First off, we have to start with congratulations to the Boston Red Sox on the World Series championship. While given their regular season record it should have been expected they’d win it all (and I did call them as the champs at the end of the regular season, although I had expected a Houston/LA rematch World Series way back in spring training), a lot can happen in October and the Red Sox never lost focus or let up a notch. Exactly what a championship team needs to do. What they also need is for an unexpected hero to step up, and they had that in Steve Pearce.
The 35 year-old journeyman, traded over from the Blue Jays mid-season had been a solid but unremarkable 12-year veteran backup player, conversant in hitting, playing outfield and first but never becoming a “star” at any of the above. In 50 games with Boston after being traded, he hit a decent .279 with 7 homers and a .901 OPS; on the year in total, he was .288 with 42 RBI and a .890 OPS. Both those numbers were second-best in his career, behind his 2014 campaign in Baltimore.
But when the pressure was on, it was Steve who rose to the challenge. He outhit the Sox duel MVP-candidates, Mookie Betts and JD Martinez in the entire post-season and really cemented the Championship last week. While Mookie hit a rather anemic .210, with just 1 homer and 4 RBI through the playoffs, JD fared somewhat better, going 15 for 50, a .300 average, with 3 HR and 14 RBI. Pearce through 13 games in the playoffs hit .289, added 9 walks leading to 12 runs scored. Of course he also hit 4 homers, three in the final two games of the year to seal the Dodgers fate, and tallied a huge 1.083 OPS. A rightful Series MVP if there ever was one.
A tip of the cap to the Dodgers too; they looked shaky at times this season but came through when they had to right up to the final week. Two straight league pennants is nothing to sniff at, though I expect many LA fans are doing that this morning.
On the homefront, the big news of course is the Blue Jays hiring Charlie Montoyo as their new manager. this came as rather a surprise, both in that it took them very little time and that his name really hadn’t been much in the mix of guesses from MLB pundits. More surprising, the amount of confidence shown in him by Toronto, giving him a 3-year deal right away for his first big league managing gig.
They rightfully point out that he’s not unqualified. He had 18 long years of minor league managing behind him and he was Kevin Cash’s bench coach this year with the far over-achieving Tampa Bay Rays. No one expected them to win 90 this year, especially when the Sox and Yankees got red-hot right out of the gates and when Tampa traded their supposed “ace”, Chris Archer in July. but win 90 they did, and as Ross Atkins of our guys points out, that’s largely because they are among the best teams at being “ahead of the curve” in using stats to analyze and stategize every at bat.
Montoyo’s bilingualism is also pointed to as a plus, definitely a consideration on a team with so many Latin American players including the top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
I hadn’t heard much of Charlie before but he does seem like he’s probably a good man for the job. I didn’t “like” the Rays ways this year, with their oddball pitching choices such as starting a reliever for one inning and severely limiting innings pitched for any hurler, and their reliance on defensive shifts. But you can’t argue with success, and succeed they did while Toronto and more traditional manager John Gibbons just didn’t live upto anyone’s expectations. So fingers crossed, and good luck Charlie Montoyo.
An interesting sidenote to that- the Jays website lists all the ’18 coaches as rostered still except for a hitting coach. Presumably this means they quietly let Brook Jacoby go, something that’s unfortunate but something I’ve argued has needed to be done for some time now.
Next up, we’ll be picking the deserving AL award winners.
Let the games begin. Finally we get to the Fall Classic, some 7 months from where we began, all full of confidence and excitement (even if you were somewhere like KC or Baltimore.) Now it’s down to just two.
As I predicted way back in spring, the LA Dodgers return to the World Series for the 11th time, hoping to win it for the first time in 30 years.LA deserve credit galore for staving off Colorado in a Game 163 and making it back to the World Series for the second year in a row. This year though, unlike my prediction (which was for Houston to also repeat their appearance), their opponent, as we well know is the statistically best team in baseball this year- Boston.
