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Cleveland On Verge of World Series While Cubs-Dodgers Are All Even

Baseball never fails to deliver the unexpected. The National League had a ho-hum season in which only a few teams - the Cubs, the Nats, and the Dodgers won more than 90 games.

The American League had far more competition and until the last week of the regular season it was possible that four teams - the Blue Jays, the Orioles, the Tigers, and the Yankees - might battle into play-in games prior to the wild card game.

So what happens? The Indians with a starting pitching staff minus two regular members, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, swept the Red Sox in the American League Division Series. After Monday night Oct 17’s 4-2 win at Toronto, the Indians are up 3-0 needing only one win to reach the World Series.

Manager Terry Francona, who led the Red Sox to World Series triumphs in 2004 and 2007, has used his bullpen masterfully and the offense has produced enough timely hitting to buttress his future Hall of Fame credentials.

Meanwhile it has been the NL that has provided the most consistent drama. The Dodgers, also suffering a shortage of starting pitchers, eliminated the Nats in a gripping five game NLDS.

Their great ace Clayton Kershaw, only recently back from months on the DL with serious back issues, came out of the bullpen to get the last two outs in a road win at Washington.
Closer Kenley Jansen entered the game in the 7th inning (just like Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage used to do) beyond giving way to Kershaw for the save.

Kudos to Dodgers rookie manager Dave Roberts for making that bold decision. Roberts will now be known for more than being the pinch-runner who stole second against Mariano Rivera that fueled the Red Sox comeback against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS
(American League Championship Series).

The Cubs, the only 100-plus winner in MLB this season, dispatched the Giants in four games in their NLDS but it wasn’t easy. In fact, they had to score four runs in the 9th inning to win at San Francisco. If they hadn’t rallied, they faced the challenge of beating Johnny Cueto in Chicago to move on in the playoffs.

The Cubs are young and loaded with talent at every position, and inventive manager Joe Maddon loves players who are versatile and can perform capably at many places on defense.

They rode a pinch-hit grand slam by Miguel Montero to win the first game against LA but that man Kershaw threw seven shutout innings in the second game and veteran first baseman Adrian Gonzalez’s solo home run was the margin of victory in a 1-0 win to even their NL Championship Series at one game apiece.

The Cubs ran away with the NL East this year and have never looked up at any team all season. Which makes the three games in LA this Tuesday Oct 18 through Thursday Oct 20 fascinating to watch.

The Cubs remain clear favorites to win the NLCS and their first World Series since 1908.
But the Dodgers have Kershaw and closer and free agent-to-be Kenley Jansen to head their
tattered but still resourceful mound staff.

What makes this post-season so refreshing is that managers Francona and Maddon are throwing away the conventional wisdom on pitching roles. Maddon has twice asked his formidable closer Aroldis Chapman, another free agent-to-be, to give him a six-out save.

That it hasn’t worked out either time doesn’t mean Maddon was wrong. It just shows that he is willing to take chances based on his knowledge of matchups and an intuition that has been honed by his long experience in the game.

All of Francona’s moves have worked out. He has his ace in Corey Kluber, the reigning AL Cy Young-winner, who has been impeccable in the post-season. And he has used his brilliant southpaw reliever Andrew Miller as early as the fifth inning and in Monday night’s 4-2 victory, he brought him in for a four-out save.

The old time fan in me has wanted a Cleveland-Cubs World Series because their World Series droughts have been the longest. Cleveland hasn’t won since 1948 and only has one other world championship flag to raise for the 1920 team.

They represent one of the smallest cities in baseball with a declining population and accordingly a relatively small payroll. They have drafted wisely and now the fruits of that patience are paying off.

You always build championships up the middle and three emerging Cleveland stars are at key positions - shortstop Francisco Lindor, second baseman Jason Kipnis, and center fielder Tyler Naquin, a rookie of the year candidate.

If the Indians close the deal on Toronto, they will present formidable opposition to either the Cubs or the Dodgers. They also will have the home field advantage in the World Series because the AL won the All-Star Game.

The Indians will not take anything for granted in trying to close out Toronto. Francona knows all about teams losing 3-0 leads in the playoffs because he led Boston to such a victory over the Yankees in 2004. But you have to like the Tribe's chances.

It is not right that home field advantage in the World Series is the product of the All-Star exhibition game. That rule is preposterous but so is incessant replay. Yet nothing can kill baseball as long as the games are played without lockouts and strikes.

