Category: Derek

The Astros Win It All

After a little time to reflect on the great World Series we just watched, we can now answer the question, which bullpen would run out of gas first. The Dodgers bullpen could bend no more and finally broke against the Astros in Game 7. Houston cruised to a fairly unthreatened 5-1 victory to secure their first World Series Championship. The Astros lineup continued to hit and Charlie Morton pitched the game of his life in relief. The 2017 World Series was thrilling; hitting, defense, and great relief pitching was on full display throughout the Fall Classic.

George Springer was the easy choice for Most Valuable Player, yet this year’s World Series did not have the sense that a single player was carrying either team. If Los Angeles had won Game 7, the choice for which Dodger should be named the Most Valuable Player would have almost certainly come down to who performed the best in Game 7. The constant back and forth between Houston and Los Angeles made no lead safe. Five of the seven games were decided by one or two runs. The lack of a single blow out meant both teams were fighting it out until the final out in every game.

carlos_correa_houston_astros_world_series_2017_gettyimages-869205002
The rebuild is complete, Houston has its first World Series Championship. (Kevork Djansezian/ Getty Images)

The differences between the Astros and the Dodgers over the seven game series was miniscule. However, Houston’s bullpen was able to bend without breaking and the Astros lineup never cooled off. Every game came down to a few plays and the ability to make a catch, move a runner over, or get a batter to chase a pitch out of the zone. It would be easy to pin the blame on the loses in Game 3 and 7 on Yu Darvish, however there is plenty of blame and what ifs to go around throughout the series. Dave Roberts lifting Rich Hill after 4 innings in Game 2 and 4 ⅔ innings in Game 6, were both questionable moves. The Dodgers lost Game 2 in 11 innings, if Hill pitches just one more inning maybe the Dodgers bullpen can hold the lead. The Dodgers did win Game 6, but did they push their already tired bullpen one bridge too far heading into Game 7? We will never know the answers to the what ifs, and there is a chance that Dave Roberts made the right moves. Second guessing is what people outside the clubhouse do best, yet if those same second guessers were put in charge of a team they would not have all the answers.

A team cannot run out the clock in baseball, they have to play until all 27 outs have been recorded. The 2017 World Series showed in exciting fashion that a baseball game is never over until the final out is made. Few World Series are as closely matched as this one. Hope you enjoyed the drama, because next year’s version of the Fall Classic is not guaranteed to be as exciting as this one.

Congratulations to the Houston Astros, 2017 World Series Champions.

DJ

Advertisements

Bullpen Magic

The World Series is close. Game 4 was the biggest blowout of the series so far, 6-2 Dodgers. Timely hitting in the late innings seem to be how games have been won and lost. Yes, both teams have to score runs to win, but more directly both teams need their pitching staffs to prevent runs from scoring, especially the bullpen. Pitching will win the 2017 World Series.

Both teams have pitched 37 innings through the first four games of the World Series. Houston has used nine pitchers, allowing  18 runs, 22 hits, 12 walks, 32 strikeouts, with a 4.38 ERA, and 0.919 WHIP. The Dodgers are hitting .176 with an .252 OBP. Los Angeles has used 12 pitchers, allowing 15 runs, 31 hits, 11 walks, 30 strikeouts, with a 3.41 ERA, and 1.135 WHIP. The Astros are hitting .226 with an .282 OBP.

Peacock
Houston must bridge the gap between the starter and Brad Peacock to win its first World Series. (Brett Coomer/ Houston Chronicle)

Both teams have had moments of greatness on the mound and at bat. Ultimately the World Series will be decided by how the managers use their bullpen. Astros manager A.J. Hinch has relied on fewer pitchers, but for more innings per pitcher, while Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has relied on more pitchers for fewer innings per pitcher. It will come down to whether the Astros bullpen tires out before Roberts pulls a pitcher too soon and replaces him with someone who is ineffective. Both approaches could work, but only one will win the series.

