The New Testament of Fielding Stats and Awards
With the World Series behind us, the baseball world now turns its attention to award winners, free agents, the Rule 5 draft, and the hot stove league. We will cover all of these matters &ndash and much more – this off-season.
The Fielding Bible Awards, chosen by a ten-man panel, were announced yesterday. The balloting is distinct from the Rawlings Gold Glove Awards. The latter has been in existence since 1957 and the voting has been conducted among MLB managers and coaches since 1965. In addition to the makeup of the voters, the Fielding Bible Awards are different from the Gold Gloves in that the former is designed to honor the best defensive player at each position in the majors (as opposed to naming winners for each of the two leagues) and the outfield spots are broken down by left field, center field, and right field.
Here are the Fielding Bible Awards for the 2008 season (with commentary provided by John Dewan of Baseball Info Solutions):
First Base – Albert Pujols, St. Louis
Second Base – Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati
Third Base – Adrian Beltre, Seattle
Shortstop – Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia
Left Field – Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay
Center Field – Carlos Beltran, New York Mets
Right Field – Franklin Gutierrez, Cleveland
Catcher – Yadier Molina, St. Louis
Pitcher – Kenny Rogers, Detroit
The complete vote tally can be viewed here.
While in general agreement with the voters as to the winners, I was surprised to learn that Garret Anderson placed fifth among left fielders. I can't imagine that he deserves to rank in the top half of his peers, much less fifth. The good news is that no single voter rated him higher than fourth. Rob Neyer and Joe Posnanski earned even more respect from me (although I don't know if that is possible given how highly I think of them) as the only two panelists who didn't vote for GA at all.
As opposed to Neyer and Posnanski, I have to wonder about Mike Murphy. Not only did the latter rank Anderson fourth but he had Robinson Cano as his No. 2 second baseman (while listing Chase Utley ninth, Dustin Pedroia tenth, and excluding Mark Ellis altogether). Murphy's credibility as a voter can also be questioned by virtue of his rankings for Fielding Bible Award winners Albert Pujols (fourth), Brandon Phillips (third), Adrian Beltre (tenth), Jimmy Rollins (third), Carl Crawford (ninth), Carlos Beltran (fifth), Franklin Gutierrez (sixth), Yadier Molina (second), and Kenny Rogers (second). Furthermore, the top players Murphy voted for at second base, third base, and shortstop didn't even rank in the top ten in total points. I have no idea why the Chicago sports radio host was asked to be on the panel, but he should be removed prior to next year's balloting if it is the goal of the Fielding Bible Awards to be taken seriously as the preeminent word on defensive excellence.
Most of the panelists value the Plus/Minus System that was developed by Dewan. A check of the 2008 and 2006-08 leaders and trailers passes my smell test. The bottom line is that fielding systems employing play-by-play data such as Dewan's Plus/Minus, David Pinto’s Probabilistic Model of Range (PMR), and Mitchel Lichtman's Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) are much more accurate than traditional defensive statistics like putouts, assists, errors, fielding percentage, and even range factors. For more on advanced defensive metrics, be sure to check out Evaluating Fielding by Tom Tango, the noted sabermetrician.
The Big Chase
Rain or shine, the Philadelphia Phillies are the 2008 World Series champions. Congratulations go out to all of the players, coaches, staff, Charlie Manuel, Pat Gillick, ownership, and the City of Brotherly Love.
As a Long Beach native, I am extremely happy for Chase Utley. He and my son Joe are the same age, and they played in the Long Beach Little League and Long Beach Pony League at the same time. I had the good fortune of coaching Chase for a couple of games on a youth All-Star team but had the bad fortune of coaching against him most of the time.
Chase played on the Pirates while Joe played for the Dodgers. We didn't stand a chance. As it turned out, the Dodgers didn't have anyone who went on to play Major League Baseball. The Pirates had two. Yes, two. Chase Utley and Sean Burroughs. Although Chase is better known today, it was Sean who made headlines in those days.
You may recall that Burroughs was the star of the Long Beach Little League teams that won back-to-back world championships in 1992 and 1993. He pitched two no-hitters at Williamsport in 1993, striking out 16 in each game. Sean was also the best hitter on both All-Star teams.
Burroughs was much more than a Little League phenom. He was the ninth overall pick in the 1998 draft by the San Diego Padres. Two years later, Sean won a gold medal as a member of Team USA in the Olympics Games in Sydney, Australia. He is the only player that I am aware of who has ever won a Little League Baseball World Series championship and an Olympics gold medal.
Chase was two years older than Sean and did not play on the Little League All-Star teams that won consecutive titles. But Utley was special in his own right. I shared my thoughts on Chase in the summer of 2006 after he had extended his hitting streak to 31 games.
I have a special affinity toward Utley. Chase and my son Joe played youth baseball for Long Beach Little League. Joe played on the Dodgers. Chase played for the Pirates. One of Chase's teammates was Sean Burroughs, who just may be the best Little League player ever. Joe and Chase are two years older than Sean and neither played on the LBLL All-Star teams that Burroughs spearheaded to World Championships in 1992 and 1993.
Like his former teammate Burroughs, Utley can now lay claim to being a world champion. The second baseman did his part, hitting .292/.380/.535 with 33 HR during the regular season and adding three more homers during the postseason while making a memorable and decisive defensive play in the final game of the series.
With the score knotted at three in the top of the seventh and the go-ahead run on second base, Chase ranged to his right to field a ground ball off the bat of Akinori Iwamura, pump-faked a throw to first, and made an off-balance throw to home plate to nab a surprised Jason Bartlett for the final out of the inning. It was the type of heads-up play that has distinguished Utley throughout his baseball career, from Little League to Pony League to high school to college to the minors and for the last six years in the majors.
As fate would have it, Utley and Burroughs almost faced each other in the World Series. San Diego traded Sean to Tampa Bay for Dewon Brazelton in December 2005. Unfortunately, Burroughs only played eight games for the Devil Rays and was released in August 2006. He never played another game in the big leagues.
Two months before Burroughs was released, Tampa Bay selected Evan Longoria with the third overall pick in the amateur draft. Not only were Burroughs and Longoria third basemen but both are Long Beach products – just like the 2008 World Series champion Chase Utley.
The 2007-08 Winter Trading Season in Review
With the World Series underway it means that the off-season is not far off. In baseball, though, the off-season is never a quiet one; there is always something going on. Last year, the stretch from November to February was a busy time with a number of big names changing jerseys, including Erik Bedard, Miguel Cabrera, Miguel Tejada, and Dan Haren. There were also a number of top prospects changing hands, such as Chris Tillman, Deolis Guerra, and Cameron Maybin.
This week, I am going to review how those big trades (at least one star name, plus five or more players involved) worked out for both clubs. Next week, I am going to take a look at some of the smaller trades of the off-season that had larger-than-expected impacts on one or more club.
To Tampa Bay:
This trade may have had more impact on the 2008 Major League season than any other trade made all of last year. Not only did the Rays receive a solid Major League starter and an excellent defensive shortstop, but the club also re-made the clubhouse atmosphere with the expulsion of Delmon Young. Matt Garza became a solid No. 3 starter for the Rays behind Scott Kazmir and James Shields. He won 11 games and pitched 184 innings with just 170 hits allowed. Jason Barlett was hurt for a while but he gave the pitchers confidence when he was on the field, which allowed them to pitch to contact. In Minnesota, Delmon Young had an OK season but he failed to hit for power (.115 ISO) and continued to struggle with his patience (5.7 BB%) and pitch selection. Brendan Harris appeared in 130 games with modest success, but is really a utility player. Both Jason Pridie and Eduardo Morlan spent the majority of the season in the minors.
Winner before 2008: Even
The Arizona Diamondbacks secured a talented No. 2 starter - something a lot of teams lack - but they gave up a great deal of depth to obtain Dan Haren, who is signed through 2013. Haren had a stellar 2008 with 204 hits allowed in 216 innings. He posted rates of 1.67 BB/9 and 8.58 K/9 - with an eye-popping 5.15 K/BB. He also lowered his home runs allowed and batting average against for the third straight season. Connor Robertson spent the majority of the season working out of the Triple-A bullpen but he appeared in six big league games.
In Oakland, Carlos Gonzalez appeared in 86 games for in the Majors at the age of 22 and showed his youth - but also his potential. The toolsy outfielder hit .242/.273/.361 with 22 doubles and four homers in 302 at-bats. The outfielder, who split time between center field and right field, obviously needs some more seasoning after posting rates of 4.1 BB% and 26.8 K%, with an ISO of .119. Both Dana Eveland and Greg Smith provided more than what was expected of them - although they both faded significantly in the season half of the season. Eveland made 29 starts and posted an ERA of 4.34. He struck out 118 batters and allowed 172 hits in 168 innings of work. His nemesis, though, was the walk. Eveland posted a walk rate of 4.13 (77 in total). Smith made his Major League debut in 2008 and started 32 games for Oakland. He allowed just 169 hits in 190.1 innings, but walked 87 batters (4.11 BB/9). Smith also posted a strikeout rate of 5.25 K/9. He will have to improve upon his GB% of 34.2 if he is going to have a long stay in the Majors, especially given that his fastball averages out at 87.6 mph. Brett Anderson had a solid minor league season and the 22-year-old lefty ended the season by pitching in the Triple-A playoffs. He could contribute at the Major League level in 2009. Aaron Cunningham was slowed by injuries early in the 2008 season, but he rebounded and ended the year in Oakland and should be a future MLB fourth outfielder - at the very least. Chris Carter, who began the winter as a White Sox prospect only to don three different jerseys, is an all-or-nothing slugger who dominated the California home run race with 39 bombs (13 more than the next closest hitter). That total was also second in all of Minor League Baseball, next to veteran Dallas McPherson, who hit 42 in Triple-A.
Winner before 2008: A draw
After this trade, just about everybody in baseball - yours truly included - handed Detroit the World Series title. But clubhouse chemistry went awry in The Motor City and players had disappointing seasons. Miguel Cabrera had a terribly slow start to the season and he was criticized for coasting on his new, fat contract. By the time the season ended, though, most of his stats were in line with his career norm - except perhaps his average (.292, the lowest since his rookie season) and on-base percentage (8.3 BB%, again the lowest since his debut year). All-in-all, though, he still managed to hit 37 homers (.245 ISO) and drive in a career-high 127 runs. Former young stud Dontrelle Willis was a mess on the mound with a 9.38 ERA and 35 walks allowed in 24 innings of Major League work. That was a far cry from his 22-win 2005 season at the age of 23. Detroit handed him a three-year deal after the trade for about $30 million so they are stuck with him for the next couple of seasons.
For Florida, the trade netted some interesting names but they did not do much in 2008. The key to the trade was young outfielder Cameron Maybin, but he spent the majority of the season in Double-A. His line of .277/.373/.456 in 390 at-bats was good, but not great, especially when you look at the fact he struck out 31.8% of the time with just 13 home runs. On the plus side, he had a late-season promotion to Florida and hit .500 in 32 at-bats. Andrew Miller, the second key piece of the trade, probably should have spent the season in Triple-A rather than in the Majors where he posted a 5.87 ERA in 29 big league appearances - including 20 starts. He posted a walk rate of 4.70 BB/9, but a respectable strikeout rate of 7.46 K/9. He allowed 120 hits in 107.1 innings of work. Mike Rabelo was supposed to fill Florida's void behind the dish but he hit just .202/.256/.294 in 109 at-bats during an injury-filled season. Burke Badenhop appeared in 13 Major League games - including eight starts - but posted a 6.08 ERA with 55 hits and 21 walks allowed in 47.1 innings. Eulogio de la Cruz had a respectable season in the Triple-A starting rotation but he posted an 18.00 ERA in six Major League games with 15 hits and 11 walks allowed in nine innings. Dallas Trahern posted a 6.16 ERA in 21 Triple-A starts.
Winner before 2008: Detroit
If you're a Seattle fan, this trade still makes you sick. Erik Bedard was OK when he was able to pitch but then he broke down - again. He posted a 3.67 ERA and allowed just 70 hits in 81 innings of work. But he also allowed a few too many big home runs (1.00 HR/9) and his command was lacking (4.11 BB/9). There is a chance that Bedard could get non-tendered this winter, which would really, really burn. In exchange for the frustrating Bedard, Seattle gave up a closer, a possible future star outfielder, and one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. George Sherrill saved 31 games, although he faltered in the second half of the season. Adam Jones' game showed some holes, including a 4.6 BB%, but he played with energy, continued to show improvements and oozed potential. Chris Tillman, 20, could be one of the Top 5 pitching prospects in baseball. In Double-A, he allowed just 115 hits and 65 walks in 135.2 innings. He also struck out 154 batters. Kam Mickolio does not have a huge ceiling but he made his MLB debut in 2008 and should be a serviceable reliever.
Winner before 2008: Seattle, barely
To New York (NL):
Minnesota had a number of suitors for Johan Santana but the organization played its cards poorly and lost out on a number of potential suitors. When Santana started grumbling, the Twins acted hastily and took a deal from New York that never did look all that appetizing - and it looks even less so now. Santana's stuff was not quite as sharp as it used to be, but he still helped the Mets and led the club in almost every pitching category, including wins (16), innings pitched (234.1) and strikeouts (206).
For the Twins, Carlos Gomez was the only player to establish himself in the Majors after the trade. He shows potential and is still young at the age of 22, but he really didn't hit for average, power or get on-base, with a line of .258/.296/.360. He does, though, currently offer speed (33 SB) and defence. Deolis Guerra has been disappointing since the trade and his stuff took a big step back this past season in High-A ball. He posted a 5.47 ERA and allowed 71 walks and struck out just 71 batters in 130 innings. Both Phil Humber and Kevin Mulvey spent the majority of the season in Triple-A with modest results and will likely have to break into Minnesota as relievers.
