Showing posts with label Madison Bumgarner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Madison Bumgarner. Show all posts

Thursday, October 6, 2016

'You don't use your closer in a non-save situation'? Nonsense

Buck Showalter (left) and Terry Collins
Biggest takeaway from the wild-card playoff games this week: One manager lost because he failed to use his closer in a non-save situation; another manager lost because he did use his closer in a non-save situation.

Countless times through the years, I've heard fans and even some media members remark that you're not supposed to use your closer in non-save situations. The argument for this is the idea that closers are successful only because of the adrenaline rush that goes along with a save situation, so they can't pitch effectively if that carrot isn't dangling in front of them.

Nonsense.

I'm of the school of thought that it's never a bad play to bring your closer, who is presumably your best or second-best reliever, into a tie game. Does it make sense to save your closer for a save situation that might never present itself? I don't believe so.

That means I will join the chorus of people who have criticized Baltimore manager Buck Showalter for bringing in Ubaldo Jimenez to face the top of the Toronto batting order with one out in the bottom of the 11th inning in a 2-2 tie Tuesday in the AL wild-card game.

Jimenez, he of the 5.44 ERA, needed just five pitches to blow the Orioles' season. Devon Travis and Josh Donaldson singled for Toronto, setting the table for Edwin Encarnacion to hit a three-run homer and send the Blue Jays to the ALDS with a 5-2 win.

Meanwhile, Zach Britton sat unused in the Baltimore bullpen. Britton is the best reliever in baseball this year, and he's a legitimate candidate for the AL Cy Young award. He was 47 for 47 in save opportunities, has a ridiculous 0.54 ERA, and has held right-handed batters to a .155 average this season. Travis, Donaldson and Encarnacion are all right-handed.

In the face of these facts, does anyone want to argue that Jimenez was the right choice? Does anyone want to argue that you don't use your closer in a non-save situation? I wouldn't think so.

Incredibly, Showalter's move is now conventional wisdom in the game. MLB Network's Brian Kenny had a useful discussion on the air Wednesday, where his research showed that managers used their closer in situations such as Baltimore's on Tuesday just 27 percent of the time in 2016. We're talking about spots where you're on the road, the game is tied in the ninth inning or later, and you need your pitcher to put a zero up in the bottom of the inning to force an extra inning.

So, 73 percent of the time, managers are using non-closers in those spots. That seems like a very high number, and to me, that's not smart baseball.

In contrast, I cannot blame New York Mets manager Terry Collins for his club's 3-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants in Wednesday's NL wild-card game.

The situation was a little bit different, of course, because the Mets were playing at home. The game was scoreless into the ninth inning, and there was no chance at that point for a save situation to arise for New York closer Jeurys Familia.

With everything on the line in the ninth, Collins wisely went to his best reliever, Familia, who screwed the pooch. Familia gave up a double to Brandon Crawford, a walk to Joe Panik and a three-run homer to former White Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie.

That was all San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner needed, as the left-hander continued his postseason mastery by throwing a complete-game, four-hit shutout.

From the Giants' perspective, credit goes to Bumgarner and Gillaspie, and from the Mets' perspective, Familia is wearing the goat horns. Collins made the right move. It didn't work.

You see, I like to judge a manager's moves on the philosophy and logic behind the decision more than the result. Baseball is a game where the right move still can lead to a bad result, and sometimes a move that makes no sense comes up aces.

Philosophically, from my perspective, it's never wrong to use your best reliever with the game on the line. If that reliever fails, it's on him. However, it is wrong to leave your best reliever sitting in the bullpen while a lesser pitcher flushes your season down the toilet.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

What if Alex Gordon had tried to score in the bottom of the ninth in World Series Game 7?

Let's start with this: Kansas City Royals third base coach Mike Jirschele made the right call when he threw up the stop sign and held Alex Gordon at third base with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning Wednesday night in Game 7 of the World Series.

Let's also give credit to the San Francisco Giants, who secured their third World Series title in five years with a 3-2 victory over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. In particular, we give props to San Francisco left-hander Madison Bumgarner, who fired five innings of two-hit shutout relief to earn his third victory of the Series. He is not only a worthy World Series MVP, he deserves credit for one of the best postseason performances of all-time. Who would have thought he could come back on just two days rest and pitch five dominant innings like that? Not me. That's a helluva job by him.

