February 25, 2017

The Sensational 70s - Brewers' Batteries Butcher Wildcard Game

The 1978 Milwaukee Brewers were two outs away from advancing to the National League Divisional Series over the 1979 Montreal Expos when the Brewers' batteries committed the first of two critical miscues that would eventually cost them the game.

The Expos 5-3 victory was built on a 2 wild pitches, 2 throwing errors, and a passed ball that thwarted a 2-1 Brewer lead in the ninth inning. This spoiled an outstanding 7 inning pitching effort by Milwaukee starter Mike Caldwell. The Expos managed only 4 hits and an earned run off Caldwell who enjoyed a career year in 1978. Caldwell was a 20 game winner going 22-9 with a career-best 2.39 ERA. Another amazing exclamation point on his '78 season was the fact that Caldwell had 23 complete games to his credit to lead the American League.

In the fifth inning, Montreal's third hit off Caldwell was a two-out double by Ellis Valentine. Valentine went 3-6 in the game as Montreal's top hitter scoring twice. Tony Perez followed with a single to center which would be the Expos' last hit off Caldwell and gave Montreal a 1-0 lead.

Charlie Moore brought Milwaukee back into the game with a RBI single in the seventh. Sixto Lezcano led off the inning with a single and moved to third on two ground outs. Moore delivered the clutch hit through the hole and into right field to tie the game. Moore's act of heroism was fleeting as he was thrown out trying to swipe second leaving Ben Ogilvie standing at the dish as he was called on to hit for Caldwell. This blunder by Moore would pale in comparison to what was to come.

The seventh was also the last inning of work by Expos' starter Steve Rogers. Rogers spent his entire 13-year career with Montreal. The five-time all-star is the franchise leader in wins with 158 and in WAR with a mark of 45.3. Rogers also leads in games started (393), shutouts (37) and complete games (129). Both Caldwell and Rogers were locked into a pitching duel. Rogers allowed only one more hit than Caldwell striking out 4 while walking 2, but neither man would factor into the decision.

Milwaukee took the lead in the very next inning on another clutch two-out hit. Jim Wohlford came on to pinch hit against Expos' reliever Rudy May. Wohlford was hitting for Jim Gantner who entered the game on a double switch with Brewer reliever Randy Stein. Wohlford singled to center and ended up on third on a ground out and a wild pitch by Expos' reliever David Palmer. Larry Hisle hit a line drive to right field, and despite a valiant effort by Montreal right fielder Ellis Valentine, the ball glanced off his glove allowing Wohlford to count for a 2-1 lead.

Milwaukee handed the ball to closer and former Red Sox pitching coach Bob McClure for the ninth. McClure had a terrific season registering 45 saves which was good enough for third overall in the National League. Montreal second baseman Rodney Scott nicked him immediately for a leadoff single. McClure then got Warren Cromartie swinging on a pitch down and away which got away from Brewers' catcher Charlie Moore. In an attempt to cut down Scott from taking second, Moore uncorked an air ball that landed in center field allowing Scott to advance to third. Andre Dawson brought Scott in with a sacrifice fly to tie the game at 2 and send it to extra innings.

Moore would make his second throwing error of the game in the eleventh. After Eduardo Rodriguez struck out Chris Speier on a ball in the dirt, Moore's throw to first sailed high and down the right field line which permitted Speier to take second. Rodney Scott lashed a
single into center to score Speier for a brief 3-2 lead. The home half of the inning featured another critical throwing error, but this time, it came for the arm of Expos' third baseman Larry Parrish. Parrish errant throw allowed leadoff Larry Hisle to reach and he ended up on second. Expos' manager Dick Williams elected to walk Sixto Lezcano to set up a possible double play, but that strategy was tanked when Montreal reliever Bill Atkinson tossed a wild pitch to move the runners to second and third. Williams would then instruct Atkinson to issue another free pass to batter Don Money to load the bases and bring the pitchers' spot to the plate. Brewers' manager sent backup catcher Buck Martinez and he dropped down a perfectly executed suicide squeeze play to tie the game 3-3.

The next 3 innings would be uneventful as the Expos and the Brewers only scratched out one single apiece. 

In the fifteenth frame, Montreal started things off with back to back singles from Larry Parrish and Ellis Valentine. Tommy Hutton laid down a sacrifice bunt to give the Expos runners on second and third with one out. The Expos wouldn't need another hit to win this one as Brewer reliever Randy Stein was the victim of a passed ball that allowed Parrish to score the go-ahead run. He then threw a wild pitch to the next hitter which scored Valentine giving the Expos an insurance run making the score 5-3. Woodie Fryman put the Brewers down in order to pick up the save. The win went to Stan Bahnsen who tossed 2.2 innings of 1 hit ball and combined with Fryman to set down the last 11 Milwaukee batters in order.

