Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Gold Glove Review

I don't put much stock in Gold Glove awards (Fielding Bible Awards are where it's at). Too often they seem to go to flashy players who pass the eye test but are more style than substance, like a Dave Winfield. It also bothers me that many players win them simply because they won the award in the past (Was Greg Maddux really the best fielding National League hurler in 18 of his final 19 seasons? Probably not). They're popularity contests.

But it's tough to vote on these awards. Defense is so hard to quantify that not even advanced metrics have figured out how to measure it accurately. Sabermetrics have come a long way but have yet to produce a trustworthy, reliable stat to encompass a player's defensive contributions. UZR, Total Zone Runs and Range Factor are all helpful, but not quite as concrete as WAR or OPS or FIP. Accordingly, I try to cut the managers and coaches (aka the voters) some slack especially since they get to see some opponents only a handful of times over the course of a season. Generally speaking, as long as there's evidence that a recipient had an above average season with the leather, I won't argue. However, every year there are always a few head-scratching choices (Derek Jeter), and this season was no different in that regard.

AL-Did a pretty good job with one glaring exception

C Matt Wieters
Won his second consecutive award and was worthy both times. Has clearly surpassed Joe Mauer as the top defensive backstop in the Junior Circuit.

1B Mark Teixeira
That makes five Gold Gloves for Tex, whose defense remains as strong as ever.

2B Robinson Cano
New York's MVP candidate has polished his defense over the past several years and it's paid off with a pair of Gold Gloves. He now has the mental focus to complement his athletic grace and strong arm.

3B Adrian Beltre
At 33, Beltre's skills remained intact at the hot corner as he earned his fourth Gold Glove. Isn't the elite defender he was five years ago, but still very good. Good enough to overlook the fact that Brett Lawrie (2.4 dWAR) had a better season.

SS J.J. Hardy
Hardy had a rough year at the plate, but compensated for his struggles with top-notch defense at shortstop by leading the position in Fielding Percentage and Range Factor/Game. Shout-out to Brendan Ryan of the Seattle Mariners, who produced 3.6 dWAR this year but batted a measly .194/.277/.278. Ryan's been the slickest fielding shortstop in baseball over the past four seasons but has yet to win a Gold Glove.

LF Alex Gordon
Won his second consecutive award and was deserving both times. Gordon, who led the major league in doubles, does everything well and is one of the game's most underrated players in my opinion.

CF Adam Jones
Um, can someone please explain to me how Mike Trout didn't win? Because if anybody can make a case for why he doesn't deserve it, I'd love to hear it. The human highlight reel robbed four home runs, for Pete's sake, and according to Baseball-Reference his glove was worth 2.2 WAR by itself. Jones, on the other hand, was worth -1.3. Do the math.

RF Josh Reddick
Easy choice. Reddick has a cannon for an arm and was arguably the top defensive outfielder not named Mike Trout. Wouldn't be surprised if he wins a few more of these.

P Jake Peavy and Jeremy Hellickson
Really? You couldn't pick one?

NL-A few gimmes but a couple whiffs as well

C Yadier Molina
Has won five consecutive awards, something no NL catcher has done since Johnny Bench, and is still the best defensive receiver in the game. Buster Posey is good, too, but not this good.

1B Adam LaRoche
Never thought I would see LaRoche's name and Gold Glove in the same sentence, but he held his own in the field this year. If Joey Votto hadn't missed a third of the season, he probably would have won.

2B Darwin Barney
His .997 Fielding Percentage set a Cubs record and led all National Leaguers with 3.6 dWAR. Sounds like a Gold Glover to me.

3B Chase Headley
Headley was an interesting choice, but I can't see how he was chosen over David Wright. Or Ryan Zimmerman and David Freese, for that matter.

SS Jimmy Rollins
J-Roll won his fourth Gold Glove, but was average defensively. I think Jed Lowrie would have won had he been able to stay healthy, but the list of more deserving candidates includes Zack Cozart, Starlin Castro and Ruben Tejada.

LF Carlos Gonzalez
Nope. CarGo's shoddy D cost the Rockies nearly two wins this year. Martin Prado, who contributed almost two wins with his glove, got robbed. Ryan Braun would have been a better choice as well.

CF Andrew McCutchen
FanGraphs and Baseball-reference both rate him as a subpar centerfielder. He's fast, but so is Michael Bourn, who piled up three wins above replacement on defense this season and topped the bigs in Total Zone Runs.

RF Jason Heyward
Likely the first of many for the young star with Ken Griffey Jr. potential.