Houston is averaging more than six innings from its starters. Once the game goes to the bullpen, A.J. Hinch is riding the hot hand. Hinch is relying on Chris Devenski (3 ⅓ innings), Will Harris (1 ⅔ innings), and Brad Peacock (4 innings) to finish games. Harris and Devenenski are the bridge from the starters to Peacock. Unfortunately for the Astros Ken Giles has not helped, a 27.00 ERA in only 1 ⅔ innings has hurt Houston. This late in the World Series it is doubtful the Astros can give him more chances to figure it out. The Astros bullpen is a little shorter due to Giles struggles, but they are not alone in potential bullpen issues.

Jansen
The Dodger bullpen has a cast of many to bridge the gap between the starter and Kenley Jansen, but is there a week link? (Matt Slocum/ AP)

Dave Roberts is sticking with the formula that got Los Angeles to the World Series. Dodgers starters are averaging less than 4 ⅔ innings per start, less than 5 ⅔ innings if you remove the disastrous start by Yu Darvish in Game 3. Los Angeles is relying on its bullpen for more outs. Brandon Morrow (4 innings), Tony Watson (2 ⅔ innings), Kenta Maeda (4 innings), and Kenley Jansen (4 innings) have been the workmen keeping the Dodgers close. Los Angeles has seen Brandon McCarthy (18.00 ERA in 1 inning pitched) and Josh Fields (infinite ERA) not perform when called upon, and with each out being so precious there is little reason to expect them to pitch again. The Dodgers too have a shortened bullpen in the now best of three series.

Defense wins championships, while this is true, at least in part, in the 2017 World Series bullpen management and usage will decide the victor. The Dodgers and Astros are playing a great team World Series. No single player has carried either team. How each bullpen performs will dictate if Houston gets its first ever World Series championship or if Los Angeles gets to relive the glory of 1988. Time will tell, but the key to winning lies within the bullpen. Every time the call to the bullpen is made, the entire World Series could be able to change.

DJ

Blackout Rules Apply

The playoffs are when the best from every sport is on full display. The best teams play each other, which often leads to games full of drama that only further entices new fans to continue watching. Unfortunately Major League Baseball has hidden some of the best games of the year from many fans in how it broadcasts the playoffs. Avid fans miss out on great games, but baseball also misses the opportunity to draw in new fans as the majority of games before the World Series are broadcast on cable networks.

The airing of playoff baseball on TBS, Fox Sports 1, the MLB Network, and ESPN has shut out many people from watching great baseball. Yes, plenty of people have access to all or some of these channels to watch the games, but those who do not have to make a choice. They can find a radio station broadcasting the game (personally I love listening to baseball on the radio), go to a restaurant, bar, or friend’s house that is showing the game, or generally miss out except for updates. Going out several nights a week for a few weeks gets expensive quickly, thus pricing many more people out, thus radio or the updates are the most likely options for many people. I am fully aware, as I have stated many times, baseball is a business. Major League Baseball signed contracts with these broadcasters for enormous sums of money for the rights to these games. However, there needs to be a balance between television revenue and making the best weeks on the baseball calendar available to all fans. Broadcasters like ABC (which owns ESPN), NBC, and CBS might have passed on the rights to broadcast playoff baseball. Fox will once again broadcast the World Series, yet it is a shame that for some they will not see a single game of baseball on television from the last day of the regular season until Game 1 of the World Series.

tv-blackout

Major League Baseball continuously stresses the importance of growing the game, reaching a younger and more diverse audience. Reaching out through promotions like Players Weekend, programs like RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), and highlighting some of the best players like Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw, and Jose Altuve are great, but Major League Baseball hurts its own efforts to reach a larger audience by hiding the playoffs from those who choose to not have cable or satellite television and/or those who cannot afford it. If I can only watch sports on the basic channels and the majority of the games I see are football, why would I wait for weeks to see a few games at the end of October when the NFL season is in full swing? Even during the regular season the availability of baseball games is rather spartan.

