Saturday, October 10, 2009

Twins Snake Bit and Self Bit

Last night's divisional series playoff game between the Yankees and the Twins has to be one of the most perplexing, vexing, emotional and ultimately controversial games this writer has ever watched. In the end, the Twins lost because Nathan couldn't get the job done, the umpires couldn't get the job done and the Yankees don't lose when given eleven chances to beat you.

Much like the Detroit-Minnesota thriller that put the Twins into the post season, it all boiled down to the home team having the last at bat to win the game. You can talk about the fans and familiarity being the biggest advantage for the home team, but the real advantage is having that last at bat. Once the game gets down to the wire, if the home team scores, it's over. So you can talk about the Yankee Stadium short porch or the Twins loud crowd in the Metrodome all you want. The Twins-Tigers game and the Twins-Yankees game were both thrilling and emotional, but both were over because of the biggest advantage a home team has.

But what a game though. Nick Blackburn, who the awful TBS announcers kept describing as a wonderful pitcher despite the back to back 11-11 seasons and a 22-24 lifetime record, combined with Mahay, Rauch and Guerrier to totally stifle the bats of the Yankees. The only ding off of those gentlemen were a double by Jeter followed by a two-out single by a suddenly post-season clutch Alex Rodriguez. Meanwhile, the Yankees' other millionaire pitcher, A. J. Burnett, kept playing with the blasting cap of dynamite for six scary innings. Burnett was great for the first two batters of each inning. But then would start getting cute and would walk a guy or hit two or walk two more. Despite Burnett's adventures, the Twins scored only once off of him. They almost scored twice except for a stroke of bad luck or bad base running, depending on how you look at it.

It was the top of the fourth inning and Burnett easily got the first two batters on a strike out and a foul out. Then, typically, Burnett started to get goosey. First he hit Delmon Young. Then he hit Carlos Gomez. It's a good thing Molina was behind the plate instead of Posada, eh? Tolbert then hit a single to right and Swisher, a player who seems both brilliant at times and helpless at others, thought about throwing home, but instead threw to second (it appeared that Jeter helped that decision by asking for the throw). Gomez, one of the fastest men in baseball had rounded second with thoughts of going to third when he picked up the third base coach who gave him the "GO BACK!" sign. Gomez tried to put on the brakes, but instead folded like a rusty beach chair and sprawled on the ground in no man's land. Jeter got the throw and tagged out the stunned Gomez before Young (who was hustling) got to home plate. The run didn't count and the Twins lost a golden opportunity.

But the Twins didn't lose their opportunity against Phil Hughes in top of the eighth. Hughes pulled his best Burnett impression and easily got the first two batters. Then he got cute with Carlos Gomez and walked him after having a 1-2 count. The Fan could be heard screaming at the television (PUT HIM AWAY STUPID!). But he got cute instead. The next batter was Nick Punto. Punto is one of the worst offensive players in the major leagues. He makes the Marlins' Bonafacio look like Albert Pujols. He had a .621 OPS this season, right near his career mark. But he is one of those "ball players" the TBS announcers keep talking about.

Hughes started Punto with a diet of fastballs. Punto swung at them like a man trying to ward off mosquitoes. Although he managed to foul a few off, you could tell that there was no way Nick Punto was going to be able to put any kind of Hughes fastball in play. So what does Hughes do? He throws him a curve. Base hit, run scored. 2-1. This has been happening all series with Punto. The Yankee pitchers are treating him with so much respect it's silly. He's walked four times in the two games.

So anyway, it's 2-1 and the Yankees go to Rivera, who probably saved this game without getting a save. Rivera did give up a hit to Denard Span that made it 3-1. But then he made Orlando Cabrera (who acts like he is amped on meth or something most of the time) look silly with a few cutters and ended the threat.

After another weak inning for the Yankees in the bottom of the eighth, Rivera shut down the Twins in the top of the ninth including making the AL MVP, Joe Mauer look sick on some nasty cutters. Without Rivera, the dramatics that followed would never have happened.

Then Joe Nathan came into the game. Twins' fans might remember that Nathan, one of the best closers in baseball, has not fared well in the post season. And the Fan could tell why. Nathan looked about as nervous on the mound as any player has ever looked in a professional sporting event. He was sweating. He was swatting his glove on his face and his head. He was twitching and snorting like a horse. He simply looked scared to death.

Nathan's first two tasks were Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. Yeah, those guys are pretty good. But instead of attacking them aggressively, which is what Rivera does, Nathan pitched like a squirrel trying to out-juke an oncoming car. With Teixeira, he threw a couple of breaking balls and got behind in the count. When Nathan finally did throw a fastball, he left it in the heart of the plate and Teixeira mashed it to right. Nathan did the same thing to A-Rod. A few weak breaking balls and A-Rod had the count in his favor. He could sit dead red, and red was what he got. Rodriguez didn't miss it and pounded the ball out into the night. Game tied. Nathan somehow managed to survive the next three outs and the game went into extra innings.

The Yankees had a threat in the bottom of the tenth. Nathan was still in there and shattered Posada's bat, but Posada still found a way to get that pitch to bloop into the outfield for a hit. Brent (or is it Brett?) Gardner went in to run for Posada and promptly stole second. Apparently, Nathan hasn't successfully stopped a runner from stealing since the Clinton administration. The Twins, still concerned about Gardner going to third, called a pickoff play at second. Nathan whirled, but not far enough (the equivalent of an olympic diver not rotating his somersault enough) and threw the ball forty feet wide of second. Gardner crashed into Cabrera going back to the bag and then looked stunned for a minute. Then he headed for third but stumbled first. The centerfielder picked up the ball when Gardner was only a few feet off second and the Yankees' fans around the world thought, "Crap." Even the replay of Jeter watching the whole thing saw Jeter's face as he was inwardly saying, "Crap." But somehow Gardner beat the throw to third. It wasn't even close. Nathan then walked Jeter intentionally to set up a double play and face Damon.

