This Great Game Comebacker

The Week That Was in Baseball: October 28-November 3, 2013
The All-Star Free Agent Team for 2014 Joy and Reflection in Beantown
Chevy's "Strong" Stunt Gone Wrong R.I.P., Johnny Kucks


Fenway Festivus
After two depressing seasons in which they suffered all variations of dysfunction, the Boston Red Sox completed a remarkable and emotional journey back to the top of the baseball world by collecting their third World Series trophy in ten years, winning the final three games to take the 2013 Fall Classic in six over the St. Louis Cardinals.

This trip was sweet for the Red Sox and their fans, beyond the fact that it was the first time in 95 years that they scored the clinching victory at Fenway Park. This was, after all, a team that wasn’t supposed to go anywhere in 2013; many experts didn’t have the Red Sox making the postseason, and some even pegged them last in a very tough AL East after Boston crashed and burned in the aftermath of a near-mutiny to end the 2012 season. The Red Sox became only the second team (after the 1991 Minnesota Twins) to win it all a year after finishing last in their division.

A Range of Celebratory Emotions
Boston came alive on Saturday as the Red Sox’ victory parade was viewed by an estimated two million (though some sources suggested the count closer to a whopping three million). The day began with a ceremony at Fenway Park before season ticket holders and moved from there to the streets of Boston, down Boylston Street to the finish line of the Boston Marathon, site of the April twin bombings that killed three, wounded 140 and tested the pride and resolve of a spirited city that responded in the best way possible. At the finish line, Jonny Gomes and Jarrod Saltalamacchia got out of their vehicles, placed the World Series trophy on the pavement, and players and spectators followed with a singing of God Bless America.

From there, the parade continued on through downtown Boston, with the lead car—actually, duck boats that would later roll into the Charles River— reserved for Red Sox owners and a special guest: Policeman Steve Horgan, the man made famous for celebrating David Ortiz’s ALCS grand slam in the Boston bullpen while Detroit outfielder Torii Hunter’s legs were upended in the air falling over the short wall. Not far behind, the party vehicle was headlined by series MVP Ortiz, who ramped up the crowd while a DJ blared music like primetime at a chic nightclub. Finally the duck boats—some of them adorned with the Red Sox’ iconic beards, and so embraced that even Red Sox pitcher Jake Peavy bought one afterward—entered the Charles and did a victory lap before the festivities came to an end.

The unofficial portion of the party continued into the evening for many of the Red Sox players; numerous social media trolls caught Mike Napoli walking the streets “drunk” and topless after a round of celebration at several Boston bars. (Meanwhile, Shane Victorino was photographed at a grocery store quietly purchasing a jug of water.)

Ortiz the Great and Powerful
Fueling the Red Sox’ surge to the title was Ortiz, who finished the series batting .688 (the other Red Sox players hit .169) with eight walks that resulted in a .760 on-base percentage—second in Series annals only to Billy Hatcher’s .800 for Cincinnati in 1990. And only Barry Bonds, starring in San Francisco’s seven-game loss to the Anaheim Angels in 2002, reached base more times (21) in a World Series than Ortiz (19) in 2013. All of this, without the grand slam in Game One when Carlos Beltran robbed Ortiz above the short right-center field wall. Even with Boston starting pitcher Jon Lester locking down the Cardinals with two terrific outings, Ortiz was still a no-brainer choice for Series MVP.

In 13 games at the Fall Classic level, Ortiz has a higher batting average (.455), on-base percentage (.586) and slugging percentage (.795) than any other player in a World Series career. Should that make him the new Mr. October? Not so fast, says the guy who currently holds that title: Reggie Jackson. On HuffPost Live to promote his new book, the star of 1970s World Series champions in Oakland and New York remarked, “(Ortiz) did a great job. (But) there’s only one Mr. October.”

