Hey Dusty, is it chemistry, or the pitching?

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One of the favorite go-to lines for certain baseball people is to gush
about team chemistry. Whenever a team is going well, we hear from
managers and writers and players about the great character guys are on
the team and this and that. And if a team isn’t playing up to the
potential that has been set for them, chemistry is blamed. The team
needs an attitude adjustment.

Does chemistry have an effect how teams play throughout a 162-game
season? Most likely. But it isn’t something any of us can quantify.
That’s what makes it occasionally maddening whenever someone uses the
chemistry card as a crutch to explain wins and losses. Not shockingly, Dusty Baker is our latest to do so. When talking about the team’s play so far in 2009 (26-21 through Friday), Dusty had this to say:

“We have more young talent, more exuberance, more
excitement. Guys take losses harder. We have some good character to
this ball club. That’s one thing we wanted to change. You scout ability
and you scout character as well when you’re trying to put the pieces of
the puzzle back together. We have a lot of homegrown talent. We
injected quality guys from the outside to go along with homegrown
talent. We brought in guys like (Laynce) Nix, (Arthur) Rhodes, (Ramon)
Hernandez, (Micah) Owings. The hard thing is: Who do you keep and who
do you delete? We’ve got guys here who get along well and like playing
together. Guys who are highly competitive against the competition and
highly competitive against each other without any envy or jealousy
involved. These are some of the quality you try to put together.”

To be fair, Dusty does throw out words like talent and ability, but the
basic gist of this statement is that the Reds are playing better
because the chemistry in the clubhouse is better. It’s also a shot at
guys like Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. who were traded away in the middle of last season.

Perhaps more guys getting along and enjoying playing with one another
has contributed to the Reds solid start. And maybe Dusty was asked
specifically about the team attitude. But let’s not get delusional.

Maybe Dusty could’ve mentioned that his team as a whole is pitching better than they were last year.

2008: 4.55 ERA (99 ERA+), 1.45 WHIP

2009: 3.96 ERA (115 ERA+), 1.34 WHIP

Or that Aaron Harang, his ace, has a 3.36 ERA compared to 4.78 in 2008. He could’ve given props to a bullpen that has the following ERA numbers:

Cordero: 1.71

Herrera: 2.04

Rhodes: 0.53

Weathers: 2.70

He could’ve also noted that Joey Votto is crushing the ball (1.091 OPS), and they got rid of Corey Patterson’s useless bat (.582 OPS, although Will Taveras hasn’t been a whole lot better at .660). And if Dunn was in the lineup instead of Chris Dickerson, they would not be worse off.

So it’s great that the Reds are fond of each other. But it’s even better that they’re pitching well.

Astros vs. Dodgers is a match made in heaven

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A lot of people who work at the league office or who take paychecks from the Fox network probably wanted to see the Yankees and the Cubs in the World Series. They won’t admit it, of course, but I suspect that many did, as the ratings for a Cubs-Yankees Series might’ve broken modern records. If they are at all disappointed by the Astros and Dodgers winning the pennant, however, they should let that go because they’ve been gifted by a wonderful matchup from a purely baseball perspective. Indeed, it’s one of the best on-paper matchups we’ve had in the Fall Classic in many years.

Before the Dodgers went on their late-August, early-September swoon, this was the potential World Series pairing most folks who know a thing or two wanted to see. At least I did, and I don’t think I was alone. It was certainly the matchup which represented the teams with the two best regular season records and storylines at the time. While Cleveland ended up winning more games than Houston did, for the first time since 1970 we have a World Series pitting two 100-win teams against each other.

Like that Orioles-Reds series in 1970, which featured Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and a host of other All-Stars, the Dodgers-Astros provide us with an embarrassment of big names and future Hall of Famers. Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw and Astros DH/OF Carlos Beltran are destined for induction already. Astros ace Justin Verlander may very well join them, especially if his late 2017 surge is evidence of a second career peak. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve‘s first seven years and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen‘s first eight are the stuff upon which Cooperstown resumes are made as well. People will be arguing Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley‘s Hall of Fame case for years once he retires.

Youth is served as well in this matchup, with each club featuring a handful of the game’s best young players to accompany their big name veteran stars.

The Dodgers will bat their no-doubt N.L. Rookie of the Year first baseman Cody Bellinger second or third in the lineup every game. 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, who sat out the NLCS with a bad back, is expected to be activated for the Series where he’ll be the Dodgers shortstop. The Astros are actually an old team on paper — Verlander, catcher Brian McCann, starter Charlie Morton, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, outfielder Josh Reddick and DH Evan Gattis are all over 30 while Beltran is 40 — but young players are essential to their attack as well. Shortstop Carlos Correa just turned 23 and he’s one of the game’s brightest stars. Third baseman Alex Bregman, also 23, made the play that may very well have broken the Yankees’ back during Saturday night’s pennant clincher. Age aside, the Astros are the product of a major, multi-year rebuild and many of their players are making their first national splash this postseason.

Beyond just the names and resumes, though, the Dodgers and Astros represent a fantastic strategic matchup. The Dodgers attack this postseason has featured admirable plate discipline, with third baseman Justin Turner, right fielder Yasiel Puig and center fielder Chris Taylor all letting balls out of the zone pass them by while abusing pitches left out over the plate. Astros pitchers not named Justin Verlander, however, have lived by getting the opposition to chase bad balls. Game one starter Dallas Keuchel did this by relying on his very fast sinker. Lance McCullers pitched well starting Game 4 of the ALCS and pitched spectacularly closing out the final four innings of Game 7 mostly by virtue of his curveball, which Yankees pitchers could simply not lay off. Indeed, his final 24 pitches of Game 7 were all curves, many of them low and away. Who will give in first in this series?

On the side of things, Dodgers relievers have made a living by pumping in strikes. Particularly strikes high in the zone from Jansen and Brandon Morrow. There may be no better fastball hitter in all of baseball than Jose Altuve, however, and the team as a whole was one of the best in the bigs in dealing with gas in the zone. This was a big reason why the Astros struck out less than any team in baseball this year while simultaneously boasting the best offense in the game. The Dodgers throw strikes. The Astros make you pay when you throw them strikes. Again, something’s gotta give.

Maybe the suits in New York wanted the Yankees and Cubs. But everyone else is getting exactly what we want: a matchup of the two best teams in the game. A matchup of strength against strength. What is, from a purely baseball perspective, the best World Series we could’ve possibly hoped for.