As a New York Mets fan, I usually find it extremely difficult to watch baseball in the months of September and October. I usually use those months to start loathing my New York Jets as I try and forget about yet another disappointing baseball season for the Mets. This year has gone a little differently as I have been following what has to be the most exciting MLB playoffs I have ever witnessed. This was the first season in Major League Baseball history that all four divisional series went to a decisive game 5. While the American League had some great matchups in it’s own right, I will leave that for my PIC to tell you about. The excitement and quality baseball that came out of the two NLDS series is enough to write about for days. While my predictions for the NLDS was for the St. Louis Cardinals to be facing off with the Cincinnati Reds, I think I am more excited to have the past two World Series Champions throwing down for yet another trip to the big dance. I said from the beginning that in baseball playoffs, there is nothing more important than experience and outside of the New York Yankees, no one in the league has more experience in the post season in the past decade than the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals. Here is a breakdown of how I feel the two NLCS teams compare with each other and who I feel will come out on top.
San Francisco Giants – Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, Barry Zito, (Tim Lincecum)
The San Francisco Giants starting rotation has been dominant for pretty much the entire season, which helped them win the NL West with ease. Once the playoffs started things looked a little shaky as their Ace and NL Cy Young candidate, Matt Cain, and their usually reliable work horse, Madison Bumgarner, both got lit up by an amazing Reds lineup that seemed to be on the verge of an easy sweep. After masterful starts by both Ryan Vogelsong in game 3 and Barry Zito in game 4, in which Tim Lincecum came in and pitched over 4 innings of beautiful relief ball that gave him the win, the ball was given back to their Ace Matt Cain to redeem himself from his game 1 meltdown. Since Cain started game 5 of the NLDS, the first game of the NLCS will be pitched by Bumgarner followed by a game 2 start for Vogelsong and then back to the start of the rotation with Cain. It doesn’t look like Lincecum will be getting any starts in the post season barring any injuries to other starters, but what he showed as a reliever in game 4 definitely was comforting for the Giants fans.
St. Louis Cardinals – Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse, Lance Lynn
The Cardinals starting rotation has been plagued with injuries all season long and that trend has seemed to continue during Jamie Garcia’s game 2 start which ended with a season ending injury. The loss of Garcia is bad, but having one of the the biggest surprises from the regular season, Lance Lynn, there to fill the gap is pretty comforting. Lynn will be going from not being in the starting rotation in the NLDS, to becoming the opening game starter in the NLCS. Talk about pressure! Long time Cardinals great, Chris Carpenter, will most likely be the game 2 starter for St. Louis which comes as a huge relief for their freshman coach, Mike Matheny, because Carpenter spent practically the entire regular season on the bench with an injury. Chris had the most dominant start out of all the Cards starters, having pitched shutout ball for 6 innings. Depending on how the first two games pan out, Matheny will have a choice between the most improved pitcher in baseball this season, Kyle Lohse, or their regular season Ace, Adam Wainwright, to take the mound for game 3. While Wainwright looked solid in his game 1 start against the Nats, his game 5 start was so bad that he was removed after only 2 2/3 innings. Regardless of who takes the mound for this team, they all seem to have the goods to pitch a quality game night in and night out.
Starting Pitching Edge: San Francisco Giants
San Francisco Giants – Brandon Belt (1B), Marco Scutaro (2B), Brandon Crawford (SS), Pablo Sandoval (3B), Buster Posey (C)
Outside of Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey, there really isn’t a formidable power bat on the Giants infield. The Giants first baseman, Brandon Belt, had an average sophomore season with the club as he hit .275 and proved that he can put the ball in play on a consistent basis. Belt struggled mightily throughout the entire NLDS and was even benched for game 4 of the series. Second baseman, Marco Scutaro, has been a journeyman in his 10 year career and when he was acquired almost halfway through the 2012 season from the Colorado Rockies, he hit a remarkable .362 for the Giants to close out the regular season. Scutaro, like Belt, had an abysmal NLDS, collecting only 3 hits in his 20 AB’s. While the Giants second year shortstop, Brandon Crawford, is obviously in the lineup for defensive purposes, his bat will be needed at least a little bit. Crawford fills in the Giants 8th spot on their lineup every game and if he can put up a similar OBP (.357) in the NLCS as he did in the NLDS then the Giants could be in good shape. Pablo Sandoval is a great hitter and with men on base he will be pitched around more often than not. Buster Posey is arguably the best catcher in the game and is in the running for the NL MVP.
