More HB: Bumgarner, Giants/Mets, Division Series

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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 Fowler,¬†Addison 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.

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

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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. ūüėČ

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¬†http://tobtr.com/s/9516483. #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. ūüė¶
-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.

2016 Baseball Bidding Draft

1.SP Gerrit Cole-Joe D $40

2.SP Adam Wainwright-Havoc 28

3.OF Mike Trout-Jimmy 56

4.SP Johnny Cueto-21 Roland

5.1B Prince Fielder-22 Skelly

6.OF Andrew McCutchen-46 GOAT

7.OF Shoo Choo-Havoc 15

8.C Russell Martin-Derek 8

9.SP Michael Wacha-Andrew 21

10.1B Freddie Freeman-Frank 22

11.1B Miguel Cabrera-Terence 50

12.RP Glen Perkins-GOAT 8

13.SS Troy Tulowitzki-Victoria 28

14.SP Felix Hernandez-Andrew 24

15.3B Edwin Encarnacion-Spera 39

16.SP Julio Tehran-Chin 12

17.2B Starlin Castro-Skelly 12

18.2B Robinson Cano-Chin 34

19.OF Yoenis Cespedes-Hammer 25

20.OF Jacoby Ellsbury-Hammer 16

21.OF Ryan Braun-Chin 27

22.SS/OF Ian Desmond-Frank 17

23.RP Craig Kimbrel-Jimmy 16

24.1B/CI Albert Pujols-Terence 24

25.3B/1B Travis Shaw-Chin 7

26.OF/1B Hanley Ramirez-Jimmy 19

27.3B Adrian Beltre-Andrew 21

28.SP Masahiro Tanaka-Jimmy 16

29.SP Jotdan Zimmerman-Victoria 11

30.3B Evan Longoria-Hammer 18

31.SP Michael Pineda-Terence 16

32.OF Yasiel Puig-Roland 23

33.1B/CI Brandon Belt-Joe D 11

34.2B Ian Kinsler-Roland 13

35.2B Dustin Pedroia-Hammer 7

36.C Salvador Perez-Hammer 5

37.SP Phil Hughes-Terence 4

38.OF Matt Kemp-Frank 15

39.1B Adrian Gonzalez-Andrew 29

40.OF Jason Heyward-Jimmy 18

41.OF Carlos Gomez-GOAT 35

42.OF Adam Jones-Roland 28

43.Carlos Santana-Victoria 6

44.3B Jake Lamb-Derek 5

45.OF Matt Holliday-Skelly 11

46.2B Daniel Murphy-Andrew 10

47.SP Iwa Kuma-Spero 10

48.UT Victor Martinez-Hammer 9

49.SP Jeff Samardjza-Spero 16

50.RP David Robertson-Skelly 16

51.SP James Shields-Skelly 14

52.SS Eduardo Escobar-Hammer 2

53.3B David Wright-Derek 7

54.SS Brad Miller-Frank 4

55.OF Delino Deshields-Joe D 23

56.SS Josh Harrison-Victoria 10

57.3B/CI Trevor Plouffe-Derek 6

58.3B/UT Danny Valencia-Andrew 7

59.C Jonathan Lucroy-Victoria 7

60.CI Luis Valbuena-Jimmy 3

61.OF Jay Bruce-GOAT 9

62.SS Erick Aybar-Terence 3

63.SP Yung-Su Kim-Chin 1

64.OF Melky Cabrera-Terence 2

65.C Yan Gomes-Skelly 2

66.RP Jake McGee-Roland 9

67.OF Wil Myers-GOAT 6

68.RP Tony Watson-Terence 5

69.3B/UT Adonis Garcia-Derek 4

70.SP Ervin Santana-Andrew 3

71.OF Colby Rasmus-Hammer 4

72.SS Jose Reyes-GOAT 6

73.1B/UT-Chris Colabello-Skelly 3

74.SP Ian Kennedy-Derek 9

75.RP Huston Street-Terence 9

76.OF Josh Reddick-Frank 6

77.RP Sean Doolittle-Roland 6

78.RP Jonathan Papelbon-GOAT 12

79.RP Shawn Tolleson-Andrew 12

80.SP Bartolo Colon-Terence 2

81.C Wilson Ramos-Derek 1

82.SS Alexei Ramirez-Derek 2

83.OF Evan Gattis-Roland 3

84.3B Martin Prado-Spero 1

85.OF Desmond Jennings-Jimmy 3

86.SP Andrew Cashner-Derek 4

87.SS Tim Beckham-Terence 1

88.SP Jim Jeffries-Joe 6

89.OF Eddie Rosario-Chin 6

90.SS Elvis Andrus-Roland 7

91.RP Santiago Casilla-Frank 7

93.SP Gio Gonzalez-Jimmy 10

94.1B/OF Adam Lind-Joe D 4

95.OF Jerod Dyson-Skelly 7

96.C Travis D’Arnaud GOAT 9

97.CI Pedro Alvarez Skelly 8

98.SP Tony Cingriani-Chin 2

99.OF Rajai Davis-Derek 4

100.C Matt Wieters-Terence 2

101.MI/UTI Kelly Johnson-Terence 1

102.OF Jayson Werth-Hammer 3

103.2B Marcus Semien-Chin 12

104.RP Brad Ziegler-Andrew 10

105.SP Juan Nicasio-Joe D 5

106.RP Fernando Rodney-Hammer 4

107.Aaron Sanchez-Derek 7

108.2B Corey Spangenburg-Andrew 5

109.RP Arodys Vizcaino-Frank 6

110.SS Jhonny Peralta-Spero 1

111.Kevin Quackenbush-Spero 3

112.SP Jason Hammel-Joe D 7

113.CI Mike Napoli-Terence 3

114.SS/2B Jean Segura-Roland 10

115.2B Brandon Phillips-Hammer 7

116.SP Nathan Eovaldi-Joe D 8

117.Adam Connolly-Frank 3

118.Carson Smith-Derek 3

119.OF Carlos Beltran Jimmy 3

120.RP Yimi Garcia-Derek 1

121.J.R. Realmuto Chin-4

122.1B Ryan Zimmerman Skelly 18

123.SS Alcides Escobar Andrew 9

124.UTI Brock Holt Derek 7

125.Renaldo

126.RP Sergio Romo Terence 4

127.J.J. Hoover 5 Roland

128.SP Clay Buckholz Hammer 6

129.OF Jackie Bradley Jr. 4

130.RP Brad Boxberger 5 Roland

131.

132.

133.

134.

135.

136.

137.

138.

139.

140.

More HB: Mets ready for Dodgers, Nats debacle

It’s a wonderful autumn Monday here in the city that never sleeps. Here are the hot topics fresh off a big sports weekend:

-Congrats to manager Terry Collins on guiding the Mets to a division title. Nobody takes more crap than the classy 66-year old baseball lifer. In an Amazin’ season, he’s done a great job. It was Collins who kept his team together until GM Sandy Alderson went out and got Yoenis Cespedes. It was also Terry who handled himself well following the Matt Harvey “innings limit” controversy created by evil agent Scott Boras. Once Collins had the talent, you see how it played out. The Mets ran away from the bumbling and stumbling Nats who embarrassed themselves Sunday. More on that later. Now Collins gets the chance to see if he can manage a team of aces to a third world title.

-Following that odd Harvey start where Collins pulled him after five scoreless in a brutal Yankee loss, he sent him back out there to get the ‘W’ in Saturday’s clincher. And Harvey threw 97 pitches allowing a pair of runs in six-plus while fanning six Reds in a 10-2 romp. He’s on board and will be ready for the postseason. That’s what it’s all about.

-After nine years away from October, Mets captain David Wright gets another crack at it. If there’s a more deserving player, I can’t think of one. After everything he’s been through including the uncertainty surrounding his bad back, he’s come back and hit a couple of satisfying home runs including the exclamation point in the ninth on Saturday. It’ll be fun to see if he can deliver on the best team the Mets have had since that heartbreaking conclusion in Game 7 of the NLCS. The pitching part is better with Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and¬†Bartolo Colon with Jon Niese and likely¬†Steven Matz going to the pen.

-The Mets are fighting for home field in the NLDS against the Dodgers. With LA limping to the finish line, the Mets are a game and a half up in the final week of the regular season. They would love to get that potential fifth game at Citi Field. However, I can’t help but wonder if the Dodgers will be an easy opponent.

