This Great Game Comebacker

The Week That Was in Baseball: October 20-26, 2014
The Death of Oscar Taveras Madbum Disease Strikes the Royals
Are the Dodgers Becoming the Rays? A Pilgrimage to the Launching Pad


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.


Another Redbird Has Flown
The baseball world was shaken during Sunday’s Game Five of the World Series when news hit that Oscar Taveras, the highly touted St. Louis Cardinals prospect who debuted in the majors this past season, was killed in a one-car auto accident in his native Dominican Republic.

The 22-year-old Taveras homered in his first major league game on May 31 against San Francisco; in 80 regular season games overall, he hit .239 with three homers and 22 RBIs. In the postseason to follow, he was used exclusively off the bench—collecting three hits in seven at-bats, including a crucial home run against (again) the Giants in their only win of the NLCS.

News of the death hit the Cardinals, who have seen more than their share of tragedy in recent times, especially hard. They lost accomplished pitcher Darryl Kile in 2002 and, five years later, reliever Josh Hancock. Taveras likely was on his way to being a starting outfielder in 2015 with visions of stardom beyond; we’ll never know now.

Good Giant
Before surrendering a seventh-inning home run to the Royals’ Salvador Perez that gave Kansas City its lone ounce of respect in a 7-1 Game One loss, Madison Bumgarner extended his record streak of consecutive scoreless postseason innings thrown on the road to 32.2 innings. It also snapped an overall streak of 21 straight World Series zeroes thrown to start a career; only legendary Giants ace Christy Mathewson, with 28 such innings, has more.

Bumgarner only got better in Sunday's crucial 5-0, Game Five victory at AT&T Park. He went the distance and threw his second shutout of the postseason—his other coming in the wild card win over Pittsburgh—and became the first pitcher since Josh Beckett in 2003 to blank a World Series opponent from start to finish. In 31 career Fall Classic innings, Bumgarner has allowed just one run.

Bad Giant
After allowing four home runs over the Giants’ first two postseason series—all to left-handed hitters—reliever Hunter Strickland was confined by manager Bruce Bochy to facing right-handed bats only. Then, in Game Two, he allowed a bomb to the Royals’ Omar Infante, a righty who doesn’t own a lot of pop. Adding incredulity to injury, Strickland barked angrily into his glove and within earshot of Salvador Perez, scoring ahead of Infante and thinking he was the target of Strickland’s yelling. The miscommunication emptied the dugouts, but no brawl took place.

Back to Strickland; his five homers are the most allowed in a single postseason by a reliever, tying Chris Narveson for the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers.

Careful With Your Lead
Twice, the Giants have taken a 3-2 game lead in the World Series (1924, 2002). Both times, they lost the series.

Wet the Heck’s Going On?
The Kansas City Royals, who use speed as one of their weapons, were publicly irked that the San Francisco Giants watered down the infield more than usual before Game Three of the World Series at AT&T Park in an alleged attempt to slow down their baserunners. If it was meant as a ploy, it didn’t necessarily succeed; the Giants’ Hunter Pence attempted the only steal on the night and was nailed at second in a game the Royals won, 3-2. But it all smacks of 1962, when the Los Angeles Dodgers—embroiled in a thrilling pennant race with the Giants and fueled by 104-steal speedster Maury Wills—accused the Giants of doing the same thing when they came to Candlestick Park for a crucial late-season series.

Of course, the Giants could have been even more devious had more rain than expected showed up on Saturday and postponed Game Four to Sunday, allowing the team to move ace Madison Bumgarner up to start in place of Ryan Vogelsong; they could have hired the Wrigley Field grounds crew to unfurl the tarps and badly mess it up, as it did when the Giants came to Chicago in August.

Give it Your Best Hit
Before the Royals’ Jeremy Guthrie took the mound for Game Three at San Francisco, Giants broadcast analyst Mike Krukow described the 35-year-old veteran righty as one who “pitches to contact.” Krukow surely wasn’t kidding. Throwing the minimum five innings to gain credit for the victory in his first-ever World Series start, Guthrie neither walked nor struck out an opposing hitter. No pitcher had ever done that in a postseason start while getting the win.

