Showing posts with label Michael Wacha. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Michael Wacha. Show all posts

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Giants win the pennant ... and Mike Matheny doesn't

Second-guessing managers is part of the fun of watching baseball -- especially during the postseason -- and we're putting St. Louis Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny on the hot seat tonight.

Here's the situation: Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. The Cardinals trail the San Francisco Giants 3 games to 1 and face a must win. The game is tied 3-3 going into the bottom of the ninth inning. St. Louis must hold or its season is over. And the pitcher Matheny turns to is none other than ... Michael Wacha?

Really? 

Yes, Wacha was one of the postseason heroes for the Cardinals in 2013. He won the NLCS MVP award, in fact. But that was then and this is now. It's been an injury-plagued season for Wacha. He missed two and a half months with a shoulder problem, and he wasn't good enough or healthy enough to make the St. Louis postseason rotation.

Wacha hadn't pitched in a game since Sept. 26, yet there he was to start the bottom of the ninth inning with the season hanging in the balance. Four batters later, the Giants were National League champions.

In fairness, I can't say Wacha didn't look healthy. His fastball touched 98 mph on the Fox Sports 1 radar gun. However, his command was absolutely terrible, which is exactly what you would expect from a pitcher who hadn't seen the mound in nearly three weeks. That's why he shouldn't have been out there.

Pablo Sandoval led off the bottom of the ninth inning with a base hit, and the pressure was on Wacha immediately. One out later, he walked Brandon Belt on four pitches. Then, he fell behind 2-0 to San Francisco left fielder Travis Ishikawa and was forced to challenge him with a fastball. Ishikawa answered that challenge, knocking the ball over the right-field wall for a three-run homer.

Giants win, 6-3. Series over. Season over for St. Louis.

It isn't like Matheny didn't have other options. His starting pitcher, Adam Wainwright, gave him seven innings of two-run ball. Reliever Pat Neshek worked the eighth and surrendered a 3-2 lead, giving up a solo home run to pinch-hitter Michael Morse. Everyone else in the Cardinals bullpen should have been available.

Why not bring in closer Trevor Rosenthal? Or hard-throwing Carlos Martinez? A left-handed reliever such as Marco Gonzales or Randy Choate wouldn't have been a bad call in that inning, either, because Belt and Ishikawa are both left-handed hitters, and Sandoval -- a switch-hitter -- is far less dangerous when he's hitting right-handed.

If Matheny had brought in any of those four relievers, it would have been a defensible move. Instead, he went with Wacha. Terrible choice.

The San Francisco victory sets up an wild-card World Series with the Kansas City Royals. Thanks to the stupid TV networks, we have to wait until Tuesday for play to begin.

Am I the only one who thinks it stinks there won't be any baseball on this weekend? 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Does anyone want these five MLB free agents?

Ubaldo Jimenez
Does your favorite team still need a starting pitcher? Well, there are two free agents out there who might interest you. Both of them had ERAs of 3.30 or better last season -- in the American League, no less.

How about a middle-of-the-order hitter? There are two free agents available who can almost certainly give your team 20 home runs and about 75 or 80 RBIs.

Need defense? The starting shortstop from last year's World Series championship team is available, too.

The Super Bowl is over, and it's almost time for spring training to begin. However, pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana are without contracts. Also without a job are first baseman Kendrys Morales, outfielder Nelson Cruz and shortstop Stephen Drew.

All five players were given qualifying offers to return to their 2013 teams on a one-year, $14.1 million deal. All five declined and elected free agency. Here on Feb. 4, the waiting game continues for each player.

Why? Phil Rogers explained it in a recent column on MLB.com. Any team that signs one of these five guys would have to give up a first-round draft pick to that player's former team.

These days, teams are a little slower to part with those draft picks. Remember when the St. Louis Cardinals lost Albert Pujols in free agency? Don't cry for the Cardinals because they used the compensatory draft pick they received from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to select pitcher Michael Wacha, who was last seen helping the Cardinals to the 2013 NL pennant.

And don't cry for the Angels either. When they lost Mark Teixeira in free agency after the 2008 season, they received a compensatory draft pick from the New York Yankees and used it to select outfielder Mike Trout, who is probably the best young position player in the sport today.

