Greetings from San Francisco

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SAN FRANCISCO — Because of personal weekend travel on top of World Series travel, I wake up this morning in the third different time zone in the space of four days. I’ve wrestled American Airlines to something close to a draw — they may not have given me what I wanted for all of my trouble but I am certain now, based on their disdain for their customers, that I will outlive them — and I am staring six days of World Series coverage right between the eyes.  I may be tired, but I am winning.

But who is winning this World Series?  Such bets are for suckers. A proposition that, if we didn’t know before this month, we certainly know after seeing the improbable occur again and again this postseason.

As late as mid-September the Tigers looked like they’d be golfing right now. An 88-win team which seems remarkably well-constructed for the playoffs. A team which is going to start Delmon Young in the vast expanses of AT&T Park’s left field tonight and presumably tomorrow and who counts Phil Coke of all people their most reliable reliever is favored by the people who are supposed to know these things.

For personal reasons I watched the Tigers more this year than I had since I was 11, and not one time until they started sawing off Yankees bats in the ALCS did I look at them and say “yes, that’s your probable World Series champ.” But I am inclined to say it now. It’s a mild inclination, one I may forget as soon as pitches begin to be thrown in anger tonight, but an inclination all the same.

But what of these Giants?  One thing noted by several smart people in the past 24 hours is that while they may be playing cardiac kids again this year and may have some flaws of their won, they match up well with these Tigers. The Giants don’t strike out a lot and don’t hit a lot of homers which means a lot of chances for opposing defenders to make fools out of themselves.  The Tigers, of course, have a defense that could very well be exposed in such an instance. Or maybe they could just defy the predispositions of Giants hitters and strike everyone out like they’ve been doing a lot of lately. I don’t know, but we kind of have a neat matchup in that regard.

Intangibles are pure rot, but if fan enthusiasm has any bearing on this sort of thing, the Giants should actually be your favorites. When I got off the plane at SFO, this was the first thing I saw in the airport:

source:

OK, that has nothing to do with anything apart from my never-ending wonder at how on-the-nose Californian this city can be.  But the point here is that I have been here before, several times over the past 15 or 20 years thanks to many friends calling it home, and never in all of those visits have I seen so much conspicuous Giants gear festooning the place.

I’m sure it was nutso in 2010 as well, but you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting an old person wearing a Giants cap, a young person rocking Giants shirt, a bus flashing “Go Giants” from its route sign and every bar, restaurant, bodega and coffee shop sporting a banner or a sign (a couple of them still say “Beat L.A.,” but old habits die hard). And it’s not just in SoMa where I’m staying or right over in front of the park. It’s everywhere. Not long after I hit town last night I hopped a train down to have dinner with a friend in Belmont and the orange an black was flying high down there as well.

There’s an electricity in this city as I awake this morning. A bursting-at-the-seams energy that is poised to explode when Barry Zito — Barry Zito?! — throws the first pitch of Game 1 of the 2012 World Series. I’m assuming that electricity exists in other cities just before the World Series begins too, but this is my first World Series and I find it a remarkable departure from the norm.

And I kind of love it.

The Phillies are trying out prospect J.P. Crawford at third base

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On Sunday, for the first time in his professional career, Phillies shortstop prospect J.P. Crawford started at third base. He picked up three hits in five at-bats, continuing his torrid pace. Since the start of July, he’s hitting .306/.397/.595 with 11 home runs, 28 RBI, 33 runs scored, and a 37/25 K/BB ratio in 199 plate appearances.

With September looming, the Phillies may be considering a promotion for Crawford. Shortstop, however, is currently taken by Freddy Galvis who has appeared in every game this season and has taken on a leadership role with the team. Meanwhile, third baseman Maikel Franco has been mired in a season-long slump as he’s carrying a devilish .666 OPS.

The Phillies haven’t been averse to trying their prospects out at new positions. Prior to his recent promotion, Rhys Hoskins had played only first base throughout his professional career, but the Phillies moved him to left field for a few games, then called him up to the majors. Hoskins has made nine starts in the outfield and two at first base in the majors thus far.

As MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki notes, the Phillies are also considering trying out second base prospect Scott Kingery at shortstop or third base before the end of the minor league season.

