Tagged: Ben Zobrist

Finally

The 2016 World Series was a classic. Game 3 was one of the greatest games I have ever watched, yet it does not come close to Game 7. Two teams and their fans have waited a lifetime, or more, to win the World Series and for the Chicago Cubs the wait is finally over.

The drought since their last World Series championship for the Chicago Cubs (108 years) and Cleveland Indians (68 years) was well documented. Many fans had lived and died without ever seeing their team lift the Commissioner’s Trophy. In any World Series where the teams are so evenly matched there are one or two players who rise to the occasion and give their teams the extra push they need to win. Leading into the Series it was easy to think Anthony Rizzo or Kris Bryant for the Cubs or Corey Kluber or Francisco Lindor for the Indians would provide that extra push. The struggle between the teams was ultimately between the managers, Terry Francona and Joe Maddon. Francona and Maddon currently sit 30th and 66th on the all time managerial wins list. They are a combined 301 games over .500 in the regular season, and have each guided two different teams to the World Series. Francona and Maddon played the World Series like a chess match, mixing and matching the opportunities they were presented with the players on their roster. Each trying to see several moves ahead to outwit the opponent.

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Corey Kluber started three times for Cleveland and left it all on the mound. (Ken Blaze/ Custom)

Game 3 is one of the greatest games I had ever seen played. The game saw great pitching and defense. Neither Josh Tomlin or Kyle Hendricks pitched beyond 4 ⅔ innings, but they both kept their team in the game. The Indians relied upon Andrew Miller (1 ⅓ innings) Bryan Shaw (1 ⅔ innings), and Cody Allen (1 ⅓ innings) to secure the 1-0 victory. The key was Bryan Shaw’s ability to bridge the five out gap between Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. Limiting Miller to 17 pitches and Allen to 18 pitches meant keeping them fresher for longer as the World Series wore on. Despite the Cubs losing Game 3, Joe Maddon still utilized his bullpen in a way that set him up for success later in the Series. After removing Hendricks, Maddon brought in Justin Grimm (⅔ inning), Carl Edwards Jr. (1 ⅔ innings), Mike Montgomery (⅔ inning), Pedro Strop (⅔ inning), and Aroldis Chapman (1 inning). Spreading the workload around meant keeping arms fresh and the pressure on the Indians. Edwards Jr. took the loss for the Cubs. He retired Cleveland in order in the Top of the 6th. The top of the 7th started with a single to right field by Roberto Perez, Michael Martinez entered the game to run for Perez. A sacrifice bunt by Tyler Naquin moved Martinez to second base. One out with a man on second is not horrible, however a wild pitch allowed Martinez to move to third. Rajai Davis was walked to set up a double play, but the next batter, Coco Crisp, singled to right scoring the only run of the game. A single bad pitch cost the Cubs Game 3.

The hype around a Game 7 rarely lives up to the expectations. This Game 7 was one of the few exceptions. The pressure to perform when any mistake cost your team the World Series is immense. Once again the fingerprints of Terry Francona and Joe Maddon were all over this game. The Indians and Cubs combined to scatter 24 hits, commit four errors, and allow 15 runs, yet the game felt like the final score was 3-2. Timely hitting and bend-but-do-not-break pitching and defense were the deciding factors for who was crowned World Series champions.

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Rajai Davis hit the biggest home run of his life when the Indians needed it the most. (Fox)

Joe Maddon rode Kyle Hendricks as far as he felt he could and lifted him after 4 ⅔ innings and just 63 pitches. The move seemed questionable at the time, but Maddon is the one getting paid to make these decisions, not us. After Hendricks, the Cubs relied on Jon Lester (3 innings), Aroldis Chapman (1 ⅓ innings), Carl Edwards Jr. (⅔ inning), and Mike Montgomery (⅓ inning) to bring home the victory. Lester was the bridge the Cubs needed to get to Chapman. The trust in the veteran left-hander was well founded. Handing the ball off to Chapman for the final four outs exposed how much Chicago had relied on their closer throughout the series and he finally ran out of gas. Rajai Davis hit the biggest home run of his life to tie the game. 93 pitches at maximum effort over three days against the same team takes a toll on any pitcher, and on a pitcher as unhittable as Chapman, he suddenly is human. After taking a two run lead in the Top of the 10th inning, Maddon believed his best option was to call upon Carl Edwards Jr. to get the final three outs. Edwards Jr. has just two career saves, the first on September 1, 2016 with the Cubs leading the National League Central by 15.5 games and the second on the final day of the 2016 regular season. Not exactly high pressure moments.