Except, they brought the infield in, which was weird. You would have thought the first and third basemen would be in and the middle infielders would be in double-play depth. But they were all in. Damon came up and everyone everywhere was probably thinking the game was going to be over. All Damon needed to do was hit a fly ball against Mijares (who relieved Nathan) and the game was over. But Damon hit a smash line drive right at Cabrera at shortstop. Who the heck knows what Gardner was thinking as he ran on contact. He may have been instructed to do so or he may have just been stupid. Either way, it became an easy double-play for the Twins. Momentum back to the Twins.

And so the Twins come up in the top of the 11th. With Joe Mauer leading off and Damaso Marte in to pitch. Marte has no business being on the post season roster. None. Mauer used his patented inside out swing to send the ball to left. Melky Cabrera chased after it and it hit off his glove and landed two feet inside the foul line. Cuzzi, the umpire, whose only job in this game is to figure out if a ball in left field is fair or foul, then made one of the worst umpiring calls in the history of post season play and called the ball foul. What!? Huh!? Are you kidding!? What a horrible call! Somebody tell the Fan why baseball doesn't use replay?

But baseball won't use replay so Mauer has to settle for a single on the next pitch. Kubel, who has struggled this series, then hit a single to right. Mauer stopped at second. Remember that he should now be on third. The Yankees then realized their Marte decision was a mistake and brought in Robertson. He promptly delivered a single to Cuddyer. Mauer stops at third (he would have scored at this point if he was given the double). Why the Twins chose to run the bases so conservatively this inning is a bit baffling. But they station-to-stationed it.

The next guy up was Delmon Young who hit a screaming liner right at Teixeira. Bad luck, but unlike Gardner, the Twins didn't get doubled up on the play. Gomez then hit into a fielder's choice with Mauer out at home. Harris then flew out weakly to end the inning. Granted, Cuzzi really blew that call, but how can the Twins load the bases with no outs and not score?

Predictably, Teixeira led off the bottom of the eleventh with a homer (a wall-scraper as he called it) and the Yankees won the game. What a see-saw ride that was. What a game. What bad umpiring (the home plate umpire didn't know a strike from a ball the entire game either). What a bad clutch performance by the Twins. What great clutch performances by the Yankees (other than the Gardner gaffe).

These Yankees are different this year than the past few years. They have excitement. They pull hard for each other. They have fun. They are playing like kids. It looks a lot like the '04 Red Sox. The Twins? They need a miracle.

Friday, October 09, 2009

The Colorado Rockies - 2009 Debrief

This continues a series on debriefing every MLB club for the 2009 series. The series started with a look at the National League West and has already discussed the Padres, Diamondbacks and the Giants. It's now time to feature the Rockies and then tomorrow, the Dodgers. Those last two tasks are difficult as the teams are still playing in the playoffs. This writer, for example, has to certainly eat crow after stating openly that it wouldn't seem likely for the Rockies to win a game against the Phillies. The Rockies did win a game last night and it's just one more unlikely event for a little team that could in 2009.

In a pun very much intended, the Rockies have overcome every large Hurdle this year to get to the playoffs. They are the wild card team because they won more games than the Giants, the Braves, the Marlins and everyone in the Central Division. The Rockies set a franchise record for wins with 92, besting the 90 they produced in 2007 when they were truly the Cinderella story of that season. They did so despite a pitching staff that ranked 17th out of 26 teams and a defense that ranked in the same exact slot. How did that happen?

The first question cannot really be answered as there is no way to measure the answer. Why would a team start the season 18-28 under one manager (Hurdle) and finish with another manager the rest of the season at a 74-42 clip? There is no way of really knowing why it was not going so well under Hurdle and then went so well with Tracy. After all, Tracy has managed other places with moderate results. Was this a case of a really bad situation whose resolution allowed the players to play to their capability? Or would this team have been this good anyway? Who knows. All we know is that they started the season in a huge hole and were ten games under .500 when Tracy took over. That is a deep hole. But the team took off after that including an eleven game win streak.

Not matter where the truth lies, the main facts are that the starting rotation settled down and had a good season 1-5, which no team can state. Their offense, largely due to a resurgence in Tulowitzki. And their closer, Huston Street, turned it on after a truly abysmal start. Let's start with the rotation.

The Rockies have five starters that made all but seven starts for the team. In other words, they each took the ball during their turn and stayed healthy and stayed moderately effective. You can't look at any other playoff team and say that. The Yankees have certainly featured some adventures in their rotation as have the Red Sox, Dodgers, Phillies, Angels, Cardinals and Twins. The five (Jorge De La Rosa, Jason Marquis, Aaron Cook, Jason Hammel and Ubaldo Jiminez) are not spectacular by any stretch. Three of the five walked over 80 batters this year. Only one had a WHIP under 1.350. Only one (Hammel) had a 3/1 strikeout to walk ratio. But the key for these five are that they took the ball every five days all year and kept their team in the game while the offense won the game.

The offense is unfortunately, still defined by Coors Field. Humidor or no, the Rockies had an OPS at home of .849 and only .718 on the road. Compare that to the Yankees who went .858 at home and .822 on the road. The Rockies' batting average and OBP were 50 points higher at home. Their slugging percentage was 83 points higher at Coors. Star shortstop, Troy Trevor Tulowitzki is a prime example. He is Hanley Ramirez at home and well, Troy Tulowitzki on the road. It's a sad fact that Holliday has the ability to overcome with the Cardinals while Todd Helton may never be taken seriously as the star he has been.

But the fact remains that the Rockies finished second in the National League in runs scored, first in walks and OPS, third in doubles, first in triples and second in home runs. They are patient at the plate and will wear out the opposing starter. Five of their regular eight position players finished well over 100 OPS+. Their only positional weakness at bat they have are at catcher, second base and third base.

