Ron Washington

Your Official HardballTalk World Series Preview

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Boston beats Philly in six games. Mark it down.

Oh, wait.  The accepted narrative was upset weeks ago. None of the 45 ESPN experts — and to be honest, none of us here — picked the Rangers to face the Cardinals back in the spring. It made some amount of sense to pick against the Cards given Adam Wainwright’s injury.  We probably all need to think hard about why we picked against the defending AL Champions. I suppose it was because we all thought Cliff Lee was God and that without him Texas was toast. Or maybe we should just fall back on the old “you can’t predict baseball” thing and call it a day, hmmm?

But even if we can’t predict baseball, we can at least lay out the parameters. So let’s take a look at what the Rangers and the Cardinals have in store for us during the World Series.

The Teams

Texas Rangers vs. St. Louis Cardinals

The Matchups

Game 1 Wednesday in St. Louis: C.J. Wilson vs. Chris Carpenter
Game 2 Thursday in St. Louis: Colby Lewis vs. Jaime Garcia
Game 3 Saturday in Texas: Edwin Jackson vs. Derek Holland
Game 4 Sunday in Texas: Kyle Lohse vs. Matt Harrison
Game 5 (if necessary) Monday in Texas: TBA vs. TBA
Game 6 (if necessary) next Wednesday in St. Louis: TBA vs. TBA
Game 7 (if necessary) next Thursday in St. Louis: TBA vs. TBA

That’s all sort of up in the air, of course. At least beyond Game 1.  And if we’ve learned anything in the playoffs so far it’s that the starting pitching with these guys is anyone’s guess, both in terms of who will be doing it what we can expect from them. Both the Rangers (6.59 ERA)  and Cardinals (7.03 ERA) starters were awful, and both managers had quick hooks and relied more heavily on their bullpens than any successful playoff teams I can recall. So it would seem that if someone — anyone — can actually come through and pitch a solid seven inning game for once, their team would have a distinct advantage.

Another thing we know: the Rangers are lefty-heavy and the Cardinals hit pretty well against lefties. That could be the difference maker.  Or we could simply have six or seven games in which the pens pitch 80% of the innings. Which would be all kinds of ugly fun.

The Lineups

We’ll get new ones every day, of course, but you know all the players by now: Nelson Cruz, Mike Napoli, Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton and their friends lead the Rangers attack. The Cardinals are led by Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman David Freese, Jon Jay and Rafael Furcal. Each team is capable of knocking the cover clean off the ball. Each team has a guy who, when he’s on, makes opposing pitchers reach for a clean pair of BVDs.  There aren’t a ton of holes in either lineup, and even the Nick Puntos of the world are capable of an annoying hit in a key situation, it seems.  The upshot: it doesn’t look like either team is capable of simply going to sleep on offense en masse, because there are just too many good hitters here.

The Bullpens

This is where the magic happens. Both Tony La Russa and Ron Washington has gotten outstanding bullpen work this postseason. I mean, neither manager got a single quality start out of their rotation, and that’s just nutso. But while each has been fantastic, if I had to bet on one of these pens continuing to be fantastic going forward, it’s the Rangers’ pen.

La Russa has been a wizard, mixing and matching guys, gambling and winning with almost every call to the pen.  But Washington — while also being quite savvy with his bullpen use — simply has more horses he can call on.  In the middle of a game in which a starter creates a hot mess, La Russa can go to Marc Rzepczynski for a situational matchup or Octavio Dotel, which is great as long as they keep forgetting that they’re Marc Rzepczynski and  Octavio Dotel and shouldn’t be as effective as they’ve been. Washington, in contrast, has Alexi Ogando for those middle innings. The same Alexi Ogando who was a starter on the All-Star team this year and deserved it. At the back end it’s the same story. Jason Motte has been fantastic, but if you had to bet your life on someone saving the next 100 games, would you bet on Motte or Neftali Feliz?

The Cards’ bullpen has been great and anything can happen in a short series. There is nothing at all which demands that the Cards’ pen turn into pumpkins or that the Rangers pen play up to its superior potential over the course of the next week.  But if you have to grab onto something, don’t you grab on to the superior talents?  If so, I think you have to go with Texas.

