"Games to Watch" writer Caleb Peiffer tells you what to look for in today's NLCS Game Five.
Caleb Peiffer: Today is the 20-year anniversary of Kirk Gibson's walk-off home run against Dennis Eckersley in Game One of the 1988 World Series.
My prediction for tonight: a balky-kneed Jeff Kent hobbles out of the dugout in the ninth to hit a two-run shot off Brad Lidge for a 5-4 Dodgers win. He does away with the fist pump, and in classic surly fashion refuses to take a curtain call, which leads to a shoving match with Manny Ramirez in the dugout.
Now, happy to take any questions...
Joel (GA): Obviously not NLCS related, but I can't remember the last time a visiting team just hit moonshot after moonshot over the Green Monster without breaking a sweat. The Rays are going to be seriously scary for the next 5 years.
Caleb Peiffer: It is remarkable. The previous high in homers during three consecutive regular season games for the Rays this year was nine, and they've hit 10 in the past three playoff games. The previous high for homers given up by the Sox pitching staff in a three game stretch this year was seven. It looks like Upton was really bothered by the shoulder during the year, and that that has fully cleared up, because he is just crushing balls--as David Laurila said, a blind person in the stands would have recognized his homer in Game Three just by the crack of the bat. Both him and Longoria now have five October homers, and the AL playoff record is seven, by Troy Glaus in 2002.
smitty25039 (Charleston): Who will be the better player, Yorman Rodriguez or Juan Duran?
Caleb Peiffer: Man, I don't even know who these guys are, but I just looked up Juan Duran and he's an outfielder who played on the Reds' Dominican Summer League team this year and who was born in 1991. 1991! That's terrifying.
Mountainhawk (Salem, MA): I hope you realize that if Kent does win the game off Lidge, you will be receiving many, many death threats from the city of Brotherly Love.
I mean, Phillies fans everywhere already EXPECT that type of thing to happen. Regardless of the postseason odds simulation, Phils fans everywhere know that the Phils are at best 50/50 to make the World Series until they actually make it.
Caleb Peiffer: I think that's the first time that Kent and brotherly love have been used in the same sentence!
And that would actually be flattering...I mean, at least it means they were reading, eh? I would think the Dodgers fans would be just as ticked off for the possible jinxing angle. But as for the Phillies fans, I understand the sentiment: 10,000 career losses and one World Championship in over 100 years necessarily puts you on edge.
Brent (Raleigh): While I admire the Rays' long term plan and also recognize that this idea may be impossible financially, similar to how the Braves signed Greg Maddux prior to the 1993 season, I am intrigued by the idea of the Rays signing CC Sabbathia this offseason. What do you think?
Caleb Peiffer: It's an interesting thought, and who's to say it couldn't happen, but I think they are probably pretty set in the rotation and focused on continuing to build from within rather than making that huge signing. If you figure that Price slots into the rotation next year, that's Shields, Kazmir, Garza, Price, and Sonnanstine, with Jeff Niemann and Edwin Jackson as insurance. Of course, injuries could upset that, and you can never have too much starting pitching, but I think the Rays will probably focus on offense. Remember, they were second in the AL in run prevention this year, but only ninth in runs scored. I would think they might look at getting another outfield bat for right field/DH, and as more insurance in case Baldelli is unable to play a full season again.
Justin ((LA)): Caleb, you noted in the nlcs roundtable that Kuo was absolutely filthy. Were you as shocked as most people that Torre pulled him after one ground ball single. Do you buy the statement from Torre that Kuo didn't look good warming up in the eighth? I'm still feeling sick from this move, please help me out!
Caleb Peiffer: Kuo went more than one inning in 26 of his 39 relief appearances this year. He is also basically as effective against righties than lefties, with a 569/557 respective OPS against split this year, and 670/654 for his career. And yeah, he was throwing filthy stuff up there in the seventh. The one wild card is that he was out most of September, and hadn't pitched two innings since September 1. Still, I think the best play would have been to let him get it to Broxton in the ninth...or even let him take it home, if he continued going as he had in the seventh. Given that Wade threw two inning the day before, bringing him in to that spot was just the wrong move.
