Category Archives: Baseball

Baseball, A Love Story

By Murphy Powell


First, go to this link. Go to the comment section. I’ve added this in a little late, but it’s really excellent, and it will be mentioned again. I can’t get over how great this is. Ok, now you can read the rest of this stuff.


 

I think baseball is pretty great. It’s why I started this website, after all. And I’m supremely excited about tonight’s Game 7. I’m also pretty bummed out that there won’t be any baseball until March, and there won’t be any baseball that matters until the end of March.

For that reason, this is probably the most exciting possible baseball day of the year, and it’s also maybe the saddest baseball day of the year.

Free agency is nice and interesting, and I’m sure we’ll talk more about that on this site when moves are made and marquee players sign between November and February. So I guess that’s better than no baseball at all, but it’s not that much better. Sure, we can watch live streams of the Arizona Fall League for a little while longer, or we could watch different international leagues on a live internet stream as well.

Or, if you’re really crazy about it, you could watch some kids play in a fall league around your town.

But you should not do that unless you have a kid. Let the record show that I am not suggesting that anyone go to a children’s fall-league baseball game, unless they have a kid.

So, we’ll be without baseball for a while. It stinks, but it happens every year.

The game will start in a couple of hours, and it will probably be great because Game 7s are always great. Plus, there’s the Royals. It seems like they’ve been really close to losing and also unbeatable at the same time for the last month.

If you haven’t picked a side for tonight’s game—and you don’t have to—I’d like to send this link your direction again and tell you to go to the comment section. It’s very heartwarming and a little bit sad. And it’s one of the few comment sections on the internet that you can go without feeling horrible.

So I’ll miss you, Baseball. I’ll miss seeing Old Hoss Radbourn spell the sport out as “base ball,” which is one of my favorite things to see. I’ll miss position player pitching—ahem, Adam Dunn. But baseball—or, base ball, if you prefer—will be back soon-ish after tonight.

And here’s a prediction. The Royals will win. It’s insane to guess what will happen in one game, but the Royals are the home team, and the home team always wins Game 7. Home teams already have their home field advantage, and a home team’s winning percentage goes way, way up in a Game 7. Per Jayson Stark, “No team has lost a Game 7 at home since the 1979 Orioles, and no team has won Game 6 at home and then lost a Game 7 since the 1975 Red Sox.”

So that’s pretty good.

Ideally, we’ll all get to see some Terrance Gore action. We’ll probably see Madison Bumgarner, too, which is nice since he’s been the best World Series pitcher ever. And he’s ready to throw 200 pitches tonight, which is shocking.

Enjoy baseball tonight, everyone. Or enjoy basketball, because that’s on, too. And I think 300 starts around the same time on one channel.

I’d recommend baseball though. It’s ending tonight…unless the game goes long, in which case it would end Thursday. Or if it went really long, it might end Friday.

But it’ll probably be over tonight, so enjoy it.


Murphy Powell is a creator of Scouts Alley. You can follow him on Twitter if you would like to.

Advertisements

World Series Preview 2014

By Moshe Kravitz


Kansas City Royals vs. San Francisco Giants

Bochy. Bumgarner. Posey. Pence. Pablo. Petit. Romo. These are the names that could lead the San Francisco Giants to a World Series Title. You know most of them.

Yost. Cain. Gordon. Moustakas. Holland. Shields. Infante. These are the names that could lead the Kansas City Royals to World Series Title. You might recognize some of them.

By the end of October all of these names, from these two wild-card teams, will be household names for one reason or another, and that starts tonight.

Bruce Bochy and his Giants have been the kings of the postseason, especially in even-numbered years. They haven’t lost a postseason series since 2010 when they won the World Series. They did it again in 2012. Bochy is likely headed to the Hall of Fame one day. Bochy knows how to manage games and has led the Giants through a rocky season and back to the a place they are comfortable. And it happens to be 2014, another even-numbered year.

Ned Yost is an interesting manager. He loves small ball and gets his Royals to bunt at odd times, but it has paid off so far. He has had a great bench and one of the best bullpens in baseball to work with this year and even though he has made questionable calls, he has made the necessary adjustments when it matters. This is the best team he has ever managed and the baseball gods might still be shining down on Yost and his Royals.

Madison Bumgarner is the name to know out of all the starting pitchers in the 2014 World Series. Bumgarner continued his postseason dominance this year in getting the Giants to the World Series, but the World Series is where he really gets to work. With a 2-0 record and a 0.00 ERA in 15 innings of World Series pitching, Madison Bumgarner might be the best postseason pitcher of this decade.

Now while his delivery is slow, meaning Kansas City’s speedsters will be off and running on the basepaths, Bumgarner has worked to develop a slide-step delivery that he uses to deceive baserunners, and it has helped him lower their success rate against him. But it is still a slow delivery. Buster Posey will be able to help him manage the basepaths and will do a great job calling the game from behind home plate, but he is no Caleb Joseph when it comes to stopping base-runners (30 percent caught stealing rate for Posey, 40 percent for Joseph).

Joseph managed to hold the Royals in check in the ALCS with some help from Orioles pitchers with fast deliveries, but Kansas City still won. The Royals are likely excited to get back to doing what they do best, steal bases, after successfully stealing just one in the ALCS and they have a great opportunity against the Giants. But don’t think for a second Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey will just stand there and watch.

