Tag Archives: MLB Playoffs

With nine weeks to go, Phillies remain in Wildcard contention

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Gabe Kapler’s team is a clear Wildcard contender – for now

One week ago, I began a countdown as the Phillies attempt to push for a 2019 playoff berth, their first in eight years. That countdown began at ’10’, as in there were just ten weeks remaining in the regular season.

Here we are, one week later, and the countdown reaches ‘9’ with the club basically in the same spot. Last week, the Phillies were four games over the .500 mark, a half-game off the second NL Wildcard pace. They were 7.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East.
As they enjoy an off-day in the schedule, the Phillies are five games above the .500 mark, and now sit one full game back in that National League Wildcard race. They trail the Braves by 6.5 games in the NL East Division standings after dropping two of three to Atlanta over this past weekend.
Here is where the Phillies currently stand in both the division and wildcard races. Also included are the schedules for this week of any other club in reasonable contention.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST DIVISION

  1. Atlanta Braves  62-44 (@WAS – 3, CIN – 4)
  2. Washington Nationals 56-49 (ATL – 3, @ARZ – 3)
  3. Philadelphia Phillies 55-50 (SFG – 3, CWS – 3)

NATIONAL LEAGUE WILDCARD (TWO AVAILABLE)

  1. Washington Nationals 56-49 (ATL – 3, @ARZ – 3)
  2. Chicago Cubs 56-49 / Saint Louis Cardinals (tied for NL Central lead and NL Wildcard, meet for 3 this week)
  3. Philadelphia Phillies 55-50 (SFG – 3, CWS – 3)
  4. Milwaukee Brewers 56-51 (@OAK – 3, @CHC – 3)
  5. San Francisco Giants 54-52 (@PHI – 3, @COL – 3)
  6. Arizona Diamondbacks 53-53 (@MIA – 1, @NYY – 2, WAS – 3)

MLB Wildcard: losing teams still have legitimate shot

It’s the weekend after the 2017 MLB All-Star Game break. Teams are finally back in action after a four-day layoff for the start of the traditional “second half” of play.
A look at the Major League Baseball standings through games of Friday night, July 14 reveals that 17 teams are either in a playoff position, or are within a handful of games of a postseason berth.
In fact, there are currently at least a half-dozen teams with losing records who must be considered to still have a legitimate shot.
In the National League, at least for now, the list includes just one team. That would be the defending world champion Chicago Cubs.
The Cubbies have struggled along with a serious case of World Series hangover this year. After building and blowing an 8-0 lead on the Baltimore Orioles on Friday night, they managed to pull out a narrow 9-8 victory.
That win left the North Siders with a record of 44-45 on the season. The Cubs sit 5.5 games in back of the surprising Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central Division race. However, they are just four back in the loss column.
In the NL Wildcard race, the Cubs are a more distant 6.5 games behind the Colorado Rockies, who currently control the second wildcard berth. However, the Rockies are in a bit of a free-fall, having lost 14 of their last 19 games.

The Cubs just obtained lefty starting pitcher Jose Quintana from the cross-town Chicago White Sox of the American League. They are also rumored to be aggressively shopping for another starting pitcher to bolster their rotation. Perhaps someone like Oakland A’s right-hander Sonny Gray.
The Cubs are still within hailing distance of both the division and wildcard spots. With their talent and assets, it would be a major surprise if they don’t soon go on a winning run.
Over in the American League, the Orioles are one of a handful of teams within four games of the AL Wildcard race.
The O’s and their AL East rivals the Toronto Blue Jays are each 42-47 and sit those four games back. The wildcard spots are currently controlled by two more teams from that AL East division. The Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees.
The other three American League teams in the race with losing records are all from the AL West Division. The Seattle Mariners (44-47) and Los Angeles Angels (45-48) are each just three games behind the Yankees for that second wildcard berth. The Texas Rangers (44-45) sit just two games out.
Also involved in the AL Wildcard race are a pair of teams from the AL Central Division. The Minnesota Twins remain a game over .500 and just one game back. The Kansas City Royals are at the .500 mark with a 44-44 record, and are just 1.5 games out.
All of this makes the approaching MLB trade deadline even more interesting. A number of teams are going to have difficult decisions to make regarding their ability to contend this season. Add the right piece or two, and you could play into October.
When you have a losing record in the middle of July, it’s not a good sign. But only perhaps four teams have separated themselves in the overall MLB standings at this point. Now is the time for 2017 pretenders to transform themselves into legitimate contenders.

