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World Series Game 2: Have The Texas Rangers Finally Run Out Of Magic?

As I write this sentence, the Texas Rangers are down to their final strike in Game 2.  One strike away from being down 2-0 in the World Series.

The game was completely within reach for Texas as late as the 7th inning, when they were only trailing by the score of 1-0, with C.J. Wilson hanging in there for the most part against Giants starter Matt Cain.

Then the Texas bullpen came in, and failed to keep it within distance for the Rangers offense. In fact, they took what was a pitching duel and turned it into a laugher pretty damn quickly.

Darren O’Day allowed a run.  Derek Holland let three score without recording a single out.  Mark Lowe let two more score, again not getting one batter out.  Michael Kirkman finally ended the carnage, but even he let a run score.

Seven of the nine runs San Francisco scored came in the eighth inning.  Had Texas been able to escape that bottom frame, they would have gone up against Giants closer Brian Wilson, who’s known for making every outing extremely difficult (see the Giants slogan: Torture.) only two runs down.

Somewhere between that first paragraph and this one, Jeff Francoeur flew out to right field to end the game.  Now, it’s official: The Rangers are currently in a hole.   A big one.

Where’s the team that bounced back from their ALCS Game 1 collapse against the Yankees?

Where’s the team that felt no heat when the Tampa Bay Rays came back from a 2-0 series deficit and forced a Game 5?

They’re still there.  In body, and according to many experts who’ve been witnessing the World Series first-hand, in spirit

But this time, they don’t have Cliff Lee up their sleeve.  When the Yankees shocked the Rangers in the last round, the Rangers didn’t panic.  They had Cliff Lee looming in Game 3.

When the Rays won two straight in Arlington to push the ALDS to a Game 5, the Rangers didn’t panic.  They had Cliff Lee ready to go.

Now, they don’t have that.  Cliff Lee’s next scheduled start is Game 5, or maybe even Game 4 depending on how much Texas manager Ron Washington is panicking right now.

The Rangers can’t even fully depend on Lee now though.  He got rocked for six earned runs in Game 1 and didn’t make it out of the fifth inning, against a rather intimidating Giants offense.

What can the Rangers do now? 

Well, they need to hope Colby Lewis and Tommy Hunter can pitch the Rangers into a 2-2 series tie (while avoiding the bullpen as much as possible) going into Game 5, where they can put Cliff Lee on the table, knowing full well no matter what they’ll be going back to San Francisco.

They also need to prove something to the baseball world.  Because for the first time this postseason, they’re going to have to win knowing that Cliff Lee isn’t there to bail them out.  The Rangers might not make it to Lee.

The Rangers were sure loose before the World Series, but once the players are between the lines for real, the Fall Classic can do some weird things to people.

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MLB Playoffs 2010: Cliff Lee and 5 Other Top Performances

Texas Rangers pitcher, Cliff Lee had one of the 2010 MLB postseason’s best performances last night at Yankee Stadium.  He struck out 13 New York Yankees hitters, while only allowing two hits and zero runs in eight innings.

While that seems like an outstanding game, (which it is) a couple other performances have one-upped Lee when it comes down to the final stat line.

2010 is definitely the year of the pitcher (outside of 1968), a couple of hitting performances have been just as important. 

Did the slugger of your favorite postseason team make the list?

Here are the top five performances of the 2010 playoffs (besides Cliff Lee).

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ALCS Game 3: Texas Rangers Refuse To Be Mentally Defeated By New York Yankees

When Josh Hamilton grounded out to end Game 1 on Friday night, a game where the Texas Rangers let a 5-0 lead slip away in their own ballpark to the dreaded New York Yankees, eventually losing the game 6-5, I sent the following message to my friend via Facebook chat:

“Series over.”

“Yup,” he replied.

Because there was no way the Rangers were going to be able to recover from a loss like that in a seven-game series. 

There was no way the Rangers would come out the very next day and score seven runs on Phil Hughes in four innings in a ballpark where Hughes had dominated in his previous experiences.

And there was no way the Rangers would even be able to smell a series lead.

… Right?

While me and every other sports analyst/blogger in the country were ready to anoint the Yankees American League Champions for the second year in a row, the Rangers had something else in mind. 

They weren’t going to follow the path of the Minnesota Twins.  These Rangers, a franchise that has had a lifelong culture of losing (just ask Tim Kurkjian, he was there for a lot of it) has broken that streak, if only for one year.

These Rangers weren’t going to allow one game in a seven-game series to affect how they were going to play the final six.

And these Rangers certainly aren’t afraid of the Yankees.

