Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I'm an Old Softy for Defense

And since Chase Utley was already one of my favorite players, you can imagine my reaction when I saw this go down earlier tonight.

Channeling Youk a little there, methinks. What a heads-up play! And on the grandest stage of them all. Game-saver. I've heard some people say it wasn't as good as Jeter's inexplicable flip against the A's, and while I love Jeter, I think you could definitely make the argument that Utley's play was as good - if not better - than Jeter's.

First of all, Jeter did it in the ALDS. Yeah, I know it's the playoffs, but there's really no substitute for the World Series. Second of all, Jeter's play took a certain amount of luck. DJ demonstrated a high baseball IQ and incredible instincts to be where he was, but let's face it: luck was a factor. Whereas with Utley's play, it was all anticipation. He knew going to first wasn't really a viable option. He also knew that Jason Bartlett is a fast, aggressive baserunner and that he might be able to sell the pump fake to first to goad Bartlett. And finally, the Yankees went on to lose the World Series in '01 to the Diamondbacks. So, it was all for naught. Granted, it was a classic Fall Classic, but things worked out a bit differently for the Phillies.

Coincidentally, both plays occurred in the 7th inning.

By the by, Cole Hamels was named World Series MVP. Pretty sure Holtzman was better in '74.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Joe Blanton, Meet Ken Holtzman

The last pitcher to go yard in the World Series. Before you, that is. It was the 1974 Fall Classic. A's (Remember them, Joe?) versus Dodgers. And Holtzman was dominant - on the mound and at the dish. In game 1, he doubled and scored. Didn't go deep into the game, but didn't give up any runs either. A's win 3-2. Turns out Holtzman's run is pivotal in the win. In game 4, he homers. Goes 7 strong innings, 2 earned runs, 7 strikeouts. A's win 5-2.

The rest, as they say, is history. They put the Dodgers away in game 5. All told, Holtzman goes 12 innings, gives up 2 runs, and strikes out 10. ERA is 1.50.

But he's not the World Series MVP. Instead, they give it to Rollie Fingers, who went 9 innings and gave up 2 runs. ERA is 1.93. Now, I'm not saying that Fingers wasn't great. 1 win and 2 saves looks very good on paper.

But the fact of the matter is, short of exposing Holtzman to large quantities of Kryptonite, nothing could have stopped him in the '74 Series. No doubt in my mind he should have won MVP. Not that Fingers was a bad pick. Just that one pitcher was more deserving than the other, in my opinion.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Longest Hitting Streaks

Shawn Green - 28 games, 1999 (Toronto Blue Jays, Franchise Record)
Gabe Kapler - 28 games, 2000 (Texas Rangers, Franchise Record)
Ian Kinsler - 25 games, 2008 (Texas Rangers)
Buddy Myer - 24 games, 1929 (Washington Senators)
Kevin Youkilis - 23 games, 2007 (Boston Red Sox)
Buddy Myer - 23 games, 1928 (Boston Red Sox)
Buddy Myer - 21 games, 1935 (Washington Senators)
Al Rosen - 20 games, 1953 (Cleveland Indians)
Morrie Arnovich - 17 games, 1939 (Philadelphia Phillies)

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Man For All Postseasons

Well, I'll say this much. The Red Sox made it interesting. For the first time under Terry Francona, they lost an elimination game. Regardless, I still think game 5 was an instant classic. It certainly left an indelible impression on me.

And I would be remiss if I didn't comment on Youk's play this postseason. After all, when you get right to it that is what this blog is about. Overall, he did pretty well. In 48 ABs he hit .292 with a .346 OBP and a .590 SLG, had 2 HRs, 4 doubles, scored 6 runs, and drove in 7. Eerily similar to what Shawn Green did in '04 and '06. In the ALCS, Youkilis hit .333 with a .375 OBP and a .633 SLG, had 2 HRs, 3 doubles, scored 4 runs, and drove in 6.

