Game 5 World Series Preview: Boston @ St. Louis

This year’s World Series has been beyond crazy. Words more intense than ‘insane’ and far-reaching than ‘Wow’ should be used. The only thing for sure is that it’s been unpredictable. A walk-off obstruction call followed by a game-ending pick-off has set up a 2-2 series tie and a pivotal game in Game 5 in St. Louis. The team that loses Game 5 at home, historically, is 1-for-19 winning the World Series and the team that loses Game 5 on the road is 13-for-33. This is a much bigger game for the Cardinals. So here’s a preview of this must-win game – being the last of the series in St. Louis.

PitchingSt. Louis is going with its 32-year old Ace, Adam Wainwright. The Cardinals need this game to have a chance at the World Series title because winning two in Boston with Wacha and a Not-As-Good-As-Wacha. This is one of – if not THE – biggest game of Wainwright’s career. Wainwright is unusual; he’s tougher on lefties (.242 batting average) than righties (.254) and typical in the fact that he’s better at home (.217 BAA, 3.36 ERA) than on the road (.276, 2.53). It’s tough to imagine Wainwright has another start as disastrous as the first one (5 IP, 5 R, 1 Absurd Dropped Pop Up) – Wainwright will bring his A++ game and have a superb outing.

Jon LesterAn impressive as his performance in the playoffs (3-1, 1.67 ERA), Lester did work in Game 1 going 7.2 innings with no runs and only five hits. The St. Louis Cardinals offense struggles mightily against left-handers and Lester is one of the top-five lefties in baseball right now. The Cardinals offense gets going with Matt Carpenter so shutting him down is Lester’s key. He’s 1-4 against Lester as they only faced each other in Game 1. Also, the Cardinal hitters in their careers are 7-37 (.206) so Lester has dominated each hitter, respectively, with one exception: Matt Holliday, with a .333 batting average. Lester’s increasing use of the cutter (24%) has been a great change of speed.

Lineups

BostonThe Red Sox lineup which, if you hadn’t heard, scored the most runs in the regular season – Tim McCarver only talks about 15 times per game. The Sox, who are usually a patient team that likes to see a lot of pitches, need to make a decision. Do they want to try to run up the pitch count, like they did in Game 1 where Wainwright threw 95 pitches in five innings? Or, do they want to jump on the first pitch which, from Wainwright, is usually a fastball for a strike. Wainwright is allowing a .260 BAA if they swing on the first pitch and a .242 BAA if the first pitch is taken. Though Game 4 saw a good break for the Sox, they need to be aggressive, even if that means swinging at the first pitch.

St. Louis – Allen Craig’s switch into the starting lineup over Matt Carpenter is a serious upgrade in power and ability to draw obstruction calls from umpires who don’t see the play. Carlos Beltran needs to step-up as the game has ended with the bat on his shoulder twice. Last night was on Kolten Wong more than Beltran, but he still hasn’t performed up to expectations. The success of Matt Carpenter is a big deal and getting any production from Jon Jay/Pete Kozma/David Freese has been minimal (.117 batting average) so if the Cardinals get an production from them, look for them to put up runs.

Bottom LineAn incredible article on FanGraphs.com shows that Starters do not often improve or regress significantly from one start to the next. Therefore, Red Sox batters should see the ball well once again coming out of Wainwright’s hand. This contest will be lower scoring than Game 1, but…

Sox prevail in St. Louis 5-4

World Series Preview

With the World Series beginning on Monday in Boston there’s never a better time for a SERIES PREVIEW! St. Louis is trying to win its second title in three years, while Boston wants to defeat the same foes with which they “curse the reversed” nine years ago.

