More HB: Bumgarner, Giants/Mets, Division Series

Baseball produces the unlikeliest heroes in October. For the Giants, it was third base replacement Conor Gillaspie in a 3-0 win over the Mets to advance to a date with the Cubs in the National League Division Series. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NBC Sports.

It is another big October weekend coming up. A week later, here we are with exciting playoff baseball. There are eight teams left vying for the World Title. The excitement of the two wildcard games lived up to the hype. The Blue Jays went extras to prevail over the Orioles. The Giants used some more Even Year Magic to stun the Mets at Citi Field in a game fans in NYC are still talking about.

So let’s get to it!

-It’s not so much a surprise that Madison Bumgarner carried the Giants past the Mets going the distance for a shutout 3-0 victory. The San Francisco ace has ice water in his veins. When it comes to October baseball, there simply isn’t a better pitcher. The 2014 World Series MVP continued to dial up zeroes keeping a better hitting Mets team off the scoreboard. He needed 119 pitches to help San Francisco advance to an NL Division Series date with the 103-win Cubs.

-As usual, the Giants do it with unsung heroes. Once, it was Marco Scutaro. This time, it was fill in third baseman Conor Gillaspie. An original Giants’ first round draft pick who wound up a starter for the White Sox a couple of years ago, he eventually fell down and was on the Angels for a song. He signed with the Giants and got another chance. He wasn’t even supposed to start but deadline pick up Eduardo Nunez was injured. Gillaspie filled in nicely for him down the stretch coming in swinging a hot bat.

-When he came up in the top of the ninth against lock down Met closer Jeurys Familia with two runners on and one out, Gillaspie was the last guy you’d expect a home run from. Sure enough, the left-handed hitting third baseman turned around a high sinker sending it into orbit to silence the 43,000-plus in Flushing. A player who only hit six homers in 101 games all year took Familia yard. He had only given up one long ball.

-Baseball can be unpredictable. Expect the unexpected. In this case on a nice Wednesday night where Bumgarner and Mets’ flame thrower Noah Syndergaard went pitch for pitch, it was a guy who wasn’t supposed to be here. But Gillaspie made it count and then showed plenty of emotion rounding the bases. He later indicated he wasn’t someone who does that but the occasion was special.

-Interestingly, Bumgarner was on deck. Had Gillaspie not come through, he is likely pinch hit for. Who knows what happens. Given the fragile state of the Giants’ bullpen, it probably would’ve tilted in the Mets’ favor. Perhaps it was fate. To hear my pumped up father emphatically scream, “Bleeping house money! Bleeping house money!” it was pretty accurate. Considering the awful second half they had, the Giants weren’t supposed to be here. But they righted themselves the final week by winning six of the final seven including a home sweep of the NL West champion Dodgers to get in.

-The thing about the wildcard is it works. It’s do-or-die. Either you deliver or you’re history. In Baltimore’s case, Buck Showalter failed them by not going to dominant closer Zach Britton. I understand he was saving him for a save situation. But once Ubaldo Jimenez got in trouble, he should’ve went with his best. Instead, he left Jimenez in for one more batter and watched Edwin Encarnacion hit a long three-run walk off bomb that still hasn’t landed.

-The Jays rode that momentum by hammering Cole Hamels for seven runs in a 10-1 blowout win at Texas. Jose Bautista stayed hot driving in four including a three-run shot. Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Donaldson also had big games. They were backed by eight-plus of one-run ball from Marco Estrada, who had a good season.

-For the Rangers, it comes down to Game 2. They don’t want to go down 0-2 with the next two at Rogers Centre. Game 2 features Yu Darvish against Jays’ southpaw J.A. Happ, who had a very good year winning 20 games. Darvish finished strong. Undoubtedly, Texas needs him to be at his best and get the offense going. Happ faces some dangerous righty bats in Adrian Beltre, Rougned Odor, Carlos Beltran and Jonathan Lucroy.

