Monday, November 09, 2009

Looking back

A short note here on Buster Olney's key matchups from the World Series and how they worked out. These are the factors Olney identified as most important in the Series (and which The Monk discussed on 10-28).

(1) The Yankees' hitters against Cliff Lee's frantic pace. Lee wins. The Yanks solved this in the 7th inning of Game 5, but Lee had a 6-1 lead then. He was the only Phils pitcher the Yanks struggled against.

(2) The Phillies' hitters versus Mariano Rivera's cutter. Rivera wins. No answer for the Phils -- Mo pitched 5.1 scoreless innings against them, with two saves, in the Series.

(3) The Phillies' pitchers versus the patience of the Yankees' hitters. The Phils actually walked more than the Yanks (26-18) and had a higher OPS, but the Yanks made their hits count -- after the split in games 1 and 2, the Yanks hit .352 with RISP (12-34) and the Phils hit .207 (6-29), and the most patient at bat of the Series -- Damon v. Lidge -- went for the Yanks.

(4) Jayson Werth and Jorge Posada versus opportunity. Push. Neither set the world aflame: Werth banged two homers in Game 3 but finished with just two homers and 3 RBI. Posada had 5 RBI. Both were 5-19.

(5)The Yankees' power pitchers against the Phillies Who Mash Fastballs. Rollins, Victorino and Werth were kept in check; Howard received a steady diet of breaking balls and set a record for whiffs in the World Series (13 in 25 AB). Utley crushed the ball. The Yanks' power pitchers (Sabathia and Burnett) were 1-2. Pettitte was 2-0.

(6) Derek Jeter versus Jimmy Rollins. Not close -- Jeter in a landslide (.407 AVG/.519 SLG/.947 OPS, 5 runs to .217/.217/.562, 3 runs). Better to walk it than talk it.

(7) Cole Hamels versus his recent past. The recent past won -- Hamels melted down in the fifth inning of game 3, the Yanks took the lead and never looked back.

(8) Damaso Marte versus the Phillies' left-handed hitters (that's you,Chase Utley and Ryan Howard). Marte wins -- he faced eight batters and retired them all, with five strikeouts. Whatever adjustment he made with Billy Connors in September on his slider was golden.

(9) The umpires versus the action. Only one umpire had a bad night (first base, game 2, two blown calls) and the rest of the Series was well-officiated.

The newest Obama disgrace

Twenty years ago today, the Berlin Wall fell. Ronald Reagan's moral clarity resonated in the four words he spoke in West Berlin in 1987: "TEAR DOWN THIS WALL."

But Obama did not deem the 20th anniversary of the fall of the preeminent symbol of Communist evil significant enough as the president of the country that fought such evil for 44 years to fly to Berlin to commemorate its fall, signifying the practical end of the Soviet Union. That's a disgrace.

Or is it? The Washington Times makes the cogent case that Obama's absence is entirely appropriate:

Some have criticized President Obama for not visiting Berlin to commemorate this historic moment, but he made the right choice . . . Mr. Obama was on the other side of the policy divide during the Reagan years, and if his party had remained in power, we have no doubt the Soviet Union would have lasted longer as a going concern. Mr. Obama should not attempt to associate himself with that historic moment, when a man with vision had the ability to see the future and the courage to realize it.

From Mark Steyn's obituary of Reagan (from his book Mark Steyn's Passing Parade and currently on his website), a distillation of what matters:

. . . politics attracts its share of optimistic, likeable men, and most of them leave no trace – like Britain’s “Sunny Jim” Callaghan, a perfect example of the defeatism of western leadership in the 1970s. It was the era of “détente”, a word barely remembered now, which is just as well, as it reflects poorly on us: the Presidents and Prime Ministers of the free world had decided that the unfree world was not a prison ruled by a murderous ideology that had to be defeated but merely an alternative lifestyle that had to be accommodated. Under cover of “détente”, the Soviets gobbled up more and more real estate across the planet, from Ethiopia to Grenada. Nonetheless, it wasn’t just the usual suspects who subscribed to this feeble evasion – Helmut Schmidt, Pierre Trudeau, François Mitterand – but most of the so-called “conservatives”, too – Ted Heath, Giscard d’Estaing, Gerald Ford.

