This Great Game Comebacker

The Week That Was in Baseball: October 14-20, 2013
Red Sox-Cardinals: A Look Back Where Were You, Prince Fielder?
How Did TGG Fare Against Other Preseason Experts? Nolan Ryan Steps Down


Get Ready for a Good Show
The Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals both won league pennants this past weekend—the 12th for the Red Sox, the 19th for the Cardinals—and will meet up in the World Series for the fourth time. The previous three matchups between these two storied teams have been full of memories and great moments:

1946. The first postwar Fall Classic gave Ted Williams his one and only postseason shot; aching with a bruised elbow suffered in a warm-up exhibition, he managed only five hits (all singles) in 25 at-bats. The Cardinals’ Harry Brecheen won three games and the team rallied from a 3-2 game deficit, famously winning Game Seven when Enos Slaughter made his “mad dash” on a Harry Walker single, scoring from first base with the ultimate game-winning run in the eighth inning.

1967. Bursting from a decade-long slump, a Boston team re-energized under fiery rookie manager Dick Williams and powered by Carl Yastrzemski fell behind St. Louis three games to one as the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson racked up strikeouts and Lou Brock burned up the basepaths. But the Red Sox won the next two to tie the series, and Williams boasted of “(Boston pitching ace Jim) Lonborg and champagne” for Game Seven. Gibson easily made the claim premature with a 7-2 conquest to give the Redbirds the trophy.

2004. The Red Sox completed their near-impossible comeback from ALCS death as they swept the Cardinals in four games and celebrated their first world title in 86 years. This was accomplished despite committing eight errors over the first two games; the Cardinals were no help to themselves, their misery symbolically captured in Game Three when pitcher Jeff Suppan, given a free ride home from third on a ground ball hit to the first-base side, made a baffling and fatal hesitation that got him tagged out in a rundown.

What a Shane for the Red Sox
Shane Victorino certainly has his moments. Although he’s hit a tepid .237 in the postseason, that’s been all overshadowed by his dramatic grand slam that gave Boston the lead to stay in ALCS Game Six; with that, he became one of two players (Jim Thome is the other) with multiple postseason grand slams. The two slams also match his regular season career total, achieved over 1,198 games. More painfully, Victorino also became the all-time postseason leader in hit batsmen, getting plunked for the tenth time in the sixth inning by Max Scherzer. He’s been hit five times alone this October.

The Prince of Low October Tides
The Detroit Tigers paid Prince Fielder $20 million a year figuring he could rake up offense hitting behind Miguel Cabrera, much as he did behind Ryan Braun in Milwaukee; in his first two regular season campaigns at Detroit, he hasn’t been altogether bad, playing everyday and hitting .295 with a season average of 28 homers, 107 RBIs and 80 walks.

The postseason has been a different story. In his last 18 playoff games with the Tigers going back to last year’s ALCS, Fielder has hit .185 with no home runs—and not a single RBI.

Fielder also breathed life back into the Red Sox in ALCS Game Six when, at third base after the Tigers had taken a 2-1 lead in the top of the sixth, he started home on a Jhonny Peralta ground ball hit to the other side; when Victor Martinez, running from first, provided a distraction for Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia, Fielder inexplicably stopped—essentially making him a dead duck once Pedroia finally tagged Martinez out. The double play was completed and a potentially big Tiger rally snuffed when Fielder got trapped in a rundown and tagged out attempting a return to third base.

Victorino’s grand slam an inning later re-established a Boston lead that they would never look back on, and the series was done in six games.

Life as a Biogenesis Parolee
Jhonny Peralta didn’t miss a beat after rejoining the Tigers for the playoffs after his 50-game Biogenesis suspension—hitting .333 with four doubles and a homer. Still, even though he’s “done his time,” some Red Sox players weren’t happy that he was eligible to play, as Peter Gammons noted in an online column in which “they wonder what remains in his body.” More publicly, Boston’s Jonny Gomes demurred: “We all play by the rules, and (Peralta) is playing by the rules. So go out and play.”

Some Tiger fans were wishing that Detroit manager Jim Leyland would let Peralta do just that in ALCS Game Six. Head scratching ensued when, in the sixth inning, Peralta was removed for pinch-runner Dan Kelly, who took his place in the outfield. That would seem a smart move if you’re in the eighth or ninth inning with a slim lead, but the sixth?