P Mark Buehrle
Four in a row for Buehrle, one of the few Marlins that played up to expectations this year.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Comeback Players of the Year

The Sporting News named Adam Dunn AL Comeback Player of the Year, but MLB selected Fernando Rodney. Both were deserving candidates; Dunn recovered from a historically awful season in 2011 to swar 41 home runs and lead the majors in walks this year, while Rodney saved 48 games and posted the lowest single season ERA (0.60) of any pitcher with at least 50 innings. Rodney was replaced by Jordan Walden as the Angels closer in 2011 and missed about six weeks in the from early June to mid-July that summer. Frustrated by his lack of playing time, he signed on with Tampa Bay at a one year, $2 million discount. Stepping in for Kyle Farnsworth, Rodney challenged Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman for the title of best closer in baseball. Personally, I think Dunn deserves the trophy because he was so brutal in 2011. It was probably the worst season any player ever had. But this year, he was back to being the Adam Dunn we know and love, the three-true-outcomes slugger in the truest sense of the phrase.

There was no disagreement over who deserved the award in the National League. Buster Posey had his season cut short by a brutal collision at the plate that broke his ankle, an injury that limited him to 45 games and devastated San Francisco's hopes to repeat as World Series champions. The injury couldn't have come at a worse time for Posey, who was riding a 13 game hitting streak and had found his groove at the plate after getting off to a slow start. Some worried how the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year would respond in 2012, but he silenced all doubters by putting together an MVP caliber season. Posey started the All-Star Game, paced the bigs in OPS+ and enjoyed one of the greatest second halves anybody has ever had by hitting .386/.458/.649 from July 8th onward. He also amassed 7.2 bWAR, most in the NL, and "won" the major league batting crown when teammate Melky Cabrera disqualified himself.

Here are some potential candidates for the 2013 award:

Jacoby Ellsbury
Boston's centerfielder won the award last year, and could win it next year if he is anything close to the player he was in 2011 when he finished second to Justin Verlander in the AL MVP voting. It will be interesting to see how the front office handles him this winter since he is just one year away from free agency; I don't want to see them sell low on him as they did with Kevin Youkilis.

Michael Pineda
Remember him? If the 23 year-old can recapture the form he showed as a rookie/All-Star in 2011, when he whiffed more than a batter per inning and posted a 1.10 WHIP, he will make the Yankees forget about Jesus Montero. Would be a perfect number 2 after C.C. Sabathia.

Mariano Rivera
It will be interesting to see how Rivera responds to the first serious injury of his major league career. Also he will be 43 next year. I have this sneaky feeling he might finally be done, but he pitched well prior to shredding his ACL.

Alex Rodriguez
After Joe Girardi benched him during the playoffs, Rodriguez promised to return with a vengeance in 2013. That seems like wishful thinking for a 37 year-old third baseman who has missed an average of 38 games per year since 2008 and has seen his OPS decline every season. If he plays a full slate of games he could still go .270-25-100 in that lineup.

Brett Gardner
Playoffs included, Gardner recorded just 45 plate appearances in 2012 thanks to an elbow injury that required surgery in the middle of the season. The 29 year-old speedster is still in his prime and should challenge Mike Trout for the title of the league's best basestealer.

Andrew Bailey
Jonathan Papelbon's replacement barely played last year and was horrible when he did pitch, getting abused to the tune of a 7.04 ERA in his 19 appearances. When healthy, the two-time All-Star is one of the game's top closers and could save upwards of 35 games next year.

Ricky Romero
Is he the ace who posted a 146 ERA+ and 6.2 bWAR in 2011, or is he the train wreck who led the major leagues in walks and had a 1.67 WHIP in 2012. The answer, as always, is probably somewhere in between. He just had elbow surgery.

Evan Longoria
His per game numbers were excellent in 2012; the only problem was that he missed 88 games thanks to a torn hamstring. 2013 will be his age-27 season, so expect big things from the perennial MVP candidate. Perhaps he will finally put up that monster season we've been expecting of him.

Eric Hosmer
Talk about a sophomore slump. Hosmer stunk up the joint in 2012 to the tune of .232/.304/.359, but on the bright side he improved his walk rate and stole 16 bases in 17 attempts. His GB/FB rate went in the wrong direction but it seems he was victimized by an unfortunate .255 BABiP. Don't expect the 23 year-old first sacker to hit his Joey Votto ceiling next year, but a 20/20 season with 80 RBI and a batting average close to .300 is well within reach.

Victor Martinez
V-Mart sat out the entire 2012 season after tearing his ACL in the offseason and turns 34 in December, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the steady switch-hitter will be an RBI machine batting behind Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.

Joakim Soria
Missed the entire season after having TJ surgery. Don't forget this All-Star closer averaged a 2.01 ERA and sub-one WHIP from 2007-'10. He probably won't be that good, but I don't think he'll be as bad as he was in 2011, either.

John Danks
Danks made only nine starts before needing season-ending shoulder surgery. He hasn't been the same these past two years, but won't turn 28 until the spring and could get back to being the plus starter he was from 2008-'10.

Roger Clemens
No explanation necessary for the 50 year-old with seven Cy Youngs.

Josh Beckett
Nightmare season in Boston ended when he was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers. After the trade, he posted a 2.93 ERA and his K/9 rate jumped from 6.6 to 8.0. He should continue to post similarly impressive numbers next year.