Winner before 2008: New York
Houston took a gamble on Miguel Tejada after his name had been dragged through the mud a bit, and then it got dragged through the muck again after the trade. Regardless, the offensive-minded shortstop had a solid season with a line of .283/.314/.415 in 632 at-bats. His power, though, continued to be MIA with an ISO of .131. Tejada scored 92 runs but his total of 66 RBI was the lowest in 10 seasons. He is no longer the impact hitter that he once was. Over in Baltimore, the club was thankful for receiving Luke Scott in the deal. The outfielder, who did not secure a role in the Majors until he was 28, posted a line of .257/.336/.472 with 23 homers and 65 RBI in 475 at-bats. Pitchers Matt Albers and Troy Patton were derailed by injuries. Albers is rehabbing a partially torn labrum, while Patton underwent surgery for a similar, but more severe, injury. Dennis Sarfate spent the season in the Baltimore bullpen and allowed 62 hits in 79.2 innings. He posted rates of 7.00 BB/9 (no that is not a typo) and 9.72 K/9. Continuing with out theme, he pitched with an injured shoulder all season and was going to have surgery at the end of the year. Mike Costanzo had a disappointing season at Triple-A.
Winner before 2008: Baltimore
Rising Stars Collide in Arizona
Are you ready to catch a rising star? The Arizona Fall League will feature the third annual Rising Stars Showcase today, which will pit the brightest young prospects in baseball against each other for bragging rights. Players are selected to the teams by scouting and minor league directors from each Major League organization, in consultation with Arizona Fall League executive director Steve Cobb and his baseball personnel staff.
The most impressive prospects on the American Division team include: Tommy Hanson (Atlanta), Aaron Poreda (Chicago AL), Sean West (Florida), Gordon Beckham (Chicago AL), Logan Morrison (Florida), Brett Wallace (St. Louis), Daniel Murphy (New York NL), and Josh Reddick (Boston).
Daniel Murphy, who is in Arizona to work on his versatility, is currently hitting .412/.500/.588 in 34 at-bats. He was scored 12 runs, in part due to eight walks (and just three strikeouts). Gordon Beckham, a 2008 first round draft pick, has just five hits in 20 at-bats but three of those have been doubles. Another 2008 first rounder, Brett Wallace, who made it all the way to Double-A in his debut, has been struggling. He is currently hitting .133/.188/.267 in 30 at-bats. Josh Reddick has followed up a solid 2008 regular season with a slow start to the AFL. He is currently hitting .211/.225/.342 in 38 at-bats. Reddick has just one walk to go along with 16 strikeouts. Logan Morrison is currently hitting .423/.423/.654 in 26 at-bats, with one home run and five runs scored. He could very well be knocking on the door of the first base job in Florida next season.
Fellow Marlins' prospect Sean West has a 3.38 ERA through three games. He has allowed 11 hits, three walks and nine strikeouts in 10.2 innings pitched. Tommy Hanson has been lights-out in Arizona and has yet to allow a run in three starts. He has allowed just one hit and three walks in 8.2 innings of work. He has also struck out 14. Aaron Poreda, working out of the bullpen, has dominated with no runs allowed in five games. He has allowed five hits, two walks and eight strikeouts.
The key players for the National Division team include: Philip Hughes (New York AL), Jeremy Jeffress (Milwaukee), Brian Matusz (Baltimore), J.P. Arencibia (Toronto), Matt Wieters (Baltimore), Carlos Triunfel (Seattle), Julio Borbon (Texas), and Greg Halman (Seattle).
Matt Wieters just keeps on hitting. The catcher, who made it to Double-A in his debut season, is currently hitting .345/.486/.483 in 29 at-bats. He is almost certain to make his MLB debut in 2009, if healthy. Julio Borbon is another player who had a breakout 2008 but he is finding the league to be a little bit tougher. He is currently hitting .229/.357/.286 in 35 at-bats. Borbon has just one extra base hit, seven walks and 10 strikeouts. Catcher J.P. Arencibia may be a little worn out after a long season. He is in the AFL specifically to work on his plate discipline after walking just 18 times in 510 at-bats between High-A and Double-A. In 35 at-bats in the fall league he has just three walks... so he's improving slowly. Carlos Triunfel, one of the youngest players in the league, is hitting .311/.347/.467 in 45 at-bats. He has struck out just five times and has scored 13 runs. Fellow Seattle prospect Greg Halman is hitting .282/.333/.538 in 39 at-bats. He has walked twice with 16 strikeouts.
Brian Matusz, a 2008 first round pick, made his pro debut in the AFL after signing late in the year. He has a 1.29 ERA in two starts. He has allowed just three hits and two walks in seven innings. Matusz also has nine strikeouts. Philip Hughes has not been overly sharp in the fall league, with a 5.68 ERA. He has allowed 12 hits and eight walks in 12.2 innings. Hughes also has 11 strikeouts. One really bad outing has skewed Jeremy Jeffress' numbers. He currently has a 12.86 ERA in seven innings. He has allowed 10 hits and six walks to go along with seven strikeouts.
Be sure to check back at the conclusion of the Arizona Fall League, in late November, for a more detailed look at some of the best, worst - and most surprising - performances by some of the Major League's future stars.
Game One - A Look Back
David Pinto offers a good look at how Philadelphia took down Tampa Bay in Game One last night.
The Phillies dominated game one much more than the 3-2 score indicates. Hamels and the bullpen shut down the Rays offense, allowing five hits and two walks while striking out eight. The Phillies picked up plenty of hits, but the Rays pitching was in bend, don't break mode. They allowed no hits with runners in scoring position, but one of those ground outs scored a run. That was the difference maker. One or two big hits and the Phillies win this game in a blow out.
I decided I would use Game One as an historical jumping-off point of sorts. Thank goodness for Baseball Reference.
Chase Utley became only the third second baseman to homer in the first inning of Game One of the World Series. Joe Morgan did it against the Yanks in 1976, Craig Counsell homered off of Mike Mussina in the 2001 Fall Classic and in a game I attended, Dustin Pedroia took Jeff Francis deep last year at Fenway.
Looking closer, or rather altering the parameters, a second baseman has homered just 18 times in Game One of the Series and on just three occasions has a second baseman playing for the visitors homered. The last time a second baseman homered for the road team in Game One of the World Series? Why it was none other than Joe Morgan, this time playing for the very same franchise as Utley in the 1983 Series off of Baltimore's Scott McGregor. And damn, now that I look, McGregor was very good in 1983; 260 innings, 3.18 ERA. As Larry David would say, PRETT-AYY, PRETT-AYY good.
None of this is particularly earth shattering. But it's the World Series, an event whose significance needs no further explanation. The World Series! And it doesn't matter if the Yankees or Dodgers or Red Sox or Cubs or Rays or Robins or Athletics or Senators or Phillies are participating. It's a big deal, and worthy of its own historical backdrop.
As I write this, Carl Crawford just homered. He is the sixth left fielder in history to go yard for a home team trailing Game One of the World Series. The last one to do it with two outs? Tom Tresh, who passed away just last week, in 1963.
The following season, Tresh was a monster against the St. Louis Cardinals in the Fall Classic. He hit .273/.414/.636 and launched what might have been one of the biggest home runs in World Series history. The Series was tied heading into Game 5 and in the top of the ninth with two outs, Mickey Mantle at second and his team trailing Bob Gibson and the Cards 2-0, Tresh hit a two-run home run to spoil Gibson's shutout and send the game into extras. Unfortunately, the Yanks gave up three in the top of the tenth. Who was the hero for St. Louis? 2008 World Series color commentator for FOX, Tim McCarver, who hit a three-run home run off of Pete Mikkelsen to send the Cards back home with a 3-2 series lead. St. Louis would win it in seven.
See what I did there? I closed the loop. Tied it all back. Seriously, B-Ref's Play Index is more fun than anyone should be allowed.
World Serious Predictions
The World Series is finally upon us.
Courtesy of ESPN.com, the following bullet points provide a concise look at the matchup between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Philadelphia Phillies.
• The Rays have home-field advantage because the AL won the All-Star Game this season. That game was won by Rays pitcher Scott Kazmir and lost by Phillies pitcher Brad Lidge. Evan Longoria drove in the tying run with an eighth-inning hit off former Phillies closer Billy Wagner.
Game 1: Phillies (Hamels, 14-10, 3.09) @ Rays (Kazmir, 12-8, 3.49) 10/22, 8:00 PM ET
To find out which team is going to win the World Series, I turned to our Designated Hitters, participants in our "Who Was Your Favorite Player Growing Up?" series that kicked off Baseball Analysts, and a number of baseball insiders for their predictions.
I asked our guests three questions:
1. Which team will win?
2. How many games?
Without further ado, here is what our esteemed friends have predicted:
2. 6 games.
3. The Phillies were dreadful in interleague games this season, which doesn't bode well for the Series. The Rays have a superior rotation and with their power to left field, should be able to score runs at Citizens Bank Park. Mocking Joe Maddon for emphasizing winning in spring training might not have been such a good idea in retrospect.
2. 6 games.
3. Howard, Rollins, Utley, Burrell, Werth, and Victorino. The Phillies have a superior lineup and the Rays' power output cannot continue. The Rays 20% HR/FB in the ALCS shouldn't happen again. Rays probably have an edge in the pitching department but Hamels has been stellar and and I think Myers is in for a better series. Just a hunch.
2. 6 games.
3. I'm picking the Rays because I'm an AL fan, I'm familiar with the team, I enjoy watching them, and I'm impressed that they beat the Sox in 7. However, I'm not overly confident in the selection even if it proves to be a popular one. I could see the Phillies pulling out an upset in five. But I'm drinking the Tampa Bay Kool Aid, so nevermind my hunches, go Rays.
2. 7 games
3. I believe the Rays have the edge with starting pitching.
2. 6 games
3. Predicting who will win the World Series is a 50/50 endeavor, so I'm in on this action. The match-ups should be great with the Phillies getting a slight edge in the pitching dept. while the Rays have power and speed on the offensive side.
Other observations? I predict there will be bar room conversations around the country like, "Is that Dave Navarro behind the plate for the Rays? Wasn't he in Jane's Addiction?" Odds are that FOX will figure out some way to insert "More Cowbell" into every bases loaded jam sequence when games are at the Trop. And finally, I predict that Bud Selig will say for the umpteenth time during the Fall Classic that with the Rays going from worst to first, this is truly the Golden Age of Baseball.
2. 6 games.
3. They'll bludgeon anyone not named Cole Hamels. The big Phillies advantage -- the bullpen -- will be neutralized as Philadelphia's will have to go to work too early, and Tampa Bay's won't have to come in under pressure.
2. 6 games.
3. Because they have significantly better #2 through #4 starters.
2. 7 games.
3. It comes done to game 1: If Cole Hamels is effective and the Phils win game 1, I think the Phils could win in seven games. If they lose game 1, the Rays will win in 5. The thing that concerns me most about the Phils is their starting pitching behind Hamels. They might be able to ride more big postseason games from Myers and Blanton, and Moyer might bounce back after two horrific postseason starts, but more than likely, they won't. The Phils offense started to pull it together, to get the whole offense firing on all cylinders, toward the end of the Dodgers series. If they start to sputter it will hurt them.
2. 6 games.
3. The Rays in the World Series—it seemed to be the Impossible Dream in the team’s history entering 2008. And just when it seemed they were assured of a spot in the Fall Classic it appeared the Rays were headed for a classic fall.
2. 7 games.
3. Because I'm an NL fan, and I don't want to be torn between rooting for my prediction or rooting for the NL team.
2. 7 games.
3. They have home field advantage, they play in the tougher league, and their performance this season was no worse than the Phillies. Anything can happen in a seven-game series, but the Rays definitely have to be the favorites.
2. 7 games.
3. These are two fairly similar teams (both teams can mash, both can run, both have killer bullpens, neither hits for average all that well). The difference is that the Phillies have one truly reliable starter and the Rays have three. That's why I'm taking the Rays (although personally I hope I'm wrong; the Phillies -- by almost any measurement the least successful of the original 16 franchises -- need a little love from the baseball gods).
2. 5 games.
3. The Rays hitters are motivated. How else can you explain the numbers they posted during the League Championship Series against the Red Sox - a veteran team that is hardly a pushover?
The young trio of Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena was almost unbelievable in the series, especially in terms of power numbers. Combined throughout the seven games, the group hit 11 home runs and drove in 25 runs. Hardly a one-dimensional offence, the Rays also stole 10 bases and took their fair share of walks (25). In the NL League Championship Series, the Phillies hit five homers as a team and a pitcher (Brett Myers) was tied for second on the club with three RBI. As for pitching, the Phillies starters were hardly dominant by allowing 30 hits and 13 walks in 25.1 innings. In 43.2 innings, the Rays starters allowed 37 hits and 18 walks.
2. Not provided.
3. After picking the Rays to win in seven games against the Red Sox in the New York Post, I'm staying on their bandwagon.
2. 7 games.
2. 5 games.
3. This is our generation’s 1969 Mets, although Longoria is a little young to play Ed Charles.
2. 6 games (W-L-W-L-W-W).
3. Phillies have the best pitcher (Hamels), best closer (Lidge) and two best hitters (Utley and Howard) among the two teams. If Hamels can pick up the win on the road in Game One, I have no doubt with their big bats behind them, Myers (twice), Moyer, Blanton and Hamels (again) can pick up three more wins.
2. 7 games.
3. I see it as a tight matchup. I give the edge to Tampa Bay based on starting pitching. The deeper Philly bullpen will get called often in the Moyer and Blanton starts. I see David Price continuing his success and playing a key role. If Game 7 comes down to Garza vs. Moyer, look for me in the cashier's line.
2. 7 games.
3. I think it comes down to David Price. He makes the Phillies’ bullpen advantage slightly less vast. I hope Ryan Howard doesn’t mind facing Price about, oh, six times in the late innings this series.
2. 6 games.
3. The Rays have around a 57% chance of winning. They have a 19% chance of winning in 6 and 18% of winning in 7, so I have to go with Rays in 6.
2. 6 games.