Miscellaneous

  • The TV narrative is probably going to be all about Tony La Russa. Which I understand. But let’s not fall into the “La Russa is a genius and Ron Washington is overmatched” pattern here. La Russa has been on a good run lately, but as everyone knows, sometimes he’s too smart by half and things backfire. It’s high-risk, high-reward stuff that usually breaks his way, but not always. Meanwhile Washington — who has always been a great clubhouse guy who gets the best out of his players — has improved a good deal in the tactical department compared to where he was last postseason. Barring some absolutely historic brain lock, it seems silly to say that a series with two teams as talented as these two will be decided by some wily bit of managerial brilliance.
  • Someone — probably several someones — will write the “no one cares about this World Series matchup” column in the next 48 hours. Please feel free to ignore them. In any other sport the unexpected championship matchup would be heralded as awesome. In baseball for some reason everyone without a stake yawns when the Big Boys of the East Coast are out of it.  And of course if they were in it everyone would complain about baseball not being fair to the have-nots.  And all of that is before you realize that neither the Cards nor the Rangers can be described as “have-nots.”  Each team has a healthy payroll, great attendance, good marketing and local television deals and, in the Cardinals case, a nearly unparalleled historic tradition.
  • If the pattern of poor starting pitching and heavy bullpen use holds, these are gonna be loooong games.
  • We rarely talk about defense with these two teams, what with all of the bashing they’ve been doing.  Each team has several good defensive players but the Rangers are the overall better defensive team in my view and in the view of some advanced defensive metrics I don’t really understand too well.  Upshot: unlike the case with the Brewers or the Tigers, it’s not a great bet that a game will really turn on a defensive blunder.  Unless, of course, it does. (see above verbiage about being unable to predict baseball).

Prediction

This is a great matchup, and let no one tell you differently. Similar strengths, similar weaknesses. All kinds of moving parts due to some players who can play multiple positions, the DH and the likelihood that the bullpens are going to play a major role. Anyone who says that there is some obvious favorite here is smokin’ banana peels.  That said, in a close matchup, I think the Rangers have slight advantages in terms of bullpen talent and depth and offensive firepower.

RANGERS WIN THE SERIES 4-3

And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - JULY 28:  
 Mike Trout #27 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim slides past catcher Sandy Leon #3 of the Boston Red Sox to score the tying run in the ninth inning after Leon jumped but couldn't reach the ball on a throwing error at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on July 28, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  The winning run also scored on the play as the Angels won 2-1.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Last night Hillary Clinton jabbed at Donald Trump by saying that “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.” This means that no Phillies fan who followed me from 2009-2012 and no Royals fan who has followed me since 2014 can ever be president. Sad seeing y’all disqualify yourselves like that, but that’s just how it goes.

Anyway, here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Rockies 2, Mets 1: Jeurys Familia saved 52 (regular season) games in a row before Wednesday night, now he’s blown two in a row. This one on a day when his manager said he wasn’t going to pitch but used him anyway, but I suppose stuff happens. So do errors by your first baseman and wild pitches in games that, because your offense could do nothing, you had no margin for error. For Colorado, credit Tyler Anderson for allowing only one run in six and four relievers for allowing bupkis to the Mets the rest of the way.

Angels 2, Red Sox 1: Speaking of bad defense from your first baseman, Hanley Ramirez sailed a throw home in the ninth inning which allowed both of the Angels runs to score in walkoff fashion. Assist to Brad Ziegler for loading the bases with one out beforehand, helping squander eight shutout innings from David Price. That’s four straight losses for the Sox. They’re just lucky that the Orioles have lost three in a row themselves.

Brewers 6, Diamondbacks 4: Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy and Jonathan Villar got the day off yesterday but it didn’t matter. The Brewers had Zach Davies going and, despite a first inning stumble, he was solid, allowing two earned runs while pitching into the seventh. For the Dbacks, Robbie Ray struck out 11 dudes in fewer than six innings but he ran out of gas and the pen couldn’t hold the Snakes’ early lead. There are rumors that Chip Hale is on thin ice as Arizona’s manager. Games like this can’t help his mood.

