Do you know what the Phillies, Brewers & Braves all have in common? They each rolled over and died in the NL playoffs against the Cardinals. For good measure we can add the Rangers from last year’s World Series, too.
I suppose at some point I’ve got to give the Cardinals credit, which I begrudgingly did after St. Louis won the championship last year. But for goodness sake, why is it teams forget how to pitch effectively, field the ball and hit in the clutch against the Cards?
Is St. Louis really that much better of a club than its opponents, or is the opposition simply giving games away the way I believe they are?
Let’s go back to last October…
Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt & Roy Halladay allow a combined 14-earned runs against St. Louis in the NLDS. In the decisive Game 5 Philadelphia committed more errors (2) than runs scored (0) finishing off its pathetic series (1-2) at home and essentially put a clown nose on its 102-win regular season.
The Brewers were then outscored by 17 total runs in the 6-game NLCS series while committing an unheard of 9 errors…NINE! And despite the most home wins in the majors during the regular season (57), Milwaukee went just (1-2) at Miller Park in the series.
In the Fall Classic the Cardinals outscored the Rangers by 8-runs, thanks in large part to a 16-7 drubbing in Game 3 at Texas. But the Rangers then blew a 3-run lead after 7 innings and a 2-run lead in the top of the 10th in Game 6.
In fact, the Cards were down to its final strike before David Freese delivered his game-tying triple in the bottom of the 9th…and then a game-winning walkoff home run in the bottom of the 11th. And to make matters worse, Texas made 8 fielding errors in the 7-game series…EIGHT!
And what did we see Friday in Atlanta? The Braves, with the highest fielding percentage in the league, committed 3 errors leading to 3 unearned runs in a 6-3 loss.
The Braves also had not lost behind its starting pitcher, Chris Medlen, in his last 23-starts–the longest such streak in modern baseball history! Not only that, but the Braves also had home field advantage in the 1-game play-in but still blew it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not fuming over the Cards’ performance. Heck, I wish the Cubs were half the opportunist St. Louis has been in the postseason. But what the heck’s going on with the rest of the Senior Circuit?
Is it just my personal dislike for the Cardinals that’s preventing me from validating St. Louis’ October success…or am I not the only one who’s ticked the rest of the National League is pulling a choke job worthy of the Cubs’ approval?
Heaven help me if the Nationals fall in line with the rest of the NL when it comes to finishing off the Cardinals. But quite honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if they do…everyone else seemingly has.
Maybe St. Louis is just that good…or maybe not? Either way, I just wish somebody would make the Cardinals earn a postseason series instead of giving it away. At least then I could live with it.
The infield fly call was a bad one, and I don’t care if it was technically the right call within the rules.
It’s a judgment call by the umpire…and his judgment was off, which is evident in the replay. The umpire’s call came too late to begin with, and unfortunately, killed what could have been a game-changing rally for Atlanta.
But it’s hardly the reason the Braves lost the game. Three fielding errors led to three unearned runs…and the Braves lost by those three unearned runs 6-3. That can’t happen in the postseason, especially when you’re statistically the best fielding team in the league, as the Braves are.
“Ultimately I think that when we look back on this loss, we need to look at ourselves in the mirror,”… “We put ourselves in that predicament, down 6-2. You know, that call right there is kind of a gray area. I don’t know. But I’m not willing to say that that particular call cost us the ballgame. Ultimately, three errors cost us the ballgame, mine probably being the biggest.” –Chipper Jones
And let’s not forget the Braves were the beneficiary of a late timeout call at the plate in the second inning, one which gave David Ross another cut…the result of which landed the next pitch in the bleachers for an early 2-0 lead.
That particular bad call actually changed the game on the scoreboard, whereas the blown infield fly ruling did not.
The Braves, not the umpires, decided the outcome of this game, and per the usual, the Cardinals were happy to take advantage.
However, hats off to Fredi Gonzalez for handling the loss with class. He didn’t gripe or complain (at least from what I heard) but simply shouldered the blame for his team’s poor fielding.
I can only hope Davey Johnson won’t have to do the same following the NLDS.
Ryan Dempster allowed 16-earned runs in his first 17.1 innings with the Rangers. Since then, however, he’s won six of his last seven starts improving to (7-2) with a 4.48 ERA with Texas.