Bumgarner is the ace of a solid Giants rotation. The great competitor Jake Peavy will pitch in Game 2 and hope to continue a successful 2014 postseason. Tim Hudson will likely pitch Game 3 and is nothing to slouch at either. Game 4 could be interesting. Ryan Vogelsong got beat around by the St. Louis Cardinals, and Yusmeiro Petit has been lights out for Bochy out of the bullpen this postseason, so it will be interesting to see who gets the ball for San Francisco in Game 4.

Petit is the long reliever for a very good and dynamic San Francisco bullpen. While probably the least well-known, Petit has been practically unbeatable in the playoffs. Sergio Romo has been here with the Giants before but is now Bochy’s eighth-inning pitcher. Romo is still a dominant pitcher.

After him comes Santiago Casilla in the ninth, who took over the closer role and has yet to allow a run this postseason. Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez have yet to give up a run, as well, and give the Giants two more great bullpen pitchers. Jean Machi can help out as well and Hunter Strickland has a 100 mph fastball, but don’t expect to see much of it as Strickland has struggled in these playoffs. Nevertheless, this is a dominant and dynamic bullpen with plenty of experience, runs will be hard to come by in the late innings for Kansas City.

But if scoring in the late innings will be tough for Kansas City, it could be nearly impossible for the Giants. Thanks to the seventh-, eighth- and ninth-inning efforts of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, Royals pitchers only really need to last six innings. They have combined to allow three earned runs in 25-and-two-thirds innings this October. These three might be the best back end to a bullpen in baseball. They also have depth behind these three, in case Yost needs to get a lefty out or one of the starters struggles before the seventh, so Kansas City has plenty to work with.

But getting to the seventh inning hasn’t always been easy. As you can tell, Herrera, Davis and Holland have had to pitch a lot of innings. James Shields has struggled so far in the playoffs (although he did pass a kidney stone during the ALCS, so we’ll see if getting that out of his system helps). He’ll face Bumgarner tonight in Game 1 and then Yordano Ventura will take Game 2. The Dominican rookie has been solid but not spectacular so far, but he has all the pitches to fool any hitter he faces. Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie anchor the Royals playoff rotation and these four have done enough to get the ball to the bullpen and led their team to a so-far undefeated postseason.

But the Royals pitching gets a big boost from the best defense in baseball. Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon and Norichika Aoki fly around the field and can get to just about anything that is put into the air. Then Jarrod Dyson gets switched for Aoki and Kansas City’s outfielders give pitchers a security blanket for anything not on the ground. The infield is great as well with Omar Infante, Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas leading the way. Scoring runs is hard to do on the Royals and this San Francisco team has struggled to produce at times.

While Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence can each dominate a game at the plate, the Giants will need everyone to hit with consistency to score runs. Travis Ishikawa and Brandon Belt have shown that they can contribute in big moments and San Fran may need that. It really comes down to the DH. The Royals have Billy Butler and they know all about the designated hitter as the American League team. Many people think the Giants have a great National League DH in Mike Morse, but he hit .267 with no home runs, no RBIs and no extra base hits as a DH in inter-league play in 2014. For his career Morse hits .220 as a DH, with no home-runs and just ten RBIs in 132 plate appearances. Mike Morse will not be a good DH and the Giants have to hope the rest of their bats can cover for a potential hole in their lineup.

Kansas City’s hitting is unconventional small ball aided by great baserunning. That is, until the ALCS when the big bats came out. The loss of Angel Pagan has been tough for the Giants, but they have managed. Kansas City is not a team that typically scores a lot of runs and should not be too difficult a challenge for the Giants fielders to manage. But the fact of the matter is the Royals’ fielders are in another league.

The Royals are in the playoffs—and the World Series—for the first time since 1985. They’ve had a somewhat long layoff since sweeping the Baltimore Orioles and could have trouble under the pressures of the World Series. The real question is, are the baseball gods still watching over Kansas City, or did they fall asleep during the wait between series?

San Francisco has been here before. Just like KC, they were not expected to be here, but they are no strangers to being counted out. Bruce Bochy knows how to win this time of year. So do Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval. But will they be able to handle the at times peculiar and at times devastating play of the Royals?

The Royals have home-field advantage, and I’ll take their defense over the Giants’ every time. Nothing can stop Bumgarner in the playoffs, and San Francisco’s rotation seems more reliable than the Royals’. So while the Kansas City bullpen is better, they have to hope their team can make it through the first seven innings with a lead. The Giants have an underrated and dynamic bullpen and their starters will get the job done. I’ll take San Fran’s pitching over the Royals’.

Ned Yost is new to the World Series and his creative decisions could cause problems for the Giants. They could also cause problems for his own team. I’ll take Bochy. At the plate, San Francisco has players who have been here before, wily veterans and some scraped-together fill-ins. They have been inconsistent at times, but they still made it here. The Royals have speed, some power that surprises everyone when it shows up and bunting. But it works. The Royals have Royals have the DH and San Francisco plays in the National League. As much as I despise the DH, it is a big advantage for KC and their home field advantage. I’ll take Kansas City’s bats over the Giants (I didn’t even see that one coming).

Many people are concerned about the layoff the Royals had between the ALCS and the World Series. Does too much time cause the magic to wear off? Don’t worry KC fans, Yost has a cauldron to brew his own magic. The Royals had to play extra innings games very often to make it to the World Series, and the rest will suit them well. They might be a bit tired against Bumgarner tonight, and will lose Game 1 anyway, but they will come around.