Joe Blanton Bombed at Worst Time for Dodgers

The Los Angeles Dodgers were bombed in the pivotal Game Five of the NLCS by the Chicago Cubs last night, and a former Phillies World Series hero surrendered the key blow.


By this point in the 2016 MLB postseason, fans of the Philadelphia Phillies already know that one of the subplots involves a handful of their former heroes who are now wearing Dodger blue.

Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz and Joe Blanton were all key performers at this time eight years ago as the Fightin’ Phils fought their way to the franchise’ second-ever World Series crown.

All three were eventually traded to the Dodgers. Utley went in August of 2015, and Ruiz this past August.

Blanton took a bit more of a circuitous route to this NLCS appearance. He was dealt by the Phils to the Dodgers back in August of 2012.

Over the next four years, Blanton bounced around four more organizations before signing back with the Dodgers this past January.

Reinvented as a relief pitcher, Blanton proved a revelation on the mound this season, appearing in a career-high 75 games for Los Angeles.

Blanton’s numbers: 2.48 ERA, 1.013 WHIP, just 55 hits allowed over 80 innings pitched with an 80/26 K:BB ratio. 


His success as a reliever can actually be traced back to the end of last season, when he spent the final two months with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

In Pittsburgh last season, Blanton went 5-0 over 21 games. He allowed 26 hits in 34.1 innings with a 39/9 K:BB ratio in those two months with the Pirates.

Now at age 35, something has clicked with the longtime starting pitcher which has allowed him to translate his mindset and arsenal to that of a true shutdown setup relief pitcher.



All of his bullpen success over these last fourteen months makes what has happened to Blanton in this National League Championship Series all the more unfortunate.

In Game One at Wrigley Field, Blanton came on in the bottom of the 8th inning with the score tied at 3-3.

Instead of holding the score there, giving the Dodgers a chance to steal the opener in the final frame, Blanton was ripped by the Cubs batters.

Ben Zobrist started things with a leadoff double. Blanton then nearly wriggled out of trouble. He retired two of the next three batters, but also loaded the bases with a pair of intentional walks.

With two outs and the bases loaded, Blanton then worked well to get an 0-2 count on Miguel Montero. And then the right-hander delivered two of the most unfortunate pitches of his career.

The first was a slider that slid right over the heart of the plate. Montero didn’t miss it, blasting a no-doubter grand slam deep into the right-center field stands, putting the Cubs up by 7-3.


The very next batter, Dexter Fowler, gets a breaking ball on the first pitch that hung over the plate like it was being served up on a tee. 

Fowler deposited that Blanton pitch just over the right field wall, and it was 8-3. Ball game. Cubs take a 1-0 lead in the NLCS, made all the more important when Clayton Kershaw came out and pitched a gem to tie the series the following night.

Flash forward to last night. Series tied at 2-2. Game tied at 1-1. Top of the 6th inning. If the Dodgers can win, they turn to Kershaw again to put the series away. Lose, and they are one away from elimination.

Dave Roberts makes the move to the bullpen at this crucial time, and calls on Blanton. Again, he yields a leadoff hit, this time a single to Javy Baez, who subsequently steals second base.

After striking out Jason Heyward, Blanton faces Addison Russell, getting ahead of him with an 0-1 count. 

Blanton then left an 87-mph meatball of a slider right over the heart of the plate. Russell didn’t miss, tattooing the pitch out over the fence for a two-run homer that gave the Cubs a 3-1 lead en route to an 8-4 victory.



