With LCS Looming, 10 Things I Think I Think

Max Scherzer, on whom Nationals pin their hopes today

Max Scherzer, on whom Nationals pin their hopes today

First, it’s not me thinking anything today except Wow … another great, memorable day/night of baseball. The ten things in today’s post are thought by Elliott Kalb, Senior Editorial Director of MLB Network, and the MLB Network Research Department. I received this research packet just moments ago, as I and a limited number of privileged recipients have done each morning throughout the season. These routinely brilliant packets are designed to be particularly useful to those of us thinking about the day ahead, making us appear especially brilliant. Today’s inbox delight is different, as the conclusion of the Cubs-Giants game (and NLDS) enters the realm of history. It is my privilege to share with a wider readership the sort of pleasure I get every day. Here’s Elliott:

10 Things I Think I Think for Wednesday, October 12, 2016

1) And then, there were five.  There are five teams remaining. Those of us who root for teams that haven’t won (or won in decades) have to love this field: After losing the Giants and Red Sox the last two days, we’re down to this:

Nationals: have never won (franchise started in 1969 in Montreal)

Dodgers: have not won since 1988

Indians: have not won since 1948

Blue Jays: have not won since 1993

Cubs: have not won since 1908

And that’s winning the World Series. How about winning the league championship?

Nationals: have never been to a World Series

Dodgers: have not been to a World Series since 1988

Indians:  have not been to a World Series since 1997

Blue Jays: have not been to a World Series since 1993

Cubs: have not been to a World Series since 1945

Of course, don’t feel too sorry for the sports fans in three of these five cities:

Chicago fans have had numerous parades in the last 20 years.

The Black Hawks won three Stanley Cups (2015, 2013, 2010). The Bulls won six NBA championships (1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998). The White Sox won the World Series in 2005.

Los Angeles fans have had numerous parades in the past 20 years.

The Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2014 and 2012. The Lakers won the NBA championship in 2000 and 2001 and 2002 and 2009 and 2010. The Angels won the World Series in 2002.

Cleveland fans had their parade for the Cavaliers just a few short months ago.

2) The Giants lose the pennant.  The Giants lose the pennant.  The Giants lose the pennant.  

Here’s why they won in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Here’s why they lost in 2016.

2010–Brian Wilson converted six of seven save opportunities. He pitched 11.2 innings in the postseason without allowing an earned run (one unearned run, which was responsible for his blown save).

2012–Sergio Romo converted all four of his save opportunities. He allowed just one earned run in 10.2 innings (0.84 ERA).

2014–Santiago Casilla converted all four of his save opportunites. He pitched 7.2 postseason innings, without allowing a run. And Madison saved Game 7 of the World Series with a brilliant relief stint.

Overall, during their three championships, Giants closers were 14-of-15 in save opportunities. They posted a 0.30 ERA (1 ER in 30 IP).

3) Drought: a prolonged absence 

Much of our remaining storylines will deal with the droughts of these remaining teams. Which reminds me of a time—30 years ago today—when two teams with droughts were playing an emotional series. It turned into one of the greatest games ever played.

Wednesday is the 30th anniversary of Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS between the Red Sox and Angels.

The Angels—who had never won a title in their history—led 3 games to 1.

Game Date Score Location
1 October 7 California Angels – 8, Boston Red Sox – 1 Fenway Park
2 October 8 California Angels – 2, Boston Red Sox – 9 Fenway Park
3 October 10 Boston Red Sox – 3, California Angels – 5 Anaheim Stadium
4 October 11 Boston Red Sox – 3, California Angels – 4 (11 innings) Anaheim Stadium

That brings us to Game Five.

The Red Sox led, 2-1, in the bottom of the 6th inning. Doug DeCinces doubled and Bobby Grich hit a deep fly to center. The ball deflected off Dave Henderson’s glove and went over the fence for a home run that gave the Angels a 3-2 lead. The Angels added couple of runs in the 7th for a 5-2 lead.

Angels starter Mike Witt took the mound in the ninth, looking for a complete game. It would have been the first pennant in Angels history, as well as the first for manager Gene Mauch. Bill Buckner led off the inning with a single and, after Jim Rice struck out, Don Baylor’s home run made it a 5-4 game. Witt got Dwight Evans to pop up and the Angels were an out away from the pennant.