The playoffs have been San Francisco’s fall getaway since 2010, and they are happy to be back. They are not afraid of Kansas City. Kansas City should be afraid of itself as Ned Yost may overthink some easy managing decisions and everyone’s nerves could take over on the biggest stage in baseball. If that happens, the Giants will be waiting to take over.

But it won’t. The Royals’ magic will counteract any mistakes Yost may make. James Shields will finally come around and the rest of the starters will rally behind him. Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon will become fielding legends (if they haven’t already) and Kansas City will taste victory once again. The Giants had a good run, but it ends in an even-numbered year. It’s time for some new October heroes. Royals in 7.


Moshe Kravitz is a writer for Scouts Alley and a host of Temple Talks Philly on Temple University’s WHIP Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @MosheKravitz

 

National League Championship Series Preview

By Moshe Kravitz


St. Louis Cardinals vs. San Francisco Giants

Game 1: Adam Wainwright (NLDS: 0-0, 12.46 ERA; Regular Season: 20-9, 2.38 ERA) vs Madison Bumgarner (NLDS: 1-1, 1.13 ERA; Regular Season: 18-10, 2.98 ERA)

The ALCS takes us back to baseball in the 70s and 80s. The NLCS takes us back to…the past five years of National League playoff baseball. At least one of these two teams has been in the NLCS each of the past five seasons, and in 2012 they played each other and the Giants won.

Each of these teams had a tough path to get to the NLCS. The Giants struggled to close out Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals but ultimately did in four games. While the Cardinals also took four games to stun a lot of people when they rocked Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now that they are in the NLCS they can each focus on an opponent that they are familiar with even if their have been some changes. Nevertheless, both of these teams are loaded with postseason experience.

The Cardinals are headlined by Adam Wainwright, one of the best pitchers in baseball. He has been dealing with an elbow issue but will pitch. Behind him are Lance Lynn, Jake Peavy and Shelby Miller, a formidable lineup of pitchers. Closer Trevor Rosenthal takes Cardinals fans on a ride but gets the job done.

At the plate St. Louis really heated up in the NLDS thanks to the Matt Trio. Carpenter, Adams and Holliday all head either okay or great showings in the first round and pose a tough challenge for any pitchers. However, catcher Yadier Molina has long been the key to the Cardinals and if he struggles in the NLCS it could be tough for St. Louis to advance. And this Cardinals team can do more than just score runs, they can save them. This a good defensive team, once again headlined by arguable the best catcher in baseball, Molina.

St. Louis knows the postseason 30 postseason wins in the past five years, and they know this opponent.

But San Francisco knows the Cardinals as well. While they have greatly struggled to score runs (5-for-40 with runners in scoring position). The top of their order this October has struggled and Gregor Blanco and Joe Panik will need to step up if the Giants are going to turn their hitting woes around. But they do have Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval in the middle of their lineup, with Hunter Pence following them. Those three, especially Posey and Sandoval, can be big game changers for San Francisco, and Posey and Sandoval have showed their postseason talent in the past. So far the Giants have relied on heroics and pitching to win games this postseason, but these bats will have to step up of they hope to keep it up. Lucky for them, St. Louis has four right-handed pitchers scheduled to pitch this series, and while the averages aren’t much different, the Giants hit 92 home runs off of righties compared to just 40 off of lefties.

On the mound the Giants start off with one of the most dominant postseason pitchers of the past few years. Madison Bumgarner sports a 2.96 ERA in his postseason career and more impressively is 2-0 with an ERA of zero in the world series. Jake Peavy has been a great addition for the Giants so far and looks to continue his strong play. The Giants have their eight and ninth innings locked up between Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla. The rest of their bullpen is solid as well and could receive a boost if young flamethrower Hunter Strickland can return to his September form.

So much more can be said about these two teams. So much can be said about their manager’s alone, the incredibly successful veteran Bruce Bochy (SF) and the young, talented Mike Matheny (STL). Baseball fans have gotten used  to seeing these two teams in October and they are not likely to let October down this year.

I am concerned about Wainwright’s elbow, even more so if he has to pitch more than once this series. I expect the Giants bats to come around eventually and I do like San Fran’s bullpen a bit more than the Cardinals’. Bochy has been here before, the Giants have been known to tee off against righties and I don’t want to go on for much longer because Game 1 has already started. Giants in 7


Moshe Kravitz is a writer for Scouts Alley and a host of Temple Talks Philly on Temple University’s WHIP Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @MosheKravitz

American League Championship Series Preview

Baltimore Orioles vs. Kansas City Royals

Game 1: Chris Tillman (1-0, 3.60 ERA) vs. James Shields (2-0, 4.91 ERA)

Yes, those are the correct teams for this year’s American League Championship Series. No, this is not the 1970s. Yes, we have another crazy October on our hands. No, this is not the 1980s

The Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City Royals. Two teams many did not expect to hear about once the month of October started. Two teams that are so very different and yet so very similar. Once again, this is not 1970s or 80s. This is 2014 and it is October.

The Orioles were one of the best teams in baseball for much of the season. Behind a lights out bullpen, incredible fielding and some of the best slugging in baseball, Baltimore locked up the American League East and headed into an October Series with the Detroit Tigers. A Tigers team with three Cy Young Award winners. But a Tigers team that had a very weak bullpen and bats that suddenly went quite in the playoffs. Baltimore swept Detroit right out of the playoffs.

