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Archive for October, 2011

CC Sabathia surprised all of baseball by doing exactly what everyone suspected he would: sign an extension to remain with the New York Yankees.

Sabathia will be roaring in pinstripes for at least five more years. (Photo: Getty Images)

Although there was little doubt Sabathia would remain in pinstripes, conventional wisdom suggested the big left hander would first opt out of his current deal before returning to the Bronx. Instead of allowing it to get that far, however, GM Brian Cashman set about hammering out a contract extension that could add as many as two more years to the four remaining on Sabathia’s existing deal.

In some ways, the Yankees’ preemptive strike is both a validation and repudiation of arguments advanced on both sides of the Sabathia opt out debate. While some will portray the left hander’s decision as proof of his often-stated desire to end his career in pinstripes, others will likely treat the extension as a de facto opt out. When you really think about it, both interpretations have merit. Because Sabathia decided to eschew free agency, it seems as if his preference was for pitching in New York. However, his loyalty did come at a price, which isn’t to suggest dishonesty of any sort. Rather, Sabathia leveraged both his contractual rights and superior performance over the last three years into a well deserved extension.

Would Sabathia have opted out without an extension? And, if so, what kind of offers would he have received on the open market? It would have been interesting to find out the answers to those questions, but both he and the Yankees did well to leave them unaddressed.

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Lost in the excitement, and chaos, of Thursday’s game six were two plays that major league baseball needs to seriously address in the offseason. The first involved a hard takeout slide by Matt Holliday, while the second featured the left fielder as the victim when Adrian Beltre blocked his retreat to the bag during a pickoff attempt. The umpires’ ruling on both plays, which each had a big impact on the game, completely ignored the rulebook, which is something the Commissioner should address before making any other changes to the game.

Rule 7.09 (e) It is interference by a batter or a runner when…Any batter or runner who has just been put out, or any runner who has just scored, hinders or impedes any following play being made on a runner. Such runner shall be declared out for the interference of his teammate.

Was Matt Holliday attempting to reach second base on this slide? (Photo: Getty)

In the bottom of the fourth inning of game six, the Cardinals had runners on first and second when David Freese hit what looked like a tailor-made double play. The only problem was Holliday (who has a history of questionable slides into 2B) slid high and hard into Elvis Andrus without even making an attempt to touch the base. Ironically, many applauded Holliday for his hard takeout slide, usually referencing the non-existent rule about having to be within arm’s length of the base, when, in fact, they should have questioned second base umpire Greg Gibson for failing to call interference and award the automatic double play.

As Rule 7.09(e) clearly states, a runner may not purposely interfere with a fielder who is trying to turn two, even if he is able to touch the base while doing so. Although the section of the rule on interference provides an exception that allows a runner to continue his path after being put out, it doesn’t excuse actions above and beyond an attempt to reach the next base. In this case, Holliday’s target was Andrus, not second base, and so two outs should have been awarded. Instead, Gibson let the play stand, and the Cardinals benefitted when a run scored on Yadier Molina’s ground out to third base.

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Last night’s epic game six was so compelling, that tonight’s game seven almost seems anti-climatic. As is sometimes the case when the World Series goes the distance, it is the sixth game that proves to be the most memorable (see 1975, 1985, 1986, and 2002 for a handful of examples). So, before settling in to see if baseball can serve up a suitable encore for its season finale, it seems appropriate that we take one last look back at what was truly one of the most remarkable games in World Series history. For Cardinals’ fans it will be a raucous stroll down memory lane, while the Rangers’ faithful might want to cover to their eyes, but for those who love the game of baseball, game six will take a lofty place in World Series lore.

So Close, Yet So Far…

After being one strike away from winning the World Series, this wild pitch added 18 more years to the Red Sox' curse.

After 50 seasons without a championship, the fourth longest streak for any team since its inception, the Texas Rangers were tantalizingly close to finally tasting World Series champagne. On not one, but two occasions, the Rangers came within one strike of tossing their gloves up in the air and piling on top of each other somewhere around the pitcher’s mound. Instead, they were forced to watch the Cardinals celebrate on the field.