It should be noted that Youkilis has now surpassed Hank Greenberg in a number of postseason categories. No small feat, considering Greenberg's numbers (as you might expect) are very good. Of course, back when Greenberg played, the postseason only consisted of the World Series. I think that's something that shouldn't be downplayed.

In 85 ABs (23 games), Greenberg hit .318 with a .420 OBP and a .625 SLG, had 5 HRs, 7 doubles, 2 triples, scored 17 runs, and drove in 22.

In 99 ABs (26 games), Youkilis is hitting .333 with a .407 OBP and a .616 SLG, has 6 HRs, 8 doubles, 1 triple, has scored 22 runs, and has driven in 17.

The Red Sox will, in all likelihood, have a few offseason decisions to make, but it certainly appears the squad they have right now should be in contention for years to come. Props to Theo Epstein on a job well done. Not even 35 yet, and he already has two rings under his belt. Is there a better GM in baseball?

I'll leave you with this sweet play by Youk from the ALCS. Gotta love the man's instincts.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Comeback of Comebacks

Gut check time. With their backs against the Green Monster, the Boston Red Sox did what they've done since 2004: battle. Down 3-1 in the ALCS against a Rays team that has looked unstoppable, the BoSox battled and won. It's that never-say-die attitude that has defined this team the last few postseasons, and I've gotta say as someone who loves the game of baseball, it doesn't get any better than this.

The Red Sox were losing 7-0 going into the 7th inning. The Rays were on cruise control. Or so it seemed. In dramatic and highly improbably fashion, the Red Sox turned the tables on Joe Maddon's Cinderalla team. Pedroia got it started with a two-out RBI single. Then, Big Papi (who has struggled mightily this series) hit a three-run shot. In the eighth, J.D. Drew hit a two-run shot, and Coco Crisp singled in the tying run after an 11 pitch AB. Remarkable. But it's not over yet.

In the 9th, with 2 outs and nobody on, our man Youk gets on base with an infield hit. Longoria throws the ball into the stands. Youk goes to second. Howell intentionally walks Bay to face Drew. Drew drives one to right over the outstretched glove of Gabe Gross. The ball bounces into the bullpen for a walk-off ground-rule double. Youkilis scores. Game over. Series NOT over.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Red Sox Advance to ALCS... Again

Offensively, Youk was just so-so, going 4-18 with a double, 2 walks, 1 RBI, and 2 runs scored. But man oh man, did he flash some serious leather! As usual, he was stellar at first. In game 1, he snared a duck snort in shallow right, shot to his feet, and threw a bullet to Mike Lowell at third to get Vlad out by a mile. In game 3, he beat Garret Anderson to the bag by sliding into it and nearly getting trampled in the process. Gutsy. But you'd expect that kind of intensity from the guy who holds the MLB record for consecutive errorless games by a first baseman (238 games, Steve Garvey was the previous record-holder). Filling in at the hot corner, Youk had some big gold glove shoes to fill. But he did not disappoint. He charged the ball well. He threw the ball well. And he made a nifty catch in game 2, reaching into the stands in the 9th.

Ryan Braun also did not disappoint in his first taste of the postseason. He went 5-16 (.313) with 2 doubles and 2 RBIs in a losing effort against the Phillies. It might be tough next year for the Brew Crew to repeat the success they had in '08, as they will likely lose some key free agents in the off-season. Hopefully, the Brewers will be able to build around the Braun-Fielder-Hardy-Hart nucleus they have.

Anybody remember what Youkilis did in the ALCS last year? Well, let me refresh your memory. In a tight series that went the distance between the Red Sox and the Indians, Youk played like a man possessed. In 28 ABs, he hit .500 with a .576 OBP and a .929 SLG, had 3 HRs, 1 double, 1 triple, scored 10 runs, and drove in 7.

If last year's virtuoso performance is any indication, we might be in for a treat.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Cubs Swept in NLDS... Again

97 wins flushed down the drain in 3 games. It was uninspiring. It was pathetic. You name it. Bitter pill to swallow.

End of rant.

