Tuesday, October 25, 2011
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have had trouble scoring runs the past two seasons, after finishing second to the New York Yankees in 2009. So prior to the 2011 season, GM Tony Reagins shipped catcher Mike Napoli and outfielder Juan Rivera to the Toronto Blue Jays for outfielder Vernon Wells. The Halos were counting on Wells’ 2010 resurrection (31 HR, 88 RBI, .847 OPS) to continue on the west coast, as well as provide them with more versatility. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, had no interest in keeping the arbitration eligible Napoli and sent him to Texas for reliever Frank Francisco and cash. Texas is thankful they did.
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Monday, October 24, 2011
It’s one thing to be told or to know that you need to pitch the game of your life, it’s another to actually go out and do it. The Texas Rangers entered Sunday night’s Game 4 contest with the St. Louis Cardinals down two games to one and were relying on Derek Holland to have his big moment in the spotlight.
Holland has shown glimpses of star potential in his three year Major League career- he threw three complete game shutouts in July- but had come up small in the playoffs thus far. His last two starts came in the ALCS vs. Detroit and lasted only a combined 7.1 innings with seven earned runs allowed. So there was no reason for Texas fans, or Ron Washington for that matter, to have a lot of confidence in their 25-yr old left-hander.
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Tuesday, October 11, 2011
The baseball post-season is all about do-overs. You can have a rotten regular season and then become a hero in October. You can also wear goat horns in in one series and be the guy who comes through with the big hit in the next clash. Nelson Cruz knows what it feels like. Though his Texas Rangers won their AL division series, Cruz played no offensive role in advancing to the next round. He was just 1-15 and struck out five times against the Tampa Bay Rays. All that changed on Monday though when Cruz, who had homered in Game 1, smacked two more to give his Texas Rangers a commanding two games to none lead over the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS.
Tigers’ starter Max Scherzer had given up a pair of early runs, but held a 3-2 lead entering the 7th inning, thanks to a Ryan Rayburn 3-run home run off of Rangers’ starter Derek Holland. That’s when Cruz played the hero for the first time, tying the game against Scherzer with a solo blast in the 7th inning. Then Cruz put his name in the record books when he became the first player in League Championship Series to hit a walk off grand slam. It came in the 11th inning after Ryan Perry had allowed three straight singles, and gave the Rangers a 7-3 victory. It was a home run that fit the moment; a majestic shot that simply had to stay fair, which it did.
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Monday, October 10, 2011
Max Scherzer has been here before, in fact less than a week ago. Detroit Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander pitched one inning in Game 1 of the ALDS before rain suspended play and the Tigers lost to the New York Yankees when play resumed the following day. Down 1-0 in games, the Tigers turned the ball over to Scherzer, the “other” hard throwing right-hander in their rotation, for Game 2. The 27-yr old responded with 5.1 innings of no-hit ball as the Tigers evened the series at a game apiece.
Scherzer will take the hill in Game 2 with his team again down a game after rains affected the opener of the American League Championship Series on Saturday. The Texas Rangers edged Detroit 3-2 after a pair of rain delays limited the game’s starters, Verlander (4) and C.J. Wilson (4.2), to less than five innings.
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Thursday, October 6, 2011
I had faith, albeit blind faith, in A.J. Burnett going into Tuesday's make or break Game 4 of the ALDS. Down two games to one, Burnett delivered and Curtis Granderson played the role of superhero with a very good catch and an amazing catch in the Yankees 10-1 thrashing of the Detroit Tigers.
So now the teams are back in New York tonight for the fifth an deciding game. Remarkably, the game is at 8:05 instead of the usual 8:37. It's a rematch of the Game 1 relievers Ivan Nova and Doug Fister. Of course, both pitchers were supposed to start Game 2 last Saturday, but instead had to pick up Game 1 after rain suspended play on Friday.
Nova was outstanding - he pitched into the 9th inning - and is brimming with confidence at the moment. Fister was outstanding down the stretch for the Tigers and finished with a 2.83 ERA. But in Game 2 he pitched with runners on base in all but one one of his 4+ innings of relief. He left in the 6th inning, down 4-1 and with the bases full of Yankees. His line got worse moments later when Al Alburquerque gave up a grand slam to Robinson Cano that broke the Tigers' backs.
Nova started his work in the 3rd inning and retired the six men he faced before he ran into trouble in the 6th. He got a break though when third base Gene Lamont waved home Alex Avila from second base on a Jhonny Peralta single to center. Granderson relayed to Derek Jeter, who fired home to Russell Martin to nail Avila.
Nova walked Austin Jackson to start the 6th, but got Magglio Ordonez to hit in a double play. He allowed just a single base runner over the next two innings before he tired in the 9th and was charged with some inherited runs allowed by Luis Ayala.
Detroit manager Jim Leyland said he will not use Game 1 and 3 starter Justin Verlander in relief tonight. Verlander said he would try to sneak down to the pen and talk Leyland into using him. Joe Girardi, on the other hand, said that he will use CC Sabathia if needed. As the cliche goes, "all hands on deck". Or in this case, in the batter's box.
Will the little glimpses of life that Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Nick Swisher showed in Game 4 carry over to tonight? Teixeira will be back batting from the the left side, where his OPS is far less than when he's facing a left-handed pitcher. Tex seems to be having trouble picking up breaking pitches from right-handers and the overshift teams deploy against him has not helped him. He's hit some pitches the opposite way over the last couple of games, which is good sign, even if means a single or double rather than a home run.
The Yankees first baseman isn't the only who hasn't done a lot of damage in the series. Tigers' first baseman Miguel Cabrera had a big 2-run home run in Game 2, but has gone just 3-12 overall. Victor Martinez homered off of A.J. Burnett in Game 4, but is just 3-14. In fact, the leading hitters on the Tigers are players you wouldn't expect to be at the top of the list- Brandon Inge, Don Kelly, and Ryan Rayburn.
I feel just as I did before the series started; that either team could win it. And I stand by my original prediction of the Yankees winning the series in five games. I believe tonight will come down to a battle of the bullpens in the late innings...and anything goes.
Hopefully, it goes the Yankees' way.
There were a lot of people who didn’t think Texas would get back to the championship after losing Cliff Lee to free agency. But C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, and Derek Holland all remained steady, and Alexi Ogando gave the team a big boost in the first half with his promotion to the starting rotation. Texas is now just four victories away from returning to the World Series, which they lost in five games to the San Francisco Giants last season.
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Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre was just 1-11 entering Tuesday afternoon’s ALDS Game 4 match with the Tampa Bay Rays, but by the time the game was over, Beltre had put his name alongside the likes of Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson. Beltre became the sixth Major Leaguer to hit three home runs in a single playoff game to propel the Rangers to a 4-3 victory and a second consecutive trip to the ALCS.
The Rangers other run was their first run, a lead off home run by Ian Kinsler off of Jeremy Hellickson in the bottom of the 1st inning. One frame later, Beltre crushed one deep into the left field seats for a 2-0 Rangers lead. The Rays got the run right back in their half of the 2nd inning when Matt Joyce doubled off Texas starter Matt Harrison to score Sean Rodriguez from first base. Joyce was stranded in scoring position though when Harrison struck out Desmond Jennings for his third K of the inning. (Harrison would strike out nine batters in just five innings and earned the win.)
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First cliche of the day - the Yankees have their backs to the wall. That's because Monday night, the Detroit Tigers' Delmon Young snapped a 4-4 tie in the 7th inning with an opposite field home run to give the Tigers a 5-4 victory. For the second straight night the Yankees rallied against Jose Valverde in the 9th inning, but came up short. So what do we know going into tonight's Game 4.
A. The game rests on the arm of A.J. Burnett. He can a hero or a zero. He came up with a huge game in the 2009 playoffs and he'll need to again tonight to send the series back to New York.
B. CC Sabathia was affected more from Friday's rain out than Justin Verlander. While Verlander wasn't sharp early, he dominated in the middle innings. Sabathia was off from the start. As good as he looked in the first two innings on Friday, that's how bad he was last night. Which plays in the next item...
C. Home plate umpire Jerry Davis was horrendous. His strike zone favored Verlander. Whether this was a case of seeing pitches from a lefty or righty differently or home field umpiring, Davis squeezed Sabathia and stretched the zone for Verlander. The proof is in the pudding via Brooks Baseball. Check out the pitch FX from the game.
D. Rafael Soriano was public enemy number one in New York at the start of the season. But after returning from the DL he pitched lights out baseball. That was until he surrendered Young's home run last night. Back to New York's Not Most Wanted list.
E. The Yankees big guns look more like water pistols. Mark Teixeira (1-11), Alex Rodriguez (0-10), Robinson Cano after Game 1 (1-8), Nick Swisher (2-12)
F. If indeed this is Jorge Posada's last hurrah, he's going out on top as an individual. The much maligned DH has been the most consistent Yankee through the first three games, going 4-8 with four walks (.667 OBP). Yes, he made a bad base running mistake in Game 1, what else is new, but he's shown that he should be moved up in the lineup for the remaining games.
G. Joe Girardi has done a horrible job of managing the series. He seems to be managing to not make a mistake, but he's made a bunch. Some examples - Bring in Luis Ayala in for the second straight day in Game 2. The Yankees were down 4-1 and could not afford to fall any further behind. But instead of bringing in one of his shut down relievers, he brought Ayala, who became less trustworthy as the season went on and had done a terrible job in Game 1. Sure enough the Tigers scored what proved to be a huge insurance run in the 5-3 win.
Girardi also left Sabathia in too long last night; clearly you don't want to go to the pen too early, but the left-hander's goose was cooked in the 5th inning. Yet Girardi sent Sabathia back out for the 6th and didn't pull him until he had given up another run.
Girardi made a smart move by flip flopping Cano and Teixeira in the lineup prior to the start of the series, but he's made no adjustments to the lineup to ride the hot hands.
H. Derek Jeter is overmatched against hard throwers. Though he has four hits in the series, Jeter has looked horrible against the power pitching of Max Scherzer, Jose Valverde, and at times, Verlander.
I. The Yankees are in big trouble.
Monday, October 3, 2011
The pitcher is tall and lean, fluid and precise; a baseball magazine cover boy. The batter is average looking, the guy next door changing the oil in his driveway. But the batter can mash and today he did. Mike Napoli’s 2-run home run off of David Price in the 7th inning gave the Texas Rangers their first lead of the day en route to a 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays. The victory also gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead in the best of five series.
Price had scattered five hits and a walk through six innings before Adrian Beltre led off the top of the 7th with a single. After a wild pitch moved Beltre into scoring position, Price threw a 2-2 fastball right into Napoli’s wheelhouse and the catcher turned on it and sent it into the left field seats. The Rangers grabbed the momentum by the horns and used their speed to gain another two runs. After Craig Gentry’s two out single knocked Price from the ball game, Brandon Gomes walked Ian Kinsler and the two base runners pulled off a double steal.
When Gomes walked shortstop Elvis Andrus as well, Rays’ manager Joe Maddon brought in left-hander J.P. Howell to face the left-handed hitting Josh Hamilton. But the career .278 hitter against southpaws came through with a line drive single to right to plate two more for a 4-1 Rangers’ lead.
Sunday, October 2, 2011
It was an ugly day in the Bronx Sunday afternoon and I'm not talking about the two hard downpours of rain that took place during Yankees rallies. Detroit Tigers start Max Scherzer no-hit the Yankees for 5.1 innings and shut down the Yankees big guns in a 5-3 Tigers win. The victory evened the series at a game apiece with Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia squaring off in Game 3 Monday night in Detroit.
I had to admit I was more tense before the continuation of Game 1 than I was before the actual start. Even though Justin Verlander had started for Detroit, the Yankees had answered with CC Sabathia. Then, as you know, the rains came and 23 hours and 29 minutes later play resumed.
It actually looked tenuous for a while - it was pouring a little less than two hours before game time. But once things got underway the weather was cold and damp, but dry. There was some heat though, in the bat of Robinson Cano. He nearly homered in the 5th, but settled for an RBI double. Then with the Yankees leading 4-1 on a Brett Gardner 2-run single earlier in the 6yh, Cano came to bat with the bases loaded.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland Doug Fister, whom the Yankees had waited out, and went to strike out pitcher Al Alburquerque. Leyland had lefty Phil Coke ready in the pen, but figured with Cano's prowess aginst lefties, his right-hander had a better shot at retiring Cano. Boy was he wrong.
This time Cano hit a no doubt about it blast into the second deck in right, through the team of the wind for a game breaking 8-1 lead. Cano wasn't done though, he'd had an RBI double to deep center in the 8th to make a 9-1 game and a team record tying 6 RBI.
Cano wasn't the only one dealing with a hot hand, starter turned reliever in this case, Ivan Nova shut down the Tigers for the most part. He ran into trouble when he put two aboard with one out in the 6th, but Alex Avila got a bad jump off of second base on Jhonny Peralta's base hit and was thrown out at home on a relay from Curtis Granderson to Derek Jeter to Russell Maritn.
He would pitch into the 9th, when he loaded the bases and left to a standing ovation. Detroit put a brief scare into the Yankees when they scored a pair of (inherited) runs off of Luis Ayala, forcing Joe Girardi to call on Mariano Rivera. The Yankees' closer made easy work of it with a three pitch strikeout of Wilson Betemit.