Oct 29

Ventura, Hosmer: Game 6 Super Fun!

To put last night’s Kansas City beat down of San Francisco into perspective, since 1903 there have been 66 games where either team has scored 10+ runs. Of those games, 18 ended with a team winning by 10 or more, and only seven of those games resulted in a shutout. KC probably remembers the last time this happened. It was in 1985 when the Royals blanked the Cardinals 11-0 behind a then 21-year old Bret Saberhagen. On Tuesday it was Yordano Ventura’s turn to provide youthful heroics, tossing 98-mph bullets and even harder stares the Giants way. After the second inning, the game’s outcome was fait accompli, and now we’re heading into Game 7 because we the fans deserve it and so the universe acquiesced.

It seems so silly now, but there was a moment in the first when I looked at my wife and said, “the Royals might regret not sending Lorenzo Cain.” The play was Eric Hosmer’s single, where the ongoing adventures of Travis Ishikawa in left continued and he slipped fielding the ball and then threw to second. Oh, how dumb was that comment after a 30+ minute second that saw the Royals bat around and drop seven?

What a weird inning. Of the first five batters, Salvador Perez was the only one to hit the ball well, lining over Joe Panik’s outstretched glove. I thought Brandon Belt had a good chance to grab Mike Moustakas’ ball down the line, and if he’s not holding Perez he likely does. Belt was then involved in the Alcides Escobar infield single where he might have had a chance if he tossed it to Panik rather than trying to race Escobar to first. Nori Aoki, making his first start since Game 2, fought off some good pitches for a single past the diving Pablo Sandoval. I nice hit but not exactly a mammoth shot.

Yusmeiro Petit relieves Jake Peavy, gets two strikes on both Cain and Hosmer and gives up a bloop single and a double that started out bouncing off the dirt a foot in front of home plate. Heck, Hosmer got two hits in that bat, and the double was the lesser of the two swings. Petit finally gave up a run of his own in this postseason, coming on the only well hit ball of the inning with Billy Butler’s double to right-center.

Speaking of Hosmer’s at-bat, do you think Hunter Pence experienced a bit of déjà vu? It’s not like he hasn’t seen weird things like this before:

In Game 7 of the 2012 NLCS, he somehow doubled past Pete Kozma on a ball that hit Pence’s bat three times.

Weird night. Weird inning.

I didn’t take too much stock prior to the game in Peavy’s postseason struggles. In the first, Joe Buck mentioned that Peavy had a 7.05 ERA in the postseason, which was superfantastic I guess if you want to consider the numbers from his two starts in 2005 and 2006 as meaningful all these years later. Personally, I didn’t. Whatever. Yes, I know he did give up seven to Detroit in three innings in last year’s ALCS, but in this postseason he’s pitched okay. Not extraordinary. Good enough for the most part. He entered Game 6 with an ERA of 3.68, but batters were hitting just .226 off of him. His WHIP was 1.36, but his fourseamer and sinker had good movement on them for the most part. In Game 2 he pitched respectably until all hell breaks loose in the sixth, but he wasn’t 7.05 ERA awful.

That was a rough way to finish his season, though. 1 1/3 with five earned on six hits and a walk. After the Omar Infante strikeout in the second I thought there might be a chance he escapes that inning. Give Aoki credit. In his first at-bat he looked rusty, flailing at an inside fastball for strike three, but he adjusted a fought off a lot of good pitches by the veteran right-hander. I’m going to miss Peavy’s animated self-recriminations. Sure there’s a chance that Peavy sees the field tonight, if the game goes extra innings or Bruce Bochy needs someone to visit the mound and pop a mean neck vein for the Fox crew.

I do have one word of advice for Bochy: if the Royals are sending up a left-hander, do not allow Hunter Strickland to pitch. Eight postseason appearances so far, and he’s allowed a home run in five of them (six homers overall). Of those six home runs, five have come against left-handed batters. Just because I can, here’s Bryce Harper’s home run in Game 1 of the NLDS. Seriously. That ball is still in the air.

