Bible in hand, preaching importance of defense

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franklin-gutierrez-091102.jpgAnyone who saw the results of the “Hank Aaron Award” yesterday knows to take the results of any award voting with a grain of salt, particularly if fans are involved. (No offense to the masses, but when Derek Jeter beats out Joe Mauer for a hitting award, something is wrong.)

Some awards, though, are worth giving a closer look. Witness the Fielding Bible Awards, which released their winners on Monday.

What the honor lacks in name recognition, it more than makes up for in heavyweight brainpower, with a voting panel that includes a mix of sabermetric guys and sharp writers, from Bill James and John Dewan (author of The Fielding Bible) to Joe Posnanski, Peter Gammons and Rob Neyer.

It’s not a popularity contest, so no, Jeter didn’t win as the best defensive shortstop (although in fairness, he has been good this year).

You can see the list of winners here.

Perhaps the most notable thing about this year’s group is the presence of three Seattle Mariners — shortstop Jack Wilson, center fielder Franklin Gutierrez (pictured) and right fielder Ichiro Suzuki. The only other team with more than one player was the Cardinals (first baseman Albert Pujols, catcher Yadier Molina).

In his first season as Seattle GM, Jack Zduriencik placed a heavy emphasis on improving the team’s defense, acquiring Gutierrez from Cleveland in the trade that sent J.J. Putz to the Mets, and at midseason replacing the tubby and disinterested Yuniesky Betancourt with Wilson at shortstop.

A look at UZR ratings from 2009 show Gutierrez ranked first in all of baseball. Wilson was seventh and Ichiro was 17th. Third baseman Adrian Beltre was eighth overall in UZR, though the Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman (third) was even better, winning the Fielding Bible Award.

It all added up to the Mariners being the best defensive team in baseball in 2009 (compared to 20th in 2008), which no doubt played a big role in their improving from 61-101 in 2008 to 85-77 this season.

So will emphasis on defense be the next big trend in baseball? Or is it already happening? A run prevented is just as good as a run scored, right?

In a story that is at least tangentially related, free agent pitcher Jarrod Washburn says the Mariners are near the top of his list for 2010, which makes sense. After all, with that outfield defense behind him at Safeco Field, Washburn was putting together the finest season of his career before the trade to Detroit. Washburn is clearly a guy who can — and should — appreciate some fancy glovework.

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The Cubs clinch World Series berth with NLCS Game 6 win

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  The Chicago Cubs celebrate defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 in game six of the National League Championship Series to advance to the World Series against the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
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After 71 years, the Cubs are headed back to the Fall Classic.

The dominance with which Clayton Kershaw attacked the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS was nonexistent in Game 6 as the Dodgers’ ace loaded the bases to start the first inning and scattered five extra bases and five runs over five frames. By the time Dave Roberts pulled his starter in the sixth inning, Kershaw was sitting on a Game Score of 33, the lowest he’s mustered since the start of the 2015 season. Only one of his strikes came via curveball, and whether he was having difficulty locating his off-speed stuff or felt more confident with the fastball-slider combo, it was the fewest curves he’d seen land for strikes all year (per David Adler).

Where the Dodgers were able to give Kershaw the edge in Game 2, they found themselves powerless against opposing hurler Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks turned out 7 1/3 scoreless frames with two hits and six strikeouts, preserving the Cubs’ second shutout of the postseason and the first since they bested the Giants in Game 1 of the NLDS. After his 1-0 loss to the Dodgers early in the NLCS, seeing the MLB ERA leader turn out a gem was a relief for the Cubs, especially one as spectacular as an 88-pitch two-hitter.

With Hendricks effectively stymieing the Dodgers’ best attempts to get on base, the Cubs played to their strengths at the plate. Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist cleared the bases in the first inning for a two-run lead, followed by a Dexter Fowler RBI single in the second. Willson Contreras came through in the fourth inning for the Cubs, lifting an 87 m.p.h. slider to left field for his first home run of October, while Anthony Rizzo hit his second homer of the postseason on a 1-1 fastball in the fifth.

Neither bullpen allowed a single run from the sixth inning onward. Dodgers’ right-hander Kenley Jansen took the ball from Kershaw in the sixth, scattering four strikeouts over three innings and denying the Cubs so much as a single baserunner through the end of the game. Aroldis Chapman, meanwhile, issued just one walk in 1 1/3 scoreless frames, inducing a Yasiel Puig double play to clinch the Cubs’ 17th franchise pennant.

With the win, the Cubs will face off against the Indians in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday at 8 PM EDT. And, in case you needed a reminder:

Video: Willson Contreras blasts first postseason home run off of Kershaw

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  Willson Contreras #40 of the Chicago Cubs celebrates after hitting a solo home run in the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game six of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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So much for Clayton Kershaw posing a threat tonight. The Cubs got their knocks in early and often against the Dodgers’ ace during Game 6 of the NLCS, racking up three runs in the first three innings before rookie catcher Willson Contreras unleashed his first postseason home run in the bottom of the fourth inning.

According to’s Phil Rogers, Contreras became the 10th Cub to homer in the 2016 playoffs, following big hits by Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant, Travis Wood, and Javier Baez. Of the ten home run hitters, Contreras joins catchers David Ross and Miguel Montero as yet another backstop capable of driving the long ball (and, less importantly, as another player capable of a sweet, sweet bat flip).

Rizzo, whose last homer was a deep drive to right field off of Los Angeles right-hander Pedro Baez in Game 4 of the NLCS, piled on Kershaw’s five-run outing with another home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. Kershaw called it a night after five frames, and the Cubs currently lead the Dodgers 5-0 in the sixth inning.