Huston Street had a good year after a bad start. Street struggled last year, so much so that when the year began, Manual Corpas won the closing job. Corpas struggled immediately and the two were again switched. Much of the success of the team this year can be given to Street who was very good for the last three quarters of the season. And it's a good thing because he didn't have much company in the bullpen. Daley and Morales were adequate. Corpas and Embree were terrible. The team got a late boost by the unlikely trio of Josh Fogg, Jose Contreras and Rafael Betancourt down the stretch. All three were spectacular down the stretch. Betancourt was really effective and finished with a 1.78 ERA in 32 appearances.

The Rockies' fielding needs to improve. Placing 17th out of 26 teams in defensive efficiency is not going to cut it. Tulowitzki had a very good season in the field. The tandem of Iannetta and Torrealba really struggle to throw out runners. Iannetta finished at 26% and Torrealba at a Varitek-like 14%. Watching him during the playoffs, Torrealba's mechanics seem to be most at fault. He is not in a good position to throw and he looks awkward.

The Rockies best prospect already broke into the majors this year and that was Dexter Fowler. Fowler had a successful rookie campaign even though he tailed off toward the end of the year at the plate. He has really anchored down the outfield (goodbye Willy Tavares) and should be an effective player for years to come. He shows good patience at the plate and his power numbers should increase along with his batting average.

Other than Fowler, there isn't much in the Rockies' pipeline. Dhoulys Chacin is a five-star prospect and could get a chance to break into the rotation next year, especially if Marquis walks during free agency.

The Rockies will go as far as their pitching will take them. It would seem difficult for their current rotation to duplicate the amazing durability and stability they provided this year. Jiminez and De La Rosa are good talents and should get better barring injury. It is hard to see them winning more than 88 games next year. But then again, it was hard seeing them win a game against the Phillies and look at that!

Is THIS the Year?

For years, the fans in California, when discussing Mike Scioscia as a manager, maintain that you can't claim the Angels' manager is among the elite if year after year he can't get his team beyond Boston in the playoffs. That may or may not be fair but it is understandable when each year brings hope only to have it dashed by the Red Sox. One win doesn't make it over by any means, but it is a huge step.

In all those meetings between the two teams, the Red Sox had the better team. So it really isn't a manager issue. Scioscia is about as solid a manager as there is. Even though the division series doesn't always mean the best team wins thanks to its five game format. A team can ride three horses for pitchers through a hot period and win a short series. That's why the division series should be seven games and not five (and eliminate the off days!). But in the Angels/Red Sox cases, the best team did win.

It really looks like the Angels are the best team among the two this year. The Red Sox have suddenly become an old, poor fielding team that can be had by good pitching and superior defense. Last night was a perfect example. John Lackey is a darn good pitcher. But he looked like a Lincecum last night against the futility of the Red Sox lineup. And Jason Bay and Mike Lowell made errors that point out their weaknesses on defense. The Angels simply outplayed their opponent. It wasn't even close.

Now the Red Sox need a vintage Beckett appearance to avoid being in an unfamiliar hole. Well, it's not that unfamiliar for anyone old enough to remember the Dave Henderson homer year. Apologies for bringing that up. But this may very well be the Angels' year to overcome their nemesis.

Isn't that Manager a Genius?

The division series between the Cardinals and the Dodgers features two of the most successful managers in the history of baseball: Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa. Both are prized for different reasons. LaRussa is the mad genius who makes all the right moves and thinks of things nobody else would. Joe Torre is the calm in the storm, the man you follow into battle, the kindly respected man who gets his team to play for him. Each one of these supposed traits would be pulled out of the cliche bag depending on which of these great managers won the game.

When it comes down to the game and the series and the championship, all a manager can really do is put his best players out on the field and put them in the best position to succeed. Obviously, both managers are good at that. Ultimately, it all boils down to how the players perform when all the plans are put in motion.

At this point in the season, both managers have set patterns in place. They know who they want to come in from the bullpen in what situation. They know what match ups work best for what hitters and pitchers. There are no surprises. But it will be no surprise that since Torre brought in Broxton in the eighth and Sherrill in the ninth (which he has done several times this year based on match ups), Torre will win the genius award for this game and will have bested the great genius, Tony LaRussa.

The reality is that Broxton and Sherrill did their jobs and Franklin did not. No genius required.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

San Francisco Giants - 2009 Debrief

The Giants improved sixteen games in the won-loss column, which is quite an accomplishment. They spent the last two years hardly being a factor and losing over 90 games a season and this season, they even flirted with the wild card race right into September. You would have to consider their season a success as they carried superior pitching and great defense to 88 wins. Now if only they could get some offense besides Sandoval.

The offense is what kept this team from staying in contention. It really has been going on for quite some time too. Before, it was Barry Bonds and a cast of lesser beings. It's no different now with Pablo Sandoval and a cast of lesser beings. Sandoval, who had an outstanding and break out season, accumulated a 144 OPS+. Nobody else among the starters finished higher than 96. The team finished dead last in OBP and OPS, next to last in slugging and of course, last in runs scored. Benjie Molina walked 13 times in over 500 plate appearances. Rentoria had a horrible year at the plate as did Randy Winn. Aaron Rowland finished less than league average. Travis Ishikawa didn't work out. Only Juan Uribe had a nice year in a part time role. Everyone else did not fare well at all.

There isn't a whole lot of help coming on the short term for the Giants. All of their best position playing prospects are like 16, 18 and 19 years old. It will be a few years before we see any of them. The exceptions might be Buster Posey, the all world catcher who, if the world were the right place, should win the catching job in Spring Training. Molina was in the last year of his contract and it will be interesting to see if the Giants bring him back. Posey not only hits line drives all over the place with good patience at the plate, but his arm behind the plate is evident by the fact that he was his college team's closer. In a short look at the end of 2009, Posey threw out his one base stealing attempt. Molina finished at 28%.