St. Louis Cardinals – Allen Craig (1B), Daniel Descalso (2B), Pete Kozma (SS), David Freese (3B), Yadier Molina (C)
The St. Louis Cardinals infield are a scrappy bunch that can win games in many different ways. If they need a home run they can hit it and if they just need men on base they seem to be able to do that with ease. At first base, Allen Craig has been a reliable bat all season long with a regular season BA of .307 and he carried that success into the playoffs by hitting a fantastic .348 in the division series against the Nationals. The Cards second baseman, Daniel Descalso, had an average opening playoff series against the Nats by hitting a modest .273, but he is considered the man who won the series for them with a huge home run in game 5 to pull them within 1 run in the eighth inning and then a game tying 2-run single in the ninth. With Rafael Furcal out for the rest of the season with an elbow injury, Pete Kozma has stepped up for the Cards and has played great baseball. Kozma’s .385 OBP in the division series out of the 8th spot in the batting lineup was a huge boost for the Cards. It also helps that Kozma has a comparable defensive ability to his predecessor, Furcal. At third base, David Freese has been here before and he always seems to get on base or get the big hit when the team needs it most. Yadier Molina might be the only catcher in baseball that can challenge Posey for the rights to the best at that position and no one knows his postseason prowess better then us self loathing Mets fans.
Starting Infield Edge: St. Louis Cardinals
San Francisco Giants – Gregor Blanco (LF), Angel Pagan (CF), Hunter Pence (RF)
The Giants outfield would look a hell of a lot different if it wasn’t for Melky Cabrera’s PED use. Gregor Blanco spent most of the 2012 season as the Giants utility outfielder, but once Cabrera was suspended for the rest of the season, Blanco was needed as a regular starter in left field. While his bat was basically useless during the regular season, Blanco seemed to have found a little success in the NLDS with a .375 OBP. Blanco is as sure-handed as they come in the outfield. Angel Pagan is another great defensive outfielder, but as the lead off hitter for the Giants, his role is a lot more important on the offensive end. Pagan really struggled in the NLDS and if he has a similar performance in the Championship series than the Giants will be in big trouble. Hunter Pence was a mid-season acquisition from the Philadelphia Phillies that was thought of as a brilliant move. Unfortunately for Giants fans, Pence has under-performed since he arrived in San Fran and he carried those batting woes all the way through the NLDS. If the Giants want to find success in the NLCS, they are going to need all three of these guys to pick up their hitting a little bit more.
St. Louis Cardinals – Matt Holiday (LF), John Jay (CF), Carlos Beltran (RF)
The entire Cardinals offense depends on how their outfield can perform at the plate because their three outfielders are the first three batters in their lineup. Matt Holiday put up his typical regular season numbers but he really struggled when he entered the NLDS. Holiday only collected 2 extra-base hits out of the 5 games that they played against the Nationals. John Jay is as fast as they come in center field but just like his counterpart, Angel Pagan, Jay is the Cardinals lead off hitter and his bat is as important if not more important to St. Louis’ success. Jay probably had the worst offensive performance out of all the Cardinals players in the NLDS (.222 OBP) and he knows that has to change that to beat the Giants. Is there anyone more clutch in the postseason than Carlos Beltran right now? Beltran carried the Cardinals offensively through the NLDS with a ridiculous .409 BA and a .500 OBP. On top of his amazing postseason bat, he is a stud defensively and he seems to only be getting better with age. While Beltran has clearly found steady footing in the playoffs, he is going to need his other two outfielders to join him if the Cardinals hope to come out of the NLCS victorious.
Starting Outfield Edge: St. Louis Cardinals
San Francisco Giants – Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, George Kontos, Sergio Romo (closer)
The Giants bullpen has had their ups and downs throughout the regular season but they have seemed to find their footing in the playoffs. The emergence of Sergio Romo as a reliable closer has really helped the Giants trust their bullpen in late innings. When it comes down to it, the Giants have a starting rotation that can go deep in almost every game and now that they have found solace with Lincecum coming in for long relief, there is even less pressure on the bullpen. Romo showed a little bit of his flaws towards the end off game 5 against the Cincinnati Reds, but in the end he was able to close out the game for his first ever postseason save.
St. Louis Cardinals – Mitchell Boggs, Marc Rzepczynski, Fernando Salas, Edward Mujica, Jason Motte (closer)
No one is in more familiar territory right now that the Cardinals closer, Jason Motte. Motte was on the mound for the final out of last years NLCS and for the final pitch of the World Series. He is truly in his comfort zone. The Cardinals, like the Giants, have a great starting rotation that takes a lot of pressure off of the bullpen. Outside of their workhorse’s Mitchell Boggs and Marc Rzepczynski, the Cardinals bullpen is pretty underused. When the ball gets into Jason Motte’s hands, it seems as if the Cardinals always come out with a win. So the solution for the Giants is easy…get and keep the lead.
Relief Pitching Edge: St. Louis Cardinals
I know I picked the St. Louis Cardinals to have the advantage in 3 of the 4 categories I talked about, but this NLCS is not going to be so cut and dry. Even though the St. Louis Cardinals are the defending World Series Champions, the Giants are only two years removed from their last title. I think this series is going to be extremely close and come down to a decisive game 7. Both teams fans will have a lot to cheer about but once that final pitch is thrown I feel that the St. Louis Cardinals will be making a trip back to the big dance.
Series Prediction: St. Louis Cardinals in 7
A few days ago, I wrote about how much I enjoyed the Major League Baseball All-Star game. Seeing the greatest ball players in the world battle it out first in the Home Run Derby, and then the game itself has always been something I’ve found special. Players who don’t often play each other compete while other players who are used to competing with each other team up for one night. In the American League dugout you’ll find rivals like Derek Jeter and David Ortiz playing and cheering on their team for the same purpose. It has always been a lot of fun to watch for me, an avid baseball fan. However, this All-Star game did not live up to my expectations what so ever. In fact, I’ll go even further to say that it absolutely sucked and I had a hard time sitting through and watching the action (even though I saw damn near every pitch).
First of all, the All-Star game itself was boring as hell. Justin Verlander came in and gave up five damn runs in the first inning and the game was pretty much over. All the life was taken out of the game at that point. As a Yankee fan, the fact that my team may finish with the best record in baseball but not get home field in the World Series thanks to Mr. Verlander is a fucking joke. Bud Selig really shit the bed when he made that rule up a few years ago following the infamous tie in 2002. At least if the Tigers make the World Series and don’t get home field, they can look at their own player as a main reason why. However, if any other team like the Yanks, Angels or Rangers make it through to the Fall Classic, how does it make any sense that they won’t get to host the deciding Game 7 in their building. Just look at last year as an example, as the Texas Rangers had to play Game 7 at St. Louis in the World Series and lost to the Cardinals on the road as a result of an exhibition game result. The fact that it was a blow out, and a first inning blow out makes the result even harder to swallow. Major League Baseball, you better check into this and fix it.
Also, why the hell is Tony La Russa managing the NL team? First of all, he is a miserable looking man, with a face that not even his own mother could really love. I understand his team won the World Series last year and that the World Series managers get the privilege the following year, but he retired! Why should he be allowed to call the shots when he doesn’t really have a dog in the fight? Now I know that he won the game but imagine he had to make a decision at the end of the game that would cost a rival of his the ability to play Game 7 at home? What if La Russa had an opportunity to screw over the Brewers or Cubs? Since he has nothing to really gain from any managing decision, there is no reason he should be pressing the buttons in this game. If MLB is going to make the game actually mean something, then they need to be consistent and treat it like it does. La Russa retired from baseball and should have watched the game on his couch like all the other ex managers did.
One of La Russa’s decisions that pissed me off, though ultimately didn’t effect the game too much was not starting R.A. Dickey. Now I am not a Mets fan, but as a fan of baseball, how could anyone not enjoy the year and story that Dickey has put together? Even if La Russa thinks that starter Matt Cain is a better pitcher, he has to understand that everyone wanted to see Dickey come in and throw his knuckleball out of the gate. R.A. got into the game in the middle innings, but by then it was already decided and the anticipation and excitement wasn’t there. Dickey’s numbers dictate that he should have 100% been the starter, as his ERA, WHIP, wins, K’s per 9 innings and hits per 9 innings are all superior to Matt Cain. Awful job by La Russa to not only disallow the best and most deserving pitcher an All-Star start, but by ruining the greatest story in baseball to come around in a long time.
As for the Home Run derby, how the hell can Kansas City Royal fans boo Robinson Cano during the entire competition? Actually, allow me to correct myself. They cheered when he made outs. Robinson, as the AL Derby captain didn’t pick Kansas City Royal Billy Butler to participate in the competition. I understand that fans can be disappointed, but to show the lack of class they did during the Derby is a travesty. Robinson Cano has never said or done anything offensive to anyone. He is a fun loving player who happens to be one of the top 5 in the world. For the Royal fans to boo him to the extent they did during an All-Star game competition which is supposed to be fun is bull shit. Cano tried to play it off like it didn’t bother him, but how could it not? Yesterday at the actual game, Royal fans continued to heckle Cano, even messing with his family in the stands. Now I know that the Royals won’t make the World Series (probably ever in my lifetime), but shouldn’t they be rooting for the American League? Also, it is never acceptable to go after a player’s family for any reason. If the reason is over Billy Butler however, it makes the Royal fans the biggest bunch of morons I have ever witnessed. Billy fucking Butler! Butler’s career high in HR’s is 21! Also, Cano’s American League picks ended up winning the competition so it looks like Robinson made some good decisions. Kansas City Royal fans showed they are the type of fans who breed losing baseball. Is there any wonder that as soon as any Royal player gets good and enters their contract year, they run the hell out of there as fast as possible. If George Brett was a Yankee he wouldn’t even be in their all time top 10. Your team is a joke and so are you.
With that all said, I’m ready for the second half of baseball to kick off. I hope Robinson Cano gets fueled by the haters and explodes in the next few weeks, which I totally expect. I hope the American League World Series representative destroys whoever comes out of the weak National League. I hope R.A. Dickey continues to pitch better than Matt Cain. I hope Tony La Russa finds something else to do with his spare time. I hope Bud Selig grows a brain. But mostly, I hope that Billy Butler and the Kansas City Royals don’t win another game for the rest of their year. Their fans 100% deserve it!
Late last night, San Francisco Giants Ace, Matt Cain, threw the franchise’s first ever perfect game. 27 up and 27 down, Cain might have pitched the most impressive statistical perfect game ever. With the highest pitch count in a perfect game ever (125), Matt Cain becomes the 22nd pitcher to ever accomplish this epic feat of not allowing a base runner. In fact, Cain matches the most ever strikeouts pitched during a perfect game with 14, and he now finds his name alongside Giants greats Christy Mathewson, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry as a member of an exclusive Giants club that have thrown no hitters. In front of his sold out home crowd of over 42,000 screaming Giants fans, Cain threw his arms up as the Astro’s pinch hitter, Jason Castro, grounded out to third for the final out of the game.
“This is incredible right now,” Cain said. “It was unbelievable. The guys did a great job making it, in a way, kind of relaxing, because they were able to get on the board early.”
Cain was absolutely masterful from start to finish but he did have to be bailed out with a couple of great plays behind him. Melky Cabrera and Gregor Blanco both made unbelievable catches in the outfield to ensure that Cain would finish his historic night. And you will find out as you keep reading why a quality defense is essential to a perfect game.
“Those were unbelievable catches,” Cain said. “I mean that right there, that changes the whole thing.”
Usually a perfect game would dominate the headlines as there has only been 22 of them in the history of baseball, but last night the sports Gods provided their fans with nearly two doses of perfection. Across the country from where Matt Cain pitched his perfect gem, the New York Mets RA Dickey tried to make some history of his own. Just a couple of weeks removed from the Mets first ever no-hitter by Johan Santana, Dickey took the mound against the AL East juggernaut, Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Dickey threw a career best 12 strikeouts over 9 masterful innings. After the Rays first two batters of the game went down swinging at RA’s phantom knuckleball, BJ Upton hit a slow grounder to Wright at third that seemed to be playable but David mucked it and the favorable scoring of home field advantage awarded Upton with a hit. As I watched it I thought it should have been an error but since it was the 1st inning I didn’t really care too much. It turns out that was going to be the only “hit” that the NL’s leading Cy Young candidate would give up for the game.
Johan was credited with the Mets first ever no-hitter, but when Carlos Beltran hit a ball that was called foul (clearly it was fair based on the picture above), many fans wanted an asterisk placed on his no-hitter. Funny enough, the Mets are now appealing the hit/error by Upton and they are trying to get Dickey credited with the Mets 2nd ever no-hitter. In fact, Dickey didn’t walk anyone either, and without Gold Glover David Wright’s 2 errors (or 1 error and 1 hit however you look at it), RA might have had the Mets first ever Perfect Game, joining Cain in the Hall of Fame record books. It also shouldn’t be overlooked that while Dickey was pitching this superb game last night, he surpassed Mets great Jerry Koosman’s record for consecutive scoreless innings (31 2/3) by recording his 32 2/3 in the ninth.
Matt Cain’s night was perfect and RA Dickey’s was nearly perfect. Cain’s perfect game marked the 5th no-hitter of the season. This is also only the third year in baseball history that there were two perfect games thrown in the same season. What do all of these perfect games and no hitters mean to baseball? Are we looking at the year of the pitcher or are the hitters just getting worse? Maybe if you read NYBobby’s take on his anti-doping article you can see why hitting numbers are down. As a Mets fan I am thrilled with the lack of hitting against them, but as a sports fan I would love to see some of that flare from the McGwire, Sosa and Bonds eras.