Late night coast to coast: 19 innings and a rolled ankle

Last night was a marathon of a game in Philadelphia.  It lasted more than 6 hours and included 28 hits on 135 at-bats and 601 pitches thrown by 16 pitchers.  (Including Wilson Valdez, a utility infielder for PHI, who closed the game in the 19th inning and got the win.)  Sheesh!  That’s an interesting game!

What’s more interesting is that 25 of those hits came in the first 10 inning with both bullpens allowing only 3 hits combined for the remaining 9 innings.

The Reds had a chance to do some damage in the 11th when Brandon Phillips was hit by pitch with one out.  Votto then walked, putting 2 on with one out and Rolen at the plate.  Phillips, however, was chatting with the Phillies shortstop as he wandered off the base for his lead, and was easily picked off by Romero as he was not paying much attention.  (He did hold himself accountable for his mistake; he even tweeted his apologies to Reds fans for not having his head in the game and possibly costing them a win.)  The game continued for 8 more innings when the Phillies, out of relievers, moved Wilson Valdez to the mound.  Facing the meat of the Reds order, Valdez needed only 10 pitches to get 3 outs.  Votto flied out to center, Rolen took first after being hit, then Bruce and Fisher both flied out.  With pitches in the upper 80s, Valdez was the first position player to pitch for the Phillies since 2002, and became the first position player in baseball to record a win since 2000.

If you watch the highlights of his outing, you’ll see how confident Valdez is in his pitching abilities.  Once Fisher connected on the ball, Valdez didn’t look up, didn’t even turn to see the catch!  He simply grinned as he trotted off  into the dugout.

Over on the west coast, the Marlins and the Giants were also playing late into the night.  The Giants never had a lead, and after tying the game in the 9th they played on for 3 more innings.  In the 12th, Scott Cousins reached base on a fielder’s choice bunt.  He advanced to 3rd on a single and after a caught fly ball in right field, he tagged up and headed home.  With Buster Posey blocking the plate – Cousins dropped his shoulder and collided into him.  As he toppled over backwards, his ankle rolled, or bent, or mangled….whatever it did it looked nasty.  He was helped off the field and x-rays and an MRI confirmed the teams biggest fear: it’s broken.

His agent is contacting MLB to push for a rule change that would prevent these kinds of collisions.  I don’t think Cousins was in the wrong, based on the current rules, but this kind of injury, or worse – concussions, just don’t seem worth it to me.  Yes it was the go ahead run and yes it helped the team get a win, but do you want to risk your career for one W?  I wonder what Mike Matheny’s answer would be.

At no other base can you stand in the basepath and block the bag, nor can you plow into the fielder attempting to hit him so hard he drops the ball.  You slide – get under the tag, around the tag, past the tag…not through the fielder.  Football players get fined for helmet to helmet collisions, why are baseball players allowed to play so rough?

Other stories worth noting – if Dodgers owner Frank McCourt can’t make payroll for his players next week, MLB will likely take full control of team.  Can you imagine being Matt Kemp or Andre Eithier and going to the bank only to have your MLB paycheck bounce!  YIKES!  Other ownership woes in NY as Fred Wilpon makes negative comments about his players.  Doesn’t he know he’s already in enough hot water?  He’s still looking to sell a good chunk of the team (as a non-controlling partner).  Who’s going to spend that kind of money to own a significant piece of a major league team and have zero say in day-to-day operations?  Idiot.  Which brings me to my last mention – Marty Brenneman.  A Reds broadcaster who felt the need to talk shit about the Cardinals, which was a classless move that only made him look bad.  LaRussa’s response?

“He earned the right to get into the Hall of Fame,” La Russa said. “And now he ought to keep earning that respect instead of abusing it.”

Now that’s a classy response.


I like interleague play

This weekend has been the first round of interleague games this year, with probably the most notable matchup being the return of the Chicago Cubs to Fenway. Regular season games between the two leagues began in 1997 and has drawn it’s share of criticism. I personally like interleague play, but I do agree that it could use a few changes.

The biggest complaints usually involve the Designated Hitter rule. First of all, American League pitchers don’t bat, so many will argue that it’s too risky having them at the plate with little or no experience. No one seems to have a problem with this during the World Series though, and maybe a little mid-season practice is helpful if their team is lucky enough to be playing in late October. Others argue that they simply don’t like seeing AL pitchers fumble at the plate or on the flip side, National League fans dislike the loss of certain strategies with a DH in the game. The only change I’d like to see involving the DH – is switching when it’s used. If the Red Sox come to St. Louis, I’d rather see Big Papi in the game than watch Clay Bucholz attempt to bunt. We miss getting to see some of the biggest hitters in baseball and the AL fans don’t get to see double switches and the occasional pitcher helping their own cause by getting on base. I say use the DH in NL parks, and not in AL parks, for interleague games.

