Tagged: Clayton Kershaw

Sacrificing

Teams tend to play one of two types of baseball, long ball or small ball. The rise of of analytics has shown sacrificing an out to advance a runner is not in a team’s best interest. Teams are shying away from small ball because, as Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine so eloquently put it, “Chicks dig the long ball.” The roar of the crowd is much different for a Home Run than a Sacrifice Hit, Sacrifice Bunt. Instant offense versus a building block towards a potential Run. 

Baseball has changed since the small ball era of the early 20th Century. The small ball era helped produce Eddie Collins and his 512 career Sacrifice, 120 ahead of second place. Clayton Kershaw is the active leader with 108, 334th all time. Small ball produced Ray Chapman’s 1917 single season record of 67 Sacrifices. Bert Campaneris’ 40 Sacrifices in 1977 are the most since 1929. Home Runs have replaced the Sacrifice. Teams swing for the fences. They no longer get them on, get them over, get them in.

A slugger’s value comes from hitting a baseball over the fence, not tapping it in the infield. The top ten Home Run hitters of all time have hit 6,680 Home Runs. Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Alex Rodriguez, Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Thome, Sammy Sosa, and Frank Robinson have played a combined 213 Major League seasons. Only Pujols is active, with two seasons left before Free Agency or retirement. Occasionally these long ball titans sacrifice themselves for the team. 

In 22 seasons, Barry Bonds hit 762 Home Runs and laid down 4 Sacrifices. Hank Aaron played 23 seasons, hit 755 Home Runs with 21 Sacrifices. Babe Ruth hit 714 Home Runs in 22 seasons and laid down 113 Sacrifices, more than the rest of this elite group combined. Alex Rodriguez Sacrificed 16 times in 22 seasons, while hitting 696 Home Runs. Willie Mays played 22 seasons, hit 660 Home Runs, and dropped 13 Sacrifices. Albert Pujols has played 19 seasons, hit 656 Home Runs with 1 Sacrifice. Ken Griffey Jr. hit 630 Home Runs over 22 seasons and Sacrificed 8 times. Jim Thome and his 612 Home Runs laid down 1 Sacrifice in 22 seasons. Sammy Sosa had 17 Sacrifices in 18 seasons while blasting 609 Home Runs. Frank Robinson dropped 17 Sacrifices in 21 seasons, with 586 Home Runs. Even the greatest sluggers of all time Sacrifice.

BabeRuthBunt
Babe Ruth revolutionized baseball with his power, yet he still played in an era where players were expected to bunt to help their team win. (www.captainsblog.info)

In 213 combined seasons, the greatest Home Run hitters laid down 211 Sacrifices. In an average season they hit 31.36 Home Runs with 0.99 Sacrifices. Their average career was 668 Home Runs and 21.1 Sacrifices, 30.2 Home Runs per Sacrifice. Even ardent believers in small ball know these players should swing the bat. 

Jim Thome and Albert Pujols each have just 1 career Sacrifice. Thome and Pujols are not Rickey Henderson. They have hit a 32 triples, 16 each, and stolen 133 bases, combined. Only Pujol’s 114 steals break to top 1,000. Both sluggers were designed to trot around the bases, not sprint. 

On July 3, 1994, Indians Manager Mike Hargrove looked to extend Cleveland’s 2.5 game over the Chicago White Sox in the American League Central. In the Bottom of the 7th, in a 7-7 tie against the Minnesota Twins, Eddie Murray laced the third pitch to Right for a lead off single. Hargrove signaled his young Third Baseman to Sacrifice. After taking a strike from Mark Guthrie, the 23 year old Jim Thome bunted, moving Murray to Second. Thome reached on an error by Third Baseman Chip Hale. Twins Manager Tom Kelly then replaced Guthrie with Carl Willis. Sandy Alomar Jr. greeted Willis with a swinging bunt down, loading the bases. Paul Sorrento followed with an RBI Single to Right, driving in Murray. Wayne Kirby fouled out to Third. One out. Kenny Lofton hit a Sacrifice Fly to Center, scoring Thome with Alomar advancing to Third. Two outs. Omar Vizquel flied out to Center. Three outs. 9-7 Cleveland. Thome and the Indians won 10-9 in 11 Innings, sending the Jacobs Field crowd home happy. 

