October 31, 2013
Good and Crazy: Kaz Uehara’s Nice Summation of the Red Sox Triumph
There will be no Halloween Night climax to the 2013 Major League Baseball season.
The Red Sox scotched my fantasy last night with an efficient dispatching of the St. Louis Cardinals, 6-1, to win the World Series four games to two. Two three-run outbursts in the 3rd and 4th inning took all the drama out of the game as John Lackey pitched craftily until two out in the 7th inning.
Junichi Tazawa then induced a bases-loaded ground out from the heroic Allen Craig who came back from a serious foot injury to try to bring St. Louis another world title. Craig will be remembered forever for his base-running adventures in the 9th inning of Game 3 that led to the Cardinals winning the first World Series game ever on obstruction of a baserunner.
Revealingly, the Red Sox had such depth in their roster that the two Bosox victims on that play, catcher Jarrod Saltamacchia who threw off-line to third baseman Will Middlebrooks who became entangled with Craig leading to obstruction, never played again in the Series. The light-hitting but better defensive catcher David Ross replaced Saltamacchia and the 21-year-old Aruban phenom Xander Bogaerts replaced Middlebrooks and the Red Sox swept the next three games. Ross even belted the game-running RBI double in Game 5.
The late great Orioles skipper Earl Weaver used to laud his team's "deep depth". Clearly the 2013 Red Sox demonstrated that vital trait time and again. They won Games 4 and 5 without sparkplug Shane Victorino who returned to belt the bases-clearing double that cemented the Game 6 Series clincher.
As all of you must know by now, it was the first Fenway Park clinching of the World Series since 1918 and also marked Boston’s third World Series triumph in the last ten years. The Bosox turned around a dismal 2012 of 93 losses into a 97-win best record in the American League. Though behind by one game in both the League Championship Series and the World Series, they showed the resiliency of champions to win the last two playoffs in six games.
Not enough can be said about Boston closer Koji Uehara (whose name thanks to David Waldstein in the New York Times should be pronounced “Way-Ee-Hara”). I’ve noted before the amusing irony of the 38-year-old Uehara shaving his goatee and fearsome muttonchops before the Boston beards grew all around him. He might now look half his age but he was a star in Japan before the Orioles signed him.
The Birds must rue his not returning to Baltimore when he wanted to return after 2012 when the Texas Rangers let him go. We Oriole fans should remain thankful that when he was traded to Texas, we did receive in return the new home run king Chris Davis and useful power pitcher Tommy Hunter. So in the spirit of gratitude without being greedy, all hail to Koji for putting the finishing touches on the Red Sox triumphant 2013.
Uehara won the MVP in the ALCS for winning one game and saving the other three.
David Ortiz won the Series MVP for an astounding performance, 11 hits in 14 ABs and a mountain of intentional walks, making his presence in the lineup a constant worry to the overmatched Cardinals.
The best and simplest words to describe the 2013 Series experience came from Kaz Uehara, Koji’s little boy who when asked by Fox Sports’ Erin Andrews how he felt after the Series victory said simply, “Good.” And what would the celebration be like afterwards? “Crazy.”
Good and Crazy. Not bad words to sum up the season and the Series.
And now winter has come metaphorically and soon actually. Yet in approximately 105 days spring training begins!
Keep that consoling thought in mind while I remind you as always: Take it easy but take it!
October 20, 2013
Last post, dear blog readers, I commented that I didn’t see how the Red Sox, Cardinals, or Dodgers could lose based on the way they were playing recently – in the case of the Red Sox the way they were playing all year.
Well, someone had to lose in the St. Louis-Los Angeles NLCS and the Dodgers were spanked in the deciding 6th game, 9-0. LA did have two bona fide aces in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke but somehow the Cardinals have been able to beat Kershaw throughout his budding first-rate career. He lost Game 2 in this year’s NLCS and was the victim of the 9-0 rout.
The Cardinals continue to amaze with their ability to find answers within their farm system for departed and injured players. First, when Albert Pujols bolted to the Angels in free agency after the 2011 season, they found homegrown Allen Craig to replace him. When Craig suffered a foot injury late this season, burly Matt Adams, a low round draft pick from Slippery Rock University in western Pennsylvania, stepped in as a very capable replacement. Craig may be ready for the World Series to give a boost to the Cardinals’ sometimes spotty offense.
And their young pitchers have deservedly the talk of baseball. Michael Wacha was pitching for Texas A & M as late as spring 2012 but he was the NLCS MVP for his two victories against the Dodgers. To make matters even sweeter for the Cardinals is that Wacha was drafted with the pick the Redbirds received for losing Albert Pujols as a so-called “premium” free agent.
It was fitting that the Red Sox did in the Tigers with two crushing grand slams at Fenway because they have been winning dramatic games coming from behind all season. Fitting also that closer Koji Uehara was the ALCS MVP because he has been amazingly consistent since he took over the closer’s role early in the summer.
I find it amusingly ironic that Uehara used to boast bushy muttonchops but now has virtually displays a baby-faced look while beards grow all around him. Uehara is 38 but the new cleaner-shaved look has him seem half his age.
