Showing posts with label San Francisco Giants. Show all posts
Showing posts with label San Francisco Giants. Show all posts

Monday, September 11, 2017

Jose Abreu becomes first White Sox player to hit for the cycle since 2000

Jose Abreu
What are the odds that slugging White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu will hit a triple in any given at-bat?

Not high, you say? Well, you are correct.

Abreu has appeared in 596 career games through Sunday, and he has made 2,582 plate appearances. He has 11 career triples, which means he triples once in every 235 plate appearances.

So, when Abreu stepped to the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning Saturday night needing a triple to complete the cycle, I doubt too many people thought he would actually do it. His odds got even worse after he fouled a ball off his leg in that at-bat, and the game had to be delayed briefly while manager Rick Renteria and trainer Herm Schneider checked on him.

Wouldn't you know, Abreu got back in the box and lined the very next pitch into the right-center field gap. Sore leg and all, the race was on, and somehow the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Abreu lumbered into third base to complete the cycle.

He went 4 for 5 with three RBIs in the Sox's 13-1 win over the San Francisco Giants.

I had the good fortune of attending Saturday's game, and it was the first time I've seen a Sox player hit for the cycle in person. That part is really not surprising, because cycles have been rare in club history. There are only six of them, and Guaranteed Rate Field isn't what you would call a triples park - with its short power alleys and symmetrical design.

Here are the other cycles in Sox history:

Jose Valentin: April 27, 2000 vs. Baltimore
Chris Singleton: July 6, 1999 vs. Kansas City
Carlton Fisk: May 16, 1984 vs. Kansas City
Jack Brohamer: Sept. 24, 1977 vs. Seattle
Ray Schalk: June 27, 1922 vs. Detroit

I think the Sox should give free admission to an upcoming home game to anyone who was actually alive when Schalk hit for the cycle.

As for Abreu, he continued his torrid hitting Sunday with two home runs in an 8-1 win over the Giants. The Sox took two out of three in the series after losing 9-2 on Friday night.

The .300/30/100 watch continues for Abreu. He's got 31 home runs now, so the "30" part is secure. He's at 90 RBIs, which means he needs 10 more in the remaining 20 games. The batting average sits at .302 entering Monday's action.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Giants don't have anybody who can close games; Cubs capitalize

Bruce Bochy
Seventy-five percent of MLB's final four is now complete after the Cubs scored four runs in the top of the ninth inning Tuesday to defeat the San Francisco Giants, 6-5. With the victory, the Cubs win the NLDS, three games to one.

For all the talk of the Giants' success in even-numbered years, no amount of hocus pocus was going to allow them to overcome their weaknesses against the Cubs. The most glaring San Francisco weakness? There isn't a single relief pitcher on that roster that can be counted upon to close games.

The Giants bullpen couldn't close out regular-season games against losing clubs such as Colorado and San Diego. Why should we believe they could close out playoff games against the 103-win Cubs? San Francisco took the lead into the ninth inning in both Games 3 and 4. The Cubs rallied to tie in Game 3 before losing in extra innings, and they rallied to win and close out the series in Game 4.

Clearly, San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy knew he didn't have any reliable options Tuesday, as he used five different relievers -- none of whom had any success -- to navigate a disastrous ninth inning.

I have some sympathy for Bochy, because there's a distinct possibility that nothing he could have tried would have worked, but I definitely think he was one step behind Cubs manager Joe Maddon tactically in this inning.

The Giants started the inning with a 5-2 lead. But Derek Law gave up a single to Kris Bryant. Javier Lopez walked Anthony Rizzo, and Sergio Romo gave up an RBI double to Ben Zobrist.

5-3 game, three pitchers used, runners at second and third, still nobody out.

At that point, San Francisco's margin for error was gone, and the chess match was on. Maddon fired the first shot with a curious move: He sent journeyman outfielder Chris Coghlan out to pinch hit for everyday shortstop Addison Russell.

I found it odd, because Russell is a more dangerous hitter than the left-handed hitting Coghlan. I sensed Maddon was trying to prod Bochy into replacing Romo with a left-handed pitcher, with the intent of sending Willson Contreras to the plate with the game on the line.

