Showing posts with label Jon Lester. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jon Lester. Show all posts

Friday, July 28, 2017

Backtracking a little bit: Avisail Garcia is injured

Avisail Garcia
Amid all the trade news and excessive hype surrounding a noncompetitive Crosstown Classic, I failed to comment on this bit of news: The White Sox's lone All-Star, right fielder Avisail Garcia, went on the disabled list this week with a strained ligament in his right thumb.

We can't say Garcia's absence was the reason the Sox lost, 6-3, to the Cubs on Thursday. His replacement in right field, Willy Garcia, went 1 for 3 with a solo home run off Jon Lester to provide one of the few positives from the game and that series overall.

The bigger issue is we're once again starting to wonder who the real Avisail Garcia is. He had a torrid first two months, but he's been badly regressing in recent weeks. He was in a 1-for-30 slump leading up to his appearance in the All-Star Game.

Immediately after the break, it looked as if he might be emerging from the slump. He went 5 for 13 with a pair of home runs in a three-game set against the Seattle Mariners. His swing seemed to be getting back to where it was at the start of the season.

Alas, Garcia went right back into the slump once Seattle left town. He was 3 for 24 with not a single extra-base hit in the six games before he went onto the disabled list.

Here are Garcia's splits by month:

April: .368/.409/.621, 5 HRs, 20 RBIs
May: .301/.345/.485, 3 HRs, 17 RBIs
June: .293/.340/.444, 3 HRs, 14 RBIs
July: .216/.259/.333, 2 HRs, 3 RBIs

The July decline in production sticks out like, well, a sore thumb. Could these struggles be the result of a nagging injury? Absolutely. Could these struggles be the return of the old, disappointing Avi? Unfortunately, yes. It's hard to tell.

For me, it's hard to pencil Garcia in as one of the core players to lead the way during the Sox rebuilding phase because he has a habit of ending up on the disabled list. This is his fourth full year in the big leagues, and only once has he played in more than 120 games. He still could surpass that plateau this year -- we'll see how long this injury sidelines him. The Sox say two weeks, but based on their track record of fibbing about injuries, that could mean two months. At that point, the season would be almost over.

The question is, what do you do with Avi? Do you hope he gets healthy, hope he finishes up strong, then trade him as a "sell high" guy this offseason before he regresses or gets hurt again? Do you believe the April, May and June Avi is the real Avi and extend his contract, believing he's a significant piece of the outfield puzzle going forward? Or, do you do nothing, and just allow him to be the placeholder right fielder during the rebuild and then move on from him when (hopefully) one of the prospects is ready to replace him?

Monday, October 31, 2016

Cubs get away with two egregious mental mistakes, stave off elimination in Game 5

Anthony Rizzo
The 2016 Major League Baseball season will continue for at least another day, after the Cubs defeated the Cleveland Indians, 3-2, on Sunday night at Wrigley Field in Game 5 of the World Series.

Cleveland's lead in the series is cut to 3-2. Game 6 is Tuesday night in Cleveland.

The Cubs got this win with quality pitching. Jon Lester did what he is paid to do -- pitch well in big games. He limited the Tribe to two runs on four hits over six innings. He struck out five and didn't walk anybody. After a brief relief appearance by Carl Edwards in the seventh, Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman recorded eight outs to pick up the save.

It was not easy for Chapman. The Indians got the tying run to second base in the seventh inning, and they got the tying run to third in the eighth. Both times, Chapman turned them away. The hard-throwing lefty then worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning, striking out Jose Ramirez to close out the game.

The Cubs got three runs in the fourth inning off Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer, highlighted by a solo home run from Kris Bryant. Addison Russell had an RBI on an infield single, and David Ross added a sacrifice fly.

That said, I thought the Cubs were fortunate to get away with two egregious mental mistakes that just can't happen at this time of the season. One miscue was made by Anthony Rizzo in the fourth, the other by Chapman in the eighth.

