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A World Series Saved

By bullpenbrian - October 24, 2012 - 1:16 am Leave a comment.

Bullpen Brian

As far as I’m concerned the Tigers and Giants saved the Postseason.

A World Series void of St. Louis & New York restores a proper order to the baseball universe, for which I am grateful considering October baseball has been out of whack for far too long.

The two better teams advanced in their respective LCS series sparing us from what would’ve been an unbearable Fall Classic.

-And on the seventh game, God looked down from the heavens and said “For the betterment of all things good on earth, let the ridiculousness of Cardinals’ postseason baseball end.” And so it came to be. The Baseball Bible

Detroit vs. San Fran appears to be a really good matchup–at least on paper as the saying goes. And it may not have great interest from the masses, but if it extends beyond five-games it should be a real treat for any and all baseball fans.

Most importantly, it won’t be the ‘puke-on-my-shoes’ Cardinals or the expletive Yankees winning it all again. If the Fall Classic could’ve been any less desirable, those two would’ve accomplished it by merely showing up for Game1.

We’re saved, I tell ya. Saved! Baseball fans rejoice!

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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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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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Cardinals the Anti-Cubs

By bullpenbrian - October 13, 2012 - 1:15 am Leave a comment.

It’s like the Cardinals are the anti-Cubs. The bigger the moment, the more desperate the situation, the better St. Louis plays. I wonder what that’s like?

Of course, it can’t be ignored the Cardinals’ postseason opponents have crapped down their legs in the process, easing the way for St. Louis to win its last 6 elimination games.

The Nationals are just the latest team to soil its drawers vs. the Cards, joining the Phillies, Brewers and Rangers as recently as last year…and the Braves this postseason.

Oct. 6 Post: 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.

No team had overcome a 6-run deficit in a winner-take-all game until last night when the Nats unleashed a Cubs-like brain fart allowing 6-runs to score from the seventh-inning on, including 4-runs in the top of the ninth.

I couldn’t be more disgusted with the Nationals’ collapse. Davey Johnson was out-managed, his team out-played and out-willed. Where was Stephen Strasburg, by the way?

And as expected, there were the Cardinals, in ho-hum fashion continuing to do their thing…taking advantage of yet another team’s inability to close out the never-say-die boys from St. Lou.

So I wonder, will another National League team ever stand up to St. Louis, or is this how it plays out for eternity–choke jobs and gift wrapping championships for the Cubs’ most hated rival?

I know, I know…the Cardinals deserve some credit, too. But for heaven’s sake, enough is enough. For the love of baseball, San Francisco, do us all a favor and play an NLCS series that at least makes the Cardinals earn it.

Is that really too much to ask?

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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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Live Game Blog | Game 5 NLDS | Giants vs. Reds

By bullpenbrian - October 11, 2012 - 1:23 pm Leave a comment.

What a terrific comeback by the Giants who become the first team in the National League to win the NLDS after losing the first 2-games of the series…not to mention, doing so in this one-year format where they had to play the last 3-games on the road. Outstanding.

Buster Posey’s fifth-inning grand slam made the difference as part of a 6-run inning against Reds starter Matt Latos. Cincinnati had plenty of chances, including having the game-tying runs at the plate in four consecutive innings. It was too little, too late from the Reds who could never finish off the Giants after leaving the bay up 2-0.

“The Reds did not lose this series, the Giants won it.” -Ron Darling TBS

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On Behalf Of The NL, Another Gift For the Cardinals

By bullpenbrian - October 6, 2012 - 3:20 am 2 comments.

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.

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Wild Success For Wild Cards

By bullpenbrian - October 4, 2012 - 5:00 am Leave a comment.

I’ve posted before how the standings on July Fourth are typically a good indicator of which teams will make the playoffs.

I wasn’t so sure the addition of a second wild card would affect the postseason races all that much over the final three months, but it certainly has with the season drawing to its dramatic close on Wednesday.

Here’s a quick look at the division leaders on the Fourth of July: Yankees, White Sox, Rangers | Nationals, Pirates, Dodgers.

And the wild cards: Orioles, Angels…Giants, Reds.

As we can see, only two of the division leaders went on to close the deal (Yankees, Nationals) and only one wild card team (Orioles) finished where they were on July Fourth.

The Giants and Reds, of course, ascended to division titles and the Rangers still slipped in as a wild card. Even the Cardinals, winners of the second wild card, were just a game back of its place on July 4.

So nearly half the field in postseason-position on July Fourth didn’t make the cut (White Sox, Pirates, Dodgers & Angels).

What’s more, three other teams reached the postseason despite a sub .500 record at the Fourth of July (Detroit, Oakland & Atlanta). Coincidentally, all three were in third place in their respective divisions at the time.

One could argue a second wild card did little to spice up the races considering all three AL division titles were decided by 3 or fewer games…the NL East was a close race in the Senior Circuit…and the other two NL divisions were blowouts anyway.

But the beauty of the second wild card, however, kept postseason hopes alive in those tight division races with teams fighting for home field advantage and to avoid the single elimination wild card play-in game.

The wild cards also made for meaningful baseball games among teams like St. Louis, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Tampa and Anaheim…not to mention, held out hope during the collapse of division leaders on the South Side of Chicago, Chavez Ravine, Texas and Pittsburgh.

In its first season the extra wild cards have been everything baseball fans, including myself, had hoped it would be…perhaps making those Fourth of July predictions much more precarious than they use to be.

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Weighing In On Stephen Strasburg

By bullpenbrian - September 6, 2012 - 2:15 am 6 comments.

The Nationals have the best record in the major leagues (84-52) and a Magic Number of (19). They ‘re 7.5 games up on Atlanta with four weeks remaining in the regular season–the division crown is all but a formality.

More importantly, Washington is fit to win the NL pennant, unless of course, they were to shut down their best pitcher for the rest of the season.

I understand Steven Strasburg is a huge investment. I understand the Nationals want to protect that investment. But if the decision is left up to me, he pitches the remainder of the season, including the playoffs.

That doesn’t mean I throw caution to the wind with Strasburg. Instead, I’d limit his workload; less innings and fewer games started down the stretch (as suggested by Tom Glavine).

There’s no question postseason pitching is a different animal than the regular season. Every pitch matters, and nearly every pitch is thrown with maxed-out effort. Is that a risk worth taking with Strasburg? I think it is, and here’s why.

A chance to win the World Series should be cherished. So much has to go right to reach such heights and so much cannot be controlled. There’s no guarantee the Nationals find themselves in the same position next year, or even in the coming seasons–with or without Strasburg.

Power-pitching is gold in October. It’s the difference-maker. It’s exactly what Strasburg should be for the Nationals. Shutting him down greatly limits that often fleeting opportunity to win now on a team poised to reach the Fall Classic.

“I’m not sure any of us understand, but it’s the right thing to do,” said Nats manager Davey Johnson.

I don’t think it’s the right move, and judging by Davey’s comment, he doesn’t think so, either.

Johnson himself is a fantastic manager. In fact, I’d consider him a saving grace if Washington sticks to its guns about shelving Strasburg. But good managing is hardly a replacement for a power-pitching ace like Strasburg in any postseason series.

Not to mention, if the Nationals don’t win the NL Pennant the thoughts of ‘what might have been’ could haunt this club for a long, long time. And that’s the last thing I want on my mind if I’m a member of the Nats organization.

When the time’s right to win, you go for it. You don’t play for next year and you don’t play scared. That’s how championships are won.

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