Twins 6, Orioles 2: A four-run seventh inning for the Twins broke a 2-2 tie. Max Kepler tied the game at 2 with a homer in the sixth and had two hits and two RBI in all. Eduardo Nunez went 0-for-4 and was traded to San Francisco after the game, which was a makeup from a postponed game from back in May. Life is the illusion of control over one’s plans and circumstances.

Phillies 7, Braves 5: Aaron Altherr went 3-for-4 with a homer and two RBI in his first game back after missing over 100 of ’em with a broken wrist. Maikel Franco and Tommy Jospeh homered too. Matt Wisler of the Braves gave up all three of those bombs because giving up bombs is what Matt Wisler does.

Cardinals 5, Marlins 4: Aledmys Diaz homered, doubled and drove in three. His homer came off of Jose Fernandez, who was his childhood friend in Cuba. With friends like these . . . Fernandez was beat up pretty good — he also allowed a homer to Matt Holliday — and gave up five runs in five innings. Dee Gordon went 0-for-4 in his return from his drug suspension. Ichiro got a hit and is two shy of 3,000. In other news, a bunch of my friends were at this game because the SABR convention is going on down in Miami right now. During the game one of them tweeted that, in their opinion, the silly home run sculpture thing in the outfield at Marlins Park should light up when the visitors hit a homer too. This morning I woke up to a bunch of their tweets from karaoke bars in the middle of the night. One of them was doing “Piano Man.” another was doing “Walking in Memphis.” SABR convention attendees: wrong for baseball, wrong for America. Everyone knows that the best karaoke song is “Laid” by James. And that if you don’t do the high notes on the “. . . think you’re so pretty . . .” lines you shouldn’t even bother.

Rangers 3, Royals 2: Cole Hamels allowed two runs and six hits in eight innings, giving his stumbling club both innings and effectiveness just like an ace does. Lookin’ at you, Pete Mackanin. The Royals have lost seven of ten and sit in fourth place, nine games back in the AL Central.

Cubs 3, White Sox 1: Chris Sale came back and allowed two runs in six innings. This is frustrating in that if he pitched either way, way better or way, way worse, I could’ve shoehorned in a “shredded” descriptor about his performance. As it was, he and the Sox lost because John Lackey and the Cubs bullpen pitched better.

Nationals 4, Giants 2: The Nationals’ bullpen tried its hardest to blow this one, allowing the Giants to rally a bit in the ninth, but it wasn’t a big enough rally. Tanner Roark allowed one run over seven innings, striking out three and [all together now] helping his own cause by singling in a run in the Nats’ three-run second inning. The Nats won their 60th game. The Giants are stuck on 59. The Cubs have 61.

Giants acquire Eduardo Nunez from the Twins

ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 07: Eduardo Nunez #9 of the Minnesota Twins throws for an out at first in the fourth inning during a game against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington on July 7, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)
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The Giants have acquired All-Star infielder Eduardo Nunez from the Twins in exchange for minor league pitcher Adalberto Mejia, the club announced on Thursday night.

Nunez, 29, went 0-for-4 in Thursday night’s game against the Orioles. He’s hitting .296/.325/.439 with 12 home runs, 47 RBI, 49 runs scored, and a league-best 26 stolen bases in 391 plate appearances this season. Nunez has played mostly at shortstop this season, but has also logged significant time at third base and a handful of games at second base, so he’ll give the Giants some versatility.

Nunez will likely play a lot of third base for the Giants as Matt Duffy is still sidelined with a strained left Achilles. He’s earning $1.475 million this season and will enter his third and final year of arbitration eligibility heading into 2017.

Mejia, 23, was considered the Giants’ seventh-best prospect by MLB Pipeline. He earned a promotion to Triple-A Sacramento last month after posting a 1.94 ERA with Double-A Richmond. In seven starts with Sacramento, he has a 4.20 ERA with a 43/11 K/BB ratio in 40 2/3 innings.

With a roster spot open, the Twins called up infield prospect Jorge Polanco from Triple-A Rochester, per MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger.