Showing posts with label Clayton Kershaw. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Clayton Kershaw. Show all posts

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Houston Astros win 2017 World Series with 5-1 victory over Los Angeles Dodgers

George Springer
The Houston Astros lost 111 games in 2013. Four years later, they are the best team in baseball.

The Astros completed their climb from the bottom of the pit to the top of the mountain Wednesday with a 5-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7 of the World Series.

This World Series was one of the most dramatic in a long time, but somewhat surprisingly, Game 7 might have been the only "boring" game of the bunch. The Astros roughed up Los Angeles starter Yu Darvish, scoring five runs in the first two innings. There was never a point where you felt as though the Dodgers could overcome the early 5-0 deficit.

The MVP vote was a foregone conclusion. Leadoff hitter George Springer was right in the middle of everything Houston did offensively in Game 7. His double started a two-run rally in the first inning, and his two-run homer in the second inning capped a three-run rally that made it 5-0.

Springer homered for the fourth consecutive game, tying a World Series record. He hit five home runs total in the series. That also ties a record. Springer posted a .379/.471/1.000 slash line for the series with 11 hits -- eight for extra bases -- and eight runs scored.

Yes, that's a clear MVP-worthy performance.

If we were to pick a LVP (Least Valuable Player) off the Dodgers roster, it would have to be Darvish. The midseason acquisition let Los Angeles down big time, failing to make it out of the second inning in both of his World Series starts.

In Game 7, Darvish lasted only 1.2 innings, allowing five runs (four earned). In Game 3, he lasted only 1.2 innings, allowing four earned runs. Final line: 0-2 with a 21.60 ERA.

The Dodgers acquired Darvish with the idea that he would be a "second ace" behind Clayton Kershaw. That just didn't work out.

Houston, meanwhile, navigated Game 7 by using five different pitchers, most of whom are not household names. Starter Lance McCullers hit four batters and allowed three hits in his 2.1 innings, but he managed to keep the Dodgers off the board.

Brad Peacock tossed two scoreless innings, and Francisco Liriano and Chris Devenski each retired the only hitter that they faced. That left the final four innings to right-hander Charlie Morton, who allowed a run in the sixth but shut the door in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.

Morton struck out four and allowed only two hits to earn the victory. The 33-year-old journeyman was a free agent coming off surgery last offseason. Any team could have had him, but not many teams wanted him. And how could they? Morton entered 2017 with a career 46-71 record with a 4.54 ERA.

The Astros took a chance on revitalizing Morton's career, and it came up aces. He made 25 starts during the regular season and went 14-7 with a 3.62 ERA. On Wednesday night, he recorded the 12 biggest outs of his 10-year career in the majors with a performance that likely will never be forgotten in Houston.

When a team wins a championship, its season is usually characterized by not only big performances from core stars (Springer), but also unexpected contributions from players who are perceived as being on the margins (Morton).

The Astros got what they needed when they needed it, and I think they surprised a lot of people by vanquishing the big-money, 104-win Dodgers.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Astros beat Dodgers' best pitchers, take 3-2 lead in World Series

Alex Bregman
Five hours, 17 minutes of baseball.

Game 5 of the 2017 World Series was both exhilarating and exhausting, even for those who are not a fan of either team.

The game ended at 12:37 a.m. CDT Monday, when Alex Bregman's RBI single off Kenley Jansen in the bottom of the 10th inning lifted the Houston Astros to a 13-12 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

With the win, the Astros lead the series, 3-2. Monday is a travel day, and Game 6 is Tuesday night in Los Angeles.

The plot twists and turns in this game were many. The Dodgers scored three runs in the first inning off Houston's Dallas Keuchel and led, 4-0, going into the bottom of the fourth inning. The Astros responded with four runs off Clayton Kershaw to tie the game.

Not to be outdone, Cody Bellinger put the Dodgers back in front, 7-4, with a three-run homer in the top of the fifth inning. Kershaw had a lead for the second time, and for the second time, he could not hold it. He allowed two men to reach base in the bottom of the fifth before he was removed from the game. Jose Altuve tied it at 7 with a three-run homer off Kenta Maeda.

From the seventh inning through the ninth inning, 10 runs were scored -- five by each team. The Dodgers scored three runs in the top of the ninth off Houston's Chris Devenski to tie the score at 12 and force extra innings.

Neither team could put the other away until Bregman's single capped a two-out rally in the bottom of the 10th.

So, what do we make of all this? First and foremost, the Astros beat the best pitchers the Dodgers have to offer in a critical Game 5.

Kershaw is widely considered the "best pitcher of his generation," and who are we to argue? But he was on the mound with a four-run lead, and then a three-run lead, on Sunday night, yet the Dodgers did not win. Los Angeles scored 12 runs in a game started by Kershaw. 12 runs! It wasn't enough.

That is huge.

And Jansen, widely considered the best relief pitcher in the game -- the Mariano Rivera of this generation -- lost the game in the bottom of the 10th. Sure, he worked a scoreless ninth, too, but stretching him for a second inning backfired on the Dodgers.

Los Angeles now trails in this series, and Kershaw won't be able to make another start. Jansen, who was considered invincible after being unscored upon in the NLCS against the Cubs, has now been scored upon by the Astros in each of his past three outings.

Worth noting: The Dodgers have played 13 postseason games this October, and Jansen has appeared in 11 of them. Fatigue? Sure looks like it.