3. Talent, talent, talent -- Rays have a No. 1 overall pick (Price), No. 2 (Upton), No. 3 (Longoria), plus former first-rounders like Baldelli, Pena, Floyd, Howell (supplemental), Kazmir . . . just a very talented team that has been led well by veterans and the rare manager who makes a difference, Joe Maddon. Philly has talent and a better bullpen plus an ace in Hamels, but I think Tampa's offense is more varied, it's more athletic, better defensively and has better starting pitching.
2. 5 games.
3. The Phillies simply can't match up with the Rays. Cole Hamels is better than anyone he'll face, but otherwise every Tampa Bay starter will have the edge on his mound opponent. And the Phillies' lineup, though solid, wouldn't score more runs than the Rays if both were in the same league. Brad Lidge is the Phillies' one obvious edge ... but as good as David Price has looked lately, even that's not a sure thing.
2. 7 games.
3. It has been a while since we have had a great, close World Series. These things usually go in cycles. Plus this one reminds me a lot of '91, with two relatively surprising teams playing, and that series was incredible. I pick the Rays because of their starting pitching, home field, and, yeah, a little bit of destiny.
2. 7 games.
3. Home field advantage is the largest difference between the teams.
2. 6 games.
3. Rays bullpen matches up well against Phillies lefty leaning lineup and bench and Rays bench is more varied than Phillies. Also, Rays starting staff is deeper.
2. 6 games.
3. The Rays have home-field advantage and a huge psychological advantage after holding off that late charge by the Red Sox in the ALCS. They'll be very loose and the Phillies will be a little rusty after a week's layoff.
2. 7 games.
3. I think this will be a great Series, featuring two evenly matched, interesting teams. I like the Rays' starting pitching better, but I think the Phillies have the better bullpen and offense. For those who like intangibles and dramatic storylines, the Series will feature the oh so woefully inexperienced Rays vs. the prospect of a Brad Lidge meltdown. What fun!
I would look for fielding plays to make a difference. The Rays have had good defense this year, though they made some errors in the second half of the Boston series. The Phillies' defense is even better.
I have making predictions--can't we all just get along and enjoy the games???--but if forced I will pick the Rays in seven. The AL is the superior league and the Rays' starting pitching is looking good.
2. 7 games.
3. Philadelphia's bullpen provides the big edge. Barring some masterful deployment of heretofore lesser options like David Price and perhaps even Edwin Jackson by Joe Maddon, I think the Rays will be outclassed in the relief pitching department. Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson are better than any option at the Rays' disposal. Grant Balfour and Dan Wheeler seem to be limping to the finish line.
2. 6 games.
3. The Phillies will win one start from Hamels and scratch out another from one of the other starters, but the Rays showed that they can hit the ball over the fence. Frequently. More frequently than the Phillies.
2. 7 games.
3. The Rays won more regular season games in a more difficult league. They did exceed their pythag W-L by a few games, but even taking that into account, I favor them over the Phillies.
2. 6 games.
3. Just betting on the better regular-season team. Cole Hamels will make the Phillies ultra-competitive, and I think the games will be close more often than not. But I just think Tampa Bay will prevail.
Of our 32 entrants, 26 are going with Tampa Bay and only six with Philadelphia. Nobody is predicting a sweep, three (Hulet, Langill, and Neyer) see the Rays taking the Phillies in five games, 12 are picking TB in six, and ten see the AL champs needing all seven games to win it all. Among the half-dozen PHI supporters, 50% believe the NL champs will beat back the Rays in six and 50% think it will go the full seven.
As for me, I will go along with the consensus and choose the Rays in 6. Tampa Bay won the AL East, the toughest division in baseball, and the American League once again is the superior circuit. Add the fact that the Rays have home-field advantage, and it seems to me that the 200:1 long shots at the beginning of the season are poised to win their first World Series championship ever.
From Worst to the World Series
The Tampa Bay Rays pulled off the "Improbable Dream" by beating the Boston Red Sox, its American League East rival, four games to three in the ALCS to advance to the World Series. The "worst to first" Rays will now face the Philadelphia Phillies, winners of the NLCS in five games over the Los Angeles Dodgers. The latter series seems as if it took place last month.
Although FOX may not be happy about the World Series pairing, my sense is that baseball fans are thrilled. The Rays will be gunning for their first World Championship and the Phillies, the first professional team to lose 10,000 games, will be shooting for the club's second World Series victory in over 125 years. In a year in which the Chicago Cubs seemed destined for the October Fall Classic, the lovable losers-turned-World Series champs will either be the Rays or the Phillies.
Before delving into a World Series preview, I'd like to cover the highlights (and lowlights) from last night's exciting finale between the Rays and Red Sox.
And Then There Were Three
. . . OK, two-and-a-half.
After beating the Dodgers in five games in the NLCS, we now know that the Phillies will represent the National League in the World Series.
What we still don't know (quite) yet is whether Philadelphia will face the Rays or the Red Sox for all the marbles. Tampa Bay, which has scored 31 runs in winning three in a row, will send Scott Kazmir to the mound tonight in the hope that the 24-year-old southpaw can shut down Boston and send the upstart Rays to their first World Series ever.
Credit manager Joe Maddon for thinking outside the box and and making the bold decision to go with his young lefty even though the order of the rotation would suggest that James Shields should pitch Game 5 in Fenway and Kazmir in a "if necessary" Game 6 at home on Saturday. Should the Red Sox extend the Rays to a Game 7 in Tampa Bay, then Maddon will turn to Matt Garza to pitch the rubber match.
In the meantime, Boston manager Terry Francona will rely on, in order, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, and Jon Lester to pitch the Red Sox into their third World Series in the past five years. If history is any guide, I wouldn't count Boston out at this point. In winning it all in 2004 and 2007, Francona's club came back from 3-1 deficits in the ALCS.
Although I don't like Boston's chances of pulling off this feat for a third straight time, "it ain't over 'til it's over" as they say. One simplistic way to think about the Red Sox's chances is to recognize that Boston has about a one-in-eight shot of meeting the Phillies in the World Series if we can assume that the odds of winning each of the next three games is approximately 50-50. Sure, the Red Sox are a -150 favorite tonight, but it would likely be a slight underdog in each of the next two contests should the ALCS move to Tampa Bay.
While the real odds are somewhat less than one-in-eight, Boston faces an uphill battle after putting itself in this difficult predicament. That said, you have to take these games one at a time. A Red Sox victory tonight will change the dynamics of the series and give Boston fans hope that the Los Angeles Dodgers faithful never had the chance of experiencing.
A Review: The 2007/08 Rule 5 Draft
It's safe to say last year's Rule 5 draft was not as profitable as it has been in other years. There were no Johan Santanas, Joakim Sorias, Josh Hamiltons or Dan Ugglas selected in the winter of 2007. Some rule changes by Major League Baseball have helped clubs hang on to their minor talent.
One such rule alteration allows clubs one more year to appraise their players before exposing them to the Rule 5 draft. Clubs are now allowed to wait an extra year - four years for college players and five years for high school players - before either adding them to the 40-man roster (and beginning the count down of their three option years) or passing them under the noses of 29 other clubs in the Rule 5 draft.
What this means is that fewer raw, but talented, players are making it to this draft - which was already hit or miss to begin with. The Rule 5 draft is becoming more and more about looking for a cheap 12th arm for the staff or an inexpensive 25th man - which could arguably be said for 15 of the 18 selections from one year ago (83 percent), than it is about finding a raw gem and/or future star.
For a refresher on the rules of the Rule 5 draft, click HERE.
The 2007/08 Rule 5 draft:
1 Tim Lahey RHP Tampa Bay Minnesota 2 Evan Meek RHP Pittsburgh Tampa Bay 3 Randor Bierd RHP Baltimore Detroit 4 Jose Capellan LHP San Francisco Boston 5 Carlos Guevara RHP Florida Cincinnati 6 Sergio Valenzuela RHP Cincinnati Atlanta 7 Matt Whitney 3B Washington Cleveland 8 Wesley Wright LHP Houston Los Angeles (NL) 9 Fernando Hernandez RHP Oakland Chicago (AL) 10 Brian Barton OF St. Louis Cleveland 11 Randy Wells RHP Toronto Chicago (NL) 12 R.A. Dickey RHP Seattle Minnesota 13 Steven Register RHP New York (NL) Colorado 14 Michael Gardner RHP San Diego New York (AL) 15 Travis Blackley LHP Philadelphia San Francisco 16 Garrett Guzman OF Washington Minnesota 17 Callix Crabbe 2B San Diego Milwaukee 18 Lincoln Holdzkom RHP Philadelphia Boston
Those Who Stuck:
Bierd, 24, was grabbed by the Orioles out of the Detroit organization after the 2007 season when he struck out 10.25 batters per nine innings at Double-A. The Orioles used him sparingly in 2008 and he appeared in just 29 games and pitched 36.2 innings. He allowed 48 hits and posted rates of 4.66 BB/9 and 6.14 K/9. He'll likely head back to the minors in 2009 for some more seasoning.
Guevara was attractive to the Padres because of his screwball, which he had had a fair bit of success with in the Reds organization. Guevara stuck with the Padres but he appeared in just 10 Major League games and 16 minor league games after struggling with injuries throughout the season. He was outrighted to Triple-A in July and the Reds worked out a deal to allow him to remain in the Padres' organization. He could show up in San Diego for some injury relief in 2009.
Wright had one of the biggest impacts of any of the 2008 Rule 5 draft picks. He appeared in 71 games after being nabbed out of the Dodgers organization. In 55.2 innings, Wright posted rates of 5.50 BB/9 and 9.22 K/9. The Astros' minor league system is pretty barren at the upper levels so he is likely to get another chance at the big league bullpen in 2009, with a strong spring.
Barton was one of the "bigger names" available in the 2007 Rule 5 draft. The former Indians prospect flirted with top prospect status at one point but was always considered a bit of a tweener - not enough range for center field and not enough power for the corner outfield spots. After hitting .268/.354/.392 in 153 at-bats (82 games) with the Cardinals in 2008, that is still where his future appears to lie.
Technically, Dickey did not stick with the Mariners at the end of spring training but he was able to remain in the organization thanks to a minor trade with the Twins (with whom he had signed with as a minor league free agent earlier that winter). The most "experienced" Rule 5 selection, Dickey was 33 when he was drafted and had spent 11 seasons in the minors and had appeared in 77 big league games. So what was the big deal? After years of toying around with it, Dickey officially added the knuckleball to his arsenal. In 112.1 innings this season with Seattle, Dickey posted a 5.21 ERA and allowed 124 hits. He posted rates of 4.09 BB/9 and 4.65 K/9. Despite the lackluster numbers, he makes an interesting 12th pitcher on a staff.
Meek originally stuck with the Pirates but was designated for assignment in May and was allowed to remain with his new organization. He has always had solid stuff, but Meek has never been able to command it, having posted a career minor league walk rate of 5.66 in six seasons. He posted solid minor league numbers for the Pirates in 2008 (with the best control of his career), but struggled in nine Major League games where his control deserted him again when he walked 12 batters, with seven strikeouts, in 13 innings.
Those Who Were Returned and Flourished:
Wells, 26, originally made the Blue Jays out of spring training but appeared in just one game before injuries struck the club and required the organization to seek more experienced help. Wells returned to Cubs organization and had a nice year in Triple-A. He was rewarded with a late-season call-up and in four Major League appearances overall he allowed no hits in 5.1 innings. Wells walked three and struck out one.
Register failed to make the Mets out of spring training and was returned to the Colorado organization, where he settled into the Triple-A bullpen. He allowed 57 hits in 59 innings and posted rates of 2.90 BB/9 and 7.93 K/9. Register received a brief call-up to the Majors where he posted a 9.00 ERA in 10 games, in part due to four home runs allowed.
Those Who Returned and Took A Step Back:
The selection of Valenzuela by the Reds out of the Braves' organization was a head-scratcher from the start. His stuff was OK, but he posted ERAs above 6.00 in both 2006 and 2007 in A-ball. In his career, the reliever posted poor rates of 10.56 H/9 and 4.48 K/9. He did not stick with the Reds and, in fact, was not even good enough to pitch with the Braves' organization and he was sent to the Mexican League.
The first overall pick in the draft, Lahey bounced around on waivers and through a couple of organizations without appearing in a Major League game before being sent back to the Minnesota Twins. He spent 2008 in Triple-A and allowed 69 hits in 63 innings. The former catcher posted rates of 3.29 BB/9 and 7.57 K/9.
Whitney has had an up-and-down minor league career. After a solid debut season in professional baseball, he broke his leg in the off-season playing basketball and missed the subsequent season. A few seasons later, he slugged 32 homers in A-ball, which got him drafted in the Rule 5 draft by the Nationals. With too many infielders on the roster, Washington was unable to keep him so he was sent back to the Indians where he hit just .268/.356/.404 with 10 homers in 463 Double-A at-bats.
A few of the players listed above could still turn in a few good Major League seasons but there definitely are not many players that appear capable of having a major impact in the coming seasons. That said, one of the best things about Major League Baseball is that you never know when a player might surprise you.
The 2008/09 Major League Rule 5 draft will be held on Dec. 11, 2008 at the Baseball Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.
Quick ALCS Thoughts
I was at Fenway and did not get to catch much of the Phills-Dodgers game last night, so I will just share a few random thoughts on the ALCS.
Nationalize the Nationals of the National League
If Washington is going to bail out Bear Stearns & Co., Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG, then it may as well bail out the Nationals, too. I mean, why not? Aren't the Nats just as important to Washington and inept as those four financial firms?
Well, whether the Nationals are nationalized or not probably makes little difference as the club has faltered under the ownership of Major League Baseball as well as the Lerner family. Private, quasi-private, or public, I don't think it much matters.
If you're looking for failure, try these facts on for size. The Nationals...
Oh, and two weeks ago, the Nationals fired five of its six coaches (all but pitching coach Randy St. Claire). That's right, Pat Corrales (bench), Tim Tolman (third base), Jerry Morales (first base), Rick Aponte (bullpen), and Lenny Harris (hitting) were all booted. The club also dismissed strength and conditioning coordinator Kazuhiko Tomooka and video coordinator Tom Yost. I guess somebody or a bunch of bodies had to be the scapegoats as the owners, team president Stan Karsten, general manager Jim Bowden, and manager Manny Acta obviously were not to be blamed.