Why We Need Sensible Video Review
Dustin Pedroia’s deep fly down the left field line in ALCS Game Six just missed the foul pole by inches (it would have helped if Pedroia had willed the ball to go fair, like Carlton Fisk in 1975) and Fox replays made it pretty obvious that it was foul. Yet Boston manager John Farrell wanted to be sure and asked the umpires to go into Fenway’s catacombs and review the play anyway; with little suspense, they emerged back on the field and upheld the initial call. The whole scenario lasted nearly four minutes between pitches; had the TGG method of video replay been in use, it would have been taken care of in less than a minute. Really, MLB—next year, no manager challenges.

This Week’s Evidence That Everyone’s Striking Out
The Red Sox advanced despite hitting .202—the lowest figure among all four participants in the LCS—and striking out 73 times in six games, setting an all-time postseason record regardless of the length of the series.

More of That Wacha-macallit
When you throw in his final regular season appearance—when he came within an out of no-hitting the Washington Nationals—rookie St. Louis pitcher Michael Wacha has won four straight starts with a 0.30 ERA; during this stretch, opponents are hitting just .094 against him. (Need a bigger sample size? Since August 22, Wacha has a 1.07 ERA over 59 innings.)

On the Other Hand…
In stark comparison to Wacha, Los Angeles ace Clayton Kershaw has been anything but impressive in his last five starts against the Cardinals. He lost them all, giving up 21 earned runs in 28.2 innings for a 6.59 ERA.

It’s Interesting to Note
This year’s two likely Cy Young Award winners—Kershaw and Scherzer—were the losing pitchers in the games that won the pennant for their opponents.

Modestly Strange But True
The Cardinals reached the World Series even though they have not scored a single first-inning run in 11 postseason games. Their longest such drought during the regular season was nine games.

Pregame Pestivities
Events on the field before NLCS Game Six were almost as interesting as those during the Cardinals’ 9-0 rout to clinch the NL pennant. First, there reportedly was a “heated” exchange during batting practice between Los Angeles team president
Stan Kasten and former manager/current MLB exec Joe Torre. The topic of conversation was said to be Dodger rookie phenom Yasiel Puig, who riled umpires in Game Five to the point he was nearly ejected for his manner of protesting a strike three call. Torre called it “friendly conversation” with Kasten, who told reporters that “Joe and I were chatting.” Nothing more.

Then came the bizarre moment after the National Anthem was played. Everyone on the field went back to the dugouts—except the Dodgers’ Scott Van Slyke and the Cardinals’ Joe Kelly, who remained standing with their caps held over their hearts as some sort of symbolic standoff, before a perturbed home plate umpire Greg Gibson, seconds from the game’s first pitch, yelled out to both to scram. Kelly finally flinched away, leading to joyous cheers and high-fives in the Dodger dugout as Van Slyke victoriously followed. So if anything else, the Dodgers did not walk away from Game Six empty-handed.

Friends for a Day
Dodger manager
Don Mattingly said that his team is “America’s Team” because fans would be pulling for them to win Game Six and take the NLCS to a winner-take-all seventh game. America apparently lost.

The Man Who Was Bearly There
In NLCS Game Three at Los Angeles, TBS had a shot of the Cardinal dugout and you could see, in the background, a man in a bear suit wearing a Dodger jersey dancing on top of the dugout. We thought to ourselves: The Dodgers have a bear mascot? They don’t. The man was grabbed down by security and escorted into the bowels of Dodger Stadium to be caged. And to think: Security at Busch Stadium was more forgiving to the man in the squirrel outfit who raided the field a few years ago before the Cardinals started getting hot.

I Don’t Know How to Put This, But I’m Kind of a Big Deal
Because the cross-promotion ads for Dodge aren’t enough, Anchorman 2 actor
Will Ferrell (no, that wasn’t Adam Dunn) got additional airplay before NLCS Game Five at Los Angeles when he introduced the Dodger lineup. Maybe it wasn’t as funny as the time Bill Murray filled in for an ailing Harry Caray and delivered the starting lineup for a Cubs-Montreal Expos game on Chicago’s WGN (“Leading off for the Expos, Casey Candaele; he’s no good”) but Ferrell did save his best line for last when he announced Zack Greinke as “today’s winning pitcher.” Well at least the man was prescient.