The last time the Orioles played in the ALCS was 1997. The last time they won the ALCS was 1983. That was also the last time they won a world series.

This year Baltimore storms into the ALCS after dominating the AL East and brushed aside last year’s AL runners up, Detroit. Baltimore led all of baseball in homeruns this season and has continued to swing a powerful bat in the playoffs. They had one of the best bullpens in baseball this year and that bullpen hasn’t let them down in October. Their starting rotation had no big names in it going into the season but was seventh in ERA and those arms were enough to quiet Miguel Cabrera and a potent Tigers offense in the ALDS.

The Orioles have managed to maintain their dominance despite playing without two members of their young core, Manny Machado and Matt Wieters for most of the season. And will not have Chris Davis on their ALCS roster as he sits out the final five games of his suspension. Thanks to great managing from Buck Showalter and guys like Caleb Joseph (at catcher) and Steve Pearce (at first base) filling in surprisingly well, the Orioles barely missed a step. With Nelson Cruz solidifying himself as a postseason force, the bullpen and the offense continuing their dominance, and great pitching from Bud Norris and Chris Tillman, Baltimore has no plans on ending their playoff run early.

The Royals squeaked into the playoffs and knocked off the Oakland Athletics, who many thought was the AL favorite for most of the season, in the Wild Card game. Since that first game their manager, Ned Yost, has made sure they don’t slow down. To keep it simple, they swept the best team in baseball in the 2014 regular season, the Los Angeles Angels, in the ALDS. They outscored them 15-6 in the process and won their first three playoff games in extra innings. The last time Kansas City made any noise in the playoffs the year was 1985 and they won the World Series. It’s 2014 and they are back.

If there is any team in baseball this season with a better defense than the Orioles it is the Kansas City Royals. They have best outfield range with Alex Gordon in left, Lorenzo Cain in center and Norichika Aoki in right. Their infield is also filled with some of the top fielders in baseball such as catcher Salvador Perez and shortstop Alcides Escobar. When they are in the field the Royals can keep opponents off the base paths with their fielding better than any team in baseball. When they are at the plate they move around the bases faster than any team in the majors. The Royals led baseball in stolen bases in 2014 with 153 and have not stopped swiping bases since the playoffs began (Baltimore finished last with just 44 stolen bases).

Similar to the Orioles, Kansas City’s starting rotation isn’t one of the most well known in the majors but it is very effective. James Shields heads this group but the one to keep your eyes out for is 23-year-old Yordano Ventura who has dazzling stuff and has dominated October so far. But no matter what the starters do, the Royals can rely on a stellar bullpen to hold a lead or keep them in games, just like the Orioles.

Two top defenses. Two great pitching staffs with guys who can both start and finish games. What this series comes down to is which is better in the playoffs, speed or power? Can the Royals small ball out pace the Orioles slugging?

If Baltimore had all their stars we might not be even talking about Kansas City’s chances to win the AL. But not having Machado, Wieters and Davis levels the playing field. For the Royals, the baseball gods seem to be truly watching over them right now. Their pitchers, fielders and bats are all heating up in spectacular fashion and have all the confidence in the world after beating LA. Kansas City might be able to set an offensive pace that even the Orioles’ bats can’t keep up with, but they have gone to extra innings in three of their four games so far and that can wear on any team. Then again they did end the ALDS with their most dominant victory so far (8-3 to send the Angels back home) and have had time to recover, they have to hope they have some magic left (to go along with their incredible talent of course).

The Orioles might actually have the answer for the Royals talent on the base-paths. Caleb Joseph threw out 40 percent of attempted base stealers in 2014 and many of Baltimore’s pitcher have very fast deliveries to the plate. If Baltimore can keep up its success in stopping base runners from stealing it cause the Royals to hesitate with the most dangerous part of their offense.

The Kansas City Royals have had an incredible run and literally took us into October with their extra innings Wild Card victory over the Oakland Athletics. But the magic has to run out eventually and I think it’s going to be in the ALCS. Ned Yost has a very talented team in Kansas City but I think the Orioles can top them at most of the important spots, but it will be close. Baltimore’s slugging, pitching, defense and ability to stop base stealers are boosted by Buck Showalter’s ability to get the very best out of his lineup time and again. Orioles in 6.

Orioles-Tigers ALDS Preview (Very Belated)

Baltimore Orioles vs. Detroit Tigers (Orioles lead 2-0)

Baltimore has been able to outhit the potent Tigers lineup in the first two games, something that has surprised many. Not just because Detroit has hitters like Ian Kinsler, Victor Martinez and, of course, Miguel Cabrera. But because the Detroit starting rotation features the last three Cy Young award winners, Max Scherzer, David Price (who they acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays during the season and Justin Verlander. But people forget that not only did Baltimore have a lower regular season ERA and a better record than Detroit this year, but that ERA is bolstered by one of the best bullpens in baseball.

But the Detroit starters are still formidable and Justin Verlander is particularly dominant in the divisional series (4-0,  1.79 ERA). The Orioles have managed to survive without their trio of young stars, catcher Matt Wieters, third baseman Manny Machado and first baseman Chris Davis, but many expected the Tigers starters to be an immovable wall for Baltimore’s lineup. That has not been the case.