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Jim Thome hit baseballs a long way, his talents were not best used bunting. (www.cooperstowncred.com)

The importance of the game, and Thome’s Sacrifice, were lost as the 1994 season stopped on August 12th. Cleveland was 1 game behind Chicago when the Strike began. The Strike claimed the rest of the 1994.

The St. Louis Cardinals hosted the Chicago White Sox on June 16, 2001. The Chicago Cubs led the Cardinals by 6 games in the National League Central. In the Bottom of the 7th, White Sox pitcher Sean Lowe walked Placido Polanco on four pitches. J. D. Drew then Singled to Right. Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa looked to stretch the 6-3 lead. He signaled his Cleanup Hitter to bunt. In his 67th career game, Albert Pujols bunted the first pitch foul. On the second pitch, Pujols bunted the ball back to Lowe who threw to Second Baseman Ray Durham covering First. Polanco moved to Third and Drew to second. One out. Pujols has not Sacrificed again. Bobby Bonilla was Intentionally Walked to load the bases and replaced by Pinch Runner Jim Edmonds. Craig Paquette Singled to Right, scoring Polanco. Drew scored on an error by the Shortstop, Tony Graffanino. Edmonds stopped at Second. Edgar Renteria struck out looking as Edmonds stole Third and Paquette stole Second. Two outs. Mike Matheny grounded out to First. Three outs. St. Louis won 8-3. 

San Diego Padres v St. Louis Cardinals
Albert Pujols is one of the greatest right hand power hitters of all time, bunting is not his most dangerous weapon. (Dilip Vishwanat/ Getty Images)

The Cardinals lost to the Houston Astros on the final day of the Regular Season. Both teams finished 93-69. Houston was crowned Division champions by winning the season series 9 games to 7. St. Louis was the Wild Card. The Cardinals lost to the eventual World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks in a decisive Game 5 in the Divisional Series

Baseball is a team game played by individuals. Players field ground balls, pitch, and bat alone. No one can help you succeed, but you can help others succeed. Backing up throws, turning Double Plays, executing a relay all help a team win. And yes, occasionally even the greatest Home Run hitters Sacrifice for the team. 

As baseball changes, Sacrifices by players capable of putting a baseball into orbit inches towards extinction. The Sacrifice is becoming a lost art as light hitting pitchers in the National League dominate and the Designated Hitter in the American League decimates the Sacrifice. A slugger bunting is now more rare than a Perfect Game. This generation’s greatest sluggers have Sacrificed just twice. If Mike Trout ever lays down a Sacrifice, soak in the moment. It will be the first of his career, and possibly the last time an all time great Home Run hitter Sacrifices himself.

DJ

The Good and The Great

The difference between a good team and a great team is on display in the World Series. Both the Dodgers and Red Sox had talent laden Opening Day payrolls at or exceeding $200 million. Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw, Justin Turner, and Kenley Jansen are not overmatched by the talents of Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Chris Sale, and Craig Kimbrel. The difference is execution.

Manny Machado’s defensive skills are unquestionable, but he has checked out at the plate. He is hitting .222, 4 for 18, obviously a small sample size. However, it is how Machado has looked, not what he has done. He turned a double into a single, is blowing bubbles while running down the line on close plays, stepping on the first baseman’s foot again, and just looks like he wants the World Series to end so he can hit free agency. Players should show emotion when they get a big hit in the World Series. Yasiel Puig watching his home run while Eduardo Rodriguez slams his glove was amazing. Both players showed their emotions on the biggest stage in the game. Machado acted like he hit the ball 20 rows deep, yet it hit maybe halfway up the wall costing the Dodgers a base, maybe more. Machado’s behavior is likely costing him millions in free agency as teams lose interest, thus reducing competition to sign him. Puig launched the ball, he celebrated the moment knowing the ball was gone.

Machado
Remember to celebrate a home run only if it clear the fence. (AP Photo/ Mark J. Terrill)

Nathan Eovaldi has done his best Madison Bumgarner impersonation. Heading into free agency his value has done nothing but rise. Eovaldi has pitched 8 innings with a 1.13 ERA and a 0.500 WHIP in the World Series. His 6 innings of relief in Boston’s Game 3 loss saved the Red Sox pitching staff for the entire series. Eovaldi’s effort prevented several members of Boston’s bullpen from working multiple innings. The Red Sox have a commanding series lead after winning Game 4 in part because their bullpen was not exhausted from Game 3.

