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Welcome to the 2013 playoffs

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We still have one game left that, technically and statistically speaking, belongs to the regular season. But practically speaking — and in our hearts — we are into the playoffs now. Game 163 between the Rays and Rangers is do-or-die and very, very few regular season games can say that. So: toss your technical orthodoxy. It’s playoffs time.

And what an intriguing time it proves to be. In some ways for who is on the outside as opposed to the inside. The Yankees will be home watching the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and for only the second time since 1994. The teams which made big offseason splashes — the Angels and Blue Jays — lost all hope long before the weather turned cool. Everyone’s favorite in the National League — the Washington Nationals — finished strong but it was too little, too late. The 2013 season looked at all of the experts’ predictions and said “ha!”

Expectations notwithstanding, at the 2013 playoff party are 11 teams with pretty compelling stories.  Some of those stories are mere dramatic narrative which will be beat into the ground by playoff game broadcasters over and over again. Or, at least until the results on the field render those narratives nonsensical. Some of the stories, however, truly do tell the tale of 2013 and the lasting power of those stories will determine how long their authors continue to play.

Here’s an overview of the party-goers

American League

  • Red Sox: This club may have the biggest disparity between the storylines we’ll hear and actual baseball relevance. What we’ll hear? Beards! Chemistry! Redemption after the collapse of 2011 and the horror of Bobby Valentine’s reign in 2012! Bad seeds like Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford gone! John Farrell restoring order! The part about Farrell is definitely true. And there are certainly better feelings surrounding this team. But they also happen to have the best offense by far in the AL, a healthier, outstanding pitching staff and good team defense, and those things are way more important than any facial hair bonding.
  • Tigers: There are big stars here. The likely Cy Young Award winner in Max Scherzer and the likely two-time MVP in Miguel Cabrera chief among them. Cabrera was very ordinary and very hurt in September, however, and the Tigers as a whole stumbled to a 13-13 record in the month’s final season. That said, momentum is your next day’s starting pitcher, and the Tigers have had very good, very consistent starting pitching in 2013, with only five guys accounting for 156 of the team’s 162 starts. When they’re on, there are few teams better than Detroit. Jim Leyland just has to find a way to flip that switch after a quite ignominious end to the regular season.
  • Athletics: For the second year no one picked the A’s to win the AL West. For the second straight year they won it. Still, people will sleep a bit on the largely unknown-to-the-nation A’s (maybe unknown to Oakland too).  But after you get past decade-old “Moneyball” jokes about how this team is defying gravity and economics, know that they have the third best offense in the AL (after Boston and Detroit) and were third in home runs and walks. Know also that they allowed fewer runs than all but two teams in the AL (Kansas City and Detroit). It’s a very balanced team which, unlike Boston, Atlanta and Los Angeles, actually won its division last year too. Still: they’re likely to be treated as newbie over achievers because people love those kinds of cliches.
  • Indians: A new manager in Terry Francona and a new motivational leader in Nick Swisher will get the credit for their presence in the playoffs. A very solid outfield defense has helped the pitching staff rebound this year, and the biggest rebound came from starter Ubaldo Jimenez. The Tribe went 21-6 in September, though a lot of that came against poor competition. Expect them to get a lot of “they have the momentum!” talk. At least until they play the wild card game on Wednesday.
  • Rays/Rangers: One of them will make it in after tonight. If it’s the Rangers, it could very well be because of the return of Nelson Cruz, who will be activated following is PED suspension (and whose suspension coincided with the Rangers playing poorly in the final month and a half of the season). The Rays have good overall starting pitching which, unfortunately for them, has feasted on poor teams but not always come up so big against the contenders. Neither of these clubs seem like good bets for long playoff runs. But note the above stuff about the value of predictions.

National League:

