Angelino in the Outfield (Episode XXXI: The ALCS and NLCS)

Written by :
Published on : October 21, 2016

 

 

We’ve come a long way. And it’s been an emotional roller coaster of a week. I’ve sat in silence in the nosebleed section of Dodger Stadium, while my beloved juggernaut of a team forgot how to hit. I’ve had a full-on doggypile in my living room. Somewhere in there, the Cleveland Indians won the American League pennant. For this week’s episode, I’m going to give you all of the games from the past week, and my reaction to them immediately after. You get to ride in the roller coaster with me for the ups and the downs. And then feel assured that we still have a long way to go.

 

Thursday, October 13th. NLDS Game 5. The Dodgers beat the Nationals 4-3. They take the series 3-2.

Wow. It’s pretty rare that a Division Series game would be considered an instant classic. But this year, we’d already had Games 1, 3 and 4 of the Cubs-Giants series vie for that title. And now we have what might go down as “The Clayton Kershaw Game” if it weren’t for the fact that that one-hour-and-six-minute 7th inning was one of the most bizarre/unique innings in the history of baseball. I could listen to people dissect every decision by managers, Dusty Baker and Dave Roberts, in that inning, forever. And luckily for me, baseball nerds are going to be talking about this one for a long time.

 

Prior to that 7th inning, the game already had its fair share of pivotal moments. The Nationals went up 1-0 in the 2nd, but also stranded runners on first and third. They also had runners on second and third in the 3rd inning, when Roberts brought in Joe Blanton (his set-up guy!) to replace Rich Hill. Blanton got Anthony Rendon to fly out and the Nats squandered another scoring opportunity. In the 4th, Max Scherzer still hadn’t allowed a hit. And he’d end up striking out the side, but it was his 13-pitch walk to Justin Turner in the inning that would be consequential deeper into the game. Yeah. A two-out walk in the top of the 4th, where the runner was stranded. It mattered. And that was all before third base coach, Bob Henley, waved Jayson Werth home in the 6th.

 

 That 13-pitch walk to Justin Turner would come back to haunt Max.

 

That was quite possibly the worst ‘send’ I have ever seen in my life. I know you’re supposed to be aggressive with two outs. I know the bottom of the order was coming up. And I know the Nats had already stranded two guys at third. But even the Dodgers seemed to be going, “What are you thinking???” when the ball was relayed home. I’ve re-watched that play ten times now. And my eyes tell me that Werth had already rounded third when Corey Seager got the relay throw. But in my head, I’ll always remember it comically, like the slowest, most awkward runner on earth was midway between second and third and just kept a-scootin’ on home. Maybe Henley lost the ball in the corner. Maybe Andrew Toles just played it perfectly. Maybe Julio Urias’ pickoff of Bryce Harper in the previous inning cost Werth valuable lead distance from first. Maybe it was just a perfect storm of suck. The juke attempt at the end and defeated facial expression from Werth did not help. The only thing that could have made that worse is if they only lost by one run or something.

 

The very next pitch of the game, in the top of the 7th, was bashed over the wall by Joc Pederson, tying the score at 1. Nobody thinks it was a bad pitch. There was no sign of fatigue or a loss in velocity in Scherzer. It was just a great piece of hitting by Pederson. And Baker still yanked Scherzer after 99 pitches. It might be the first time in history people were complaining for Baker NOT leaving someone in. But why even bring Scherzer out for the 7th if you were just gonna yank him after one ‘mistake’? And now how consequential does that 13-pitch walk to Turner look? Because if he’s at 80-something pitches, he probably gets left in the game. He’d only given up 1 run on 5 hits to that point. This is a guy who will probably win the Cy Young this year. He’s getting paid $15 million. Isn’t this exactly what you’re paying him to be? Instead, the Nats opted to send in the clowns.

 

Ah, the 7th. The Dodgers scored four runs off six pitchers in one inning. Scherzer, Marc Rzepczynski, Blake Treinen, Sammy Solis, Shawn Kelley and Oliver Perez. Roberts countered with three pinch hitters and a pinch runner. Harold Reynolds said his scorecard looked like a Jackson Pollock painting. You gotta love National League baseball. The chess match continued in the bottom of the 7th, when Baker called on Chris Heisey to pinch-hit off of Grant Dayton. And Heisey launched a two-run bomb to left, making it 4-3. With one man on and the top of the Nationals’ order coming up, Roberts called for his closer, Kenley Jansen, to make a 9-out save. And Jansen loaded the bases, before striking out Rendon to stave off any further damage. As if that inning couldn’t have gotten any crazier, it was also about the time in the game that Clayton Kershaw got an idea.

 

Before the game started, a reporter asked Roberts if Kershaw would be available to come out of the pen. “Absolutely not,” was the curt response. That reporter was a fucking idiot. Kershaw had thrown 110 pitches two days prior. And THAT was only on three days rest. It would be crazy to ask Kershaw to even consider pitching. But what if it’s his idea? When Jansen came on in the 7th, Kershaw started doing the math in his head and realized that Jansen was going to run out of gas before he got that 9th out. And after the 8th inning, the TV broadcast cut to images Kershaw making his way to the bullpen. It was all the announcers could do to stop from shouting, “No fucking way!” My phone started blowing up with texts.

 

 The Legend of Kershaw grows.