-Obviously, they have a pair of aces in Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke. So, they’ll have to work the count and get to the Dodger bullpen. A team weakness with the exception of closer Kenley Jansen. However, LA’s lineup doesn’t strike fear. Adrian Gonzalez is their most dangerous hitter. Corey Seager is the unknown. How much impact will the young phenom have? Joc Pederson has been a disaster in the second half. Dodger skipper Don Mattingly hasn’t hesitated to bench him against lefties. Obviously, he’ll face right-handers if he plays.

-Mattingly also isn’t sure about the availability of Yasiel Puig,¬†who’s been out since Aug. 27 with a right hamstring strain. Justin Turner hasn’t been the same since returning from the disabled list. Howie Kendrick is a proven playoff performer with the Halos. So is Jimmy Rollins, who did plenty of damage to the Mets for the Phillies the last time they were relevant.

-If we’re comparing offenses, the Mets are deeper with Cespedes the headliner who carried his team to their first NL East crown since ’06. With Wright and Daniel Murphy along with Curtis Granderson and Travis D’arnaud, the Amazin’s boast some solid bats. Collins can also go to a righty lineup against Kershaw that features Michael Cuddyer and Juan Lagares. They’re hoping to have vet Juan Uribe (chest) for the NLDS. He’s gotten some big hits since coming over from the Braves. The wildcard is rookie Michael Conforto, who’s swung a good bat against righties with all eight of his homers coming off them. But he’s only had a dozen at bats versus southpaws.

Wilmer Flores remains the turning point when he cried thinking he was traded with injured starter Zach Wheeler to Milwaukee for Carlos Gomez. He’s been a steady and productive player since shifting to second with Ruben Tejada reclaiming shortstop. Lucas Duda has been streaky. He’s gone deep lately clubbing three dingers in the Mets’ last two wins over hapless Cincinnati. He is tied with Granderson for the team lead in homers (25). Oddly enough, he hits lefties better going .299-7-21 in 117 at bats. Most of the power has been supplied off righties with 18 home runs but a .227 average in twice as many at bats (317).

-Collins also has Kelly Johnson who can come off the bench as a pinch-hitter or play utility. The pen is a bit better since adding Tyler Clippard and Addison Reed to help set up flame thrower Jeurys Familia. ¬†The Mets’ depth on both sides should give them a decided edge.

-So the fireworks finally erupted in the Nats’ dugout Sunday. Fittingly, it came in a ugly 12-5 loss to that world beater Philadelphia. Following a Bryce Harper at bat in which he didn’t run out a routine fly out, Jonathan Papelbon took him to task as he got back to the dugout. Paplebon had a good point about the 22-year old superstar who didn’t show much leadership even though his team was eliminated a day before. However, Papelbon attempted to choke Harper causing teammates to quickly come to the NL MVP front runner’s aid. That’s unacceptable but expected from a hot head like Papelbon. It led to a four-game suspension from major league baseball and the Nats suspending him for the rest of the season. A sad commentary on a frustrating season for the Nationals.

-Of course, clueless skipper Matt Williams didn’t say much after this. Why would he? He was a superb player for the Giants, Indians and Diamondbacks. But is overmatched as a manager. With the Nats underachieving so badly with 80 wins, he’ll no doubt lose his job. It’s not just on Williams. But rather the organization as a whole. They need to change the attitude and leadership. It’ll be an interesting off-season.

More HB: Matt Harvey, Subway Series, Another Giants Collapse, Bama and USC fall

On the first autumn Monday, we take a look back at a busy sports weekend.

New York Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey delivers in the first inning of a baseball game against the New York Yankees in New York, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Matt Harvey tossed five scoreless for the Mets but was pulled after 77 pitches due to the controversial innings limit that has handcuffed manager Terry Collins. AP Photo by Kathy Willens/Getty Images

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-For five innings,¬†Matt Harvey¬†shut down the Yankee offense holding them to a single infield hit while walking one and fanning seven on 77 pitches. Then Mets skipper Terry Collins pulled the plug due to the “innings limit” imposed by evil agent Scott Boras. Then Collins watched helplessly as the Yanks erupted for five runs in a ugly sixth off rookie reliever Hansel Robles that included two errors- one from Daniel Murphy on a Jacoby Ellsbury infield hit and a David Wright miscue on a 95 MPH strike from Robles on a bad Brett Gardner bunt that should’ve nailed Ellsbury at third. If Wright makes the tag, who knows how the inning plays out. Instead, a two-run Carlos Beltran go-ahead double followed along with a two out Dustin Ackley three-run bomb.