Baltimore took Game 1 12-3 and got five of those runs off of Max Scherzer. The Orioles were led by their slugger and baseball’s 2014 home run champ, Nelson Cruz (2-for-4 with a HR) and got were bolstered by great nights from right-fielder Nick Markakis (2-for-4 and 2 runs scored) and Chris Davis’ replacement at first base, Steve Pearce (2-for-4).

Game 2 was a bit more interesting as Detroit got to Baltimore’s starter Wei-Yin Chen early (pulled after 3 and 2/3 innings) and held a 5-3 lead going into the eighth. But from there it was a story of the bullpens. Joba Chamberlain came in for the Tigers and gave up three runs and then Tigers’ closer Joakim Soria who served up a go-ahead three-run double to Baltimore pinch-hitter Delmon Young. For Baltimore, their bullpen limited Detroit to one run and Zach Britton came in for the top of the ninth and got the save once again. Baltimore won 7-6 and put Detroit in a 2-0 hole

Maybe if Detroit has traded for a closer instead of or in addition to David Price this series would look differently. But they didn’t and here they are, on the brink of elimination. They have some hope with David Price  on the mound and I am actually going to say they win Game 3 today. But ultimately they won’t be able to hold off a well-rounded Orioles squad and it will end with the Baltimore Orioles in 4.

Angels-Royals ALDS Predictions (Belated)

By Moshe Kravitz


Kansas City Royals vs. Los Angeles Angels (Royals lead 1-0)

The Royals took us right into October 1 with their incredible come-from-behind win over the Oakland Athletics in 12 innings in the Wild Card matchup, thanks to a walk-off RBI single from Salvador Perez. Sadly that ended up meaning Adam Dunn would end his career without a single playoff plate appearance. It also meant Kansas City got it’s first playoff win since 1985 when they beat the St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series.

The magic has continued for Kansas City as they took Game 1 against the American League-best Los Angeles Angeles Thursday night thanks to an 11th inning home run from Royals’ third baseman Mike Moustakas.  Game 2 of this five-game series is tonight in Los Angeles as the Angels’ Matt Shoemaker (16-4, 3.04 ERA) takes the mound opposite Kansas City’s Yordano Ventura (14-10 3.20 ERA).

Both teams had great pitching in Game 1, but the Royals clearly have the better pitching staff and are better defensively. The Royals also led all of baseball in stolen bases this season and already have eight so far this postseason, with seven of those coming in their wild-card victory. The Royals started October off with a bang and intend to stick around.

Pitching, defense, getting on base and great baserunning can definitely win you games, but they face a high-powered LA offense that led baseball in runs this season and is headlined by one of baseball’s best in center fielder Mike Trout. Trout, who was hitless in Game 1, may have to carry the Angels more than usual with Josh Hamilton coming back from injury, but with names like Albert Pujols, David Freese and Howie Kendrick, this offense is hard to keep up with once it gets going. The Angels are without their ace Garrett Richards, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in August. But the AL’s best can still play like it and Mike Trout hopes to make a name for himself in October.

Ultimately, I think the baseball gods are favoring Kansas City right now and with their pitching staff and incredible baserunning the Angels won’t be able to keep up. Mike Trout will do everything he can to keep LA in the series, but ultimately it will be the Kansas City Royals in 4.


Moshe Kravitz is a writer for Scouts Alley and a host of Temple Talks Philly on Temple University’s WHIP Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @MosheKravitz

A Look at the NL Wild Card Game

By Murphy Powell


Well, it pretty much can’t beat the Royals-A’s game. That was one of the greats. And, I’ll admit, I was waiting until after that game to do this, so the effort here will be less-than-stellar, I’m sure.

But Pirates-Giants should be a really good one. Madison Bumgarner is a really good pitcher, and Edinson Volquez was a pretty good pitcher in 2008, so that’s something.

If you haven’t kept up with the Pirates and their last four or five days, you may be wondering why Volquez—seemingly the team’s No. 3 starter who I just said wasn’t very good—is pitching the most important game of the year for Pittsburgh. The answer is because the Pirates pitched Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano in the last couple of games in the regular season in an effort to catch St. Louis and make it into the actual playoffs without having to deal with this Wild Card Game.

It was a worthwhile pursuit that just didn’t pan out for them this time around. Since they had a playoff spot locked up, a case could be made for chasing the Cardinals for that division crown. A case could also be made for accepting your fate as a wild-card-having team and saving Cole or Liriano for this one game. But the Pirates did the first thing, which, again, wasn’t a terrible idea, and now Volquez is pitching.

Of course, he could shut the Giants down. Volquez has posted a really good 3.04 ERA, but his fielding-independent numbers aren’t as friendly (4.15 FIP). The ERA suggests he’s been a really good pitcher this year, which has been aided by a really low BABIP, but his FIP says otherwise. FIP is based on what Volquez—and any other pitcher—can control: strikeouts, walks, home runs and hit by pitches. Put simply, Volquez doesn’t strike many batters out and walks kind of a lot of them. Volquez does have good stuff that’s hard to hit, which could be a reason for the low BABIP.

And again, Volquez could just go shut out San Francisco. He did so against Atlanta his last time out and against the Brewers the time before that and against the Mets a few months ago. So it’s not that Volquez can’t be a good pitcher, he just kind of hasn’t been over the course of the season.