Mauch replaced Witt with lefty Gary Lucas. Lucas threw just one pitch, hitting Rich Gedman. So, Mauch replaced Lucas with Donnie Moore. On a 2-2 pitch, one strike away from elimination, Dave Henderson then homered, to give the Red Sox a 6-5 lead.

In the bottom of the 9th, Rob Wilfong’s RBI single tied the game. Then, in the top of the 11th, Henderson’s sacrifice fly scored Baylor to provide the winning run in the Red Sox 7-6 win.

Henderson was also almost the hero of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.  That game was tied, 3-3, going to the top of the 10th. Henderson led off with a home run, off Rick Aguilera, to give the Red Sox a 4-3 lead. Marty Barrett had a RBI single later in the inning to make it a 5-3 game. Then, the game unraveled in the bottom of the inning, with Bill Buckner’s error being the final straw.

Henderson would have been one of the most unlikely heroes in baseball history. He didn’t join the Red Sox until a trade on August 19. The Mariners wanted to get rid of him, since he was quoted as saying Dick Williams was the worst manager in baseball. Then, he only started six games after the trade: five of which were due to injuries and the other was a token start when the regulars sat out right after the division was clinched. Then, he wasn’t even supposed to play in this game. But, starting center field Tony Armas suffered a leg injury in the fifth inning. Since the rules of baseball required the Red Sox to field a complete team, someone had to replace Armas and Henderson got the call.

Donnie Moore was released by the Angels during the 1988 season and his career ended when the Royals released him in spring training of 1989. On July 18, 1989, Moore committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.

The Angels finally won a World Series in 2002.

The Red Sox finally won a World Series in 2004.

Dave Henderson died of a heart attack at the age of 57 last December. 

 4) The Cubs comeback on Tuesday night was the biggest in postseason-series clinching history. They matched what the 1986 Mets did to clinch the 1986 NLCS against the Astros on October 15 of that year. The Mets came from three runs down in the ninth, winning in 16 innings. 

1986 NLCS Game Six at Astrodome: Astros up 3-0, needing three outs to get to Game 7 (and Mike Scott). Trust me, Scott was even better than Johnny Cueto.

Len Dykstra tripled to lead off the ninth. Mookie Wilson singled him in. Kevin Mitchell grounded out. Keith Hernandez double in Mookie. Dave Smith came in and replaced starter Bob Knepper. Gary Carter walked. Strawberry walked to load the bases. Knight hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game. The Astros got out of the inning eventually. 

You talk about a great game. Both teams scored in the 14th inning (Billy Hatcher hit a homer in the bottom half to tie the game up). The Mets scored three in the 16th. The Astros came back with two before Orosco nailed down the game and series. 

5) Joe Maddon continues to make moves that are considered “out-of-the-box.” In Game 3, he brought in his relief ace with a couple of runners on, in a high-leverage situation. In Game 4, he pinch-hit for Addison Russell.

You would think he did something really radical. Who cares if Addison Russell had 95 RBIs during the season? Joe didn’t like the matchup of Russell vs. Romo. So, with runners on second and third, Maddon sent Chris Coghlan to the on-deck circle, forcing Bochy to counter with left-hander Will Smith. Maddon then replaced Coghlan with Contreras, a right-handed hitter with some pop.

Not all the moves he makes will work (bringing Chapman into the game in the eighth on Monday did not work) but he’s not sitting on his hands, or playing by the “book.” He’s being pro-active.  Love it. 

6) Nationals imbalance. The top of their order is hitting, the bottom of the order is not.

Trea Turner:     6-17 AB

Jayson Werth:  7-15 AB, 1 HR

Daniel Murphy:  6-13 AB

Turner, Werth, and Murphy are a combined .422 (19-45 AB), with six walks. So the three at the top have gotten on-base 25 times in four games.

Danny Espinosa is 1-11 AB, with 8 strikeouts

Anthony Rendon is just 3-16 AB

Pedro Severino is just 1-9 AB

So, who’s the best guess to be a Game Five hero?

How about…

Ryan Zimmerman is 6-9 AB, with 2 HR and a walk in the regular season against Rich Hill. That’s a .667/.700/1.444 slash line. He faced Hill in two plate appearances in Game 2. He went 0-1 AB with a walk. So combined he is 6-10 AB (.600 BA) and has reached 8 of 12 PA (.667 OBP). 