After Bryant's home run tied the score at 1-1 in the bottom of the fourth, Rizzo was the next hitter. He put a good swing on a pitch from Bauer and drove it to deep right field. He stood there, watched the ball, admired it, then slowly started to jog toward first base. Too bad the ball wasn't gone. It hit the wall, and Rizzo suddenly had to hustle to get into second base for a double.

The Cubs are fortunate Cleveland right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall made a poor throw back into the infield. Any kind of decent throw to second base and Rizzo would have made an embarrassing out. Rizzo later scored the go-ahead run in that inning on the Russell single, so if he's out at second base two plays earlier, that three-run inning doesn't happen, and it's anybody's guess whether the Cubs are still in the hunt today.

This isn't an isolated incident, either. Throughout these playoffs, we've seen Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, Jorge Soler and now Rizzo not hustle out of the box after making contact. That's embarrassing for your team, even if you don't get thrown out, when you're competing for a championship. It's also a poor reflection on manager Joe Maddon. If one guy pulls that crap, it's the player's fault. But when it's a team-wide thing, the manager better do something. The Cubs can't afford that sort of mistake if they hope to win two games in Cleveland. Next time, Chisenhall might make an accurate throw.

Chapman nearly cost himself the lead, too, when he failed to cover first base on a grounder to the right side of the infield by Rajai Davis. Rizzo made a terrific stop on the play, preventing the ball from getting down the right-field line for extra bases. But when he got up to make a feed to first base, Chapman was nowhere to be found and Davis was easily safe.

Davis led the American League with 43 stolen bases this season, and he predictably swiped second and third base after Chapman gifted him the infield single. From Day 1 of spring training, pitchers work on getting over to first base on grounders to the right side. For Chapman to fail to get a good break off the mound in that spot is inexcusable. It's inexcusable in any situation, let alone in the eighth inning of Game 5 of the World Series, with a one-run lead, in an elimination game with everything at stake. That miscue cost the Cubs three bases. It could have cost the game.

Fortunately for Chapman, he did have his best stuff on the mound, and he got Jason Kipnis to pop out weakly and struck out Francisco Lindor looking to strand Davis at third.

Again, though, that's a mistake the Cubs better not make once they get to Cleveland. I think the Cubs need to play not one but two clean games Tuesday and Wednesday in order to win this series.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The World Series Game 1 hero is ... Roberto Perez?

There are three players in Cleveland Indians franchise history to have a multi-homer game during the playoffs: Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and, of course, Roberto Perez.

Cue Cookie Monster and his famous song, "One of These Things Is Not Like the Other Things":




Indeed, Thome has 612 career home runs. Ramirez has 555 career home runs. Perez has, well, 11 career home runs. But the career .220-hitting catcher managed to go deep twice Tuesday in Game 1 of the World Series, becoming the unlikely hero in Cleveland's 6-0 victory over the Cubs.

Perez also became the first player in World Series history to have a multi-homer game while batting in the No. 9 spot in the order. Not bad for a guy who is "Plan C" for the Indians behind the plate. Perez is only playing because Yan Gomes has been a combination of injured and bad all season, and because Jonathan Lucroy rejected a trade to Cleveland at the deadline and went to play for Texas instead.

In the biggest game of his life so far, Perez clubbed a solo home run off Cubs ace Jon Lester in the fourth inning to increase Cleveland's lead to 3-0. The home run had an exit velocity of 112.9 mph, making it the hardest-hit ball off Lester all season, according to Statcast.

Perez capped his night by hitting a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning on a hanging slider from Cubs reliever Hector Rondon. That made the score 6-0 and took all the drama out of the ninth inning.

Cleveland pitching was good again in this game, with Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen combining to strike out 15 Cubs hitters. Kluber had eight strikeouts through three innings and finished with nine Ks in six innings. Miller pitched out of a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the seventh, striking out Addison Russell and David Ross to close the inning. He also struck out Kyle Schwarber with two on and two out to end the eighth and snuff out the Cubs' last legitimate chance to get back in the game.

