Thursday, October 31, 2013


After finishing last in their division a year ago, Boston is number one (LATimes)
For the third time in ten years and eighth time in franchise history, the Boston Red Sox are World Series champions.

They made it official with last night's 6-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals, a relatively stress-free game that was almost anti-climactic after the string of tight games that preceded it. Boston scored early and often in this one, jumping all over rookie Michael Wacha, who had been all but untouchable this postseason until last night, when he left in the fourth and suffered his first October loss. Shane Victorino--the hero of Game 6 in the ALCS--delivered a huge bases-clearing double in the bottom of the third to make it 3-0 Red Sox. The next inning saw Boston score three more runs on a solo home run by Stephen Drew, then two-out RBI singles from Victorino and Mike Napoli after Lance Lynn replaced Wacha.

The Cardinals had plenty of chances to stage a comeback, but simply couldn't come up with any key hits. They went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on base; two in the second, fourth, fifth, and three in the seventh (ouch). Sometimes it was bad luck--balls scorched right at Red Sox fielders who, had they been a few feet to either side, would not have made the play. Instead, they snagged these screaming liners for hard-luck outs. But when you hit .330 with runners in scoring position during the regular season, as the Cardinals did, your luck is going to run out at some point. It just happened at the worst possible time.

The Redbirds' last real chance to do damage was the top of the seventh, when they had a faltering John Lackey on the ropes. Lackey had been getting himself into and out of trouble all night long, but St. Louis finally got on the board when Carlos Beltran (who else?) singled Daniel Descalso home with two outs. A wild pitch and walk to Matt Holliday followed, loading the bases and driving Lackey from the game to a roaring applause. That brought up Allen Craig, who had already singled twice--including a rocket off the Monster--and was looking suddenly dangerous at the plate. He was unable to get the big hit here though, grounding out against Junichi Tazawa to end the frame.

The Cardinals, utterly defeated, did not manage another baserunner the rest of the night. They went down 1-2-3 versus Brandon Workman in the eighth and were no match for Koji Uehara, who fanned Matt Carpenter to end the game and launch the World Series victory party, one that Fenway Park had not experienced since 1918.

The series MVP was David Ortiz of course, though there was certainly a case to be made that he should've shared it with Jon Lester. Ortiz was the dominant offensive force in this series, reaching base in nine consecutive at-bats at one point and batting an otherworldly .688/.760/1.188. He instilled so much fear in Mike Matheny and Cardinals pitchers alike that he was walked four times--three intentionally--in Game 6. But Lester, who won Games 1 and 5 by allowing just one earned run, also deserves his share of credit. With Clay Buchholz hurting and Jake Peavy ineffective, Lester needed to be at his very best (especially against Adam Wainwright), and he was, racking up 15 Ks against one walk in a pair of masterful starts.

And so because of Big Papi, Lester, and others, the Red Sox--the weirdos with the beardos--are champions of the world. At this point there's not a whole lot that can be said about them that hasn't been said already. There was a different hero every night, it seemed; Napoli in Game 1, Jonny Gomes in Game 4, David Ross in Game 5 and Victorino in Game 6. The pitching, minus Peavy and a few hiccups from Craig Breslow, was stellar. Their defense was pretty good too, much sharper than the Cardinals who were done in by their own miscues on multiple occasions. John Farrell made his share of head-scratching moves (Letting Workman hit? preferring Gomes over Daniel Nava?), but for the most part he pushed the right buttons even when his strategies seemed unconventional (using Lackey in relief, sticking with a slumping Drew at short). He clearly outmaneuvered Matheny, who rode his starters too long and did not deploy his devastating bullpen as well as he should have.

In the end, the Red Sox were simply the better team. They got the big hits when they needed them, made the big pitches to get out of jams, and made dazzling plays in the field. They capitalized on more opportunities than St. Louis did. The best team won. There's really nothing more to say.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

One More Win

Jon Lester pumps his fist in Game 5, which Boston went on to win 3-1 (NESN)
With one more win, the Boston Red Sox will win the 2013 World Series. With one more win, they'll do what no Red Sox team has done since 1918, and that is win the clinching game of the Fall Classic on Fenway Park's hallowed ground. With one more win, they'll be champions.

The Sox have two chances to get that last win, both at home, where they are 57-30 (.655) this year (postseason included). Tomorrow night the Red Sox will turn to John Lackey, who was brilliant in his Game 2 start and pitched a scoreless inning of relief in Game 4. How fitting would it be for Lackey, who twirled a complete game versus the Orioles on September 19th that secured Boston's postseason berth, to help his team win the World Series in his final start of the year? It would be the storybook ending to his improbable redemption.

