Archive for October, 2009

The Revenge of the Whiz Kids?

Monday, October 26th, 2009

The 1950 Phillies were one of baseball’s memorable teams: a great pitching staff and heavy long-bomb hitters. And they arrived at the Fall Classic in a similar fashion to their 2009 version: having humbled the Brooklyn version of the Dodgers in the season’s final game. Then, as now, their nemesis was the Yankees, as memorable a team as the Phillies — packed with prodigious power and strong arms.  Del Ennis, Dick Sisler and Richie Ashburn were the keys to the Phillies’ line up: Ennis because of his towering bombs (31 in all in 1950) and Sisler and Ashburn because of their nose-in-the-dirt style of play. We’ve forgotten just how good Ennis was — playing for sixteen years, eleven of them with Philadelphia. In 1950 he had 126 RBIs to lead the team. Ashburn didn’t have Ennis’s power, but his career ended in the Hall of Fame: with a lifetime batting average of .308, three different years with over 200 hits – and a skyscraping OBP. There’s a statue of him now, outside of Citizens Bank Park, in Philadelphia. But 1950 was far from Ashburn’s best year and the team needed the likes of Ennis to get into the series.

“The Whiz Kids” took the N.L. by surprise. No one even knew who they were. The left side of their infield was under 25 and their two best players were kids — Ashburn was 23 and Ennis was 24. Even so, if you knew only a little bit about baseball, you’d have easily picked the Phillies to best the Yankees in the ’50 Series. Their pitching was the class of the National League. The starting rotation was led by Robin Roberts, then in his third year in Philadelphia. He’d gone 20-11 with a 3.02 ERA and he’d thrown 21 complete games. Roberts threw the last game of the season against the Trolleys, and it was a gem: he pitched ten innings of one run ball before Philly won it all in the 10th. Curt Simmon followed Roberts in the rotation — and he looked (at 20) like he was eleven. Like Ennis, he is remembered best by baseball afficiandos. He had very good, but not great years. 1950 was one of his best: he was 17-8 with a 3.40 ERA. The third arm in the rotation belonged to Bob Miller, whose 11-6 record was a surprise to everyone (including Miller). It was the best year he ever had, but Philly needed him desperately — as the war in Korea was culling the N.L. of some of their best pitchers. By the time the series rolled around, the Phillies had lost stalwart Simmons and fireballer Bubba Church to the service.

The Yankees had won the series in ’49, but they knew the Phillies would be tough. To win, they had to get past their pitching. Their line-up was good, even very good, but these were not the Bronx Bombers of the 1920s. Yogi Berra and Joe DiMaggio were their power hitters, with Phil Rizutto the sparkplug in the middle of the order. Still, Phillies’ fans would be right to wonder why Phil is in the Hall of Fame and not Ennis. “I never thought I deserved to be in the Hall of Fame,” Rizutto once said. “The Hall of Fame is for the big guys.” That’s right, Scooter. The Yankees’ strength was their pitching staff. Vic Raschi (The Springfield Rifle) was the Yanks best starter (he was 21-8 that year), followed by Allie Reynolds and Eddie Lopat. Formidable, sure, but against the Roberts and Ashburn-led Phillies the Yankees knew they were in for a tussle.

Sadly for Phillies’ fans, that’s not how it turned out. In what has to be considered one of the best-pitched and closest World Series ever, the Phillies lost in four — by a combined 11–5 run total. The first game was the surprise, with Phillie closer Jim Konstanty pitching eight innings of one run ball. That how it ended: 1-0. Game 2 was a Robin Roberts’ gem, but he lost the game in the 10th on a DiMaggio home run. The pattern for the series was now well-established, with the Yankees matching the Phillies pitch-for-pitch. The third game ended 3-2, with the Yankees scoring their third run in a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth. The only game that wasn’t close was the fourth — with the Phillie’s nose-diving, 5-2. The Phillies should have won that fourth game: they were up against a young Yankee hurler by the name of Whitey Ford who’d had only a so-so year.

It seems unlikely that 2009 will see a repeat of the head-to-head pitchers’ duels of 1950. Philadelphia doesn’t have a Robin Roberts or Richie Ashburn or Curt Simmons. In fact, they’re better: with a loaded line-up that makes Ennis and Sisler and Ashburn look like spray hitters (which is, in fact, what they were). Then too, while the current Bronx crew lacks the power and presence of “The Yankee Clipper,” Jeter, Rodriguez and Teixeira hit more like Murderers’ Row than their 1950 ancestors. It will be a real surprise if this is a four-and-out series: and it seems very unlikely to be won by 1-0, 2-1 or 3-2 scores. That said, the 2009 Fall Classic has this one thing in common with the Whiz Kids vs. Empire match-up of 1950: in order for Philly to win, they have to hit Yankee pitching.

Doormats Win NL . . . Mattingly To Nats?

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

 

While the AL champion has not yet been decided, the crowning of the Phillies as N.L. champs sets up a classic I-95 tussle with the Yankees — or maybe it’s the Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed series. Despite the dominance of the Phillies in every aspect of their series with the suddenly sputtering Dodgers, the Ashburns would be decided underdogs in the match-up against the The Evil Empire, whose front line pitching of Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte would match-up well against Utley, Howard, Werth and Ibanez. And while the Phillies’ bullpen outclassed the Broxtons, they’d have a tougher time with the middle of the Yanks order. “We’re gonna get it,” Phuzzie manager Charlie Manuel says. We can forgive the over-confidence:  anything can happen in a seven game series and the Phillies are hardly pushovers. Even if they will be (and it’s still a pretty big maybe) facing the class of baseball.

It didn’t use to be this way. For over seven decades the Phillies were the pushovers of the National League — only one step ahead of our very own Washington Senators. As our pals over at Real Dirty Mets Blog point out, the Phils were once the doormats of the league: “From 1918-1948 they were above .500 once. 78-76 in 1932, finishing 4th. In an 8-team league, that was the only time in 31 years they finished above 5th place.” Before winning it all in 1980, the Phillies had appeared in the postseason twice — and lost both times. The Phillies might not have been “first in war, first in peace and last in the National League,” but they were next-to-last; the only thing they had to show for their efforts were a bunch of gamers who entered the hall: Richie Ashburn, Jim Bunning, Jimmie Foxx and Robin Roberts. Not a bad crew, but near-beer when compared to the Dodgers, Giants, and even the Cubs. Even when the Phillies were good they were bad. Baseball fans who know the game well scoff at the Mets collapse of 2007: the ’64 Phillies led the league by 6.5 and blew it in seven games. They were “the pholding Phillies.” It took them until 1980 to win their first series — a record of futility unmatched even by the North Side Drama Queens, who dominated the game in the early part of the century. It took Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt to turn it around, though it would be another twenty-eight years before the Phillies took another championship.

These are not grandpa’s Phillies. The turn in the franchise is not simply the result of lots of money (their 2009 opening day payroll was a whopping $113 million), or a strong fan base (third in all of baseball), but a reflection of one of baseball’s best front offices. Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro (Jr.) never stopped building: the 2009 version of the Phils is his handiwork. He added a key piece in the off-season (Raul Ibanez) and two starters that will be the backbone of the staff in the series: Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez. Even so, it might not be enough. While the Phillies would be favored to humble the Belinskis, it’s doubtful Lee could pitch as well in two games against the Yankees as he did against the Dodgers. And could we really expect Pedro to match his seven inning NLCS effort? Then too, there’s the Phillies bullpen. Scoured clean during the regular season (they were simply awful, and in chaos, in the late going), Brad Lidge was once again Brad Lidge in the Trolley series, keeping the ball away from their best hitters. He would have to do that again, and then some, against the Jeters. Bottom line? In any match-up against the Bombers, the Phillies would have to be Rocky Balboa to win. But it would be exciting.

It’s Not A Motorcycle Sweetie, It’s A Chopper: Mark Lerner just bubbles over about the great progress the Nats have made over the last season, identifying the hiring of Mike Rizzo as one of the five great things that has happened to the team. Agreed. But the real question here (never asked in the on line interview) is whether the owners are willing to shell out what it will take to bring ballplayers to the club. The Nats payroll for 2009 was at $60 million, a little more than half of what the Phillies paid . . . The Lerners should know better than to complain about the media. They can’t win: and it’s hard to argue with columnists who roll their eyes at the obvious penny pinching. The Lerner family says they operate the Nationals as a public trust and are committed to the city. They should be celebrated for that: but the midseason argument that the Lerners have given back never really sounded right. Is that why they bought the team? To be good citizens?

