November 2009

Let the Hot Stove season begin…

With the New York Yankees crowned as baseball’s champion for the 27th
time, it marks the end of the 2009 campaign. Some clubs saw their
postseason aspirations dashed long ago and their attention turned to
the building process by midsummer, but now all 30 clubs will be on the
market to add to the mix for next year and beyond.

The activity
will have its usual highs and lows, but as always there will be plenty
to talk about. Special focus here will be given to the National League
of course, where the Atlanta Braves will look to build on a solid ’09
season by finding the missing pieces to the puzzle.

There is
little doubt in my mind that this past winter and regular season will
be one that represents a turning point for the franchise. John Smoltz,Tom Glavine and Jeff Francoeur were among the departed, while Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez and Tommy Hanson helped bolster the club’s playoff chances in their first season in Atlanta.

General Manager Frank Wren
has a working list of Atlanta’s needs, one that he will compare when
working the phones and meeting with other team executives as well as
when scouring the free agent market.

First moves of the winter…

As
free agents officially file and the offseason begins, the Braves have
already taken a couple of steps toward the upcoming season. And it all
starts where else, but in the pitching department.

tim_hudson.jpgThe Braves are expected to announce a three-year contract extension with veteran right-hander Tim Hudson at some point in the near future.

Mark Bowman of MLB.com reported that Hudson has passed his physical in his most recent blog entry (which you can read here),
paving the way for deal to be made official. Contract terms are
expected to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-years and $27
million.

Hudson, 34, bounced back from Tommy John surgery to make seven starts
for the Braves in September and October, going 2-1 with a 3.61 ERA in
42 1/3 innings of work. Following the return of Hudson, righty Kenshin Kawakami was bumped from the rotation to the bullpen.

Extending
Hudson adds to the team’s core strength, which is once again starting
pitching. It also adds the flexibility of dangling a top-end starter on
the trade market, where the Braves could find a possible match that
would bring the team a much needed corner outfield power bat.

Atlanta also signed recently released righty reliever Scott Proctor,
formerly of the Florida Marlins, to a minor league deal with an
invitation to spring training that will allow him to compete for a
bullpen job. Proctor, 32, was placed on the disabled list in spring
training and was sidelined with Tommy John surgery in May.

Originally
a 5th round selection by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1998 amatuer
draft, Proctor was dealt to the New York Yankees along with Bubba Crosby in exchange for Robin Ventura
on July 31, 2003. He found his way back to the Dodgers exactly four
years to the day later, heading to L.A. as former Brave Wilson Betemit was shipped to the Bronx in 2007.

The
righty proved to be very durable in the 2006 and 2007 seasons, hurling
83 games in each campaign with ERA’s of 3.52 and 3.65 respectively. Arm
troubles began while with the Dodgers in 2008 and culminated with arm
surgery last season.

Hot Stove Coverage
 
Developing
stories and analysis will continue all winter, with the Braves
offseason shopping list coming soon. In the meantime, be sure to check
out MLBTradeRumors.com for all the latest news and rumors from all over baseball.

Till next time,

G-Mc
 

World Series Game 6: Yankees win 27th World title

Chris Rose Yankees.jpg

I know that Chris Rose from Fox would rather be calling the World Series of Poker or hosting Best Damn’s Top 50 Baseball Bloopers, but I guess being on the field with the New York Yankees for their 27th World Series Championship will have to do.

More to come,

G-Mc

World Series Game 5: Utley slugs Phillies past Yanks

Thumbnail image for World Series.jpgThe Philadelphia Phillies pounded their way to an 8-6 victory in Game 5, pushing the World Series back to New York and postponing any celebration plans the New York Yankees may have had on Monday.

Slugging second baseman Chase Utley slugged his way into the record books with his second multi-home run game of the World Series, belting two homers and driving in four runs.

Utley’s big night gave him a share of two postseason records. His five homers in this series ties Reggie Jackson for the most in a single World Series, while Utley’s seven career Fall Classic home runs are the most by any second baseman in baseball history.

Outside of Utley, the Phillies had Cliff Lee working on the hill as they stared elimination in the face and live to fight another day. Lee was not as sharp as his Game 1 masterpiece, but with eight runs of support he didn’t have to be.

The lefty was pitching well into the eighth inning before a Yankee rally forced his exit. His final line was five earned runs on seven hits and three walks with three strikeouts over seven innings. Three of the runs scored in that eighth frame when the first three batters reached against Lee.