If the Rangers were the least bit intimidated by the Evil Empire, the Yankees would have a 2-1, or 3-0 series lead.  Instead, it is the Texas Rangers with the 2-1 lead.

If the Rangers were the least bit intimidated, they wouldn’t of sent a six-run dagger into the heart of the Yankees in the ninth inning on Monday night.

Unless AJ Burnett pulls some magic out of his you-know-what in Game 4 on Tuesday night, the Yankees will be facing a 3-1 deficit. 

After Game 1, no one would have thought that was possible.  Not even the prospect of Cliff Lee starting Game 3 would’ve been enough to save the Rangers… right?

Lee turned in another fantastic pitching performance, striking out 13 Yankees and only allowing two hits in eight innings.  All the while, with a heaping portion of rasin on his hat (take that, Michael Kay).

If the Rangers can manage to take one of the next two games at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees will be facing a daunting task in Game 6.

Cliff Lee, in Arlington. 

Texas winning one of the final two at the Stadium is more than reasonable at this point.  The Rangers have outplayed the Yankees in 25 of the 27 innings played in this series.  Barring the comeback in the last two innings of Game 1, the Rangers have owned the Yankees in every aspect of this series.  In reality, New York should find itself fortunate to only be in a 2-1 hole.

“Series over,” I said.

I may have been right in the concept, but not in the team that would be victorious.

Teams that are intimidated by the Yankees don’t stand a chance.  The Twins just proved that in the previous round.

But the teams that aren’t intimidated by the Yankees.  Teams like Texas, well, stand more than a chance.


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NLCS 2010: Comparing the Phillies and Giants Outfields

As you’ve seen, we’ve analyzed the pitching matchups and how the Phillies and Giants compare in the infield.

This slideshow will examine the only part of the teams we haven’t focused on yet: the outfield.  Outfield defense is extremely important in the playoffs. 

Need an example? Last night in Atlanta, Cody Ross gets a base hit with the bases loaded, and Braves left fielder Matt Diaz threw out Pat Burrell, who was trying to score from second at home plate to keep the damage to just one run instead of two. 

The Braves would go on to lose, but with runners on first and second with one out in the ninth inning, they could’ve won the game with an extra-base hit, rather than just tie the game with one.  It was almost a huge play.

This slideshow will examine both San Francisco’s and Philadelphia’s outfield offensive production and defense.  So far, the teams seem evenly matched in pitching, while the Phillies infield smoked the Giants infield in our last slideshow. 

Will the Giants outfield even it up, making this series a complete toss-up?

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NLCS 2010: Comparing The Phillies and Giants Infields

We just did a piece on the pitching matchups for the NLCS, that you should really read if you haven’t already. 

This time, we’re breaking down the infields of the finalists for the National League pennant.

Obviously, the Phillies boast Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in their infield.  Can the Giants infield offense (and defense) compete?

Each slide will breakdown the position battle, and see which team has the advantage at each position.

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NLCS 2010: Examining The Pitching Matchups

They say, rightfully so, that pitching decides the postseason.

In the NLCS this year, pitching will almost certainly have a direct impact on who goes to the World Series, and who goes home until spring training in 2011. 

The San Francisco Giants beat the Atlanta Braves Monday night to advance to the National League Championship Series where they will face the Philadelphia Phillies, who shrugged off the Cincinnati Reds in their first-round matchup.  The Phillies are looking to become the first team since the St. Louis Cardinals of 1942-44 to win the National League pennant three straight seasons. The Giants are making their first NLCS appearance since 2002, when they defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in five games to advance to the Fall Classic.

Both teams have outstanding pitching staffs.  The Giants ERA was the best in baseball in the regular season, with a 3.36. A September in which their team ERA was a minuscule 1.78 was what propelled them over the San Diego Padres in that final month of the season.

The Phillies made the top 10 with a 3.67, good for sixth in all of baseball. 

Honestly, it’s hard to fathom that either of these teams could go home because one team out-pitched the other, especially San Francisco.  But that could absolutely happen, as Philadelphia has some dangerous arms on their staff. 

Here’s the breakdown:

San Francisco Giants:

Starting Pitching: Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez.

Outlook: In the NLDS, the rotation went Lincecum-Cain-Sanchez-Bumgarner.  Considering the Giants only allowed nine runs in the four games total, why mess with success?  Expect the same four-man rotation in the next round. 

It’s interesting, to say the least, that Barry Zito could technically be put back on the postseason roster to face the Phillies lineup, which is loaded with left-handed sluggers like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez that the left-handed Zito could neutralize. 

