Friday, March 1, 2019

MARCO'S BASEBALL BLOG-O-ROONIE 2019: LIES, DAMN LIES AND STATISTICS


MARCO'S BASEBALL BLOG-O-ROONIE 2019: LIES, DAMN LIES AND STATISTICS!

Oh Thank God that Manny Machado signed with a baseball team at last. So now I know who to root against this year.

In a way, he couldn't have picked a better team to obscure his feckless attitude and questionable sportsmanship. San Diego is never on TV at an hour when you can actually stay awake to watch. They have a lousy cavernous stadium where nobody can reach the fences and they have made an art of trading all their prospects away so they can rent a few superstars who will quickly downgrade their WAR and quickly get used to losing.

Now Manny can be warm while he banks his millions at least. His wife wanted to go to New York so she could shop. Manny wanted to wear pinstripes and strut for the most successful franchise in baseball history. Too bad! The Yankees for some reason were less than convinced that they should pony up ten years at $30 mil plus for a surly superstar who steps on first basemen and throws his bat at opposing fielders when they have offended him. Yes he's a great player. No, he wouldn't be popular with Yankee fans, who, even though they are abominably arrogant on occasion, appreciate and demand hustle on a baseball diamond. Watching Manny go into a home run trot on a flyball that hits off the fence and making it only to first base? Not a good idea in front of Yankee fans.

I kind of thought MM was going to the White Sox so he could teach Yoan Moncada how to perfect lackadaisically trotting down to first base on grounders. Yoan already has a good start on that. (The main return bauble in the Chris Sale trade for Chicago had an interesting year in 2018. He led the league in K's with 217 in only 149 games. One of the fastest players in the majors, he stole just 12 bases while getting caught 6 times. 17 homers, .235 average. Not exactly startling stats for the former number one prospect in baseball.)
I guess Manny has to be content with poisoning Fernando Tatis Jr. in San Diego, who is playing Manny's preferred position at shortstop.

Ah, here I am demanding sportsmanship and a sunny disposition from this multi-millionaire. How unfair of me. Manny Machado...you have awesome talent. You hit a ton, field a ton and have the best infield throwing arm I have seen since Cal Ripken. Start playing the glorious game of baseball with respect. Enjoy your money and good luck!

The other God-Kissed Super Free Agent we've all been waiting and wondering where he's going to sign is, of course, Bryce “Outlaw the Shift” Harper, who has also gotten surly on occasion. Especially when teams shift on him and force him to hit .249 trying to hit through, over and around their fielders. Of course, Bryce could hit .649 if he would learn to slash it to left instead of beating his head against a brick wall of defenders. But that would deny him the glorious feeling of hitting towering home runs 35 times a year and would also help his team win too many games, so why would he do that?

Like I once said to Joey Gallo of the Rangers (that is if Joey reads my blog I said it to him)... spend a week bunting down the third base line, dribbling ground balls into left field that turn into doubles and bombing the occasional oppo field tater against these shifty teams. After that one week opponents will go back to a conventional defense against Bryce because they will be losing baseball games. Then Bryce can go back to pulling the ball. Leave a burnt offering on the base of the Stan Musial (lifetime average .331) statue in St. Louis Bryce. Ask for guidance.

Bryce had a golden road all laid out for him that ended in Philadelphia. The Phillies have the most available cash in baseball since they dumped all their overpriced superstars of the 2000's (Ryan Howard, Rollins, Utley etc.) and replaced them with cheap young players. Their budget was only about 64 million last year so they could afford to buy a Harper, a Machado and a couple of pitchers all at once and actually try to win a pennant. But Philly was too close to Baltimore for Manny and Bryce seemed less than enthusiastic about staying in the NL East even though Philly was the only team that was willing to give him the fantastic salary he thinks he deserves. He wanted to play in L.A. for the Dodgers. That way he could go play slots in his home town of Las Vegas on off days.

But the Dodgers are also not interested in a ten year contract for a player who had only played 3 full seasons out of 7. (Even though I am criticizing Bryce for his fragility, his many injuries are actually because of something positive: unlike Machado, Harper always hustles on a baseball field. Because of that, he gets hurt frequently. But credit where credit is due...way to go Harper!) Harper is 26 and this was his best chance to get his $300+ million contract. Would he take a shorter deal in Dodgerland at a ridiculous salary and try this free agent thing in a couple of years after the Player's Association sues the owners for collusion?

Or maybe go with the Giants and be a hero on a losing team? SF is desperately trying to keep their fan base as they enter the twilight of the second division. That whole team got old together. Maybe they could get their fans to watch Harper while they're finishing 5th for a few years.

The Phillies, however, had all but announced that they were going to sign Harper, especially after Manny popped the cork with San Diego. Bryce could hit a lot of homers in Philly. And the Phils went out and traded for a great shortstop in Jean Segura and the best catcher (offense...he's still below Molina of the Cards as a defensive player) in J.T. Realmuto. Also Andrew McCutcheon and closer Dave Robertson. They will be contenders in the East.

Then Harper's agent Scott Boras got real smart. After it seemed all but certain Philly would get Bryce at something like the 10+ years at $30+ million per, he went back and had flashy meetings with Dave Roberts of the dodgers and also the Giants to make it look like they were trying to steal Harper at the last minute. Next thing we know, there's Harper signing an unheard of contract: 13 years at $33 million per year with NO OPT OUTS. Biggest of all time. Makes Giancarlo Stanton's behemoth deal look like loose change. The no opt outs is the shocker. That means Philly will be paying Bryce when he's 36-39 that same $33 million whether or not he's productive or even able to get on the field.

And after all this, the players are moaning about how the owners are cheating them and colluding not to pay free agents.


Are the owners guilty of collusion in failing to bid up the salaries of all these free agents? No...not collusion. They are guilty instead of intelligence. Thus, the “lies and statistics” quote (from Mark Twain) in my blog-damned byline. Ownership has gone wonkish and Sabremetric to a revolutionary degree in their approach to buying talent. It is absolutely irrefutable that most players will perform best between the ages of about 24 to 32. After that they enter the long slow slide zone. (And sometimes not so long or slow!) Don't credit the owners with any kind of genius perceptive qualities...just look at Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Haley Ramirez, etc. etc. etc. All great players who have fallen into the Zombie Zone in their mid thirties. They signed lucrative long term contracts while they were still superstars but the last half of their contracts are Money for Nothin'. This trend has been rendered even more inevitable now that players have stopped loading up on steroids and other PEDs. (Watch out Mets...Robinson Cano? They took away his juice. And he's almost 37. But it's okay Robbie...you won't get tired because you never run out ground balls anyway.)

The players will tell you that these guys were underpaid in their productive youth and it's only proper to reward them for their past careers in long term high dollar contracts in their 30s. One problem with that theory, as the owners have finally realized: It's a good way to lose games and money.

The new paradigm is to underpay your superstars while they are in their prime and dump them when they get into their 30s. Replace them with teenage players and repeat. The teenagers won't have spent enough time in the minors to know how to play yet, (are you listening Yoan Moncada?) but they're cheap and they can learn on the job while the team is tanking so management can load up on high draft choices in prep for their next “window of opportunity”.

Manny and Bryce will eventually get the big money because they reached free agency when they were only 26. But all these guys in their 30s trying to get a long term deal at multi millions? Forget it. Statistics, you see. It just won't pay. Sorry Dallas Keuchel of Houston, Craig Kimbrel of Boston, Gio Gonzalez of Washington...you'll be taking a one year deal at low rate like Moose Moustakas had to do the last two years.

