Showing posts with label Jason Heyward. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jason Heyward. Show all posts

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Cody Allen closes out dramatic ninth inning for Cleveland in Game 3

Cody Allen
Saw an interesting stat today: The Cleveland Indians are 23-0 when relief pitchers Cody Allen and Andrew Miller pitch in the same game.

I always say the longer a streak goes in baseball, the more likely it is to end. The Cubs had a chance to end that streak Friday night, but Allen slammed the door on them, striking out Javier Baez with two outs and two runners in scoring position to preserve a 1-0 Cleveland victory in Game 3 of the World Series.

With the win, the Indians hold a 2-1 series lead. Game 4 is Saturday night at Wrigley Field.

Even if you don't care about either of these two teams, the ninth inning of Game 3 was as dramatic as it gets in a non-elimination game.

Cleveland scored the lone run on an RBI single by pinch-hitter Coco Crisp. The combination of Josh Tomlin, Miller, Bryan Shaw and Allen had combined to keep the Cubs off the board through eight innings.

Allen, the Cleveland closer, struck out Kris Bryant on a nasty curve to end the bottom of the eighth inning, but he found himself in immediate peril after giving up a leadoff single to Anthony Rizzo in the ninth.

With Chris Coghlan running for Rizzo, Allen bounced back to get the first out on another good curve that caused Ben Zobrist to swing and miss. Coghlan advanced to second on a weak groundout by Willson Contreras, which set up the drama of having the tying run in scoring position with two outs in the ninth.

Jason Heyward came to the plate for the Cubs with the game hanging in the balance, causing audible groans throughout the Chicago area. The $184 million man is 2 for 31 this postseason, and he's probably the last player the Cubs wanted up in that situation. Heck, they've got some pitchers who have been swinging the bat better than Heyward.

This time, the Cubs lucked out when Cleveland first baseman Mike Napoli booted what should have been a routine grounder off Heyward's bat. Suddenly, the Cubs had first and third and the much more dangerous Baez at the plate.

Heyward stole second and got into scoring position representing the winning run, and Baez jumped ahead in the count, 2-1. It was set up for the Cubs to possibly steal this game, but that's when Allen got tough.

The Cleveland reliever went back to his curve on 2-1. It broke hard and down in the dirt, and Baez could not check his swing. Strike two.

Gutsy pitch, because remember the tying run is on third base. If Indians catcher Yan Gomes doesn't block the ball, the game is tied. Gomes made the block. Cleveland got the strike, and Allen had succeeded in changing Baez's eye level.

With two strikes, Baez had to be thinking about that curve ball. After all, Allen had recorded three outs to that point -- all on curve balls. So what did Allen do? He pitched Baez backward. He went away from his preferred out pitch. He probably figured Baez would be protecting against the low breaking ball, so he threw a high fastball, above the hands. And he blew it right past Baez. Swinging strike three. Game over.

Brilliant pitching and a dramatic end to a great baseball game between the two top teams in the sport this year. Who says a 1-0 game is boring? Not me.

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, January 28, 2016

White Sox, Cubs top two suitors for Dexter Fowler?

Dexter Fowler
I'm not sure I buy this NBC Sports report that says the White Sox and the Cubs "appear to be the two teams with the most interest" in Dexter Fowler.

I'm especially skeptical because the source appears to be Bruce Levine of 670 The Score. The Score isn't exactly the place I go to get intelligent baseball talk, but that's a blog for another day.

Just for grins, let's discuss the possibility of Fowler landing on either side of Chicago. I think it makes a lot of sense for him to go back to the Cubs, for whom he hit .250/.346/.411 with 17 home runs and 20 stolen bases in 156 games last year. In contrast, I don't think Fowler is the right guy for the Sox, but more on that in a minute.

First, let's look at why Fowler is a good fit for the Cubs: Well, he was their center fielder last year when they won 97 games, and they haven't replaced him with anybody else. I know what you're thinking. Didn't the Cubs sign outfielder Jason Heyward to a eight-year mega-deal worth $23 million a year?

Yes, yes, they did.

But let's think logically about Heyward's skill set. What is it that he does well that makes him worth all those millions? He's the best defensive right fielder in baseball, right? He's got three Gold Gloves in the past four years that prove that.

That being the case, why would the Cubs pay Heyward, the best defensive right fielder in baseball, $23 million to be an average or slightly above-average center fielder? Wouldn't it make much more sense to re-sign Fowler to play center field, put Heyward in right field where he belongs and trade Jorge Soler to help solidify a top-heavy pitching staff?

Yes, I think that makes a lot of sense. And unlike other teams, the Cubs wouldn't have to surrender draft pick compensation to sign Fowler. You better believe that qualifying offer has contributed to a slow market for Fowler. It's moot if he goes back to the Cubs.

As for the White Sox, one of the things that's perplexing about this report is that it calls for the Sox to sign Fowler to play center field and move Adam Eaton to right field. Huh?

I feel like Fowler would be redundant with Eaton on the Sox roster. Let's look at some numbers:

2015:
Eaton: .287/.361/.431, 14 HRs, 18 stolen bases
Fowler: .250/.346/.411, 17 HRs, 20 stolen bases

Career:
Eaton: .284/.355/.407
Fowler: .267/.363/.418

Pretty similar players, right? The Sox already have Eaton, a center fielder with some pop and some speed who can bat leadoff and get on base. Why give up a draft pick to sign Fowler, when he essentially provides the same thing?