I have some friends who are LA fans. As of yet, I have no one who’s a Red Sox fan. That said, I still have to pick Boston to win yet again. The Red Sox seem to be gaining momentum whereas the Dodgers seem to vary night to night. Mainly though, one has to like Boston’s advantages in having home advantage (an almost mind-blowing 57-24 at Fenway, although LA are a decent road team and one of the few teams with more road wins than home ones this year, being 47-34 outside of the City of Angels) and the accompanying DH advantage. MLB expect Matt Kemp to DH for LA when in the AL park. Nothing wrong with him as a hitter, but he’s no JD Martinez. And when in the National park, the Sox will find a way to keep Martinez’s killer bat in the lineup. Unlike the MLB site, I like Steve Pearce at first over David Freese too.
LA’s bullpen does seem better, and this year, one might think it’s all about the pens. Yet, Boston was the superior team in close games through the season too- 25-14 in one run games compared to LA who were a break-even .500 in such contests. And the X-factor… same as in the ALCS. Boston’s #2 co-ace, David Price. Price, as mentioned ad nauseum, has been historically bad in playoff starts for some weird reason. Finally he broke out of that last week to knock Houston out of the post-season, with 6 very strong shutout innings, 9 Ks and a ramped up velocity for his first post-season W in a start after 9 losses. I have to think that confidence will now spill over and bolster the Sox, even if wobby lefty Clayton Kershaw of the blue-and-white can outpitch wobbly lefty Chris Sale of the Clam Chowder Crew in game one.
My guess- Boston in 5. Unfortunately.
Let the fun begin! The league championships kick off tonight in Milwaukee of all places, with the Dodgers taking on the central division champs. Tomorrow it’s the AL’s turn.
As you might recall, the matchups are what I’d predicted earlier this month, as was the rather quick folding of the Cleveland machine. Thus far, my only error in playoff picks was a last minute “gut feeling” that Oakland might top the Yanks in the one game wildcard, which seemed unlikely…and was, in fact!
If that seems like too much tooting my own horn, I’ll temper that by admitting that of my pre-season picks, I only got half the division winners right (Cleveland, Houston and LA) and in fact picked only 8 of the 30 teams in their correct position. Biggest faux pas- missing Oakland’s impressive 97 wins by 28 and picking them for last place in the AL West!
That noted, I have picked Milwaukee and Boston to advance to the World Series. I’ll stand by that but I won’t be utterly surprised if either, or even both, are wrong. Anything can happen in Ocotber baseball after all. To me the two things to look for are these:
NL: the series may go to 7 games, but I think we’ll have a good idea of the NL Champion by about the 5th inning tonight. LA are the better team on paper and in almost every respect (the bullpens may be a dead heat) …but the Brew Crew have been on fire lately. So, it comes down to can Milwaukee keep the momentum going, the roll that has them winning their last 11-straight games and top the Cubs in Wrigley Field for the division championship? If yes, if they come out of the gates like world-beaters full of confidence and ignorant of any obstacles, they will play for their first set of rings. If not, if the four day layoff has killed the momentum or made them stop and look at the rosters and think , Los Angeles will return to the Fall Classic.
AL: this one comes down to one man. David Price. The Astros are very good, needless to say, a well-balanced team with no huge holes anywhere. The Sox though, match them in several areas and are a better, deeper hitting staff than Houston…as the 16-1 bombing of the Bronx Bombers showed clearly. But Boston’s starting pitching could be a bit of a bugaboo for them. Ace Chris Sale has been limited to 6+ innings so far and is barely a month back from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for most of July and August. Then there’s game 2 starter, Price, who presumably would be asked to return to the mound Saturday for game 6 if it goes that far.
That doesn’t seem like a bad thing to the casual observer. Price is, after all, one of the best pitchers of the last decade, having good success with 4 different teams. Problem is, for whatever reason so far, he simply cannot do anything right as a starter in October. All the more strange, he’s been very effective as a relief pitcher in the playoffs, with Tampa in 2008 (his rookie campaign), last year with the Red Sox and one game for the Blue Jays in 2015. But as a starter in the post-season, he’s been historically bad. 10 starts, 0-9, about 62 innings (that’s not terrible), 69 hits allowed and an embarrassing 6.03 ERA. Go figure. During the regular seasons of those years, he’s made 224 starts, gone 1495 innings (an average of over 210 per year, a definite rarity these days) allowed less than a hit per inning every year and had a great 107-60 record and 3.24 ERA.
