San Francisco Giants Close Down Washington Nationals in Game 4

It’d be ridiculous at this point to suggest the San Francisco Giants are lucky. Luck doesn’t win you two trophies in three years, and it doesn’t land you a spot in the National League Championship Series, which the Giants clinched with a 3-2 victory over the Washington Nationals Tuesday night at AT&T Park.

Not everyone pegged this team for another deep run. In fact, after the Giants squandered a hot start and squeaked into the second wild-card position, many dismissed them.

Funny thing though…there’s just something about this squad led by veteran skipper Bruce Bochy. The Giants seem to enjoy the feeling of their backs against a wall, to thrive when the pressure is greatest and to find the strangest, most unexpected ways to come up big.

Take Tuesday’s clincher: The Giants scored on a bases-loaded walk, a weak ground ball and a wild pitch. They would have plated a second run on a wild pitch, when an intentional ball four to Pablo Sandoval in the bottom of the seventh sailed over Washington catcher Wilson Ramos’ head.

The ball, though, caromed hard off the backstop, and Buster Posey was tagged out trying to score from third.

It didn’t matter. The Giants clung to their one-run lead with more stellar innings from their stingy bullpen and eked out another memorable, nail-gnawing win.

It began with starter Ryan Vogelsong, who in many ways embodies the unflinching resiliency of the Orange and Black. A Giants prospect once upon a time, Vogelsong was dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2001.

A Tommy John surgery and a stint in Japan later, he returned to San Francisco as a minor league free agent in 2011 and fought his way into the rotation.

The following season, Vogelsong was an October hero, posting a 1.09 ERA in four playoff starts and getting himself a ring.

Since then, the 37-year-old right-hander has been unreliable at best. His 4.00 ERA in the 2014 regular season certainly didn’t inspire overwhelming confidence as he took the mound Tuesday, with the Giants up 2-1 in the best-of-five series.

It was a must-win game for the Nationals, but it felt like one for the Giants. San Francisco did not want to go back to D.C. with the series tied and face either Stephen Strasburg or Jordan Zimmermann in an elimination contest.

Vogelsong helped ensure that wouldn’t happen, tossing 5.2 gutsy innings while giving up one run on two hits. He didn’t earn the win, though, thanks to Bryce Harper.

In the top of the seventh, with the Giants leading 2-1, Harper launched a towering home run into the water beyond the right field wall off hard-throwing Giants rookie Hunter Strickland. The bomb fired up the Washington dugout; for a moment, it looked like the loaded, 96-win Nats had some fight left in them.

Then the Giants worked their magic, loading the bases in the bottom of the frame on a pair of singles and a walk and scoring on the aforementioned wild pitch.

And that was it. Setup man Sergio Romo and closer Santiago Casilla, who have combined for six scoreless frames this postseason, tossed mostly uneventful eighth and ninth innings, and the Giants stormed the field to celebrate another trip to the NLCS.

The team they’ll face, the St. Louis Cardinals, knows a thing or two about playoff mojo. The Cards made the Fall Classic in 2011 and 2013. Add the Giants’ appearances in 2010 and 2012, and we’re looking at a fifth straight season when either San Francisco or St. Louis will represent the National League on baseball’s biggest stage.

The Cardinals are tough. They showed that by dispatching the Los Angeles Dodgers in four games in the NLDS, including two wins against sure-fire Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw.

The Giants, though, have now won seven straight playoff series, eight if you count the wild-card playoff win against Pittsburgh that started this latest run.

They’ve already added to the legend in 2014, winning the longest game in MLB postseason history, an 18-inning marathon Oct. 4 at Nationals Park, on a towering home run by first baseman Brandon Belt.

Really, the Giants don’t need to say anything. They let their play do the talking.

They’re confident. They’re collected. They’re cohesive. And they get it done, one way or another.

Call them what you like. Just don’t call them lucky.

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What’s Next For A-Rod?

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MLB Commissioner Bud Selig finally announced the news Monday afternoon that everyone was waiting for. New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez will be suspended through the end of the 2014 season. However, in a slightly different twist that what was expected, A-Rod’s suspension does not officially start until Thursday, thus making the length of the suspension 211 games. It looks like Selig moved the start date to Thursday to force A-Rod’s hand on an appeal, as a player has three days to file an appeal once the suspension is announced.

So, what’s next for A-Rod? Well, it is plainly obvious he is going to file an appeal on the ruling. MLBPA head Michael Weiner has already stated that Rodriguez has the full support of the union behind him. “We believe that the Commissioner has not acted appropriately under the Basic Agreement,” said Weiner in a statement. “Mr. Rodriguez knows that the Union, consistent with its history, will defend his rights vigorously. We must revisit the JDA’s confidentiality provisions and consider implementing stricter rules for any breach.” Once Rodriguez files his appeal, a hearing with an arbitrator must take place within 20 days. Then, the arbitrator has 25 days from the hearing to give his decision.

It is possible that A-Rod can be eligible to play for the Yankees for as long as 45 days from today. It is more likely that they will have him for a month, give or take a few days. Once the arbitrator, Frederic Horowitz, makes his decision, A-Rod will then have to start serving his suspension immediately (unless, by miracle of miracles, Horowitz throws the suspension out completely. ) If Horowitz upholds the entire suspension length, then A-Rod will see that suspension last into the 2015 season.