Bochy probably doesn’t want Strickland to pitch to the right-handed hitting Infante either. Remember Infante homered off the rookie in Game 2. Then the benches cleared.  Who was the hitter next up that dropped his bat and started walking towards the mound?  That’s right.  It was #8 Mike Moustakas who homered off of Strickland last night. Don’t make Moustakas mad, silly Giants. It is not a good idea.

Cheer up, everyone. Game 7 will be fun!

Oct 27

More Bumgarner Superlatives

Sometimes you have to tip your cap to the opposing pitcher, recognizing brilliance for what it is. A complete game shutout. Eight strikeouts. Four hits allowed. Madison Bumgarner has owned the 2014 playoffs, and on Sunday night he owned the Kansas City Royals too. So what’s new? He’s now tossed sixteen innings against these Royals, striking out 13 and allowing just one earned run with a walk and seven hits.

Bumgarner joins some rather elite company with his shutout, and Jayson Stark over at ESPN lists a few that I won’t go into here. Also, David Schoenfield lists a few more that I won’t go into either. There’s no need to duplicate. Bumgarner started this postseason off with a four-hit shutout if you remember, way back on October 1st where he struck out ten Pirates in an 8-0 Giants win. Bumgarner’s 2014 postseason run, then, makes just the ninth time in Major League history where a pitcher has multiple complete game shutouts in the same postseason. The last time it happened was in 2003 when Josh Beckett struck out 20 in 18 innings against the Cubs and Yankees. Rather have a lefty for a comp? In 2001 Randy Johnson struck out 22 Braves and Yankees (11 each just to be fair).

In 1957 Lew Burdette pitched shutouts in the same World Series (as did Bill Dinneen in 1903, Whitey Ford in 1960, and Sandy Koufax in 1965) while Christy Mathewson tossed three shutouts against the Philadelphia A’s in 1905. Well, if you’re going to do something great, why not be amongst the game’s greats?

Not to be forgotten, Orel Hershiser had two in 1988 as well, but one of those was against the Mets, so we won’t talk about that.

If you think about the run he’s having this postseason, Bumgarner didn’t even have a month this great in 2014 and he won NL Pitcher of the month in both May and August. In October, with the added pressure, he’s thrown 47 2/3 innings, allowing six earned runs for a 1.13 ERA. He’s allowed 26 hits and six walks, giving him a WHIP of 0.67, while striking out 41, making his K/BB ratio 6.83.

In August he threw 46 innings, striking out 56 with an ERA of 1.57 and a WHIP of 0.63 and a K/BB of 18.67, but that was against the likes of the Mets, Phillies, Cubs, and Rockies. In August he also pitched against the Royals, losing 4-2 as he surrendered four runs, three earned, in an eight-inning complete game. He allowed just as many hits, seven, in that game to the Royals as he has in the 16 innings in the World Series. Maybe Bumgarner took it personally that it was the lone blemish on an otherwise perfect August as he went 4-1. If the Giants win one more game in Kansas City, add Series MVP to his amazing ’14 to sit alongside those Pitcher of the Month awards and his NLCS MVP.

From a personal level, can it get better for Bumgarner? Short of this series going to seven (and, honestly, how can it not? If this series is over in six, I’m going to feel sort of cheated. 2014 needs to end with ninth inning drama in Game 7) and Bumgarner coming out of the bullpen like Randy Johnson in 2001 I can’t imagine how.

Oh, I guess the Giants could win the Series. Why not be a 25-year old with three World Series titles? Not that he hasn’t been integral to all three of those. I mean, he’s allowed a whopping one run in 31 innings of work combined.

Oct 26

Yusmeiro Petit, the Legend Grows

petitYusmeiro Petit can probably take this off now.

I remember watching Yusmeiro Petit pitch against the Yankees last year when I had this random thought that “hey, this guy isn’t so freaking bad.” I hadn’t been paying attention to him in San Francisco that season. There really wasn’t a need. After three rough years in Arizona, I figured he would play out his career, bouncing around the minors or ending up with the Rockies or something. He struck out seven against the Yankees in 6 1/3, allowing six hits because no one ever said he wasn’t hittable.

