MLB: NLDS-St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates

You stick enough good teams into small rooms and, eventually, you’re going to get some good games. The 2013 playoffs roared through their first weekend to much acclaim, finally offering the sweet pitching and unmatched tension that only playoff baseball can deliver.

The Pirates Sunday evening triumph and Saturday’s late pitching duel for the ages highlight the weekend, with the Sonny Gray/Justin Verlander battle for the ages in as the clubhouse leader for best game of the year. Anytime the only run of the game scores on the game’s final play, you’re having a good, nail-biting time at the ballpark.

Eyecatchers

  1. Sonny Gray. Duh. Billed by yours truly as “everything Danny Salazar was hyped as except real”, Gray is a very polished product in a very young form. Gray’s velocity doesn’t burst guns but his ability to change speeds and locations with his breaking stuff makes him very dangerous player indeed.

    Gray went toe-to-toe with Justin Verlander, putting up eight innings of four hit ball, striking out nine and walking just two – all with the grand total of zero runs in support. Not a bad playoff debut. Not bad at all.

  2. Justin Verlander. Justin Verlander has another gear. He might not throw quite as hard as he once did, but with the game on the line and his day nearing an end, Justin Verlander reached back and found something extra on Saturday night. He found a few extra MPH to hump his fastball up, throwing his hardest pitch of the night (98.7 mph) with his final offering of the night.

    verlander zone oakland

    That’s pretty good, no?

  3. Carl Crawford. The playoffs are different. 10-4 game, guy without the best reputation over recent years. But still, playoffs.

    Awesome.

  4. Pedro Alvarez. David Schoenfield of ESPN has a nice look at Pedro Alvarez of the Pirates, who managed to scrape together a nice at bats against left handed pitching in huge spots for his Pirates.

    The odds were very much against Alvarez when he stepped in against Kevin Siegrist, considering Pedro’s struggles against left-handed pitching and the lefty fireballer’s insane numbers in 2013. But Alvarez steered a ground ball through a hole, giving the Pirates a lead they would not relinquish.

  5. Carlos Beltran. Carlos Beltran hits everything out of the park, including superlatives. What Carlos Beltran has done and, just as importantly, continues doing as a post-season performer is nothing short of amazing. As in, the textbook definition of “amazing”, wherein one’s jaw drops and mouth hangs agape in stunned silence, betraying a sincere disbelief that what is seen can be believed.

    Carlos Beltran hit his 16th postseason home run on Sunday night, knotting the Cards/Pirates game before the Pirates regained their status as Team Of Destiny in the 8th. Betran’s homer added to the run-scoring single he notched earlier in the game. He’s a mere 4 for 12 with two homers and a walk in this series, knocking in six of the Cardinals runs along the way. HOW DOES HE KEEP DOING THIS?

    Some have tried to discredit Beltran’s playoff heroics, noting Babe Ruth and his ilk made their bones in World Series, a platform Beltran performed on just once. A claim so preposterous it does not even deserve the “level playing field” smack down it so openly invites.

    Carlos Beltran hit his 16 home runs in fewer plate appearances than Babe Ruth. Which is almost entirely beside the point. To credit Beltran for his unbelievable playoff success is not to deny credit to Babe Ruth. HE’S BABE RUTH. I have a feeling his legacy is secure, whether Beltran bangs a few more hangers in his career or otherwise.

Watching the Watchmen

I don’t follow a great many players on twitter because most baseball players are terrible Twitter follows. Brandon McCarthy is one exception to the rule. Brandon McCarthy is the exception to many rules, if we’re being honest.

Without knowing the numbers, I’d say a great percentage of pro ball players don’t watch the playoffs. Many players just want a break from the game after being at the grind since February. Others are too immersed in their fantasy football team to care.

Brandon McCarthy tweets about most playoff games but, more than anything, he tweets about the A’s – Tigers series. When he does, the former A’s pitcher can’t help but color his tweets with a certain…affection for his former team. Maybe I’m filling in the margins on my own but he does add a particular type of insight that only an insider can get.

Perhaps McCarthy is angling for a broadcasting job when he’s finished with the game (angling or otherwise, somebody will give him a job in a heartbeat) but there is something telling in the reverent tones when McCarthy discusses his former side. Not to say I buy all the way into chemistry, but the strange mix of compatible personalities, adversity drawing them together (i.e. playing in Oakland) and team success seems to suit the current Diamondbacks oddball pitcher.

But baseball is a job. A lucrative job with only so many chances to earn life-changing money. So McCarthy leaves the frat house of O.co for the staid environs of Phoenix, joining for the uniformly detestable Diamondbacks because they offered him a second guaranteed year on his contract. McCarthy plays his best for his new team while his heart longs to be back in the Bay Area, growing beards and having fun with the boys. Sucks to watch somebody grow up on Twitter but here we are.