Are We as Expert as the “Experts”?
We released our latest Opinion piece this week dissecting the 2013 regular season against our preseason picks—and we decided to see how we fared against other prognosticators who took their best shot at determining baseball’s winners and losers.

To do this, we took our predicted records, matched them up against the actual results and came up with a nasty (and not so little) number to determine how close (or far off) we were. For instance, Ed forecasted an 80-82 finish for the Boston Red Sox but they finished at 97-65, so he was 17 games off; we then added the differences for the other 29 teams and came up with a final number. In Ed’s case, he was 225 games off—barely ahead of Eric’s 227. (Both easily improved over 2012’s predictions—which had Ed at 239 and Eric at a terrible 280).

How did we compare with others who also dared to publish predicted records? Not so bad. The casinos had it a little more prescient, with Reno’s Atlantis Sportsbook chipping in at 212. Bleacher Report, a consortium of baseball experts, finished just a tad better than Ed and Eric at 220. Baseball Prospectus’ revered PECOTA method, which has been praised by major media outlets over the past few years, settled smack in between Ed and Eric at 226. Yahoo Sports’ two main baseball prose artists (Jeff Passan and Tim Brown) fared respectably at, respectively, 217 and 205.

Beating us all was a mathematician professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) named Bruce Bukiet. Relying on math over instinct (and perhaps bias), Bukiet checked out at 203, nailing five of six divisional winners (okay, so he had Oakland with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but few dared to even consider the A’s over the heavily-favored Angels).

Those who didn’t bother to predict the records and stuck to just naming either the order of finish or the divisional champs in advance also failed at the six-team parlay. Not a single person we could find at ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo, The Sporting News or Baseball Prospectus was able to call all six divisional winners—hardly a surprise, given the disappointments of expected World Series contenders in Washington, Toronto, Los Angeles of Anaheim and San Francisco, none of whom made the postseason.

Fight Night at the Appeal Hearing
The
Alex Rodriguez appeal saga continued this past week and recessed until November, but not without more juicy bits of leaked information. It was reported that during the early days of the hearing, opposing lawyers nearly came to blows when Joe Tacopina, Rodriguez’s pugnacious counselor, exchanged words with Julio Ayala (lawyer for Biogenesis founder Tony Bosch) over how long the hearing was taking; sources have Tacopina saying to Ayala, “I guess we have all of October, and by then Mr. Bosch will be in jail,” to which Ayala replied, “If he is, he’s not going alone.” At that point, Tacopina had to be “physically restrained” from going after Ayala. Someday there’s going to be a really good movie made on all of this.

Hey, Alcantara!
Since Albert Pujols is coming out guns blazing on Jack Clark as he sues him for defamation, Clark is more than happy to respond in kind. This past week, Clark’s lawyers sent a lawyer offering “Jose Alberto Pujols Alcantara” (they claim that’s his real name) to take a lie detector test along with Clark to find out which one is telling the truth. No comment as yet from Pujols, but don’t expect him to be wired up anytime soon.

Wally Bell, 1965-2013
Just a week after umpiring the NLDS between St. Louis and Pittsburgh,
Wally Bell succumbed to a heart attack at the age of 48. The heavy-set arbiter, who got his start in the majors in 1992 at age 27, had umpired over 2,700 games as well as three All-Star Games, seven divisional series, four league championship series and the 2006 World Series. The news was a shock to the baseball community but not a complete surprise; in 1999, Bell underwent quintuple bypass surgery—and was back on the job 11 weeks later.

This Front Office Isn’t Big Enough for the Two of Us
After months of rumor,
Nolan Ryan finally made it official and resigned as CEO of the Texas Rangers. The legendary pitcher, who finished his career with the Rangers and later became part savior of the franchise after owner Tom Hicks went bankrupt, agreed to part ways after it became inevitable that he would lose the tug-of-war over player personnel movement with general manager Jon Daniels. Who knows how nasty the divorce was on the inside, but on the outside, everything appeared copasetic—because the Rangers were not about ready to lose valuable PR points given Ryan’s enormous popularity with the team’s fans.

The Next Big Puig?
No player has ever been given as much money with no previous pro baseball experience as
Jose Abreu received this past week, as the Cuban refugee signed a six-year, $68 million deal with the Chicago White Sox. Abreu is not a five-tool talent like Yasiel Puig, but he is said to hit like the wind with ferocious power—and even though the Miami Marlins and San Francisco Giants were said to be hot in the hunt for the 26-year-old slugger, the White Sox became a more idyllic destination since he can take advantage of the designated hitter spot. It’s possible that the deal will make current White Sox first baseman/DH Adam Dunn expendable—and likely spell the end of a long Chicago tenure for 37-year-old Paul Konerko, who shared similar duties with the White Sox and is a free agent this winter.

