Thursday, October 30, 2014

Game 7: Bumgarner's Herocis and A Little on Gordon's Stopping at Third

About the only thing left to discuss after last nights win by the Giants in Game 7 is where Madison Bumgarner's World Series heroics put him the pantheon of greatness. Well, he is currently a legend, especially in San Francisco. For the record, he was the winning pitcher in three of the Giants four victories. He threw a complete game shutout in Game 5 and then came back with five scoreless relief innings to close out Game 7. Bumgarner threw 21 innings in all, gave up one earned run, nine hits, and one walk. His WHIP was .476.

So, that's an all-time great performance you say? It certainly is, but somewhat surprisingly to me at least, is that it is not unprecedented. In fact, SI's Cliff Corcoran (with valid reasons) ranks Bumgarner's series only 5th among all-time great World Series pitching performances. And he doesn't even mention Mickey Lolich's 1968 performance, which is the one that immediately came to mind for me - as it was the most recent and both Bumgarner and Lolich are lefties.

Upon further review Bob Gibson may be the best comparison. Gibson's 1967 performance is rated above Bumgarner's, and Gibson, like Bumgarner was great in multiple World Series. He went 7-2 with nine complete games and an ERA below 2. Bumgarner is currently 4-0 in 5 starts (and one memorable relief appearance) with a 0.25 ERA in three World Series. It's certainly good company to be mentioned with Gibson - probably better than Lolich.

It will be interesting to see how Bumgarner bounces back next year after throwing close to 270 innings this year (including last night's outing  [what, was it 70 pitches on 2 days rest?]), after never before topping out at more than 225 innings. The multiple-round postseason would seem to put a bit more variable stress on pitchers than when Gibson and Lolich were pitching - those guys went the distance every game in the Series but topped out at 27 extra innings per year. Bumgarner threw over 50 postseason innings this year.

Although, check this out - Lolich, who is not in the Hall of Fame, threw more than 300 innings four years in a row- topping out at 376 when Billy Martin was his manager in 1971. Of course, somewhere in that stretch he lost it. Let's assume the Giants are going to be smarter with Bumgarner.

Could Gordon have scored?
Other big question that came up last night was could Alex Gordon have scored on his hit in the bottom of the ninth that went past Giants' CF Gregor Blanco? Watching it live, it certainly seemed like a possibility - and with a hobbled Salvador Perez coming up next (not to mention the Royals reputation for aggressive baserunning), it crossed my mind that the Royals should have at least forced Giants to make a play at the plate. However, this article on Deadspin contradicts my theory and explains why Gordon would have been out by a mile.

Somewhere in my mind, I'm still skeptical. I think I need to see the Zapruder film on the play before I render my final judgement.

Great season and great series.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Game 7 Tonight

Royals send Jeremy Guthrie vs. Tim Hudson for the Giants in tonight's pitching match-up. It's a rematch of the Game 3 match-up, which saw the Royals prevail 3-2. I know that score makes it sound like a pitchers' duel, but Game 3 was the game where I saw the most good defensive plays in my life. There were like 20 Web-gem quality plays turned, the majority of them by the Royals. To his credit, Guthrie didn't walk anyone, he made the Giants hit the ball, and they hit him hard, but the Royals fielders kept making plays. Can they duplicate this feat in Game 7? I don't know, but they are regarded as a great fielding team.

I don't recall Hudson pitching very well in Game 3, but his stats don't look horrible. He did give up three earned runs in 5 2/3 innings, but only four hits. Of course, that was enough, as the Royals legendary shutdown bullpen took over from there.

Couple variables in place today
  • Top three in Royals bullpen are well rested, so I wouldn't expect Guthrie to have to go more than five, which could be a very good thing. That said, Giants touched up Herrera and Davis in Game 5, and hit Finnegan hard in Game 4, so maybe some of the air of invincibility is gone out from the Royals bullpen - but, it's worth noting that the Royals were behind when Herrera and Davis entered in Game 5, a situation those pitchers are not used to being in, so maybe it affected their mentality. I fully expect them to be tougher if the Royals have the lead in Game 7 (and for Finnegan to be left on the bench - except for maybe to get a lefty batter) when they enter, but the Giants also now know they can be hit and scored on.
  • On the Giants side, the availability of Madison Bumgarner out of the pen would seem to change the dynamics a bit. With him there, when is too early to go to the pen? Do you let Hudson work twice through the order and then pull him - as that is when he got into trouble in Game 3? Of course, you want to stop a full-fledged disaster like the Giants ran into last night in the second inning, when Peavy clearly didn't have it. Royals are a good hitting team up and down the line-up and can put a hurtin' on a bad pitcher. If last night was Game 7, would Bochey have gone to Bumgarner in the second inning? Giants bullpen is also hurt a bit by Petit's looking mortal last night. KC solved him and now his mystique is gone. Such is the drama of a short series.
My prediction is that the Royals will win because of more better hitters and having a better bullpen.