There is also quite an imbalance in scheduling that can stir emotions. Teams play the “cross town” rival (which is usually just the team that is close, geographically) more often than others in the opposite league. For the Mets, this means they play more games against the Yankees than any other opponent in the AL. This affects the difficulty in a teams schedule, as I’m sure they’d prefer to play the Orioles or Mariners, which instead is left to teams like the Nationals and Padres. We play the Royals twice every year, one series in St. Louis and one in KC. Why not only have 1 series with the “cross towners”, and just switch cities every other year?

I love being able to see other teams and other players, but I also get impatient waiting for a certain team to come to town – another area of inconsistency in the scheduling. The Cubs are playing in Fenway this weekend and it’s the first time since the 1918 World Series that they’ve been there. Seems a little odd to me that in 15 years of interleague play this is their first trip to Boston. I used to think that the divisions were paired up; that over the course of 3 years you’d likely play every team in the opposite league. (For example, the NL Central could play the AL West this year, East next year and Central the following year, then back to the West and so on.) I know it can’t be an easy thing to put together a schedule involving 30 teams with so many games and specific matchups, but I’m sure a better balance is possible.

All things considered, I like it. I enjoyed sitting near the 3B dugout for the Rays games in ’08 and thinking “My God! They’re teenagers!” Cardinals fans love going to KC every year for the I-70 series. (To be fair, though, Cardinals fans love going anywhere to see them play!) I’m anxiously awaiting the return of the Rangers, and also the Yankees – who last played here in ’05 when I didn’t have field level tickets (and do now). On a shelf in my basement sits a ball that was tossed to me by Dallas Braden just weeks after throwing a perfect game for Oakland, and World Series rematches are always good fun the following year.

So while I’d like to see some adjustments made, all things considered, I hope interleague play is here to stay.

Let’s all do a rain dance for squeeze week

This week in baseball all 30 teams play on all 7 days, Mon – Sun, a scheduling oddity known as squeeze week.  There are no scheduled off days for any team in either the American or National Leagues.  Honestly, it means nothing to most people.  Fantasy team owners will be happy to know they won’t have any days with empty roster spots, and die hard fans will be thrilled to be able to watch their team every night.  Other than that, it’s meaningless.

It is, however, happening at terrible time, a time when the weather is not cooperating.  This year has been dubbed the year of the pitcher, but it’s also been very much the year of the rain out.  Weather related issues have forced many games to be postponed – 26 so far – and it doesn’t look like it’s going to change any time soon.  Horrible storms and possibly tornadoes are expected to hammer much of the midwest today and tomorrow – reaching as far east as Pennsylvania and as far south as Texas.  Being squeeze week, every team can potentially be affected by this, and with no days off there are less opportunities to make up games before get-away-day.

Rain outs are normal and every year there are plenty, but this season seems to be drowning in them.  So far we’ve had 26, and it’s only the middle of May!  Many of these games have already been replayed, but some teams have double headers scheduled in July and August or have lost a scheduled day off for make up games.  The real problem that we’re facing here is that come September some teams could be forced to bring up a guy from Triple A to pitch in a double header during a pennant race!  How much would that suck?

Total number of rain outs per year:
2007          39
2008          40
2009          37
2010          21
2011*        26
*Through Sunday, May 15

If this doesn’t stop, we may have the first ever Thanksgiving World Series due to a months worth of make up games.  So, I propose a league wide rain dance to chase away these storms so our boys can roll up the tarps and get back to playing ball.

Who blew the save?

Ok guys – this is a topic I was thinking about discussing anyway, and today’s Cardinals game gave me the perfect opportunity: Let’s talk about blown saves.

For those of you who didn’t see the game, let me give you the cliffs notes version.  Garcia started the game and carried a 4 run lead into the bottom of the 5th, where he gave up 3 runs.  With a score of 4-3, Motte entered the game in the 7th with a runner on second.  Thanks to a fielding error by Pujols, the runner scored and the inning continued with yet another run for Atlanta.  The Cards entered the 8th down by 1 run and promptly tied it up, and LaRussa brought in Franklin.  He pitched a perfect 8th, then Theriot made an error in the 9th that put a runner on base.  That runner soon-thereafter scored, winning the game for Atlanta.