Major League Baseball has signed contracts with broadcasters and for now can do little to change how the playoffs are broadcast. However, at the end of these contracts a hard look must be taken at whether only premium channels get the games before the World Series is the best for the future of the sport. Major League Baseball should be paid handsomely for the product it provides to broadcasters, but there could be a middle ground where baseball is paid well, yet does not shut out many fans and potential fans from the best games of the year. Baseball needs to be the sport of everyone, not just those that can afford television packages. No one likes blackout rules.

DJ

The Glove

Ozzie Smith was a wizard with the glove, he could do everything on the field defensively. The same could be said for Omar Vizquel. If it was possible defensively, one or both of these men could do it on a baseball diamond. The impossible dive, catch, or throw; they could do it all. Andrelton Simmons seems to have taken up their torch. Simmons is only in his sixth season, yet he is already drawing comparisons to these legendary players.

Omar Vizquel played for six teams during his 24 year career, all in the American League except a four year stint with the Giants. A magician with the glove, Vizquel ranks first in career games played at shortstop, fourth in career dWAR, appeared in three All Star games, and won 11 Gold Gloves. Beginning in 1993, Vizquel won the American League Gold Glove for shortstop every year until 2001. His defensive dominance continued late into his career, as he won his 11th and final Gold Glove as a 39 year old shortstop for the Giants in 2006.

1982-Ozzie-Smith-079116006
Ozzie Smith was fearless with a glove in his hand. (www.si.com)

Ozzie Smith played for the Padres and the Cardinals during his 19 year career. The Wizard ranks fourth in career games at shortstop, first in career dWAR, appeared in 15 All Star games, and won consecutive 13 Gold Gloves. He is the only player to win a National League Gold Glove at shortstop in the 1980s, winning every year from 1980 until 1992.

Vizquel and Smith were the premier defensive shortstops from 1989 to 1996; collectively winning eight of the 16 Gold Gloves awarded by Major League Baseball. Two men, two leagues, winning half of all Gold Gloves.

Vizquel_16hs5wny
Omar Vizquel could do it all with the glove.  (www.mlb.com/indians)

The absurd defensive capabilities of both Vizquel and Smith did not translate into hitting prowess. They each hit .300 or better only once in their careers. Vizquel and Smith were the traditional light hitting shortstop that rarely exists in baseball today. Every player is expected to help the team offensively, even defensive legends. The offensive ability of Andrelton Simmons could be what separates him from the two legends he resembles defensively.

Watching Simmons play shortstop is like watching an unscripted ballet. Every night he does something amazing. A throw that catches a sleeping runner. A dive to stop a ball getting to the outfield, thus stopping a runner from grabbing another bag. A catch that normally would fall in for a base hit. Every batter knows they have to hustle on any ball in the infield because Simmons can appear out of nowhere to field the ball and unleash his cannon arm to take another hit away. If Omar Vizquel was a magician and Ozzie Smith was the Wizard, let’s call Andrelton Simmons a sorcerer.

Simmons
Andrelton Simmons will leave you speechless with his glove every night, and could become the greatest shortstop ever. (AP/ Mark J. Terrill)

Simmons is only 27 years old, his peak years should be ahead of him. This season he is breaking out offensively, as he is on pace to set career highs in Plate Appearances, Home Runs, Batting Average, On-Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, On-Base Plus Slugging, Total Bases, Defensive Innings and Errors. (Defensive errors can be a sign of greater range or instincts, thus reaching more balls and creating more chances to make a play. The more chances the more opportunity for mistakes. More aggressive defense does have ceiling however.) He has already set career highs in Hits, Doubles, Walks, RBI, Stolen Bases, and Sacrifice Flies, and we have a few more weeks left in the season.

