Posted on: October 9, 2008 6:08 am

NLCS Preview - Dodgers/Phillies

What the Dodgers need to do in order to advance to the World Series.

The Phillies have two pitchers in the top 30 in the majors in K/9. Both Hamels and Myers average almost 8 strikeouts per nine innings. Jamie Moyer averages 5.64 K/9. Blanton averages a shade over 5. If the Dodgers are going to beat the Phillies, they are going to have to overcome Philly’s pitching, which has miraculously morphed from a weakenss to a strength seemingly overnight. Specifically, they’ll have to:

  1. Hit home runs off Brett Myers. During the first half of the season, Myers gave up 24 homers in 101 innings. After a brief minor league tour he returned and only gave up five home runs in 88 innings. Myers’ second half resurrection had everything to do with his ability to keep the ball in the park. The Dodgers need to swing for the fences.
  2. Make the Phils’ starters throw pitches. That’s how the Brewers beat Jamie Moyer in Game 3. I’m not sure if playoff strike zones are smaller, but it sure seemed that way to Moyer on Saturday. If the Dodgers can get to the Philadelphia bullpen early, they’re golden. The Phils’ bullpen was solid all season, but showed signs of fatigue down the stretch. Chad Durbin and Brad Lidge are running on fumes. Lidge, in particular, is building towards his own Mitch Williams moment.
  3. Don’t pitch to Utley. He’s so due.
  4. Start Clayton Kershaw. He’d be murder on the Phils’ lefty bats.
  5. Don’t play Juan Pierre. Ever. Not even a little.

What the Phillies need to do in order to advance to the World Series.

This should be a tough series for the Phillies.  While the Phillies have a better offense on paper, the Dodgers have good starters, a good bullpen, and play solid defense, being much better than the Brewers in all of those categories.

People are saying that the Phillies should not be afraid of Manny Ramirez, and I agree.  Although Manny has been a monster with the Dodgers these past two months, the Phillies have actually managed to contain him this year, holding him to a .212 average with a .333 slugging percentage and two extra-base hits and five RBIs in 10 games against them this season. The Phillies say they have a game plan for Manny, and they should stick to it, even if Manny gets a big hit early in the series. Because the Dodgers have enough good hitters to make you pay if you pitch around Manny too much - guys like Ethier, Martin, and James Loney.

Actually the Phillies would be well-advised to pound the strike zone in general against the Dodgers.  With the glaring exception of Matt Kemp, who set a Dodgers team record for strikeouts this year, the Dodgers lineup is surprisingly full of patient hitters who are willing to take a walk rather than get themselves out.  In addition to Manny, Rafael Furcal, Russell Martin, Andre Ethier, and Blake DeWitt all have above average command of the strike zone, as they showed in burying Ryan Dempster with 7 walks in game one of the NLDS, so the Phillies should avoid pitching too fine against these guys (Although by all means, extend the strike zone against Matt Kemp).

Finally, the Phillies need to play with confidence that they are the better team.  The Dodgers’ top three starters are all groundball pitchers, which seems like a good combo to limit the home run power of the Phillies lineup, so it may be tempting for to try to mix it up and go with some small ball and try to “make things happen” to get something going against worm killers Lowe, Billingsley, and Kuroda, but this would be a mistake.  As hot as the Dodgers have been since Manny arrived, going 30-25 since the trade, the Phillies were much better, going 34-21 against better competition.  The Dodgers searched all year for a power bat until they finally found Manny, who hit 17 homers for them down the stretch, but the Phillies have Ryan Howard, who hit 18 homers in that same span, not to mention Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, and Jayson Werth. The Dodgers may have a slight edge in starting pitching, but the Phillies would seem to have a huge edge in power hitting, which should give their pitchers some room for maneuver.  The secret to the Phillies beating the Dodgers is recognizing that their is no secret and sticking to their game. Trickery is for teams that are not as good and need to find an edge.  The Phillies are the better team, so they should stay within themselves and make the Dodgers adjust to them.

Category: MLB
Posted on: July 7, 2008 8:52 pm

First Half Review

AL East: Are the Rays for Real?

