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Cardinals More Poppycock Than Pixie Dust

By bullpenbrian - October 22, 2012 - 4:00 am Leave a comment.

The Cardinals didn’t run out of postseason pixie dust. They were just outplayed by the Giants the past two-games. Imagine that.

In fact, it’s stunning how beatable the Cardinals look when their opponent actually steers clear of choking away games with poor fielding and ninth-inning collapses (you know who you are: Phillies, Brewers, Rangers, Braves & Nats).

Lately, however, it’s been St. Louis sputtering in the clutch while letting its 3-1 series lead slip to a Game 7.

Last night the Cards failed to get a single leadoff man on base while plating just one-run…their only tally over the last 19-innings. Even worse, four costly fielding errors have lead to the Giants scoring 10-unearned runs this series–the most ever allowed in an NLCS.

For once a National League team is taking advantage of Cardinals’ mistakes–and not the other way around.

The Giants’ lineup has capitalized on those extra outs and combined it with sensational starting pitching, a recipe for success against anyone, even the never-say-die Cardinals.

This of course has nothing to do with an immunity from postseason hocus-pocus, but everything to do with the Giants’ realization St. Louis is more poppycock than pixie dust.

Whether or not the Giants believe this truth for a third straight game is yet to be seen. But I’d love it if just once Cardinals fans experienced what it feels like to be defeated with pixie dust, especially in a Game 7.

Poof! Season over. NLCS choked away.

Fingers crossed…

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Grand Return For Papa Grande?

By bullpenbrian - October 21, 2012 - 1:30 am Leave a comment.

Who does Jim Leyland turn to as his closer in the World Series? He wouldn’t go back to Jose Valverde, would he?

Papa Grande’s been nothing short of awful this October: 7-earned runs, 7-hits in just 2.1 innings. Is that really worth gambling on in the Fall Classic?

We’re about to find out. The Tigers’ starting staff is just too good not to find themselves in a closing situation in a game or two against its NL opponent.

Detroit’s already spun 8 quality starts in its 9 postseason games, which is no fluke considering they tossed 90 during the regular season–2nd most in the American League.

It’s the big reason why the Tigers have found so much postseason success lately—the LCS last season and the World Series this year. But as good as the starters have been, Valverde has matched them every step of the way converting 93.2-percent of his save opportunities during the past 3 seasons–the best mark of any closer in the majors over that time.

But when Valverde’s ritualistic compulsions turned ugly in October, first in Oakland and then gut-wrenchingly bad in New York, Leyland was forced to turn elsewhere at closer.

Phil Coke’s primary job as a reliever is to retire left-handed hitters–not close games. But he served as Leyland’s temporary stop-gap at closer, and did so not once but twice in the ALCS. Coke cleaned up Valverde’s mess in Game 1 and returned the following night to close out the Yankees in Game 2.

It was such a rare postseason feat Coke actually made baseball history by becoming the first pitcher to ever earn two post-season saves following a season in which he had one-or fewer saves.

Interesting, indeed. But it doesn’t change the fact Coke isn’t closer material…and neither the Cards or Giants are the ‘no-hit’ Yankees of this postseason.

The closing job for Coke–if, in fact, Leyland decides to stick with him–will be considerably tougher in the coming days. And it’s probably more a case of Leyland playing the matchups before hoping lightning strikes twice with his suddenly sensational lefty.

That could mean running Joaquin Benoit out for the ninth, who’s been average this postseason but does have closer’s experience. It’s minimal…13 saves in 11 big league season, six coming in 2007.

The seemingly ageless Octavio Dotel is another candidate. He has plenty of experience having notched 109 career saves. But he’s also been consistently unpredictable in his later years and far from the closer he once was. Another crapshoot at best.

I can’t imagine the closer issue hasn’t been at the forefront of Leyland’s mind since capturing the AL pennant…more so than lineups, rotations or too much time off for his team before the World Series.