Will the Rangers be able to recover? Only twice before had a team come within one strike of winning the World Series only to see the lead slip away. Most famously, the Red Sox suffered that cruel fate on Bob Stanley’s wild pitch in game six of the 1986 World Series, and it took them another 18 years to finally get the last out. The 1992 Blue Jays rebounded much more quickly, however. After Tom Henke surrendered a game tying single to Otis Nixon on an 0-2 count, his teammates picked him up by rallying to win the game, and the World Series, in the 11th inning.

Saving The Best For Last?

In addition to the two leads squandered by Neftali Feliz and Scott Feldman in the ninth and tenth, respectively, Alexi Ogando was also tagged with a blown save in the sixth inning. As a result, the Rangers became only the second team in World Series history to suffer three blown saves in the same game. If Texas’ fans are looking for a good omen, the only other team to “accomplish” that feat was the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates, who actually won the very same deciding game seven in which they continued to let the lead slip away.

Of course, the Rangers would not have had the opportunity to keep blowing saves if the Cardinals’ bullpen hadn’t been just as bad. In fact, poor pitching out of the bullpen has been a theme of the entire series, which is a little bit ironic when you consider both teams advanced to the World Series on the strength of their relief pitching. In the series, the Cardinals’ and Rangers’ relievers have posted ERAs of 5.16 and 7.58, respectively, so perhaps both teams would be better off if the bullpen phone stopped working?

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Last year’s World Series matchup ensured that a long championship drought would be broken. The Giants entered the 2010 Fall Classic without a title in 56 seasons, while the Rangers had never won a World Series. The two teams’ combined 105 years chasing the trophy ranked as the third longest of all time, but after the Giants proved victorious, only the Rangers’ stretch of championship futility remained.

World Series with Longest Combined Championship Drought

NL AL Years
2005 Astros (43) White Sox (88) 131
2004 Cardinals (22) Red Sox (86) 108
2010 Giants (56) Rangers (49) 105
1975 Reds (35) Red Sox (57) 92
2002 Giants (48) Angels (41) 89
1980 Phillies (77)* Royals (11) 88
1986 Mets (17) Red Sox (68) 85
1995 Braves (38) Indians (47) 85
1966 Dodgers (11) Orioles (63)* 74
1972 Reds (32) A’s (42) 74
1987 Cardinals (5) Twins (63) 68

*Drought dates back to 1903, the year of the first World Series.
Note: 1904 and 1994 were included in calculating the durations. Winner in bold.
Source: mlb.com

After failing to win a playoff series in their first 49 years of existence, the Rangers have now won consecutive A.L. pennants and given themselves another chance to snap baseball’s third longest stretch without World Series success. With the exception of the Cubs and Indians, no team has gone longer without tasting champagne after the Fall Classic, so, needless to say, the fans in Dallas are probably somewhat anxious. In fact, the entire state of Texas will probably be on edge. Combined with the Astros, major league baseball has existed in the Lone Star state for 89 years without producing a World Series winner.

Longest Current World Series Droughts, By Team (30 Years or Longer)
Note: Texas’ streak does not include the current season.
Source: mlb.com

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Mike Napoli is on the verge of completing a season long journey that has taken him from the outhouse in Anaheim to the penthouse in Arlington. With one more Rangers’ victory, Napoli is almost assured of becoming the World Series MVP, which wouldn’t be as remarkable if the defensively maligned catcher hadn’t been traded twice during the past offseason.

While with the Angels, Napoli's defense kept him behind Jeff Mathis on the depth chart.

Despite having an outstanding regular season, including an OPS+ of 171, Napoli’s postseason success is what has finally forced many to reevaluate the offseason trades that dropped him in the lap of the Texas Rangers. Ironically, however, Napoli’s success has also led to some revisionist history. Several times during the FOX broadcast of the World Series, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver have commented about the value of an offensive catcher tutored by Mike Scioscia, but never have they mentioned that Scioscia’s reluctance to play Napoli was likely the impetus for his being jettisoned by the Angels.

