MLB League Championship Series Preview

The dust from the MLB Division Series has settled and four very good teams are left standing.  Playoff baseball is all about match-ups.  Of course, there is the pitcher against the opposing pitcher; there is the pitcher against the opposing lineup where history and pitcher/hitter handedness come into play; and there is pitcher/hitter against the playing environment, the ballparks.  There is also manager against manager, but for the sake of this article, we’re looking at the players and what goes down on the field.

Today, as we prepare for another round of what figures to be very exciting MLB action, we will look at some of the potential match-ups in store.

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Mets Fans Trying to Raise Money to Buy Out Oliver Perez’s Contract

This is without a doubt one of the most unique and hilarious fan stories I’ve ever come across. No offense to Oliver Perez, but apparently New York Mets fans have the ability to get pretty creative when they’re tired of the way things are going — which seems to happen more often than not.  Hardball Talk has brought to our attention that a few Mets fans are raising money to buy out Oliver Perez’s contract.

Absolutely brilliant.  The Mets are in the market for a new general manager and when they find one, I think he’d be wise to make cashing in on this proposal one of his top priorities.  The fans in charge of the fund plan to accept donations until February 13, which is when pitchers and catchers report to off-season workouts.  The goal is the $12 million that is left on Perez’s 3 year, $36 million deal.

Perez has angered Mets fans by pitching horribly since signing a fat contract in 2009 and even refusing a Triple-A assignment when he was struggling.  The organizers of the fund have even vowed to donate the money to charity if they fall short of their goal.  However, if they come even close to reaching the goal, I’d like to think the Mets’ front office would realize how passionate their fan base is about hating the guy and bite the bullet.  All in all, I think it’s a genius concept.

Mets Would be Wise to Hire Logan White as General Manager

I always told myself the past few years that if I ever came into the type of money needed to buy a baseball team, my first move would be offering Dodgers Assistant GM Logan White as much money as it took to get him to work for my team. Starting off as the Dodgers’ farm director and being promoted to Assistant GM a few years ago, White has built the Dodgers’ stacked farm system and he’s more responsible than anyone in the organization for the team’s recent success. He interviewed for the Arizona Diamondbacks’ GM vacancy and is now one of the five candidates for the Mets job. He would be a great hire for the team, and I’ll explain why.

Over the past nine years (when White ran his first draft for the team), the Dodgers have reached the playoffs four times and won at least 90 regular season games three times. The team reached the NLCS in back-to-back years, largely with a core established by White’s drafts. Here are some of the players White drafted since taking over in 2002: Clayton Kershaw, Jonathan Broxton, Chad Billingsley, Matt Kemp, James Loney and Russell Martin. In addition to selecting those young men who have turned into All-Stars for the team, White played a big role in the signings of Japanese pitchers Takashi Saito and Hiroke Kuroda. Saito became one of the best closers in the NL when he was with the Dodgers, and Kuroda has been a strong starter during his tenure with the team.

Put simply, Logan White is a superior talent evaluator. Think about your favorite team and take a look at the roster. How many All-Stars does your team have? How many were drafted and developed by the organization? Not many, right? That’s what makes what White did so impressive. I have no doubt he’ll be able to keep it up wherever he goes, especially an organization like the Mets where they would allow him to spend money on draft picks. Hiring him would lead to the rebirth of the team’s farm system and an excellent future in New York. You know what? I better keep my mouth shut — I don’t want the Mets becoming too good over the next decade.

Rangers Celebrate With Ginger Ale So Josh Hamilton Can Join the Fun

This has to be one of the more admirable instances of team unity I’ve ever seen in sports.  It may not seem like a big deal to the outsider, but to Josh Hamilton it means a ton.  After another dominating performance by Cliff Lee helped Texas advance to the ALCS, the Rangers celebrated with Ginger Ale in the clubhouse instead of the traditional champagne and beer.

As you probably know, Hamilton has battled drug and alcohol problems and wisely chose not to participate in the AL West-clinching celebration with his teammates because he didn’t want to be around alcohol.  “Everybody yelled ‘Ginger ale!’ and I just jumped in the middle of the pile and they doused me with it,” Hamilton said of the celebration. “It was the coolest thing for my teammates to understand why I can’t be a part of the celebration, and for them to adapt it for me to be a part of it says a lot about my teammates.”