  • Braves: A new look after the trade for Justin Upton last winter and the continuing dominance of closer Craig Kimbrel get the headlines. But the second banana in the Upton trade — Chris Johnson — hit .321 on the year and the offense was buoyed by Freddie Freeman and his .319/.396/.501 line. The real secret weapon on this team, however, is shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who may have just posted the best defensive season by a shortstop in baseball history. The Braves were noted for their ball-bashing ability early in the year, but they ended up allowing fewer runs than any team in the NL this season, and Simmons’ sparkling defense had a lot to do with that.
  • Cardinals: The best team in the National League just keeps rolling along, producing talented player after talented player from its exceedingly fertile farm system. Adam Wainwright is still the ace, Matt Holliday led the team in OPS+ and Yadier Molina will get a ton of MVP votes, but it’s not a team that is overly-reliant on their big-name players. Matt Carpenter, Shelby Miller and, if he makes the post-season rotation, Michael Wacha are some of the younger and, to some, unknown weapons at manager Mike Matheny’s disposal. Carlos Beltran has continued his wonderful play years after many considered him a top-flight star (note: he’s still pretty awesome). There are questions in the bullpen, but the Cardinals have been able to handle just about everything thrown at them for the past few seasons. Expect it to continue.
  • Dodgers: Derided in the spring as a chemistry-free team of high-priced parts assembled by owners with too much money to burn, the Dodgers’ amazing midseason turnaround has helped put lie to the notion that you can’t assemble a winner with high-priced free agents and trades for embattled (and highly-paid) veterans. Adrain Gonzalez and Carl Crawford were deemed part of the problem in Boston yet now find themselves on a winner. Flashy and, at times, controversial rookie Yasiel Puig is showing that young ballplayers can — shockingly — enjoy themselves on the field and still be productive. The real strength here, though, is the rotation. Clayton Kershaw should win the NL Cy Young. Zack Greinke posted a 1.85 ERA in the second half. If you’re playing the odds, you’re looking at the competition facing an 0-2 hole in a short series. A key concern, though, is the health of Hanley Ramirez and the absence of Matt Kemp, who will miss the playoffs. The Dodgers may have also played their best baseball in July and August (they were a mere 12-15 in September) and will be yet another test as to whether momentum matters.
  • Pirates: The Cinderella story of 2013. The Pirates sloughed off over 20 years of losing records and broke through this year, led by MVP favorite Andrew McCutchen, NL home run co-leader Pedro Alvarez and a stingy bullpen. If they win the Wild Card game against Cincinnati on Tuesday expect the bandwagon to overflow.
  • Reds: An up-and-down team this year which at times looks far better than the second wild card team that they are and other times looks a bit lost. The Reds were third in the NL in runs per game this year, but are pretty reliant on Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo. If they’re cold on Tuesday or beyond, runs may be hard to come by.

Those are the partiers. Now the party begins.

MLB-MLBPA announce the postponement of the Puerto Rico series due to Zika concerns

Ricardo Arduengo -- Associated Press
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This, as we have noted previously, was inevitable. But Major League Baseball and the MLBPA just issued a joint press release announcing the postponement of the late May series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Miami Marlins in Puerto Rico. The reason: fears of Zika in light of the outbreak on the island. The series has been moved to Marlins Park in Miami.

From the release:

The Players Association requested that Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr. relocate the games after numerous players expressed concerns about contracting and potentially transmitting the Zika virus to their partners.  Players and staff of both Clubs received full briefings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) science staff regarding the risks associated with the Zika virus, and the recommended precautions for travelers including those with partners who are pregnant or attempting to conceive.  After discussing the issue with all involved parties, and consulting with federal and Puerto Rican government officials at the highest levels, Commissioner Manfred decided that the players who objected to the trip because of their specific family situations should not be forced to travel to Puerto Rico.  Because too many regulars on both Clubs fell into that category, Commissioner Manfred had no choice but to relocate the games.

The release goes on to say that, in lieu of the games, MLB will stage several youth baseball and community events in Puerto Rico later this month, which will be attended by Commissioner Manfred and several former MLB players. Both MLB and the Players Association also will make contributions to the CDC Foundation to assist the efforts to eradicate Zika in Puerto Rico.

Ultimately, far too many players voiced concerns about playing in Puerto Rico. Expect officials from Puerto Rico to blast the decision as hysteria and alarmism, as they did in anticipation of it in recent days. Also, expect there to be more discussion about Zika in the future, as it’s already something that is entering Florida and will likely be a bigger problem on the U.S. mainland in the future than it is now.

 

What’s on Tap: Previewing Friday’s Action

New York Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard throws during the first inning of the baseball game against the San Francisco Giants at Citi Field, Sunday, May 1, 2016 in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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One game started already. Nats and Cubs in Chicago. As I write this, the Cubs are up 4-2 and Max Scherzer has given up three home runs. Woops.