Raul Ibanez enjoyed a 2-for-4 night with a homer and two RBI’s in the winning effort. While much of the attention had been on Ryan Howard‘s struggles, Ibanez had struck out seven times in his prior 12 at-bats, so a good night for the left fielder was a welcome sign for the Philadelphia offense.

Ryan_Howard_K.jpgSpeaking of Howard, Game 5 was yet another tough night in this series for the Phillies clean-up hitter. His futility at the plate reached record proportions when he was punched out twice on Monday to tie a World Series record with 12 strikeouts thus far in the series.

The bad news for Howard, if you want to call it that, is that he will set a record with his next strikeout, but the Yankees should be aware there is a flip side to that coin. It only takes one swing of the bat with a couple men on base for Howard to change the game. Look for the Yankees to continue feeding Howard the steady diet of breaking pitches he has seen throughout this World Series.

Howard has some elite company though, as both first basemen have struggled. Mark Teixeira is just 2-for-19, but has scored four runs, homered and knocked in two others while striking out seven times. Those are hardly big time numbers, but when compared to Howard’s 3-for-19 with two runs scored, one RBI and 12 punch-outs… well, you get the picture. It’s safe to say that each team would love to see their first baseman break out in a big way in Game 6.

Looking Ahead to Game 6:

The series shifts back to New York and a match-up of veteran hurlers will be on tap in the Bronx. All-time postseason wins leader Andy Pettitte will get the ball on three days rest against Pedro Martinez of the Phillies. It is truly a fascinating duel in the making. While Pettitte needs no postseason introduction, Pedro is still searching for a big game start that could help define his legacy in the playoffs.

As of now, most people remember October 16, 2003. Of course, that is the well documented and ill-fated night on which Boston manager Grady Little left Martinez in with a 5-3 lead with the Red Sox just five outs away from the World Series. The Yankees had other ideas.

Pedro departs SM.jpgThis is a different Pedro Martinez. His high-90s fastball has long since vanished. This is a Pedro who relies on his wits, guile and a slew of off-speed pitches to get the job done. This is a Pedro who has to outthink hitters rather than blowing them away. He departed his first series start with a grin on his face, but Game 6 has much more on the line. I’d count on seeing a focused Pedro.

Looking at each hurler’s initial start in this series, Pedro had the better of the two, but it was Pettitte who put one in the win column. Martinez went six innings and allowed three runs on six hits while walking two and striking out eight in his Game 2 starting assignment. Pettitte spotted the Phillies three early runs in Game 3, but settled down to go six innings and allow four total runs on five hits and three walks to go along with seven strikeouts.

The Yankees will get to insert a red-hot Hideki Matsui back into the line-up as the designated hitter is back in play. It would stand to reason that the Phillies will start the right hand hitting Ben Francisco instead of Matt Stairs against the lefty Pettitte. That would give the edge in the DH department, at least on paper, to the Yankees. Mutsui is 5-for-9 with two homers, while Francisco is hitless in four World Series at-bats.

Though there are quite a few stars lining up, World Series games have a way of finding unsung heroes, so there is no guarantee that the Yankees will be able to ice the Phillies in Game 6. If Philadelphia is able to push a Game 7, then all the momentum shifts back to the defending champions. At that point, the Phillies have nothing to lose, the Yankees will have squandered a 3-1 series lead and, more than ever, the pressure to win will be squarely on hte shoulders of Joe Girardi’s club. Gotta love the drama, but winning Game 6 is all either team is thinking about as of now.

If history repeats itself, then we are in for a close game as far as the starting pitchers are concerned. However, the bullpens have had a way of making things interesting for both sides. Again, a Phillies victory would take the wind out of the Yankees sails and even things up for an exciting seventh contest. That makes Game 6 must-see TV.

Prediction: Yankees win 5-3 to take their 27th World Series Championship

Till next time,

G-Mc

World Series Game 4: Damon helps Yanks steal victory

Thumbnail image for World Series.jpgIf the Phillies weren’t feeling the pressure before, then they most certainly are now. Johnny Damon‘s legs and Alex Rodriguez‘s bat helped the Yankees break a 4-4 tie with a three-run ninth inning rally that propelled New York to a 7-4 victory in Game 4 and a 3-1 lead in the World Series.