St. Louis will pin its hopes on Michael Wacha, who has won all four of his starts this October including his Game 2 start at Fenway. The 22 year-old will have to be at his best, and that should prove more difficult now that the Red Sox have experience against him. If he gets into trouble early, Mike Matheny can't afford to be slow pulling him from the game. Matheny must show that he's learned his lesson from leaving Joe Kelly in too long in Game 3 and Adam Wainwright in too long in Game 5.

Should the Cardinals win and force a Game 7, John Farrell will have to decide between Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront, neither of whom are particularly appealing options. But let Farrell cross that bridge if/when he gets there. For now, let's see if Lackey can do what he did as a 24 year-old rookie with Anaheim in 2002; win the deciding game of a World Series.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Game 2: Missed Opportunities

Gomes' throw gets past Salty as Pete Kozma scores the tying run (NYTimes)
Game 2 of the World Series felt very much like one of the ALCS games, which is to say it was a pitching duel decided by a handful of key plays/mistakes. After scoring eight runs in Game 1 Boston's bats went quiet, mustering just four hits off St. Louis. They were unable to do much of anything against Michael Wacha, the Cardinals' rookie who did not look the least bit intimidated in his first World Series start. John Lackey was every bit as good, but his final stat line doesn't quite bear that out because the Red Sox bullpen, so infallible throughout Boston's postseason run, let him down.

Whereas in Game 1 Boston went up 5-0 in the blink of an eye, Game 2 saw the Cardinals strike first. Matt Holliday, whose solo homer was the extent of St. Louis's scoring in Game 1, missed another dinger by about three feet when he tripled into the Triangle to lead off the fourth. Two batters later he scored on Yadier Molina's RBI groundout, giving the Cardinals their first lead of the series.

In the bottom half of the frame it looked like Boston would answer right back after Dustin Pedroia led off with a ringing double. David Ortiz followed with a five-pitch walk, setting the stage for Mike Napoli to deliver another huge hit. Instead, Napoli bounced into a 6-4-3 double play that all but snuffed out the Red Sox rally. Pedroia advanced to third on the play but was stranded there when Jonny Gomes popped out to end the inning.

The score remained 1-to-nothing until the bottom of the sixth, when Wacha ran into trouble in his third time through the order. With one out Dustin Pedroia walked, bringing up Ortiz as the potential go-ahead run. Wacha pitched to Big Papi carefully, running the count full. But the payoff pitch was a mistake, and Ortiz blasted it over the Green Monster for his second home run of the series and 17th of his postseason career.

The lead was short-lived, however, for the seventh inning was when the Red Sox fell apart. The inning started well enough--Lackey was at 80 pitches and, after striking out Allen Craig on three pitches, still looked sharp. The slide began when David Freese battled Lackey to a full count, then took the eighth pitch of the AB for a walk. Lackey got two strikes on the next better (Jon Jay) as well, but by now he was clearly running out of steam and was once again unable to finish off the hitter. Jay roped a single into right, sending Freese to second and Lackey back into the Boston dugout. The Fenway Faithful, who for three years despised Lackey as much as any sports fans are capable of hating one of their own, rose to cheer their redeemed hurler as he departed the mound.

With three lefties due up, John Farrell summoned southpaw Craig Breslow, who had not allowed an earned run in his seven innings of postseason relief duty. Mike Matheny made a move of his own, inserting Game 1 goat Pete Kozma to run for Freese. Then the Cardinals, who stole fewer bases than every team except for the slow-footed Tigers during the regular season, pulled off a double steal. Breslow's pitch was too high for Jarrod Saltalamacchia to even attempt a throw. The hitter, Daniel Descalso, proceeded to take an incredibly close 3-2 pitch for ball four and load the bases.

That brought up Matt Carpenter, who lifted the first pitch into shallow left field, where Gomes caught it and fired home. His throw was wide and the ball got past Salty, who tried to stretch for it rather than come off the plate and gather it. Breslow fielded the ball and promptly whipped it to third, hoping to nail Jay as he tried to take the extra base. The throw was high and bounced into the stands, an error that allowed Jay to score, moved Descalso to third and gave St. Louis the lead again.

Incredibly, Farrell did not pull Breslow from the game right away. He let him stay in to face Carlos Beltran, who smacked a run-scoring single. That made it 4-2 Cardinals, and Breslow, mercifully, was done for the evening. Junichi Tazawa came in and got Holliday to ground out to end the inning, but the damage had been done.

So the Red Sox, who had nearly a 75 percent chance of winning the game after Craig's strikeout, had suffered a complete reversal of fortune. They now had a 78 percent chance of losing the game, all because they didn't use their best reliever--the best reliever in baseball this year--until the ninth inning, by which point their win probability was down to a mere 7.6 percent. Koji Uehara did his job of course, keeping the deficit at two runs by setting down the Cardinals in order. But Boston was unable to come back against Trevor Rosenthal, who struck out the side (Gomes, Salty, and pinch-hitter Daniel Nava) to seal the win for the Cards.