The report of the day has Don Mattingly being interviewed for the Nats managerial job. “You listen to everyone,” Mattingly said about taking a job with a team that is rebuilding. “I’m flattered there’s some organizations out there that think I’m capable of it, or at least talked to me about it. You get to know them, they get to know you, and you see where it goes from there.” Mattingly knows the game and has been angling for a top dugout job since he left baseball. He was the reputed successor to Joe Torre in New York and was angered by the hiring of Joe Girardi. But the knock on Mattingly has nothing to do with his willingness to manage a last place team. The question is: does a last place team really need a guy who’s never been a manager — or wouldn’t the Nats be better off with someone with a few more years under their belt. No matter his experience, Mattingly would be an experiment: and the Nats have had enough of those.

0-19? Try 110-52 . . .

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

What’s so astonishing (well, at least to me) is that Nats fan Steve Krupin — the subject of a cheeky Sports Illustrated commentary on the fortunes of fate (and what it means to be a fan of the Anacostia Nine) – sits just one row ahead of me in Section 129. It’s not that I know or have met Steve (I don’t and haven’t), it’s that if Steve had followed my lead he would have seen some of the best baseball the Nats played all season. Krupin, the man that SI has dubbed “the unluckiest fan in America,” saw 19 Nats game this season — and they lost every single one of them. He was zero for nineteen.  Oh-fer? “That’s the risk you run by being a sports fan,” SI quotes Krupin as saying.

Yeah, Steve, that’s right: you should have come to games with me — I had much, much better luck. I attended 29 Nats games this year, and in those 29 games the Nats were 8-21. And in those 29 games they were outscored (get this) 110-52. 0-19? That’s nothing. Try 110-52. And of those 29 games (and this really gets me) seven, all of them losses, were decided by one run. It’s a small sample, to be sure, but emblamatic: it doesn’t take a Steve Philips to figure out that the Nats’ problem in ’09 was the jaw dropping apocalyptic collapse of their bullpen. Actually, that’s not true. In order for a bullpen to collapse, the Nats had to have one in the first place. They didn’t.  

There were some great moments, of course. Let’s see: there was Adam Dunn’s 300th in July, three towering chandalier scrapers (all by Dunn) that same month, an Austin Kearns grand slam against the Marlins in early August (we’ll never see that again), a 9-2 domination of the Showboats that same week (how the hell did that happen?), a dead-to-center shot by Ryan Zimmerman in early September (this is all from memory), and the Justin Maxwell grand slam walk-off in the final home game. All memorable, all rare — and one (one!) that was unforgettable. That’s not so bad, I suppose, for being a fan of the worst team in baseball. After all, I could be 0-19. Then too, having been a fanatical Cubs fan for some 45 years (and knowing, just knowing, the whole time), I figure there’s at least one thing worse than being the fan of a last place team — and that’s being a fan of a team that will never, ever . . . ever. The Cubs are great entertainment: if you love soap operas. So Ted (and Stan and Mike), you’ve got me for another year. But just one more. Honest.

Will I Dream Dave? We have received an overwhelming reader response to our lack of posts lately. One of our fans (Suzie, who reads us in Brazil — no kidding) writes: “Where have you guys gone?” Well, Suzie: while the season isn’t over for the Phuzzies, Jeters, Belinskis or Trolleys, it’s over for the Nats, so we’ve been slowing down. But that’s all we’re doing. We’re not going away, we’re slowing down. After 8-21, we deserve it. We’ll be up to three or four posts a week (and we’ll provide our own pithy comments on the course of the post season) until Spring Training — when we’ll be back every day. In fact, we’ve been interviewing a whole new set of writers for next year.

The Grudge Match

Friday, October 16th, 2009

 

Tommy Lasorda is a ubiquitous presence in baseball and a legend in Los Angeles. The camera finds him in Dodger Stadium during nearly every game of the week, he’s constantly interviewed, and his baseball judgment is considered nigh on saintly: Tim McCarver mentions his name in a worshipful (almost liturgical) tone (“there’s Tommy”) and reporters scribble furiously when he talks, which he does — a lot. He’s even supplanted the late Walter O’Malley as “Mr. Dodger,” certainly he’s more worshipfully remembered than Walter Alston, whose managing career matches Lasorda’s. When Lasorda retired as the Dodger’s manager, back in 1996, he spent untold hours sidling up to Hollywood legends and walk-of-fame wannabes, hobnobbing with producers and starlets, and befriending crooner Frank Sinatra. Tommy’s done everything but the perp walk, but you never know.

But despite what Trolley fans might think, Lasorda’s not perfect. In 1993, he questioned whether then-Dodger prospect Pedro Martinez (5-11) was big enough to be a good pitcher, prompting the Dodger’s front office (which spent their time back then listening for the whip-crack in his raspy voice), to trade him to Montreal in exchange for second sacker Delino DeShields. Martinez rewarded Lasorda’s skepticism the next year: he pitched nine innings of perfect baseball for Montreal, compiling a 17-8 record. And he went on to become one of the best pitchers in baseball. Anyone can make a mistake, but apparently Pedro holds a grudge, not least because the endlessly yakky Lasorda was so outspoken in his criticism of his diminutive pitcher. It’s one thing to say a guy is “too small” to the front office, it’s another to say it in pubic. Then too, Pedro is not the kind of guy who’s known for steering away from controversy — and neither is Lasorda.

Back in 2005, Lasorda picked a fight with the Phillie Phanatic on his blog after the Phanatic took a Lasorda jersey, put it on a dummy, and ran over it again and again before a Dodgers-Phillies game. “This should not be shown in ballparks, especially in front of children,” Lasorda complained. “It exhibits disrespect and violence.” The next time the Dodgers were in town, Mr. Thin Skin (during a clubhouse lecture he gave on compassion, he told a player who interrupted him to “shut the f … up!”) body-slammed the Phanatic to the ground. And bragged about it. Say what you will about Martinez’s defense in fending off Don Zimmer: at least he didn’t attack a mascot.

The Martinez-Trolley feud would be enough to make tonight’s Trolley-Phuzzie match-up worth watching, but it’s not the only story of this series. Head hunter Vicente Padilla is scheduled to start for the Dodgers against his old team, who traded him to the Texas Rangers for a player to be named later — a “here, we don’t want him” swap that ruffled Padilla’s feathers and got under his very thin skin. Padilla was not well-liked in The City Of Brotherly Love, whose fans mercilessly dogged him about his wildness and mound antics and remained silent when he was traded. That wasn’t true for other Phillies: Randy Wolf (also now a Dodger) had a thick-as-syrup “Wolf Pack” following that howled when he appeared, while Jim Thome’s apologists were so vocal, so slathering, it was almost embarrassing. Padilla went on to become a felon in Texas, but has apparently cleaned up his act in L.A., where his teammates testify that he’s the brother of Mary Poppins. Of course he is: pitchers actually have to enter the batter’s box in the National League (where the game is played among men) — which means any Padilla fastball aimed at an opposing player’s ear is likely to result in his being carted from the field. Right past Lasorda’s box.

The silence you hear tonight when the Philllies take the field in the bottom of the 1st will have a lot to do with the importance of a second-of-seven NLCS  match-up: but the cameras will be trained on Lasorda, Martinez and Padilla, and not on the scoreboard. And any up-and-in fastballs are likely to be interpreted as more than pitches designed to move the hitter off the plate. This is for all the marbles in the National League, but this isn’t LA-St. Louis, or Philadelphia vs. the Rockies. This is an old fashioned grudge match between teams and players that don’t each other very much. And it will be pure entertainment.