-One other point on the Mets’ loss. It was eerily similar to the one suffered 10 years ago to the Cardinals. Only the stakes were much higher as it was Game 7 of the NLCS at Shea Stadium. On Wednesday night, another outfielder made a great catch saving a run. This time, it was Curtis Granderson tracking a Brandon Belt deep drive to center. He kept going and made an amazing running catch into the wall to strand a runner in the top of the sixth.

-Ironically, it was Endy Chavez’ catch over the wall in left that took away a home run from Scott Rolen in the same inning against the Cardinals. Jose Reyes was part of both games. In the post game, he noted how Granderson’s catch reminded him of Chavez’s. In each case, the Amazin’s suffered the same cruel fate with a reliever giving up a big blow in the top of the ninth. In ’06, it was Aaron Heilman serving one up to then unknown St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina. At least he became an All-Star. This time, it was the Mets’ best in Familia giving it up to Gillaspie. That is baseball.

-You do have to wonder what the heck Yoenis Cespedes was thinking in the last half of the ninth. Bumgarner had just missed badly with his first two pitches. You’re down three. Cespedes swung at the next pitch and flied out easily to right. At that point, the Mets need base runners. He should’ve been taking. The overly aggressive Cespedes looked badly against Bumgarner, who twice fanned him on pitches out of the strike zone. He can opt out and become a free agent. Early hints are he will and might not return.

-Bumgarner didn’t have his A-plus stuff. He struggled in the middle innings after only using 21 pitches the first three innings. But the Mets were unable to deliver the big hit. They missed some chances. That’s also what makes Bumgarner so tough. He doesn’t give into the pressure. He battles through. It explains why he’s been so clutch in October. It will be an interesting subplot to see him face Jake Arrieta in Game 3 of the NL Division Series. How will he fare against a potent Cubs lineup featuring Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Dexter FowlerAddison Russell and Ben Zobrist?

-As for Syndergaard, he put on a wonderful performance befitting of an ace who will win a Cy Young in the future. Boasting a 99 MPH heater, the Texas native who idolized Josh Beckett was splendid for seven innings. The Giants couldn’t touch him. In fact, Syndergaard didn’t allow a hit until the sixth when Denard Span went up the middle for a base hit. Syndergaard fanned 10 and was superb. The Giants did run up his pitch count making it a certainty he was done after whittling out of the seventh with 108 pitches (70 strikes).

Addison Reed came in in the eighth and got in and out of trouble. He loaded the bases before getting Hunter Pence swinging on some high cheese. The set up man was excellent all season.

-Everyone knew Terry Collins would go to Familia in the ninth. There is no save situation in a tie game for the home team. At that point, you go with your best. Familia wasn’t sharp leaving a pitch up that Brandon Crawford hammered to the gap in the opposite field for a lead off double. Angel Pagan failed to lay down a sacrifice bunt with Familia coming back to strike him out on high heat.

-The key at bat came from Joe Panik. Ice cold down the stretch after returning from injury, the St. John’s alum fouled off a tough pitch and worked a walk on a 3-2 count. That set the stage for Gillaspie. He did the rest.

-Of course, Bruce Bochy had no one warming in the Giants’ pen. This was Bumgarner’s game. The same as it was in a road wildcard win over the Pirates. Also a shutout. With how little is in that pen with Sergio Romo taking over the closer duties, it’s no wonder Bochy doesn’t trust it.

-Game 1 is Friday night with Johnny Cueto opposing Jon Lester at Wrigley Field. That should be a surreal scene. The Cubs were 16 games better in the standings than the Giants. They boast a lethal lineup, deep pitching that also includes NL Cy Young candidate and Game 2 starter Kyle Hendricks. Plus a strong pen featuring Hector Rondon and triple digit closer Aroldis Chapman. Everything points to the Cubs. Bumgarner can’t start more than one game. The Giants do boast Cueto, who had a strong year. But Game 2 is either Jeff Samardzija or Matt Moore.

-If there are x-factors in this series, for the Cubs it’s tough number one hitter Fowler and Jason Heyward. For the Giants, we’ll go with Buster Posey, who had an off year. He’s a former MVP.