Lineups:

Boston:

The argument can easily be made that Red Sox hitters looked absolutely foolish during the series. In fact, if not for three timely homeruns (two Grand Slams), the Red Sox were most likely going to lose that series. Sure, after three games they were 12-90 (.133) at the dish with 43 strikeouts but they seemed to solve Detroit’s puzzling pitching in Games 4 and 6. So in the latter half of the ALCS, Boston bats seemed to reverse the fortunes and get to the staff. Jonny Gomes has officially won the Left Field job and Will Middlebrooks has officially lost his spot at Third Base. Xander Bogaerts has looked ultra-patient (he’s 21!) in high-pressure situations and there’s no reason to assume Jacoby Ellsbury won’t keep playing like he did in Game 5, a 4-5 night. Their biggest worry is Games 3-5 when they must decide who starts at First Base: David Ortiz or Napoli? (I’d go with Ortiz even though he played a dismal series minus the huge Grand Slam.) Also, the rotation they are about to face, no matter how good Michael Wacha has been, is not up to the standard of a Scherzer or Verlander territory. That bodes well for Boston.

St. Louis:

Boston’s offensive woes were mirrored by St. Louis in their series with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Before lighting up Clayton Kershaw in the 9-0 shellacking, they were batting a meager .133 against Dodgers arms. Yes, Zack Greinke and Kershaw are very good pitchers, but not managing much against Ryu, who had a 7-inning shutout performance, was a spot of worry. The Cardinals are getting back First Baseman and cleanup hitter Allen Craig, he of the .315 batting average and 29 doubles during the season. The struggles of Shortstop Pete Kozma (.067 BA) and David Freese (.190) should concern the Cardinals. Also, Matt Carpenter, the Second Baseman, may be the most valuable player the Cardinals have because he’s the lead-off hitter and the catalyst and averaged six pitches seen per at-bat in the NLCS. Six. Wow. He can force starters from the game early which, in postseason baseball, is extremely valuable.

Rotation:

Boston:

The rotation for the Red Sox is headlined by one, revitalized Jon Lester. After his abysmal 2012 campaign he logged over 210 innings this year, but left a gallon of gas for the last mile. His average velocity on his fastball, per BrooksBaseball.net, is an astounding 94.28 MPH, which is high for a Starter. John Lackey must be considered the Game 2 starter because of his outrageous splits at home (6-3, 2.47 ERA) to away from Fenway (4-10, 4.48). It would also make more sense to start Lackey in Game 2 because Bucholz would be going on four days rest and he looked absolutely exhausted in the 5th inning of Saturday’s clincher against Detroit. Jake Peavy needs to pitch better, which he can do simply by not walking in a run, in his next start – most likely Game 4 in St. Louis.

St. Louis:

As mentioned before, the St. Louis rotation isn’t loaded til near explosion with the best of the new shiny toys, but they do have a few decent arms they can throw. Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright, while good in their respects, won’t be able to come close to being in Scherzer/Verlander echelon. That means more trouble for the back-end as Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn will most likely watch a lot of balls sail into the gaps in St. Louis, a hitter-friendly venue. Lynn is your quintessential “Jekyll and Hyde” guy. He ranked ninth in the National League in strikeouts this year, but also fourth in walks and fifth in hit batsmen. They won’t repeat the performance of Detroit’s third and fourth starter, especially not a playing-out-of-his-mind Anibal Sanchez. So while their rotation might not be as good as Detroit, their bullpen (which is what really cost MoTown the series) is superb. Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness, and Carlos Martinez all show more shutdown ability than Jose Veras or Joaqin Benoit. Even Edward Mujica struggled down the stretch; he’s a competent 6th or 7th inning arm Matheny shouldn’t have a problem going to in a jam.

X-Factor:

St. Louis:

Notice Carlos Beltran’s conspicuous absence from the St. Louis page? Yeah, that’s because he’s the one that the Cardinals lineup will hinge around. The dude is CLUTCH – more than those ESPN commercials – and is playing in his first World Series in his illustrious 15-year career. Hitting .308 in the NLCS didn’t hurt, including some crucial base hits. Beltran will be looking to continue that hot-hitting streak against the vulnerable back of the Red Sox rotation.