Cleveland never gave up, every time they would be down, they continued to crawl their way back into the game. Corey Kluber gave the Indians everything he had in his third World Series start. Terry Francona had to bring in Andrew Miller after one pitch in the 5th inning, as it was clear Kluber was done. Andrew Miller was exhausted like Kluber and Chapman, yet he still found a way to give Cleveland 2 ⅓ innings before making way for Cody Allen. The Cubs went hitless against Allen over two innings, allowing the Indians offense to catch up. The Cleveland bullpen was stretched to the breaking point, and Bryan Shaw allowed two runs in the Top of the 10th inning that secured the Cubs victory. Yes, Shaw allowed the World Series clinching run, but he is not to blame for Cleveland’s defeat. Simply one team finally defeated the other.

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It is finally next year for the Cubs. (Brian Cassella/ Chicago Tribune)

There are games and World Series where one team does not necessarily win, but rather the other team loses. The 2016 World Series was just the opposite. Both the Indians and the Cubs played like champions. There was no Madison Bumgarner or Reggie Jackson in this World Series where a single player put the entire team on his back and carried them to the title. Instead, both teams used team baseball to carry themselves to the edge of a championship. The Cubs were a better team in only a few moments in the seven game series, but when two teams are so evenly matched that is the difference between winning and losing. 49 of the 50 players on the Indians and Cubs rosters appeared in at least two games; John Lackey’s only appearance was as the Cubs starter in Game 4. Terry Francona and Joe Maddon used every ounce of energy available on their bench, and the Cubs had just a little more.

It took team baseball to end the Curse of the Billy Goat, but it was also team baseball that nearly kept it going for another season. The statistics are close, but the Cubs led in more offensive statistics and the Indians did not win any of these key pitching statistics. Here are the numbers for proof:

Offense

Cleveland Indians

Chicago Cubs

At Bats

232

245

Runs

27

27

Hits

55

61

2B

10

10

HR

7

8

Walks

24

22

Strike Outs

59

64

Batting Average

.237

.249

On-Base Percentage

.321

.316

Slugging

.371

.404

OPS

.691

.720

Pitching

Cleveland Indians

Chicago Cubs

ERA

3.71

3.43

Saves

1

2

Innings Pitched

63

63

WHIP

1.317

1.254

The 2016 World Series was an amazing seven game series to watch and enjoy. The numbers only confirm what we all know, this World Series was phenomenal. The fans of the Indians and Cubs were tortured while the rest of the baseball world were given the opportunity to step into their world for just a few days. I do not envy the stress and anguish felt by both teams and fans bases, but for the Cubs it was all worth it in the end. At last Cubs fans you do not have to wait until next year, celebrate for all the Cubs fans who were not able to see the Cubs win their third World Series championship. There is nothing to be upset about Indians fans your team gave you a great ride, the nucleus is there for Cleveland, you just have to wait a little longer.

Chicago Cubs Fans Gather To Watch Game 7 Of The World Series Against The Cleveland Indians
Cubs fans have waited a long time and celebrated accordingly. (Scott Olsen/ Getty Images)

P.S. This World Series was so heavily based upon team baseball that individual awards were not so easy to pick, nor did individual candidates stick out from the crown. Congratulations to World Series Most Valuable Player Ben Zobrist. Enjoy all the technology and stuff in your new Chevrolet Camaro.

DJ

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October Fest

The World Series is set; the Cleveland Indians against the Chicago Cubs. One of these teams is about to break a long championship drought. Every pitch and swing will be over analyzed because, in some way, they matter. Tension builds with every pitch and the players know one moment can define their career. Welcome to the World Series, October baseball at its finest.

The Cleveland Indians won the American League Central crown for the first time since 2007. Cleveland has some great players like Francisco Lindor and Corey Kluber, but the key to their success has been team baseball. The Indians ranked 5th in MLB in Runs Scored, 4th in Stolen Bases (1st in the American League), 10th fewest strikeouts, 9th most walks, 3rd in the American League in sacrifice bunts, 2nd in sacrifices flies, 5th in team batting average, and 7th in team OBP. Offensively Cleveland wasted few opportunities to score runs. A successful season offensively means nothing if the pitching and defense cannot hold leads. Defensively Cleveland committed only 89 errors and had a .985 fielding percentage. Pitching has brought Cleveland four wins away from their first World Series victory since 1948. Indians pitchers allowed the 4th fewest hits, the 7th fewest runs, 6th fewest walks, 4th most strikeouts, and the 7th best team ERA in the Majors. All five members of the Indians rotation (Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar) made at least 25 starts and won at least 11 games. Cody Allen led the team with 32 saves with Andrew Miller making a significant impact on bullpen longevity after his trade to Cleveland late in the season. Consistency from the starting pitching meant less stress and strain on the bullpen, allowing the relievers to measure their efforts through the season. Team baseball allows the Indians to recover if a player or two do not perform. While not producing the nationally recognized super stars, team oriented baseball can produce a World Series championship.

