Author: Craig Calcaterra


The Cardinals made a point to stay out of the Diamondbacks’ pool yesterday


Last year, when the Dodgers clinched the NL West at Chase Field in Arizona, they had a pool party. It led to all kinds of grumbling and hand-wringing because one clearly does not disrespect an august and distinguished baseball icon like “the Pool” in an indoor ballpark where fans get overcharged for likely marginally acceptable margaritas and bad sightlines.

But a controversy it caused, probably because it was the Dodgers and partially because Yasiel Puig played a part in it and no one ever passes up a chance to call them and him classless.

Yesterday, the Cardinals clinched the NL Central in Arizona. They celebrated. The did not, however, celebrate in the pool. No, they made a point not to:

The Chase Field swimming pool was off limits.

The Cardinals decided they could do without a quick dip, the way many of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrated when they won the NL West here last season. The D-backs were not big fans of their division rivals’ little pool party.

It was all about respect.

“We made sure we weren’t going in the pool,” said scheduled starter Adam Wainwright, who was a last-minute scratch after the Pirates were eliminated.

“We were staying over here (in the clubhouse). Especially with Tony La Russa at the helm over there now. That’s our former skipper. We don’t want to make him mad or disrespect him in any way.”

Fair enough. And really, doing a pool party would be derivative anyway. Say what you want about the Dodgers last year, but that was fun because it was spontaneous. If the Cards had done it it wouldn’t have been the same.

That said: the Dodgers and Cardinals will meet in the NLDS. What are the odds that someone — probably a Cardinals writer, but a broadcaster could too — makes a point to talk about how much more classy and professional the Cardinals are than the Dodgers because they didn’t jump in the pool. I mean, they do that kind of thing all the time anyway, it’s just now they have more toys to play with as they pursue that particular hobby.

LaTroy Hawkins pitched in his 1000th career game. Gets a nice bottle of Dom for it.

LaTroy Hawkins

I never, ever want LaTroy Hawkins to stop pitching. In no small part because he’s one of the few guys in Major League Baseball who is older than me. But also because he’s just really great. There is literally nothing not to like about the guy. He was a failed starter who, in the 90s, you might have thought you’d never see again and then all he did was rattle off about 15 straight seasons of great relief pitching.

Are there better relievers? Of course, there always have been. But he’s always been solid, at times much better, and he has shown no signs of slowing down. He just completed a season in which he posted a 3.31 ERA in 57 games (130 OPS+) and 23 saves. In Colorado of all places. That’s nice work.

His last appearance of the year was Saturday. It was his 1000th. That puts him at 16 on the all-time list for pitchers. He’s two behind Rich Gossage. He could move up to, I dunno, eighth next year if he’s healthy.

The Rockies have him a gift for his 1000th game:

Keep rolling along, LaTroy. For all of us old dudes.

Previewing the 2014 Playoffs


source: Getty Images

The long marathon is over and the month-long sprint has begun. It’s playoff time. When baseball switches from leisurely diversion to one intense showdown after another. Here are the characters:


Angels: Owners of the best record in all of baseball and the best offense in all of baseball. Employer of the man, Mike Trout, who is most likely to win the AL MVP award. A team which fell far below expectations the past couple of years despite signing all sorts of big name players like Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson. But it coalesced for them in 2014. Trout was Trout, the pitching was considerably improved and those big names, while still not quite earning the big paychecks they received, were good enough. STRENGTHS: The power here is the offense and, to some degree, a bullpen which manager Mike Scioscia crafted and perfected on the fly, reminding people why he used to be considered one of the best managers in all of baseball. WEAKNESSES: The starting pitching is a bit thin due to injuries, with Matt Shoemaker is coming back from a mild oblique injury. If he returns to the form he had before he went down, things should be OK. If not, Scioscia will have to keep spinning plates and plugging in relievers at a pretty quick pace. OUTOOK: Home field throughout the playoffs, including the World Series thanks to Trout’s heroics in the All-Star Game. Probably the betting favorite, but not without flaws and, in some key players, playoff inexperience.