Roy Halladay
Doc spent time on the DL with a shoulder injury and posted the worst numbers of his career since becoming a full-time starter. His days of winning Cy Youngs may be in the past, but he's better than this.

Tim Lincecum
His World Series dominance gives me some hope he won't be a total mess next year. That, and his two Cy Young awards. It also bears mentioning that he posted a respectable 3.83 ERA in the second half.

Chris Carpenter
Made just three starts this season and will turn 38 next spring, but has a track record of rebounding following injury plagued seasons.

Troy Tulowitzki
Groin injury limited him to 47 games this year. Health is usually a concern for Tulo, who's missed an average of 49 games per year going back to 2008, but when he's in the lineup he puts up big numbers. I see the 28 year-old stud bouncing back to .300-30-100 figures next year.

Daniel Hudson
Rough year for Ian Kennedy's partner-in-crime, who made only nine starts (7.35 ERA) and underwent Tommy John surgery. I was high on him entering the season and believe he'll rebound next year to a 15 game winner with an ERA in the mid-threes.

Carl Crawford
It remains to be seen if he can ever come close to repeating his successful years with Tampa Bay, but his game is tailor-made for the NL and I'm not ready to write him off just yet, especially if he gets to bat in front of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Hanley Ramirez.

Heath Bell
After three excellent seasons in San Diego, Bell signed a three year, $27 million deal with the Marlins and pitched terribly in his Miami debut. Was much better in the second half after losing his closer's gig with a 3.10 ERA post All-Star Break. Year 2 usually goes better for free agents, and Bell is getting paid too much money not to close.

Brian Wilson
"The Beard" pitched just two innings before going under the knife for Tommy John surgery. Had a down 2011 as well, but is still a top-notch closer when healthy.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Giants Sweep Tigers

The Giants waited 52 years to bring their first World Series title to San Francisco after abandoning their home in the Polo Grounds prior to the 1958 season.

The city didn't have to wait too long for their second.

In the ALCS it was the Detroit Tigers who knocked off the New York Yankees in four games. The script flipped in the Fall Classic, when the Giants took four straight from the Tigers and captured their second World Series title in three years. After coming within one loss of elimination in the NLCS, the Giants returned from the brink and didn't lose again.

On paper, the matchup between the looked intriguing and seemingly had the potential to produce an exciting six or seven game series. It never materialized. Game 1 was a good old-fashioned spanking in which the Giants battered Justin Verlander and Series MVP Pablo Sandoval tied a Series record by cranking out three homers. The next two games were tightly contested pitching duels that the Giants won, 2-0. The fourth and decisive game was a hard-fought extra-inning thriller in which the Tigers made their last stand, but ultimately fell short.

Neither Matt Cain nor Max Scherzer brought his best stuff last night, but both lasted deep into the game before turning it over to the bullpens. Once that happened, it was only a matter of time before San Francisco and its superior relief corps prevailed.

The Giants drew first blood in the top of the second when Hunter Pence knocked a ground-rule double over the fence and Brandon Belt drove him home with an RBI triple.The following inning, Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera gave the Tigers their first and only lead of the series by poking a two-run homer into the first row of the right field bleachers, thus snapping San Fran's string of 56 consecutive innings without falling behind.

The Tigers lead lasted until the top of the sixth, when likely NL MVP Buster Posey swatted a two-run shot of his own that just managed to stay fair and put San Francisco back on top. The lead was short-lived, though, for ALCS MVP Delmon Young responded wit a solo jack in the bottom of the frame to even the score at three-all.

The game stayed that way into the tenth, when NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro ripped an RBI single up the middle off Phil Coke to plate Ryan Theriot. Sergio Romo entered the game and proceeded to strike out the side by fanning Austin Jackson, pinch-hitter Don Kelly and Cabrera, who took a pitch right down the middle for a called third strike that sealed Detroit's fate.

The Tigers bats suffered from the six day layoff between the ALCS and World Series, and thus went cold at the worst possible time.  Their offense batted a measly .159 with just five extra base hits and six runs scored in the Fall Classic. Prince Fielder went AWOL. Jhonny Peralta was nowhere to be found. But when the chips were down, at least Jim Leyland didn't freak out and pull a Joe Girardi. He didn't frantically reshuffle the lineup in an attempt to stir his slumbering sluggers. He stuck with his guys til the end and went down with his best, whereas Girardi's ship sank with the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson watching from the dugout.

It's too bad, really, because aside from Verlander, Detroit's starting pitching was excellent. Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister and Scherzer turned in quality starts and pitched well enough for their teams to win. They simply didn't get any run support, and the bullpen didn't do them any favors either.

As far as next year goes, the Tigers front office should focus on adding depth to a top-heavy team. I would let Young walk this offseason (Victor Martinez's return will more than make up for his departure on offense) and pursue a few relievers to bolster their 'pen. Another bat would be nice, too. But even if they decide to sit tight and lick their wounds, they're still the overwhelming favorites to win the AL Central for the third straight year.

