St Louis Cardinals Top Los Angeles Dodgers in NLDS Game 4, Advance to NLCS

On Tuesday night, the St. Louis Cardinals hosted the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 4 of the 2014 NLDS. The Cardinals led the best-of-five series two games to one at the start of the contest, putting themselves in position to advance to their fourth consecutive NLCS with a victory.

Standing on the brink of elimination, the Dodgers sent Clayton Kershaw to the mound, hoping their all-world ace could keep their team’s season alive.

Kershaw, who is expected to win his third Cy Young and perhaps the NL MVP award this year, was coming off an uncharacteristically bad start, giving up eight earned runs in 6.2 innings of work in Game 1 on Friday. For as historically great as the 26-year-old southpaw has been over his young career — becoming the first pitcher to lead the major leagues in ERA in four straight seasons — he has not been immune from running into trouble in the playoffs. Entering play today, Kershaw had a record of just 1-4 with a 5.20 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP in the postseason.

Pitching on three days rest, he appeared to be cruising along today, though, tossing six shutout innings and racking up nine strikeouts, seemingly making a statement. Then came the seventh, however, when Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams belted a three-run homer, which would ultimately prove to be the death blow for the Dodgers as they would ultimately lose the contest by a score of 3-2. Kershaw now falls to 1-5 with a 5.12 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP in the playoffs.

Some may be tempted to compare Kershaw’s October struggles to those of David Price, another terrific left-handed starting pitcher who has strangely enough encountered a similar string of tough luck in the postseason.

That said, Kershaw has at times shown that he can indeed be his dominating, brilliant self in the postseason. With the exception of the Adams’ home run, he threw a great game today, and he posted an 0.69 ERA with 18 strikeouts in two starts against the Atlanta Braves in the 2013 ALDS just a year ago.

Considering the extraordinary talent that Kershaw possesses, it should be safe to say that at some point, he will indeed find success in the postseason once again.

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St Louis Cardinals Win Slugfest Over Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1: Quick Hits

To think you know baseball is to be a stupid, stupid fool.

No one understands this game, or why things happen how they happen, particularly when everyone expects exactly the opposite. That is why you watch in October. That is why jaws can routinely be picked up off the floor with a snow shovel in the autumn.

It is why the sport is beautiful, because the seemingly impossible can always trump perfectly sound reason.

It is why the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers left the baseball-watching world speechless and in disbelief Friday night at Dodger Stadium. This was an outcome nobody saw coming before Game 1 of the National League Division Series started, or even more than halfway through it.

In a game started by the two best pitchers in the league, the Cardinals won, 10-9. It wasn’t that the Cardinals won that was so stunning, but it was the way they got down and then came back, and the fact that Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright combined to give up 14 runs, every single one of them as earned as earned can be.

Simply stated, this game was shocking, and if the rest of the series is anything close to this, predictions be damned. This is going to be wild.

“That’s baseball. Anything can happen,” Dodgers right fielder Matt Kemp said after the game, attempting to brush aside the fact that this game was ridiculously nuts.

Kemp then paused for a few seconds before offering some candidness.

“Maybe I was a little shocked.”

The part that was so crazy was that the starting pitchers came in as the best the NL has to offer at that position, with Kershaw being the most dominant pitcher in the world during the regular season. Yet Wainwright was smacked around by a surging Dodgers offense that took errant fastball after errant fastball and locked in on his breaking pitches.

When Wainwright did miss in the zone with hard stuff—fastball, sinker, cutter—the Dodgers tagged him for eight hits. And when the curveball found the hitting zone, three hits, not including a laser of a liner by Hanley Ramirez that was caught for an out.

 “My fastball command was absolutely atrocious. Awful,” Wainwright said. “When they realized it, they sat on the slow stuff.”

By the end of all the contact, Wainwright had allowed six runs on 11 hits and Dodger Stadium transformed from sporting venue to all-out house party. A five-run lead with Kershaw on the mound—he started the game 67-0 when the Dodgers gave him at least four runs—was plenty reason to start the celebration while the Southern California sun still beamed.

Tsk, tsk. As Kemp so plainly noted, this is baseball. More specifically, postseason baseball. Very little goes as plotted.

After Kershaw allowed a first-inning home run on a curveball—the third-ever home run he’s allowed on that pitch in 1,423.1 innings—he put away 16 consecutive Cardinals hitters and seemed to be cruising. Everything was working. The fastball, the curveball, the swing-and-miss slider and the changeup, all of them working seamlessly together to create Kershaw’s latest masterpiece.

For as lights-out as Kershaw has been over the last four seasons, not even he could duck the total wackiness of this game. Going into the seventh inning, Kershaw had allowed two baserunners, both of which hit solo home runs, and gave the Dodgers zero indication he was about to implode.