Other than all that, the organization had about as good of a year as those in the White House and on Capitol Hill.
The only consolation to this year's disastrous season is that the Nationals now own the first overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. Washington also has the No. 9B selection as compensation for not coming to terms with Crow by the August 15 deadline (or September 22 if you're a client of agent Scott Boras).
The first prize could be a big one. While lots can happen between now and June, there is little doubt that the top prospect at the moment is righthander Stephen Strasburg of San Diego State. Strasburg, 20, was the only college player to win a spot on the U.S. Olympic baseball team in Beijing this past summer. The San Diego native leapt onto the national scene when he struck out 23 against the University of Utah at Tony Gwynn Stadium on April 11. While the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder's fastball has been known to reach triple digits, many scouts rank his knee-buckling curveball as his #1 pitch. Strasburg also throws a slider that touches the high-80s.
Strasburg won't come cheap as his "advisor" is none other than uber-agent Boras. Knowing that the Nats would face a public relations dilemma if the club failed to sign its No. 1 pick two years running, you can count on Boras using such leverage when asking for perhaps as much as an eight-figure MLB contract next summer.
Although I thought the Lerners once owned the largest stake in MBNA, the credit card behemoth, I was informed by Chris Needham, the proprietor of the former blog Capitol Punishment, the family that owns the Nationals is of the same name but different. Instead, Ted Lerner is the founder of Lerner Enterprises, the largest private real estate developer in the Washington, D.C. area. While the other Lerner family sold out to Bank of America a few years ago, these Lerners are apparently learning on the job. The Lerner family is a minority partner in Lincoln Holdings, LLC group, which owns 100 percent of the NHL Washington Capitals and the WNBA Washington Mystics and 44 percent of the NBA Washington Wizards and Verizon Center. I'll let you be the judge as to whether any of these franchises have been successful.
Where's Barack Obama and his promises of change when (and where) you need it most?
Heckuva job, Tito
Last night, with an off-day looming and his most dependable workhorse taking the hill at Fenway Monday afternoon, Terry Francona:
- Stayed with Josh Beckett way, way too long.
- Needlessly prioritized lefty/righty match-ups over simply deploying good pitchers in the fifth inning.
- Got 5.2 innings out of his best four relievers on a night his opponent got 3.1 innings out of their relief ace alone.
- Gave the ball to Mike Timlin when another Red Sox pitcher with a pulse was available in a tie-game in the 12th inning.
The Tampa Bay Rays had a tremendous season and are very much capable of taking Boston out in the 2008 ALCS. Let me explain, however, why these two teams might not be as evenly matched as they appear. The important measures, as far as I am concerned, are how a team performed over the course of the season and how they performed heading into the post-season. Because rosters change, players get injured or heal up, and guys who start slow or fast often do not end the season that way, it's important to look at a team's constitution towards the end of the season. So here are some numbers.
2008 BOS TBR OPS+ 108 103 ERA+ 114 114
OPS BOS TBR AUG .854 .836 SEP .796 .767 LDS .700 .856
OPS Allowed BOS TBR AUG .732 .738 SEP .721 .761 LDS .660 .683
So the Red Sox appeared to be slightly better all season long and they finished the season stronger than the Rays to boot. The difference, however, is not that great. Boston had a better hitting team, and by looking just at the surface, a pitching staff that was equal to Tampa Bay's. The two teams tied for second-best in the American League with a 114 ERA+.
But take a closer look at the make-up of the staffs for this series. Barring a couple of slug-fests or a game that goes many extra innings, there is not that great a chance that either team's fifth or sixth guy out of the bullpen is pitching important innings. This is relevant because baked into that 114 ERA+ number for the Rays are 81 innings of sub-90 ERA+ pitching. That may or may not seem like a lot to you but for the Red Sox, there are 260 innings of sub-90 ERA+ pitching. What this means is that a lot of players that will play no role whatsoever in this series (think Buchholz and Craig Hansen and David Aardsma and hopefully, Timlin) negatively impact Boston's statistics in a way that is entirely meaningless for the purposes of evaluating their chances.
The end result is that Boston is a little bit better at both plating and preventing runs. I like them in six games.
BOS-TB: A History Lesson
The defending World Series champions are set to face the team with the worst record in the majors last season to see which team will represent the American League in the 2008 World Series. There has never been anything close to such a matchup since the advent of the wild card.
Another story line is that Boston and Tampa Bay will be the tenth pairing of a wild card team and a first-place club from the same division. Let's check out how intra-division League Championship Series have played out in the past:
1996 ALCS: New York Yankees (92-70) over Baltimore Orioles* (88-74) 4-1
* denotes wild card team
As shown, the wild card entrant has won four of nine, equal to a success rate of 44.4%. Looked at it in reverse, the division champ has defeated the second-place club 55.6% of the time.
Boston won the World Series as the wild card in 2004. The Red Sox swept the Angels in the ALDS that year, came back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Yankees in the ALCS, and won four straight from the Cardinals in the World Series.
The Sox are 31-16 in the postseason with two World Series championships during the Theo Epstein era. That is nothing less than a remarkable record.
History is history. It doesn't necessarily tell us anything about today. But history has a way of repeating itself and those who ignore it do so at their own peril.
Dodgers / Phills
And here's David:
The Phillies finished much stronger than the Dodgers. The same story has been told about the Dodgers' strong finish. But the Phillies were 17-8 in September, the same exact record as the Dodgers for the month. And the Phillies were much stronger in the last 16 games. The Phillies finished 13-3, whereas the Dodgers went only 9-7 to finish the season.
Ok, let's dig a little deeper now. Here are some relevant numbers for the final few months of the season.
OPS LAD PHI AUG .783 .716 SEP .815 .793 LDS .787 .798
OPS Allowed LAD PHI AUG .731 .699 SEP .652 .740 LDS .628 .525
Run Differential for August and September RS RA Diff LAD 250 217 33 PHI 253 211 42
Run Differential for September RS RA Diff LAD 135 86 49 PHI 138 111 27
The notion that the Phillies finished stronger or that they are the better team is a difficult case to make when you take in all of the above numbers. Cohen points to the Dodgers 9-7 finish to the season but remember, Philadelphia was playing meaningful games until the very end. The Dodgers had vanquished the Diamondbacks by the time Los Angeles lost three of its last four games.
Going around the diamond, the teams look remarkably similar to me. A lot of the position players seem to cancel each other out, except that the Dodgers enjoy considerable advantages at catcher and in left field, while Philly's first and second basemen provide them a big edge. I think the Dodgers are a bit better to begin with but there is one built-in aspect to this match-up in particular that I think may dictate the series outcome. Pat Burrell and Jayson Werth pound on southpaws but are just .230/.348/.439 and .255/.360/.407 hitters respectively against righties. With the Dodgers' bevy of right-handed power arms lined up, Philly's offensive supporting cast should be neutralized.
I like the Dodgers in six.
League Championship and World Series Odds
Round two of the playoffs begins today with the Los Angeles Dodgers visiting the Philadelphia Phillies. The NL West champs are coming off a sweep of the Chicago Cubs while the NL East leaders took three of four from the Milwaukee Brewers.
Given the fact that we have already previewed the Dodgers and Phillies (as well as the additional information in the Link of the Day in the sidebar on the left), I thought it might be more fun to take a look at the League Championship and World Series odds as presented by Bodog.
Odds to Win the League Championship Series:
Los Angeles Dodgers Even Philadelphia Phillies -120
Boston Red Sox -140 Tampa Bay Rays +120
Odds to Win the World Series:
Boston Red Sox 7/4 Tampa Bay Rays 5/2 Los Angeles Dodgers 3/1 Philadelphia Phillies 13/4
Which League will the 2008 World Series Winner come from?
National League +125 American League -155
Will either team sweep the NLCS?
Yes +450 No -750
Exact Series Finish:
Los Angeles Dodgers 4-0 13/1 Los Angeles Dodgers 4-1 5/1 Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2 4/1 Los Angeles Dodgers 4-3 6/1 Philadelphia Phillies 4-0 8/1 Philadelphia Phillies 4-1 4/1 Philadelphia Phillies 4-2 5/1 Philadelphia Phillies 4-3 11/2
Exact Number of Games in the Series:
4 Game Series 9/2 5 Game Series 7/4 6 Game Series 6/5 7 Game Series 5/2
Odds to Win the 2008 NLCS MVP:
Manny Ramirez 3/1 Brad Lidge 5/1 Chase Utley 5/1 Ryan Howard 5/1 Cole Hamels 6/1 Derek Lowe 7/1 James Loney 7/1 Jimmy Rollins 7/1 Jonathan Broxton 8/1 Matt Kemp 8/1 Pat Burrell 8/1 Russell Martin 9/1 Andre Ethier 10/1 Takashi Saito 12/1 Casey Blake 15/1 Jayson Werth 15/1 Shane Victorino 15/1 Field Even
Will either team sweep the ALCS?
Yes +475 No -800
Exact Series Finish:
Boston Red Sox 4-0 9/1 Boston Red Sox 4-1 7/2 Boston Red Sox 4-2 3/1 Boston Red Sox 4-3 5/1 Tampa Bay Rays 4-0 12/1 Tampa Bay Rays 4-1 6/1 Tampa Bay Rays 4-2 7/2 Tampa Bay Rays 4-3 11/2
Exact Number of Games in the Series:
4 Game Series 9/2 5 Game Series 7/4 6 Game Series 6/5 7 Game Series 9/4
Odds to Win the 2008 ALCS MVP:
David Ortiz 5/1 Dustin Pedroia 5/1 Jason Bay 5/1 Jonathan Papelbon 5/1 Jon Lester 6/1 B.J. Upton 7/1 Evan Longoria 7/1 Kevin Youkilis 7/1 Akinori Iwamura 8/1 Carlos Pena 8/1 Dan Wheeler 8/1 Jacoby Ellsbury 8/1 Scott Kazmir 8/1 Carl Crawford 10/1 J.D. Drew 10/1 Field Even
Who do you like and in how many games and why?
Seeing Red: The Minor League System of the Year
Depth is an important thing to have in Major League Baseball. Numerous unexpected injuries occur each year. Players counted on to make important contributions are ineffective. As such, Major League Baseball teams count on their minor league systems to help fill those voids - both temporarily and permanently. The organizations also look to their systems for future stars.
So which club benefited the most from its minor league system in 2008? The answer is fairly clear-cut when you analyze each organization's Major League Roster:
The most impressive thing about the Cincinnati Reds' season is that the club developed a number of very promising young players despite having the organization's top two prospects fail to succeed as expected. While Homer Bailey and Jay Bruce (albeit to a lesser extent than Bailey) struggled, players such as Johnny Cueto and Joey Votto thrived. Although technically not a rookie due to having too many innings at the Major League level, Edinson Volquez - an import from the Texas organization - was arguably Cincinnati's best starting pitcher.
The club also benefited from fill-in contributions from a large number of home-grown talents, including Adam Rosales, Paul Janish, and Daryl Thompson. Let's start off by taking a look at the biggest impacts from the minor league system in 2008.
Joey Votto 1B
This former catcher burst upon the scene in 2008 and could have been a serious Rookie of the Year candidate in the National League, if it had not been for Geovany Soto's excellent season in Chicago. Votto, a Canadian, began the season with Scott Hatteberg acting as insurance, but the veteran was soon deemed expendable. Votto ended up appearing in 151 games for the Reds in 2008 - more than any other player on the club. He was also second in OPS-plus among the regulars at 124. Votto posted an ISO of .209 in 2008, as well as an impressive 25.2% line-drive rate. The left-handed hitter held his own against southpaws with a line of .289/.356/.477.
Jay Bruce OF
So, is he Austin Kearns or Adam Dunn? Maybe he's somewhere in between? Both Kearns and Dunn were highly-regarded outfield prospects when they burst upon the scene, but Kearns (.315/.407/.500 at age 22) never fully translated his athletic skills to the diamond and has yet to fully reach his potential (and is now with Washington). Dunn (.262/.371/.578 at age 21) , has had much more success, but he has developed into a one-dimensional slugger (and is now in Arizona). The Reds are hoping for more from Bruce, who struggled in his first Major League season. Now, to be fair to Bruce, he had a pretty nice season for a 21-year-old. However, the expectations were astronomical for the budding superstar, especially after he burst onto the scene early in the season when he batted .579 and slugged 11 hits, while posting five walks and just one strikeout in his first five games. He struggled to hit for average the rest of the season, but Bruce slugged 14 homers in the final two months.
Johnny Cueto RHP
Not even the Reds expected Cueto to be this good this fast. You can completely ignore the 9-14 record, and the ERA. Yes, Cueto was inconsistent but you cannot discount the raw numbers for the 22-year-old hurler. He showed solid control for a hard-throwing youngster and has excellent make-up. Cueto does a nice job of mixing his three-pitch repertoire, which includes a 93-95 mph fastball, a slider and a change-up (although he used this pitch just 6.7% of the time). He needs to work on avoiding the long ball and could stand to induce more ground balls (38.6 GB%), especially while pitching at home.
The numbers are ugly, especially for someone who was touted as an early favorite for the Rookie of the Year crown. Bailey allowed way too many hits and home runs. The hard-thrower also did not strike anybody out. The whispers about Bailey's lack of desire have been around since high school and, although he's only 22, it's time for him to show a little bit more at the upper levels of professional baseball. Bailey's fastball velocity was down in 2008, which is cause for concern, especially considering how much he leans on it (71.4% of the time in his MLB career). He obviously needs to rely on his secondary pitches more, including his curveball, which can be a plus pitch.