 

Jansen struck out Turner to start the bottom of the 9th. Then he walked Harper. At this point, Jansen was past his career high in pitches and looked like Ali at the end of the fight in Manila. But he stayed in to face Werth. That could have something to do with Werth’s .313/.389/.500 slash line against Kershaw. But Jansen walked Werth as well. And then Daniel Murphy was up next. That’s when Roberts called for Kershaw.

 

I mean, holy shit.

 

Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball. But he had a reputation for choking in October. Murphy plucked himself from obscurity last October and then proved it wasn’t a fluke over the course of the 2016 regular season, with one of the best hitting performances in the National League. He hit .438 in this series, for Chrissakes. Plus, Kershaw and Murphy have a history. It was Murphy’s home run in Game 1 of the NLDS last year that started his legend and simultaneously contributed to another Kershaw postseason loss. Then Murphy homered off Kershaw again in Game 4 of that series, exactly a year removed from when he’d be called to the mound with two on, one out and the season on the line.

 

Murphy popped out to second.

 

The next batter was Wilmer Difo, a Dominican pinch hitter whose name, when typed, looks way too much like Willem Dafoe. And Kershaw would strike him out to end the game. The Nationals have still never advanced past the NLDS. According to Sarah Langs, Kershaw’s last professional save was in the Gulf Coast League in 2006. His catcher was current Dodgers closer, Kenley Jansen. The team he was facing was the GCL Nationals. And that team’s manager was current Nats third base coach, Bob Henley.

 

 Live it up boys.

 

Add this game to the postseason legend of Dave Roberts. This guy isn’t going to just be defined by one stolen base in 2004. And mark this game as Exhibit A in the postseason narrative shift for Kershaw, who pitched in every game the Dodgers won in the series. Remember, Randy Johnson lost seven playoff games in a row with the Mariners, Astros and Diamondbacks between 1995 and 2001 before his dominance in the 2001 NLCS and World Series made him synonymous with postseason excellence. I feel like Kershaw could do the same. I’m a Cubs fan and I don’t want him to do that. But its not like it’s up to me. Congrats Dodgers. I’ll see you at Games 3, 4 and 5.

 

Friday, October 14th. ALCS Game 1. The Indians beat the Blue Jays 2-0. They lead the series 1-0.

“If this is what October is like, I want to do this every year.” That’s what Francisco Lindor said after Game 1 of the ALDS against the Red Sox. In Game 1 of the ALCS, Lindor’s two run homer off of Marco Estrada was all the Indians needed after Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen silenced a Blue Jays offense that scored 22 runs in three games against Texas. Kluber is now at 13 1/3 scoreless innings in the postseason. Miller struck out five of the six batters he faced. Allen had a 1-2-3 9th.

 

Game 1 was probably a must-win for the Indians, since Kluber is really their only reliable starter. Especially now that Trevor Bauer has sliced his pinkie finger repairing a drone. You read that correctly. Dude is 25 and makes $2 million a year. He fixes drones, apparently. The positive for Cleveland is that this is their 4th win in a row. And current  projections still favor them over Toronto (FanGraphs gives the Dodgers a slight edge over the Cubs in the NLCS). And even the East-loving pundits, who still aren’t really sure what to make of Terry Francona’s bullpen usage are saying things like, “This is a team that swept a very good Boston Red Sox lineup.” Still mostly just a Red Sox compliment, but baby steps.

 

Saturday, October 15th. ALCS Game 2. The Indians beat the Blue Jays 2-1. They lead the series 2-0.

I’m sensing a pattern here. Indians pitcher keeps a formerly-unstoppable offense silent. Indians’ offense scores a couple of runs. Andrew Miller comes in strikes everybody out for two innings. Cody Allen slams the door. It was the exact same game as Game 1. Why would you change anything?

 

 ANDREW. MILLER.

 

For two games in a row, I thought the Toronto bats looked poised to explode. I was wrong both times. But we’re heading to Toronto, where things could change. If not, Francisco Lindor (who wasn’t even alive when Joe Carter hit that walk-off in 1993) is about to be really famous. And Andrew Miller (plus Buck Showalter) could change the entire way bullpens are designed going forward.

 

Saturday, October 15th. NLCS Game 1. The Cubs beat the Dodgers 8-4. They lead the series 1-0.   

Holy shit, that was beautiful. An 8th-inning gamble by Dodgers manager, Dave Roberts, backfired so epically and in such a shockingly unexpected fashion, that I doubt, years from now, many people remember all of the other Cubs awesomeness that happened in this game, prior to that 8th.

 

I doubt they remember Ben Zobrist throwing Adrian Gonzalez out at the plate in the top of the 2nd. I doubt they remember Javier Baez’ heads-up bloop double that put the Cubs up 2-0 in the bottom of the inning. They might not even remember Baez stealing home after he got caught off third base on a safety squeeze. And Dexter Fowler, who had a better game than anyone, made two diving catches, one of which was fucking spectacular. If you mention it at a bar years from now, you might mention that he broke his belt on the play, just to jog a memory or two. Even Joe Buck, who I’d spent years dogging, had a superb night in the announce booth. When Pedro Baez’ molasses pace was sucking the life out of the entire game in the 5th or 6th, he blurted out, “This Pedro Baez is really tough to watch.” But all of that is dust in the wind.

 

The only thing people will probably be talking about years from now (and they will be talking about it), was that 8th inning. Adrian Gonzalez’ two-out, bases-loaded single off Aroldis Chapman tied the game at 3 in the top of the inning. And then the Cubs came to the plate needing the same type of late-inning heroics that won them the Division Series in San Francisco. Joe Blanton was on the hill for Los Angeles. Oh man.