Bochy took the bait.

He brought in left-hander Will Smith to "face" Coghlan, only to see Maddon counter with Contreras, who is hitting .311 with an .854 OPS against left-handed pitchers this year. Bochy had to know Maddon was going to do that, right? He should have.

Contreras won the favorable matchup with Smith, delivering a two-run single to tie the game at 5. I couldn't figure out why Bochy was afraid to leave Romo in to face Coghlan. I even looked up the head-to-head numbers -- Coghlan is 0 for 2 lifetime with a walk in three lifetime plate appearances against Romo. Small sample size. No apparent reason for concern from a Giants perspective.

Who is the more dangerous hitter there? Coghlan or Contreras? In my book, it's Contreras. Bochy should have called Maddon's bluff and left Romo in the game. Make the journeyman Coghlan beat you.

In any case, Contreras ties the game, the inning continues, the Giants fail to turn a double play behind Smith, and the next critical decision arises. Man at second, one out, still tied at 5. Javier Baez due up.

Bochy brings in right-hander Hunter Strickland to pitch to Baez, who singles in the winning run. Hmmmm.....

The Giants had a base open. Did Bochy forget that David Ross was the on-deck hitter? Why not walk Baez and set up the double play? I realize that Ross had homered earlier in the game. I realize that Ross has become a folk hero on the North Side. But who cares? The guy is a .225-hitting career backup for a reason. You have to put Baez on first base and make Ross beat you in that situation.

If Maddon wants to send Miguel Montero or Tommy La Stella up to pinch hit for Ross there, he can be my guest. I would rather face any of Ross, Montero or La Stella in that spot as opposed to Baez. For the record, Ross grounded into an inning-ending double play after the hit by Baez.

Let's be clear: The Giants were overmatched, and they were probably going to lose this series to the Cubs one way or another. Heck, San Francisco's brilliant shortstop, Brandon Crawford, uncharacteristically made two throwing errors that cost his team two runs Tuesday night. That shows right there that it wasn't meant to be for the Giants. Even one of their strengths, up-the-middle defense, became a weakness in this series.

But ultimately, the lack of a real closer and some tactical mistakes that were the product of not having a reliable reliever sealed the Giants' fate in this series. They should have made Coghlan and Ross beat them. Instead, Contreras and Baez sent them home.

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.


Monday, March 28, 2016

The White Sox's spring leader in RBIs? Avisail Garcia

White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia made several mechanical adjustments at the plate this offseason. He has lowered his hands. He's standing taller in the box, and his head position was changed in hopes of getting him a longer look at the ball.

We said at the start of spring Garcia was one of the players to watch in camp -- in fact, we had him No. 1 on our list -- to see how these changes would work. All the usual caveats about spring numbers being (relatively) meaningless apply, but I'd say Garcia has given the Sox reason for optimism.

He hit his fourth home run of the spring Sunday in a 13-9 win over the San Francisco Giants. He's posted a .333/.385/.708 slash line in 51 plate appearances this spring. Nine of his 16 hits have gone for extra bases. The four home runs are tied for the team lead, and his 16 spring RBIs are tops on the team.

Can it carry over to the regular season? Garcia will continue to be one of the players to watch as the games begin for real next week in Oakland.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Mat Latos vs. Jeff Samardzija: a side-by-side comparison

The White Sox created competition at the back end of their starting rotation last week with the signing of veteran right-hander Mat Latos.

We already know Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon will be the top three starting pitchers on the roster. That leaves Latos, John Danks, Erik Johnson and Jacob Turner to compete for the last two spots.

Being a cynic, I'll go ahead and assume Danks' place in the rotation is safe. He's the longest-tenured player on the Sox. He is the highest paid player on the roster, and money talks when it comes to the decisions the Sox make.

That would mean the Sox would have four of the same five starting pitchers they had in the rotation last year, with Latos, Johnson and Turner competing for the spot vacated by Jeff Samardzija.

If Latos is healthy, I think he gets the job. For the sake of argument, let's assume that's the case.