Bumgarner, though, he’s good. His ERA (2.98) and FIP (3.05) tell basically the same story: he’s been better than good, which is what I sort of just told you, too.

And I don’t mean to gloss over Bumgarner here, but there’s not a ton more to say about him. He strikes a lot of people out, doesn’t walk many, and is just generally good.

When we get to the bullpens, it’s tough to say who has the real advantage. The Pirates have Mark Melancon and Tony Watson, who have both been quite good in 70+ innings this year. The Giants don’t have a reliever who’s been as good as Melancon or Watson. But if we were to take the five or six best relievers in tomorrow’s game, the Pirates would have one and two, and the Giants would have three through six. Those guys include Jeremy Affeldt, Yusmeiro Petit—an MLB record-holder (!)—Santiago Casilla, and George Kontos.

That could mean that things will be interesting in the middle innings when the Pirates have to go to the pen and Bruce Bochy is considering pinch-hitting for Bumgarner.

And don’t be surprised to see Bumgarner hit more than he should. On a per at-bat basis, he’s been the sixth-best Giants hitter this year and has parked four home runs. While Bochy will probably bat him one too many times, don’t be fooled into thinking Bumgarner is an actual good hitter. He’s still a pitcher. A good-hitting pitcher, to be sure, but he’s still a pitcher. Those 78 plate appearances this year have been good ones, but that doesn’t make him a good hitter. I can’t stress that enough. If we were to choose between Bumgarner and Michael Morse or Angel Pagan, the smart money would be on the person who hits for a living.

I don’t mean to rail against Bumgarner or his hitting, but boy have I heard a lot about his hitting lately. Ok, let’s move to the position players.

These two teams have differing styles, to some degree. The Pirates hit for more power and steal more bases and they run a little better. But the Giants make up for that by also being really good at offense, even though they trail the Pirates—by small margins—in basically every stat. Where the Giants make up for this is on defense.

And the defense isn’t that great; it’s average. But average is better than what the Pirates play. Buster Posey has been a good defensive catcher, Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Crawford make a pretty strong left side of the infield, and Gregor Blanco covers pretty good ground in the outfield. As lovable as he is, Hunter Pence doesn’t play great defense, but he doesn’t have to since he hits well enough.

The Pirates do not play very good team defense. Jordy Mercer is in the top 10 defensively at shortstop, and Russell Martin is really good behind the plate, but that’s it. Of course, the other players don’t have to be very good defensively, because they hit really, really well, and the Pirates hit really, really well throughout the lineup. To wit:

So the Pirates are pretty good. The Giants are good, too. It might not be Royals-A’s, but we didn’t really think Royals-A’s would be that good either, did we?


Murphy Powell is a creator of Scouts Alley. You can follow him on Twitter if you really want to.

A Look at the AL Wild Card Game

By Murphy Powell


After the A’s stumbled into the playoffs and Kansas City made a run for the AL Central, someone’s season will come to an end Tuesday night. Specifically, 25 someones, plus their coaches.

And while the trendy move might be to just kick Oakland to the curb here, we’ll need to look at the game a little more deeply before we give KC a bid for the ALCS.

And giving the A’s the boot is trendy, given how terribly they’ve played since the All-Star break. Many will point to the Yoenis Cespedes-Jon Lester trade as a reason why, but we should probably hold back there.

Sure, the offense has gotten worse since moving Cespedes, but the pitching has certainly gotten better.

The cost was one Yoenis Cespedes, and the A’s got one Jon Lester to bolster an already bolstered rotation and one Jonny Gomes. When we add up the FanGraphs WAR for those players—which isn’t a bad move since FanGraphs bases awards WAR based on actual team wins—the A’s come out very, very slightly ahead. Cespedes has been worth 1.3 WAR, Lester has been 1.6, and Gomes has been basically nothing. And we can’t forget the Jeff Samardzija pickup since he’s been basically as good as Lester since the deadline. Throw in the Sam Fuld for Tommy Milone deal and we find that the A’s were even better off.

Of course, things could have been entirely different if they stood pat at the deadline. Baseball is played on the field, and leaving Tommy Milone in the rotation and Cespedes in left field could have helped the A’s keep that giant lead they held in the AL West for the first half of the year. But maybe it wouldn’t have. Maybe the A’s would have collapsed even harder. We won’t know, and that’s ok. The A’s are in for now.

The Royals did some similar things at the deadline, but those things were a little more understated. They picked up Josh Willingham, who hit for more power than any other Royal than Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer in the second half.

They also picked up Jason Frasor from the Rangers, and it basically didn’t cost them anything in the short-term, with all due respect to Spencer Patton. All Frasor has done is post a 1.53 ERA in 17 2/3 innings since the trade, and he’s been the fifth-best reliever for KC in that time.

That’s mostly due to Wade Davis becoming unreal this year, Greg Holland continuing to be unreal, and Kelvin Herrera being—you guessed it—totally unreal. To give an idea of how great the trio has been, Holland has the highest/worst ERA of them: 1.44.

The plan should be simple against the Royals: Get ahead early if you plan to get ahead.

This game is pretty interesting aside from it being a for-all-the-marbles play-in playoff game that will end some poor team’s season. It shows that there are a lot of different ways to be good at baseball and, likewise, that there are a lot of different way to be a good baseball team.

