Thursday, October 15, 2015
Only The Blue Survive This Postseason
YESTERDAY IN POSTSEASON PLAY:
The ALCS is now set with the Blue Jays and Royals overcoming some determined opposition in their
respective five game series. For Toronto it all came down to a pivotal 7th inning when the Rangers defense went to sleep, the Blue Jays bats came alive, and Cole Hamels post season magic began to fade. For the Royals it was all about stringing hits together and hoping that Jonny Cueto could find his early season form in October. Both came to fruition as they eliminated the Astros making the Minute Maid orange look more like a pumpkin. And now there is only one division series remaining as the Mets and Dodgers determine who will host the Cubs in the NLCS in one of the best pitching matchups of the postseason.
Blue Jays Eliminate Rangers 6-3
The Blue Jays are heading to the American League Championship Series for the first time since 1993, and it was one of the biggest home runs in franchise history that got them there. Jose Bautista's three-run homer capped a frenzied seventh inning and allowed Toronto to dispose of the Texas Rangers with a 6-3 victory in Game 5 of the American League Division Series at Rogers Centre on Wednesday evening. The Rangers had a 2-0 series lead, but the Blue Jays became just the third team in history to win a best-of-five postseason series after losing the first two games at home, joining the 2001 Yankees and the 2012 Giants. Both of them advanced to the World Series, and the Giants won it all. The Blue Jays will face the Royals in Game 1 of the best-of-seven ALCS on Friday night at 7:30 ET (FOX/Sportsnet) in Kansas City. The whole series boiled down to a 53-minute, insane seventh inning with the highest of highs in one dugout and the polar opposite across the diamond. The dramatic twists and turns of events in that span were unlike any other in postseason memory. Toronto tied the game, 2-2, on Edwin Encarnacion's home run in the sixth, but Texas reclaimed a 3-2 lead on a fluke play that started the seventh inning on a bizarre path that would define the series. "I've never seen anything like that in 19 years in baseball," said Blue Jays starter R.A. Dickey. "It was like a novel that you don't want to put down." Rougned Odor was on third base with two outs when Shin-Soo Choo took a fastball for ball two. Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin tried to throw the ball back to relief pitcher Aaron Sanchez, but it hit Choo's hand, holding the bat, and ricocheted toward third base. Odor broke home and scored. Umpire Dale Scott called a dead ball and sent Odor back to third, but Rangers manager Jeff Banister asked Scott to convene with the other umpires to discuss the play. They reversed the decision and allowed Odor's run to count, calling a crew-chief review for a rule check in a sequence that prompted Blue Jays manager John Gibbons to initiate an official protest, which Toronto withdrew after its victory. "I really didn't see his hand out there," Martin said of Choo. "I just caught the ball and threw it back very casually and it hit his bat, and next thing you know a run scores.” "It never happened in my life before. I don't really know what the rule is. He was in the box. I mean, it's just one of those moments and it created an opportunity for us to do something special. Jose, the hero. My college teammate picking me up right there. Unbelievable man." The Blue Jays didn't waste time grabbing back the momentum, however, thanks to a series of miscues in the bottom half of the inning. Before recording an out, the Rangers became the first team in postseason history to make three errors in a single inning of a sudden-death game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, loading the bases. Two batters later, the tying run scored on a little blooper off the bat of Josh Donaldson that barely went over the head of Odor at second. Bautista then followed with Toronto's biggest home run since Joe Carter hit a walk-off shot in Game 6 to win the 1993 World Series. It was a no-doubter that Bautista admired as it hit off the facing of the second deck, much to the delight of the sold-out crowd, but it led to the first of two bench-clearing scenes in the inning after Bautista flung his bat high into the air. "I was looking for something up," Bautista said. "He throws hard with a sinker. He threw the first one down and I just said tee it up, and I put a great swing on it and it felt great." The loss went to Texas ace Cole Hamels, who began the seventh inning but was pulled after Toronto tied the game at 3-3. He allowed five runs (two earned) on four hits, two walks and eight strikeouts. Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman took the no-decision after he came through with six strong innings that saw him allow two runs on six hits and a walk. "I'm not ready to go home," third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "I can't process it. I'm not ready for it to be over. It's not supposed to happen but it did."