The Giants won that game 2-1.

In that 18-inning marathon with the Nationals in the NLDS, Petit struck out seven in six innings while allowing one hit. When he entered, I thought the Nats had the clear advantage, and maybe if the night isn’t cold and windy or if the Nats actually had an approach at the plate other than swing real hard and hope the wind doesn’t knock it down, that series and this postseason is a little different.1 Petit pitched great, though, after the Giants had already burned through six pitchers, so it was basically just him to eat innings in case something finally happened, like a Brandon Belt home run or something.

The Giants won that game 2-1 as well.

In the NLCS, after Ryan Vogelsong lasted all of three innings, allowing four earned to the Cardinals, Petit provided three innings of scoreless, one-hit relief, and the Giants came back and won that game 6-4. So, after Vogelsong surrendered four to the Royals last night in 2 2/3, should it come as a surprise that Petit came in at the top of the fourth inning and pitched three more scoreless, pitching out of trouble in the fifth and sixth after leadoff hits? The Giants were down 4-2 when he entered, up 7-4 when he left, and he’s now 3-0 in this postseason while allowing just four hits in 12 innings. He’s struck out 13, making his 9.8 K/9 just slightly lower than his career high in ’14 of 10.2. Petit has lasted 2/3 of an inning more than the 37-year old Vogelsong who’s started three games.

To think, Petit was once traded by the Marlins2 to Arizona for Jorge Julio (which is essentially punting), bounced around the Seattle organization for a few years, and signed by the Giants to a minor league contract. All the headlines today read journeyman reliever and the Giants stealing Game 4. To me, Petit, like the Royals Mike Moustakas, are what this postseason is all about: a few guys essentially given up on by teams and fans alike and now making headlines under the brightest lights imaginable.

We’re discussing Petit today because the Giants came back and won, and isn’t it amazing that on the same day where I write that Ned Yost probably should have used Brandon Finnegan to pitch to Pablo Sandoval in Game 3 (because Sandoval can’t hit from the right side), Sandoval drives in two against Finnegan with a two-out single in the sixth? Bah! Stats are meaningless anymore, aren’t they? Conventional wisdom, what’s that? If there’s a book, throw it out the window because it doesn’t mean much this year.

I forgot one very important thing: when rules collide, such as a dismal history against lefties or the opportunity to play hero, opt for the latter. That’s how it worked with Joe Panik last night. I don’t think last night was the difference maker game I think is coming, but it’s a step in the right direction. When you hit it so that even the Royals outfield can’t catch up to it, it’s either in the Bay or should be counted twice.

Degree of difficulty should count for something.

  1. I haven’t written anything about this, but it was the most amazing piece of non-strategy that I’ve witnessed in a long time. Oh, look, another fly out. Hey, why not strike out going for the fences. Maybe the team could have tried to steal a base, drop a bunt, or play a little hit and run. Make the Giants earn the win. Sure, it sucks that the Giants tied it up with two outs in the ninth, negating Jordan Zimmermann’s ascension to postseason BAMF, but doing nothing but swinging from the heels is nonsense. If Matt Williams would have stayed around a bit longer, maybe he could have, you know, done something. I’m not bitter about this. Damn, that game was stupid.
  2. He was originally signed by the Mets. One day I’m going to figure out every player who was either signed by, played for, or traded by the Mets. There’s a six degrees of Mr. Met thing going on here

Oct 25

Royals Defense, Bullpen Do Things Again

It takes a cruel man to fill out a lineup card with the likes of Alex Gordon, Jarrod Dyson, and Lorenzo Cain positioned in the expansive AT&T Park outfield. Does Nori Aoki make this catch in the second, possibly saving a run, or this sliding grab in the first off of Buster Posey’s bat? Who cares? Ned Yost doesn’t. Like Willie Keeler said, “hit ‘em where they ain’t,” but good luck finding a place where a Royal won’t relocate.