Montreal now goes on to face the 1975 Cincinnati Reds in one of the NLDS matchups while the other series sees the '76 New York Mets take on the 1978 Los Angeles Dodgers. 

ICYMI: The 1975 Red Sox advanced to the ALDS against the 1978 Yankees. Check out their wildcard win here.

February 18, 2017

The Sensational 70s - Ousted Orioles Goose Egged in Wildcard

Boston's Luis Tiant tiptoed around 9 hits in 6.1 innings of work and the bullpen backed his scoreless outing tacking on 2.2  more innings of shutout baseball to guide the '75 Red Sox to a 3-0 American League Wildcard win over the 1979 Baltimore Orioles. Baltimore was handcuffed by Tiant managing only one hit in ten trips with runners in scoring position. Besides the sixth inning, the O's had a hit in every inning off Tiant, but Louie seemed to be able to effectively locate his pitches when the chips were down keeping the ball away from the barrel of the bat.

Baltimore threatened right off the bat in the first with one out singles from Pat Kelly and Ken Singleton. Slugging left fielder Gary Roenicke, who drilled 38 homers in the campaign, was sawed off for a weak pop up to first on an infield fly rule, and Tiant got Eddie Murray on a lazy fly out to right to end the inning.

Jim Rice continued his torrid hitting streak by belting a two-run homer to deep center in the third inning off Oriole starter Mike Flanagan. Flanagan nearly retired Boston in order but a Cecil Cooper grounder glanced off the outstretched glove of Baltimore shortstop Kiko Garcia for an infield single. This gave Rice a chance, and he made Flanagan pay for the only runs the Red Sox would need.

The Orioles again applied pressure in the fourth putting runners on the corners with one out. Tiant struck out Baltimore second baseman Bill Smith on an inside fastball, and Rick Dempsey flew out to center to douse another scoring opportunity.

The fifth inning was Tiant's most impressive dance with danger. Kiko Garcia doubled high off the Green Monster to start things off, and after an Al Bumbry fly out, Pat Kelly laced a single to center. A charging Fred Lynn kept Garcia from trying to score, but Lynn overthrew the cutoff man and Kelly wisely hightailed it to second. Boston intentionally walked Singleton to load the bases and would take their chances with Gary Roenicke. Tiant again beat Roenicke on an inside fastball causing him to pop out to first for a second time on an infield fly. Eddie Murray was retired on a ground out to Rico Petrocelli.

Boston lifted Tiant in the seventh after a one-out single by Kiko Garcia who moved into scoring position on a ground out. Baltimore made Tiant labor as he tossed 95 pitches, but the O's big bats just couldn't find the range on his offerings.

The Sawx bullpen then went into action. Jim Burton came on to get lefty Pat Kelly on a weak grounder back to the mound. Dick Pole then came on and struck out Ken Singleton to conclude Baltimore's last threat. Boston added insurance in the home half of the seventh on a Dwight Evans sacrifice fly after Boston loaded the bases with only one out. That closed the book on Flanagan who really only made one mistake back in the third to Jim Rice which cost him the game.  He was very efficient in a 6 inning 72 pitch outing pounding the strike zone and pitching to contact
Boston now moves on the ALDS against the 1978 New York Yankees who swept Boston in the final series of the regular season. The other ALDS series sees two clubs from 1977 as the Kansas City Royals will battle the Texas Rangers.

Oh, and ICYMI I added my first post on the 2017 Red Sox, so check it out here.

February 17, 2017

The Skinny on the Hot Corner, Catchers and Closer

Just poking my head out from my off-season hibernation as I attempt to shake off the doldrums of this winter weather. We've been hit with two major snowstorms in the past five days here in the Atlantic region, drastically altering our daily routines to a mixture of shoveling snow, napping, Netflix binging, and eating a variety of junk food. In hindsight, it certainly hasn't been all bad, especially if you're a school teacher like me. We've only been in class on Wednesday which was bookended with a pair of cancellations.