Game 2 is Wednesday night, and the start time has been moved up an hour to try to avoid a weather delay. Rain is in the forecast for Cleveland. The Cubs will try to even the series behind right-hander Jake Arrieta. The Indians will counter with right-hander Trevor Bauer.

The best news for the Cubs right now is the fact that Kluber won't pitch in Game 2. And, Miller might be limited, as well, after throwing 46 pitches over two innings of work in Game 1.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Mets complete NLCS sweep of Cubs

Daniel Murphy is the first player in baseball history with at least four total bases in six consecutive postseason games. That's probably because he's first player to hit a home run in six consecutive playoff games. The New York second baseman took Cubs reliever Fernando Rodney deep in the top of the eighth inning Wednesday night to set that record, as the Mets beat the Cubs, 8-3, to complete a four-game sweep of the National League Championship Series.

New York will face the Kansas City-Toronto winner in the World Series.

It's getting late, so I'll just offer a few bullet points from this game:

  • Why on earth did Cubs manager Joe Maddon start Jason Hammel in a do-or-die game? Granted, Jon Lester on short rest is no sure bet, but nobody should be surprised that Hammel got pummeled. He gave up five runs, all earned, in just 1.1 innings. The Cubs were behind 4-0 just six batters into the game, and the crowd at Wrigley Field was full of long, ashen faces. That was a nightmarish start for the Cubs, and a dream come true for anyone cheering for the Mets. Maddon is considered a genius by many in the Chicago media, but starting Hammel is this game was a terrible move, an indefensible decision.
  • Power pitching will always beat power hitting. The Cubs have a lineup full of dangerous hitters, but they can't score if they don't hit home runs. The Mets outhomered the Cubs, 3-1, on Wednesday and 7-4 in the series. The Mets have four quality pitchers in Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz. Those power arms in the New York rotation gave up a grand total of six runs to Cubs hitters in four games. For the most part, they kept the Cubs in the park and off the scoreboard. As a team, the Cubs hit just .164 in the four-game series.
  • Enough with the silly Cubs narratives, man. A lot of people ask me why so many White Sox fans (such as myself) refuse to cheer for the Cubs. Well, there are a couple reasons, but most of all, I'm weary of the storylines that seem to follow the Cubs. I'm tired of hearing about omens and curses and black cats and "Maddon magic" and various other hocus-pocus. Movie scripts that were written decades ago should not be taken as prophecy. The Red Sox rallying from 3-0 down in the 2004 ALCS has nothing to do with the 2015 NLCS. Nothing. There are no dead people looking down from heaven to make a ball disappear in the ivy. None of these extraneous factors have any impact on the outcome of ballgames.
Remember, the Cubs did not lose to the Mets because they are cursed. They lost because New York is a better team than they are. In fact, the Cubs are not cursed at all. They haven't won the World Series in 107 years because they've never fielded a good enough team to get the job done. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

MLBPA threatens litigation over Kris Bryant demotion

So, the Cubs assigned third baseman Kris Bryant to their minor league camp on Monday.

You can't say the 23-year-old prospect didn't make a strong case to be included on the Cubs' 25-man roster to start the season. He hit .425 with nine home runs in 40 at-bats this spring.

We've talked about the service time rules before on this blog, but just to review, if Bryant spends 12 or more days in the minor leagues this season, the Cubs would delay him from becoming eligible for free agency by one year, until after the 2021 season, according to baseball's collective bargaining agreement. If the team keeps him on the roster for all of this season, he would be eligible for free agency one year sooner, after the 2020 season.

The Major League Baseball Players Association, as expected, was not happy with the Cubs' decision.

'"Today is a bad day for baseball,'' the union said in a statement. ''I think we all know that even if Kris Bryant were a combination of the greatest players to play our game, and perhaps he will be before it's all said and done, the Cubs still would have made the decision they made today. This decision, and other similar decisions made by clubs will be addressed in litigation, bargaining or both.''

Whoa, timeout here. Litigation? Seriously?

This is the part where I think the union is out of line. The rules for service time were collectively bargained, and the union signed off on them. The union can sue the Cubs or MLB if it wishes, but I don't think it will take long for that lawsuit to be thrown out of court.