A ninth inning lead will be anything but a certainty for the Tigers. Will Valverde bounce back? Will Leyland risk finding that out by thrusting his cuckoo reliever back into the thick drama of a save situation in the World Series?

It’s enough stress to drive a man like me to start blazing Marlboros right alongside the Tigers’ skipper, and especially if it’s Valverde easing the way for another Cardinals world championship.

Come to think of it, anyone here have a light?

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Giant Letdown In NLCS

By bullpenbrian - October 18, 2012 - 4:30 am 2 comments.

My gut feeling was the Giants couldn’t win two-in-a-row against St. Louis. So far I’m right.

I also said Game 3 was a must-win for San Fran if they were to maintain any chance of winning the NLCS. Of course, the the Giants lost 3-1, and in doing so seemingly assured us of another Cardinals vs. Tigers World Series.

Oh, the joy.

Perhaps what’s more frustrating, however, is the continued realization the National League’s best clubs are at home after choking away in the division series while the Cardinals get to play big brother against the bay boys.

That thought, in particular, has made it hardly bearable watching the Giants waste countless scoring opportunities against St. Louis, and even more difficult to understand how they failed to score despite posting the highest team-batting average (.272), on-base percentage (.348) and OPS (.707) of any team remaining in the postseason.

The Giants are getting scoring opportunities by the boat load this series, especially last night when Kyle Lohse walked 5 batters in 5.2 innings. But San Fran couldn’t capitalize on a single one, left 15 men on base all totaled, including going 0-for-5 with RISP and 2-outs and grounding into 2 double plays.

Where are the Nationals & Reds when we need them?

The big miss has been the Giants’ supposed big-hitters. Buster Posey has been virtually non-existent going 2-for-10 with no RBI and no extra base hits in the LCS. And for all the pre-game rah-rah chatter from Hunter Pence, he’s 1-for-11. Neither player has a single hit with a RISP.

When Ryan Theriot has your biggest clutch knock (a bases loaded 2-run single in Game 2) you know you’re performing well below standards offensively. 

The Cards, meanwhile, have only outscored the Giants by a messily 2-runs through 3-games. But that’s already enough to force the Giants into winning 3 of the next 4 to advance. Anyone willing to take that bet?

Sadly, Orangetober as we know it is dead. Albeit, unofficially. And even if the Giants do have a heartbeat, it’s not detectable…or better said, not scoring.

Must be nice for the Cardinals facing an opponent lacking a ‘clutch gene’ as the lone remaining hurdle to reaching the World Series. Only against the Red Birds would the National League make it so easy.

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NLCS Game 3 Must-Win For Giants

By bullpenbrian - October 17, 2012 - 2:30 am Leave a comment.

I wouldn’t bet on the Giants holding the Cardinals’ lineup in-check for a second consecutive game.

St. Louis has easily scored the most runs (45) and driven in the most RBI (28) with RISP of any team this postseason.

That kind of production can be halted with good starting pitching, which the Giants have plenty, but those Red Birds also have a knack for rebounding quickly from postseason losses.

Only once over its last 4 postseason series have the Cardinals lost back-to-back games: coming in Games 4 & 5 of the World Series at Texas last year, and even that didn’t prevent St. Louis from winning the next 2 contests and the world championship.

So from my perspective, that makes Game 3 a must-win for Matt Cain and the Giants this evening.

Otherwise, if St. Louis wins Game 3 and then simply goes on to trade victories with San Francisco, as they did through Games 1 & 2, the Cardinals eventually take the series in 7-games.

Of course, the Giants would still be alive even if St. Louis wins the next 2 contests, but what are the odds San Fran strings together another 3-game winning streak the likes of what they accomplished vs. Cincinnati in the division series?

We know the Cards will get their runs. The question is, will the Giants score enough runs of their own to win tonight? If they can’t, we can go ahead and pencil St. Louis into the World Series.

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Joe Girardi Wrong For Sticking With Raul Ibanez?