As for the Giants? They will look to become the first team to win three World Series titles this millennium. Their outstanding starting pitching always makes them a threat.  Mixed with plus defense, solid hitting and a great bullpen, the Giants have created a recipe for success that makes them perennial contenders. They should let Scutaro leave given his age (37), but will probably re-sign him along with Angel Pagan. A full season from Pence will help, but they also need to find a way to replace Melky Cabrera, who was their first half MVP.

I wouldn't bet on them repeating as champions in 2013. But then again, I wouldn't have bet on them winning it all as recently as two weeks ago.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Giants Up 3-0

Romo and the Giants are one win away from another championship
Game 3 of the World Series was played in a different location than Game 2, but had the same result. The San Francisco Giants beat the Detroit Tigers 2-0, blanking Motown's mashers yet again and moving within one win of their second World Series title in three years.

This time around, San Francisco grabbed an early lead and never looked back. They scored twice in the top of the second on Gregor Blanco's RBI triple and Brandon Crawford's RBI single. Sanchez settled down after that and lasted seven strong innings in his World Series debut, but it was not enough to prevent the Tigers from falling into a 3-0 hole.

Ryan Vogelsong continued his dominant playoff run by twirling 5.2 shutout innings, lowering his postseason ERA to a sparkling 1.09. It wasn't his best start considering he walked more batters than he struck out and allowed nine Tigers to reach base, but he neutralized scoring threats in the first and third innings by getting Prince Fielder and Quintin Berry to bounce into inning-ending double plays. Bruce Bochy removed his 35 year-old starter from the game after he walked Andy Dirks/crossed the 100 pitch barrier. Bochy, taking no chances with a 2-0 lead, brought in Tim Lincecum, who once again bridged the gap to Sergio Romo in the ninth by recording seven crucial outs.

The Tigers had their chances, but failed to come up with any big hits and left nine men on base. After being blanked just twice all season long, Detroit has now failed to score in consecutive games. They've scored just three runs in this series, and their inability to produce has wasted great starts from Sanchez and Doug Fister. The heart of the order--Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, and Delmon Young--need to show up if Detroit wants to have any chance of staging a comeback in this series.

San Francisco sends their ace Matt Cain to the bump tonight as they try to finish off the sweep. The Tigers are counting on Max Scherzer to sustain his success; the hard-throwing righty has fanned 18 while allowing just five hits and one earned run in eleven innings this postseason.

Friday, October 26, 2012

San Fran Shuts Out Detroit

Bumgarner fired seven shutout innings to help give the Giants a 2-0 Series edge
In the wake of the offensive fireworks provided by Pablo Sandoval in Game 1, I expected a traditional pitcher's duel in Game 2. Sure enough, the bats fell silent on both sides as the two teams combined for just seven hits, only one of which went for extra bases. Nobody scored through the first six innings as Doug Fister (making his first World Series start) and Madison Bumgarner (making his second) hung zeroes on the scoreboard.

The second inning was interesting. Prince Fielder took one for the team to lead off the frame, but Marco Scutaro gunned him down as the lead-footed slugger attempted to score on Delmon Young's double. So instead of having runners on second and third with nobody out, the Tigers only had a man at second with one out. Jhonny Peralta and Avasail Garcia couldn't deliver the key hit and stranded him there. In the bottom half of the inning, San Fran loaded the bases but failed to score.

In the bottom of the seventh, the Giants took the lead. Hunter Pence slapped a single to open the frame and chase Fister (114 pitches) from the game. Jim Leyland brought in Drew Smyly, who promptly walked Brandon Belt and allowed an infield single to Gregor Blanco to load the bases. With nobody out, the Giants were primed to break the game wide open, but Brandon Crawford bounced into a double play. Pence scored, but  the twin-killing snuffed out the big inning. Ryan Theriot, pinch-hitting for Bumgarner, whiffed to end the frame.

After Santiago Casilla set the Tigers down in order, the Giants had another juicy scoring opportunity in the bottom of the eighth when they loaded the bases via three walks, one of which was intentional (to Sandoval), with only one out. Pence lofted a sacrifice fly to plate Angel Pagan and double the Giants lead, but Phil Coke came in and fanned Belt to extinguish the fire.

The Tigers didn't make so much as a peep in the top of the ninth. Sergio Romo breezed through a 1-2-3 inning on eleven pitches, retiring Quintin Berry, Austin Jackson and Omar Infante to secure the win.

After an off day today, the series resumes tomorrow night in Motown with Ryan Vogelsong set to do battle with Anibal Sanchez. Detroit's offense may be a bit rusty after the layoff between the ALCS and Fall Classic, flailing just as bad as the Yankee lineup they muted in their four game sweep. Tigers hitters will have to step up after producing just two hits and five baserunners in Game 2. They can't afford to fall behind 3-0 with Matt Cain waiting to finish them off in Game 4.

