Saturday, October 08, 2011

Shut Up About These Post Season "Facts"

Every thing in life can boil down to a cliche. "Wear a jacket or you'll catch yourself a cold." We hear them all the time. Over time, the cliches become facts. William Henry Harrison died of pneumonia after delivering his inauguration speech in the cold. See? You can die from pneumonia if you were warm every day of your life. The two aren't related. Baseball is no different than anything else in life. Cliches are formed and they become facts. What follows is not a scientific dissertation, but simply a bah humbug of some of these "facts" we hear every game both during and after the contests.

The first one is that clutch hitting wins in the post season. The Diamondbacks, Yankees and Philles all lost because they couldn't get the big hits they needed. That part is true, but the fact that these three teams weren't "clutch" is ridiculous. Playoffs are random events that define the meaning of short sample size. The same Robinson Cano that hit the dramatic grand slam in an earlier game grounded out in a big spot in the finale. First off, a batter's performance isn't static simply by what the batter does. The pitcher has a large part of whether the batter succeeds or doesn't. So does the defense deployed against him. Sometimes the pitcher or defense wins. Sometimes the batter does.

Good pitching will beat good hitting. How many times have we heard this one? The fact is that the playoffs through history feature a lot of series where the losing team ultimately outscored the winning one in the course of five or seven games. The Yankees - Tigers series is yet another example. Yes, there were times when the Tigers pitched well and times they didn't. And they still won the series. A whole series of events have to occur for one team to come out ahead of another. One of them can be a hot pitcher or reliever or a series of them. But again, you have to also state that a pitcher only has a partial control over the results. The batter or a team of batters could have executed a poor game plan and approach. 

Manager X had a better series than Manager Y. Managers don't play the game. Players do. Managers make some decisions that might work out really well or really poorly. But those outcomes are difficult to predict. Tony LaRussa was an idiot in one game of his series against the Phillies and then a genius when it all ended. Joe Maddon is considered one of the best managers in baseball. And yet Maddon's team is the only one that didn't make it to a Game Five in the division series. That would still be a fact even if every decision he made was the right one. Teams win and teams lose and managers only have a small part of that outcome.

Big time pitchers shine in the post season. Let's go back to the 1964 World Sereis. That series is famous because Bob Gibson pitched a spectacular game to beat the Yankees. The victory sealed his reputation as a "big time pitcher" in the post season. How come nobody remembers that just a few days before that win, he pitched and lost a game? Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, big time pitchers. And yes, the last few years, they've won their share of post season games. But are they any different now because they've lost four out of their last  five post season appearances? Hardly. They are among this generation's best pitchers. As such, they will win some playoff games. They will lose some too. Mickey Lolich won three games in the 1968 World Series. He was a big time pitcher. He pitched just as well in the 1972 ALCS against the Oakland A's and still went 0-1 in that series.

The team that wins a series was the better team. Sometimes. But just as often, the lesser of the two teams win. Like this writer is fond of stating, failure is built into baseball. It's the unseen fabric that holds it all together. Even the best teams will lose sixty ballgames. And in a short series, the best team can lose. Do people really believe that the Cardinals were a better team than the Phillies? They shouldn't. But they won. Can't we separate the two? Were the New York Giants better than the New England Patriots in that Super Bowl? Hardly. But in one game anything can happen and it did. The same thing holds here.

Intangibles and team spirit win post season series. Oh come on, please. Intangibles might have their day here and there. But random events occur in these short sample sizes that put one team in the winner's circle and the other sent packing. Can anyone question the pluck and character of the Arizona Diamondbacks this season? But they lost their series. It happens. The two aren't related. For every Chris Carpenter that says he's never played with a greater group of guys there are the 1978 Yankees, the 1986 Mets and those Oakland A's championship teams where there was open animosity on the team.

Baseball is a sport played by a team. The games aren't contested by a couple of gladiators or quick draw duelists. In singular sports, those contests are usually won by the person that should have won. But baseball like other team sports is not played with those same kinds of absolutes. In a short series, all kinds of things happen and the unexpected happens just as much as the expected. Just enjoy the contests for what they are and enjoy the high drama of it all. Don't listen to announcers and writers that drive narratives because that is what they are paid to do. The fact about playoff baseball is that there are no facts. That's why they play the games.  

Game Picks - Saturday: October 8, 2011

Can the end of this baseball season get any better? One-run contests, colossal pitching performances, superb defense and walk-off series-winning hits in extra innings. Amazing. Between the last day of the regular season and these division series games, baseball has never been better. What a thrill ride.