-The other NLDS features the Dodgers at the Nationals. It will be a scintillating match-up between a pair of aces in Clayton Kershaw against Max Scherzer. If both are on, the over/under on combined strikeouts is 21. These are two of the best. Kershaw who still hasn’t had his October moment but has three Cy Youngs. Scherzer, who has one and did win 20 games with a 2.96 ERA while striking out a major league-leading 284. This is as good as it gets.

-It should be a great series. The Dodgers have an edge in pitching with Rich Hill going in Game 2 against Gio Gonzalez. The lineups are about on par with the Nats featuring Daniel Murphy, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and dazzling rookie Trea Turner. Danny Espinosa supplies pop and Jayson Werth boasts championship pedigree. The Dodgers boast the NL’s top rookie Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig. They also have Joc Pederson and overlooked catcher Yasmani Grandal. Chase Utley has the championship experience and always puts together good at bats.

-Both teams possess excellent closers. The Nats with Mark Melancon, who they stole from the Pirates. The Dodgers with Kenley Jansen. They are two of the game’s best. Give the edge to LA’s bullpen with converted reliever Joe Blanton setting up along with Pedro Baez and situational lefty J.P. Howell. They also boast Kenta Maeda as their Game 3 starter. He should have an edge over the Nats’ Tanner Roark, who had a good season.

-The x-factor could be 20-year old top prospect Julio Urias. He averaged more than a strikeout per inning. Manager Dave Roberts limited his innings mixing in some starts with relief appearances. Is Urias ready for prime time? For the Nats, I’ll go with A.J. Cole or Reynaldo Lopez. Each is young and could be used out of the pen in middle relief. Both are considered a big part of the Nats’ future in the rotation. Blake Treinen sets up.

-There are four games Friday. The first at 1 EST with Toronto at Texas. Boston at Cleveland follows for Game 2 at 4:30 EST. An hour later, it’s the Dodgers at the Nationals in Game 1 of the NLDS at 5:30 EST. The Giants and the Cubs are at 9 EST with first pitch 9:15 on the East Coast. That’s 8:15 Central in the Windy City. If you can’t get pumped for this, then you’re not a baseball fan.


October Baseball: Buck Showalter fails, Giants/Mets, Odell Beckham

Noah Syndergaard has a tough challenge when he goes up against Madison Bumgarner in a exciting NL wildcard tonight between the Mets and Giants. The winner gets the Cubs. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy The Score.

It’s been a while since I voiced my opinion on this blog. Well, it’s finally time to let it all go. So, what have I been doing? Lately, just getting ready for another hockey season our main New York Puck blog covering Rangers, Devils, Islanders and Sabres. That can be checked out if you’re interested in puck talk.

I also have really been preoccupied hosting shows on my Hard Hits Network. These have become 30-minute live editions for those interested in sports talk and other random topics mixed in. There’s also 15 extra minutes of overtime which can be anything goes. It features Colin Cannaday, John Giagnorio and yours truly, The Flex, Derek Felix. 😉

Here is our latest one covering the ALCS won by the Blue Jays in extras on a walk off three-run home run by Edwin Encarnacion to beat the Orioles and face the Rangers in the ALDS. Plus previewing and predicting scores for Giants/Mets NL wildcard and my hard hitting take on Odell Beckham:


Listen our new episode Hard Hits Talkin’ Playoff Baseball and Debate at #BlogTalkRadio