So, if you're wondering why decent major league players like the five listed above are still looking for work, look no further than the rules about compensatory draft picks. GMs are now figuring the loss of a valuable draft pick into the "cost" of signing these free agents, and accordingly, they aren't willing to give as much money to guys like Ervin Santana. Clubs are going to wait until the last minute to sign these players, once the price comes down to bargain levels.

Eventually, these five players are going to get a contract with somebody. You won't need to cry for them either, because they won't go hungry. But they probably aren't going to get the money they believe they're worth, and they may not even get the $14.1 million they could have had by staying with their 2013 teams.

Most -- if not all -- of these players would already be signed if they weren't tied to draft pick compensation. But this is the gamble they took when they refused those qualifying offers, and here they sit on Feb. 4.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Shane Victorino stars as Red Sox complete World Series victory

It was pretty clear the St. Louis Cardinals were not going to let Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz beat them in Game 6 of the World Series on Wednesday night.

Ortiz, who entered Wednesday's play batting .733 for the series, went 0-for-1 with four walks -- three of them intentional -- in Game 6. However, the St. Louis strategy failed, thanks to Boston outfielder Shane Victorino.

Victorino went 2 for 3 with four RBIs as the Red Sox beat the Cardinals 6-1 and claimed their third World Series title since 2004.

The decisive moment came in the bottom of the third inning. With Jacoby Ellsbury on second base and one out, Ortiz was intentionally walked for the first time. After Mike Napoli struck out and Jonny Gomes was hit by a pitch, the table was set for Victorino. With the bases loaded and two away, the right fielder ripped a 2-1 fastball from St. Louis starter Michael Wacha off the Green Monster in left field for a bases-clearing double. The Red Sox took a 3-0 lead with one swing of the bat, and well, that was pretty much your ballgame.

Boston tacked on three more runs in the fourth inning, another frame that featured an intentional walk to Ortiz. Napoli and Victorino both foiled the strategy with RBI singles, and Boston had a 6-0 advantage.

I can't fault the Cardinals for going around Ortiz. They were bound and determined to make someone else swing the bat. Other Boston hitters stepped up and got the job done in RBI situations, so give them credit.

St. Louis, meanwhile, failed miserably in the clutch. The Cardinals were just 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position in Game 6 and could not capitalize against Boston starter and winning pitcher John Lackey. The best opportunity for St. Louis came in the seventh inning. Trailing 6-1, the Cardinals had the bases loaded with two outs for their leading RBI man, Allen Craig. But Boston reliever Junichi Tazawa retired Craig on a routine grounder to first. The Red Sox lead was never threatened again.

The Cardinals hit a major league record .330 with runners in scoring position this season, but their greatest strength failed them at an inopportune time on Wednesday night. They could get runners on. They just couldn't get them in.

When the Red Sox had scoring opportunities, they delivered. And that's why they are partying in Boston right now.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Rookies pitch Cardinals to Game 2 victory

One thing we learned from Game 2 of the World Series on Thursday night: If you're really good, a lack of experience doesn't matter.

The St. Louis Cardinals used three rookie pitchers, starter Michael Wacha and relievers Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal, to beat the Boston Red Sox 4-2 and even the series at a game each.

None of those three pitchers is older than age 23, but you never would have known it by the poise they showed in the hostile environment at Fenway Park.

We've come to expect excellence from Wacha, who is 4-0 in four postseason starts now. But, in a way, this effort was more impressive than his previous ones because he did not have his good stuff Thursday night. His command was off. He walked four people and needed 114 pitches to get through six innings. Still, he surrendered just two runs, both on a home run by David Ortiz in the sixth inning. I didn't think Wacha had his real good fastball in this game. There was a lot of 91 and 92 on the radar gun, whereas he had been hitting 94 and 95 in previous starts. Still, he persevered against a strong lineup and gave his team a chance to win.

Martinez, who features a 98 mph fastball, worked a 1-2-3 seventh inning, moments after the Cardinals had score three runs in the top of the inning to take the lead for good. The 23-year-old also worked the eighth inning and pitched his way out of two-on, two-out jam.

Rosenthal had the ninth, and well, he was pretty damn good. He struck out the side while consistently hitting 98 and 99 on the gun.

It helps to have power arms in the bullpen, and that's one of the reasons I picked the Cardinals to win the World Series before the playoffs started. Sure, they are inexperienced, but those high-90s fastballs allow them to get away with some mistakes location-wise.