Cardinals fans everywhere are crucifying Franklin for blowing yet another save.  Which is interesting since Motte was the one who blew the save.  Motte came into the game with a lead and allowed the opposing team to overtake us.  Franklin came into a tie game and allowed the winning run to score – a loss yes, but not a blown save.

Today’s game raised a few questions in my mind as to how some of these stats are decided.  First let me say that “Blown Save” is a stat that MLB does not recognize.  You’ll never see it listed on a players stats page.  Oddly enough – if you go to the box score on the teams official site (run by MLB) it does list which pitcher was charged with the blown save by noting “A. Player, (BS, 1)” exactly as wins and loses are noted, “A. Player (W, 3-1)”  Regardless of this contradiction, because it is not an official stat, the rules used to interpret a blown save aren’t always concrete.  Here are some interesting facts to consider:

  • The official scorer can assign a blown save to any pitcher who came in in a save situation, and allows the opposing team to take the lead, no matter what inning, even if his team then goes on to win several innings later.  It happened to Mets reliever Tim Byrdak last night, who threw a total of TWO pitches in the entire 14 inning game. 
  • As we saw in today’s Cards game, a pitcher is given a blown save even if the winning run scores due to a fielding error.  So another player F’s up and the pitcher gets screwed.  (It’s still recorded as an unearned run and therefore does not affect a pitcher’s ERA, you know, because it makes sense to say the run wasn’t his fault, but losing the game clearly was.)
  • Because of the definition of a “save situation” a pitcher will not get a blown save if he comes into the game with a lead greater than 4 runs and still somehow manages to give it away.  This is far worse, if you ask me, but no BS will be noted behind this pitcher’s name.
  • Similarly, a pitcher who enters a tie game and allows the go-ahead run to score is also not given a blown save, even though he took away (or made more difficult) his team’s chance to win.
  • If a pitcher blows the save in the top of the 9th and his team comes back to win it in the bottom – he is given a blown save and a win.  If a pitcher blows the save in the top of the 9th and the game continues, tied, and then another pitcher gives up the go ahead run in extra innings – well I have no clue which one would be given the blown save!!  How would you determine who to give it to?  Because if the second pitcher closes the game in extra innings and his team wins – he would certainly be awarded a save.  Based on that it’s only fair to assume the last pitcher would be given a blown save in the event that the the team loses in extra innings, but isn’t the pitcher from the 9th more to blame?  They wouldn’t even be playing extra innings if the first pitcher hadn’t blown it then!  Can you assign two blown saves?  [**CORRECTION** If a pitcher comes into a tied game, he would get a win or loss, not a save or blown save, if the game is either won or lost during any inning that he pitched.]
  • A pitcher can come into a game and give up any number of runs, allowing the go-ahead run(s) to score against his team, and will not be given a blown save if he did not record an out.  So if a guy can’t even get a single out before blowing it – he’s off the hook!

Whew!  I hope that isn’t as confusing to read as it was to write! LOL.

Blown saves certainly say something to a pitcher’s ability to pitch, but maybe it’s a stat that shouldn’t carry as much weight as it does.  I think you have to look at blown saves with a grain of salt, and consider with it ERA, WHIP and K:BB ratios.  Also consider the defense behind him, and the offense he has to work with.  If you look at a pitcher who has no blown saves and is backed by a team that makes few errors and scores lots of runs VS a pitcher with 3 blown saves and a team loaded with errors and low on offense, you can guess that the blown saves might not be a very accurate measure.  Who remembers Jason Isringhausen?  He would come into a game with a 3 or 4 run lead, load the bases, maybe even give up a run or two, then (after half the stadium had collapsed from heart attacks) he would get the outs and the Cardinals would win.  And he walked away with a save, despite allowing hits, walks and even runs to score.  His teams’ ability to score runs and keep the other team from crossing home plate too often gave him the ability to struggle through save opportunity after save opportunity and come out on top.