 

Zobrist led off with a double. Then the ice-cold Addison Russell grounded out and couldn’t advance Zobrist to third. Why Joe Maddon didn’t have Russell bunt there is pretty confusing, but I’m already over it. Then the Dodgers intentionally walked Jason Heyward to get to Javy Baez. At the time, everyone I was watching with said, “Uh… thank you.” But Baez flew out. Two down. This is when Roberts started doing his chess match shit that won him the NLDS in D.C. And Blanton intentionally walked Chris Coughlan, since Chapman was next in the batting order. Joe Maddon’s hand was forced. He sent Miguel Montero (a lefty) to the plate to face Blanton (a righty). In theory, Roberts was going to pull Blanton and bring in Grant Dayton (lefty) and then Maddon would burn Montero and counter with the hot-hitting Wilson Contreras (righty). But Blanton stayed in and went up on Montero 0-2. Oh man. Lemme quote Joe Buck one more time.

 

“Here comes the 0-2. Line drive into right, back at the wall, it is GONE!!! GRAND SLAM, MONTERO! Game 1 HERO!”

 

And here’s Pat Hughes on 670 The Score.

 

“Blanton ahead of Montero nothing and two. The windup and the pitch… Montero drives one in the air! Deep right field! It’s got a chaaaaaaaaaance! GRAND SLAM!!! GRAND SLAM, MIGUEL MONTERO!!! CUBS LEAD 7-3!” Then Ron Coomer added, “WRIGLEY FIELD IS SHAKING RIGHT NOW AFTER THE BLAST THAT MONTERO – UNBELIEVABLE!”

 

 

I completely lost it. A hugging, jumping, screaming fit in the middle of my living room that went on for so long that I barely noticed that Fowler hit a solo shot, back-to-back on the very next pitch. I honestly don’t even care how the game ended. I think Anthony Rizzo made a sick defensive play to double off Andrew Toles. Whatever. Nobody will remember. It was another dramatic victory for the Cubs. And their first in the NLCS since 2003. I promptly found a photo of Montero’s shot (the one where Fowler is tossing his bat into the air in the on deck circle) and made it my background photo on Facebook. One win down. And now we face Kershaw.

 

Sunday, October 16th. NLCS Game 2. The Dodgers beat the Cubs 1-0. The series is tied 1-1.

I think we can officially put the whole ‘Clayton Kershaw sucks in October’ narrative to bed. He was dominant through seven innings of a virtual must-win game, limiting the Cubs to two hits in a shutout. And Kenley Jansen struck out four in two perfect innings of relief. Kyle Hendricks made one mistake to Adrian Gonzalez in the 2nd. And that’s the ballgame. I was stuck complaining about Eric Cooper’s bullshit strike zone and occasionally popping out of my seat, like when Anthony Rizzo cranked that massive foul ball or when Javy Baez made a great play at second to force out Josh Reddick and then catch Gonzalez in a run-down. Or when I was convinced Baez hit a two-run bomb in the 7th. According to Statcast, 67% of balls like the one he hit have been home runs at Wrigley this year. Even Kershaw thought it was gone. And Dave Roberts’ annoyingly maniacal laughter after the fact leads me to believe he did too.

 

Kershaw is the greatest pitcher on Planet Earth. But (other than Baez and Kris Bryant) the Cubs just aren’t hitting in the postseason. Like, at fucking all. Ben Zobrist is hitting .182. Dexter Fowler is .167. Jason Heyward is .111. Addison Russell is .045. And Anthony Rizzo – their three hitter – is batting .043. They’ve gotten contributions from the pitchers at the plate. And they went off on Jeff Samardzija for two innings in Game 2 of the NLDS and then the Giants’ garbage bullpen in Game 4. Those bats need to wake up. And hopefully they do. Because I want to be sitting in a silent Dodger Stadium when the Cubs doggypile after Game 5.

 

I still think it might happen. In the last four games, Kershaw and Jansen have pitched more innings than everyone else on the team, combined. They’re 3-1 in those games, which were all one-run wins. But Rich Hill has a 6.43 postseason ERA. He also has blister problems. Kenta Maeda’s postseason ERA is 9.00. It’s like they either get shelled or Kershaw/Jansen save the day. This team just doesn’t have a rotation. If the Cubs can find their bats at all in Los Angeles, we should be moving on. I think.

 

Monday, October 17th. ALCS Game 3. The Indians beat the Blue Jays 4-2. The Indians lead 3-0.

Trevor Bauer’s finger is fucking disgusting. But so is the Cleveland bullpen. I think everybody thought the story of this game was gonna be Jose Bautista’s comments about the mysterious “circumstances” that inhibited the Jays in the first two games of the series (read: strike zone). Especially when his game started with Mike Napoli’s fly ball bouncing out of his glove for an RBI double. And then he led off the bottom of the first taking a called strike three. But it wasn’t too long after that Bauer started gushing.

 

I love that Bauer almost looked like he was trying to hide his pinky from the umpire. It’s still making me laugh picturing some old timer like Joe Niekro pretending it’s not his blood and then using his own wound like a sneaky emery board. But Bauer was out after only facing four batters and Terry Francona would have to rely on his bullpen for the remainder of the game. And I had to assume the Blue Jays would finally decide to hit and the Indians would be drone-fucked.