By bullpenbrian - October 17, 2012 - 2:15 am Leave a comment.

I don’t blame Joe Girardi for sticking with Raul Ibanez against Phil Coke in the top of the ninth in Game 3 of the ALCS.

The numbers game suggest Girardi should’ve opted for a right-hander batter, say A-Rod, given righties torched Coke to the tune of .396/.446/.604 during the regular season.

Ibanez, however, has been the best clutch hitter on the Yankees this postseason, and arguably the only hitter on the Yankees in October. Seriously, who else would New York want at the plate with the game-tying run on second base?

If it’s Aroldis Chapman on the mound, it’s a different story. But Coke is far from a ‘lights-out’ closer or unhittable ‘loogy.’

After all, Teixeira and Cano (another left-handed hitter) both singled in front of Ibanez leaving no reason to believe the hot-hitting 40-year-old couldn’t drive in the tying run.

Girardi’s decision to stay with the lefty-lefty matchup is no worse than him choosing to leave Rodriguez, hitting an ice-cold 2-for-23, on the bench.

Ibanez, of course, struck out to end the game. But it was ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ for the Yankees’ skipper.

Let’s not forget, either, how right Joe was turning the table earlier this postseason when he pinch-hit Ibanez for A-Rod. A hero when it worked, the goat when it doesn’t.

Yet, regardless of whether you believe Girardi made the right move or the wrong one, it’s no fault of Girardi’s his team is hitting a ghastly .182 in October.

What’s a manager to do–pinch-hit the entire lineup?

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March Madness In October

By bullpenbrian - October 15, 2012 - 2:30 am Leave a comment.

Baseball’s postseason is facing a dilemma that often challenges March Madness–the tournament has peaked in terms of national interest after the first weekend.

It’s been a sharp decline for baseball since the conclusion of the division series, which couldn’t have been scripted any better given each series reached a decisive Game 5–a first in postseason history.

But the outcomes of those series, unfortunately, has left us with a Final Four lacking virtually any rooting interest from the masses.

Nothing would’ve been more fun, more interesting, than watching the excitement of Moneyball II, the New Red Machine, BUCKleup and Natitude compete against each other for a World Series championship.

Instead, we’re left with another ALCS appearance by the Yankees and a Cardinals team we’ve seen reach the World Series in 3 of the past 6 seasons…and most likely 4 out of the last 7 years once they defeat the Giants in the NLCS (just a tinny little touch of sarcasm).

Aside from Buster Posey, there’s hardly anything exciting about San Francisco, whose most colorful player, Brian Wilson, was lost for the season due to injury, and whose best starting pitcher, Tim Lincecum, has been demoted to bullpen duty. Oh yeah, there’s also the Melky suspension.

Detroit, of course, offers us one of the game’s most dominating hurlers in Justin Verlander, and one of the game’s best sluggers in Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera. But the Tigers are largely thought of as underachievers for its lackluster regular season play…and who wants to rally behind that?

It’s fascinating, yet greatly disappointing, how quickly this year’s postseason has lost its luster after all the all the dramatics and thrills from the final two weeks of the regular season through the division series.

If we’re lucky, we might get a World Series Game 7, something that would give baseball fans aside from the MLB Final Four cities a reason to care again. But until then, and if a WS Game 7 even happens, what’s there to root for, what reason do we have to care?

Our postseason brackets are busted, our teams bounced. It’s March Madness in October…and the best, it seems, has already come. At the very least, the first weekend was fun.

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Baseball & Poker Share More Than World Series

By bullpenbrian - October 15, 2012 - 2:15 am Leave a comment.

This was written by Daniel Smith, a lover of baseball & poker.

The game of baseball and the game of poker are very different games. One is team sport with men working towards a common goal and the other is an individual card game where your goal is to take everyone else money. While the games are different, they both have similarities that fans of both can appreciate. Let’s take a look at a few of those similarities.