The Giants should really consider moving Sandoval to first (he is not a good third baseman) and give Conor Gillespie a shot to win the third base job in Spring Training. He's a very good prospect who has showed good patience and a quick bat. They could also use a second baseman to fill that space until Nick Noonan is ready. But what this team really needs is a high on-base guy with some pop to tandem with Sandoval in the lineup.

The pitching is all roses. Not only do the Giants have the best pitcher in the league in Lincecum, but they have Cain who slots in nicely behind him. Sanchez showed enough to prove that he is here to stay and even Barry Zito had a much better year. Randy Johnson was adequate in his 96 innings except he had trouble keeping the ball in the park. Brad Penny was a nice surprise at the end of the year. And the good news keeps on coming. Two of their best prospects are pitchers. The top prospect is Madison Bumgarner may be as good as Lincecum. The Giants should bring him to Spring Training and give him a shot this coming year.

The bullpen was good for the Giants too. Brian Wilson has become a good closer and Brandon Medders, Bobby Howry and Justin Miller all had good seasons. Jeremy Affeldt has become the best LOOGY in baseball.

The Giants allowed the fewest runs in the league. Their pitching was so good that despite the worst offense in the league, the Giants had a positive run differential. That's hard to do. Their one Achilles Heel is bases on balls. They were ninth in the league in walks allowed and could really see some improvement in that area. But if the offense can pick up a bit, that will allow the pitchers to attack the strike zone more freely instead of feeling they have to be perfect to win the game.

With the Giants' current offense, it's hard to see them improving on their 88 wins next year. So it seems imperative for Sabean and the front office to find a hitter with a high OBP to help them move up in the win category.

Phillies and Dodgers Take Command

The Phillies look unstoppable and the Dodgers proved they are a force you'd better not take lightly as both teams took command in their five game series. After watching the Phillies dismantle the Rockies in every phase of the game, it would seem impossible for the Rockies to win a game this series. The Dodgers, on the other hand, weren't respected by many going into their series with the Cardinals. The Cardinals had the hot team and the best pitcher in the National League. But the Dodgers weren't listening and took game one.

Not to say that it was pretty in Chavez Ravine. Randy Wolf, starting the first post season game of his career, was all over the place. He gave up five walks (two of them intentional to Pujols) and six hits in three and a third innings before giving way to Jeff Weaver (of all people). Despite all those base runners, Wolf only let two of those runners score. He was helped in part by a remarkable double-play started by Belliard.

And the Dodgers didn't hit in the clutch either. The two teams stranded almost thirty base runners between them and couldn't get the big hit. The Dodgers showed their superiority in the bullpen and that was the main difference in the game.

It was surprising to see Carpenter struggle. He left so many pitches in the heart of the strike zone, one had to wonder how he had as brilliant a season as he had. There is a real possibility that Carpenter is spent a bit after pitching all season when he had pitched so few innings the two years before. Fatigue may be a big factor here.

In Philadelphia, those fans were awesome with a sea of towels and the fans got treated to a first class performance by the Phillies. Cliff Lee looked unflappable and unhittable for most of the game. He's a funny pitcher where sometimes he looks untouchable and other times, he just gets torched. There doesn't seem to be an in between with him. Fortunately, it was his A game against the Rockies, who looked over matched against the Phillies.

In a side note, the Phillies should shut up about playing two day games to start the playoffs. Geez, of all the silly things to complain about. Jim Tracy, the manager of the Rockies had the right take on the thing. His comment, "I'm just glad we're playing these games. I don't care what time they start." That's the right attitude. Enjoy the ride, folks. It doesn't come to everyone.

Yankees Follow Formula in Game 1

For at least the first game of the ALDS, the Yankees followed their proven formula for success. The formula? The starting pitcher keeps the Yankees in the game while the Yankee batters wear down the starter until he breaks and then feast on the weaker bullpen. Once they have the lead, turn it over to the bullpen, play good defense and the win is in the books.

The game started a little shaky for the Yankees. Duensing started sharply and besides Jeter's opening single, the Yankees looked fooled by the rookie Twins' starter. Meanwhile, the Twins nicked Sabathia for three straight hits and another passed ball for Jorge Posada in the post season resulting in two runs. Only an excellent throw by Swisher on a shallow fly kept the game in line at that point.

Then Derek Jeter came up for the second time and padded his legend by pulling a breaking ball for a huge home run well into the seats in left. That was huge for the Yankees as they were playing tight before that. The Captain's bomb loosened the team up and they went on to score the go ahead run and then finally ran Duensing out of the game much earlier than Gardenhire was hoping after yesterday's 12 inning division clincher. Gardenhire had little choice but to bring in Liriano, one of the few pitchers that didn't pitch yesterday. Liriano promptly gave up a bomb to Matsui to center and the game was basically over.

A couple of notes on the Yankee victory:

  • - Jeter had a perfect day going 2 for 2 with two walks. He scored three of the Yankees' seven runs.
  • - A-Rod came through in the clutch twice in three attempts, which is certainly good news for him and for the Yankees.
  • - Sabathia wasn't outstanding, but he was certainly good. He didn't walk anyone and the rally the Twins had to score two runs came with two outs after a bad call by the umpire on what should have been the third strike.
  • - Speaking of that umpire, he was uniformly bad calling balls and strikes. It looked like he squeezed both teams on should-be strikes and called some questionable balls for strikes.
  • - Mauer did his part with two solid singles. The guy can flat out hit.
  • - It still seems like Posada and Sabathia struggle to get on the same page. Of course, this has been the big story all week and it isn't going to go away unless the Yankees sweep everything.
  • - This Fan is still amazed when a big, six foot, eleven inch pitcher can somehow coordinate all that body to throw in the major leagues. John Rauch does it somehow and is successful more than he isn't.

