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Cain's Speed & Murphy's Power Lead Royals and Mets to World Series

October 25, 2015

Tags: Lorenzo Cain, Daniel Murphy, Mike Jirschele, Alex Gordon, Madison Bumgarner, Jose Bautista, Eric Hosmer, Terry Collins, Jeurys Familia, Wade Davis

The Royals’ return to the World Series is no surprise to me. They ran away with the
AL Central title and didn’t play a meaningful game after the All-Star Game until the playoffs began.

Then down to the last six outs of their season, they rallied for five runs in the eighth inning to tie the upstart Houston Astros in the AL Division Series. They dispatched Houston the next day and kept the upper hand against the homer-happy Toronto Blue Jays throughout the AL Championship Series.

Just as he did in one of the Houston games, Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain provided a unforgettable moment by scoring the deciding run in the bottom of the eighth all the way from first base on a single to right field.

It was a moment of redemption for Royals third base coach Mike Jirschele who held Alex Gordon at third base in the ninth inning of Game 7 of last year’s World Series won by the Giants led by overpowering southpaw Madison Bumgarner.

Cain is a much faster runner than Gordon and once right fielder Jose Bautista threw the ball to second base to hold Eric Hosmer to a single there was no stopping Cain’s feet and Jirschele’s whirling arms.

Nobody, even their most ardent supporters, expected the Mets to reach the World Series. Yet behind great young starting pitching and formidable closer in Jeurys Familia, they swept the overmatched Chicago Cubs after winning a tough best-of-five series over the LA Dodgers.

Hindsight tells us that the Cubs had exhausted their energy by knocking their arch-rival Cardinals out of the playoffs. Once the Mets took a lead on Cy Young candidate Jake Arrieta early in game two of the NLCS, I was not surprised by their pulling off the sweep in Chicago.

The confidence level of the Mets has to be at an all-time high. They beat LA’s two great starters, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, and then Arrieta and Jon Lester of the Cubs. Daniel Murphy, never known as a power hitter, homered off all of them, including twice off Kershaw.

Murphy also provided a positive Murphy Moment as a base runner in the clinching Game 5 against LA. His manager Terry Collins evidently coined the term Murphy Moment for his notorious base-running gaffes.

Yet in the deciding game against LA, with the Mets down a run and Murphy on first base, he alertly sped to third after a walk to Yoenis Cespedes when he saw no Dodger covering the bag. All LA infielders had shifted to the right side of the diamond and neither pitcher Greinke nor catcher Yosmani Grandal broke to cover third.

The next batter hit a short fly ball to right field and Murphy tagged up to score the tying run. Two innings later he homered for the deciding run.

It should be a great competitive World Series. So much juicy questions loom:

Will Murphy after nearly a week off still be red-hot at the plate?

Will Kansas City’s starting pitching, its only seeming weak point, rise to the occasion?

Can the Mets’ bullpen in front of Familia, its own weak spot, pitch better?

Which of each team’s dominant closers, Familia and the Royals’ Wade Davis, will prove mortal? In the clincher against Toronto, Davis worked out of a major jam with two runners in scoring position and only one out.

Kansas City has the home field advantage because the American League won the All-Star Game, a silly reason to bestow that honor. This year the benefit has worked out fairly because Kansas City did have the best regular season record in all of baseball.

I’m not a betting man but I think that edge might prove the difference. Certainly the teams look evenly matched for a long absorbing series.

Of course, yaneverknow, yaneverknow, in baseball.

That’s all for now. Always remember in baseball and in life:
Take it easy but take it!

Mets, Royals Take Commanding Leads in Baseball Playoffs

October 19, 2015

Tags: Daniel Murphy, David Wright, Curtis Granderson, Chris Coghlan, Noah Syndergaard, Tim Timmons, Jeurys Familia, Terry Collins, David Price, Ryan Goins, Jose Bautista, Edison Volquez, Johnny Cueto, Wade Davis, Dexter Fowler, Alex Gordon, Ben Zobrist

I don’t have a real emotional interest in this year’s playoffs though as a New Yorker in the ABY club – Anybody But the Yankees – I am happy for the Mets and their always-agonizing fans. Every win for the Mets in the post-season brings them closer to retaking the city from the Yankees who always claim it as their birthright.