Will Latos be an upgrade over Samardzija? Let's do a side-by-side comparison with last year's numbers:

Category Latos Samardzija
W-L record 4-10 11-13
ERA 4.95 4.96
FIP 3.72 4.23
WHIP 1.307 1.294
H/9 9.3 9.6
HR/9 1.0 1.2
BB/9 2.5 2.1
K/9 7.7 6.9
K/BB 3.13 3.33

Clearly, these numbers are not impressive for either pitcher, both of whom suffered through the worst seasons of their respective careers.

But a couple things to note: Latos has the excuse of not being healthy. He made only 21 starts all year. Samardzija made all 32 of his starts.

People have excused Samardzija's poor season on the grounds that he had poor defense behind him with the White Sox. I can't disagree with that point, but isn't it interesting that Samardzija's FIP (fielder independent pitcher) was worse than Latos's?

The numbers suggest that Samardzija was responsible for many of his own problems.

Now, let's compare career statistics:

Category Latos Samardzija
W-L record 64-55 47-61
ERA 3.51 4.09
FIP 3.44 3.84
WHIP 1.183 1.278
H/9 8.0 8.5
HR/9 0.8 1.0
BB/9 2.7 3.0
K/9 8.1 8.2
K/BB 3.04 2.76

Latos is the superior pitcher in every category but one: strikeouts per nine innings. And the difference there is minimal.

Which pitcher would you bet on as a bounce-back candidate in 2016? There's a strong case for Latos.

And, remember, Samardzija signed a five-year, $90 million deal with the San Francisco Giants. Latos comes to the Sox on a one-year deal worth $3 million.

I'd say the Giants are taking the far bigger gamble on Samardzija than the Sox are taking on Latos.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Denard Span agrees to terms with Giants; outfield market starts to move

Denard Span
Now that Alex Gordon has re-signed with the Kansas City Royals, maybe we'll see some of the other free-agent outfielders come off the board this weekend. There was more movement Thursday, as the San Francisco Giants agreed to terms on a three-year, $31 million deal with veteran outfielder Denard Span.

Hip surgery limited Span to 61 games last year, but he did hit .302 with a league-leading 184 hits for the Washington Nationals in 2014. If healthy, he's a good fit in San Francisco. He'll bat leadoff and play center field, and the Giants can move the oft-injured Angel Pagan over to left field -- and allow Gregor Blanco to slide into the fourth outfielder role, which is where he belongs. With Hunter Pence in right field, San Francisco appears to be in good shape in the outfield.

Other teams, including the White Sox, Baltimore, Detroit, Texas and L.A. Angels, still could use some outfield help, and there remain plenty of useful players on the market.

Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton are the most attractive options for teams seeking an outfielder, but even with Span off the board, there are a few other decent second-tier guys available, including Dexter Fowler, Gerardo Parra and Austin Jackson.

According to a tweet from USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the Sox have not changed their stance on free-agent outfielders: They aren't willing to go beyond three years on a contract length for any of these guys. We have no way of knowing whether that's true, or just posturing, but it would be my speculation that the Sox aren't going to land Cespedes or Upton if they are unwilling to give at least a fourth year.

Monday, December 15, 2014

White Sox sign Melky Cabrera to play left field

After the White Sox acquired pitcher Jeff Samardzija last week, we said that wouldn't be enough to make the South Siders a legitimate contender.

We said they needed to press forward and fix other holes, including the ongoing problem in left field. On Saturday night, general manager Rick Hahn addressed the outfield issue, agreeing to terms with Melky Cabrera on a three-year, $42 million contract.

Critics of this move will note Cabrera was busted for PED use while with the San Francisco Giants in 2012. I'm not too concerned about that because the switch-hitter has continued to produce since that incident, suggesting his success wasn't entirely the result of chemical enhancements.

Check out Cabrera's numbers over the past four years:

2011 with the Kansas City Royals: .305/.339/.470, 18 HRs, 87 RBIs
2012 with San Francisco: .346/.390/.516, 11 HRs, 60 RBIs
2013 with the Toronto Blue Jays: .279/.322/.360, 3 HRs, 30 RBIs
2014 with Toronto: .301/.351/.458, 16 HRs, 73 RBIs

Cabrera has hit .300 or better in three of the past four years, with the only exception being his injury-riddled 2013 season where he was limited to 88 games. If he's healthy, he's going to hit.