But speaking of the Dodgers and the NLDS, it wasn't that long ago when we witnessed Shawn Green hit 3 HRs (in 16 ABs) in a series against the Cardinals. Four years ago to be exact. Green only made the postseason twice in his career, but he certainly made the most of his time in the playoffs. In 13 games and 48 ABs, Green hit .292 with a .542 SLG, had 3 HRs, 3 doubles, scored 6 runs, and drove in 7. And if the Mets hadn't crumbled so badly last season, we would've seen Green one last time in October.

'Course, you never know, he could still come back... One thing's for sure: he can have Fukodome's job in right. I'd be all for that.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

2008: A Year in Review

What can you say about 2008? It truly was a season for the ages. We had 3 all-stars, two of them starters. We had a guy in the home run derby - who actually competed. We had 3 relievers who got the job done - and then some. We had a starting pitcher who hit a grand slam and had one of his better seasons. We had a veteran utility player who may have just given his career CPR.

We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun.

Seriously though, we had it all.

We had Jason Marquis, who continued his streak of 10-win seasons. He was 11-9 this year for the Cubs with a 4.53 ERA in 167 innings. At the plate, it was more of the same for Marquis. And by that I mean he was once again superb. In 59 ABs, he hit .203 with 2 HRs, 3 doubles, scored 8 runs, and had 10 RBIs. On occasion, Sweet Lou even used him as a pinch runner. Who says pitchers aren't athletes?

We had Scott Schoeneweis, who turned in his second best season in The Show. In 56 innings of work, this journeyman's ERA was 3.34. He had 15 holds, 1 save, and 2 wins. The fact of the matter is Scott was one of the few bright spots on a God-awful Mets bullpen.

We had John Grabow, who was lights out for the Pirates all year long. In 75 innings of work (a career high), his ERA was 2.88 (a career best). Overall, Grabow was 6-3 with 15 holds and 4 saves. Won't get much recognition because, well, he's on the Pirates, but on this blog I say, "Take a bow, Grabow."

We had Craig Breslow, who was out of his mind for the Twinkies this year, posting a 1.91 ERA in 47 innings of work. Gave up just 1 HR in those 47 innings. At the start of the 2008 season, Breslow was on the Indians' roster. After he was claimed off waivers by the Twins, his ERA was 1.63. Sick, sick, sick. He had 5 holds and 1 save. Has yet to record his first win, but with the stuff this Yale grad has, it's only a matter of time. My only question is why was this stud ever placed on waivers in the first place?!

We had Ian Kinsler, who should now be considered one of the premiere second basemen in the game. Kinsler set career highs in just about every statistical category in '08. In 518 ABs, Kinsler hit .319 (4th in the AL) with a .375 OBP (11th in the AL) and a .517 SLG, had 18 HRs, 41 doubles (11th in the AL), 4 triples, scored 102 runs (8th in the AL), and drove in 71 from the leadoff spot on the Rangers. He was also 26 for 28 in stolen bases (10th in the AL) and had a 25-game hitting streak. Unfortunately, Kinsler missed about a quarter of the season, due to a severe sports hernia that required surgery. Had he stayed healthy, he most certainly would have had his second 20-20 season in as many years. Last year, he had 20 HRs and 23 SBs. And how many runs would Kinsler have scored with Hamilton, Bradley, Young, Davis, and Murphy locked in behind him? As it is, Pedroia led the league with 118 runs scored. You have to figure Kinsler would have wound up with at least 125 runs, the way he was going. Also had a shot at the batting title. Also had a shot at driving in 100 runs - as a leadoff man. Also had a shot at 200+ hits and 50+ doubles. Would he have done all these things? Sadly, we'll never know. Still a phenomenal season for the 26-year old slugger. I have a feeling the best is yet to come.