Of course, the flip side is that fans on the losing sides get highly disappointed, so much sympathy for Phillies and Diamondback season rooters. Your pain is noted. And speaking of pain, Ryan Howard's season ended frighteningly. Let's all hope he didn't rupture his Achilles. Nobody ever wants to see something like that happen. The thing that has been nagging this writer after watching the game ending replay over and over was seeing Howard lie there alone for so long. The replay showed the dugout and his teammates must have been in shock or something because there was no response. None of Howard's teammates ran to him after the play was clearly over. It's bothersome and this feeling won't go away for some reason.

Those Diamondbacks played a gutsy and thrilling series. Things ultimately didn't go their way. But what a season, eh? Kirk Gibson will correctly win Manager of the Year (and our Connie Mack Award) and his cast of characters did themselves proud. Nobody believed but you guys. Congratulations on the season.

On the flip side, fans of the Brewers and Cardinals have a right to be thrilled and we are thrilled for you. What dramatic wins! Enjoy every minute of your moments in the sun and good luck in the upcoming championship series. 

The Rangers and the Tigers begin their series today, so the thrill keep on going. Plus, this picker has to pick the game. So here goes:

  • The Tigers over the Rangers: The difference maker in this game for this picker has to be Justin Verlander. Besides Josh Hamilton, most of the Rangers' better hitters are right handed and they will have their hands full with Verlander's stuff. C.J. Wilson on the other hand only gains an advantage on Austin Jackson. Other than that, the right-handed bats of Cabrera and company should score a few runs. The Tigers have to win the games that Verlander starts. If they don't, they will have trouble winning this series.

Yesterday: 1-1
Week: 8-6
Month: 12-6
Season: 1375-1071

Friday, October 07, 2011

Game Picks - Friday: October 7, 2011

As Ken Harrelson would say to the Yankees, "She gone." One fifth game is decided and the Tigers will face the Texas Rangers for the American League Championship. Today we get to decide what two teams will represent the National League in their league championship. We will surely know by the end of today.

This writer's internet is really acting up, so this will all seem a bit rushed. But for the sake of making sure the picks get out there, here we go.

The picks:

  • The Cardinals over the Phillies: Chris Carpenter will come up huge today. Roy Halladay is terrific but not unbeatable. He will give up a couple of runs to the middle of the Cardinal line up and that will be the ball game.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Brewers: The Diamondbacks will stun the hometown Brewers as Ian Kennedy has a better game this time and Kirk Gibson pulls off another miracle.

Them's the picks. We'll see what happens.

The Yankees' Season Is Over

And so 2011 ends on a sad note for Yankee fans around the country. It's incredibly difficult when your favorite team loses. We all get that, right? We adopt these players and they become ours. If we are well informed, we know their strengths and their weaknesses. We all glory when those strengths shine and agonize when things don't go so well. Until the very last strike, fans hope for something miraculous, something special. A few times in a lifetime it happens. More often than not, the wind leaves our sails in a hurry and we are faced with sudden reality. It's over.

As this writer commented on another site a few minutes ago, baseball is about failure. Failure is built into the system. Even the best teams rarely get to the feast. Look at all those Atlanta Braves teams through the 1990s. They were clearly the best team in their league year after year. But the best team doesn't always win. The best batters shatter their bat in the ninth inning and send a ball softly to the center fielder's mitt. Ace pitchers give up runs and yes, rookies who had fantastic seasons start games on the wrong foot. As fans, if your team can at least have a chance to make it to the final dinner table, then you are lucky. That doesn't lessen the pain when the season ends suddenly short of the objective. But it's still worth the ride.

It doesn't matter after the fact who failed and who succeeded. It's over. There's no sense in rehashing it or coming up with scapegoats. This writer was always taught that you win as a team and lose as a team. And it really does little good to speculate on whether your losing team was beaten by a lesser club. It's moot. It's over.

While acknowledging facts, there have been victory dances in the past. We share that as baseball fans. Since we know how good that feels, tip a cap to the Tigers' fans who get a little further along in their dreams. Enjoy the ride and enjoy the anticipation. Your season is something special and worth savoring for as long as it lasts. Good luck to you and your team the rest of the way.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

BBA Link Fest - Life in General

Today is Thursday and that means it's another round of links from around the general chapter of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. The Baseball Bloggers Alliance is a network of baseball writers from around the world sharing love for the greatest game on earth. The BBA is formed with multiple chapters. There are fantasy chapters, chapters of writers who follow specific teams, etc. The general chapter writes about the sport in a general, non-team-centric format.