And Jansen isn't the only one.

Brandon Morrow also was unscored upon in his four NLCS outings against the Cubs, covering 4.2 innings. But Sunday, he threw six pitches and gave up four earned runs. He was summoned to protect an 8-7 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning. One pitch later, it was 8-8, courtesy of a 448-foot home run by George Springer.

Very quickly, the Dodgers' one-run lead became an 11-8 deficit.

Morrow has appeared in 12 of Los Angeles' 13 playoff games. He has very little left in the tank.

As we've noted, the Astros are not without their bullpen problems. Closer Ken Giles is not the closer anymore. He's been so bad that Houston did not use him in Game 5. They used Devenski instead, and he couldn't get the job done -- he doesn't have much to get right-handed hitters out with at this point. Yasiel Puig hit a two-run homer off him in the ninth inning. Austin Barnes had a hustle double and scored the tying run on a two-out single by Chris Taylor.

What do those three men have in common? All right-handed hitters, and Devenski's changeup isn't as effective against them as it is against lefties.

So, both bullpens in this series are in trouble. Who has the advantage for Game 6? On paper, it's the team with the better starter going to the mound. That is clearly the Astros, as they have Justin Verlander lined up to pitch. The Dodgers will counter with veteran lefty Rich Hill.

Verlander, who was acquired from the Detroit Tigers just before the Aug. 31 waiver deadline, has appeared in 10 games with the Astros. Houston is 10-0.

Astros fans have to like their chances. Or, maybe Verlander is due to lose. Nothing would be shocking in this unbelievable World Series, where up is down and down is up.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A few thoughts on the World Series matchup before it begins

Jose Altuve
The Los Angeles Dodgers host the Houston Astros in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night. Before the series begins, here's a few things to think about as we watch:

1. Who will win on the road first?

The Dodgers are 4-0 at home this postseason. The Astros are 6-0. It has been difficult for any team to win on the road in these playoffs. Home teams are 23-8 so far, which is a winning percentage of .742.

Los Angeles has home-field advantage, and that's no small thing. The Dodgers were a league-best 57-24 at home this season, and they've won 165 games at home over the past three years. That's 11 more than any other team in baseball. If this comes down to a seventh game, do you think Los Angeles will be happy to be playing at home? Oh, I think so.

It would be huge for Houston to split the first two games of the series, and put itself in a position where it can take control of the series at home. The Astros have outscored their opponents 31-7 in their six home postseason games. Houston has not given up more than two runs in any of those six games.

2. Can Houston's offense get hot?

I've been saying most of the season that the Astros have the deepest lineup I've seen in many years, led by AL batting champion and MVP candidate Jose Altuve.

Houston had a league-best .478 slugging percentage as a team this year, and it also scored a league-best 5.53 runs per game.

Even though the New York Yankees have a deep pitching staff, it was shocking to see the Astros held to a .181/.271/.294 team slash line in the seven-game ALCS. Obviously, Houston won in spite of that, and you can't help but feel this lineup is due for a breakout.

It better break out, if the Astros are going to beat the Dodgers.

3. Battle of the bullpens

There's one area where Los Angeles has a clear edge in the series, and that's in the bullpen. Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen is among the game's best, if not the best, and I'd have a lot more confidence with him on the mound in the ninth inning with a one-run lead than I would Houston closer Ken Giles.

Los Angeles is deeper than Houston. Brandon Morrow started the season in the minor leagues, but he's now the Dodgers' best weapon in the seventh and eighth innings, having held opponents to a .194 batting average this season. Los Angeles also fortified itself with two midseason trades for left-handed relievers. Both Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani can be trusted in high-leverage situations.

As for Houston, in Game 7 of the ALCS, starter Charlie Morton pitched five shutout innings in the 4-0 win over the Yankees. The Astros went to Lance McCullers, who is normally a starter, as the first man out of the bullpen. McCullers finished the game, which is both a testament to how well he pitched in relief, and to the fact that the Astros don't know whom they can trust out of their bullpen.

Chris Devenski and Joe Musgrove struggled in the ALCS, and so did Giles, who had a 9.00 ERA in three appearances against the Yankees. The only left-handed Houston reliever is journeyman Francisco Liriano. He's not to be trusted, either.

Kershaw vs. Keuchel

It's the Game 1 pitching matchup. It also would be the likely Game 5 matchup. Two former Cy Young award winners.

Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher of his generation. He's finally on the big stage, so let's see what he does with that. This should be his moment.

I think the formula for Dodgers success in this series involves two wins for Kershaw. On the flip side of the coin, if Dallas Keuchel can outpitch Kershaw -- especially in Game 1 -- what a boost that would be for the Astros.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Two 100-plus-win teams make World Series for first time since 1970

Clayton Kershaw
For the first time since 1970, the World Series will feature two teams that won 100 games or more in the regular season.

The 104-win Los Angeles Dodgers eliminated the defending world champion Cubs in five games in the NLCS, while the 101-win Houston Astros rallied from a 3-2 series deficit to defeat the New York Yankees in seven games in the ALCS.

This will mark only the eighth time in baseball history that two 100-plus-win teams have met in the World Series. It's only happened three times since World War II.