But this is not some Armageddon-ish sinister debacle of collusion like the players are claiming. Nobody should be able to FORCE owners to buy free agents at exorbitant rates. Especially when all the stats say these players aren't going to produce in the last half of such contracts. Hey...David Ortiz, one of the best “old” players of the last couple of decades, signed a long series of one-year contracts with the Red Sox after he entered the danger zone of his mid- thirties. Then he went out and exceeded all expectations and played MVP ball.
Free agents! What the hell do you have the right to complain about when you can “only” get a $10 million dollar one year contract? You don't think you and your family can survive on that 10 mil for the rest of your lives? Gentlemen...I feel really bad for you if you can't adapt to that shocking Reality.

Meanwhile, teams are still offering very fair contracts to their free agent eligible stars just to stay with their home town teams. Nolan Arenado just got $280 mil for 8 years from the Rockies. The Nationals offered Harper 300 mil for 10 years but got turned down. The Red Sox are going to try to retain Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts with extensions. This is not collusion!

However: right now it benefits a team that's not going to win anyway to go ahead and finish last for a few years so they can rake in the best draft choices. Houston pulled this off to perfection earlier this decade. To discourage this, baseball should fix the draft system and go to something like the NBA had with a weighted lottery so teams would at least try to win games. Otherwise it becomes only too obvious what tankers are up to.

Enough of that. Let's proceed to the other Shibboleth of the off season. How the Hell do we speed this freaking game up?

Well...it's not a pitch clock, that's for damn sure! They've been testing it out in the minors and whole games are going by with nobody getting within 5 seconds of an infraction on a twenty second pitch clock. They figure the rule will only affect about ten of the most “deliberate” pitchers if they enforce it at all. My suggestions:

1/just tell the umpires to keep the batters in the box except for when they take a close one up and in or something and have to dust themselves off.

2/start the pitch clock sooner.

3/Limit visits to the mound.

4/limit warmup pitches between innings and from relievers (what have they been doing out there in the bullpen if not warming up?)

5/realize that if every pitcher in the world were like Bob Gibson (“Get your ass in the box cause I'm throwing it NOW, SUCKER!”) or Grover Alexander (“I only take 4 warmup pitches but I pitched 18 innings in the last three days anyway so I think I'm ready.”) or Cy Young (“Let's see...749 complete games...that's more than almost any other starter has had in APPEARANCES...I guess I've done MY part.”) we wouldn't be having this conversation. So stop walking around the mound and throw the damn ball.

Another thing not to do is this screw loose idea of mandating that each pitcher throw to at least 3 batters before you can relieve him. Unless the inning ends before three batters I guess, or else you couldn't pinch hit for him (NL only) in the next offensive half inning? There would also be a lot of fake injuries so they could get permission to take the guy out instead of making him face a tough batter.

Teams and managers have gone crazy with matchups. The penalty for this specialization is a roster with 13 pitchers, most of whom throw to only one or two batters before they are replaced. In extra inning games they still run out of pitchers and have to let an infielder come in and throw eephus balls. I agree that this is ridiculous.

As I've said before, what's coming is expanding the roster to 26 but limiting the staff to 12 or 13. That's so they'll use the 26th man to be a bench hitter/fielder. Of course, this won't stop the other trend… three way pitcher/hitter/fielders to give versatility to the roster. A team full of Ohtanis if you will. This ain't a bad idea. It'll be like school ball still is...the best players pitch and hit and field another position or two when they aren't on the mound. What's not to like?

More ideas:

6/remove two 30 second commercials from each half inning...add two extra ones back during the seventh inning stretch. That's fifteen minutes you've shortened the game by. The networks aren't going to lose that commercial time anyway...they'll just use it on their next reality show that gets twice the ratings of a stodgy old ball game (at least in the regular season) anyway. They can still run spots to their limit during pitching changes and (PLEASE!) during replay checks.

press time note: the major leagues are looking into starting innings on half the TV screen while commercials run on the other half. What a brave stand for the sanctity of the game THAT is!*

7/shorten the damn replay checks! Just have the guy in New York make the call if he sees an egregious mistake. Have him wired up to the head ump and call it and get on with the game. Managers can still call for a replay but they won't have to if the video ump has the authority to fix the call.

8/don't be too precious about “preserving the fabric of the game”. Baseball has instituted revolutionary “fixes” before and sailed merrily along. Moving the mound back from 45 feet to 60 feet 1 inch helped the game in 1894...and that's a radical change that became necessary when Amos Rusie started throwing 98 mile an hour fastballs.
We've survived the infield fly rule, the balk rule, the designated hitter and does anybody remember when you were allowed to hit a baserunner in the ass with a thrown ball to record an out? This was the game in the nineteenth century, aka, “The Good Old Days”.

What I'm leading up to is this: if nothing else works consider a 7 inning game. (Yes, I understand that the gnashing sound I hear is your teeth grinding on my neck) But what would actually happen if all games were 7 innings?

Most games today take 3 hours, give or take. The first 6 innings take 2 hours and the last 3 innings take another hour with all the relief pitchers and stra-tee-gery. So you could expect most games to take about 2:15 to 2:30. Knock down the commercials and replays and make it 2 hours. Take the kids home and get 'em to bed by 10.

But, you'd also have quicker games because you'd have many more complete games pitched by your starters. Nowadays most managers want to get their starters out of there before the lineup turns over 3 times, and that is a lot closer to 6 or 7 innings. You'd definitely use less pitchers in a seven inning contest. Stats? The game stats would be different because most hitters wouldn't get up to bat 5 times a game. Shutouts would be forever changed but they're almost extinct anyway. Season stats would be just as meaningful because they'd still be cumulative, albeit based on fewer plate appearances in a season.

Your players would be less fatigued. Also, you could keep the nine inning games in the playoffs if you insisted. And it would be easier to play the inevitable rain out make up double headers. And 7 inning games are still the norm in many spring training, school and young player leagues. It's just not that radical a change.

All in all the seven inning game would cure the curse of the late finish (does anybody really like staying up past midnight to see the end of a baseball game?) and let the youth of America watch games through to the end, whether live or televised.

Gnash on Dear Readers, Gnash on…

Ok, enough kvetching...let's talk about the season ahead.

The Boston Red Sox ended the season on a very high note by demonstrating how much team spirit can affect the outcome of the games. I guess we knew this from watching the Yankees of the Derek Jeter/Paul O'Neil/Jorge Posada/Andy Pettite/Mariano Rivera era. Or the “We Are Family” Pirates of '79. Even though sometimes a team full of quarreling churls can succeed...the Oakland Athletics of the '70s for example.

But the 2018 Red Sox, just like the Houston Astros of 2017 who preceded them into team Valhalla, showed what can happen when there's a lot of love and support and smiling superstars (Mookie, Jose Altuve etc).

The Sox won the Series in the third game when Nathan Eovaldi pitched 7 extra innings after pitching twice already in the first two games. He lost the game on a homer by Max “Yard Gnome” Muncy. You'd think that would have broken the spirit of the Sox, but instead they rallied around their heroic pitcher and hugged themselves into a firm conviction that they could win. And they did. The Dodgers were left waiting for Manny Machado to do something besides not run out extra base hits. Game Set Match.

All the interesting action this year should be in the National League. Boston, New York and Houston are probably locks for the AL Playoffs.