Above, you can hear our 45-minute podcast on the hot topics. Here are my observations in written format.
-Once again, Buck Showalter let the moment get the best of him. It was 21 years ago in Game 5 of a classic ALDS that he decided it was safer to go with Black Jack McDowell to close out the Mariners in extras than closer John Wetteland. Edgar Martinez did the rest with Ken Griffey, Jr. rounding the bases faster than Usain “Lightning” Bolt. So, why on earth would Showalter opt for Ubaldo Jimenez in the bottom of the 11th over Cy Young closer Zach Britton? That’s one he’ll be left thinking about.
-The Jays are too explosive an offense to mess around with. Once Jimenez put a runner on, Britton should’ve been in the game. End of story. You can’t always manage by the book. Especially in a do-or-die win or go home scenario. I could care less if Jimenez tossed a gem last week. He’s a back of the rotation starter. You have to do whatever it takes to get out of that jam.
-Instead, Encarnacion launched one into the left field seats at The Skydome Rogers Centre sending the Blue Jays to a dramatic 5-2 victory. Jimenez didn’t retire a batter. Ser—io–usly. This was another epic fail by one of the good guys who does a great job managing in the regular season. Let’s just say Showalter doesn’t have the best track record in the postseason. End of story.
-The Jays will meet the Rangers again a year later. Jose Bautista is back on track. He finished strong and continued with a Bautista bomb to get the scoring started. Major league home run leader Mark Trumbo responded with a two-run bomb off Toronto starter Marcus Stroman. There were no runs scored following Ezequiel Carrera’s run scoring single that tied it in the home fifth.
-In fact, the Orioles went without a hit the final five innings. Five Jays’ relievers combined to allow only a walk and strike out six batters. Closer Roberto Osuna got all four batters he faced with two K’s before giving way to Francisco Liriano. The former Pirates’ lefty starter fared better going one and two thirds with a K to pick up the win.
-So, you get an enticing series between two evenly matched teams. Texas is home for the best-of-five series. It should be fun. We’ll preview it in another post.
-The NL wildcard is later tonight with a real barn burner featuring a pair of aces between the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner and the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard. It features the third and fourth best ERA’s in the Senior Circuit. Syndergaard with a 2.60 while Bumgarner had a 2.74. Hopefully, it lives up to the billing.
-I am going with the Mets due to their more potent lineup. Especially if Bumgarner can’t go the distance. He’s got an unreal track record dominating the 2014 postseason to lead the Giants to a third World Championship in five years. All btw even years. Here is San Francisco again in in an even year. We shall see if the magic continues for Dad’s Giants dating back to when he followed legends Mays and Marichal and McCovey at The Polo Grounds. My final score is Mets 4, Giants 2 with Asdrubal Cabrera hitting a walk off.
-Why is the Mets lineup better? For starters, you have a great 1-2 punch in Jose Reyes and Cabrera. It’s been a decade since Reyes has seen the playoffs. He was then manning shortstop for that ’06 team that came so close to a World Series, losing in gut wrenching fashion to the Cardiac Cards. A game best remembered for Endy Chavez’ catch followed by Yadier Molina breaking Amazin’ fan hearts. The ending was cruel with Carlos Beltran unable to pull the trigger on a nasty curve by then rookie Adam Wainwright leaving the bases loaded at the old Shea Stadium.
It’s hard to believe those teams never made it again with consecutive collapses and the unjust firing of since blackballed former skipper Willie Randolph. Here is Reyes rejuvenated with the only team he ever should’ve played for getting clutch hits and playing a respectable hot corner with Cabrera at short. Can he deliver in the twilight of his career?
-Aside from those two, you have the ever dangerous Yoenis Cespedes, who either will crush the ball or swing at everything and come up empty. Jay Bruce got hot after slugging a pinch hit home run into the upper deck, finishing with three jacks and looking the part. Curtis Granderson wound up with 30 dingers after struggling mightily. His bat came to life when it was needed. Coincidentally, I dropped him in fantasy baseball.
You also have young unproven bats in T.J. Rivera and Michael Conforto. Rivera was a nice surprise at second for the Mets hitting after they lost Neil Walker at second. Eric Campbell will probably get the call at first with his righty bat going against Bumgarner. That leaves Terry Collins with a strong bench featuring Lucas Duda, James Loney, Conforto and clutch pinch hitter Kelly Johnson.
-Perhaps the Mets’ biggest edge is closer Jeurys Familia, who paced everyone with 51 saves. He and set up man Addison Reed are dependable if it comes down to a tight game. The Giants’ pen is the worst in baseball blowing a zillion leads. Yet they were able to get it done sweeping the Dodgers to make it here. Sergio Romo is now the closer. We’ll see if he continues to throw well. If it comes down to a battle of the pens, you have to like the Amazin’s. But this is baseball. Anything can happen.
-For the Giants, look for ex-Met Angel Pagan and table setter Denard Span to be factors if they come out on top. Each outfielder has been hot with the bat and both have speed. Key Giants’ hitters include former World Series MVP Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt. The latter two who didn’t hit for much power down the stretch but are capable of timely hits.