Good luck to both teams.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Bills Take Easy Win from Jets

Best thing about yesterday's game - it was over 50 seconds into the fourth quarter when the Bills went up 37-17, thanks mostly to the sixth Jet turnover of the day - and I could go outside and enjoy the rest of a beautiful afternoon  I hate to say that about a game where we stomped somebody and it probably should be a cause for celebration - but it really wasn't that exciting of a game. Most exciting play was the should've-been 89-yard TD pass to rookie sensation Sammy Watkins who decided he was going to start celebrating at the 10-yardline and got tackled from behind.

Some offensive stats from the game:
  • Bills had 12 first downs
  • Bills averaged 2.1 yards per carry on 32 rushing attempts
  • Kyle Orton dropped back to pass 21 times and was sacked 4 times.
  • Kyle Orton also threw 4 TD passes - and two long completions to Watkins
  • Bills had 15 drives, with 12 of them going 4 plays or less, and 7 plays being the longest drive
  • Bills scored 43 points
  • Jets had 6 turnovers, Bills had none
  • Geno Smith threw 3 interceptions on first eight passes, while completing 2 passes to Jets receivers
  • Michael Vick, called on to replace Smith after his atrocious start, fumbled 4 times, losing two of them.

Yes, this game was even uglier than last week's win over the Vikings, but maybe not as ugly as the win at the Lions. The Bills are certainly becoming masters as winning ugly, but there were some encouraging signs yesterday"
  • Watkins was a monster once again - only 3 catches, but for 150-plus yards, and should've been two TDs
  • Game plan seemed to work, both offensively an defensively. 
  • Offense wasn't very aggressive, but it was almost like once Bills realized how bad the Jets offensive was against our D, we just packed it in, played conservatively and it worked to the tune of 43 points
  • Defense had some trouble once Vick was inserted - to be fair I doubt they prepared for him - but seemed to make the necessary adjustments at halftime to keep him in the pocket and really render him ineffective after that. Hats off to Jim Schwartz
  • Rex Ryan should probably be fired after his team was embarrassed so badly at home, and I think Bills should take some credit for that.
Bye week next Sunday. Try and do some mid-season evaluation.

In the meantime, enjoy the World Series. Giants lead 3-2, but going to be a challenge to close it out. Going back to KC and starting two pitchers who were fairly ineffective vs. Royals first time around. Should be fun!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Saulting a Past KC Sports Hero

After last night's San Francisco thrashing of the Royals in the opening game of the World Series Dr. D sent to a text asking where the great Amos Otis was when you need him. This launched a bit of a volley of names like Paul Splittorff and Dan Quisenberry who were part of some great Royals teams in the 70s and 80s - before their well-documented 20-plus year playoff drought.

This brought my mind around to other formerly great and someone obscure Kansas City sports stars of the past and one guy in particular, Ed Podolak:

I don't know what else to say about the ex-Chiefs running back that this picture can't. He played for the Chiefs for 9 years, '69-77, so he was there for my coming of age as a football fan. Problem was that while I remember him being regarded as good, I never really thought he was. He best year was probably 1973, one of my favorite years as it's when my sports memories basically start, as Ed had more than 1,100 yards from scrimmage that year and also returned punts. He finished his career with a strong season in 1977, but the problem was that Chiefs mostly sucked from 1973 through 1977, after being a powerhouse early in Podolak's career. So I remember him as like the best (at least the most focal) player on some pretty bad teams. Previous to that he had had a playoff game vs. Miami where he accounted for more than 300 total yards.

But look at him. Is it any wonder that if you Google his name, you get a link to a story titled "Is Ed Podolak the most underappreciated Iowa football icon?" Basically, he's a white halfback who wore number 14 in a day and age when the top halfbacks were the likes of O.J. Simpson, Franco Harris, and Walter Payton - all shifty fast black dudes with cool names who wore numbers in the '30s? Ed Podolak, well, there's this: 

That's right, check out that 'stache. I just want to finish by saying, that like the Iowa football program, Ed, I too, as a youngster ignorant to the nuances of the game, probably underappreciated your abilities on the football field. Nice work and great career.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Bills-Vikings Recap; World Series Starts Tonight

Haven't had a chance to post lately. Been caught up with such things as educating my kids on Batman - both the TV Series, which is currently running on IFC and Frank Miller's origins story, trying to finish Malcolm Gladwell's fascinating David and Goliath book, and, of course, my day job.