Game Chart of the weekend


Source: FanGraphs

Should the Pirates hold off the Cardinals, it will go down as an upset. It shouldn’t really be considered an upset, as the Pirates won 94 games this year and feature the likely NL MVP and some really good pitching and a nice bullpen and a crazed home crown. But they are the Pirates and their opponents are the Cardinals so it (will/might) count as an upset in my book.

But the Pirates are all the things listed above and more. They are pitching well and exposing the Cardinals laughably thin bench and junkie-like dependence on the cheap-high of situational hitting. The Cardinals will not just roll over and die but the Pirates are making believers of everyone right now, including the thousands who crowd in and around PNC Park. It’s one thing to cheer for your team, it is another to actually believe they’ll come through. It feels like the latter might be happening among Pirates fans right now.

The Power Belongs in the Hands of the Starters?

After a generation of interminable pitcher changes and managers playing matchups long into the night, are we witnessing a new era of baseball? So far this postseason, we’ve seen multiple managers leave their starting pitcher in much longer than conventional wisdom suggests.

Leading the charge, of course, is Joe Maddon, who stuck with David Price in the Texas to great effect but allowed his ace to get beat up in Boston, leaving Price in the game just long enough to allow seven runs. Matt Moore wasn’t exactly cruising in Game One against Boston but, again, Maddon left him in longer than the situation seemed to warrant. Last night in LA, Fredi Gonzalez stuck with an ineffective and laboring Julio Tehran just long enough for the game to get out of hand. Same with Clint Hurdle during A.J. Burnett‘s less than stellar start in Game One of that series.

What gives? It is an inability for managers to change gears, reverting back to a regular season mentality of “save the bullpen” when a rested bullpen doesn’t do much good when tomorrow’s game is $500 Nassau in Arizona?

Maybe it isn’t the worst thing to happen. If a manager figure his starter is as capable of retiring the hitters and the pitcher is still fresh, then what’s the big deal? If anything, making moves they think help the team rather than moves for the sake of moves (often to insulate themselves from criticism) is a big step in the right direction.

Then again, the modern bullpen is chockablock with big armed goons just waiting for their chance to register a whole pile of strikeouts. Relief pitching has never been as good as it is right now, why roll the dice on a hunch with a starter who appears taxed or not at his best? It’s a tricky game to play with everything on the line. If you can’t trust your big armed goon squad to hold a lead/prevent a game from slipping away, you don’t have much in the way of a chance in a short series against a good team, anyway.

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The extreme dichotomy of professional baseball

By all objective measures, Delmon Young sucks as a professional baseball player. After the Phillies dumped him this season, the Rays took a chance on their former first round draft pick, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle.

Delmon Young never fulfilled the promise of his lofty draft position or the glowing scouting reports to pushed him to the top of the 2003 draft class.

As evidenced by his 2012 playoff run, Delmon Young can still swing it from time to time. It was this belief that allowed the tall foreheads and Tampa Bay Baseball Holdings Inc to bring him back to the flock. In the play-in game against Cleveland, Young delivered a huge hit, taking previously dominant rookie Danny Salazar out the left field, setting the stage for a Tampa Bay win.

In each of the two games against the Red Sox, Young went 1-3. He drove in a run Saturday night’s game. He also swung, and missed, at the first pitch five times in 11 PAs. He has seen a steady diet of offspeed pitches, many out of the strike zone.

Few players in the game are capable of looking as singularly awful in a plate appearance like Delmon Young can look lost in an AB. He appears to have much in the way of a plan at the plate beyond “whack the first fastball you can reach.”

This isn’t a bad plan as a rule. As Young showed against Salazar, he can sometimes whack the first fastball he can reach a long way. He, in fact, whacked a very tough pitch a very long way that night. He’s 2 for 2 on first pitches put in play during baseball’s second season.

This, friends, is the dichotomy. Baseball is very hard. VERY HARD. Baseball used to be easy for Delmon Young and then it was hard. Very hard. By Wins Above Replacement, Delmon Young has been worth around…zero Wins in his career (+1.5 on Baseball Reference, -1.5 on Fangraphs.)

I don’t know that the game humbled him but the game certainly exposed the shortcomings in his particular skillset. But then again, in a rare moment, Delmon Young flashes back, his swing a rare equalizer.

Now, let’s not get all purple prose and forgo reality. For the second winter in a row, Delmon Young will struggle to find work at the big league level. And rightfully so, if we’re being honest. But that’s the thing with guys like Delmon Young – the game is so, so hard and yet it can appear, for even a fleeting moment, to come to certain individuals so easily to defy understanding.

Delmon Young is baseball. Baseball is Delmon Young*.

* – it demands noting that baseball is decidedly less anti-Semitic than Delmon Young, to its eternal credit.