This Great Game Comebacker

The Week That Was in Baseball: September 29-October 5, 2014
Where Did the Royals Come From? The Longest Postseason Game
Where Are All the Everyday Players? Adam Dunn Retires and Means It


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.


Baltimore vs. Kansas City, Naturally
Let’s see the hands of those who picked the Orioles and Royals to both reach the ALCS six months ago. Liars.

The Orioles—the team everyone expected to wilt under the weight of a potentially brutal AL East which instead collapsed into mediocrity, the team that seems to get stronger with each star player (Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, Chris Davis) they lose, the team without an ace—advanced with a three-and-out of the favored Detroit Tigers, the team with no injuries, stars galore and three venerable ace pitchers.

In the series’ first two games, the eighth inning would become the Orioles’ best friend. They scored eight times in that frame during Game One to run away with a 12-3 victory; in Game Two, pinch-hitter (and one-time Tiger) Delmon Young showed up with the Orioles down two runs, the bases loaded and one out in the eighth—and proceeded to rip a double that brought everyone home to give Baltimore a 7-6 lead and a 2-0 series lead when they held it through the ninth.

In Game Three at Detroit, the Orioles got all the runs they would need in the sixth when Nelson Cruz hit his 16th career postseason homer—eight of them have come against Detroit—and sweated out a ninth-inning Tiger rally that began with back-to-back doubles by Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez, cutting the Oriole lead to 2-1; with runners at first and second and one out, Detroit manager Brad Ausmus brought up little-used, 23-year-old Hernan Perez—who hit into a double play to end the game, the series and the season for Detroit while sending Baltimore onward.

Cinderella in Royal Blue?
The Orioles’ ALCS opponent may be their ultimate challenge, as the Royals look to be that one team we see every postseason with unstoppable momentum.

It all began in the AL Wild Card game against Oakland, a 12-inning contest lasting four hours and 45 minutes with enough excitement to satisfy an entire five-game series. The Royals trailed thrice and came back each time; they did it using classic postseason small ball strategies, including a postseason record-tying seven steals (including an all-time mark of four in one inning, a three-run eighth). Salvador Perez’s searing line drive past the outstretched glove of Oakland third baseman Josh Donaldson sent home Christian Colon with the game-winner. For the A’s, they’re now 3-14 in postseason elimination games dating back to 2000.

The Royals’ nail-biting magic continued in the ALDS against the heavily favored Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the team with the majors’ best record at 98-64. Extra innings became the rule once more in the first two games at Anaheim—and the Royals shifted into power mode, with Mike Moustakas breaking a 1-1 tie in the 11th of Game One with a solo homer, and Eric Hosmer going deep for a two-run shot in the Royals’ eventual 4-1, Game Two victory in 11 more frames.

In Game Three on Sunday at Kauffman Stadium, the Royals successfully killed any third-act suspense by scoring early and often against the Angels—who couldn’t pull together the previously effective ‘bullpen game’ effort after an ineffective C.J. Wilson was removed just six batters in. Both Hosmer and Moustakas homered again and the Angels pulled away with an 8-3 win and a surprising sweep.

Extra Insight
The Royals became the sixth team to win three extra-inning games in the postseason. The other five all won the World Series.

The New Mr. May?
Angels superstar Mike Trout homered in his first at-bat in Game Three, but otherwise he was hitless in 11 at-bats against the Royals with three walks. Worse: He represented the Angels’ last chance in both Games Two and Three and struck out both times.

Stifler, is That You?
Okay, American Pie aficionados: Doesn’t Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer look more than a little bit like Seann William Scott?

Hey Bat Boy, Can You Bring Over a Few New Balls?
This had to hurt.

2010, 2012…2014?
In sharp contrast to the nail-biting atmosphere of Kansas City, the National League Wild Card playoff lacked heavily of suspense—especially from the moment San Francisco’s Brandon Crawford broke a scoreless tie with a fourth-inning grand slam at Pittsburgh, igniting the Giants to an easy 8-0 victory over the Pirates. The Pittsburgh crowd, all dressed in black, could have been confused with mourners at a funeral, and it was just about as quiet as there was literally nothing to cheer for on the evening thanks to Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner, who sailed to a four-hit, ten-strikeout complete game shutout. It was a major disappointment for the Pirates, who came in as one of the hottest teams—having won 17 of their final 23 regular season contests.