I have one more thing to mention on this subject – not in defense of Franklin or Motte specifically – but in defense of every player who has been blamed for singlehandedly losing a game.  (Can you say Buckner?)  There are 9 innings in a game, 27 outs per team, and a minimum of 9 players opposing at least 9 more, that contribute to every win and every loss.  (Not to mention managers and coaches who have complete control over who plays where and who pitches and when.)  There are certainly times where one player can be held mostly accountable for the outcome of a game.  But even a perfect game cannot be done without serious help from the other 8 guys on the field.  In today’s Cardinal’s game, if Franklin had not allowed that run to score, we certainly would have won.  There is no doubt about that.  OR if Theriot hadn’t made that error in the 9th, there wouldn’t have been a runner on base, and we would have won.  OR if Pujols hadn’t made an error in the 7th, we would have maintained the lead and probably won.  OR If Motte hadn’t given up back to back singles in the 7th, we wouldn’t have gone into the 8th down by 1, and probably would have won.  OR if Garcia hadn’t given up 3 runs in the 5th we would have held onto a much larger lead, and probably would have won.  Do you see where I’m going with this?  The closer gets “charged” with a blown save, gets a black mark next to his name, because he was the last player to make a mistake (or to be on the mound when someone else made a mistake) that contributed to the loss.

I get that a closer’s role is to go in and end the game without allowing runs to score, and to keep the lead in tact.  But a fielder’s role is to make plays without errors.  A starter’s role is to pitch the vast majority of the game while getting outs and allowing as few runs as possible.  Please understand that I’m not saying blown saves is a horrible stat, just that it’s inaccurate in many situations (most often when there isn’t one recorded).  Think twice before you crucify the next guy who “blows a save” for your team, and consider who else was a part of the losing effort.

For the Cardinals, I think closer by committee is the best way to go right now.  The argument can be made that we need to designate a closer so he “knows his role” – but seriously, a pitcher’s role is to go in and get outs.  No matter what inning, no matter what the score.  A save situation certainly adds a little pressure, and these guys are human and have insecurities, but this isn’t little league.  Bring in the guy who can get it done tonight, regardless of who did it last night or the night before.

(Funny side note – I had forgotten that Isringhausen was still playing, but then he came in to pitch for the Mets as I was writing about him.  Too funny!)

Yadi or Pujols?

Everyone who follows baseball knows that Albert Pujols is nearing the end of his contract, allowing him to become a free agent at the end of this season unless he signs a contract extension with the Cardinals first. And every bit of Cardinal Nation wants to keep him…but at what cost? No one really knows what the slugger wants, or what the team is willing to pay, so it leaves a lot to the imagination. Based on rumors and media speculation – El Hombre should get a contract in the upper 20 millions for close to, if not, a decade. That’s in the range of $260 – $300 million. I won’t argue that he’s not worth that, but I do have some concerns.

My main concern is what, or more accurately who, we stand to lose. Carpenter and Molina are signed through 2011 with club options for 2012 that the team will likely exercise. After that, without contract extensions, they will both become free agents. I don’t know about the rest of you – but I’d like to keep these guys around for a while. Especially Yadi.

If you know me, then you know that I have a large place in my heart for Yadi, and that I’d be a little broken hearted to see him play somewhere else. But my own sentiments aside, I honestly think he might be a bigger asset to the team than Albert. (I can almost hear you gasping as you read this, but hear me out.)

Albert is phenomenal, possibly the best player in the game. His power, his ability to draw (unintentional) walks with his patience at the plate, and his gold glove alone make him worth every penny he is paid. Factor in his leadership, charitable works and the fact that he is a role model you’re actually proud to have your kids look up to – and you’ve got a player you can hardly put a price tag on. Each year his stats look like what most guys strive to get in a ‘career year’, and he’s done it now for more than a decade! What he contributes to a team is priceless.

Now let’s talk about Yadi. Yadi’s contributions aren’t as easily measured. Obviously he’ll throw you out stealing center field, much less second base – no one in the league catches more would be thieves. His hitting has come a long way, too, as he’s proven that he can handle a bat, and he manages a lot of important clutch hits. (remember game 7 in New York a few years back?) But what he does with a pitching staff is unreal. A lot of people don’t realize that the catcher is the one who calls the games. Catchers call every pitch, including pick offs. Sure the manager has a say in what he calls and a pitcher can shake him off and ask for a new sign, but I think that’s less common with Molina behind the plate. Yadi is so confident that unless the game has just gotten out of control, he won’t let too many pitchers shake him off. And I can’t say that I blame him. He studies film, a lot of film, so that he knows what each players’ strengths and weaknesses are. He knows if a player has a hole in his swing or what pitch is most likely to catch a certain hitter looking. He knows it better than any pitcher. So to shake him off is, well, almost disrespectful. When he’s behind the plate, he is in charge.

