Saturday, October 17, 2009

Defense Costly for Phils and Angels

While we saw a startling contrast in climates during the two championship series games, both games turned on fielding plays. The Phillies wasted a stunningly beautiful performance by Pedro Martinez as the Dodgers rallied for two runs on good bunting, good eyes and a fielding gaffe by Chase Utley. Meanwhile, over in the Bronx, Sabathia was fantastic and the Angels played like they all had frostbite, committing three errors and missing an infield pop up that wasn't credited as an error.

First off, let the Fan state how disappointed he was that major league baseball players wimped out by wearing earflaps on their caps and ski masks. Chone Figgins, Erick Aybar and Robinson Cano looked more like they were going for a sleigh ride than they were playing in a baseball game. Tom Hanks once said that there is no crying in baseball. Well, he would also say there are no hoodies in baseball. Geez. That was pathetic.

But while Cano made some acrobatic plays at second for the Yankees (no way Soriano would have made those plays), Figgins and Aybar played like they were trolls frozen by the morning sunlight. They stood as stone figures while Hideki Matsui's innocent pop up landed between them allowing Johnny Damon to score a run. Damon was on second after singling to left because Juan Rivera couldn't figure out where to throw the ball, so he threw it in between everything.

Nobody should blame Chase Utley for those two bad double play throws in the last two games. Both times, the feeding infielders bobbled the ball and threw Utley's timing off. The errant throw from Utley in Game 2 went into the dugout and allowed the tying run to score for the Dodgers. But it wasn't Utley's fault that four Philadelphia relievers decided to walk the winning run around the bases.

The Phillies-Dodgers game featured two remarkable pitching performances. Vincente Padilla proved the Fan wrong and made Joe Torre look like a genius. Padilla was fantastic with a 95 MPH fastball that had all kinds of late movement. He pounded the strike zone and only allowed a homer to Howard on an ill-advised breaking ball that just hung up there too long. Other than that, he was buck. Pedro Martinez was even better. The Dodgers had no clue what to expect and what to do with Martinez's offerings. It was a masterful performance and a real throwback to the greatness of Pedro Martinez. Fortunately for the Dodgers, Manuel took him out after the seventh and allowed the Dodgers to get back in the game.

Sabathia also pounded the strike zone for the Yankees, striking out seven and walking one in eight innings. The only run off of him was on a bloops single. Mariano Rivera added to his post season legacy with the save in the ninth.

The Dodgers absolutely needed the win to tie the series. The Yankees needed to start off with a win at home. Missions accomplished.

Friday, October 16, 2009

They Shot the Sherrill

But they also shot the debutante. The Phillies used seven walks between newcomer, George Sherrill, and the young Clayton Kershaw to set up two 3-run homers to sink the Dodgers' hopes of starting the series off on a positive note. The 8-6 victory hands back home field advantage to the Phillies.

Kershaw was sailing along after four scoreless innings. Then he imploded in the fifth with the Dodgers holding a 1-0 lead on a homer by James Loney (after the Fan said he didn't have enough power to play first). Kershaw's fifth inning: Single, wild pitch, walk, homer, walk (the pitcher!), fielder's choice, wild pitch, strike out, wild pitch, walk, double and done for the day.

As bad and as disappointing as Kershaw's day was, it didn't hurt nearly as bad as George Sherrill's contribution to the night. The Dodgers clawed back on Hamels to make it a 5-4 game, which, with the Phillies' bullpen, is not a bad place to be. True to form, the Dodgers would score two more against Madson, which would have been enough. But Sherrill, who had to this point been brilliant for the Dodgers since coming over from the Orioles, walked the first two batters he faced and then coughed up a three-run homer of his own to Jason Werth. Seven walks against the Phillies is going to hurt you and six of the seven batters that walked, scored.