Baseball can show you something each night that you have never seen before, evidenced by Damon’s adventurous base running during that ninth inning.

Damon executed an unorthodox double-steal by anyone’s standards, taking advantage of a poor throw from catcher Carlos Ruiz and Philadelphia’s defensive over-shift to steal both second and third base on one play. The Phillies had moved three infielders to the right side during Mark Teixeira‘s at-bat, leaving usual third baseman Pedro Feliz to cover second base on the attempted steal.

Damon_Feliz.jpgThe short-hop throw by Ruiz was not only late, but also pulled Feliz off the bag and allowed Damon pop out of his slide and head toward an unattended third base. Damon’s heads up base running started Phillies closer Brad Lidge down a familiar path of destruction, though for the first time this postseason.

Rodriguez, who was no doubt looking to make the Phillies pay for plunking him on three occasions over the past two nights, drilled a fastball into the left field corner to chase home Damon and put the Yankees ahead 5-4.

Jorge Posada drove home two more a two-out double to give New York a three-run lead. Prior to those three runs scoring, Lidge was just one pitch away from escaping the inning, but Damon’s at-bat proves how quickly the momentum can swing back in the other direction.

Just one inning after Feliz tied the game at 4-4 with his solo-blast off Joba Chamberlain, the stunned Philadelphia crowd could only watch in horror as the Yankees took the lead and then placed it in the more than capable hands of Mariano Rivera, who recorded his second save of the series.

Lidge had previously converted all 10 postseason save opportunities in his two-year Philadelphia career, but the blown save on Sunday has put the Phillies at a distinct disadvantage in the Fall Classic. There have been 33 teams that have fallen behind 3-1 in the World Series and only five have rallied to win it, the last being Kansas City in 1985.

As I said yesterday, if Alex Rodriguez wakes up at the plate then the Phillies are going to be in trouble. It was A-Rod who turned the tide in the ninth inning with his clutch two-out run-scoring double to put the Yankees back in the lead.

CC Sabathia was less than his best, but then again the lefty ace is better than most hurlers  in baseball even in that scenario. Regardless, Sabathia kept his team in the game and departed with the lead in the seventh inning.

Looking ahead to Game 5:

Philadelphia has their work cut out for them as Cliff Lee takes the hill for the second time in this World Series. Some questioned Phillies manager Charlie Manuel for not having Lee going on short rest in Game 4, but Lee had never started on less than full rest in his career which  underscores the fact that Philadelphia wasn’t quite ready to hit the panic button.

From here on out, it’s a different story.

Ryan Howard has been unable to make an impact during the series and Yankees left-handers have consistently kept the big slugger quiet. Without their clean-up hitter to pose a definite threat, Philadelphia’s line-up can be broken down and contained. A big night from Howard against righty A.J. Burnett would be just what the doctor ordered to keep the Phillies alive and well in this World Series.

Burnett will take the mound for the biggest start of his career, holding in his hands a chance to help the Yankees clinch their 27th World Championship. Burnett was filthy in his Game 2 start at Yankee Stadium, getting ahead of hitter after hitter and putting them away with his assortment of wicked breaking pitches. He will need to channel that success to match up with the 2008 AL Cy Young Award Winner in Cliff Lee.

One injury note forced the Yankees to make a move prior to Game 5. Melky Cabrera came up limping following his final at-bat Sunday and was replaced by Brett Gardner in the field in the sixth inning. Because of a strained left hamstring, New York has deactivated Cabrera for the remainder of the series and added infielder Ramiro Pena to the roster. Gardner will get the start in centerfield in Game 5.

Prediction: Phillies stay alive with a 5-2 victory

Till next time,

G-Mc


 

 

World Series Game 3: Slugfest goes to Yanks

Thumbnail image for World Series.jpg

What a difference a year makes. The Phillies were perfect at home in the 2008 World Series and Cole Hamels was named the series MVP.

The Yankees 8-6 win in Game 3 of the 2009 World Series wiped out any
notions that Philadelphia may have had about ending the Fall Classic at
home, and Hamels suffered through yet another rough start this October.

On the mound for New York, Andy Pettitte added to his postseason
legacy by gutting out six innings for his 17th career playoff victory.
The lefty even got into the action at the plate, nailing a game-tying
single as part of a three-run fifth inning.

What would the World Series be without a little instant replay?