Like Pujols – Yadi is a work horse. Getting him to take a day off isn’t an easy task, but he’s always willing to do whatever is in the best interest of the team. It seems like they are resting him a little more this year than in the past – maybe to prolong his career, or at least his knees, although if it were up to him I doubt he’d sit as many days. When he’s healthy he plays hard, when he’s hurting – he plays harder. And he always plays with passion.

A friend of mine recently suggested that baseball is all about pitching. That’s not to say that a good hitter – like Pujols – doesn’t have as much impact, but sluggers like that a few are far between. For the vast majority of hitters in baseball – no matter how good you are, a good outing from a pitcher can shut you down. And a good catcher can greatly affect the pitcher.

Basically – if you lose Albert – you can replace him with a hitter (or 2) who can put up remarkable numbers, and the team can still win games. If you lose Yadi – good luck finding another catcher who can hit, handle his pitchers and throw out baserunners (potential run scorers) the way he does. Look – I’m not trying to take away from Albert – the man is a machine and I hope he’s here to stay. I just hope it’s not at the cost of (my) Molina.

Let’s talk about a few things…

First of all – what the hell is goin’ on in Cleveland?  Are these guys for real?  They’ve already had an 8-game winning streak, and now they’ve won 5 in a row, looking for W number 6 today .  They are currently 18-8, recording the best April in their 111 yeah history.  And they just keep rolling on through!  I know it’s only May 1, but if they can continue to play even .500 ball – they stand a good chance at being in the playoffs come October.  You almost can’t help but hope to see it continue, even if it’s not your team, because baseball is never better than when any team is playing so, so well.

Now let’s head west over to Seattle.  Five straight wins – on the road!  They’re still in last place, but if this is any indication of what they are capable of, then they could make waves in the AL East.  Having said that – they’ll have a hard time overtaking the Rangers and Angels.  But for a team who has spent the majority of this decade in the bottom of the standings, making waves might be enough to keep them happy for now.

Down the coast a bit in LA, Andre Eithier is currently enjoying a 26-game hitting streak, hitting safely in 27 of the Dodgers’ 28 games thus far.  Just like with the Indians, I’d love to see this keep going.  They don’t face a pitcher with a winning record until Wed, when they face Carlos Zambrano who has a WHIP of 1.28.  So the odds are in his favor at least for a few more days, and I’ll be watching.

Switching gears here – I heard something this morning while watching highlights that I found a little funny.  They were talking about the Rangers 11-2 win yesterday over Oakland and the team’s success when hitting home runs.  I can’t remember who said this – but he said, “The Rangers are 7-0 when hitting more than 3 home runs in a game!”  7-0, huh?  As in perfect, always a win?  WOW!  How AMAZING!   Wait – WHAT?!  Did you expect them to lose?  If a team hits more than 3 home runs in any 1 game, I would certainly hope that they win the game.  That’s a minimum of 4 runs scored, assuming that each is a solo shot.  Chances are if the opposing team gives up 4+ homers, they’re probably giving up other hits as well, and other runs.  Honestly, I think I’d be a little upset if my team lost a game in which they hit “more than 3 home runs”.  Why do they thing this is some remarkable thing that needs to be celebrated?!  Sometimes I’m amazed at the things that sportscasters say.

By the way – in case you haven’t noticed, Boston is still in the gutter.  In fact – only the White Sox and Twins are worse in the AL.  San Francisco has been struggling a bit, too.  The defending World Series Champs are currently 13-13, in third place behind the Dodgers and Rockies.

Does anyone else get a chuckle at some of the names in the game today?  I’ve always cracked up at Coco Crisp – in fact I always think to myself (or sometimes even say aloud) “I’m coo coo for Coco Crisp!”  Then there’s Milton Bradley.  Did you once enjoy games like Battleship, Connect Four, Hungry Hungry Hippos and Twister?  Well this Milton Bradley is no child’s toy – but he is affiliated with almost as many brands, having played for 8 teams in his career.  A couple of new names have raised an eyebrow – Darwin Barney and Al Albuquerque (a great name for scrabble).  I just wonder – what were their parents thinking?

Last thing I want to mention – Logan Morrison’s team signed cast is on sale on eBay.  I’m sure it must smell lovely after spending weeks on his unbathed foot.  It currently has 69 bids and is up to $1,136.11.  Hurry up – bidding ends Friday!