If the union is unhappy with the service time rules, maybe it should bring that up in the next CBA negotiations. But with the rules that are in place right now, the Cubs are clearly within their rights to send Bryant down to the minor leagues. The question here isn't whether the Cubs can do this. They can. The question is whether they should.

From a purely business perspective, it's the right move. The Cubs can bring Bryant to the majors 12 days into the season and not cost themselves that year of control in 2021. Barring weather issues, the Cubs will play just nine games in those first 12 days of the 2015 season. If you're the club, would you rather have Bryant for the first nine games of 2015? Or would you rather have him for 162 games in 2021?

That's a no-brainer. Anyone would take the 162 games in 2021. But that's just from the business perspective. I don't think you can just ignore the baseball side of things and just make a pure business decision.

On the baseball side, the Cubs are running the risk of alienating their own players by sending Bryant down. In any workplace, employees don't like it when decisions are based upon something other than merit. It's no different with a baseball team. This move by the Cubs no doubt pisses off Bryant and his agent, but it probably pisses off some other players, too.

Think about it. If you're a prospect in the Cubs organization and Bryant is one of your peers, what are you thinking today? I'd be thinking, "Damn, that dude did everything right. He earned his shot, and they still didn't give it to him. Is that going to happen to me? How is the organization going to treat me when my time comes?"

Or, what if you're a veteran player on the Cubs? Say you're Anthony Rizzo or Jon Lester or Miguel Montero, and you're listening to Joe Maddon talk about how the team has "very high expectations" and "expects to win."

OK, that's good, it's Major League Baseball, and your manager should say he expects to win. But then you look over at third base and you see Mike Olt standing there instead of Bryant. If I'm a veteran Cubs player, I'm looking at Olt and saying, "If we expect to win, then what the hell is that guy still doing here?"

The idea that the Cubs are better positioned to win with Olt at third base instead of Bryant is complete fiction. It's not even an argument. Everyone knows it. The Cubs players aren't stupid. They know it, too. I'd be frustrated if I was in their spikes. A team that has "very high expectations" doesn't put Olt in its everyday lineup to start the year when there's a better option available.

That's the risk the Cubs are running here. Is sending Bryant down a sound business decision? Yes, no question, but it sure is a maddening one when looked at from a pure baseball perspective.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Royals use running game to beat A's in AL wild-card game

Kansas City Royals fans have waited exactly 10,565 days for this night.

After 29 consecutive years of missing the playoffs, the Royals captured their first postseason victory since Game 7 of the 1985 World Series on Tuesday night, defeating the Oakland A's 9-8 in 12 innings in one of the craziest, most entertaining American League wild-card games you're ever going to see.

The Royals overcame three deficits and finally prevailed with a two-run rally in the bottom of the 12th inning, capped off by a two-out RBI single by catcher Salvador Perez off former Cubs right-hander Jason Hammel.

Credit the Royals for this: They stuck with their offensive identity in this game. They were going up against a tough pitcher in Oakland ace Jon Lester, who entered Tuesday's action with a 2.11 ERA in 11 career postseason starts. The A's went 2-5 against Kansas City during the regular season, but Lester was the starting pitcher in each of the two Oakland victories.

The A's had the right man on the mound, but the Royals prevailed thanks to their ability to manufacture runs with speed. Kansas City stole a league-best 153 bases during the regular season, and on this night, they tied a Major League record by swiping seven bases in a postseason game. They also successfully executed four sacrifice bunts.

Remarkably, the seven stolen bases came from seven different players: Nori Aoki, Lorenzo Cain, Christian Colon, Jarrod Dyson, Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon and Terrance Gore.

Dyson had perhaps the biggest steal of them all in the ninth inning. The Royals trailed 7-3 after seven innings, but they scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth to get close at 7-6. In the ninth, pinch-hitter Josh Willingham led off with a bloop single and was lifted in favor of pinch-runner Dyson. After one of the aforementioned sacrifice bunts, Dyson found himself on second base with one out. Moments later, in a gutsy move with the season on the line, he stole third and put himself in position to score the tying run on Aoki's deep fly to right field. The stolen base allowed the Royals to tie the score, force extra innings and, ultimately, extend their season.

