Friday, October 03, 2003

I distinctly remember when Ivan Rodriguez signed with the Florida Marlins. His signing seemed odd at the time and my feeling was that it was strange that Rodriguez didn't sign for a contender. Perhaps Rodriguez was more prophetic than any of us were.

Today, Rodriguez drove in all four runs of an eleven inning marathon that featured a comeback rally from a run down after the Giants scored a run in the top of the eleventh. Rodriguez base hit was even more clutch than normal.

The Marlins had loaded the bases with one out and Luis Castillo at the plate. Castillo is one of the best hitters in baseball at putting the ball in play and there was a great chance that he could drive in at least a run with a fly ball to tie the game. True to form, Castillo sent a bullet on the ground right up the middle. Tim Worrell had fallen off to the third base side of the mound but made an unbelievable leap back to stab the ball and get Conine at the plate.

A play like that could deflate a lot of teams and a lot of batter. But not Rodriguez. He lined a single to right and just like that, the Marlins have the Giants on the ropes and need only to win one more game to go on to the NLCS.

One observation made before this series was that, except for Bonds, this Giant club was not a good hitting club. That observation proved true today as the Giants could not plate a run for six straight innings that they had a runner in scoring position. Their total of eighteen runners left on base in the game set a new record.

It is inconcievable that Jose Cruz dropped a routine fly ball to start the Marlins rally. His drop gave fodder to all little league coaches in the world to insist that all pop ups be caught with two hands. Cruz is a very good fielder and for that to happen in such a big game is mystifying.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Yesterday, the Fan questioned Dusty Baker's choices that delivered the game to the Braves. Last night, Grady Little, who has faced over-managing charges here before, made a major mistake of lifting Byung-Hyun Kim with two out in the ninth inning with the Red Sox holding on to a slim one run lead. The decision to bring in Alan Embree led to a single to tie the game and ultimately to an extra inning loss. So instead of the series heading back to Boston with the Red Sox tied in the series 1-1, they go back with down in a bad hole 2-0.

Granted, Kim, as he is prone to do, inexplicably hit a batter and then walked the next batter. What matchup would you rather have: Kim, you're closer with two outs or journeyman, Alan Embree, with his 4.55 ERA? Kim is erratic, especially with left-handed batters. But I would have rather taken my chances with him than Embree.

In either case, whether you make Embree the goat, the manager or Kim, the Red Sox lost a major opportunity to set the tone for the series. Instead, they need a miracle. And it's really too bad as the Red Sox are the feel good team of the year and really had a shot at beating this team. Well...miracles have happened before.

It seemed early in the second game of the Yankees/Twins series that the Yankees were playing extremely tight. The faces of Nick Johnson and Aaron Boone. But leave it to Alfonso Soriano, who doesn't have a tight bone in his body to put the Yankees on top for good with a big hit. Several weird happenings later, the Yankees were up 4-1 and went on to tie the series one game a piece.

Clearly, the post game experience of Andy Pettitte came through tonight as he had a tremendous game and Mariano Rivera looked like the post-season Rivera of old and was unhittable. The win was huge for the Yankees to stay in the series. But the now travel to the dangerous baggy dome for two games and the Yankees must win one game there thanks to their opening loss to the Twins Tuesday night.

Clemens finished the season very strong and will go for another post-season win at the dome. The Twins play with a lot of confidence there and have a great chance to take the series if they get two good pitching performances.

For the record, the Fan is not a favor of the opening playoff series being only five games. Five games gives a great team like the Red Sox only one game to play with when they are down two games to none. A longer series allows more time for each team to show their true character, their strengths and weaknesses. A five game series means that one team can win on a fluke.

There is much to be said for a short series if it stays close and goes back and forth. That is the case for three out of the four series. It is the series when one team takes the first two that makes it nearly impossible to for the team that is down to get anything accomplished. A team like the Oakland A's, with three former Cy Young award winners are not going to lose three games in a row.

I still don't believe that either the Twins or the Yankees can beat the A's. Only Boston had the kind of team to do it. But miracles don't happen that often.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

It's amazing how many times good managers over-manage in tight games. The Fan has pointed out several times during the season when Joe Torre cost the Yankees a game with poor choices. Tonight was Dusty Baker's turn to lose the game for the Cubs who had a solid opportunity to put the Braves on the ropes.