The time is now.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Sandoval, Giants Blast Tigers

The San Francisco Giants started the 2012 Fall Classic on the right foot by routing the Detroit Tigers 8-3 in Game 1 last night. In the first World Series meeting between these two clubs, San Francisco scored early and often, putting runs on the board in five of the first seven innings and scoring eight times in all.

The anticipated pitching duel between two former Cy Young winners never materialized. Justin Verlander had been untouchable in his three postseason starts (all wins) prior to this one, allowing just two runs and ten hits in 24.1 innings while fanning 25. But that dominant hurler was nowhere to be found last evening. The reigning AL MVP labored, needing 98 pitches to get through four innings in which he allowed six hits and five earned runs. Detroit's shaky bullpen failed to stop the bleeding, allowing San Francisco to put the game out of reach when the Giants tacked on three insurance runs in the middle innings.

That proved to be more than enough run support for Barry Zito, making the first World Series start of his 13 year career, as the southpaw outpitched the best pitcher on the planet.You don't need me to tell you that the 2002 AL Cy Young winner has been a massive bust since inking a seven year contract worth $126 million with San Francisco. He became so ineffective that he was left off the postseason roster in 2010, when the Giants won their first World Series since 1954. But he's enjoyed something of a renaissance this year by winning 15 games during the regular season and shutting down the Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLCS. He wasn't quite as sharp last night but managed to hold Detroit to one run over 5.2 innings before giving way to Tim Lincecum. Perhaps Zito isn't beyond redemption after all. Maybe one month can make up for six disappointing seasons.

The star of the night was Pablo Sandoval, who went 4-for-4 and crushed three home runs to pace San Francisco's offensive assault. Kung Fu Panda went yard in his first three at-bats to join Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols (who did it last year) as the only players in baseball history to slug three dingers in a World Series game. The switch-hitting third baseman added a single in the seventh inning to round out his historic performance at the dish, even if his base knock disappointed a raucous home crowd hoping for another long ball. Over the past two weeks Sandoval has done his best Carlos Beltran impression by batting a scorching .439/.455/.951 with six home runs, three doubles, and 13 RBI. It goes without saying that if he sustains that level of production for a few more games, he'll be an easy choice for World Series MVP.

Detroit fell behind early, but missed a prime scoring opportunity in the top of the first. Austin Jackson flew out to kick off the series, but Omar Infante singled and Miguel Cabrera walked to set up a potential big inning. Neither Prince Fielder nor ALCS MVP Delmon Young delivered, and Zito escaped the jam unscathed. The Tigers finally broke through against Zito in the sixth inning, when Cabrera's RBI single plated Jackson. But then Big Time Timmy Jim Lincecum came in out of the 'pen and proceeded to silence Detroit's bats. The two-time NL Cy Young winner recorded seven consecutive outs, five of which came via the strikeout, as the bridge to the ninth inning. Jose Mijares,  George Kontos and Jeremy Affeldt each recorded one out to close the game, but not before Jhonny Peralta made some noise by belting a two-run homer off Kontos.

Unfortunately for Detroit, it was too little, too late. Tonight they try to even the series by sending Doug Fister to the hill against Madison Bumgarner.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

World Series Preview

The San Francisco Giants completed their stunning comeback on Monday night by blowing out the St. Louis Cardinals, 9-1, in Game 7 of the NLCS. The Giants looked done when they dropped three of the first four games to the defending World Series champs, but with their backs to the wall they rallied. San Francisco held the Cardinals offense, the same lineup that scored the second most runs in the Senior Circuit and featured Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, Carlos Beltran, Allen Craig, and David Freese, to only one run over the final three games.  Meanwhile, the Giants offense scored 20 times in the same span to eliminate the Redbirds and secure their second National League pennant in three years. They will face the Detroit Tigers, who swept the Yankees in the ALCS last week by silencing New York's expensive bats.

Both teams have great pitching, good hitting and excellent managers at the helm, so it should be a great series. Here is why I think the San Francisco Giants will win in 6:

1. The Giants have home field advantage

Thanks to the National League's Melky Cabrera-driven 8-0 All-Star Game victory, the Giants enjoy home field advantage in the Fall Classic.  This edge could prove to be decisive because Giants pitchers thrived at AT&T Park, where they compiled a 3.09 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and limited opponents to a .649 OPS. That doesn't bode well for Detroit, whose lineup and pitching were significantly worse on the road this year. Away from Comerica Park, the Tigers offense scored 60 fewer runs, slugged 21 fewer home runs and posted an OPS that was 71 points lower compared to their home totals. Furthermore, AT&T Park is a hitter's nightmare that figures to give Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and co. fits. But the hitters weren't the only ones who struggled; Detroit's team ERA jumped by more than half a run and their opponents' OPS climbed 51 points. It's no wonder, then, that Detroit has played sub-.500 ball on the road this year. Playoffs included, they're an uninspiring 40-45 away from home. The Giants are 52-36 at home.

