owning up their mistakes.

Detroit Tigers fans (and most fans in general) remember when Armando Galarraga came an out away from a perfect game in 2010, only to have it taken away by a blown call on the 27th out by first base umpire Jim Joyce. As heartbreaking as that play still is to watch three years later, most fans also remember the class that Joyce showed following the game.

Upon seeing replays after the Tigers had won the game, Joyce realized his mistake, and owned up to it. He cried talking to reporters, saying he “just cost that kid a perfect game,” and was still emotional the next day when Galarraga presented Joyce with the lineup card for that day’s game. Joyce’s regret and humility abandoned the front that many in his profession hide behind–the idea that the umpires are infallible. In the wake of a call that erased baseball history, Joyce gained a lot of respect around the baseball community for how he handled the whole situation.

Much like Joyce in 2010, Jerry Meals spoke to reporters after the game, and admitted that his call had been wrong. Meals explained what he saw from his angle, and that the incorrect call had been made. Meals made no attempt to hide behind the “veil of infallibility,” and although the call still stands, Red Sox fans at least got a small piece of consolation.

Hernandez on the other hand refused to acknowledge that a mistake had been made, and even went as far as to ask reporters to not record his interview. Hernandez did explain what he saw while reviewing the play, but it took MLB executive vice president Joe Torre to come out and say that the call had been blown.

Here’s the takeaway of this: umpires need to own up to the mistakes that they make. Talk to reporters after the game, tell them what you saw, and explain your decision. If it was wrong, say it was wrong. Unless umpires are constantly making incorrect calls that directly affect the outcome of a game, they shouldn’t have to worry about the occasional post-game interview.

Umpires are human–they shouldn’t pretend that they aren’t.

It’s about time I resurrected this blog, more posts are on the way. In the meantime, for more viewing pleasure, check out these videos of some truly terrible calls:

Tim Welke: The angle is everything.

Don Denkinger: 1985 World Series, Game 6. 

BONUS JERRY MEALS FOOTAGE: Meals begins the Pirates’ 2011 tailspin.