Again this week, your host will split the links into posts about baseball and those posts that vote their official BBA votes for the various BBA awards that will be announced in the next few weeks. Enjoy.

Blaine Blontz over at Call to the Pen reports on Tom Ricketts' interview about the Cubs' future. Great stuff.

Old Time Family Baseball has a new award for the best dressed ball player. And you have a vote. Make your voice heard!

The newest member of our general chapter has the wonderfully quirky blog title of Grubby Glove. There is some terrific writing going on over there too. Check out this example.

Robbie Clark takes us through the hilarious world of failed mascots over at Baseblawg. You've got to see this one.

Over at The Ball Caps Blog, Daniel casts his convincing vote against an MLB salary cap. Gee, another fan who hates the Yankees.

John Sharp takes on Tom Verducci and wins in this writer's humble opinion. John writes John's Big League Baseball Blog.

The Platoon Advantage always has something good to read. This author's favorite this,  week was The Common Man's umpire ejection scorecard. Love it. Oh, and yours truly got a old fashioned (but good-natured) scolding over there. There's even a new statistic with your Fan's name on it. Heh.

Hey, you've got to do some self promoting sometimes. In case you missed it, here's a Fan piece over on MLB Dirt.

The Baseball Hall of Shame is a great site and keeps tabs of bad behavior by MLB players. Here's their take down of Jose Reyes.

Theo over at Hot Corner Harbor gives fans whose teams are out of the playoff picture a guide of who to root for. Great stuff. Also worth checking out is their off season regimens.

Diamond Hoggers loved the organist's choice of music last night at Chase Field. Great!

Here is a nugget from the always terrific MLB Reports.

And now for some award links:

For the most hilarious version, you've got to check out Off Base Percentage, this Fan's new must stop. Their managerial picks will keep you in stitches here and here.

John over at John's Big League Baseball Blog gives us his AL managerial picks.

Ken Marcum makes his managerial picks over at The Baseball Hall of Shame.

Hot Corner Harbor's Theo weighs in on a wide swath of our category awards. Well done!

Out in Left Field (love that name), we get votes on three of our awards. Nice!

Kenn Olson gives us his manager and rookie picks in one great post over at Going Yard.

Jonathan over at MLB Dirt gives us our rookie picks in the AL and NL.

Daniel over at The Ball Caps Blog (did the Fan mention he hates the Yankees?) has his rookie picks here.

Robbie Clark gives us her rookie and manager picks from her site, the Baseblawg.

Hans at Dugout 24 has his managerial and rookie picks too. The whole world loves baseball.

The Replacement Level Baseball Blog is comfortably ahead in this award process and this compiler sure does appreciate it.

Hopefully, nobody was forgotten. But with trade shows and late nights watching playoff baseball, this old guy is pretty bleary eyed right about now. Enjoy the links and have a great weekend.

Micah Owings is Perfect

Great anecdotes of our sport of baseball defy cold statistical analysis. The truth of the matter is that anything under the sun can happen for a player at any time. Ryan Roberts had never hit a grand slam in his professional life and now he's had two in his last six games. That's not putting down analysis. That way of looking at baseball is fun too. And it doesn't matter if those analysts put down these anomalous moments for what they are. Those happenings happened and you can't...well...unhappen them. Take the season of Micah Owings, pitcher of the fighting Arizona Diamondbacks.

Owings stepped into a game getting out of control last night. With the Diamondbacks needing a win to extend their series with the Brewers to a full five games, their starting pitcher, Joe Saunders, was in a battle with Milwaukee's Randy Wolf to see who could stink up the joint more from a pitching stand point. Saunders gave up a run in the first. Wolf gave up five in the first. Saunders gave up another run in the second and then another one in the top of the third. Kirk Gibson, to his credit, saw the way things were going and smartly pinch hit for Saunders. Gibson's choice of the little known player with the unlikely name of Collin Cowgill paid off huge dividends as Cowgill hit a two-run single to extend the D-backs' lead to 7-3. Into the game stepped Micah Owings.

Fans of this site know that Owings is a favorite here. Fans don't choose favorite players. The players choose the fans. And Owings has always been close to this heart. The root of that fan-hood probably comes from a DH-loving writer who also loves pitchers that can hit. Owings can hit. As a tweeter pointed out last night, Owings has a career rWAR of 0.2 as a pitcher and 3.0 as a batter. But as much as this Fan love him some Micah Owings, the understanding that Owings has never been a very good pitcher has been there. That didn't matter. This writer still loved the guy.