The Twins might be exhausted. They may have played tonight on the rush of yesterday's thrilling victory, but once the Yankees got the lead, the Twins seemed placid on the bench. They will get a day of rest tomorrow and then Friday is the crucial game for both teams. If the Twins win, they will have the momentum going home and if the Twins lose, the Yankees will be set up pretty nicely.

The Fan is pooped. Too many late night baseball games lately. More posts for you in the morning.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

What a Game!

The MLB post season kicked off in an amazing fashion as the Twins won the American League Central title in an amazing game in the Metrodome. The game went back and forth and had more "what ifs" than a shy kid in high school. This Fan's adrenaline-rushed impression is that the game was one of the top five best games ever watched with these eyes.

The game started with a 3-0 lead for the Tigers on a two-run homer by a sober and apologetic Miguel Cabrera and an RBI single by Ordonez. Porcello, the 20 year old wonder, gave a run back with an unwise throw to first to try to pick off a runner. The Twins scratched out another run to make it 3-2. Orlando Cabrera then put the Twins ahead, 4-3, with a two-run homer off of Zach Minor (more on that later).

In a hysterical aside, following Bill Simmons on Twitter, he took exception to a post game interview by Orlando Cabrera who said it was the best game he ever played in. Cabrera, you may remember, was a part of the Boston Red Sox when they finally overcame the monkey and beat the Yankees in the 2005 playoffs. Simmons' Tweet? "He is dead to me." Ha!

Okay. Let's talk about Zach Minor. In save situations this year (or hold situations if you like), Minor has given up 23 base runners in 12 innings of work. Why wouldn't you go with Lyon and then Rodney? Why risk Minor? Instead of Minor, with the season on the line, why not go with Jackson? In any case, Minor couldn't hold the lead and it was a seesaw the rest of the way.

The Tigers tied the game up on a Magglio Ordonez homer and then went ahead in the tenth inning on a beautiful slide into home by an unknown Don Kelly, who looks all of twelve years old. The Twins tied it up in the bottom of the tenth on a real bad play by Raburn who turned a Cuddyer single into a triple by trying an ill-fated dive in left field. Raburn would redeem himself later that same inning by gunning Casilla at the plate after catching a line drive. The game was like that. Both teams left 12 on base. Both teams had wonderful opportunities.

In the top of the twelfth, the bases were loaded with Inge at the plate. He got hit (or his uniform did - the replay clearly showed it) which should have scored a run. But the ump missed it. He missed it. Didn't ask for help from his friends when questioned. He just flat out missed it. Can anyone say, "REPLAY Bud Selig!" That cost a run and the Tigers would not score. Laird struck out to end the inning by swinging on a 3-2 pitch that was clearly a ball. That too would have scored a run. Which leads to another question.

Why, oh why, Jim Leyland, who the Fan believes is one of the best managers ever, why would you not pinch hit for Laird in that situation? The guy went 0-6 and personally left ten men on base in the game. This is the Varitek Effect, the mistaken belief that the catcher makes all the difference for the pitching staff, etc. Why not bat Thames or somebody? Laird has a 66 OPS+. You leave your season in the balance for that?

And the last question of the night. Why throw out an obviously gassed Fernando Rodney in the last inning? He'd already pitched parts of three innings when he is used to throwing one. The last inning, the flame-thrower was throwing nothing but change ups. He had nothing. Nothing. The loss at that point was inevitable.

But credit the Twins. They play smart baseball. They are well managed. They got the job done. And they were lucky enough to win the coin flip to be the home team for this event. It's a shame that the Tigers had to lose, but somebody had to. It was one heckova of the best this Fan has ever witnessed.

San Diego Padres - 2009 Debrief

As we continue to travel up the National League West, our next stop is in San Diego to take a look at the 2009 season. There is good news and bad news for San Diego fans. First, the bad news. The Padres were outscored by 131 runs. That was by far the worst in the major leagues. But the good news is that despite that ugly fact, the Padres won twelve more games than they did the year before. The Padres went 32-23 in August and September. They even played .500 baseball in April and May. If you could find a way to throw out June and July, they would have right there. All the stats say that they played over their ability. The team's Pythagorean Win-Loss rating comes in at 67-95. In other words, they found a way to win eight more games than they should have.

Poring down at the Padres' 2009 statistics, it seems that this team isn't well built for their stadium. Petco is rated as a pitcher's park and in fact rates a miserly 89 on a 100 point scale for ball park factors. Despite this ball park, the Padres have not loaded their lineup with high on base guys. You can understand why the Padres would come in dead last in the majors in slugging percentage. But that being the case, it's doubly difficult when you come in 13th out of 16 National League teams in OBP. Adrian Gonzalez walked 116 times, but that is because pitchers worked around him because there is nobody there to protect him. Besides Gonzalez, Chase Headley is the only other full time starter on the Padres who finished higher than 100 OPS+. Kevin Kouzmanoff in particular shows promise as a hitter but walked only 27 times in 573 plate appearances. He really needs to improve that performance or he is destined to be another Francoeur.

Two things give hope to the line up. First, four-star prospect, Kyle Banks, got some playing time toward the end of the year and got in 172 plate appearances. His ten homers and .868 OPS during that time are very promising. Promising also is Will Venable who doubled Banks' plate appearances and finished with an 110 OPS+. If Venable can be a bit more patient at the plate and improve his ability to take a walk once in a while, he can be a very nice player for them. Tony Gwynn, Jr. had a .350 OBP in 451 plate appearances and might be a decent producer batting leadoff in the future.

The Padres' starting pitching was really, really bad in June and July. Peavy went down with an injury and guys like Walter Silva, Josh Blanks, Josh Geer and Edward Mujica (who did much better in relief) really killed them. For a team in a pitchers' park that ended up with an 85 ERA+ is telling.

