Author: Craig Calcaterra

Josh Donaldson ALDS

Playoff Reset: The ALDS begins


We are out of the one-and-done land of the Wild Card and into the land of best-of-five. It’s the Division Series, my friends, and today we get underway in the American League.

The Game: Texas Rangers vs. Toronto Blue Jays
The Time: 3:37 PM Eastern.
The Place: Rogers Centre, Toronto
The Channel: FoxSports 1
The StartersYovani Gallardo vs David Price
The Upshot:

  • The Blue Jays are beasts on offense. Everyone knows this. They scored 891 runs on the year, which is a whopping 127 more than their next closest rival on offense. They led the league in homers, doubles, walks, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. They were second in batting average. Heck, they were even in the top half of the league in stolen bases. The story of this series begins and ends with how Rangers pitchers are going to contain this insanely potent attack.
  • The Rangers are not starting off too bad in that department in giving Yovani Gallardo the ball in Game 1. He he started twice against Toronto this year, throwing 13 scoreless innings and allowing only six hits. The first outing was eight and a third innings back in June before the Jays really turned it on. The second game was in late August getaway day game in which Russell Martin was not in the lineup. Maybe that means something, maybe it doesn’t, but Gallardo certainly has a tough task ahead of him. Cole Hamels and Derek Holland will follow.
  • The Rangers are no Blue Jays with the bat, but they were third in all of baseball in runs scored with 751. Shin-Soo Choo (.343/.455/.560), Adrian Beltre (.318/.376/.509) and Mike Napoli (.295/.396/.513) were all amazing in the second half, joining Prince Fielder, who was solid all year. The second-half Rangers are a fundamentally different deal on offense than their overall offensive numbers might suggest.
  • Toronto’s 1-2 punch out of the gate is hard to top, at least in the American League. David Price will either win the Cy Young Award or come in second and Marcus Stroman, who was not activated until early September, has been throwing bullets since he came back. Today Price will get nod. His last start against Texas came on August 26 when he allowed two runs over six innings. Overall the Jays took four of six from the Rangers on the season.

All-in-all, most folks are thinking that the Rangers are sacrificial lambs for the Jays. Maybe on paper that’s true. But baseball rarely works like that. I think this one will be worth watching and that the Rangers will give the Jays some ballgames, even if the Jays are the stronger team.


The Game: Houston Astros vs. Kansas City Royals
The Time: 7:37 PM Eastern.
The Place: Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City
The Channel: FoxSports 1
The StartersCollin McHugh vs Yordano Ventura
The Upshot:

  • The Royals are the defending AL Champs and have the best record in the American League this year, giving them home field advantage for as long as they’re playing. And in Game 1 they’re starting a guy who was sent down to the minors in the middle of the season due to ineffectiveness. That didn’t take — Yordano Ventura was immediately called back up when someone else got hurt — and he’s been a much better pitcher since the brief demotion, but it does sort of encapsulate how bizarre a year this was in some respects for the Royals pitching staff. They acquired Johnny Cueto for this kind of job — a rent-an-ace — but he’s been one of the more questionable guys on the staff. If he returns to his usual form the Royals’ 1-2 punch is gonna be OK.
  • The Astros go with Collin McHugh in Game 1. He won 19 games and threw 203 innings, but he’s been more of an innings eater than an ace. Like Ventura,  however, he’s been better in the second half, going 10-2 with a 3.11 ERA in 14 starts.
  • Despite losing Greg Holland to Tommy John surgery, the Royals’ pen is still among the best in baseball thanks to a next-man-up situation which results in Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera and Ryan Madson providing a reasonable facsimile of last year’s crazy threesome for the Royals. Maybe even more than reasonable, as Davis has continued to be lights out since becoming the closer. Houston’s bullpen struggled in the final weeks of the regular season, but they looked just fine shutting out the Yankees on no hits over the final three innings on Tuesday night. Maybe that was the Yankees being DOA. Maybe it was a bit of rest for the Astros. Either way, the group was decent for most of the year and should be considered a strength again.
  • This matchup doesn’t have the same potential for offensive fireworks that the Jays-Rangers series does, but there is an intriguing mix of power and speed. The Astros finished the regular season ranked sixth in the majors in runs scored with 4.50 per game, while the Royals were seventh with an average of 4.47, which is an improvement over last year’s scratch-em-out bunch. Both teams run a lot and run well. This could be quite the kinetic series.