That’s not to say the Giants were bereft of great plays. Travis Ishikawa made a great sliding play that saved one run, likely more, and Pablo Sandoval made the prettiest play of all on a chopper that he made look much easier than it actually was. Doesn’t it seem like in every one of these games highlight worthy plays are made? When this Hunter Pence grab in the fourth is just another play, we’re watching something special.

Yost’s decision to sit Aoki turned out not to matter all that much in the end, but Aoki has had some success against Giants’ starter Tim Hudson, going 2-for-8 lifetime with three walks, giving him a healthy .250/.455/.375 line in an extremely small sample size. Dyson had never faced Hudson before Friday, but he’s a career .269/.332/.358 against righties and hit .274/.326/.337 with his lone home run this season. Well, Dyson is now 0-for-2 vs Hudson with the possibility of seeing him again if this series goes seven.

Yost’s other decision to relieve Jeremy Guthrie with Kelvin Herrera raised some eyebrows, especially with lefties Gregor Blanco and Joe Panik (how about this Panik slide and throw, though) up next and Sandoval being a much better hitter from the left side. At the time, I thought it curious he didn’t bring in Brandon Finnegan, but Yost is essentially on auto-pilot with the likes of Herrera, Davis, and Holland that it’s hard to find fault. Herrera wasn’t sharp, walked Blanco, and had to face the irrationally scary Panik.1 After Blanco, Yost couldn’t really burn through Blanco, not against a rookie hitting .236 in the playoffs, but I’m a little surprised he didn’t bring in Finnegan to face Sandoval and force him to bat right-handed. Bad things happen to teams when they give Sandoval an opportunity to tie up the game from the left side:

Yost trusted the guy with the heater, brought in Finnegan in the seventh anyway (becoming the first player to appear in both the College World Series and the Major League World Series in the same year), and then went chalk in the last two innings. Should Yost have just brought Herrera in to face Michael Morse? Seeing that he was a few feet from making it 3-2 and with this hit still fresh in my memory, I say yes. If you’re going to pull Guthrie after the double, or after more trouble, why not just do it before? He’d only given up three hits up until that time, but if we’ve learned anything in this postseason, do not allow anyone on either team the opportunity for heroics. Just follow that rule.

The Royals won. All is right in their world. Never forget this woman and this man’s promise:

royals_puppySome things are bigger than managerial decisions. We’re dealing with the workings of the universe.

  1. I keep waiting for his Mark Lemke moment. It’s going to happen. He’s batting .236/.263/.364 in the playoffs, but he terrified me in the NLDS vs the Nationals, and he still worries me. You wait. He’s going to be key to a Giants win here soon, probably on some crazy diving play by Cain where it glances off his glove and Panik gets and inside the park homerun.

Oct 20

Bad Teams, Great Baseball

This past Friday, David Schoenfield on ESPN published an article that pointed out that this World Series features two teams with the fourth lowest combined wins in Series history. He even goes on to say that as far as quality of teams, this Series might just be one of the worst matchups ever. It was a fun article, meant to point out that we’re seeing two teams that few imagined would be in the Fall Classic, but as with such things, the Facebook cognoscenti called Schoenfield an idiot for publishing such tripe.

Well, I do not believe Schoenfield is an idiot, and I considered his piece more whimsy in the spirit of the magical runs both the Royals and Giants are on than an attempt to be serious, but it did make me wonder if this year we’re really scraping bottom in the century plus of historical precedent.

To rate each one of these Series (dating back to 1903) I used run differential as my guide to determine team quality. Sure, I could break each team into their unique components, try to find a common measurement, assign points, argh! That would be crazy. I want to enjoy the early weeks of sweater season and watch great baseball (even if Fox has given the finger to everyone on the East Coast who has to work by starting these games past eight), not spend my hours confirming/refuting Schoenfield’s article. Since the object of baseball is to win games by outscoring your opponent, and good teams should outscore their opponents more, run diff is my statistic of choice.

Is Schoenfield correct, then?