Tim (Sonoma, CA): Do you see the Dodgers jettisoning one of the big outfield contracts after the end of the season (assuming they pay the cost to sign Manny)? No way they'll actually let Jones play out that second year, right?
Caleb Peiffer: Pierre at $28.5 million over the next three years is pretty much a lead weight. No way they're going to be able to move that one unless they eat a colossal amount of it. So that's a fourth/fifth outfielder making nearly 10 mill a year, but a sunk cost, so obviously it shouldn't affect their decision on Manny. Same thing with Jones; I don't see how they'll get rid of him, either, at $15 million for 2009. The guy had 24 more strikeouts than total bases last year. Best thing to hope for is that he gets himself back into shape, gets fully healthy, and comes back to provide some value off the bench.
Cambridge (BP East): Rays hitters have swung at the first strike they've seen in well over half of their at-bats in the ALCS. Given that the Rays drew the second-most walks in the AL this past season, this aggressive approach is most likely due to...?
Caleb Peiffer: Interesting observation. I'm not sure of the context...in terms of swinging at the first strike, what is the major league average, and how does that particular stat correlate with team patience and offensive production? If that is indeed a departure for Tampa Bay from the regular season, you have to think that this might just be really good advance scouting, identifying and trying to take advantage of trends in the way the Red Sox pitchers attack. Either that or some effective reverse psychology, trying to keep the Sox pitchers from capitalizing on the Rays' patience by putting them in the hole with strikes early on.
Frank (Philly): What are your thoughts on Maddon electing to throw Kazmir in game 4 and Shields in game 5?
Caleb Peiffer: Probably the home/road splits. Shields had a 3.11 RA at home this year, 5.01 on the road, and for his career those numbers are 3.62/4.96. He also got torched in both of his starts at Fenway this year: 10 hits, seven runs in 3 2/3 on May 3, four runs in an inning on June 5. Kazmir also has a home/road split, both this year and for his career, but it's not quite as severe, and he's had success at Fenway in the past: his last start in Boston was two runs, six inning on September 9, and he's 4-4 with a 3.59 RA there in 11 career starts.
Also, Maddon was probably worried about the scenario Tampa Bay faced if it lost Game 5, having to rely on a shaky Kazmir, who the Sox have lit up lately, to keep from having the series go to the anything-can-happen Game 7. Now, even if the Rays lose with Kazmir tomorrow, they are still in good shape, going back home with their best pitcher on the mound.
Justin (LA): Another comment about Kuo, did you buy Joe Sheehan's justification for taking Kuo out of the game? Just because he was injured earlier this season doesn't mean he can't be effective for over one inning.
Caleb Peiffer: Well, I guess none of us are totally sure about Kuo's health. He wasn't healthy enough to make the cut for the NLDS, or perhaps he was just too rusty after not pitching for several weeks. He looked healthy when he was pumping 96 and dropping in that slider in the seventh inning, but it's possible his stamina is not where it was earlier in the season yet. If not, and he was ready to go, then Torre can be fairly criticized for removing him. And either way, the righty to bring in after Kuo should have been Broxton, who threw 14 pitches the night before, and not Wade, who threw 33. Wade hadn't come back the day after throwing 30 pitches in a game all season before Game 4.
Charlie (Bethesda, MD): Don't forget, Kazmir criticized the game 6 home plate umpire earlier this year. Called him some names, the umpire probably doesn't like him, and Kazmir may not have alot of patience with his calls. It may be alot about that, too.
Caleb Peiffer: Ah, excellent point, I didn't know that. Here's an ESPN.com/AP article about the switch of Kazmir and Shields: http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/playoffs2008/news/story?id=3644632
The relevant portion of that article:
"The move also allows Kazmir to avoid any run-ins with veteran umpire Derryl Cousins, who is scheduled to work behind the plate in Game 6. Kazmir had angry words for Cousins following a June 11 game against the Angels, accusing the umpire of missing strike calls during key at-bats and making makeup calls. Maddon was ejected for arguing balls and strikes with Cousins during that game.