Angel’s Stun, Sweep Sox

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

That glazed and puzzled look that has appeared on the faces of so many other post season teams (the St. Louis Cardinals yesterday, and the Chicago Cubs last year, to name just two) is now being worn by the Boston Red Sox. The A.L.’s wild card entry was stunned by a ninth inning rally in Boston on Saturday, and swept in three games by the Los Angeles Angels to be eliminated from the playoffs. The Bosox appeared headed for a sure win in their head-to-head match-up against the Belinskis, leading the Halos 6-3 heading into the 9th inning at Fenway Park — with their ace closer, Jonathan Papelbon on the mound. But with two outs, Papelbon’s down-and-out or up-and-in stuff failed him: Erick Aybar singled, Chone Figgins walked and Bobby Abreu doubled to tighten the contest. Even then, the Red Sox remained a simple grounder or fly ball away from victory. To set up a force out at every base, Papelbon walked Torii Hunter intentionally. That brought Vladimir Guerrero to the plate. On the very first pitch to one of baseball’s beset bad-ball hitters, Papelbon gave up a single to center. Guerrero’s hit, a leaning over-the-plate smack of a low and outside fastball, scored Figgins and Abreu and gave the Angels the 7-6 victory.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The elimination of the Redbirds and Bosox now sets the wheels in motion for the offseason in both Boston and St. Louis. There’s a lot to do. Fans of “the Nation” face some big questions: about the future of David Ortiz and the cost of Jason Bay. The team is hardly in need of a major overhaul, yet the horses that have consistently put it into the off season are aging or hobbled. The entire left side of the Boston infield is in question: Mike Lowell can’t play third forever and the team has no ready answer at shortstop. “Phtttt . . . c’mon” — fans of the Nation say: what about Jed Lowrie? Well, what about him? Maybe Baseball Reference is lying, but their stats show him hitting .147 in 32 games. Hell, there’s a shortstop in Washington who hits a damn sight better than that and he’s no damn good at all . . .   

The Redbirds are younger, but the questions might be more pertinent: whether to pony up the big bucks it will take to keep Matt Holliday in left and (just like the Red Sox) what to do at third. Mark DeRosa is a free agent and while he likes St. Louis he will test the free agent market. Then too, while shortstop seems set for the River City Nine, rookie phenom Brendan Ryan hit a scorching .083 in the playoffs and looked shaky in the field. Redbird fans have the same reaction to this negativity as their Bosox buddies: “Oh yeah, well what about Troy Glaus?” Okay, right. Troy Glaus: who left his right shoulder somewhere in Toronto and hasn’t been the same since. Maybe he’ll return to his 2008 form (.270, 27 home runs), but it’s a pretty big maybe. Then too, number three starter Joel Pineiro is a free agent and would be a number one starter on most major league teams: including the Nats (now there’s an idea). Oddly, whether Holliday or DeRosa or Pineiro decide to stay in St. Louis might hinge more on the fate of Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan than on how much money Billy DeWitt puts on the table. LaRussa and Duncan’s contracts are up and both are rumored headed to Cincinnati, to team up with their old St. Louis G.M. pal Walt Jocketty . . .

Twin Killings: Twinkies, Bosox On The Ropes

Saturday, October 10th, 2009

 

There have been 26 Yankee juggernauts in major league history — 27 if you count the 1960 team, that could have, might have and should have won a world title: were it not for the heroics of Bill Mazeroski. This team, the 2009 version, is even more formidable. The twin killers of the Twins on Friday night (that put the reeling Twinkies down by two games to zip) were Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, one of whom is headed to the hall and the other who might well be. It’s easy to see why Teixeira — offered an off-season gift basket from the Nationals — decided to play for the pinstripes: the New Yorkers know how to spend money, and they know how to win: a requirement for any ballplayer who prizes not only a large bank account, but a handful of rings.

What was billed as a pitchers’ duel turned out to be exactly that: as Yankee A.J. Burnett mixed four kinds of fastballs to put the Twins down through six innings. But Burnett, a puzzling mess at odd times, was pulled after six complete, with Yankee manager Joe Girardi suddenly dependent on a relief core that has often been shaky. And so it proved: even Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera were merely human, while former Ahoy fireballer and reclamation project Damaso Marte was a disaster. The often so-so Nick Blackburn, meanwhile, was brilliant — posting a 1.59 post season ERA and befuddling Yankee hitters through 5.2. So when Joe Nathan arrived with the Twins’ lead intact we could be forgiven for thinking the game was over. Not so: Alex Rodriguez’s ninth inning home run tied it, while Tex’s walk off against Jose Mijares in the 11th won it. “It’s really disappointing,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I’ve been walked off enough times here. Some of the things that happened out there were pretty disappointing. It was a good baseball game. A lot of things could have went either way, but didn’t go our way again tonight.” 

The Boston Red Sox Are Being Eaten In Anaheim. After a not-even-close 5-0 drubbing at the hands of the Belinskis on Thursday, “the Nation” sent ace Josh Beckett to the mound against Jered Weaver. It was a bookie’s fantasy: the lanky if talented Weaver brothers have “never quite” and have a tendency to implode (and what a sight it is!), while Beckett is calm to the point of perversity — and it’s downright weird. If Jered is Yosemite Sam (arms akimbo, fist slapping glove), then Josh is Mr. Magoo (calmly asking for another ball, as the one he just pitched sails into the night). So it was that — if you were to actually bet (and you wouldn’t would you?) — you would have been all-in on Beckett. And you’d have lost.