So why can’t Price start in October? Or can he? That’s the million-dollar question for the Red Sox. If it’s now a purely mental thing where he beats himself before he goes to the mound, they are sunk. If it’s just pure bad luck, the law of averages is bound to kick in, and he’ll have a good start and break the curse. One way or another, if Boston don’t get at least one quality start from him, they’re sunk.
73 – 89 (.451) 35 games behind, 4th place
After a surprisingly decent start to the year (15-10 in April for example), the wheels fell off early on. The arrest of closer Roberto Osuna in early-May, whether coincidentally or not, seemed to signal the start of a steady descent for the Jays through May and they never climbed back to .500 or out of 4th place for the remainder of the year. The 73 wins is the lowest since 2012’s which it tied; no surprise then the great league-leading attendance dropped to 2.3 million (also lowest since 2012) and no longer led anything.
For Toronto, a familiar refrain – if only the city was a little further west! The Jays had the misfortune to be in the best division in the league and although they handled the orioles easily (who didn’t?), they went 10-28 against the powerhouse Yanks and Red Sox. Throw in the bugaboo Tampa Bay Rays, with whom they fared no better (6-13) and you have a lot season. Were that they only were in the Central, with whom they battled to an 18-15 record, for instance. Despite the fact that they were clearly outmatched against the elite teams, especially NY and Boston, they did show some signs of an admirable feistiness. They had 9 walk-off wins but only let opponents do that 3 times; they matched the Yankees 23-17 record in tight 1-run games, indicative of the quite good bullpen that was one of the highlights for them.
Player of the Year : Justin Smoak
the bar was set so low that Peter Dinklage couldn’t limbo under it. That said, even though he didn’t match last year’s numbers, Smoak was a solid, steady presence at the plate and with overlooked solid “D” at first base. When all was said and done, his unremarkable 67 runs and 83 RBI led the roster and the 25 homers tied him with Randal Grichuk. Thanks to his good eye at the plate, he also led the team in walks and on base percentage (.350.) With a team option for an affordable $7M or so next year, he should be back to add some maturity to the lineup.
Pitcher of the Year: Tyler Clippard
An argument could be made that the pitcher of the year could be JA Happ…of the New York Yankees. After all, Happ’s 10 wins led the team and he was the sole All Star. But we’ll give a nod to the lanky veteran reliever who was a constant in the beleaguered bullpen, leading the team with 73 appearances 68+ innings (tops among the relievers) and 7 saves. He gave up too many homers but had the go-to pitches to notch 85 strikeouts. Not a superstar campaign, but indicatve of an overused bullpen that actually blew fewer saves than Houston or the Dodgers’ – quite an achievement on a team with a 4.85 ERA. That bested only Texas, KC and Baltimore, three teams with far worse records.
Rookie of the Year: Ryan Borucki
it was a toss-up between him and infielder Lourdes Gurriel, but we’ll got with MLB’s own assessment and pick the starting pitcher. After all, the big knock on Ryan would be that he only played in the bigs in the second half. True enough, but due to injuries and a demotion early on to the minors, Gurriel himself only played in 65 games. Although his won-loss was only 4-6, the slow-tossing, finesse lefty was great more times than bad in his 17 starts and had a respectable 3.87 ERA… best among the team’s regular starters. Part of his success lay in keeping the ball down… while hitters weren’t always fooled by him, they notched only 7 home runs in about 100 innings against him. The guy who fashions himself after Mark Buehrle could end up being close to that man if he continues to study the art and stays healthy.