Royals Eliminate Astros 7-2
In the biggest game of his career, right-hander Johnny Cueto delivered, holding down the Astros for eight innings on two hits and two runs while helping the Royals secure a 7-2 victory in Game 5 of the American League Division Series on Wednesday night, sending them on to face the Blue Jays in the AL Championship Series. The Royals, the defending AL champions, open the ALCS on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET on FOX/Sportsnet) against the Blue Jays at Kauffman Stadium. It's a rematch of the 1985 ALCS, won by Kansas City in seven games. The victory likely helped boost the mood of the local community in the wake of the heartbreaking news of the two Kansas City Fire Department firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty on Monday night. The Royals honored their memories in pregame ceremonies. A performance like Wednesday's is what the Royals had in mind when they traded with the Reds to acquire Cueto, who struggled during an awful late-season five-game stretch in which he carried a 9.57 ERA. But Cueto was nails when it mattered most, setting down the last 19 hitters he faced Wednesday, as he became the first to retire the last 19 he faced in a postseason game since Phillies ace Roy Halladay set down 21 Cardinals in a row in 2011. The 19 consecutive batters retired were the most by an AL pitcher in the postseason since Don Larsen's perfect game for the Yankees in the 1956 World Series. "Games like this is where you see Johnny Cueto, the real Johnny Cueto come out," Cueto said. "I told my teammates I was going to show up today and get this 'W' for them. I woke up today on the right foot. As soon as I woke up, I felt something magic that this was Game 5 and I had to show up for everybody, for my team and the fans." "He was unbelievably good," Kansas City manager Ned Yost said. "He didn't make a bad pitch all night. That pitch that [Luis] Valbuena hit was a good pitch. He came in after the eighth inning and was lobbying to go back out in the ninth. And I'm like, 'Look, I got the best reliever [Wade Davis] in the game down there; he's going to come in and close it out.'" The Astros' storybook season ended after winning the AL Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser over the Yankees and having a 2-1 lead in this series over the Royals. Valbuena had given Houston a 2-0 lead on Wednesday with a two-run jack in the second inning. "It's very tough. There's not a man in that room that wanted the season to end," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "There's going to be 29 teams that go through what we're going through today. There's going to be one champion. So it hurts. It hurts to know that we put everything that we could into this season and it ends abruptly. Seasons like this end really quickly, and you're never ready for it. It never feels good." Alex Rios put the Royals ahead with a two-run double to left in the fifth inning. And Kendrys Morales, who homered twice in Game 1, sealed it with a three-run homer in the eighth off Astros ace Dallas Keuchel, who came on in relief. "This is a big step for us," Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said in a postgame interview on FOX Sports 1. "We worked real hard to get back to this point. You've got to tip your cap to Houston right there, they played a heck of a series. It seemed like we were coming back or we were behind with our backs against the wall pretty much every single game. So just a great series overall. I'm glad we could come out on top."
POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS: Read my post from October 6th to see how many I have gotten wrong!
CURRENT POSTSEASON PICTURE:
American League Division Series
Kansas City Eliminated Houston 3-2
ALCS Game 1: Friday, October 16, at 7:30 PM
Toronto Eliminated Texas 3-2
ALCS Game 1: Friday, October 16, at 7:30 PM
National League Division Series
Chicago Eliminated St. Louis 3-1
NLCS Game 1: Tuesday, October 13, at 4:30 PM
New York and Los Angeles tied 2-2
Game 5: Thursday, October 15, at 8:00 PM
National League Championship Series
Chicago at TBD
Game 1: Saturday, October 17, at TBD
American League Championship Series
Toronto at Kansas City
Game 1: Friday, October 16, at 7:30 PM
MacPhail Takes The Reigns – A new era of leadership has officially begun. The Phillies announced Wednesday morning that Andy MacPhail has officially replaced Pat Gillick as team president. He had been introduced as the incoming president at a news conference in June, but with the caveat that Gillick would remain at the helm through the end of the season. "As the Phillies begin this new chapter in the club's history, we are confident that Andy is the right person to lead the organization," Phillies partner John Middleton said in a statement. "Speaking on behalf of the ownership group, we are pleased with the input Andy has provided over the past few months. His years of baseball knowledge, combined with his passion for the game, are important as he moves forward with his primary objective of developing a championship-caliber team." But MacPhail, 62, clearly has not been sitting and waiting for Wednesday to begin making changes. He was very involved before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. He decided Ruben Amaro Jr. would not return as general manager. He also decided Pete Mackanin would remain manager. MacPhail has been interviewing candidates to replace Amaro, a group that reportedly includes Larry Beinfest, Kim Ng and Ross Atkins. Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo and Angels assistant Matt Klentak, among others, also could be candidates. MacPhail has said he hopes to announce Amaro's replacement before the end of the month. Gillick, who replaced David Montgomery as president in August 2014, said last month he did not know about his future with the organization, but Middleton said Gillick will remain. "I would also like to thank Pat Gillick for, once again, providing invaluable leadership to the Phillies for the past 14 months," Middleton said. "He will continue to assist the front office in an advisory role." Gillick, 78, has a small ownership stake in the Phillies, so if he wanted to join a different organization, he would have to sell his share.