As mentioned above, Volquez was not technically a rookie in 2008 nor was he a product of the Reds' system. However, he pitched just 80 Major League innings over three seasons with Texas with little or no success. Traded for Josh Hamilton - in a trade that worked out great for both clubs - Volquez blossomed in Cincinnati at the age of 25. One of the reasons for his success was that he relied more on his plus change-up to compliment his 92-95 mph fastball (and occasional breaking ball). He led the club in wins with 17 and strikeouts with 206, and was second in innings pitched with 196. The innings total can actually be seen as a negative as manager Dusty Baker overworked yet another young pitcher. Volquez also led the team in walks with 93, which resulted in a lot of pitches thrown (3,386 to be exact).
Others: A collection of minor league players filled in admirably for injured Reds in 2008. Outfielder Chris Dickerson may have secured himself a roster spot for 2009 with a solid debut at .304/.413/.608. Catchers Ryan Hanigan and Wilkin Castillo (acquired in the Dunn trade with Arizona) could battled for the back-up catcher roll in 2009. Infielders Paul Janish and Adam Rosales both struggled with the bat but showed enough on defence to be considered for bench roles next season. Pitcher Daryl Thompson, a former top prospect in the Montreal/Washington system, finally overcame injury woes and made his much-anticipated debut and could be in line for more innings in 2009.
The Minnesota Twins narrowly missed the American League playoffs despite relying on a young pitching staff, which included rookies Nick Blackburn, Glen Perkins and near-rookie Kevin Slowey. Brian Bass and Craig Breslow, after being acquired from other organizations, were also counted on heavily out of the bullpen. Infielder Brian Buscher graduated from rookie status at the age of 27 by appearing in 70 games. Youngsters Carlos Gomez and Denard Span had significant roles in the outfield. What sets Cincinnati apart from Minnesota is that the Reds' players have higher ceilings and had more statistical success overall in 2008.
The Oakland Athletics organization also received consideration for Top Minor League System of the Year, but that club was hurt by the fact most of the young players were acquired from other organizations, including Greg Smith, Carlos Gonzalez, Daric Barton, and Gio Gonzalez.
As bad as Mike Scioscia was last night, Terry Francona was not much better. His bullpen management was curious at best, but one positive that may have emerged from the evening is that he might now realize that Manny Delcarmen is a really good pitcher.
After not using him in the first two games of the series, both hotly contested, close contests that called for high-leverage relief work, it had become evident that Tito did not really trust him. But then Delcarmen allowed just one baserunner in 1.2 innings in Game 3 and then got the win last night when he came in for the squeeze-out and the Aybar ground-out.
The Red Sox have an excellent bullpen so Francona may never have been exposed for overlooking Delcarmen, but have a look at how he stacks up against his peers in the Boston pen. He deserves to occupy more high-leverage Francona mind share.
Final Two Months of 2008 Season IP H BB K R Delcarmen 29.1 16 12 29 7 Masterson 28.0 21 12 24 6 Okajima 20.0 11 6 21 6 Papelbon 24.0 24 1 23 8
There aren't many relievers in baseball, much less on his own roster, to whom Delcarmen should be taking a back seat. Maybe Tito has now discovered that.
Ok, let's just get the squeeze out of the way. It was an idiotic, indefensible play and one that illuminates what I have long suspected; that there is an egocentrism to the way Mike Scioscia goes about his work. On the one hand, I cannot blame him. He has a career .551 win percentage and a World Series title in nine seasons managing a team that was an afterthought when he took the gig. Now the Los Angeles Angels are on the short, short list of marketable baseball franchises. Good for Mike.
But let's be clear about that suicide squeeze call. Erick Aybar, the previous evening's hero, was at the plate and Chone Figgins, one of the Angels best players in the ALDS was on deck. It was a tie game in the ninth, and the Red Sox had their cleanup hitter, Kevin Youkilis set to lead off the bottom half of the frame. With a man on third and one out in 2008, according to BP's Run Expectancy Matrix, teams can expect to score .96937 runs, or pretty much one run per inning. In other words, had Scioscia played it straight, it would have been extraordinary for the Angels not to have scored in that scenario. Maybe you can tweak that .96937 number down some because of the players involved but it remains that the likelier scenario for plating a run would have been to steer clear of the squeeze.
So what role did Mike Scioscia's ego play? Well I am searching all over the web and I cannot seem to find one article blaming the guy for the call. Here is what Mike had to say after the game (excerpted from an article in the NY Daily News titled, get this, Don't blame Mike Scioscia for calling bunt that squeezes Angels out of playoffs)
"Erick just didn't get it done." What a guy.
Scioscia knows he is teflon. The media loves "the way the Angels play" ("the right way", etc), to the point where they now actually ignore the way the Angels play (mediocre fielding, second in the AL in caught stealing, generally poor fundamentals as was on display in the ALDS). So he made the "gutsy", "aggressive" call because hey, that's how Scioscia plays and he knew there was no personal downside. And if they had converted and K-Rod came in to slam the door? Forget about it. They would be mapping the parade route through Disney as we speak.
In his column last Friday, Rich wondered "Why did so many underestimate the Dodgers when, in fact, they looked every bit as good as the Cubs coming into the NLDS?" This is a great question, and one worth exploring further.
Even on a park-adjusted basis, the Dodgers had better pitching than Chicago. We knew this coming in.
ERA+ K/BB WHIP LAD 120 2.51 1.29 CHC 117 2.31 1.29
The untold story of this series was not that since Manny Ramirez joined the Dodgers, he has hit .396/.489/.743. We all knew that he had been unconscious. But as a team, the Dodgers boasted one of the very best offenses in the National League from August 1 on. Before Ramirez arrived, the Dodgers hit .256/.321/.376 in 2008. Since August 1, they produced at a .281/.355/.443 clip. Over that same period of time, the Cubbies have hit .274/.350/.439. When you adjust for park, it's safe to say that for two months running now, the Dodgers had been trotting out the more potent offensive attack.
Better pitching, better hitting? Sounds like a recipe for success to me.
Another LA (non) surprise was the productivity of Mike Napoli in the ALDS. I heard the TBS broadcast team refer to the Angels catcher as a "role player" after he blasted two home runs the other night. Paraphrasing, Buck Martinez said something to the effect of "So often in the post-season the role players step up and make the difference."
Napoli is no role player. In fact, he's probably the second best position player on the Halos, or at least was when Mike Scioscia decided to play him (trust me, more on Scioscia later on). By definition, any catcher who is an above average hitter probably is not a role player. And really, a 26 year-old backstop who hits .273/.374/.586 is a freakin' stud.
His .250/.450/.700 line did not quite save the Angels season, but he came damn close.
Playoff News and Notes
After a couple of days, the Phillies and Dodgers are up 2-0 in their NLDS and the Red Sox and Rays are leading 1-0 as the latter two teams head into their second games this evening. Meanwhile, the White Sox and Angels need to post victories to prevent going down 0-2 a la the Brewers and Cubs, which are facing elimination tomorrow.
White Sox (Mark Buehrle) at Rays (Scott Kazmir), 6:00 ET
The early game matches two left handers, a veteran finesse pitcher and a young power pitcher. The late contest involves two right handers. The free-swinging Angels may be just what the doctor ordered to cure Dice-K's tendency to throw lots of pitches and allow a walk every two innings. Look for Mark Teixeira, the only Halo who brings a patient and selective approach to the plate, to loom large in tonight's tilt.
Questions that come to mind:
NLDS Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Chicago Cubs
I'm Rob McMillin, author of the Dodgers and Angels blog 6-4-2, and a long-time reader of Rich's The Baseball Analysts through several homes. Patrick Sullivan asked me to do a review of the Dodgers and Cubs in preparation for their upcoming National League Division Series, and so here I am.
The long-term regular-season matchup for the Dodgers versus the Cubs is remarkably even — as of the end of 2007, it was 1,009 wins and 1,007 losses for the Dodgers. But change that to the Los Angeles era, and it becomes much more lopsided, as the Dodgers won the all-time series 343-281. The 84-win 2008 Dodgers are 2-5 against the Cubs this year, but that record may prove fairly useless for predictive purposes when it comes down to the postseason.
While the main reason for this is the Dodgers' acquisition of Manny Ramirez, there are other mitigating factors in play. Along with David Mick of Another Cubs Blog, we'll take a look at both teams head-to-head and review the teams position-by-position. As always, rate stats are indicated as AVG/OBP/SLG (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging average).
Game 1: Wed., Oct. 1, 6:30 PM ET on TBS - LAD (Derek Lowe) @ CHC (Ryan Dempster)
* if necessary
HOME ROAD TOTAL LAD 48-33 36-45 84-78 CHC 55-26 42-38 97-64 Head-to-head results: CHC, 5-2
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ LAD 700 .264 .333 .399 .732 95 CHC 855 .278 .354 .443 .797 109
PITCHING AND DEFENSE
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS ERA+ LAD 648 .251 .315 .376 .691 120 CHC 671 .242 .316 .395 .711 117
Geovany Soto (.285/.364/.504, 563 PA, 23 HR) won the 2008 job behind the plate with his stellar performance in September of 2007. He's among the best catchers offensively and he's above average defensively. He missed the last few games the Cubs played because of a hand injury, which is something that has been recurring to Soto in 2008. The Cubs say he's ready to go for Game 1. Soto is most likely going to win Rookie of the Year in the NL, but what's more impressive is that among Cubs position players, nobody has been more productive.
Rob says: Soto has the edge mainly because of his offensive game.
David says: Edge goes to the Cubs.
Derrek Lee (.291/.361/.462, 698 PA, 20 HR) got off to a great start in April. He had a horrid May and the rest of the months were disappointing for Lee, the Cubs and their fans. He's essentially been a .750ish OPS hitter since April. Overall his numbers were still solid, but his defense is overrated (+1.1 runs) and his offensive skills are in decline. Lee's still capable of getting hot and if he could get hot like he was in April for these playoffs, an already outstanding offense becomes that much better.
Rob says: Cubs have the edge thanks to Lee's sizeable offensive prowess. It should be noted, however, that Lee hit eight home runs in April and hasn't hit more than two in a single month since May.
Dave says: Dodgers. Lee is a better offensive player than Loney, but Loney is about 13 runs better on defense. (ed note, nice call, Dave!)
Mike Fontenot (305/.395/.514, 284 PA, 9 HR) was probably the best role player in all of baseball this season. He's limited in that he can only play 2nd base, but he's had a very good defensive year and his offense has helped the Cubs when they need extra production the most. Fontenot won't play much against lefties (only 21 ABs in 2008), but the Dodgers have four righties starting in the series. His .398 wOBA was the highest on a team that led the league in runs scored.
Rob says: This is a clear win for the Cubs with the caveat that this matchup really shows the limitation of position-by-position analysis.
Dave says: Edge to the Cubs here.
Aramis Ramirez (.289/.380/.518, 645 PA, 27 HR) has more big hits since he joined the Cubs in 2003 than I can remember. On top of that, over the last 5 years he's been one of the best 3rd basemen year in and year out. In 2008 he improved his plate discipline and set a career high OBP of .380. The defense is above average as well. If the game is on the line, the Cubs want Aramis Ramirez at the plate.
Rob says: Another win for the Cubs, one which ends up quite large once you consider the gap between recent performance (Ramirez is hitting .342/.386/.566 in September).
Dave says: Cubs
Ryan Theriot (.307/.387/.359, 661 PA, 1 HR) is playing out of position. He's one of the worst defensive shortstops in the game (-9.7 runs). Lou still isn't asking for my advice so he's stuck at the position. Theriot did hit .300 this season and much more importantly, he posted an OBP of .387. Much like last year, Theriot faded down the stretch (.686 OPS in August, .660 OPS in September). Despite that, Theriot enters the NLDS 11 for his last 19 with 6 walks in that span.
Rob says: If Furcal is healthy, a huge if, he provides the Dodgers a win, but we won't know what Furcal we're getting until the postseason opens.
Ryan says: Dodgers. If Furcal doesn't play much then the edge goes to the Cubs.
Alfonso Soriano (.280/.344/.532, 503 PA, 29 HR) had had a disappointing year defensively. He had been so very good since he moved to LF in 2006, but the combination of age and leg injuries seems to have caught up with him. Soriano led the team in home runs despite missing about 50 games. I think he's the one offensive player the Cubs have who is capable of carrying the rest of the team. If Soriano doesn't hit in the postseason (and let's be honest, he hasn't done much of that in his career), the starters will have to be at the top of their game.
Rob says: The Dodgers win handily here.
Dave says: Dodgers. It's not even close. As good as Soriano is, he isn't Manny.
Jim Edmonds (.235/.343/.479, 298 PA, 19 HR) was picked up in May after an awful start with the Padres. As a longtime Cardinal, no Cubs fan wanted to root for Edmonds, but he made it remarkably easy to. It's as if he reverted back to the prime of his career. His .394 wOBA is 2nd on the team and his .568 slugging was the highest. My biggest concern at the time of the signing was his defense. Nobody could have predicted the offense and it turns out nobody could have predicted how well he'd play CF either. His .931 RZR was the highest since before 2004. His 45 OOZ were equal to 2005 in nearly 530 fewer innings.
Rob says: This is a slight edge to the Dodgers who don't have to give up average to get power, especially since the Dodgers won't be sending a lefty to the mound in the series.
Dave says: Cubs
Mark DeRosa (.285/.376/.481, 593 PA, 21 HR) had a career year in 2008. He took over RF for the struggling Fukudome in early September with Fontenot moving to 2nd against righties. DeRosa isn't your typical RF. He's an infielder by trade, but in his big league career he's proven he can play just about anywhere. He adds above average defense in RF as well. He posted a .382 wOBA in 2008 and like so many of the other Cubs, his OBP was very good (.376).
Rob says: This represents a substantial win for the Dodgers, whether Piniella starts DeRosa or Fukudome.
Dave says: Cubs. Like 1st base, defense is the deciding factor here. Ethier and DeRosa have had similar years offensively (.382 wOBA for DeRosa, .385 wOBA for Ehtier), but DeRosa is 15.8 runs better defensively. Just after I finished writing this, I noticed that DeRosa's left calf may still be too sore for him to play RF, which means Fukudome would play RF with either DeRosa or Fontenot at 2nd. If that's the case, edge to the Dodgers.