But, I want to focus on the play that created all the drama in the bottom of the ninth inning. Leading 3-2, Bumgarner easily retired the first two hitters, and Gordon was at the plate representing Kansas City's final hope. He ended up hitting a sinking liner toward left-center field.

Giants center fielder Gregor Blanco got caught in between. He seemed unsure whether to dive and attempt a game-ending catch, or pull up, play the ball on a bounce and concede a single. He did neither. He pulled up and tried to play it on a hop, but the ball skipped past him and rolled all the way to the wall. San Francisco left fielder Juan Perez was backing up the play, and he bobbled the ball, as well.

By the time Perez's throw back toward the infield reached Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford, Gordon - carrying the tying run with him - was cruising toward third base.

Jirschele faced a split-second decision with everything hanging in the balance. Were Gordon's odds of scoring on that play better than the odds of the next hitter (catcher Salvador Perez) getting a game-tying base hit off Baumgarner? The Kansas City coach's answer to that question was "no," and I agree with him.

Crawford has a strong, accurate arm. He already had the ball as Gordon reached third base, and if he had to, he could have relayed it to San Francisco catcher Buster Posey in about two seconds. Gordon has decent speed, but not he's not a burner, and there's no way he would have been able to outrun the ball in that situation. A good relay throw, and he's a dead duck and Jirschele doesn't sleep for a month.

So, Gordon was held at third. Perez popped out to third baseman Pablo Sandoval to end the game, and now the second-guessing has begun.

Even though I agree with the decision to hold Gordon based on logic, there's a big part of me that wishes he would have been sent. On that play, the San Francisco fielders were handling the ball as if it had grease all over it. Could Crawford have executed a good relay throw under that type of pressure, with the outcome of the World Series on the line? We'll never know for sure.

Moreover, would Posey have caught the ball and tagged Gordon out without being called for blocking the plate?

It's an interesting thought: Gordon, Posey and the ball all converging on one spot in front of home plate, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7 of the World Series in a one-run game, with that silly home plate collision rule that nobody understands in effect. Can you imagine the World Series coming down to a replay review of a play at the plate? That would have been outgoing commissioner Bud Selig's worst nightmare.

Man, what if Gordon had tried to score? It might have created a play that would have been talked about for decades.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Giants take 3-2 lead with win in World Series Game 5

There have been 30 games played in Major League Baseball's postseason so far this year.

That means there have been 60 starts for pitchers, and of those 60, only six times has a pitcher worked seven innings or more and earned a postseason victory. San Francisco Giants' ace Madison Bumgarner has accounted for four of those six this playoff year.

Bumgarner continued to cement his reputation as a clutch performer with yet another brilliant outing Sunday in Game 5 of the 2014 World Series. The San Francisco left-hander fired a complete-game, four-hit shutout as the Giants defeated the Kansas City Royals, 5-0, to take a 3-2 series lead.

Game 6 is Tuesday night in Kansas City.

Bumgarner is now 4-0 with a 0.29 ERA in four career World Series starts. Opponents are hitting just .120 against him in that span.

How dominant was Bumgarner on this night? In nine innings, Kansas City had only two at-bats with runners in scoring position. Those at-bats were taken by light-hitting outfielder Jarrod Dyson and starting pitcher James Shields, so the Royals had little chance to score in this game.

I've been critical of Shields' postseason performance in previous blog entries, but he was solid in Game 5. He allowed just two runs in six innings. That's certainly a credible performance. He just got outpitched, plain and simple.

The Giants finally solved the riddle of the Kansas City bullpen in the eighth inning, too. They scored three runs off the previously unhittable combination of Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis to increase their lead to 5-0, a two-run double by reserve outfielder Juan Perez being the biggest hit.

The question becomes, can the Giants get a closeout victory on the road with somebody other than Bumgarner on the mound? Jake Peavy will get his shot in Game 6 against Kansas City's Yordano Ventura in a rematch from Game 2.

If San Francisco wins this thing, I think we already know Bumgarner is going to be named MVP.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Madison Bumgarner cools off Royals in World Series Game 1

The Game 1 winner has won 15 of the last 17 World Series, including 10 out of the last 11.

That fact bodes well for the San Francisco Giants, who cruised to a 7-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday in the opening game of the 2014 Fall Classic.

How did the Giants cool off the red-hot Royals, who had won nine consecutive games dating back to the regular season? They did it by scoring early and allowing their ace left-hander, Madison Bumgarner, to do his job.

Bumgarner fired seven innings of one-run, three-hit ball. He fanned five and walked just one. His only mistake was a two-out homer by Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez in the bottom of the seventh inning, and by that point it didn't matter because the Royals were hopelessly behind.

San Francisco jumped out to a 3-0 lead in top of the first inning. Hunter Pence's two-run homer off Kansas City ace James Shields highlighted the rally.

You wouldn't have expected Pence to be the guy to haunt Shields. Coming into Tuesday's play, Pence was 0-for-11 with three strikeouts in his career against Shields. However, his home run was the biggest hit of the game, and he also had a double to start a two-run rally in the fourth inning that increased San Francisco's lead to 5-0.

It's no secret San Francisco has the edge in postseason experience in this series. The Giants won the World Series in 2010 and again in 2012. For many of these Kansas City players, this is their first time in the playoffs.

That difference in experience showed up in this game, particularly in the bottom of the third inning when the Royals had their best chance to get to Bumgarner. Down 3-0, Kansas City placed runners on second and third with nobody out after Omar Infante reached on a Brandon Crawford error and Mike Moustakas doubled.

It's the kind of situation the Royals have taken advantage of throughout the postseason, but it didn't happen this time. Bumgarner escaped the jam unscathed by getting overanxious Kansas City hitters to swing at bad pitches. Perhaps the combination of being on the big stage and facing an early deficit caused the Royals to press.

It sure looked that way as Alcides Escobar struck out swinging on a fastball up and well out of the zone for the first out. Nori Aoki also fanned after he could not check his swing on an 0-2 breaking ball that bounced in front of the plate. Bumgarner tried a similar strategy against the next hitter, but to Lorenzo Cain's credit, he laid off those pitches and worked a walk to load the bases for Eric Hosmer.

The Kansas City first baseman swung at the first pitch and grounded out to second base to end what would be the Royals' last and best chance to get back in the game.

I've heard some analysts criticize Hosmer for offering at that first pitch. I won't be among them. I believe in swinging at the first hittable strike in RBI situations. Sometimes, that's the best pitch you're going to get. Hosmer got an 86 mph cutter from Bumgarner that was middle to outer half. It was a hittable pitch. The only criticism I have of Hosmer is he may have tried to pull that pitch when he would have been better served to try to drive it to left field. But, I don't fault him for swinging.

The real disappointment for the Royals in this game was the poor performance of Shields, who was knocked out in the fourth inning and allowed five earned runs. The Giants went 4-for-4 with runners in scoring position against the Kansas City ace, who is now just 1-3 with an 8.26 ERA in his last six postseason starts.

MLB Network analyst Dan Plesac and others need to stop with the obnoxious "Big Game James" references when discussing Shields, because he's obviously been struggling lately.

For an actual "Big Game" pitcher, look no further than Bumgarner. The San Francisco ace has started three World Series games in his career. He's 3-0 with a 0.41 ERA in those outings. That's clutch.

The Royals will try to even the series Wednesday in Game 2 behind youngster Yordano Ventura. Veteran Jake Peavy will be on the mound for the Giants.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Royals take 2-0 lead in ALCS; Bumgarner dominates Cardinals in NLCS

The Baltimore Orioles hadn't lost back-to-back home games since June 28-29 -- until the Kansas City Royals came in and won the first two games of the American League championship series.

The Royals scored two runs in the top of the ninth inning Saturday to come away with a 6-4 victory in Game 2 of the ALCS. They'll take a 2-0 series lead back to Kansas City, where the series resumes Monday night.

I'm happy for the Royals and their long-suffering fans, but as I watched Saturday's ninth inning unfold, I couldn't help but have a bit of sympathy for Baltimore fans. That game-deciding rally by the Royals was death by 1,000 cuts for the Orioles, and as a White Sox fan, I've seen that movie before in games against Kansas City.

Here's how the Royals manufactured their two runs: a swinging bunt infield single, a sacrifice bunt, a perfectly placed RBI double right down the first-base line, an error and a ground ball through a drawn-in infield for an RBI single.

As we noted yesterday, Kansas City has been on a power surge lately, and it got another home run from Mike Moustakas on Saturday -- his fourth of the postseason -- but the aforementioned go-ahead double by Alcides Escobar was more indicative of what we typically see from the Royals offense.

They swing for contact, they put the ball in play, they "hit 'em where they ain't," and they run the bases well. In that RBI situation, Escobar wasn't trying to do anything heroic. He hit the ball to the opposite field. It happened to be in the right spot, and he got the desired result.

When your team is playing against the Royals, you feel like they should be able to stop them, but they can't. Kansas City often creates rallies out of nothing. They put the ball in play. They come at you with speed. They keep the pressure on. They force teams to execute defensively.

That approach is the opposite of what you see from a lot of teams today, where offenses are focused on being "dangerous" at all times and hitters don't care if they strike out while swinging for extra-base hits. For the most part, the Royals are looking to single and double teams to death, and they just might ride that all the way to the World Series. They are now just two wins away.

Giants blank Cardinals in NLCS opener

There is no underdog story on the National League side of the bracket. The San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals have combined to win the last four NL pennants. This NLCS is a clash of the usual suspects, with most people picking the Cardinals to win.

The Giants, however, drew first blood with a 3-0 victory behind ace Madison Bumgarner on Saturday in St. Louis.

The San Francisco left-hander set a postseason record for most consecutive scoreless innings pitched on the road. He ran his streak to 26.2 innings with 7.2 spotless frames in this Game 1. He hasn't given up a run on the road in the postseason since 2010.

In case you were wondering, the previous record was 23, held by some guy named Art Nehf, who pitched in the 1920s. Kudos to any reader who knows anything about Nehf.

The Giants have now won 12 of their last 13 postseason games dating back to their World Series win in 2012. St. Louis is known for being at its best in October -- the Cardinals have made the NLCS four years in row -- but San Francisco also seems to save its best ball for the playoffs.

The teams face off in Game 2 on Sunday night.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Madison Bumgarner turns NL wild-card game into a snooze

All the drama in the wild-card round this season got packed into Tuesday's marathon American League game. If you went to bed early Wednesday and missed the end of the National League wild-card game, you didn't miss a thing.

Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants made it look easy, as they dispatched the Pittsburgh Pirates, 8-0. With the win, the Giants advance to take on the Washington Nationals in the NLDS. That series will start Friday.

Bumgarner entered his seventh career postseason start with a couple factors working in his favor. First off, he's been good on the road all season -- 11-4 with a 2.22 ERA. Secondly, he pitched well down the stretch, going 7-3 with 2.12 ERA over his last 10 starts.

When the Giants won the World Series in 2010 and again in 2012, Bumgarner was a member of the supporting cast. Now, he's the San Francisco ace, and he proved it Wednesday night with a dominant, efficient performance.

The left-hander needed just 109 pitches in his four-hit, complete-game shutout. He struck out 10 Pittsburgh batters and walked just one.

Believe it or not, Pirates starting pitcher Edinson Volquez also entered this game with reasons to feel good about himself. After a disastrous 2013 that saw him record the highest ERA among qualifying pitchers in the National League, the right-hander enjoyed a comeback season this year.

He posted a 1.85 ERA over his last 17 starts, and he had allowed just four earned runs in his last 34.2 innings pitched at home. Unfortunately for Volquez, he allowed four runs on one pitch in the fourth inning Wednesday night.

Brandon Crawford became the first shortstop ever to hit a postseason grand slam when he picked on a 1-2 hanging breaking ball from Volquez and knocked it over the right-field wall to give the Giants a 4-0 lead.

That was your ballgame. There was no drama from that point on. San Francisco added four more runs, and Pittsburgh had no chance against the masterful Bumgarner.

Maybe we'll have something more interesting to talk about after tomorrow's action. Tonight's game was one-sided. It was all Giants.