It started innocently: Matt Holliday lacing a single up the middle to start the inning, putting Kershaw into the stretch for the first time. Then Jhonny Peralta the same thing. Then Yadier Molina the same thing to load the bases, nobody out. Two more singles wrapped around a strikeout and suddenly it was a two-run Dodger lead.

Then a three-pitch strikeout and it seemed Kershaw was back. Furthering the assumption, he got ahead of Matt Carpenter 0-2, but the at-bat turned dim for Kershaw. He could not put away Carpenter, who worked to see six more pitches before thrashing a middle-middle fastball for a bases-clearing double.

Just like that, an entire country, an entire Twitter universe and entire baseball world was turned on its throbbing head. Stunned euphoria in certain parts of that world, stunned silence in others.

“If I don’t get in the way tonight,” Kershaw said, “we have a pretty good chance to win this.”

Just the thought of two of the best pitchers in this galaxy saying they got in the way of their teams’ chances to win a playoff game is absurd. But that’s how this night went.

What wasn’t so unexpected is that the bad blood between these two clubs started to boil in this first game. It also signaled the start of Wainwright’s meltdown when he hit Yasiel Puig with one of those catch-me-if-you-can fastballs.

Puig calmly strutted to first base, but Adrian Gonzalez, usually the calmest of the men in uniform, confronted hot-tempered St. Louis catcher Molina.

“We’re not going to start this again,” Gonzalez claimed to have told Molina.

“You have to respect me,” Gonzalez claimed was Molina’s response.

For Molina’s part, he said he couldn’t hear Gonzalez, but that he was screaming.

“I told him, ‘If you’re going to scream at me, get ready to fight,’ ” Molina claims was his actual response.

he dugouts emptied, the bullpen gates opened, but officials quickly restored order. Molina and Gonzalez seemed to be the only two fired up enough to raise their voices.

Wainwright and Puig found each other, spoke a few words and called it a day, the latter finishing the exchange with a friendly pat on Waino’s backside.

“It kinda woke a sleeping dog,” Carpenter said, acknowledging the Dodgers went bonkers after that, scoring six runs in the next three innings off Wainwright.

This beef between the Cardinals and Dodgers started last postseason, when the ninth pitch of Game 1 of the NL Championship Series stuck in Hanley Ramirez’s side, snapping one of his ribs and taking him out of the series. Two games later, Gonzalez doubled in a run off Wainwright and gestured toward the Dodger dugout to fire up his team. Postgame, Wainwright described Gonzalez’s behavior as “Mickey Mouse.”

In July of this season, the fireworks went off again when Cardinals flamethrower Carlos Martinez hit Ramirez with a fastball high on his shoulder. In the bottom of that inning, Kershaw plunked Matt Holliday. In the ninth inning, St. Louis closer Trevor Rosenthal hit Ramirez again, this time on the hand, knocking him out of the lineup for a few games.

“It happened during the season, and it’s a trend,” Gonzalez said of the Cardinals hitting Dodgers players. “They can deny it as much as they want. They are going to say it’s not on purpose, but we all know (it is).

“If that’s the way they want to go at it, we’ll make adjustments.”

So that’s where we stand, in a completely unpredictable series that could erupt into punches at any moment. Or not.

This is baseball, though, and none of us knows what will happen next. So let’s just enjoy the drama as it unfolds.

Time to Standardize the DH

Baseball has been around for a very long time. One of the great things about baseball, however, is that over time it has been receptive to change and evolution in the interest of making the game better. A good example of this change came in 1973, when the American League decided to adopt the Designated Hitter for the good of the game, something that the National League has refused to do to this day. The time has come to change that. There is a window of opportunity for that to happen, as Rob Manfred will be replacing Bud Selig as Commissioner in the offseason and can impose a new vision on the game. There needs to be one rule for both leagues, and it needs to include a DH.

Last night’s Red Sox-Pirates game in Pittsburgh clearly highlighted the need for a universal DH. Due to the host being a National League ballpark, and therefore playing without the DH, David Ortiz was left out of the starting lineup entirely. This led to Daniel Nava hitting third (Daniel Nava!!!!!!!) and the lineup predictably suffered, failing to score a run or put up really a credible threat or rally. In addition, starter Anthony Ranaudo was forced to go up and flail at three pitches every few innings as the price he had to pay to stay in the game. Unfortunately Red Sox fans should get used to such a phenomenon, because it will need to happen for the remainder of the current series in Pittsburgh.

But beyond just the Red Sox, the lack of a DH throughout baseball presents nothing but problems. With the move to balanced leagues holding fifteen teams each, almost every night some American League team will be at a disadvantage while playing in a National League ballpark. American League rosters are constructed with the thought that they can carry an extra bat that might be a defensive liability, or that they can rotate a bunch of players through the DH spot to keep them fresh for an entire season. Does it really make sense to create a disadvantage for an American League club playing in a National League park, when that same National League team gains an advantage while coming to an AL park?