It’s Not Over Until We Say It’s Over
Balancing out the A’s horrid elimination-game record on the other side of the bay, the Giants have been at their best when the season is on the line. They’ve now won seven straight games when faced with elimination.

Cleaning Up
Crawford, who has a thing for grand slams—he hit one in his first big league game in 2011—became the first shortstop in major league postseason history to go deep with the bags full.

Long and, in the End, Giant
Like the Royals, the Giants rode the momentum of their wild card conquest to top-seeded Washington and dispensed of the Nationals in the first two games of the NLDS. And like Royals-Angels, neither win came easily, especially in an epic Game Two battle that lasted a postseason record-tying 18 innings and finished with the Giants eking out a 2-1 win thanks to Brandon Belt’s solo shot.

I’ve Been Here Before
Tim Hudson, who started Game Two for the Giants and pitched 7.1 innings, was a starting pitcher in the other 18-inning playoff, throwing the first seven innings for Atlanta in a 7-6 loss at Houston that sent the Astros to the 2005 NLCS against St. Louis.

So Have I
Brandon Belt was a designated hitter for the University of Texas when it participated in the longest postseason game in college baseball history, a 25-inning marathon won by the Longhorns over Boston College in 2009. That game lasted seven hours and three minutes—40 minutes longer than the Giants’ win at Washington.

Woodward and Bernstein Would be Ashamed
The Washington Post displayed a huge front-page photo allegedly taken of a dismayed Nationals’ dugout during their Game One loss to the Giants. But the photo actually was taken in 2012. How do we know? In the dugout, dressed in Washington gear, is
Michael Morse—who now plays for the Giants.

A Man With a Vivid (Inc.) Imagination
A man claiming to be 24 and “athletic” said he had two Washington Nationals postseason tickets and, on Craigslist, offered to give them away to any two women on the condition that they both jump into bed with him. The authenticity of the post is dubious, but it’s bound to give some movie producers in the San Fernando Valley some new plot ideas.

Is Kershaw Newked?
Back in the day, Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe was considered one of the best pitchers of his era—except when he got to the postseason. In five October starts—all World Series outings, given there were no other form of playoff during the 1950s—Newcombe was 0-4 with a terrible 8.59 ERA.

Six decades later, another Dodgers ace has yet to leverage regular season invincibility to the postseason. It was a bit of a shock to see Clayton Kershaw, coasting along with a 6-2 lead after six innings of Game One against the Cardinals at Los Angeles, suddenly fall apart. Five of the first six Cardinal batters singled in the seventh, and after Kershaw struck out Oscar Taveras for the second out, he looked like he might just escape—but Matt Carpenter next doubled to clear the bases, give the Cardinals an 7-6 lead and end Kershaw’s night.

Kershaw is a lifetime 33-0 in the regular season when he’s had a lead after five innings, so this was unusual. So is this: He’s 1-4 with a 5.20 ERA in ten postseason appearances, seven as a starter. Don Newcombe can relate.

Where Have All the Ironmen Gone?
As we were pouring through the final regular season numbers to determine our annual list of the ten best hitters and pitchers from each league (to be posted with our 2014 page soon), it hit us as to how so few players were actually playing everyday. So we looked it up to see what was afoot, and we found this: In 1998—the first year with the current 30 teams all in play—90 different major leaguers logged at least 150 games. It’s been trending downward ever since, and this season it hit a new low with only 56 players doing the same.

So what in the name of Cal Ripken Jr. is going on? Are players pushing themselves harder than ever and getting hurt more often as a result? Are they so highly and finely tuned that they’ve become the Jaguars of athletes, breaking down more often than not? Are the high salaries making managers—and by extension, the front office—more hesitant to play their best guys day in and day out?

We have one theory that we believe holds a lot of water. In 2006, MLB banned amphetamines, which many players relied on to help survive the brisk, demanding weight of a 162-game schedule over six months. Without them, players likely find it harder to maintain peak level. Some have tried to get around it by asking for—and being granted—an exemption to legally take Adderall, an amphetamine prescribed to those with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). In fact, we wonder how many of the 56 who put in 150-plus games this year are among those exempted.