In 10 starts with the Rangers Dempster’s allowed two or fewer earned-runs six times. He’s also pitched into the sixth-inning six times, reaching seven-innings once, and once more in an eight-inning effort. Only twice has he failed to reach the six-innings mark (4.3 & 3.1).
Including 16 starts with the Cubs this season, Dempster is (12-7) overall with a 3.07 ERA. He’s scheduled for two more regular season starts–at home against the Angels on Friday and at Oakland next Wednesday in the season finale.
Bottom Line: Dempster hasn’t dominated AL lineups the way he had in the NL, which was expected, but all things considered he’s been as good as advertised since Texas acquired him at the trade deadline.
PAUL MAHOLM: The former Cubs lefty evened his record with the Braves to (4-4) after tossing 6.2 shutout innings in a 3-0 win vs. Miami last night.
In 10 starts with Atlanta Maholm has allowed two or fewer earned-runs six times. He’s pitched six or more innings seven times, three times managed at least seven-innings and recorded one complete-game shutout.
Including his 20-starts with the Cubs this season, Maholm is (13-10) overall with a 3.71 ERA. His win-total is a career-high surpassing his 10-win season with Pittsburgh in 2007. He can be expected to make one final start this regular season coming at Pittsburgh on Monday.
Bottom Line: Maholm has pitched better than his record in Atlanta while adding solid rotation depth for the Braves’ postseason run. It’s turned out to be a career-year for the southpaw.
Reed Johnson has seen plenty of playing time since joining the Braves along with Paul Maholm on July 30th.
He’s appeared in 36-games, mainly as a late-inning defensive replacement, but has started 19-games while batting .278/.309/.333 with seven runs scored, five doubles and four RBI in 90 at-bats.
Including his 76-games spent with Chicago this year, Johnson is hitting .293, 3 HR, 20 RBI and a .745 OPS overall. His 17 pinch-hits leads the majors.
GEOVANY SOTO: A change of scenery hasn’t done much to help Soto offensively since joining the Rangers. He’s had plenty of opportunity, too. Regular backstop, Mike Napoli, was shelved for 33-games with a strained quad since early August.
In Soto’s 41-games with Texas, 36-starts, he’s batting a paltry .211 with six doubles, 5 HR, 24 RBI and a .641 OPS.
Although Soto’s experienced somewhat of a surge at the plate recently, 2 HR & 7 RBI over his last six starts, he’s batting .170 over his last 17-games.
To make matters worse, Soto’s already below-average 17.1-percent of runners caught stealing with the Cubs is down to 13.3-percent with Texas, having gunned-down just 4 of 30 base stealers.
I watched the Cubs 14-4 shellacking of Pittsburgh (you’re welcome Reds fans) from the bleachers Monday night. Definitely one of the most enjoyable games I’ve been to all year.
But all the excitement that came from a nine-run fifth-inning and home runs from Barney, Castro and Rizzo, quickly turned the buzz in the bleachers to trade anticipation after Reed exited the game in the fifth inning and Soto soon after.
I rushed home after the final out, quickly showered and then began digesting the Cubs latest player movement.
Quite honestly, my initial reaction to the trades was “Thank gawd. Something finally went down.” I’ll admit, I was growing more nervous with each passing hour the Cubs didn’t make a move as we close in on today’s 3pm EST non-waiver trade deadline.
PAUL MAHOLM & REED JOHNSON TRADED TO BRAVES
It turns out my gut feeling was right about Paul Maholm ending up with the Braves.
July 29 Post: “My gut feeling is Maholm ends up in Atlanta. The fact the Cubs and Braves already came to terms for Dempster, despite the outcome, tells us the Cubs like what the Braves have to offer as far as talented pitching prospects and Atlanta is clearly ready to deal.”
It’s a good fit for Paul and for Reed. It also appears what the Braves can’t make up in talent towards catching Washington in the NL East they’ll instead rely on high-character, team-first personnel the likes of both Maholm and Johnson.
There’s never anything wrong with adding a couple of high-character guys to a ball club. The Cardinals dynamic team-character largely outweighed its talent en route to winning the World Series last year.
The return pieces in the trade with Atlanta look favorable as well. You can read more about it here.
GEOVANY SOTO TRADED TO RANGERS
In the ‘Lucky Dog’ trade of the day, Geovany Soto is changing his Cubbie blue for silver spurs. Good for him, good for the Cubs.
