Friday, October 28, 2011

Cardinal Walk-Off Caps Amazing Game 6

After the Rangers scored three runs in the top of the seventh inning, taking all the momentum that the Cardinals had gained a half-inning earlier, it looked like Texas would cruise to its first World Series title.  The Cardinals had been a comeback machine all season, but they finally looked like they were running out of steam.  The Texas clubhouse was ready for a party, and the great state of Texas was ready to forget that it's football season.

Too bad nobody informed the Cardinals that their season was supposed to end.  Down to their last strike in the ninth inning, down 7-5, homegrown product David Freese stepped to the plate for the Cardinals and laced a ball into right field.  The game should have ended with a Nelson Cruz catch in right field, and Texas should be in the middle of a celebration.  Instead, Freese hit a game-tying triple that scored two runs.  Cruz made the inexplicable mistake of allowing a ball to fly over his head with two outs in the ninth, up by two runs.  THAT CAN'T HAPPEN.  The Rangers were playing a no-doubles defense because only the second base runner mattered.  The only ball that should travel over an outfielder's head in that situation is a home run.  Cruz was out of position, took a bad route to the ball, and slowed down as he reached the warning track.  It would be considered a terrible mental mistake during the regular season, let alone the most important game in franchise history.  Kudos to Nelson Cruz for giving us the first Game Seven in a decade.

Freese's triple pushed the game into extra innings.  Yet again the Rangers took the lead, this time on an improbable home run from star Josh Hamilton.  Hobbled by an injured groin for the entire postseason (one that would have put him on the DL during the regular season), Hamilton had struggled to hit with any power and his go ahead home run last night was his first bomb of the postseason.  Again, it seemed like it could be the perfect ending: the former addict winning Game Six and leading the Rangers to World Series glory.

However, down to their final strike yet again, the Cardinals managed to come back from the dead.  Rangers manager Ron Washington brought in veteran Darren Oliver to try and close out the game in the tenth.  It was an  interesting choice by Washington since Oliver is mainly a setup/situational pitcher, not necessarily someone who you want closing out a huge playoff game.  Oliver promptly gave up two singles and a sacrifice bunt pushed them to second and third.  Washington brought in reliever Scott Feldman (who should have started the inning).  Ryan Theriot grounded out, scoring Daniel Descalso, and then Feldman intentionally walked Albert Pujols to bring up Lance Berkman.  Berkman hit a two strike single to score John Jay to tie the game.  Watching the action, it seemed like even though the Rangers got out of the inning with a tied score, they were deflated and on the verge of losing.

Texas couldn't score in the top of the 11th inning and the rest is history.  David Freese led off the bottom of the eleventh with one of the greatest walk-off home runs in World Series history and the Cardinals survived to force a Game Seven.  St. Louis will turn to ace Chris Carpenter tonight as they try to become one of the most improbable World Series champs in recent memory.  For the Rangers, last night's devastating loss may signal a heartbreaking end to their championship hopes.  They were so close, and yet they allowed the Cardinals to become the first team ever to be down to their last strike twice and still come out with a victory.    For Game Seven, tune into FOX tonight at 8:05 ET.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

World Series: Game 6 Preview

Jaime Garcia
After yesterday's decision by Major League Baseball to postpone Game Six of the World Series, the Rangers had to wait an extra night to try and win the franchise's first World Series.  At 8:05 ET tonight, they will take the field at Busch Stadium with two games left to get the ever-elusive fourth win of the series.  This has been one of the most exciting World Series in recent memory, with a great balance of close games and breakout performances.  Three of the games have been decided by two runs or less, Game Four was a one-run game until the sixth inning, and the one blowout (the Cardinals 16-7 win in Game Three) featured the single greatest individual performance in Series history (King Albert: 5-6, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 4 R, 14 TB, CRAZY).

Game Six features a rematch of the Game Two starters as Texas pitcher Colby Lewis will face Cardinal lefty Jaime Garcia.  In Game Two, both pitchers shut down the opposing offenses, but the Rangers scored two in the ninth inning and escaped with a 2-1 victory which tied the series at one game apiece.  Lewis has been great on the road all season, and has compiled a 2.95 ERA in three starts this postseason.  Garcia hasn't been too shabby either, giving up only one run over his last two postseason starts.

Colby Lewis
The offenses for both teams have been producing at roughly the same rate, and with an expected game-time temperature around 49 degrees expect another low scoring affair in Game Six.  The Rangers can see the finish line and after losing in the World Series last season they must be chomping at the bit to break through and win their first championship.  However, the Cardinals have been playing from behind all season and they haven't been ousted yet.  Did the one day delay slow down the Rangers' momentum, or can they secure ring number one in the hostile atmosphere of Busch Stadium?  The 2011 World Series has a chance to be the first one in  a decade to go a full seven games, but will it end tonight?  Tune into FOX at 8:05 ET to find out.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Epstein's Replacement: Who is Ben Cherington?

Even though the deal isn't finalized yet, Theo Epstein has agreed with the Cubs on a five year deal to run baseball operations in Wrigleyville.  According to Yahoo Sports, Red Sox Assistant General Manager Ben Cherington has already been told that he will replace Epstein as the GM in Boston.  So who is Ben Cherington?

A New Hampshire native (shout-out to the 603), Cherington graduated from Amherst College where he pitched on the baseball team before a labrum injury during his junior year.  He stayed with the team as an unofficial pitching coach and learned more about the game by studying from the dugout.  After Amherst, Cherington completed a master's in sports management at UMASS-Amherst.  Former Sox GM Dan Duquette hired Cherington in 1997 as an intern and he has served the organization in many roles since he was hired full-time in 1999.  In 2005, Cherington and Jed Hoyer were named co-general managers during Epstein's short 86-day hiatus from the front office.  For the last three years, Cherington has served as Epstein's Assistant GM.

Cherington will have a difficult task ahead of him when he formally takes over the GM job from Epstein.  He will have to replace manager Terry Francona, who left the team right after the season, and he will need to try to fix the lackadaisical clubhouse attitude that was detrimental  in September.  Sources believe Cherington is calmer and more reserved than Epstein, which may help an organization that has been filled with chaos ever since the worst regular season collapse in history.  The Red Sox are smart to hire someone with intimate knowledge of the organization, but is promoting someone from within a good way to solve all the Sox problems?  Once Theo officially leaves for Chicago, it will be interesting to see what steps Cherington takes in order to get the Red Sox back to the postseason in 2012.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How Tito Should Have Handled September: Bull Durham Style

If only former Red Sox manager Terry Francona had taken a page from Bull Durham late in the season and treated the Red Sox players like lollygaggers, maybe they wouldn't have collapsed.  I know he was pretty mild tempered, but hey, nothing else was working.

Epstein Would be a Smart Hire for the Cubs

Multiple sources, including ESPN and The Sporting News, are reporting that Red Sox GM Theo Epstein has agreed to a five year deal worth more than $15 million with the Chicago Cubs.  While the Sox and Cubs are still discussing compensation for Epstein, since he is still under contract with Boston, sources are saying that finalizing the deal is close.  Epstein would most likely be named Cubs President, a promotion from his role in Boston.

So is Theo really a good hire for the Cubs, or is he just a big name to make the Cubs owners, the Ricketts family, look good?  People have doubted Epstein's ability, especially after Boston's historic collapse this season.  There is the argument that Epstein led the Red Sox to the 2004 World Series on the heels of good moves by the previous Sox GM, Dan Duquette.  Epstein has also come under fire for throwing big money at players like Carl Crawford and John Lackey, who haven't performed well in Boston.

However, Epstein gets way more criticism than he really deserves.  Sure, Duquette made moves that helped the Red Sox win the World Series, but Epstein made important moves that finally got them there.  He signed David Ortiz to a cheap contract after he left the Twins.  He brought Terry Francona to Boston after the Grady Little fiasco in the 2003 playoffs, which paid off immediately.  He chased down Curt Schilling on Thanksgiving and made the crucial decision to trade Nomar Garciaparra for Orlando Cabrera at the trade deadline during the '04 season.  He stocked the Red Sox farm system with solid talent, drafting All-Stars Jonathon Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury in his first three drafts from 2003-2005.

Epstein's moves to sign Lackey and Crawford have been criticized, but most of it has come in hindsight.  Lackey was 31 games over .500 in his career with the Angels with a 3.82 career ERA.  Crawford hit .295 from '02-'09 with the Rays along with averaging 23 doubles, 12 triples, 11 home runs, and 45 stolen bases a season during that span.  Yes, Epstein probably overpaid for both of them, but as the GM of a wealthy team he can afford to do that in order to sign the best players available.  Is anyone yelling at Theo for giving up big prospects to get Adrian Gonzalez (and then giving Gonzo a huge contract)?  Exactly.  If the Crawford and Lackey signings had worked out well, no one would be giving Epstein any crap.  Crawford could end up having a great career with Boston.  Lackey really does suck, but hey, give Theo a break for one bad signing.

The Cubs need a big change after John Hendry continuously overpaid players who were overrated to begin with, or who could only perform well for the first couple years of their contracts.  The Ricketts family would be smart to hire Epstein, who would not be intimidated by a big market with fans who are dying for a World Series title.  Epstein will energize fans in Chicago and won't be afraid to make the moves needed to win soon.  He drafts relatively well and kept the Sox stocked with a good core of homegrown players, while still going after free agents.  He won a World Series title in Boston, which no one had managed to do in 86 years, and then went out and built a team that won another one.  The positives far outweigh the negatives and Epstein could really help the Cubs become a consistent contender.