It happened in the seventh inning in Anaheim and it went something like this: Vlad Guerrero walked (Howie Kendrick runs for him), Kendry Morales lines out, Kendrick steals second, Juan Rivera grounds out to third (two outs), Maicer Izturis singles (Kendrick scores), Mike Napoli HBP, Erick Aybar triples, (Izturis and Napoli score), Chone Figgins strikes out for out number three. Score: 3-1 Angels.  What was most unusual was that Beckett seemed to lose his cool — complaining to homeplate umpire C.B. Bucknor that Mike Napoli hadn’t moved out of the way of a fastball that hit him in the back. Beckett seemed to come unhinged. “I wasn’t much [ticked] that he wouldn’t overturn the pitches, but show me a little bit of respect,” Beckett said. “He just straight-faced me and then walked away. I was just like, I went up to [catcher Victor Martinez]. I said, ‘Vic, he’d be [ticked] if I did that to him.’ I’m not asking him to even overturn it, just listen to what I have to say. Don’t like, take your mask off, straight-face me and then walk away. I can’t say anything to the point of getting thrown out.” 

The Red Sox, now down two games to none, must win three games in a row to advance to the league championship series. “We’ve just got to regroup,” Beckett said. “We know what we need to do now. We can’t lose another one. A lot of guys in here have been through this. It’s not an ideal situation, but we have to win.”

Rockies Even Series; Trolleys Stun Redbirds

Friday, October 9th, 2009

The Colorado Rockies held off the rallying Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday to take the second game in their five game series, 5-4. The key for the Purples was an unlikely two run homer off the bat of catcher Yorvit Torrealba, who hadn’t had a four base knock since May. Torrealba’s knock was complemented by solid pitching from Rockies’ starter Aaron Cook and bullpen aces Jose Contreras, Matt Belisle, Rafael Betancourt, Franklin Morales and all-world closer Huston Street (above). The Heltons, who won during the regular season by counting on the bats of an unlikely mix of new heroes, depended on the bat of yet another unknown newcomer: in this case it was left fielder Carlos “Cargo” Gonzalez. Gonzalez — a former Showboat prospect and a throw-in in the off season Oakland-Colorado Matt Holliday-for-Huston Street trade — spent much of the last two seasons in triple-A, while Denver’s front office waited for him to pan out. Gonzalez got his chance this year, after a series of injuries made room for him in the Colorado outfield. On Thursday, the fleet Venezuelan went 3-5 to spark the otherwise sleepy Rockies’ line up.

When the Oakland A’s got Matt Holliday from the Colorado Rockies in the Huston Street trade back in November of 2008, they thought their search for a big bat was over: the Stillwater, Oklahoma native was a three time all star and three time silver slugger and he’d been named the 2007 World Series MVP. But Holliday didn’t seem to fit in in Oakland (he hit an otherwise anemic .286 with 11 home runs in 93 games), and on July 24, 2009 Oakland A’s guru Billy Beane swapped him to St. Louis for three top prospects: Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen and Shane Peterson. In St. Louis, Holliday tore the cover off the ball — hitting .353 with 13 home runs in just 63 games, and propelling the Redbirds into the post season. He was just what Tony La Russa ordered.

Holliday’s post season experience gave St. Louis the confidence they needed against L.A. With Albert Pujols and Holliday in the middle of their order and Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright their big guns as starters, St. Louis was set to head into L.A. to face Joe Torre’s big bats. L.A. took the first game, with a surprisingly shaky outing by Carpenter. But St. Louis came back to dominate the second game: and it looked like the Redbirds were set to even the series at one game apiece. But with two outs in the ninth ining and St. Louis leading, the otherwise sure-handed Holliday dropped a sinking liner off the bat of first sacker James Loney to give the Dodgers new life. Casey Blake then walked and former Nats Ronnie Belliard singled home the tying run, before Mark Loretta’s short centerfield single provided the 3-2 walk off win. “It’s tough to swallow,” Holliday said after the game. “Obviously, I feel terrible. But I just missed the ball. It hit my stomach. I think I can catch a ball hit right at me.” The Trolleys now lead the series, 2-0.