A year ago, Boston, Detroit, and Los Angeles were leading their divisions while Cleveland had the best record among the rest. The Red Sox and the Angels went on to win division titles, the Indians blew past the Tigers in the second half to capture the Central, and New York went to the whip and earned the wild card spot. Boston had the best record in baseball at the All-Star break and won the 2007 World Series by beating the Angels, Indians, and the Colorado Rockies in the postseason.

Tampa Bay owns the best win-loss mark this season. Can the Rays pull a repeat of what the Red Sox accomplished in 2007? By winning seven in a row and 11 of 12, the upstart Rays have now opened up a five-game lead in the East and are now the hottest – if not the best – team in baseball. A 200:1 shot to win it all before the season began, Tampa Bay's odds have dropped to about 11:1 behind only the Red Sox, Cubs and Angels.

In just one year, the Rays have gone from worst to first in the AL. Get this, Tampa Bay's run differential has improved by almost 200 runs or nearly 2.5 per game. It's taken time – a long time – to build this franchise but the average age of the major league team, the strength of the minor league system, and lots of flexibility in payroll suggest the turnaround is for real.

Spring Training picks: 1.Red Sox 2.Yankees 3.Blue Jays 4.Rays 5. Orioles

Current Standing: 1.Rays 2.Red Sox 3.Yankees 4. Orioles 5. Blue Jays

AL Central: Surprise, Surprise 

The two Chicago teams are leading their leagues in run differentials. A Windy City World Series may not be what 28 other cities would like to see but would be pretty good for baseball (or so says this lifelong New Yorker). I'm not as surprised by the Cubs as I am by the White Sox I figured them for third in the AL Central. But what do I know? I didn't see it in 2005 either.

Minnesota caught me off guard as well. I picked them for fourth. With a five-game winning streak and an overall record of 50-38, the Twins are only one back of the White Sox. In what appeared to be a rebuilding year, Minnesota finds itself in the thick of things after the July 4th weekend. To think that the Twins would be contending without Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano means the pitching staff is performing at or better than most expectations.

Cleveland has lost eight games in a row and management appears to have called it a season with the reported trade of C.C. Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers for 2007 first rounder Matt LaPorta, a former college home run champ at Florida, and three other minor league prospects. The Tribe's run differential is only minus six but when you are behind the Kansas City Royals in the standings and 14 games back of the division leader, it's time to reassess your club's chances. It's hard to fault Cleveland for trading Sabathia, who turned down a four-year, $72 million contract during the spring. Good luck to Milwaukee and/or the team that gives C.C. a five-year, $100 million deal.

Spring Training picks: 1.Indians 2.Tigers 3.White Sox 4.Twins 5. Royals

Current Standing: 1.White Sox 2.Twins 3.Tigers 4. Royals 5. Indians

AL West: Same Old

Six games in front of Oakland, the Angels have the biggest lead of any division leader and probably the clearest path to the postseason. However, the Halos may not be as good as their record indicates. The team has won six more games than what would be expected based on their runs scored and allowed. The pitching has been superb, while the hitting has been mediocre at best.

The A's have allowed the fewest runs (324) and the Texas Rangers have scored the most runs (511) in baseball. Each club benefits from favorable park environments but their success goes beyond that. Both teams are playing .500 on the road. Only the Angels and Yankees sport better than .500 records away from home.

Spring Training picks: 1.Angels 2.Mariners 3.Athletics 4.Rangers

Current Standing: 1.Angels 2.Athletics 3.Rangers 4. Mariners

NL East: Philly's Stake Looks Promising

Playing in a hitter's ballpark and Brett Myers having pitched his way to the minor leagues, who would have thought the Phillies would be third in the NL in runs allowed? And Cole Hamels didn't make the All-Star team? Philadelphia is one of two teams (the other being STL) in the league with a winning record on the road.

Florida has been an even bigger surprise than Tampa Bay, at least to me. The Marlins have been hanging tough all year and are in second place and only 2.5 games back of the Phillies. In a year in which Chipper Jones, Lance Berkman, and Chase Utley have gotten most of the press, Hanley Ramirez is doing his best to win his first Most Valuable Player award.