Story of the Year : Out with the old, in with the new
By August it was very clear the 2015-16, post-season making, exciting Jays were a thing of the past. The standouts from that era were either gone (Bautista, Encarnacion, late in the month, Donaldson) or more or primarily irrelevant (Tulowitzki, Martin) when it comes to position players or deadweight when it comes to pitchers (the trio of Marco Estrada, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez that was supposed to anchor a star-qulaity rotation combined to go 15 – 29 through only 67 starts. Their combined 144 walks allowed contributed to their combined ERA of 5.10. Not pretty for one supposed established star and two supposed superstars on the way up.) That considered, it is no surprise that the old manager, John Gibbons isn’t going to be back for another kick at the can, even though the team ended his tenure with much more class than the Rangers did their manager (basically emptying his locker out with a week left in the season.)
However, the old saying “You can’t tell the players without a program” soon came to be near to the truth. A large contingent of young, up-and-coming players were wearing the blue-and-white in September, giving a glimpse of what could be a very good team in the not too distant future. Besides the aforementioned Gurriel and Borucki, a pair of rookie catchers (Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire), young outfielder Billy McKinney, career minor-league infielder Jon Berti and pitchers like Thomas Pannone, Justin Shafer and David Paulino all made themselves at home at Rogers’ Centre while “oldies” like Russell Martin and Yangervis Solarte largely made sure the bench didn’t float off should gravity cease to work. Noteworthy though was the absence of the real stars-to-be from the Jays minors’ – Vladimir Guerrero Jr and Bo Bichette. which gives us another reason to be excited about 2019!
…and the playoffs….
Last column I gave you some predictions for this year’s post-season. So far, I’m looking smarter than I am, since most things seem to be working like I thought they would even if New York did do what they should and had to, namely beat the A’s in a one-game showdown. I’ll stand by those predictions (apologies to Dodgers’ fan friends) and say the world series will go to…
they should take out the cheeseheads in no more than 6 games. I’d like to see Milwaukee win but the Red Sox are a powerhouse, looked like they are motivated based on the first game against the Yankees, and will have home field advantage. They went an impressive 57-24 at Fenway. They also won 16 of 20 interleague games. The Brewers on the other hand, were a respectable but far from overwhelming 45-37 on the road and 13-7 interleague. And, yes, even if LA should make it to the series, I still see the Sox prevailing. Kershaw when he’s on is as good as any pitcher in the game but the Sox collection of Sale/Price/Porcello is tough to top.
Team Record: 12 – 16 (.429)
4th place all month
Player Of The Month – Randal Grichuk
The bar wasn’t set all that high but Grichuk delivered, as he did in June. Randal’s batting average didn’t budge during the final months but his 8 double, 6 homer performance meant a .553 slugging percentage. Coupled with ongoing solid OF defense, that merits a tip of the cap. Grichuk is showing himself to be a tremendously streaky player. If Toronto can find a way to keep him hot longer, he might become the star they had hoped he would be.
Pitcher Of The Month – Ken Giles
Second month in a row for the newcomer who says he’s enjoying his time here more than he did last year when he won a World Series in Houston. Giles was close to perfect in his 9 appearances this past month, going 7 for 7 in save opportunities and not allowing an earned run. An honorable mention to rookie Thomas Pannone who was 3-0 with a 3.43 ERA through 6 games (4 of them starts.)
Story Of The Month – Win One For The Gibby
No one was surprised but it was made official during the last week of the season that manager John Gibbons was departing the team after the season wrapped up. Gibbons earned the respect of his players, and the fans by being a “player’s manager” and being a far more approachable, chatty manager than the theoretically-more-talented John Farrell whom he replaced. Gibbons leaves as the second winningest Jays manager ever, behind only Cito Gaston (with whom the team won 2 World Series, of course.) Gibby and the organization found a classy way to end his tenure, with a joint news conference before the final home game, allowing Toronto fans to show their appreciation.
Next up, later this week we look at the whole year in summary and perhaps the playoff outlook. In the meantime, a few quickie predictions for the post-season:
NL— wild card Colorado
NLDS – LA over Atlanta, Milwaukee over Colorado
NLCS – Milwaukee … who woulda thunk it?
AL– wild card Oakland … yes, NY should win easily. But those A’s are just surprising
ALDS – Boston over Oakland, Houston over Cleveland
ALCS — Boston
World series… to be continued!