The rest of the action is ahead of us, however, and the future holds any number of possibilities. Like a Kenta Maeda vs. Marcus Stroman matchup in Toronto. And Vince Velasquez and the Phillies trying to cool off a red hot Marlins team in Miami. Way out west in San Diego Noah Syndergaard goes against the Padres. This has been quite a year for pitchers putting up their best line of their lives against the Padres, so look for Syndergaard to strike out, like 30 Padres. Which, yes, I realize that’s impossible, but I have faith in both Thor and the Friars to do the impossible if they really put their minds to it.

Anyway, here are the games. Most of you are off work tomorrow so stay up late, have fun and watch baseball. And maybe do it even if you gotta work.

Boston Red Sox (Rick Porcello) @ New York Yankees (Michael Pineda), 7:05 PM EDT, Yankee Stadium

Oakland Athletics (Rich Hill) @ Baltimore Orioles (Ubaldo Jimenez), 7:05 PM EDT, Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Los Angeles Dodgers (Kenta Maeda) @ Toronto Blue Jays (Marcus Stroman), 7:07 PM EDT, Rogers Centre

Kansas City Royals (Yordano Ventura) @ Cleveland Indians (Danny Salazar), 7:10 PM EDT, Progressive Field

Milwaukee Brewers (Tyler Cravy) @ Cincinnati Reds (Tim Adleman), 7:10 PM EDT, Great American Ball Park

Philadelphia Phillies (Vince Velasquez) @ Miami Marlins (Wei-Yin Chen), 7:10 PM EDT, Marlins Park

Texas Rangers (Cole Hamels) @ Detroit Tigers (Jordan Zimmermann), 7:10 PM EDT, Comerica Park

Arizona Diamondbacks (Zack Greinke) @ Atlanta Braves (Aaron Blair), 7:35 PM EDT , Turner Field

Minnesota Twins (Ricky Nolasco) @ Chicago White Sox (Mat Latos), 8:10 PM EDT, U.S. Cellular Field

Seattle Mariners (Taijuan Walker) @ Houston Astros (Doug Fister), 8:10 PM EDT, Minute Maid Park

Pittsburgh Pirates (Francisco Liriano) @ St. Louis Cardinals (Carlos Martinez), 8:15 PM EDT, Busch Stadium

Tampa Bay Rays (Chris Archer) @ Los Angeles Angels (Cory Rasmus), 10:05 PM EDT, Angel Stadium of Anaheim

Colorado Rockies (Chad Bettis) @ San Francisco Giants (Madison Bumgarner), 10:15 PM EDT, AT&T Park

New York Mets (Noah Syndergaard) @ San Diego Padres (Drew Pomeranz), 10:40 PM EDT , Petco Park

CC Sabathia goes on the disabled list with a strained groin

New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia throws to the Baltimore Orioles in the first inning of a baseball game in Baltimore, Wednesday, May 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
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CC Sabathia pitched wonderfully Wednesday night, tossing seven shutout innings in what was easily his best start in ages. But since we live in a world in which we simply cannot have nice things, that sweet has to come with some sour: the Yankees just announced that they have placed Sabathia on the 15-day disabled list with a strained groin.

The Yankees have replaced Sabathia on the roster with their old friend Phil Coke, whose contract they just purchased from Scranton.

The Yankees have had bad luck with all of their starters not named Masahiro Tanaka so far this year. Losing one of them just as he put together his best start of the season is just a killer.

Tim Lincecum’s showcase is a lot bigger a deal than it seemed before

Tim Lincecum
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When a pitcher doesn’t sign anywhere before or during spring training people sometimes wring their hands a bit, but it’s usually the case that they’ll be OK if they are patient. Once the season starts guys start going down with injuries left and right or show that they’re ineffective. In such cases, a free agent pitcher’s value goes way up. He’s a relatively low cost option for a team which, a month ago, seemed set but is now suddenly desperate.

Tim Lincecum may benefit from that dynamic.

As we noted earlier today, the Angels’ rotation is a hot mess now that Garrett Richards is out for the year and Andrew Heaney‘s absence may be just as extended. The back end of the Giants’ rotation is likewise a mess. Lincecum was never seriously on San Francisco’s radar this past winter, but given how Matt Cain and Jake Peavy are going, those crazy kids may get back together. The Dodgers could use a pitcher and their competition with the Giants may make this whole situation a lot more profitable for Lincecum than it might have otherwise been.

Of course, Lincecum still has to show that he can pitch and that he’s healthy. That’s why he’s having the showcase, that goes down here very shorty — 2:30 eastern time — and you can watch it streaming live at CSNBayArea.com.