Spring Training picks: 1.Mets 2.Phillies 3.Braves 4.Nationals 5. Marlins

Current Standing: 1.Phillies 2.Marlins 3.Mets 4. Braves 5.Nationals

NL Central: Three Team Race

Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Louis own the three best records in the NL. That said, only two of these teams, at most, will reach the postseason. All three clubs have positive run differentials with the Cubs ranking first in the league in runs scored and fourth in runs allowed.

Cincinnati has won four in a row and would like to nothing better than to work its way into this race. Whether the Reds are buyers or sellers at the trade deadline will most likely determine their fate.

Spring Training picks: 1.Brewers 2.Cubs 3.Reds 4.Astros 5. Cardinals 6.Pirates

Current Standing: 1.Cubs 2.Brewers 3.Cardinals 4. Reds 5.Astros 6.Pirates

NL West: Wide Open

Just as it looked as if this division was looking like a powerhouse, all five teams out west have records under .500 and rank among the bottom ten in the majors in ESPN power index.

Arizona and Los Angeles, the first and second place teams, both have scored more runs than allowed. The Dodgers, in fact, have given up fewer runs than any defense in the NL. The problem is that LA ranks third-to-last in runs scored. Injuries have been a factor for sure but Rafael Furcal may not be back this season and Andruw Jones does not look like the $18 million man.

The Diamondbacks, all the rage in April, are 24-37 since the first month of the season. The good news for Arizona fans is that the D-Backs still sit atop the NL West. The bad news is that the club ranks 23rd in the Power Index. Nonetheless, one of these teams in the West will find itself playing in October and, remember, the Rockies were in fourth and clinging to a .500 record a year ago – so there is hope.

Spring Training picks: 1.Dodgers 2.Daimondbacks 3.Rockies 4.Padres 5. Giants

Current Standing: 1.Daimondbacks 2.Dodgers 3.Giants 4. Rockies 5.Padres

Posted on: June 1, 2008 3:45 am

A History Lesson and a Baseball Death

Ever pine for the days of yore, when contract deals were made with a handshake? Lifelong baseball man Emil Joseph "Buzzie" Bavasi (father of current Mariners GM  Bill Bavasi )  passed away a few weeks ago (May 1, 2008), and he left behind a long and storied legacy. Perhaps his most famous moment was dealing with one of the first instances of concerted collective bargaining in baseball: the Koufax/Drysdale holdout of 1966.

Back then, you see, the reserve clause was still in effect, meaning players were under team control more or less in perpetuity. (It wouldn’t be until 1975, with the watershed Seitz decision, that free agency would become a possibility.) Hall of Fame pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Drydale had other ideas, however. They decided, just after the 1965 season, that they could have some actual leverage if they made a pact: either both of them were satisfied by the terms of the contract, or neither of them would sign. This leverage wasn’t just imaginary.

In a piece written at the beginning of the 1967 season in Sports Illustrated Buzzie Bavasi details exactly what happened between the Dodgers and their two star pitchers. Be sure to check out the entire piece. It makes for some great reading.

I want to draw your attention to a few specifics, though. Of the barrel Koufax and Drysdale had him over, Bavasi notes:  "To tell the truth, I wasn’t too successful in the famous Koufax-Drysdale double holdout in 1966. I mean, when the smoke had cleared they stood together on the battlefield with $235,000 between them, and I stood there With a blood-stained cashbox. Well, they had a gimmick and it worked; I’m not denying it. They said that one wouldn’t sign unless the other signed. Since one of the two was the greatest pitcher I’ve ever seen (and possibly the greatest anybody has ever seen), the gimmick worked. But be sure to stick around for the fun the next time somebody tries that gimmick. I don’t care if the whole infield comes in as a package; the next year the whole infield will be wondering what it is doing playing for the Nankai Hawks"

Now, in fairness to Mr. Drysdale, he was no slouch on the mound, however, in Bavasi’s eyes, it was Sandy Koufax he couldn’t afford to lose. In retrospect, he was absolutely right, at least for 1966. That season, which would prove to be Koufax’s last, was a spectacular one (323 IP, 241 H, 317 K, 77 BB, 1.73 ERA, 27-9 record). At the end of the ‘66 season, Koufax would win the Cy Young for the second straight year, but narrowly lose the MVP to Roberto Clemente, despite receiving more first place votes (9-8). Drysdale, on the other hand, actually had an ERA worse than league average that year (for just the second time in his career), though he was coming off a season in 1965 when he had finished fifth overall in the Cy Young voting (which Koufax had won).

