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Orioles and Mets Face An Early Winter After Losing Close Wild Card Games

If you are a pure baseball fan, the pitchers’ battles that punctuated each Wild Card game last week were your cup of tea. Nothing like an elimination game to focus the minds of players and fans alike.

If you are emotional fans of the Mets and the Orioles, the losses were harder to take.
They must now face winter in the early fall. Nobody can criticize the effort of either losing Wild Card team, but when bats grow silent and runs are not scored, there is no way to win, especially in the post-season when pitching and defense matter more than ever.

The Mets lost a classic pitcher's duel with Noah Syndergaard going seven shutout innings but playoff whiz Madison Bumgarner pitching a complete-game shutout. Journeyman third baseman Conor Gillapsie's 3-run 9th inning HR off Mets usually effective closer Jeurys Familia was the deciding blow.

Gillapsie's moment in the sun was touching for Giants fans because he came up in the San Francisco organization but made his major league debut with the White Sox where he performed for two years. He then bounced around for a while until he returned to the team that first signed him. You see in baseball, you can go home again.

The O's 11-inning 5-2 loss to the Blue Jays was one that will be harder to forget. Manager Buck Showalter is being crucified for not using his perfect closer Zach Britton - 47 for 47 in the regular season - in the game. Buck might have made matters easier for himself if he just said to the press, “I wasn’t gonna use him until we had a lead.”

That’s how it works in regular season but the playoffs are different. There’s no tomorrow, to coin a phrase. As it turned out, the excellent relievers in front of Britton did do a marvelous job - two of them, hard-throwing converted shortstop Mychal Givens and soft-tossing sidearmer Darren O’Day, each got one pitch double plays.

However, going to starter Ubaldo Jimenez with one out none on in bottom of 11th inning was the disastrous choice. Within five pitches, Jimenez gave up two singles and the game-winning three-run bomb to Edwin Encarnacion. It was the top of the order and the big boppers were coming up for Toronto. That was where Britton should have been used.

I know it is so easy to second-guess, and the bottom line is the Orioles didn’t get a hit after the sixth inning. We had seen the offense disappear so often in second half of season. The illusion that the playoffs would be different faded quickly.

I sure hope the O’s make a strong effort to re-sign Mark Trumbo who produced Baltimore’s only two-runs in the wild card game with a homer that unlike his usual mammoth shots just sneaked over the left field fence.

I wanted the O’s to offer Britton a two-year deal before the season and buy out one of his arbitration years. Alas, owner Peter Angelos and gm Dan Duquette don’t do business that way. So now Britton’s one-year salary will probably escalate into the 8 digit category.

By contrast, the Colorado Rockies saw the promise in second baseman D. J. LeMahieu and offered him a $6 million-plus two-year contract before the start of 2016. Mahieu wound up winning the National League batting title.

My praise for the budding star is tempered by the poor decision by Rockies management to bench Mathieu for four of the last five games of the regular season so he could win the title over the injured Nats second baseman Daniel Murphy.

It was not Mathieu’s choice to sit but evidently management dictated it with the support of field manager Walt Weiss. It did not help save Weiss’s job as the New York metropolitan area native from Suffern was not rehired after four years on the job.

I find the contrast quite striking between Mathieu’s sitting and Ted Williams’ insistence on going for a genuine .400 average on the last day of the 1941 season. Williams could have sit out and protected a .3996 average that would be increased to .400.

The proud Williams insisted on playing and went 6 for 8 in a doubleheader against the Philadelphia A’s. He wound up with a .406 average, a revered number in baseball history that is not likely to be surpassed.

Without the Orioles, the post-season doesn’t provide me with a real outlet for my baseball passion. I do watch many of the games because as I’ve said many times on his blog, the only reason to play baseball is to keep winter away.

Before the games of Monday October 10, Toronto, riding a high ever since avoiding Zach Britton in the wild card game, is already in the AL division series after sweeping the Rangers. In hindsight, Texas’s poor run differential of only 8 runs over their regular season opponents doomed them.

Cleveland surprised Boston by routing Boston aces Rick Porcello and David Price, but they still have to contend with the Bosox in Fenway. If it comes to a game five in Cleveland, the Tribe should feel confident that their defending Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber can come through again with the kind of dominant performance he delivered in game 2.

In the National League, the Cubs convincingly dispatched the Giants in the first two games. Facing elimination, the Giants will throw the amazing playoff whiz Madison Bumgarner on Monday October 10 in an attempt to stay alive.

The Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers are playing the only series that looks like it could go the distance. A fan who loves baseball’s redemptive quality has to love Jose Lobaton’s game-changing 3-run HR on Sunday.

Only playing because his friend and Venezuelan countryman Wilson Ramos tore up his knee at the end of the regular season, Lobaton bounced into a bases loaded 1-2-3 DP in his prior AB. He was ready for a better showing next time around.

Redemption was the rule again when Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis started Toronto's winning rally against the Orioles. He had bounced into two double plays earlier in that game.

Because they are franchises that have long suffered, I’d like to see a Cubs-Indians World Series with the Cubs finally winning after an 108-year drought. Their loyal scout for 35-years Billy Blitzer - who brought Shawon Dunston and Jamie Moyer and others into their fold - deserves his ring. But I do want to see some memorable gut-wrenching baseball before winter comes prematurely to all of us ardent addicted fans.

That’s all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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Mets, Royals Take Commanding Leads in Baseball Playoffs

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!
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