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.

Jose Fernandez Bests Yasiel Puig for NL Rookie of the Year

Miami Marlins starting pitcher Jose Fernandez was the overwhelming choice for the NL Rookie of the Year award on Monday. The 21-year-old right-hander received 26 first-place votes from the BBWAA to become the fourth Marlins player in history to win the award. His 142 point total was well ahead of second-place Yasiel Puig. St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Shelby Miller finished a distant third with 12 points.

It was pretty much a given that the award was basically between Fernandez and Puig and it all depended on what the voters valued more. Would they go for the amazing offensive numbers that Puig put up once he was called up by the Dodgers in early June? Or would they reward the Cy Young-type stats that Fernandez compiled for a terrible Marlins team? In the end, pitching trumped offense, as Fernandez’s performance this season was able to win out over Puigmania.

Fernandez was the 14th overall pick in the 2011 draft. He defected from Cuba in 2008 at the age of 16 and then attended high school in Tampa. While he began the season at the #5 prospect in baseball per Baseball America, the Marlins plan was to initially have Fernandez start the year in AA and perhaps get called up towards the end of the year. However, injuries depleted the starting rotation before spring training was done. Therefore, despite never pitching above Single-A, Fernandez made the Opening Day roster and jumped right to the big leagues.

For the season, Fernandez was nothing short of awesome. In 28 starts, Fernandez went 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA and 0.979 WHiP, while posting 187 strikeouts in 172.2 innings. The Marlins decided to shut Fernandez down in September so he wouldn’t get overused. He made the All-Star team, finished 2nd in the league in ERA, 2nd in strikeouts per nine innings and 3rd in WHiP.

Puig, like Fernandez, is also a Cuban defector. After making his way to the States in 2012, he signed a 7-year/$42 million contract with the Dodgers. He started this season in AA Chattanooga and was called up to the majors in early June. The Dodgers were struggling at the time of the call-up and then heated up. Much of the credit for L.A.’s surge was given to Puig, who was tearing the cover off of the ball in his first few weeks up. While he did cool off a bit, he still had a wonderful season. Overall, he hit .319/.391/.534 with 19 HRs, 42 RBI and 11 SBs in 104 games.

Of course, Puig didn’t quietly go about his business this season, and that appeared to rub a lot of baseball writers and sports radio hosts the wrong way. His perceived arrogance and lack of fundamentals led to a lot of media types going on about playing the game the ‘right way’ and that he needed to be taught a lesson. One has to wonder if the negative media coverage of Puig might have helped Fernandez win the award by as wide a margin he did. While, no doubt, Fernandez deserved to win the award, Puig’s offensive numbers were pretty darn good. It just seems to me that the vote should have been a little closer, if not a lot.

Yasiel Puig For MVP…Sure, Why the Hell Not?

On June 2nd, the Los Angeles Dodgers lost to the Colorado Rockies 7-2 to bring their record to 23-32, 9 games under .500. Manager Don Mattingly was looking at the possibility of being fired before the All-Star break, and it looked like the high-priced Dodgers were going to be a total flop. The next day, Yasiel Puig made his major-league debut, and the Dodgers haven’t looked back. Since that day, the Dodgers have gone 50-24 and have taken a commanding lead in the NL West.

Puig, a 22-year-old Cuban defector who signed a 7-year/$42 million contract with Los Angeles last June, has been a huge spark for the Dodgers since joining the big club. In 81 games this year, he’s hitting .350/.409/.562 with 14 HRs, 32 RBI, 55 runs scored and 10 SBs. He also has 7 assists from right field, which is 3rd in the league. He would be leading the NL in batting average if he had enough plate appearances. The same goes for his OPS of .971. His WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is already at 4.6, which is just outside the top 10, despite only having played 81 games.

Of course, because Puig has been such a sensation and has taken L.A. by storm, the inevitable backlash has come with him. Seemingly on a daily basis, we’ve seen columns pop up decrying Puig’s lack of respect for the game, his arrogance, his disregard for the ‘fundamentals.’ We’ve seen especially harsh criticisms of him from the likes of Bill Plaschke and Scott Miller. Media members seem to be cheerleading from the sidelines for Mattingly to force Puig to the bench and teach him a lesson. It is almost as if like they dislike a young, black Hispanic player playing in a brash, aggressive manner and not showing his elders (i.e. middle-aged white guys) the proper humility.

But, in the end, the media hysteria about Puig and his ‘attitude’ wouldn’t even exist if he wasn’t having such an amazing impact. And that is the larger point here. In a season with no clear-cut MVP frontrunner, I think a legitimate case can be made that Yasiel Puig is this year’s NL MVP. Currently, it seems like the top candidates are Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen and Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman. And while all three players have had very good seasons and been quite valuable to their respective teams, none of them have had a truly phenomenal year. On top of that, it is debatable if they are even the MVP of their teams!

Puig’s impact, on the other hand, is crystal clear. Before he came up, the Dodgers looked dead. There were rumblings that major changes were on the horizon, and that trades and firings were on the way. Now, it looks like Don Mattingly might win Manager of the Year after he looked like he was heading to the unemployment line in June. The team is now 12 ½ games up in their division and coast the rest of the way. This doesn’t happen without Puig’s contributions. Take him away this season, and you have a team that most likely would have been imploded by now and just playing the string out.