 

Michael Saunders tied the game in the bottom of the 2nd with a solo shot off Dan Otero. But it was answered in the 4th when Napoli hit a solo shot of his own. Ezekiel Carrera tripled in the 5th and was singled in by Josh Donaldson, tying the game again. But the Indians answered in the 6th with a homer by Jason Kipnis and some great base running by Napoli after he was walked. All the Indians had to do was get to Bryan Shaw, put in Cody Allen in the 7th and let Andrew Miller get the final four outs. Francona looks like a genius. But then again, any manager who has a guy with the ability to strike out 20 batters in 9 innings of postseason work is gonna end up looking pretty good.

 

Corey Kluber is being called on for Game 4 on three days rest. If they win (53% according to FiveThirtyEight), it’s the Indians’ first pennant since 1997. It’s also their 10th win in a row. And everyone will rightfully heap praise upon Miller and the rest of the Indians’ staff. But the longer this team goes into October, the more evident it will be that they’re severely shorthanded. They’ve only started Bauer, Kluber and Josh Tomlin in their 6 postseason games. Now Bauer is drone-fucked. And they’d have to use Ryan Merritt for a potential Game 5. I don’t really know who he is either. The Red Sox and Blue Jays vanished in the first six games (seriously, the Blue Jays have scored three runs and have never had a lead), but I gotta think Cleveland is vulnerable for whoever they face (Cubs???) in the World Series.

 

Tuesday, October 18th. The Blue Jays beat the Indians 5-1. The Indians lead the series 3-1.

Well, the Blue Jays finally found their bats. And it started with Josh Donaldson, who also flashed a little leather at third to save a run. I don’t know how much to read in to the fact that Corey Kluber has never pitched on three days rest before. But with Ryan Merritt going in Game 5 for Cleveland and possibly no one (or probz Kluber again) available for them if it goes all the way to Game 7, this thing could have just gotten interesting.

 

 Hey Blue Jays, you got one!

 

Tuesday, October 18th. The Dodgers beat the Cubs 6-0. The Dodgers lead 2-1.

What a shitty time to go to my first Cubs postseason game. And good thing I also have tickets for Games 4 and 5. Ugh. I know Rich Hill pitched well this season. I know he pitched well enough in the game. I know Clayton Kershaw was good the game before. But that’s 18 innings in a row for the Cubs without a run. That’s not something that usually happens. The analysis prior to the game, at least by Jess Mendoza of ESPN, was that if the Cubs were going to bust out their slumps in the series, Hill wasn’t gonna be the guy they did it against. She also said the Cubs were gonna play better with their backs against the wall, and unfortunately, I’m probably gonna have to see if she’s right on that front too. I’ve watched the Cubs lose big games before, but never surrounded by so many people so happy about my misery. Fuckin’ Dodgers fans. Being down 2-1 would feel a lot less insurmountable if anyone on this goddamn team felt like hitting. 103 wins just to all collectively slump in October? So grumpy.

 

Wednesday, October 19th. The Indians beat the Blue Jays 3-0. They win the series 4-1. 

Prior to Game 5, Jose Bautista, who is not everyone’s favorite player, said that Indians’ starter, Ryan Merritt, would be “shaking in his boots” thinking about facing the Blue Jays’ hitters. Merritt is 24-years-old. He was a 16th-round pick out of a community college in Waco. He has an 83-mile-per-hour fastball. Prior to the game, he had one career start and 11 career innings pitched. Keep in mind that, if not for a freak drone accident, he probably wouldn’t be getting his second career start in a potential pennant-clincher. The kid’s from Texas, so he might own boots. But he was certainly not shaking in a goddamn thing.

 

 Believeland again?

 

Merrit pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings. He retired the first 10 batters of the game. By that point the Indians were up 3-0 off of a double from Mike Napoli and homers from Carlos Santana and Coco Crisp. And then that bullpen came in. Series over. Andrew Miller got MVP honors. The Indians had a little bit of fun with the whole boots comment in the clubhouse and on social media during their celebration. Jason Kipnis told reporters, “That’s why you don’t say dumb shit.” Now is as good a time as any to mention it was also Bautista’s 36th birthday. He batted .167 in what will probably be his last series with Toronto. You’re going to be hearing a lot about 1948, 1997 and the Cleveland Caviliers in the next week. I’ll be worried about what happens if the Indians have a lead on the Cubs after the 5th inning in any of the World Series games. But that thought will have to be tabled for the time being.

 

Wednesday, October 19th. The Cubs beat the Dodgers 10-2. The series is tied 2-2.

Addison Russell and Anthony Rizzo were a combined 3-for-50 in the postseason heading in to Game 4. Regression to the mean is a motherfucker. They each went 3-for-5 with home runs and the Cubs’ bats finally came alive after 21 scoreless innings. Maybe everything was a bit overblown since this is the Cubs we’re talking about. The ’98 Yankees were down 2-1 in the ALCS, for crying out loud. It happens all the time. Cubs fans may even remember the ’84 Padres being down 2-1. Or the 2003 Marlins. This is a fairly normal thing. But the Cubs hadn’t been in this sort of trouble all season long. Yeah, Dodger fans will cry about Adrian Gonzalez being thrown out at home in the 2nd (his hand looked like it was hovering to me). But the Dodgers gave up 10 runs and committed 4 errors. And if it wasn’t for Justin Turner’s grounder taking a bad hop off of Mike Montgomery’s glove in the 5th, the score would have been 10-0. I’d rather be Anthony Rizzo apologizing to Angel Hernandez for trotting to first on a called strike (and homering on the next pitch) than Adrian Gonzalez doing his best Jose Bautista whine impression in the clubhouse after the game. I just hope these bats can stay hot against Kenta Maeda in Game 5 before this series heads back to Wrigley Field.

