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Spring Training, Day 2: Back on the beat

Definitely an interesting and enjoyable day today, as I was back on my old stomping grounds in a way. I had the keys to my old beat, the Cardinals, for the day in Fort Myers. And as seemingly always happens when I come back to the Cardinals, there was news.

See the story on the site for all the details, but Mike Matheny said before the game that he hopes to speak with Joe Torre of MLB about home plate collisions. Matheny would like to see them removed from the game. He spoke at length, with a sincere interest and had clearly given the matter a lot of thought. It’s worth seeing his comments.

Then the team went out and throttled the Bosox, despite sending a lineup that had maybe — MAYBE — three regulars including Jaime Garcia. The game lasted nearly four hours, but we still did manage to beat the rain that hit so much of Florida today. So that’s fortunate.

Today’s game in a nutshell: Jaime Garcia was sharp, especially in the first inning, and the Cardinals amassed 14 hits and six walks — most of them in the late innings against Red Sox pitchers with very high uniform numbers.

Quote of the day: “We’re talking about the brain. It’s just been so shoved under the rug. I didn’t want to be the poster boy for this gig, but I was able to witness in ways I can’t even explain to people how that altered by life for a short period of time and changed the person that I was. It’s scary. So that being said, you look at this game, can this game survive without this play? And I say absolutely. You’re putting people at risk.” – Matheny on concussions and collisions

Player of the day: Cardinals outfield prospect Oscar Taveras, who is just tremendously entertaining to watch do, well, everything. He had three hits, one of them of the infield variety. He caught the final out. And he did it all with… brio. The last time I saw Taveras in person, he was 18 and taking hacks in the batting cage during pre-Spring Training minicamp in 2011. I’m looking forward to seeing him play in more game.

Miles traveled: 7 so far today (but a good 140 or so left tonight), 271 for the trip.

Miles run: 3 today (on the treadmill, ugh), 3 for the trip

Diet sodas consumed: 0 today (per the very sage order of my lovely wife), 2 for the trip

Starbucks trips: 1 so far today, 2 for the trip

Roadside sight of the day: An ex-armadillo. Kind of surprising it took me nearly 48 hours to see one.

Up next: Driving tonight to Tampa, which will be my base of operations for the next several days. I’ll be covering an Orioles split squad at Steinbrenner Field, while Britt Ghiroli takes the other half of the O’s when they play a home night game against the Red Sox.

And, finally, the playlist:

Tracks from some of the albums that have caught my ear so far in 2013:

The Joy Formidable, “This Ladder Is Ours”
Solange, “Lovers in the Parking Lot”
The Virginmarys, “Just A Ride”
Foals, “Inhaler”
Torres, “Honey”


Spring Training Day 1: Hello, homeland

So, you may have noticed that this blog has gone fallow over recent weeks and months. As the season gets rolling again, hopefully that will no longer be the case. I’m intending to blog every day over the course of my Spring Training travels, a trip that will cover most of the next three weeks.

Today’s game in a nutshell: Rays beat the Red Sox, 6-3, behind excellent relief pitching and a couple of “crooked numbers” in the early innings. Ryan Roberts’ two-run single was the big hit.

Quote of the day: “I’m just here to tell you, all those… broadcasters that always say, ‘that play never works,’ had no idea what was going on with that play. I thought it was a relevant play. Now it’s something that hopefully we can utilize to our benefit.” – Joe Maddon, on the fake-to-third, throw-to-first move

Player of the day: Rays veteran right-hander Jamey Wright, vying for a spot in the bullpen. Wright, who I covered when he was briefly a Cardinal in 2002 (!), faced three batters. He struck out Dustin Pedroia and Shane Victorino, and got Jonny Gomes to ground out to third base.

Miles traveled: 52 so far today, 212 total on the rental car.

Diet sodas consumed: 1 (2 total for the trip)

Up next: Weather permitting, I’ll be filling in for Jenifer Langosch on the Cardinals beat for a day (heaven help me if I can’t handle THAT gig!). They’re playing the Red Sox in Fort Myers, with Jaime Garcia set to take the mound.