In the AL East, Boston didn't add much, but they retained Eovaldi and WS MVP Steve Pearce. They're letting closer Kimbrel walk but after watching him pour gas on the fire in the Playoffs, that's probably a wise decision. They for sure aren't going to give Craig the 6 year multi-million contract he's stubbornly demanding, so their bullpen might be weakened. The Sox also lost “Fighting Joe” Kelly to the Dodgers. (That hurts because Kelly was inconsistent but gutsy. He gave his best for the Sox and he beat up Yankee rookies who dared to complain about fastballs aimed at their backsides).

New York is very scary looking again. They kept everybody they wanted and beefed up an already stuffed bullpen. (Chapman, Britton, Ottavino, Chad Green, Kahnle, Bettances...and more!) The Yankees probably have the best bullpen ever assembled. Really….there's about six closers on that roster! Their starters are not as good as the Sox have, but that's not where games are won in the 21st century. They did add leftie James Paxton from Seattle. He only threw a no-hitter last year. (His last three pitches were strikes to Josh Donaldson...98mph, 100mph, 99mph. Over and Out.)

If their young players like Voit, Andujar, Torres and Gary Sanchez can maintain, and they play Aaron Hicks more than Brett Gardner in center, the Yankees might be the first team in history to have nine players in their batting order hit at least 20 homers this season. That was once unimaginable. Frank Cashman has retired the trophy for best general manager. He added Troy Tulowitzki to play short until Didi Gregorius heals. (for a one year contract at the league minimum! Brilliant move!) Also DJ LeMahieu (a former batting champion!) from Colorado to back up the infield.

About the only problems the Yankees have are what to do with the long term contract of totally unproductive Jacobi Ellsbury and how to survive catcher Gary Sanchez's many Dr. Stoneglove adventures behind the plate trying to corral breaking pitches from a staff of breaking ball specialists.

The Red Sox may have to win 118 games to finish first in the East this year. Maybe Aaron Judge will play “New York, New York” too loud on his boom box again and inspire them.

The Houston Astros should cruise in the AL West. None of the other western teams have beefed up to any degree and Seattle has cashed in their chips for a rebuild.

The Angels are continuing to try to win with older players and it's not working. Mike Trout will soon vacate the team with only one playoff appearance to show for his whole career thus far.

Oakland stands pat as usual...almost time to trade all your stars Mr. Moneyball!

Texas might surprise us. They have some good everyday players, even with Beltre retiring. If those aging pitchers come through for them they could finish...third?

Cleveland still has the advantage in the AL Central, but their margin is much thinner after losing half their team to free agency and financially necessary trades. Bradley, Encarnacion, catcher Yan Gomes and Josh Donaldson are gone from the lineup and they lost a bunch of their pitching too. (Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Josh Tomlin.) There was talk that Corey Kluber and/or Carlos Carrasco were on the block. Thus die all small market teams. Cleveland is leaning very heavily on Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and their starters to keep them upright, but there is no doubt they are coming back to earth. And Lindor is starting the year hurt.

Minnesota is nipping at the Cleveland heals. They've signed about four DH types though, (Sano, Cruz, Logan Morrison) so they may beach themselves.

The White Sox are still a year away from really competing because their young pitching is not quite ready. They have young hitters though. Watch out for Eloy Jimenez...he's 6'4”, 220 lbs. And powerful. He might be a great one.

Kansas City will play small ball and be feisty, but not feisty enough to win anything.

Detroit is going to have a brutal season.

Why am I excited about the NL? Because we have a 4 team race in the East, a 3 team race in the Central, and a 1 team wipeout in the West. (Well, two out of three ain't bad!)

Let's not even go into the West. The Dodgers are fat and happy. They even almost scored Harper and thus totally destroy any possible hint of drama. The Arizona Diamondbacks lost their two best hitters in Goldschmidt (to the Cardinals) and Pollack (to the Dodgers!)and their Number Two starter in Patrick Corbin (to the Nationals!). So play Taps for them. They not only lost their stars, but they have to watch them play for the best teams in the league!

If you think Machado to the Padres is going to worry the Dodgers think again. The Padres will be better but there's still this little matter called pitching.

Colorado is celebrating signing an extension with Nolan Arenado...and good for him staying loyal faithful and true to his original team (at the bargain price of more than 32 million + a year for 8 years!) Won't matter….they coughed up furballs against the Brewers in the Playoffs and don't have enough to challenge Los Angeles.

San Francisco? They could turn back time and get a young Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda plus Juan Marichal and still not win. Too many old, hurt players on their team. I hope they don't trade Bumgarner though...there has to be somebody there that the fans like to watch.

The NL Central will be a fur fight for a bunch of teams that really compete with each other every year. The Cubs have been on top in this division but the Brewers took them down last year. Then the Brew Crew went out and did...NOTHING! They needed starters but got nobody! Stupid Brewers! Now is the time to press! You can win the pennant! Stupid Brewers!

The Cubs got body slammed when they spent all their money on Yu Darvish (hurt arm) and got Bryant hurt (shoulder). Plus they're still being bled dry by the Jason Heyward contract. (Didn't that guy used to hit?) That $78 million they gave Heyward is what it cost Chicago to break the curse...it was no hit good field Heyward who got the team into the weight room for that little pep talk that had them come out swinging in the Series 7th game win over the Indians. So the Cubs did nothing this winter to improve. They're just hoping Darvish can pitch this year and Bryant's shoulder heals. And they hope that Javier Baez's break out season was a sign of things to come. He carried them for long stretches last year.

The third team in the mix is the strangely inconsistent St. Louis Cardinals. But this year, I think the addition of Paul Goldschmidt, a steady, quiet leader, will mix well and get Marcell Ozuna better pitches to hit. The pitching is deep and effective as long as Yadier Molina is calling the games. Carpenter had an awesome hot streak in mid-year and should make a smooth transition to third base to make room for Goldy. I like the Cards in the division this year.

The Cincinnati Reds are not going to win yet, but they are improving. After watching attendance drop for the last four or five years, they suddenly realized that they need some players that people want to watch and traded for Puig and Matt Kemp from the Dodgers. This allowed them to dump the remnants of Homer Bailey (Pride of La Grange Texas!) and they shipped off Sliding Billy Hamilton as well. Nobody could ever teach Billy how to work a base on balls (OBP .299!) or hit grounders that he could run out for base hits. What a waste of world class speed. Anyway, I think it would be great to see the Reds really compete again. Hope they do.

Pirates likewise, but that owner is not in it to win it. What does he do with all the penalty cash he collects from the teams that go over the salary cap? (oh, sorry, we all know that baseball doesn't have a salary cap! Heavens! The very thought!) Anyway, it's for sure that he's not spending it on players.

We have saved the best for last. The truly interesting division in baseball this year could possibly be the NL East.

4 teams are actually competing, and it's difficult to tell who's favored!

Dismiss Miami. They are deep in Tanksville and will lose 110 games or so this season. But Atlanta won it last year and they are at least as good as they were in 2018 with genuine hopes for improvement from some of their young pitchers. The Phillies signed Harper and a few more studs and look a whole lot stronger. The Nationals lost Harper but gained another Ace pitcher in Corbin and still have Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg. And even the New York Mets have suddenly come to life and decided to try to win something.

The Mets made some splashy moves in getting Jed Lowrie from Oakland and Edwin “Sugar” Diaz (57 saves) from Seattle. And of course the splashiest move was getting Robbie Cano from Seattle. But Robbie is going to be 37 and the rest of their offensive core...Lowrie, Frazier and Cespedes... are also well into their thirties and have a history of injuries. So once again the Mets fans are pointing at a cardboard house and seeing a castle. Last year the Metskies featured an awesome starting rotation and had bad defense and terrible offense to back it up. This year they've gone out and got some “names” but these names are usually those you see on the DL. They need Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto to step up and be stars. And if their starters DeGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler and Metz can get through a year without spraining a lat the Mets might do something. I have them pegged for fourth.