I did, as usual find time to watch Sunday's game vs. Dr. D's Vikings, which the Bills famously pulled out 17-16 on a last-second TD pass to superstar Sammy Watkins. That TD was preceded by two other incredible completions, one on a 4th-and-20, while the Bills were rushing to get the play off to save time, and the other a 28-yard pass to the half-yard line to UFA Chris Hogan (from his Wikipedia page: "He played college football for one season at Monmouth after graduating from Penn State in 2010 on a lacrosse scholarship.), on the second-to-last play of the game to set up the TD.

Kyle Orton was very good on this last drive-after the Bills offense had struggled most of the game. One difference between Orton and E.J. Manuel is that Orton is much less afraid to take chances. And this certainly results in screw-ups, including a costly interception and fumble vs. the Vikings, but the upside is what happened on that last drive.

This on-target ESPN blog post kind of sums up my feelings about the state of the team right now.

 The win was sort of an inverse of the Lions win from a couple weeks back. While the Lions did a great job giving the Bills the opportunity to win that game, the Bills gave the Vikings every opportunity on Sunday with four costly turnovers. But in the end, I guess the Vikings didn't want the win bad enough - of course it helps to have Sammy Watkins on our side.

For the second out of three games, the rookie wideout dominated play when the Bills had the ball, finishing with 9 catches for 122 yards and two TDs. He did similar work against the Lions - after the Bills mysteriously threw to him only three times against the Patriots two weeks ago. Okay, former all-world corner Darrell Revis was covering Watkins- so maybe the game plan was not so mysterious - but as I had said previously, Stevie always had success vs. Revis, so why were we so scared of him? (Maybe cuz Marrone is only in his second year and Revis played for Tampa last year, so he missed all that Stevie success?)

Biggest pause in the Vikings game had to be our sloppy run defense. Even without the legendary AP, Vikings gashed us for 158 yards on 29 carries, averaging 5.4 a tote. Good thing Teddy Bridewater struggled to throw effectively, especially early on.

Also, World Series starts tonight in KC. Do you realize that the betting underdog has won every series so far in this year's postseason? That means Giants should take the Series.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Patriots Way Smarter than Bills

The Bills have now lost to the Patriots 6 times in a row and 21 out of the last 22 times the two teams have played over the last decade or so. Pretty incredible. Of course, during this time, the Patriots have had one coach and one quarterback. The Bills, by contrast, have had at least four coaches (depending if you count Perry Fewell, who was an interim) and started at least 7 quarterbacks, and probably more.

Here's an interesting article I came across that gives you an idea of why divisional games are often so weird and hard to predict. It's about the Eagles coming up with a method for countering a Giants scheme that the G-Men had come up with for attacking the Eagles inside zone blocking scheme. Basically, the point I'm trying to make is that divisional rivals play each other so often that they invest a lot in strategies to beat each other. And the bottom line is that Brady and Belichick are better strategists that whoever the Bills are throwing at them.

Yesterday's game was a prime example. The score at halftime was 13-7, although it should have been 7-7 if not for some horrible in-game strategy by Bills coach Doug Marrone at the end of the half. And the Patriots' 7 was mostly the result of another bad Kyle Orton interception. In the first half, Brady completed 12-of-20 passes for just 88 yards. Our defense was doing really well.

Then, my friend Matt, who I'm watching the game with, utters the fateful worlds, "I wonder what kind of adjustments the Bills will make on halftime." After which, we look at each other and both laugh knowingly. "It's the Patriots who will likely make the proper adjustments," we said almost simultaneously.

Yes, we are both long-time Bills fans and Brady's second-half stats proved how correct we were. 15-of-17 for 273 yards and 3 TDs. Game over. Another loss for the Bills.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Bills, and Baseball Champtionship Series Predictions

Quite a bit to catch up on. Had a very busy week at my day job, with a newsletter deadline that I completed earlier in the day. Hurrah!

Okay, so I was wrong on three out of my four Divisional Series predictions, which pretty  much shoots my credibility to hell after I went two-for-two in the Wild Card games. Funny thing about the Wild Card round is that all four of the lower-seeded teams won. Cards-Dodgers was riveting action and I expect the same out of Cards-Giants - two great teams with great fan bases. Orioles-Royals I'm not quite as excited about - although a business colleague/friend of mine from Baltimore called today to let me know one of his best friends, Boog Powell, is throwing out the first pitch in the opener, so that's pretty cool.