-Here’s a thought on Cy Young. Max Scherzer has the wins (20) and strikeouts (284). But his ERA is almost a full run worse than Kyle Hendricks’ NL best 2.13. Scherzer is a horse. Hendricks isn’t as he only completed his third year in the big leagues. Jon Lester also is in the conversation winning 19 games with a 2.44 with the third best WHIP (1.016) behind Hendricks (0.979) and Scherzer (0.968).
It would all be for naught had Clayton Kershaw not missed significant time.He still went 12-4 with a 1.69 in 21 starts with three shutouts leading the league. In 149 frames, he allowed 97 hits with only 11 walks and 172 K’s. Oh btw…his WHIP was a ridiculous 0.725. Kershaw might not win his fourth Cy but it’s all about October for him.
-Not listed is Johnny Cueto who won 18 games and posted a 2.79 with 198 strikeouts in 219-plus. Great signing for once by Brian Sabean. Syndergaard and Bumgarner each had their own superb years both going over 200 K’s and going 3-4 in ERA.
-It still is hard to fathom that Jose Fernandez is gone. Only 24 and he had already proven to be the future of the NL. He won 16 games on the inconsistent Marlins only losing eight times with a 2.86 in 29 starts. Fernandez posted an amazing 253 punch outs over 182 and a third. His average K’s per 9 innings was a jaw dropping 12.5. What might he have accomplished? We can only imagine. That is such a huge hit for that franchise. If only they didn’t push his start back. God bless him and his other two friends and their families. 😦
-I have been steadfast as far as the AL MVP. Mike Trout undoubtedly is the best player in the game. That’s without dispute. But his numbers as great as they are don’t blow away Mookie Betts or Jose Altuve. Betts was my pick at the beginning of the year to chuckles from my buddies. Well, he sure lived up to the hype tying for second in batting average (.318) with Boston teammate Dustin Pedroia while also tying for second in runs scored (122) right behind Trout (123).
Betts led the junior circuit in total bases (359), at bats (672) and ranked fourth in runs batted in (113) despite starting the season at lead off before moving to third. He went over 30 homers as predicted and stole 26 bases while recording 214 hits. Only Trout was better at WAR (Wins Above Replacement) going 10.6 to Betts’ 9.6. Trout has the edge in Offensive WAR (9.9) to Betts’ 6.2. In case you’re wondering, Altuve who won the batting title at .338 was second with a 7.9 (7.7 overall) and led in hits with 216. Betts was second in Defensive WAR at 2.8 and should win a Gold Glove.
-I can easily see voters going: 1.Trout 2.Betts 3.Altuve.
I don’t advocate choosing the best player when he played for such a mediocre to bad team. Unless he blows everyone away like Andre Dawson, I have to give it to Betts, who undoubtedly played on a much better team. Will they penalize him for such a great offense that included OPS leader David Ortiz, Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez and Xander Boegarts? We’ll see.
-NL MVP is easier with Kris Bryant on his way to his first, outdistancing Daniel Murphy and NL Rookie of the Year Corey Seager. His big second half and Murphy’s injury riddled second half ensured that. Seager is a stud. He could be the Dodgers’ toughest out already. I wouldn’t want to face him in a key situation.
-That series against the Nationals should be something to behold. It features Kershaw and Scherzer along with Seager, Justin Turner, Adrian Gonzalez, a rejuvenated Yasiel Puig and on the flip side, Murphy, Bryce Harper, Nats’ electrifying rookie Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon. It should go the distance. I am going Dodgers in 5 due to better pitching. The Nats also have no Stephen Strasburg and Wilson Ramos is done.
-If the Indians had Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco, I would take them over the Red Sox. Trevor Bauer is going in Game 1 which doesn’t inspire much confidence. At least Corey Kluber pitches Game 2. The Indians’ best chance is to get the Red Sox’ starters out early and get after their bullpen. That means big series for Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis and ex-Red Sock Mike Napoli. Tyler Naquin had a quietly very good rookie year and Rajai Davis stole 43 bases.
-Cleveland did this without Michael Brantley. The match-up also pits former Boston hero Terry Francona against the team he guided them to two world titles including the historic comeback from 0-3 down against the Yankees en route to the 2004 World Championship, which ended the long drought since 1918. John Farrell guided them to a third world title this century in 2013. Can the Sox do it again in Big Papi’s last hurrah?
-I also believe this series has the potential to be a classic. I’m thinking five games. Andrew Miller gives the Indians a decided edge late over the shaky Craig Kimbrel. But I just get the feeling this Red Sox lineup will hit its way past the Indians in Ortiz’ final October.
-And finally, on Odell Beckham. As a diehard Giants fan, if he can’t be enthused about playing a kid’s game which he gets paid top dollar for in only Year 3, then take a walk. Go participate in Dancing With The Stars. If he can’t draw motivation from the inspiring and comeback story Victor “Salsa” Cruz, then there’s something wrong. Cruz and rookie Sterling Shepard have been better so far. The last I checked a whiny Beckham is blaming everything from the refs to the NFL for only 22 catches in four games with zero touchdowns. Enough already! Either shape up or get lost.