Based upon the all-mighty run diff, the 2014 pairing is the weakest in the history of the World Series. There, I’ve said it. This World Series is horrible, and we should all just watch the NBA preseason instead.

The Giants outscored their opponents by 51 runs this season, which was eighth in the Majors and third in the NL, while the Royals outscored opponents by 27 runs, good for 11th in the Majors and seventh in the AL. Their combined total of 78 runs was seven less than the next lowest in 1987, and that featured the Twins, the only Series participant (and winner!) to have a negative run differential at -20. In fact, 2014 and 1987 were the only years where the pair had less than 100 combined.

Individually, the Royals and Giants rank fourth and seventh worst for run differential. The three teams above the Royals are the 1987 Twins (-20), the 1973 Mets (18), and the 2006 Cardinals (19), and the 1959 Dodgers (34) and 1985 Royals (48) appear right after. So, no, we’re not exactly discussing juggernauts.

On the flip side, the seasons with the largest run differential combined between the two teams are the 1939 Yankees/Reds where the two outscored their opponents during the season by 583 runs (411 of those by the Yankees), the 1942 Cardinals/Yankees (568), and the 1927 Yankees/Pirates (535).

Just to be thorough, the top two teams in terms of run differential have met in the Series 36 times, though the majority of those happened prior to 1969 (when the format changed for the postseason from a single round). In fact, since the Tigers/Cardinals matchup in 1968, the top two teams (run differential only) in the Majors have met in the Series six times, last year’s Red Sox/Cardinals being the latest. The Red Sox and Cardinals have met in the Series four times as the top two (2013, 2004, 1967, and 1946).

If you’re still with me, I won’t bore you with tables or attempt to belabor the point any longer. This wasn’t a rigorous examination of team quality, and honestly, run differential is about as arbitrary as using team wins. In reality, the two go hand in hand since run differential is a good indicator of a team’s win total. It’s probably why I picked it because I’m lazy and I didn’t want to do independent research.

Despite what win totals and runs for/against tell us, I’m looking forward to this World Series more than any other in a quite a while. Maybe it’s because Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Madison Bumgarner could each win his third title, or that Travis Ishikawa returned just in time to earn his second, or maybe it’s because all those years of promise for the Royals is turning into a postseason of continued heroics for the likes of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, and Lorenzo Cain. Jeremy Affeldt was 31 when this San Francisco run started in 2010, is now 35, and who knows how many seasons remain.

Wins and run differential won’t tell us about those, about the stories or the walk-offs or just who employs the better third basemen (because in this second season, both Sandoval and Moustakas have been amazing), and when it comes down to it, in terms of quality, I don’t know if this postseason could get any better.

I wouldn’t bet against it, though.

Oct 15

On Randal Grichuk’s Day

Read the rest of this entry »

Oct 14

Could the O’s Use Chris Davis Now?

With the Orioles down two games and facing a steady diet of Royals right-handed flamethrowers, I suppose the obvious question is whether the presence of Chris Davis would have made a difference. Davis, left off of the ALCS roster because he still had five games remaining on his suspension prior to the series opener, is a powerful left-handed bat that if nothing else would have given the O’s lineup some balance. As it stands, with the middle of the O’s order right heavy, Royals manager Ned Yost hasn’t had to worry about matchups except to go chalk with Herrera, Davis, and Holland.

Right handed? Check. High 90s fastball? Check. Go get ‘em, kid!

At first it might seem strange to think a guy who hit (loosely using the term here) .196/.300/.404 for the season could provide any real value, but when the righty Steve Pearce is suddenly struggling at a .158/.273/.158 clip in the postseason and especially so in the ALCS (0-for-9 with two strikeouts and a lot of pop ups), Davis’ absence becomes all the more glaring because of his history of success against righties. For his career, Davis has hit .263/.338/.513 against right handers with a 125 wRC+.

The O’s could sure use some of that now.