For Boston, the loss was disappointing for several reasons. Not only did the Red Sox waste Lackey's gem of a start, but they also missed out on a big opportunity. Had they held on to win, they would have left Boston with a commanding 2-0 lead--teams that win the first two games go on to win the Series more than 82 percent of the time. Furthermore, they could have potentially forced Matheny into making some hard decisions, like starting Adam Wainwright on short rest in Game 4 and/or using him or Wacha out of the 'pen to prolong the series. But with the guarantee of at least a fifth game, Wainwright will start on normal rest against Jon Lester.

Now, the Red Sox will have to rely on Jake Peavy to win Game 3 tonight, and I can't say I'm too optimistic about that with the memory of his train-wreck start against the Tigers still fresh in my mind. It's also hard to feel good about a guy who has a postseason ERA on the wrong side of 10, small sample size (four starts) be damned. To be fair, Peavy did pitch well against Tampa Bay in the ALDS and has flourished at Busch Stadium in the past, so there is some hope for a bounce back performance, especially since Boston's bats should show more life against Joe Kelly. But the way the Red Sox have been hitting over the past few weeks, there's no guarantee of that.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Red Sox Take Game 1

The Red Sox are one step closer to becoming world champions after beating the Cardinals 8-1 in the first game of the World Series last night.

It was an easy win for the Red Sox, who built a big lead early and never looked back. Adam Wainwright didn't have his best stuff, but the Cardinals' defense let him down right from the get go. In the bottom of the first Pete Kozma flubbed the catch on what would have started an inning-ending double play, the first of three St. Louis errors. Boston's next batter--Mike Napoli--made him pay dearly for it by delivering a bases-clearing double that gave Boston the early 3-0 advantage.

 From there things only got worse for the Cards, who kept making costly mistakes and fell behind 5-0 by the end of the next inning. It could have easily been 8-0 if David Ortiz's heart-stopping sacrifice fly had traveled just a few feet more, but Carlos Beltran was able to reach over the right field fence and snag the would-be grand slam before it could leave the yard (Beltran suffered a bruised rib on the play and was forced to leave the game--he is day-to-day. Not to be denied, Ortiz took Kevin Siegrist deep in the seventh to add to his impressive playoff track record).

After that it was smooth sailing for the Sox. St. Louis did make some noise when they loaded the bases in the fourth, but failed to score because October legend David Freese grounded into an inning-ending double play. The Cardinals didn't get too many more chances against Jon Lester, who continued his stellar postseason with 7 and 2/3 shutout innings and eight Ks. Junichi Tazawa finished out the eighth for him and a rusty Ryan Dempster, after allowing a solo shot to Matt Holliday, got the final three outs to make the win official.

And with that, the Red Sox have now won nine World Series games in a row. They haven't suffered a defeat in the Fall Classic since Game 7 of the 1986 Series. October veteran John Lackey will look to keep the streak alive tonight versus rookie Michael Wacha, who's permitted only one earned run in 21 innings of work this fall.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

World Series Preview

The Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals, the two best teams in baseball during the regular season with identical 97-65 records, are meeting up in the World Series for the fourth time.

On paper, these two teams appear pretty evenly matched. They both have deep, talented offenses that led their respective leagues in runs scored to go along with good starting rotations and outstanding bullpens. They play solid defense too, but in that regard I'd probably give the edge to Boston because Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino can get to almost anything hit to the outfield, and because Dustin Pedroia plays a mean second base.

Speaking of those guys, the Red Sox can run, while the Cardinals are more of a station-to-station team. Yadier Molina is one of the best at throwing out potential basestealers, but John Farrell shouldn't let that stop him from giving the green light to his speedsters. St. Louis will supposedly benefit from the return of Allen Craig, but after sitting out the last seven weeks he'll probably be too rusty to make much of an impact. In Carlos Beltran the Cardinals have arguably the best postseason player of all-time, but Boston can counter with its own playoff legend; David Ortiz. The Red Sox have more power and patience, but the Cardinals are less-strikeout prone. Offensively, I'd give the slight edge to Boston, even though losing the DH for three games is going to hurt.

St. Louis has the best pitcher in the series (Adam Wainwright), and having to face him twice is a frightening thought. Jon Lester's been on a roll lately, though, and should be able to hold his own (especially against a Cardinals' lineup that has struggled against southpaws). So should NLCS MVP Michael Wacha, the rookie phenom who's clearly not intimidated by the bright lights of October. Clay Buchholz has struggled this postseason, and I'm not sure whether that means there's something wrong with him or if he's due for a good start. I have no idea what Boston's going to get from John Lackey or (gulp) Jake Peavy, but I figure St. Louis feels the same way about Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn.

Boston's bullpen has been untouchable, and in ALCS MVP Koji Uehara the Red Sox have the best reliever in the game. That said, Redbird relievers have been just as dominant and is staffed with young power arms such as Kevin Siegrist and closer Trevor Rosenthal. If push comes to shove, I think I actually like the Cards' bullpen a bit better.