Soto couldn’t be in a better situation. Texas needed a quality back-up catcher and Soto is plenty good to fit the bill for a couple of months.
Despite not hitting worth a darn this season (.199/.284/.347), we know the potential is there for Soto to contribute offensively with Texas, not that the Rangers are in any need of offensive help.
But Soto’s greater value to the Rangers is his ability to call a good game and provide much needed relief down the stretch for his counter-part, Mike Napoli.
I’m happy Soto gets this opportunity to compete for a ring considering his career has basically trended downwards since his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2008.
This could very well be the last shot the 29-year-old gets, not just to play for a contender, but to remain in the majors before he hits himself out of the league.
Steve Clevenger and Welington Castillo, meanwhile, will fill out the Cubs catching corps nicely throughout the rest of the season.
It was time the Cubs moved on from the underachieving Soto, and time to find out whether Clevenger or Castillo should remain as part of the Cubs rebuilding plan.
WHAT TO EXPECT OF THE PLAYERS COMING IN RETURN
Not surprisingly, the return for Soto is minor league RHP Jacob Brigham. The 24-year-old is (5-5, 4.28 ERA) through 20 starts with Double-A Frisco.
You can read more about Brigham here.
With two trades the Cubs received three minor league hurlers. Knowing trades are never a sure thing, and neither Maholm, Johnson or Soto were of great trade value, my hope is for two of the three prospects to pan out.
It might only be one that finds his way to the Cubs 25-man roster, or none for that matter. But given the current state of the Cubs, these are calculated risks Team Theo needed to make.
Now that the ball’s rolling, it doesn’t appear the Cubs will stop here with player trades–nor should they.
The big fish of Dempster, Garza and Soriano are left to fry. And the best part is, today’s the deadline…no more waiting games.
Alfonso Soriano an Atlanta Brave?
It’s not that far fetched if the Cubs can somehow package Soriano in a deal with Marlon Byrd, who the Braves have been interested in acquiring over the last 10 months.
Soriano’s insistence on being dealt to a contender makes Atlanta an ideal destination considering the Braves were a postseason shoe-in before its historic September collapse enabled St. Louis to win the Wild Card.
And with Atlanta having avoided the signing of a single free agent this winter, Soriano’s bat and Byrd’s outfield versatility could be the complementary pieces to push the Braves back into October.
Derrek Lee has finally got it going offensively with Atlanta.
He crushed a two-out, seventh-inning grad slam to power the Braves to a 6-3 come-from-behind win on Sunday, then went 2-for-4 Monday night at Philly.
Lee has reach base safely in 16 of his last 20 games.
Is batting .338 with 12 runs, 11 RBI and 10 walks since August 30.
And since joining the Braves has raised his average 20-points (.256).
The prospects of Lee returning to the post season, however, remains in jeopardy. Philadelphia has won eight straight, including a 3-1 vicotry Monday against Atlanta, increasing its lead in the East to 4.0 games.
The Braves, meanwhile, hold a two game edge in the Wild Card.
But San Diego and Colorado continue to close the gap quickly.
A hot-hitting Derrek Lee could prove the difference maker down the stretch.
I’m glad Derrek Lee accepted the trade to Atlanta.
He’s deserving of a winning team and another shot at winning a championship.
I’ve always respected D-Lee the player, but never more so than last year when he rebounded from an awful start to lead the Cubs in home runs, RBI, runs scored, and OPS.
Lee accomplished the feat despite all the nay-sayers, like me, who screamed for Micah Hoffpauir, and despite the Cubs’ poor record, and despite the lack of protection in the lineup.
His second half was so brilliant (1.092 OPS and 92 RBI after the All Star break) that he finished ninth in the MVP voting. Who knew, right?
Dare I say, D-Lee may have even been undervalued heading into the last year of his contract?
I’m calling this the Cubbie Special.
A wasted quality start, no offense and another injured player (Soto).
That’s been the story all season long.
And just when it seems the Cubs get going offensively, they poo the bed against Atlanta at home. Terrible.
More errors than runs scored sums up the afternoon.
I gave the Cubs’ offense a pass against Vasquez Tuesday, but Kawakami was let off the hook with two double plays (three total for the game) and nine men left on base.
What does it take for this team to score more runs? A million dollar question I suppose.