The stolen base also played a key part in the 12th-inning rally. Kansas City trailed 8-7 after allowing a run in the top of the inning, but erased the deficit when Eric Hosmer tripled and scored the tying run on an infield single by Colon. 

Colon then came through with the second-most important stolen base of the evening, getting himself in scoring position to set the table for Perez's game-winning hit. 

Defense is not a strong point for Oakland. In fact, the A's were the worst defensive club among the five AL playoff qualifiers. They have excellent starting pitching, but if an opponent can put some pressure on them and force them to execute defensively, they cannot. The Royals proved that with Tuesday's win. 

The loss finishes an epic collapse for the A's, who had a 66-41 record the first four months of the season. But they slumped to a 22-33 mark since Aug. 1, and they did not clinch a berth in the wild-card game until the last day of the regular season. 

The Oakland offense struggled mightily down the stretch of the season, but it was not their bats that caused them to lose to Kansas City. Designated hitter Brandon Moss clubbed two home runs and drove in five runs, and left fielder Sam Fuld reached base three times Tuesday, quieting critics who said before the game that Oakland manager Bob Melvin was making a mistake by not including late-season acquisition Adam Dunn in the lineup.

The A's scored plenty of runs, but they could not slow down Kansas City's small-ball attack. Oakland is going home, and the Royals are moving on to the American League Division Series, where they will face the Los Angeles Angels in a five-game set that starts Thursday night.

Friday, September 12, 2014

White Sox add to Oakland's misery

When the Oakland Athletics made midseason deals for pitchers Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija, I thought they were solidifying themselves for a potential World Series run.

Shows how little I know.

The A's were considered by some to be the best team in baseball as recently as late July, but you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who would describe Oakland in that manner these days. After Thursday's 1-0 loss to the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, the A's have lost 11 of their last 14 games and are just 9-21 since Aug. 10.

Once the AL West leader, Oakland is all but eliminated from the division race. They now trail the first-place Los Angeles Angels by 9.5 games. A wild-card berth is far from a guarantee, as the A's now lead Detroit by just one game and Seattle by 1.5 games in that race.

Oakland was the best offensive team in baseball over the first four months, but now it can't hit a lick. The A's have scored more than three runs only 15 times in the 39 games since Yoenis Cespedes was traded to Boston for Lester on July 31.

And, if Oakland does miss the playoffs, it will look back on these past four days in Chicago as a missed opportunity. The White Sox won three of the four games, with all three Chicago victories coming by one run.

You can forgive the A's for losing to Sale on Thursday. The Sox ace had dominating stuff. He allowed just two hits and struck out nine over eight shutout innings. At one point, he retired 17 consecutive hitters. Sale improved to 12-3 on the season and lowered his ERA to a league-leading 1.99. He is trying to become the first Sox pitcher to lead the American League in ERA since Joe Horlen in 1967.

Oakland isn't the first team to be stopped cold by Sale. It won't be the last.

However, the A's had two other losses in the series, and both were unforgivable for a contending team. They had a 4-3 lead with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning Monday night, only to see Tyler Flowers homer to tie the game. The Sox catcher added a second home run in the 12th inning to lift Chicago to a 5-4 win.

Oakland had a 1-0 lead with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning Wednesday night, but Avisail Garcia delivered a two-run single with the bases loaded to lift the Sox to a 2-1 win.

The A's should have won three out of four in the series. Instead, they lost three out of four to a Chicago team that has been out of contention for more than a month. Two of the three losses were the type that teams that narrowly miss the playoffs look back on and ask, "What if?"

Sunday, August 31, 2014

White Sox trade Adam Dunn to A's; deal Alejandro De Aza to Orioles

When the Oakland Athletics visit U.S. Cellular Field for a four-game series starting Sept. 8, White Sox fans will get their first opportunity to boo Adam Dunn as a member of the visiting team.