At Least She’ll be Dressed Well for Court
Don’t expect
Maria Peguero to be invited to any Tupperware parties soon with fellow wives of Seattle Mariners ballplayers. The spouse of Seattle roster-bubble outfielder Carlos Peguero has been charged by Federal authorities for making 60 online purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue totaling $180,000 using someone else’s debit card without permission. Whose card was it? Sandra Hernandez, the wife of Mariners ace pitcher Felix Hernandez. This would not a first offense for Peguero; she was arrested in 2010 for shoplifting at a T.J. Maxx outlet. So while her good citizen standing hasn’t improved, her taste in clothing has.

Don’t Mess With the Vi
Why is everybody always picking on
Cal Ripken Jr.’s mom? Last year, Vi Ripken was kidnapped from her Maryland home and safely returned within 24 hours; no one has been arrested for that crime. Then came this past Tuesday; Vi had just left a bank and was getting in her car when a man with a handgun approached her; she locked the door and activated a key alarm to chase him away. In this case, a suspect is in custody; police are saying the two cases do not appear to be related.

Thanks for Tolerating
Barry Zito took out a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle to thank the fans for his seven years of service with the Giants that earned him $126 million; he’s under the assumption that he won’t play an eighth, given his lackluster 63-80 record and 4.62 ERA during his S.F. tenure. The Giants have a $22 million option for 2014 but instead will likely give Zito $7 million to go away. In the ad, Zito gives everyone perspective on what life was like during his time as a Giant off the mound; he lost his parents, got married and found God.

Trick or Treat Softly and Carry a Big Stick
Because the Wahsington Nationals are not in the postseason (as many of us had expected) and have nothing better to do, they’re promoting an opportunity for some lucky kid to trick or treat with the team’s Teddy Roosevelt mascot. The winner will be based on who has the best “Nationals-themed costume” as sent into Instagram. What a joke it would be if the winner sent in a
Bryce Harper costume and actually showed wearing a Phillies uniform.


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Best and Worst of the 2013 Season

BEST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.348 103 193 26 1 44 137 71 19 5 3

Were it not for some late-season maladies and Chris Davis’ unexpected punch in Baltimore, the reigning MVP—likely to win it again—might have nabbed his second straight triple crown, something never done before. In retrospect, Cabrera’s 2013 campaign contained more potency than even last season; he matched his career high in homers and set personal bests in batting average, RBIs and slugging percentage. Cabrera is still only 30, so he could very well maintain this stratospheric level for a number of years to come.


BEST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.302 103 182 36 3 36 125 80 19 3 15

It took barely two years, but the well-built Delaware native completed his rise to stardom as the NL’s most complete offensive force—hitting for average, power and even showing off a little speed with 15 steals. (He also ended the season with a 19-game hitting streak.) The question becomes: Will the 26-year old see his game rise even higher? Goldschmidt doesn’t hold slam-dunk odds of winning the NL MVP given he played for a .500 team, but if voters look elsewhere, trust us—he’ll get more chances down the line.


WORST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Brendan Ryan, Seattle-New York

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.197 30 63 12 0 4 22 19 4 2 4

The 31-year-old shortstop is a whiz with the glove and a fizzle with the bat. For the second straight year, Ryan could not hang over the so-called Mendoza Line (translated: .200) and offered very little power on top of that with a weak .273 slugging percentage. It didn’t matter if he was wearing the uniform of the Mariners or the Yankees (who plucked him away late in the year with the idea that he’d somehow help their playoff charge). Ryan’s a free agent for 2014; he’ll be relieved just to land anywhere.


WORST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
B.J. Upton, Atlanta Braves

BA
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
.184 30 72 14 0 9 26 41 3 2 12

The older brother of Justin (also a first-year Brave) was never going to be confused for a batting champ, having hit just below .250 in each of his four years at Tampa Bay. But after a horrendous start for the Braves for which he never recovered, .230 or .240 sounds awfully good at this moment. Upton not only lacked for hits, he lacked for power (nine, down from 28 in 2012) and stolen base ability (12, down from 30+ while with the Rays). The Braves better hope he correctly screws his head back on; they owe him $60 million over the next four years.