Here is the list:

1910: Philadelphia A's (102-48) def. Cubs (104-50), 4-1
1912: Boston Red Sox (105-47) def. New York Giants (103-48), 4-3
1931: St. Louis Cardinals (101-53) def. Philadelphia A's (107-45), 4-3
1941: New York Yankees (101-53) def. Brooklyn Dodgers (110-54), 4-1
1942: St. Louis Cardinals (106-48) def. New York Yankees (103-51), 4-1
1969: New York Mets (100-62) def. Baltimore Orioles (109-53), 4-1
1970: Baltimore Orioles (108-54) def. Cincinnati Reds (102-60), 4-1
2017: Los Angeles Dodgers (104-58) vs. Houston Astros (101-61), ????

The Dodgers clinched Thursday, while the Astros clinched Saturday. The conventional wisdom says the team that clinches first has the advantage with more rest and the opportunity to set its starting rotation.

But here's your stat of the day on that: The last eight teams to clinch their league championship series first failed to win the World Series. Remember, last year the Cleveland Indians beat the Toronto Blue Jays in five games in the ALCS. They were sitting around waiting for the Cubs, who beat the Dodgers in six games. The Cubs, who were the less rested team, won the World Series in seven games.

The 2008 Philadelphia Phillies were the last team to clinch their league championship series first and go on to win the World Series.  So, don't assume the extra rest is an advantage for the Dodgers going into this thing.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Cubs' offensive woes: Is it the pressure or the Dodgers' pitching?

Anthony Rizzo -- 2 for 26 in the playoffs
Panic might be too strong a word, but there is definitely consternation and concern on the streets of Chicago after the Cubs lost, 6-0, to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday in Game 3 of the NLCS.

The Dodgers have taken a 2-1 series lead, and they have limited the Cubs to zero runs on six hits over the past two games combined. Until this week, Los Angeles had never posted back-to-back shutouts in its 200-game playoff history.

The Cubs hadn't been shut out in back-to-back games since May 2014. But in these playoffs, they've scored just 25 runs in seven games and have posted an ugly team slash line of .185/.242/.335.

Some of the individual statistics are even worse:

Addison Russell: 1 for 24, .042 avg.
Anthony Rizzo: 2 for 26, .077 avg.
Jason Heyward: 2 for 19, .105 avg.
Ben Zobrist: 4 for 26, .154 avg.
Dexter Fowler: 5 for 28, .179 avg.

So, five of the Cubs' eight everyday players are a combined 14 for 123. That pencils out to a .114 average. With production like this, the Cubs are lucky they won the NLDS. They were fortunate to play a San Francisco Giants team that had no bullpen whatsoever.

Here's the question with the Cubs (and it's a rhetorical one -- I don't have a definitive answer): Are they struggling because they are facing good pitching, or are they struggling because they are feeling the pressure of trying to end a 108-year World Series drought?

After the Cubs lost, 1-0, to the Dodgers in Game 2, I would have said the Cubs were simply beat by good pitching. They saw Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher of this generation, for seven innings. Then, the next two innings they saw Kenley Jansen, who is one of the top five closers in the game today.

There is no shame in getting shut down by the combination of Kershaw and Jansen.

But then came Game 3, when the Cubs managed only two hits in six innings against Rich Hill, a journeyman who has played for eight teams and was pitching for the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League as recently as last year. The Dodgers also used journeyman right-hander Joe Blanton and rookie left-hander Grant Dayton in relief Tuesday, before going to Jansen to close out the game.

Am I wrong for thinking the Cubs, who scored 808 runs this season, should have been able to get something done against the trio of Hill, Blanton and Dayton? I don't believe so.

The Cubs' Game 2 loss struck me as good pitching by the Dodgers. The Cubs' Game 3 loss struck me as bad offense, and a sign that the Cubs might be feeling the pressure.

I can't be sure; I certainly don't have any insight into what the Cubs hitters are thinking at the plate. But I do know this: The Dodgers are starting 20-year-old Julio Urias in Game 4. He's a talented kid, but he's a rookie, and he hasn't thrown as many as 90 pitches in any game since August.

The Cubs should beat this guy, and they better if they want to end their World Series drought this year. If the Cubs lose this game, they are one loss away from elimination, and you already know they are going to see Kershaw one more time before this series is over.

If you're the Cubs -- and, of course, I am not -- you don't want to put yourself in a situation where the best pitcher in baseball can close you out.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Scott Kazmir signs 3-year deal with Dodgers

It's always been comical to me the past couple years listening to people complain about the White Sox having "too many left-handers" in their starting rotation.

If you think the Sox have too many lefties, take a look at the Los Angeles Dodgers' projected rotation for 2016.

The Dodgers signed free-agent left-hander Scott Kazmir to a three-year deal reportedly worth $48 million on Wednesday, adding him to a group of starting pitching options that includes ace Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, Brett Anderson and Hyun-jin Ryu.

Yes, all five of those pitchers are left-handed.

The Dodgers whiffed on their two right-handed starting pitching targets. They failed to retain free agent Zack Greinke, who eventually signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and their deal with Hisashi Iwakuma fell apart after a failed physical. Iwakuma eventually re-signed with the Seattle Mariners.

That left the Dodgers desperate for starting pitching, and they ended up signing the guy who was probably the best available arm remaining on the market at this point. Kazmir had a 3.10 ERA in 31 combined starts with the Oakland Athletics and Houston Astros last year. His stuff should translate well as he switches over to the National League.