After a futile dalliance with Gary Bennett earlier in the season, the Dodgers settled on Danny Ardoin as their reserve catcher.
Angel Berroa may get a start at short if Rafael Furcal doesn't feel up to it or is showing he's obviously not ready to play. Nomar Garciaparra and Jeff Kent will provide right-handed power off the bench unless Ted Lilly is starting. Pablo Ozuna will almost certainly be relegated to the role of late-innings defensive replacement for Casey Blake, and the od pinch-running job.
Both teams are carrying only one reserve outfielder. In the Dodgers' case, Juan Pierre is likely to be a designated pinch-runner; his starting days were all but over in the regular season, and it's hard to imagine Joe Torre using him for anything else. Felix Pie doesn't seem likely to get much playing time after he played himself out of the outfield. This is a wash, not that it much matters.
Reed Johnson has been the other half of the CF platoon and since the Dodgers are throwing righties at the Cubs, he won't get much playing time. Like Edmonds, he was picked up after his former team released him and the 2 of them have combined to put together a very good season for the Cubs in CF. Johnson can hit lefties rather well, doesn't field as well as some may think, but has had a real good season for the Cubs.
Kosuke Fukudome lost his starting job sometime in late August or early September after months of struggling to hit the ball. He won't be asked to do that much in the playoffs and he'll get a chance to be a defensive replacement. His defense is matched by only a few in all of baseball. He is spectacular on with the glove. Just can't hit.
Others: Ronny Cedeno (INF), Henry Blanco (C). Felix Pie (CF), Daryle Ward (1B/RF)
Rob says: Too close to call.
Dave says: I'll call it even because in that few plate appearances, literally anything is possible.
Derek Lowe 14-11, 3.24 ERA, 211 IP, 136 ERA+
Derek Lowe had early trouble but has come on strong in the second half with a 2.38 ERA. His key is getting outs on the ground with his heavy sinker; if he's giving up line drives, something's wrong with his game. Chad Billingsley is the staff's real ace, and many expect this NLDS will be his coming-out party; he hasn't attracted a lot of national attention because of a fairly slow start. He's whiffing about a batter an inning, while walking less than half that (201/80 K/BB). Like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, you never know what you'll get from Hiroki Kuroda, seven scoreless innings or seven runs in the first. That overstates things, though, as Kuroda has been about what the Dodgers had expected despite some injury problems in midseason.
Ryan Dempster 17-6, 2.96 ERA, 206.2 IP, 152 ERA+
Ryan Dempster was closing games for the Cubs the last 3 years and now he's starting Game 1 in the playoffs. He's earned it. In only one start this year did Dempster allow more than 4 earned runs. He allowed 4 in only 5 starts. 22 times he's allowed 2 or fewer runs. He posted a 2.96 ERA this year, which stunned just about everybody. He's been the best starter the Cubs have had from start to finish.
Carlos Zambrano has had a couple of injuries in the 2nd half. They say neither is serious, but you never know. His first half was tremendous and he appeared to be more consistent than I had ever seen him. Then the 2nd half started and he was also consistent. Consistently not very good. Despite the no-hitter, Zambrano could just never get settled back down after coming back from injury.
Rich Harden has been unbelievable as a Cub. In 71 innings, he's allowed only 4.94 hits per 9 and has struck out 11.28 per 9. His ERA is 1.77. I'm still getting familiarized by Rich Harden, but from what I can gather, if he can take the mound, odds are your team is going to win the ballgame. In 9 of his 12 starts with the Cubs he allowed 1 or 0 runs. He allowed 2 runs twice and in the other start he allowed 4 runs.
Ted Lilly is coming off 4 consecutive wins giving him a career high 17. Lilly got off to a terrible start posting a 6.46 ERA in April. He posted a 3.33 ERA after the break and held hitters to a .223 batting average. Ted has had severe reverse splits in 2008. From 2005-2007 righties posted a .756 OPS and lefties a .712 OPS against Lilly. That's typical. But in 2008, lefties have hit him for a .928 OPS and righties only a .673 OPS. He's developed a cutter this year that he uses on right handed hitters and it has worked very well. He's not throwing the big over the top hook as often so that may be why the lefties are hitting him better. Maybe it's just sample size.
Rob says: Despite a formidable rotation on both sides, the Cubs have a slight advantage because Dempster and Harden are perhaps a bit better than Lowe and Kuroda, and also because they won't be asking their starters to work a three-man rotation.
Dave says: Dodgers. They have the advantage in Games 1, 2 and 5 if necessary. I don't think it's a huge edge by any means. I think Lowe and Dempster are quite similar and their numbers are comparable. Billingsley has a big advantage over Zambrano, Harden has a big advantage over Kuroda, Lilly has a good advantage over Maddux and then we're back to the Game 1 starters for Game 5. Fairly close, but overall edge to the Dodgers.
Joe Beimel 5-1, 2.02 ERA, 49 IP, 219 ERA+
The Dodgers have a far superior bullpen to the Cubs in general, but there are holes on both sides that are likely somewhat illusory. The Dodgers won't see Jason Marquis or Bobby Howry except in a blowout, and similarly, the Cubs won't see Greg Maddux or Scott Proctor, and possibly Chan-Ho Park. The two teams are actually closer than you might think, because Takashi Saito, the Dodgers' former closer, hasn't been quite the same since returning from a midseason injury that forced the Dodgers to give an extended look to Jonathan Broxton in the ninth. Neither team's closer is a sure thing, as their ERAs attest, but they have been good all year.
The Dodgers use Park in middle relief, though he has been decreasingly effective as the season has worn on. Despite underwhelming stuff, Cory Wade has quietly assembled an excellent season, and will likely see substantial work. The Dodgers' late decision to add James McDonald to the postseason roster could mean they intend to use him anywhere, but I include him here; like Wade, he doesn't have the best stuff, but the late callup from AA has managed to suppress offense in small samples. The Dodgers will likely call on Joe Beimel to face lefties, where he has generally been very useful.
Neal Cotts 0-2, 4.29 ERA, 35.2 IP, 105 ERA+
Kerry Wood took over for Ryan Dempster as the team's closer this year. He's done a pretty good job. He's been spotty at times. 3.31 ERA, 6 blown saves, but he's allowed a measly .638 OPS. He's converted 10 of his last 11 saves.
Carlos Marmol is good at sports. That's something we'll occasionally say around my parts after Marmol has just made a few hitters look silly. He's allowed a .135 batting average against. A .507 OPS. He's allowed 4.12 hits per 9. He walks his fair share of batters and is prone to giving up the long ball. He went through a really tough stretch in June that saw his ERA balloon from 1.75 up to 3.61 prior to the All-Star break. Since then it's been only 1.29.
Bob Howry has had a pretty bad season after several stellar years as a closer and a set-up man. To give you an idea how bad it's been for Howry this year, the month of September was his most promising month. He only made 9 appearances as Lou was kind of afraid to keep giving him the ball, but 7 of those were scoreless ones in a row. Unfortunately, they were bookended by an outing on September 2nd in which he didn't record an out and allowed 4 earned runs. On the final day the season he gave up a couple runs. So in Bob's most consistent month he still managed to have an ERA of 8.10.
Neal Cotts is the Cubs LOOGY. Lefties have hit .269/.329/.522 against him this year in 67 at-bats. This has been an issue lately for the Cubs and it likely will be one at some point in the NLDS.
OTHERS: Jeff Samardzija (7th inning, groundballs, wide receiver), Sean Marshall (long/middle relief, LOOGY), Jason Marquis (long/middle relief)
Rob says: The Dodgers have a far superior bullpen to the Cubs in general, but there are holes on both sides that are likely somewhat illusory. The Dodgers won't see Jason Marquis or Bobby Howry except in a blowout, and similarly, the Cubs won't see Greg Maddux or Scott Proctor, and possibly Chan-Ho Park. The two teams are actually closer than you might think, because Takashi Saito, the Dodgers' former closer, hasn't been quite the same since returning from a midseason injury that forced the Dodgers to give an extended look to Jonathan Broxton in the ninth. Neither team's closer is a sure thing.
Dave says: Dodgers. They beat the Cubs at pretty much every spot in the bullpen.
Rob says: (ed note: He abstained.)
Dave says: I feel that based on what I've written above I should say I think this will go down to the 5th game. But I don't think it will. I think the Cubs win this series in no more than 4 games. I'll go with Cubs in 4 because Bill James' log5 method gives the Cubs the highest odds of winning it in 4 at 22.5%. I think the Dodgers offense is improved with Manny, but it's still not equal to the Cubs lineup. The Cubs have a rather large edge offensively, as well as defensively, that I think the Cubs advance to the NLCS.
ALDS Preview: Tampa Bay Rays versus Chicago White Sox
This ALDS preview is brought to you by R.J. Anderson, senior editor of DRaysBay and Beyond the Boxscore, as well as by Baseball Analysts columnist Marc Hulet, who truly believes the White Sox have the most beautiful female fans he's ever seen at a ballpark. But that's not the only reason why they have his support...
Game 1: Thursday, Oct. 2 at 2:30 p.m. in Tampa Bay, James Shields vs Javier Vazquez
* if necessary
HOME ROAD TOTAL TB 57-24 40-41 97-65 CWS 53-28 35-46 88-74Head-to-head results: Tampa Bay won six out of 10 games in 2008
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB 774 .260 .340 .422 .762 103 CWS 811 .263 .332 .448 .780 108
PITCHING AND DEFENSE
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB 671 .246 .314 .400 .714 90 CWS 729 .261 .320 .410 .730 95
A.J. Pierzynski had another solid offensive season. He doesn't walk but he also does not strike out too much. The White Sox catcher has 28 games of playoff experience and has .287/.351/.529. Defensively, Pierzynski is nothing special but calls a nice game. His arm won't instill fear in many base runners.
R.J. says: Navarro all day.
Marc says: Navarro probably has an edge defensively, but I'd call it a draw offensively.
Paul Konerko had a pretty rough season offensively. The 32-year-old veteran has battled through some nagging injuries, although his numbers have been declining to two years now. He may be sorting things out a bit, just at the right time, as he has slugged eight homers in September.
R.J. says: Pena is superior.
Marc says: Konerko does not give away as many at-bats as Pena but the younger first baseman is clearly a step ahead in the batter's box when he makes contact.
Alexei Ramirez has had a very interesting season and has hit some pretty big home runs in August and September, including his grand slam against Detroit earlier this week to force the deciding game with Minnesota. Ramirez has walked just 3.6 percent of the time in his rookie season but he offers more power than most second basemen (.185 ISO). Even though he showed power late in the season, Ramirez hit just .211 in September.
R.J. says: Ramirez has a way, way better bat, although his defense is a bit iffy.
Marc says: Personally, I'll take Iwamura's steadiness and consistency over Ramirez' inconsistencies (and flair for the dramatics).
Joe Crede's back has not only ended his season, but it could very well be threatening his career. In his absence, the White Sox will have to look to Juan Uribe, which is a huge drop defensively and in the power department. Neither player, though, hits for average on a consistent basis. Josh Fields chose a really bad year to slump.
R.J. says: Evan Longoria. Evan Longoria. Evan Longoria.
Marc says: It's not even close: Longoria.
Orlando Cabrera has led the White Sox in games played, at-bats, hits and stolen bases. He also plays a steady shortstop. Although he has been a consistent performer throughout his career, Cabrera really hasn't fit in well in Chicago. Regardless, he should continue to be steady in the playoffs and has 27 games worth of post-season experience.
R.J. says: I’m a bit torn here, but Cabrera gets the slight nod.
Marc says: I definitely favor the steady veteran here.
The left-field picture is a little muddled at this point. If Carlos Quentin can some how make it back (without re-injuring himself), then Chicago has a huge advantage. If not, then it looks like Dewayne Wise and Nick Swisher could see time in left. Wise has resurrected his career and has had some big hits in September, although he's shown time and time again that he's just not a good hitter (.211 career average). Swisher should be the overwhelming choice in left field, but he has been absolutely brutal with the bat in 2008. He does, like just about every other White Sox player, offer some power potential.
R.J. says: I think a powerful Wise and an iffy hitting Crawford match up close to equal.
Marc says: Thanks to Crawford's off-year and finger injury, it's not as much of a landslide as it should be. I'll still take him over a combination of Wise and Swisher, though.
Ken Griffey Jr. is definitely a shadow of his former self both offensively and defensively. He hit just .260/.347/.405 in 41 games with Chicago but he can still take a walk and hit for occasional power. Griffey Jr. also hit pretty well in his previous playoff appearances.
R.J. says: Upton is better defensively and offensively than Griffey Jr.
Marc says: I will also take the youngster over the grizzled veteran. It's kind of sad, actually, that Upton is still better with basically one arm tied behind his back.
Jermaine Dye just keeps getting it done in right field and at the plate for the White Sox. His strong arm gives runners pause. His power will also keep pitchers honest. Unfortunately, Dye has not performed overly well in post-season play despite some significant experience. In 147 at-bats, he has hit just .259/.319/.395.
R.J. says: Love Gross, but Dye, easy.
Marc says: Despite his struggles in the post-season, I would rather have Dye at the plate with the game on the line.
Jim Thome has not been quite himself this season. That said, he has still hit a ton of homers (34) and walked a lot (91). In 188 post-season at-bats, Thome has hit just .222 but he's slugged 17 homers (.287 ISO) and driven in 32 runs.
R.J. says: Thome is having another monster season.
Marc says: The average may not be there but Thome loves to homer and drive in runs in the playoffs.
The bench probably isn't going to figure into the series much, unless another injury occurs. Toby Hall might see a few innings behind the dish. Brian Anderson will likely be a late-game defensive replacement for Griffey and/or Swisher.
R.J. says: Rays again, I think Aybar would start on the White Sox.
Marc says: I'd give the edge to the Rays since there is more depth and more pop in the bats sitting on the bench.
Scott Kazmir is having an extremely odd season. His fastball usage is way up, as are his fly balls and home runs allowed, and his outings have left something to desire, mainly efficiency.