But again, the news is brighter there too. When the Padres traded Peavy, they got Clayton Richard, who really pitched well. Top prospect, Mat Latos (not a misspelling), got ten starts and held his own. Wade LeBlanc got nine starts and went 3-1 with a 3.69 ERA. Kevin Correia and Tim Stauffer gave the team 47 starts of league average pitching. So a rotation of Correia, Latos, LeBlanc, Stauffer and perhaps Chris Young can be pretty decent and perhaps better than that if everything gels correctly.

The bullpen showed some bright spots. Heath Bell was awesome as the closer. He was as successful as Trevor Hoffman, and yet brings more power to the table. Luke Gregorson was great in relief as was Joe Thatcher and between those three pitchers, they struck out 237 batters in a little under 199 innings. That's blowing people away! Mujica seemed to find a home in the bullpen as well.

Off the field, the Kevin Towers era is over as the GM was fired at the end of the year. With the GM gone, it will remain to be seen if Bud Black will remain as the manager. The new ownership group knows baseball, more so than any ownership group ever in San Diego and that should help the Padres grow.

The Padres will have to decide if they keep their one legit superstar in Adrian Gonzalez. But consider that Gonzalez had a horrible slump in June and July. There isn't much coincidence that they had awful months as a team during that time. Taking him out of that line up and out of that city would devastate the Padres' offense and that just doesn't seem worth saving a few bucks over. Hey, Tony Gwynn was a Hall of Famer that the Padres kept around through some terrible years, only to see that pay off when the Padres finally did make it to the post season.

Off season moves? The Padres don't seem to be expected to be free agent hunters unless it is the low money, low risk category. They could use a second baseman. Eckstein may be a "gamer" but he isn't much of a player anymore. Hopefully the Brian Giles era will be over. Both of the team's catchers don't hit much, so perhaps that is an area of improvement. But there is little out there that could help.

All in all, the Padres showed some promise toward the end of the year. Perhaps they played over their heads. But just perhaps, they may have turned the corner on those lean years.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Arizona Diamondbacks - 2009 Debrief

As promised, we are going to spend the next several days debriefing the 2009 season, team by team. Not only is it a good business strategy (despite the fact that the military uses it), but it also helps a blog writer fill up blogspace for a number of days once the regular season ends. If these kinds of posts don't fill your fancy, have no fear, we'll also follow the playoffs through the World Series and continue to comment on whatever news stories happen to raise interest. Let's start with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the National League West.

Earlier in the year, the Fan wrote that the Diamondbacks were one of the better bad teams. There must have been something in the Fan's cola glass that day because they were awful. They lost 92 games but if you understand Pythagorean Win-Loss values (the Fan doesn't), they should have won more. The Diamondbacks were 20th out of 26 teams in runs scored per game and were 25th in runs allowed. That's not a good combination. On top of those two squares on the score card, the team was 20th out of 26 teams in defensive efficiency. So they didn't hit well, they didn't pitch well and they didn't field well. That seems to add up to 92 losses pretty quickly.

So what went wrong specifically? Well it certainly didn't help losing Brandon Webb for the season after winning 40 games in 2007 and 2008. Any time you lose a pitcher of that calibre, it's going to hurt. His loss moves everyone else up in the rotation. Haran was just fine until he lost a little gas toward the end of the season (he tends to do that). Max Scherzer showed promise striking out more than nine batters per nine innings. He's an excellent third starter who became the number two guy with Webb out. Doug Davis is what he is, which is a league average pitcher who always walks too many batters and as such gives you five or six innings tops.

But with all those guys moving up a notch, too many starts went to the likes of Petit, Buckner and Cabrera. They were uniformly over matched and every starter but Scherzer, Davis and Haran had an ERA over 6 or 7.

On the offensive side of things, 1140 plate appearances were given to Eric Byrnes, Chad Tracy, Conor Jackson, Brandon Allen, Josh Whitesell, Alex Romero and Tony Clark. Between all of those guys, they had a combined VORP (Value over replacement player) of -31.9. That is staggering. Byrnes and Tracy hurt the most. They both come with a high price tag and were a boondoggle to the team. Granted, Tracy had injury problems, but has an $8 million option for next year. The team should buy out the option for the $1 million and use the other 7 for some help. Throw in Chris Young's .711 OPS in his 501 plate appearances and you have big holes in your line up.

Stephen Drew seemed to regress this year. He ended the season almost 90 points lower in OPS than the year before. His fielding is adequate and consistent. Not great, but okay. But his on again, off again years at the plate are baffling. He is coming into his peak years and he has to do more at the plate to live up to his billing.

There was good news this year. The Fan already mentioned Scherzer. With a year under his belt, and his exceptional arm, he should only get better. He was also extremely unlucky in that his fielders behind him accounted for sixteen unearned runs in his 30 starts. Mark Reynolds also blossomed into a legitimate slugger with 44 homers and an .892 OPS. The Fan doesn't care what anyone says, though. Reynolds should work on cutting down his strikeouts. His .260 batting average would benefit greatly if he would make more contact.

Justin Upton became a star this year. His .300/.366/.532 line for the season is only the start of what he is going to do in his career. He seems to have found a home in the outfield and he's a star on the rise. Upton and Reynolds are both under 25 and should provide a lot of bang for the D-backs for years to come.

Miguel Montero was also a nice surprise in his first full year in the bigs. The catcher had an OPS+ of 112. He wasn't great at throwing out runners, but that should improve and if his offense continues to improve, Montero should give Arizona strength behind the plate for years to come.