I am sure the Orioles and the Rangers rue that they let Uehara go but Baltimore can take a little solace in knowing that they received Chris Davis, the new HR champion of baseball, and reliable reliever Tommy Hunter in the trade for him. I am also amused that Uehara to some seems like an Irish name while, of course, he is a veteran of many successful years in the Japanese major leagues. And Darren O’Day, a valuable Orioles reliever, is not Irish but a Polish-American from Chicago.
The Red Sox have the home field advantage in the World Series and I thought it would be a factor against Detroit and it could be again in the upcoming battle with St. Louis.
But if Allen Craig can contribute and the young Cardinals keep up their smooth playing, I like them in five or six.
On the other hand, for those of you all enough to remember the 1946 World Series, maybe it will go seven games and unlike Johnny Pesky, Dustin Pedroia will not hold onto the ball too long and throw out a key run at the plate in behalf of the Red Sox cause.
Back to you when the hot stove league really picks up. For now: always remember to take it easy but take it.
October 11, 2013
Winter has come for my two favorite teams, the Orioles and the Rays. To add to that misery, word just came that Manny Machado will need surgery for the ligament damage in his left knee. We cross fingers that he’ll be ready for the start of the season.
There will be a World Series with traditional teams competing and that is some consolation. It is likely that the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers will be the favorites and the choice of the biggest media outlets, but don’t count out the Tigers or especially the Cardinals. “Anything can happen in a short series” is the oldest of sports clichés, but like most clichés, it is true.
The Cardinals made baseball’s Final Four by eliminating party-crasher Pittsburgh.
St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright totally scuttled the Pirates in both game 1 and the deciding game 5 of the Division Series, both played in St. Louis. Hopefully, it will go down as a breakthrough year for the Buccos, who ended their horrible record-breaking streak of 21 straight losing seasons.
Among the newest ballparks Pittsburgh’s PNC Park ranks high among them. I’ve been there a couple of times since the ugly all-purpose cookie-cutter Three Rivers Stadium was demolished. PNC’s location on the banks of the Mononghela, Allegheny, and Ohio Rivers couldn’t be nicer and the corporate bank sponsor has remained the same since it opened, an amazing fact in itself.
Yet the Pirates couldn’t advance over the Cardinals. They will have to address its absence of offense in the off-season. The late-season addition of Marlon Byrd from the Mets gave them a needed extra bat but they will need more down the road to remain a consistent contender.
Byrd will be a free agent after the World Series and where he winds up in 2014 will be an interesting question. At the end of last year, he was suspended for 50 games for a violation of MLB's drug agreement and he had to play winter ball in Mexico to show baseball honchos that his skills hadn’t eroded.
HANDICAPPING THE LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES:
The Cardinals-Dodgers NLCSeries should be a beauty of a competition. Rebuilt Busch Stadium doesn’t have the charm or waterfront location of PNC Park but it hosts one of the perennially contending teams in baseball. And the Cardinals have succeeded with remarkably young homegrown pitching and many everyday players also developed on the farms like first baseman Matt Adams and catcher Yadier Molina, whose bat has improved and whose defensive skills are top-drawer.
Outfielders Matt Holliday, a trade pickup, and free agent Carlos Beltran are dangerous bats in the lineup. Beltran is the new “Mr. October” who has become the most feared offensive player in contemporary post-season baseball. He is also a free agent at the end of the World Series.
The Dodgers have two bona fide aces in homegrown Clayton Kershaw and free agent pickup Zack Greinke. They have the exciting Cuban defector Yasiel Puig in right field and the powerful Hanley Ramirez at shortstop. Their turnaround this season was remarkable.
At one point they were 30-42 and in last place in the NL West division. They then went on a remarkable 42-8 run that most likely saved manager Don Mattingly’s job and they won the division going away. (Mattingly wears #8 in homage to Yogi Berra who managed him briefly in New York in the 1980s.)
The Cardinals have the home field advantage and that might give them the slightest of edges in what should be a great series. But remember always about baseball: Youneverknow, youneverknow in baseball. And this series could come down to how the young closers for each team pitch – Kenley Jansen for LA, Trevor Rosenthal for St. L.
The Red Sox have the home field advantage over the Tigers and I feel that they are the one clear favorite in this year’s Final Four of baseball. They have a deep rotation with Jon Lester at the top and three other good starters in John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, and the underrated veteran Jake Peavy who could be moved up in the rotation.
The Red Sox have the hottest closer in Koji Uehara who has been lights-out since late June - except for the hiccup in serving up a walkoff homer to Jose Lobaton in the only game that the Tampa Bay Rays won in the Division Series.
I haven’t even begun to discuss the balanced powerful Red Sox offense that is ignited by leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury – another free agent after the World Series. At times injury-plagued, Ellsbury seemed healthy enough against Tampa Bay and he is running the bases with daring. I don’t think Tiger catchers Alex Avila or Brayan Pena can stop him.
The Boston lineup doesn’t have a weak spot down to the nine spot in the order with the young third baseman Will Middlebrooks. The Tigers got some great pitching by Max Scherzer and the revived Justin Verlander to beat Oakland yet again. But slugger Miguel Cabrera is ailing and though still very dangerous I think Boston will prevail in under seven games.
Let’s hope whatever happens the games are memorable and make us forget that winter is on the way.
That’s all for now – always remember: take it easy but take it!