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2012 NLDS: Why the Giants Have a Huge Edge If They Force a Game 5

Let me preface what I’m about to say with a disclaimer:  I’d still rather be the Cincinnati Reds right now than the San Francisco Giants.

Regardless of circumstance, simple math tells us that a 2-1 advantage in a playoff series is always better than a 2-1 deficit. Always.

That said, there is a frightful visage hovering on Cincinnati’s horizon. His name is Matt Cain and he’s the single best starting pitcher still standing in this best-of-five NLDS. And if the Giants can survive their second consecutive elimination on Wednesday, Cain awaits the Reds in Game 5.

Just like that, the comeback wheel churn-eth…

Once upon a time we might have debated whether Cain or Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto deserved the “best starter” label in this series. Cueto, after all, boasted a career-best 3.47 SO:BB ratio this season to go along with his 19 wins and 2.78 ERA.

Perhaps more important in the context of a potential Game 5 showdown, Cueto was stellar at home this year (10-3, 2.79 ERA, 5.71 SO:BB ratio) while Cain, as is typical for him, struggled at times on the road.

But the Johnny Cueto described above is not the Johnny Cueto available to Cincinnati in this series. As you probably well know, Cueto suffered back spasms in the first inning of Game 1 and his status for the rest of this round remains uncertain.

Even if Cueto can recover in time for a second start, you’d be hard pressed to argue that he’s a better pitcher than Cain given those parameters. Making matters even worse for the Reds, emergency Game 1 reliever Mat Latos—the team’s second-best starter for much of the year—is reportedly battling an illness.

So to review: Cueto is hurting, Latos is hurling and Cain is coming off a year in which he did this…

16-5, 2.79 ERA, 3.78 SO:BB, 3.40 FIP

And don’t try to poke holes in that statistical profile with some recency-inspired rhapsody about Cain’s poor outing against these Reds in Game 1. A five-inning sample size tells us almost nothing when compared to a year—and a career—of front-line results.

So where does all this leave the Giants?

Well, they have hope. Game 4 is still a dicey proposition, but no dicier than a Game 3 in which San Francisco managed just one hit in seven innings off Reds starter Homer Bailey and still managed to escape victorious.

The Giants send Barry Zito to the hill on Wednesday hoping the veteran can quiet Cincinnati’s hobbled offense much like Ryan Vogelsong did on Tuesday. Zito isn’t anyone’s idea of Plan A—as his 4.34 road ERA will attest—but with Cincinnati still unsure of who’ll they’ll counter with, San Francisco can at least take some comfort in the certainty of its situation.

Better than that, the Giants enter Game 4 knowing that the pressure rests on the hometown Reds—a team that hasn’t won a postseason series in 17 years—and that they still have one delightfully potent bullet in their chamber:  Matthew Thomas Cain.

That’s a heck of a lot better than things looked on Tuesday morning, a day that began with the Giants in retreat.

Now the blueprint is clear.

Survive Game 4. Get the ball to Cain. Make Cincinnati sweat.

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MLB Free Agents: Jimmy Rollins Deal a Steal for Philadelphia Phillies

For all the mounting criticism directed at Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr.—he traded Cliff Lee, overpaid Ryan Howard, failed to extend Cole Hamels (so far)—there’s no doubt he and the franchise made out beautifully in the just-announced re-signing of incumbent shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

The Phillies gave Rollins a three-year deal worth $33 million with a vesting option fourth year. From the get-go, Rollins wanted a five-year deal and the Phillies felt they couldn’t go higher than three.

In the end, the Phillies got their man at their price. For a team with scant alternatives, the deal validates Amaro’s hard line and keeps Philadelphia’s window for a third championship open for the next few years.

And for those preoccupied with Rollins’ shortcomings—pops up too much, doesn’t see enough pitches, takes plays off—the stats tell the story.

Here are Rollins’ ranks among major league shortstops over the last five seasons in the major player value categories:

WAR: 5th

HR: 5th

RBI: 5th

Walks: 7th

SB: 2nd


SLG%: 5th

OPS : 5th

The argument against Rollins is largely one of passion and inference. But looking at the numbers, it’s clear Rollins is one of the best at his craft.

Add to all that the fact that Rollins has been one of the league’s most valuable defenders and efficient base runners, and I’d say the Phillies just got one of the league’s better shortstops for a mighty reasonable price.

Even accounting for the indignities of old age, Rollins figures to be one of baseball’s ten best at his position over the life of his contract.

All of it amounts to tremendous value for a team built to compete for a World Series over the next few seasons.

The Phillies made sure his talents stayed planted in South Philadelphia and secured a franchise great through the waning years of his decorated career. Bravo.

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MLB Free Agency: Worst Free Agent Signings in Each Team’s History

I come today with proof that everyone, indeed, makes mistakes.

Since Major League Baseball instituted the orgy of instant gratification known as free agency in the mid-1970s, every team has at some point succumbed to its seductive bounty against their better judgment.

The beauty and hazard of free agency is that it doesn’t ask teams to wait.

It simply says: “Come with the cash and I’ll give you your man.”

For the impatient, the imprudent and the downright stupid, that deceptively simple arrangement doubles as a trap. And a general manager who operates with his job danging above his head generally fits all three of those dubious categories.

Not surprisingly, the price paid is often far too high.

So before you harangue the local radio station with demands that your team pay top dollar for a free-agent-to-be, consider the graveyard of ghoulish deals that follow.

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Jason Motte and 10 Most Underrated Relievers in MLB

Last year’s MLB postseason made a bearded hero out of San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson.

This year the role of emerging scruff sensation goes to Jason Motte, the St. Louis Cardinals’ hirsute ninth inning specialist.

While Motte’s beard may lack Wilsonian majesty, the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers are discovering his fastball is just as powerful.

It seems every year a handful of relievers emerge from obscurity to dominate big league hitters, and all of it happening before we can learn their names.

The guys on this list won’t grace your Wheaties box anytime soon. They will, however, help your team win some ball games.

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Old Dogs: Ranking MLB’s Best Players over 35

My friend wants an old dog.

She doesn’t have the energy or space for a young pup—they’re demanding, unpredictable, and they pee on stuff. She wants the companionship without the hassle, and there is something reassuring in the mellowing progression of years.

Unless, of course, the old dog dies, which is an impending and unsettling certainty. Old dog today, dead dog tomorrow.

The same holds for old baseball players. They’re reliable, levelheaded, and resourceful—generally more insightful and candid than younger counterparts. There’s a lot to like about old baseball players. Until they die, or the baseball equivalent thereof.

All of which motivates me to honor these elder statesman before time whisks them away. Drawing inspiration from Nathan Palatsky’s list of the 23 best players under 23, I’ve compiled a list of the 20 best players over 35 (trust me, 35 was too many).

For a special treat I’ve included each player’s favorite memory of the 1980s, drawn mostly from my research of that era conducted earlier in the afternoon and of course my prescient knowledge of the likes and dislikes of people I’ve never met.

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