Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Giant accomplishment

Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner
celebrate the final out Wednesday night.
Nicely done, Madison Bumgarner. Nicely done, San Francisco Giants.

This makes three World Series titles for the Jints in five seasons, and while I don't think they're a great team, they've had a knack for finding the right people for the right roles in October in even-numbered years.

This year it was Bumgarner, the lefty slinger who stopped the Royals pretty much dead in two starts, then gave manager Bruce Bochy five shutout innings of relief in Game Seven.

We can wonder why Kansas City skipper Ned Yost never let Josh Willingham out of the dugout against Bumgarner -- the purpose of having the Hammer on the roster was to hit lefties, after all. We can wonder what would have happened had Alex Gordon run out of the box on his ninth inning hit that Gregor Blanco and Juan Perez misplayed into three bases. Might he have scored? We can wonder why Yost had Alcides Escobar bunt on an 2-0 count in the fifth inning after Bumgarner opened his outing by allowing a base hit. Giving Bumgarner a free out there certainly didn't hurt him.

We can wonder and what-if, but what happened happened, and what happened was the Giants winning the title.

One aspect of the Giants' staggered string of championships -- 2010, 2012, 2014 -- is how few pieces have been consistent from title to title. Buster Posey behind the plate, certainly. Bumgarner in the rotation -- although in 2010 he was in the back of the rotation and now he's in the front. Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt and Javy Lopez in the bullpen, although the first two have changed roles repeatedly and the latter two are essentially lefty specialists.

The Giants have had three different center fielders for their World Series runs, and three different second basemen. Twice, in fact, the Giants changed second basemen in midseason and went on to win the title. Pablo Sandoval sat for most of the 2010 World Series and hit cleanup in 2014. Tim Lincecum was a rotation mainstay in 2010, a useful reliever in the 2012 postseason, an afterthought this year.

What we have in the Giants, then, is a multiple-time champion that has had to retool on the fly, each champion sharply different than the one that preceded it. This is rare. Baseball history is filled with dynasties (or at least pretenders to such status) that relied on the same core. Few have had to rework the puzzle as completely as these Giants have. Casey Stengel's Yankees, perhaps. It's no small accomplishment.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A different kind of close series

The 2014 postseason, at least up to the World Series, had been marked by extremely close games but one-sided series.

The World Series, on the other hand, has been the opposite. Only one of the first six games have been close (Game Three, won by the Royals 3-2). Yet the series is going to a Game Seven.

Close games, even in a series that ends quickly, are more entertaining than a string of non-competitive ones with alternating victors. But today's winner-take-all finale has a chance to be memorable enough to carry the Series.

---

So what should we expect tonight?

Kansas City will start veteran right-hander Jeremy Guthrie. He's 35 and averages more than 200 innings a year (or has over the past six seasons). That's his strong suit -- he's a durable back-of-the-rotation guy who makes 30-plus starts a year. He's also the least talented of the five Royals starters. (Danny Duffy might be the best starter on the team, but the 25-year-old lefty had a late injury and struggled in September after coming off the DL, and he has been left out of the postseason rotation.)

San Francisco will start veteran right-hander Tim Hudson. He's 39 and has at least a borderline Hall of Fame case. He also hasn't gotten a win since August.

I will be surprised if either starter lasts past the fourth inning. The key, should Hudson in particular falter, is how much the Giants can get out of ace starter Madison Bumgarner in relief on two days rest. The Royals can splutter against lefties, but San Francisco's lefty relievers are not multi-inning guys.

---

Looking at Guthrie's career: He has led the league in losses twice, hits allowed once, home runs allowed once and HBP once. He has never led the league in a good category.

Hudson has also once led the league in HBP. He has also led in wins once, winning percentage once, games started once, shutouts twice and lowest HR per nine innings once. All those positives, however, came at least 10 years ago.

Hudson is a four-time All-Star and has four times gotten Cy Young votes. Guthrie has never gotten any such recognition.

I think they're pretty similar pitchers right now, however. And they'll be on short leashes tonight.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Dear Mr. Buxton: Please stop diving (Updated again)

Byron Buxton on Monday afternoon was named to play in the Arizona Fall League's "Fall Stars" game. On Monday evening he dove for a ball and left with an injury.

The Twitter reports were contradictory and confusing. It was his wrist. No, he dislocated a finger. No, it's a jammed finger. It's his left hand. No, it's his right hand.

It all finally seemed to settle on a jammed middle finger on his right (throwing) hand with X-rays (as of Monday night) to come. Which doesn't sound serious, but still ... (UPDATE: It is dislocated, and it's the left hand. That's as of Tuesday morning in Arizona; by dinnertime, the way this has gone, it may be different. FURTHER UPDATE: I was being sarcastic on that previous sentence; as it turned out, it has changed. "Small fracture," they say.)

Buxton has, in this calendar year, twice injured his left wrist, initially diving for a ball in the outfield and then on a slide while running the bases. He also sustained a significant concussion in an outfield collision, also diving for a ball. All these injuries have limited him to fewer than 200 plate appearances in High A, Double A and the AFL.

It all makes me wish Buxton could commune briefly with the ghost of Earl Weaver, the legendary manager.