So now the Dodgers have to hope that Vincente Padilla has one more good game in him. Baseball fans have been waiting for Padilla to return to his normal form and the Dodgers have to hope that it isn't going to happen on Friday. The Phillies are taking a gamble of their own by starting Pedro Martinez who hasn't thrown a meaningful post season inning since the 2004 World Series. Somehow, it feels more comforting to pitch an aging version of the toughest pitcher of his generation than Blanton or Happ or any of the Phillies' other starters. To this Fan, it feels more possible for Martinez to summon up his old magic than for Padilla to keep up his own unfathomable magic in two months with the Dodgers.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Phillies and Dodgers - 2009 NLCS Preview

The best lineup in the National League squares up against the best pitching staff in the National League for the right to go to the World Series. The series starts tonight at 8:07 Eastern Time, 5:07 Pacific Time. It will be Cole Hamels versus Clayton Kershaw. The Phillies are the reigning champions and the Dodgers are led by Joe Torre, who has won more championships than anyone in the last thirteen years. On the surface of things, this should be an intriguing and see-saw series. Let's break it down a bit.

The Dodgers open the series with Clayton Kershaw. The kid is 21 years old. Can you remember the last time a kid that age was the opening pitcher of a series like this one? The Fan can. His name was Dwight Gooden on the 1986 Mets. That team went on to win the World Series. But Dwight Gooden already had 58 wins in his career, which is incredible when you think about it. Gooden was a strikeout pitcher who walked very few batters. Kershaw is a strikeout pitcher who walks a lot of batters. Gooden and Kershaw's ERAs at the age of 21 are strikingly similar however and there is one big benefit Kershaw has: He pitches left-handed.

The Phillies big hitters are pretty much all lefties. Howard, Victorino, Utley and Ubanez, but before you get excited about that, note that the Phillies had a slightly higher OPS against lefties than they did against righties. But those Phillies strike out a lot, which plays right into Kershaw's hand if he can throw strikes early in the count. Howard, Ibanez, Werth and Utley struck out 571 times this season. That's a lot of strikeouts.

Add all that up and throw Cole Hamel into the mix, who was so good in last season's post season, and you have a first game that seems to be a wash. If Kershaw is on top of his game, the Dodgers could win easily, especially if they get to Hamel. If Kershaw is shaky in the strike zone, it could go the Phillies' way.

The second game would pit Chad Billingsley against Cliff Lee. Lee is a difficult guy to predict. He can be absolutely brilliant and at times he can be killed. Fortunately for the Phillies, the former has happened a lot more than the latter. But the possibility is still out there, especially if you can get to Lee early. If he gets in a groove, you're pretty much done.

Billingsley is one of the most talented pitchers on the planet. He didn't pitch like that much during the home stretch. And Torre hasn't announced his rotation yet for the post season. Billingsley didn't start against the Cardinals when Torre went with Wolf, Kershaw and Padilla. But any of those four match up well with Lee in this Fan's opinion. The Fan would go with Billingsley on talent alone, but Torre likes to go with the hot hand, so we'll see.

But then you get to Game 3 and there are no pitchers among Pedro, Blanton, et al, that would seem to match up with whoever is left of Padilla, Wolf and Billingsley. It would seem that the Phillies best hope would be to steal the first two games, which doesn't seem possible. If the Dodgers seemed to have no trouble with Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, Cole Hamel and Cliff Lee don't appear to be close to those two Cardinal pitchers.

It will be interesting, but this series seems to favor the Dodgers. Unlike last year, they have home field advantage. Unlike last year, they have a top notch bullpen. Their core young players have a year more experience. They are the better fielding team. They have Sherrill this year who can shut down the big lefties in the ninth if Torre wants to go that route.

The Fan just doesn't see the Phillies repeating. But the old cliche still stands: That's why they play the games.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Atlanta Braves - 2009 Debrief

Finished with the NL West, our debriefing tour around the majors jumps to the National League East. Since a reader requested the Braves and the Fan appreciates his readers, we'll skip out of order and start with the Atlanta Braves, who made a late run at the wild card before running out of time in 2009. Before 2009's review, a couple of early concerns appear about 2010. What effect will having Bobby Cox in a lame duck year have on the team? What does Chipper Jones do in his last year of his contract and what will happen to him after that? Okay, we brought up two major questions, let's look at a lot of bright spots 2009 showed us.

First, the Braves began building the next great pitching dynasty. Yeah, the could have handled the Smoltz and Glavine situations better as they gave the last remaining cogs of the last dynasty a couple of thankless boots. But whether the Braves handled that mess wrongly or rightly, they did the right thing. It's time for a new generation. The problem is that right now, there are only two of the four cogs in place. But man, those two are great!

Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson finished with a 160 and 144 respectively in ERA+. Jurrjens is 24 and Hanson is 23. Expect those two to be one and two in the Braves' rotation for a long time to come.

Keith Medlin has the ability to become the third. Ranked as only the 11th best prospect in the Braves' system going into 2009, Medlin has a good fastball that he spots well and a really good curve. He struck out 9.6 batters per nine innings in 37 appearances with the Braves (4 as a starter). There is concern about his small size and the amount of exertion he seems to need to deliver his pitches. But he is certainly worth a shot in 2010.

All the other top pitching prospects for the Braves are a couple to three years away, so that means augmenting with veterans. Javior Vazquez had by far the best year of his career. He seems to crumble in big stress match ups still, but he still finished with a 1.044 WHIP and an unreal 5.41 strikeout to walk ratio. Bobby Cox seems to have a knack for getting the most out of guys like Vazquez, and it would seem to behoove the Braves to give Vazquez the ball again in 2010.

Derek Lowe didn't really come through for the Braves despite his desperation signing after the Glavine and Smoltz fiascoes. He had a winning record, but a 1.515 WHIP and the worst ERA+ year of his career. He's going to be 37 next year, so it's hard to imagine him being a factor. Likewise, Kenshin Kawakami was just okay in his 25 starts. He's going to be 35 next year and shouldn't be counted on either.

Tim Hudson, on the other hand, is the wildcard veteran. Plagued by injuries of late, Hudson did come back at the end of the year and pitched effectively. If he can put a whole season together next season, then the Braves should have as good a rotation as anyone in the division and could possibly be far and above all the others.

The bullpen was the biggest improvement this year over 2008. What had been a brutal weakness turned into a strength as Soriano, Moylan, Gonzalez and O'Flaherty were terrific. Soriano had 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings as the closer and Gonzalez finished at 10.1. Those kinds of arms don't figure to fade next year. If Medlin does not make it into the rotation, he did great in the bullpen in 2009, so he could swing back there very easily and be as effective.

The Braves' offense in 2009 really started poorly. So poorly in fact that they had a .728 team OPS through the first half of the season. June was the worst month at .688. Ugh. Brian McCann had eye problems and started badly and Jordan Shafer, one of the team's most highly touted prospects failed miserably as the starting centerfielder for the first 50 games. Where Shafer goes from here is a mystery and it's unfortunate. But hey, if you don't produce when your ticket gets punched, what can you say?

The team also made a huge mistake in signing an aging and lumbering Garret Anderson and giving him 496 at bats. He ended with an 85 OPS+ and was a huge drain on the lineup. Another drain was second baseman, Kelly Johnson, who finished with the ungainly line of .224/.303/.389. It's uncertain of this was just a bad season for Johnson or if he is more like the player of 2007 and 2008 when he finished above league average.

But the Braves' offense clicked along better in the second half. Shafer was replaced by Nate McLouth, a great addition from Pittsburgh. McLouth didn't come close to his career numbers in offense, which is a bit puzzling, but he was a big improvement over Shafer. The Braves also improved dramatically when Jeff Francoeur was traded away to the Mets and Matt Diaz took his place in right field. Diaz was great with a 133 OPS+. He's going to be 32 next year, so it's hard to predict this long time minor leaguer can repeat himself.

The offense also got a boost when Adam LaRoche returned and clicked his heels repeating over and over, "There's no place like home, there's no place like home." He put a merciful end to the Norton/Kotchmann platoon over at that position. LaRoche is a solid performer who got lost out in Pittsburgh.

Yunel Escobar continues to get in and out of Bobby Cox's doghouse, but his overall batting numbers go up every year. Still only 26, Escobar is maturing into a really good shortstop with spectacular play at times. He is coming into his peak years and should continue to improve over the next three to four years.

Chipper Jones fell off from his 2008 numbers when he improbably led the league in batting. The aging veteran still put up respectable offensive numbers and ended up over league average by quite a bit. The problem is his defense. He made 22 errors this year and the question is whether the Braves can continue to tolerate that defense as Jones slowly fades out from his Hall of Fame career. There is no DH in the National League, which is where Jones should probably be. Look for him to have a diminished role in his last year with the Braves next year.