I’m sure the players went out and partied like they normally would after the ginger ale showers, but I thought the gesture was great.  If anyone deserves their own special celebration, it’s your MVP candidate who hit .359 with 32 homers and 100 RBI in the regular season.  On to the Yankees…

Photo: Twitter user the_hereford

Baserunning, Ian Kinsler Carry Rangers to Game 5 ALDS Win

We’ve already addressed the awesomeness that is Cliff Lee for the Rangers. He pitched Game 1 and Game 5 of the ALDS and beat the Rays both times, allowing only two runs over 16 innings. What also should be addressed is that Ian Kinsler hit three home runs in the series, including a big two-run bomb off Rafael Soriano in the 9th to give Lee a much bigger margin for error. Kinsler went 8-for-18 with five runs scored and six RBIs in the five-game series. He hit three long balls and would have had a strong case for ALDS MVP if they gave out such an award.

What also must be added is the way the Rangers beat the Rays in Game 5. As LBS contributor Alan Hull and I discussed, baserunning was a deciding factor in the game. Shortstop Elvis Andrus scored the first run of the game going from second to home on a simple ground ball to first, all because Carlos Pena and David Price took their sweet time on the putout. Andrus should have been held at third, and he wouldn’t have scored after Vladimir Guerrero flied out to end the inning. That’s one run given away by the Rays, but they weren’t done, and credit must be given to Andrus for the aggressive running.

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Cliff Lee Is Becoming Automatic in Playoffs

As soon as the Texas Rangers acquired Cliff Lee before the trade deadline, I was groaning because I knew it meant the Angels were done in the AL West race. The southpaw has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since winning the Cy Young Award in 2008 with the Indians, and he’s become one of the postseason starting pitchers we’ve seen.

Lee beat the Rays for the second time in the series, allowing just six hits and one run while striking out 11 in a complete game win. For the ALDS, he pitched 16 innings allowing just 11 hits, two runs, no walks and posting 21 strikeouts. The big stat that was being trumpeted for the series was that only seven times in postseason history has a pitcher gone 7 innings with double-digit strikeouts and no walks, and four of those games have now been accomplished by Cliff.

How about another feather in Phifer’s cap? He is one of only five pitchers in history to go at least 6-0 in his first seven career postseason starts. Here’s that exclusive list:

    > El Duque 6-0 1.24 ERA
    > Cliff Lee 6-0 1.44 ERA
    > Bob Gibson 6-0 1.71 ERA
    > Lefty Gomez 6-0 2.86 ERA
    > Jack Morris 6-0 3.21 ERA

Things will get more difficult for Lee in the next round against the Yankees, but as long as he keeps on throwing strikes with a fastball around 93 and constant movement, and as long as Captain Hook shows up like it did on Tuesday night, he’ll keep on rolling. For now, he’s starting to place himself in the class with the likes of Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Whitey Ford, John Smoltz, Curt Schilling, and Dave Stewart with his clutch pitching. He is awesome.

Photo Credit: J. Meric/Getty Images

Madison Bumgarner Comes Up Huge for Giants in Game 4

When it came to experience, Game 4 between the Giants and Braves in the NLDS was a mismatch. Derek Lowe was making his 8th playoff appearance and had thrown over 80 career postseason innings, including a strong start in Game 1. Madison Bumgarner is a 21-year-old rookie who got called up late in June by the Giants after making only 18 starts this season. Yet the youngster hung tough with the veteran in a huge playoff game.

Lowe actually took a no-hitter into the 6th inning and left with the lead despite dropping f-bombs on his way out. After the bullpen surrendered the next two runs giving the Giants the lead, Bumgarner was in position to get the win because he was the pitcher of record. The Giants’ bullpen closed it out over the final three innings giving the rookie the victory, but he did plenty to earn it.

Bumgarner was facing a good lineup and only gave up one extra base hit the entire game, a Brian McCann tie-breaking home run in the 6th. His final line was two runs and six hits over six innings with only one walk and five strikeouts.

To give you an idea of how impressive his performance was, at 21 years and 71 days old, Bumgarner was the youngest pitcher to start a postseason game since Bret Saberhagen in 1984. The rookie definitely earned himself a spot in the NLCS rotation with that start, and he and Jonathan Sanchez are proving San Francisco is much more than just Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. Additionally, anyone who argued the Giants made the wrong move leaving the veteran Barry Zito off the NLDS roster was proven wrong, at least for now. Rookies often make a name for themselves in the postseason, and Madison Bumgarner is doing just that.

Photo Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images