Showing posts with label World Series. Show all posts
Showing posts with label World Series. Show all posts

Monday, October 23, 2017

Two 100-plus-win teams make World Series for first time since 1970

Clayton Kershaw
For the first time since 1970, the World Series will feature two teams that won 100 games or more in the regular season.

The 104-win Los Angeles Dodgers eliminated the defending world champion Cubs in five games in the NLCS, while the 101-win Houston Astros rallied from a 3-2 series deficit to defeat the New York Yankees in seven games in the ALCS.

This will mark only the eighth time in baseball history that two 100-plus-win teams have met in the World Series. It's only happened three times since World War II.

Here is the list:

1910: Philadelphia A's (102-48) def. Cubs (104-50), 4-1
1912: Boston Red Sox (105-47) def. New York Giants (103-48), 4-3
1931: St. Louis Cardinals (101-53) def. Philadelphia A's (107-45), 4-3
1941: New York Yankees (101-53) def. Brooklyn Dodgers (110-54), 4-1
1942: St. Louis Cardinals (106-48) def. New York Yankees (103-51), 4-1
1969: New York Mets (100-62) def. Baltimore Orioles (109-53), 4-1
1970: Baltimore Orioles (108-54) def. Cincinnati Reds (102-60), 4-1
2017: Los Angeles Dodgers (104-58) vs. Houston Astros (101-61), ????

The Dodgers clinched Thursday, while the Astros clinched Saturday. The conventional wisdom says the team that clinches first has the advantage with more rest and the opportunity to set its starting rotation.

But here's your stat of the day on that: The last eight teams to clinch their league championship series first failed to win the World Series. Remember, last year the Cleveland Indians beat the Toronto Blue Jays in five games in the ALCS. They were sitting around waiting for the Cubs, who beat the Dodgers in six games. The Cubs, who were the less rested team, won the World Series in seven games.

The 2008 Philadelphia Phillies were the last team to clinch their league championship series first and go on to win the World Series.  So, don't assume the extra rest is an advantage for the Dodgers going into this thing.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Cubs don't look as if they are going to choke

Kyle Schwarber
One of the main questions I had about the Cubs coming into the playoffs was whether they'd be able to deal with adversity.

Most of their fans would probably never admit to this, but the Cubs faced no adversity whatsoever all season. They played a soft schedule -- 106 of their 162 games were against losing teams -- and dominated a weak NL Central. St. Louis had a down season by its standards. Pittsburgh's pitching staff fell apart. Milwaukee and Cincinnati weren't even trying to win.

The Cubs won their division by 17.5 games, and it was every bit the cakewalk that figure represents. So, I wondered how the Cubs would respond when they were placed in a situation where they had to win a game, because there wasn't a single time during the whole regular season when they were seriously challenged.

So far in these playoffs, the Cubs have been seriously challenged twice. Give them credit, because they've responded both times. Once, on the road in Game 4 of the NLCS, where they were trailing 2 games to 1 against the Los Angeles Dodgers after having been shut out in Games 2 and 3. They trounced the Dodgers, 10-2, in that game and went on to win the next two to claim the NL pennant.

The other challenge was Wednesday night. After the Cubs were clobbered, 6-0, in Game 1 of the World Series by the Cleveland Indians, how would they respond in Game 2? Quite well, as a matter of fact, as they collected a decisive 5-1 victory to even the series.

Previous Cubs teams have always choked when they get in these tight situations where they need to win in the playoffs, but this group shows no sign of that. They got a good performance from Jake Arrieta, who is basically a five- or six-inning pitcher these days, but he gave the Cubs an effective 5.2 innings Wednesday. He didn't allow a hit until the sixth inning, when the Indians scored a run off him and manager Joe Maddon went to the bullpen.

Arrieta doesn't have the same command of the strike zone he had during his 2015 Cy Young campaign. His walk rate has nearly doubled. His ERA and home run rates are up, his strikeout rate is down. He needs more pitches to get through innings, and he can't get as deep into games as he might like, but he doesn't give up a lot of hits -- only 6.3 per 9 IP this season -- and that's been his saving grace.

Wednesday night, Mike Montgomery and Aroldis Chapman provided 3.1 innings of scoreless relief, and that made a winner out of Arrieta, whose performance was far superior to that of Cleveland's Trevor Bauer.

Bauer needed 87 pitches to record only 11 outs. The Cubs scored two runs on six hits against him in 3.2 innings. The North Siders then added on with three in the fifth off Cleveland relievers Zach McAllister and Bryan Shaw, although the run charged to Shaw was unearned.

Kyle Schwarber, just back from a major knee injury, is becoming the story of the series for the Cubs. He went 2 for 4 with a pair of RBI singles in Wednesday's win. He became the first non-pitcher in the history of baseball to record a hit in the World Series after not getting a hit in the regular season. He has shown that he is healthy enough to be an effective DH in an American League park. That can only help the Cubs, if the series heads back to Cleveland for Games 6 and 7.

Big question for Maddon for Games 3, 4 and 5 at Wrigley Field: Can he put Schwarber in left field?

There's no getting around the fact that Schwarber was a butcher in the outfield even before he got hurt. Putting him out there would significantly weaken the Cubs defensively, but there's also no getting around the fact that he's a difference maker with a bat in his hands.

Schwarber is the kind of player who can hit a three-run homer off a good pitcher and win a ballgame for his team. He's also the kind of player who can misplay a routine fly ball, cost his team runs and lose a ballgame. 

Will Maddon choose to use his best offensive lineup? Or will he opt to put the best defense on the field?

Personally, I subscribe to the philosophy of putting the best defense out there. Of course, I'm not the one being paid millions to make these decisions, so what do I know?

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.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Kansas City Royals must be happy they traded for James Shields, Wade Davis

Wade Davis struggled with Tampa Bay.
Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore made a trade that stunned the baseball world on Dec. 9, 2012.

He sent outfielder Wil Myers -- who at the time was Kansas City's top prospect and perhaps the best prospect in all of baseball -- and pitcher Jake Odorizzi and two minor-leaguers to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for veteran pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis and a player to be named later.

The critics howled. How could the general manager of the perpetually rebuilding Royals part with such a huge piece of the franchise's future? This was a "win-now" kind of trade, and Kansas City was coming off a lousy 72-win season in 2012. Was Moore delusional? Certainly he didn't believe Shields and Davis would vault the Royals into contention. Trading away Myers was a move that would haunt the franchise for the next decade, right?

Wrong.

Nearly two years after the deal, Moore is getting the last laugh. That's because the Royals are headed to the World Series for the first time in 29 years. Kansas City finished off a four-game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Championship Series with a 2-1 victory Wednesday night.

Shields and Davis are both centerpieces of this pennant winning team. Shields is the No. 1 starter in the Kansas City rotation. This season, he led the team in wins (14), innings pitched (227) and strikeouts (180), while finishing second on the team in ERA (3.21). Teammate Yordano Ventura's ERA (3.20) was just a touch better.

The Royals converted Davis, a failed starter, to a full-time relief role this year with outstanding results. Working as Kansas City's eighth-inning guy, he fired 72 innings, striking out 109 batters and posting a 1.00 ERA and a 0.847 WHIP.  He's been lights out in the postseason, striking out 10 and allowing just one run over 9.1 innings in eight games.

In Wednesday's pennant clincher, Davis worked with surgical efficiency, retiring the Orioles 1-2-3 in the eighth inning on 10 pitches (9 strikes). It was the kind of outing Royals fans have come to expect from Davis. He's done it all year.

So, on one December night, with one trade, Moore acquired two players who would become the best starting pitcher and the best relief pitcher on an American League championship team. He paid a price for it, sure, but that celebration that's going on in Kansas City tonight would not be happening without this trade.

And Myers?

He won the Rookie of the Year award in 2013, but this year he compiled an ugly slash line of .222/.294/.320 with just six home runs and 35 RBIs in 87 games. Myers is only 23 years old, and there is still plenty of time for him to get his career on track, but I don't think the Royals miss him right now.

Let this be a lesson to some media and some fans who tend to overvalue prospects. No matter how highly regarded a young player may be, sometimes it does pay dividends to trade that prospect for more proven ballplayers.

Kansas City is proof of that.

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.

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.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Don't wanna get picked off here in this situation, Part II (Kolten Wong Edition)

During the NLCS, I was making fun of Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Nick Punto for getting picked off at an inopportune time.

With that in mind, I would be remiss if I didn't call attention to the terrible baserunning by St. Louis infielder Kolten Wong on Sunday in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the World Series.

The Cardinals were trailing the Boston Red Sox 4-2 when pinch hitter Allen Craig hit a ball off the right field wall with one out in the ninth. Craig, hobbled by foot and ankle injuries, cannot run at all right now and only reached first base on the deep drive that would have been a double under normal circumstances. Understandably, Wong was summoned to pinch run for the injured Craig.

After Matt Carpenter popped up, Carlos Beltran was the last hope for the Cardinals. If you're St. Louis, Beltran is probably the guy you most want representing your last hope. He was up there representing the tying run, and he has 16 career postseason home runs to his credit. One swing of the bat and the game could be tied.

Well, Beltran never got that swing because Boston closer Koji Uehara (pictured) picked Wong off to end the game. To be fair, Wong slipped on his way back to first base, but nevertheless, such a baserunning miscue is intolerable.

It would be one thing if Wong was representing the tying run. If that were the case, the stolen base would be in play. Down one run, you might be thinking about getting a big lead and a good jump. But down two runs? With a power hitter at the plate? You're not running in that spot. Wong's job in that situation was to take a one-way lead, not get picked off and run when Beltran hit the ball. It was a simple task, but he blew it.

The Red Sox finished off the 4-2 win and the best-of-seven series is now tied, 2-2.

Obstruction call was correct

A quick word about the ending to Game 3: The obstruction call on the last play of the game that awarded St. Louis a 5-4 victory was the correct one. It doesn't matter that people "don't want to see a World Series game end that way." Rules are rules, and the umpires enforced the rules. If the pitcher had committed an obvious balk, should the umpire not call it because it's the ninth inning of a World Series game? I believe he should, and to suggest otherwise is ridiculous.

I felt no sympathy for the Red Sox whatsoever. The umpires weren't the ones who got into a second-and-third, one-out jam. The umpires weren't the ones who threw the ball away. The Red Sox did that, and they deserved to lose.

I think Boston has a well-run organization, a good front office, a good manager, and I respect the Red Sox for the success they've had on the field over the last 10 years. But I grow tired of their whiny fan base very, very quickly.  I have a feeling if Boston doesn't win this series, the fans are going to be bitching and moaning about this obstruction thing for the rest of their days.

Spare me. I don't want to hear about it. Don't make any movies about this call. Don't write any books about it. I don't want to see or hear any crap interviews from celebrity fans about the injustice of it all. I don't want to see any stupid documentary about this incident 10 years from now. Take the pain. It's over. The Red Sox players moved on quickly and took care of business in Game 4. The fans better move on as well. It's anybody's series now, and both teams have every opportunity to win. There will be no excuses for either side when it's over. 

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.

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. 

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.