But over his last seven starts, Zito’s ERA is over six.  For the Giants to take one of their starting pitchers out on the off-chance that Zito might be effective against the Phillies would be them taking a risk that is not a smart one against a Philadelphia team that is a few wins away from being a dynasty.  Not to mention, the only two that you could fathom being replaced for Zito, Sanchez and Bumgarner, are left-handed as well.  (On a side note: In Zito’s only start against the Phillies this year, he allowed four runs on eight hits in five innings).

Bullpen: Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, Guillermo Mota, Ramon Ramirez, Sergio Romo, Brian Wilson.

Outlook: The San Fran ‘pen has two lefties (Affeldt and Lopez) to neutralize the Phillies left-handed sluggers.  Closer Brian Wilson led the majors with 48 saves in the regular season.  Sergio Romo, Ramon Ramirez and Santiago Casilla had a fantastic 2010.  This bullpen is set up for success right now, especially if the Giants starters can continue to go deep into games. 

They could fall into trouble if their starters are pulled early or if tight games go into extra innings, though.  The last thing you want to do is send a right-handed reliever into a tie game to face Howard, Utley or Ibanez, because the game more than likely won’t be tied afterward.  Knowing the proper times to use his left-handed relievers will be critical for Giants manager Bruce Bochy in this series.


Philadelphia Phillies:

Starting Pitching: Joe Blanton, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt.

Outlook: That 1-2-3 punch of Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt is the best remaining in the playoffs.  That alone gives them a significant advantage over a San Francisco team that only scored 11 runs in their four-game series with the Braves.

Blanton will more than likely make his 2010 postseason debut in Game 4.  The Phillies could opt to use Halladay in Games 1, 4 and 7, Oswalt in Games 2 and 5 and Hamels in Games 3 and 6.  But me thinks Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel would rather that his big ace gets that extra day of rest and goes in Game 5.

With Blanton in the mix, expect Halladay to start Game 1 and Game 5, Oswalt to start Game 2 and Game 6, Hamels to start Game 3 and a possible Game 7, with Blanton splitting the big 3 with his Game 4 start.

Bullpen: Antonio Bastardo, Jose Contreras, Chad Durbin, Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero.

Outlook: The Phillies bullpen ERA was 4.48 since September 1st.  The Phillies are coming out looking like roses after sweeping the Reds, but their biggest weakness, their bullpen, was never showcased in a huge spot.  Halladay and Hamels both threw complete games, so the Phillies’ bullpen only had to pitch four innings total in the three game series.

Hard to overlook the experience in this bullpen, though.  The Phillies have won the NLCS the past two years with Chad Durbin, Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson and J.C. Romero in their bullpen.  Philadelphia has enough right-handers to deal with Buster Posey late in a game, and the left-handed J.C. Romero will probably get to know Aubrey Huff pretty well by the time this series is over.

It looks as if San Francisco has the edge when it comes to relief pitching, but Philadelphia may have the edge in their starting pitching, no matter what the Giants ERA was in the stretch run of September.  This could be one of the more evenly matched NLCS (pitching-wise) that we’ve seen in a long time.   

What do you think?  Do you think the Giants starting pitching is enough to match up with the Phillies?  Do you think the Phillies bullpen’s experience alone will be enough to stand with the Giants ‘pen? 

One thing’s for sure: If both teams pitch how they’re capable of, don’t expect a lot of runs.

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San Francisco Giants Have Puncher’s Chance at Taking Down Philadelphia Phillies

If the Phillies win the upcoming National League Championship Series, they will be the first team since the St. Louis Cardinals from 1942-44 to win three straight National League pennants. 

But a very dangerous and hungry San Francisco Giants team will have a lot to say about the Phillies chase towards almost 70 years of history.

The Giants eliminated Bobby Cox and the Braves Monday night to advance to the NLCS for the first time since 2002, where they will face off against those Philadelphia Phillies. 

The Braves may have been a better matchup for the Phillies in their quest to three-peat as National League champions. 

The Phillies barely edged the Braves with a record of 10-8 in the games the two played against each other in the regular season, but Philadelphia probably owns a significant psychological advantage considering they swept the Braves in the middle of September with the National League East division pretty much hanging in the balance. 

Had the Braves squeezed out of the first round, the Phillies might’ve had a relatively easy NLCS depending on how much the sweep from a month ago was weighing on the Braves mentally, along with the makeshift roster the Braves brought into October baseball due to injury. 

Their already depleted roster was not helped when closer Billy Wagner went down with an oblique strain in Game 2.  So the Giants winning that series will be good for baseball in general, as this will be a more competitive NLCS matchup.