In the ALCS, I'm taking the Orioles, just because from what I've seen of them this year they have been awesome and I've seen less awesomeness (maybe it just has to do with volume - as the Orioles beat up on the Yankees pretty good) from the Royals. In the NLCS, I like the Cardinals. I really thought the Dodgers had a better squad, but the Cards totally found ways to beat them - who were also being very poorly managed (at least on a strategic level) by Donnie Baseball. Even though the Giants are great at finding ways to win too, I think the Cardinals have more talent  (plus they are great at to find ways to win), so that gives them the advantage.

Now, to the Bills who match up with their nemesis/rival Patriots who are coming off a stomping of Cincinnati. This is actually a pretty good match-up for the Bills, with their strong defensive line against the Patriots relatively weak o-line. Plus, against the Chiefs at least, the Patriots could not stop the run and that is our strong point. That said, they have Tom Brady playing quarterback and we have Kyle Orton.
I really want to pick the Bills in this one, because we're playing at home and are going to have an emotional lift with the new ownership presiding over its first game. Also, the Patriots aside from last week, have kind of sucked this year. That said, the Patriots offense looked really good against the Bengals, with several quick strike throws that - if they are able to complete those against the Bills and our mediocre secondary - will neutralize our rush, and we'll be sunk.

Also, I fully expect Belichick to come up with a defensive scheme that will put the game in Orton's hands, and with Revis set to cover Watkins, that may be a tough order. Then again, Stevie always had success against Revis, why can't Watkins? (Seriously, if you have thoughts on this please let me know and maybe I'll change my pick). I'm going to go for it and pick the Bills by a field goal - go Dan Carpenter!.

Also, the Bills-Pats game is being aired on Fox this week, as part of something called the "cross-flex plan," part of which is designed "to to bring potentially under-distributed games to wider audiences." This is great new for Bills fans in Erie, as WSEE/CBS is carrying the Browns-Steelers game at 1 p.m. (as well they should be based on rooting interests in the area). But, according to this map at least, Erie's Fox 66 will be carrying the Bills-Patriots game. Once again, Hurrah!

Monday, October 06, 2014

Playoff Predictions Update

Well, after call both wild card games right, I sure messed up on my ALDS predictions. Not only did the Tigers and Angels lose, they did so in spectacular fashion, getting swept, setting up an ALCS (championship series) match-up between the Royals and Orioles. that doesn't start until Friday. That will give us the rest of the week to focus on the NLDS series, although the Giants-Nats could be over tonight - going the way I predicted - with Giants up 2-0 and their ace, Madison Bumgarner, on the hill tonight.

Cards-Dodgers played two very tight first games, including Friday's epic opener, a 10-9 win comeback win by the Cards against NL presumptive CY Young award winner and potential MVP Clayton Kershaw. Dodgers came back with a one-run win on Saturday. Tonight we see Dodgers' Korean ace Hyun-jin Ryu (who is third in Dodgers' stacked rotation ) against Cardinals veteran John Lackey. Normally, I'd like Ryu, as he is one of my favorite pitchers, against the ex-Seawolves hurler (yes, Lackey spent part of the 2000 season in Erie, when he was Angels farmhand and we had the Angels Double AA affiliate), but Ryu has been hurt and hasn't pitched effectively in a while, so I really don't know what to expect, except for some more exciting baseball.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Thanks for the Win Lions

The old saying is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I'm fairly certain Bills' win today over the Lions was pretty enough for Doug  Marrone and his staff. I'll start out by saying that the Bills defense certainly played beautifully. I mean it gave up one offensive touchdown, 263 net yards, 13 first downs, had six sacks. ( recap). That said, Lions seemed lost on offense without Calvin Johnson, who was injured and not playing at 100% and then (to the Bills D's credit) got tatooed by Leodis McKelvin and was knocked out of the game completely after one short catch. Also, the Lions kicker, I don't remember his names except that I tweeted @RalphsGrill "Worst Kicker Ever," was 0-for-3 on field goals - and missing the last one put the Bills in field position to enable them to win the game in the final minute/seconds.

On offense, Watkins was a monster with 7 catches for 87 years, several being fairly good grabs with his apparently giant hands. He also, as is typical of his play, seemed to be open quite often. Freddie, was Freddie, with several tough outstanding plays. His will alone helps carry the team. Then there was Orton. To his credit, he wasn't as bad as I feared he would be. He got hit hard several times, but took only two sacks. Mainly he stood in the pocket and looked increasingly comfortable back there as the game went on. He's not prime Brett Favre, but he certainly throws the ball better than E.J. does. That spiral to Goodwin down the sideline to set up our TD and was probably the difference in the game - well, that and the Detroit kicker. Orton also at least gave Watkins a chance to catch several balls, by putting them in the vicinity of his body and letting him snare them.