The only "problem" for the Dodgers here is that Kazmir is left-handed, just like all their other starters. But to me, that's really no problem at all. I think you have to find five guys who can pitch and go with them, regardless of what hand they use to throw the ball.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw win MVP awards

Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout on Thursday was named the unanimous MVP of the American League.

The 23-year-old received all 30 first-place votes and finished with 420 points. Detroit's Victor Martinez took second with 229 points, while Cleveland outfielder Michael Brantley placed third with 185 points.

Let me say this: I do not disagree with this vote. But what's funny about this is Trout didn't have as good a season in 2014 as he had in 2012 or 2013:

2012: .326/.399/.564, 30 HRs, 84 RBIs, 49 SBs
2013: .323/.432/.557, 27 HRs, 97 RBIs, 33 SBs
2014: .287/.377/.561, 36 HRs, 111 RBIs, 16 SBs

Sure, Trout's power numbers were up in 2014, but he also struck out a league-leading 184 times. The batting average, on-base percentage and stolen base totals, while good, took a noticeable dip. I feel like his best year was 2013, when he finished second in the MVP voting to Miguel Cabrera. Trout also finished second to Cabrera in 2012.

Frankly, Trout has been the best overall player in the American League for each of the past three years. What was different about this season that swung the vote in Trout's favor? For one, Cabrera regressed to the point where he was no longer the best hitter on his own team. (Martinez was.) And two, the Angels won a league-best 98 games and made the playoffs.

The Angels did not make the playoffs in either 2012 or 2013, and there is always that subset of voters that believes the MVP *must* come from a team that qualified for the postseason.

Again, Trout deserves the award. It's just funny that he finally received his recognition in his weakest season of the last three.

Clayton Kershaw wins NL MVP

It's been a good week for Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw, who won the NL Cy Young Award on Wednesday and the NL MVP on Thursday.

Kershaw went 21-3 with 1.77 ERA, a 0.857 WHIP and six complete games in 27 starts this year. There's no denying he's the best pitcher in the league. The debate surrounding him was whether a pitcher should win the MVP award over an everyday player.

Here's why I think it's OK for starting pitchers to win MVP:

Dodgers record with Kershaw on the mound: 24-3 (.852 winning percentage)
Dodgers record with all other pitchers: 71-64 (.526 winning percentage)

The Dodgers are a decent, but not great team when Kershaw doesn't pitch. But with him on the mound, they rarely lose. I'd say he's pretty valuable, and you can justify voting for him for MVP on that basis.

Eighteen voters agreed and named Kershaw first on their ballot. He totaled 355 points. Miami's Giancarlo Stanton got eight first-place votes and 298 points for second place. Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen, the 2013 winner, finished third with four first-place votes and 271 points.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Cy Young Awards: One surprise, one obvious

The 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner is ... Corey Kluber?

Yes, the relatively unknown Cleveland right-hander earned 17 of the 30 first-place votes and totaled 169 points, edging out Seattle's Felix Hernandez, who had 13 first-place votes and 159 points. White Sox lefty Chris Sale was third on 19 of the 30 ballots, so he placed third with 78 points.

Kluber expressed surprise to win the honor. I'm right there with him. I'm stunned. I figured Hernandez would prevail.

Let's do a side-by-side comparison of the two pitchers:

Hernandez: 15-6 W-L, 236 IP, 248 Ks, 2.14 ERA, 0.915 WHIP, 2.56 FIP, 6.5 H/9
Kluber: 18-9 W-L, 235.2 IP, 269 Ks, 2.44 ERA, 1.095 WHIP, 2.35 FIP, 7.9 H/9

When I first heard the results of the vote, I thought it was flatly ridiculous, but you can see how Kluber has a case. He went 5-1 with a 2.09 ERA in September, and that strong finish put his final numbers in the same ballpark with Hernandez.

Speaking of ballparks, I think we can all agree that Cleveland is a tougher place to pitch than Seattle. I think we can also agree that Seattle has a better defensive team than Cleveland. The numbers geeks really like that FIP (fielder independent pitching) stat, and Kluber was the best in the American League in that department. He also led thel eague in strikeouts. Those were the arguments in his favor.

However, I still would have voted for Hernandez. He had 16 consecutive starts from May to August where he allowed two runs or less. He led the league in WHIP, and he allowed almost a hit and a half less per nine innings than Kluber did. Hernandez also led the league in ERA. For the final month, Kluber was the better pitcher, but for the totality of the season, I thought Hernandez was the best and most dominant pitcher in the league. As an opponent, he was the guy you least wanted to see on the mound.

Thirteen voters agreed with me. Seventeen did not. That's how Kluber won.

Clayton Kershaw wins NL Cy Young

Clayton Kershaw won the NL Cy Young Award for the second consecutive year in a far less controversial vote. His name appeared first on all 30 ballots (150 points) after he went 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA for the NL West Division champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

There's really no argument with this one.

Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto placed second with 112 points. Adam Wainwright of St. Louis was third with 97 points.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Game 4 of the NLDS shapes up as a defining moment for Clayton Kershaw

Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw is widely considered the best pitcher in baseball. We'll make no argument to the contrary.

Kershaw's performance over the past four seasons has been without peer. This year, he finished 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA. He claimed his fourth consecutive National League ERA title, and that 1.77 mark was nearly half a run better than his closest competitor. He is a lock to win his third NL Cy Young award in the last four years.