BEST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
21-3 214.3 152 73 69 56 4 6 1 240 2.90

The 29-year-old fireballer won his first 13 starts and practically coasted through one start after another, never folding up while teammates always supported him with comfortable run support. He was so sound, he got the Game One assignment ahead of Justin Verlander for the first round of the playoffs. Scherzer is 52-19 over the last three years; after 2014, he becomes a free agent. Do the Tigers have enough money to make Scherzer their fourth $20 million-a-year player?


BEST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
16-9 236 164 55 48 52 3 12 2 232 1.83

Unlike Scherzer, Kershaw had to fight for most of his wins—something of a continuing theme throughout his career. Case in point: On Opening Day, he shut out the Giants and broke a 0-0 tie with a home run of his own. There’s little doubt he may now be hailed as the game’s best pitcher and will likely nab his second Cy Young Award in three years; and like Scherzer, Kershaw will be a free agent after next season. We get the feeling the cash-happy Dodgers will be happy to re-up him for what he wants.


WORST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Joe Blanton, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
2-14 132.2 180 96 89 34 4 9 0 108 6.04

The right-hander from Tennessee has always had a reputation for being an innings-eater—but as we often say, what good is that if he spends such frequent time on the mound getting hammered? The Angels probably should have gotten that clue given his 4.58 ERA over five seasons entering 2013; even if they did and crossed their fingers hoping for a positive rebound, they instead got a negative, thunderous thud from Blanton, who failed in every aspect of his game—as opponents hit him for average (.317) power (29 homers) and speed (17 steals in 17 attempts).


WORST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Mitchell Boggs, St. Louis-Colorado

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
HB
WP
BK
SO
ERA
0-3 23.1 28 23 21 20 3 1 0 16 8.01

There was much talk earlier this year of the WBC Curse with numerous participants tourney getting hurt or just falling flat upon return to their club teams. Boggs clearly fell on the list of the latter, following up a solid 2012 campaign as the Cardinals’ set-up man to a disastrous appointment as the team’s closer to start 2013 before being demoted—first to mid-inning duty, then off the team completely. The Rockies took a chance and picked Boggs up, and he showed some return to form—but his St. Louis experience was dispiriting to say the least.


BEST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Boston Red Sox (97-65)

How do you erase recent bitter memories of Bobby Valentine, player dissension and clubhouse fried chicken and beer? Boot the manager and the player deadwood and post the AL’s best record. The Red Sox shed the underachieving angst of the last two years and started fresh under seemingly nondescript manager John Farrell and ran away with first place in the majors’ toughest division. Rebounds from David Ortiz, John Lackey, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury (among many others) didn't hurt.


BEST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
St. Louis Cardinals (97-65)

When all else fails, there’s the Cardinals. It doesn’t matter if stars come or go, whether St. Louis is a big or small market—the Redbirds will always test you and get a result to please the millions of fans who show up to Busch. The Cardinals rose to the occasion yet again, despite the loss of Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Jason Motte to injury and Mitchell Boggs (above) to ineptitude. In their place came one impressive rookie hurler after another, buffeted by a lineup that hit out of their minds (.330) with runners in scoring position. It’s just business as usual in Mound City.


WORST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Houston Astros (51-111)

Memo from the AL’s other 14 teams to the young, green, bargain-basement Astros: Thanks for allowing us the opportunity to beat you up over and over and over again. Nobody expected rookie manager Bo Porter’s outfit to surprise anyone, but you would have at least thought the team would have gelled and grown up to play some respectable ball as the season wound down; instead, the Astros lost their last 15 games to ensure the franchise’s worst-ever record—and the majors’ worst since the Tigers went 43-119 in 2003.


WORST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Miami Marlins (62-100)

To paraphrase Charlton Heston from the early scenes of Planet of the Apes: “You got what you wanted, Jeffrey—how does it taste?” After going for it with a new ballpark and $100 million payroll in 2012, detestable owner Jeffrey Loria went back to basics by slashing veteran talent and turning Marlins Park into a ghost town. Sensational rookie Jose Fernandez gave the Fish some saving grace, but he and the rest of a decent staff was often snakebit by an offense that scored fewer runs (511) in a non-strike season since San Diego in 1971.


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