Orioles: They lost their starting catcher, third baseman and their 2013 offensive MVP to injuries, ineffectiveness and, finally, a drug suspension. Yet they were barely challenged all year, running away with the AL East. A combination of good luck — who would’ve thought Steve Pearce would come in and be an offensive hero or that Nelson Cruz would hit 40 homers following his 2013 drug suspension? — and good leadership. If you’re looking for an X-Factor, how about Buck Showalter. In an age where there are so many inexperienced managers inexplicably being placed at the helm of playoff-caliber teams, Showalter’s experience and ability to improvise like he has may do more to explain Baltimore’s pretty good three-year run than anything else. STRENGTHS: They feature a powerful, home-run heavy attack, as they lead all of baseball in bombs, though they didn’t strike out as much as big bopping team like this might be expected to, finishing the year only 11th in team strikeouts. WEAKNESSES: For all of that power, they had a pretty pedestrian team on-base percentage, and it’s never too surprising when big bats go cold in October and pitching comes to the fore. As for pitching: they don’t have any big-name aces in that rotation, even if they have several competent starters. One wonders if there is a starter here that trade bullets with some of the aces the Tigers, Royals and A’s can trot out there. OUTLOOK: If the Orioles win it all, some new heroes — at least guys who are new to non-Orioles fans — will have emerged. Chris Tillman or Miguel Gonzalez, anyone?

Tigers: Their fourth straight division title and the now-expected return to the playoffs. It’s the same basic story, too: a potent offensive attack, even if Miguel Cabrera has had a downish year (for him anyway). Multiple Cy Young Award winners in the rotation. A bullpen which makes Tigers fans and manager Brad Ausmus reach for the antacids. STRENGTHS: The 1-2 punch of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. Max Scherzer, David Price, Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello are easily the best 1-4 arms in the AL playoff pool. They have playoff experience out the wazoo too, if that sort of thing means anything. WEAKNESSES: Joe Nathan and the rest of the Tigers pen has been shaky as all get-out all year. If the starters don’t stifle the opposition and if Detroit ends up in 6-5 games in the sixth inning, say, well, things aren’t going to go well for them. OUTLOOK: The less the bullpen matters, the father the Tigers will go. But when was the last time a team made it through the playoffs without the bullpen mattering?

Royals: A healthy portion of you all weren’t alive the last time the Royals made the playoffs. Heck, a healthy portion of the Royals’ roster wasn’t either. That narrative will be pushed down our throats for as long as Kansas City remains alive in the playoffs. Even if they only manage to play in the wild card game before exiting we’ll likely be tired of it. That stuff is more about the fans than the players, though. For the Royals as a team it will be all about scraping together enough offense to allow their excellent pitching to carry them. STRENGTHS: An amazingly good bullpen. If you’re losing to the Royals by the seventh inning, odds are that you are not comin’ back, what with Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland throwing bullets at you. The rotation is excellent too, with Danny Duffy, James Shields and Yordano Ventura leading the way. WEAKNESSES: Oh, that offense. The Royals were the first team since 1992 to not get 100 homers. To put it mildly, you can pitch to these guys. Also: Ned Yost may be a nice man, but no one considers him a tactical genius. If it comes down to strategy vs. strategy, Yost may be more of a hindrance than a help to this club. OUTLOOK: if they get even a little offense, they could be a dangerous team.



Nationals: The best team in the entire playoff field? Hard to argue against that. A solid offense with no real holes, even if they don’t have an MVP candidate. A deep and experienced pitching staff with three guys who could be ace starters on multiple playoff teams. Once they got healthy in the second half it was smooth sailing. They look like they could keep up a winning pace indefinitely. STRENGTHS: Veteran experience and lots and lots of guys who can just kill you. If Jayson Werth goes cold, Adam LaRoche, Anthony Rendon or Bryce Harper can step up. It’s somewhat like those 1990s Yankees teams in which there are no easy outs. They’ll exhaust the opposition. The 1-2-3-4 of Doug Fister, Jordan Zimmermann, Tanner Roark and Stephen Strasburg is quite a thing. WEAKNESSES: There was uncertainty at the back of the bullpen late in the season, with Rafael Soriano losing his job. Drew Storen has come roaring back this year, however, so even if the roles are a bit upset, the arms are all pretty darn strong. OUTLOOK: They look to be the best team in baseball as the playoffs begin. And their path through the NL is easier than any of the AL contenders’ paths. They have to be considered the favorite.

Dodgers: The most glamorous team in the playoff race? Probably the one Major League Baseball wants to see go the farthest, in the interests of TV ratings and marketing, anyway. And they certainly have the talent to make it, led by show-in Cy Young winner and MVP favorite Clayton Kershaw. Yasiel Puig is the most exciting and frustrating player in the game, depending on what day it is anyway. Or even what moment. STRENGTHS: Kershaw, of course, and the other starting pitchers such as Zack Greinke and Hyu-Jin Ryu, though each of them has had some physical problems in the second half. The offense will be a strength if Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez stay hot. Puig is great, but he is prone to slumps and can’t be expected to do it alone. WEAKNESSES: The middle relief and setup guys are kind of scary. Getting the ball to closer Kenley Jansen can be an adventure. OUTLOOK: Certainly a strong contender, but it’ll be the second bananas — Greinke, Ryu, Gonzalez, Kemp — who determine how far this team goes.