Walker Buehler got the Jacob deGrom treatment. He pitched 7 outstanding innings, and the Dodger offense scored one run. Los Angeles wasted Buehler’s performance by allowing the Red Sox to hang around. A single bad pitch by Kenley Jansen to Jackie Bradley Jr. forced extra innings; obviously no one though the game would go 18 innings. The Dodgers wasted their chance to get back in the series without exhausting their pitching staff. They won Game 3, but at what cost?

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Nathan Eovaldi pitched 6 innings of relief in Game 3 before giving up Max Muncy’s walk off home run in the 18th inning. Despite the lose he may have saved the World Series for the Red Sox. (AP Photo/ David J. Phillip)

The tough luck award of the World Series goes to Ryan Madson. Technically he has allowed 1 earned run in 2 ⅓ innings. However, he has inherited 7 Red Sox runners and all 7 have scored. His pitching did not allow them on base, but his pitching has allowed them to score. Madson has pitched in the first four games, Game 3 was his only clean outing. He threw only two pitches. Madson inherited 14 runners in the regular season, only 4 scored. Terrible timing for a rough stretch.

It is much easier to lose a game than to win a game. Winning comes down to execution. The talent of the Dodgers and Red Sox is fairly even. Los Angeles has failed to execute in some key moments. Boston is one win away from winning the series and sending the Dodgers to their second consecutive World Series defeat. The opportunity to win the World Series is rare and the Dodgers’ window may be closing. The Texas Rangers lost the 2010 World Series and were one strike away from winning in 2011. They never got that strike. Is this as close as Los Angeles will get to lifting the Commissioner’s Trophy for the first time in 30 years.

DJ

And The Winner Is…

The Championship Series to decide the American and National League pennants are set. The Boston Red Sox against the Houston Astros in the American League and the Los Angeles Dodgers against the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League. My personal favorite teams are not among the four remaining, so what better time to take an unscientific approach to decide who I want to win the World Series.

Starting with the team’s success every team has won at least one pennant. Their last pennants were: the Red Sox in 2013, the Astros and in 2017, and the Brewers in 1982 (American League). The 1982 American League Pennant remains the Brewers only trip to the World Series. The Red Sox last won the World Series in 2013. The Astros are the defending World Series Champions. The Dodgers last won the World Series with Kirk Gibson in 1988. The Brewers are still waiting to win their first World Series Championship.

Gibson.gif
In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened. (www.mlb.com)

Looking at the home cities I have visited Boston, Houston, and Los Angeles. Sorry Milwaukee, maybe another time. My positive take from Boston is the rich history of the city colonial days to present. The food and drink is wonderful, which is made better by having extended family in Boston. Houston is a fun city. The food and culture is diverse and it never hurts to have a friend working for NASA to show you around. Los Angeles has great weather, great food, and beautiful scenery from the mountains to the beaches. Never visiting Milwaukee, I would guess the beer and brats are delicious and the lakefront area by Lake Michigan is nice. I would guess.

However, for all the great things about these cities there are drawbacks. Boston is cold and the people are not always warm and welcoming. Houston is the epitome of flat, urban sprawl. Los Angeles has its world famous traffic and pollution, not to mention it is expensive. In my mind, Milwaukee is always cold, and I hate the cold.

The ballparks the teams play in a different as well. Fenway Park is a historic park with a unique configuration and appearance. Baseball legends have played on this diamond for over a century. The history of the park all but speaks for itself. Minute Maid Park is modern with all the amenities baseball fans have come to expect. The weather outside rarely matters as the retractable roof creates perfect baseball weather inside every day of the year. Dodger Stadium is timeless in its simplicity and longevity. Legends, including the voice of baseball Vin Scully, have spent decades within its inviting confines. Miller Park remains on my list of Major League stadiums to visit. Beyond the ability to close the roof and have perfect baseball weather, the Uecker seats and the slide for Bernie Brewer are clearly the most important features of the park.

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Celebratory slide for Bernie Brewer.  (www.mlb.com)

The good comes with the bad. Fenway Park was built when people were smaller. There is not enough legroom between seats, especially for people who are claustrophobic. It is also an expensive park to visit as people flock to historic Fenway to watch the Red Sox continued success year after year. The roof on Minute Maid Park is not perfect. I had the pleasure of sitting under a leaky portion of the roof a few years ago. Luckily I was able to change seats, otherwise the torrential rain outside would have soaked me inside the stadium. The closed roof also means the cannon fire after an Astros home run is deafening. Dodger Stadium is expensive but the biggest complaint I have is the team does not market their history well. I could not find any memorabilia from their storied history. Maybe keep a few Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella shirseys around, people will definitely buy them. Where do I start with Miller Park. Ummm…it looks a little dark when I watch a game on television.