-The Mets pen turned in a comedy allowing 11 runs (7 ER) in three consecutive innings highlighted by a opposite field Greg Bird three-run blast that made it 11-1. It was predictable once Harvey exited. Whose fault is it? It’s hard to blame Collins when he’s been put in an uncomfortable position. Blame Boras and his client who have put future interests ahead of this special season at Citi Field. Harvey is at 176.2 innings with potentially two starts left before the postseason. How will he be used? If they’re saving him, the Dark Knight better deliver in October.

-The loss sent Amazin’ fans into panic mode. Despite their team still comfortably up on the Nationals by six games with 13 games left, they still are concerned about another collapse. Unlike ’07 and ’08, it remains highly unlikely. The Nats would have to go 11-2 while the Mets would have to finish 5-8 to force a one-game playoff. Given that their next opponent is the lowly Braves starting tonight, reducing a magic number of eight shouldn’t be a problem. After playing three against Atlanta at home, they travel to Cincinnati for a four-game series and visit Philadelphia for three. The final three come against Washington at home Oct. 2-4. The Nats probably can only lose once to have any realistic shot. They host close rival Baltimore for three and then the Phillies for three. They then play a make up game at home versus the Reds before visiting the Braves for three. Then comes the final series at the Mets.

-For the Mets, even with the Harvey distraction they have six starters with Jacob deGrom, Bartolo Colon, Jon Niese and rookies Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz all part of the rotation. In other words, Collins has plenty of options.

-On the flip side, it was a successful weekend for the Yankees who took the final two games and actually gained two games on the first place Blue Jays cutting the AL East deficit to two and a half entering a pivotal three-game series at Toronto later tonight. They can thank the ageless Beltran who drove in five in the two wins including a three-run bomb off Syndergaard into the upper deck in Saturday’s 5-0 shutout. In the second half, Beltran has hit .302 with nine dingers and 28 RBI’s. Not bad for the former All-Star outfielder who most thought was done at 38. He can still get it done.

-The Yanks also had to be pleased with Michael Pineda and C.C. Sabathia. Both delivered well pitched games. Pineda pitched shutout ball into the sixth before manager Joe Girardi went to Justin Wilson, who fanned the final two batters to get out of a jam. After lumbering in a long first using 32 pitches but only permitting one run on a Wright RBI double, Sabathia settled down going six allowing one earned on five hits with three walks and seven strikeouts to finally win for the first time in 11 starts. It was his second straight good outing. He got a no-decision against the Rays on Sept. 14 after permitting no runs in six and two thirds while having six K’s. Sabathia attributes the recent success to wearing a knee brace. It’s nice to see the 35-year old southpaw able to contribute.

New York Yankees Carlos Beltran, right, greets the Yankees Greg Bird (31) after the pair scored on Dustin Ackley's sixth-inning, three-run home run in a baseball game in New York, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Carlos Beltran and Greg Bird celebrate during the Yankees win over the Mets Sunday. AP Photo by Kathy Willens/Getty Images

-Every time I watch Bird at bat, I come away very impressed. The 22-year old former 2011 fifth round pick has shown good patience at the plate working counts while making solid contact. With his eighth home run and two walks, he reached base three times Sunday night. In fact, the future starting first baseman has reached base in eight consecutive games hitting in all but one. He’s 8-for-29 with three homers, seven RBI’s, four runs scored with five walks. There’s a lot to like about him. It’s early but he’s done a solid job replacing Mark Teixeira.

-The Yanks need to take two of three from the Jays in this series. The pitching match-ups don’t favor them. Adam Warren opposes David Price tonight. Rookie Luis Severino gets a chance at redemption tomorrow. Ivan Nova replaces Masahiro Tanaka, who will skip a start after suffering a Grade 1 sprain in his right hamstring while running to first after a bunt. Girardi didn’t think it was too serious. Hopefully, it isn’t because we all remember what happened Chien-Ming Wang’s career while running the base paths.