And, finally, the playlist:

New Order/Moby, “New Dawn Fades”
Depeche Mode, “Rush”
Pet Shop Boys, “Opportunities”
Camouflage, “Love Is A Shield”
Nine Inch Nails, “Sanctified”




My Stan memories

I know this is a little late. Sorry for that. But I still wanted to get it out there.


I really didn’t get to know Stan Musial at all. A bit like with Jack Buck, Stan was around much less by the time I got onto the beat. But I do have two memories of him, and I wanted to pass them on.


The first one is one that a lot of people share, which is cool in itself. My first year on the beat, 2002, I got to cover Ozzie Smith’s Hall of Fame induction. Made the trek to Cooperstown and all. And during the induction, as he did so many times, Musial got up in front of the microphone, whipped out his harmonica and played for the crowd.

Now, if you’re a St. Louis local, this isn’t news. I’m not. I had lived in the city for four months, and while I certainly knew Musial was an all-time great and a local icon, I didn’t know about the harmonica. I was unaware that it was his thing. So it came as a total surprise, and it was my single favorite thing about the day. Still my most vivid memory of the whole experience.


The second is a little more personal. In the spring of 2004, Musial came down to Jupiter for two days. He’d missed the previous spring for the first time in decades, but he was back, briefly, in late March of 04.

One afternoon in the press box, a Cardinals representative came up to a few reporters, very quietly, even stealthily, and tapped us on our shoulders. To each of us — and it was really only a few — he quietly asked if we were interested in interviewing Stan and Red Schoendienst.

Um, well, yeah, I think so.

So a few of us were led down a hallway and into a suite on the press box level at Roger Dean Stadium, where Stan and Red were waiting. For a few minutes, it looked a little like an interview. We asked Stan about the 2004 Cardinals, and about a still-young hitter named Pujols.

Then it got good. It turned into a storytelling session, and mayyybe just a bit of a bull session, starring the two old friends. They told stories about rooming together on the road together, about their friendly competition, about Spring Training together.

It was magnificent. Somehow, I don’t have any transcript of the day among my notes, but I was able to find the short story I wrote on it, and here’s one quip from Stan that I used. He was talking about why he enjoyed Spring Training.

“It was a fun time,” he said. “But there was another reason why I liked it. I knew before the season started I was gonna hit .340 or .350.”

Yeah, that was a pretty cool day.



One more round of predictions

Welp, I couldn’t have gotten the LCSs much more wrong, so the less said about that, the better. The thing about hitting is that it’s hard, and so sometimes even great hitting teams get shut down.


So maybe it’s a good thing that I just don’t feel like I have much read on the World Series. I like the Giants’ overall lineup, 1-8 or 1-9, a little more than the Tigers’ — but not a lot more. I like the Tigers’ best hitters, Jackson/Cabrera/Fielder, more than I like any three hitters the Giants have to offer. I like the Tigers’ rotation more, but their defense a lot less. I like the Giants’ bullpen more.


In the end, I think one really important thing is to remember the big picture, to look at what these two teams actually are, rather than getting caught up in what they’ve looked like over the past week or two. Remember, Detroit needed some serious effort to get past Oakland; it’s not like the Tigers are a 100-win team that steamrolled through the first two rounds. As I mentioned in my DS previews, I understand the pull of the Tigers — best hitter, best pitcher, impressively top-heavy roster. But I also still have the same concerns about them that I have all along, most notably the bullpen and the defense.


One way this series could look at lot different is if the pitching orders were different, and I do feel the Giants are making a mistake by going with Vogelsong instead of Cain for Games 3 and potentially 7. But I’d also rather have Max Scherzer in those games for the Tigers, so it’s kind of a wash. If either club were exploiting the other in 3/7, it would alter my take. They’re not.


I think the Giants take at least one late-inning win that they shouldn’t get, and I think they get some runs they shouldn’t get on balls the Tigers don’t catch. Justin Verlander is tremendous, and the DET lineup core is very impressive. But I think the Giants are a more complete team. I think we’re coming back here to San Francisco next week, and I think the series ends with home fans celebrating.


Without a whole lot of conviction, Giants in 7.