A lot of people have talked about how good Boston's bullpen has been this year, and rightfully so. We saw last night the guys at the back end of the St. Louis bullpen are no slouches either. Coming right at guys with heat; that's how you close out a game.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

2013 World Series: Boston Red Sox vs. St. Louis Cardinals

Since we left off, the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals have each clinched the pennant in their respective leagues. They will open the World Series on Wednesday night in Boston.

To get ready, let's take a look at three players from each team whose performance could swing the outcome of the series one way or the other.

St. Louis Cardinals

1. Michael Wacha - The rookie right-hander is 3-0 in three starts this postseason, and he's allowed just one run in 21 innings pitched, with 22 strikeouts and just 12 baserunners (8 hits, 4 walks) allowed. He has the element of surprise in his favor. Nobody in Boston's lineup has ever faced him. Can he continue to pitch like a budding ace? If so, the Cardinals have the advantage in starting pitching in this series. Ace Adam Wainwright will start Games 1 and 5, while Wacha will get Games 2 and 6.

2. Allen Craig - The first baseman hasn't played since Sept. 4. He's been out with a foot injury, but he is slated to DH in Games 1 and 2 in Boston. If Craig can chip off the rust quickly, his bat is a huge asset in the middle of the St. Louis lineup. In 134 games this year, he posted a .315/.373/.457 slash line and had 13 home runs and 97 RBIs. We'll see if Craig is healthy enough to play first base when the series shifts to St. Louis, but even if he can only DH and pinch hit, his return to the active roster could be pivotal.

3. Yadier Molina - One of the things I like about the Red Sox offense is their speed at the top of the order. Boston was third in the American League in stolen bases with 123, with Jacoby Ellsbury (52 steals), Shane Victorino (21 steals) and Dustin Pedroia (17 stolen bases) accounting for most of them. However, few catchers in baseball can neutralize an opponent's running game as well as Molina. He threw out 43 percent of runners who tried to steal against him this year, and has caught 45 percent for his career. Will Boston be able to run against Molina? We shall see.

Boston Red Sox

1. John Lackey - This guy is back from the dead this year. Lackey posted a 6.41 ERA in 2011 and missed all of 2012 after elbow surgery. But this year, he's rebounded to post a 3.52 ERA and has pitched much better than his 10-13 regular season record indicates. He beat Detroit ace Justin Verlander 1-0 in Game 3 of the ALCS, which in hindsight might have been the most pivotal game of that series. Lackey will be matched up with Wacha in Game 2. Does he have another big effort in him? We know the veteran isn't afraid of the big stage. He won Game 7 of the 2002 World Series as a rookie with the Anaheim Angels.

2. David Ortiz - It's been a slow postseason for the Boston designated hitter. He's batting just .200 with three home runs and seven RBIs in the playoffs. All of his damage was done in two games. He had a two-homer game in Game 2 of the ALDS against Tampa Bay, and a game-changing grand slam in Game 2 of the ALCS against Detroit. The Red Sox need Ortiz to get some things done on occasions other than Game 2 of this series. When the series shifts to St. Louis, Boston skipper John Farrell will have to choose between Ortiz and Mike Napoli at first base. You figure Ortiz gets the nod, since St. Louis has all right-handed starting pitchers. But, Napoli is 6-for-16 with two home runs in his last four games. The decision becomes harder if Napoli stays hot and Ortiz stays cold.

3. Koji Uehara - Most championship teams have a few guys who come out of nowhere to have career seasons. No question Uehara is one of those guys for the Red Sox. The 38-year-old reliever went 4-1 with 21 saves, a 1.09 ERA and a 0.565 WHIP in the regular season. Those are all career bests. Uehara has continued his excellence in postseason play. He's allowed just one run in nine innings, and he has posted five saves. In three of his five saves, he has pitched more than one inning. That's huge, because Boston's starting staff doesn't get deep into games. Knowing Uehara can come on in the eighth inning and get the job done allows Farrell to shorten the game a little bit.

I'm not real good at making predictions, but before the playoffs I said St. Louis had the most balanced team in the field of eight. So, I should probably forecast them as the winner. I think the Red Sox have a real shot at this thing, but I'll stick with my original thought and say Cardinals in six. You can all laugh at me if I get proven wrong.