 

 

Alright. That’s it for this week. If you need more baseball from me, check me out on Comedians Talking Sports with Joe Kilgallon, available on the podcast things. Until then, the Cubs’ Magic Number is 6. Ohmygod.

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode XXX: The ALDS and NLDS)

Written by :
Published on : October 14, 2016

 

Did you think there would be NO drama? Come on. It’s October! We had five-hour games and extra-innings walk-offs. We had tears. We had celebrations. We had sweeps. We have one series that’s not even done yet. Let’s talk about all of it.

 

The Blue Jays swept the Rangers 3-0

Well, add Game 3 of the ALDS in Toronto to the growing annals of Blue Jays playoff history. In the bottom of the 11th, Rougned Odor (of all fucking people) botched a throw to first base on a double play (of all fucking things), allowing Josh Donaldson to race home with a head-first slide, winning the game 7-6 and the series 3-0. As the Rogers Center lost its collective mind, the broadcast cut to a homemade sign that read, “WOULD RATHER GET PUNCHED IN MAY THAN GET KNOCKED OUT IN OCTOBER.”

 

The Rangers pitching in this series was awful. Of the three starters they used, Yu Darvish actually did the “best.” And his 2016 postseason ERA is 9.00. Josh Donaldson, who looked worn down at the end of the regular season, is the hottest hitter in the American League, once again. Edwin Encarnacion isn’t far behind. Either are Ezequiel Carrera or Troy Tulowitzki, for that matter. And Marco Estrada also pitched a gem in Game 1, for a staff that I still think is underrated.

 

 

Oh, and I know that everyone hates Jose Bautista or whatever, but the way he gently sat down his bat when he hit a home run in Game 1 is being grossly overlooked by everyone. First of all, I’m impressed he even had the wherewithal in the moment to think of that. And secondly, that’s so much more shade than any actual bat flip. And it’s dog-whistle enough that dum-dums like Goose Gossage won’t call him “an embarrassment to all Latin players” or whatever garbage shit will come out of his mouth next. I kinda hope gentle bat placements become a thing.

 

Odor’s punch won the early-season battle. Bautista, the Jays and meme generators all over North America won the war.

 

The Indians beat the Red Sox 3-0

It seems like the entirety of the national sports media decided the story of the series was the tearful goodbye of David Ortiz at Fenway Park after Game 3. Not the fact that the team with the best offense in all of baseball was shut down by a team thought to be decimated by pitching injuries. Not even Cleveland’s own beat writers gave the Tribe a fighting chance to make it out of the first round alive. But let’s make sure we focus on the guy we’ve already said goodbye to a thousand times over the course of the six month season. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rob Manfred personally wheels Papi out in every game of the ALCS, NLCS and World Series just so we can keep making sure everyone on the goddamn planet has properly bid this man adieu. He is the 4th-greatest DH of all time, after all.

 

 

Maybe I’m just frustrated by all the old story lines the writers and talking heads try to trot out every October, but if I was an Indians fan, this would annoy the shit out of me. The Indians held the Red Sox to seven total runs in the series. The Sox hadn’t been held to seven runs in a three game series all season long. The Indians also won Game 2 by a score of 6-0 and all anybody really cared about was that LeBron James was there. Or, I guess, that David Price is now 0-8 in 9 playoff starts with a 5.53 ERA. But that was it. Seriously, nobody wants to talk about the team doing any of the actual winning?

 

So what should we talk about? How about Terry Francona’s bullpen usage in Game 1. With Buck Showalter’s non-use of Zach Britton in the Wild Card Game still fresh on everyone’s mind, Tito brought in Andrew Miller in the 5th inning. Miller pitched two scoreless innings and then Cody Allen was brought in to get the final five outs, including Dustin Pedroia’s check swing to end the game. Nerd boners could be seen in the proverbial pants of stat heads across the country. You can dismiss the prospects of Cleveland’s staff in a seven-game series all you want (and I am too). But Miller is the real x-factor coming out of the pen. And you gotta look at a lineup that is averaging 5 runs per game this postseason and wonder what Jose Ramirez, Jason Kipnis or Lonnie Chisenhall can do against that Jays staff.

 

Or, you know, we could just talk about how wonderful it was that Boston gave Ortiz such a nice send-off (again). The designated hitter position has been around since 1973. And it’s only in the American League. And, again, it’s not every day we say goodbye to the 4th-best one of those of all-time. Jim Thome was better. In Ortiz’ prime, Travis Hafner of the Indians was better. And as he exits, the 2016 Indians’ team was better. I think it’s best we finally turn the page. Speaking of which…

 

The Cubs beat the Giants 3-1

 

God bless my patient wife. She put up with a lot over the course of four games. That includes a room full of screaming thirty-something men when Javier Baez hit the home run off Johnny Cueto in Game 1. The five-hour, blue-balls-inducing marathon of Game 3. The emotional roller coaster comeback of Game 4. And God bless her for whatever horrors lie ahead.

 

This series had everything I love about baseball and everything I hate about baseball all at once. And just when the idiotic narrative had switched back to the magical, never-say-die, Even Year Giants, the Cubs (supposedly feeling 108 years of pressure) completed the biggest 9th-inning comeback in a series clincher in the history of postseason baseball. Madison Bumgarner’s postseason scoreless innings streak also ended at 24 (thanks, Jake Arrieta!). The Giants’ winning streak in elimination games ended at 10. Bruce Bochy has finally lost a playoff series while wearing a Giants uniform. And even if the Even Year mystique of the Giants isn’t quite dead, at least I have two more years before I have to look at people with a straight face while they talk about this shit.

 

That Baez home run came in the 8th inning of an all-out pitchers duel between Cueto and Jon Lester. On a normal day, that ball lands on Waveland. But the wind made sure it was the farthest home run to ever land in the left field basket. David Ross also picked off two runners as the Cubs went on to win their first meaningful game in weeks, 1-0. Game 2 had a solo home run from Cubs’ reliever, Travis Wood. And a two-run single from starter, Kyle Hendricks. When Arrieta hit that three-run shot off of Bumgarner in Game 3, the Cubs’ pitchers had six runs batted in and the whole Giants’ team only had two. Unfortunately for me, my wife, my stress level and hearts and livers across Chicago, the series got a little more interesting from there.

 

 

Conor Gillaspie wasn’t even supposed to be playing. He was replacing the injured Eduardo Nunez when he hit that three-run homer in the 9th off Jeurys Familia in the Wild Card Game. And in Game 3, he launched an improbable two-run triple off of Aroldis Chapman’s 102-mph fastball to give the Giants their first lead in the series. Everyone in TV Land was ready to anoint Gillaspie the New Magical Even Year Giant.

 

In the 9th, Kris Bryant hit a two-run shot off of Sergio Romo, which careened off the cartoon Chevron sign and into the left field bleachers to tie the game. You could probably hear my nutball reaction from blocks away. The same goes for Albert Almora Jr’s game-saving catch in the bottom of the inning. Yeah, Joe Panik mercifully ended the 5-hour epic in the bottom of the 13th. But the fact that the Cubs fought back at the end and didn’t just roll over would be a bit of positive foreshadowing for the following night.

 

I know it’s being sold as a bullpen meltdown, but the ineptitude of the Giants’ pen is something that was right under everyone’s nose, if they hadn’t been distracted by all the magical thinking and hopes and dreams of Gillaspie, and seeing Johnny Cueto at Wrigley Field in Game 5. The 2012 San Francisco Giants came back down 0-2 to the Reds in the NLDS and won the whole thing. But this isn’t 2012. Or 2010. Or 2014. Or 1908. Or any other Cubs meltdown year. It’s 2016. Matt Moore pitched a gem. Bochy happened to take him out, leading 5-2.

 

 

He tried Derek Law. Law gave up a single to Bryant. He tried Javier Lopez. Lopez walked Anthony Rizzo. He tried Romo again. Romo gave up a two-run double to Ben Zobrist making it 5-4. He tried Will Smith. Smith gave up a two-run single to Wilson Contreras, tying the game at 5. He tried Hunter Strickland. Strickland gave up an RBI single to Baez, putting the Cubs ahead for good, 6-5. Chapman totally redeemed himself. The Cubs are a better team. And they were the ones chanting “we don’t quit” on the opposing team’s pitching mound for another group photo as they move on to the next round. As much as I love Bill Murray, I was sure glad I didn’t have to see him again until the NLCS.

 

The Dodgers and Nationals are tied 2-2

Like David Price, Clayton Kershaw also has a rep for sucking in the postseason. But who would you rather be right now- Noah Syndergaard, Johnny Cueto and Matt Moore? Kershaw hasn’t been Kershaw. But the Dodgers have won both of the games he’s pitched. Max Scherzer is going in Game 5 for Washington. And he did give up a Major League-leading 31 home runs this season. But beating him twice in five games is almost too much to ask.

 

 

I’ve learned not to weigh in on who I want the Cubs to face in the NLCS (boy did I want the Mets last year). But Daniel Murphy is hot once again. So is Jayson Werth. Trea Turner could be a nightmare for Jon Lester. I think that’s who we’re gonna get. If it’s the Dodgers, they have a red-hot Justin Turner. They have that bullpen. They have Corey Seager, who is loving the first inning. And they have whatever version of Kershaw exists in October. But I’ll just quote Jake Arrieta, when Cubs’ beat writer, Patrick Mooney, asked him if he wanted the Mets or the Giants in the first round. “Who gives a shit?”

 

The Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908. They haven’t even been there since 1945. The Indians haven’t won since 1948. The Dodgers haven’t won since 1988. The Blue Jays haven’t won since 1993. The Nationals have never won. But the Even Year Giants are done. The Big Papi Red Sox are done. Two old story lines have been killed off. And before we end this thing, somebody else’s storied drought will be over too.

 

Okay. That’s it for this week. If you want more baseball from me, check out Comedians Talking Sports with Joe Kilgallon, available on iTunes. Until then, the Cubs’ Magic Number is 8.

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode XXIX: Bumgarner, Britton, MY Final Awards and LDS)

Written by :
Published on : October 7, 2016

 

 

For this cautiously optimistic Cubs fan, there was something oddly poetic and metaphorical about watching Madison Bumgarner walk back to the dugout after pitching yet another October gem for a team that has been there so many times before. By now you should know the long and torturous history of the Cubs, the 107 years of futility and heartbreak, the billy goats, black cats, Leon Durhams and Steve Bartmans. This version of the team needs just 11 more wins on a season where they’ve already won 103. But in the process of chasing the championship, they’re also surrounded by ghosts, whether they be real or imagined. And so in a year where Cubs fans have never been more hopeful that the wait is over, that this is ‘Next Year’, that they can finally break a curse, of course the first obstacle in their way is a magical team with magical powers in even years, with a magical pitcher whose powers are heightened when they need him the most.