That's because the Sox traded Dunn and cash considerations to Oakland on Sunday morning for minor-league pitcher Nolan Sanburn.

Dunn, who was hitting .220 with 20 home runs and 54 RBIs at the time of the deal, finishes his White Sox career with a .201/.321/.410 slash line. Dunn hit 106 home runs during his nearly four-year tenure on the South Side, but he leaves town as a symbol of the franchise's failings over the past four seasons.

Dunn fell out of favor with the fans after an historically bad 2011 campaign, and while he rebounded somewhat the past three years, he never performed to his previous career norms while wearing a Sox uniform.

So why would Oakland want him, you ask? The A's are leading the majors in runs scored, but that's a bit deceiving. The A's traded their cleanup hitter, Yoenis Cespedes, to the Boston Red Sox for ace left-hander Jon Lester on July 31. While Lester has performed well (2.66 ERA in 6 starts), Oakland's offense has slumped. The A's rank 20th in baseball in runs scored during August, and no doubt they are hoping Dunn can give them a boost.

The Sox, meanwhile, save themselves about $1.25 million and acquire some organizational pitching depth with Sanburn, who has been working in relief at Class-A Stockton this year. He has a 3.28 ERA in 71.1 IP with 73 strikeouts and 25 walks.

The Dunn deal comes on the heels of another move the Sox made Saturday night, in which they traded left fielder Alejandro De Aza to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for minor-league pitchers Mark Blackmar and Miguel Chalas.

De Aza figures to be a fourth outfielder with Baltimore. He was hitting .243 overall at the time of the trade, but as we've noted before on this blog, De Aza is a left-handed hitter who can produce against right-handed pitchers. He owns a .279/.347/.410 slash line against righties, and he will be a useful offensive player for Baltimore if spotted correctly in matchups that are favorable for him.

Of course, baserunning blunders, defensive gaffes and lollipop throws from left field also are part of the package with De Aza. To put it mildly, the Sox will not miss those things.

Blackmar owns a 10-1 record with a 3.18 ERA in 26 games (18 starts) with Class-A Frederick this season. Chalas (2-3, 4.80 ERA) has been working in relief at Frederick for most of the year. He was recently promoted to Triple-A Norfolk.

Nobody can say for certain whether any of these three pitchers will one day contribute to the White Sox. If nothing else, these are moves that help replenish organizational depth. If one of the three pans out and becomes a major-league pitcher, that would be great news for the South Siders.

The best part of these trades for the Sox? Neither Dunn nor De Aza was going to be back with the team for the 2015 season, and these moves open up playing time for younger players. It's evaluation time for the organization.

We know Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia are part of the White Sox outfield plans, both now and in the future. One spot remains open. Now, instead of wasting their time with De Aza, the Sox can take a longer look at Jordan Danks, Moises Sierra or even Jared Mitchell, if they wish.

With the subtraction of Dunn, the door opens for 1B/DH Andy Wilkins, who was recalled from Triple-A Charlotte and is making his big-league debut Sunday for the Sox. Wilkins is a left-handed bat who hit .293 with 30 home runs, 38 doubles and 85 RBIs for the Knights this year. Can he help the Sox in the middle of the order? I don't know, but now is the time to let Wilkins play and gather more information about him.

Of the 25 roster spots available on the 2015 White Sox, you have to figure at least half of them are still open. Some younger players are about to receive an opportunity to put themselves in the picture for a job on next year's club.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Oakland, Detroit, St. Louis biggest winners at trade deadline

If there's one thing we learned at the MLB trading deadline, it's that GMs believe front-line starting pitching wins in the playoffs. On Thursday, we saw three contenders make bold moves to solidify their respective starting rotations for the stretch drive.

Oakland, Detroit and St. Louis were each willing to include established major-leaguers in trades in order to acquire the front-line starters they coveted. All three of those teams now have a better chance to get to the World Series and win it than they did just 24 hours ago.