Here's the thing I like about Cabrera. He doesn't care if there's a left-handed pitcher or a right-handed pitcher on the mound. Here are his platoon splits over the past four seasons:

vs. LHP: 308/..350/.477
vs. RHP: .309/.352/.451

We can see there is more pop in his bat from the right side of the plate, but the batting average and on-base percentage are essentially the same from either side. This is a guy manager Robin Ventura can just pencil in every day in the No. 2 spot in the batting order, regardless of who the opposing pitcher is.

Defensively, Cabrera possesses one of the better throwing arms in the league, although his defense has regressed a bit the past couple years playing on the artificial surface in Toronto.

I think the Sox need to focus on defense when selecting a fourth outfielder, because neither Cabrera nor right fielder Avisail Garcia can play center field, if something should happen to Adam Eaton. Whoever the backup outfielder is must be able to handle center field adequately, which means Dayan Viciedo is going to be shown the door one way or another before next season begins.

We'll see if Hahn can get Viciedo out of town in exchange for the bullpen arm he still needs.

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.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Royals force Game 7, have history on their side

After 2,430 regular-season games and 31 postseason games, it all comes down to one night. The Kansas City Royals will host the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 on Wednesday to determine the 2014 World Series champion.

The Royals forced a deciding game by smashing the Giants, 10-0, in Game 6 on Tuesday night. Kansas City starter Yordano Ventura was brilliant, firing seven shutout innings. San Francisco starter Jake Peavy was terrible. The Royals knocked him out of the game by scoring seven runs in the bottom of the second inning. Ventura took over from there in a drama-free victory for Kansas City.

Peavy has never pitched well at Kauffman Stadium. I remember him always struggling there when he was with the White Sox. A check of the numbers revealed he is 1-7 with a 7.28 ERA lifetime in Kansas City. This was one of his worst outings, as he allowed five runs on six hits over 1.1 innings.

When San Francisco won Game 1, I reported that history was on its side. The Game 1 winner has won 15 of the past 17 World Series. But, there is also some history working in Kansas City's favor after this Game 6 victory. Consider:
  • Home teams are 23-3 in Games 6 and 7 of the World Series since 1982.
  • The last eight teams to win Game 6 at home to tie a World Series went on to win Game 7. The 1985 Kansas City Royals are among the clubs to accomplish that feat.
  • Home teams have won the last nine World Series Game 7s dating back to 1979, when the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Baltimore Orioles.
  • The 1975 Cincinnati Reds were last team to lose Game 6 on the road (vs. Boston) and recover to win Game 7.
The other thing that's working in Kansas City's favor? It has more pitchers rested and available going into this decisive game. That's where Ventura's long outing Tuesday was key. Jason Frasor and Tim Collins both worked an inning of scoreless relief for the Royals. Neither was taxed and both should be available tonight. Kansas City's three best relievers (Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera) have all had at least two days of rest. Even James Shields, the Royals starter in Games 1 and 5, could be available should Game 7 starter Jeremy Guthrie run into difficulty.

San Francisco has more limitations. Thirty-nine-year-old Tim Hudson is the oldest pitcher to ever start a World Series Game 7, and the Giants need at least six quality innings from the sinker-balling veteran. Peavy's early exit forced San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy to use Yusmeiro Petit, Jean Machi, Hunter Strickland and Ryan Vogelsong in relief on Tuesday. Machi and Strickland likely aren't available for Game 7. Petit had been solid in relief before getting hit around in Game 6. Will Bochy go back to him if Hudson struggles early? I'm not sure. If the game is close late, we'll probably see San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner in relief. Bochy simply doesn't have as many options as Kansas City manager Ned Yost.

There are a lot of things that are pointing in the Royals' favor for Game 7. But, of course, this is baseball. All this stuff goes out the window if the Giants get an early lead. That's why we watch. That's why this game is great.

Enjoy Game 7 everybody.

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.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Royals get even with win in World Series Game 2

The Kansas City Royals couldn't afford to lose the first two games of the World Series at home. After getting pummeled in Game 1, it was imperative they bounce back with a win in Game 2 on Wednesday night.