The Giants, while nowhere as offensively talented as the Phillies, who boast Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the middle of their lineup, will certainly have an opportunity to neutralize the Phillies lineup with their pitching. 

Tim Lincecum, most likely the Game 1 starter, had arguably the best performance outside of Roy Halladay’s no-hitter in the entire first round of the postseason, throwing a complete game shutout while striking out 14 Atlanta hitters.  In a long series, you could fully expect him to throw in three games. And when he’s on, he can throw with anyone in the league (Yes, even Roy Halladay).

They also have arguably the best bullpen remaining in the playoffs, headlined by closer Brian Wilson, who led the majors in the regular season with 48 saves.  Right-hander Sergio Romo, and left hander Jeremy Affeldt shoulder most of the important duties in their relief corps. 

If the game is tied in the late innings where it becomes a battle of the bullpens, the advantage is almost automatically San Francisco’s.  The Phillies bullpen was a mystery for most of the regular season, and it hasn’t proven much in the postseason because, well, they haven’t had to.  Halladay and Cole Hamels each threw complete games so the only game in which the Phillies bullpen had to compete was in Game 2.

The Phillies clearly have the big three in the front of their rotation: Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt.  That is huge, as proven in the first round where Cincinnati didn’t have a chance in the land of fire and brimstone.  But if the Giants were going to win this series, it wasn’t going to be with their offense to begin with.  The Giants only scored 11 runs in four games, under three per game.. and won the series.

It’s hard to discount the Phillies, who made the World Series last year and won it in 2008.  But this San Francisco ballclub is a lot tougher than the Dodgers that the Phillies eliminated in 2008 and 2009. 

They held off an Atlanta club that was hellbent on getting their retiring skipper Bobby Cox to a World Series, and now it’s their job to hold off a Philadelphia team that has not seemed one bit jaded by all their recent success.  The difference may be that the Giants were battle-tested by the Braves in the first round.  The Phillies?  Not so much. 

If the San Francisco pitching staff does their job, the Giants will have a chance to win this series.  And if the Giants can hit a little bit, they will win the series. 

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MLB Rumors: 10 Players the New York Mets Should Aim for This Winter

The Mets have already began to clean house, which appears as if it will be a long, extremely intriguing process throughout the long winter.  Omar Minaya was fired as General Manager, and manager Jerry Manuel was told he will not return next season.

Once the Mets fill those positions (which should be relatively soon), they will begin to realign their roster in hopes of being competitive in 2011.  This slideshow will feature ten players they would be wise to at least take a look at.  Some will be available via free agency, while others are rumored to be available via trade.  Obviously, some are more realistic than others, but all are possibilities, and remember, “Ya Gotta Believe.”

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Colorado Rockies Lose Again, Playoff Hopes Continue to Fade Away

Rocktober has never felt so far away.

The Rockies fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers by the score of 3-1 on Monday night, losing their second straight and their seventh in their past eight games. 

The Rockies won ten in a row earlier this month, but never were able to eclipse or tie the teams that were in their playoff path.  Now, with just six games remaining, the Rockies sit four games out of the Wild Card, and five out of the top spot in the National League West.

“If we were ugly before this game, now we’re bleeding,” Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez told after Monday night’s game.

There’s most likely not enough time remaining to stop the bleeding for Colorado.  They play two more games against the Dodgers at Coors Field, then finish up the regular season with four at Busch Stadium against the Cardinals.  

“It’s painful,” Gonzalez continued.  “Because we all thought we were going to be battling until the end.”

He’s right, because we all did.  The Rockies have had a knack over the past four seasons for having a “never-say-die” attitude, where you could never, at any point in a ballgame or a season, count them out.  Seriously, count all the times you saw the Rockies down 6-0, or saw where they were in the standings, and said to yourself, “Damn, they’re finished.”  Now count how many times you were wrong.  The two numbers are probably pretty close.

But it isn’t all in the Rockies’ control this time.  If they want any chance at winning the Wild Card, even if the Braves and Padres lose the remainder of their games (the Padres have six, while the Braves only have five), the Rockies would have to go 5-1 just to force a three-way tie for the Wild Card. 

The NL West is virtually impossible at this point, considering the Padres and Giants face off on the last weekend of the season, and well, someone has to win those games.  It’s not yet mathematically impossible, however. 

If the Padres win just two of their next six (both would need to be against the Giants), the Giants lose at least five of their final six games, and the Rockies win their final six games, the Rockies would finish in some type of tie for the National League West crown, whether it be a two-way or a three-way tie. 