Kershaw had a 1.83 ERA during the 2013 campaign, so that means he is just the second pitcher in the live-ball era to post an ERA of 1.85 or less in consecutive seasons. Hall of Famer Greg Maddux is the other.

Yes, Kershaw is the best in the game right now.

But you know what has eluded him to this point in his career? Postseason success. I've heard some people compare Kershaw to another former Dodgers' lefty, Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax. Some say Kershaw may go down as the best pitcher to play in the live-ball era once he's all done. Who am I to say he can't do that? But if he is going to be considered better than Koufax, he better figure out a way to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs.

The Cardinals will take a 2-1 series lead over the Dodgers into Tuesday's Game 4 of the National League Division Series. Kershaw is taking the ball on three days' rest. The season is on the line for the favored Dodgers.

Normally, a team feels pretty good about sending its ace out there in a must-win game, but Kershaw's postseason numbers are inexplicably terrible.

In 10 postseason games (7 starts), he's 1-4 with a 5.20 ERA. He has lost each of his last three playoff starts, all against the Cardinals. In two of those outings, he got bombed.

Kershaw went to the mound in a similar situation in Game 6 of last year's NLCS. The Cardinals were up 3-2 in the series, at home and looking to clinch. St. Louis roughed up Kershaw to the tune of seven earned runs on 10 hits over four innings. The Cardinals won, 9-0, and advanced to the World Series.

In Game 1 of this NLDS, Kershaw was staked to a 6-1 lead. He coughed up the whole thing, allowing eight earned runs on eight hits over 6.2 innings pitched. The Cardinals rallied to win, 10-9.

In Kershaw's last two playoff starts, he's allowed 15 earned runs on 18 hits over 10.2 innings pitched. Those aren't numbers you would associate with someone whose name is being mentioned alongside some of the all-time greats.

Most experts picked the Dodgers to win this series, because they figured the combination of Kershaw and teammate Zack Greinke would be too much for the Cardinals to handle. Greinke did his part in Game 2, a 3-2 Dodgers victory, and he's poised to pitch Game 5 back in Los Angeles if Kershaw can lead the Dodgers to a win in Game 4.

This game is a defining moment for Kershaw. His postseason failures are a black mark on an otherwise brilliant resume. As of this writing, we're just three hours from the first pitch of Game 4. I'll be interested to see how Kershaw responds in this pressure-packed start.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Clayton Kershaw vs Chris Sale: The folly of All-Star Game selections

Today, we compare stat lines from two of the game's elite pitchers:

Player A: 13 starts, 10-2, 1.85 ERA, 87.1 IP, 115 Ks, 12 BBs, 0.87 WHIP, .199 BAA
Player B: 13 starts, 8-1, 2.16 ERA, 87.1 IP, 96 Ks, 16 BBs, 0.87 WHIP, .194 BAA

Player A is Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who is quite rightfully recognized as the best pitcher in the game.

Player B is Chris Sale of the White Sox, who doesn't get much publicity because, well, he plays for the "second team in the Second City."

The two pitchers have made the same number of starts and thrown the same number of innings this season. Kershaw has a slightly better ERA and a few more strikeouts, which you would expect for a National League pitcher who gets to strike out the opposing team's pitcher on a regular basis. However, the WHIPs of the two pitchers are identical, and Sale has a slight edge in opponents' batting average.

You would think both of these pitchers would be no-brainer selections to the All-Star Game. Kershaw was rightfully chosen and is a candidate to start the game for the National League. Sale, meanwhile, is relegated to the fan vote, where he will compete with Dallas Keuchel, Rick Porcello, Garrett Richards and Corey Kluber for the final roster spot.

No offense to any of those other four men, who are all having good seasons, but Sale is better than all of them and should have been selected to the team without having to go through this vote. The White Sox are not contending in the American League this year, but if you're a fan of an AL contender, and you want homefield advantage in the World Series, you want Sale on that AL roster. He's the best left-handed pitcher in the league by any measure.

I know some people say Sale missed time with an injury early in the season. They might say he doesn't merit selection because of that. To that, I say nonsense. Kershaw also missed time due to injury early this season. That doesn't change the fact that he belongs in the All-Star Game.

Again, Kershaw and Sale have made the same number of starts this season. In my world, they should both be candidates to start the All-Star Game, early-season injuries be damned.

To be honest, I can't devise a system that would result in complete fairness in terms of All-Star Game selections. No matter who votes -- fans, media, players, managers -- they all bring their biases with them. There always have been snubs, and there always will be snubs.

I just happen to think Sale is the biggest snub this year, and I hope he gets the last spot with the fan vote. Since the All-Star Game "counts" these days, you want the best players representing your league. Sale is clearly in that category.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Clayton Kershaw's no-hitter: 15 strikeouts, no walks

Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw fired his first career no-hitter Wednesday night in an 8-0 victory over the Colorado Rockies.

I was able to watch him pitch the last three innings, and you will never see a pitcher with more dominant stuff. He struck out 15 of the 28 batters he faced in this game. His curveball was unhittable.

His performance reminded me of just how difficult it is to throw a perfect game. Kershaw did nothing wrong in this game. He didn't give up any hits. He didn't walk anybody. He didn't hit a batter, but it still wasn't a perfect game. Why? Because you need your teammates to play flawless defense to pitch a perfect game.