Matt Garza was acquired last off-season in the Delmon Young trade. Strides have been made by Garza, including a one-hitter against the Florida Marlins. Garza’s fastball is extremely good and he has good breaking stuff.
Andy Sonnanstine doesn’t feature anything that would make tools whores drool, but he simply doesn’t walk anyone. Sonnanstine’s cutter is his main pitch, but he uses nearly a half-dozen different pitches and grips.
Javier Vazquez had another typical Vazquez season. He has good stuff and he strikes out a ton of batters (200 in 208.1 innings) but he just does not do well under pressure. Good thing there is no pressure in the playoffs.
Mark Buehrle keeps getting it done despite less than stellar stuff. He allows a ton of hits and doesn't strike out many batters (5.76 K/9) but he also doesn't walk anyone (2.14 BB/9) and he does a reasonably good job of keeping the ball on the ground (49.6 GB%). Expect him to rise to the challenge in the playoffs.
It's already been a great season for the former phenom known as Gavin Floyd. He led the club in wins but he showed signs of tiring down the stretch after pitching a career high number of innings. His K/9 (6.32) and BB/9 (3.05) rates were nothing special this season. He should be OK early on in the playoffs, but he'll have to be watched carefully if the White Sox move on into the later rounds.
Another young pitcher in uncharted territory, John Danks showed some guts on Tuesday night as he pitched the White Sox into the playoffs. He has good stuff for a lefty and has a diverse repertoire, but it remains to be seen how well he'll hold up over the course of a long post-season.
R.J. says: I’m going with the White Sox here on the basis that Kazmir won’t morph into 2007 Kazmir and that Danks will make the third start.
Marc says: The White Sox have the edge thanks to some veteran pitchers. I'm also not sold on Garza's ability to pitch while under pressure.
J.P. Howell is a left-handed Sonnanstine. Not the flashiest pitcher, Howell features some decent breaking stuff but won’t throw an egg through a cement wall anytime soon.
David Price also known as Velociraptor Jesus, Price throws a hard fastball that moves and a slider that sits in the upper 80s. Look for Price to get some of the workload from Howell and Trever Miller when it comes to lefties.
Chad Bradford gets a ton of ground balls and is a bit of a unheralded part of the pen. Along with most of the Rays dependable relievers Bradford can go multiple innings.
Bobby Jenks' strikeout numbers have declined each of the past four seasons and they dropped significantly in 2008 from 7.75 to 5.55 K/9. Part of that could be blamed on his injury woes this season, but it is still a little alarming. Even without the strikeouts, though, Jenks does a great job of keeping the ball on the ground (57.6 GB%).
Scott Linebrink was brought in as a free agent last winter to help stabilize the bullpen but he, like Jenks, battled injuries. Despite the shoulder woes, Linebrink showed improve K/9 (7.77) and BB/9 (1.75) rates in 2008 compared to his disappointing 2007 campaign.
Octavio Dotel had a bit of an issue with the home run during the regular season (1.61 HR/9) but he definitely resurrected his career in 2008. He struck out 12.36 batters per nine innings and batters hit just .216 off of him. He offers insurance for the White Sox if Jenks' back acts up again.
Matt Thornton clearly had a career year in 2008 and finally harnessed his excellence fastball. He struck out 10.29 batters per nine innings and lowered his walk rate from his career number of 4.48 to 2.54 BB/9. Batters also hit just .202 against him.
R.J. says: Not really sure here, Balfour and Howell are just as good at Jenks and Thornton, and I’m not sure Bradford and Price aren’t better than Linebrink and Dotel. Rays, barely.
Marc says: Price could give the Rays a real edge in an extra-inning game, but overall I like the White Sox' veterans.
Marc's Prediction: The Rays have a more well-rounded club and the team also has youth on its side (It is roughly three years younger than the White Sox) but Chicago has the momentum. If it goes five games, the fresher Rays have the edge but I'll take Chicago in four thanks to the superior (veteran) pitching.
Dodgers / Cubs
Due to some technical difficulties, we will have to hold off on posting the other NLDS preview until after Game One tonight of the Dodgers-Cubs series. It's some good writing, though, so be sure to check back tomorrow morning.
NLDS Preview: Milwaukee Brewers vs. Philadelphia Phillies
OK, this one gets the post-season started at 3 PM ET this afternoon.
Peter Baker from TheGoodPhight.com chips in with Phillies analysis, our own Al Doyle helps out from the Milwaukee side.
Al says that as a Wisconsin resident for 15 years, he has been surrounded by the statewide celebration since the Brewers qualified for the post-season for the first time since 1982. Will the joy go beyond the first round of the National League playoffs? Only time will tell.
As Peter can attest, there is similar enthusiasm surrounding the Phillies after their second consecutive division crown.
* if necessary
HOME ROAD TOTAL MIL 48-33 44-37 92-70 PHI 49-32 41-40 90-72 Head-to-head results: PHI, 5-1.
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ MIL 750 .253 .325 .431 .756 102 PHI 799 .255 .332 .438 .770 103
PITCHING AND DEFENSE
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS ERA+ MIL 689 .256 .323 .406 .729 112 PHI 680 .260 .329 .410 .739 115
Jason Kendall (.246, 2 HR, 49 RBI, 8 SB) started a team record 149 games behind the plate this year. He did a fine job handling pitchers and in tossing out opposing baserunners by gunning down 41 of 96 attempted steals for a 42.7 percent success ratio. A slap hitter, Kendall was the only real contact type in the lineup. He struck out just 45 times in 516 AB.
Al says: Brewers get the nod here.
Prince Fielder (34 HR, 102 RBI, .276, 84 BB, .372 OBP, .507 SLG) came on strong in September after a largely mediocre first 130 games. Even though his numbers are down from a 50-HR, 116-RBI season in 2007, the lefty swinger is a threat to take it out of the park at any time. With 134 strikeouts, Fielder is one of five Brewers with triple digits in that category. A likely candidate for the DH role as he grows older, Fielder committed 17 errors in 2008.
Peter says: Edge: Phillies, barely. You're great, Prince, but Howard's better.
Al says: Phillies and their MVP candidate get the nod here, but Fielder can mash.
This is the one of two changes to the lineup made by interim manager Dale Sveum. Switch-hitting Ray Durham (370 AB, 6 HR, 45 RBI, 35 2B, 53 BB, .380 OBP) now gets most of the starts over erratic Rickie Weeks (.234, 14 HR, 46 RBI, 115 K, 66 BB and 19 SB in 475 AB). The veteran Durham has been nagged by hamstring problems, so it remains to be seen how much he will play. Weeks can tantalize with his bat speed, and the ball jumps when he connects, but hand and wrist injuries plus prolonged slumps have kept his career average under .250.
Peter says: Edge: Phillies. The best defensive and offensive second baseman on the planet.
Al says: No-brainer. Utley, both at bat and defensively.
Craig Counsell (248 AB, 1 HR, 14 RBI, .226, 46 BB, .355 OBP) gets more starts under Sveum than he did when Ned Yost filled out the lineup card. What advantage does the 38-year old bring over streaky Bill Hall (404 AB, .225, 15 HR, 55 RBI, 124 K, .293 OBP)? Counsell provides a much-needed lefty bat in the predominantly right-handed Milwaukee lineup. His dependable defense, smart play and patience at the plate stand in stark contrast to the one-dimensional, swing from the heels style of his teammates. Hall can literally carry a team for a week when he goes on a tear, but that didn't happen at all in 2008. He is adequate defensively and has a rifle arm. Hall will start against lefties Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer, but Counsell will also see some action at the hot corner and possibly at second base.
Al says: Phillies have the edge, but third isn't a big strength for either team.
J.J. Hardy (.283 , 24 HR, 74 RBI, .343 OBP) put up similar numbers to his 26 HR, 81 RBI totals for 2007. He is solid defensively and has a strong arm. Hardy has overcome injuries to become one of the better players at his position. Having batted second, fifth, sixth and seventh in 2008, Hardy is the one Brewers starter who gets moved around the batting order. Svuem may do the same in the NLDS.
Al says: Slight edge to the Phillies.
Slugger Ryan Braun (.285, 39 2B, 7 3B, 37 HR, 106 RBI. .553 SLG, 14 SB) made a smooth transition to the outfield after a rough (.895 fielding percentage) rookie season at 3B in 2007. Although he looked unpolished at times, Braun has played well defensively, with a better arm and speed than average for the position. A pure power and average hitter, Braun was ineffective for much of September due to a nagging rib injury. He came through in a big way during the final four games of the season by slugging game-winning bombs against the Pirates and Cubs. Even though he can be impatient at the plate (just 42 walks in 611 AB) Braun is clearly one of baseball's top young players.
Peter says: Edge: Brewers. It's Ryan Braun's world. I'd be inclined to call it a tie if Burrell weren't slumping so badly coming into the postseason based on Burrell's edge in OBP.
Al says: Brewers have the advantage here.
After being suspended for the first 25 games of the season by MLB for failing a substance test, Mike Cameron (.243, 25 2B, 25 HR, 70 RBI, 17 SB) saw nearly half of his 108 hits go for extra bases. It was an all or nothing season for Cameron, who whiffed 142 times in just 444 AB. The three-time Gold Glover can still chase 'em down in the alleys. Sveum has used Cameron as a leadoff man, which is an unusual spot for a low-average hitter who doesn't make consistent contact.
Al says: Phillies get the edge, but not by much.
After becoming an All-Star for the first time, Corey Hart (612 AB, 45 2B, 20 HR, 91 RBI, 23 SB, .268, .300 OBP) cooled off considerably in the second half. Despite his lack of patience at the plate (just 27 BB and 109 Ks), Hart brings a lot of positives to the Brewers. He hits for power, runs well for a big man and is more than adequate in the field.
Peter says: Edge: Phillies. Nominally deserved All-Star berths notwithstanding...
Al says: Even
Matt Stairs – Kills right-handed pitching, swings hard, and he’s your best chance at a late inning home run. Cannot really run at all and plays pretty bad defense. With that mustache and the bald head, he kind of looks like the guy who got his face sliced off by the propeller in Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is a pretty groovy look to cop.
Eric Bruntlett – Yes, Bruntlett is your top right-handed pinch-hitting option. Good thing the Brewers are low on LOOGYs. As a defender, he’s quite versatile, capable of playing shortstop, third base, and the corner outfield positions competently. For a Stanford graduate, Bruntlett is a great utility player.
So Taguchi – What do you call a baseball player who doesn’t really do anything well anymore, but who coasts on his reputation and a vague appearance of athleticism? No, not Ken Griffey, Jr.! It’s Taguchi. A frequent defensive replacement and pinch runner for Burrell, he’s neither a great fielder nor a great baserunner. No power, no OBP, no nothing, really. The fact that he made the postseason roster speaks volumes about how desperately lacking this team is in right-handed hitting.
Depending on the situation, Hall or Counsell along with Durham or Weeks will be available in the infield. Gabe Kapler (229 AB, 9 HR, 39 RBI, .301) was one of the best fourth outfielders and pinch hitters in the majors this season, but a shoulder injury will keep him out of the NLDS. Speedy Tony Gwynn Jr. (.195 in 41 ABs) will take Kapler's place on the roster.
Peter says: Edge: Phillies, barely. Dobbs is the best pinch hitter in baseball, which makes up for the bench's heavy leftward tilt (lefties Dobbs, Stairs, and Jenkins; righties Taguchi, Coste, and Bruntlett). The Brewers have weapons, but the Phillies have just a touch more quality.
Al says: Phillies. Not having Kapler available is a big loss for the Brewers.
Joe Blanton – He was eeeehhhh… PRETTY good during his Phillies debut (4-0, 4.20 ERA). And they have him under control for a reasonable salary next season. There are worse guys to have out there, I just wish they didn’t have to give up so much to get him. He’s a decent bet to keep the Phillies in a game, but a longshot for a masterpiece.
CC Sabathia (11-2, 1.65, 130.2 innings pitched, 128 K, just 25 BB) has turned out to be one of the great midseason acquisitions of all time. The big lefty even led the NL in complete games (7) despite making just 17 starts in Milwaukee.
Peter says: Edge: Draw. Okay, it's a cop-out. I guess you pick your poison: Depth or upfront dominance? A pitcher like Sabathia is awfully close to a guaranteed win, but do you let it all ride on him and pray in the games he doesn't pitch? A toss-up.
Al says: I think it's a draw as well.
Ryan Madson – Picture it: Tall, lanky right-hander with plus change-up and decent fastball carves out nice career as solid middle reliever on perennial east coast contender. Then, seemingly overnight, “Stretch” starts throwing 95 MPH to offset an already terrific change-up. He allows one earned run in 14 innings in September, with 17 strikeouts. Did we just witness the birth of an elite relief pitcher? Stay tuned…
J.C. Romero – Employed mostly as a LOOGY, he’s also more than capable of getting the occasional right-handed hitter out, too. Great stuff, but a little wild. Also a little, shall we say, “demonstrative” on the mound when successful. Nobody likes a showoff, even if you share initials with a certain you-know-who…
Chad Durbin – The aliens’ great experiment was a success. Last winter, Durbin was abducted by extra-terrestrials who needed to harness his homer-licious pitching proclivities to power their flying saucers. His replacement, in a funny The Last Starfighter-ish twist, was a robot made in Durbin’s exact likeness. This Robo-Durbin was one of the game’s best relief pitchers this season, helping to lock down the 6th and 7th innings before handing them over to the Madsons and Lidges of the world. Now that we anticipate that the real Durbin will return next season, we’ll have to see if Robo-Durbin teaches him any new tricks on his way out of town.
J.A. Happ – Rookie lefthander with promising stats in AAA, he’s been added to the roster, I imagine, to hedge on the all-too-likely possibility that one of starters (coughMYERScough) lays an egg out there. He gets plenty of strikeouts but walks a few too many. Likely to be the first line of defense in the case of an injured starter.
Scott Eyre – Ladies and gentlemen, your LOOGY. On the roster for the sole reason of getting Prince Fielder out. Which is no small thing.