Down in Atlanta everything is peachy. Last year they finally went back to the playoffs and if their pitching improves they could go even further. But I just don't see this staff standing up alongside the Nationals, the Mets or even the Phillies. The Braves have some talent...like Touki Toussaint...but are unproven. Plus they play in home run heaven down there in Delta town. The offense is pretty strong if Markakis, Albeis and Inciarte can come close to last year's production and Acuna and Freeman stay healthy. But one thing's for sure...the Braves are coming. They have an awesome farm system with arms forever (righties Kyle Wright, Ian Anderson and Mike Soroka) and more team speed and good position players galore. This year? Drop back a little to third.

I've already talked about the Phillies and I must say it's about time they were relevant again. I'm concerned that their manager, Gabe Kapler, is a little too wonkish for his own good. He overuses the bullpen and favors matchups over all reason. We will see how he handles the team now that Harper is the centerpiece. Last year the Phillies had just terrible defense. Now they've got a better shortstop in Jean Segura and especially the best catcher available in J.T. Realmuto. Harper is an upgrade in right or center, wherever they put him, and they finally get Rhys Hoskins out of left and back to his natural position of first base. Should help. The pitching is not overpowering, but they signed Nola to a long term and Arrieta is good and possibly great if he can find his mojo again like Verlander did a couple of years ago. A solid second place team.

And now the Nationals. Wouldn't it be ironic if the Nationals got rid of Harper and finally won the pennant and went to the World Series? They have the talent to do that. Except for perhaps, the Dodgers, the Nats are the deepest club in the National League. The rotation is stronger than the Dodgers or anybody else in the league with Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin and Anibel Sanchez. The bullpen has Sean Doolittle, Matt Grace, Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough.

They picked up Brian Dozier to play second. He was hurt last year but at 32 shouldn't be done. When he's on he's a dangerous hitter and a Yard Dog competitor. The infield also has Anthony Rendon back at third as well as shortstop Trea Turner, who played every game last year and stole a lot of bases. The big tick up comes in the outfield, where phenom Victor Robles adds his speed and defense to the lineup in center and Juan Soto is available for the full season. Juan had an OPS of .923 last year with 22 dingers in a short season. He looked really good. Bryce who? First place.


Hope you enjoyed the rap. I'll be back later…

Marco






Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Marco's Baseball Blog-O-Roonie 2018: NINE REASONS...


MARCO'S BASEBALL BLOG-O-ROONIE 2018: NINE REASONS…

... WHY THE RED SOX WILL WIN THE WORLD SERIES

1/ Hot Hitters. The Red Sox just carved up the team with the best bullpen in baseball (New York Yankees) and the team with the best starting staff in baseball (Houston Astros). The Dodgers' staff is good, but not as good as either of those two teams. The hallmark of hot hitters is hitting with two strikes and hitting with two outs. A lot of Sox hitters have been coming through in those situations a lot of the time in the Playoffs.

2/Too many K's. The Dodgers play “Big Swing” baseball. They don't care if they strike out a lot as long as they hit a homer every now and then. Against good pitching they can go very cold. Against the Brewers good staff they had more strike outs than hits.
The Red Sox had more hits than strike outs in the ALCS against one of the best strike out rotations of all time. (Verlander, Cole, Morton, Keuchel plus McCullers)

3/Fenway Park. Fenway is the weirdest park in the majors, especially the outfield. None of the Dodger outfielders have ever played there. The Red Sox have a great outfield who know the strange bounces in right field (the Pesky Pole), left field (remember the ball bouncing like a demented rat down the padding on Bradley Jrs. double in ALCS game two?), the odd triangle in center where Bradley's glove is where triples go to die and of course the famous Green Monster where Benitendi is an expert playing the caroms. Good luck to the Dodger left fielders trying to get used to the Wall. Also, with almost no foul ground down the lines, its easy for outfielders who don't have the feel of the field (sorry) to go crashing into walls chasing shots down the line.

4/ Bring out your Southpaws. The Dodger pitching rotation features three lefties. The Red Sox have killed lefties all year. And lefties have to know how to deal with right handed power hitters in Fenway. They have to learn to prevent them from pulling bombs. The Dodger pitchers just haven't had the experience at Fenway.

5/Mookie Betts is due. The Red Sox just murdered two of the best teams in baseball with their best player and presumptive league MVP batting .205.

6/Tired Bullpen. The Dodgers have a good pen but they overused it getting through the Milwaukee series. The Red Sox used their's too, but didn't have the work load that the Dodgers did. Also, it's hard to imagine Craig Kimbrel, the Sox closer, pitching any worse. He was evidently tipping his breaking balls and hitters could lay off. His control of his fastball was also way off. He did better in Game 5 against Houston. Maybe he'll be back in balance.

Alex Cora has fearlessly used his starters as strategic relief specialists. Sale, Price, Porcello and especially Eovaldi have all made effective relief appearances to muscle up the Sox bullpen. It hasn't affected their next starts very much and they helped the Sox win some games.

Dave Roberts has used Kershaw and his other starters out of the pen too, but it seems to have taxed them a little bit more.

7/Catching. The Dodgers had to sit Yasmani Grandal (love that name) after a 2 error, 3 passed ball game cost Kershaw. Barnes is better defensively but not as good offensively. They are now afraid to even play Grandal. The Red Sox don't depend on their catchers for offense. But both Sox catchers...Vasquez and Leon... are great blocking pitches in the dirt, throwing and calling the game. The main thing is, the Sox can rotate their catchers without worrying about defense in tight ballgames.

8/Offensive philosophy. The Dodgers are updated and Twenty-First Century...everybody go into launch mode and don't stop hacking. The Sox take walks, hit grounders through the holes and don't always hit into the shift. They are very early Twentieth Century with bunts, hit and runs (which are almost extinct in modern baseball) and lots of steals. And they still led baseball in extra base hits, average, runs etc. etc.

It's a winning philosophy in the current environment because they can hit velocity and keep pressure on teams with lots of runners on base.

9/”Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics”. That's a famous quote from Mark Twain and it applies to these two teams. Don't listen to people who say these two teams are “so even”. The Dodgers had a stacked lineup and got one of the best players in baseball (Machado) to help them in the stretch. Even with a MUCH better pitching staff, they barely won a fairly weak division (flawed Colorado and Arizona, crippled San Francisco and rebuilding San Diego). The general level of competition in the National League was much lower this year and the Dodgers should have hammered teams. They didn't.
The Red Sox faced another 100-win team in their division in the Yanks and the team with the best record in baseball in the second half in Tampa Bay plus an outclassed but scrappy
team in Toronto in their division. They had one patsy in Baltimore. The American League had very dangerous teams this season...Cleveland, Houston, Oakland and Seattle.
The Red Sox won going away with a record 108 wins. Boston is obviously the better team.

The Series will be decided by these factors:
1/Top starters. Kershaw is a little better than Sale coming off injury. Rookie Walker Buehler (the Dodgers only rightie starter) with his good stuff is probably even with a newly resurrected David Price. But Eovaldi has found his confidence and with that fastball is much tougher than either Ryu or Rich Hill as a third starter. Porcello is at least even with whichever of those two Dodgers pitches the other game.