Baker's first mistake was to bring in one of his least effective relievers (Veres) into a tie game. Veres got old man, Julio Franco to ground out and then got to 0-2 on Castillo. Veres did not trust his stuff and went from 0-2 to walking Castillo. That brought Smoltz up and he was able to get the sacrifice bunt down with two strikes. Here is where Baker made his second mistake.

Rafael Furcal was the batter and Baker decided to walk Furcal to get to Mark DeRosa. Why would you put an extra runner on base in a tie game? I can see it if Sheffield was up, but not Furcal. After making the mistake of pitching Veres in the first place, Baker elected to walk Furcal instead of the obvious move of bringing in a lefty to pitch to Furcal.

Sure, Furcal is a switch hitter, but he is much less effective batting right handed. Pitch to Furcal and you have a good chance of getting him out with Remlinger. And then unbelievably, Baker left Veres in the game to pitch to DeRosa. DeRosa is not a good hitter and you are better off bringing in someone with good stuff and not the junk of Veres which gives a poor hitter plenty of time to get the hit. Of course, he got the hit and the game is over.

If you can get out of that inning still tied, then Smoltz is only going to pitch one more inning and then you can get into the soft side of the Atlanta bullpen. Bad managing loses ball games.

And how many times do you see a walk lead to a run. Hey, if you are beat by a strike, tip your cap. But if you are beat by not even having a chance to get the guy out, bend over, because it's going to kick you in the cabuckus.

But how about those Marlins! They were down in their game 4-1 and facing a 2-0 series deficit against the previous National League champs. But the Marlins came back and pulled away for a 9-5 victory.

Now the series goes back to Florida with Redmon pitching and it's the Giants who are in trouble. Jack McKean is a brilliant game manager. I've watched him all year and he manages a game better than anyone in baseball.

The Red Sox have a 1-0 lead early against Oakland. Pedro is pitching for the Red Sox. Game over? Could be.

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

It's amazing how much more tension is involved in a playoff game. The Fan has watched thousands of baseball games over the course of forty years, but there is something about a playoff game that makes the stomach tight and breathing shallow. Right now the Braves are threatening with the bases loaded and the Cubs up 4-1. Oops...make that 4-2 as the Braves scored on a ground out where the umpire blew the call at first base, costing the Cubs a run.

Now there is no surprise there. Bruce Froeming, umpiring behind home plate, has called at least 15 pitches off the plate by inches as strikes. It's so disheartening that we can't even get good umpiring in the playoffs.

It's been a tense day as this is the third playoff game today. The Giants won a nail-biter against the Marlins who couldn't get close to a run against the Giants' ace.

Earlier, the Twins beat the Yankees 3-1 as the Yankees couldn't score off of three Twins pitchers.

It's going to be a wild ride, baseball fans. So hold on to your seats.

Ack! Bases loaded for the Braves again. Looks like they will probably pull it out. We'll know in a minute...

Monday, September 29, 2003

The regular season just ended and that usually means a rash of managers get fired. The first two casualties happened today. The Chicago White Sox and the Baltimore Orioles fired their managers. The Fan expected one of those decisions but not the other.

There was an obvious flaw in the makeup of the Chicago White Sox. Their sub-standard play early and the way the team tanked at the end showed a fundamental lack of character. Ultimately, Jerry Manual was the fall guy for that lack of character. It's difficult to say if that blame is placed in the correct pigeon hole. The manager is ultimately responsible for the outcome and the White Sox had some of the best talent in the league and couldn't get it done.

The question remains if anyone could have motivated that team and unless the makeup of the team is changed, the same problems may exist next year as well. The easy finger to point is toward Frank Thomas. David Wells caught a lot of flack two years ago when he pointed fingers at Thomas when it was later determined that Thomas had a serious injury.

Let's concede that Wells opens his mouth far too often. But the man has been on championship teams. Wells might have picked the wrong time to point fingers at Thomas, but his overall assessment may have been correct too. And what Wells said has been rumored before. There is no way to definitively say that Thomas is the problem in Chicago, but he may be one. He is certainly not the only one.

Bertolo Colon has the best stuff of any starting pitcher in the American League. Yet he only 15-13 this year with an ERA of 3.87. While I cringe at pointing this out, the pitcher is definitely overweight and seems to be able to turn it on or off at will. Colon has Roger Clemens stuff but not Clemens' heart.

Any regular reader here will already know the Fan's opinion of Carl Everett so we won't bother to tread that water again, but what is the true story behind Roberto Alomar? For nine out of ten years between 1992 and 2001, Alomar batted over .300. He batted .266 for the Mets last year and started at .262 this year for the Mets and finished at .253 for the White Sox.

But his batting isn't the only story. Playing second base, Alomar always had over 425 assists a year. Last year he had 349 and this year, 342 so he clearly isn't getting to as many balls. Has Alomar's skills eroded that much at 35 years of age, or has the fire gone out of his baseball heart?

These facts indicate that whomever succeeds Manual will inherit the same kinds of problems that Manual faced himself. Good luck!

What is more surprising is the firing of Mike Hargrove. The manager who was known as the "human rain delay" when he was a player seemed a good fit in Baltimore. The Orioles were at rock bottom when Hargrove started and the entire organization needed to be rebuilt. That is happening now but how can you blame the results of a bad organization on the manager who had to endure the results?

And what is sad is that the Orioles seemed to make strides this year. Usually when a manager gets the axe, his coaching staff will too and the batting methods instituted in Baltimore have made great strides. It's a shame that those strides may be sacrificed in what is probably a cost cutting move.

I agree with Hargrove when he said today: "There's no doubt in my mind the job we did this year was a good job,'' Hargrove said. "I think we were able to lay a foundation of winning players with winning attitudes.''

The Orioles finished tenth in the majors in batting and eighth in base hits. If Mora and Surhoff hadn't been hurt and Conine traded, this would have continued to be a pesky and difficult team to play. Hargrove did a good job with this club.

So who will replace these managers? Cito Gaston should be considered for one of the positions. How could a man who won back to back World Series still be unemployed?

The Red Sox match up better against the Oakland A's than any team in the American League because their strong right-hand batters offset the A's lefty starters. Every other team has strong lefty batters that can be negated by the A's big lefties. The Red Sox have a good shot at beating Oakland whose team batting is still very suspect. Red Sox take the series 3-1. Nomar Garciaparra wins MVP.

I don't see the Yankees losing to the Twins. The Yankees have always hit Radke well and I'll take Messina, Clemens and Pettitte against the Twins starting three. The Yankees play small ball as well as the Twins so the crazy turf won't be as much an advantage as it would have been against the White Sox. The Yankees in a sweep 3-0. Mariano Rivera wins MVP.

The Florida Marlins have a decent shot at defeating the Giants. The Giants do not have much hitting besides Bonds and the Marlins have the arms to shut the Giants down in a short series. I pick the Marlins in an upset 3-2. Miguel Cabrera wins MVP.

It's too bad the Cubs drew the Braves in the first series. Of all the teams in the NL playoffs, the Cubs probably match up worse than the others against the Braves. However, if the Cubs fireballers can get and stay hot, they can carry the series, but that's a big if. The Braves' pitching isn't what it once was, but they should still win the series, 3 games to 1. Giles will be the MVP.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Let us share a quiet moment as we put to rest one of the most exciting regular seasons in MLB history. We had great pennant races. We had record breaking performances. We had milestones reached. And we had it all available to us on television, internet and highlight shows. It was a great ride but it's not over yet. Now we look forward to what hopefully will be memory-making post season games that eventually lead to the big show itself. It's been fun MLB. Thanks for a labor free season. Now find a home for the Expos and give us umpiring befitting professional baseball and we'll be good.

The Fan wants to take a final look at his favorite boxscore players and what kind of seasons they put together:
- Nick Johnson. Johnson is the most important cog in the Yankee lineup. The Yankees were hot early, cooled off when he was injured, and then revived when he returned. He ended the season 0 for 13 and finished the season at his lowest season average of .284. But that isn't the story. The story is his 70 walks in only 95 games to give him an OBP of .422. Because of that, he scored sixty runs in those 95 games. When you have someone who can get on base like that from the second spot in the lineup, it makes all the other hitters better. His 14 homers and 47 RBI helped too.

- Rocco Baldelli. Baldelli finished the season with a .308 average his last seven games. His final season average of .289 was remarkably consistent. He had 185 hits of which 51 were for extra bases. Baldelli scored 89 runs and drove in 78. He also had 27 stolen bases. Baldelli will only get better as he learns to hit for more power and to be more selective at the plate. If he can improve on his paltry 30 walks, he will be as superstar. I rate him third in rookie of the year standings behind Matsui and Teixeira.

- Coco Crisp. Coco wilted at the end of the year as he went hitless in seven of his last ten games. But his first year in the majors showed enough promise to see what will happen. Crisp managed 414 at bats in just 98 games and batted .264. He scored 55 runs while only making one error in the outfield all season. It will be interesting to see where Crisp fits in the Indians' plans next year. You have to love the name.

- Hank Blalock. Blalock also faded at the end but still ended his second season (first as a starter) with a solid .300 average. His OBP was .350 and his slugging percentage was .522. All good numbers. Blalock had 65 extra base hits including 29 homers and drove in 90 runs. Blalock is going to be a star for a long time. He needs to cut down on his strikeouts and find a permanent slot in the lineup. I love his manager, but the man makes too many lineup changes.

- Mark Teixeira. Teixeira finished strong and in many ways, found more favorable lineup spots at the end of the season than Blalock. The Fan's Rookie of the Year finished with 26 homers and 84 RBI. He only batted .259 but his OBP was .331. This is going to be a star for years to come.

- Michael Young. The Texas Rangers' leadoff batter had a very good year. With 204 hits and 106 runs scored to go along with his 56 extra base hits and 72 RBI, Young really arrived as a player. He also had a great year in the field, making only 10 errors. Young will also be a superstar if he gets more patient at the plate and improves his 36 walks in 700 plate appearances. He can be a batting champion if he can do so.

The previous three boxscore players will form a great nucleus for the Rangers along with A-Rod and I believe this team will be a contender. My only question is why you would let Rafael Palmeiro go? He got his homers and drove in over 100 runs again. Why would you let him walk? Okay, let's continue:

- Miguel Cabrera. The twenty year old had a big impact in his first major league season as 36 of his 84 hits were for extra bases. His 62 RBI in 86 games were huge for the Marlins in their playoff run. He also had a great first year in the field as he made only three errors in left field, a foreign position for him and only one error in 32 games at third base. This kid is going to be a big star.

- Jose Reyes. Reyes unfortunately got hurt in his debut season, but the other twenty year old in the majors finished with a .307 average with 13 stolen bases. Reyes scored 47 runs in his 69 games and drove in 32. His fielding was acceptable and this is another future star.

- Pat Burrell. Oh well. Burrell never did put it together although his last twenty games were passable. At least he ended above the dreaded Mendoza Line. His final average of .209 is embarrassing. He did walk quite a bit and at least his OBP was over .300. The other positive is that 56 of his 109 hits were for extra bases. Hopefully Bowa will be fired and Burrell can get a coach that can figure out how to put him back on the star track he was on last year.

- Scott Podsednik. Podsednik became a late season favorite and became only the fourth rookie in MLB history to hit .300 (.314), steal 40 bases (43) and score a hundred runs (100 even). He also had a very respectable .379 OBP as a leadoff batter. This is another future star who has already arrived. My man, Dontrelle Willis and even Brandon Webb had great seasons, but Podsednik has to be the Rookie of the Year.

- Sean Burroughs. Burroughs had a solid, if unspectacular second season. He batted .286 with a .352 OBP. He has to improve his pop as his percentage of hits to extra base hits is not impressive. But you just get the feeling that he will get better and better.

They were fun to watch and there were many others like Sosa, Jeter, Sexson, Bonds, and many, many others who make following the boxscores such a joy. It was a great season and this post-season will be terrific too. The Fan's post-season analysis will be featured in tomorrow's post. See you then.