Neither team has a master tactician at the helm, either. Mike Matheny and John Farrell fall somewhere between Dusty Baker-bad and Joe Maddon-genius. They're both capable skippers but the general consensus seems to be that Farrell is a touch better.

Every way you try to compare these two teams it's incredibly close. There's no clear favorite here. We have the makings of what should be a competitive, exciting World Series that could easily go the distance, and I'm betting it will. Red Sox in seven.

Friday, October 18, 2013

One Game Away

The Boston Red Sox pulled to within one win of the World Series with their 4-3 win over the Detroit Tigers last night.

Mike Napoli, whose home run off Justin Verlander was the only run in Game 3, got the Sox on the board with an absolute bomb to dead center that traveled 445 feet. Well-placed hits combined with Detroit's shaky defense led to Boston scoring two more runs in the inning. Napoli, who went 3-for-4 in the game, scampered home on a wild pitch in the third to make Boston's lead four runs.

That was the extent of Boston's scoring in this one, and it turned out to be just enough to withstand the Tigers' gradual comeback (three runs--one in the fifth, sixth, and seventh). Jon Lester left the game with one out in the sixth after putting runners on first and second. Junichi Tazawa allowed one run to come in on Bryan Pena's RBI single before getting Austin Jackson to ground into an inning-ending double play.

Tazawa got another crucial double play the next inning after Jose Iglesias and Torii Hunter singled to put runners on the corners with nobody out. In what was probably the biggest moment of the game, Tazawa traded a run for two outs when Miguel Cabrera bounced into a rally-killing DP. That made the score 4-3, and that's the way it stayed thanks to Craig Breslow and Koji Uehara. The dynamic duo recorded the final seven outs without permitting a Tiger to reach base.

The Red Sox nearly added some much-needed insurance in the top of the ninth after getting two men into scoring position with only one out, but both Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia failed to deliver the big hit against Al Albuerquerque (probably the second-most fun baseball name to say--behind Jarrod Saltalamacchia, of course). Instead of giving Uehara some breathing room it went down as another missed opportunity by the Bosox, who've stranded a small army on the basepaths going back to the last two games of the Tampa Bay series. It's been incredibly frustrating to watch the best offense in baseball doing such a poor job of getting hits with RISP, but luckily they've been scoring just enough runs to win (all three W's in this series have been of the one-run variety). Obviously a win counts the same whether the score is 1-0 or 10-0, but I'd really like to see Boston's bats do more damage.

After an off-day today, the series will resume at Fenway Park tomorrow with Clay Buchholz and likely AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer squaring off.

Over in the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals have a chance to polish off the Los Angeles Dodgers at home tonight. But in order to do that, they'll have to overcome Clayton Kershaw, only the best pitcher on the planet in the year 2013. The Redbirds will counter with Michael Wacha, their 22 year-old rookie phenom. Wacha may not be a household name yet, but don't underestimate him. He surrendered one run in his first two postseason starts combined after posting a 2.78 ERA during the regular season. Clearly LA has the edge here, but Wacha's not as overmatched as one might think and could surprise us all by outdueling Kershaw.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

NLCS Preview

For all of LA's star power, St. Louis has the superior lineup top-to-bottom. There's legit MVP candidates (Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina), postseason legends (Carlos Beltran and David Freese) plus one of the best pure hitters of his generation in Matt Holliday. Los Angeles isn't short on bats by any means with Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez fueling the Dodger offense, but in a slugfest I'd take the Cards.

However, I don't think that's going to be enough to compensate for St. Lo's lack of top-end starting pitching outside of Adam Wainwright. The Dodgers are clear favorites because they are in possession of the best pitcher on the planet (Clayton Kershaw) as well as a former Cy Young winner in Zack Greinke. That pair of aces makes them nearly unbeatable in a short playoff series. If Wainwright isn't in top form, the Cardinals are screwed anyways.

The Cardinals have the bats, but the Dodgers have the arms. In October, pitching reigns supreme and is going to make the difference in this series. With that in mind, I'm saying Dodgers in six.

Friday, October 11, 2013

ALCS Preview

The two best (in my opinion) teams in the American League have survived the first round crapshoot that is the Division Series and made it to the ALCS. The Red Sox dispatched the Rays in four while the Tigers needed all five games to put away Billy Beane's Oakland A's.

The Red Sox fielded the best lineup in baseball during the regular season and swung the bats well against Tampa Bay in the ALDS. Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino fueled Boston's relentless hitting assault on David Price, Matt Moore and co. The Tigers have an elite offense as well, one that led all teams in batting average and finished second only to Boston in runs scored, OBP, slugging, OPS, and total bases.  However, much of that production came from likely MVP Miguel Cabrera, whom injuries have reduced to a shadow of his former self for over a month now. Even with a diminished Cabrera, Detroit still features plenty of firepower in Prince Fielder, Austin Jackson, Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter, and Jhonny Peralta, but that lineup becomes a lot less scary when Cabrera can't hit the ball out of the park.