Give a Hand for the Arms, Too
Pitching had a lot to do with the Red Sox’ championship as well. Boston’s 1.84 team ERA was the lowest by an American League entrant since Baltimore produced a 1.60 mark in winning the 1983 World Series over Philadelphia. Lester’s 16.1 scoreless innings to start a World Series career is surpassed only by Christy Mathewson (28) and former Red Sock Jim Lonborg (17, all during the 1967 Fall Classic against the Cardinals).

On a more personal level, the Red Sox’ conquest was most satisfying for John Lackey, who became the first pitcher ever to start and win title-clinching games for different teams; he also earned the victory for the Angels in the final game of the 2002 Series over the Giants.

Hey, It’s Still Just an Out
The Red Sox prevailed despite striking out 59 times during the six-game series against St. Louis—adding to a postseason total of 165 in 520 total at-bats. The latter total is an all-time record.

Why the Cardinals Lost
St. Louis won the National League pennant by hitting .330 with runners in scoring position during the regular season and .278 in the first two postseason series. In the World Series, the Cardinals lost the clutch game—hitting just .214 in RISP situations.

A Cold Freese
The Cardinals, who wouldn’t have won it all two years ago without the heroic exploits of third baseman David Freese, didn’t win it against Boston as Freeze had nothing in the tank this time around. Over the NLCS and World Series, Freese hit .175 with no RBIs in 40 at-bats.

Beware the Young Guns
St. Louis got as far as it could riding an impressive batch of rookie arms; for the postseason, Cardinal rookie pitchers combined for a 5-3 record, 2.84 ERA and four saves.

It’s Not Miller Time
Shelby Miller was one of the more consistent members of the Cardinals’ rookie corps during the regular season, posting a 15-9 record, 3.06 ERA and 169 strikeouts that is sure to garner significant Rookie of the Year consideration. But he was quickly forgotten in the postseason, making just one appearance—a garbage-time, one-inning relief outing in the NLDS against Pittsburgh. So what happened? Injury? Innings limits? Paranormal abduction?

Even Miller wasn’t sure, telling the St. Louis Post Dispatch that he was “confused” by his non-participation, adding: “There could be something that I don’t know about going on. Maybe I’ll have some understanding in the offseason.” Manager Mike Matheny gave his version of events, saying he felt that Miller looked “fatigued” down the stretch and that he would have used the 22-year-old in long relief had the opportunity presented itself. Apparently, it didn’t.

A Bit Too Strong
Earlier this summer, a colleague and I (that’s me, Eric) pitched a major sports entity on doing their in-season advertising. They liked our concepts but they thought they had a better idea: To play off “Boston Strong” by using “(team name) Strong.” We grimaced.

Fast forward to this past Monday and Game Five of the World Series, in which MLB was to allow Chevrolet to perform a third-inning “stunt” (that’s what the call to participate officially labeled it as) in which fans sitting between first and third base in Busch Stadium’s lower deck would be prompted by a video featuring former Cardinal great Ozzie Smith to pull out white placards and spell out “Silverado Strong”—all in the name of Chevy’s 2014 Silverado.

Chevy has been using Silverado Strong for its campaign since the summer, and it already might have been received some murmuring of criticism by those who felt it was playing off the “Boston Strong” campaign born out of the Boston Marathon terrorist attack in April and leveraged by the Red Sox—not to sell a product but to help revive community spirit to a traumatized city. But for Chevy to use the variation of the phrase to sell a truck and perform a high-profile ad during a World Series including the Red Sox…all we can say is, what we’re the ad wizards thinking?

Wisely, after a near avalanche of “pre-stunt” criticism from the social media circles, Chevy decided to pull the plug on the whole thing.

TGG’s All-Free Agent Team for 2014
The end of baseball’s 2013 season brings on the start of free agency for 2014, as numerous players declared themselves available by virtue of their contracts expiring or declining options to continue their existing pact. The race is on for general managers to find the best players to address their team’s weaknesses; what follows is our picks for this winter’s All-Star free agent team, determining the best available players at each position.