Playing Hunches — and Playing Favorites

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Tom Boswell and Dave Sheinin’s sobering dual articles (“everything-has-changed-now-that-we’re-in-the-playoffs”) in yesterday’s Washington Post hasn’t kept anyone from playing hunches — or favorites. We should scatter all pretensions of predicting the future by studying statistics (or counting on hot streaks) by scattering sabermetrics to the wind. And play our hunches. Or favorites. Or both. So it is that, at least before Wednesday’s trifecta, my hunch was that Redbird Chris Carpenter would prove to be unstoppable, that the Rockies would be too hot even for Cliff Lee and that the Twinkies — riding Tuesday’s Tectonic win over the sinking Kalines — would upset the empire, even in the heart of the death star.

But, since hunches are hopes, I have been humbled by October’s cheerless realities: Chris Carpenter never looked worse, Cliff Lee never looked better and the Twinkies looked like . . .  well, they looked the Twins. But while hope might be humbled, it also springs eternal, so I’ll stick by my original predictions (which I should have made yesterday, just to make them more official): the Purples are the team to beat in the N.L., the Cardinals have the best one-two pitching punch in the playoffs (Adam Wainwright — below — will win tonight), the Twins can be the surprise team of the junior circuit and (yet to be decided) “the nation” doesn’t have a prayer against the Belinskis.  

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Good news for Nats fans! The Phish have re-upped with manager Fredi Gonzalez. Actually, what’s shocking is that Marlins’ owner Jeffrey Loria was considering dumping Gonzalez for not making the playoffs, even though Gonzalez was managing a franchise with the lowest payroll in baseball . . . Even better news (and this time, seriously) – is that Mets G.M. Omar Minaya still has his job! though a source on the team says that were it not for his three year extension (signed in October 2008) he wouldn’t. Minaya is on a short string (or noose, as it were) and that, if he falls on his face, he’ll be gone. Clearly, patience is running out in New York, and most particularly among its most avid fans. Our buddy-buds at NL East Chatter are running a whole chatter on “What Happens to Omar Now?” The answer is: nothing. At least not yet . . . 73 percent of those responding to an NL East Chatter poll answer the question as follows: “we are having the same damn discussion next year” . . .

Connor Tapp (the voice at Braves Baseball Blog) has some interesting things to say about what the Tomahawks should do in the off-season. He doesn’t mince words, saying that if Frank Wren resigns Garret Anderson “I might become a Mets fan.” That seems awfully dramatic, but I know what he means: if Mike Rizzo resigns Austin Kearns I might become a Braves fan. We here at CFG note that there is a hole in Tapp’s entries between August 25 and October 6: corresponding (very roughly) to those dates during which which our beloved Nats swept the Braves in three. It is onto such thin reeds that drowning men (and fans of last place baseball teams) grasp . . . Meanwhile, our friends at Phillies Phandom are having a field day (so to speak). The Phuzzies should be confident: they haven’t lost a home playoff game in two seasons.

Zim Wins Goslin MVP Award

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

The Washington, DC chapter of the Internet Baseball Writers Association has voted Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman its 2009 Goose Goslin MVP Award. The award is voted on by the DC-IBWA — an organization that represents Washington Nationals’ internet writers, on-line media outlets, and bloggers. Goslin was a left fielder for the Washington Senators from 1921-30, 1933 and 1938. He also played for the St. Louis Browns (1930-32) and the Detroit Tigers (1934-37). As Nationals News Network notes in quoting from the Hall of Fame’s description: “Burly and strong-armed, Leon Goose Goslin swung the bat with Ruthian effort and forged a reputation as a powerful clutch-hitter. He spearheaded his teams to five American League pennants — three with the Senators and two with the Tigers. He drove in 100 or more runs on 11 occasions and hit .300 or better 11 times, compiling a .316 lifetime average and 2,735 hits. He led the Senators to a World Series title in 1924 with a .344 average and three home runs.”

Zimmerman played in 157 games for the Nats in 2009, hitting .292 with 33 home runs. 106 RBIs and 110 runs scored. His amazing defensive play at third base puts him in line to receive his first gold glove award. Zimmerman finished seventh in at bats, seventh in plate appearances, fourth in runs scored, eighth in extra base hits and sixth in RBIs in the National League. By any measure his was an extraordinary season.  