They can no longer win the division without a one-game playoff, because one of either the Padres or Giants will win two games this weekend. 

Was that enough of a math lesson for today?  Good, it was for me too.

It’s a disappointing story, honestly.  The Rockies had become one of those teams that fans who didn’t have a favorite team trying to beat them out for a playoff spot rooted for. During that early September run, it appeared as if the only thing that could stop the Rockies, was the Rockies themselves. 

That seems to be what happened.  The turning point of their season might wind up being when they got swept in Arizona last week.  Being swept by the Diamondbacks didn’t seem possible for Colorado about two weeks before that.

They have players easy to root for, too.  Carlos Gonzalez might be on his way to challenging Albert Pujols as the best player in the game.  Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki had a September that will be compared to that of Babe Ruth’s. Rotation ace Ubaldo Jimenez will at least be involved in the National League Cy Young discussion.

In the end, they might not be enough.  And it probably won’t be. 

But they’ll be back.  If you don’t believe that, you haven’t paid attention the past three years.

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Not On Our Time: New York Mets Gain a Little Revenge on Philadelphia Phillies

A total of 45,302 Phanatics packed into Citizens Bank Park on Sunday afternoon fully expecting to see the Philadelphia Phillies end the day by celebrating their fourth straight division championship.  As long as the Braves lost, of course.

The Braves would indeed lose to the Washington Nationals by a score of 4-2.  But the Phillies plans of celebrating their fourth consecutive National League East title at home was thwarted…by the New York Mets.

Yes, the Mets

The Mets who found no trouble in inventing countless humiliating ways to blow a seven and a half game lead to the Phillies with 17 games left to play in 2007. 

The Mets who were eliminated from playoff contention on the last day of the regular season for the second straight year in 2008. 

The Mets who were somehow able to play so poorly and accumulate so many injuries to star players that they left a brand new stadium relatively empty in the latter months of 2009.

And the same Mets that just couldn’t get a clutch hit no matter what the scenario in 2010.

They went into Philadelphia knowing quite well they might be seeing their division arch-rivals celebrating a playoff berth in their faces. 

They didn’t know that Chase Utley was going to barrel into second base and Ruben Tejada like a human torpedo on Friday night, prompting Mets third baseman David Wright to tell reporters after the game, “There’s a thin line between going out there and playing the game hard and going out there and trying to get somebody hurt.”

Strong words.  And for once, this weekend, the Mets backed their strong words up.

The Mets vowed they would start sliding into second base like Utley did.  Carlos Beltran, a Met whose character has been questioned at times, almost took out both Phillie middle infielders with his slide into second the next day.  On Sunday, Henry Blanco did the same. 

But it didn’t stop with the sliding.  All of a sudden, the Mets started playing like the Phillies.  It was the Mets, not the Phillies, getting the big clutch hit with the bases loaded from Lucas Duda on Saturday to put the Mets ahead for good. 

It was the Mets who held the Phillies to just 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position on Sunday, while the Mets smacked three home runs and got several two-out run-scoring hits.  Quite often, it’s the other way around. 

And it was the Mets who took two of three from the Phillies this weekend. 

It’s too little, too late for the Mets in 2010.  After this upcoming seven-game home stand against the Milwaukee Brewers and Washington Nationals, the Mets will quietly go into the winter, not qualifying for the postseason for the fourth consecutive year.

But they gained a couple small moral victories this past weekend, no matter how unimportant the actual victories are in the standings. 

One, of course, was that they were able to foil the Phillies plans to celebrate their division championship with their home fans.  Make no mistake, the Phillies are still winning the division.  But also make no mistake, they really wanted to clinch in their home ballpark. And at the same time, the Mets really didn’t want them to.

The second is that maybe that slide by Utley, in a rather meaningless September game, taught the Mets a little bit about how the game is meant to be played.  The slide wasn’t as dirty as it was hard.  They teach you to slide hard into second base when you’re in middle school.  But when was the last time you saw a Met before this weekend slide into second base hard enough where you noticed it?

Maybe they realized that the difference between first place and fourth place isn’t so much in talent, but rather in playing the game hard 162 times a season.

If the Mets can take the lesson learned from this weekend and take it into the 2011 season, they’ll be alright. 

As far as the 2010 season goes, the Phillies will say they couldn’t clinch the NL East at home because of the Mets.  And let’s be honest, when was the last time the Phillies “couldn’t” do something (besides lose) when the Mets were involved? 

As little revenge as it is for what’s happened over the past four seasons, it’s still something.

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