What the Sox really need is a corner outfielder who can hit the ball over the fence. Incumbent corner outfielders Melky Cabrera and Avisail Garcia combined for only 25 home runs last season. Fowler doesn't offer a big upgrade over that, as the 17 homers he hit last year represent a career high. His career norm is 11 home runs per 162 games, which is less than what Cabrera and Garcia hit last year.

Further, there's no evidence that Fowler offers a defensive upgrade over Eaton. Let's take a look at Fowler's defensive WAR over the past five years:

2011: -0.1
2012: -0.8
2013: -0.2
2014: -1.8
2015: -1.0

Five straight years of negative defensive WAR.

Eaton's defense is a little harder to judge, based on the two years he's been a full-time player with the Sox:

2014: +1.8
2015: -1.1

Eaton was a Gold Glove finalist two years ago, then slipped defensively for unknown reasons last year. I need to see what he does this year to make a more firm judgment on what kind of defensive player he'll be over the long haul, but Fowler has a more established track record of being mediocre (at best) in center field. The Eaton we saw in 2014 is clearly superior to Fowler defensively, so I wouldn't be signing Fowler in order to move Eaton to right field.

It just doesn't make a lot of sense for the Sox to bid too high, or even bid at all, on Fowler.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Who closes in Toronto: Roberto Osuna or Drew Storen?

Drew Storen
There was one interesting deal made over the weekend, with the Washington Nationals trading former closer Drew Storen to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for outfielder Ben Revere.

Storen was put in a difficult situation in July. He had 29 saves and a 1.73 ERA to that point in the season, but he lost his closer's job when the Nationals acquired Jonathan Papelbon from the Philadelphia Phillies in a midseason trade. Storen was shifted to an eighth-inning role, where he struggled the rest of the year. His ERA ballooned to 3.44, and he did not record a save the rest of the season.

It was clear one of Storen or Papelbon would be dealt this offseason, and it appears the Nationals have chosen to keep Papelbon -- despite his late-season dugout altercation with NL MVP Bryce Harper.

Now Storen heads to Toronto, where he's once again in an interesting position. The Blue Jays are the defending AL East champs, and they won the division last year with 20-year-old Roberto Osuna closing games. Osuna's 20 saves, 2.58 ERA and 0.919 WHIP are solid, if not impressive, for any reliever who toils in the AL East. That performance is especially good considering Osuna's age and relative inexperience.

Does Osuna deserved to be replaced as closer? I would say not. There's no question the Blue Jays needed to acquire another reliever. Aaron Sanchez's high ceiling was being wasted as a short reliever last year. It's time for Toronto to move Sanchez into the starting rotation and see what he can bring. So, from that perspective, it's a good move for the Jays to add Storen.

But can Storen deal with an eighth-inning role if Osuna pitches better than him and keeps the closer's job? Or will he fall apart mentally like he did in Washington?

Either way, I'm not sold on Storen closing big games. His postseason meltdowns in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS against St. Louis and Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS against San Francisco are part of the reason the Nationals have never fulfilled their potential. I suspect that's why the Nationals chose to keep Papelbon, despite the potential clubhouse problem he creates. Even though it's been a while, Papelbon has proven he can close in the postseason. The right-hander is unscored upon in 17 of his 18 career playoff appearances.

As for Revere, he takes the spot in the Washington lineup vacated by Denard Span, who signed with San Francisco last week. The Nationals had been players in the Jason Heyward sweepstakes earlier this offseason, but they were beaten out by the Chicago Cubs.

It didn't seem as though Washington was interested in any of the right-handed power-hitting outfielders on the free-agent market. The Nationals wanted to add a left-handed hitter who can cover center field, and they obviously feel Revere is a more cost-effective option than Span would have been.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Alex Gordon agrees to four-year deal with Kansas City Royals

The defending champion Kansas City Royals moved Wednesday to retain a piece of their title-winning core, signing left fielder Alex Gordon to a four-year deal worth $72 million.

Gordon, 32, has spent his entire career with the Kansas City organization after being drafted No. 2 overall in 2005. Since his breakout campaign in 2011, he's posted a .281/.359/.450 slash line, won four Gold Gloves and been credited with 94 defensive runs saved -- second most among major league outfielders (Jason Heyward) during that time.

The White Sox reportedly were interested in Gordon, but according to a tweet from Ken Rosenthal, the South Siders were not willing to give Gordon a fourth year on a contract.

It's unclear at this point whether Gordon was the Sox's "Plan A" in the outfield, or if he was a "Plan B" option. The team has been linked to free agent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. It remains to be seen whether the Sox would be willing to give Cespedes, who is two years younger than Gordon, a four- or five-year deal.

As for the Royals, this move solidifies their status as favorites to defend their World Series title in 2016. Kansas City had four key free agents going into this offseason -- Gordon, Johnny Cueto, Ben Zobrist and Ryan Madson. The Royals retained only one of the four, but they kept the most important one in Gordon.

Kansas City has already replaced Madson with the earlier signing of Joakim Soria, and while Cueto and Zobrist are key losses, people have to remember those guys were nothing more than midseason acquisitions in 2015. The Royals were in first place and had the best record in the league long before they traded for Cueto and Zobrist. Those two were never core members of the team. Gordon was and is a key piece to their puzzle.

With Gordon making $18 million a year, it will be harder for the Royals to keep long-term other key players such as Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Wade Davis, all four of whom will hit free agency after the 2017 season.

But that's a problem for two years from now. With this move, the Royals are acting to keep their core together for as long as possible, and there is every reason to believe they will continue to be in the championship discussion for the next two years.

That's an issue for the White Sox and the rest of the AL Central.