world-series-trophy
Which team will raise the Commissioner’s Trophy in 2016? (Jamie Squire/ Getty Images)

The Chicago Cubs won the National League Central by 17.5 games with 103 wins. The Cubs were clearly the best team in regular season baseball. Offensively the Cubs scored the 3rd most runs, drew the most walks, were 2nd in OBP, and hit into the 5th fewest double plays. A lineup that includes Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Ben Zobrist intimidates any opposing pitching staff. Defensively, Chicago allowed the fewest runs per game, which is also a reflection upon their pitching staff. The Northsiders had the lowest ERA and WHIP, allowed the fewest hits, the fewest runs, the 6th fewest home runs, and had the 3rd most strikeouts. When your team is out scoring most of the league and allowing the fewest runs that is a recipe for success. If one side falters the other side can keep the team rolling. Every member of the Cubs starting rotation (Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey, and Jason Hammel) made at least 29 starts, collected 11 wins, pitched 166 innings, with an ERA below 3.85. Combined the starting rotation averaged over six innings per start, which late in the season meant the bullpen had just two innings to pitch before turning the ball over to Aroldis Chapman. Less work for the bullpen means fresher arms in high pressure situations and in the playoffs. The Cubs are easily recognizable for their play on the field, yet their super stars still play team baseball. Every team needs at least one player to elevate their game if they want to win it all, and the Cubs have plenty of players capable of doing so.

Saying it has been a while since the Indians or Cubs have won a World Series is an understatement. The Communist Party rose to power in China a year after the last Indians’ World Series victory. Since then, segregation was declared unconstitutional, man went into space and to the moon, AIDS emerged, the internet was invented, and the Indians have played over 10,000 games. Wrigley Field opened six years after the last Cubs World Series victory. It was followed by the United States participating in seven wars, the election of 16 Presidents, 11 Amendments being added to the Constitution, four states joining the United States, and the Cubs playing over 15,000 games. It has been a while for both teams.

Regardless who wins the World Series, 1948 and 1908 were a long time ago and another World Series victory is within reach for one of these two teams. The teams on the field are playing each other as much as the history of their own team. The attributable curses that have held these teams back for decades may finally be broken. Let us hope that the 2016 World Series has been worth the wait.

DJ

2016 New Year’s Resolutions for the AL Central

Despite producing the 2015 World Series champions, the Kansas City Royals, the AL Central was a relatively weak division. The White Sox were streaky. The Indians started picking things up in the second half of the season but couldn’t overcome the deficit they built up in the first half. The Tigers just…struggled. The Twins made it clear they are on the rise but just aren’t ready for the spotlight yet. There are some interesting pick ups so far though that have the potential to make big waves in the coming season.

Jordan Zimmermann.jpg
Jordan Zimmermann should help the Tigers rebound from a rough 2015. (www.dodgersbeat.com)

The Moves

Todd Frazier and Jordan Zimmerman make up the two big moves in this off-season so far. The White Sox were in the bottom five of the league for total HRs and RBIs so they needed to get a big bat into their lineup. Todd Frazier also brings a good glove to support Jose Abreu at first base or he can play third base everyday. He even brings a boost in stolen bases which the White Sox were also well below the league average in 2015.

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Todd Frazier should provide the protection Jose Abreu needs to help revive the White Sox. (Cincinnati Reds)

The Tigers picked up a new arm to back up Justin Verlander and make up for the loss of David Price. With 164 strikeouts and 201 innings pitched in 2015, Jordan Zimmerman can help the Tigers shore up the rotation and protect the bullpen. Detroit’s defense played relatively well in regards to fielding so the Tigers did well in getting Zimmerman. Detroit’s defense, compared to the rest of the league had a good fielding percentage and low number of committed errors so Zimmerman’s addition to the rotation should tighten up the defense even further.

