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

What’s on Tap: Previewing Thursday’s action

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 18:  Manny Machado #13 of the Baltimore Orioles celbrates hitting a solo home run in the sixth inning during a baseball game against the against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 18, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.  The Orioles won 2-1.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
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With each division now spoken for, our attention now turns to the Wild Card races. The Blue Jays hold a one-game lead over the Orioles for the first Wild Card slot in the American League while the Orioles have a one-game lead over the Tigers for the second slot. The Jays and O’s will do battle on Thursday night and each of the four other teams alive in the AL Wild Card race are rooting for the Jays to win. The Yankees and Astros can both be eliminated from Wild Card contention if the Orioles win one more game or if they each lose one more game. The Mariners are also active in the Wild Card hunt, currently two games behind the Orioles.

Over in the National League, the Giants have a one-game lead over the Cardinals for the second Wild Card slot. The Giants get to play the Rockies while the Cardinals face the lowly Reds. The Mets, who currently own the first Wild Card slot, have the night off.

Asterisks denote that the game is relevant to the Wild Card.

The rest of Thursday’s action…

*Boston Red Sox (Henry Owens) @ New York Yankees (CC Sabathia), 7:05 PM EDT

Chicago Cubs (Rob Zastryzny) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (Ivan Nova), 7:05 PM EDT

*Baltimore Orioles (Ubaldo Jimenez) @ Toronto Blue Jays (Marcus Stroman), 7:07 PM EDT

Philadelphia Phillies (Jeremy Hellickson) @ Atlanta Braves (Josh Collmenter), 7:10 PM EDT

*Cincinnati Reds (Dan Straily) @ St. Louis Cardinals (Alex Reyes), 7:15 PM EDT

Minnesota Twins (Kyle Gibson) @ Kansas City Royals (Danny Duffy), 7:15 PM EDT

Tampa Bay Rays (Chris Archer) @ Chicago White Sox (Jose Quintana), 8:10 PM EDT

Los Angeles Dodgers (Julio Urias) @ San Diego Padres (Christian Friedrich), 9:10 PM EDT

*Oakland Athletics (Kendall Graveman) @ Seattle Mariners (Ariel Miranda), 10:10 PM EDT

*Colorado Rockies (Jon Gray) @ San Francisco Giants (Johnny Cueto), 10:15 PM EDT

Who should win the MVP Awards? Who will?

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 20:  Kris Bryant #17 of the Chicago Cubs bats during the second inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field on September 20, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cardinals defeated the Cubs 4-3. (Photo by John Konstantaras/Getty Images)
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With the regular season ending on Sunday and most of the playoff spots locked up, there’s really only one big thing left to argue about: postseason awards. So let’s spend some time looking at who should win each of the four major awards and who will win them. Which are often totally different things. First up: The MVP Awards. 

Who should win the AL MVP Award? 

We at HBT have tended to lean toward the idea that the best player should win the MVP Award, regardless of whether his team wins or not. It’s not an iron-clad thing, of course. In the past I’ve supported some more narrative-driven MVP candidates and, more importantly, deciding who is “the best player” in an objective sense is not always a cut-and-dried endeavor. Defense is an inexact science. Players often have competing apples and oranges arguments for their candidacies.

If you look at “best overall player” this year, however, it’s hard to say that Mike Trout and his line of .318/.441/.556 with 29 homers and his usual solid-to-outstanding center field defense is not that guy. Yes, his team stinks, and no, his 2016 season isn’t head and shoulders above any number of his other excellent seasons, making him a less-than-sexy choice in a lot of ways. But it’s hard to stand head and shoulders above uniform excellence and no matter what you think of stuff like WAR and all that goes into it, Trout has a 1.5 WAR lead over Mookie Betts according to FanGraphs and 1.3 according to Baseball Reference. It’s a pretty significant separation, especially when you realize that, dang, Betts is having a whale of a season himself (.320/.365/.538).

Still, Trout isn’t a unanimous pick even with the HBT team, which has it this way:

Craig: Trout
Bill: Trout
Ashley: Betts

Who will win the AL MVP Award?

There has been a lot of talk about Betts and his teammate, David Ortiz, splitting the vote, as it were. Maybe that was a thing that happened more often back in the day when narrative-driven awards were more common, but I think today’s BBWAA voters are way more savvy than that. I think that Ortiz will get some votes thrown his way by virtue of his outstanding offensive season (.316/.401/.622, 37 HR, 124 RBI) and the storybook ending to his career, but I think Betts will ultimately carry the day with the better overall and all-around performance. MVP PREDICTION: MOOKIE BETTS.

Who should win the NL MVP Award?

There are a lot of guys putting up years that, under different circumstances, would be MVP worthy. Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Freddie Freeman, Nolan Arenado, Daniel Murphy, Joey Votto and Corey Seager are all having outstanding campaigns. Most of them are bunched up as far as WAR goes, more so with Baseball-Reference.com’s version, a little less so with FanGraphs. Bryant leads both versions and is putting up outstanding offensive numbers. Murphy, Freeman and Votto are hitting a tad better than him depending on how you measure it, but have less defensive value. Seager’s mix of defense and offense may be closer to what Bryant is doing, although Arenado might have something to say about that. There are a lot of good choices.

Bryant is the best choice, however. His hitting — .293/.387/.560, 39 HR, 101 RBI — is better than the other all-around candidates and his defensive versatility — he’s played all three outfield positions as well as his usual third base — sets him apart. He’s been the best player in the NL this year.

Craig: Bryant
Bill: Bryant
Ashley:Bryant

Who will win the NL MVP Award?

This is one of those years where I suspect our views will match that of the voters. MVP PREDICTION: Bryant, possibly unanimously.