Boston:

Clay Bucholz could be starting a high-pressure Game 3 in St. Louis if the Sox split 1-1 at home so the crucial first game in Busch Stadium will come down to Bucholz. Who is he anyway? Is he the 9-0 1.71 ERA guy from the first half of the year or the guy who labors in the fifth inning and gives up three homeruns in two games? Since the latter is the most recent we must believe he is trending that way, therefore Bucholz must come out and be a stopper for this Red Sox team that will need his best contribution possible in Game 3.

Bottom Line:

While it’s impressive the Cardinals are even in this series after losing Mega-Super-Extra-Bright-Star Albert Pujols to greed – ehrm, the Angels – just two seasons ago, the Boston Red Sox have been carried here by Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. They won’t let the Cardinals stand in their way of a complete reversal and shutting up all the haters who projected them as cellar-dwellers in the AL East.

Pick: Boston in 6 Games

Why I Do What I Do

As I stated all the way back in the pilot, I’m in high school. This blog started because I couldn’t get a Journalism class to run in high school as a Junior. To update that, now I’m a Senior and Journalism did run (and, it’s going well!). With Senior comes college applications as well and I’m no exception. The application to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is no different. Their writing supplement asks the question, “Why do you do what you do?” which got me in some deep thought. Why exactly do I write about sports?

As for the why, because sports are a testament to everything I believe in.  They read like great novels and play out like the famed dramas of ancient Greece. There is no egregious lying where one person can sit and watch TV all day while the other works out and they will still look the same. No, playing sports takes hard work. Watching, listening, writing, and interviewing allow me to do what I love – write – while watching the thing I love, which is sports. It’s really a great gig.

Sports are like a play. No, wait, I don’t think Sophocles or Arthur Miller or even ole Willy Shakes himself could have come up with the agonizing catastrophe only to resolve by the complex denouement. With tragic heroes (Alex Rodriguez) and tragic flaws (NFL tackling methods), sports are the modern day drama.

Like David Ortiz hitting a Grand Slam after 15 straight innings of absymal ball, or Tom Brady tossing a touchdown pass with five seconds to go…the drama unfolds in front of you. Success and heartbreak, to be clutch and to choke. The greatness of sports lies in the sports themselves.

The day I knew I wanted to do what I do was the same day that I count my worst sports memory. September 28, 2007: I sat in Fenway Park and saw a 5-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins. I was there with my father and my friend from school as well as his father. The Sox could clinch the division that night so it was a special game to win, all the Sox needed was a loss by the New York Yankees and they would capture the AL East. My friend Kyle and I were ten years old at the time so when we saw the then-hapless Baltimore Orioles trailed New York 9-6 in the bottom of the ninth with the legendary Mariano Rivera on the hill, we knew it was over. Or rather, we thought it was over. My friend’s father explained the situation and how Mariano had never, never ever ever, blown a three-run lead in the ninth and that Kyle had football practice early the next morning, therefore we should probably beat the foot traffic and head out. The agreement issued from my father and I were perhaps among the biggest regrets of my life. Of course, by the time we hit the Tobin Bridge, with Kyle and I at rapt attention to my father’s Palm Trio following the Orioles game, they had finished their improbable comeback and won 10-9.

We watched the Sox players burst from the dugout to come celebrate and shower fans with champagne…from the comfort of our living rooms two hours later. I remember clearly that SportsCenter was on in my living room and one of the anchor’s saying, “Can you imagine being a person that left that game early?” I didn’t have to imagine.

From that point on, I never wanted to miss a game; I never wanted to miss a moment of the magic that is the wide and wonderful world of sports. I never left a game early (even two-hour rain delays when the Sox were down by double-digit runs). I do what I do because I want to share these incredible, at times unbelievable, circumstances and games and feats of astonishing athleticism with everyone. One does not even have to love sports to enjoy them, but appreciate them? They are the dramas of the modern day, complete with epic conclusions that leave an audience gasping. That is why I do what I do.