 

To me, Bumgarner symbolizes more than just a star pitcher on the San Francisco Giants. He’s also the poster boy for that magical thinking, superstition and all the other illogical nonsense that will be managed and tamed the further the Cubs get into the postseason. I’ve already seen multiple posts about how Bumgarner now has 23-consecutive scoreless innings in winner-take-all games. Before the Wild Card game, picking Noah Syndergaard to be the ‘winner’ was almost seen as contrarian, even though his numbers strongly suggest he’s the better pitcher. None of that mattered. MadBum was already at legend status. And by the time this is posted, it will have snowballed to godlike proportions. Meanwhile, I’m going to venture to guess that nobody, in their analysis of the Bumgarner vs. the Mets, is going to mention that the Mets were tied with the Milwaukee Brewers for 25th in the Majors in runs scored on the season. And that his next round opponent certainly ain’t that.

 

 

As God as my witness, the Chicago Cubs will eventually go the World Series and win the whole damn thing. It will happen before the sun swells up and swallows the earth or Donald Trump nukes Lakeview. So if a curse was actually a real thing, which I assure you it is not, the Cubs would probably have to break an ‘even year’ spell or whatever else is thrown in their way in the process. Good eventually has to defeat evil. You have to go to Mordor to get rid of the Precious. The 2004 Red Sox had to go through the Yankees to break a curse of their own. Because of course they did. Curses are fiction and fiction should have insurmountable odds right before a happy ending. If this were written by Hollywood, the 2016 Cubs’ storybook ending would go ‘Even Year’ Giants, Daniel Murphy, Boston Red Sox. And all of that can happen. So what better place than here? What better time than now? Who’s ready for some playoffs?

 

The AL Wild Card Game
The Blue Jays defeat the Orioles 5-2 in 11 innings

Oh man. I’d feel bad for Ubaldo Jimenez if I thought anybody was actually focusing on him and not on Buck Showalter’s decision to not use Zach Britton in the game. Jimenez, of course, had that infamous 7.38 ERA in the first half, which basically made him the worst starting pitcher in the Majors. But he’d been better lately, I swear. He had a 2.31 ERA in September. There were real people writing actual articles on ESPN.com saying Ubaldo should be starting the game over Chris Tillman. It’s just that Britton had a 0.54 ERA on the season. He hadn’t given up an earned run since August 24th. And that was the only once since April 30th. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

 

In the bottom of the 11th, after Jimenez came on in relief with the score tied at 2, he gave up singles to Devon Travis and Josh Donaldson, before Edwin Encarnacion hit a 3-run walk-off to send Toronto in to the next round. Jimenez threw a grand total of five pitches. Showalter used a grand total of six different relievers after Tillman exited in the 5th. None of them were Britton. Showalter was managing for the save, a made-up statistic for a made-up position that logic should have killed off years ago. And it probably took the strategic failing of a renowned baseball strategist for change to happen. I just hope Joe Maddon and Aroldis Chapman took notice.

 

The NL Wild Card Game
The Giants defeated the Mets 3-0

 

The pitchers duel lived up to the hype, all right. Syndergaard took a no-hitter into the 6th and looked dominant before his pitch count reached its limit at the end of 7. He was aided by a fantastic catch by Curtis Granderson in center. But the slumping Yoenis Cespedes and the mediocre bats of the Mets could get nothing going against Racist Legend Boy and a team that tanked the entire second half and had to sweep the Dodgers to hold off the Cardinals at the end of the season didn’t have to use their garbage bullpen. The game was scoreless until the top of the 9th, when Conor Gillaspie, who had six home runs all season, hit a three-run shot off of Jeurys Familia, who’d only given up one all year. Racist Legend Boy’s 4-hit shutout on 119 pitches and the fact that the year ends in a 6 means something very important to people who get paid money to talk about baseball for a living. Seriously, fuck this team.

 

ALDS Preview: The Rangers vs. The Blue Jays

Well this could be horrifyingly dangerous. The epic rematch that everyone outside of Baltimore should have wanted is actually going to happen. And if drunken Canadians are willing to throw Labatt Blue cans at Hyun-soo Kim, imagine what they want to do to Rougned Odor.

 

I actually think the Jays will take the series. While both teams can definitely score, I like the Jays’ pitching depth a lot more. That Rangers +10 run differential still doesn’t make sense. But why would we talk about any of that? Jose Bautista and Roogie could square off again, you guys!

 

ALDS Preview: The Indians vs. The Red Sox

I don’t think anybody has Cleveland winning this. Boston has the best offense in the Majors. Six of their hitters are at least pretty good. And the Indians’ staff is duct-taped together. Plus, Papi is the Madison Bumgarner of hitting. David Price does have a 5.12 postseason ERA. But Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin haven’t beaten the Red Sox this season. And Corey Kluber can’t match up with Price every game. But mostly, Joey Bats might fight Rougned Odor in that other series, you guys!