For starters, both games are considered by some to be somewhat boring by those that don’t understand the game. Baseball games have long periods of inactivity as batters go down in order inning after inning. Suddenly a huge home run can turn a dead crowd into a raucous one.

Poker looks very boring at the onset as most hands are folded with little or no action. Then a big hand develops and a player is all-in for their tournament life. The fans are then on their feet screaming for their player to either hit his card or for his hand to hold. With the closeness of the fans, a few dozen fans can sound like a stadium full.

Next, some venues are considered more sacred or special than others. For example, there aren’t many field left in the game of baseball with the history of Wrigley field. Every cub fan that has visited Wrigley has their own set of memories and wouldn’t trade the field for anything.

Poker players have their own hallowed grounds as well. Many poker players consider the halls of Binion’s in downtown Vegas sacred due to its history and being the original home of the WSOP. Any player that played prior to 2004 would say that Binions is the Wrigley of poker.

Finally, both games have their own World Series. The World Series of Baseballhas crowned the champion of the game of baseball for over 100 years while the World Series of Poker has crowned poker’s World Champion since 1970. In both games, success at the WSOP is what can make the difference between a storied career and a legendary one.

Both baseball and poker have a long history and are games enjoyed by Millions around the world. While they have their differences, their similarities can definitely be appreciated by lovers of both. That may be the reason why many baseball players and fans of the game also love to play poker.

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Regular Season Success Means Little In October

By bullpenbrian - October 13, 2012 - 4:15 pm Leave a comment.

Four teams won 90-plus games after finishing the 2011 season below .500: Nationals (98), Reds (97), Athletics (94) & Orioles (93)–a first in major league history. But, not a one remains in this year’s postseason.

The Orioles, despite a convincing 5-1 win against Texas in the AL play-in game, fell victim to Yankee Stadium’s postseason magic. Or in other words, they blew it.

Baltimore not only let Raul Ibanez beat them once, but twice in Game 3…and then floundered with the bases loaded in the top of the eighth with the tying and winning runs aboard against CC Sabathia in a decisive Game 5.

The Yankees left the door wide open for the O’s to take the series. Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher and A-Rod went a combined 9-for-75 (.120) with 26 strikeouts. Baltimore, however, went 8-for-37 with RISP, the worst mark in the AL in the Division Series.

The A’s, conversely, just couldn’t get on base against the Tigers, whose 88 regular season wins were the fewest among AL playoff teams. Granted, the A’s did face Justin Verlander twice, but the Athletics had the fewest hits (30) and most strikeouts (50) of any team in either league in the Division Series.

Cincinnati inexplicitly lost its Division Series after winning the first 2-games on the road at San Francisco, allowing the Giants to become the first-ever National League team to recover from an 0-2 deficit after losing the first 2-games. Not to mention, the Reds had 3 straight home games to close the series in this year’s 2-3 format, but failed to do so.

The Giants hit .185 with RISP for the series, the worst mark of any postseason team in 2012. The Reds, meanwhile, had the highest NL average with RISP (.220), but didn’t drive in runs when it mattered most, including having the tying runs aboard in the final four innings in Game 5.

Ah, then the Nationals, who now famously will be remembered for not only shutting down its best power-arm before the postseason, but also allowing St. Louis to overcome the largest-ever deficit in a winner-take-all game…rallying from 6-runs down in Game 5–four of which were plated in the top of the ninth.

So what does it all mean? Basically, the regular season means little, if anything, when it comes to postseason baseball. Some teams, like St. Louis and New York live for moment, and some teams, like the four above, crumble under the pressure. How else do you explain the slumping Bombers and cockroach Cardinals advancing?

The Reds, with arguably the most formidable bullpen in the majors, were suppose to be battle tested after being swept out of the Division Series in 2010 against the Phillies. The Orioles were figured to be battled tested having survived the tough AL East. Oakland was riding the huge momentum from its thrilling season ending sweep vs. Texas to win the AL West…and the Nationals entered the tournament with the most wins in all of baseball (98).