-You knew it was coming. Once Eli Manning lost the football on that crucial third-and-goal with the Giants going for the kill up 20-10 on the Falcons, another Giants collapse was coming. Should it come as any surprise? The team GM Jerry Reese put together is a mediocre one that finds ways to lose games. That’s two consecutive weeks they’ve blown 10-point leads in the fourth quarter. After the Cowboy debacle, here they were allowing Matt Ryan to drive his team down twice for touchdowns against a invisible defense that doesn’t scare anyone. But this isn’t as much about them as it is about Manning, who made costly mistakes. He didn’t protect the football when at worst, Big Blue should’ve come away with a field goal that would’ve made it 13. A week after he screwed up royally mismanaging the clock, Manning was a goat again. There also was a mind boggling delay of game penalty out of a timeout that put the Giants in a 3rd-and-12 which of course they didn’t convert. Then there were errant throws on the final drive which can’t happen after your best player Odell Beckham Jr. draws pass interference at midfield that gives you a chance.

-Speaking of Beckham, Jr. how special is he. That catch and run for a 67-yard touchdown was a thing of beauty. He caught seven for 146. Most of it came in the first half. Why? The Giants at least did a good job using ex-Patriot back Shane Vereen, who had eight receptions for 76 yards. But outside of him and ODB Jr. they got virtually nothing. Consistently inconsistent tight end Larry Donnell did manage a TD catch that put them ahead 20-10 four minutes into the second half. That was it. On a day Manning’s numbers said otherwise finishing 27-for-40 with 292 yards and two touchdowns, he wasn’t good enough. Now comes a must win against the Redskins at Met Life Stadium on Thursday night. And the Skins won beating the Rams after they stunned the Seahawks, who also are 0-2 after falling to the Packers.

-The problem for Big Blue is they don’t make the big plays on either side of the football. In what should be proud coach Tom Coughlin’s swan song, they are a losing team that doesn’t know how to win. If they did, we’d be talking about a totally different story with a 2-0 mark. Instead, they’ve lost in epic fashion twice by a combined five points.

Julio Jones is also pretty special using a combination of size and athleticism to beat secondaries. Prince Amukamara did a good job limiting him until that huge 37-yard reception he got burned on that set up Devonta Freeman’s go-ahead score from two yards out with 1:14 left. Jones finished with 13 catches for 135 yards.

-It’s sad that on a day they honored the 25-year anniversary of the Super Bowl XXV team, the Giants couldn’t get a win. For a successful franchise that’s won four Lombardi Trophies, they sure have had a lot of bad losses. Add Weeks 1 and 2 to the regrettable list that includes the 49ers playoff choke, the Vikings one in ’97, the Eagles countless times and the Boys.

-How unpredictable is the NFL? The Seahawks are 0-2 as are the Ravens and Saints, who lost at home to the Bucs. New Orleans has now dropped six straight at the Super Dome. The Seahawks should bounce back and I’d also expect Baltimore to be better even without Terrell Suggs. The Saints are a franchise in decline. Even with Drew Brees throwing for record numbers, they’re one dimensional.

-The Jets have a good one later at the Colts on Monday Night Football. It’ll be interesting to see if they can beat Andrew Luck coming off a ugly loss at Buffalo. They have a shot if Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t make mistakes and the defense gets to Luck. The Jets will need success on the ground from Chris Ivory.

-If it was six years ago, Frank Gore and Andre Johnson would be a scary combo added to T.Y. Hilton.

-Even with losing Tony Romo for at least eight weeks and star receiver Dez Bryant for roughly the same, the Cowboys remain the team to beat in the NFC East. A strong offensive line and improved defense should keep them around. They had no trouble blanketing ex-Cowboy DeMarco Murray, who’s finding out it’s a lot harder without a good line after being held to two yards on 13 carries. In two weeks, he’s rushed for a grand total of 11 yards on 21 carries.

-What exactly does Chip Kelly see in Sam Bradford?

-Great college football Saturday with Ole Miss upsetting Alabama 43-37 in a wild one that even featured a hilarious blooper with Mississippi quarterback Chad Kelly throwing one up for grabs after feeling pressure and having his prayers answered by receiver Quincy Adeboyejo for a 66-yard TD. After trailing by 20 in their own barn, the Tide never gave up with QB Jake Coker rallying them with two straight scores to cut the deficit to 30-24. But a great play by Kelly which saw him sucker the Bama secondary before threading the needle to Cody Core for a 73-yard TD proved pivotal. Kelly also hooked up with LaQuon Treadwell for a 24-yard score that made it 43-24. To Bama’s credit, they made it interesting with another Coker led drive setting up a Derrick Henry score. They then recovered the onside kick and scored again to cut it 43-37 with over four minutes to go. But after a Ole Miss drive stalled, Coker threw a interception for the Tide’s fifth turnover. They made too many mistakes to win.