Bounce back they did, as the Royals scored five runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to break open a close game and defeat the San Francisco Giants 7-2, tying the 2014 Fall Classic at 1-1.

My biggest question coming into this game was whether Kansas City starter Yordano Ventura would be healthy enough to pitch effectively. The youngster exited earlier than he would have liked in his Game 2 start in the AL Championship Series with a shoulder problem, and you couldn't help but wonder whether he would suffer any lingering effects in the biggest start of his life.

Before the game, I even saw some chatter on the Internet where Royals fans were criticizing manager Ned Yost for starting Ventura. Some were suggesting the 23-year-old needed to be shut down in order to "protect his future."

Here's the thing about that: Exactly what future are you preparing for? If you are the Royals, your future is right now. This is their chance to win it all, and Ventura is one of their best pitchers. If he can go, you send him out there. What are you saving him for? The 2043 World Series?

Ventura quieted all those fears with a credible performance. His fastball touched 100 mph, as it normally does, and he fired 5.1 innings, allowing two runs on eight hits. With the bullpen Kansas City has, that's all it needed from its young starter.

And credit Yost for removing Ventura at precisely the right moment. The score was tied, 2-2, in the top of the sixth inning, and the Giants had runners at first and second with one out. San Francisco looked poised to solve Ventura, so Yost brought in flamethrowing Kelvin Herrera, who retired Brandon Belt and Mike Morse consecutively to extricate the Royals from that jam.

Kansas City then battered San Francisco starter Jake Peavy and three Giants relievers for five runs in the bottom half of that inning. Hunter Strickland had another terrible showing out of the bullpen for the Giants. He gave up the two biggest hits of the game -- a two-run double by Salvador Perez and a two-run homer by Omar Infante.

Worse, Strickland was inexplicably jawing at the Royals runners as they rounded the bases after the home run. Perez took exception to that, and the benches briefly cleared.

I can't see Giants manager Bruce Bochy using Strickland in any more high-leverage situations in this series. Yes, Strickland's fastball sits at 98 to 100 mph, but it's straight as an arrow, and his slider hasn't been good enough to keep opposing batters off balance. Both Perez and Infante delivered game-changing extra-base hits against Strickland's fastball.

This is nothing new, either. Strickland has now tied a major league record for home runs given up in a postseason with five. He's given up five home runs to the last 23 batters he has faced, in fact. He's allowed six earned runs in just 5.1 innings this postseason. All other San Francisco relievers have given up just four runs in a combined 35 playoff innings. That tells you Strickland just doesn't belong on the mound right now unless it is mop-up time.

Meanwhile, the Kansas City bullpen continues to dominate. Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland combined to pitch 3.2 innings. They allowed nothing, and the Royals coasted to the five-run victory.

The series now shifts to San Francisco after an off day. Game 3 is Friday night. Kansas City sends veteran right-hander Jeremy Guthrie to the mound. The Giants will counter with veteran right-hander Tim Hudson.

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.

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? 

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.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Yusmeiro Petit breaks Mark Buehrle's record

San Francisco Giants right-hander Yusmeiro Petit on Thursday became the first pitcher in major league history to retire 46 consecutive batters.

Petit entered Thursday's action having set down 38 straight hitters over his seven previous appearances (six of them in relief). He was given an opportunity to start in place of the struggling Tim Lincecum and retired the first eight men he faced against the Colorado Rockies in a 4-1 San Francisco win.

Oddly enough, opposing pitcher Jordan Lyles ended the streak with a two-out double in the top of the third inning.

Petit's accomplishment breaks the previous record of 45 consecutive batters retired, which was held by Mark Buehrle. The former White Sox ace tossed a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays on July 23, 2009, and followed that up by retiring the first 17 hitters in his next start against the Minnesota Twins.

The four longest such streaks were all recorded by members of either the White Sox or the Giants. Sox fans will recall that former closer Bobby Jenks had a similar streak in 2007.