Davis also has a remarkable ability to crush fastballs, particularly against righties, batting .289 against pitches considered Hard (via BrooksBaseball.net) with 65 career home runs. Just so you don’t think most of that came via his monstrous 2013 campaign where he hit .286 with 53 home runs, during ’14 he hit .252 with 13 of his 26 home runs against right handed pitches considered hard, though much of that success came from cutters and sinkers. He hit just .165 against fourseam fastballs with 49 Ks in 109 at-bats. Yikes. Well, the Royals pitchers are likely to throw a sinker or offspeed at some point, right?

If Davis were to provide value against the barrage of Royals bullets, how has he fared against the aforementioned relievers? Since the beginning of 2012 when Davis first joined the Orioles, he is 1-for-6 against Herrera with three strikeouts, 1-for-2 with a K against Davis, and is 0-for-2 with a K against Holland. Would Yost even bother to bring in the lefty Brandon Finnegan, someone Davis has never faced, when these three have kept him to a pair of singles and five punch outs? Of course, Yost would have to get to his bullpen and James Shields and Yordano Ventura might be vulnerable. Davis was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts against Ventura this season, yet has been more successful against Shields, going 3-for-12 with a double and a home run. In 2014, however, he was 0-for-3, all on ground outs, and those Ventura at-bats were when Ventura’s electric arm was fresh without the stress of 183 regular season innings and an additional 7 1/3 entering his Saturday start in Baltimore.

If there’s evidence that Davis would have been the difference maker, then I’m not seeing it. Unless you want to argue that his bat would have chased Shields from Game 1 sooner, but scoring against Shields wasn’t the problem; keeping Chris Tillman from loading the bases for Alex Gordon to play hero was. Tillman wiggled free from a bases loaded jam against the Tigers, but the Royals are playing to a Disney script in these playoffs1.

The lesson: do not give the Royals a chance to make highlight reel plays. Because they will. Repeatedly.

So maybe instead of replacing the righty Pearce he’d have taken over for Ryan Flaherty (this is exactly what would have happened anyway so it’s not like this is brilliant deduction) at third base, but Flaherty has been fantastic in the postseason, batting .375/.444/.375 in the ALCS with a huge two out single in Game 1’s fifth inning to plate both Adam Jones and Nelson Cruz. Flaherty went 3-for-5 in that game, but in Game 2 he was 0-for-3 with a walk and flubbed an easy grounder in the ninth, so it’s not as though his defense has been so spectacular you cringe to see Davis out there.

The way Davis was swinging the bat this year, though, his true value might have been off the bench. Maybe when Pearce comes up with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the seventh in Game 2, Buck Showalter could have pinch hit with Davis. Does Yost stay with Herrera here or go with the rookie Finnegan? Who knows?

So, in the end, the verdict is maybe Davis would have provided value, but the way he was hitting this year probably not. Entering Game 3 of the ALCS, 22 games of a 25 game ban later, the O’s go with what they’ve got.

  1. It’s also a tough time to be associated with pizza in Michigan. Former Domino’s Pizza CEO David Brandon has been coming under fire as the University of Michigan AD and Tigers owner and Little Caesars co-founder Mike Illitch seeing his bullpen collapse, not to mention all the bad press carbohydrates have been receiving by nutritionists anymore.

Oct 14

Steve Pearce Is Due

I’m waiting for that moment when Steve Pearce turns on 99 mph Kelvin Herrera fastball and deposits it in the left field bleachers. It has to happen. The Orioles players will stream from the dugout like kids, joyously bounding for home, as Pearce jogs around the bases, his mind at ease because he finally guessed right.

In a postseason that has seen Mike Moustakas play the hero, belting four homers in six games when he hit 15 all season, and Eric Hosmer reminding everyone that bloop RBI singles do deserve celebratory dusting off of shoulders, then Pearce has to be next because his magical 2014 campaign can’t end with a .158/.273/.158 batting line that saw his best chance for an ALCS defining hit get robbed by Alex Gordon.

Much has been written about the well-traveled Pearce1, but here are the important things to know: Pearce hit 21 home runs this season, which was more than the 17 he’d hit in his previous 290 games in the Major Leagues since his various appearances since 2007. In any other season where he had 100+ at-bats, he’d never hit higher than .261/.362/.420 (last year with the O’s) where he hit .293/.373/.556 this season, and his 6.0 bWAR this season brought his career total up to 6.6. A magical 2014 indeed. This postseason was made for someone like Pearce.

He’s had his moments. In Game 2 he flew out weakly to left in the seventh with the bases loaded and one out, and he then struck out to end the game on a nasty Greg Holland slider in the dirt. Game 1 saw his opportunity to bring drive in Adam Jones with a gapper end in the mitt of a diving Alex Gordon. It’s like the Royals magical run and Pearce’s are of similar poles. Sigh. Isn’t there room enough for everyone?

At the moment, Pearce just looks confused. The Royals pitching staff has him guessing at location and pitch: he’s swung badly on enough changeups that he hasn’t been able to feast on the fastball, something he did with regularity in the regular season. During the season, Pearce hit .344 against pitches defined as hard (as per BrooksBaseball.net, using the PITCHf/x data) with 17 home runs. Now those fastballs are being fouled back or turned into harmless pop flies without any oomph behind it. To be sure cold, rainy days in Baltimore don’t help matters, but Adam Jones hasn’t suffered, nor has Gordon or Moustakas for that matter.

Facing the Royals staff isn’t easy. It’s almost unfair to go from the 96+ mph fastball of Yordano Ventura to bat against Herrera, Wade Davis, or Holland. For a fastball hitting machine like Pearce, he has to turn on one of them, right?

Down 0-2, the O’s can’t blame Pearce for their losses. You can look to the starting pitching that has allowed nine earned runs in 8 2/3 innings or the normally steady Darren O’Day suddenly serving up runs when he’d been so filthy throughout the regular season. It’s not like the O’s haven’t had their chances.

Game 3 is tonight, and with it is another opportunity for Pearce to shine. In one of the best postseasons in recent memory, with games seemingly decided in the last at-bat in every game, isn’t it his turn?

Baltimore fans sure hope so. So do I.

  1. Well traveled? How’s this for jet lag: 2012 saw him released by the Twins, signed by the Yankees, purchased by the O’s, selected off waivers by the Astros, purchased back by the Yankees, and then signed off the waivers by the O’s again.

Oct 02

Bumgarner, Volquez, and Wednesday Night

In the end, all the debate about whether Clint Hurdle should have pitched Gerrit Cole or Edinson Volquez didn’t really matter all that much. Not when Madison Bumgarner left the Pirates bats silent inning after inning, striking out 10 and walking one in a complete game four-hitter that was . . . impressive. What the Pirates needed was someone with the stuff and ability to keep the Giants scoreless, and if that was the criteria then Volquez was as good a choice as anyone, entering the game with an 18-inning scoreless streak. Cole, who has the stuff to overpower an opposing lineup, has just one outing in 2014 where he’d tossed up repeated zeroes, a five inning affair on July 4th.

Volquez escaped trouble in the second, only to hang a curve to Brandon Crawford in the fourth, and there was the game as Travis Snider watched the ball sail over his head into the right-field stands. Grand slam. 4-0. A hanging curve from Volquez isn’t anything new, though at the time he hadn’t left anything sitting middle of the plate like he’ll occasionally do. I thought his breaking ball looked sharp, if not particularly hitting its marks, and prior to the home run it looked as though Crawford was a little overmatched in that at-bat. So much for my thoughts of Crawford punch out. Give the Giants batters some credit, though. They stayed away from those Volquez pitches in the dirt, making the righty work. Making perfect pitches repeatedly is a grind that can just about wear anyone down.

Sometimes I wonder what it must be like for a pitcher to face Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence back-to-back. Sandoval fouls off quality pitches, swatting away balls inches off the plate with a practiced ease until he finds one to his liking. What’s the bonus for making your pitch, getting Sandoval to swing at one that he has no business hitting? The good fortune to do it all over again. Then there’s Pence with his frenetic stance, nearly hopping up and down enough to make a person dizzy, and his batting zone is the general plate area, from the boundaries of each batter’s box to about a foot over his head. Ask Jordan Zimmermann about throwing Pence a fastball eyeball level. Pence will just drive it over the fence. Navigating through the Giants lineup must be equal parts mental frustration and physical exhaustion.

