December 15, 2017

Book Review: Urban Shocker, Silent Hero Of Baseball's Golden Age, By Steve Steinberg

Urban Shocker: Silent Hero of Baseball's Golden Age
By Steve Steinberg (University of Nebraska Press, 2017)

Urban Shocker pitched parts of 13 seasons for the New York Yankees and St. Louis Browns before dying at age 37 of heart failure in 1928.

In his introduction, Steve Steinberg writes that having been diagnosed with heart irregularities himself in 2009 provided him "with a stronger understanding of and connection to Shocker's story". Steinberg has delivered an informative and empathetic portrait, breathing life into the largely forgotten story of a man who threw his last major league pitch almost 90 years ago.

Steinberg has co-written two books (with Lyle Spatz) that cover much of the same time period as this biography: 1921: The Yankees, the Giants, and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York and The Colonel and Hug: The Partnership That Transformed the New York Yankees.

Shocker was supremely confident in his abilities, often to the point of cockiness. After being signed by the Yankees, he reported for spring training in 1916 and made the club, but after two relief appearances, he was sent down to Toronto (International League). The demotion rankled him, but he performed extremely well, setting a new IL record of 54 consecutive scoreless innings. When he rejoined the Yankees in August, a sportswriter asked if he expected more challenges from major league hitters. "One league is just the same as another," Shocker said. "They fall for my stuff in one just as they do in the other ... I got a ball none of them will do much with."

Shocker's reputation as a cerebral pitcher (with "the nerve of a burglar") was established early in his career. He read several newspapers each day, studying the box scores to discern which hitters were hot. He was also a keen observer while on the mound, intuiting a batter's intentions by the way he waggled the bat or by the placement of his feet in the box. "I doubt there is another pitcher in the game," wrote St. Louis sports editor Sid Keener, "who studies his batters as carefully as Shocker and gives them just what they don't want."

Steinberg quotes one description of Shocker's legendary slow ball (or change-up) as coming upon the batter "as mist drifts past a street lamp on a foggy night". To another writer, his slow pitches "looked as big as trucks and were as elusive as greased fleas". Many observers believed his change-up was actually a spitball, and while Shocker did throw a spitter, he threw it infrequently, and less often as he matured.

Shocker had been with the Yankees for two seasons when Miller Huggins was hired as manager in 1918, and one of Huggins's first decisions was to trade the right-hander to the Browns. Huggins later regretted his "foolish" decision, saying he had taken advice from too many people and "my informant had done Shocker a very grave injustice".

Steinberg's narrative balances the events of Shocker's life with the larger trends in baseball during the 1920s, such as Babe Ruth's emergence as a hitter and the subsequent increase in offense, the banning of certain pitches, and the evolution of the rosters of both the Yankees and Browns (with spotlights on George Sisler and Bob Meusel, among others).

For much of his career, Shocker's confidence was coupled with a pugnacious attitude on the field. He often argued loudly with umpires about balls and strikes, both on the mound and at the plate. He was also friends with fellow pitchers Ray Caldwell and Dave Davenport, both heavy drinkers. Shocker sometimes disappeared on road trips, likely off on a bender and staying with his sister, who lived in Detroit. One newspaper quoted a heckler yelling "Urban Schicker!" (Yiddish for a drunk).

After the Yankees reacquired Shocker for the 1925 season, he began experiencing health problems, suffering from shortness of breath and dizziness. He knew he needed to pace himself (keeping his condition a secret was essential) and was more reserved now, more subdued. In 1928, Shocker confided to sportswriter Bill Corum: "I've slept sitting up for three years". Lying down created congestion in his lungs and made him feel like he was choking. (Corum kept Shocker's comments a secret for decades.)

During the winter of 1927-28, Shocker's weight dropped to 115 pounds (his playing weight was usually listed as 170). He talked about retiring, hoping that would buy him some time to get his weight back up. Shocker eventually joined the Yankees and, on May 30, pitched two scoreless innings of relief against the Senators. No one knew it, but that would be the final game of his career.

Less than two weeks later, Shocker collapsed while pitching batting practice in Chicago. He passed away in September 1928 in a Denver hospital. An autopsy revealed an overworked and enlarged heart. As Steinberg states: "He simply could not pump enough blood through his body."

(This review was originally written for the Society for American Baseball Research's Deadball Era Committee.)

December 14, 2017

The Most Prolific Slugging Teammates In History (The List Ain't Changing Any Time Soon)


Will Stanton And Judge Become The Most Prolific Slugging Duo Of All Time?

The short answer to the not-so-subtle headline on today's ESPN article by Bradford Doolittle: No.

A longer answer follows:

Doolittle writes:
According to ESPN Stats & Information, last season, [Aaron] Judge and [Giancarlo] Stanton combined for 47 batted balls with an exit velocity of 115 mph or more. The rest of baseball combined for 39 such rockets. ...

Right away, it would seem that the all-time record for team home runs in a season - 264 by the 1997 Seattle Mariners - will be in serious jeopardy, maybe on an annual basis. As it was, New York led the majors with 241 homers last season, the 16th-highest team total in big league history.

However, the team that ranks 17th on that all-time list might be the most pertinent: the 1961 Yankees. That club bashed 240 homers, 115 of them from Roger Maris (61) and Mickey Mantle (54). That's the all-time record for teammates in a season and the only time two players on the same team surpassed 50 bombs each in the same season. ...

Most Homers By Teammates In A Season
HRs   PLAYER (HR)          PLAYER (HR)            TEAM
115   Roger Maris (61)     Mickey Mantle (54)     1961 Yankees 
110   Barry Bonds (73)     Rich Aurilia (37)      2001 Giants 
107   Babe Ruth (60)       Lou Gehrig (47)        1927 Yankees 
100   Alex Rodriguez (57)  Rafael Palmeiro (43)   2002 Rangers 
 99   Alex Rodriguez (52)  Rafael Palmeiro (47)   2001 Rangers
If Stanton and Judge had hit all 111* of their 2017 homers for the Yankees, they would have been the second-most prolific tandem in baseball history and just the fifth to crack the century mark. ...

It would be not at all surprising if one of these seasons, the Stanton-Judge duo turns out to be the most prolific home run duo in the history of baseball.
*: 2017 home runs: Stanton 59, Judge 52.

I don't think it's particularly accurate to look simply at home runs (or exit velocity) when trying to pinpoint "the most prolific slugging duo of all time", which, despite Doolittle's focus on home runs, is what the article's headline states. Looking at that list, I'm wondering if I have ever heard A-Rod and Palmeiro discussed as one of the best slugging duos of all-time. I don't think I have. But you damn well know that if Stanton/Judge were in those spots (consecutive seasons!), you'd never hear the friggin' end of it.

Home runs are one way to look at prolific sluggers, but there are others - even if we confine ourselves to counting stats. How about producing, or driving in, runs?

Teammates Combining For 300+ RBI In One Season
1931 NYY  347  Lou Gehrig (185) and Babe Ruth (162)
1927 NYY  339  Lou Gehrig (175) and Babe Ruth (164)
1930 NYY  326  Lou Gehrig (173) and Babe Ruth (153)
1930 CHC  325  Hack Wilson (191) and Kiki Cuyler (134)
1937 NYY  325  Joe DiMaggio (167) and Lou Gehrig (158)
1930 PHA  321  Al Simmons (165) and Jimmie Foxx (156)
1932 PHA  320  Jimmie Foxx (169) and Al Simmons (151) 
1949 BOS  318  Ted Williams (159) and Vern Stephens (159)
1929 CHC  308  Hack Wilson (159) and Rogers Hornsby (149)
1921 NYY  306  Babe Ruth (168) and Bob Meusel (138)
Here is a list of more recent duos:
2005 BOS  292  David Ortiz (148) and Manny Ramirez (144)
1996 COL  291  Andres Galarraga (150) and Dante Bichette (141)
1999 CLE  285  Manny Ramirez (165) and Roberto Alomar (120)
1970 CIN  277  Johnny Bench (148) and Tony Perez (129)
2000 SEA  277  Edgar Martinez (145) and Alex Rodriguez (132)
1999 TEX  276  Rafael Palmeiro 9148) and Juan Gonzalez (128)
In 2017, Stanton (132) and Judge (114) combined for 246 RBI. (For Stanton, that was a career high among his eight seasons, topping his 2014 season by 27 runs. It was also only the second time he had knocked in more than 100 runs.)

To be considered one of the top slugging duos of all-time, Stanton and Judge should have to crack the 300 RBI list. It seems highly unlikely (actually, I'll deem it impossible) that those guys could both match their 2017 totals and somehow drive in an additional 54 runs. Keep in mind that every one of those ten 300-RBI seasons were accomplished during a 154-game schedule. Even with a slightly longer schedule of 162 games for more than five decades, no pair of teammates in the last 68 years has been able to join that elite list.