Kershaw retired the first 18 batters he saw Wednesday night, but his perfect game was lost when Colorado's Corey Dickerson reached on a two-base error by shortstop Hanley Ramirez leading off the seventh inning. Ramirez fielded Dickerson's slow bouncer but threw wide of first base for the error.

A couple batters later, rookie third baseman Miguel Rojas made a nice play behind the bag and a long throw to first to retire Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki to keep the no-hitter intact. The Dodgers replaced Ramirez at shortstop with rookie Carlos Triunfel to start the eighth inning. Probably a smart move, but Kershaw had no difficulty retiring the side 1-2-3 in either of the last two innings

Kershaw's no-hitter is the second one thrown in the major leagues this season. Teammate Josh Beckett tossed one in a 6-0 win at Philadelphia on May 25

The 2014 Dodgers became the 16th team in major league history to throw more than one no-hitter in a single season. They are only the fifth team to accomplish the feat since 1972, when Burt Hooton and Milt Pappas threw no-hitters in the same season for the Cubs.

Just in case you were wondering, the 2012 Seattle Mariners were the last team to throw two no-hitters in a season. Kevin Millwood combined with five relievers to throw a no-hitter against the Dodgers on June 8 of that year. About two months later, on Aug. 15,  Felix Hernandez tossed a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Little League-style inning costs White Sox

Maybe it's a good thing the White Sox were playing on the West Coast on Monday night. That means most fans had probably already retired for the evening when the Sox played their worst inning of the season to date.

What's really unfortunate about the whole mess is the Sox seemed to be in prime position to beat reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Sox first baseman Jose Abreu had hit a two-run homer in his return from the disabled list to give the South Siders a 2-0 lead, an advantage they enjoyed into the sixth inning.

Jose Quintana was cruising on the mound for Chicago. He had a two-hitter going, and he had thrown only 65 pitches. He was outpitching Kershaw, hitting his spots and looking like he'd be able to blank the Dodgers at least through seven innings -- if not eight innings.

But then the White Sox infield turned in a pathetic, amateurish inning of defense in the sixth inning. Two errors cost Quintana five unearned runs, and the Dodgers went on to claim a 5-2 victory.

Kershaw got a base hit to start the inning, but that didn't seem like too big a deal the way Quintana was pitching. He struck out Chone Figgins for the first out and induced Matt Kemp to hit into what should have been an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play. Too bad Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham forgot to catch the ball.

Instead of being out of the inning, the Dodgers had runners at first and second with one out, with Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez due to hit. That's when it was time for Quintana to toughen up.

Toughen up he did.

He fanned Puig for the second out, and got Ramirez to hit a routine chopper to third baseman Conor Gillaspie, who fielded the ball about eight steps behind the bag. Keep in mind, Kershaw was the runner at second base, so all Gillaspie needed to do was jog to the third-base bag and tag it for the third out. But, no, he for some reason decided to throw across the diamond. A good throw still would have gotten Ramirez by two strides, but he threw it in the dirt and Abreu failed to make a pick that most first baseman probably make.

It should have been inning over for a second time, but instead a run scored and the inning continued. The meltdown was on. Adrian Gonzalez hit an infield single that produced the tying run. Justin Turner hit a two-run bloop single just over the outstretched glove of Beckham that barely dented the outfield grass. Light-hitting Drew Butera hit a 35-hopper with eyes into right field for an RBI single.

All of a sudden, it was 5-2 Dodgers. With Kershaw on the mound, that's ballgame.

Quintana ended up needing six outs to get out of that nightmare, an inning in which he had to throw 40 pitches. After that, his night was done and the Sox were forced to go to the bullpen.

Had Beckham fielded the grounder on the routine double play, Quintana would have thrown just 15 pitches in that inning. Had Gillaspie made his play, Quintana would have gotten out of the inning with a still manageable pitch total of 23. Had either play been made, perhaps the Sox go on to win 2-0. We'll never know.

But those plays were not made, and that's why it's hard to believe the Sox are anything but a pretender this year, despite their hanging around in the muddled American League race.

The Sox are better than they were in 2013, but they still are not contenders. They make too many mistakes and beat themselves too often to be considered a potential playoff team. They've avoided long losing streaks to this point, but I won't be surprised if we see a hope-killing stretch of bad ball sometime in the near future.

A team can only outhit its mistakes for so long. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Teams should be more willing to include opt-out clauses

A prominent feature of both of the massive contracts given to pitchers this month is an opt-out clause.

Left-handed Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw accepted the richest contract ever given to a pitcher, but can choose to become a free agent after five years. Japanese righty Masahiro Tanaka was guaranteeed $155 million by the Yankees, but can similarly tear up the rest of his deal after four seasons to hit the market again.

At first blush, this might seem like an awful deal for teams willing to climb on the hook for millions of dollars six or seven years down the road. If either player suffers a career-ending injury this year, their teams will still have to pay them millions of dollars for years after. If they pitch well and the free agent market keeps yielding huge contracts, either guy could opt out for a richer deal than what they have in hand, denying the Dodgers or Yankees the opportunity to collect value on the back end of these risky contracts.

That's the wrong way to look at the opt-out.

