Playoff Reset: The National League Wild Card Game

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The Game: San Francisco Giants vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, National League Wild Card Game
The Time: 8:00 PM Eastern
The Place: PNC Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The Channel: ESPN
The Starters: Madison Bumgarner vs. Edinson Volquez

The Upshot:

  • I’d say something snarky about how throwing Edinson Volquez out there in a win-or-go-home game is a fool’s errand, but after watching a Jon Lester-James Shields matchup turn into a crazy, bullpen-heavy game in which 17 runs were scored, we should probably know now that you can’t predict anything about this crazy game. Other than it’s amazing and wonderful and no amount of pre-game analysis matters when randomness rules the baseball universe. That said: if you told me that a team had Edinson Volquez on the hill when it’s fighting for its continued playoff life, I’d say you’re smart to have money on the other team.
  • Of course, this is not exactly the same Edinson Volquez we’ve seen for the past few years. He went from someone getting shelled on a regular basis during his stints with the Padres, Dodgers and Reds to a fairly reliable guy in 2014, posting a 3.04 ERA in 32 games. The Giants have historically hit him well, but that history all came before this year. More recently, Volquez is 5-0 with a 1.64 ERA in his last 11 starts. For him, it all seems to be about his mechanics, which in the past have been erratic. Whether it’s the Pirates’ coaching staff or Russell Martin’s steady hand behind the plate, Volquez has been a different guy this year.
  • There’s way less uncertainty on the other side of the matchup. Madison Bumgarner is the Giants’ ace, and he’s a good one at that. He was 18-10 this year with a 2.98 ERA and he strikes out a batter an inning. He has pitched in two World Series before, so the moment is not going to rattle him. Pirates’ lefties Ike Davis and Gregory Polanco should finalize their will. Starling Marte, on the other hand, has destroyed lefties and the two most important bats for Pittsburgh — Andrew McCutchen and Martin — bat from the right, so it’s not the worst possible matchup for the Pirates.
  • The crowd is going to be crazy. We saw this last year when the Pirates faced the Reds in the Wild Card Game and again in the NLDS against the Cardinals. The Giants are a veteran team who has been there and done that, but it should be a pretty electric atmosphere. It’s probably no accident that the Pirates are one of the best teams at home in all of baseball. Of course, Bumgarner is a good road pitcher.
  • I have a hard time seeing Volquez not be overly-amped at the start of this game and so I feel the pitching matches up way better for San Francisco. But it’s also the fact that the best players on offense are on the Pirates’ side of the ledger with McCutchen and Marte and that, after Buster Posey, the Giants’ offensive weapons have been a lot more erratic this year, especially in the second half.

This is a true pick ’em game, maybe even more than the Royals-A’s game was. But if we learned anything from that game, it’s that pickin’ ’em in a one-game playoff is a sucker’s game.

Justin Verlander laughed at after saying Astros were “technologically and analytically advanced”

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Justin Verlander was at the annual Baseball Writers Association of America banquet last night, on hand to accept the 2019 Cy Young Award. Normally such things are pretty routine events, but nothing is routine with the Houston Astros these days.

During his acceptance speech, Verlander made some comments about the Astros’ “technological and analytical advancements.” The comments were greeted by some laughter in the room as well as some groans. At least one person on hand claimed that other players present were visibly angry.

It’s hard to tell the context of it all without a full video — maybe Verlander meant it as a joke, maybe the reactions were more varied than is being described — but here’s how reporters on hand for it last night are describing it:

If it was a joke it was ill-timed, as not many around the game think the sign-stealing stuff is funny at the moment. Especially in light of the fact that, despite having several opportunities to do so, Astros players have failed to show any accountability for their cheating.

And yes, that includes former Astros Dallas Keuchel, who was praised for “apologizing” at a White Sox fan event on Friday, but whose “apology” was couched in a lot of deflection and excuse-making about how it was just something that was done at the time and about how technology was to blame. Keuchel also tried to minimize it, saying that the Astros didn’t do it all the time. Which is rich given that the most prominent video evidence of their trash can-banging scheme came from a blowout Astros win in a meaningless August game against a losing team. If they were doing it in that situation, please, do not tell me they weren’t doing it when games really mattered.

Anyway, I’d like to think Verlander was just trying to take a stab at a joke here, because Verlander is the wrong guy to be sending to be sending any kind of messages diminishing the cheating given that he has a pretty solid track record of holding other players’ feet to the fire when they get busted.

For example, here he was in 2018 after Robinson Canó got busted for PEDs:

Of course, consistency can be a problem for Verlander when his teammates are on the ones who are on the hook. Here was his response to Tigers infielder Jhonny Peralta being suspended in the wake of the Biogenesis scandal:

“Everybody makes mistakes. He’s my brother. We fight and bleed and sweat together on the baseball field. If my brother makes a mistake, especially if he owns up to it and serves his time, I don’t see how you can hold a grudge or anything like that. “It’s one thing to step up and be a man and own up to his mistake.”

Verlander, it should also be noted, was very outspoken about teams engaging in advanced sign-stealing schemes once upon a time. here he was in 2017, while still with the Tigers, talking about such things in a June 2017 interview with MLive.com.

“We don’t have somebody, but I’m sure teams have a person that can break down signals and codes and they’ll have the signs before you even get out there on the mound.  It’s not about gamesmanship anymore. It used to be, ‘Hey, if you can get my signs, good for you.’ In the past, if a guy on second (base) was able to decipher it on a few pitches, I guess that was kind of part of the game. I think it’s a different level now. It’s not good.”

Which makes me wonder how he felt when he landed on the Astros two months later and realized they had a sophisticated cheating operation underway. If the feelings were mixed, he was able to bury the part of them which had a problem with it, because he’s said jack about it since this all blew up in November. And, of course, has happily accepted the accolades and the hardware he he has received since joining Houston, some of which was no doubt acquired by virtue of a little extra, ill-gotten run support.

Anyway, wake me up when someone — anyone — associated with the Astros shows some genuine accountability about this.