The Advice

The AL Central gave us a rollercoaster of streaky play with plenty of blowouts to enjoy on both sides. The Tigers were disappointing, the Twins were surprising, the White Sox could be depressing, the Indians fought the good fight but had too high a mountain to climb, and the Royals fulfilled their promise.  The AL Central was not the most exciting division in baseball, but it showed the full range of emotions a team and fan base can experience throughout the course of a season.

Kansas City Royals

BL – They won the World Series in rather decisive fashion. They’ve got solid pitching with Wade Davis ascending into the ranks of elite MLB closers. They don’t need big power hitters as long as they can keep moving guys through the bases. This is as balanced a team as there is out there. So much so that losing a great utility player like Ben Zobrist isn’t likely to affect their chances of winning this division again.

Royals WS

The Royals play, win, and celebrate a World Series Championship as a team. (Jeff Curry- USA TODAY Sports)

DJ – The biggest strength the Royals have is team cohesion and trust.  The last two seasons have seen them get to the World Series twice and win it once.  Kansas City needs to stay hungry. The Royals always knew the next guy in the lineup would move them over or get them in, and this belief shows. In 2015, Kansas City’s team Batting Average with runners in scoring position was .281. Their opponents hit .240. The Royals team Batting Average with runners in scoring position with 2 outs was .278, while their opponents hit .196. Kansas City is playing team baseball beautifully. They should continue this in 2016 by replacing Zobrist with the sum of their pieces not just a single player.

Minnesota Twins

BL – The Twins picked up Byung-ho Park which raises the question about Joe Mauer’s future. But I think they really need to focus on putting together a good rotation of young talent to build on. I feel like pitching is the aspect of the game that can’t be more effectively purchased than developed through scouting, drafting, and minor league coaching. Arms burnout and you don’t see as many pitchers getting into their late 30s as gracefully as their batting/fielding counterparts.

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Byung-ho Park should help the Twins to start hitting and enter the playoff conversation. (www.koreatimesus.com)

DJ – The Twins finished over .500 and second in the division. A full season under his belt, Manager Paul Molitor will be better at making moves, in and out of the game. Minnesota’s biggest weakness is simply getting base hits. Joe Mauer had the worst batting season of his career, yet still led the Twins with a .265 Batting Average. Simply getting more hits will score more runs and take pressure off the pitching staff and defense. The Twins are close to making a run at the playoffs, they just need to hit the ball more. Adding Byung-ho Park, and his career .281 Batting Average is a good start.

Cleveland Indians

BL – Cleveland had a .477 win percentage in first half of 2015 and a .534 win percentage in the second half. But the season win percentages have been declining under Terry Francona. I don’t see the Indians with the same history of developing players like the Twins. With the smallest payroll in the division, Cleveland management needs to either get ownership to loosen the purse strings or start developing their farm system. Corey Kluber is the lone star of the rotation which doesn’t bode well for the long term and picking up a solid number 2 pitcher and a 25+ HR hitter might be the best way to go. Derek is going to disagree about the Indians’ rotation but I don’t think the younger guys are going to develop their weaker pitches while pitching in the majors and that’ll make them one, may two, trick ponies who’ll get eaten up by some hungry AL bats.

Corey Kluber.jpg

Corey Kluber is the backbone of the Indians rotation that could lead Cleveland to success in October. (Getty Images)

DJ – I passionately disagree with Bernie. Cleveland has its work horses that should make it a contender in 2016. The four man rotation of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, and Trevor Bauer all made at least 30 starts in 2015.  The Indians have youth on their side, at the start of the 2016 season Kluber will be 29, Carrasco will be 29, Salazar will be 26, and Bauer will be 25. Each pitched at least 175 innings and combined to have a 3.76 ERA. The foundation is there in Cleveland, the Indians just need to keep those young arms healthy and maintain a solid bullpen to support this fantastic pitching rotation.

BL & DJ

2016 New Year’s Resolutions for the NL Central

The midwest got to enjoy some great baseball in 2015, especially NL fans. When the 3rd place team in your division would have won every other division in MLB, the offseason becomes a treacherous minefield of making the right minor tweak to improve or maintain the status quo. For the Brewers and Reds, offseason trading goals are clear but often seem like a management nightmare. The other teams need to maintain or improve their lineups, replace aging talent, and make sure they can afford it all. Baseball remains the team game that one single superstar cannot change a team’s fortune from struggling scrapper to playoff contender.