On the mound the Tigers hold the edge, albeit a slight one, and only in the starting rotation where they have three top guns in Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and probable Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. However, this advantage is mitigated by Boston's superiority in the bullpen as well as in the field, where the Tigers are atrocious. The defensively sharp Rays struggled mightily with Fenway Park's monstrous wall and quirky dimensions, so it's not much of a stretch to imagine the Tigers also enduring their share of difficulties.

Furthermore, the Red Sox have two additional advantages to take into account: home field advantage and rest. It's no secret that Boston hits and plays much better at home than they do on the road, and should the series come down to a Game 6 or 7 they'll be thankful to be playing those games at home. As for rest, the Sox haven't played since Tuesday and will hand the ball to Jon Lester (working with a full week's rest) in Game 1. With only one off-day squeezed between their do-or-die fifth game in Oakland and the series opener in Boston, Detroit cannot go with Scherzer or Verlander. Instead, they will counter with Sanchez, the American League ERA leader. It's worth noting (or not, depending on what you think of small sample sizes) that Lester did not pitch well in his two starts against the Tigers this year, surrendering 17 hits in 12 and 2/3 innings. Sanchez did not face the Red Sox this year which should work in his favor, at least the first time through the order.

Lastly, while the importance of managers is often overstated, both teams are in good hands with John Farrell running the Red Sox and Jim Leyland guiding Detroit. Leyland's the superior skipper due to his extra experience, particularly in the postseason.

Taking everything into account, this is going to be a hard-fought, entertaining series. Both teams are well-equipped to win the AL pennant, so picking a victor is essentially a toss-up. I'll say Red Sox in seven.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Red Sox-Rays Breakdown

The Boston Red Sox, proud owners of the best record in the American League, are moving on to the ALCS. As for the Tampa Bay Rays, winners of four straight elimination games before last night's defeat, their season is finally over.

Just one day after losing Game 3 of the ALDS in heartbreaking fashion (to Jose Lobaton, of all people), the Red Sox rebounded to win Game 4 by a score of 3-1 and take the series. They won behind a stellar pitching performance from Jake Peavy (5 and 2/3 innings, one run allowed, no walks), great bullpen work from Craig Breslow and opportunistic offense that scraped together three runs on Joel Peralta's wild pitch, Shane Victorino's infield single and Dustin Pedroia's sacrifice fly.

Even on a night when Boston's bats were quiet (six hits--all singles) they still created lots of traffic on the bases via eight walks and a pair of hit batters.  The Sox struggled to capitalize on their many scoring opportunities, leaving 10 men on base which, had they lost, would have been incredibly frustrating. Thankfully, three runs proved to be enough.

But Boston also owes plenty of credit to the Rays, who shot themselves in the foot with numerous defensive mistakes throughout the series. When you keep gifting extra outs and baserunners to the best offense in baseball, you're going to pay the price. It was strange to see Tampa Bay's typically airtight defense unravel like that, and you have to wonder if the Rays would have another game to play tomorrow had they been able to execute in the field.

Then again, it's not entirely fair to pin their first round exit solely on the miscues of Wil Myers, David DeJesus, and co. Tampa's vaunted starting rotation tanked, with Matt Moore and David Price stinking up the joint in Boston and Jeremy Hellickson lasting just six batters into Game 4. But even if they had pitched better, Tampa Bay still would have been hard-pressed to win given struggles at the dish. The Rays scored 12 times in the four games, primarily because they got next to nothing from their three best hitters. Myers went 1-for-16 with a .243 OPS, Evan Longoria did nothing outside of his three-run homer in Game 3 and Ben Zobrist had just two hits in the series.

The bottom line is that everything that could go wrong for Tampa Bay did go wrong, all at the worst possible time. Their top hitters slumped, their aces got shelled, and their fielders made costly errors. Even Joe Maddon, a tactical genius and probably the smartest manager in baseball, made some questionable moves (such as riding Price too long in Game 2 or letting Fernando Rodney anywhere near these ballgames). But that's the downside of playoff baseball and small sample sizes in general. Every mistake is magnified. There's no margin for error.

While it's true the Rays didn't do themselves any favors, it's also important to remember that the better team won. The Red Sox were clearly the superior team over the course of the regular season, and they proved that again here in the ALDS. Boston didn't commit any errors. Every starter made it into the sixth inning. The bullpen allowed just two earned runs in 11 innings of work. Their lineup scored 26 runs in four games against one of the best pitching staffs in baseball and did so with only two home runs (both off the bat of David Ortiz in Game 2). The Sox, successful in six of their seven stolen base attempts (with the lone CS coming on a botched hit-and-run), were smart and aggressive on the basepaths.