2. The postseason is all about pitching, and the Giants have more of it
San Francisco fielded one one of the best pitching staffs in baseball this year, and it's not hard to see why. Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Ryan Vogelsong were outstanding while Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum rounded out the rotation. The bullpen, sans Brian Wilson, has been nothing short of phenomenal. The Tigers have the best pitcher on the planet in Justin Verlander, but even he has not been immune to postseason struggles. Coming into the playoffs, the 2011 AL Cy Young winner/MVP had a 5.57 ERA spanning eight playoff starts. He's been untouchable thus far, but who's to say he won't get lit up a la CC Sabathia? Max Scherzer has been just as good, but he's notoriously inconsistent and could be due for a licking as well. Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister are above average starters, but neither one possesses dominant stuff. Plus the bullpen, Jose Valverde in particular, has been shaky.

3. The Giants have enough offense to support their pitchers
In 2010, the Giants caught lightning in a bottle when the likes of Cody Ross, Edgar Renteria, and Andres Torres elevated their games in October and sparked San Francisco to the championship. This time around, San Fran's offensive attack is led by more talented and established hitters. Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence form an intimidating heart of the order. With Angel Pagan and NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro setting the table for them, they should have opportunities to drive in runs and do some damage.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Tigers Win the Pennant

That was easy.

After taking four straight games from the New York Yankees, the Detroit Tigers are World Series bound and look to capture their first title since 1984. They will take on the San Francisco Giants, who rebounded from a 3-1 deficit in the NLCS and are gunning for their second championship in three years.

Detroit won on the strength of exceptional performances from their starting pitchers Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez, who combined to allow two earned runs in 27 and a third innings (a 0.66 ERA!). The bullpen was shaky, but aside from its Game 1 meltdown pitched quite well. ALCS MVP Delmon Young paced the offense, but hardly alone. Miguel Cabrera, Austin Jackson, Jhonny Peralta and Avisail Garcia swung hot bats, too.

The Yankees, who posted the best record in the American League this year, never even held a lead, for Steinbrenner's sake. They failed to show up. It was like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, except the aliens only stole the New York Yankees. The oldest roster in baseball looked like it had run out of gas.

The Yankees hadn't been skunked in a best-of-7 series since 1976, when the Big Red Machine cruised to their second consecutive championship by dominating Billy Martin's Yankee squad, a humiliation that prompted George Steinbrenner to dig into his pockets and sign Reggie Jackson. New York also rolled a donut in the 1963 Fall Classic against the Dodgers, when they scored four runs total off Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and co. Before that, you'd have to go all the way back to 1922, back when the original Yankee Stadium was still under construction, forcing the Giants and their little brothers to share the Polo Grounds.

The mighty Yankees scored all of six runs in the series, four of which were generated during their extra-inning Game 1 defeat. The bats went into hibernation mode, bearing no resemblance to the high-powered offense that set a franchise record with 245 home runs during the regular season and paced the American League in long balls, OBP, SLG, and total bases. Tigers pitching neutralized the Bronx Bombers, holding them scoreless in 33 of 36 innings and limiting their hitters to .157/.224/.264 triple slash stats.

The entire Yankee offense, sans Raul Ibanez and Ichiro Suzuki, went AWOL. Check these series numbers and try not to cringe:

Robinson Cano: 1-for-18 with no walks
Eric Chavez: 0-for-8 with four strikeouts
Brett Gardner: 0-for-8
Curtis Granderson: 0-for-11 with seven strikeouts
Russell Martin: 2-for-14 with no walks
Alex Rodriguez: 1-for-9 no walks
Nick Swisher: 3-for-12 with five strikeouts
Mark Teixeira: 3-for-15 with no RBI

Not even a healthy Derek Jeter could have turned that team around.

Culminating with an 8-1 drubbing in Game 4. New York managed just two hits, a Swisher double and Eduardo Nunez triple, as Max Scherzer silenced their bats. Detroit hammered CC Sabathia for eleven hits and six runs (five earned) , handing him the second loss of his otherwise stellar postseason track record with the Bombers. By the time Joe Girardi replaced him with Cody Eppley in the fourth inning, the game was already over.  In all, Detroit pounded out 16 hits, four of which cleared the fences,

Detroit has had New York's number in the postseason lately, ending the Yankees' season in three of the past seven playoffs. The Tigers whipped them in the 2006 ALDS, outlasted them in the division series last year and dominated them this season. But while everyone focuses on how poorly the Yankees played, what seems to be forgotten is that Detroit has a roster loaded with top shelf talent. They have the best pitcher (Justin Verlander) and hitter (Miguel Cabrera) in baseball. They have Prince Fielder, one of the game's top sluggers, and Austin Jackson, perhaps the most underrated player today. Top to bottom, the lineup can inflict damage, and the rotation is surprisingly deep.