Martin Prado had an excellent year at the plate and filled in all over the infield. He's just a super guy to have on the club.

The Achilles Heel of the Braves is their defense. They finished 20th out of 26 MLB teams in defensive efficiency. Their catchers, while good offensively, are far from good in throwing out runners and they make a lot of errors. We've already discussed Jones at third. Having Garret Anderson in the outfield couldn't have helped and that problem should go away next year.

The Braves are in good shape for 2010. They have some big question marks, but if Kelly Johnson can bounce back, if uber-prospect Jason Heyward is given a shot in Spring Training and can run around the outfield better than Anderson, if Hanson and Jurrjens continue to blossom and Hudson can come back, if the bullpen does as well as this year, if the defense can improve, then the Braves should be above 90 wins next year. Their 14 game improvement in the win-loss column from 2008 was no fluke.

Los Angeles Dodgers - 2009 Debrief

It's time to get back to debriefing for the 2009 season. The Fan had a trade show over the weekend and writing became sporadic. But the show was a success and now it's time to get back to business here. We've been working on the National League West and the only team left from that division to consider is the Dodgers. Since the team is still in the thick of things in the playoffs, it might be premature to consider them. But we have a lot of data from the 2009 season no matter what the playoff outcomes are.

Obviously, the easiest observation to make is that the Dodgers had a great season. Like duh, right? But like all teams in the majors, there are good things and a few clunkers to consider moving forward and looking back. The year started with guns going off and the Dodgers were quick out of the gate. They built a big lead early and then had the Manny Ramirez bombshell drop. His 50 game suspension was supposed to put a damper on the Dodgers, but Juan Pierre filled in nicely and the Dodgers never ran into serious trouble all year except for a short time in September. The Fan's best guess is that the Dodgers tended to run the same eight position players into the lineup game after game and they might have just run out of gas for a bit. We will consider depth shortly. But let's start with pitching.

The Dodgers finished tied for first in the majors in runs allowed which means you can't complain about that at all. If you combine that with the fact that (despite Manny in left for 108 games), the team also finished first in defensive efficiency in the majors, that's a pretty great combination. But there are some weird anomalies with the Dodgers when it comes to pitching. They gave up the fewest runs, the fewest hits and led the league in complete games. They were the third best team in the National League in giving up homers. But they ranked nine out of sixteen NL teams in walks. They had an astounding nine regularly contributing pitchers who averaged more than 3.5 walks per nine innings. And their closer, Broxton, just missed that number. Clayton Kershaw, the incredibly young pitcher with the huge upside, had early Randy Johnson type numbers where he struck out more than nine batters per nine innings (9.7) but walked 4.8 per nine along the way.

The rotation should be good for years to come whether they re-up Randy Wolf for another year or not. Wolf had one of his best years of his career and is a good guy to have along with the young guys. He pitched far better than his 11-7 record indicates and really was their anchor. Billingsley had a tough second half but overall, his numbers are still above league average and his BABIP of .366 in losses (.300 would be the normal expectation) would seem to indicate he had a bit of bad luck. His line drive percentage was nearly identical to his career. He should bounce back. He is only 25 and should be a good pitcher for a long time.

Clayton Kershaw is such a force. It doesn't seem that it will be a question of if he will harness his stuff but when. Other than his walks, his numbers are unreal. The combination of Kershaw and Billingsley will keep the Dodgers percolating for a few years to come. If you add in young James McDonald, who got his feet wet this year and is the Dodgers' best prospect to that duo and you have a young and dynamic trio of top notch starters. McDonald pitched mostly in relief this year and logged a 102 ERA+ in 45 appearances.

Huroki Kuroda is going to be 35 next year and his health is a big question mark. When he pitches, he throws strikes and keeps the Dodgers in the game, but he only managed 118 innings this year. It would be hard to imagine the Dodgers expecting much more from him. If the top three mentioned earlier of Kershaw, Billingsley and MacDonald are augmented from a pick of Jon Garland, Vincente Padilla and Charlie Haeger (who the Dodgers really should give a shot to) or perhaps even prospect Scott Elbert might be ready to break into the rotation as well.