Boston is a ballclub that can hurt you in a lot of ways. Whoever wins Game 5 in Oakland tomorrow night will find that out soon enough.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Pence Overpaid?

The Giants locked up Pence rather than let him become a free agent (ESPN)
On the heels of a disappointing season in which they finished ten games under .500, the San Francisco Giants have a lot of work to do this winter in order to get back to their winning ways. It's not surprising, then, that GM Brian Sabean got the ball rolling before the regular season even ended. His first major move addressed the potential vacancy in right field by re-signing the incumbent--Hunter Pence--to a five-year, $90 million contract extension before he could reach free agency.

A lot of people didn't like this deal when it was announced ten days ago, and I'm not sure why. Few players have been more consistent than Pence. Always good and sometimes great, he's hit between 22 and 27 home runs in each of the past six seasons, topped 90 RBI in each of the last four and almost never misses a game. You know what you're getting from him, which typically translates to three to four wins a year. On average, he's been worth about $16 million per year according to FanGraphs, so giving him $18 million a season barely qualifies as an overpay (especially when accounting for inflation).

Call me crazy, but Pence is exactly the type of guy I'd want to invest my money in. He has power, speed, doesn't strike out too much and doesn't kill you on defense. He's healthy and durable. He plays hard, and by all accounts he is a plus teammate and a positive clubhouse presence. More importantly, Pence keeps himself in great shape and has never sustained a serious injury, so he probably isn't going to be the type of guy who falls off a cliff in his early 30s. His best days may already be behind him, but he should have several more quality seasons ahead of him. Put it all together and he's a relatively safe investment, unlike, say, a Josh Hamilton. Or any pitcher (nobody needs to remind the Giants how their marriage with Barry Zito worked out).

$90 million is a lot of money, especially for a guy who's never been considered one of the sport's elite players. It's $10 million shy of $100 million. It's higher than the Opening Day payrolls of half the teams in baseball. But impact free agents are becoming rarer and rarer these days, and with offense at a premium I can understand why San Francisco felt the cost of replacing Pence's production outweighed the cost of keeping him in a Giants uniform.

There are better (read: more efficient) ways of spending $90 million on baseball players. Hell, last winter the Red Sox got Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli for half that. But you could do a whole lot worse than Hunter Pence.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Bold Predictions Review

Back in February I made 13 bold predictions for the 2013 baseball season. Let's see how they turned out:

1. The Boston Red Sox make the playoffs: CORRECT
Just six months ago, many experts were predicting Boston to finish last in the American League. The bearded Red Sox proved them wrong by winning 97 games and sailing into the postseason as AL East champions.

2. The New York Yankees miss the playoffs: CORRECT
Just one year removed from a 95-win season, the reigning division champs slumped to 85 wins. Robinson Cano, Alfonso Soriano and Hiroki Kuroda did their best to keep the Yanks afloat, but in the end New York was unable to overcome injuries to Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, Kevin Youkilis, and Brett Gardner, among others.

3. B.J. Upton goes 30/30: WRONG
Upton smacked 28 home runs and stole 31 bases in 2012 but came nowhere close to matching those numbers this season, finishing with just 9 and 12 respectively. I tried to give myself an out by saying Justin Upton would be the one to go 30/30 instead, but he managed just 8 steals to go along with his 27 homers.

4. Mariano Rivera leads the American League in saves: WRONG
The greatest closer who ever lived netted 44 saves in his final season, placing him third in the AL behind Jim Johnson's 50 and Greg Holland's 47.

5. The Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Indians both have winning records: WRONG
I got this one half-right. Terry Francona's re-engineered Indians shocked everyone by winning 92 games and claiming the top Wild Card spot, but the Mariners' makeover didn't work out quite as well. Seattle actually got worse, going from 75 wins in 2012 to 71 this year despite beefing up their lineup with Mike Morse, Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay and Kendrys Morales.

6. Dan Haren wins 20 games: WRONG
I thought Haren would bounce back for a Nationals team that was going to win more than 100 games. Instead, Washington disappointed and Haren (10-14, 4.67 ERA) was a big reason why.

7. Nick Swisher hits fewer than 20 home runs: WRONG
I figured I had this one in the bag when a slumping Swisher entered September with 15 home runs, but he cracked seven in the season's final month to close out the year with 22. That makes nine straight seasons with at least 21 big flies for Swish.

8. Michael Young bats over .300: WRONG
Seeing as how most 36 year-olds get worse, not better, I really should've seen this one coming after Young's average plummeted 61 points from 2011's .338 to 2012's .277. It did bounce back a bit this year, all the way up to .279 (though he did hit .314 after the Phillies traded him to the Dodgers).