'That was unbelievable. I've never seen anything like that before,' Kazmir said after that game. 'I mean, you come into the game and some of the veteran guys are talking about an umpire that doesn't like calling anybody out on strikes. They called him 'shoe box.' You shouldn't change your zone just because of the count.'
Cousins, informed that Kazmir had called his performance 'unbelievable,' 'ridiculous' and 'amazing,' had his own words for the left-hander, according to the St. Petersburg Times.
'I didn't know he's been around that long,' Cousins, a 28-year veteran, said after that game, according to the Times. 'I've got nothing to say. … It won't be the first time or the last time that he says something.'
smitty25039 (Charleston): With quality young talent like Jay Bruce, Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez, Joey Votto, and others, do you think the Reds are close to contending?
Caleb Peiffer: If you haven't already, check out Kevin Goldstein's article on which teams might be the "next Rays" in the NL. http://baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=8203
The Reds are close, but as Goldstein says, the outlook is "semi-bright, but not perfect." One big problem is the outfield corners; they've got nobody now without Dunn, and it doesn't look like minor league center fielder Drew Stubbs is quite ready to make enough impact with the bat to move Jay Bruce to a corner. According to Goldstein, Cincinnati is also pretty weak in pitching prospects beyond the group that already hit the majors this season, and the 2008 results from Homer Bailey were discouraging. Still, Cueto and Volquez are a fantastic young duo, and I'm pretty high on Ramon Ramirez, too, who pitched well in September and has a nasty changeup. Not in 2009, but by 2010 they could be fighting for a division title if that starting trio continues to develop.
dblatnik (Sunnyvale,ca): Even if Kuo should have stayed in the game, I don't think Wade was completely off his game. That curve that Victorino hit over the wall was a flat out nasty pitch. Gotta give some credit to Victorino.
Caleb Peiffer: That's fair. I don't remember the pitch. Victorino just did poke it over the fence.
NealH (Pitt, PA): I'm looking to jettison Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez, Adam LaRoche, my pitching coach, and the racing pierogies. What can I expect in return?
Caleb Peiffer: You might be able to pry the chorizo away from Milwaukee, although in that case you'd probably have to take back Randall Simon as part of the deal. And what, you aren't digging the brothers LaRoche at the infield corners? Rick Peterson would probably love to come back to Pittsburgh, although his merits as a pitching coach are debatable.
Frank (Vegas): as a Buc fan, I'm envious of the Ray's success this year. Last year we were envious of Cleveland, 2007's model franchise to emulate. Which franchise should Pitt look to as a model? and who will be the "franchise to model" next year, if it's not Tampa Bay?
Caleb Peiffer: The Rays are the ideal model, given that they're a "small market" club and have built up completely through the draft, some shrewd trades, and a couple of fill-in small-ticket free agent signings. Pittsburgh's certainly on the right path with Huntington, having upgraded its draft philosophy, and aggressively gone after the top talents, like Pedro Alvarez. Just having Alvarez in that farm system changes things a great deal. Keep on drafting strictly on talent, commit the funds to sign the top amateur players, and keep on dumping the veterans when you can. Funnel the money into the draft, and the results will follow, as the Rays are the latest to prove.
Justin (LA): Is this year's postseason enough proof that we need an electronic strikezone? It seems to get worse every year.
Caleb Peiffer: Bring on the robots!
SaberTJ (Cleveland, OH): Funny how baseball works. The Rays could win a World Series in their first few year of existence, and the Marlins have won two in their 15 years of existence. Even though both teams can't draw for crap. While the Indians set the consecutive sellout streak (recently topped by Boston), and have won squat because our closer doesn't think his 97mph fast works in the World Series. What gives? Should the Indians pull a Browns - get relocated and then reappear as an expansion team?
Caleb Peiffer: Cleveland is up there in terms of snakebit franchises. 1997 was really tough to take, and then there was the stretch-drive stumble in 2005, the three straight losses to Boston last year, and now the 2008 debacle. The Indians were about six or seven games under their Pythagorean W/L at the All-Star break. You have to figure that if there luck was more even, they would have been on the fringe of the race, hung on to Sabathia, and therefore perhaps even made the playoffs even despite their first-half bullpen explosion. They'll be back next year, though, and that elusive first title since '48 is going to happen sooner rather than later.
