It’s finally here! The World Series kicks off tonight with Game 1, and two long-storied franchises with histories of futility and new-school front offices will face off. There’s narrative aplenty here--if you want more on that, check out Aaron Gleeman’s overall, seven-game series preview, breaking things down from every angle--but now it’s time to talk up the primary actors for Game 1. That starts with the two ace starting pitchers: Corey Kluber and Jon Lester.
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Notes on Anthony Alford, Brent Honeywell, Nick Gordon, Lew Ford (!?) and, yes, Tim Tebow.
Hitter of the Day:
Anthony Alford, OF, Toronto Blue Jays (AFL Mesa Solar Sox): 2-3, BB, 2 R, 2B, HR, 3 RBI. Alford’s tantalizing tools were stuck in the garage for big chunks of this season, but he’s built quite the foundation in Arizona thus far. Seventy-grade speed and potentially plus defense in center set a nice floor for his profile, and his advanced approach for a player who is still relatively baseball-raw is encouraging given the physical gifts. He has the talent to emerge as one of the breakout stars of this year’s AFL if he can keep up anything close to his early pace.
In one corner, the immovable object that is the Chicago Cubs’ 108-year championship drought. In the other corner, the unstoppable force that is the Cleveland Indians’ 68-year title-less streak. Something’s got to give!
Why haven't opposing teams and managers, including the Indians and Terry Francona, done more to exploit Jon Lester's throwing problesm?
The last time he faced his former manager, Jon Lester spun an old-fashioned gem, in an old-fashioned Monday afternoon game at Wrigley Field. It was August of 2015, and the Cubs were hosting the Indians in a wrong-footed getaway-day game, forced into the schedule on what had been an off day for both teams after rain washed out a contest in June.
Lester pitched 8 ⅔ innings and nearly beat the Tribe 1-0, but ended up allowing the tying run before departing. Kris Bryant won the game with an opposite-field walk-off home run in the next half inning. The character of Lester’s effort was strange, though. He scattered six hits, a walk, and two hit batsmen over his long outing. It’s not normal, in today’s MLB, for a pitcher to allow nine baserunners in a start and still nearly complete the outing with just a single tally on the board.
And suddenly, Andrew Miller is the toast of the baseball world. Miller, whose previous claims to fame included being “the guy picked right before Clayton Kershaw”, won the ALCS MVP award by turning the clock back to the 1970s and (get this!) pitching multiple innings in relief, and coming into the game in the (gasp!) fifth and sixth inning.
It’s been about eleven months since the Dodgers plunked eight figures into Diaz’s then-19-year-old lap, and by season’s end things were really starting to come together for the kid. That signing bonus represented the third-largest ever given to a Cuban player subject to pool restrictions, and it paired him with right-hander Yadier Alvarez as the faces of Los Angeles’ massive international outlay during the 2015 signing period. Come spring time, the club made an aggressive decision to assign him to High-A after the briefest of cameos in Arizona. He spent the entire remainder of the season as the second-youngest regular in the California League.
That’s a lot to handle for any young player, let alone a kid coming to America for the first time and trying to learn a brand new language and set of cultural norms. The challenges he’d face certainly weren’t lost on those in the organization charged with helping him navigate them. “Baseball is all interconnected,” philosophizes Drew Saylor, Diaz’s precocious first-year manager at Rancho Cucamonga. “What we do off the field affects what we do on the field, and vice-a-versa. The primary growth opportunity at the beginning of the season was for him to get to be comfortable inside and out of the clubhouse.”
Clayton Kershaw kicked and delivered. Forty-thousand people passed along their hopes and fears in wordless song. The broadcasters paused with significance. In my living room, 2,000 miles west on Interstate 90, the baby cried.
He does this a lot. He cried during the second inning, in his highchair as I sat perched before him, a spoon full of speckled purple paste hovering in a poised right hand, waiting for a moment of weakness. He cried as I built cairns out of Duplo blocks, replacing them as he tore them methodically and clumsily apart like a wounded machine. He cried in the fifth while he bathed, cried in the seventh as my wife rocked him and I read his sister Fox in Socks, neither of them entertained. He cried as I took him and Charley Steiner into the darkness of my office, cried and twisted and screamed at sleep itself.
Toronto sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are both hitting the open market, putting the Blue Jays is a difficult spot.
As the season ended in Toronto last week, Blue Jays fans weren’t simply saying au revoir to the team’s hopes of hoisting the trophy in 2016, they were also possibly seeing team pillars Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista in Blue Jays uniforms for the last time.
Bautista and Encarnacion are, unfortunately for Toronto, hitting the free agent market at the same time, and doing so during an offseason in which the big-bat market is quite thin. The slugger supply does not meet the slugger demand, although it rarely does.
It took Theo Epstein and company exactly five years to rebuild the Cubs into the best team in baseball.
On October 22, 2011, the Chicago Cubs announced the hiring of Theo Epstein as president of baseball operations. Epstein, only 37 years old at the time, was already considered one of the greatest baseball executives in recent history and a potential future Hall of Famer. Five days later, the Cubs hired away Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod from San Diego as Epstein’s top lieutenants.
Clayton Kershaw threw seven shutout, two-hit innings against the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS, which combined with his starter/closer act in the NLDS convinced even the most stubborn holdouts that his poor postseason reputation was overblown and perhaps just flat out erased. And now, less than a week later, he'll take the mound at Wrigley Field against a 103-win team with the Dodgers' season on the line in an elimination game. Something tells me Kershaw's playoff rep isn't set in stone quite yet.