Most batters retired consecutively:
1. Petit, Giants, 46 in 2014
2. Buehrle, White Sox, 45 in 2009
3 (t). Jim Barr, Giants, 41 in 1972
3 (t). Jenks, White Sox, 41 in 2007

Thursday, August 21, 2014

San Francisco Giants become first team to win protest in 28 years

The San Francisco Giants on Wednesday became the first team in 28 years to win a protest filed with Major League Baseball.

On Tuesday night, the Cubs were leading the Giants 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning when a localized downpour caused the game to be delayed for more than four hours after the Wrigley Field grounds crew could not get the tarp on the field quickly enough.

The rain stopped, but the game could not be completed after umpires deemed the field conditions unplayable. The game was official, so the Cubs were awarded a rain-shortened victory.

The Giants, who are in playoff contention, were understandably unhappy and protested under the provisions of Rule 4.12 (a) (3), which states a game can be suspended due to a "malfunction of a mechanical field device under the control of the home club."

In this case, the "mechanical field device" is the tarp, which MLB determined had not been put away properly after its previous use. That's the home club's fault.

Therefore, the protest was upheld, and the game will resume at 4 p.m. Thursday with the Cubs batting in the bottom of the fifth inning and leading 2-0. The two teams have a regularly scheduled game at 7 p.m.

How rare is it for a protest to be upheld? The last time it happened was June 16, 1986.

The Pittsburgh Pirates were trailing the St. Louis Cardinals, 4-1, in the top of the sixth inning when umpires called the game after a pair of rain delays that spanned 17 and 22 minutes, respectively.

National League regulations required that umpires wait at least 75 minutes during an initial weather delay and 45 minutes during a second one before calling a game.

The umpires didn't do that, so the Pirates protested. The complaint was upheld. The game was resumed, and the Pirates lost anyway, 4-2.

The most famous upheld protest, of course, was the "Pine Tar Game," which was played on July 24, 1983, at Yankee Stadium.

The Kansas City Royals were trailing the New York Yankees, 4-3, with two outs in the top of the ninth inning when George Brett connected for a two-run home run to put Kansas City ahead, 5-4.

New York manager Billy Martin argued that Brett had too much pine tar on his bat. Umpires agreed and called Brett out. That was the third out of the top of the ninth, so the game ended with a Yankees win and a Brett tirade for the ages.



The Royals protested. The league office reversed the call, declaring that Brett's home run should count and ordering the game to be restarted from that point. Nearly a month later, on Aug. 18, Kansas City finished off a 5-4 victory.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Dumb collision rule bites White Sox in San Francisco

White Sox manager Robin Ventura is often criticized for being too laid-back and lacking in fire. Alas, Rule 7.13 -- aka, the Buster Posey rule, or the home-plate collision rule -- is enough to send even the world's calmest man into a fit of rage.

On Wednesday, the Sox were screwed by the aforementioned Rule 7.13, and Ventura stormed out of the dugout to put on perhaps the finest dirt-kicking exhibition we've seen by a manager this season. In fact, it was one of the better manager tirades we've seen in quite some time. In my book, Ventura's anger and frustration were justified.

The Sox were leading the San Francisco Giants 1-0 in the bottom of the seventh inning. San Francisco had runners on first and third with one out when Giants' second baseman Joe Panik hit a squibber to Chicago first baseman Jose Abreu, who charged the grounder and threw to home plate in plenty of time to get San Francisco's Gregor Blanco, who was trying to score from third.

I'd say Blanco was still 20 feet up the line when Sox catcher Tyler Flowers received the throw. He waited for Blanco to arrive and tagged him for the second out of the inning.

Or not.

After about a six- or seven-minute review, which is an absurd length of time, umpires ruled Flowers had violated Rule 7.13 by planting his foot in front of home plate before he had possession of the ball.

I'm not going to bother dissecting whether this was the correct interpretation of the rule. It probably was, but who cares? It's a dumb rule. It defies common sense that a runner can be called safe after being thrown out by 20 feet on the basis of where a catcher's foot was when he caught the ball.

Moreover, why the hell did it take so long to finish the review? It should not take any longer than two minutes to determine whether an improper call has been made. The call on the field should stand automatically if the process takes any longer than that. It's asinine to have the game stopped for that long. But I digress.