In today’s Los Angeles Times, Bill Plaschke caught up with Scioscia and, not surprisingly, the Angels’ manager distanced himself from the decision. Without directly placing all the blame on former GM Tony Reagins, Scioscia offered the tried and true “I just work here” defense. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. After all, Scioscia, not Reagins, was the one working under an unprecedented 10-year deal.

If you say our organization didn’t value Mike Napoli, it’s absolutely wrong. The hindsight of this trade is 20/20 vision, and right now, obviously in the playoffs, that vision carries lot of weight. But I still think there is a lot of upside of what our team can become with Vernon.” – Mike Scioscia, quoted in the Los Angeles Times, October 26, 2011

Even if you give the Angels’ organization a pass for thinking Vernon Wells could replicate his 2010 season, that doesn’t explain why the team jettisoned Napoli, who was really nothing more than a salary dump intended to even out the cash flow in the trade. As evidence of that, the Blue Jays promptly sent Napoli to the Texas Rangers for reliever Frank Francisco. That’s why the expectations for Wells were really irrelevant to the dismissal of Napoli.

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Allen Craig, who spent most of the season being a utility-type bench player, has become a central figure in the 2011 World Series. In game 1, with David Freese on third and Nick Punto on first, he came off the bench to face Alexi Ogando and drove home the go-ahead run with a single to right field. Then, in game 2, he again faced Ogando as a pinch hitter, with Freese and Punto in the same position on the bases, and recorded another base hit to right. Somewhere, Yogi Berra must have been smiling.

Déjà Vu: Allen Craig has come off the bench to knock in the go-ahead run in the first two games of the 2011 World Series (Photo: Getty Images).

Since the first World Series in 1903, there have been 1,409 plate appearances by a pinch hitter, and in only 32 did the batter’s cameo end up giving his team the lead (including 22 times involving a hit). Among that select group, Craig is the only pinch hitter to do it twice, which isn’t too bad for his only two World Series at bats. Unfortunately for Ogando, he finds himself on the other end of that historical footnote, but at least he has some company. On two occasions during the 1995 World Series, the Indians’ Julian Tavarez also surrendered the go-ahead run while facing a pinch hitter.

With one more pinch hit, Craig would also tie several others, including the Yankees’ Johnny Blanchard (10 PA), Bobby Brown (7 PA), and Bob Cerv (3 PA), for the most in World Series history. In terms of Win Probability Added (WPA), however, Craig’s exploits off the bench haven’t been as impressive.

Craig’s two singles recorded a WPA of .181 and .212 in games 1 and 2, respectively, which ranks 39 and 50 on the all-time World Series pinch hit list. Although nothing to sneeze at, Craig’s combined WPA for both hits would barely crack the top-10. Listed below are the 10 most impactful pinch hits based on their WPA contribution.

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Albert Pujols, one of the greatest players in the history of the game and most revered figures in the city of St. Louis, is a coward who lacks leadership skills, at least according to the headline writers at Yahoo! Sports.

Judging by the solemn photo of Pujols, crouching low after allowing a relay throw to slip by his glove, you’d think the Cardinals’ first baseman did something heinous. Was he caught cheating on the field? Or, maybe he put a personal accomplishment ahead of team goals? Perhaps he had an argument with his manager, or disrespected a teammate in full view of the country? Pujols did none of those things. He simply skipped out on reporters by leaving the clubhouse soon after the game.

Yahoo! Sports Teaser for a Column by Jeff Passan

Source: Yahoo! Sports

Yahoo! Sports wasn’t alone in criticizing Pujols for his early exit. In columns and tweets, media members took turns lambasting the MVP for his refusal to live up to his post game obligations. Not content to simply cover the World Series, many in the media instead decided to make their role a central story line.

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Tonight’s World Series opens up in St. Louis because the National League won the 2011 All Star Game. For many in and around the game, linking home field advantage in October to an outcome in July is the height of folly, but this season at least, the symmetry is almost perfect.

Despite the Brewers being eliminated, Prince Fielder's impact on the World Series is still being felt.