Jason Heyward.jpg
The Cubs are hoping Jason Heyward is not a big swing and a miss. (www.foxsports.com)

The Moves

The Chicago Cubs were that third place team in the NL Central but they were also seen as a legitimate World Series contenders. With some good front office management, the Cubs were able to sign both Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist to beef up their batting lineup. They also got John Lackey and Adam Warren to solidify the rotation behind Jake Arrieta. It’s almost like the Cubs bought a whole new team that’s going to supplement the young guns they already have in Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, and Kyle Schwarber. This isn’t a 450ft HR move but more like a 6-5-3 double play move – a collection of several good moves but we’ll have to see how it works out.

Brandon Phillips Flying
Brandon Phillips and the Reds are rebuilding in a hurry. (Joe Robbins/ http://www.datdudebp.com)

In a completely different direction, the Reds cleaned house for salary space and prospects. They made this space with Todd Frazier going to the White Sox and Aroldis Chapman going to the Yankees. Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips have big contracts but the Reds probably wouldn’t have been able to find the buyers to pick them up. So what does that leave the Reds? A lot of room to build up some young talent. Cincinnati is a good sports city with patient and loyal fans. The only question is “Do the Yankees have good talent scouts?” because, in return for Chapman, the Reds got Rookie Davis, Eric Jagielo, Tony Renda, and Caleb Cotham who have all gone through the Yankees’ system. If you ask us, the Reds are looking to be respectable in 2016 but to win big in 2017-2018 as their competition ages out.

The Advice

There really isn’t a lot of advice to give out for any of the teams in this division. They pretty much owned the rest of the league. But what’s a baseball blog for except to play armchair manager for our own amusement.

St. Louis Cardinals

BL – The Cardinals have an aging lineup but the sort of talent that’s been able to play for a long time. It’s part of the reason for their continued success. But El Birdos are soon going to feel the pains the Yankees are now as a storied core of players are starting to lose their elite edge. Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright…scouts and minor league managers better be working overtime to build up the talent to start taking over for them soon.

Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina continues to be the backbone of th Cardinalds success. ()

DJ – St. Louis is a smart baseball town. Yes the Cardinals have lost Jason Heyward and John Lackey to the Cubs, but these players are not irreplaceable. St. Louis needs to make some minor moves to shore up their bench and build up some power the team seemed to lack last season. Matt Adams and Jason Heyward were not the power hitters many expected, due to injuries and too high expectation. The Cardinals need to add some pop to the line up and continue to produce Major League quality players from their farm system.

Pittsburgh Pirates

BL – When the 2015 playoff picture was decided, I really thought that the Pirates would go much deeper into the playoffs, if not get to the World Series. They’ve got a stellar rotation, elite closer and bullpen, a young rockstar outfield, and a strong infield. If they can get some solid core guys in their infield, who’s going to keep them from taking the division? The Cubs? Maybe. The Cardinals? Only if they find some temporary fountain of youth. But really, I think it’ll be the Pirates in 2016.

Josh Harrison

Josh Harrison’s ability to do and play anywhere on the diamond has kept the Pirates moving up the standing. (www.post-gazette.com)

DJ – The Pirates seem to be one player away from making a deep run in the playoffs. Pedro Alvarez and Sean Rodriguez are solid Major Leaguers, but if Pittsburgh wants to get past the Wild Card game they need to upgrade at first base. Platooning at first is never a good sign. Pirates first basemen hit 30 HR with 88 RBI in 2015, however they also hit a combined .231. First base is never going to be where you play a slap hitter, but Pittsburgh needs a player who can put the ball in play on a more consistent basis if they are to be successful in 2016.

Milwaukee Brewers

BL – To be perfectly honest, I don’t see what the Brewers can do to be competitive in the NL Central. Nothing exciting about the rotation and on the wrong side of the league average in nearly every hitting category. There are some oversized contracts that I don’t think they’ll be able to unload without a fire sale. The Brewers need to clean house and rebuild like the Reds. I just don’t think they’re going to do it until it’s too late to try.

Ryan Braun
The Brewers and Ryan Braun are tied together for better or worse. (www.thesportsfanjournal.com)

DJ – The Brewers are hurting in every area.  Ryan Braun was unable to stay healthy in 2015, and with an immoveable contract, along with history, he will remain the foundation for Milwaukee. Matt Garza and the rest of the rotation under performed. Only Jimmy Nelson was able to reach double digits in wins, he finished with 11 wins, but he was also second on the team with 13 losses. Milwaukee needs to find bullpen help and innings eating arms in the rotation, Nelson led the team with 177 ⅓ innings pitched.  Milwaukee cannot fix it all at once but getting starting pitching that can eat up innings to prevent the bullpen from being too tired to hold leads when they do exist is key to starting the turn around.

BL & DJ