No one is under any illusion that Simmons is the next slugging shortstop, like Alex Rodriguez or Cal Ripken Jr. He is rather a once in a generation defensive player. If he continues to improve offensively, while retaining his defensive skills, he should enjoy a long career. He has the skills with the glove to become the greatest shortstop to ever field the position. Improving his ability with the bat could put Andrelton Simmons in the conversation for the greatest shortstop ever.

DJ

September Baseball

The time has arrived for teams chasing the playoffs to claim their spots or fade away into another off season. The boys of summer has worked hard for months for the opportunity to play in October, and September has the ability to give them the world or take it all away. There are 10 playoff spots available and as September marches towards the cooler weather of October there are 18 teams fighting for their spot among the 10. Several teams like the Royals, Mariners, Brewers, and Cardinals have almost no room for error. They must play nearly perfect September baseball to pass teams ahead of them to secure their ticket to the Wild Card game. Is it impossible? No. Is it likely? Probably not, but what is wrong with giving it a shot.

Brewers
Will the Brewers high flying start help them make the playoffs for the first time since 2011? (Noah K. Murray- USA TODAY Sports)

Those teams like the Phillies, Giants, and White Sox are already looking forward to 2018. Even though the results of their games in September will not change the outcome of their season, many players are playing for  their futures. No one wants to pack it in in September because the difference between playing in the Majors and the Minors is microscopic, yet the rewards are enormous. Jobs are on the line for players with  teams who have been out of the playoff hunt since early summer; players, coaches, and the front office need to leave owners with a good impression otherwise the off season could be unkind.

As the calendar turns deeper into September, the games for those chasing the playoffs begin to feel like the playoffs themselves. Every at bat and pitch matters because a single win or lose can be the difference between making the playoffs and watching at home. The Major League season is a marathon and September is the home stretch. Teams need to pick it up and start sprinting to the finish. It is better to go all out now, than to wonder all winter what could have been. Happy September baseball, the playoffs before the playoffs.

DJ

American Dominance

The Houston Astros are rolling through the American League yet it is not a single dominant player that is leading the team, rather it is a full cast. A.J. Hinch is managing an offense that can pound opponents from different angles and a pitching staff that is above average. Put the two together and it is clear why the race for the American League West ended a long time ago.

Offensively the Astros are not a one man show, rather they are a cast of many. A quick rundown of the statistics paints a vivid picture. Houston has:

  • 7 players with 100 or more hits: Jose Altuve, George Springer, Yuli Gurriel, Josh Reddick, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and Marwin Gonzalez.
  • 4 players with .300 or better Batting Average:  Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez, and George Springer.
    • Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel are hitting .295.
  • 6 players with at least 50 RBI: Carlos Correa, George Springer, Marwin Gonzalez, Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, and Josh Reddick.
  • 4 players with 40 or more walks: Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, and George Springer.
    • Marwin Gonzalez has 37 walks.
  • 8 players with 50 or more Runs scored: George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Josh Reddick, Alex Bregman, Carlos Beltran, Yuli Gurriel, and Marwin Gonzalez.
  • 11 players with 11 or more home runs: George Springer, Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez, Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, Alex Bregman, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Jake Marisnick, Josh Reddick, and Evan Gattis.

Houston can hit for average and power, can get a runner over and then in. The Astros have the fewest strikeouts in the Majors, they put the ball in play and good things are happening. Even with Correa, McCann, and Gattis sporting injuries, this team still has enough firepower to continue rolling along. Not relying on one or two players for their offense should prevent the Astros from running out of steam in October.  