What’s Wrong With the NBA

I wanted to get into this issue last week, but instead, because of timeliness, I had to focus on MLB playoffs, but this is the issue I’ve been anticipating discussing.

There’s a real problem with the NBA.

News leaked on September 23rd that the NBA may authorize the use of nicknames on the jerseys of Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat players. That means bon voyage to LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, and a faux hello to King James, KG, The Truth, and Jesus Shuttlesworth.

Where some fans say that nicknames lighten the game and make regular season contests more enjoyable for the fans, the real meaning is that the NBA has furthered its individualism.

This move perpetuates that. It allows the star players to clown around, relishing their celebrity and receiving added bonuses while role players (who are often vastly underappreciated) have their part diminish. It increases the disparity between the top tier NBA players and the sixth men. What nicknames will Udonis Haslem, the defensive stopper for Miami, put on his jersey, or how about Reggie Evans, Brooklyn’s rebounding machine? These role players who contribute valuable minutes and assets to their team must think of some unrecognizable nickname so a few select players can have on the back of their jerseys, what their fans call them.

The game has since gone astray from the times when John Wooden and Dean Smith roamed the benches, building the team mentality that no one player is irreplaceable. This nickname jersey is an extension of individualistic principles. Yes Wooden coached players like Bill Walton, Lew Alcindor Jr., and Gail Goodrich, but none of those players was an egomaniacal, shot-heaving fiend. They were good at playing team basketball. Wooden even said if there was one thing he couldn’t stand it was one teammate criticizing another. That’s far from today’s standard. Basketball is still a team sport – LeBron couldn’t even beat Charlotte on his own.

On a lighter note, what if your nickname is ridiculous? Shooting Guard Joe Johnson, who plays for the Nets, is listed in the Basketball Nickname Index as “Armadillo Cowboy.” Really? That’s not going on my jersey. Another point about nicknames is that it politicizes the league. People like Shane Battier, who aren’t Superstars, want to wear a moniker that is copyrighted. Battier commented he’d like “Batman” but was quickly informed that Warner Bros. movie company holds the rights to the name. Therefore he’d have to settle with “Shaneo.” This move makes players with common nicknames, like Dwyane Wade’s “Spiderman,” liable to suits if they ever used a simple nickname. A nickname on their jerseys invites unneeded political drama into the locker room and league office.

From the NBA’s perspective this makes perfect sense and Adam Silver and David Stern are genius, frankly, for thinking of doing this. As the NBA has been able to capture a large percentage of the teenage/young-adult market with their vibrant colors and flashy gear, they’ve been able to introduce more and more variants of their product. Like a kid who would describe themselves as a “Sneaker Head” – a jersey addict needs to collect them all. The NBA now has an additional jersey to market and sell as you can have Christmas edition, home and away edition, retros, throwbacks, alternates, Latin American appreciation and now nickname jerseys!

The decision to do this also bolsters the continuance of the commercialization of the NBA. Akin to NASCARs with sponsorship decals stickered all over, or soccer players whose teams are owned by a company (ahem, New York Red Bulls), this decision further degrades the sport of basketball as it plunges deeper into profit-based thinking.

Profit is what the NBA already has with all the storylines entering this season. In the Eastern Conference: A possible Heat three-peat, the Brooklyn Nets with their young, maverick coach leading a group of veterans towards their last shot, and the Bulls return of their General in hopes he marches them to victory. The West: How the storied Los Angeles Lakers franchise will fare without their star, the Clippers’ Battle for LA with their new coach, and the Houston reloaded Rockets trying to claim the tough West crown. All those storylines are out there, waiting for an exciting NBA season to begin.

Nicknames are unnecessary as the Association will generate more than enough revenue with their fast-paced action and provocative storylines. The rule of demand however states that if you can make more profit without spending more, do it. NBA fans need to realize this is degrading the sport. Adding nicknames to the back of jerseys is superfluous and shallow. It’s commercialized, it’s individualistic, and it’s bad for the sport of basketball.