We had Ryan Braun, who proved there's no such thing as a sophomore slump - at least not for this former Rookie of the Year. In 611 ABs, Braun hit .285 with a .335 OBP and a .553 SLG (5th in NL), had 37 HRs (4th in NL), 39 doubles, 7 triples (6th in NL), scored 92 runs, and drove in 106 (9th in NL). Braun also had 14 SBs and finished second to Pujols in total bases with 338, though he led the league for most of the season. He did, however, finish first in the NL in extra base hits with 83. Braun's average was down from the .324 mark he set last season, but that's mostly because of a September Swoon. Still, when the Brewers needed a big hit, Braun elevated his game and as a result the Brewers made the playoffs for the first time in 26 years. In the home run derby, Braun hit 14 HRs total in the first two rounds, finishing third overall in the derby. And if you didn't see it, none of them were cheapies; he really hit some mammoth shots. Braun also had a change of scenery this season, making the move from third base (where he struggled in '07) to left field. Though Braun is obviously still learning the position, he had 9 assists and didn't commit an error all year. The future looks bright for Braun. Very bright.

We had Gabe Kapler, who was a force this year for the Brewers in limited playing time. In 229 ABs, Kapler hit .301 (highest average since 2000) with a .340 OBP and a .498 SLG (a career best), had 8 HRs (most since 2001), 17 doubles (most since 2001), 2 triples, scored 36 runs, and drove in 38 (most since 2001). His .838 OPS was a career high, edging out the .833 OPS he had in 2000. Kapler was also the team's best pinch hitter, batting .323 with 2 HRs and 8 RBIs. And who can forget that game at Dodger Stadium where Kapler jumped into the stands and robbed Russell Martin of a home run? Catch of the year, IMO. And that walk-off home run off the left field foul pole in the bottom of the 13th against Washington... money. It was Kapler's first career walk-off home run. It was also his 2nd extra-inning walk-off hit this season. Finally, Kapler broke up Chris Young's bid for a perfect game with a home run in the 8th inning against the Padres. Braun and Kapler, all hail the Brew Jew Crew!

We had Kevin Youkilis, who was wicked good for Boston this season. In 538 ABs, Youkilis hit .312 (6th in AL) with a .390 OBP (6th in AL) and a .569 SLG (3rd in AL), had 29 HRs (12th in AL), 43 doubles (7th in AL), 4 triples, scored 91 runs, and drove in 115 (4th in AL). Additonally, Youkilis had 306 total bases (8th in AL). Like Kinsler, Youk set career highs in just about every statistical category. His name has even been floating around as an MVP candidate - and deservedly so. Other candidates include teammate Dustin Pedroia and Justin Morneau of the Twins. Youkilis beat Morneau in average, OBP, SLG, OPS, extra base hits, and home runs. The gold glover played mostly at first, but did a good job filling in for Mike Lowell at third for part of the season. One other thing: he hit .374 with runners in scoring position. Like I said, this guy is wicked good. Who needs Manny?

We had 8 greats in '08, 4 at the plate, and 4 aces.

From an historical perspective: Unless I'm mistaken, the last time 3 Jews made the all-star team was 1939, with Hank Greenberg, Harry Danning, and Morrie Arnovich. Ryan Braun and Albert Pujols are the only 2 players in MLB history to hit 30 or more HRs in each of their first two seasons. How cool is that! Other than Greenberg and Green, Youkilis and Kinsler are the only other Jews to hit 40 or more doubles in a season. Youkilis has done it twice now. Braun nearly did it with his 39 this season. Buddy Myer hit 38 in 1932. Green did it 3 times. Greenberg did it 5 times. And other than Greenberg and Green, Braun is the only other Jew to hit 30 or more HRs and 30 or more doubles in a season. I know, this one was a shocker for me, too. Rosen and Gordon were close, but couldn't quite do it. Youkilis needed only 1 more HR this year to do it. Greenberg and Green each did it 4 times. Of course, Greenberg and Green also hit 40 or more HRs and 40 or more doubles. Green did it once. Greenberg did it twice. Something else Braun nearly did this season. Youk, Kid Kinsler, and Braunsy have a long way to go before they even approach what Green and Greenberg accomplished in their distinguished careers, but you know something? I think we're going to enjoy the journey.