-Stanford also sent USC to its first defeat with an impressive 41-31 win at The Coliseum in another great rivalry game. They were led by QB Kevin Hogan, who chewed up the Trojans’ secondary going 18-of-23 for 279 yards and two TDs. Sophomore running back Christian McCaffrey also impressed with a career best 115 rushing yards on 26 carries and Remound Wright ran for three scores. Even when USC’s Cody Kessler going 25-of-32 for 272 yards and three scores, it wasn’t enough. The Trojans never could stop the Cardinals.

-Ohio State remained undefeated in ugly fashion defeating Northern Illinois 20-13. It was the second straight week Cardale Jones was replaced. The BCS hero only completed four passes in nine attempts throwing two picks. J.T. Barrett relieved him finishing 11-of-19 for 97 yards with a TD and int. They should get some competition from Michigan State.

-Notre Dame also stayed unbeaten taking care of Georgia Tech 30-22. CJ Promise ran for 198 yards and three scores and Will Fuller caught six passes for 131 yards and a TD.

-Heisman front runner Leonard Fournette torched Auburn for 228 yards on the ground with three scores in the Tigers’ 45-21 blowout win. That included a 71-yard run plus a 40-yard TD run that made it 24-0 LSU.

More HB: Harper will win MVP, Ellsbury slump, Eli and Peyton Manning

We’re back for some More HB. An old format from the original Hitting Back. This will be our first entry on the newyorkpuck.wordpress.com server. Among the topics are Bryce Harper, Jacoby Ellsbury and the Mannings.

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-For a while, it looked like the NL MVP was up for grabs. With the Nats folding, there was even talk about Mets rental Yoenis Cespedes winning it. But reality has set in. With top candidate Bryce Harper slugging two more home runs in a rare September Nats win tonight, he’s up to an NL best 39 dingers moving one up on Rockies slugger Nolan Arenado. The 22-year old right fielder also leads the senior circuit in hitting with three more hits raising his batting ¬†average to .338. His line of .338-38-90 on a mediocre underachiever is worthy. As much as I kill him for his lack of big hits versus the Mets, he’s the runaway winner.

-If I had to vote, I would go in this order:

1.Harper 2.Greinke 3.McCutchen 4.Goldschmidt 5.Cespedes

-In the AL, it’s all about Josh Donaldson who has powered the Blue Jays past the Yankees for the AL East lead. With 38 home runs and a major league-leading 119 RBI’s and 109 runs scored, nobody has had a more productive season. He does benefit from a ridiculous lineup that also boasts sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. But the former Oakland Athletic should easily outdistance Mike Trout, who has faded down the stretch.

-Our AL MVP top 5:

1.Donaldson 2.Trout 3.Cain 4.Davis 5.Rodriguez

-With another 0-for-4 effort in a bad Yankee loss to the Rays, Jacoby Ellsbury is 0 for his last 24. The slumping starting center fielder is looking like a nightmare signing. He is signed thru 2020 to a 7-year 153 million contract with a team option. Johnny Damon he is not.

-If you notice, A-Rod is in my top five for AL MVP. He deserves it. The full-time DH has come up with many big hits for the Yanks. With 32 long balls and 83 RBI’s, Alex Rodriguez has had a season for the ages. At 40 with most writing him off following a year off. He will never make Cooperstown. But that doesn’t mean he’s not one of the greatest ballplayers of the modern era. He is and has been a team leader after Jeter. Didi Gregorius’ improvement can be attributed to listening to Alex. Say what you will about him off the field. On it, he is an asset.

Eli Manning taking full responsibility for that awful third down pass on what should’ve been another run to run time off the clock is what you come to expect from the former Super Bowl MVP. Here’s what I don’t understand. How does that happen on a Tom Coughlin coached team?

-Once Tony Romo got the football back, you knew it was coming. And they marched down so fast, you wondered if there were any Giants defensive players out there. Would it have killed Coughlin to use a timeout and stop the Cowboys’ momentum?

Peyton Manning is starting to show his age. He didn’t throw for a touchdown in a ugly Broncos 19-13 home win over the Ravens. However, it’s a bit premature to write off one of the all-time best. Give it some more time.

-What a shame that Terrell Suggs lost his season to a torn ACL in Week 1. The NFL is unlike any other sport. Unforgiving. It is so fast that it stops for no one. Vinny Testaverde just called.