The A’s have a pretty remarkable top few guys in the starting rotation, with Lester and Samardzija leading the way there. Scott Kazmir is pretty fascinating, given his history of being really, really good in 2007 with Tampa, then really, really terrible with the Angels in 2010, then being out of Major League Baseball in 2012, then being an All-Star this year. Plus there’s Sonny Gray, who is as good a mid-rotation starter as there is.

The bullpen for Oakland isn’t quite the same as that of Kansas City, but it’s not bad. Sean Doolittle is a pretty great option for the ninth inning, and Luke Gregerson, Fernando Abad, Dan Otero or Ryan Cook could each come in before him and keep an A’s lead safe.

Where the A’s really differ from Kansas City is on offense. A quick look at the numbers below shows it.

Team HR R SB BB% K% ISO AVG OBP wRC+ Off Def WAR
Athletics 146 729 83 9.4% 17.7% 0.136 0.244 0.320 101 9.4 0.5 23.2
Royals 95 651 153 6.3% 16.3% 0.113 0.263 0.314 94 -31.5 46.3 23.1

First: You’ll notice the team WARs for position players is basically the exact same. And that’s what I meant by “there are a lot of different ways to be good at baseball.”

So a lot more home runs, a lot more runs overall, more walking, and more power is the A’s way, so to speak.

And not so much power, stealing a lot of bases, and playing great defense is the Royals way. Pitching and defense is how Kansas City does it.

Starting pitching is good for the Royals, but James Shields is the only guy who matters in the rotation right now, since it’s just one game, and Shields is a pretty good option.

What’s most important, though, is the players behind Shields tonight. Defensively, there is no better outfield than Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, and Nori Aoki/Jarrod Dyson. And while neither of them hit a ton, Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas make a pretty good left side of the infield. Pitching and defense is how the Royals won 89 games, and that’s how they’ll plan to win the Wild Card.

Whichever team wins plays the Angels, and has a good shot at winning, considering how good these pitching staffs are and how banged up the LA staff is. But they have to win tonight first.


Murphy Powell is a creator of Scouts Alley. You can follow him on Twitter if you really want to.

Some Optimism for the Arizona Diamondbacks

By Murphy Powell


The Arizona Diamondbacks have the third-worst record in baseball this season, which obviously isn’t a very good thing. But I feel that there are some positive signs for the Dbacks. Or a handful of them, anyway.

Before I begin saying good things about this Arizona team, a disclaimer:

I do recognize that the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants are still in the National League West as well, so it will take a good many things going the right way to make the Diamondbacks do as much as compete with their divisionmates. Even with that, I’m optimistic.

First and foremost: They still have Paul Goldschmidt, and he’s under team control through 2019. Since his first full season in 2012, Goldschmidt has been the second-best first baseman in the bigs. This year, Goldschmidt has been a top-25 player despite missing several games due to injury. Having an All-Star/MVP-caliber/middle-of-the-order-hitting first baseman is a good place to start for a team.

But one excellent player doesn’t make a great team. The old adage is “be strong up the middle,” after all. And Arizona kind of is, or could be.

Of course there is catcher Miguel Montero, who is locked up through 2017. We’ve almost certainly seen the best of Montero already, but he’s still a solid everyday player, at least defensively. And it seems like good defensive catchers pretty much keep being good defensive catchers.

Continuing up the middle, there’s Chris Owings at short. Owings is only 23 and debuted last season. He’s pretty good defensively, has a decent bat with some pop and, despite having only played 72 games this year, has been quite productive.

Again, he’s only played a little more than half a season. But he ranks 14th among all shortstops, and he’s been better than any other one who has played as few games as he has. If we take Owings’ WAR (1.8) for this season and prorate it for a full season (600 plate appearances), he becomes a four-win player. Only four shortstops totaled four wins above replacement last year: Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez, Ian Desmond and Andrelton Simmons.

I’m not really trying to suggest that Owings will be as good as any of those four right now or next year or the year after that, but he’s been good so far. And at 23, he’s still got some time to grow.

Center field has been one of the good spots for Arizona. AJ Pollock has been quite good in his limited time, and Ender Inciarte has done well there, too. Inciarte is a defensive wizard, and Pollock was an outstanding hitter this season before going out with a hand injury. We probably shouldn’t expect Pollock to keep this level of offensive production up, but he’ll probably be pretty good. Even if he can’t hit, he put up good defensive numbers last season.

Pollock and Inciarte can play multiple outfield spots, so there’s not a logjam in center, and trading Gerardo Parra away at the trade deadline opened up a spot for the near future.

If Pollock and Inciarte are taking up two spots in the outfield, maybe David Peralta can take the other. Peralta started as a pitcher in St. Louis in 2006, staying in rookie ball for two seasons before eventually blowing out his arm in 2009. From there, Peralta played some independent ball when Arizona discovered him last year. Peralta just turned 27 in August, so he’s still a young guy. Even if he takes a step back in 2015—and he very well might—he’ll be a piece to have.

A piece of what, I’m not sure. He and other outfielder Mark Trumbo have both probably hit their peaks, and the projections just do not care for either of them going forward. I don’t personally know who provides the Oliver projections, but I must presume Peralta and Trumbo have wronged that person/computer in some way.