So imagine how ecstatic this Fan would be that Micah Owings has had a perfect season. Perfect? Well, only if you show that his win-loss record--a statistic genuinely hated by all card-carrying members of analytically loving crowd--was a perfect 8-0 during the regular season. Yes, Owings also compiled his career's best ERA of 3.57. But folks, it's a fluke. If you look at Owings' FIP and xFIP, he really wasn't any better this year than any other of his not-so-good seasons. He was simply more fortunate. That's the reality. But the alternate reality is that those eight wins against no losses are still there and you can't ever erase them from the record books. As long as stands, that record will be there.

And now, in the Diamondbacks' somewhat storybook season, Micah Owings is again perfect in the NLDS. His two scoreless innings helped him inherit the win from a starter who couldn't make it to the fifth inning. So now Owings is 9-0 this season: 8-0 in the regular season and 1-0 in the post season. Don't you love it? 

Baseball has an affectionate term for the kind of win that Owings got last night in Arizona. They are called vulture wins. Owings did make four starts this season. He never pitched longer than 5.1 innings in any of them, yet he won three of those games and his team won all four. The rest of his five regular season wins came like last night when Owings entered a game that was either tied or his team was behind or the starter couldn't get the required five innings for the victory. Owings swooped in and nabbed that win. He had three holds during the season, but overall, Owings was the talisman for the Diamondbacks. If he got into a game, good things were going to happen.

It doesn't matter that it's all anomalous. It doesn't matter that his efforts garner any love from analysts. It doesn't matter that Owings really hasn't been any better than any other of his previous seasons. In 2011, Micah Owings was perfect. Absolutely perfect.

Game Picks - Thursday: October 6, 2011

A squirrel, a Dairy Freese and tattoos all figured into Wednesday's division series games. This picker won one and lost one, but no matter, it was sure fun to watch. A squirrel? The critter that ran across home plate in the fifth inning of the Cardinals - Phillies game has become the new rallying cry of Cardinal Nation. "Win one for the squirrel!" Hey, isn't that Tony LaRussa a genius? An inning after the squirrel, David Freese belted a two-run homer to dead center to give the Cardinals a big enough lead that even their bullpen couldn't squander and sent that series back to Philadelphia for a Game Five. He must be a Dairy Freese, because he creamed that pitch.

The tone of the Diamondbacks - Brewers game was set in the first inning when both pitchers of this improbable match up couldn't put up a clean first inning. Ryan Braun hit a double to plate a run in the top of the first off of an ineffective Joe Saunders and then Ryan Roberts, a guy Diamondbacks fans call, "The Tatman," thanks to his plethora of body art, hit a grand slam off of an equally ineffective Randy Wolf. Kirk Gibson got his starter out of the game quicker than Ron Roenicke did his and that probably proved to be the winning idea. Micah Owings came in and pitched two scoreless innings while his teammates continued to pile up runs and that was the difference (more on Owings in the next post). Chris Young hit two of the D-backs' four homers.

Three of the four division series have gone the distance and you sure can't beat that for drama. The ALDS contest between the Yankees and Tigers will conclude in New York today while the two NLDS games will conclude those battles on Friday. How much fun is this!?

So what's the pick on the ALDS game today?

  • The Yankees over the Tigers: This game will probably come down to which starter allows the fewest runs and which closer is standing on the mound in the ninth inning. Ivan Nova has been the Yankees good luck charm all season and the Yankees have figured out Doug Fister before. With the finale being played in New York, the odds are against the Tigers. But that's why they play the game. Let's just say that it will be quite the story if the Tigers can overcome those odds tonight.

Yesterday: 1-1
Week: 7-4
Month: 11-4
Season: 1374-1069

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

And the Young Shall Lead You - Ivan Nova for Game Five

Yesterday in this spot, the Yankees' season was on the brink and they sent out A.J. Burnett to keep the season alive. Miraculously, they lived to tell about it. Now the Tigers and Yankees face a Game Five for all the marbles and the right to play the Texas Rangers in the American League Championship Series. Both teams will not have their aces on the mound and will both go with their Number Two starters. Doug Fister will start for the Tigers after a sensational second half coming over from the Seattle Mariners. And Ivan Nova gets the ball for the Yankees. 

The way this writer sees it, everything is now in the Yankees' favor. They have already beaten Doug Fister once. They play the finale at home where they are dominant. And Ivan Nova pitched brilliantly against the Tigers once already this series. But that's why you play the games. The Tigers are a great team with a very good manager and terrific hitters in the middle of the line up. They play well fundamentally (well, they do bunt too often to decidedly mixed results). So this is no walkover for the Yankees.