Catcher: Brian McCann. The veteran Atlanta backstop is the early talk of the hot stove league, with many teams said to be in the hunt for his services; if that’s true, the Braves’ chances of retaining him are slim to none. McCann certainly seems to be the most consistent and best of the lot, but a pricey, long-term contract might be dicey given his aches and pains of late. Teams looking for shorter-term deals may not go wrong looking elsewhere, with A.J. Pierzynski, Carlos Ruiz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia hitting the market; A real wild card could be established with Dioner Navarro, a former All-Star who looks to be making a comeback after hitting .300 with power in limited time with the Chicago Cubs.

First Base: Mike Napoli. One of Boston’s postseason stars has publicly stated he would love to stick with the Red Sox, but that hardly means he’s signed on the dotted line; with the first base market weak, he will get tantalizing offers from other teams thrown at him. Not far behind Napoli on the wow scale are James Loney (.299 with Tampa Bay), Franklin Morales (23 homers with Seattle) and Justin Morneau (17 homers split between Minnesota and Pittsburgh). Beyond that, if someone’s hurting for power at the expense of strikeouts and sub-.200 averages, Carlos Pena and Travis Hafner are available.

Second Base: Robinson Cano. The perennial All-Star is the big fish in this year’s free agent pond, and he knows it—and that’s why he’s hoping to become the game’s first $300 million player. Cano might get it; the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have thus far shelled out money like it belongs to other people, declined a 2014 option on incumbent second sacker Mark Ellis—clearing the way for a possible Cano coup. The best next thing at second for GMs would be Omar Infante (.318, ten homers in 118 games for Detroit).

Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta. He’ seasoned, potent—and coming off steroid use. Peralta is also the most desirable option at short after hitting over .300 for the Tigers before his Biogenesis suspension and, afterward, making a strong showing in the postseason. Few other options at the position present themselves; Stephen Drew is a clear second choice among GMs.

Third Base: Mark Reynolds. It’s almost embarrassing for us to list a guy who barely clips above .200, strikes out with raging impunity and will never win a Gold Glove on defense, but he’s still relatively young (30) and, when he’s on, can deliver eye-opening numbers of the positive kind. That he’s our top choice clearly speaks to the absolute weakness of available players; Juan Uribe came back from the statistical dead, but his long-term stability is dubious and he’ll turn 35 next year; even older will be Placido Polanco, Michael Young and Kevin Youkilis, all three of whom have clearly experienced better times.

Outfielders: Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury. Beltran is Beltran (even if he turns 37 next year), Ellsbury is your prototypical leadoff source for whom Scott Boras (his agent) claims has received calls from just everyone so far—but it’s Choo who, after a terrific year in Cincinnati (.285, 21 home runs, 107 runs, 112 walks, 20 steals) should command the most attention for teams hurting for an outfielder; at 31, he should also have a number of solid years left in him. (Are you listening, San Francisco?) A plentiful list of quality free agents at this spot also includes Curtis Granderson (assuming he’s over his injuries of the past year) and Nelson Cruz (assuming his post-Biogenesis numbers are as good as his pre-Biogenesis ones).

Starting Pitchers: Masahiro Tanaka, Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, Ricky Nolasco. Let’s start with Tanaka, and why not: Every GM will. After all, a 24-0 record and 1.20 ERA will get your attention regardless of where he did it. (Tanaka did it in Japan.) Because there are no ace-like stars on the docket this year, the 25-year-old Tanaka will be the name talked about the most. Next comes Jimenez, who may have figured out his post-Rockies blues with a fantastic second half in Cleveland; he’s also durable and will have just turned 30 when spring training starts. Garza is also relatively young and still has ace potential, despite underwhelming stats after his trade to Texas. (Memo from Rangers fans, BTW: Stop the Cubs-to-Arlington pipeline.) Nolasco is in the same boat—and although his career 4.37 ERA might scare some teams, there still may be some upside left in the 31-year-old righty.