HOUSTON ASTROS AT OAKLAND ATHLETICS MLB
The Astros hope to continue the celebration in October. (Aric Crabb/ Bay Area News Group)

Even if the Astros offense gets hurt and/or all runs cold the pitching staff is capable to keeping the team going. While not as dominant as the offense, it’s a tough act to follow, the Houston pitching staff has a 4.24 team ERA, below the MLB average of 4.34. They lead MLB in strikeouts with 1,201 and are only slightly above average in walks allowed with 397, average is 389. The team WHIP is 1.288 against the MLB average of 1.342. None of these numbers are eye popping. They merely point out that the Astros have a serviceable pitching staff able to keep games close enough on those nights when the offense slows down a step. Despite his own injuries, Dallas Keuchel leads the starting rotation with a 2.77 ERA in 15 starts. Injuries to Keuchel, Lance McCullers, and Collin McHugh have meant the linchpin to the pitching staff’s success has been the bullpen. Set up men Chris Devenski and Will Harris have ERAs below 2.86, while closer Ken Giles has an ERA of 2.80 with 23 saves and 40 games finished. The ability to shorten a game to only six or seven innings on a given night means even in close games opposing teams have to get their offense going early otherwise the Houston bullpen can shut them down.

Houston lost a lot of games for several years to rebuild into a contender. The plan has worked. The Astros are one of, if not, the best team in baseball. The discomfort of losing season after season should result in winning season after season for the foreseeable future. A.J. Hinch’s team shows no sign of slowing down. The offense is carrying the team, yet the pitching staff is good enough to keep the success going once playoff baseball arrives. Time will tell, but for now Houston looks almost unstoppable.

DJ

Old School Pennant Race

Under the original playoff system the best team in each league met in the World Series. If that system were still in place the pennant race in both leagues would be nearly over. The Houston Astros lead the American League by 6 games and the Los Angeles Dodgers lead the National League by 12.5 games. It is early August. The rest of the season would be rather boring unless at least one of these teams takes a nosedive. Barring the unthinkable, it would almost seem like a waste to wait until October to play the World Series. Houston and Los Angeles have demonstrated their dominance over their respective leagues during the first two-thirds of the season.

Thankfully baseball no longer goes straight from the regular season to the World Series. Instead a potential snooze fest of a season is shaping up to be an exciting stretch run. The Red Sox and Indians lead their respective divisions, with the Yankees, Twins, Royals, Rays, Mariners, Angels, Orioles, Rangers, and Blue Jays within five games of either their divisional lead or a Wild Card spot in the American League. In the National League, the Cubs and Nationals lead their divisions with the Cardinals, Brewers, Pirates, Rockies, and Diamondbacks within five games of their division lead or a Wild Card spot.

dodgers
The Dodgers hope to celebrate a World Series victory in October. (Noel M. Vasquez/ Getty Images)

Baseball is better when 18 teams are in the running for the playoffs, not just two- exciting playoff races are one way to grow the game.

One of the critics of each playoff expansion, from Championship Series to Divisional Series to Wild Card, has been that the best team in baseball does not always win the World Series. No doubt this is true. The Braves of the 1990’s should have won more than just one World Series. The Indians of that era should have at least one World Series title to their credit. Meanwhile, the Miami (Florida) Marlins won two World Series, both times as the National League Wild Card.

marlins-win-1997-world-series-vault
Sandy Alomar and the Indians were the better team during the regular season, but came up short in the World Series. (www.si.com)

In many ways this unpredictability in the World Series is good for baseball. Think of the billions of dollars the Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs, and Red Sox have spent over the last decade to win four world Series between them. Large payrolls don’t guarantee World Series victories, nor does a World Series title guarantee success the next season as the Red Sox can attest. In basketball, it’s an easy bet that any team with LeBron James will play in the NBA Finals. In football, the Patriots are usually a solid choice as long as Tom Brady is healthy. It does not work that way in baseball. If it did every World Series would be Mike Trout and the Angels and/or Bryce Harper and the Nationals. How many World Series appearances do they have combined? Zero.

18 of the 30 Major League teams still have at least an outside shot at the playoffs. Are some teams delusional about their chances and were buyers instead of sellers at the trade deadline? Absolutely. However, baseball as a whole benefits when the majority of teams are still playing hard with two months to go instead of rolling over and waiting for next year. The Astros and Dodgers should play each other in the World Series, but like most things in life and baseball this is not guaranteed.

DJ