What is most striking to me about this trip down memory lane is Bavasi’s reaction to long-term deals. When asked by Drysdale and Koufax for a combined $1 million for three years, Bavasi scoffed:  "As I recall, I said something like, “You’re both athletes, and what you’re selling is your physical ability, and how can you guarantee your physical ability three years in advance? If you guarantee me that you will both be healthy and strong and still winning 20 games each in 1968, I’ll give you a three-year contract.” Since not even Cassius Clay could make a guarantee like that, the meeting broke up."

Wise words. Either things have changed a great deal in baseball since 1966, or sometimes the apple really does fall far the tree. Some bits of baseball wisdom just don’t travel well down through the years, I guess.

Category: MLB
Posted on: May 20, 2008 7:21 pm
Edited on: May 20, 2008 7:54 pm

#31 Mike Piazza Retires.

I’m not exactly sure what is appropriate to say in this instance. Here, we have indisputably the greatest hitter to have ever worn a New York Mets uniform, arguably the greatest hitting catcher of all-time, and a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer.

On the other, we have a guy whose body broke down and who, to the best of my knowledge, couldn’t get an offer to play one more year, which bothered me for some bizarre reason. I have a tendency to write about a lot of stats on this site - mostly because it’s a way for me to see things as plainly as possible and without sentimentality.

But being a fan is all about sentiment. And I was a Mike Piazza fan.

I remember when I first found out that Piazza was coming to New York. To fully understand what this meant at that moment, consider that the Mets began that year (1998) with a “heart-of-the-order” consisting of Bernard Gilkey, John Olerud, Carlos Baerga, and Butch Huskey. Not exactly Murderer’s Row. And now, Mike Piazza was going to take over behind the plate from Alberto Castillo. It’s a big difference.

For the next few seasons, there was very little doubt who the most valuable player on the roster was. Piazza was that guy. He was the one we knew would represent us well in the All-Star Games. Even in those years where the team was horrendous, he was a point of pride.

In the fifth and deciding game of the 2000 World Series, Mike came up to bat with two outs in the bottom of ninth, down 4-2, facing Mariano Rivera with a runner on third. Piazza was the tying run. Then he swung. And my initial reaction to seeing Piazza connect on that pitch was one of celebration. It just looked like a rocket coming off his bat. Of course, this was my mind playing tricks on me. It turned out to be a flyball that Bernie Williams caught with plenty of room to spare. It was hard to believe that Piazza couldn’t come through in a spot like that.

But that’s the role that Mike Piazza played for the Mets in those years. He never was a much of a “clubhouse guy”. He was a pretty dull quote. But those Mets were his team. And it’s a bit odd for me to reminisce like this, seeing as it really wasn’t that long ago. But as his injuries piled up starting in 2003, we saw Mike less and less.  And despite the fact that he was still on the roster until 2006, the dominant catcher was gone after the 2002 season. By the time he became a Padre, he was a league-average catcher who could no longer move behind the plate. And it really did bother me a bit seeing his name on the free agent list this year as the season began.

So I guess I’m glad that Mike has made this decision. Now, the only thing left for me to do at this moment is to have an argument with Dodger fans about whether or not Piazza’s going to Cooperstown wearing a Mets hat or a Dodgers hat.

He finished with a .308 career average, 427 home runs and 1,335 RBI for the Dodgers (1992-98), Florida (1998), New York Mets (1998-05), San Diego (2006) and Oakland (2007). His 396 homers are easily the most as a catcher, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Carlton Fisk is second with 351, followed by Johnny Bench (327) and Yogi Berra (306).

From Mike Piazza's statement:

"Last but certainly not least, I can’t say goodbye without thanking the fans. I can’t recall a time in my career where I didn’t feel embraced by all of you. Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland and Miami - whether it was at home or on the road, you were all so supportive over the years. But I have to say that my time with the Mets wouldn’t have been the same without the greatest fans in the world. One of the hardest moments of my career, was walking off the field at Shea Stadium and saying goodbye. My relationship with you made my time in New York the happiest of my career and for that, I will always be grateful." Mike Piazza through his agent Dan Lozano

Category: MLB
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com