Two big, key games. Two big, key moments of failure for Joe Blanton. With as good as he had been for the Dodgers up until those moments, it really is a shame.

It hasn’t been all failures for Blanton in this postseason. He has appeared in five other games for the Dodgers, including four of the five NLDS games against Washington.

Outside of the two NLCS letdowns, he has been nearly perfect, allowing just one hit over six shutout innings.

Unfortunately for Blanton, the nature of sports is that all of the great work he has done over this season with the Dodgers is going to largely be lost to these two pivotal failures, especially if Los Angeles goes on to lose this series.

Aroldis Chapman Tries to Overcome Domestic Abuse Allegation

The Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers are tied at a game apiece in the 2016 National League Championship Series as the two teams get set for what should be three exciting nights of October baseball in L.A. beginning on Tuesday night.
In addition to being the most exciting time of the year in Major League Baseball, the month of October is also designated as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month here in the United States.
This month there will be a concerted effort to educate the public on this important issue. It is an opportunity, as the National Network to End Domestic Violence states, to “raise awareness about domestic violence” and to join efforts to end that violence.
One of the key players during this NLCS for the Chicago Cubs is closer Aroldis Chapman, obtained by the team just prior to this season’s non-waiver trade deadline from the New York Yankees.
A 28-year-old flame-throwing left-hander who defected from Cuba in 2009, Chapman is a four-time NL All-Star who holds the MLB record for throwing the fastest pitch (105.1 mph). He is the acknowledged hardest thrower in the game today, and one of the hardest throwers of all time.
In addition to being a key player on the baseball diamond this October, Chapman also has a link to that other October event relating to domestic violence awareness.
Chapman is an accused domestic violence abuser.

At this time a year ago, on October 30, 2015, Chapman was involved in a domestic violence incident.
He was accused of pushing his girlfriend against a wall inside of his home and choking her after she had confronted him over something that she had found on his cellphone.
As reported by Tim Brown and Jeff Passan of Yahoo.com last December, Chapman is reported to have fired eight gunshots in his garage as part of the incident.
As the Brown-Passan piece reveals, the October incident was apparently the culmination of the buildup to a breakup between the couple, who had lived together for some time and who have a child together.
Of course, Chapman had his own version of the events, which paint him in a far less abusive light, though he did later admit to firing the gun and apologized for that action.
“I’m apologizing because of the use of the gun; it was bad judgment on my part,” Chapman said through a Spanish translator per NJ.com’s Ryan Hatch back in March of this year. “But I also want to say that I never hurt my girlfriend. I want this to be very clear.”
As reported by ESPN last December, police did not make any arrests because of inconsistencies in stories and lack of physical evidence of injuries. Assistant State Attorney Marcie Zaccor also said there was insufficient evidence to charge Chapman in the incident.
Chapman would subsequently become the first player ever suspended by Major League Baseball under its newly enacted domestic violence policies, receiving a 30-game suspension at the start of the 2016 season.
He chose to accept the punishment without appealing, per SBNation’s Marc Normandin.

“The Major League Baseball Players Association and its members do not condone the mistreatment of others by playing or non-playing personnel. At the same time, the MLBPA remains committed to protecting and ensuring the rights granted to Players under the applicable provisions of the sport’s new Joint Policy on Domestic Violence. As such, the MLBPA supports Mr. Chapman’s decision to forgo his right to an appeal.”