Veteran Cliff Pennington has been a good at all over the infield this year, and has provided about as much value as Owings in 20 fewer games. He’s 30 now, so he still has some years left and can provide some good defense at a couple of infield spots, at least.

So it’s a good-looking seven players that will head into next year for Arizona. But the problem hasn’t been those pretty good players as much as it’s been the dead weight that Cody Ross, Jordan Pacheco, Trumbo and Aaron Hill have provided this year.

Odds are that we’ve seen the best of Ross and Hill. Both were good players in their primes, but those primes have passed. Ross is locked up through next season, and Hill will be there through 2016. But Trumbo and Pacheco could both be let go after this year.

Sure, there’s value to having Trumbo. He hasn’t hit for much power this year, but that’s been his calling card in the past. But the Dbacks can’t really put him at first because Goldschmidt is there. And if he plays left or right field, Trumbo is taking a spot away from one of those outfielders. Of course, Peralta could have a poor 2015, and Trumbo would fit in left if that’s the case.

I have no idea if that will happen, though. I can’t tell the future.

Trumbo might fit at third, but he hasn’t played there much. Fortunately for Arizona, third base prospect Jake Lamb has already debuted. While he hasn’t been very good at the big league level, he absolutely crushed pitching in Double-A. Lamb is only 23 and projects to be a plus hitter. He’s probably the future answer at the hot corner.

Now for the pitching.

It hasn’t been good. But there’s hope.

Today, we spell hope “A-R-C-H-I-E,” for Archie Bradley, or “B-R-A-D-E-N” for Braden Shipley, both of whom are top 100 prospects, with Bradley being No. 11 overall. Bradley had a little arm trouble this year, but was absolutely lights-out in Mobile last season. Shipley is completing his first full season of professional baseball, and hasn’t been bad at all. Both guys have fastballs in the mid-90s with other offerings that project to be really good.

Relying on prospects is what I meant when I said, “it will take a good many things going the right way” earlier. For the Diamondbacks to have real shots at success, they’ll probably need Bradley and Shipley to pan out. Bradley should be up sometime next year, and Shipley might come just after him.

As far as pitchers already in the rotation, it’s not ideal at the moment. Trevor Cahill has been a bit of a disappointment since coming to Arizona, but he’s only 26. Wade Miley has been pretty unlcky this year and should get a little better, according to his FIP and xFIP. Josh Collmenter pretty much is what he is, and he is a solid starting pitcher when healthy. Collmenter is 28 and Miley is 27, so there’s a chance that they’ll still get better, or at least stay basically where they are.

So that’s it. That’s my case for optimism for the Arizona Diamondbacks. It hinges very much on three good players (Goldschmidt, Montero, Owings) continuing to be really good and several other players (Trumbo, Pennington, Peralta, all the pitchers) just not being awful.

Perhaps I’m looking at the team with Diamondbacks-colored glasses, but I don’t think I am. Maybe I’m expecting too much from the younger guys in the near future.

Actually, that’s probably it. Still, I like their chances.


Murphy Powell is a creator of Scouts Alley. If you liked this, you can follow him on Twitter, but if you didn’t like it and want to say mean things to him, he actually doesn’t have a Twitter account.

 

And Now the Tigers Lose Anibal Sanchez

By Murphy Powell


Well he’s been gone for a few weeks, actually. Anibal Sanchez went out with a strained right pectoral muscle on August 8 and hasn’t been back in the rotation since then.

Fortunately, Justin Verlander is back. Unfortunately, his last start – August 23 – didn’t produce many encouraging results: 5.2 innings, eight hits, four runs, three walks and six strikeouts.

Detroit was seemingly a clear-cut favorite before it traded for David Price on July 31 and didn’t have to give up all that much to get him. When the Tigers got Price, they quickly became one of the three favorites to win the American League, along with Los Angeles and Oakland.

On July 31, Detroit was 58-47 with a good lead over Kansas City for first place in the AL Central. The Tigers are 13-12 since then, have given up that first-place spot to KC and would be out of the playoffs entirely if the season ended today.

Sure, Detroit still has two of the top eight pitchers in baseball this year in Max Scherzer and David Price. And, yes, the team is only a game-and-a-half behind KC, with those two teams playing each other six times in September, which would be a good opportunity for Detroit to make up a few games pretty quickly. And FanGraphs’ playoff odds actually still like Detroit to make it to October.

So losing Sanchez might not be that big of a deal over the last month of the 2014 season – he’s only projected to be worth one win at best. I mean, a rotation of Price, Scherzer, Verlander and Rick Porcello looks better than most, but it looks way, way better with Sanchez in it.

The problem comes in if the Tigers do make the playoffs and don’t have Sanchez there. Again, that four-man rotation listed in the paragraph above is good, but it might not keep up with Lester-Gray-Samardzija-Kazmir over in Oakland. Losing Sanchez means nothing if Detroit goes to the Wild Card game, because he wouldn’t pitch in that one anyway.

And it bears repeating, Detroit only trails Seattle by a half-game for the second Wild Card, and the Tigers are 1.5 behind Kansas City with a full month and some change left this year. And with those six games against KC, the Detroit club could find itself in good shape.

With that said, it’s not time for Tigers fans to worry. Not yet, anyway. If the team is still a game-and-a-half out of the division lead on September 19, maybe be a little concerned. But wait until then, at least.


Murphy Powell is a creator of Scouts Alley. You can follow him on Twitter if you want to.