Most Extra-Base Hits By Teammates, Season
1927 NYY  214  Lou Gehrig (117) and Babe Ruth (97)
1921 NYY  199  Babe Ruth (119) and Bob Meusel (80)
1930 NYY  186  Lou Gehrig (100) and Babe Ruth (86)
2004 STL  182  Albert Pujols (99) and Jim Edmonds (83) 
2001 COL  181  Todd Helton (105) and Larry Walker (76)
I could not find a stand-alone list of these leaders, so they were a little harder to figure out. (Please let me know if I missed anything.) However, it seems very clear that the record is 214.

A player has collected more than 103 extra-base hits in a season only five times in history - and four of those are on the list above. The one that is not: Chuck Klein of the 1930 Phillies. He had 107 and his teammate Lefty O'Doul had 66, for a total of 173. Stanton (91) and Judge (79) combined for 170 extra-base hits in 2017. (And, again, Stanton's previous high was 68, in 2014.)

Most Combined Total Bases By Teammates, Season
1927 NYY  864  Lou Gehrig (447) and Babe Ruth (417)
1929 PHI  802  Chuck Klein (405) and Lefty O'Doul (397)
I believe those are the only seasons in history in which teammates combined for 800+ total bases (again, I hope I have not missed anything). Just under that number, Gehrig and Ruth combined for 798 in 1930 and Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio had 784 in 1939. In 2017, Stanton (377) and Judge (340) combined for 717 total bases.

Highest Combined Slugging Percentage By Teammates, Season
1927 NYY  1.537  Babe Ruth (.772) and Lou Gehrig (.765)
1930 NYY  1.453  Babe Ruth (.732) and Lou Gehrig (.721)
I believe those are the only two times in history that teammates have had slugging percentages over .700. (Only 16 players in history have even slugged .700 in a season, and those 16 players have done it 35 times, with Ruth having nine seasons, Bonds with four, and Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx each with three.)

Sidebar: One thing we can all agree on is that Lou Gehrig was an insanely great hitter, just a fucking beast at the plate. When I think about how underrated he is, I get a headache. It's criminal. How in the hell did he knock 185 (!) runs in 1931 (the all-time AL record) when Ruth, batting ahead of him, knocked in 162 (tied for 19th-best, all-time)? How many men did they leave on base in innings in which they both batted? Like, nine, all year?

Also, note how those .700+ slugging seasons are grouped:
1876-1919 (44 years):  0
1920-1934 (15 years): 18
1935-1993 (59 years):  5
1994-2004 (11 years): 12
2005-2017 (13 years):  0
In 116 years of non-juiced balls/players: 5 times. In the other 26 years: 30 times.

Some other seasons:
2001 SFG  1.435  Barry Bonds (.863) and Rich Aurilia (.572)
1921 NYY  1.405  Babe Ruth (.846) and Bob Meusel (.559)
1928 NYY  1.357  Babe Ruth (.709) and Lou Gehrig (.648)
2004 SFG  1.341  Barry Bonds (.812) and J.T. Snow (.529)
1932 PHA  1.297  Jimmie Foxx (.749) and Al Simmons (.548)
1998 STL  1.292  Mark McGwire (.752) and Ray Lankford (.540)
2001 CHC  1.266  Sammy Sosa (.737) and Rondell White (.529)
1996 STL  1.262  Mark McGwire (.730) and Geronimo Berroa (.532)
In 2017, Stanton (.631) and Judge (.627) had a combined slugging percentage of 1.258. Could they each add upwards of 75-100 points of slugging EACH in 2018? No. (They will not even increase their total by 75 points (i.e., each improving by 38 points).) Again, no major league batter has slugged .700 in any of the last 13 seasons. The closest was .671, by Albert Pujols in 2006. And the last non-Bonds player to slug .700 was Larry Walker, way back in 1999. (From 1958-1993 - 36 seasons - no one slugged .700.)

Although they are both young (Stanton is 28 and Judge will turn 26 next April) and talented (even though most people forget or overlook the fact that Judge has played exactly one full season), they would both need an unprecedented leap in production to truly be considered among the greatest and most productive slugging duos in baseball history. And - it should go without saying - they would have to keep up that historic production for several seasons.

Finally, take another look at the ESPN graphic at the top of this post. I know it's silly to expect sober perspective or historical accuracy from ESPN, but have we really "never seen anything quite like" these two guys when it comes to a pair of slugging teammates? That claim seems far beyond even the ever-elastic bounds of normal sports hyperbole. They've never been in the same lineup! They haven't played even one spring training game together! Yet ESPN is telling us - not merely asking, but telling! us - that they are beyond anything the game has ever seen! In fact, it's been "proven"! (When it comes to mindless hype, yeah, this may be unprecedented.)

December 9, 2017

Not Good News: Giancarlo Stanton Traded To Yankees

Giancarlo Stanton - the 2017 National League MVP - is now* a member of the Yankees.

(*: Assuming he approves this deal and then passes a physical.)

New York has agreed to send Starlin Castro and two minor-league prospects (Jorge Guzman (rated as the MFY's #7 prospect by Baseball America) and Jose Devers) pretty much goddamn nothing to the Marlins.

The Yankees will pay $265 million of the $295 million owed to Stanton over the next ten seasons. Stanton signed a 13/325 mega-deal in November 2014. ... So think of this as New York signing a free agent Stanton to a 10/265 contract.

Stanton, who turned 28 about a month ago, led the majors last season in home runs (59), RBIs (132), and extra-base hits (91). He led the NL in slugging percentage (.631). His 59 dongs were the most by a player since 2001, when Barry Bonds blasted 73 and Sammy Sosa cranked 64.

Here's a lovely tweet from Jared Diamond: "Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius combined for 169 home runs in 2017. ... The Red Sox hit 168."

The Daily News' Mike Mazzeo writes: "[S]o much for the Bombers being considered 'likeable'."

Oh, please. Fuck that. Every person possessing an IQ larger than his shoe size knows that the Yankees have never been fucking likeable. And just because a bunch of idiots start chanting in unison that these entitled pinstriped dushbags are now likeable does not make the claim remotely accurate.

December 3, 2017

Red Sox And Yankees Are Both Out Of The Competition For Shohei Ohtani

The Red Sox and Yankees were not among the teams invited to make an in-person presentation to Shohei Ohtani, the 23-year-old pitching and slugging star of Japan.

Ohtani may be looking at smaller markets and/or teams on the west coast. Nine teams will make presentations, including the Giants and Mariners.

In 2016, Ohtani batted .322 with 22 home runs while posting a 1.86 ERA in 140 innings. He has been clocked running to first base in 3.8 seconds, which would make him one of the fastest players in the majors. He was hampered by an ankle injury and played in only 65 games last year.

Ohtani has until 11:59 p.m. EST December 22 to agree to a contract with a major league team.


Here is a nice headline:
Report: Marlins Laid Off A Hospitalized Scout Who Was Waiting For A Kidney Transplant After Colon Cancer Surgery
A commenter: "[Dan] Le Batard said something this morning that stuck with me: We're fast approaching a point where Alex Rodriguez will be more well liked than Derek Jeter. Who saw that coming?"

December 2, 2017

Yankees Name Aaron Boone As New Manager

Here is a list of the coaching and managing jobs that Aaron Boone has held in the time between the end of his playing career in 2009 and being named yesterday as the Yankees' new manager:














Well, at least there is nothing overtly embarrassing on that list. One really has to wonder if Boone would have even been a longshot candidate for the job if he had not hit a fairly famous home run 14 years ago. I like this decision. Keep up the good work, Cashman.


November 25, 2017

With Longer Games Becoming A "Serious Problem", American League Passes Rule Limiting Mound Conferences

In an effort to speed up play, the American League ... passed a rule curbing pitching mound conferences. But it now develops that the move was only the opening gun in its fight against the wearisome marathon contests.

"We feel that the lengthening time required for completion of our games is a serious problem that must be dealt with in order to keep baseball interesting and attractive to the fans," said President Will Harridge of the American League.

[Over the past 13 seasons, the average length of games has increased by 33 minutes.]

"There are a lot of minor things that could be eliminated to reduce playing time, but in the final analysis we have found that the main responsibility for the problem lies with the manager and the pitchers. ...

"[The manager] can have his batters stop their frequent delays by stepping out of the box, he can instruct his infielders to keep their mound huddles to a minimum ... and he can even school his pitchers not to waste so much time before they get ready to pitch. And there, of course, is the other big answer to the speed-up of games. Most of the time consumed is taken by the pitcher. First of all, they are more deliberate than they used to be and, secondly, they throw more pitches." ...