Off season moves? Reynolds played quite a bit at first base toward the end of the year and that would seem to be where he should end up. He's not a great third baseman. With some of the Chad Tracy money, the Diamondbacks could go after Chone Figgins (doubtful the Angels will let him escape) or Adrian Beltre. Beltre has a history of hitting well in the National League and is a terrific third baseman. The D-backs need to improve their defense. The Diamondbacks should cut their losses with Byrnes and Young and move on. Marlon Byrd might be a good addition if he can be gotten cheaply enough. Whitesell showed some patience but failed to hit. He might though with another look.

Prognosis for 2010? If Webb can come back, the rotation should be set. Perhaps Jarrod Parker, their top prospect, could hold down the fifth starter spot if needed. The bullpen is adequate. Other than Parker, the prospect list is pretty sparse. Who knows what happened to Conor Jackson, and closer prospect, Daniel Schlereth, struck out a lot of guys, but walked almost as many. Blaine Boyer looked good and could be helpful in the bullpen.

Two choice moves and a couple or three additions by subtractions could move the Diamondbacks up next year. Can they compete? Sure, if everything goes well. They have a strong core of young players in Upton, Reynolds, Montero and maybe Drew. But the team will need better defense and they will need to make some tough decisions on players that cost a lot of money without producing. Do they have the stomach to do it? We'll see.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Game Picks - Monday: October 5, 2009 - Finale!

We all got a bonus this baseball season. Two teams are going to play 163 games instead of 162. The Tigers and the Twins will square off to decide who gets to play the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs. Now there is a tempting prize eh? Before we get to that final game, let's take a fond look back at the picks throughout the season.

The Fan started picking games in late May. On a lark, the Fan picked a slate of games that day. A comment from a reader mentioned how much he liked the picks and hoped the Fan would do a picks post daily. Not one to let a request go unfulfilled, the Fan did indeed post picks every day from that point out. There wasn't one missed day or one missed opportunity to put the Fan's knowledge to the test. Some commenters over these past few months were kind. Others questioned the Fan's sanity. That's part of the gig. If you are going to faithfully write every day, then there will be those who like what you do and those that won't.

The Fan has gotten progressively better at picking as the season went on. What follows is the month by month and total picks.

  • Jun: 204-203 .501
  • Jul: 180-186 .491
  • Aug: 201-196 .506
  • Sep: 230-168 .577
  • Oct: 28-27 .509
  • Tot: 843-780 .523

All of which goes to show that baseball is unpredictable. On any given night, anything can happen and as one commenter said many weeks ago, sooner or later, the picker will come back to the mean.

It is hoped that those of you who followed along didn't lose any money betting on the picks here. That would have been brutal, eh? But if you did follow along, thanks for the daily stop and we'll start it all up again in the spring. But for one last time, the Fan has a regular season pick to make:

  • The Twins over the Tigers: In four of the last five single game playoffs to decide a division winner, the home team has won. The Twins are the home team. Porcello has been fantastic this year. But he has to pitch one more game than he should have had to. The Tigers may bring back Jackson but it's not going to matter. The Twins will win. It's too bad that one of these teams has to go home after the game. Remember, this game will be played on Tuesday and not Monday.

Thanks again everybody.

Yesterday: 8-7
Week: 8-7
Month: 28-27

And So the Season Ends - Except It Didn't

Today was the final day in the regular season in Major League Baseball. Except it wasn't. Both the Tigers and the Twins won their final games and will play a one game playoff on Tuesday to decide the division champion. It certainly is an interesting wrinkle on what has been a great season of baseball. This Fan has completely enjoyed the daily ride from start to finish and with over 500 posts this season, hopefully, you enjoyed it too.

Though the last day of the season is sad in many respects since there will be no daily slate of games to pour over both before and after they happen, there is something very cool about the last day. Once the last out is made for all those games, the statistics are set in stone and will live for a very long time. The Fan was going to say eternity, but who knows if those Mayans were right or not (let's hope not!). Those statistics will be on the back of baseball cards and in stadium programs and on stat sites like and others. No one can change them unless some official scorer wants to petition the league for a last minute change (doubt that will happen).

And so Derek Jeter will have a permanent .334 on his batting average slate for 2009. Nope. You can't take that away from the Captain. Nor can you take away the .406 OBP or the 212 hits or the 107 runs scored. They are in the books.

Nor can you take away the 102 runs that Jason Kubel drove in along with his .300 average. Oh yeah, you can if he takes an oh-fer on Tuesday! Okay, but you can't take away the fact that this guy unexpectedly batted for an impressive .904 OPS this season.

You can't take away the numbers that Ryan Braun put up this season. His .320 final batting average with 203 hits, 32 homers, 113 runs scored and 114 RBI, his twenty stolen bases or his .939 OPS.

You can't change the fact that both Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera, despite their age, both finished with a sub-2 ERA and blew only six saves between them.

Chris Coghlan's first big league season is set in stone with a final batting average of .321 with an OBP of .390. Nice job, kid. His teammate, Hanley Ramirez's season will always say that he batted .342 with a .953 OPS.

Yes, this was a cool season. The climate shift in the game meant that no pitcher won 20 games and no batter hit 50 homers. One more game will decide a division and will close the books on this 2009 regular season. In the days to come, the Fan will devote a post to each major league team and its highlights and low lights statistically. It will be a great way to wrap up the season and put a bow on it. Hope to see you around here because the Fan's season is just getting started.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Game Picks - Sunday: October 4, 2009

Well here we are. The last games of the regular season. The last day with a full slate of games to pick. The last day to think about all but eight playoff teams. For everyone else in baseball, it will be time to go home and ponder next year. It certainly has been fun picking games here every day. At times it has been frustrating and at times it's been exhilarating. But it's never been dull. The Fan will keep going during the playoffs, but it won't quite be the same. With all those days off on the playoff schedule, the picks will be sporadic.