And not one of them has anything to show for it—eliminated, finished, collapsed.

It’s the teams that advanced who understand the postseason is not the same as the grind of a 162-game regular season schedule, but rather the awareness, ability and determination to not let a summer’s worth of hard work be undone.

Hey, 90-plus wins coming off a losing season, that’s nothing to sneeze at…we’re all happy for ya. But to actually make those wins mean something…you’ve got to make them count in October.

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Nats Season Should Be In Strasburg’s Hands

By bullpenbrian - October 12, 2012 - 2:45 am 2 comments.

I’ve never been in favor of shutting Stephen Strasburg down.

When you have the best team in the league (at least record wise) and one of the game’s best power-pitchers…you have a real shot at winning the World Series.

That opportunity doesn’t come around often, and when it does, I want my team to be all-in–not playing it safe as Washington is chosing to do.

If you think the Nats haven’t missed Strasburg this series, you’re kidding yourself. St. Louis embarrassed Washington in Games 2 & 3 outscoring them 20-4 while going 27-for-72 at the plate, including 8 doubles, 5 homers and a triple. Nats starters Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson were roughed up for a combined 9 earned runs on 15 hits.

Game 4 was a different story, if for one day, with the Cards managing just 1-run on 3-hits. But it was nearly good enough to knock off the Nats, who won by the slimmest of margins–2-1 on Jason Werth’s walkoff HR.

Strasburg, of course, may not have changed the series with a Game 1 start, but he easily could’ve given a second opportunity the likes of Matt Cain’s stellar outing vs. Cincinnati in Game 5, which was the difference maker in the Giants advancing to the NLCS…or Justin Verlander’s terrific outing vs. Oakland in Game 5, sending the Tigers to the ALCS.

Now, I’m not naive to the other side of the Strasburg discussion, or even suggesting it doesn’t make sense long-term. But if we’ve learned anything this October it’s that there are no guarantees in the postseason.

So while the Nationals starved off elimination for a day, there’s still no question they would be better positioned to win Game 5 with Strasburg on the bump facing the team who finished second in the NL in runs scored this season, and eager to bounce back after a lackluster performance yesterday.

Gio Gonzalez, who will start Game 5, is no pushover, but in fact, a formidable starter who won 21-games this season–but one who also walked 7 batters in 5 rather unimpressive innings in Game 1 of this series.

The bottom line is this: if the Nationals not only fail to advance later this evening, but also fail to win the World Series, they’ll forever have to live with the decision to shut down their best pitcher before the postseason.

Maybe sitting Strasburg pays off in the long run…maybe not. But that’s not a decision I’d be as comfortable with as Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo appears to be. And I say this simply because who’s to say you’ll ever be in this strong of a position to win the World Series again?

Great achievement is reached by taking great risks…and shutting down Strasburg could quickly become the Nationals’ greatest mistake.

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MLB Playoffs Best In Years

By bullpenbrian - October 12, 2012 - 2:15 am Leave a comment.

The baseball playoffs couldn’t be any better. Dramatic finishes, unlikely heroes and for the first time in Division Series play each series has gone 5-games.

Thank goodness the Nationals and Orioles won on Thursday. It can only get better if both teams win again today eliminating the Cardinals and Yankees.

Meanwhile, what a terrific and improbable comeback for the Giants. They win three-straight to become the first team in the National League to advance in the Division Series after trailing 0-2…and they sweep the Reds at Great American Ballpark to do it, no less.

Moneyball officially filed for bankruptcy, losing a decisive Game 5 to Detroit. It does little to diminish what became a surprising and thrilling season for the Athletics, who were hardly picked to have a winning season, let alone win the AL West.

Unfortunately, I was pulling for the A’s to make a deep run and even had them pegged to face the Reds in the World Series–a prediction that seemed very likely just days ago.

If all holds steady, however, we’re in for another wild round of nail-biting games this evening. I can hardly wait!

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