Rob (Brighton): Caleb, do you see any of the teams in the AL Central putting together a run of quality seasons? Who do you like for the division in 2009?
Caleb Peiffer: I think in 2009 it will be the Twins and Indians battling for the division--Chicago and Detroit are too old. Kansas City is building for a sustained run of success that's still a couple years away. It's tough to predict any one team putting together a big run in the central, though, because it's so competitive--Dombrowski is a quality GM, Kenny Williams has shown the ability to innovate and build a surprise contender, the Twins have their player development powerhouse, and the Shapiro-led Indians are obviously an extremely quality organization, as well.
denny187 (WI): Its 2025. Who was better B.J. or Justin? How about Longoria or Braun?
Caleb Peiffer: Justin, Longoria.
mhixpgh (Pittsburgh): I had a friend tell me a few years ago (a Cards fan) that the Pirates will never be a winning organization until they loose the "Bucs/Buccos" nickname. I think the Pirates need an overhaul similar to the Rays. The new front office is a great start. Fresh faces, new evaluation metrics and, as Joe Sheehan puts it, "better decisions". But perhaps my firned was onto something. Lets just call them the Pirates, please!
Caleb Peiffer: I didn't like the Rays' decision to drop the Devil. Yeah, it was a bad name and it had a bad history, but you shouldn't just toss it away--you gotta embrace it and make it work, turn the name around. Now the Devil Rays are forever assigned to the dustbin as a failing enterprise. And what's up with the Rays--is it a Ray of sunshine, as the jersey front seems to indicate, or a fish, as the sleeve indicates? Can you have it both ways? I guess so.
Anyway, I don't see anything wrong with Bucs...I like the secondary nicknames.
Mountainhawk (Salem, MA): "Bring on the robots"? Really?
It's a three dimensional strike zone, so it's not as easy as the technology that tennis has.
Could it be done in all 30 parks and be completely accurate?
Caleb Peiffer: I really have no idea...it's probably never going to happen, and I'm not totally sure whether or not it's a good idea, but it's something to think about and perhaps investigate.
Charlie (Bethesda, MD): Who end up better - Milledge or Dukes?
Caleb Peiffer: If he can avoid off-field trouble, then Dukes.
Tony (Brooklyn, NY): I don't know one person who wouldn't pay to not have to listen to McCarver and Buck call a game they're watching. Why are they getting this work?
Caleb Peiffer: Inertia, I suppose. What I'd pay for is a broadcast without any announcers, but amplified crowd/stadium/game noise, along with stats that pop up for informative purposes throughout the game. The TV announcers that I think consistently add a great deal to the viewing experience are the immortal Vin Scully and Gary Cohen, who is fantastic...you can throw Len Kasper in there, with the Cubs, a couple others...but it's a short list.
Mike (Utica,NY): Is Matt Wieters, next year's Evan Longoria?
Caleb Peiffer: Yes. 1.054 OPS in his first minor league season.
denny187 (WI): Any first ballot Hall of Fame members in the Uptons/Longoria/Braun group?
Caleb Peiffer: Well, Braun has hit 71 homers in his first two years in the majors. The only players with as many or more are Pujols (71), Eddie Matthews (72), Ralph Kiner (74), and Joe DiMaggio (75). And Longoria has put up 8.1 WARP in his rookie season at the age of 22 after missing part of April and over a month at the end of the season, which is really a remarkable feat. I think all four of them have the talent to be Hall of Famers...first ballot? The vagaries of BBWAA selections are hard to predict.
Steve (Clearwater, FL): One more reason for Maddon to go with Kazmir tomorrow instead of Shields: the Rays' bullpen will likely be worked early and often as it was in Game 2, and there's an off-day following Game 5 but not Game 6.
Caleb Peiffer: Another good point, which would put the Rays in even a bit more trouble if they went with Shields tomorrow and lost.
Caleb Peiffer: Thanks for all of your questions. Enjoy Game 5...hopefully the Dodgers can come through so we can get a little more National League baseball this year.