Finnegan Again
Royals reliever Brandon Finnegan pitched relief in Game Three and thus became the first player ever to participate in both the College World Series and the World Series in the same year. The 21-year-old Finnegan faced two Giants and retired them both in the seventh inning of Kansas City’s 3-2 win—but then got rocked for five runs and took the loss in the Giants’ 11-4 victory the next night in Game Four.

The Return of That Marlins Guy
Early in Game One we checked out a guy wearing orange behind home plate among the sea of Royals blue-clad fans at Kauffman Stadium and immediately assumed a Giants fan had survived the walk through hostile territory to grab a choice seat. Then we saw the Miami Marlins’ logotype on the front of his shirt and shouted, “Him again!”

That him, again, is Laurence Leavy, a 58-year-old Miami-area attorney who we noted was omnipresent during the 2012 World Series between the Giants and Detroit Tigers. Back then, neither team minded his presence because his orange Marlins shirt—which he always wears to games—blended in with their team colors. But orange is nowhere to be found on the Royals’ visual branding palette, and during Game One someone from Royals management actually asked Leavy if he could move to a luxury suite so the crowd could look more partisan on national TV. Leavy declined, later saying to the New York Daily News, “I didn’t want to move. I paid a lot of money for that seat.”

And how is Leavy able to spend all that money to buy the best seat in the house? Besides being a lawyer (which is usually associated with healthy income), he has no wife or children.

Now That’s Gratuity
A Kansas City waiter served the wife of Royals pitcher Wade Davis at Rock & Brews restaurant—and received a ticket to Game One as a tip.

Hunter Pence Eats Breakfast With Realtives of This Great Game
Hunter Pence Eats Breakfast With Realtives of This Great GameMark Gouldsberry, the brother of TGG’s Eric Gouldsberry, was enjoying breakfast this past Sunday morning with wife Julie and son Adam (a student at the University of Pacific’s dental school in San Francisco) near AT&T Park when they noticed the guy sitting at the table next to them was none other than the Giants’ Hunter Pence, who was happy to pose with Adam (standing to our left of Pence) and the famed scooter he had stolen (and quickly returned) earlier in the year. The image made the rounds to several Facebook pages, including those of TGG and Pence himself. It may have been the coolest brush with greatness seen on the day by the Gouldsberrys—even better than Eric's sighting of Arnold Schwarzenegger that same morning, 50 miles to the south in the chic San Jose suburb of Los Gatos.

There are More Important Things in Life Than You, Kim
Kanye West, who proposed to Kim Kardashian in an opulent setting at AT&T Park a few years back, wanted to return to the ballpark in another private, well-funded ceremony to celebrate the “reality” star’s birthday. But with AT&T being set up for the World Series, availability would become a challenge. So West reportedly made a personal call to Giants front man Larry Baer asking him to hold off on ballpark preparations for the Fall Classic until after his planned showy shindig. Baer, not so surprisingly, said no. And so, West and Kardashian proceeded with Plan B: Maui.

The Los Angeles Dodgers of Tampa Bay?
Unsatisfied with a NLDS exit against St. Louis—and likely squirming that it’s the second-place Giants, not they, who have made the World Series—the Los Angeles Dodgers this past week snagged Andrew Friedman, who worked wonders putting together winning teams in attendance-challenged St. Petersburg with the Tampa Bay Rays, to be their new general manager. Ned Colletti, the incumbent, was “promoted” to become team president Stan Kasten’s senior adviser to make room for the 35-year-old Friedman, who will make a cool $35 million over five years.

Bigger news came out of Tampa Bay later in the week when Rays manager Joe Maddon opted out of the final year of his contract and became a free agent. This immediately led to speculation that Maddon would follow Friedman to Los Angeles, but Friedman said that Don Mattingly will remain the Dodgers’ skipper in 2015. Of course, words do not equate to actions; just a week or so again when Friedman jumped ship, Maddon publicly stated that he was happy in St. Petersburg and had no intentions of leaving.