Unlike the Jays-Rangers, this series seemed pretty evenly matched. Which, because baseball is random and weird, probably means it is over in four games with one team bashing the hell out of the other while the Jays and Rangers go seven games with pitchers duels all around.

Man, that would be fun, wouldn’t it?

Jessica Mendoza and Chris Archer were great in the booth

Jessica Mendoza

Not news: Jessica Mendoza, who has been excellent on all of the ESPN broadcasts she has done since taking over for Curt Schilling, was excellent last night too.

She was great on the nuts and bolts, continued to show that she can describe hitting mechanics better than most color commentators — way more of them seem to be more comfortable talking about pitching — and was a seamless presence in the booth in terms of flow, timbre and all of the aesthetic aspects of broadcasting. If she has a fault thus far it’s that she leans on some cliches about hitters’ mindsets and desire to win sometimes. This puts her in with approximately 100% of all other color commentators in baseball now and throughout the history of baseball, of course, so it’s not really a demerit.

Ultimately, the true test of a good commentator is whether they (a) add insight; and (b) do so without distracting or upstaging the game. In this Mendoza is superior to most commentators in baseball and clearly superior to the “stop and listen to me” brand of analysts the major networks have employed on national broadcasts in recent years.

Indeed, the best compliment I think I can give Mendoza is that she was — in the literal sense, not the judgmental sense — unremarkable. Meaning: during the game and after there was nothing she said or did that was worthy of the highly-critical remarks almost every broadcaster gets, going back through Schilling, Kruk, Harold Reynolds Tim McCarver, Joe Morgan and everyone else ESPN and Fox have forced upon us in their history doing playoff baseball. I’m on Twitter during most playoff games and sometimes the broadcaster bashing is more interesting than the game. Mendoza gives the would-be bashers very little material.

At least those who would bash on the actual merits. There remains a group of deadenders who are irked by her very presence in the booth because she is a woman. The New York times rounds up some of the less mouth-breathery types today, but God knows there are many, many worse. Some of them even in professional media. At least for now. Whether you choose to ignore those people or choose to engage them — which, their dead end opinions notwithstanding can be a useful exercise in my view — know that they are out there being miserable and sexist as God and the First Amendment intended them to be.

While there are many who slam Mendoza on the faulty premise that she lacks credentials and experience in the booth, there was one person in the ESPN booth last night, at least for a while, who was a total TV noob. His name was Chris Archer. He pitches a bit for the Tampa Bay Rays. And lo and behold, he was pretty damn good himself.

Archer needs some polish for style — he has a lot of “ummms” and “uhhhs” about him — but his analysis is both sharp and quick. Meaning he was RIGHT ON the points when he needed to be without any of the usual prompting guests in the booth need from the play-by-play guy. At one point he even flowed into play-by-play and did a pretty good job of it.  Chris: if that pitching stuff doesn’t work out, you have a bright, bright future in television.

So, on the first night of the playoffs, there were no complaints about the broadcast. Mostly because the broadcasters weren’t the stars of the show. The game was. And it was complemented nicely by a couple of good voices.

And John Kruk.

The Cardinals are optimistic about Yadier Molina’s status

St. Louis Cardinals' Yadier Molina celebrates as he arrives home after hitting a solo home run during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the San Francisco Giants Monday, Aug. 17, 2015, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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Jenifer Langosch of reports that Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina‘s bum thumb responded well after participating in baseball activities Tuesday, including catching, hitting, blocking balls and the like.

This morning Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said that he’s now even more optimistic that Molina will be on the NLDS roster. The Cards’ first game will be Friday against the winner of tonight’s Cubs-Pirates tilt.

Having Molina would obviously be a boon for the Cardinals on the field. For a look at what Molina means to the Cardinals off the field, however, take some time to go read Derrick Goold’s excellent story about what Molina’s teammates think of him. Short version: the world. It’s worth your time, even if you’re not a citizen of Cardinals Nation.

Wilmer Flores lost 10 pounds due to strep throat

Wilmer Flores

“Strength and conditioning coaches hate him! Learn this baseball player’s one weird trick for shedding pounds overnight!”

Oh, wait. This is not a weird trick. This is horrible:


Flores will be on the NLDS roster, of course, but it will likely keep him on the bench a great deal. Here’s hoping he’s feeling better soon.