This Great Game Comebacker

The Week That Was in Baseball: October 27-November 2, 2014
Are the Giants Baseball's New Evil Empire? MadBummer, Royals
TGG's All-Star Free Agent Team Joe Maddon Takes on Wrigley


Best and Worst of the 2013 Season

BEST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.287 115 173 39 9 36 111 77 6 10 16

The third time looks to be the charm for the enormously talented outfielder—he just turned 23—as he finally looks deserving enough to win the AL MVP after two years of having to duke it out in the vote with Miguel Cabrera. His numbers, and our breakdown of them, confirm it. His .287 average isn’t anything to go nuts about it, but he piled so many solid numbers in every offensive category, it thus makes him the complete package. The hype is true: he is the next Mick.


BEST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.314 89 172 38 6 25 83 76 8 10 18

Giancarlo Stanton put together power numbers unrivaled in the NL but, like Trout above, McCutchen was an all-around force just a few upticks better on an overall basis. The reigning MVP put himself in position for a second straight honor by playing solid clutch baseball in the stretch run and pushing the Pirates into the playoffs for the second straight year. Perhaps McCutchen benefited here from Stanton’s brutal, year-end pitch to the face, but he played only one game more than the Miami slugger on the year.


WORST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Stephen Drew, Boston-New York

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.162 18 44 14 1 7 26 24 3 0 1

We all thought, last winter, that the veteran shortstop wasn’t worth the many dollars he and super-agent Scott Boras tried to command on the free agent market. But we didn’t know that he was going to be this bad, either. It didn’t matter if it was the Red Sox (.176) or the Yankees (.150), Drew stunk it up at the plate from start to finish. Boras now has his work cut out even more as Drew becomes a free agent yet again and is already lobbying him with claims that he’s still “elite” and “the best defensive shortstop” among the free agents. So once was Leo Durocher, all while he was called the All-American Out.


WORST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Dan Uggla, Atlanta-San Francisco

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.149 14 21 3 0 2 10 11 0 4 0

It’s apparently the end of the road for a player who not long ago could be counted on year in and year out for 30-plus homers and 70-plus walks. Uggla extended a miserable trend from late last year, unable to get anything going at the plate; the Braves finally gave up and let him go in July. The Giants took a chance on him but wondered why after 11 hitless at-bats and six strikeouts. Chances are, if he’s playing baseball next Apri,l it will be in the minors. He’ll be well compensated, too; the Braves owe him $13 million in 2015.


BEST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
15-6 236 170 68 56 46 5 18 0 248 2.14

King Felix is king again after another stellar effort that all but confirms him as the greatest Mariners pitcher ever (with all due respect to Randy Johnson and Jamie Moyer). He stole the AL ERA title away from Chris Sale after a last-minute scoring change took four earned runs off his stat sheet. Hernandez has thrown 200-plus innings and struck out 200-plus batters in each of his last six seasons; only Walter Johnson, Tom Seaver and Roger Clemens have put together longer streaks.


BEST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
21-3 198.1 139 42 39 31 2 7 2 239 1.77

It wasn’t the best of starts for the Dodgers ace; he missed all of April with a sore shoulder, and in his fourth start back he arguably suffered his worst outing ever when he was pummeled for six runs in less than two innings at Arizona. After that, he was virtually untouchable—pitching so magnificently with a 1.43 ERA over his final 22 starts that he’s now considered a prime candidate to win the NL MVP. And that’s never easy for a pitcher to earn. Kershaw now owns four straight NL ERA crowns.


WORST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Bruce Chen, Kansas City Royals

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
2-4 48.1 69 40 40 16 1 0 0 36 7.45

Time was, Chen was the only pitcher who seemed to know how to throw in Kansas City. But now the 37-year-old Panamanian is living in the Bizarro World, which is good news for the playoff-worthy Royals—and bad news for him. An aching back plagued Chen early in the season, and he never found his groove upon his return; when he got shelled for five runs in an extra-inning relief appearance against the Twins in late August, the Royals unceremoniously bid him farewell.


WORST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Edwin Jackson, Chicago Cubs

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
6-15 140.2 168 105 99 63 3 9 0 123 6.33

Usually when anyone in baseball—whether it’s an outfielder, pitcher or manager—is struggling and the fans start barking for someone to replace him, the comeback usually is: “Well, who else better do you have in mind?” Which brings us to the Cubs and Jackson, the veteran right-hander who just continually bombs, start after start; there must be someone, somewhere, that the Cubs can easily snag to replace a guy who’s now 14-33 with a 5.58 ERA over the last two years. Maybe this is why the Cubs won’t sit him; at $13 million, he’s easily the team’s highest-paid player. By the way, that’s also what the Cubs owe him in 2015—and 2016 as well.