The loss of two of the prime architects of the Rays’ recent winning ways creates a dangerous void in St. Petersburg, where there’s a thin line between success and failure. That was made more clear to us this past week as we visited the fine Florida city for the first time and discovered first-hand why the Rays have such a hard time drawing, as we’ll expand on in our upcoming, in-depth story of Tropicana Dome in our Ballparks section. Nevertheless, we’ll find out how sharp a guy Tampa Bay owner Stuart Sternberg is as he now has to reshuffle the deck and, essentially, start from scratch with a Rays front office and roster that is now minus ace David Price.

Going Out in Style
Retiring Chicago White Sox slugger
Paul Konerko received a nice parting gift this past week when he was named co-winner of this year’s Roberto Clemente Award, given to players who best exemplify the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team as paraphrased from the official MLB script. Konerko shares the award with veteran Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins, making the pair the first co-winners in the 45-year history of the award, renamed for Clemente after his untimely death in 1972. (No, Konerko and Rollins do not have to saw the award in half; they each get a full one.)

Second, Again
Mike Trout finished runner-up for The Sporting News MLB Player of the Year in the regular season just concluded. Who beat him? Los Angeles ace Clayton Kershaw, by three votes among 244 active players who participated in the tally.

An Award of Their Own
MLB announced its inaugural awards for the best closers in baseball by league; the NL winner was Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel, who received the first Trevor Hoffman Award, while the Royals’ Greg Holland was bestowed with the Mariano Rivera Award as the AL’s best.

Atop the Launching Pad
Eric Gouldsberry at the parking lot formerly known as Atlanta-Fulton County StadiumOn a business trip to the South this past week that included stops in St. Petersburg and Atlanta, TGG’s Eric Gouldsberry (pictured at left) persuaded good buddy and TGG friend Rusty Shaffer (he of Fretlight Guitar fame) to check out Turner Field after a midday meeting in downtown Atlanta, since they we’re driving right by anyway. Eric at first thought he was dragging Rusty for a shameless, impromptu photo op to upgrade the visuals on our Turner Field page in the Ballparks section, but Rusty really got into the few points of interest that remained from the former Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium: The outline of the playing field as shown at left in the Turner Field parking lot, and the only structural element left from the Launching Pad, that of the wall segment where Hank Aaron belted his 715th career home run in 1974. It was all very cool on a beautifully mild fall day in the Deep South.

Why Bother to Operate?
Miguel Cabrera is an amazing guy. He hits .313 with 52 doubles, 25 homers and 109 RBIs during the regular season and plays at his best in the season’s final month—belting eight of his homers to go with a .379 figure—and it’s learned that he did so not only with bone spurs in his ankle but with a stress fracture in his foot. He was operated on this past week, with two screws inserted into the foot in question; doctors are telling him to stay off the foot for three months, making his availability in spring training (and perhaps Opening Day 2015) in serious doubt.

Buy Now and Reserve Options for Postseason Tickets—in 2017
Philadelphia CEO
Pat Gillick probably didn’t make many friends in the Phillies’ sales department this past week when he told CSN Philly that the team likely would not be contenders through the next two years. Not that this is shocking news considering the Phillies’ roster decay of late, but the façade should always have the look of sunshine.

He Tweeted What?
“The people remaining in the Rays’ front office must feel like the people at Sterling Cooper (of Mad Men fame) after the partners left.”—
Andy Martino, New York Daily News.

Now Playing at TGG
Our annual postmortem on the regular season is now live in our Opinions section, as we describe who was the best, worst, most surprising and most disappoitning during the 2014 baseball campaign.

Coming Soon to TGG
Look this coming week for our latest update to the Ballparks section as we spotlight the late, great Ebbets Field in Brooklyn; also look for our annual updates to our Teams section with the 2014 season wholly concluded.

And Finally...
Next week's edition of the Comebacker will be our last of the year, as we're taking a break to concentrate on the rest of This Great Game. The Comebacker will return in 2015 as a monthly review, with many of the same features you've become use to in the weekly iterations we've been churning out since 2008. To our loyal readers of this column, thanks for all the interest and time you've given, and we'll see you next year; in the meantime, enjoy the rest of the site, there's so much to see.


The Comebacker's Greatest Hits: Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2008 season.


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