Weaver didn't want his fielders diving for balls. His contention: It raises the risk of injury, and if the ball is missed, it worsens the result by taking the fielder out of the play. An outfielder's dive can turn a single into extra bases; an infielder's dive makes him slow in getting into cutoff position or covering a base.

In Buxton's case, fewer dives figures to mean more time on the field.

Monday, October 27, 2014

RIP, Oscar Taveras

Oscar Taveras crosses home plate
after a pinch-hit home run in the
NLCS on Oct. 12.
We'll never know how good he was going to be.

Oscar Taveras, a 22-year-old outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals and long touted as one of the brightest prospects in baseball, died Sunday in an auto accident in his native Dominican Republic. Also dead in the crash was his 18-year-old girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo.

Oscar Taveras was gonna be a star. Everybody believed that. Taveras was Baseball America's No. 3 prospect going into the 2013 season, which was wrecked by an ankle injury that required surgery. He was No. 3 again going into the 2014 season, earned a quick call-up to the majors, struggled, was sent back to Triple A, mashed some more, came back to St. Louis ...

And, basically, never got going. By season's end, manager Mike Matheny was publicly questioning Taveras' work ethic and conditioning. Some observers outside the organization questioned Matheny's patience with the megaprospect. In Matheny's defense, he was in a pennant race, he gave the rookie almost 250 plate appearances, and the rookie didn't hit. Taveras was on the bench for the playoffs. He had three hits in seven pinch-hit appearances in the playoffs, including an important home run, but never got a start.

Still, the Cardinals were penciling Taveras in for the right field job next year. They were counting on him turning into a middle-of-the-order force. And now that won't happen.

"Tomorrow isn't promised to any of us," Kirby Puckett said when he announced his retirement in 1995. Taveras has had his final today, and we all have lost something.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pic of the Week

Pedro Sandoval is silhouetted during
batting practice at the Kansas City ballpark on Monday.

October, and the shadows are impressive.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Joe Maddon and the Twins managerial opening

Who, me? A few days ago, Joe Maddon was saying he
was going to remain with Tampa Bay; now he's fled.
Joe Maddon has built himself a reputation as one of the sharpest managers in baseball in his nine seasons at the helm of the Tampa Bay Rays.

On Friday he made himself a free agent, opting out of his contract with the Rays on the departure of his boss, Andrew Friedman,

Only one other team is without a manager at this point. The Twins.

Maddon's reputation is such that other teams will be willing to create an opening in order to land him. That might be a delicate operation, however, since the ethos of the managerial trade holds that one does not pursue a job someone else holds. The choreography involved in getting Maddon into the dugouts of the Cubs or Dodgers -- to name two teams immediately connected with him -- will be interesting indeed.

This is, no doubt, part of why some clubs (notably the Dodgers, where Friedman is now in charge of baseball operations) have already publicly declared that they won't pursue Maddon. What else are they going to say? Yeah, if we can get him, we'll fire our guy in a heartbeat, but until we do, our guy is still our guy. That might be the honest answer, but it's not one any general manager can give. For one thing, it would kinda dampen the enthusiasm of the incumbent.

Terry Ryan is the one GM without that problem. He indicated Friday that he'll at least gauge Maddon's interest in the Twins job. That, I'm guessing, is where it will end. Not because of money necessarily, but because of the circumstances.

It's worth noting that Maddon is not particularly young -- he's 60, a few years older than Ron Gardenhire and Paul Molitor and 20 years older than Doug Mientkiewicz. One might well doubt his interest in tackling a project as opposed to a ready-to-win club, all the more so since all indications are that Ryan intends to slow-play the arrival of Bryon Buxton and Miguel Sano.

If Maddon wants to play in a sandbox with a flock of young talent, he can probably go to the Cubs (who have a manager in Rick Renteria but no deep commitment to him) and have them in the majors without waiting. If he wants to manage a veteran squad, the Dodgers probably would rather than him than Don Mattingly.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Contemplating Jake Reed

Jake Reed throws to first base as the closer for the
Oregon Ducks.
Back on July 11, I saw something unique: Jake Reed gave up an earned run.

This needs a bit of explanation as well as a disclaimer.

Reed -- no relation to the former Vikings wide receiver of the same name -- is a right-handed relief pitcher in the Twins system, selected and signed as a fifth round pick last June out of the University of Oregon.

He blew through Appy League hitters in four appearances (six innings, one baserunner allowed, eight strikeouts, no runs) and moved up to Cedar Rapids in the low-A Midwest League in time for me to see him work during my early July visit.

On July 11, he was selected to "start" the continuation of a suspended game with the Clinton LumberKings. It was a slightly goofy spectacle; the game had started at Cedar Rapids, so the Kernels were the home team, but the continuation was in Clinton.

Reed went two innings and gave up a run, but the Kernels came back in the bottom of the 11th for two runs and the win. And I wasn't impressed enough to include Reed in any of my posts from that trip.

But that was the only earned run he gave up with the Kernels. And so far he's been unscored upon in the Arizona Fall League as well.

Now, Reed is going to give up runs at some point. Nobody's THAT good, and if he was, he wouldn't have lasted until the fifth round. But he's certainly making a good early impression as one of a raft of impressive bullpen arms in the Twins system..