Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Observations Before Game Four

The Mets have looked overwhelmed
Last night's victory notwithstanding, the Royals have just overpowered the Mets so far. It's weird to say that considering the Mets are an Alex Gordon homer from being up 2-1 right now, but game two showed exactly why the Royals are up in this series. They saw 142 pitches and swung and missed six of them, they went 5-12 with runners in scoring position and Johnny Cueto, who's been pitching more like Mike Pelfrey than the guy he was on the Reds, gave up just two Lucas Duda singles en route the first World Series complete game since Jack Morris on 1991. I've been saying Royals in five since the beginning, and I'm sticking with that.
The Royals are the standard of how to build a contender
I mean, not counting the 20 or so years of futility before they got good. I mean going back to 2006, when Dayton Moore got the job as GM in Kansas City. Part of the reason this team is so good is because Moore knew what type of team to construct and stuck to the plan. KC had already taken Alex Gordon with the second overall pick the year before.
After whiffing on Luke Hochevar with the number one overall in 2006. Moore chose Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer numbers two and three in 2007 and 2008 respectively. In 2009, Zack Greinke had an ERA of 2.16 and won the Cy Young. Unfortunately, the Royals were still terrible and after the 2010 campaign he requested a trade. Moore dealt him to the Brewers for a group of players including Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain. Then he laid low and let everyone develop until this year, when he traded for Cueto and Ben Zobrist. Now they're two games from being champions. Well done, Mr. Moore.
Bartolo Colon pitching makes the world a better place
But you already knew that.
The power outage in game one was actually great
After there was a power outage in Fox's truck, we were sent to MLB International's feed of the game, with Matt Vasgersian and John Smoltz as the announcers. That inning and a half was terrific. They were a lot more relaxed than the Fox  guys, Vasgersian just said what was happening, while Smoltz gave some pretty good analysis. Then Fox decided their viewers couldn't go fifteen minutes without hearing Joe Buck and Harold Reynolds and moved them into the MLB International area.
That was annoying. For as long as I can remember, Joe Buck has irritated the crap out of me. From the holier than thou reaction to Randy Moss mooning the Lambeau Field crowd to going out of his way to mention it when a pitcher has a no-hitter going to him not even attempting to be objective when his beloved Cardinals are playing. Reynolds is a good choice for a color guy in theory, he's charismatic and funny. Until he starts analyzing and says absolutely nothing of value. That leaves Tom Verducci. He's good, but can rarely get a word in with Reynolds saying the first thing that crosses his mind after every pitch.
David Wright deserves this
In a lot of ways he's the Met's version of Joe Mauer. Wright had his breakout year in 2005 when he was 22, Mauer a year later as a 23-year-old. They both had rough, injury filled years in 2011but still looked like easy future hall-of-famers before their production sloped downward quickly in 2014. They've both dealt with some unfair criticism from the over expecting local media. But last night, when Wright launched that homer into the left field seats, none of that mattered. He had been the face of the franchise for ten years and he had finally proved himself.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Thoughts on the Royals and Blue Jays, But Mostly the Royals

     Tonight is the most important game in the playoffs so far. It may seem weird to say that when three of the four divisional series went the maximum five games, but this feels like a game seven. No team has even allowed the other to tie up the series at 3-3 after being up 3-1 and gone on to win game seven. Regardless of your opinions of whether momentum exists, that's just what's happened.
     Besides, there' more at stake here than just a game. This is David Price's chance to prove that he can pitch in the postseason, John Gibbons quest to break the record for most pointless pitching changes in one series and the Royals chance to thumb their collective noses at all stat nerds all around the country.
     That last point is why I like Kansas City so much. They don't hit a lot of homers, they don't walk very often, their pitchers don't strike guys out, yet they pull games out with the same formula every time: score a few runs early by hitting singles and stealing as many bases as possible. Then play great defense until they can hand it off to the bullpen in the seventh inning. They're the only team except for maybe the Cardinals who could have gone through the debacle that was Johnny Cueto while barely allowing it to affect their season after the trade deadline this year.
     The Blue Jays are the polar opposite in styles of play. They're built on guys hitting bombs, leading the league with 232 homers this year. While the Royals win by outlasting their opponent, the Jays crush, pillage and destroy their opponents with both their lineup and dominant starting rotation. And that's why this series is so much fun. The contrasting styles make anything possible.
     Back to the Royals. What I mentioned in two paragraphs ago all goes into the Cardinals-esque way they've been playing this year. I'm still bitter about how Kendrys Morales looked six levels beyond washed-up last year with the Twins and suddenly he's getting clutch playoff hits with the Royals this year. There is never a situation where they're out of a game.
     In fact, the eighth inning in game four against the Astros was the best representative of their season. Down 6-2 with Will Harris pitching and the following happens: Rios singles, Escobar singles, Zobrist singles, Cain singles, driving in Rios, Hosmer singles, Zobrist, Morales reaches on a tough error by Carlos Correa and two more score. Suddenly in the matter of about 15 minutes the game's tied.
     But it was what happened next that was the most amazing. After a Moustakas strikeout, Drew Butera came up. Butera is the definition of an all-field no-hit catcher. He started his career on the Twins and was basically that kid in little league who struck out every time he came to the plate. His career batting line is .185/.245/.266. He has 22 more career strikeouts than hits. What I'm trying to say is that he's really horrible.
     Watching the game, I was expecting what I'm guessing lots of Twins fans were. A three pitch strikeout. But something weird happened. He took three balls and fouled off about nine more before drawing a tough, demoralizing walk. It turned out to be important, too as the next batter, Gordon grounded out, scoring Hosmer.
     That's what's weird about the Royals, and that's why I'm taking them tonight to go to the World Series.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Beginning of the Playoffs

Observations from the First Few Days
Jake Arrieta isn't human
But we already knew that. The wildcard dominance just reaffirmed it. In the second half, hitters hit .184/.204/.205 off of him scoring 12 runs. In 107.3 innings. That comes out to one run for every nine innings he pitched. If you're looking for someone to pull a Madison Baumgarner this year, he's the odds on favorite, and no one else is close.
Managers getting too cute
This isn't really specific to these playoffs but managers just seem to be trying too every year in the postseason, mainly while managing their bullpen. Last year Ned Yost inexplicably decided to put Yordano Ventura in the seventh inning of the wildcard playoff against the A's in 2014. This year, in game one of the Blue Jays-Rangers series Jeff Bannister pulled Yovani Gallardo after five innings in which he gave up two runs on 79 pitches. Yeah, you read that right. While Gallardo wasn't exactly cruising there's no reason to pull him just because he had given up one run the inning before. While it makes sense to be more careful in October, all the pitchers could be working for three weeks. It's just a nonsensical strategy.
Someone needs to give everyone on the Pirates a hug
Three years, three one game crapshoots in the playoffs and two frustrating exits. To put it bluntly: the playoff system is stupid. there is no reason for a one game playoff in a sport with as long of a season as baseball other than to make money and get some cheap excitement. This isn't fair to the Pirates, who have averaged 93 wins a season and deserve better than some gimmicky cry for attention from the MLB. That's been the rant. Now back to the regularly scheduled column.
Injury Report
Carlos Gomez: A strained intercostal has relegated Gomez to pinch running duties the first two games of the ALDS. He's been just as entertaining as usual, getting picked off in game two and drawing multiple throws in the first game. The Astros are being pretty noncommittal about his status but I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the lineup in game three.
Adrian Beltre: After straining his back, Beltre missed half of game one of the Rangers-Blue Jays series and all of the second game. The Rangers are saying he's day-to-day, so with the day off my guess is that he plays in game three.
Players to watch
In two sentences or less
George Springer
He's 6'3" 215 pounds and goes all-out on every pitch, like Bryce Harper of a few years ago.
Yoenis Cespedes
Could become a god in Queens if he leads the Mets to the World Series.
Clayton Kershaw
Kershaw is under arguably more pressure this October than any other player. He's melted down in the postseason two straight years and needs to do well to shed the reputation as a choker.
UPDATE: Kershaw wasn't dominant, but pitched decently, going 6 and 2/3 innings and allowing three runs, although he ran into some trouble in the seventh inning in the Dodgers loss to the Mets on last night. The jury's still out.