Cubs righty Kyle Hendricks, formerly of Dartmouth College and the Texas Rangers, has the tall task Tuesday night of stopping the rolling Mets and bring the Cubs to a workable 2-1 deficit. No doubt the passionate Wrigley Field fans will be out in force but the Cubs will have to stop red-hot Daniel Murphy.

Murphy is proving the old adage yet again: When you're hot, you're hot. Sunday night his first-inning home run just made it inside the right field foul pole to give the Mets a 3-0 lead that was all they needed in a 4-1 victory.

Murphy has homered off four great pitchers in these playoffs - Kershaw, Greinke, Lester, Arrieta. He has also gone from first-to-third on a walk when the Dodgers failed to cover third base because of an infield shift. It led to a game-tying run in the deciding fifth game of the Mets victory over the Dodgers. His homer won it two innings later.

Everything is going right for the Mets now. Curtis Granderson stole a home run away from Chris Coghlan with a leaping catch at the right-center field wall. Sunday night plate ump Tim Timmons gave rookie righty Noah Syndergaard the extra inch or two on the outside corner all night and the promising pitcher took full advantage.

Perhaps most pleasing to longtime Mets fans is the return of third baseman David Wright. Though he only has two hits so far in the playoffs, they have driven in three runs. And he did not look like a sufferer from spinal stenosis when he made a nice grab and whirling throw for a 5-3 putout Sunday night.

Closer Jeurys Familia has answered every one of manager Terry Collins’ calls. To me Familia is an "efforts" pitcher, who puts maximum exertion into every pitch. I hope Collins doesn’t go to the well too often with Familia but so far so good.

Over in the American League, the Kansas City Royals are on a similar roll. They are unbeaten since facing elimination in Game 4 of the ALDS. They scored 5 runs in the 8th inning at Houston to tie the series, won it the next day, and then the first two games of the ALCS against Toronto.

The Jays will hope that their boisterous crowd at the Rogers Centre – formerly known as the Skydome – bring them back into contention. After being shut out in the first game in Kansas City, Toronto's late season acquisition David Price was working on a one-hit shutout into the 7th inning in Saturday’s Game 2.

Miscommunication on a high pop fly between second baseman Ryan Goins and right fielder Jose Bautista opened the doors. And like against Houston, Kansas City seized the opportunity with a 5-run rally en route to a 6-3 victory.

Kansas City is the one repeat team in this year’s version of baseball’s Final Four.
I look for the defending American League champion to get back into the World Series.

With starting pitching that has been more effective than I thought – notably Edison Volquez and Johnny Cueto – and Wade Davis a rock at the back of the bullpen, the Royals look very formidable. Yet as a fan who hates to see the season end, I do hope that the Blue Jays and Cubs make these series closer.

Once the World Series does end, the parlor game of free agency begins. And this year many playoff stars are eligible for new employment of their choice. Current teams have five days to sign them before they are free to negotiate with any team.

The rather impressive list includes:
Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler
Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes
Royals left fielder Alex Gordon and second baseman Ben Zobrist
Blue Jays left-hander David Price

That’s all for now – Always remember: Take it easy but take it!

Roughned Odor's Baserunning and More Drama from Baseball's Division Series

October 11, 2015

Tags: Texas Rangers surge, Roughned Odor, Rangers bullpen, Rangers international roster, Delino DeShields, Troy Tulowitzki, Joe Maddon, Jake Arrieta, Chase Utley, Ruben Tejada, Wilmer Flores

As a chastened Orioles fan, I can take a little solace that the Texas Rangers’ surprise rise to the edge of the American League Championship Series may have started when they took three out of four in Baltimore just before the All-Star break.