LCS predictions and DS prediction wrapups

I went 2-for-4 in the Division Series, was one out away from going 3-for-4, and I’d argue one out plus one Johnny Cueto injury away from 4-for-4. I’ll take that.

The series I read best was DET-OAK. The A’s did in fact “win at least one game in the late innings,”  but ultimately a very closely matched series came down to two Justin Verlander starts.

I was close-ish on NYY-BAL, in that I figured ultimately the Orioles bullpen would show some cracks. I didn’t figure how well the O’s starters would pitch, though. A cap tip to them; terrific series.

I’d pick SF-CIN the same way again. The Cueto injury was just such an enormous factor. It affected pretty much every starting pitching matchup in the series, not to mention the effect on the Reds bullpen. The Giants lineup really is better than it gets credit for, and the Reds lineup isn’t as good as its perception, but I honestly think that series never gets to a fifth game if Cueto doesn’t get hurt.

And, if you read the predictions, you know that even though I picked the Nationals, I did it with extreme reluctance. The key point from my Cardinals take on that series was that because of their lineup depth, they’re just extremely hard to kill and extremely tough on left-handed pitching. That’s what they showed, yet again, last night.


Before the picks, a reminder: anything can happen in a short series. Anything. The goal is to get the ideas right, because even if you get the ideas right, you’re STILL going to get the results wrong a pretty good percentage of the time. Anyone who claims to know with any certainty what’s going to happen in a best-of-seven between two good teams is a liar, a fool, or both.

On with the picks…


Tigers vs. Yankees: I don’t want to make too much of it, because as TLR always said, you go where the schedule takes you. But the one-day difference in the two teams’ schedules could be an absolutely huge factor in this series. Because of the off day between Detroit’s Division Series and the start of the ALCS, Justin Verlander can go on regular rest in Game 3, and then in regular rest in Game 7. Because the Yankees did not have an off day, they would have to pitch CC Sabathia on short rest in order to pitch him in Game 3. Given how hard he worked in Game 5 of the ALDS, I find it extremely unlikely he pitches in that game. So if he were to go in Game 7, it would then be on short rest.

All of which is to say, I think if the two aces were on equal footing, this series would look different. But they’re not, and that complicates things.

Still… I like the Yankees bullpen more than the Tigers bullpen. The Yankees are a better defensive team, though neither of these clubs is exemplary at catching the ball. And the Yankees lineup, well, it ought to be better than Detroit’s. OK, it is better. When you lead the league in runs, you’ve got a good lineup. It just didn’t look that way against the Orioles. And one other little thing: it doesn’t ALL work out perfectly for the Tigers, because they’ll only get to use Max Scherzer once in this series.

Overall, I think the Yankees have enough edge in the late innings and enough edge on offense to outweigh a non-optimized series of starting pitching matchups.

Yankees in 6.


Cardinals vs. Giants: There are things you know to be true, but you still have to see, again and again, to really have them drilled into your head. We all know that having a good, deep lineup is a serious asset. But when people do postseason analysis, so often it turns to pitching. The Cardinals have proved over the past two seasons that bashing your opponents into submission is every bit as good a way to win games as holding them down.

I still have some of the same questions about the Cardinals that I did before the Division Series: Adam Wainwright obviously did not look good last night, and while he could be great, he’s not a certainty. Chris Carpenter looks more and more like you can believe in him, which is enormous, and besides there’s no guarantee that Wainwright gets two starts even if the series goes seven.

It sounds like Tim Lincecum will be moving into the Giants rotation, which benefits them for two reasons. One, he’s better than Barry Zito, and two, you’d rather have a RHP than a LHP against the Cardinals if you have the choice. Meanwhile, the Giants are not especially well poised to exposed the Cards’ lack of left-handed relief.

This is, I think, a really close series. The rotations are close. The bullpens, as currently constructed, are close. The Giants are better defensively, but not by an enormous amount. The Cardinals have a better lineup, but not by an enormous amount — the Giants led the NL in OPS on the road this year. The ballpark hides how good an offensive team they are.

I think the deciding factor, ultimately, is lineup depth. The Cardinals have more ways to hurt you. I expect this to be a close series, but I think we’re going to see a repeat pennant winner in the NL.

Cardinals in 6.