For victims of domestic violence and their advocates it’s a very typical story. High-profile abuser gets off relatively lightly, in part because of their celebrity status.
Meanwhile, accused abusers have their side of the story as well. Despite no criminal charges, they fear that their reputations may be permanently tarnished by exaggerated accusations.
Whatever the actual truths are in the Chapman domestic violence incident, it is clear that there was indeed domestic discord and violence, that a gun was indeed present, and that the gun was fired.
The incident came to light as his team at the time, the Cincinnati Reds, who had signed him back in 2010 following his defection, were attempting to trade him to the Dodgers (the team he’s now facing in the NLCS). 
That deal fell through amid the uncertainty. The Reds were then able to ship him to the Yankees on December 28, 2015.
Chapman pitched with the Yanks for approximately three months following his suspension before being dealt to the Cubs at the July trade deadline this past summer.
Three weeks after the trade was completed, a DJ employed by the Cubs to provide in-game music over their PA system at Wrigley Field was fired after he played the song “Smack My B*tch Up” by Prodigy as Chapman walked off the mound following a save against the rival St. Louis Cardinals.
The song choice and the firing of the employee was just one in a number of controversial incidents that surrounded the acquisition of Chapman in his early weeks with the North Siders.
After a couple of possible misunderstandings and/or misinterpretations in those early weeks with Chicago, Chapman chose to largely keep his mouth shut and let his arm do the talking.
Over the 2016 season’s final two months, Chapman was better than ever. He saved 16 games and registered a microscopic 1.01 ERA.
In his time with the Cubs, Chapman also posted a 0.825 WHIP, 0.82 FIP, and an incredible 401 ERA+ mark. In 26.2 innings he allowed just 12 hits with a 46/10 K:BB ratio.
Following the trade to the Cubs, Chapman conducted an interview in Spanish with ESPN’s Pedro Gomez in which he made the following statement in part:
“I’ve grown tremendously from that time. I’m with my girlfriend still, with the family, and I feel that I have absolutely changed as a person. I’m working to be a better person.”
With his tremendous on-field performances with the Cubs since the trade, and considering that the “Lovable Losers” haven’t won a World Series since 1908, some of the team’s fans have had to make peace with cheering for a player about whom they continue to maintain personal misgivings.
Billy Witz at the New York Times quoted a typical Cubbies fan, Caitlin Swieca, at the end of August.
“It’s a moral dilemma,” Swieca said. “There’s definitely two conflicted feelings: the feeling of wanting to just watch a game and not let the domestic violence thing bother you, and the feeling of not wanting to let the domestic violence issue just fade into the background.”
Swieca decided to turn the dilemma into a positive. She publicly pledged to donate $10 for every save converted by Chapman, and then worked with Margaret Duval and the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic to raise awareness and money under the Twitter hashtag #pitchin4DV, gaining over $5,000 in pledges.
The Cubs survived a tough challenge from the San Francisco Giants to win the NLDS in four games and are now in the midst of another tough battle with the Dodgers in this NLCS.
For his part, Chapman has appeared in all six of the postseason games. He has allowed just one run and four hits over 5.1 innings with a 9/2 K:BB ratio, continuing his regular season dominance.
If the Cubs are to indeed win this NLCS, and even go on put an end to their legendary“Curse of the Billy Goat” by winning their first World Series in more than a century, Chapman is going to play a large role.
But no matter how important the winning of that World Series may seem to Chicagoans, it will never be more important than the ongoing issue of domestic violence.
Over the past year, Chapman has played a huge role in both situations. He hopes to put the issues of last October behind him now, and end this October in much better fashion than a year ago.

Blue Jays Could Beat Up Trevor Bauer in ALCS Game Three

As the American League Championship Series moves north of the border into Canada on Monday night, the host Toronto Blue Jays find themselves in desperate straits.
The Blue Jays trail the visiting Cleveland Indians by two games to one in the best-of-seven series, and simply cannot afford to fall into a 3-0 hole.
There have been 35 postseason series in Major League Baseball history that started with one team running out to a 3-0 lead.
Only the 2004 Boston Red Sox have won, rallying from that 0-3 deficit to take four straight from the arch-rival New York Yankees, a springboard to the BoSox ending their “Curse of the Bambino” by eventually winning the World Series.
Grant Brisbee with SB Nation did a nice breakdown of this situation when the Baltimore Orioles fell behind the Kansas City Royals by 3-0 in the 2014 ALCS, and when the Chicago Cubs fell behind the New York Mets 3-0 in last year’s NLCS.
If the Jays are to save their season and get into this series, they are going to need a big effort in front of the frenzied fans at Rogers Centre.
Fortunately for the Blue Jays, they may have just the antidote to their ills in Cleveland starting pitcher Trevor Bauer.
The 25-year-old right-hander is now in his third full big league season

, and his fifth year overall in MLB. Bauer was the Arizona Diamondbacks’ first round pick in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft out of UCLA.