To the first fear I'll just say that if you're not offering a player like Kershaw or Tanaka six or seven guaranteed years, you're not really in the game as far as bidding for their services. Opt-out or no, they'll get those years guaranteed when they reach the open market. And opt-out or no, if a player gets hurt in Year 1 of a long contract, the team that signed the player is left holding the bag.

As for getting value on the back end of a huge contract, I have a hard time believing any team that signed a player to deal longer than five years expects to be getting a good value beyond that point. Perhaps Tanaka is an exception, because he's hitting the market as a 25-year-old, but these days teams enter into these massive contracts expecting to be overpaying for what the player is by the end of the deal.

Teams do that because they get a good value on the front end. If Tanaka pitches like an ace for the Yankees, they will be very happy to have paid him just under $90 million for four years, plus a posting fee that doesn't count against the luxury tax.

They might be unhappy to have to negotiate a new deal in four years, one that might be in excess of $200 million if Tanaka lives up to some expectations. But if there's that much money still rolling into baseball to spur that kind of salary growth for players, the Yankees are surely a team that can afford to retain Tanaka if they desire. Or if at that point the Yankees decide to spread their financial risk out a different way than on the right arm of a pitcher entering his 30s, they can do that, too.

In other words, if everything goes as planned, the Yankees have the opportunity to say goodbye to Tanaka when, theoretically, his best days will be behind him.

Where teams have been burned by opt-out clauses hasn't been by including them in the original contract. It's been by signing the player once the clause has been exercised.

White Sox fans around in the 90s can probably remember Albert Belle receiving a clause that allowed him to opt out if he wasn't among baseball's highest-paid players. When salaries escalated quickly in the late 90s, Belle took advantage of that clause to leave the Sox two years into a five-year, $55 million deal that once made him baseball's top-earning player.

Did the Sox regret losing Belle's services? Not after seeing him sign a new five-year, $65 million deal with the Orioles. Belle gave Baltimore one good year, then one poor year before degenerative osteoarthritis in his hip ended his career, though not his steady stream of paychecks.

If the Yankees need a reminder of what second-time buyer's remorse looks like, they just have to look at their payroll right now. After giving CC Sabathia seven-year, $161 million contract with an opt-out after three years, they saw the left-hander exercise that clause. Instead of being satisfied with three years and 705 innings of a 3.18 ERA and a 59-23 record, they chose to give Sabathia a five-year, $122 contract that has yielded a 29-19 record with a pedestrian 4.09 ERA through the first two years.

And of course there's the defamed Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees inherited the opt-out Rodriguez had built into his then-richest-ever-for-baseball $252 million contract he signed with the Rangers. After trading for Rodriguez -- with the Rangers picking up part of the tab -- the Yankees got a .303/.403/.573 batting line with 173 home runs from the shortstop-turned-third baseman over four seasons.

When Rodriguez opted out, the Yankees weren't happy with the house money they could have left the casino with in their pockets. So instead they signed him to a new record-setting deal, 10 years and $275 million. For that money they've gotten an often-injured player with a diminished .279/.369/.498 line who instead of collecting career milestones on the way to the Hall of Fame is instead sitting out this upcoming season as part of a cloud of steroid scandal that's rendered his once-incredible career meaningless to most fans.

For me, the moral of the story isn't that including the opt-out automatically makes things peachy for teams. It didn't make it that way with Vernon Wells' contract.

To state the obvious, signing any player to a massive contract involves risk for the team agreeing to the pact. No matter the player, no matter the team.

Something just as obvious is that signing the same player three or four years later to a massive contract is just that much riskier. So is crossing your fingers and hoping the next three or four years of a massive megadeal go as well as the first three or four.

Short of simply offering free agents higher annual salaries for fewer years, the willingness to include an opt-out clause might be the best chance for teams to avoid the years of these free agent contracts when they become an albatross.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Clayton Kershaw expected to make more than entire Atlanta pitching staff

I pulled this nugget out of the Jan. 27 edition of Sports Illustrated:

Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw will make an average of $30.7 million annually over the life of the seven-year contract he just signed.

By way of comparison, the Atlanta Braves' 12-man pitching staff is expected to make $27 million combined in 2014.

I know you've probably heard or read statistics like that before. People are quite fond of pointing out that Alex Rodriguez makes more than the entire Houston Astros' roster, for example.

But here's the thing: The Astros aren't even trying to win right now. They stink. They had the worst record in the league last year at  51-111. I tend to dismiss the Astros as a Triple-A team, so of course they are making Triple-A salaries.

The Braves, in contrast, won the NL East with 96 wins in 2013. Not only that, they led all of baseball with a 3.18 team ERA. Atlanta has a very good pitching staff that happens to be inexpensive as well.

It's hard to say Kershaw doesn't deserve his money. He's won two of the last three Cy Young Awards in the National League. He's the best left-handed starter in baseball.

But, the Braves example shows you don't necessarily have to throw around millions upon millions of dollars to build a successful pitching staff, or a successful team. Keep that in mind when people try to tell you the New York Yankees are a lock for the 2014 World Series after they spent almost half a billion dollars this offseason on free agents Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Masahiro Tanaka.

The Yankees have won the offseason for sure, but there is no special prize handed to the team that spends the most money or collects the most big-name players.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Clayton Kershaw to get record-setting deal; David Price also signs

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw is the new richest man in baseball -- at least for now.

According to reports, the left-hander agreed Wednesday to a seven-year, $215 million contract with the Dodgers.