In addition, there really is no value whatsoever to having pitchers “hit.” The National League team with the highest OPS from its pitchers (because sample sizes are too small for AL teams), is the Los Angeles Dodgers, with a .429 mark. That’s not their OBP, neither is it a typo; a .429 OPS. The triple-slash comes to .168/.214/.216. So that means that theoretically the team with the best-hitting pitchers in baseball still puts up a worse line than Will Middlebrooks (.520 OPS, .186/.253/.266). Conversely, the AL team (again for the sake of sample size) getting the least production out of its DH’s, the Seattle Mariners, has posted a .566 OPS (.189/.264/.302). The very worst of the DH’s in baseball are still significantly more effective than the very best hitting pitchers. This is an imbalance that needs to be corrected.

The bottom line is that there is no need to still have pitchers hit in the Major Leagues. It creates an unfair disadvantage for half of the league, and fans do not enjoy it. Fans want to see Victor Martinez face Felix Hernandez with the game on the line, not some backup utility infielder pinch-hit and get blown away by Clayton Kershaw. It creates problems for managers, who come to the point where they have to decide between killing a rally by letting their pitcher hit or pinch-hitting and losing their pitcher for the rest of the game. This is reflected in the numbers, as six out of the top ten teams in baseball in Complete Games reside in the American League. Major League Baseball says it wants to change the game to attract and keep younger fans. The first thing they can do is to end the nonsense, and take the bat out of pitchers’ hands.

De La Rosa Becoming Solid Piece for Red Sox

The Red Sox’ unfortunate position in the standings has afforded the team to get a look at their young, homegrown players in an effort to get a read on who can help the team aim to contend in 2015. The team got another good look in their 2-0 sweep-clinching loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, when Rubby De La Rosa turned in one of his strongest starts of the season. While De La Rosa’s initial line (6.2 innings, 8 hits, 2 earned runs, three walks and eight strikeouts) might not be terribly inspiring, most of the damage against him was done in the first two innings. This included a bases-loaded jam that De La Rosa was able to escape without harm and settle in to stifle the Angels offense into the seventh inning. Since his promotion earlier in the season, De La Rosa has made a strong case for himself to be in the Red Sox starting rotation at the beginning of the 2015 season.

De La Rosa is finally starting to show why he was such a highly thought-of prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system. De La Rosa spent the offseason working with former Red Sox ace Pedro Martinezon his craft, and all of his hard work has paid off to this point in 2014. De La Rosa has put up 6.69 K/9, 3.35 BB/9, with a .272 average against, 79.7% strand rate, 3.69 ERA and 4.02 xFIP in 78 innings with the big club. The strikeout numbers are down slightly from his career average (career 7.41 K/9), but otherwise that is a solid line across the board, especially for a rookie starter in the American League. Those numbers are right in line with a solid number three starter on a contending rotation.

Another encouraging sign from De La Rosa’s most recent start against the Angels (which Pedro likely had a part in developing) was his ability to make adjustments throughout the start. There was a bit of a rough patch early in the game where the Angels got some good scoring chances, but De La Rosa was able to make the adjustment and settle in through the rest of his start. He made another key adjustment in the seventh, despite not finishing the inning. While dealing with another Angels scoring threat, De La Rosa was able to ramp his fastball up to 97 mph in order to get a key strikeout and limit the threat. This ability to adapt is key to developing into a solid major league starter.

The Red Sox have wisely chosen to use the remainder of the 2014 season to evaluate their roster options for 2015, when the team plans on being competitive. To this point, De La Rosa has taken advantage of the opportunity to show the team he deserves a permanent rotation spot going forward. He has shown the plus stuff, as well as the ability to adjust mid-way through a start. These are things that prove that De La Rosa possesses the ability to improve upon his current numbers, which would be a welcome addition to an unproven pitching staff. Not much is clear for the Red Sox’ 2015 season, but it is clear that Rubby De La Rosa deserves to be in the starting rotation.

Dodgers’ Josh Beckett Getting Better With Age, Throws First No-Hitter

Throwing a no-hitter is no easy task. Los Angeles Dodgers veteran pitcher Josh Beckett made it look pretty easy, however, in Sunday afternoon’s 6-0 no-no thrown against the Philadelphia Phillies on the road.

Not many people would have predicted this to happen seeing as the pitcher hadn’t thrown one in his entire career and he has been in the league for 13 years now. Once being an ace in MLB, Beckett seems to be on the back-nine of his career, but Sunday afternoon’s performance showed baseball that he’s far from being unproductive.

Heck, is Beckett getting better with age?

Beckett’s lowest season ERA before turning 30 years old was 3.04 with the Florida Marlins back in 2003 when he posted a 3.04 mark — the same year he was the ace for that team and they won the World Series.