Hard Hits talks big October Football Weekend

Clayton Kershaw
Clayton Kershaw will be facing Max Scherzer in a battle of aces in a great match up between the Dodgers and Nationals in the NLDS. That and plenty more was covered on Hard Hits from Derek, Colin and John. AP Photo by Jeff Chiu/Getty Images

Hard Hits is my internet show that can be heard on the airwaves of BlogTalkRadio. Originally started in February 2007, the Hard Hits Network has been around for nine years in some format or another. A sports themed show that also mixes in the current events and music from time to time, it’s our way to express ourselves.

On Sunday, we did two live broadcasts. Each was 30 minutes live with 15 minutes of overtime. Until we go back to Premium, it’ll be a shorter format. Once we do renew for Premium, longer shows shall return. Featuring John “JPG” Giagnorio, Colin Cannaday, Rob “Retirement” Davis, Brian David Sanborn, Justin “JNF” Felix and hosted by yours truly, Derek “Flex” Felix, it’s always entertaining back and forth banter. No matter what the topic, it is “hard hitting.”

In Part 1 of a two show special edition, the guest of honor JPG showed up to discuss his relocation to Las Vegas. Naturally, he stopped in Chicago for hometown before completing the trip with his Cubs primed for a big October run. Derek predictably figured out what John ordered for dinner. Plus more interesting discussion from the statmastah who joined Derek and Colin for both college football, NFL and baseball wildcard predictions.

Who will win? The Orioles or Blue Jays. The winner gets the Texas Rangers. The other AL Division series is set between two evenly matched teams with the Indians hosting the Red Sox in Big Papi’s final year. Can Cleveland overcome Boston’s lethal lineup?

Meanwhile, the Giants are back in in another even year. Can they make another improbable run? They’ll visit the Mets Wednesday with a great match-up between Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard. Find out who Colin and John like. Also why Derek went against his original prediction. The winner takes on JPG’s Cubs.

In the other NL Division match-up, it features two of the game’s best pitchers with the Nats’ Max Scherzer taking on the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw. It shapes up to be a great series. For more breakdown on this series, tune into Part 2 where Derek, Colin and John made their predictions.

Catch Part 1 of Hard Hits A JPG Tribute here:

Hard Hits Part I: A JPG Tribute

Among the topics covered were two unbelievable college football games including the hail mary which allowed Tennessee to stun Georgia. Plus a pro style classic with Clemson and Louisville going toe to toe with Heisman quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson putting on a show.

NFL Week 4 highlights are discussed with Colin pretty pumped about his Falcons led by record performances from Matt Ryan and Julio Jones in a dismantling of the suddenly struggling Panthers. Plus why Derek feels sorry for Phil Rivers following the Chargers’ latest collapse. The Bills pull off a shocker in New England. They’re back.

Derek also makes a prediction into the future on baseball.