The relief corp seemed to have one of those years like the Bay Rays did last year. They were great, but only Broxton has a big time arm. Tronsoco, Belisario and Mota walk a lot of guys and don't strike out more than nine per nine innings and it would seem to be a stretch to think they could continue to match the success they had this year. Torre seems to have found a niche for Jeff Weaver as a swing man and although he has some clunkers still in him, he was effective at times in multiple roles.

It doesn't seem that much will change for more than half of the Dodgers' lineup next year. Manny will be in left, Kemp in center and Ethier in right. You can pencil them in. All three had an OPS+ over 120 and Manny, despite appearances, was only slightly off his career numbers in OPS+ and other statistics. No worries in the outfield.

The infield could look different next year. Casey Blake will be the third baseman. But Furcal will most likely be allowed to walk. His place will either be taken by a free agent or two very good prospects in Ivan DeJesus, Jr. or Chin-Lung Hu. Both are very good in the field and show some promise with the bat. Next year would be a good year to give both a shot in Spring Training and see what happens. Orlando Hudson faded as the year went along and was ultimately replaced by Ron Belliard, who had a hot hand late. Going forward, Hudson is a better bet than Belliard to play second long term. But it would be a surprise if either was the starting second baseman next year.

Catcher, Russell Martin, is a bit perplexing. He had a really off year at the plate and one would think it was just a blip this year, but his OPS has fallen three years in a row, so it's hard to categorize his drop in numbers that way. His defense is still fine and for that reason, there is no reason to not continue with him as their number one catcher. The Dodgers can hope that his offensive numbers stop their decline and that 2010 will be a bounce back year.

First baseman, James Loney, is another perplexing player. His numbers offensively do not support the position he plays. He's a good fielder but he's no Keith Hernandez (but who is?). But he doesn't hit like Hernandez either, so a guy with little power production and league average OPS+ at a power position doesn't seem to make sense. Loney increased his on base percentage, but he still had his second year in a row around the league average level.

There is no reason to believe that the Dodgers will fare much worse in 2010 than this year. They have young core at the plate and on the mound with some quality veterans in support. A little tinkering around the infield and this team looks good to go next year.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Blown Saves Story of Post Season So Far

You can talk about A-Rod suddenly becoming Mr. October or Sabathia earning his money or Vladamir Guerrero hitting that single or the Dodgers sweeping the Cardinals. The story of the post season at the end of the division series rounds is the blown saves. We had Joe Nathan serving up a two run homer to A-Rod. We had Ryan Franklin taking one on the chin. We had Jonathan Papelbon blowing his first ever post season game and now we have poor Huston Street who gave up a two run double to Howard and a single to Werth to send the Rockies home for the season.

There has been so much debate on the value of closers. This very space went through the math to prove that starters were more valuable than closers. The value figures prove it. But what all that math fails to take into account is that if your closer doesn't get his job done, then the off season starts earlier than you wanted it to. The Dodgers moved on because Sherrill and Broxton did their jobs and Franklin couldn't. The Yankees moved on because Mariano Rivera is Mariano Rivera and Joe Nathan is not. And the Angels move on because Jonathan Papelbon let it get away.

Can there be any worse feeling for fans on the losing side than a game that goes perfectly their way until the final at bat? Can hopes get dashed any deeper or a loss be any more frustrating? Sure, other factors led to all four series wins. The Dodgers out pitched and outhit the Cardinals, whose bats suddenly went to sleep. The Yankees got a little help from Mr. Cuzzi, but it probably wouldn't have mattered anyway. The Angels had an easy time of it with Boston's lineup and the Angels' starters, for the most part, were better this series than the Red Sox' starters. And the Phillies are the defending world champions and simply had a better team than the Rockies. But even so, those losses in the last inning kill you.

This Fan would think that a blowout is easier to take. After all, in a blowout, by the fifth inning, the writing is on the wall and the mourning is spread out over four innings before the final out. But in a blown save, the heart is beating and hope is raging right up until the very end only to come crashing down like a Denver lineman on Tom Brady.