Kershaw, the reigning Cy Young Award winner in the National League, becomes the first player with a $30 million average annual salary.

Previously, the most lucrative deal for a pitcher was the one the Detroit Tigers gave Justin Verlander, $180 million over seven years.

In other pitching news, 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner David Price avoided arbitration by agreeing to terms on a one-year, $14 million contract with the Tampa Bay Rays. The contract is the richest one in Tampa Bay franchise history. Price, who is eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, has been the subject of trade speculation. Since he did not sign a long-term deal with the Rays, I would expect that speculation to continue in the coming days and months.

After seeing the dollars these guys are commanding, it's comforting for me as a White Sox fan to know the team has its All-Star left-hander, Chris Sale, under control through 2019. Sale's five-year, $32.5 million deal with team options for 2018 and 2019 is a tremendous bargain in this marketplace.

I'll be interested to see what the Kershaw contract means for international free agent Masahiro Tanaka. No, Tanaka is not going to command $30 million a year, but the Dodgers have reportedly been major players in that sweepstakes. Are they still major players after committing such a large dollar figure to Kershaw? Or is it now a given that Tanaka is going to the New York Yankees, who are the team most in need of a top-flight starting pitcher?

After Tanaka signs, we should see the other dominoes start to fall among the free-agent starting pitchers. All the major free-agent position players have already signed. Meanwhile, you've still got three high-profile starting pitchers still on the market in Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza and Ervin Santana. Look for those three players to be consolation prizes for the teams that lose out on Tanaka.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

So, trading for Max Scherzer worked out well for the Tigers

I often say it's hard to make snap judgments when a trade is made. You often need three or four years before you can decide whether a particular deal is good or bad for the parties involved.

It's now been four years since the Detroit Tigers acquired right-hander Max Scherzer as part of a three-team deal with the New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Arizona gave up Scherzer in that trade, and I'll bet that's a move they still lament to this day. On Wednesday, Scherzer was named the Cy Young Award winner in the American League by a landslide. He received 28 of the 30 first-place votes.

Scherzer, the lone 20-game winner in baseball this year, finished the season 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA for the AL Central champion Tigers. He easily outdistanced second-place finisher Yu Darvish in the voting.

Let's go back and look at that trade from December of 2009.

The Tigers traded pitcher Edwin Jackson and outfielder Curtis Granderson and received Scherzer, outfielder Austin Jackson and relief pitchers Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth.

The Yankees dealt pitcher Ian Kennedy, Coke and Austin Jackson and acquired Granderson.

The Diamondbacks gave up Scherzer and Schlereth and got Edwin Jackson and Kennedy.

If you're an Arizona fan, are you gagging yet?

Edwin Jackson had a brutal year for the Diamondbacks in 2010. He's played for three teams since. Currently, he's the Cubs' problem. Kennedy did have a couple good years in Arizona, including one very good year in 2011, but he's since fallen on hard times. The Diamondbacks traded him to San Diego for spare parts and future considerations in a midseason deal this past summer.

Likewise, the Yankees got a couple good years out of Granderson, but he had an injury-plagued 2013. He's a free agent this offseason and is likely headed elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the Tigers got a legitimate top-of-the-rotation starter in Scherzer and a leadoff hitter and top-notch center fielder in Austin Jackson.

Shrewd move by Detroit. The Tigers have made more good moves than bad over the last five years, and that's why they go to the playoffs every season.

Kershaw wins NL Cy Young

The National League Cy Young Award voting was also one-sided. Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw was a slam-dunk choice, earning 29 of 30 first-place votes.

Kershaw finished 16-9 for the NL West champions, and his 1.83 ERA was the best mark by any qualifying pitcher in the last 13 years.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Clayton Kershaw's performance highlights first day of NLDS

Both National League Division Series got underway Thursday, and unfortunately, both games were duds. None of the late-inning drama we associate with playoff baseball was present in either of these two contests.

The St. Louis Cardinals scored seven runs in the third inning and went on to an easy 9-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Los Angeles Dodgers also got out to an early lead and coasted to a 6-1 win over the Atlanta Braves. In each of these two games, you knew who was going to win by the fourth inning.

The highlight of the day was definitely the performance of Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw. After Adrian Gonzalez hit a home run in the third inning to put the Dodgers up 4-0, you had a feeling Kershaw was going to shut the door. He's 36-0 lifetime when Los Angeles scores four or more runs for him. Shut the door he did, striking out 12 Atlanta hitters and allowing just three hits over seven innings. At one point, Kershaw fanned six consecutive batters.

If you're the Braves, this isn't what you wanted to see in Game 1. Atlanta has the reputation of an all-or-nothing offense. The Braves led the National League in home runs this year with 181. They also tied for the league lead in strikeouts with 1,384. All-or-nothing was nothing on this night, and the Braves won't have it easy in Game 2, either, as they must contend with Los Angeles right-hander Zack Greinke, who has a 1.85 ERA since the All-Star break.

Meanwhile in St. Louis, Carlos Beltran hit a three-run homer off Pittsburgh's A.J. Burnett during that seven-run outburst, and that was your ballgame. Adam Wainwright pitched seven innings of one-run ball and remained unbeaten in his postseason career (3-0, 2.27 ERA). This one was a real snoozer unless you are a Cardinals fan.

We'll see if the action heats up on Friday, with four Division Series games on tap around the country.