Zack Greinke wins the NL Cy Young award: WRONG
Greinke had a great season with his 2.63 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and the best winning percentage in the National League, but nobody's taking this award away from Clayton Kershaw.

10. Jim Johnson and Fernando Rodney combined have fewer saves than the AL saves leader: WRONG
Johnson was the AL saves leader and Rodney earned 37 saves. Both pitchers regressed, which was the point I was trying to make, but just not as much as I anticipated.

11. Bryce Harper is better than Mike Trout: WRONG
In April, yes. In every other month, no. Harper improved on his excellent rookie season but still has a long way to go to reach Trout.

12. Derek Jeter plays in fewer than 100 games: CORRECT
Injuries limited Jeter to just 17 games, the fewest since he played 15 in his 1995 debut.

13. The Toronto Blue Jays won't win the World Series: CORRECT
Everyone picked the bolstered Blue Jays to win the Fall Classic after a busy offseason in which Toronto added R.A. DickeyJosh JohnsonJose ReyesMark Buehrle, and Melky Cabrera without giving up any of their established talent. So much for that; the Blue Jays finished dead-last in their division and didn't play a meaningful baseball game in the second half.

Overall: 4-for-13 (.308). Not great, but I can live with that.

Red Sox Rock Rays Again

The Red Sox beat the Tampa Bay Rays again yesterday to take a commanding 2-0 Division Series lead.

The slugging Sox, fresh off scoring 12 runs the day before, got to David Price early and often. Boston scored two in the first, two more in the third, then pushed across one run each in the fourth and fifth.

It was a generous showing of run support for John Lackey, making his first postseason start as a member of the Red Sox. Lackey wasn't especially sharp but pitched well enough to earn the win, allowing four earned runs in five and a third innings of work. Lackey departed from the game with a 6-4 lead, leaving Boston's bullpen to finish the job. Craig Breslow recorded the final two outs of the sixth and pitched a scoreless seventh, getting Ben Zobrist to ground into an inning-ending double play.

Price made it through the sixth and seventh unscathed as well but Joe Maddon, hoping to compensate for Matt Moore's early exit yesterday, brought him back out to start the eighth. Price promptly served up another gopher ball to David Ortiz, who belted Price's 102nd pitch over the Pesky Pole for his second home run of the game. With the Red Sox up 7-4 Maddon finally removed Price from the game, but the damage was done.

Koji Uehara closed the door with a 1-2-3 inning to nail down his first career postseason save. The Sox will go for the sweep at Tropicana Field tomorrow.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Red Sox Roll Over Rays

Lester gets fired up as he silences Tampa Bay's bats (Boston Herald)
The Red Sox earned their first postseason win since 2008 by pummeling the Tampa Bay Rays in yesterday's Division Series opener.

The Red Sox won 12-2 behind a strong performance from Jon Lester and a ferocious hitting attack from the best offense in baseball. Even though Lester got off to a great start, striking out the first four batters he faced (much to the delight of the Fenway Faithful), it was the Rays who took the early lead.  Sean Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist smacked solo home runs over the Monster, staking Matt Moore to an early lead.

But the Red Sox, as they have so often this year, came back. Trailing 2-0, Boston's bats picked up their ace in the bottom of fourth. The Sox scored five runs and batted around, capitalizing on several defensive miscues by the Rays. Jonny Gomes knotted the score with a two-run double off the Monster--his first career postseason hit--and that was the last of Tampa Bay's lead. The Sox tacked on three more while making Moore throw 33 pitches in the frame.

With Moore clearly laboring, Boston drove him from the game in the fifth following a two-run double from Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The Red Sox sent nine men to the plate in the fifth and padded their lead to 8-2, essentially putting the game out of reach. Lester held the Rays in check, coming within four outs of a complete game before turning it over to the bullpen. Junichi Tazawa finished off the eighth for him, getting Wil Myers to fly out and strand James Loney and Desmond Jennings on the basepaths.

Joe Maddon brought in journeyman Jamey Wright for mop-up duty, but Boston was far from done. The Red Sox ripped off four more runs to put the exclamation mark on their big day--12 runs on 14 hits, none of which cleared the fences. Ryan Dempster came on to close out the win, getting Yunel Escobar to ground out and end the game.

The Red Sox will try to take a 2-0 series advantage today as John Lackey squares up against the American League's defending Cy Young winner David Price. It's a matchup featuring the man who clinched Boston's first division title since 2007 versus the hero who pitched Tampa Bay to victory in Game 163. Let's get it on.

Ortiz's Deja Vu

While looking at David Ortiz's career numbers yesterday I noticed how perfectly his 2013 production lined up with his 2011 stat line. Check it out:

Ortiz's 2011: 605 PA 84 R 162 H 40 2B 29 HR 78 BB 83 K .309/.398/.554 291 TB
Ortiz's 2013: 600 PA 84 R 160 H 38 2B 30 HR 76 BB 88 K .309/.395/.564 292 TB

Looks like the best comp for Ortiz this year was none other than Ortiz himself!