(And btw, any angry Giants fans who want to scream “bias,” I picked the Cards to lose in the Wild Card round, to lose in the DS, and I picked them to finish third in the division. So, no.)


Division Series predictions

Well, I’m 0-for-2 so far, but that’s part of the point I tried to make yesterday. You can get the fundamentals right, or get some parts of your analysis right, and get the game or the series wrong. We’re dealing in probabilities, not certainties.

In short, point 1 from yesterday still stands: anyone who claims to know what will happen with any certainty in a short stretch of baseball games is a liar, a fool, or both. With that said, it’s still a fun exercise to take a shot at this stuff, so let’s give it a whirl.

This is the series I’ll be covering. I’m fully aware that these two teams played 18 times, split those games, and were separated by all of two runs, total, in their head-to-head matchups. I still think this is a bad draw for the O’s.

The Yankees will have the starting pitching advantage in at least three out of five games and almost certainly more than that. Their offense has even more power than the O’s offense, and they’re much better at getting on base. I do think Baltimore has the edge in the dugout, though for my money Joe Girardi is more adept tactically than he gets credit for.

I think this series will come down to this: Baltimore’s starters will be out of games early, and their relievers will only be able to hold off that deep Yankee lineup for so long. At some point, they’ll start to show some cracks. I think the Yankees win this series in the sixth and seventh innings.

Yankees in 4.
The A’s are really good, you guys. I sort of feel like this may have been lost in the presentation of them as a heartwarming story. They do a lot of things well, and unlike the Orioles, there’s really no disconnect between their record and their runs scored and allowed.

Oakland had the fifth-best run differential in the Majors this year, and third-best in the AL. I suspect you could win a few bets with that one, assuming you hang around with the kind of people who care enough about run differential to base a bar bet on it (I do, by the way).

And yet… I understand why the Tigers are such a popular pick not only to win this series but the next round and even the round after that. When you have at least arguably the best pitcher in the game, and a three-man lineup core that matches up with anybody anywhere, there’s a temptation to think that will win out in a short series. And it might.

The Tigers’ relative deficiencies in the bullpen and on defense are big worries, though. I think the A’s are less likely to beat themselves, and more likely to win at least one game in the late innings. I won’t be the slightest bit surprised if the A’s win this series, and in fact my second-likeliest scenario is A’s in 4. But the Verlander factor, two starts in five games, is more than I can get past. I can’t in good conscience pick the A’s in four if I don’t think they’d also win if it went five, and I don’t.

Tigers in 5. Or A’s in 4. Or A’s in 5. But officially, for real, Tigers in 5.
I’m on record, repeatedly, as thinking that Washington is the most complete team in the NL, and the best-equipped for October success. Power at the front of the rotation, power at the back of the bullpen, a deep lineup that can hit the ball out, an exceptional tactical manager. If you were drawing up a team to win playoff games, it’d look a lot like this one (well, except that you’d give them Stephen Strasburg).

Meanwhile, the Cardinals have some very real worries: questions in the middle infield, uncertainty surrounding their nominal co-aces, issues with left-handed relief, plenty of health problems, and a manager who is still learning in-game management.

But much like the Tigers, there’s a powerful gut-level draw to the Cardinals. They’re hard to kill. We’ve seen that again and again. They can put up a five-spot quicker than any team in the National League. Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter could fizzle, but they could also put up a month of pitching to rival any top-two in either league.

And then there’s this: If the series goes five games, Washington will start a left-hander in at least three of those games, and maybe four. Those lefties are very good, but relying on lefties to beat a lineup core of Holliday-Craig-Molina-Freese is awfully risky (h/t to Joe Sheehan for making that point to me recently).

The Nationals have more ways to win this series, and fewer weakneses, so I’m picking them by a hair. But the Cardinals have a couple of very good ways to win it too — hitting a lot of home runs, or getting three elite-level starts from two pitchers who have very recently been aces. This is probably the most intriguing series of the four to me.

Nationals in 5.
I don’t think there’s any team that needs a good start to its series as urgently as the Giants do. They’ll trot out Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner at home in the first two games, at their decidedly hostile-to-visitors home ballpark. They need those wins badly, because even a split heading back to Cincinnati puts them in a deep hole.