Everything else is superficial, it is the team on the field that matters the most. The Red Sox have a solid rotation with Chris Sale and David Price, arguably the best closer in Craig Kimbrel, stars like J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts, and the Most Valuable Player in Mookie Betts. The Astros have a proven winning lineup with Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman, and Carlos Correa. A rotation of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Dallas Keuchel does not hurt either. The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw leading the charge with Yasiel Puig, a resurgent Matt Kemp, Justin Turner, and a host of other All Star caliber players. The Brewers have the National League Most Valuable Player in Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Jesus Aguilar supported by an almost unhittable bullpen with Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, and Corey Knebel.

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Mookie Betts and the Red Sox look unbeatable. (Boston Herald/ Stuart Cahill)

Each team also has unique drawbacks. The Red Sox have spent a ton of money to assemble a great team. World Series Championships should be won not purchased. The Astros are the defending Champions, their repeating is less than thrilling. The Dodgers have tried to buy a World Series for years, this forever rubs me the wrong way. The Brewers still employ Ryan Braun. I am not a fan of his, not was busted for using Performance Enhancing Drugs, but his attempt to smear Dino Laurenzi’s name, the test collector, to save himself from his own stupidity forever stained his legacy. I have sat in left field when watching the Brewers on the road simply to boo Braun and will continue to do so until he retires.

After weighing the good and the bad for each team my decision on which team to root to a World Series Championship comes down to a single person. Bob Uecker. Mr. Baseball. Bob Uecker has given his life to baseball. He has been the voice of the Milwaukee Brewers since 1971. He was Harry Doyle in the Major League movies. His appearances on Johnny Carson. Andre the Giant choking him. The Miller Lite commercials. He continues to complain about his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame only as a Broadcaster, the Ford C. Frick Award in 2003, and not as a player. A career .200 hitter with 14 lifetime home runs, including off Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins, and Sandy Koufax. Yes that Sandy Koufax. The stats speak for themselves. Come on Brewers, give Milwaukee the World Series they deserve with Bob Uecker making the call.

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Come on Brewers, let Bob Uecker announce a World Series Champion!!! (Scripps Media-2016)

DJ

The Best Team Money Can Buy

Teams with large payrolls are not guaranteed to win championships. In sports the more talented the player, the more expensive their services become once they reach free agency, thus teams with large payrolls are filled with players who are, or at one time were, extremely talented at their chosen profession. The road to a championship requires a commitment to excellence, and for the 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers that journey was just beginning.

The Best Team Money Can Buy by Molly Knight explores the transition of the Dodgers from the disastrous ownership tenure of Frank McCourt to the new ownership of Mark Walter. Knight explores the team on the field, in the front office, and the world around them. Major League Baseball understood the value of ensuring the transition from McCourt to Walter went smoothly and acted in the best interest of baseball.

*Spoilers beyond this point.*

Knight does an excellent job of examining the players on and off the field. The Dodgers to securing their ace, Clayton Kershaw, for the long term was critical to the health of the team. If Kershaw was able to walk away from the Dodgers, like Zack Greinke eventually did, the immediate future for the team would have been about building towards division not World Series titles. Los Angeles’ front office knew their fans would turn on the team if Kershaw was allowed to walk. Resigning Kershaw was as much a baseball move as it was a public relations move. Contrasting the focus and dominance of Kershaw was the explosion of Yasiel Puig. The willingness to sign a relatively unknown talent was a risk, however the excitement Puig brought with him to the Dodgers out weighed the risk in the eyes of the fans. Puig’s experience with his teammates and the insight Knight provides shows the difficulty many Latin American players have in adjusting to life in the United States, especially Cuban players. Puig’s near instant success meant he found some of the pitfalls that caused other superstars stumble. While electrifying on the field, Puig’s antics off the field and in the clubhouse rubbed many of his teammates the wrong way. This left manager Don Mattingly with the delicate job of keeping Puig happy while not alienating the rest of the team. This challenge was made even more difficult as the Dodgers showed little faith in Mattingly, who never felt secure in his job while in Los Angeles. This constant balancing act in the clubhouse made performing on the field more difficult than normal. The internal drama was overshadowed as the ownership regime of Frank McCourt came crashing down all around Dodger Stadium.

Best Team
The Best Team Money Can Buy: The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse (Simon & Schuster)

Prior to owning the Dodgers, Frank McCourt owned a parking lot in south Boston. He attempted to buy the Red Sox and move them to a new stadium that he would construct on his parking lot. When this plan failed he turned his attention to the Dodgers. McCourt had bigger dreams than bank accounts, but was able to purchase the Dodgers with loans he secured by putting the parking lot up as collateral. Eventually the loans went unpaid and the parking lot was seized. Ultimately the Dodgers were sold to McCourt for a parking lot in south Boston.

McCourt ran the Dodgers into the ground. He had little interest in the team beyond how they could make him richer. As his personal life went up in flames he attempted to hold onto the Dodgers through a television deal that would pay him enough to remain owner after his divorce was finalized. Major League Baseball was forced to step in to prevent the deal. His divorce turning nasty and dragging on, McCourt was ordered to sell the team. The Dodger fan base was skeptical of new owner Mark Walter. However, Walter was only interested in winning. Signing fan favorite Andre Ethier to an over priced contract was more of a public relations deal than a smart baseball deal. Walter understood he had to win back the fans after many had rightly walked away under McCourt. Winning was the most important thing, money would solve some problems but not everything.

The early building blocks of the perennial contender the Dodgers have become were laid in 2013. Molly Knight examines the circumstances surround the team during this critical time, yet she also helps the reader understand why the rebirth of the Dodgers is so important to baseball. She does an excellent job of exposing the personalities on the team that made the team successful and struggle. Sports teams are often not seen as being made up of people, but Knight makes you see the quirks and craziness that each player brings to the Dodger clubhouse. Molly Knight’s work in The Best Team Money Can Buy is as critical to the understanding of baseball’s current state as Michael Lewis’ Moneyball. Money does not guarantee championships, as baseball cannot be bought and sold, but it does not hurt.

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

How Did We Get Here and What Is About To Happen?

Welcome to the Fall Classic.  The World Series has arrived after an exciting run through the playoffs.  The Kansas City Royals will face the New York Mets for the right to lift the Commissioner’s Trophy as the champion of Major League Baseball.  The Kansas City Royals last won the World Series in 1985.  The New York Mets last won the World Series in 1986.  The championship drought for one of these teams is about to end after many, often painful, years.

So what has led us to this World Series?  How have we navigated from the Wild Card games through the playoffs and finally to the World Series?  The field has gone from 10 teams down to just 2 teams.

The Commissioners' Trophy is awarded to the World Series winning team. (http://blog.gospikes.com/?p=162)

The Commissioners’ Trophy is awarded to the World Series winning team. (http://blog.gospikes.com/?p=162)

National League Wild Card

Chicago Cubs 4, Pittsburgh Pirates 0

The Pirates were once again a formidable team during the regular season, but they fell short in the Wild Card game.  Behind their young bats and Jake Arrieta’s complete game shutout, the Cubs showed they were the superior team, at least for one day when it mattered the most.

American League Wild Card

Houston Astros 3, New York Yankees 0

The New York Yankees coasted into the Wild Card game, and not in a good way.  They struggled down the stretch and benefitted from early season success to make it into the playoffs.  Unfortunately, they met the Houston Astros who were hungry and playing much better baseball.  Each passing inning, the energy inside Yankee Stadium seemed to wane just a little more until reality could no longer be denied.  Dallas Keuchel and the Astros bullpen shut down the Yankees line up and Houston rode the power of Colby Rasmus and Carlos Gomez into the ALDS.

The Houston Astros are back. The won the Wild Card game a year ahead of schedule. (www.wdsu.com)

The Houston Astros are back. The won the Wild Card game a year ahead of schedule. (www.wdsu.com)

National League Divisional Series

New York Mets 3 games, Los Angeles Dodgers 2 games

The Mets and Dodgers alternated wins throughout the series.  The turning point of the series was in Game 2 with the injury to Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada.  The Mets ultimately lost Game 2, but Tejada’s injury rallied the team together.  Tejada’s injury from Chase Utley’s “slide” could have derailed the Mets.  Instead, behind their young pitching staff and Daniel Murphy the Mets would not quit.  The Mets faced Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in four of the five games and split those games.  The Dodgers were beaten with their best pitchers on the mound by a team who refused to quit.

Chicago Cubs 3 games, St. Louis Cardinals 1 game

Game 1 showed how dominant the St. Louis Cardinals could be, and it brought back the memories of the Curse of the Billy Goat for Cubs fans.  However, after Game 1, the Cubs took command of the series by winning the next three straight to eliminate the Cardinals.  The Cubs did not run away with the series, winning the final three games by seven runs total, but St. Louis was never able to answer the Cubs offense.  The Cardinals remained competitive but, after Game 1, it never felt like they had a chance.

The Chicago Cubs were overcoming the Curse of the Billy Goat. (www.deadspin.com)

The Chicago Cubs were overcoming the Curse of the Billy Goat. (www.deadspin.com)

American League Divisional Series

Toronto Blue Jays 3 games, Texas Rangers 2 games

The Texas Rangers jumped out to a two game lead, putting the Toronto Blue Jays on the brink of elimination.  The Blue Jays, the presumptive favorite heading into the series, would not go quietly.  Forcing a decisive Game 5 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, the Blue Jays held a slim 3-2 lead heading into the 7th inning.  In a bizarre moment, Rougned Odor scampered home to score the tying run after Russell Martin’s return throw to Blue Jays’ pitcher Aaron Sanchez hit the bat of Rangers’ outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, while Choo was still in the box.  The Blue Jays responded in the bottom half of the 7th inning with a four run outburst, which included the now infamous Jose Bautista home run bat flip.  This completed the comeback and Toronto was on to the ALCS.

Kansas City Royals 3 games, Houston Astros 2 games

The Kansas City Royals and Houston Astros went back and forth in the first four games of their ALDS.  Neither team able to break the other team down and truly dominate a game.  All this changed in Game 5, when the Royals’ experience and the Astros inexperience showed through.  The Royals’ hitters finally broke down Houston’s pitching and were able to turn around a 2-0 deficit in the 2nd inning and turn it into a 7-2 victory.  Simply put, the Royals used some of the knowledge and nerves from their 2014 World Series run to finally put away those pesky, overachieving Astros.

Jose Bautista and the bat flip that put the Blue Jays in the ALCS. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Jose Bautista and the bat flip that put the Blue Jays in the ALCS. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

National League Championship Series

New York Mets 4 games, Chicago Cubs 0 games

The Chicago Cubs did not lose the NLCS as much as the New York Mets won it.  The Cubs never lead throughout the four game sweep.  Daniel Murphy and the trio of Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, and Jacob deGrom were magical, even when they did not have their best stuff.  Jeurys Familia and Bartolo Colon were there to pick up the slack when the young arms needed a little help reaching the finish line.  The Cubs simply lost to a better team, no Curse needed.

Daniel Murphy lead the Mets to a sweep of the Cubs one home run at a time. (www.fosports.com)

Daniel Murphy led the Mets to a sweep of the Cubs one home run at a time. (www.fosports.com)

American League Championship Series

Kansas City Royals 4 games, Toronto Blue Jays 2 games

Games 1 and 2 showed the Royals were the better team.  However, the Game 3 slugfest proved that the Blue Jays were not going to go down easy.  Kansas City had batting practice in Game 4, winning 14-2 in Toronto.  Toronto forced Game 6 with a 7-1 victory in Game 5.  Back in Kansas City at Kauffman Stadium, the Blue Jays and Royals proved they were an even match.  The margin of victory was Lorenzo Cain’s speed and Wade Davis’ tenacity.  Cain scored from first on a single by Eric Hosmer in the bottom of the 8th inning, in part due to Jose Bautista not throwing to his cutoff man.  The Royals took the lead and called on Wade Davis for a little more.  Davis got two outs on eight pitches to end the Blue Jays’ 8th inning, waited through a 45 minute rain delay, then pitched the inning of his life.  Davis got the final out with a fast runner on second and third by getting Josh Donaldson to ground out to third.