And so, after the Rockies, Red Sox, Twins and Cardinals ponder next season and their fans try to think of anything but what could have been, we are left with two very intriguing series between four teams that match up very well against each other. What will be the deciding factors? Can A-Rod continue his hot hitting? Will he need to with all his batting mates? Will the Angels beat the Yankees in a series like they have three times this decade? Will Manny come alive against the Phillies? Can the Phillies get three decent starts from their shaky rotation? Or will it once again come down to closers?

The much-maligned Brad Lidge was 2 for 2 against the Rockies in save opportunities, but he sure didn't look solid. Broxton is in uncharted territory as he has never been under this big a microscope. Rivera is Rivera, but will a walk, a stolen base and another doink hit do him in? The Angels forgot all about K-Rod, but will his replacement be good enough?

It will be interesting to watch. Too bad we have to wait endless days before it all plays out. The Phillies and Dodgers don't start until Thursday and the Yankees and Angels don't start until Friday. Nice going, Bud.

The Fan wishes he had a crystal ball, because there are no clear cut favorites out there. Just four great teams going after each other with perhaps a twist at the a dagger.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Columbus Day

Columbus Day has become one of those nether holidays. Thanks to political correctness, we as a nation are somewhat embarrassed by the day. We won't go into politics or the America's aboriginal objection to the day. Suffice it to say that it is unique. It's another one of those holidays where some people have it off and some people don't Rob Neyer took the day off but Joe Posnanski did not. The Fan isn't talking about retail, hospital or other workers where no holidays really count. But for those who get holidays off, the banks are open and the post office is not. It's not even a holiday where sporting events are played during the day. The darn baseball playoffs have only one game scheduled and of course it starts at 8:07 Eastern Time. Heaven forbid those Philadelphia kids who go to school tomorrow get to stay up to watch their team. Thank you, Bud Selig. Good job.

Personally, the Fan wouldn't want to get rid of the day. For one thing, the Fan's wife gets the day off and the Fan likes when that happens. Having her sit on the couch while the Fan lays out another book is a nice feeling. But it's more than that. Without this holiday and the man it celebrates, there would be no Columbus Clippers, that storied AAA franchise. Our nation's capital would be the District of Eric or Leaf or something. And maybe the Fan does want to get into the politics of it after all.

We are the only nation of conquerors that feels bad about our conquests. Do the Russians feel guilty? What about the Minnesota Vikings? Wouldn't all practicing Catholics object to that name considering all the plundering of churches and killing of priests those rowdy bunches of pillagers performed? Germany doesn't feel guilty about their ancient history when all those Germanic tribes overran Europe and displaced those peoples. But in the end, the Fan supposes that it is better to be sensitive than insensitive. After all, the Fan is sure that the Yankees feel slightly bad for the Twins they just destroyed in the playoffs, right?

Anyway, that's just a couple of thoughts that were rolling around the brain on this non-holiday like holiday. If you have it off, enjoy it as guilt free as you can. If you are working, then feel free to not feel guilty at all since you don't get any benefit of the day anyway.

Angels and Yankees Advance - Phillies Inch Closer

Are the Angels the new 2004 Red Sox? After getting a long history of failing to beat the Red Sox in the playoffs off their backs with a rousing defeat of their nemesis, the Angels will face the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. The Yankees beat an over matched Twins' team and have won their first post season series since 2005. Meanwhile, on a frigid Colorado night, the Phillies have inched closer to facing the Dodgers in the NLCS.

Let's start with the Angels. This Fan has to admit that the Angels' come from behind victory was stunning and gratifying. Jonathan Papelbon is probably the most disliked reliever in baseball since John Rocker and to see him get beat was a thing of beauty. The Fan also has to admit that the Angels match up better with the Yankees than the current Red Sox do. The Yankees totally dominated the Red Sox toward the end of the season.

The Red Sox will have to do some serious thinking about their 2010 club as several things seemed to go wrong for them this year. The starting rotation turned out to be a mess after being touted so highly early in the year. The bullpen really was not as good as touted either. And their batting was anemic. Both David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis batted .083 in the series and did not provide any kind of help for the team. One has to question whether the Red Sox will continue with Ortiz or if the post season analysis will reveal that the Angels just did a masterful job of pitching to him. The Red Sox staff is one of the smartest in all of baseball and they have their work cut out for them.