They appear likely to go with Tim Lincecum, he of the 6.43 road ERA, in Game 3 at Great American Ball Park. After that, it would either be Ryan Vogelsong and his significant home-road split, or Barry Zito against a team that hits left-handers very hard. The Reds will have a significant starting pitching advantage in Games 3 and 4, with surging Mat Latos and Homer Bailey pitching those games.

Cincinnati has the better bullpen, the Giants the better tactical manager. The Giants’ lineup is better than it appears, and the Reds’ lineup may not be as good as it appears, in both cases due to park factors. But the respective rotations, and the structure of the series, tilt it toward the Reds for me.

The Giants can win this series, if Cain and Bumgarner come up big, give them a 2-0 lead heading back to Cincinnati, and they can steal one of the final three. But I don’t like their chances.

Reds in 4.


Now, the only thing sillier than picking playoff series you know will happen is picking ones you DON’T know will happen, but just for the heck of it, let’s get this on record too. I’ve thought for a while that the Nationals and Yankees were the teams best set up for October in their respective leagues, so I’ll stick to that for now — with the right to change my mind when I take the time to actually analyze the matchups that actually come to fruition — and say New York over Washington in an Amtrak World Series.
-M, listening to Japandroids on the way to Baltimore.


Point 1:

Anyone who claims to know with any certainty what will happen in a single baseball game is a fool, a liar, or both.

Point 2:

Always remember point 1.

Point 3:

We can still estimate what’s most likely to happen. So I’ll give it a shot. Division Series (and beyond) previews coming tomorrow.

Point 4:

In the early game, I’ve got the Braves, but not with a lot of confidence. I think if it comes down to one thing, it comes down to Atlanta’s left-handed hitters in the middle to late innings, where the Cards are short on ways to counter left-handed hitters. I’d feel a lot better about the Cardinals’ chances in this game if they had one more quality lefty reliever.

Point 5:

In the late game, I’ve got the Rangers for the simplest possible reason: starting pitching. If this turns into a bullpen game, or if the O’s can get an early lead, they’ll have a very real shot. But it’s hard for me to shake the idea that it’s going to be 5-1 Rangers or so by the fourth or fifth inning.

Point 6:

Above all else, remember point 1. I will not be shocked if the Cardinals and Orioles each win by 6 runs.

Happy playoffs, y’all.


Well, I guess we can close the file on that one

In the interest of accountability, and laughing at myself, I wanted to take a look at my preseason predictions. I feel like I did OK but not great. Click here for the original post.


Things I got right:

* “I think the Yankees are the best team in baseball.” OK, they only had the third-best record, but they had the second-best run differential in the Majors (by one run behind Washington) and they had the best record in the tougher league.


* AL Central, five-for-five. I liked the White Sox because of their starting pitching and power, but not quite enough to knock off the Tigers. That’s a win.


* Angels to miss the playoffs. I didn’t think they were terrible, but I wasn’t on board with the hype for them as the best team in the AL, or the favorite to win the World Series — and there was a lot of that.


* “The Braves are… the most consistently underrated team coming into this season.” Most projections that I saw had the Braves AND Red Sox as being crippled by their collapses, and doomed to additional failure this year. I was half right. The Braves were what I thought they were: an all-around good team, strong in pretty much all facets.


Things I got wrong:

* “I think the Red Sox are really underrated this year.” Ouch. Talk all you want about Bobby Valentine, but the biggest culprit here was the same thing it was down the stretch last year: starting pitching. I thought it would be very good. It was terrible.


* Marlins third in NLE, Nationals fourth. Ouch again. What’s worst about this is the reason I had them like this. I thought the Marlins would hit, and instead, one Miami hitter after another just cratered. Massively disappointing season for so many of their bats. I thought the Nationals, meanwhile, wouldn’t hit enough to contend, no matter how well they pitched. And, well, they finished fifth in the league in runs scored.


* Brewers to finish second. OK, by the end of the year, I wasn’t so far off on this one, but my reasoning was still wrong. They hit really well and didn’t pitch nearly as well as I thought they would. I had the Cardinals to finish third, but the reasoning there was dead-on: there was a TON that could go wrong, and much of it did. It’s a tribute to them that they still took a playoff spot.