After Awful Puig Column, Scott Miller Shows How Not To React To Criticism

A few days ago, Scott Miller at CBSSports.com wrote a pretty terrible article about Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder, and current scourge of all that is holy in baseball, Yasiel Puig. In the article, he pretty much went over-the-top in his assessment that the Dodgers needed to get Puig under control or it will cost them dearly in the end. Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky brilliantly skewered him for the piece, pointing out Miller’s hypocrisy and thinly-veiled racism. Apparently, Miller also received a lot of criticism from readers over the column.

So, if you are Miller, a well-paid baseball writer who works for a major network’s website and has been in the business for nearly 30 years, how do you handle the criticism? Do you let it roll off your back, content with the knowledge that you’ve been writing for decades and obviously not everyone will agree with your take on every topic? Or do you decide to use your column space to post a sample of readers’ emails and include your petty responses to each one? Yep, Miller took the second option.

On Wednesday afternoon, Miller posted this article. You would think a veteran writer who has been around as long as Miller wouldn’t be so sensitive and thin-skinned. Sadly, that isn’t the case. Frankly, it is kind of embarrassing to see someone expose his insecurities like this in a public manner. You’d think someone at CBSSports.com would have told him this was a bad idea, but my guess is that Miller, as their Senior Baseball Columnist, has final say over the content he posts.

Of course, the whole column is like that. Basically, just a humorless person reminding a bunch of people how much more important he is than them and that he is a really, really good writer. Here’s the thing– If you need to tell people how important you are, then you really aren’t as ‘big time’ as you think you are. And if you have to tell people how good of a writer you are, then you are probably a hack. It’s just that simple. All Miller did by posting this column is show how uptight he truly is. Seriously, wouldn’t you think someone who’s been around as long as Miller would be able to take negative feedback a little better? Sheesh.

 

Puig’s Home Run Leads To Tedious Moralizing From Sports Media Figures

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Tuesday was a somewhat eventful day for Dodgers phenom Yasiel Puig. A day after having a meltdown in the dugout after striking out, he showed up 30 minutes late to the ballpark in Miami. Los Angeles manager Don Mattingly decided that the combination of both events would result in a fine and Puig being benched to start the game. However, Mattingly did insert Puig into the game in the 6th inning during a double switch, and Puig promptly hit a home run on the first pitch he saw in the 8th inning, sparking a Dodger victory.

That should be the end of the story. Young Dodgers sensation comes off bench and makes up for mistakes made in past 24 hours. But wait, we are dealing with a brash young player who plays the game with a lot of flash and emotion. This player also shies away from the media and speaks little to no English. So, therefore, we have to get some more moralizing from the old fogey brigade about whether Puig has learned his lesson, along with whether he will hurt the Dodgers with his lack of ‘fundamental’ play down the road.

While this is a daily occurrence on ESPN shows like First Take and Around the Horn, one of the worst of the Puig bashers, and a frequent guest of Around the Horn, is Los Angeles Times scribe Bill Plaschke. Plaschke published an article late Tuesday night criticizing Mattingly’s decision to put Puig into the game late. While he acknowledged that Puig was the reason the Dodgers won, he felt that undercut the bigger lesson. Here is the silliest part of the article to me: “

They need less of Puig’s reckless on-field behavior. They need less of his arrogant refusal to listen to instruction. They need less of an attitude that infuriates umpires. But they love the victories that the reckless, arrogant attitude produces. They needed to bench him Tuesday. But they couldn’t bear to bench him for the entire game.

He needs to learn. But Mattingly showed that he’s unwilling to possibly sacrifice a victory to finish the lecture. Puig’s antics are the sort that will cost a team in a close game in October. For every playoff game that Puig wins with his bold arm or crazy legs, he could cost them two. But, as Tuesday proved, the Dodgers are unwilling to use an August night in Miami to address that possibility.”

You get that? Puig might be helping the Dodgers win games now, but all of his blunders are going to cost Los Angeles in the playoffs. For every game he helps them win, he is going to cost them two. Yet, since Puig joined the team, the Dodgers are 48-20. Before his addition, they were 25-32 and there was talk that Mattingly was going to be fired. They are now 7 ½ games up in the NL West and should be able to cruise into the playoffs.

But, according to Plaschke and all of the other ‘old school’ guys out there, the lack of ‘sound, fundamental play’ is going to cost the Dodgers their very soul. It is more than winning and losing games now; it is about playing the game the ‘right way.’ According to these kinds of writers and pundits, it is always better to play someone who will always hit the cutoff guy, who will lay down the sacrifice bunt, who will shorten his swing to make contact with two strikes, who won’t make outs on the basepaths. Basically, they think the best team is filled with scrappy white guys that don’t strike out much but hit .250 with no home runs. But, they play the game the ‘right way.’

Let’s face it. Puig gets under the skin of guys like Plaschke because he has the gall to be confident. Plaschke, and others of his ilk, just hate that he plays with a certain amount of arrogance. They hate that he doesn’t really engage the press. They hate that he doesn’t ‘respect’ the game, whatever that means. It doesn’t matter if the Dodgers win games because of his play, because his style of play is wrong. And by wrong, they mean young, black and cocky.