Worthy runner-ups to this first wave include Jorge De La Rosa (16-6 and a 3.49 ERA for Colorado) and Ervin Santana (9-10 but with a 3.24 ERA for Kansas City); older, yet still quality, choices abound on the mound with Bartolo Colon (40 on Opening Day 2014), Hiroki Kuroda (39), Tim Hudson (38), Bronson Arroyo (37) and A.J. Burnett (37). And if you’re looking for a blast from the past, try Josh Johnson, Johan Santana, Daisuke Matsuzaka or Roy Halladay—for whom the Phillies are unlikely to exercise a $20 million option.

Closer: Joe Nathan. The 38-year-old said no to a $9 million option to return to Texas in 2014—and after posting 43 saves (in 46 opps) with a 1.39 ERA, who can blame him. But those who lose out of nabbing Nathan will have other quality choices, such as Grant Balfour, Fernando Rodney and Joaquin Benoit.


Bushers Book

Fielding Gold
The first of the official postseason awards were named this past week when the Gold Gloves were bestowed upon baseball’s best defensive players. There were eight first-time winners, including both third basemen (Baltimore’s
Manny Machado and Colorado’s Nolan Arenado) and first basemen (Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer and Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt). Also notable was that the AL list was dominated by the Royals and Orioles (three players each), St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina won his sixth straight award at the catcher spot and became part of the second catcher-pitcher duo from the same team to win Gold Gloves, as Adam Wainwright took the prize for the NL’s top defensive pitcher. (Kenny Rogers and Ivan Rodriguez won together in 2000 for Texas and, reunited, six years later with Detroit.)

Trial Run in the Desert
This week, the Arizona Fall League will become the guinea pig for MLB’s instant replay system, and if there’s enough demonstration of their method in progress, they’ll see that it just won’t work. For those who need recall, MLB’s idea of instant replay is to give managers up to three challenges a game—one in the first six innings and two between the seventh and ninth innings. (No word on what happens should the game go into extras.) We’ll let you know how it goes.

Johnny Kucks, 1933-2013
The baseball world lost another member of the great Yankee teams of the 1950s this past week when it was announced that pitcher
Johnny Kucks passed away at the age of 80. A Hoboken, New Jersey native, Kucks came aboard the Yankees at age 21 in 1955 and, a year later, broke out with a sharp 18-9 record well supported by his teammates who gave him an average of 5.5 runs per start; he didn’t need much help in what would be his only career World Series start to end the 1956 season, firing a three-hit shutout over the Brooklyn Dodgers to give the Yankees the trophy in seven games.

The tall right-hander’s ERA improved from 3.86 to 3.56 the next year, but he could only manage an 8-10 ledger—and that would become the story for the rest of a short, six-year life in the majors. He fell out of favor in the Yankee rotation and then the Yankees in general—with the team shipping him out to the Kansas City A’s (semi-joked at the time as being the Yankees’ farm club) in a trade that sent Ralph Terry to New York. After a forgettable year in K.C., Kucks was bounced around—first to Baltimore, then St. Louis—where he found himself trying to fight his way back to the A-team from the minors. He never could; he threw his last organized pitch at the Triple-A level at age 30.

Vote For Nolan
Now that he’s out of the baseball scene with his departure from the Texas Rangers’ front office,
Nolan Ryan is considering following in the footsteps of fellow ex-Ranger owner George W. Bush and making at a run at politics. Unlike Bush, the governorship does not appear to be in Ryan’s sights; all he wants to do for now is land a gig as Texas’ agricultural commissioner.

Note to Nolan: You’re so well liked. Don’t ruin it by getting into politics.

Updated on TGG
The team history pages from the Teams section have been updated to reflect the 2013 season; for the first time, it also features our choices for who should belong on the Mount Rushmore of each team as well as some fun quotes and “did you know” bits. In the weeks to follow, we’ll update the Top Ten pages for each team as well, so stay connected.


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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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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