* Orioles and A’s in last place. *sigh* Not only not to win, not to contend, but last place for both of them. I started seeing things I liked in the Orioles pretty early in the year, but still. Huge misses on both. Not that I was alone, of course.



AL seeding and tiebreaks

Under the new playoff system, more ties are broken by actually playing an extra game than in past years. This has led to all sorts of entertaining potential scenarios being constructed, though it’s now looking exceedingly unlikely that any of them will actually play out this year.


But there are still some tiebreakers that are broken without playing an extra game. If the two Wild Card teams finish with the same record, then obviously they don’t play a game to determine where they’ll play their next game. And a tie between two division champions, when there’s not also a concurrent tie between those teams and a Wild Card team or a team not otherwise in the playoffs, is also broken without playing an extra game.


Such a scenario is at least possible, if not quite likely, in the American League. The Rangers, A’s, Yankees and Orioles are all separated by a grand total of one game, so it seems like there’s a pretty good chance that the AL West champ and AL East champ will have the same record. In that case, a tiebreaker would apply in order to determine two things: which team plays the Wild Card winner and which plays the AL Central champ, and which team would have home-field advantage over the other in a potential ALCS matchup.


So, here they are. If this has already been broken down somewhere else, I apologize, but I haven’t seen it. There’s a pretty healthy amount of baseball coverage out there right now.


The first tiebreak, as you would probably expect, is head-to-head record. This is sufficient in three of the four matchups.


Yankees-Rangers tie: Yankees would play Wild Card and would have ALCS home field, due to 4-3 head-to-head record vs TEX
Orioles-Rangers tie: Rangers would play Wild Card and would have ALCS home field, due to 5-2 head-to-head record vs BAL
Orioles-A’s tie: A’s would play Wild Card and would have ALCS home field, due to 5-4 head-to-head record vs BAL


That leaves one other possibility:

Yankees-A’s tie: A’s would play Wild Card and would have ALCS home field, due to SECOND tiebreaker, which is record within own division. Head-to-head record was 5-5.


-M, with Patterson Hood’s amazing new record playing in the earphones right now. Go get it, it’s that good.

Just for fun

So, with six days left in the regular season, we know basically nothing about how the matchups are going to look. Without even getting into one-game playoffs, every single one of these matchups is still in play for when the Division Series start next week.

Rangers vs Orioles
Rangers vs A’s
Rangers vs Rays
Rangers vs Angels
Rangers vs Tigers
Rangers vs White Sox
Rangers vs Yankees
Yankees vs Orioles
Yankees vs A’s
Yankees vs Rays
Yankees vs Angels
Yankees vs Tigers
Yankees vs White Sox
Orioles vs A’s
Orioles vs Angels
Orioles vs Tigers
Orioles vs White Sox
Orioles vs Rays
Rays vs A’s
Rays vs Angels
Rays vs Tigers
Rays vs White Sox
A’s vs Tigers
A’s vs White Sox
A’s vs Angels
Angels vs Tigers
Angels vs White Sox

Nationals vs Braves
Nationals vs Cardinals
Nationals vs Dodgers
Nationals vs Brewers
Nationals vs Phillies
Nationals vs Diamondbacks
Nationals vs Reds
Nationals vs Giants
Braves vs Cardinals
Braves vs Dodgers
Braves vs Brewers
Braves vs Phillies
Braves vs Diamondbacks
Braves vs Reds
Braves vs Giants
Reds vs Cardinals
Reds vs Dodgers
Reds vs Brewers
Reds vs Phillies
Reds vs Diamondbacks
Reds vs Giants
Giants vs Cardinals
Giants vs Dodgers
Giants vs Brewers
Giants vs Phillies
Giants vs Diamondbacks


That’s 53 different matchups, by my count. It’s POSSIBLE that there are combinations of wins and losses that would prevent one or two of these from happening. I’m just going off the standings, figuring who can finish in each position that way, so it’s possible that one team winning out to get into a certain spot would require another team to have enough losses to fall out of another spot. But that shouldn’t affect more than 1 or 2 potential matchups, if that many.




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