Thursday's frenzy started with a blockbuster deal between Oakland and Boston. The Red Sox sent ace pitcher Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes to the A's in exchange for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.

My initial reaction to this move was shock. How often do you see the cleanup hitter on the team with the best record in baseball (Cespedes) moved at the trading deadline? But the more I thought about this deal, the more I liked it for Oakland.

Cespedes is a big media name and a dangerous hitter, but he's not a great hitter, as his so-so .256/.303/.464 slash line will attest. From the seventh inning on, Cespedes has a slash line of .191/.236/.330 this year. This tells us there are plenty of ways to get him out with the game on the line. Opposing managers can bring in that power right-handed reliever to shut down Cespedes in the late innings. You don't have to fear him. You can pitch to him.

No doubt Oakland GM Billy Beane knows this, and that's why he was willing to part with Cespedes -- especially when the return is a legitimate ace with tons of postseason experience in Lester, who possesses a lifetime 2.11 ERA in the playoffs. During the Red Sox' run to the championship last year, Lester went 4-1 with 1.56 ERA in five starts. His only loss was a 1-0 defeat.

Lester is a money pitcher, and the A's are October ready with him, Jeff Samardzija, Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir in their rotation.

Beane's big move put the pressure on Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski to respond. Respond he did, acquiring Tampa Bay ace David Price just minutes before the trading deadline.

The Tigers paid a price, though, in the three-team swap. The deal cost them two players off their 25-man roster. Center fielder Austin Jackson is now a member of the Seattle Mariners. Left-handed starting pitcher Drew Smyly is now with Tampa Bay.

In a bizarre scene Thursday, the game between the Tigers and the White Sox had to be halted mid-inning so Jackson could be removed from center field at 3:56 p.m. EDT -- four minutes before the deadline.

Jackson is an inconsistent hitter, but make no mistake, the Tigers will not be able to replace his defense in center field. Who is going to play center field in Detroit now? Rajai Davis? Will they ask Torii Hunter to turn back the hands of time and move from right field to center? I don't know.

Maybe the Tigers are hoping fewer balls get hit into the outfield with the addition of Price.

There's no denying Detroit has a monster rotation now: Max Scherzer, Price, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez. The first three on that list are former Cy Young award winners. Think they may be tough to beat in a short series?

Yeah, even with the hole in center field, I think so.

Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals made the boldest move among National League teams. On Wednesday, they added Justin Masterson to their rotation. They followed that up Thursday by acquiring John Lackey from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for pitcher Joe Kelly and outfielder Allen Craig.

I like this trade for the Cardinals. Lackey has some age on him -- he's 35 -- but he's another guy who shines on the postseason stage (3.03 career ERA in 19 games). St. Louis knows that well, since Lackey shut the Cardinals down in the clinching game of the World Series last October.

Craig and his .237/.291/.346 slash line will not be missed in St. Louis, especially since his departure creates an opportunity for top prospect Oscar Taveras to play every day in the outfield.

Injuries have limited Kelly to seven starts this year. I suspect his 4.37 ERA and 1.457 WHIP also will not be missed in St. Louis.

Even if the Cardinals don't get Michael Wacha back, they have a front four of Adam Wainwright, Lackey, Masterson and Lance Lynn in their rotation. I don't think it makes them the favorite in the National League, but they would at least have a fighting chance in a short series against Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Their chances are certainly better now than they were before these deals.

There were several other deadline deals made on Thursday. We won't analyze all of them. This blog is already long enough. You can find a list of other trades here.

We'll wrap it up by saying Oakland, Detroit and St. Louis were the biggest winners at the deadline. Who will be the biggest winner on the field? We'll find out between now and late October.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

If the Red Sox win the World Series, do you think David Ortiz will win MVP?

Boston slugger David Ortiz is hitting .733 through the first five games of the World Series. In contrast, his Red Sox teammates have combined for a .156 batting average.

Yeah, I think we know who has been the best player on the field so far in this series.

The Red Sox have 33 hits as a team over the five games. Ortiz has 11 of them, in just 15 at-bats. He also has two home runs, six RBIs and four walks. His on-base percentage is .789. That's obscene.

Ortiz finished 3 for 4 in Boston's 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday in Game 5. His RBI double in the first inning opened the scoring. The Red Sox also got an go-ahead RBI double from journeyman catcher David Ross in the top of the seventh, and Jacoby Ellsbury chipped in with an RBI single.

The Red Sox now own a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series, which shifts back to Fenway Park for Game 6 on Wednesday night.

If it weren't for Ortiz's otherworldly performance, we would be talking about left-hander Jon Lester as a possible MVP winner. The Boston ace was masterful for the second time in this series in Game 5. He went 7.2 innings and allowed just four hits. He struck out seven, walked none and surrendered just one run on a solo home run by Matt Holliday. Lester is now 2-0 with a 0.59 ERA in two World Series starts. He also was the winning pitcher in Game 1.

The odds are stacked in Boston's favor now as it has two chances to win one game at home. Can St. Louis go into Fenway and win two straight? I doubt it, but you never say never.

The Cardinals have to feel good about their Game 6 starter, Michael Wacha, who has been every bit as brilliant as Lester in the postseason. The St. Louis rookie is 4-0 with 1.00 ERA in four playoff starts. He'll need to make it 5-0 for the Cardinals to stay alive. His mound opponent will once again be Boston veteran John Lackey.

Here's why the Cardinals still have a chance: If it goes to Game 7, who is Boston going to pitch? Lester and Lackey are their only two reliable starters. Jake Peavy has been inconsistent to say the least. Clay Buchholz is gutting it out, pitching through injuries. Neither of the two is a real attractive option to start a Game 7, but one of them will get the ball -- if the Cardinals can find a way to pull out Game 6.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Does homefield advantage matter more in Game 1 than in Game 7?

I was thinking earlier today about how the World Series is a matchup of Goliath vs. Goliath this year. Both the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals were the best and most consistent teams in their respective leagues throughout the season. Both teams won 97 games. They appear to be evenly matched.

You don't always get a matchup like this in this era of wild-card teams and expanded playoffs. A lot of years, you see that 88-win team sneak into the postseason, get hot at the right time and end up playing in the World Series. Not this year. This really is a case of the two top clubs going head to head.

Unfortunately, you never would have known that by watching Game 1 on Wednesday night. The Red Sox kicked the snot out of the Cardinals, scoring five runs in the first two innings and coasting to an 8-1 victory behind ace left-hander Jon Lester (pictured).

St. Louis is not known as a great defensive team, but to call its effort sloppy in this game would have been an understatement.  The Cardinals packed three errors and three other misplays into those game-deciding first two innings alone. We don't need to detail them all here; you can read about them in Jeff Passan's column on Yahoo. Suffice to say St. Louis looked like a bunch of scaredy-cats. The Cardinals made a bunch of defensive mistakes that big-league players should not make on the big stage.

Of course, it's only natural to be nervous before taking the field for Game 1 of the World Series, even for seasoned veterans. That leads me to the point of this blog: I think that homefield advantage matters more in Game 1 than it does in Game 7. Why? Well, I think it's easier to overcome those nerves and settle into your game when you're playing in your home park, in a comfortable environment, in front of 40,000 people who are cheering for you. Boston settled in quickly Wednesday night and played a solid, clean game. The Cardinals, in contrast, were blown off the field before they could get their feet under them.

In case you were wondering, the home team has now won Game 1 in each of the past four World Series. It is indeed an advantage. And in each of the previous three series, that Game 1 winner has gone on to claim the championship.

Just how important is it to win Game 1? Well, since 2003, the Game 1 winner has gone on to win the World Series in nine out of 10 years. The only exception was 2009, when the New York Yankees dropped Game 1 at home before recovering to beat the Philadelphia Phillies in six games.

For me, the biggest edge that comes along with homefield advantage is getting those first two games at home. It increases your odds of winning that first game, and if you win that first game, it puts you in the driver's seat toward winning the World Series. That's where the Red Sox are at right now after Game 1.