It was before they made the trade deadline deals in late (more…)

Rousing End To Regular Season Sets Stage for October Playoffs

October 4, 2015

Tags: Houston Astros rise, Lowenfish's Law, California Angels remarkable Sat. comeback, Albert Pujols, Mike Napoli, Roughned Odor, Shawn Tolleson, Ross Olmerdorf, Texas Rangers ultimate Sun. triumph, Paul Goldschmidt, Dallas Keuchel, Masahiro Tanaka, Jake Arrieta, Chris Davis, Wei-Yin Chen

Monday October 5 will be a rare day off before playoff baseball begins with the AL Wild Card game at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday Oct 6 with the rambunctious Houston Astros invading Yankee Stadium for the right to meet the Kansas City Royals in the best-of-five American League Division Series (ALDS).

I must admit that I was rooting for the Yankees to go on the road for the Winner Take All game. They finished the season as losers of six out of seven games, three out of four to the Red Sox at home and a sweep in Baltimore at the hands of last year’s AL East champion Orioles.

The Astros played very well in Seattle and Arizona, winning both series but unable to sweep the Diamondbacks on Sunday that would have given them the home game in Houston. It was still a remarkable year for the young Astros who rose from seasons in the lower depths to lead the AL West for most of 2015 until the Texas Rangers, another horrible team in 2014, roared past them to win the title.

There is nothing like baseball when everything is on the line. Players who gather in Florida and Arizona in February, who live with each other more than with their own families, go on the field in late September and try to relax while playing games that will determine whether they make the playoffs or go home also-rans.

The Saturday October 3 game between the Angels and Rangers will go down as one of the most remarkable ones in baseball history. I have cited over the years in this blog “Lowenfish’s Law”: “No four-run lead in baseball is ever safe until the last man
Is out.”

It came true on Saturday when the Rangers entered the 9th inning at home in Arlington, Texas with a 10-6 lead. Rangers rookie manager Jeff Banister played with fire by bringing in his closer Shawn Tolleson for the FIFTH straight game. He immediately gave up two solo home runs to cut the lead to 10-8.

Infrequently used righthander Ross Olmerdorf came in and got a bad break immediately when Albert Pujols popped a ball down the right field that fell out of first baseman Mike Napoli’s glove when second baseman Roughned Odor collided with him. Four hits later, some with two strikes and two out, gave the lead to the Rangers who closed out a 11-10 victory.

The Rangers were already in the playoffs so it wasn’t a devastating loss. “Tomorrow is your best friend” remains one of the great adages in baseball, and on Sunday southpaw ace Cole Hamels, a trade deadline pickup from the Phillies, pitched a complete game 9-2 victory to give the Rangers the undisputed title of the AL West.

Attempting a sweep at Arizona, always hard to pull off on the road, Houston tied Arizona in the sixth inning but Diamondbacks slugger Paul Goldschmidt belted a two-run home run that proved the difference in a 5-3 Arizona victory.

There should be exceptional drama ahead in the wild card games. Houston’s homegrown stellar southpaw Dallas Keuchel is matched against the Yankees high-salaried Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka on Tuesday night.

On Wednesday the Pirates, winners of 96 games, could find their season end because of the deliveries of the Cubs star righty Jake Arrieta who has enjoyed statistically the greatest second half of a season in baseball history.

Powerhouses Kansas City and St. Louis will have home field advantages when they take on the wild card winners, starting Thursday and Friday in the best-of-five league division series (LDS). Division winners Texas and Toronto and New York and Los Angeles will square off in the other LDS.

Playoff baseball is not the same as the daily grind of the regular season. I am pleased that my Orioles surprised a lot of us by winning the last two games over Toronto after the Blue Jays clinched their title in Baltimore. Even more satisfying was sweeping the Yankees this past weekend, forcing them to back into the home wild card game with Houston’s Sunday loss.

The pending free agent losses of slugger Chris Davis and effective southpaw Wei-Yin Chen made the victories bittersweet. Davis sure went out with a bang hitting two home runs in the last game of the season at Camden Yards. But what baseball teaches us is to enjoy the moments of triumph fully because losses of games, and personnel, inevitably lie ahead.

That’s all for now – in the meantime always remember – “Take it easy but take it!”

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“Lowenfish’s take is detailed and nuanced.... he doesn’t look for simple answers; despite his own abiding admiration, he never sugarcoats or presents Rickey in anything other than a three-dimensional light.”
–David Ulin, Los Angeles Times