So let’s enjoy the action and the chills and thrills because November 2nd is coming too soon - the day when the seventh game of the World Series if necessary is scheduled. Afterwards we all must face winter, never an appetizing thought.

As always remember: Take It Easy but Take It!
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Only One Week Left of Misery for 2015 Orioles

They have been the epitome of inconsistency. Most recently they swept the Nationals in Washington but then went on to Boston and not only were swept but were shut out three times – the first time they endured such embarrassment in 58 years.

I never thought they would really contend in 2015 because they did not replace Nick Markakis’s consistency and Nelson Cruz’s power and presence in the lineup. I didn’t think their starting pitching was as good as team management thought.

I was sadly proven right in both cases. I would have loved to be wrong.

The specter of more free agent defections looms after the regular season ends mercifully on Sunday Oct. 4. And the farm system, though not as bad as some of the pundits claim, doesn’t look like it will provide quality replacements for the most likely Orioles to leave, slugger Chris Davis and southpaw starter Wei-Yin Chen.

Trades are possible and so are some less expensive free agent signings. However, the glitter has faded from Orioles gm Dan Duquette, last year’s MLB Executive of the Year.

In the last two years Duquette has traded three starting pitchers who are helping other teams considerably. The Orioles’ return was negligible though I have hopes that backup catcher/solid hitter/Baltimore native Steve Clevenger might stick for all of 2016.

Jake Arrieta is the most notable loss, starring for the Cubs who have made the playoffs in the first year under the helm of former Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon.
I am not going to cry too much about this trade because Arrieta simply could not
put it together in Baltimore after being Opening Day starter in two seasons.

He’s not yet 30 and pitchers can bloom late. According to the New York Times excellent national baseball reporter Tyler Kepner, Oriole coaches discouraged Arrieta from throwing across the body for fear of inconsistency and injury.

The Cubs have allowed Arrieta to be himself and he has rewarded them with an astonishing year. Not only baseball’s first 20-game winner of 2015 but becoming nearly unhittable and rarely scored upon.

As the future of Oriole starting pitching is murky at best, the Red Sox can look forward to years with southpaw Eduardo Rodriguez who Duquette traded late in 2014 to rent reliever Andrew Miller. Miller helped the Orioles to the playoffs but then signed as a free agent with the Yankees where he has been a shutdown closer.

Late this season, believing that Birds were only one bat from real contention, Duquette traded young righthander Zach Davies to the Brewers for the rental of Gerardo Parra. Parra has not been the answer at the plate while Davies has shown promise in Milwaukee with a victory over the Cubs already under his belt.

I realize that ardent fans can let emotions eclipse reason so maybe I’m going too far when I say that Davies has potential Greg Maddux-type abilities. But signed after high school he did improve every year working up the minor league ladder.

Duquette and manager Buck Showalter are signed on for at least the next three years in Baltimore. Though Duquette flirted with taking the presidency of the Toronto Blue Jays last off-season (a position recently filled by longtime Indians executive Mark Shapiro), I presume he will stay on the job.

I just hope that the future of my favorite team doesn’t seem as bleak as it does at the current time. One thing that I would highly recommend though is the rewarding with longer than one-year contracts Manny Machado and closer Zach Britton.
Along with a healthy second baseman Jonathan Schoop their performance has
made the Orioles usually worthy of watching this disappointing year.

AN ATTEMPT AT PUNDITRY: Looks like the playoffs will be very exciting again and maybe even a Wild Card play-in between Astros and Angels before they start. Defending American League champion Kansas City has lost a lot of games in September as well as its closer Greg Holland to likely Tommy John surgery.

It is true that the Royals have not had meaningful games to play for weeks. They must be thinking that they can turn it on when it matters. That remains to be seen.

Toronto has passed them for best record in the American League and thus home field throughout the playoffs. They could make the World Series for the first time since 1993.
David Price has become the ace they had lacked and despite the injury to another late-season pickup/shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, they are showing that they know how to win.

I don’t watch the National League as closely as the AL but the Cardinals are on pace to win 100 or more regular season games. Despite many major injuries they are like the Timex watch – “they just keep on ticking.”

So a week before the playoffs I am leaning towards a first-ever Toronto-St. Louis World Series. But I think the Pirates, Cubs, Mets, Dodgers in the NL and the Yankees,
Rangers, Astros or Angels or less likely Twins, will disagree firmly.

For now always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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