But one thing cool about today? All of the games will be day games. Everything will be in the books by 7:30 Eastern Time. For one last time, let's romp through the picks together. Thanks as always for following along:

  • The White Sox over the Tigers: The Fan certainly hopes he is wrong here. But the overwhelming feeling is that the White Sox, with some of the grittiest players on earth along with their manager, would like nothing better than to knock the Tigers from the post-season. They may be out of it, but they want a stake at who is in.
  • The Mets over the Astros: Two kids pitching in an end of the season meaningless game.
  • The Reds over the Pirates: Got to go with Homer Bailey over Karstens.
  • The Marlins over the Phillies: The Phillies will be resting most of their guys and the Marlins' Josh Johnson is really good.
  • The Braves over the Nationals: If only the Braves had started their run a little earlier.
  • The Blue Jays over the Orioles: Both teams will put an end to ugly seasons. Romero should win here.
  • The Red Sox over the Indians: It is doubtful the Red Sox will trust Buckholz in the post season. His start today is an indication of that. Tomo Ohka doesn't present much challenge for the Red Sox "B" team.
  • The Bay Rays over the Yankees: It's hard to imagine Burnett pitching very long today. It's also hard to imagine whether the Yankees care much if they get swept in this series.
  • The Twins over the Royals: Can't imagine a harder game to pick than this one. The Fan already picked the Tigers to lose. But the Twins will try to get into the playoffs with one Carl Pavano. Yeah, the scourge of the FanDome for many seasons. Wow!
  • The Brewers over the Cardinals: Yeah, the Cardinals couldn't care less either. Pineiro won't stay around long in his tune up.
  • The Cubs over the Diamondbacks: The Chicago Cubs off-season will be very interesting indeed.
  • The Giants over the Padres: The Padres had a really good second half of the season.
  • The Angels over the A's: Despite resting players, the Angels should have a party against Gonzalez.
  • The Dodgers over the Rockies: Now that the Dodgers have finally clinched (congrats Mr. Torre), both teams will be resting people.
  • The Rangers over the Mariners: Allow the Fan some wishful thinking here. Feldman has been a blog favorite all year and King Felix really needs a so-so game for Greinke to lock up the Cy Young.

Yesterday: 9-6
Week: 54-40
Month: 20-20

The Guillotine Season Starts Early

The guillotine season is upon us and it's a few days early. Usually, "Black Monday" is the day after the regular baseball season ends and when most manager firings take place. We've already seen Wedge get fired in Cleveland and Cooper gone in Houston. Today, two entrenched general managers lost their jobs when Kevin Towers of the Padres and J. P. Ricciardi of the Blue Jays were fired (see stories here and here).

The story concerning Towers seems to make clear that the new ownership group simply wanted their own guy. Towers speculated as such. But there won't be many people losing sleep over Towers' departure. With a reputation as a "gunslinger," Towers did not handle the departure of long-time closer, Trevor Hoffman with any semblance of diplomacy and the Padres have taken several steps back in recent years after the club made the playoffs early in the decade.

Towers did seem to handle the Peavy case very well and the talent he received for the damaged pitcher was impressive. Peavy's three starts for the White Sox since the trade seem to skew the trade in the White Sox favor, but time will tell and the deal will free up the money for talent elsewhere.

The case against Ricciardi seems different. The tone of the statements found in the story concerning his dismissal seem to point to a disappointment by the Blue Jays' CEO and ownership that Ricciardi hadn't done the job they wanted him to do in the way they wanted him to do it. No one will ever really know what really went down behind the scenes in the Halladay negotiations. Perhaps that was part of what happened Saturday and perhaps not. Bad signings by Ricciardi have been well chronicled, though it must be added in fairness that some of those deals were ownership inspired and not always Ricciardi's fault.

It is also unknown if the recent situation between the players and Cito Gaston had anything to do with what seems on the surface like a last minute decision. CEO Beeston and Gaston himself seem to claim that the players were not responsible for the quotes attributed to them and that a possible plant had started the stories. That seems to be a stretch, but it is certainly possible and would contradict and make moot the post written here in the FanDome yesterday. Perhaps that whole situation did not square favorably with Ricciardi and hastened the decision, who knows. It has seemed that Ricciardi and Gaston weren't on the same page during the course of the year.

The Blue Jays are leaning heavily towards the assistant GM under Ricciardi. Alex Anthopoulos is a young guy and started with the Blue Jays as the scouting coordinator in 2003. Since the organization's drafting success has been limited in the last five years, that news isn't exactly comforting. Again, time will tell if the Blue Jays have done the right thing here, but as with San Diego, it seems both of these dismissals on Saturday have resulted in a succession plan already mapped out.

Ricciardi and Towers will be heard from again. They haven't escaped their tenures without some black eyes, but both are respected and experienced and should soon find other opportunities. Especially since the next few days are sure to see a few more axes falling on high ranking necks around the majors.

The Twins and Tigers are Tied With a Game Left

The Minnesota Twins have caught the Detroit Tigers in the standings on the next to last day of the major league season. With a Twins win over the Royals and the Tigers helpless against journeyman, Freddie Garcia, the Tigers will be forced to start Verlander on short rest to try to salvage the season. Verlander will face Danks, one of the White Sox' best arms. Meanwhile, the Twins' season will hang in the balance with a young Duensing squaring off against erstwhile first round choice, Hochever. If you are a betting man, that's a lot of lumps in the throat before that wager goes down.

The Tigers have been playing tighter than a fresh guitar string and have struggled in every part of their game the past three weeks. Consider that the Tigers have lost 15 of their last 25 games and in that time have seen their division lead shrink from six and a half games to none. The Tigers have now given up more runs this year than they have scored, which seems to indicate that Leyland has done really well to even get the Tigers in this position. They are currently five games over their Pythagorean won-loss total.

So it all boils down to one last game and if both teams win or both teams lose, we'll have a playoff to determine the division winner. Who would have thought two weeks ago that there would be a good reason to watch baseball on the last day of the season?