2/Right handed sluggers. Manny Machado and Justin “Yard Gnome” Turner are consistently dangerous hitters from the right side. The Boston lefties have to negotiate them.
Betts and J.D. Martinez are murderous against lefties. Which pair of sluggers will have the better series?

3/The strangely inconsistent secondary hitters. The Dodgers have Bellinger who can rake with the best but struck out 17 times in the post season last year. They have Puig who for some reason can't hit lefties at all, can scare you to death with his opposite field power or can go into a complete hitting miasma of swinging at unhittable sliders in the dirt. Max Muncy is another player who can kill you one day and wear golden sombreros of 4 strike-out-games the next.

The Beantowners have their own cadre of mystery hitters. Jackie Bradley Jr. is a perfect example. He batted barely Mendoza level in the regular season and hit only .200 in the Playoffs, yet was the playoff MVP with 9 ribbies on 3 huge, game winning hits. Eduardo Nunez plays alternately brilliant and Strange-glovian defense and alternately hits really bad pitches for extra base hits when he's not grounding into double plays. Rafael Devers is a goofy kid who hits like he doesn't have a conscience and seems to enjoy striking out as much as he enjoys hitting long bombs.

Who gets hot and who tanks?

4/Extra first sackers. L.A. brings out former Series MVP David Freese to play against left-handed pitchers and play first base. He's dangerous and often overlooked. Steve Pearce has played way above his head this post season and a lot more than he expected because of Mitch Moreland's leg injury.

These are the kinds of guys who can surprise you in a short series.

5/Platoons. Casey Stengel would be proud. Both of these teams are skillful platooners. Alex Cora uses two catchers, two second basemen (Kinsler, Brock Holt) and even three if Mookie plays some second base in L.A. to keep J.D. Martinez in the lineup. He also mixes Nunez in with Devers at third and Moreland with Pearce at first. Each of the three main Bosox outfielders can play great center field when required.

Dave Roberts has one of the most versatile lineups ever, with 7 players playing double digit games at second base. (Logan Forsyth, Chase Utley, Max Muncy, Austin Barnes, Brian Dozier, Enrique Hernandez, Chris Taylor). Bellinger shifted from center field to first base which is weird and Hernandez and Taylor hopped around from outfield to infield all year. It's really hard to get an advantage against the Dodgers versatility in the platooning department.

Milwaukee tried the “Lie like a dog” starting pitcher gambit: they announced left-hander Miley as a starter, then pitched him to one batter and brought in the right hander to foil the right handed Dodger lineup for that game. Roberts didn't sweat it, he just moved a guy from there to here and brought in one new player and adjusted.

Who gets the Cecil Tovar* Memorial Versatility award?
*(an almost forgotten but very good player who manned all the infield and outfield positions for Minnesota back in the late sixties and seventies. He's one of only six players to have played all nine positions in a single game. I know it's just a stunt, but Tovar was truly versatile.)

This series will probably come down to some big confrontations:

David Price will have to pitch to Manny Machado with the tying runs on base.

Kenley Jansen has to pitch to a wild child like Rafy Devers after intentionally walking Martinez.

Or Craig Kimbrel stares out of his red-beard-pre-wind-up-crouch at Justin Turner's red-beard-batting stance in an Epic, “Night of the Yard Gnomes” moment.

Sox in Six!

Enjoy the Torment!

And Happy Halloween!
--Marco

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Marco's Baseball Blog-O-Roonie 2018: MLB PLayoffs...Sublime to Ridiculous


MARCO'S BASEBALL BLOG-O-ROONIE 2018: MLB PLAYOFFS...FROM SUBLIME TO RIDICULOUS

Game 4 in the AL Playoffs between Houston and Boston: SUBLIME.
Game 4 in the NL Playoffs between Los Angeles and Milwaukee: RIDICULOUS.

That's the gist of it. Let me defend my thesis:

Houston and Boston are similar teams. They feature relentless offense. 1-9 the Bostonians can pummel you. (Well, maybe not the catchers Vasquez and Sandy Leon, but even they run into one now and again and I actually witnessed Vasquez executing a perfect hit-and-run to right field the other day. Mostly he and Sandy are bad hitters. Real bad. But they're so good at defense you have to forgive them.)
The Houstonians are maybe even better 1-9 than Boston. They tend to go for the homer a little more often but if you played in Minute Maid Park you would too.
Both teams have great personality, confidence and plate discipline.

The differences are Houston has great starters and a better bullpen. Boston has delicate starters and suspect bullpen guys. Or at least that was the general impression going in. Also, the Astros have terrific infield defense and the Sox have terrific outfield defense. Anyway, these teams looked pretty even going into the series except for pitching. So naturally I picked Houston.

The Astros came out banging and the Red Sox didn't. The Sox looked understandably rusty after a long week's layoff. The 'Stros had a shorter time to wait and they came out hotter. Also, the Astros have old pro and resurrected Ace Justin Verlander to trance-dance (No kidding! That's what he does! Nobody can hardly talk to him all week!) his way through an excellent outing. Chris Sale is as good or better than Justin when he's healthy, but he had shoulder problems late in the season and hasn't gotten his strength back. Or his fastball. The Astros take Game 1 in Fenway and look strong.

But the Bosox got a couple of doubles from Mookie Betts and a miraculous bases loaded double off the wall from Jackie Bradley Jr. of all people and surprised the Astros and their other great starter Gerrit Cole in Game 2.
The Bosox starter David Price looked bad as usual but the much maligned Boston bullpen pitched great and kept the Astros from rallying. Except for their closer, Kid Heart Attack Kimbrel. He's a mess right now. Can't find the plate with either fastball or breaking pitch. He gave up an rbi single to Altuve in the ninth and then had Alex Bregman (who the Red Sox are walking or hitting with pitches instead of letting him get any good swings) hit a fly to the base of the wall for out 3.

In Game 3 the Bosox brought out their new gun, Nathan Eovaldi from Alvin, Texas and he channeled Nolan Ryan (who was sitting behind home plate) and busted several 100mph pitches passed the startled Astros.

Maybe Bregman shouldn't have instagrammed that video of the 'Stros hitting 4 homers off Nathan when Eovaldi was playing for Tampa Bay? Didn't they notice what the Bosox did after Aaron Judge tickled their chin with his boom box rendition of 'New York, New York' after the Yankees won a game at Boston in the Division Playoff? Keep teasing them. They seem to like it.

This time Bradley pulled a Grand Slam out of his ample heinie and bitter, surprising defeat for Houston ensued. Boston wins 8-2 and goes up 2 games to 1 in the series.
Now the Sox know they will be going back to Fenway unless they sweep the Astros at home (which seems highly unlikely).

Game 4 turned into the most entertaining game of the season that I saw. It's right up there with Game 5 of last year's epic contest with the Dodgers and the Astros in Houston. Of course, Houston fans won't agree, but remember I picked Houston to win this series, even though I am a permanently scarred Red Sox fan since boyhood. (So that makes me unbiased and objective!)

The top of the Bosox lineup again came through with Betts getting hit by the curveballer, rusty Charlie Morton, and Andrew Benintendi moving him over on a right side grounder. The Red Sox have been doing that a lot. Playing basic baseball and not trying to hit a damn home run every swing. (Maybe the Dodgers and Brewers will take notes!) J.D. Martinez hasn't gotten but a couple of big hits in this series, but he's had long at bats, singles and walks to keep the line moving. He walks here and then Bogaerts strikes out on some great pitches by Morton. The runners advance to second and third on a passed ball by Astros Maldonado. (Aside: Maldonado won a gold glove and it's just absurd to even compare him to the Red Sox catchers when it comes to blocking pitches in the dirt. Maldonado has an awesome arm, but he has bad footwork and turns his glove the wrong way over and over on curveballs in the dirt. Vasquez and Leon do a much better job of helping out their pitchers by blocking those dirtballs. These guys are doing the most important work for a catcher, that's why they're still in the lineup even when they hit .180!)