Was this what Marrone had in mind when he decided to start Orton? Well, I'm sure somewhat, but really the Lions played horribly and allowed us to win. I guess Manuel could have screwed it up, but the win was kind of a gift. That said, Orton and the offense surely looked better in the second half, so maybe there is some hope.

Oh yes, and Dan Carpenter is great. (True story, you can believe it or not, but my kids are witnesses. Before Lions kicker attempted his ill fated final kick, I said, "Bills just won the game. He will miss, Orton will throw one pass to Watkins, we'll call time out and Carpenter will hit a 60-yarder." Almost exactly what happened. So, that was cool....) I did get my pregame prediction wrong and I'll gladly accept the L. Next week at home vs. the Patriots. I'll wait on my pick to see how the Pats fare tonight vs. Bengals.

Friday, October 03, 2014

N.L. Divisoinal Series Predictions

Okay, so neither of my A.L. predictions is off to a good start. We all knew the Orioles had a much better bullpen than the Tigers and that the Royals relievers were better than the Angels, and being a Yankees fan and recalling their great bullpens of the championship years, maybe I should have known better...We will see how these series play out and Kansas City may have been a little lucky yesterday (and luck may be part of their thing), but at this point, in short five game series, KC and Baltimore have obviously moved into the drivers' seats. Of course, it didn't help that the Angels 2-4 hitters, including Trout and Pujols, went 0-for-13, and Josh Hamilton threw up an 0-for a little further down in the order. Obviously still sticking with my original picks (as not to show gutlessness) but my streak of correctness on prognostications is clearly in jeopardy.

As for the N.L. Championship Series - tonight's Wainwright vs. Kershaw match-up promises to be a classic. A bit of an odd start time, at 6:37 p.m. Eastern, but schedule makers are dealing with a full-day of baseball- four playoff games, which could also happen Monday if no one is yet eliminated. This is a potentially delicious occurence, and I have half a mind to plant myself in front of the TV at noon and enjoy it all in high-def and stereo, but that likely won't happen as I do have a day job I need to attend to.

Anyhow, I would at least like to be in front of a TV for the Dodgers-Cardinals game. My pick for that series is the Dodgers, because I think they have a better team. Also, this is the second year of their having basically the same group of guys together and I think they will turn the tables on the Cardinals who have had a bit more turnover since knocking the Dodgers out of last year's playoffs in the NLCS.

On the other side of the bracket, I like the Giants over the Nationals, well, because they are the Giants. The last two times the Giants have been in the playoffs, 2010 and 2012, they have won the World Series. Not sure that is going to happen this year, but I at least think they can get by the Nats, who have tons of talent and had a great regular season, but I'm not sure have the grit of the Giants.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

A.L. Divisional Series Picks

Giants sure made me look good yesterday, as the game played out pretty close to what I predicted. Unfortunately, for non-Giants fans, it just wasn't as close as I had expected. The Giants playoff experience shined through-with the whole team looking non-plussed while stomping the Pirates. Just another game for a team that has won two of the past four World Series.

On to prognostications for the A.L. Divisional Series, which begin tonight. I think it is going to be the Tigers over the Orioles and the Angels over the Royals. Basically, I'm going to the well once again and basing my picks on playoff experience. Tigers have been a fixture in the postseason over the past several years and were in the World Series as recently as two years ago vs. the Giants. Royals, well they just ended like a million year playoff drought.

While the Angels haven't been in the playoffs in a couple years, they have Albert Pujos and David Freese playing the corners - two gentlemen who were instrumental in the Cardinals World Championship in 2011 and I fully expect them to set the tone for the team. On top, of that the Angels have the best player in baseball in Mike Trout making his first postseason appearance. Based on what we've seen out of Trout during his first three regular seasons, I have no reason to expect anything less than excellence in this series. Orioles are a great story, play with great fire, but Buck Showalter has never managed a team to a Major League postseason series victory and unfortunately (as I like rooting for the guy), I don't expect that to change this year vs. a Mike Socioscia-led squad that appears to have more horses. Somehow managed to bullocks that bit up.

I will save my N.L. Divisional picks for tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Pirates. vs. Giants Prediction

So, maybe last night's Royals-A's game didn't quite play out the way I projected it to, but the bottom line is that I was right on yet another prediction, making me five-for-five since I started doing prognostications this fall. Ned Yost is crazy like a fox and I'll just leave it at that.

As for tonight, even though he finished the season really strong, I really don't see Edinson Volquez being able to stand up well enough against the Giants playoff experience. As much as I hate to say it, I like the other Bay Area team's chances against the homestanding Buccos. However, it should be a fun game, just like last night's.