7) How steroids affected the Indians and Blue Jays rosters this postseason:

The Indians couldn’t put Abraham Almonte on the postseason roster because of his 80-game PED suspension. It is the reason they acquired Coco Crisp from Oakland on Aug. 31.

“When we didn’t have Abe that was a big hole,” said manager Terry Francona. “Coco has the experience and he showed it. He gets down in the count, gets a breaking ball he can handle and hits it out. Those were the huge runs and we had to make them hold up.”

Almonte was caught before the season started, and didn’t play until early July.

You may remember the Blue Jays nearly advancing to the World Series last year. One of their big bats in the middle of their order isn’t there anymore. Where in the world is Chris Colabello?

Colabello had played seven years in Independent ball, and was such an unlikely success story. Last year, he hit .321 and slugged .520 for Toronto. His homer in Game Five of the ALCS helped send that series back to Kansas City for a Game Six. This year, he got off to a very slow start (2 hits in 29 AB). He got suspended for failing a drug test. The Blue Jays didn’t seem very interested in him when he came back.

Of course, Colabello batted just .180 for the Buffalo Bisons when he did return.

Toronto Blue Jays

2015:  .269 BA, .457 SLG, 891 runs scored

2016:  .248 BA, .426 SLG, 759 runs scored

The loss of Colabello’s .321 bat this season was part of it. Justin Smoak batted .217, with 14 HR, 34 RBI this year. 

8) Giants obit: Craig Nordquist and Matt Filippi join me on a busy Wednesday morning to wrap up the Giants season and look ahead to next year as they tried to answer my SAT-type question:

If the San Francisco Giants won the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014; when is the next time they win? 

  1. a) 2017
  2. b) 2018
  3. c) Both of the above
  4. d) None of the above

The up-and-down season of the 2016 Giants has come to a close. San Francisco entered the All-Star break with an MLB-best 57-33 (.633) record and appeared poised to continue their “even year magic” with yet another title in an alternating season. Instead, they posted the fourth-worst record in the majors after the Midsummer Classic and squeaked into the playoffs on the final day. They came close to a winner-take-all game in the Division Series before falling short. 

The Giants are set to lose at least part of the bullpen core of their three recent titles, as Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, and Javier Lopez are all free agents this offseason. That might not be a bad thing, as Lopez is 39 years old, Casilla lost his closer role down the stretch and is 36 years old, and Romo turns 34 years old in March. The Giants led the majors with 30 blown saves this year and lack the true shutdown closer that we’ve come to expect on a championship club. This also explains why the Giants led the majors with nine losses when leading after eight innings. And fittingly, this is how the season came to an end. 

With big names like Aroldis Chapman, Mark Melancon, and Kenley Jansen likely hitting the free agent market, you would have to think that the Giants will make a hard push to sign one of them.

San Francisco’s rotation appears sound for years to come. The Giants can move on from Jake Peavy (5-9, 5.54 ERA) this fall when he becomes a free agent. Their big three of Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, and Jeff Samardzija is locked up together through at least 2019 (and longer if they can extend MadBum in the coming offseasons) while Matt Moore is under team control via club options through 2019. One has to figure that Matt Cain and some youngsters will vie for the final spot in next year’s rotation. 

The offense remains a potential area for improvement though, as they ranked just ninth in the NL in runs scored this season while hitting the third-fewest homers in all of baseball. Outfielders Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco are both free agents this fall. Pagan played well when healthy this year, but he’s 35 years old and has always been an injury risk. Blanco is set to turn 33 years old in December and has been a league-average outfielder over his career. 

However, this could be a place where the Giants can add some power. Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Bautista, and Mark Trumbo could all be hitting the market, giving them some options. If they don’t like those, they can look to third base where Justin Turner could be available. The internal options at the hot corner are currently Eduardo Nunez and Conor Gillaspie, so Turner would potentially be a good fit.

It was a very weird end to the season for the Giants and one that leaves a lot more questions than answers. But at the end of the day, they have a strong top of the rotation with Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, and Jeff Samardzija and some nice offensive pieces as well (Posey, Brandon Crawford, Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt). If they can add a few extra pieces this winter, there will be reasons for optimism in San Francisco heading into 2017. 