Since turning 30, he has struggled a bit to stay healthy, but he posted a career-best 2.89 ERA and a 13-7 record with the Boston Red Sox in 2011.

The 2014 season has been his best yet — thus far. Beckett just threw his first career no-hitter just 10 days after his 34th birthday and lowered his ERA to a sparkling 2.43 in the process to go along with a solid 3-1 record in nine starts on the season.

How is he doing it?

He is striking people out a solid 8.87 strikeouts per nine innings — his second-highest total since 2008 with the Red Sox. He also has the second-lowest WHIP since 2007 with the Sox at 1.16 and he’s keeping people off the base paths — although he did allow three walks in the no-hitter.

Whatever he’s doing, it’s working. The 34-year-old veteran is making the Dodgers a series World Series favorite and he’s looking younger by the game.

 

Hey Cardinals! Please Don’t Complain About the Dodgers Being Unprofessional, OK?

Let me get the disclaimer out first. I am a die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan. I have lived in the city, off and on, for the past 25 years. I typically attend about 20 games a year and rarely ever miss a game on TV. I follow the team religiously and pour over their stat sheets daily during the season. Nobody could call me impartial when it came down to the Redbirds.

That is why it pains me to write this article today. I have to call out my beloved team for not just hypocrisy, but for falling into the old ‘play the game the right way’ trap we’ve seen overtake MLB this season. Following Monday’s loss to the L.A. Dodgers, members of the Cardinals complained to the media about the ‘Mickey Mouse stuff‘ from some of the Dodger players and their celebrations. The Cardinals’ players are now taking over the position of Keymaster of Baseball’s Unwritten Rules.

St. Louis pitcher Adam Wainwright is the one who made the ‘Mickey Mouse’ comments. He made it in reference to Adrian Gonzalez, who hit an RBI double in the 4th inning and was excited afterwards. Wainwright took exception to his antics and made the comment. Later in that inning, Yasiel Puig hit a triple to score Gonzalez and make it a 2-0 game. Puig reacted right after hitting the ball as he thought he had a home run. After righting himself, he made it into third standing up and played to the crowd, trying to pump them up.

Cardinals’ outfielder Carlos Beltran took exception to this. When asked later about it, he had this to say: “As a player, I just think he doesn’t know [about how to act]. That’s what I think. He really doesn’t know. He must think that he’s still playing somewhere else…He has a lot of passion, no doubt about that — great ability, great talent. I think with time, he’ll learn that you’ve got to act with a little bit more calm.”

A couple of points need to be made here. First off, it isn’t exactly like the Cardinals play the game all stoically and never get excited on the field. If you look over the past two or three seasons, you can make a whole DVD of St. Louis players celebrating and acting demonstrably after a great play or a game-winning hit or a big strikeout. Heck, in Game 2, one need only look at Yadier Molina pumping his fists while on his knees after a big play at the plate. It just comes across as hypocritical to whine about other teams reacting on the field when your team isn’t exactly known as being low-key.

Another point is why do the Cardinals’ players feel they have to comment on this at all? What is it lately with the uber-sensitivity of major-league baseball players? Why is it that once we see a player act a little excited or admire a home run a little too long, we have to deal with The Code and opponents getting all butthurt about being shown up? When did MLB players get to be such whiny little bitches? Sheesh.

Outside of the St. Louis area, the Cardinals have found themselves more and more hated among baseball fans. Perhaps it is the air of haughty arrogance when fans discuss the ‘Cardinal Way.’ Maybe it is the way the fanbase describes St. Louis and Busch Stadium as ‘Baseball Heaven.’ Heck, it could just be the sustained success the franchise has enjoyed, leading the team to go from being respected by baseball fans to being hated. Whatever it is, I just know that these recent comments don’t do much to endear others to the Cards or their fans.

2013 MLB Postseason: ALCS & NLCS Predictions

Los Angeles Dodgers vs St Louis Cardinals

What I think will be key for this series is that for the Cardinals, they will not have ace Adam Wainwright available until Game 3, while Los Angeles gets to throw out Zach Greinke and more importantly Clayton Kershaw without having them go up against Wainwright. I think that as well as an offense that is popping right now thanks in part to Carl Crawford looking tremendous at the dish gives the Dodgers a nice route to the World Series. Los Angeles in 5.

Detroit Tigers vs Boston Red Sox

This has the makings of an excellent ALCS as both clubs feature powerful offenses as well as strong and deep pitching. Detroit features the expected Cy Young winner in Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, who was awesome in Game 5 against Oakland, as well as Anibal Sanchez, who has also been sleepy good this year as well as a personal friend in Doug Fister. Boston’s rotation is less top-heavy but a crop of Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester and Jake Peavy is none too shabby. I like think the top of that Detroit rotation as well as the new age Bash Brothers of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder barely gives them an edge. Detroit in 7