[Cal Hubbard, American League supervisor of umpires:] "Pitching is consuming so much more time because the pitchers have grown so cautious. They throw so many pitches because they have to be careful with every hitter who steps up there. Anybody can knock it out of the park now - even the little guys ... If they throw one down the pipe now the ball game is gone. Everybody swings from the end of the bat and goes for the fences. They didn't always do that. But the bats are better now. They are lighter, better made and easier to swing.

"When we started to enforce the 20-second rule that requires a pitcher to deliver the ball in that time after he steps on the rubber, we found no violations. ... Some pitchers, of course, aggravate you with their antics around the mound. They step off the rubber a couple of times before they deliver the ball. That wouldn't make much difference if such a pitcher threw only two or three times to each batter. But where time piles up is the 3-2 and 2-2 counts on every batter. ...

"[I]n the old days they threw that first pitch over the plate. They don't do that any more. They're afraid to. One pitch can beat them. ... [T]hey nibble around the corners. They never throw a fat strike. Eventually they're down to 3-2. I imagine at least 50 percent of the counts in a game are 2-2 or 3-2. ...

"Frankly, I don't know how pitching can be speeded up, unless you can change the entire attitude of the pitchers and get them in a more daring mood," replied Hubbard. "But I do know one thing I'd like to see adopted ... That's the elimination of the four pitches in giving an intentional pass. I'd just have the manager order the batter put on base and get on with the ball game. You know, I suggested that change once and Clark Griffith objected to it. He opposed it because he said it would deprive the fans of four chances to boo."
Harridge Demands Pilots Speed Games
A.L. President Calls Lagging Play 'Serious'
All Managers and Umpires to Meet in Florida to Map Plans for Cutting Delays
The Sporting News, January 18, 1956

November 24, 2017

Bryant: "How Have We Not Progressed Past These Mascots?"

How Have We Not Progressed Past These Mascots?
Howard Bryant, ESPN The Magazine, November 23, 2017
[It is] appropriate to wonder why Native Americans are spared the dignity of progress, why the sports industry continues to insult them today as society commonly did 100 years ago. To many fans, perhaps nothing feels more American than logos like those of the Indians, Blackhawks and Redskins, but that feeling requires ignoring the history. Native Americans were excluded from being American -- from the 14th Amendment of 1868, which granted equal protection and naturalization of all citizens born on United States soil, to the 15th, which granted African-American men the right to vote, in 1870. Native Americans were not granted American citizenship until 1924 and did not receive full nationwide voting rights until 1957. By that time, each of the team names, as racist then as they are today, was well fixed within the sports culture. America has chosen logos over people. ...

"You cannot have capitalism without racism," Malcolm X once said. His statement was directed toward the class warfare that lies at the root of capitalism, and it applies even to the blankets, foam fingers, jerseys, caps and T-shirts the sports teams sell, even on a day ostensibly dedicated to a giving of thanks and peace between settlers and natives. The hypocrisy is disgusting. ...

It might be difficult for sports leagues to appear to capitulate to the protest behind a word's usage, even if that capitulation is out of simple decency. It might be difficult for teams and the public to admit their casual racism. It is not, however, complicated to understand that these logos must go. It is not complicated to know a relic from the first decades of the 20th century, routinely regarded by historians as the most racist period since the antebellum era, is inappropriate today. ...

Enough. We all know better.
In the first paragraph of his article, Bryant notes that during the 2016 World Series MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said he and Cleveland owner Paul Dolan would have "a conversation" about the Chief Wahoo logo in the offseason. ... Did the two men eventually speak? I can't remember. It doesn't really matter, though, because absolutely nothing was done.

The Wahoo Issue came up again during the 2017 World Series. And Manfred said (again) that the "problematic" logo was totally on his winter to-do list: "[I]t's an issue I intend to deal with in the offseason." ... Manfred had better hurry. Cleveland is hosting the 2019 All-Star Game.

November 17, 2017

AL MVP: Betts and Sale Finish in Top 10

Jose Altuve is the 2017 American League Most Valuable Player. He received 27 of 30 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Mookie Betts finished sixth. He was listed as #4 on two ballots: Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times and Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star.

Chris Sale finished ninth. His highest placement was #5, by Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram). (The Globe's Nick Cafardo listed Corey Kluber #3 on his MVP ballot, the only writer to list the Cleveland higher than #5.)

Sale finished second to Kluber in the AL Cy Young voting. Kluber received 28 first-place votes, with Sale receiving the other two (Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald and Bruce Levine of CBSChicago.com). Sale was named #2 on the other 28 ballots. Craig Kimbrel finished sixth, by being named #3 on six ballots.

Andrew Benintendi received 23 second-place votes and 6 third-place votes for AL Rookie of the Year. One writer did not feel Benintendi was one of the top three rookies in the AL. That writer was old friend La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

And when I say "old friend" I mean "asshole", because it was Neal - along with George A. King III of the New York Post - who screwed over Pedro Martinez for the AL MVP award in 1999. Neither writer had Pedro's name on his ballot at all. (And it's so perfect that both of these fatuous clowns now use their middle initials and "III" in their by-lines.)

When King was asked about his ballot, he said he did not believe pitchers should be eligible for the MVP (which is in violation of the BBWAA's rules and should have led to the revocation of his voting rights). Then it was revealed that King had included pitchers David Wells and Rick Helling on his ballot the year before. His snubbing of Pedro was obviously deliberate.

The 2017 breakdowns (individual ballots can be seen at the BBWAA link above):








November 14, 2017

The Worst Ball And Strike Calls Of The Season

Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs shares the worst ball and strike calls of the 2017 season:

The Worst Called Strike of the Season
The worst called strike of this season was thrown in the eighth inning of a game between the Astros and the Tigers on the second-to-last day of July. I measure these things by the distance between the location of the pitch and the nearest part of the rule-book strike zone, and, here, we have a called strike on a pitch that missed the zone by 9.8 inches.
Umpire: Ramon De Jesus

The Worst Called Ball of the Season
The worst called ball of the whole season was thrown on August 20.
Umpire: Dan Bellino

November 13, 2017

Mookie Bowls First 300 Game in PBA Event

Mookie Betts bowled what he believes is his 10th career 300 game on Sunday night, but it was his first perfect game in a Professional Bowlers Association event. Betts was competing in the final qualifying round of the World Series of Bowling in Reno, Nevada.


Photo from here.



November 10, 2017

Red Sox Obviously Doomed As Long As Judge Wears Pinstripes


Jesus. It's been only a few short years since the retirement of The Most Awesome Derek Jeter, but the sports media apparently cannot exist unless it has a Yankees player to constantly hold up as a shining example of how amazing and humble and wonderful and gifted and humble a single human being can be.

I can only hope Aaron Judge - who is quite a bit taller than the average player, did you know that? - falls flat on his ugly mug and flames out in a historic blaze of strikeouts or maybe somehow ends up playing for another team somewhere no one cares about (Milwaukee?), because, otherwise, it's gonna be a seriously long fucking slog for the many years he will play for our main rival.

ESPN frames the Red Sox's entire winter as a struggle to do what they can to counter The Judge Effect. (Because we know from history that Judge will only get better and better. He cannot possibly regress.) From two ESPN reports (Scott Lauber on the Red Sox and Andrew Marchand on the Yankees):
Boston Red Sox: Will they turn the power back on?

Home runs are en vogue again, but the Red Sox missed the memo. In the first year of their post-David Ortiz era, they hit only 168 homers, fewest in the American League. Of the 74 players who hit at least 25 homers, none were part of the Red Sox's lineup. Deposed manager John Farrell used seven different players in the cleanup spot, a testament to the fact that the team lacked a true middle-of-the-order power threat. As a result, the Sox scored 785 runs, a drop-off of 103 runs from 2016.

It's little wonder, then, that president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has already made several public declarations that he'll be shopping for offense this winter. Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez are the top names on the free-agent market, and they would fit into the Red Sox's lineup as either a first baseman or designated hitter, respectively. And then there's the really big fish: Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, who is potentially available via a trade now that Derek Jeter is running things in South Florida. As the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry heats up once again, it would be hard for Boston to find a more suitable counter to Aaron Judge.
Hey, look! We even got a Jeter reference in there!
New York Yankees: Will it really be a quiet offseason?

This winter is one that might be looked upon as a quiet one for the Yankees, except for the fact they will add a new manager, could add the "Babe Ruth of Japan" and may make a trade or two. Yankees GM Brian Cashman is looking for an "A.J. Hinch-type" to connect with the team's young players better than Joe Girardi could. Shohei Otani, the 23-year-old pitcher/outfielder, wants to come to the United States. As it stands now, if he does, he will not receive a huge contract because of the new collective bargaining agreement rules. That means the Yankees could have as good a chance as anyone to land him. Otani could be a sixth starter for the Yankees, while DHing and playing some outfield.

The Yankees will look to re-sign CC Sabathia, but for far less than the $25 million that the big lefty made in 2017. They will talk with Todd Frazier's representatives, but with Chase Headley already signed for 2018 it is unclear how much they will offer Frazier to play third. The Yankees could look to trade Headley, Starlin Castro and Jacoby Ellsbury.
Yes, there are likely many teams lining up for the privilege of grabbing Ellsbury, who has posted OPS+s of 87, 88, and 97 over the last three seasons and is due to be paid $63.3 million through 2020. Check out his total bases over the last two seasons as compared to 2011, the season that made the Yankees so excited to sign him as a free agent.
              GMS     PA    TB
2011          158    732   364
2016-17       260   1035   349
Sign me up!

November 9, 2017

You've Heard "Kars4Kids" Mentioned During Red Sox Games. What Is It?

If you listen to radio broadcasts of Red Sox games, you have likely heard about Kars4Kids. Listeners are encouraged to make a cash donation or donate their used car to help "kids in need".

Have you ever wondered who are these kids - and how are used cars helping them?

My partner Laura Kaminker did. What she discovered is here.

November 5, 2017

The Start Of The Off-Season

The Red Sox will officially announce that Alex Cora is the team's new manager tomorrow. And since the end of the World Series, Cora has assisted in assembling his coaches:
Bench Coach: Ron Roenicke
1B Coach: Tom Goodwin
3B Coach: Carlos Febles
Hitting Coach: Tim Hyers
Assistant Hitting Coach: Andy Barkett
Dana LeVangie returns as the bullpen coach. The team has yet to hire a pitching coach.

Roenicke managed the San Antonio Missions (AA) to the Texas League Championship in 1997; Cora, then 21, was a shortstop and the second-youngest player on the team. The 2011 Brewers, with Roenicke in his first season as a major league manager, won a franchise-best 96 games. The Providence Journal states that, during his time with Milwaukee, Roenicke was known "for his analytical bend, including aggressive shifting on the infield".

Febles, after a six-year career with the Royals, worked as a hitting coach for three Red Sox minor league teams from 2007-10. He then managed the Lowell Spinners (2011), Greenville Drive (2012-13), Salem Red Sox (2014-15), and Portland Sea Dogs (2016-17). During those years, Febles had plenty of experience working with and overseeing the maturation of several of the Red Sox's young players, including Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley, Mookie Betts, and Rafael Devers.

For Hyers, this job represents a return to the Red Sox. He was an area scout from 2009-12, then served as the team's minor league hitting coordinator from 2013-15. (He also filled in as interim hitting coach during 2014 after Greg Colbrunn suffered a brain hemorrhage.) For the past two seasons, he was the Dodgers' assistant hitting coach.

Barkett has managed in the minors and worked as an assistant hitting coordinator for both the Pirates and Marlins.

Also: Tony LaRussa has joined the Red Sox front office as a vice president and special assistant to the president of baseball operations, a position newly created by Dave Dombrowski, who worked with LaRussa with the White Sox. This report states LaRussa "will assist with player development and serve as a consultant to the major and minor league coaching staffs, including rookie manager Alex Cora".
Peter Gammons wrote (without offering any examples or evidence):
In many ways, [hiring Alex Cora] is a seismic shift for the Red Sox, who now must deal with the reality that the Yankees have become the Theo Epstein Red Sox and may be a major power for the next few years as Boston faces tough, critical decisions between now and 2019 to avoid the American League East resembling what it was from 1996-2001.
Gammons does not employ an editor at his website, so we get both run-on and partial sentences, like this: "But the wires that bound this franchise from 2004-2013 are frayed, requiring."

Also, when will people stop writing things like: "[T]hese are not your Mike Higgins Red Sox." ... For the record, Higgins last sat in a Red Sox dugout 55 years ago, when Gammons was still a teenager. A few things have happened since then.

Old Hickory is not the only writer touting the Yankees as the team to beat in 2018.

In mid-October, John Harper of the Daily News wrote that the simple act of Boston firing John Farrell meant the Yankees had overtaken the Red Sox as the AL East favourite. That made little sense, of course - and now that the Yankees will also have a new manager for 2018, it makes zero sense. From Harper's article:
"It's hard to win without power, and the Yankees have it while the Red Sox are a little short," was the way a major-league scout put it on Wednesday. "Boston has some good pieces but they do need a thumper to replace Ortiz. I'd rather have the Yankees' kids. They're going to put up some big home-run numbers in the coming years. And they have better young pitching." ...

[T]he Sox are short on pitching depth ... and the Sox don't have any phenoms immediately on the horizon.

Remember, they traded two blue-chip prospects, infielder Yoan Moncada and pitcher Michael Kopech, in the deal with the White Sox last winter, and while [Chris] Sale certainly lived up to expectations, it was a win-now trade that didn't produce a championship, while significantly weakening the Red Sox farm system. ...

As the scout said, young power-hitting is the area where the Yankees are separating themselves. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Greg Bird ... form the most formidable age 25-or-younger offensive trio in baseball. ...

All of which is a way of saying that, on the matter of young stars, things have changed more quickly between the Yankees and Red Sox than anyone would have anticipated.

A new manager in Boston isn't going to change the fact that it feels like the Sox, though two games better this season, are already trailing the Yankees going into 2018.
A little later in October, the Post's Joel Sherman offered "a peek at Yankees' potentially devastating 2018 rotation" and advised how the Yankees can finish 2018 in "The Canyon Of Heroes":
The 2017 Yankees came faster and went further than expected, reaching Game 7 of the ALCS. Their roster and farm system and future payroll are lined up to produce even better teams. But the step from promise to a parade is perilous. ...

[U]nlike 2017 next spring training is going to begin with the Yanks in their historically familiar position as the hunted, as a team with the overbearing expectations. ...

Joe Girardi talked about "mental growth" after his Yankees were eliminated by the Astros. ... What earmarked the dynastic Yankees that Girardi was part of as a player was that even as fame and fortune and pressure mounted for that group, hunger to win and unity to do so together never wavered. Their mental toughness and physical durability was special.
Most of ESPN's Dan Szymborski's article on early ZiPS projections for 2018 is behind a paywall, but the AL East is visible:

November 4, 2017

Phillies Hire Gabe Kapler As Manager; "Coconut Oil Is A Phrase"

The Philadelphia Phillies hired Gabe Kapler as their new manager last Thursday.

Todd Zolecki, MLB.com:
Of course, the Phillies also looked deep into Kapler's background, which included a handful of eyebrow-raising posts on his lifestyle blog about men's health.
Are you curious about what is meant by "eyebrow-raising posts"? I was.

As soon as word of Kapler's hiring leaked, the intrepid sports media trawled the internet, looking for information/dirt on The World's Strongest Jew. Kapler's blog KapLifestyle (to which he posted from December 2013 to February 2017) is still online. In June 2014, he posted "Coconut Oil - Beyond Cooking":
This post aims to save you at least $39. Go ahead and trash your body lotion ($8), chapstick ($3), teeth whitening mouthwash ($6), face cream ($15) and KY jelly ($7). Replace them all with pure, unrefined, organic coconut oil. ...

The sun has set, and the moon is out. Perhaps you have a friend nearby, perhaps it's just you by your lonesome...well, this is awkward. I've promised you authenticity, honesty and openness. Take this how you wish and I'll spare you the step by step. Coconut oil is the world's greatest lubricant. I can't help where your mind goes with this. Once the ball leaves the bat, I can't steer it.
Howard Eskin, a longtime Philadelphia sports talk radio and TV host, was not pleased. He tweeted his disgust in several tweets, including one that described Kapler as "a little to [sic] nutty". Also:
"Here he is .. your new #phillies manager Gabe Kapler. If his analytics don't work as a manager maybe he can be a model for leopard thongs."

"I wonder how much more will come out on Gabe Kapler. His ideas not exactly along lines of ownership."

"Call it what you want. He's not the kind of person you want as the new face of your #phillies franchise. He sure does love himself. Will players take instruction or laugh at him. Or will public laugh at him. If he didn't love analytics and sports science GM may be laughing too"

"Think kids that love to follow #phillies are ready to hear his ideas about use of coconut oil. Baseball is a family sport. Don't think parents are on board with hearing this stuff about the manager."

"Lots of things need to be addressed these days."
Some thoughts:

1. The picture that Eskin included with the first indented tweet is a decent example of soft-core gay porn.

2. Anyone else notice that Eskin's first sentence in the fourth tweet appears to say young Phillies fans are ready for Kapler's oil ideas? All it needs is an "I" at the beginning.

3. Eskin initially states that Kapler's ideas are "not exactly" the same as those of Phillies management, but then he implies that it's a good thing for Kapler that his ideas (love of analytics, for example) are similar to those of Phillies management. ... Oh, Eskin must have meant his ideas about masturbation!


And so Eskin took the brave step of bringing up this touchy subject at the Phillies' press conference:
Eskin: [Phillies general manager] Matt [Klentak], earlier you expressed there were no reservations with some of the things that you saw that Gabe had written on his blog and had tweeted. I'm trying to figure out if - you said there were none, there are none - and as far as Gabe, Gabe, are you proud of some of the stuff - you said you express yourself. I don't want to get specific, but I'm - there's an elephant in the room - people here, I mean, coconut oil is a phrase. I threw it out there. Gabe, any reservations? And Matt, any reservations? Gabe, for putting it out there, and Matt, while you were in the interview process?

Kapler (looks at Klentak): I'll take it first. Certainly, like I mentioned before, much of what I have written is several years old. And when I was writing, I was in a different mindset than I am now, as the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. Even with that said, if you look through the various posts, there is some tongue-in-cheek stuff that I had directed to players, because I thought it might make them laugh. Thinking through it, there are some things I might have written a little bit differently. Certainly, we all make mistakes and miss the mark from time to time, but if you go back and look at those posts, they were meant for health. They were meant to help people be more prepared and stronger. And so - they're imperfect, I'm imperfect, but I am also very proud of a lot of the content that I would encourage people to go back to and dig into and find the stuff that really does hit the mark.

Klentak: I would - I agree and support everything he just said, but I would kind of repeat what I said earlier, I think as we try to move the needle here, as we try to move this organization forward, some of that is - there's an element of risk and new behaviors and trying new things. That's inevitable. And I think that's part of what we are excited about with Kap's arrival here, is that this guy has demonstrated that, over the last handful of years with the Dodgers, with a tremendous amount of success. And I think, we can't project exactly how the next few years are going to play out, but boy oh boy, it's going to be fun, and as I said to Jim's question earlier, we are going to embrace a lot of his ideas and we're going to collaborate on them as we try to push this thing forward and bring the championship trophy back to Philadelphia.
It's not clear if this is one of the "new behaviors" and "new things" the 2018 Phillies will try in spring training.
If you want to be your strongest, get some sun on your boys. And by boys, I mean your testicles.
Too bad Eskin did not get a chance to ask a follow-up question.

November 1, 2017

WS7: Astros 5, Dodgers 1

Astros  - 230 000 000 - 5  5  0
Dodgers - 000 001 000 - 1  6  1
In an unforgettable World Series, who would have expected Game 7 to be fairly dull and anti-climatic? (Note: As long as you were not a serious fan of either team.)

The Houston Astros are baseball's champions, prevailing in a game whose course was set by the middle of the second inning. The Astros scored two quick runs off Yu Darvish in the first, aided by an LA fielding error. After the Dodgers left the bases loaded in the bottom of the first, Houston scored three more times in the second, capping the inning on George Springer's two-run homer.

The Dodgers continued putting men on base but were unable to bring them home. Through six innings, they went 1-for-13 with runners on second and/or third and left 10 runners on base. When they did finally score a run, on Andre Ethier's pinch-hit single with one out in the sixth, it seemed like maybe getting a run on the scoreboard would loosen up the Dodgers and they could get back in the game. As it turned out, that was the high point (such as it was) of their night. Charlie Morton retired the next (and last) 11 Los Angeles batters, allowing only two balls out of the infield.

Springer's home run was his fifth of the series and gave him the honour of being the only player in history to homer in four consecutive games in the same World Series. Springer also set World Series records for extra-base hits (eight) and total bases (29). He also had an extra-base hit in six consecutive WS games.

As it turned out, the June 24, 2014 issue of Sports Illustrated (pictured above) was right. The magazine even put Springer (the 2017 World Series MVP) on the cover! Ben Reiter wrote that story three seasons ago and last week, he explained why. Reiter also noted that the Houston Chronicle called SI's claim "more of an attention-grabbing, perhaps even tongue-in-cheek projection than a prediction".

Springer began the game by hitting Darvish's third pitch for a double into the left field corner. Alex Bregman grounded a ball to the right side. Cody Bellinger ranged far to his right, and his throw to first was behind Darvish and went for an error. Springer scored. Bregman stole third without a throw and scored on Jose Altuve's grounder to first. Darvish had thrown only eight pitches and the Dodgers trailed 2-0. Darvish got the final two outs, one of which was a 13-pitch battle against Yuli Gurriel.

In the Dodgers first, Chris Taylor led off with a double to right-center. Corey Seager struck out, but Astros starter Lance McCullers hit Justin Turner with a 1-2 pitch. After Bellinger - who set a new WS record with 17 strikeouts - whiffed, McCullers drilled Puig. With the bases loaded, Joc Pederson grounded an 0-2 pitch to second.

Darvish appeared to have struck out Brian McCann to begin the second, but home plate umpire Mark Wegner incorrectly called the 1-2 pitch a ball. McCann eventually walked. When Marwin Gonzalez doubled McCann to third, I could easily see Wegner's blown call making a huge difference in this game. If Wegner had made the proper call, perhaps Darvish doesn't allow any runs in the second and the Dodgers, feeling more confident down by only two runs, end up on top. It is not an outlandish proposition. A blown call changing the course of a Game 7 does not have to be on a late-inning tag at home plate. It could be a wrong call at any point that causes an inning to get out of control.

The Dodgers played the infield in and Darvish got two ground balls to second. The second one, off McCullers's bat, scored McCann. Darvish (1.2-3-5-1-0, 47) fell behind Springer 2-0, worked the count full, and gave up a 438-foot blast to deep left-center. Brandon Morrow got the final out.

(Morrow is now the second pitcher to appear in all seven games of a World Series, joining Darold Knowles of the 1973 Athletics. This was the first Game 7 in World Series history in which neither of the starting pitchers lasted three innings.)

In the bottom of the second, Logan Forsythe singled and after a groundout moved him to second, McCullers hit pinch-hitter Enrique Hernandez. The BABIP gods cursed the Dodgers when Taylor lined out to shortstop and Forsythe was doubled off second.

The LA third offered more of the same. Seager singled and McCullers hit Turner for the second time. It was McCuller's fourth HBP in 12 batters. After McCullers (2.1-3-0-0-3, 49) struck out Bellinger, A.J. Hinch went to his bullpen. Brad Peacock got Puig to fly to center and then he struck out Pederson.

Through the first three innings, the Dodgers sent 15 men to the plate - and 10 of them batted with a runners on second and/or third. None of those 10 batters got a hit.

The Dodgers also left two men on base in each of the fifth and sixth innings.

Clayton Kershaw took the mound in the third inning and threw four scoreless innings, allowing only two singles and two intentional walks. The walks came in the sixth after Carlos Correa led off with a single and reached third with two outs. LA manager put Gonzalez on first and then, when Evan Gattis was announced as a pinch-hitter for Josh Reddick, Roberts put him on base, too. The moves gave Kershaw no margin for error and if Houston could add to its 5-0 lead, that would likely put the game on ice. Kershaw got a called strike on Cameron Maybin, another pinch-hitter, and then got him to foul out to third.

So the score remained 5-0 and the Dodgers finally scored in the bottom of the sixth. They trailed 5-1 and had runners at first and second with one out. Morton had no problem striking out Taylor, who was anxious and hacking at everything. He took a strike, then swung and missed, fouled a pitch off, and swung and missed again. Seager grounded the first pitch to shortstop, shattering his bat. Correa ran in and had trouble getting the ball out of his glove, but made the play to end the inning.

Morton then retired the side in order in each of the last three innings. The last two outs in the ninth were ground balls to Altuve at second.

Lance McCullers / Yu Darvish

There have been 38 World Series winner-take-all games. The home team has won 19 and the visiting team has won 19. (Also, the World Series has gone to seven games in three of the last four seasons.)

This is the first World Series Game 7 between two 100-win teams since 1931, when St. Louis' "Gas House Gang" Cardinals beat the Philadelphia A's, who had won the previous two World Series under manager Connie Mack.

This will also be the 11th World Series game that has been played in November. The previous ten: 2001 (Games 5-7), 2009 (Games 4-6), 2010 (Game 5), 2015 (Game 5), and 2016 (Games 6-7).


Barry Petchesky, Deadspin: Get Ready For A Night Of Weird Bullpens
This series, this season is going to end tonight, or maybe early tomorrow morning. Just a few more outs left to get. It's been a while since the managers' decisions on who to get those outs felt like they carried so much weight.
Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan discusses Rich Hill and "The Early At-Bat That Changed the Whole Game":
Hill knew if he could just get through Reddick, he might find a way mostly out of the inning. ... If Reddick could be retired, then, presumably, Verlander could be retired. Then it would be a matter of facing Springer or Alex Bregman. Nothing easy, to be sure, but better to get there with two outs than one. ...