BEST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (98-64)

They finally came around. After years of high springtime promise backed by big-time free agent spending and the emergence of super-duper-star Mike Trout, the Angels finally performed to the best of their ability and then some, bolting past the A’s after the All-Star Break and securing the majors’ best record. What put the Halos over the top is what they had badly lacked in recent times: Depth in the starting rotation and a quality bullpen


BEST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Washington Nationals (96-66)

Under first-year manager Matt Williams, the Nationals finished as, arguably, the most impressively balanced major league team around. All five of their starting pitchers won at least ten games, with Gio Gonzalez putting up the worst ERA of the lot—at 3.57; and the depth of the hitting showed itself after partial-season losses to Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, with MVP candidate Anthony Rendon in particular stepping up. If the Nats don’t make it to the World Series, it’s bound to be labeled a disappointment in D.C.


WORST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Texas Rangers (67-95)

It was a disaster from start to finish for a team many thought was headed to the postseason in 2014; 21 different players were sent to the disabled list at some point, leading the Rangers to virtually empty out their farm system to keep the roster full. In the end, a major league-record 64 players represented the Rangers on the field at some point in the season. It would have been worse, but interim manager Tim Bogar rallied the Rangers to a 14-8 finish after the strange departure of long-time manager Ron Washington. The 2015 campaign represents one big reset button for the Rangers.


WORST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Arizona Diamondbacks (64-98)

The Snakes began the year Down Under in Australia, and that’s a fitting description of the season to follow. Arizona actually played .500 ball from May 1 through July 31, but the season-ending injury to star slugger Paul Goldschmidt and the trading away of solid gamers Martin Prado and Gerardo Parra crashed this team to a 16-37 finish. Here’s the biggest proof that the D-Backs couldn’t rise to the occasion: Against playoff-bound teams, they were 16-48. Your move, Tony La Russa.


The Giants Won Again—Deal With It
The San Francisco Giants won their third World Series title in five years this past week, and in the process emerged as the bad guys to most who watched their seven-game triumph over the Kansas City Royals.

Outside of the Bay Area, few people wanted to see the Giants win. After all, they’re boring. They have no big-time stars. They win in the least sexy of fashions. And they’d already won two titles this decade. Goodness—some are starting to compare their dominance to that of the New York Yankees, a skewed compliment of sorts. Even mainstream writers like John McGrath of the Tacoma News-Tribune recently made national noise by suggesting the Giants have obtained a sort of ‘Evil Empire’ complex. (Who knows, maybe McGrath changed his name from John McGraw early in his life.)

Worse, the Giants ruined a feel-good story by denying baseball’s ultimate Cinderella, the Royals, from winning their first World Series title in 29 years after making the postseason for the first time in 29 years. The Royals had flash, dash and smiles to go all around. How dare the Giants come along and stomp it all out like the Wicked Stepmother?


Goodbye Weekly, Hello Monthly
This week’s edition of the Comebacker will be the last in a weekly format. We’ll be taking off the rest of the year to concentrate on the rest of the web site, meaning you’ll be seeing more activity including our Lists, Ballparks, They Were There interviews by TGG’s ED Attanasio and our 2014 addition to the Yearly Reader. But fear not, the Comebacker is not dead. We’ll return in 2015 as a monthly, reviewing the biggest, funniest and just plain downright strangest baseball news to take place in the previous 30 (or 31) days. And during the season, we’ll continue with our Best and Worst players and teams, just spread out over a month as opposed to a week. So enjoy the rest of the site and thanks for being a part of this end of TGG for nearly a decade.


The Giants were once in the Royals’ shoes. That was in 2010, when the so-called “Band of Misfits” thrived on the torture of close games and overcame long odds to upset heavily favored Philadelphia in the NLCS and the revered Texas Rangers in the Fall Classic. It was their first Series win in over half a century, their first since moving to California. The country fell in love with the Giants. A million people descended upon San Francisco to witness the victory parade. It became chic to root for the Giants.

They won it again in 2012, once more as underdogs in a four-game sweep of the powerful Detroit Tigers, and impressed baseball fans anew. This time, euphoria was replaced with amazement from baseball fans barked, “Oops, they did it again.”

So now they’ve won it a third time, and the reaction has ranged from meh to frustration from those suffering a weird case of Giants Fatigue. Yes, the Giants rained on the Royals’ parade, but don’t get too down—Mother Nature rained on the Giants’ parade when they celebrated on Friday. Of course, that didn’t stop another massive throng from lining up six deep along Market Street. This may be getting old outside of the Bay Area, but inside it’s like the very first time, all over again.

But please, let’s now compare the Giants to the Yankees or (most definitely) Los Angeles Dodgers. Those teams can buy championship rosters, but they can’t buy championships. The Giants are by no means financially handicapped like Tampa Bay or Oakland, but they do have limited funds, with a debt service on a ballpark they built entirely on their own dime and with a local TV deal that yields a fraction of the revenue that the Dodgers net.

What does make the Giants greater than the Yankees and Dodgers is that they know how to use their bucks, know which players to grab, know how to build chemistry—both on the field and off it with the community, which responds with one sellout after another at AT&T Park. They may not have Hall-of-Fame players, but they do have a front office worthy of Cooperstown—from owner Larry Baer to general manager Brian Sabean to skipper Bruce Bochy.

So the Giants are sorry that they ruined the Royals’ dreams. Sorry to Fox that all that attention on George Brett didn’t pay off in the end. Sorry to all who rooted against them and were disappointed to see yet another trophy go into the hands of Bochy. But the Giants earned this one, and to all those who wished otherwise, tough.

Bumgarnering History
There was no chance on God’s Green Earth that the Giants would have successfully concluded their Trilogy of Titles without the remarkable Series performance of ace pitcher Madison Bumgarner, whose two stellar starts and jaw-dropping five-inning relief stint in Game Seven on two day’s rest became the stuff of baseball legend.

It would be tough to find a pitcher who threw better in a Fall Classic. You can argue Christy Mathewson, who tossed three shutouts over six days in 1905. Or the three complete-game wins in 1920 for Cleveland’s Stan Coveleski and in 1957 by Milwaukee’s Lew Burdette. Even the storied World Series sagas of Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson during the 1960s paled to what Bumgarner accomplished against the Royals.

Overall, the big Giants southpaw, still just 25, allowed a run on nine hits and a walk over 21 innings against the Royals. The one tally ceded was that of a home run to Salvador Perez in Game One, long after the game was no longer in doubt. After earning his second win of the Series in Game Five with a masterful four-hit shutout, Bumgarner told Bruce Bochy that he could perform relief duty in Game Seven at Kansas City. Many believed that such an appearance would go no longer than a few innings, but Bumgarner took over in the fifth and, despite giving up a single to his first batter, went on a roll and like the Energizer Bunny kept going and going and going—not allowing another hit until Alex Gordon’s crazy single-turned-triple with two outs in the ninth that nearly ruined everything. Unfazed, Bumgarner faced Perez—he of the Game One homer—and got him to pop out to end the series.

Bumgarner was a slam-dunk choice for the Series MVP, and if his own numbers weren’t enough to convince the voters, try this: The other Giants starters limped along with a 9.35 ERA and an 0-3 record against Kansas City.

The 52.2 innings thrown by Bumgarner in the postseason—he allowed just six runs on 28 hits—set an all-time record; and he has now allowed just one run in 36 career World Series frames for a miniscule 0.25 ERA, the lowest ever by any pitcher with a minimum of 25 innings thrown.

Some would say that Bumgarner risked long-term damage with so much October work, but his total workload of 269.1 innings on the year is less than the 276 thrown by St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright a year ago, or the 271 by Detroit’s Justin Verlander in 2011, or the 272 by the Phillies’ Roy Halladay in 2010. Bumgarner is big, strong and, because he doesn’t rely on a supersonic fastball (he tops out at 94 MPH), is unlikely to fade a la Verlander—who downgraded from great to good with a velocity slowing from the near-100 MPH heater of old.

Failing Scoring 101
For some reason, the official scorer initially gave Bumgarner credit for the win in Game Seven, but Jeremy Affeldt—who preceded him in the box score—was the pitcher of record when Michael Morse’s fourth-inning ingle gave the Giants a 3-2 lead for keeps. The decision was properly corrected.

He Ain’t All Brilliant
Bumgarner, who hit four home runs (including two with the bases loaded) in 2014, was hitless in 15 postseason at-bats and now is a career 0-for-22 over the three Giants’ playoff runs of the past five years.

One for the Road Team
The Giants became the first team since the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates to win a Game Seven on the road. Ten teams in between had tried and failed. Overall, the Giants have gone 18-7 on the road during their three successful postseason runs of the 2010s.

Dynasty of the Even Digits
Only one other team has won three world titles in a five-year stretch without any two of them coming consecutively: The St. Louis Cardinals, who conquered the majors in 1942, 1944 and 1946.

Take it From an Expert
Bill Nye, known to many as The Science Guy, sided with many baseball experts when he tweeted that Eric Hosmer should have run it out at first base instead of sliding into the bag to avoid the double play started on Giants rookie Joe Panik’s amazing grab and glove-flip to second in the third inning. (Hosmer was initially ruled safe at first, but the call was overturned after a Giants appeal and video review.) “Don’t dive into first base,” Nye said. “Instant a runner leaves his feet, he slows down. May have cost Royals a run and the game.”

We Know What It’s Like, K.C.
The Royals became the first team since the 1962 Giants to lose a Game Seven with the tying run on third base in the ninth inning.

Racing Three-Quarters Around the Bases Like a Mule
Alex Gordon, who was that guy left on third, would not have gotten credit for an inside-the-park home run had he been able to round the bases on his two-out hit that got past Giants center fielder Gregor Blanco and was further bungled at the wall by left fielder Juan Perez. But it did leave us to ask: Who was the last guy to hit an inside-the-parker in a World Series game? That distinction goes to Mule Haas, who brought home three runs including himself in the Philadelphia A’s famous, record-setting ten-run rally against the Chicago Cubs in Game Four of the 1929 World Series.

Sleep Well, Royals
One of the lasting reverberations of the Giants’ latest title is that it may be encourage postseason teams of the future to re-examine their travel schedules. After the first two games of the World Series in Kansas City, the Royals bolted to the airport and took a red-eye to San Francisco—while the Giants got a good night sleep in K.C. and flew home the next morning. After Games Three through Five at AT&T Park, the same pattern repeated itself—with the Royals flying back to Kansas City overnight while the Giants stayed home, rested up and got on the plane the next day. The Giants credited a sleep expert they hired for devising the idea to rest up, and while it’s debatable as to whether the scheme worked to the Giants’ advantage—they lost both Games Three and Six, the first games after the flights—the Giants players were most happy with the itinerary.

This is Why You Don’t Put the Damn Games on FS1
After some miserable TV ratings for the 2014 postseason—especially during the LDS and LCS when hard-to-find basic cable outlets FS1, TBS and the MLB Network provided game coverage—everyone huddled in front of the tubes and other devices to watch Game Seven of the World Series. The 23.9 rating—translating to 52 million viewers—was the second highest for a Fall Classic game in the last ten years, exceeded only by the final game of the memorable 2011 Series between St. Louis and Texas. If anything else, this meant that a whole lot of folks found themselves commenting about those two weird guys doing postgame promos back at the Fox Sports studio.

The Future Looks Green
Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval, a free agent this winter, made the final putout of the year and collected a postseason-record 26 hits; his 20 career World Series hits in 47 at-bats translates to a .426 average.

It Looks Good For You, Master Giant
Bruce Bochy became the tenth big league manager to win three world titles. The other nine are all in Cooperstown.

TGG’s All-Star Free Agent Team
The end of the World Series officially ushered in the start of the offseason, and the first wave of player movement for 2015 began with teams and players deciding whether to exercise their options for next year. Free agency will soon follow once the teams go through their exclusive period of trying to convince players wrapping up contracts to stick around.

As we do every year, what follows is our starting lineup for this year’s All-Star free agent team, determining the best players available at every position on the field. Those looking for primo infielders will be disappointed—the pickings are slim—the outfield class holds more promise, and there’s plenty to choose from if you’re in search of quality pitching.

Catcher: Russell Martin. After a solid, spirited year at Pittsburgh, Martin has set himself up well to secure nice wages for 2015. Not only does he have significant postseason experience that will come in handy, he’ll be an obvious first option for teams squinting in pain at the inferior remainder of available catching options.

First Base: Victor Martinez. Yes, we know he’s a designated hitter by trade these days, but someone hurting at the position can make out nicely with a little convincing. If that can’t be done, Adam LaRoche (option declined by Washington) would be the first and best alternative.

Second Base: Asdrubal Cabrera. The former Indian and Nat has a terrific glove but average at best range, which is why (among other reasons) the Nationals moved him to second when they acquired him midway through 2014. He’ll likely remain at second wherever he goes. If Cabrera gets snatched early, other teams in need of filling the position can look to Cuban émigré Jose Fernandez, one of the top defectors currently available and one not to be confused with the Miami ace of the same name.

Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez. Clearly the most talented and accomplished at this spot, Ramirez does come with a big price tag, sloppy glovework, clubhouse baggage and recent, extensive disabled list activity. But boy, can he hit.

Third Base: Pablo Sandoval. A solid switch-hitter with excellent defensive skills, Sandoval is arguably the most sought-after position player on market, and will certainly collect—but will that lucky team be able to stomach his annual weight issues, especially as he nears his 30s? (That lucky team, by the way, may just be the incumbent Giants, for whom Sandoval, in his heart, claims he wants to stay with.)

Outfield: Melky Cabrera, Michael Cuddyer, Yasmany Tomas. Cabrera has proven he can perform (we assume) without steroids at near All-Star levels; Cuddyer has the statistical backing of two terrific years behind him (albeit inflated since it came for the mile-high Colorado Rockies); and Tomas, a Cuban defector, is considered the hottest international prospect, a shade or so below Jose Abreu—which isn’t bad.

Designated Hitter: Nelson Cruz. That is, if no one seeks Victor Martinez (above) as a first baseman. Still, you can’t go wrong with Cruz, who only led the majors with 40 homers this past year—but he turns 35 next season and does have a history of injuries, though he finally managed to go end-to-end in 2014 without a stay on the shelf.

Starting Pitcher: Max Scherzer. The Detroit ace is the most attractive of a quality lot that includes Jon Lester, James Shields, Jake Peavy and Ervin Santana. He’s confident, relatively young (30), strikes out a bunch of guys and is a winner—as his 70-26 record over the last four seasons easily attests.

Reliever: Luke Gregerson. A premier set-up specialist, Gregerson has always kept his ERA in the 2.00’s and proved last season that he could be just as effective pitching outside of pitching-friendly Petco Park in San Diego when he was just as good (if not better) for Oakland.

Closer: Francisco Rodriguez. After a comeback season (44 saves) with Milwaukee, Rodriguez is the desirable choice and one of the most esteemed—second among active players with 348 saves just shy of his 33rd birthday.

Maddon About Chicago
It was a good week for those who last name start with “Mad.” Of course, you know about Madison Bumgarner. But there was also Joe Maddon, The A-list manager who opted out of the final year of his Tampa Bay contract quickly found a new home in Chicago with the Cubs—who haven’t won a World Series in 106 years, haven’t even been to one in 69 years and have gone five straight years without a winning record.

The mechanizations that led to the new union were suspect, however. It was reported that Maddon wanted to come to a Cubs team that still had a manager (Rick Renteria) while the Cubs were accused in some circles of luring Maddon away from Tampa Bay before his opt-out. Renteria was fired, angering some within baseball who felt Maddon was being insensitive toward a fellow manager’s status—but the latter accusation, if proven, could lead to tampering charges against the Cubs since it’s against baseball rules to express their interest, directly or indirectly, about a player or manager before his contract expires.

Nevertheless, Maddon should find himself in a similar spot in Chicago that he did when he began with Tampa Bay—piloting a struggling franchise with a cache of hungry, promising players. One big difference, though: The Cubs have a significant advantage over the Rays in the heritage and fan followers’ departments.

Steroids Does Not Make You a Better Gun Owner
Jose Canseco shot off his middle finger this past week. No, this isn’t a joke. It actually happened. The major league pariah who opened the Pandora’s Box on steroid use within baseball was cleaning a gun at his Las Vegas home this past week when it accidentally went off. He was sent to a hospital in a desperate attempt to reattach the finger, but according to reports the procedure didn’t go as Canseco hoped. Canseco gets lampooned often, and we’re sure the blogosphere hasn’t been short of middle finger jokes in the wake of this news, but let’s take it easy on this one. Hope you fully recover Jose, somehow.

No to Yo in Boston?
Reports came out of Boston this past week that the Red Sox are fed up with outfielder Yoenis Cespedes—who only joined the club in August after being traded from Oakland for pitcher Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes—because he refuses to listen to coaches and marches to the beat of his own drummer. Manager John Farrell vehemently denied the story, but it will be curious if the Red Sox trade Cespedes—who has a year left on his contract—over the winter.

On the Threshold of Local Riches
The Arizona Diamondbacks, whose local TV deal expires after 2015, are already negotiating for the next contract—and, on par with other recent local TV upgrades, will see a significant upgrade in revenue. The Arizona Republic reports that the team is confident that the current $31 million it annually receives from Fox Sports Arizona could triple
.


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