I like their chances against San Francisco in the World Series, which starts tomorrow night with a rested Verlander on the bump.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Patriots-Jets Live Blog

7:49 PM: Sanchez fumbles as he reaches back to throw and New England recovers. The referees review the play just to be sure, and the ruling on the field stands. With their 29-26 victory secure, the 4-3 Patriots now lead the AFC East.

7:41 PM: Gostkowski comes through again! His 48-yard field goal gives New England a three point lead in overtime. Now the defense has to finish the job.

7:31 PM: New England wins the toss and will receive the overtime kickoff. Hopefully the momentum from their game-tying drive carries over.

7:30 PM: Brady gets Stephen Gostkowski into field goal range after three quick passes. Gostkowski shanked the game-winning touchdown against Arizona in Week 2, but this time he splits the uprights and forces overtime. Redemption.

7:25 PM: Folk drills another 43-yard field goal. New York has scored 13 unanswered points to take the lead. The Pats have 97 seconds to make some magic happen. Let's go.

7:18 PM: McCourty fumbles on the kick return. Jets recover with 2:01 to play. I think I'm gonna be sick. Tebow, the miracle worker, comes in. He's been nowhere near as effective this year as he was last year. He doesn't scare me.

7:16 PM: Stephen Hill drops a wide open pass that would've given New York a first down, so the Jets have to settle for 43-yard field goal from Folk. Game is tied at 23, but Brady has three timeouts and more than two minutes of clock to work with. I like New England's chances.

7:10 PM: Three and out for Brady and company. Jets will get the ball back with more than four minutes to rally. Plenty of time to mount a comeback, even for Sanchez and his short passes.

7:03 PM: Sanchez threads the needle, hitting Dustin Keller in the end zone to cap a 92-yard drive on 14 plays. New England leads 23-20. I start having flashbacks to last week's fourth quarter meltdown in Seattle. Trying to block them out.

6:46 PM: Start of the fourth quarter. New England leads 23-13.

6:40 PM: Brady hits Gronkowski again for their second touchdown of the game. Gronk has been giving New York's defense fits all day.

6:36 PM: Patriots respond with solid drive of their own. Weird play where Hernandez fumbles and Jets recover in the end zone for a touchback.  Belichick challenges the play. It's overturned because Hernandez was already down.

6:19 PM: Jets open the second half with a drive that culminates with a 21-yard field goal. New England leads 16-13.

6 PM: Halftime.

5:57 PM Nick Folk's 54 yard field goal is good. New England leads 16-10 despite having a mediocre half on offense. On the other hand, their defense looked quite good.

5:52 PM: Sanchez running the hurry-up offense. No huddles.

5:50 PM: Two minute warning.

5:46 PM: Sanchez moving the chains with short passes. He seems afraid to throw it deep even though New England has a horrible secondary.

5:40 PM: Patriots unable to add to their lead. This game is still too close for comfort.

5:29 PM: Sanchez struggling with accuracy on this cool, fall New England day. No surprise there. The Patriots record their first interception in three weeks.

5:20 PM: New England has been running the ball much more this season to make their offense more well-rounded. The Patriots are averaging 152 yards per game on the ground, most since their 1983 season. Brady sacked for nine yard loss on third down, leading to punt.

5:18 PM: Shonn Greene fumbles handoff, which Sanchez kicks, giving the Patriots their first safety since 2006. The Pats lead 16-7 and have already scored on offense, defense and special teams.

5:10 PM: End of first quarter. Patriots lead 14-7.

5:08 PM: Brady delivers a perfect bomb to Brandon Lloyd off the play-action, but Brandon Lloyd can't hang on. Disappointing. It's always so frustrating when the quarterback makes an excellent pass, but the receiver wastes it.

5:04 PM: Jets fumble, but recover. Sanchez fails to convert one of his signature slant passes on 3rd and 3, so the Jets punt it away. No offensive rhythm for New York so far in the early going.

4:57 PM: The announcers talk about how Rob Gronkowski isn't playing at 100 percent. Moments later, he hauls in a misplaced ball by Brady and dives into the end zone with his fourth touchdown catch of the season. A depleted Gronk is still a beast.

4:52 PM: Mark Sanchez sacked and the Jets punt the ball away. Hopefully Brady's second offensive series is more productive than his first.

4:46 PM: New York's lead is short-lived. McCourty returns the kickoff for a 104-yard touchdown against the team that led the league in kickoff coverage last season. It is just the eighth kickoff return of his career. Game tied at 7.

4:44 PM: Announcers refer to the Patriots defense as "vulnerable." That's putting it nicely. The Jets score on their first drive. New York leads 7-0.

4:26 PM: First play, first down for New England. 11-yard pass from Tom Brady to Shane Vereen. Vereen, whose status for today's game remained uncertain for most of the week, touches the ball on the first three possessions. It will be interesting to see if he plays a big role in New England's offensive attack today.