Bauer had a 2016 season that was very typical of the performances that he has put up historically thus far in his career: 12-8, 4.26 ERA, 1.311 WHIP, 179 hits allowed over 190 innings pitched with a 168/70 K:BB ratio.
Bauer frequently gets himself into trouble with command and control issues. He had nine starts this season in which he walked at least three batters.
While Bauer provided the Indians with 16 quality starts out of 28, only seven of those came in his final 17 starts.
Over his last 16 starts, Bauer’s numbers got fairly ugly with a 5.51 ERA and .274 Batting Average Against. He allowed 101 hits over 94.2 innings, and had a -1.146 WPA mark.
His numbers since the start of September show even further deterioration with a 6.39 ERA over a half-dozen starts during the final month of the regular season.
He took the mound for Game 1 of the ALDS versus the BoSox, an eventual 5-4 victory for the Indians.
But in that start, Bauer lasted just 4.2 innings over which he allowed three earned runs on six hits, yielding home runs to both Andrew Benintendi in the third andSandy Leon in the fifth inning.
The Blue Jays have faced Bauer four times in his career. He has a horrible 6.27 career ERA and 1.554 WHIP against the Jays in those outings, which include three starts.
This season, Bauer made two appearances against the Blue Jays, one at Rogers Centre in Toronto in early July, and then in mid-August at home at Progressive Field.
At Toronto on July 1, Bauer came on in relief in a game that went 19 innings, pitching the final five frames and gaining the victory when the Tribe won 2-1 on a Carlos Santana home run.
In that relief outing, Bauer allowed just two hits over five innings, striking out three but also walking three batters.
On August 19 at home, Bauer set a career high by striking out 13 Blue Jays batters. He allowed just five hits over eight innings, yielding two earned runs.
Bauer did not get the win in that one, however, as the Jays received a strong start byFrancisco Liriano and took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth. 
The Indians again won late, taking a 3-2 decision with a pair of home runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the second a dramatic walk-off inside-the-parker by Tyler Naquin off Roberto Osuna.
While the Indians can take some solace in those two performances by Bauer this season in his head-to-head meetings with the Blue Jays, his overall performances over the last two months have to be concerning. 
Bauer has now allowed three or more earned runs in seven consecutive starts, counting the ALDS start against Boston.
Add in the mishap in which he cut the pinky finger on his pitching hand while working with a homemade drone just four days ago, an incident that caused manager Terry Francona to drop him back from a scheduled start in Game 2 to this one, and you have even more about which to be concerned.
“I plugged it in, like I’ve done thousands of times, and my finger happened to be in front of one of the (four) propellers,” said Bauer per Cleveland.com Indians reporter Paul Hoynes.
“For whatever reason, three of the propellers didn’t spin like they’re supposed to, and this one spun up at max throttle. I have no idea why it happened. My finger just happened to be in the way of the prop and it cut me.”
Russell Martin is hitting .500 with a homer off Bauer. Josh Donaldson is hitting .400 with three RBI. Michael Saunders is hitting for a .556 average against Bauer.
On the good side for the Cleveland righty, he has handled slugger Edwin Encarnacion, who is hitting just .125 over eight career at-bats against Bauer.
Look for Toronto’s bats to come out “max throttle” in front of the home fans, to let Bauer get himself into trouble and then pound him for a victory that gets them back in this American League Championship Series on Monday night.