Maybe if Volquez doesn’t hang one, the Giants don’t score and the frenzied Pittsburgh fans rattle Bumgarner. The home run took the crowd out of it, and Bumgarner kept the Pirates from ever bringing them back in. Maybe a healthy hamstring helps Russell Martin beat out his bunt, and the Pirates get to Bumgarner in the bottom half of the fourth. Or, maybe it’s more telling of how well Bumgarner was pitching that the Bucs cleanup hitter thought a bunt was a good idea in the first place.

Regardless, it’s the Giants that are moving on to face the Nationals on Friday while the Pirates begin plans for 2015. Can they resign Martin? What will they do with Pedro Alvarez? For the love of God, what are they going to do about first base? Please tell me that Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez aren’t the answer.

While I’m glad that I might possibly see the brilliance that is Tanner Roark dominate once more on the West Coast, I’m sad to see the Bucs eliminated. After 162 games, a one-game playoff for everything just seems unnecessarily cruel.

Oct 01

West Coast? Mid-Atlantic Baseball Rules!

For those of us in the Mid-Atlantic region, this Major League postseason brings something sort of unique. For the first time, at least that I can track these things back, we’re going to see all three area teams in the playoffs at the same time. How unique is it? Seeing that big league baseball has been played in all three of the cities starting around 1886, with a few decades missing with a move from Baltimore to Brooklyn here or a move from Washington to Arlington there, it’s pretty remarkable that it took until 2014 under the warm embrace of Bud Selig to achieve Mid-Atlantic baseball supremacy.

I for one have grown tired over the past few years of the obvious West Coast bias in the sports media, particularly all the sabermetricians, who want to claim with fancy stats that the two best baseball players on the planet, Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout, play for a team sort of from an area in or around Los Angeles.1 For the time being, the Mid-Atlantic boasts the reigning NL MVP, two teams that went 96-66, and the growing legend that is Steve Pearce.

Over the years we’ve seen the Pittsburgh Pirates play World Series spoiler to both the Senators and the Orioles, besting Washington in the 1925 Series and beating the O’s in both 1971 and 1979. In 1974 Pittsburgh and Baltimore both lost in their respective Championship Series, but seeing as there wasn’t a team in D.C. from 1972 to 2005, any chance of seeing all three was sort of impossible. Even if you include the Homestead Grays, which you absolutely should, there was never any chance of a three team headline grab (the St. Louis Browns didn’t move to Baltimore until 1954) since the Pirates were ok but nothing amazing in the Grays glory days, and the Senators Series title in 1933 hit between the Grays league titles in 1931 and 1937. If you count the Browns, both St. Louis and the Grays were in world championships in 1944 with the Grays winning theirs and the Browns losing theirs, but why count St. Louis unless you’re desperate and really reaching for technicalities? We can also claim that 1940-42 had both Pittsburgh and Washington equally represented in the Negro World Series since the Grays split the seasons playing in both cities.

If nothing else, the Pirates, Senators, and Orioles gave area sports fans their collective money’s worth in ’33, ’71, and ’79 since each World Series went seven games, the Pirates obviously winning each four games to three.

So, rejoice Mid-Atlantic sports fans. Enjoy the next few days (hopefully longer than Wednesday afternoon) and dream a dream of a World Series with <INSERT TEAM A> vs. the Orioles. We’ll have tales of days long past; war stories of Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson, Roberto Clemente, and Eddie Murray; hunger pains for Ben’s Chili Bowl, Manny’s BBQ, or a crab mac and cheese hot dog; and if Jordan Zimmermann feels up to it, we might just see another no-hitter.

Why not? It’s taken us 128 years just to get to this point so anything’s possible.

  1. They are the two best players in the game at their respective positions, both will win the MVP, and this is really not open for debate.

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