Cardinals: Even when they were down in the middle of the season you always got the sense the Cards would win the division. They’re more a force of inevitability than any team in baseball, frankly. And history has shown us that when the Cardinals limp into the playoffs with a subpar year, they tend to, you know, win the World Series (see, 2006, 2011). Maybe that’s just flukey, but a lot of people have been wrong to undersell the Cards in October over the years. STRENGTHS: The old reliable guys are still who matter here: Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina. All of them have forgotten more about playoff baseball than the rest of the field will ever know. Wainwright has come on strong late in the season following a dead arm period early in the second half. But it’s not just Wainwright. Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn have been solid down the stretch. WEAKNESSES: Michael Wacha has been a playoff hero in the past, but was shaky in his last start and it’s unclear if he’ll even be in the playoff rotation. Overall the offense has been the Cardinals’ big liability this year. They need a hero to emerge. Someone to get hot for a couple of weeks. No one has really done that for the Cards all year. OUTLOOK: Never count out the Cardinals, but they are certainly a step down from the Nats and Dodgers overall.

Pirates: They were in the hunt for the NL Central title until the very last day and, for some reason, seem stronger than a mere wild card team. I guess having the best all-around player in the National League in Andrew McCutchen will do that for you. And while they made the playoffs last year, expect them to get the same treatment the Royals will get: “How about those Pirates! After so long in the wilderness!” A certain segment of people will probably be rooting for a KC-Pittsburgh World Series. If it happens, the “Baseball is Dying” people will snark about ratings, forgetting that part of their narrative was about how small market teams have no chance to compete. Could be fun! STRENGTHS: McCutchen, of course. Russell Martin may have just had the most unnoticed amazing year in history and gets on base like crazy. Josh Harrison has been an all-around threat, playing five positions and having a great offensive year. Solid defense has been the Pirates’ calling card for two years and it may be the most underrated part of their game. WEAKNESSES: They had the 10th best starting pitching ERA in baseball this year, but still, starting pitching is a big question mark. Edinson Volquez is the Pirates’ starter in a win-or-go-home game on Tuesday. That doesn’t exactly instill fear in anyone. OUTLOOK: They’ll go as far as their starting pitching takes them. That may not be far.

Giants: It’s an even numbered year and the Giants win the World Series when that happens, right? Eh, OK, I guess that’s not very scientific, but they have a ton of playoff experience, performers like Hunter Pence and Buster Posey who are capable of carrying the team and rising to the occasion and in Bruce Bochy, one of the surest hands in all of baseball. STRENGTHS: Having Madison Bumgarner for the wild card game is key. And Jake Peavy has been a revelation since coming over in a midseason trade. Beyond that, well, uncertainty. The offense has a lot of guys who had really good years, but a whole lot of that was front-loaded, as the Giants early season offense was shockingly strong. Since then it’s been more uneven. WEAKNESSES: That unevenness. They may be the most up-and-down, inconsistent team in the playoffs. They’re better off than Oakland in this regard — not all of the Giants’ ups were confined to the first half — but this is a box of chocolates team. You never know what you’re gonna get. OUTLOOK: Nothing can surprise you with a veteran team like San Francisco, but if they beat the Pirates in the wild card, they match up with the Nationals, and that matchup does not favor them. It’s gonna be an uphill climb.

Those are the invitees to the party. The party begins tomorrow with the Royals and A’s facing off in Kansas City and then continues on Tuesday with the Pirates and the Giants battling in Pittsburgh. After that things begin in earnest with the Division Series beginning on Thrusday.

Buckle up.


Video: Tom Wilhelmsen dances gloriously

Tom Wilhelmsen

The Mariners fell short of the postseason and now a long, cold winter awaits. But on the last day of the regular season, Mariners’ reliever Tom Wilhelmsen would not be denied his joy:

And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights

Tigers celebrate

source: AP

Tigers 3, Twins 0: Ian Kinsler drove in two, David Price turned in a fantastic performance and the bullpen didn’t betray the Tigers in their division-clinching win. It’s their fourth straight AL Central crown. While the story of this Tigers era will likely one day be told in such a way that had them owning the division, it’s worth noting that they’d gone down to the wire fending off pesky teams each year.