Lorenzo Cain's dash around the bases was critical in the Royals returning to the World Series. (www.cbssports.com)

Lorenzo Cain’s dash around the bases was critical in the Royals returning to the World Series. (www.cbssports.com)

World Series

New York Mets vs. Kansas City Royals

The 2015 World Series has the New York Mets playing against the Kansas City Royals.  The National League champion New York Mets won the National League East division by 7 games, with a record of 90-72.  Once in the playoffs, the Mets beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS and the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS.  The American League champion Kansas City Royals won the American League Central division by 12 games, with a record of 95-67.  The Royals beat the Houston Astros in the ALDS and the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS.

World Series Predictions Sure to Go Wrong

Before the beginning of every season The Winning Run predicts how each team will finish, which teams will make the playoffs, and who will win the World Series.  Each year we are horribly wrong about almost everything.  It is with this understanding that we give our predictions about the World Series between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Mets.

*A note about our predictions for MVP, we did not allow Daniel Murphy to be selected because everyone would pick him.  Therefore, we each have our secondary MVP prediction listed and collectively we have predicted Daniel Murphy for MVP.

The Winning Run’s official 2015 World Series predictions:

John:

Champion: Mets in 6 games.

MVP: Jacob deGrom

Jesse:

Champion: Mets in 5 games.

MVP: Lucas Duda (actually Daniel Murphy in disguise)

The Mets have a proud history of disguising themselves as other people. Just as Bobby Valentine. (www.usatoday.com)

The Mets have a proud history of disguising themselves as other people. Just as Bobby Valentine. (www.usatoday.com)

Bernie:

Champion: Royals in 6 games

MVP: Alcides Escobar

Derek:

Champion: Royals in 7 games.

MVP: Eric Hosmer

The San Francisco Giants won the World Series in Kansas City last year. Who will win this year? (www.popsugar.com)

The San Francisco Giants won the World Series in Kansas City last year. Who will win this year? (www.popsugar.com)

Collectively, beyond Daniel Murphy for World Series MVP, we do not agree on much.  We are split on which team will win.  We believe the series will go six games.  We predict that a baseball player for either the Mets or the Royals will win the MVP (this is the only prediction we feel we definitely got right).  Our predictions are most likely wrong, as is our tradition, but we might get lucky this time.  The 2014 World Series was fantastic, and the Royals are back for another try with a fairly young but experienced team.  The Mets are playing beyond their years with a playoff pitching staff that has not been seen since the Atlanta Braves in the 1990’s.   Regardless, whether we are right or wrong, we hope the 2015 World Series will be just as exciting as the 2014 edition of the Fall Classic.

DJ

All Star Blues

The All Star game is full of the absolute best players in Major League Baseball.  However, most years the game itself is not compelling.  Rarely are there moments that will become infamous through the years, such as Pete Rose running into Ray Fosse.  While it would be great if the games were better, I tend to like the All Star game simply because it is an opportunity to compare the star players side by side.  The fantasy pitcher-batter matchups happen, at least for one at bat.  You get to examine how both Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw can make the best hitters in the game look absolutely clueless.  It is the game within the game where the true action takes place.  How does Mike Trout handle one elite National League pitcher after another?  He is the best player in the game.  How does Aroldis Chapman handle American League hitters? He scares them.

Mike Trout, 2 time All Star game MVP. (www.bleacherreport.com)

Mike Trout, 2 time All Star game MVP. (www.bleacherreport.com)

The All Star game is the ultimate individual test in a team game.  The lack of cohesiveness that develops over time is missing from the American and National League teams.  This puts more of the spotlight on the individual players and less on the teams.  Fans watch the All Star game to see the players not necessarily the teams, and that is exactly what they get.  It is the game within the game that makes the All Star game special.  It is critical for fans, both die-hard and casual, to understand the All Star game is different from the average Major League game because the cumulative individual talent on the field is higher and the team cohesiveness is lower.

Mr. Redlegs is proud of his hometown for a great All Star game. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Mr. Redlegs is proud of his hometown for a great All Star game. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The Major League All Star game is as it should be, different.  The best in the game are honored and the fans get to see the best pitchers face off against the best hitters.  Good pitching and defense are tough to beat, thus the game itself is not always exciting game to watch.  Looking beyond the score and the surface of the game, looking at the foundation of the game that is baseball reveals that the All Star game is fantastic to watch.  This view is only available to those who know how and what to watch.  Cincinnati and the Reds did a great job hosting the All Star game and all that goes along with it.  San Diego and the Padres have some work to do if they want the 2016 MLB All Star game to be even better.  Bravo Cincinnati.

D