9) Clevelander Marc Matcham notices that the Indians get contributions up-and-down the lineup (unlike Washington, I might add).

Eight different players drove in at least one run in the sweep against Boston.

What’s interesting is that their top-2 RBI guys this season—Mike Napoli (101 RBI) and Carlos Santana (87 RBI)—are NOT among those eight players.

Instead, it’s been Chisenhall (4), Kipnis (3), Naquin (2), Crisp (2), Lindor (1), Perez (1), Davis (1), and Guyer (1) driving in runs, so far.

Napoli and Santana were responsible for 188 of the 733 RBIs (26%) for Cleveland during the regular season.   0% so far in the postseason.

Thanks, Marc. Now, can you tell me if anyone saw Jose Ramirez becoming such a force in this league?  All he did was go 5-10 AB with a pair of walks in the Division Series against Boston.

Jose Ramirez

2015 CLE 97 315 50 69 14 3 6 27 32 39 10 4 .219 .291 .340
2016 CLE 152 565 84 176 46 3 11 76 44 62 22 7 .312 .363 .462

10) Tweets we enjoyed from Tuesday: 

Nate Silver ‏@NateSilver538

A Chicago Cubs vs Cleveland Indians World Series is now slightly more likely than a Trump presidency.

Tyler Kepner ‏@TylerKepner

Joe Blanton in line for the win. Chase Utley with the go-ahead hit. I assume Brad Lidge will come in now to close this one out….

Andy McCullough ‏@McCulloughTimes

Odd year, this even year.

Andy McCullough ‏@McCulloughTimes

The 2016 Dodgers: A rally strung together by a guy who started the year in Rancho (Toles), a guy with a broken leg (Ethier) and the oldest guy on the roster (Utley).

Thomas Boswell ‏@ThomasBoswellWP 

Every team has 5 guys in pen who throw 95+. SF keeps trying to close out Cubs w guys throwing 85. Is this 1934? That’s somebody’s fault.

Jeff Passan ‏@JeffPassan

If the Giants entered the ninth inning looking to encapsulate their season in 20 minutes, they did a pretty delightful job of executing.

RandBall ‏@RandBall

One guy got 24 outs. Four guys got 1 out. Giants pitching staff is like most offices you’ve ever worked in.

Nick Friedell ‏@NickFriedell

My 88 year old grandmother — who was at the last World Series game at Wrigley in ’45 — just called me screaming: “They’re not dead yet!”

Chris Hine ‏@ChristopherHine

Taylor Swift doesn’t release an album in an even year and the Giants don’t win the World Series. Coincidence? I think not.

Stephanie Apstein ‏@stephapstein

Via Fangraphs, this chart basically mirrors the EKG of a Giants fan over the last four hours.

image006Bob Newhart@BobNewhart

Cubs, I am 87 and I am getting too old for this… #GoCubsGo #FlyTheWimage007



(Now, I must tell you that I was uncertain whether to put the last tweet in, because most of you don’t know who Bob Newhart is.  Newhart was one of television’s biggest starts in the 1970s.  He starred in a bunch of shows, named either “Newhart,” “Bob,” and “The Bob Newhart Show.” (He would have had more shows, but apparently didn’t have a middle name). Apparently, he was a big stand-up comedian before that, and sold a lot of record albums of his low-key comedy. It must have been a Midwest thing. I never got his Midwest sensibilities, and never found him funny.)  I didn’t even like him in Elf.



I have to disagree with you on Bob Newhart. I loved his humor. When he did those routines with him talking to an imaginary friend on the phone, they were clever and hilarious. I used that idea for many summations as a prosecuting attorney in my career and it got great receptions. Miss you Bob. Otherwise, a great article.

You are of course disagreeing with the writer(s), not yours truly.

Good stuff…however, Elliott Kalb stayed at the keyboard one pitch too long. He may know baseball, but his Bob Newhart bash shows he knows nothin’ about comedy. Maybe tomorrow MLB can have another writer “close” the research packet for him. 🙂

Love the column, John. But Kalb is wrong about Newhart. He’s hilarious, insightful, and his albums from the sixties are classic humor. I may have to listen to one or two this morning after watching my Giants implode last night.

I’m with you on this–I have loved Newhart for a long time–but gentle men of good will may disagree.

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