Clay Condrey – Another unlikely success story this year, and looking at the numbers I have no idea how in the hell he did it. He doesn’t get strikeouts, he gave up a ton of hits, his walk rate is decent and he gives up his share of home runs. If he can keep working his magic into the postseason, hey, life is good.
Sveum used Johnny Wholestaff over the final week of the season, yanking starters early and often. Thanks to strong performances by AAA call-ups and September surprise Todd Coffey (not eligible for postseason play), the results were unexpectedly successful. Things could be much different with a 25-man roster.
Peter says: Edge: Phillies, and it's not even close. One of the best bullpens in the league, a bona fide closer and quality set-up men, versus the Brewers Island of Misfit Ex-Closers.
Al says: Advantage Phillies. Aside from Sabathia's starts, the Brewers relievers could be putting in a bunch of innings.
Peter's Prediction: Despite relatively small changes in personnel from last season, the Philadelphia Phillies went from an offensive juggernaut with bad pitching in 2007 to a more balanced attack in 2008. Their 92 wins was the franchise’s highest mark since 1993. The overall composition of both the Phillies and Brewers is quite similar; the Phillies are just slightly better offensively, they have a slightly better pitching staff with more depth, and more team speed. It’s hard to overstate the importance of Game One. If the Phillies lose the first game, they face Sabathia the next evening and the very real possibility of being down 0-2 going to Milwaukee. Of course, there’s also the very real possibility that the overworked Sabathia’s arm is going to fall off his body, like it did in last season’s ALCS with Cleveland. These five game series are almost literally a crapshoot. I’m not going to pretend to have some kind of clairvoyance to predict how this series will turn out based on each team’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s almost purely an educated guess, and since I’m a Phillies fan, I’m going to guess the Phillies win the series in 4 games. Hamels is solid if not spectacular in Game One, with Gallardo pitching very well for five innings before stepping aside for Milwaukee’s weak bullpen, where the Phillies’ bats will feast. Sabathia wins Game Two, then the Phillies take Games Three and Four in Milwaukee.
Al's Prediction: Phillies in four games. The Brewers have too many weaknesses (all or nothing offense, starting pitching depth, mediocre defense) to go to the NLCS. It's still quite an achievement to make it to the postseason for the first time in 26 years.
ALDS Preview: Boston Red Sox vs. Los Angeles Angels
They don't start this one until later tonight but it's the one nearest and dearest to our hearts. So we're throwing it up first this morning. We will have the Phills/Brewers later on this morning (or at least before first pitch), the Cubs/Dodgers later in the afternoon and then we will run with the other ALDS series tomorrow morning. Al and Marc from The Baseball Analysts chipped in, and we have bloggers from around the web that are helping us, too. So stay tuned.
Let's defer to last year's preview in order to set this year's up.
Hi everyone. I'm the Baseball Beat guy. Patrick Sullivan and I are going to preview the American League Division Series between the Los Angeles Angels (94-68) and the Boston Red Sox (96-66). I've been a fan of the Angels since 1969 when my Dad was hired by then-general manager Dick Walsh as Director of Public Relations and Promotions. It was a tough job as there wasn't much to promote back then. Ownership has since transitioned from Gene Autry to Disney to Arte Moreno. Angels fans love Autry and Moreno, but did you know that the team won its only World Championship under Disney?
The two of us attended another game this season – this time at Fenway Park. Our Sunday included breakfast with Bill James and Jared Porter, Director of Professional Scouting, followed by an afternoon tilt between the Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays, a young team that went on to win the AL East. We even had the opportunity to pose for a photo before the game.
Today, we sit on the opposite coasts awaiting with excitement the first pitch to this year's ALDS.
Game 1: Wed., Oct. 1, 10 PM ET on TBS - BOS (Jon Lester) @ LAA (John Lackey)
* if necessary
HOME ROAD TOTAL BOS 56-25 39-42 95-67 LAA 50-31 50-31 100-62 Head-to-head results: LAA, 8-1
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ BOS 845 .280 .358 .447 .805 108 LAA 765 .268 .330 .413 .743 96
PITCHING AND DEFENSE
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS ERA+ BOS 694 .250 .323 .390 .713 114 LAA 697 .261 .322 .406 .729 109
Jason Varitek (.220/.313/.359, 13 HR, 74 OPS+) was awful this season. The Red Sox are the only American League playoff team who won't field a good catcher. In all likelihood, regardless of how far they advance, the Red Sox will yield ground to their opposition behind the plate. Varitek's awful September dashed any hope that his .264/.376/.431 August offered Sox fans.
Rich says: This is the first time an Angels catcher deserves to get the nod over the Boston captain.
Sully says: Not even close.
Kevin Youkilis (.312/.390/.569, 29 HR, 145 OPS+) was an American League MVP candidate this season and I wonder how many folks really know it. You look at the Red Sox record, run differential, runs scored, etc. and you wonder how they did it with all of the problems on offense (injuries to Lowell, Papi, Drew, the existence of Lugo and Varitek). Well, look no further than Youkilis and the guy positioned to his right. They became stars in 2008.
Rich says: Both Tex and Youk can hit and field with the best but the edge goes to the Angels newcomer.
Sully says: Narrowly, I give it to Tex as well.
Dustin Pedroia (.326/.376/.493, 17 HR, 123 OPS+) may win the AL MVP (rightly or wrongly) and has emerged as a real team leader. As disadvantaged as Varitek makes the Red Sox compared to the other post-season catchers, Pedroia gives the Sox nearly as great of an advantage over the other playoff keystoners.
Rich says: Pedroia is the easy pick here.
Sully says: Agreed.
Jed Lowrie (.258/.339/.400, 3 HR, 91 OPS+ in 81 games) took over full time shortstop duties after Julio Lugo went down with an injury. Looks like he might have Pipped him. Lowrie's numbers might not be anything to write home about but remember, this is not the turn of the century. Hanley Ramirez aside, shortstops no longer count among the game's best hitters like Nomar, A-Rod, Jeter and Tejada once did.
Rich says: It's hard to get excited by either shortstop. I would call it a toss-up or a slight edge to Aybar for his defensive prowess.
Sully says: Lowrie is no slouch defender and every bit the hitter the 2008 versions of Michael Young and Miguel Tejada were. His .117 BB/PA rate to Aybar's .037 tells you a lot of what you need to know about the differences between the two players.
Mike Lowell (.274/.338/.461, 17 HR, 105OPS+) battled injuries all season long but could be a real wild card (heh) in this series. His start was horrendous, he crushed the ball in May and June, then stunk again as he battled injuries only to have a strong September when he was in there.
Rich says: Lowell is the choice but only if healthy.
Sully says: If Lowell is unhealthy and it forces Mark Kotsay into the lineup, Figgins gets the nod. Otherwise, yeah, just as Rich stated above.
Jason Bay (.286/.373/.522, 31 HR, 133 OPS+) was a main reason that the Red Sox went 34-19 after Manny Ramirez left town at the trade deadline. He has been terrific since arriving here, and provides an incredible amount of lineup depth hitting out of the 6-hole.
Rich says: Bay over GA. Way.
Sully says: Nice, Rich.
Jacoby Ellsbury (.280/.336/.394, 9 HR, 89 OPS+) led the American League with 50 stolen bases and was only thrown out 11 times. Since August 1, he hit .314/.352/.463 and stole 15 bases at a 79% clip. If that guy shows up, you can actually consider this one a draw.
Rich says: You know what you're gonna get with Hunter. That's good enough to win this position battle.
Sully says: Ellsbury seems over-matched against the hard throwers. Look for Lackey and Santana to pound Ellsbury inside. I don't think he will be much of a factor.
Guerrero has struggled in two his previous playoff appearances against Boston, going 4-for-22 with just one extra-base hit. Moreover, his aggressive, first-pitch hacking approach has been exploited by other teams during the post-season as well (.183/.258/.233 in 16 games).
JD Drew (.280/.408/.519, 19 HR, 139 OPS+), like Lowell, comes into the post-season as something of an unknown. When healthy and locked in, he is an MVP-caliber performer (AL Player of the Month in June). When shaky, he is still an asset. His walk-rate never goes anywhere.
Rich says: Guerrero, but not by as much as the average fan might think.
Sully says: A reluctant nod to Vlad because of JD's gimpy finish.
David Ortiz (.264/.369/.507, 23 HR, 125 OPS+), like Drew, played in only 109 games this season. Ortiz hit six home runs in September and seemed to be hitting his stride heading into the post-season but even the most rose-colored view of Ortiz's current makeup would have to conclude that he remains a tick or two off of his recent dominance.
Rich says: Give me Big Papi any day of the week.
Sully says: I agree.
Off the Bench:
Brandon Wood (.200/.224/.327) struck out 43 times in 157 plate appearances but slugged four home runs in September when he earned more playing time than at any other point in the season.
Jeff Mathis (.194/.275/.318) will back up Napoli behind the plate, Kendry Morales (.213/.273/.393 in only 27 games) and Robb Quinlan (.262/.326/.311) will be used as pinch hitters, and Reggie Willits (.194/.321/.231) is likely to be used as a pinch runner and defensive replacement as well as an occasional situational hitter off the bench.
Coco Crisp (.283/.344/.407) steps right should Drew be unable to go. Either way, it is quite likely that he starts against Joe Saunders. Crisp, the switch-hitter, will take over for the left-handed Ellsbury against the Angels southpaw. Crisp plays a terrific center field and has turned back into a passable offensive player this season.
Alex Cora (.270/.371/.349) is slipping as a defender but remains a tough out at the plate. It's hard to envision a scenario in which he takes much time from Pedroia or Lowrie but he could be used as a pinch-runner.
Sean Casey (.322/.381/.392) is the slowest man on earth and has to be the worst fielding first baseman in baseball. He also seems like he is swinging underwater oftentimes. And yet, I am pretty sure I would categorize him as a net contributor this season. He might get a look or two as a pinch hitter. Mark Kotsay (.276/.329/.403) would in all likelihood start at first base should Lowell be unable to go and Youk shifts over to third.
Kevin Cash (.225/.309/.338) is just awful.
Rich says: Yuck. Not Youk. Just Yuck.
Sully says: I will give a slight, unenthusiastic edge to Boston here.
Ervin Santana (16-7, 3.49, 125 ERA+) finally realized his potential this season, earning an All-Star berth and leading the club in IP (219), SO (214), WHIP (1.12), and K/BB (4.55). The 25-year-old righthander throws the third-hardest average fastball (94.4) in MLB and a plus slider. He is scheduled to start Game 2.
Joe Saunders (17-7, 3.41, 128 ERA+) surpassed everyone's expectations by making the All-Star squad and leading the staff in Wins, W-L%, and ERA. While considered a finesse pitcher, the 27-year-old southpaw's fastball sits at 90-92. He mixes in a plus changeup and an average curveball and occasional slider. He is slated to go in Game 3 at Fenway Park.
Jon Lester (16-6, 3.21, 143 ERA+) was Boston's most dependable arm this season and is the second-best pitcher in the playoffs (behind only C.C. Sabathia). Go on, check it out. Johan Santana and Tim Lincecum are out on the NL side while Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay are eliminated from the American League. He's been remarkable all season long and given how battle-tested the kid is, I don't expect him to wilt out in California.
Daisuke Matsuzaka (18-3, 2.90, 158 ERA+) was simply not as good as his numbers would have you believe this season. He walks too many batters and his formula for keeping runs off the board of always depending on stranding runners is unsustainable. He had one of the very flukiest pitching seasons that I can recall.
Josh Beckett (12-10, 4.03, 114 ERA+) is sort of the opposite of Dice-K. Despite notching 18 more strikeouts, 60 fewer bases on balls and a considerably better WHIP, Beckett still ended up with the higher ERA than Matsuzaka. I expect their respective ERA's to reverse for the playoffs.
Rich says: Too close to call.
Sully says: I can't make a call here, either. Daisuke and Saunders are not as good as they would appear, Lackey and Beckett are probably better (but both come in with question marks) and Lester and Santana are both undeniably terrific.
Scot Shields (6-4, 31 Holds, 2.70, 161 ERA+) is a solid veteran set-up man. He didn't tire down the stretch as he has in past years.
Jose Arredondo (10-2, 16 Holds, 1.62, 269 ERA+) may assume the role of closer next season but will serve as a bridge between the starters and Frankie during the 2008 playoffs.
Darren Oliver (7-1, 12 Holds, 2.88, 152 ERA+) was more effective than ever this year. While Oliver is the only lefty in the bullpen, he is more than a LOOGY, averaging 1 1/3 innings per appearance.
Jonathan Papelbon (5-4, 41 SV, 2.34, 196 ERA+) will be the reason the Red Sox lose this series should they go down. He has yielded an .822 OPS in September and seems entirely too dependent on a fastball that he is not even throwing as hard as he did at this time last season.
Manny Delcarmen (3-2, 18 Holds, 3.27, 140 ERA+)
Hideki Okajima (3-2, 23 Holds, 2.61, 189 ERA+)
Justin Masterson (6-5, 3 Holds, 3.16, 145 ERA+)
Javier Lopez (2-0, 10 Holds, 2.43, 189 ERA+)
This bullpen, when you take the trio of suck that was Mike Timlin, Craig Hansen and David Aardsma out of the picture, was pretty damn good and really came together towards the end of the season. Paul Byrd and Tim Wakefield should offer depth (unless one is called upon to start Game 4).
Rich says: I haven't given up on Paps yet. He is every bit as good as K-Rod in my judgment. The balance of the 'pens are equally solid. No blood.
Sully says: I will give the nod to the Halos with Papelbon struggling coming into the playoffs.
Rich's Prediction: An argument could be made on behalf of the Angels or the Red Sox. To wit:
Based on the above, there's nothing I can hang my Angels hat on except for two factors:
1. Home-field advantage.
While I don't see the Angels returning the favor and sweeping the Red Sox this time around, I believe the AL West champs have what it takes to beat the AL wild card in five.
Sully's Prediction: Boston beats Lackey twice and Saunders once but loses to Santana. I like the Sox in four.