4:26 PM: Jets win the coin toss, but elect to kick off. Touchback.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Yankee Free Agents

There are a lot of question marks surrounding the New York Yankees these days, most of them concerning how GM Brian Cashman plans on retooling the roster this winter. After getting swept out of the ALCS for the first time in team history, the Yanks will be busy this off-season.  It seems all but certain that they will exercise the options of perennial MVP candidate Robinson Cano ($15 million) and Curtis Granderson ($13 million), who leads all players in home runs since Opening Day, 2011. However, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Ichiro Suzuki, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, and Nick Swisher are all slated to hit free agency, and their futures with the organization are more uncertain.

Kuroda: 16-11 with 3.32 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 5.2 bWAR
This free agent signing earned his money by setting career highs in wins, starts, innings, complete games, strikeouts, and bWAR. He'll be 38 next year, but he's one of those pitchers who's only improved with age--his ERA+ has increased three years in a row. Won't command big money on the free agent market given how old he is, so he should be affordable. I think he'll return next year. It would be a mistake if New York lets him leave, especially if Michael Pineda doesn't bounce back..

Swisher: .272/.364/.473 with 3.5 bWAR
Swish has been a model of consistency during the regular season, but shrinks in October. In his 35 playoff games with the Yankees he has batted .159/.252/.302 with 36 strikeouts and just six RBI. This inability to produce in the postseason combined with his high asking price will ensure that he's playing somewhere else in 2013. Possible replacements include Josh Hamilton, B.J. Upton, Michael Bourn, or Shane Victorino.

Pettitte: 5-4 with 2.87 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 2.2 bWAR
Will the 40 year-old retire? The southpaw pitched well in the regular season and playoffs, but at his age health and durability have to be major concerns. He's averaged 102 innings per season since the start of 2010, and you can't rely on him to deliver much more than that. He still has gas left in the tank, so don't count him out.

Suzuki: .283/.307/.390 with 1.6 bWAR
Ichiro returned to form after joining the Yankees in late July by batting .322/.340/.454, right in line with his career .322/.365/.419 rates. Still, Suzuki turns 39 next Monday and is clearly in decline. There's not much use for a slap-hitting singles guy who's lost a step in the field and on the bases.

Martin: .211/.311/.403 with 1.5 bWAR
The three time All-Star was passable the last two years but has become an all-or-nothing hitter. His 21 home runs and .192 ISO were career bests last year, but he also set a career high in whiffs and batted a career worst .211. He'll be 30 next year, a dangerous age for catchers, but the Yankees may not have a choice.

Rivera: 5 saves with 2.16 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 0.4 bWAR
The all-time saves leader tore his ACL shagging fly balls during BP. He's set to turn 43 next month, but age hasn't affected his performance in the slightest. I can't envision the lifelong Yankee playing anywhere else.

Ibanez: .240/.308/.453 with 0.3 bWAR
Postseason heroics aside, Ibanez is on the wrong side of 40 and can't run, field, or hit lefties. Pass.

And as for Alex Rodriguez? He's not going anywhere. His mind is made up; he will not waive his no-trade clause because he plans on redeeming himself next year. Even if he was open to the possibility of a trade, good luck finding a team in the market for a 37 year-old third baseman with $114 million remaining on his contract, not including his home run milestone incentives which would tack on up to $30 million if he passes Barry Bonds.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Kyle Lohse Press Conference Live Blog

St. Louis sends Lohse to the hill in Game 3 of the NLCS

With the National League Championship Series tied at one game apiece, Kyle Lohse is in the right frame of mind to square off against Matt Cain in the pivotal third game. The 34 year-old Lohse has been at the top of his game all season, pitched well in the Wild Card playoff game in Atlanta and dominated the Nationals  in Game 4 of the NLDS. Lohse permitted just one run, an Adam LaRoche solo shot, through seven innings.

Lohse, buoyed by his recent success, isn't patting himself on the back just yet. He knows he'll have to keep it up when he faces the Giants tomorrow night for the first time since April 10, 2011. San Francisco has a much thicker lineup than years past with Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro setting the table for a formidable heart of the order; Pablo Sandoval, likely NL MVP Buster Posey and Hunter Pence. Lohse acknowledged the Giants have a "tough lineup...with guys up and down that can hurt you." His main goal is to not let Posey bat with any runners on base, and he's looking forward to going toe-to-toe with Matt Cain. Lohse spoke highly of his opponent, praising Cain as "a very good pitcher who's had a lot of success in this game...It's going to be a challenge."

Lohse has adopted an approach to pitching that relies on what he called "controlled aggressiveness." His plan involves getting ahead of batters and making them hit his pitch. He knows he's not a strikeout guy, that he doesn't have the velocity to blow fastballs by hitters.  He'll work with battery-mate Yadier Molina on setting batters up and hitting targets, trying to expand the strike zone whenever possible. Lohse stresses taking the game one pitch at a time and staying in the moment.  "Keep it simple" was the mantra of his press conference.

So Lohse's game plan is simple enough. Tomorrow night against the Giants, it's all about location, location, location.