The Angels on the other hand look dynamic and resilient. They had the upper hand in all phases of the series and when they had their backs to the wall in the third and final game, they answered and took the brass ring. Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu have been remarkable and Vlad Guerrero got his legs under him for one final big hit. This Fan would call their series with the Yankees as too close to call. Both teams seem evenly matched.

The Yankees got big time play from four of the remaining guys from their last championship. Andy Pettitte was brilliant against the Twins. Jorge Posada got the big home run against Carl Phreakin Pavano to put the Yankees ahead. Jeter, quiet at the bat after a good first two games, made another one of his patented heads up plays in the post season by ranging far to his left to get a grounder and then throwing home to hang pesky Nick Punto out to dry after he ranged too far past third base. Mariano Rivera came in for the last out in the eighth when the game was still 2-1 and shattered the great Joe Mauer's bat like no other reliever in baseball can do to get the final out. After the Yankees picked up two more runs off of Nathan and company, Rivera closed out the game. But there is no way to forget that this was a playoff coming of age party for Alex Rodriguez, whose homer off of Pavano when Pavano seemed untouchable, got the Yankees in the mindset where they could win the game. A-Rod was finally exonerated for post season failures in the past and was clutch often and put the Yankees over the top.

The Rockies probably should have started an experienced Jason Marquis instead of Jason Hammel against the Phillies. This writer feels that he would have given the Rockies a better chance to win the game. Hammel did not stop the Phillies and the Rockies also went to the Jose Contreras well once too often. The Rockies had stolen home field advantage from the Phillies by taking one of the games at Philadelphia, but then handed it right back to them with a loss at home. Utley and Howard came up big for the Phillies and the Phillies seem to be back in control.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Padilla - From Outcast to Hero in 8 Easy Steps

Vincente Padilla was run out of Texas not by his manager, not by his general manager, but by his teammates. He was lazy they said. He kept putting them in danger by hitting the other team's player they said. He was not a good teammate they said. It didn't help that he wasn't performing overly well either. Baseball writers and bloggers (like this one) vilified him and castigated him for who he was and how he acted. But then on August 5, 2009, the Dodgers took him off the Rangers' hands and all he did with the Dodgers was go 4-0 in seven regular season starts and he just pitched the Dodgers into the National League Championship Series. Life is funny some times.

Padilla did not pitch well in Texas this year. He really hadn't pitch well for them since 2006 when he went 15-10 and was just barely over league average in ERA+. He also led the league in hit batsmen that year with 17. This year, while in Texas, he posted his worst strikeout to walk ratio (1.40) since 2005. His ERA+ in Texas from 2007 to 2009 went 78, 93 and 92. He really hasn't been a good pitcher since his 2002, 2003 seasons with the Phillies. Those two seasons with the Phillies cemented his head hunting reputation when he hit a combined 31 batters those two seasons. So how do you explain his success with the Dodgers?

You can claim it is pitching in Chavez Ravine and in that pitcher's park. That would fly if his strikeout to walk ratio remained what it has been. But it was more than that. With the Dodgers, his strikeout to walk ratio zoomed to 3.17! The highest his strikeout per nine innings statistic in his entire career was 7.7. With the Dodgers this year, it was 8.7. And you know what? He didn't hit a single batter with the Dodgers. Not one. So what gives?

Maybe what happened in Texas was a wake up call. Maybe he saw the end of his lucrative occupation looming if he didn't get his act together. Maybe he hasn't changed at all but is just the new guy to a new team to a different league and put it together for seven starts and a start in the playoffs. Who knows. All this writer knows is that he certainly aided the Dodgers when they limped down the stretch and fended off the surging Rockies to take the division title. All the writer knows is that he gave the Dodgers a magnificent start in Game 3 and put away the Cardinals for the season.

Some will say that the Rangers might have thrown away their chances when they threw away Padilla. This Fan doesn't think that can be said at all. Padilla was in a bad place there. His teammates simply didn't want him and that is not a workable arrangement. McCarthy took Padilla's spot in the Rangers' rotation and pitched more effectively than Padilla did there (not by much, but by some). So really, the Rangers didn't lose much of anything. But the Dodgers? The Dodgers gained four wins they were struggling to find and they gained a solid chance to get to the World Series.