Zimmerman took first place honors with 88 points, including 14 first place votes. Nyjer Morgan finished second and Willie Harris a distant third. The Walter Johnson Starting Pitcher of the Year Award was given to John Lannan, with second place going to Jordan Zimmermann and third to Craig Stammen. The Frederick “Firpo” Marberry Relief Pitcher of the Year award was given to a deserving Tyler Clippard. Other awards were given to Adam Dunn (Frank Howard Slugger of the Year), Nick Johnson (Mickey Vernon Comeback Player of the Year), John Lannan (Josh Gibson Humanitarian Player of the Year), and Derek Norris (Minor League Player of the Year). Zimmerman took three awards in all: the MVP award, the Sam Rice Hitter of the Year award and the Joe Judge Defensive Player of the Year award.

Voters for the awards were asked to name first, second and third place for each category. First place votes received five points, second place votes received three points and third place votes received one point. Twenty ballots from association members were submitted from the following online media outlets: Nationals News Network, Nationals Pride, We’ve Got Heart, Centerfield Gate, FJB, Federal Baseball, The Nationals Enquirer, DC Sports Box, Nationals Inquisition, Nats Fanboy Looser, Planetary Nats, Bang! Zoom!, Nats Nation, Let Teddy Win!, Nationals Review, DC Sports Plus, and Passing Time Between Wil Nieves Bombs. Full results can be found at Nationals News Network.

Season Ends With Win In 15

Monday, October 5th, 2009

The Washington Nationals finished the 2009 season on a high note, winning their seventh in a row, 2-1, in fifteen innings in Atlanta. The game winning RBI was plated on a line drive by Alberto Gonzalez , whose single in the 15th inning drove in Elijah Dukes with what turned out to be the winning run. The win could not save the Nats from the worst record in franchise history — as well as the worst record in baseball for the 2009 season: 59-103. Gonzalez was 2-6 in his last outing, raising his BA for the season to .265. Logan Kensing, who pitched two innings of three hit ball in relief, got the win. Starter J.D. Martin pitched six solid innings of six hit baseball, giving up a single earned run. But the pitching of the bullpen was the key story in the team’s last game of 2009 — Tyler Clippard, Ron Villone, Jason Bergmann, Saul Rivera and Kensing pitched nine innings in relief, giving up no runs.

While the Nats left Atlanta with their seventh consecutive win, the front office isn’t underestimating the work that needs to be done in the off season — the naming of a manager, the acquistion of two veteran pitchers, a reconstruction of the league’s worst bullpen and moves that will solidify the defense, especially up the middle. If there was a highpoint in the season (at least according to the Nats’ front office) it was the acquisition of centerfielder Nyjer Morgan and lefty reliever Sean Burnett from Pittsburgh. “I’m not saying we are where we want to be, certainly not,” Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo said after the Atlanta win. “We know the targets we have to hit.” But many of the positive moves were actually negatives — additions by subtraction: the cutting of failed starter Daniel Cabrera, the exile of outfielder Lastings Milledge and the abandonment of the Joel Hanrahan experiment . . .

But the real high point of the season occurred before it even began — with the firing of Jim Bowden. The move was long overdue. The appointment of Mike Rizzo to take his place, first as “acting G.M” and then permanently, reshuffled the weak front office. Rizzo recast the Nats’ development program in the Dominican Republic, engineered the Milledge-Morgan swap, signed pitching phenom and first overall pick Stephen Strasburg, and rejiggered an embarrassing bullpen. His May signing of Mike MacDougal to a minor league deal — often overlooked — provided Washington with a closer. Rizzo’s mid-summer moves stabilized the franchise and gave the Nats immediate credibility. In a otherwise lost season, Rizzo’s promotion provided the one key bright spot  . . .

It’s not clear whether interim manager Jim Riggleman will return, though there’s no doubt that his handling of the club after the firing of Manny Acta focused the defense and provided needed wins. The club was sluggish under Acta and played with more intensity under Riggleman. “I think Riggleman really did a good job handling the ballclub after the All-Star break,” Rizzo said after the end of the season. “I think he put us on pace to really focus and bear down on the fundamentals of the game — to play cleaner and more efficient ballgames. He had the players playing at a high level. I think he has done the best job he could with the ability level that he has.” It’s clear that many Nats’ players would like to see Riggleman return . . .