This unexpected hiatus from the workplace has also allowed me to get up to speed with our beloved Red Sox and make my first blog post of the 2017 season. With full squad workouts beginning today, Dave Dombrowski has positioned the Sawx for an expected return to the post-season with his blockbuster move that brought Chris Sale into the fold. More importantly, it's what he didn't give up that also is a difference maker.  Yoan Moncada was blocked from joining the big club in the short term. By adding flamethrowing Michael Kopech to sweeten the deal,  this permitted Dombrowski to sell high on two hot prospects while keeping that starry young outfield intact. 

Throughout the season, I'll occasionally fire up this "Three Up, Three Down" feature to convey my take on the fortunes of the Sawx. Here is my initial triad of Red Sox ruminations on the hot corner, catchers and the closer:

  • Sandoval needs to return to "form"

Much has been made already about Pablo Sandoval's svelte new look, and that has to have the Sawx brass very optimistic. It has been a dreadful two seasons in Boston for the once dynamic switch-hitting third baseman with a flair for post-season magic. That infamous image of Pablo's girth last spring had him on the defensive from the get-go saying that he "had nothing to prove". Fast forward to yesterday's press conference and about 35 pounds lighter, Sandoval seemed considerably more humble saying he had "to prove a lot of things to the fans, to the team, to your teammates, to the sport.” 

Boston has to have production from a position that has been a revolving door as of late. Manager John Farrell has said that Sandoval will have to earn the starting job, but it has all the appearances of a forgone conclusion. Now that Travis Shaw is a Milwaukee Brewer, the only player that could push Sandoval for playing time is Brock Holt, and it is of paramount importance that Pablo wins this competition outright. Hey, I love Brock. He's gritty gamer who almost always makes something happen in the field, on the bases, or at the plate when he gets a chance. His versatility paved the way for many opportunities in the past three seasons, including an all-star selection, but the reality is he's not an everyday player. In two of the past three seasons, there has been a noticeable drop in Holt's production post all-star break. His career numbers show a 50 point drop in batting average from the first half of the season to the second half. He's also could be facing a significant drop in playing time if he cannot take the job from Sandoval due to the fact that he bats left-handed. Chris Young has to eat, and he'll be getting the call in the outfield when Benintendi or Bradley need a breather against a tough lefty. Sandoval is working his way back to being a switch-hitter again, but even if that doesn't come to pass Holt is not a viable option here as he batted a woeful .105 in only 38 PA against lefties in 2016. He'll spell Pedey and Bogie the odd time, but both of these guys are going to play a ton, so at bats will be hard to find for the "Brock Star".

Ironically, Travis Shaw hit 16 homers and drove in 71 runs last season while hitting .242. That was good enough to make him expendable due in part that he batted .182 from August 1st to the end of September. Batting average aside, if Sandoval reaches those same totals in homers and ribbies, all will be forgiven as these numbers would almost match his 2014 season when he was the toast of San Francisco. Sandoval hit .429 in the World Series that season while snaring his third championship ring.

  • Boston looks for Swihart to catch on
Once upon a time, I felt Blake Swihart would be ideal trade fodder. We had the defensive wizardry and cannon arm of Christian Vazquez who received his tutelage under the Molina brothers. Vazquez lived a mere 20 minutes away from Bengie, Jose and Yadier in his native Puerto Rico, and it was Jose who really took Christian under his wing becoming his mentor. Even after undergoing the Tommy John surgery which cost him all of the 2015 season, I felt his defense was game-changing, and he'd anchor the position for years to come.

Despite Vazquez's tremendous upside, Boston would not part with Swihart and he had a chance to demonstrate his skills catching in 83 games in 2015. The defense was adequate, but his calling card was his bat and he displayed this by hitting .274 with 5 homers, 17 doubles and 31 RBI.  In an effort to capitalize on his offense, Boston tried to make a corner outfielder out of him last season which lasted only 13 games before he tore up his ankle chasing down a fly ball in left field. Swihart has only thrown out 28% of runners attempting to steal in his brief career in comparison to Vazquez's career percentage of 44. However, Christian didn't seem right last season as the arm strength appeared to be diminished. His CS percentage dropped from 52 in 2014 to 35 in 2016. This, coupled with the fact that he hadn't figured out big league pitching left him vulnerable, and the emergence of Sandy Leon relegated him to the minors.

Speaking of Leon, he really was a savior for Boston last year. His defense is comparable to Vazquez nailing 41% of would-be base stealers, and his knowledge of hitters and game-calling skills were solid. What really was surprising was the offense he provided. He batted .310 with 7 homers and 35 RBI in 78 games to win the starting catching job outright. In July, the guy hit .355, and opposing pitchers struggled to keep him off the bases. Then came September, and his production normalized in a very unpleasant manner. Leon hit .213 during the month which was a little less than a 100 point drop from August. It might be fair to say that his summer run of 2016 was an anomaly, and he may be best suited for a backup role. But will that role be with Boston?