First big moment of the game here in the top of the first and...Baby Bull Rafael Devers actually cuts down on his insanely huge swing and hits a single to left to score two! (That's the other thing...the Sox swing from the heels early in the count like everybody else, but they tend to cut down and just try to meet the ball with two strikes a lot more often than most of the hotshot hitters we've got today. Thanks to Alex Cora for that. He insists on using bunts, the hit and run, more stolen bases and especially 'productive outs' to keep adding runs. That's why the Sox led the majors in scoring, not because they homered a whole lot more than everybody else.)

Bottom of the 1st and the 'Stros come right back. Bregman gets a hit and then Altuve swats one into the first row of the right field pavilion. Except Betts leaps high, high into the air and gets his glove on it. I hope you saw this instantly famous play, because it's hard to describe it. Umpire Joe West called it fan interference...Altuve is out.
The pundits mostly said it should have been a homer because Betts' glove was over the edge of the wall into the stands when the fan's hands hit his glove. Here's how I saw it:

!/The front row fans...mainly 3 guys...had their hands over the edge of the fence in the field of play waiting to catch the ball.
2/Betts went up in the field of play and HIS GLOVE MADE CONTACT WITH SEVERAL HANDS IN THE FIELD OF PLAY.
3/The fans pulled their hands back out of the field of play as the ball came down aiming right for the heart of Betts' glove, and…
4/there was CONTACT between the glove and at least 5 hands, even if the contact was OUT OF THE FIELD OF PLAY. But…
5/some of the fans' arms and hands were still hanging over the fence in the field of play even though they weren't making contact with Betts at that moment.
6/so what is the intent of the rule? By touching him in the field of play as Betts went up for the catch, weren't the fans interfering with him? Or is it just where the ball is at the moment he touches it?
7/how can you blame the fans? They sold them those seats and they have a right to put their hands up to keep from being hit in the belly with a baseball, right?

I suppose MLB could mandate that all seats be back from the fences so there would never be contact ever again between fan and player, but wouldn't we all be the loser? That was an exciting, incredible play...and right on the borderline between interference and a homer. What made it special was what a great effort Betts was making. He really looked like he was about to catch that ball until contact with somebody's hand closed his glove. The ball hit off the closed mitt.

That would have been an all-time catch. Or it would have been another clutch home run from one of the best baseball players of his time, Jose Altuve, who can't even play the field with his bum knee. But he keeps hitting balls off and over fences and hustles and bunts and slides and does every damn thing in the world to help his team win. Betts and Altuve: two of a kind...the BEST kind of player.

Other notable defensive plays in this game:
1/Kemp hits a liner down the right field line but makes the mistake of trying to stretch it into a double. Betts races to the ball well up the line in right, pivots and fires a laser to second to nail him. The run, the pivot, the throw. All amazing.

2/Reddick dives for a late inning drive by Betts and backhands it...an even better play than Benintendi's game ender because he did it backhand.

3/Steve Pearce, 36 years old, dives into the Astro's dugout after a foul pop and somersaults onto the deck. As is customary, none of the opposing players try to catch him or cushion his fall as he tries to get an out on them, but they jump up to help him when he can't reach the ball. You've got to appreciate a player like that, having his first big moment in the spotlight after a lifetime of waiting to get into the Big Games. (He saved the Red Sox season with his agile stretch for Nunez's throw to get the last out of the Yankees series. Hit some homers too.)

4/George Springer...The Champagne Super Nova of the Playoffs with now 11 homers (!!), goes to deepest centerfield trying to catch Vasquez's double. He jumps up high on the wall, but with no fans to interfere with him...he misses it.

5/Bregman makes another awesome leaping stop and throw to retire yet another Red Sock. Without him the Sox would have already won this series. Just his defense! Alex made 5 top plays in the first game alone!

6/Benintendi's all-or-nothing dive to preserve the win and rescue Craig Kimbrel from his latest flirtation with blown save disaster. Craig-O is living on borrowed time. He's allowed at least a run in four straight appearances. Benintendi is the Italian Stallion of the moment.

This game see-sawed. The Red Sox would score, the Astros would come back. Morton and Porcello were both out early, their curve balls not finding the plate. I thought the Astros had struck gold with Josh James, the big reliever who throws 102. He was pumped, that's for sure. He could have been the hero but they left him in too long and Bradley connected with a tater to right. (His 3rd hit in the series...giving him 9 ribbies on 3 hits!)

The Astros' bullpen finally let them down when McCullers, Sipp and Pressley couldn't stem the tide. They brought McCullers in to pitch curveballs to Brock Holt with the bases loaded and he walked in a run.
*********
So much for sublimity. Over in the National League they were playing New Baseball! It's such fun! Everybody swings for the fences and strikes out all the time! And there's no scoring! Just one pitcher after another, all throwing 100. What a wonderful exhibition of...not much.

Ridiculous! So what if the 4th game was a 14 inning 5 ½ hour game? It was boring!!!! A 1 to 1 tie until the Dodgers finally scored one courtesy of a clutch hit by...Bellinger! That's right, last year's World Series goat is the only player on either team that I can remember cutting down on his swing with 2 outs and a runner in scoring position and serving it to the opposite field away from the stacked defensive shift! He's done it a few times so far and thanks to him the Dodgers have a 3-2 lead in games.

The Brewers had chances, but they disdained going for the simple, puny single that might have won the game for them. Even with a player on second with nobody out they kept trying to pull it over the shift. Strike out after strike out. Futile, ugly, selfish baseball. 32 Ks in that 4th game, I think 13 hits it was.

Congratulations Boys! You have actually found the perfect recipe to make Baseball, the greatest game ever invented...SUCK!

The Dodgers won the 5th game behind a fine outing from Clayton Kershaw, who only throws it about 90 nowadays but mixes his pitches and hits his spots. Even without his famous Hammer curveball he can handle a bunch of prima donnas like the home run happy Brew Crew.

There are a lot of villains in this series. Few heroes.

Christian Yelich, the consensus MVP after his red hot September, is a good, hustling ball player. But he sat for a week waiting for the series to start and that was that for his hot streak. Now he's turning over on everything he swings at. The most noise he's made is calling out Manny Machado for being a dirty player.

Machado is a dirty player of course, but it wasn't polite of Christian to criticize poor he! All Manny did was try to clip his friend(!yes... Friend!) Jesus Aguilar's ankle on a routine grounder when Jesus left his foot on half the bag a little too long. Incorrect of Jesus (who looks a whole lot like Shrek!) I'm sure, so why not cripple him for life, Manny? I was happy to see the Brewer's pitcher hit Manny in the ass in the next game. Manny had a press conference in which he explained that “he was just trying to win.” How's that again?

Does some team really want to give this guy a $300 million contract?

How about Josh Hader, the lightning fast leftie reliever of the Milwaukees? He makes big league hitters look stupid. Then he goes home and tweets (or instagrams...who can keep track of all this nonsense?) his friends and calls other people racist names. At least he did before. He's apologized now. Another racist saved by complete transformation and contrition courtesy of social media.