In order to advance to the World Series, the Cardinals had to beat the Milwaukee Brewers, the team that currently employs Prince Fielder. As some might recall, it was Fielder’s three-run home run that propelled the National League to victory at the home ballpark of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who just so happened to be the victims of the Brewers in the NLDS. What does all this have to do with the American League champion Texas Rangers? Well, Fielder’s game changing blast was hit off C.J. Wilson, who will toe the rubber for the Rangers tonight in St. Louis, and the manager of the American League was none other than Texas’ Ron Washington.

Unfortunately, the lineage from All Star Game to World Series hasn’t always been as direct, but that doesn’t mean the idea of tying the two games together is as baseless as many seem to suggest. After all, before the midseason classic was first used to decide World Series home field in 2003, an alternating system existed. That’s why, for instance, the 85-win Minnesota Twins hosted the 95-win Cardinals in game 7 of the 1987 World Series. Perhaps more than any other Fall Classic, home field proved to be a decisive factor in that series, but you never hear anyone call into question the credibility of the Twins’ championship.

Baseball’s home field advantage determinant has been the subject of increased criticism this October because the 96-win division champion Rangers will be opening the series on the road against the 90-win wild card Cardinals. However, it should be noted that this is only the second time since 2003 that World Series home field has gone to the team with fewer wins in the regular season. In 2004, the 105-win Cardinals traveled to Fenway Park to open that year’s World Series against the 98-win Boston Red Sox, but otherwise, until this year, the team with the better record has enjoyed home cooking in October. Of course, after drawing the short end of the home field process in both 1987 and 2004, you can’t blame Cardinals’ fans if they refuse to apologize for having the opportunity to host this year’s World Series opener.

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Just days after confirming that he and his rotation mates drank “rally beers” in the clubhouse during games, Red Sox ace Jon Lester has denied rumors that their alcoholic consumption extended to the dugout. The allegations, which were the latest bombshell to rock Red Sox Nation, also prompted an investigation and reply by team CEO Larry Lucchino.

Tonight our organization has heard directly from Jon, Josh, John, and former manager Terry Francona. Each has assured us that the allegation that surfaced today about drinking in the dugout during games in 2011 is false, and we accept their statements as honest and factual.” – Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, quoted by ESPNBoston.com

Despite the denials by Lester and Lucchino, the Captain’s Blog has uncovered evidence suggesting the Red Sox may have not only imbibed on the bench, but even taken a sip or two on the field. In the photo presented below, Red Sox third base coach Tim Bogar is clearly seen retrieving several beers from a Fenway Park vendor. After that incident, now former Red Sox manager Terry Francona tried to deflect attention from the incident, half-heartedly joking, “I was just glad Bogie didn’t grab one and start drinking it,” but in light of the recent allegations,  that comment no longer seems amusing. Although there is no record of what Bogar actually did with the beers, unnamed sources have revealed that at least a few were eventually used to wash down an “in-game” spread of Popeye’s chicken and biscuits.

Red Sox 3B Coach Tim Bogar retrieves beer on the field at Fenway Park (Photo: Getty Images).

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The San Francisco Giants’ championship in 2010 was supposed to usher in a new era of pitching dominance. With offense levels reaching long-time lows, the conventional wisdom suggested that only with a strong starting rotation could a team hope to make the World Series. Then, 2011 happened.

The Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals have each advanced to this year’s Fall Classic despite lackluster starting pitching. In fact, the teams’ respective rotation ERAs of 5.62 and 5.43 rank near the bottom among the field of eight that began the postseason. Even more incredibly, the two teams combined had only one starter go at least six innings (C.J. Wilson in game 5 of the ALCS) in their recent LCS triumphs, and the Cardinals actually logged more innings from the bullpen than the starting rotation (28 2/3 vs. 24 1/3) during its victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Postseason ERAs by Starting Rotation

 Team G Avg GSc IP ER ERA
PHI 5 57.8 34 14 3.71
DET 11 51.3 59 2/3 30 4.53
ARI 5 49.2 28 15 4.82
NYY 5 47.6 20 1/3 11 4.87
TBR 4 49.5 22 2/3 13 5.16
STL 11 45.5 54 2/3 33 5.43
TEX 10 45.0 49 2/3 31 5.62
MIL 11 40.3 55 1/3 43 6.99
 Total 62 47.2 324 1/3 190 5.27

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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