Swihart won't make the trip north with the big club unless his spring is otherworldly due to the fact that Leon and Vazquez are out of options. I'm betting, though, that Blake is called upon by June and has a chance of competing as the everyday catcher. His defense can only improve, and his switch-hitting exploits outdistance Leon's. With Vazquez's youth and comparable defense to Leon's, I think Sandy could be the odd man out before too long.

  • Kimbrel cause for concern
An all-star nod allowed Craig Kimbrel to fly under the radar in a very overrated role in 2016. Like many fans that watched the late innings with Boston on the winning side of things, I was never totally at ease with Kimbrel coming into the game. He walked 30 batters in 53 IP, the most since he issued 32 free passes in 2011 as a Brave. There is no arguing the swing and miss potential of his 96 mph arrow, but when he missed his target, he missed by wide margins. His 3.26 ERA in 2016 was the highest of his career and the 31 saves he notched was his lowest. He also had the alarming habit of puking all over himself in non-saves scenarios.

Now that Boston has a reconfigured bullpen with the emergence of Joe Kelly and the addition of Tyler Thornburg, Kimbrel should be able to simply concentrate on the ninth inning. Hopefully, he can return to his glory days, but if not, Boston now seems to have other reliable options in the late innings.

February 15, 2017

The Sensational 70s - American League Final Leaders

Here are the final American League statistical leaders from my Sensational 70s season. I will update this post at the end of my post-season with all award winners. For comparison sake, here are some stats from the all-star break.

Just taking a peek at the final leaderboards, I allowed duplicate players in my season so Rod Carew is represented twice: once as a member of the '77 Twins and again as a member of the '79 Angels. He wins the batting title as an Angel where he actually hit .312 in 1979. He also led in doubles with 51, and he only managed 15 in that '79 season. Carew did reach 200 hits in four seasons with the Twins, though, and one of those seasons was in 1977 when he had career high 239 hits. This classy hall of famer was a Rookie of the Year winner in 1967 and was chosen for 18 all-star teams. On the subject of duplicate players, Larry Hisle was a teammate of Carew's on the Twins in 1977, and he tore up the National League as a Brewer as well. He was second in the AL RBI as a Twin. Ken Singleton had 35 homers and 111 RBI in 1979 but virtually powered up to even greater heights leading in homers and RBI in the  Sensational 70s campaign.

As for pitching, the Royals' Dennis Leonard was a 20 game winner in 1977, and he bettered that by two in my dream season. He was tied for most wins in 1977 with Jim Palmer and Dave Goltz.  Ron Guidry was tops in ERA and he also led the league in 1978 with a mark of 1.74. Rich "Goose" Gossage also led the AL in saves in 1978 with 27 but ramped things up big time with a major league best of 52

The Sensational 70s - National League Final Leaders

Here are the final National League statistical leaders from my Sensational 70s season. I will update this post at the end of my post-season with all award winners. For comparison sake, here are some stats at the all-star break.

Just looking at the final leaderboards, batting champ Pete Rose bested his actual 1975 totals quite comfortably in average (.317) and hits (210). That season, the Cubs' Bill Madlock won the batting title with a .354 mark. Pittsburgh's Omar Moreno was 6 doubles shy of the major league record of 67 set back in 1931 by Boston's Earl Webb and was one shy of the Pirate record of 62 clubbed by hall of famer Paul Waner in 1932. Dusty Baker had a mammoth year in comparison to his 1978 totals in homer (11) and RBI (66). Brewers' star Larry Hisle stepped up the pace in my virtual season as he logged 33 homers and 115 RBI back in 1978. I used the inaugural versions of the Rockies, Diamondbacks and Marlins since they weren't around in the 70s, and Devon White led in triples after only hitting one with the 1998 Diamondbacks.

In the pitching department, the Reds' Fred Norman improved on his actual win total from 1975 (12). Norman's teammate Rawley Eastwick also led the league in saves back in 1975 tying Al Hrabosky with the league lead of 22. With the more modern use of closers, he benefited greatly with 48 saves in my season. One category that really jumps out is pitching WAR, with four Mets' starters in the top ten explaining how they were able to secure the NL East. Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman sat in the top ten in WAR in 1976. Seaver (2.59) and Koosman (2.69) also were third and fourth respectively in era in 1976 with Jon Matlack (2.95) placing tenth.