You already have heard me rail enough about the Brewers' 'team leader' Ryan Braun. (On second thought maybe you haven't!) He apologized too...just not to the lab guy who took his urine sample a few years ago and when it was discovered to be dirty, claimed that the lab guy must have spiked it to frame him. You never apologized to that guy, did you Ryan? You never gave back the MVP trophy you cheated to win, either. Screw you Ryan, I will never put your name in bold face. (That'll learn him!)

The Brewers that I like are Lorenzo Cain...great D and a natural leader. Mike Moustakas...(Moose!) and the relief pitcher Brandon Woodruff who homered off of Clayton Kershaw and looked like Jim Thome doing it.

The Dodgers are up 3-2 in games. Who knows what will happen back in Milwaukee? I predicted the Brewers because of all their relief pitchers, but both teams are playing so ugly that I have no idea who will prevail. Whoever it is won't be able to handle the Al champion, whoever it is.

As far as Game 5 of the AL Playoffs, I can't believe the Astros can lose 3 straight games in their home park. But if anybody can do it, the Red Sox can, because they are disciplined pros. But I really think Verlander will paste the Red Sox tonight.

Back at Fenway it's hard to believe the Sox won't win one to take the Series, but here is what I think (and dread) will happen:

Game 5: Verlander beats David Price and the overpitched Bosox bullpen. The Astros probably hit and score 10 runs or so.

Game 6: Gerrit Cole is not so nervous this time pitching in the Fens and he shellacks the Sox and a game but tired armed Chris Sale. Bregman goes off and peppers balls off and over the wall.

Game 7: The Sox bring out their secret New Ace...Nathan Eovaldi... who fans 10 and leaves with a lead over the Astros and their entire pitching staff, including Verlander and Cole.

But Alex Cora calls on Craig Kimble one more time... and this time Kimbrel walks the winning runs on base and loses the Series on a hit by Carlos Correa... or Marwin Gonzalez or Jose Altuve or Alex Bregman or George Springer. The Astros have some pretty good players.

(Did you really think that after picking the Astros all season I was going to change my vote to the Red Sox at the last minute and jinx them? No way!)

I'll blog some more before the World Series. I'm sure that is comforting to you…

Best always,

Marco



Saturday, October 13, 2018

Marco's Baseball Blog-O-Roonie 2018: Playoffs...Here's Hoping!


MARCO'S BASEBALL BLOG-O-ROONIE 2018: PLAYOFFS—HERE'S HOPING

...for some semblance of a worthy baseball series contested with Spirit, Sportsmanship and Competitive Fire. I yearn for an exciting League Championship Series where both teams play well. I want Pete Rose coming up to the plate in the tenth inning and saying to the opposition's catcher Carlton Fisk...”Man, this is some kind of game! This is the best game I've ever been in, don't you think it is?” (1975 Series between Reds and Sox)

I don't want to watch the Colorado Rockies score 2 runs in one inning of one playoff game and never score again as they are eliminated in three straight by the Milwaukee Brewers. I find it disheartening to watch MVP contenders like Nolan Arenado flail helplessly at every slider in the dirt that a Brewers pitcher cared to throw him...every time a man was on base for him there was Nolan stomping back to the dugout with another “K” on his scorecard.
Nolan hit .188 for the series.

And he had plenty of company. The Rockies hitters....Desmond .118, Carlos Gonzalez .167,
Blackmon .133, LeMahieu .200. MVP candidate Story hit a blistering .278. The team went 1 for 17 with men on base in the three games. The Rockies were so utterly pathetic on offense that they never even bothered to use their best pitcher, Freeland, in the whole series.

The Dodgers-Braves series was also atrocious, even though the Braves won at least one game when Ronald Acuna, The Young Apollo, hit himself a Grand Salami. But that didn't make the series competitive. L.A. cut a Sherman-like swath through Georgia. But that's okay, the Bravos are young and hungry and they showed real promise as they won the NL East. They'll be back.

Stros-Indians? Are you kidding? I really thought the Indians were a good team, but this 3 game sweep by Houston proved me wrong. Ramirez was terrible in last year's playoffs and he was terrible again this year. 1 for 11. Everybody else was bad too. (Lindor did hit a couple of homers) The defense sucked. The pitching was spotty. Bauer came off an effective season and made errors that killed the Indians in Game 3.

Mainly, the Astros starting pitching just seemed to drain the lifeblood right out of the Clevelanders, as if Verlander and Garrett Cole were Gothic vampires and the Indians were Miss Lucy. After the first two games in Houston, the Cleveland team had very little fight left.

So that leaves us one Divisional Playoff Series that was worth keeping the tele on for: Boston-New York.

This whole series seemed to turn on one innocuous moment. The Red Sox had taken Game 1,as expected, behind their One True Ace Chris Sale. Then David Price came out and did his usual 'Please sir, can I have another?' act with his Dungeon Masters, the Yankee hitters. The Boston bullpen followed the script and 4 homers later the Yankees had a victory that wrested home field advantage away from the Sox.

After the game, though, the innocuous moment took place in the clubhouse, when Aaron Judge, the Bunyanesque Yankee slugger, walked past the Red Sox locker room with a boom box playing “New York, New York” at a notable volume.

Bad idea. It's called 'poking the cage' and it was just the thing to focus the Beantowners and motivate them. Game 3 back in New York: 16-1 Sox. The vaunted New York bullpen got cremated. They wound up pitching backup catcher Romine who allowed Brock Holt to complete the cycle with a cheap Yankee Stadium liner just over the short right field fence.

So Game 4. If the Yanks won, they'd go back to Fenway for a rematch with Sale. Sabathia starts the game and gets into trouble and somehow manager Aaron Boone loses the phone number of the bullpen and can't get another pitcher in there fast enough to prevent the Red Sox from scoring 3. Greatest bullpen in history and they can't bring in one of those 98mph arms to save the series?

The Red Sox don't have a great bullpen. So they feel lucky to get great innings from Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier. I'm not sure why they took Brasier out after only one inning...he looked sharp. But Alex Cora has other ideas.

Every move Cora made in this series seemed to turn golden for the Sox. He platooned his right and leftie hitters even after Holt hit for that cycle. But now he plays a trump card; he brings in Sale to pitch the 8th.

This was risky because if they lost this Game 4 they were depending on Sale to start the rubber game back at Fenway two days later. But, like I said, Boston has a lousy bullpen...they don't really have dependable arms to bridge from the starters to their closer Craig Kimbrel. So Cora risks using Sale to bridge and Sale comes through. In fact he carves the Yankees so expertly that I'm hoping Cora will bring Sale out for another inning, much as the Giants used Bumgarner to beat the Royals in 2014. But Bumgarner was pitching relief in the 7th game of the Series...it was all going to be over. Boston has to have Sale fresh for a possible Game 5. So out he comes and in comes Kimbrel for the ninth. Red Sox lead 4-1.

I never thought I'd miss Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams. You remember the hotheaded leftie closer with the good sense of humor who could come in throwing gas but walk the bases full every time? He gave up the walk off homer to Joe Carter in the '93 series between winner Toronto and Mitch's Phillies. Watching him pitch was like Chinese Water torture...the drip drip drip of yet another 3-0 count.

Kimbrel is throwing 100...but the balls are just all over the place. Catcher Vasquez saves the game several times blocking balls that are headed for the Durham bull if he'd been behind the dugout. The ball boy is in jeopardy. Judge walks on 4 straight. They play Kinsler over the bag at second but Kimbrel comes inside and Gregorius singles into right. Tying run at the plate. That didn't take long. Stanton strikes out because that's what he does. The Yankees are hungry like the wolf for the big dramatic homer that will affirm their dominance. Voit walks to load the bases. Walker is up and Kimbrel tries to throw a slider. Of course it hits Walker on the foot about two feet inside. A run in. 4-2. Bases still loaded.

Here's the crucial at bat. Cora has nobody in the bullpen; it's Kimbrel until death and death is gaining.

Sancho Panza Sanchez, the guy who hit two homers in Game 2, is up. He wants to hit another one so bad and he probably will, since Kimbrel can't control his pitches and is going to serve up a bunny over the plate sooner or later. But Sanchez is playing bad baseball. A homer wins the game for the Yanks and wouldn't he look special trotting around the bases like the Babe in olden days, doffing his cap to the adoring crowd?

But what he needs to do is hit a single. That would score the tying run from second base. Sanchez takes a tremendous hack on strike 2 and then hits a fly ball to left for a sac fly.

Tying run still on second and the Red Sox are close to the edge of another epic Bostonian nightmare collapse that fans can shudder to for the rest of their lives. I'm having PTSD Deja Voodoo all over again.

On Kimbrel's 30th pitch of the inning, rookie Gleyber Torres bounces a grounder to third. Nunez makes a great pickup and throws to first as the tying run approaches home. It's a bad throw, in the dirt and offline, but Steve Pierce makes the play of the series and dives into the dirt to glove the throw while just maintaining foot contact with first base. Review confirms: yer out!

Everybody mobs Kimbrel as if he's done something good. I betcha 40 New Englanders lie dead on the floor after watching him pitch that inning.

CONFIDENT PREDICTION:

The Brewers will win Game 1 of their Playoff series with the Dodgers!

Ok, you got me. My computer went haywire last night and I couldn't finish this screed. By the time my grandson could fix it (he can run it remotely to see what hell I have wrought on his precious technology) Game 1 was in the books for the Crew. Good game too except for Yasmani Grandal, the Dodger's catcher, making 2 errors and 2 passed balls in the first 3 innings! Kershaw took the loss but that one was on Grandal.

I'm picking Milwaukee to win this series because:

1/home field advantage
2/hottest team going into playoffs
3/hottest hitter going into playoffs is Yelich
4/Milwaukee never gets to win
5/that incredible bullpen

Let's talk about that bullpen. The Brewers are trying out that new-fangled theory that instead of depending on a starter to give you 6 or 7 innings you can just put somebody out there for an inning or two and then have a long parade of one inning relief pitchers finish off the other team. Stats say that hitters do much better against pitchers that they've seen more and the third time through the lineup those starters can't fool them as much.

The Tampa Bay Rays went all in on this theory and tested it out by having their closer start the game and pitch one or two innings and then keep fresh arms out there for the whole game. They had the best second half record in the AL.

The problem with this new theory is that if you do it every game you burn out your whole staff. Even relief pitchers can't go hard for an inning a game day after day. With the 25 man roster you just can't maintain the plan. What you need is 6 two inning type pitchers. Andrew Miller of the Indians. Josh Hader of the Brewers. Then you can rotate them and rest the other three. With your other 6 guys you take care of the extra inning games and the tough innings against the middle of the order types.

One true thing about this revolutionary idea is that relievers are used to coming in cold and facing the best hitters on the other team. Starters often need a couple of innings to get the feel of the mound etc. I mean, pitching is a question of nano-centimeters between a perfect pitch on the corner and a bunny into the seats. Relievers just throw hard. Control is not their specialty. Most of them have a blazing fastball or a wipe-out slider. So the top of the order doesn't get that starter when he may be vulnerable, before he finds his range. They get some crazy closer throwing 98. Then they bring the 'starter' in to face the 7-8-9 hitters to get him acclimated before he has to face the meat of the order.

The Dodgers are the old school team. Heroic starters like Clayton Kershaw who can discombobulate the other team through 8 or 9 innings. Thing is, there are only twelve pitchers...we call them Aces...as good as Kershaw in the whole MLB. We have starters who are great one day, suckee the next. Only one third of the teams have a true Ace. Kershaw, Bumgarner, Nola, Scherzer, DeGrom, Syndergaard, Strassburg, Lester...that's pretty much it for the NL.

Sale, Verlander, Cole, Kluber...that's it for the AL.
But go count up the effective relievers. Guys who can shut you down for one inning. There's about 100.

So teams are configuring their pitching staffs a new way.
3 or 4 closer types for every team. The Brewers are built along those lines. I think they'll win with that idea this year. At least until they face the Astros in the World Series.

The really bad thing about this new Paradigm is longer games. Each team is going to use 7 guys every freaking game...an endless parade of pitchers trudging out from the bullpen and taking 8 warm up pitches...endless trips to the mound so the catcher and pitcher can talk about signs. Oh hideous fate! No more shutouts, 25 game winners, one pitcher no-hitters. No Walter Johnsons, Bob Fellers, Sandy Koufaxes or Bob Gibsons. Just a bunch of one-inning wonders.

The Astros and the Bosox. I avoided contemplating this eventuality by picking the Yankees to beat the Sox. That's the only Division series I got wrong. So now we get the two winningest teams. The Red Sox scored the most runs a game (5.7) and the Astros gave up the fewest (3.3) The Red Sox had the best home record, the Stros had the best road record. Something's got to give!

These teams are close. They both have a winning mentality and confidence. Both lineups are deep. Both benches are strong. The Astros have better pitching and that's what might make the difference. The rundown:

5 point scale: 5 is MVP level player, 4 is All Star level, 3 is average big league player, 2 is below average, but still has enough talent in one area or another to be valuable...good D, can steal a base, some power etc. 1 point player? Maybe they should be playing the batboy.

3rd base: Houston has Bregman: 5 points. Boston has either Nunez or Devers or maybe Holt: 3 points.

Short: Houston has an injured Correa: 2 points for now Boston has Bogaerts: worth 4.

Second: Houston has Altuve: 5 points Bosox have Holt and Kinsler platooning: 3 points

First: Give Houston Gurriel: 3 points. Boston has Pierce and Moreland (who has a bad hammy) 3 points

Catcher: a bunch of non-hitters but I say the two Bosox backstops are among the best defenders in the league. Vasquez and Leon: 2 points. Houston has McCann and Maldonado: 2 points.

Left: Houston: Marwin Gonzalez: 3 points (with an up arrow for being clutch lately) Boston: Benintendi: 4 points

Center: Houston: Springer: 4 points. Boston: Bradley Jr.: 3 points (less for offense than for spectacular D)

Right: Houston: Reddick: 3 points. Boston: Betts: 5 points.

Total: Houston: 27 points Boston: 27 points.

I just wasted two pages of stats.

As far as pitching goes, the Astros have two Aces in Verlander and Cole and two good backups in Kuechel and Morton. The Sox have Sale and he can match the Aces but Price and Porcello can't.

The wild card is Eovaldi. He throws 100 but he's usually all over the place. The only team he's been consistently good against is the Yankees and they needed him to beat the Yanks. If he can win a game and Sale can win 2 the Sox may do it. But I don't see the Sox handling Cole at all and even though they've seen Verlander a lot, they haven't beaten him much. If Sale can win that first game in Boston the Sox can win this series. But if they lose two in Boston forget it.

The Astros have a much deeper, better bullpen.

I say Houston in 7. These are my two favorite teams and I hope it's a killer series.