Today, Rodriguez is officially in the lineup for the Yankees for the first time this season. He is batting 4th tonight and playing third base against the Chicago White Sox. He is playing his first game of the season on the same day he was given the longest suspension ever handed down in MLB for performance enhancing drugs. On the day he was acknowledged as the biggest cheat in major league baseball history, he is going to go out and try to play his first MLB game since last year’s playoffs. Needless to say, it is going to be an absolute freakshow tonight!

I have a hard time believing that A-Rod will be able to deal with the extremely negative crowd reactions he is going to get over the coming weeks (both home and away) as well as the intense media spotlight that will be following him. While he, unlike any other athlete perhaps in history, seems to adore and embrace drama, it just seems like what is sure to come will be too much, even for him. On top of that, all of this negative attention is going to be grating from the outset on his teammates, coaches and manager. Is he really going to go through with this?

Long term, once the appeal is over and the arbitrator decides, A-Rod is going to have to sit-out a long time. Considering that MLB was ready to hand down a lifetime ban to A-Rod, as well as go through the courts by circumventing the Joint Drug Agreement (JDA), it seems highly unlikely that an arbitrator is going to reduce any of Rodriguez’s suspension. Apparently, Selig feels very confident that A-Rod is a repeat offender and tampered with the investigation, and that he could justify a lifetime ban under the ‘best interests of baseball’ clause. Therefore, by sticking to the JDA’s provisions and sending it before an arbitrator, Selig keeps A-Rod away from the court system.

A-Rod will be out until sometime in 2015, once the appeal process is over. He’ll see how much he is hated by the MLB fanbase over the next few days. He is going to see vitriol unlike any we’ve ever seen directed at a player. I think, once he’s done playing in these games before the suspension is handed out, he is going to not want to deal with it again. The only reason he wants to play now and in the future is because he is owed a LOT of money by the Yankees.

Basically, I foresee A-Rod looking to come to an agreement with the Yankees on the remaining years on his contract. Knowing he is already going to lose roughly $35 million over his suspension, he is still going to want to get some of that remaining $60 million that the Yankees will have to pay him through 2017. I just think he is going to approach New York, perhaps within the next few days, and request a portion of that remaining contract to walk away for good. Reports are out that he’d already tried to do this with the Yankees prior to the suspension being announced, so why wouldn’t he do this now that it is official?

The Yankees and A-Rod are going to go through their divorce, one way or another. Reaching a settlement seems to be the best case scenario for all involved. New York was praying that Selig would go through with his lifetime ban and give them a $100 million windfall. That didn’t happen, but it looks like they will get out of paying A-Rod $35 million. If they can get out of paying him maybe another $30 million more, I think they’ll jump at that opportunity. Now they just have to wait for A-Rod to tire of the drama and do the right thing for both of them.

 

MLB Suspensions To Be Announced By Monday; A-Rod To Get Lifetime Ban?

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It appears that MLB will announce the suspensions of the players involved with Biogenesis by Monday. The eight players that are not Alex Rodriguez are expected to get 50-game suspensions. It is unlikely that any of them will appeal the suspensions. As for A-Rod, there are varying reports coming out stating that he is trying to come to a settlement with MLB on the length of his suspension.

The main reason that MLB wants to get the suspensions announced no later than Monday is timing. If they wait much longer, players will have to serve some of their suspension in 2014. Two players, Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta and Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz, are key members of teams in pennant races, and would like to be able to get their suspensions over with before the playoffs start. If the suspensions come out over the weekend or even by Monday, then they will be available, assuming the suspensions are at the expected 50 games.

As for the continuing A-Rod saga, his representatives and MLB officials have been talking over the last couple of days to see what kind of suspension they can both come to an agreement to. This at least showed that Rodriguez might allow some kind of suspension to be handed down without appealing or fighting it. However, it appears that A-Rod and MLB are really far apart. Apparently, Rodriguez is willing to accept the same 50-game suspension that the other players are getting, and nothing more. MLB is threatening a lifetime ban and, at the very least, wants A-Rod to sit-out the rest of 2013 and all of 2014.

As I’ve stated numerous times on this site, A-Rod isn’t going to go quietly. He has too much money owed him over the next 4+ years to just roll over. And, while MLB has stated that the Yankees are not involved whatsoever in these negotiations and that A-Rod’s current contract has no bearing on any possible discipline coming his way, that’s all just smoke being blown up our collective asses. The Yankees are hoping that MLB will do them a huge favor and get them out of the rest of A-Rod’s mega-contract. And as Bud Selig works for the owners, and is a former owner himself, he will do his best to make the marquee franchise in baseball happy.

What do I think will happen this weekend with A-Rod and MLB? I think Selig is going to hammer A-Rod with a lengthy suspension, most likely a lifetime ban. They are willing to let A-Rod do a suspension through 2014, but there is no way he will accept something like that. Anything over the 50 games that the other players will receive will bring about a lengthy fight from Rodriguez, one that will take up a lot of press and extend for months. We are going to be dealing with this for a long time, folks.