Friday, October 4, 2013

My All 2013 Team

C Yadier Molina
Most of his numbers were eerily close to the ones he produced last year, when he finished fourth in the NL MVP race. His power numbers regressed a bit, as expected, but he still set career highs in runs (68), hits (161), doubles (44), RBI (80) and batting average (.319). Throw in his strong play behind the plate and Molina was nearly a six win player this season, making him worthy of strong MVP consideration once again.

Honorable Mention: Buster Posey

1B Chris Davis
Davis built on last year's breakout with a Jose Bautista-esque power explosion. Crush led the majors with 53 home runs, 138 RBI, and 370 total bases. He also posted the best AB/HR ratio in the bigs and finished a close second to Miguel Cabrera in slugging percentage, falling two percentage points shy of Detroit's third baseman. To me, Davis's most impressive statistic is his 96 total bases (42 doubles and one triple on top of his 53 long balls)--21 more than anyone else.

Honorable Mention: Paul Goldschmidt

2B Robinson Cano
I'm not sure anyone was more valuable to his team than Robinson Cano (7.6 bWAR) was to the New York Yankees this year. Cano was the team's lone offensive force for much of the season until Alfonso Soriano arrived in late July, so it should come as no surprise that he was intentionally walked 16 times (more than Chris Davis). That didn't stop him from smashing 27 home runs, driving in 107 runs, clubbing 41 doubles and batting .314/.383/.516. Those numbers should help his case at the bargaining table this winter as he pursues a new mega-contract.

Honorable Mention: Matt Carpenter

3B Miguel Cabrera
The likely AL MVP topped his Triple Crown season from one year ago. Miggy threatened to repeat early on but ultimately fell short of Chris Davis in both power categories. Even so, he won the "sabermetric" Triple Crown by leading baseball in the three triple slash stats--average (.348) OBP (.442) and slugging (.636). His bat alone was worth nine wins above replacement, more than enough to compensate for his subpar baserunning and nightmarish defense.

Honorable Mention: Josh Donaldson

SS Hanley Ramirez
Though injuries limited to just 86 games he was quite clearly the best shortstop in baseball when healthy. Ramirez rebounded from several underwhelming seasons by batting a ludicrous .345/.402/.638 and playing above average defense, making him a five-win player in little more than half a season.

Honorable Mention: Troy Tulowitzki

LF Matt Holliday
Holliday's numbers languished below his lofty standards for much of the year, leading some to wonder whether his best days were behind him. The 33 year-old promptly erased those doubts with a torrid second half (.994 OPS). When the dust settled he'd scored 103 runs, knocked in 94 and batted .300/.389/.490.

Honorable Mention: Starling Marte

CF Mike Trout
Trout once again asserted himself as baseball's best all-around player, leading the league in runs, walks, and enjoying another ten win season (10.4 to be exact) per fWAR. In this millennium he joins Barry Bonds as the only players with consecutive ten-win campaigns.

Honorable Mention: Andrew McCutchen

RF Jayson Werth
Werth was worth close to five wins this year in what was easily his finest season as a member of the Washington Nationals. While the Nats scuffled through a disappointing season Werth was hitting .318/.398/.532 with 25 home runs, reminding everyone why Washington gave him a seven-year, $126 million contract in the first place.

Honorable Mention: Hunter Pence

DH David Ortiz
Big Papi continued to mash at age 37, batting .309/.395/.564 with 30 homers and 103 RBI--numbers that might look even more impressive had he not opened the season on the Disabled List.

Honorable Mention: Edwin Encarnacion

RHP Max Scherzer
Even after removing his superlative 21-3 record from the equation, Scherzer still deserves to win the AL Cy Young based on his microscopic 0.97 WHIP, 2.90 ERA and 240 strikeouts. At 28 he finally harnessed his abundant potential by displaying the kind of consistency and maturity needed to develop into a legitimate ace.

Honorable Mention: Adam Wainwright

LHP Clayton Kershaw
The 2011 NL Cy Young recipient and 2012 runner-up turned in the best season of his sterling career. He has a case to win the league's most valuable player award after compiling 8.4 bWAR--most in the Senior Circuit--while leading the majors with his sparkling 1.83 ERA (good for a 194 ERA+) and 0.92 WHIP in 236 innings of work. He joins Greg Maddux and Sandy Koufax as the only NL hurlers to win three straight ERA titles.

Honorable Mention: Cliff Lee

CL Koji Uehara
Ignore the pedestrian saves total (21) and marvel at his other numbers, especially his 1.09 ERA, 0.57 WHIP and 11.22 K/BB ratio. Uehara befuddled batters all season long, holding them to a collective .130/.160/.237 line that makes it clear just how dominant Boston's closer was this year.

Honorable Mention: Craig Kimbrel