Hill needed to focus on getting rid of Reddick. ... That was going to keep the Dodgers alive. ... Ball one. Then ball two. Then ball three. ...

Do you know what happens after 3-and-0 counts? Let me tell you what happens after 0-and-0 counts. Batters walked 9% of the time. They struck out 22% of the time. ... And, after 3-and-0? Batters walked 60% of the time. They struck out 7% of the time. ...
Hill's margin of error had been reduced right down to nothing. ... Hill didn't want to concede. He just had to be perfect. ...
Baseball Lets You Lose Your Mind
Lindsey Adler, Deadspin, October 31, 2017
[I]n baseball, there are a billion and four different outcomes in any single moment, and there is no clock limiting the possibilities. It's a game that people smarter than me have quantified in nearly every way imaginable, and yet, it's by its nature the game that allows for the most random deviation of what's expected based on the information about every batter, every pitcher, even every fielder now. To watch baseball is to submit to a reprieve from control. It's the ultimate antidote to control-freak tendencies. It's a game of suspense and chance, and when that outcome is a ball hit 450 feet through the park, it's a game of wonder.
Fun Fact, from Craig Edwards:
There have been two games in World Series history with 5 plays where win probability changed at least 25%
Game 2, 2017
Game 5, 2017
If you thought Hill stepped off the mound each time Yuli Gurriel came to the plate last night in order to give Dodgers fans more time to boo Gurriel for his racist gesture in Game 3, you are right. Hill said after the game "that was my silent gesture" to condemn Gurriel's actions.

Astros Game 7 starter Lance McCullers began warming up as soon as Game 6 ended.

Fox/Smoltz Note: In Game 6, Dodger pitcher Tony Watson had a 2-1 count on Marwin Gonzalez in the sixth inning. His next pitch was over the plate and low, but clearly within the strike zone. Home plate umpire Dan Iassogna called it a ball. Fox's John Smoltz started to say the umpire blew the call, but stopped. He probably realized he should not say that on the air. Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes had failed to catch the ball smoothly, so Smoltz jumped on that, saying that Iassogna made his call because the pitch "was not presented as a strike". There is absolutely nothing in the rule book about how pitches should be "presented" to the umpire. It doesn't matter if the pitch drills the ump in the nuts: if it passes over the plate within the strike zone, it's a strike. ... Have you ever been at a game and overheard some idiot behind you manplaining the game to his date and uttering the most ridiculous (and obviously wrong) things? Have you ever wondered where that guy could have picked up such silly ideas about how baseball works? Well, wonder no more.

Ben Reiter of Sports Illustrated has a lengthy article about David Ortiz's transition from the diamond to the TV studio and his relationship with fellow analyst Alex Rodriguez.

October 31, 2017

WS6: Dodgers 3, Astros 1

Astros  - 001 000 000 - 1  6  0
Dodgers - 000 002 10x - 3  5  0
And there will be November baseball in 2017!


The Dodgers rallied against Justin Verlander in the sixth inning, with Chris Taylor's double knocking in Austin Barnes, who began the inning with a single, which ended Verlander's string of 11 straight batters retired. It was also only the Dodgers' second hit of the game. Then Corey Seager's fly ball to deep right brought home Chase Utley (who had been hit with a pitch) with the go-ahead run. Joc Pederson's solo home run added an insurance run in the seventh, but Kenley Jansen did not need it. He pitched two perfect innings, striking out three of the six batters he faced.

Dodger Stadium will host the first Game 7 in its history (55 years) tomorrow night with Yu Darvish and Lance McCullers on the mound.

Rich Hill (4.2-4-1-1-5, 58) was solid once again for Los Angeles. He allowed only two baserunners in the first four innings, but one of them was a home run by George Springer with two outs in the third. In the top of the fifth, Brian McCann lined a single to right and Marwin Gonzalez ripped an opposite-field double down the left field line. Hill then fell behind Josh Reddick 3-0, but gathered himself and battled back to strike him out. Hill then fanned Verlander and after Dodgers manager Dave Roberts ordered an intentional walk to Springer - which loaded the bases - Roberts came and got Hill. (Despite saying before the game that he might allow Hill to face the Astros' lineup a third time in Game 6, Roberts did not. In Hill's four postseason starts, he faced 18, 19, 18, and 19 batters.)

Brandon Morrow - who threw only six pitches and allowed four runs in Game 5 - faced Alex Bregman. The day off must have done Morrow some good, as his first pitch, a fastball at 98, was fouled off, and then Bregman grounded out to shortstop.

Morrow retired the first two batters in the top of the sixth, but Yuli Gurriel - who was booed lustily all night - singled to center. Tony Watson came in and hit McCann with his second pitch. Gonzalez got ahead in the count 3-1 (home plate umpire Dan Iassogna blew the 2-1 pitch; the count should have been 2-2), but Gonzalez lined out to second.

Verlander had been cruising through the first five innings, throwing 69 pitches and allowing only a one-out single to Yasiel Puig in the second. But Barnes singled to left on a 2-0 pitch and Utley (0-for-his-last-29 postseason at-bats) was hit in the front/right foot. Chris Taylor fell behind 1-2, but lined a single over first base and down the right field line, tying the game. Seager, also behind 1-2, crushed a pitch to deep right that looked like it might carry over the wall. But Reddick caught it at the base of the wall - and Utley scored the go-ahead run easily. The Dodgers had a runner at third with two outs, but Justin Turner fouled to first and Cody Bellinger struck out (he whiffed four times (again) tonight).

(Even though Verlander (6-3-2-0-9, 93) had allowed the Dodgers to take a 2-1 lead, Fox's John Smoltz kept heaping praise on the Houston pitcher, as if he was still dominating and throwing a shutout. It was very similar to what Smoltz did in Game 7 of the ALCS, gushing on and on about the glorious Yankees, who were (even as he spoke) both being shut out and getting torched for multiple runs by the soon-to-be-pennant-winning Astros.)

Watson walked Reddick to begin the seventh. After Evan Gattis was announced as a pinch-hitter, Kenta Maeda came in from the pen. Gattis forced Reddick at second, but beat the relay. Roberts questioned whether Reddick's slide into second was legal - and it was. Springer reached on an infield single that Seager dove to his right and knocked down. At the very least, that may have prevented Gattis from going to third. Derek Fisher went in as a pinch-runner at second base, and he advanced to third when Bregman flied to center. With the potential tying run at third, Maeda got Jose Altuve to ground to third. Turner ranged to his left; his throw was low, but Bellinger made a fantastic scoop for the third out.

With his opposite-field home run off Joe Musgrove, Pederson gave LA a 3-1 lead and became the first player in Dodgers history with an extra-base hit in five straight World Series games.

Jansen - who had allowed one run in each of his last three appearances (Games 2, 4, and 5) - got the ball for the eighth. Carlos Correa flied to left on an 0-1 pitch. (That would be the last fair ball of the night for the Astros.) Gurriel fouled to first and McCann struck out on three pitches. After the Dodgers stranded two runners on base in their half of the eighth, Jansen went back to work. Of his 12 pitches in the top of the ninth, 11 were strikes. Gonzalez (csf) fouled to first, Reddick (cbs) struck out swinging, and pinch-hitter Carlos Beltran (fff) struck out swinging, chasing a high fastball (at 94) for the final out.

For the first time since 2001/2002, the World Series will go to a seventh game in two consecutive years.

Justin Verlander / Rich Hill

The Houston Astros can win their first World Series championship in their 55-year existence with a victory tonight. And they have Verlander - 2.05 ERA in this postseason (five games, four starts) - on the mound. (The Astros' only other World Series appearance came in 2005, when they were swept by the White Sox (who broke a World Series drought that was longer than the one the Red Sox broke the year before).)

On Sunday night, the Astros became the fifth team in history to win a World Series game by overcoming three deficits:

1914 Game 3 - Boston 5, Athletics 4 (12)
Athletics - 100 100 000 200 - 4  8  2
Boston    - 010 100 000 201 - 5  9  1
1986 Game 6 - Mets 6, Red Sox 5 (11)
Red Sox - 110 000 100 2 - 5 13  3
Mets    - 000 020 010 3 - 6  8  2
1993 Game 1 - Blue Jays 8, Phillies 5
Phillies  - 201 010 001 - 5 11  1
Blue Jays - 021 011 30x - 8 10  3
2011 Game 6 - Cardinals 10, Rangers 9 (11)
Rangers   - 110 110 300 20 -  9 15  2
Cardinals - 200 101 012 21 - 10 13  3
2017 Game 5 - Astros 13, Dodgers 12 (10)
Dodgers - 300 130 113 0 - 12 14  1
Astros  - 000 430 410 1 - 13 14  1
The previous four teams all won the series.

Yasiel Puig, Dodgers outfielder: "This is not going to be finished Tuesday. There's going to be a Game 7."

Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times: "It's Been A Crazy World Series, And We're Clamoring For More"
The World Series is driving you bonkers, and there's nothing you can do about it.

Every time you think the Dodgers have won, some wide-eyed Houston Astro swings from his fancy cleats, clangs a ball into a bleacher and dances all over your heart.

Every time you think the Dodgers have lost, Cody bellows or Corey flexes or Puig becomes Puiiiiig and suddenly you're clutching that scratchy rally towel and tugging on that faded blue T-shirt and hopping around the middle of your living room to the rattling of your Vin bobblehead.

You scream, you groan, you nearly pass out twice, then, early Monday morning in Houston, your world is turned upside down when the series shifts on a 10th-inning Astros single ...

The Astros' memorable, painful 13-12 victory over the Dodgers in Game 5 was yet another example of a week filled with both miraculous drama and unabashed kookiness. And though you can't take it anymore, you also can't get enough.

This cannot yet be declared the best World Series ever ... [but] this certainly qualifies as the craziest World Series ever, with balls flying, bats flipping, bullpens crumbling, legends dissolving, fans trespassing, players insulting, and a manager feuding with fans.
(That column also features the phrase "sunbathing their testicles".)

David Barron, Houston Chronicle: "Astros, With Justin Verlander On Mound, In Position To Win First World Series"
Minute Maid Park and Dodger Stadium, separated by 1,540 miles of Interstate 10, are opposite poles in a weeklong competition of attrition, success, failure, magic and calamity that is the 2017 World Series.

Five games of the best-of-seven series are in the books, and it will end - must end - on the western side of the commute, where the Astros will win their first World Series championship or the Dodgers will stage a historic comeback before their home fans at Dodger Stadium. ...

The Astros are in position to clinch the series ... because they prevailed Sunday night (and the wee hours of Monday) in one of the most extraordinary games in World Series history, a 13-12 win in 10 innings in which the teams combined for 25 runs, 18 hits, three ties and four lead changes. ...

The situation in which the Astros find themselves entering Game 6 also has historic punch. The Astros in 2004 traveled to St. Louis in search of their first National League pennant, leading the series 3-2 and flying high after a dramatic Game 5 victory, only to lose twice to the Cardinals, who went on to the World Series.

For that matter, these 2017 Astros faced a similar challenge against the Yankees, trailing 3-2 in the American League Championship Series, and returned home to win Games 6 and 7 to advance to the World Series. It was a triumph, but, this week, it's also a warning of what can happen.
Dylan Hernandez, Los Angeles Times: "Dave Roberts' Managing Skills Will Be Put To The Test In Dodgers' Must-Win Game 6 Of World Series"
For Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, running a game borders on a religious experience in that it's an act of faith.

Faith in his players. Faith in the organization's system. ...

The ultimate test is coming up. ...

"You just can't really get caught up in just chasing results," Roberts said. "You have to kind of really believe in the process and I know I do." ...

Roberts also has remained loyal to the organization's philosophy on how to run a pitching staff. Instead of counting on relievers to extinguish fires, he calls on them to prevent fires from even starting. This translates to fewer innings by starting pitchers, who, with the exception of Clayton Kershaw, are typically allowed to pitch to the opposing lineup only twice. ...

The line of thinking came under fire in Game 2 when Roberts removed starter Rich Hill after only four innings. Hill allowed only one run and the Dodgers almost ran out of pitcher in the 11-inning defeat. ...

Over the remainder of this World Series, the challenge for Roberts will be to balance his philosophical beliefs and the physical realities that have taken hold of his team. His bullpen is exhausted ... Roberts acknowledged that would make him more inclined to give Hill a longer leash in Game 6.
Astros: Since 1985, teams with a 3-2 advantage in either an LCS or the World Series have won the series 37 of 56 times (66%). But they have won only 14 out of 28 times (50%) when on the road for Games 6 and 7.

Dodgers: Since 1985, teams down 3-2 in either an LCS or the World Series have come back to win the series 19 of 56 times (34%). When those teams are at home, they have won 14 of 28 times (50%). And if that team won Game 6, they have won Game 7 14 of 16 times (88%). ... In the World Series, 20 teams have come back to win the series after being down 2-3; 14 of the 20 teams did it by winning Game 6 and Game 7 at home.

Recent history of coming back from 2-3: The 2017 Astros won Games 6 and 7 of the ALCS at home. The 2016 Cubs won Games 6 and 7 of the World Series on the road.

October 30, 2017

2004 ALCS Reunion At 2017 World Series

Kevin Millar posted this picture to his Instagram account:

kevinmillar15 Dave Roberts and I saying thank you to Mariano before the game today for being famous!!! 😂🙈 without the walk who knows what the hell we would be doing now!😂 #2004 #TheWalk #TheStolenBase
P.S.: Did you know that Millar wrote the foreword to Don't Let Us Win Tonight? Well, he did. So if you don't yet have copy, get one now.

"Just Because Baseball Is Broken Doesn't Mean It Should Be Fixed"

I have already pointed out the fantastic writing Grant Brisbee has been doing for SB Nation during the World Series. I know a tiny bit about writing on deadline and I'm extremely impressed with his ability, especially in the aftermaths of Games 2 and 5, to accurately recount numerous nearly undescribable events and our myriad thoughts and emotions in the wake of those events within a few hours.

Also, you have to appreciate an article that begins (with all sincerity, I believe) "Words fail", but then uses 1,537 words proving the complete inaccuracy of those first two words.
The Astros And Dodgers Broke The Game Of Baseball Into A Million Pieces
Game 5 of the 2017 World Series was baseball. Unless it was another sport entirely.
Grant Brisbee, SB Nation, October 30, 2017

Words fail. Analogies go limp. A common refrain for a game like Game 5 of the 2017 World Series is that baseball is drunk. Baseball is not drunk. Drunk people don't fall up the stairs, through a window, and explode upon contact with the moon. This is not a movie. Movies have plots, logical progressions from A to B. This is not an avant-garde movie, either, where the director was trying to be weird. Both the Dodgers and Astros really, really, really wanted to be normal, and they absolutely could not. ...

I would like you to consider two truths, both equally valid. The first one is that this is the best baseball has to offer. It was lead change after lead change. It was the absence of hope followed by redemption, several dozen times, on both sides. This was a Rocky movie, where the on-screen boxing didn't resemble real boxing, but nobody cared because it was so damned compelling. There were homers when you expected them and homers when you didn't expect them. ...

The second truth is this: That was unbelievably awful baseball. I have here in my hand a list of 205 stupid, dumb, irredeemable parts of this game. It was unthinkable calamity all around. ...

And yet it was the absolute best baseball game. And the absolute worst baseball game. But also the best! ...

Are the baseballs juiced? Or slick? Did the grind grind grind of relievers in the hook-happy postseason catch up to both teams? Does the season-long attention paid to pitch counts affect the stamina of pitchers trying to slog through an extra month of high-adrenaline baseball? Is this just how baseball is now, a cavalcade of unfathomably strong super-athletes waiting for mistakes that will inevitably come because pitchers have reached the upper limits of what the human body will allow?

It's yes to all of the above, unless it's no to all of them. Hell, I don't know. You don't either. It's just different. We'll get used to it just in time for everything to change again. ...

I figured Game 2 was the wildest game we would see for months. It didn't even take a week for baseball to get sillier and dumber.
I Fell Asleep During Game 5 Of The World Series And I Hate Myself
At least I'm well-rested unlike all of you, though.
Charlotte Wilder, SB Nation, October 30, 2017

I fell asleep. I fell asleep in the sixth inning. ...

I fell asleep before the rest of the most nutso, bizarro, insane, nonsensical — and one of the longest — World Series baseball games of all time. What I didn't see was somehow even more batshit crazy than what I did.

How do I feel about this? Terrible. I'm suffering from a horrible case of baseball FOMO, that devastating and crippling knowledge that you missed The Unbelievable Game Everyone Else is Talking About. While your friends, colleagues, and fellow Americans were riding the roller coaster of home runs, high fives, and heartbreak, you were fucking sleeping.

On the other hand, I got a solid eight hours, so I'm doing great.

Look, postseason baseball is a no-win situation when it comes to being a functional human. You either stay up to witness history with low-grade slumber anxiety ... or you go to bed and wake up the next morning ... and self-flagellate through the news cycle as you read about the incredible things you didn't feel.

[F]eeling is the point of the whole damn sport. Yes, you can always find out what happened the next day, but you can't feel it. ...

So you have to make choices. As an adult fan, you either accept that you're going to be a zombie for most of October and hope it doesn't interfere with your job, your family, your mortgage payments, etc. As a kid, you come to terms with the fact that your grades will dip and you might not get into college, but that it will be worth it in the long run ...

Or you could go to bed, be good at your job, get into a good school, and miss the gut punches and the soaring highs.
Whitney McIntosh, also at SB Nation, offers a recap of Game 5. It's entertaining, because just about any accurate thing you wrote about Game 5 would be entertaining, but the real fun is the two comments by Balmy Henry, the first of which (posted at 5:24 AM!) is titled: "Puig needs to issue a correction for his characterization 'f**king baby stadium'".

October 29, 2017

WS5: Astros 13, Dodgers 12 (10)

Dodgers - 300 130 113 0 - 12 14  1
Astros  - 000 430 410 1 - 13 14  1
Now that the second longest World Series game in history is over, I am very tempted to simply type "If you watched the game, you know what happened; if you did not, then you wouldn't believe me anyway" and go to bed. But I won't.

The first thing is: We did not get the pitching duel we were promised. Neither Clayton Kershaw nor Dallas Keuchel went five innings and I suspect that by the eighth, everyone had forgotten that either pitcher had even been in the game.

Keuchel threw 32 pitches in the top of the first. Chris Taylor singled and, with one out, both Justin Turner and Enrique Hernandez walked. After Cody Bellinger fanned, Logan Forsythe lined a two-run single to left. With Yasiel Puig at the plate, Forsythe took off for second as Keuchel threw to first. Yuli Gurriel's throw to Jose Altuve at second was well off-target, to the outfield side of the bag, and Forsythe was able to slide in ahead of Altuve's tag. Houston challenged the call, but it was upheld. Puig was retired catcher-to-first.

Kershaw looked sharp through three innings. The Astros' only baserunner was a leadoff single in the third by Evan Gattis, who was promptly erased in a double play.

After the Dodgers scored their third run, Keuchel retired the next eight batters. But Forsythe struck again, with a one-out double in the fourth. Austin Barnes knocked him in with a two-out single to left. (At that point, 16 of the Dodgers' 22 runs in the World Series had scored with two outs.) Charlie Culberson kept the inning going with a single and that ended Keuchel's start (3.2-5-4-2-4, 86). Luke Gregerson struck out Taylor to end the rally.

Perhaps the long wait on the bench bothered Kershaw, because he struggled in the fourth. He walked George Springer and Jose Altuve singled with one out. Carlos Correa doubled to left, scoring Springer. The Dodgers challenged the safe call at second, but it was upheld. Gurriel then crushed a first-pitch, three-run homer to deep left. The blast hit high on the back wall behind the bleachers – and the game was tied 4-4.

In the top of the fifth, Collin McHugh began his night by walking Corey Seager and Turner. (He had pitched only once in the entire postseason, throwing four innings in ALCS 3 on October 16.) Hernandez struck out, but Bellinger belted a three-run dong to right-center. The ball landed in the first row of seats, but it was enough to give LA a 7-4 lead. . . . For about 15 minutes. Kershaw (4.2-4-6-3-2, 94) got the first two outs in the bottom of the fifth, but walked Springer (eight pitches) and Alex Bregman (10 pitches). Kenta Maeda took over and Altuve went deep on a full-count pitch. It was the third three-run home run in the last three half-innings – and it re-tied the game at 7-7.

Both teams took a breather in the sixth. Turner opened the seventh with a double, but was forced at third on Hernandez's grounder to reliever Brad Peacock. Bellinger fell behind 0-2 and hit a sinking liner to center. Springer ran in and dove for it, but it skipped past him and rolled to the warning track. Hernandez scored easily on the triple. But the Dodgers could not do anything else, as Forsythe struck out and Puig flied to left.

Brandon Morrow came in for the home half of the seventh – and had one of the worst outings in World Series history. He threw only six pitches, but Houston did about as much damage with them as humanly possible:
Springer: First-pitch home run to left, tying the game at 8-8
Bregman: First-pitch single to center field
Altuve: Called strike 1; double to left-center, Astros lead 9-8
Correa: Ball 1 (wild pitch, Altuve to third); home run to left-center, Astros lead 11-8
Both teams scored in the eighth: Joc Pederson doubled and scored for Los Angeles (but they left runners at second and third) and Brian McCann hit a solo home run for Houston.

The Astros led 12-9 and Chris Devenski, who had recorded the final out in the eighth, was on the mound for the ninth. Three more outs and the Astros would have a 3-2 lead in the series. Devenski fell behind Bellinger 3-0 and walked him on five pitches. After a mound visit, Devenski got Forsythe on strikes. Then Puig homered to left for two runs and Austin Barnes doubled to left-center. Pederson grounded to shortstop for the second out, and Barnes went to third. Taylor fouled off a pitch and Devenski threw two balls. He evened the count at 2-2 with a called strike down the middle, but Taylor grounded the next pitch up the middle and into center field for a hit – and Barnes came home with the tying run. Seager flied to center to end the inning.

Kenley Jansen faced the heart of the Houston lineup in the bottom of the ninth. He got two outs on four pitches, but Gurriel doubled to left-center. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts visited the mound to talk things over. Jansen faced Josh Reddick, who flied to short left on a 1-1 pitch.

And it was on to extra innings! I would not have been surprised if, after such an offensive showing, both teams threw up zeroes for a while, but that did not happen.

Joe Musgrove allowed only a one-out single to Andre Ethier in the top of the tenth. Bellinger flied to center and Forsythe grounded into a fielder's choice.

As he did in the ninth, Jansen got the first two Astros in the tenth. McCann nearly won the game with a long, high drive down the right field line, but it was foul. On the next pitch, McCann was hit on the right arm near the wrist and trotted to first base. Jansen lost control of the strike zone and walked Springer on five pitches, though ball 4 might have been at the top of the strike zone. Derek Fisher pinch-ran for McCann at second base as Bregman – who had homered off Jansen in the ninth inning of Game 4 – stepped in. Jansen threw his 33rd pitch of the night – and Bregman lined it to left. Pederson threw home, but it was not in time as Fisher scored the winning run.

Seven home runs were hit in this game, making a total of 22 for the five games, and a new World Series record. (The 2002 World Series had 21 dongs.)

Way back when the Dodgers led 3-0 and 4-0, Fox gave a couple of factoids: In the last two seasons (including the postseason), when Kershaw has worked with a three-run lead, the Dodgers are 25-1. And since 2012 (including postseason games), when Kershaw has a four-run lead, his team is 49-1. . . . Well, you can make that now 25-2 and 49-2.

The game lasted 5:17, ending at 1:39 AM (EST). The longest World Series game in history was Game 3 in 2005 (5:41), when the White Sox beat the Astros 7-5 in 14 innings. That game tied Game 2 of the 1916 World Series for the longest game by innings (Red Sox 2, Dodgers 1, with Babe Ruth throwing a complete game in 2:32 (!!)).
Clayton Kershaw / Dallas Keuchel

The 2017 World Series is now a best-of-three, with a deciding third game, if necessary, at Dodger Stadium.

Kershaw pitched seven innings in Game 1, limiting the Astros to one run and three hits, while striking out 11 and issuing no walks. Keuchel allowed three runs and six hits (including two home runs) in 6.2 innings. This rematch marks the first time since the 2010 World Series (so not that long ago, actually) that former Cy Young Award winners faced each other twice in the same World Series.

Kershaw has allowed eight runs in this postseason, and all of them have scored on home runs. He's given up seven dongs in four starts. "I feel the homers I give up are pretty legit. As long as you're making your pitches, you might hit one off the wall that you're not supposed to or something, but other than that, you can't really change."

Some meaningless stuff: Since 1985, when the LCS expanded to a best-of-seven, there have been 28 LCS or World Series tied at 2-2. The Game 5 winner has taken home the trophy in 18 of those 28 series (64.3%).
For Dodgers fans: When a team wins Game 5 on the road and takes a 3-2 lead (with Games 6 (and possibly) 7 at home), it has won the series 9 out of 10 times.

For Astros fans: When a team wins Game 5 at home and takes a 3-2 lead (with Games 6 (and possibly) 7 on the road), it has won the series 9 out of 18 times.
Noted: Over at MLB.com, it appears that all of the writers are referring to the World Series now as simply the "World Series". Previews, game stories, opinion pieces, everything ... just "World Series". No mention of a corporate sponsor. I cannot imagine enough people complained to MLB to get it to stop the practice, so perhaps the sponsor paid MLB to force its writers to type the corporation's name after "World Series" for only the first couple of games.