These aren’t long-term plans; it’s just a way for the Phillies to find meaningful playing time for their prospects and giving manager Pete Mackanin potential flexibility. Assistant GM Ned Rice said, “It benefits the player and benefits the team when more guys are able to play multiple positions. It just gives Pete [Mackanin] a lot more options at the big league level. The more guys we can bring up who have been exposed to different positions, the better.”

Players having great seasons under the radar

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Yesterday, I watched a myriad of defensive highlights from Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons (who also homered). Curious, I looked up his stats and found him among the leaders in Wins Above Replacement. And then I found a handful of other players having great seasons and realized I’ve hardly heard anything about them. Let this be my contribution towards raising them into the spotlight.

Andrelton Simmons (Angels): The 27-year-old is having the best offensive season of his career. He posted a .751 OPS in his rookie season, but that spanned only 49 games. From 2013-16, he had an aggregate .664 OPS. His defense never wavered, of course, which is why he kept getting regular playing time and why the Angels were eager to trade for him in November 2015. This season, however, he’s been a terrific hitter, batting .292/.345/.451 with 13 home runs, 57 RBI, 62 runs scored, and 17 stolen bases in 502 plate appearances. He’s four home runs away from matching a career-high. Simmons is 11th in baseball in FanGraphs’ version of WAR, heavily predicated on the valuation of his defense, but it’s not too outlandish for me to believe Simmons has added nearly two wins above replacement on defense alone. While Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, and Mike Trout will fight for the lion’s share of AL MVP votes, Simmons could get some down ballot consideration.

Gio Gonzalez (Nationals): Gonzalez nearly threw a no-hitter earlier this season against the Marlins, which brought some eyeballs to his stat line. Still, he hasn’t been talked about much somehow. He’s 12-5 with a 2.39 ERA and a  150/62 K/BB ratio in 162 innings. It’s nothing new for Gonzalez, as he won 21 games with a 2.89 ERA en route to finishing third in Cy Young balloting in 2012. There’s also some reason to believe Gonzalez’s performance is in some part due to great fortune as his batting average on balls in play is about 50 points below league average and his rate of stranding runners on base is more than 11 percent higher than his career average. Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer have had better seasons and will be the first and second place finishers in this year’s balloting, but Gonzalez is looking at likely finishing third again, which is no small feat.

Aaron Nola (Phillies): After a dismal June 16 start against the Diamondbacks, Nola stood with a disappointing 4.76 ERA. After the first two innings of last Thursday’s start against the Giants, he briefly brought it under 3.00. Currently, it’s at 3.26 along with a 128/38 K/BB ratio in 124 1/3 innings. Since that June 16 start, he’s made 11 starts with a composite 2.21 ERA across 73 1/3 innings. The right-hander out of LSU showed promise in his rookie year in 2015, then struggled last year before succumbing to injury. Finally, it’s appearing that Nola is showing the promise the Phillies believed in when they took him in the first round (seventh overall) in the 2014 draft. Perhaps more importantly, he looks like a pitcher the Phillies can build around. If there’s one thing the Phillies have lacked since trading Cole Hamels, it’s a starter capable of throwing seven or eight innings and holding the opposition to one or two runs.

Chris Taylor (Dodgers): On a team that features Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Alex Wood, and recently added Yu Darvish, it’s understandable that Taylor would slip under the radar. He’s played five different positions this season — left field, second base, center field, third base, and shortstop — while batting .311/.383/.549 with 17 home runs, 58 RBI, 69 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases in 413 plate appearances. He’s played average to above-average defense at most of those positions, which is why his 4.6 fWAR ranks 13th in baseball and 10th in the National League. Before the Dodgers acquired him from the Mariners last June in a very little talked about trade, Taylor had been a weak-hitting utilityman. Now, he’s the starting center fielder for baseball’s best team.

Felipe Rivero (Pirates): The Pirates acquired Rivero from the Nationals last year in the Mark Melancon trade. It worked out well for the Buccos. Though the club sits at a disappointing 60-64 in fourth place in the NL Central, Rivero has been a bright spot, owning a major league best 1.31 ERA with 14 saves and a 73/16 K/BB ratio in 61 2/3 innings. The lefty took over the closer’s role when Tony Watson began to struggle in the first half. While Rivero has been terrific against right-handed hitters, limiting them to a .547 OPS, he’s been death to lefties (.227 OPS). After the season, Rivero will be eligible for arbitration for the first of four years, so it wouldn’t be shocking if he got traded at some point, but for now, they’ll enjoy his outstanding 2017 campaign.