There is some precedent for the Yankees in starting such a young pitcher in such a crucial game. In the 1964 World Series against the Cardinals, a 24 year old Jim Bouton and 22 year old Mel Stottlemyre started five of the seven games of that series. Jim Bouton won the two games he started. Mel Stottlemyre, surprisingly started three games that series, all against Bob Gibson. In the first two starts, Stottlemyre and Gibson played to a draw and each pitcher won a game. But Game Seven was what put Gibson in the stratosphere of the great pitchers of all time as he pitched his team to the championship. Stottlemyre finally cracked in that last game and was pulled in the fifth inning. Andy Pettitte was 24 when thrust into his first series of big games for the Yankees in the 1996 post season.

Ivan Nova is a surprisingly good comp to the young Mel Stottlemyre. Both depended on ground balls and quick outs. Both limited opposing homers and both seem virtually unflappable at such a young age. Neither struck out many batters in their early years and depended on weak contact and their fielders' ability to catch and throw the ball.

There have been so many fun storylines to this series. The Yankees quandary concerning Miguel Cabrera is one of the best of those stories. The man is just flat out scary to face. A second is the unbelievable fielding of Curtis Granderson who has made some of the most amazing plays in the field since Graig Nettles. His heroics in the field is ultimately ironic considering that it is his fielding that will more than anything else cost him a chance to be the MVP this season.

The third base situation for the Tigers is another story. Jim Leyland made a huge mistake in starting Wilson Betemit in Game Four. Leyland likes Betemit's bat better than Brandon Inge's. But Inge is three for six in this series and Betemit is zero for eight. Plus, several of the Yankee rallies in Game Four included balls to the hole that Betemit couldn't get to that Inge probably would have handled. Betemit failed in a couple of key at bats as well. 

Another storyline of this series and will again be a factor in the finale is the difference in the team's two bullpens. The Tigers have two studs at the end in Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde. There is no doubts about that. But getting to them is a huge problem as Al Alburquerque has been a deer in the headlights and Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth don't scare anybody. If the Yankees get the lead in the final game, they can go lights out from the sixth inning on with a heady brew of Phil Hughes, Boone Logan, Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and ultimately, Mariano Rivera. The Yankees have stated that C.C. Sabathia is available, but that would be a mistake to consider since if the Yankees do win, he's your opening day starter against the Rangers.

Another potential storyline is who the Yankees will employ as a DH in Game Five. Jesus Montero has been unbelievable since his call up and went two for his first two ever post season plate appearances. Joe Girardi could be seen talking to Jorge Posada in the Yankees' dugout late in the game yesterday. Was Girardi preparing Jorge for the possibility he wouldn't start Game Five? 

The Tigers can certainly win the final game. Doug Fister could throw the game of his life. The Tigers offense could tee off on the young Ivan Nova. But that all would be a huge upset. But again, that's why you play the game and that's what makes baseball the greatest sport on earth. 

Game Picks - Wednesday: October 5, 2011

How could you not be in baseball hog heaven on Tuesday when four playoff games were all played on the same day? It was epic! Of course, the reality of baseball is that if your team lost yesterday, it wasn't so epic. Four fan bases went to sleep happy and four did not. And hopefully, if your team isn't in the playoffs, October baseball is still exciting to you. It is here in this household where each baseball game is a surprise waiting to happen and a three hour drama all its own. 

This game picker is having a good playoff run. There have been thirteen playoff games played and this picker has correctly picked ten of them. But there is one thorn permanently in this Fan's side. It's the St. Louis Cardinals. This picker has had a tough time picking them all season. They win when they should lose and they lose when they should win. But that's okay, that's the life of a baseball picker. Even the Mets do that. But there is one evil man out there that has made this picker dread picking their games. This evil man also happens to be one of the best of the St. Louis Cardinals writers on the planet. He knows who he is. You see, this man is convinced that this game picker has the power of the Cardinals' season underneath his fingertips. This evil man is convinced that when the game picker picks the Cardinals, they lose and picking against them guarantees a win. And since this gentleman roots desperately for the Cardinals, the pressure has become enormous. Now every day is filled with anxiety. Does the Fan pick the Cardinals and threaten that evil man's happiness? Or pick against them for his sake? Ugh! Well, you're not going to corrupt this picker, Mr. Netherton. The pick will be whatever the pick SHOULD be despite the overwhelming urge to please you. Heh.

Two more playoff games are on tap today. They are both in the National League Division Series category. Too bad, TBS. You'll have to feature one of them today. Sucks to be you, eh? And for some odd reason, the games are also scheduled geographically correct that favors the fans in their own time zone?. How did that happen? It must have been a moment of monetary weakness for the network. Here are the picks:

  • The Cardinals over the Phillies: Sorry, Bob. This is the correct pick. Edwin Jackson isn't exactly a lock in any game but him pitching early in the shadows should help his stuff tremendously. Jackson is sort of the poor man's A.J. Burnett and Burnett put it all together yesterday, so Jackson can do it today. The real key to this game is whether the Cardinals can get to Roy Oswalt. Oswalt has had a great career, but he has to be deemed the weakest link in the Phillies rotation at this point. If Tony LaRussa was smart (he's a genius, right?), some of the Cardinals' secondary hitters should try to bunt for base hits early. Make Oswalt field his position and see if you can get his back out of whack. One thing is for sure, the Cardinals have to win. Another storyline is whether Matt Holliday will play. If he does, there is more offense in the Cardinals' line up but far less defense.
  • The Brewers over the Diamondbacks: It seems puzzling that both teams are sticking with a four man rotation and not circling back to their best starters here. Especially the Diamondbacks whose backs are against the wall (ugh, a cliche). But Randy Wolf is going against Joe Saunders. Advantage, Brewers. Saunders has had a surprisingly good season. But when push comes to shove, he's still Joe Saunders. The Diamondbacks should have pitched Ian Kennedy, who they are saving for a possible Game Five that may never come.

Yesterday: 3-1
Week: 6-3
Month: 10-3
Season: 1373-1068

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Game Picks - Tuesday: October 4, 2011

This picker was a perfect 2-0 yesterday and 7-2 for the playoffs. But there is no joy in picking correctly against your favorite team. Sometimes you'd rather be wrong than right. But that's baseball. There is always a winner and a loser. Our sport doesn't end in a tie.

Today we have playoff Nirvana as there are four games on the schedule. Three of them feature teams on the brink of elimination. Here's what will probably happen:

  • The Rangers over the Rays: Matt Harrison will need to be very good to make this prediction look good. The two o'clock start should not bother Josh Hamilton since they are inside a dome. Jeremy Hellickson is very good, but a good offense can wear him down and get him out of the game early.
  • The Cardinals over the Phillies: What!? Does this picker believe suddenly in the Cardinals? Not seriously. But the Cardinals have a better chance against the lefty, Cole Hamels, than the Phillies have against lefty, Jaime Garcia. That said, Garcia has to command the strike zone and pitch deep into the game. That's hardly a guarantee with him this season. Garcia will likely face John Mayberry, Jr. and will need to be careful with him.
  • The Yankees over the Tigers: A.J. Burnett throws the game of his life. His only great performance in the past few years came with Dan Iassogna behind the plate.  The Yankees get to Rick Porcello or knock Jose Valverde's goggles off. And yes, hobbits do exist.
  • The Diamondbacks over the Brewers: It would be nice if after a dream season, the D-backs could pluck a win in this series. Josh Collmenter is a good choice for them as the Brewers have yet to score off the pitcher. Shaun Marcum is very good though. Should be a fascinating game.

Yesterday: 2-0
Week: 7-2
Month: 3-2
Season: 1370-1067

The Season Comes Down to A.J @#%#$ Burnett

The Yankees lost their second straight heart breaker to the Detroit Tigers in the 2011 ALDS. You have to give the Tigers props for getting the job done. The Tigers have now pushed the Yankees to the edge of elimination and only need one win to shut the Bombers down for the season. And Yankee fans have to face their largest nightmare. Their season is now in the hands of A.J. Burnett.

Burnett wasn't supposed to pitch in this series. But the rain that postponed Game One killed that reality and gave us this one. Joe Girardi will look like a man with a perpetual hotfoot in the dugout tomorrow. The encouraging news is that Burnett finished the season on sort of a high note. That is if you could call beating the Boston Red Sox in the middle of their swan dive a high note. But it's something at least. Burnett will face Rick Porcello, which is somewhat good news as well.

Here are some of the numbers behind the match up:

  • Burnett is 2-2 lifetime against the Tigers with a hefty 6.33 ERA.
  • And just don't think the big ballpark in Detroit will help Burnett. His ERA there is 7.17.
  • Burnett is 1-2 in the post season with a 5.67 ERA. But he's given up twelve runs in his last fifteen post season innings.
  • Rick Porcello is 2-2 lifetime against the Yankees with a 5.56 ERA.
  • Porcello has walked eleven Yankee batters in 22.2 innings against them.
  • Porcello has a lifetime ERA at Comerica Park of 4.59 with a WHIP of 1.369.
  • Rich Porcello has never pitched in the post season.
  • If this writer got the umpiring rotation correctly, Dan Iassogna will have home plate in the game. Porcello has a 6.75 ERA in games with Iassogna behind the plate. A.J. Burnett threw eight and two-thirds innings of shutout ball in his only occasion with Iassogna behind the plate. He only walked one batter in that appearance.

The bottom line here is that the game will go one of several ways:

  1. Burnett will be lousy and the Tigers will win a laugher.
  2. Burnett will be the hero with an unexpectedly great outing.
  3. Burnett will get yanked early and Phil Hughes or someone will be the hero.
  4. Burnett will get yanked early and Phil Hughes will be the goat or perhaps Ayala or somebody.
  5. It won't matter what Burnett does because Porcello will shut down the Yankees.
  6. It won't matter what Burnett does because the Yankees will slam Porcello.
  7. Either way, a team would much rather be in the Tigers' shoes right now than the Yankees.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Game Picks - Monday: October 3, 2011

Sunday was certainly a surprising day in the ALDS and NLDS. The Yankees had Max Scherzer on the ropes early and couldn't get any traction. Once Scherzer escaped that first inning jam, the Yankees seemed to whither offensively until the ninth when the rain seemed to bother Robinson Cano a lot more than it did Jose Valverde. The ill-timed rain killed the Yankees ninth inning rally and sent the series tied going back to Detroit. Having to face Verlander at home and then face a fourth game with A.J. Burnett having to start means that the Yankees are officially in deep trouble.

After last year's American League Championship Series, Cliff Lee looked like one of the best post season pitchers ever. He was untouchable in the post season. That is until he faced the Giants in the World Series. Now, Cliff Lee has posted two straight clunkers in the post season. Chris Carpenter was similarly ineffective, but Tony LaRussa used his entire bullpen and pushed all the right buttons to grab a win from the Phillies. It was the mad genius at his finest. The Phillies suddenly don't look as much of a lock as they did and the Cardinals look less like pushovers.

Unfortunately, the Diamondbacks look seriously dead in their series against the Brewers. They have to hope they can catch a spark going home to Arizona after two straight lopsided losses to the Brewers in Milwaukee. Sunday's game looked to be a good contest as Zack Greinke was somewhat vulnerable, but the D-backs pulled Daniel Hudson too soon (in this writer's humble opinion) and Brad Ziegler had one of the worst post season performances by any pitcher in history. After a balk, a walk and his own error, Ziegler melted down and gave up hit after hit until five runs crossed the plate. Heck, Ziegler even walked Yuniesky Betancourt. And you know how hard that is to do.

And so this picker limps into Monday. What looked like a solid formula of picking the favorites and the home teams (4-0 on Saturday) led to a 1-2 record on Sunday. Consider this picker all shook up (obviously an Elvis Andrus reference). But the games keep on coming. So must the picks:

  • The Rangers over the Bay Rays: Two things factor in here. First, David Price has been frequently unexceptional lately. Plus, the Rangers have the kind of right-handed hitters who love fastballs and can damage Price. Secondly, the Bay Rays aren't the same offensive team at home than they are on the road. The big key here is the performance of Colby Lewis. Lewis was lights out last year in the post season. Can he do it again after only a mediocre season? We'll see.
  • The Tigers over the Yankees: You simply can't pick against Justin Verlander at home even facing C.C. Sabathia. Sabathia was looking terrific in New York before the rains washed out his night. He'll have to pitch the best game of his career to win this one. Just don't see it happening. A-Rod and Teixeira have been invisible in this series. Why won't Girardi give Jesus Montero a start?

Yesterday: 1-2
Week: 1-2
Month: 5-2
Season: 1368-1067

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Derek Jeter as Demigod

Demigod (from Merriam-Webster) - : a person so outstanding as to seem to approach the divine. This is the kind of definition that drives the world crazy when it comes to Derek Jeter, who you all know is this writer's favorite baseball player. But man-crush notwithstanding, Derek Jeter is going to the Hall of Fame someday but he is a mere mortal. His play has been way above average, but divine? Uh no. But certain (usually old school) media types like to create drama and one of the story lines is building the Jeter myth. Take Marty Noble for instance.

Noble's latest piece over at is just the kind of demigod-building that happens around Derek Jeter. The latest myth-building exercise by Noble was precipitated by the excellent relay from Curtis Granderson to Derek Jeter to Russell Martin that nabbed Alex Avila at home to prevent a crucial run in the first game of the ALDS series between the Tigers and the Yankees. Note a section of Noble's dramatic prose:
Jeter's throw was a tad higher than perfect and a bit more to the third-base side. After Russell had removed Peralta's bat, he was just where the relay would come. Funny how that works when Jeter is involved. He can do it right by making a mistake. This time, he made Russell's tag easier. A skilled and smart play-making guard routinely delivers his passes to his teammate's free hand. Successful quarterbacks throw to the undefended side. But Jeter is just a shortstop. Just the way Sinatra was just a saloon singer.
Myth building at its finest. Just before the above paragraph, Noble retold of talking with Mick Kelleher that Jeter was out of position on that relay. Noble built that into the myth that Jeter is always in the right place at the right time even when it's not where he should have been.

Hey, it was a great play at a great time and it greatly diminished the Tigers' chance of winning the ballgame. But in all seriousness, it was a random event in a long career from a very good player. Noble of course built it into a memory of another similar great moment for Jeter eleven years ago against the Mets. So yes, you can connect those dots if you want to. But that fact is that Derek Jeter has now played in 148 post season games. Surely with that large a sample size, there are going to be shining moments. There were just as many moments that weren't shining. But that's not the concern of a myth builder.

It was a great play, fortuitous for the Yankees and for Derek Jeter. Jeter has played perhaps more playoff games than anyone in history. Fortuitous moments are going to happen when you play that many post season games. Let's not make it more than it was, though. Derek Jeter is not a demigod. He's just a great player who occasionally has great moments when the whole world is watching. And the world has been watching a lot for a long time.

Game Picks - Sunday: October 2, 2011

This game picker was a perfect 4-0 yesterday and while it would be great to crow about those results like some proud rooster, the formula was fairly easy. All the home teams were picked and all the favorites. They just happened to all come in. 

For the Yankees, Ivan Nova and Robinson Cano will get most of the credit and rightly so, but there were a lot of important events that led to the victory. The perfect relay execution from Granderson to Jeter to Martin to gun down Alex Avila while the game was still tied was huge. The double play that resulted in unfortunate timing by the Tigers came from a hit right up the middle on a stolen base attempt by Austin Jackson and allowed Cano to simply step on second and throw Magglio Ordonez out at first. Nick Swisher followed that with a dive in right field to take a double away from Delmon Young. But probably the biggest moment of the game was Brett Gardner's huge two-out single to plate two runs that took a 2-1 game to 4-1 off Doug Fister and opened the Yankee floodgates.

The first game of the day Saturday followed the pick's story line to a T. Yovani Gallardo was brilliant and out dueled Ian Kennedy as predicted and the Diamondbacks allowed the dynamic duo of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder to beat them as the tandem went a combined five for eight.

After Lance Berkman's bomb off of Roy Halladay in the first inning, the 3-0 lead seemed for a while like it might hold up. But Kyle Lohse unraveled in the sixth inning and the Phillies went on to score ten runs in their final three at bats to put the game away. Ryan Howard takes a lot of guff here in the FanDome, but his three-run homer broke the Cardinal backs just like a star player is supposed to do. Halladay settled down after the first and pitched the typical Roy Halladay game the rest of the way for the victory.

Evan Longoria almost gave the Tampa Bay Rays another big comeback as he hit a huge three-run homer off of Koji Uehara to make it 7-6. But Darren Oliver, Mike Adams and Neftali Feliz shut the door the rest of the way to give the Rangers a bit of a slugfest win at home. The Rangers evened up the series and broke the two playoff record of these two teams winning every road game. Obviously in a short series, the win was huge for Texas but now must play the next two games in St. Pete.

Sunday's picks:

  • The Yankees over the Tigers: The Tigers really needed to win Game 1. Their next two games feature the softer side of their rotation. The Yankees should get to Max Scherzer, especially at home and have plenty of options if Freddie Garcia can't come through in his start for the Yankees. Expect Girardi to pull Garcia's plug quickly if the Big Chief doesn't have his good stuff.
  • The Brewers over the Diamondbacks: Zack Greinke at home is a near lock. Daniel Hudson is real good too, but he won't be able to keep up with Greinke. This is why the Brewers got him and it will pay off and put the Diamondbacks close to the brink.
  • The Phillies over the Cardinals: Yeah, the picks are all for the home teams and the favorites again. But this picker just can't see anything else happening. Cliff Lee neutralizes Lance Berkman and will do what he usually does in the playoffs. A super huge effort by Chris Carpenter is the Cardinals only hope here.

Yesterday: 4-0
Last week: 40-28
Month: 4-0
Season: 1367-1065