Nationals 1, Marlins 0: Best part of this no hitter: the catch that saved it, probably. But also underrated is that the game was so close and Jordan Zimmermann almost had to twirl it in order to win. If Steven Souza doesn’t make that grab there’s a runner in scoring position in a one run game. Anyway, given that the Nats-Marlins game I attended this past weekend was a 15-7 affair played by bench guys and scrubs, I think it’s safe to say I purchased tickets to the wrong contest.

Athletics 4, Rangers 0: The A’s clinch the last AL playoff spot on the last day of the season which, given where they were in the middle of the season, is not exactly what they wanted. But now the slate is wiped clean and if they win one road game against the Royals it’s all reset, right? Sonny Gray with the six-hit shutout. Against a Texas team that, being charitable, was not exactly filled with top-flight talent yesterday. That probably angered the Mariners to some degree. But that’s often how it goes in September.

Royals 6, White Sox 4: Kansas City falls a game short of the AL Central title thanks to the Tigers’ win. Nice year for the Royals of course, but it is rather amazing how many times the Tigers more or less invited the Royals to take the division from them with the Royals basically declining the offer. The final game for Paul Konerko. He didn’t play the whole game and didn’t get a hit, but he made a nice gesture in writing his family’s name in the infield dirt at first base.

Indians 7, Rays 2  T.J. House beat Alex Cobb in what I assume was the first matchup in major league history between pitchers whose last names are also names of salads.Zach Walters and Carlos Santana each drove in two.  It was a coulda been season for Cleveland. Given the inconsistent play they had for so much of the year it’s amazing they even made it to the last week of the season with a shot at the playoffs, but ultimately it had to be considered a disappointment.

Cubs 5, Brewers 2: Anthony Rizzo went 2 for 3 with a homer. This will be an interesting offseason for the Cubs, who are likely to bid on a starter in free agency. And, if things go just right, could be an interesting and possibly competitive team next season.

Braves 2, Phillies 1: The end mercifully comes for both teams’ dismal 2014 seasons. The Braves got both of their runs in the first and then went into hibernation mode. Cole Hamels pitched well and had one of the more deceivingly good years from a starter you’re likely to see: 9-9 with a 2.46 ERA. Imagine what he would’ve done on a team with some offense.

Mets 8, Astros 3: Jose Altuve played after all — they were going to hold him out to protect his lead over Victor Martinez for the batting title before thinking better of it — and he rapped two hits to actually raise that average and clinch the crown. Lucas Duda homered and drove in four. It was Bobby Abreu’s last game. The Mets actually ended up tied with the Braves for second in the NL East.

Yankees 9, Red Sox 5: Jeter’s last game in Yankee Stadium was more memorable, but he ended his last game overall in style too, hitting an RBI single in his final plate appearance.

Reds 4, Pirates 1: Pittsburgh’s loss hands the Cardinals the division. Still a nice season for Pittsburgh. Johnny Cueto notched his 20th win and also singled in the go-ahead run.

Orioles 1, Blue Jays 0: Jonathan Schoop homered and six O’s pitchers combine to shut out Toronto. They now face the Tigers in the ALDS.

Cardinals 1, Diamondbacks 0: St. Louis tossed a bullpen committee at Arizona given that they clinched the division before the game started with the Pirates’ loss. Given the foregone conclusion of the season and what had to have been an insanely strong desire by the Dbacks players to get the heck home after a nightmare year, this was a game played at quarter speed. If that.

Dodgers 10, Rockies 5: If you believe in that whole “peak at the right time” thing (I don’t, but whatever) than the Dodgers are peaking at the right time. Sixteen hits for the boys in blue, led by Adrian Gonzalez’s three-run homer and Matt Kemp’s two-run blast.

Giants 9, Padres 3: Homers from Buster Posey and Adam Duvall. A post-game speech from Hunter Pence to the fans. This one had 100% fewer F-bombs in it, though, so that was good.

Mariners 4, Angels 1: The A’s win ended the M’s season just shy of the prize. On the one hand, congrats to them for such a surprisingly competitive year. On the other, man, they skidded late and had all kinds of chances to take control in the wild card race but just didn’t. That’s gotta be an especially weird king of stinging feeling.

Also an especially weird feeling: the last And That Happened of the year. For reasons I’ve said before and that I’ll likely put again in a post this week, the end of the regular season is always sad for me. The playoffs are what they are and they will consume all of the oxygen for the next month, but really, what I love about baseball is the day-to-day of the regular season and there’s something missing in October with that comforting, lower-level intensity absent. Having the space and time to chronicle the unimportant along with the moderately important things of the 162-game flow is why I like writing ATH, and that’s gone now. It always makes me feel a bit of a loss. Oh well.

Thanks for reading each morning, everyone. This feature will see you again in April.