In this case, the call on the field was reversed. The Giants were awarded the tying run, and Ventura blew his stack. The next San Francisco batter, Brandon Crawford, as was retired on a routine fly ball. So, Sox pitcher Jose Quintana would have been out of the inning with no runs allowed had Blanco been called out at home. Instead, the inning continued. Quintana walked pinch hitter Joaquin Arias and was removed from the game. The Sox bullpen imploded, combining to give up six two-out runs, and the Giants prevailed 7-1.

No surprise there. I think we all knew it wasn't going to end well after Quintana left the mound.

Here's the thing that irritates me most about this rule: It's not necessary. It was put in place only because one guy, Posey, got hurt on a play three years ago. I'm sorry he was injured. He's a good player, and I know his absence ruined the season for the Giants in 2011. But you know what? Those are the breaks. It's sports. Sometimes players get injured. Collisions happen at the other bases, too, not just home plate. It's part of baseball.

There hasn't been a rash of injuries to catchers on home-plate collisons, so this whole thing about needing to protect guys is bunk to me. I understand the need for such a rule at youth and amateur levels. When kids are playing, safety is often the first priority. I get that. However, professionals aren't kids. They are grown men, and they understand there is a risk of injury when they step on the field. They are well compensated for assuming that risk, and they don't need to be protected in this manner.

Major League Baseball is guilty of trying to fix a problem that did not exist with this rule. It is an overreaction to an injury that happened to a star player three years ago. If that same injury had happened to a lower-profile catcher than Posey, would this rule be in place? I don't believe so.

Now, we've got a rule that creates senseless calls like the one that cost the White Sox the game Wednesday. In the big picture, maybe it doesn't matter because the Sox are out of the race. But, say your team is one game out of first place in the division race. Could you stomach losing on a call such as this?

You know, if they really want to protect catchers, there's an easier way to do it. Just say that anyone who runs over a catcher at the plate is automatically out. There. Done. It's black and white. Not everyone would like it, but everyone would get it.

I'd rather they do that than stick with this stupid rule with all these gray areas where we're taking six or seven minutes of review time to determine where a catcher placed his foot when he caught a throw coming to the plate. The whole thing is just dumb.

In any other year besides 2014, Blanco would have been called out. And that's the way it should be.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Major League Baseball plans to ban collisions at home plate

Rare is the case where I don't have a strong opinion on one of the hot-button topics in Major League Baseball. However, I have to admit I don't care if the league bans collisions at home plate.

The issue is back in the news after the league on Wednesday announced it intends to ban such plays by 2015 at the latest. Details of the new rules still need to be sorted out, but the owners are scheduled to vote on the changes at their Jan. 16 meeting. The players' union also would have to approve the changes for the rules to take effect in 2014.

How might those rules work? According to ESPN.com:

1. Catchers will not be allowed to block home plate.

2. Runners will not be permitted to target the catchers.

3. The question of whether or not the plate was blocked or the runner targeted the catcher will be reviewable, with an immediate remedy available to the umpires.

4. Catchers or runners who violate the new rules will be subject to disciplinary action.

The main reason I don't have a strong opinion on this is because I don't perceive injuries on home-plate collisions to be a major problem in the sport. Yes, San Francisco catcher Buster Posey suffered a season-ending leg injury on a such a play in May 2011. It was horrible to watch, and losing Posey ruined the Giants' season. However, Posey returned in 2012 and helped lead San Francisco to its second World Series title in three years.

I'm trying to think of another major injury that has happened recently on a collision at home plate, and I'm drawing a blank. I know the league is concerned about concussions. Former players in football and hockey have sued the NFL and the NHL, respectively, over concussion-related health issues. I'm sure Major League Baseball wants to protect itself from such a lawsuit, and that's probably among the reasons it is moving forward with this change.

If the league and the players decide the change the rules, that's fine. These plays at the plate don't happen all that often -- maybe two or three times per team during a 162-game season.

I'm just interested to see how it's going to work. I don't care that they're taking collisions out of the game. I don't need those to enjoy the sport. But depending on how the rules are written, this is likely going to add some tough judgment calls for umpires. We'll see if they can apply the new rules fairly and consistently, if the changes are approved as expected.