The Yankees offense was the most productive in all of baseball and
Saturday was a fine example of New York doing what it does best. Alex Rodriguez
belted the replay reviewed two-run homer and found his way on base four
times after struggling to an 0-for-8 to start the series. The instant
replay homer gives A-Rod the distinction of not only being the first player in baseball history to have a home run awarded via review, but also the first in the history of the Fall Classic.

A total of 13 runs were scored despite the fact that the two
teams combined for just 14 hits. The Philadelphia bullpen proved
vulnerable while Yankees relievers Joba Chamberlain and Damaso Marte threw scoreless innings in back of Pettitte. Mariano Rivera did have to come in and quiet the Phillies in the ninth after Jason Werth‘s towering one-out homer against Phil Hughes. A small price to pay when it comes to securing the series lead.

It
wasn’t the prettiest start for Pettitte, who allowed four runs – all
earned – over six innings of work, but it was good enough to keep the
Yankees in the driver’s seat on the night.

Hamels’ night did not
offer any silver linings. The left-hander could not maintain a
three-run lead and was battered around for five runs in 4 1/3 innings.
A pair of walks and a hit batsman added to the Yankees chances, but
things really seemed to start going downhill for Hamels when the
instant replay of Rodriguez blast revealed it to be a two-run homer.

One
year ago, Hamels was as sure a thing as there was for the Phillies.
Last postseason saw Hamels go 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 35 innings of
work, but his ’09 record stands at just 1-1 with a 7.71 ERA and
opponents have belted seven homers over his four playoff starts.

Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel
was hoping that starting Hamels at home would make for a winning
recipe. Who could blame him based on a look over the split stats that
Hamels piled up over the regular season? Hamels went 7-5 with a 3.76
ERA in 17 starts at Citizen’s Bank as opposed to 3-6 with a 4.99 ERA in
15 road assignments. Safe to say, things did not go according to plan.

Looking ahead to Game 4

The Yankees turn to their short-rest ace CC Sabathia yet again in Game 4 as they attempt to push their series lead to 3-1. Interesting to note, Philadelphia chose not to give ace Cliff Lee his first career start on less than full rest and will instead counter with NLCS Game 4 starter Joe Blanton.

Career
results for Blanton against the Yankees have been far from pretty – 0-3
in four starts with a 8.18 ERA in 22 innings against the Bronx Bombers.
Hardly numbers that inspire confidence, but if Blanton can find a way
to replicate his start against the Dodgers (four runs – three earned –
over six innings of work) then at least he will help take the load off
the bullpen and give the offense a chance to push the series to a 2-2
tie.

Sabathia threw seven innings of two run ball against the
Phillies in Game 1, taking his first loss this postseason thanks to
Lee’s complete game gem. It will be no easy task for Philadelphia to
beat Sabathia on two occasions in the same series.

Despite being
outslugged by the Yankees last night, the Phillies are no strangers to
winning at home and scoring runs. Most nights that you score six runs,
as they did in Game 3, you’d like to find a way to have won that game.

Still, Philadelphia is perhaps the best offensively equipped National League squad to match up with the Yankees. To do that, Ryan Howard will have to find a way curb the strikeouts (nine in 13 World Series at-bats) and start producing runs. Second baseman Chase Utley
has not collected a hit since belting a pair of homers in the Game 1
win and his bat will also be necessary to get the Phillies hitting on
all cylinders.

If Alex Rodriguez has just come alive for
the Yankees then the Phillies may be in big trouble. Erasing all memory
of his past postseason failures, A-Rod has delivered big hits in key
spots to get the Yankees into the World Series. A productive Rodriguez
may also translate into more hittable pitches for Mark Teixeira to see
ahead of A-Rod in the three slot.

A quick look at the men each pitcher will be looking to reverse their fortunes against:

Successful Yankees vs. Blanton (Career)
Mark Teixeira —- 9-for-27, 3 HR, 7 RBI
Derek Jeter  —— 4-for-12, 1 HR, 3 RBI
Alex Rodriguez — 4-for-7,  2 HR, 5 RBI

Successful Phillies vs. Sabathia (Career)
Raul Ibanez —— 11-for-43, 2 HR, 9 RBI
Chase Utley ——  2-for-7,   2 HR, 2 RBI
Shane Victorino – 5-for-12,  1 HR, 5 RBI

Prediction – Yankees win 5-3

Till next time,

G-Mc