MLB may be taking note of this, but they also likely have little inclination to do anything about it. With faster, stronger ballplayers, few off days owing to a lack of doubleheaders and the stress of performing at A-list level as the six-figure checks come through the mail on a monthly or weekly basis, everyday players will likely continue to be fewer and far between.

I’m Dunn
With the Oakland A’s departure out of the postseason,
Adam Dunn has decided that he’s had enough of baseball. The 34-year-old made good on numerous hints over the past few years and has officially retired from the game.

Before being included on the A’s roster for their wild card loss to Kansas City, Dunn had played more games (2,001) than any other active major leaguer without having ever participated in a postseason. In a sense, he still never has; Dunn did not play in the A’s 9-8, 12-inning loss to the Royals. (In case you’re wondering, Texas’ Alex Rios now takes over among active players without postseason experience, with 1,586 regular season games to none in October.)

Dunn may be the ultimate hit-or-miss slugger of our times, with all due apologies to Mark Reynolds. His 462 career home runs has him tied for 35th on the all-time list with Jose Canseco, but no one—not even Dave Kingman—with 400 or more has a lower batting average than Dunn’s .234 mark. When he wasn’t going deep, Dunn was almost always either striking out or walking; he’s third on the all-time list with 2,379 K’s and most certainly would have surpassed Reggie Jackson (at number one) had he played a few more years; his 1,317 walks place him 40th on the career list.

In six seasons—five of them consecutive—Dunn hit 40 or more homers, and occasionally did hit for a decent average; his high-water mark came in 2009 with he batted .267 for the Nationals. But his four-year deal to play for the Chicago White Sox, starting in 2011, was utterly disastrous; in his first year with the Sox, he hit .159 with 11 homers over 122 games in what was arguably the worst performance by an everyday player in the history of the game. He rebounded with 41 homers in 2012 but also struck out 222 times—just one shy of Reynolds’ season record. Finally, Dunn was an accident waiting to happen in the outfield where he appeared 1,113 times—producing a .967 fielding percentage which, by modern major league outfielding standards, is horrible.

Twin Woe
This past Monday was not a good day for those with experience managing the Minnesota Twins. First there was the news that
Ron Gardenhire, who piloted the Twins out of the depths of second-division play (in the shadows of contraction rumors) to seven divisional titles, was dismissed after the Twins lost 90-plus games for the fourth straight year. On the same day, it was revealed that Tom Kelly—Gardenhire’s predecessor and skipper of the Twins’ world title teams of 1987 and 1991—had suffered a mild stroke. The team reported that the 64-year-old Kelly was due for a full recovery.

Ode to the Invisible Fan
The end of the regular season revealed the final attendance figures on the year and showed that major league crowd figures remain stagnant; the average crowd of 30,345 is a scant fraction down from last year and continues a stubborn non-trend in which tickets sold remain essentially the same since the start of the Great Recession. The high point remains 32,694 per game from 2007, the last full year before the stock market/real estate crash.

It would also be interesting to see how many actual fans were at the ballpark. Remember: In 2000, MLB teams began using ‘tickets sold’ for their attendance figures, not those who actually show up. It’s now common to see an announced crowd figure that hardly computes with the amount of people in the stands. Toward the end of this season, a crowd at Minnesota’s Target Field was officially announced at 30,000 although the media said the actual figure was closer to 10,000; Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, always seems to have a much smaller turnout than is announced, and even though the Giants have officially sold out 327 games at AT&T Park, there have been times when the ballpark is three-quarters filled.

In our recently added Ballpark section, we discuss the future and share the opinions of others who say that for baseball to truly fill the ballparks back up, they need to make the experience match that of the man cave back home. Only then will the no-shows show.

The Eighth Deadly Sin
For his new film Gone Girl,
Ben Affleck was asked by dark director David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, et al) to wear a New York Yankees cap in one scene. Affleck, a Boston native and rabid Red Sox fan, refused.

Where’s the Pebble?
Here’s a recently unearthed newsreel of the 1924 World Series between the Washington Senators and New York Giants, which resulted in the first and only world title ever achieved in the Nation’s Capitol. If you’re looking to see if the video includes any of those alleged bad hops in front of Giants third baseman
Freddie Lindstrom that lost the series for New York, you might be a tad disappointed; the play is shown, but Lindstrom and the bounce are just out of frame.


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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