Phils Officially In Rebuild Mode – The Phillies just finished their worst season since 1972, but they hope history repeats itself. The '72 Phillies hit rock bottom, but the organization had a talented farm system and talented young players already in the big leagues when it happened. They eventually formed a core that made the postseason six times from 1976-83, including winning the 1980 World Series championship. The Phillies hope they hit the floor in 2015, but they expect improvement in '16, with the idea they can compete for the postseason as early as '17. But first things first. The Phillies finished their season without a general manager. President Andy MacPhail said he would like to find somebody before the end of the month. Ruben Amaro Jr.'s replacement has plenty of work to do. Here is a look at what the team might look like when Spring Training opens in February: Arbitration eligible: infielders Andres Blanco and Freddy Galvis; outfielder Domonic Brown; right-hander Jeanmar Gomez. Free agents: right-handers Chad Billingsley, Aaron Harang and Jerome Williams; left-hander Cliff Lee (club option); and outfielder Jeff Francoeur. Rotation: The Phillies need some serious rotation help. Free agents Billingsley, Harang and Williams are not expected to return and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez might not pitch again for the Phillies, considering his checkered health history. It means the Phillies will need to find at least a couple veteran starters to fill out the rotation. Do not expect the Phillies to commit to big-money contracts. It is too early for that. Instead expect them to sign starters like J.A. Happ or Doug Fister, potential placeholders until the team knows it truly has a core to reach the postseason. Of course, the Phillies will fill the rotation with internal pieces, too. Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff are heavy favorites to win jobs. Adam Morgan has a line on one. Matt Harrison, Alec Asher, David Buchanan and others will have the opportunity to win jobs, too. Bullpen: The bullpen struggled at times this season, with the exception of Jonathan Papelbon (traded in July) and Ken Giles. Gomez, Luis Garcia, Elvis Araujo and Dalier Hinojosa put together solid performances. It seems likely the Phillies will sign a few veteran relievers to stabilize the bullpen. But once again, do not expect them to pursue the highest-priced free agents on the market. Catcher: It would not be a surprise to see both Carlos Ruiz and Cameron Rupp back. If so, Rupp is the likely candidate to start Opening Day as Ruiz suffered the worst season of his career. Ruiz turns 37 in January, but he has value as a backup. (Not to mention he will be paid $8.5 million.) Chooch can continue to work with the team's young pitchers as well as mentor catching prospects Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp in Spring Training. Don't rule out the possibility that Knapp, who the Phillies named their Minor League Player of the Year, sees time with the Phillies at some point. Teams rarely use only two catchers over the course of a season, and if Knapp is playing well he could get a shot. Alfaro is promising, but he missed much of the season with an ankle injury. He needs more seasoning in the Minors. First base: Will Ryan Howard return? He will make $35 million next season, which includes a $10 million buyout on a 2017 club option. Howard performed well against right-handed pitchers this year, but he struggled terribly against lefties. He essentially is a platoon player at this point. If Howard and Darin Ruf return they could form a pretty respectable duo as Ruf hit left-handers very well. Second base: Cesar Hernandez is expected to open next season at second base. The Phillies saw enough potential offensively to give him a longer look. But Hernandez is going to have to perform because there are prospects coming through the system that could force the Phillies to make some position changes. Shortstop: Galvis will open the season as the team's shortstop, but top prospect J.P. Crawford is breathing down his neck. Crawford finished the season in Double-A Reading, but he is expected to open next season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. If Crawford continues to progress, it will be difficult to keep him in the Minors. And if Crawford is promoted at some point next season he will be promoted to play shortstop and play every day. If that happens, Galvis could move to second base if Hernandez is not performing. Or he could fall into a super utility role. Third base: Maikel Franco has this job locked up, assuming he is healthy. He showed he can be a productive bat in the middle of the lineup, which the Phillies desperately need. Of all the positions on the roster, this is the easiest one to predict. Outfield: Odubel Herrera is expected to be the Opening Day center fielder. He earned it. But who plays the corners? It is unlikely Brown returns. Aaron Altherr has earned a longer look. Cody Asche will get another look, although he really must pick up his production. The Phillies see Asche as somebody who could hit 15-20 home runs with 75-90 RBIs. He fell woefully short in RBIs this year. The Phillies could bring back Francoeur, which makes sense. (If Francoeur is not brought back, the Phillies are likely to pursue another veteran outfielder.) The Phillies need a vocal veteran to show the team's young players how to act during a long season and how to react to adversity. Top outfield prospect Nick Williams finished his season in Double-A. Like Crawford, he is expected to open the season in Triple-A. He could join the team at some point.
The Phillies finally put an end to the season finishing in last place in the NL East with a record of 63-99. Given the departures, aging stars, injuries, and bipolar performances this season, this has ended up being one of the worst seasons in franchise history! However, there are some former Phillies still making headlines in the playoffs this year.