 

NLDS Preview: The Cubs vs. The Giants

 

The best pitching in the Major Leagues. The best defense in the Major Leagues. The best offense in the National League, outside of Colorado. The year 1908. The years 2010, 2012 and 2014.
This is the hottest the Giants have been since the All-Star Game, which isn’t saying much. The staff is pretty formidable, especially with Jeff Samardzija pitching well lately. But the team has trouble scoring. So if the Cubs’ deep lineup can heat up, that staff should hold the Giants off.

 

Should and will are two different things, obviously. The Cubs were 7-0 against the Mets in the regular season last year, before getting swept in the NLCS. But the Cubs are the story here. The sports media may be chasing after the Even Year Miracle Hillbilly like a dumb dog chasing a mail carrier. But the Cubs are the best team in baseball. And they’re the favorite until proven otherwise.

 

NLDS Preview: The Nationals vs. The Dodgers

No Stephen Strasburg. No Wilson Ramos. A banged-up Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy. And Dusty Baker managing them. This all bodes well for the finally-healthy Dodgers. The only thing is, the Dodgers have pretty mediocre hitting after Corey Seager and Justin Turner. Especially against lefties. And Clayton Kershaw has been pretty un-Kershaw-like in Octobers past. He’s getting matched up with Max Scherzer, who doesn’t quite suck either. I’ll take Washington. Really. I need them for my Daniel Murphy curse storyline and I don’t want to get jumped in Echo Park during the presumed NLCS while forgetting I’m wearing a Cubs hat.

 

Let’s give out some awards.

 

AL MVP FINAL ANSWER: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

 

As the Major League leader in WAR, by a pretty decent margin, Trout proved once again that he’s the best player in the game. It’s arguable that David Ortiz was a better hitter this year. But there’s really no other metric to suggest the A.L. MVP could possibly be anyone else.

 

I’ve already talked about this at length. Trout has led the league in WAR his first five seasons in the Majors and has one MVP award to show for it. Willie Mays led the National League in WAR ten times from 1954-1966. And he only has two MVP awards to show for it. Those voters look stupid to us now. And, unless Trout brings home some more hardware, they’re on their way to looking stupid again.

 

Honorable Mention: Josh Donaldson, Jose Altuve, Mookie Betts, Adrian Beltre

 

AL CY YOUNG FINAL ANSWER: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

I was surprised too. For me, this came down to the numbers. The narrative of everyone assuming Verlander was done is nice and everything. But that has nothing to do with who was the best pitcher in the league this year. And the numbers pointed to Verlander, Rick Porcello and Corey Kluber.

 

—————————WAR   FIP      ERA

Justin Verlander      5.2      3.48      3.04
Rick Porcello           5.2      3.40      3.15
Corey Kluber           5.1      3.26      3.14

 

That’s about as close as you can get. But it’s that ERA – actual results – that settled it for me. I’d hand Verlander his second Cy. Or his third, since I probably would have given it to him in 2012 too. Just saying.

 

Honorable Mention: Rick Porcello, Corey Kluber, Masahiro Tanaka, Chris Sale, Aaron Sanchez

 

AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR FINAL ANSWER: Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees

 

I’d love to be able to give you a great reason. But this came down to Sanchez, Michael Fulmer and Christopher Devenski. Their WARS were essentially the same, regardless of if anybody had Devenski in the conversation or not. And Devenski’s Win Probability Added (WPA) was better than Fulmer’s, as were his FIP and ERA. That’s pitching 2-3 innings at a time, instead of six. But still, that’s a good argument for why Fulmer wasn’t the even best rookie pitcher in his own league. On the other hand, no other American League position player is touching Sanchez. He hit 20 home runs in 53 games, which is a 61 pace. Holy shit.

 

Honorable Mention: Michael Fulmer, Christopher Devenski, Tyler Naquin, Tim Anderson

 

NL MVP FINAL ANSWER: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs

Like Trout, Bryant led the league in WAR by a decent margin. Unlike Trout, his play contributed to a winning team. Joey Votto, Daniel Murphy and Freddie Freeman were all better hitters. But they can’t hold a candle to Bryant, defensively. The title of best player in the National League has a new claimant.

 

Honorable Mention: Freddie Freeman, Daniel Murphy, Joey Votto, Anthony Rizzo

 

NL CY YOUNG FINAL ANSWER: Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets

 

I’m taking Clayton Kershaw out of the equation, since he pitched in 10 fewer games with 34 fewer innings than Thor. But with a full season, Syndergaard led the league in WAR and FIP, while finishing third in ERA. I love Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester (who finished 1-2 in ERA), but they also had that Cubs defense behind them. And I highly doubt Jose Fernandez would want the award handed to him (although he was right up there). Oh, and Max Scherzer is getting hype as a 20-game winner. But this isn’t 1986 and we have better ways of evaluating value.

 

Honorable Mention: Jose Fernandez, Kyle Hendricks, Johnny Cueto, Madison Bumgarner, Jon Lester    

 

NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR FINAL ANSWER: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers

It’s really not even close. Seager is the best rookie position player since Trout in 2012. And I thought he’d be the best National League rookie since Albert Pujols in 2001 or Mike Piazza in 1993, but it’s actually Dick Allen in 1964. That’s not like, bad company.

 

Honorable Mention: Jon Gray, Kenta Maeda, Trea Turner, Trevor Story, Steven Matz, Zach Davies

 

Okay. That’s it for this week. If you need more baseball from me, check me out on ‘Comedians Talking Sports‘ with Joe Kilgallon on the podcast things. In the meantime, the Cubs’ Magic Number is 11. So nervous!

 

 


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