Unlike these men, unlike most other senior Republicans, Ronald Reagan saw Soviet Communism for what it was: a great evil. Millions of Europeans across half a continent from Poland to Bulgaria, Slovenia to Latvia live in freedom today because he acknowledged that simple truth when the rest of the political class was tying itself in knots trying to pretend otherwise. That’s what counts. He brought down the “evil empire”, and all the rest is details.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

VICTORY = Yankees win #27

The greatest franchise in American sports history is again the champion of baseball. The Yankees are the champions of baseball after knocking off the Phillies in the 2009 World Series, 4 games to 2. Considering the youth of the Phils' core, their ability to retain their top prospects, and the way they've manhandled their principle rival for NL supremacy in the past two years, the likelihood that they will win the NL pennant a third-straight time is pretty good. If they do, the Phils will be the first team to win three-straight NL crowns since the 1942-44 Cardinals, and the first to do so in the NL since the start of divisional play (the '69-71 Orioles, '72-74 A's, '76-78 Yanks, '88-90 A's, and '98-01 Yanks all won at least three-straight AL titles since 1969).

Notes in abundance:

(1) Kudos to Godzilla (Hideki Matsui) whose 6 RBI performance in what is likely his swansong as a Yankee keyed last night's 7-3 win. Like another Yankee who had one fantastic game that defined his World Series (Reggie Jackson, 1977), Matsui won the WS MVP award on the strength of his one great game. Monkette and I loved Japan when we went and I'm happy that so many Japanese will take joy from Matsui's performance and award.

(2) The Phils are the 11th team to repeat as NL champs after winning the World Series. Eight of those teams have faced the Yankees in the World Series: '22 Giants, '23 Giants, '43 Cards, '56 Dodgers, '58 Braves, '76 Reds, '96 Braves, '09 Phils. Only two beat the Yanks: the '22 Giants and '76 Reds. Five of those Series were rematches from the previous year (1922, 1923, 1943, 1956, 1958). There have been only two World Series in history that were rematches of the previous year's contest and did not include the Yankees -- 1908 and 1931.

The other three times the NL champ was the defending World Series champ were 1908 (Cubs), 1966 (Dodgers) and 1968 (Cards). Only the Cubs won; the Dodgers were throttled by the Orioles and the Cards bonked a 3-1 lead against the Tigers.

(3) Based on his post-game remarks yesterday, Charlie Manuel is a very gracious man. Phils' shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who is still insisting the better team lost, is not. Seriously: from the time A-Rod returned from his hip injury, the Yanks were 101-48, including playoffs -- over the course of a full season that's 109-53, which is the same record as the 1961 Yankees

(4) The Yanks' starting pitching in the postseason was generally very good: three quality starts in three games against the Twins, five in six games against the Angels, three (and 1/3 inning from a fourth) against the Phils. Considering that the Yanks had rolled up four quality starts from 2005-07 in losing consecutive ALDS, the difference between winning and losing is clear.

(5) For all the opprobrium he'll get for losing game 5 of the WS, AJ Burnett deserves a hand for winning the biggest game of the Yankees' postseason -- game 2 of the Series. Burnett's lockdown start reversed any momentum from the opener and changed the dynamic of the Series. Yeah, he sucked in game 5, but he was fantastic in game 2 when the Yanks faced a possible 0-2 Series hole and the big ones you win count more.

(6) If the Phils fail to extend Cliff Lee, they're fools. But that front office is not foolish because the pitchers who started eight of their 15 postseason games were not with the Phils at the start of the year -- the Phils traded for Lee without giving up any top prospects and obtained Pedro off the scrap heap for a pittance. Manuel did well to scratch together a 93-win team with an ailing Hamels, horrible Lidge, and no starter who won more than 12 games

(7) If Cole Hamels is fully healthy next year, the Phils can threaten the 100-win mark. Of course, winning 100 means little -- the '97-99 Braves did it, lost two NLCS and were swept in the '99 WS; the '02-04 Yanks did it and suffered two playoff humiliations and a World Series bonk. There have been about 12 teams that won 100 or more games since 1995 and only the '98 and '09 Yankees won the World Series. This season is an oddity because for only the third time in the 15 three-round postseasons since 1995, the team with the best record in the regular season won the World Series.

More later, perhaps, but I need to get Yankees 2009 World Champs gear for myself, my son and my impending infant . . . it's called good parenting.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Ignominy or victory

That's the fork in the road the Yanks have reached tonight and, potentially, tomorrow. Either they'll win the World Series or fall into the same abyss of ignominy as the 1979 Orioles -- a 102-57 team that dominated the American League, ran 8 games ahead of the field and 13.5 games ahead of the three-time defending AL champion Yankees, waltzed through the ALCS and batted their way to a 3-1 lead over the Pirates in the World Series. The Bucs won game 5 in Pittsburgh and allowed only one run in Baltimore in games 6 and 7 in storming back for the World Series victory. [One day someone will examine the failed dynasty of the Orioles, who were the best overall team in baseball from 1969-1974, ran up three-straight 100+ win seasons from 1969-71 but lost two World Series to underdogs and two ALCS to the A's before falling into perennial not-good-enough status from '75-'78.]

Since 1979, six teams have come home with a 3-2 lead in the World Series and all six have won, with only one of those Series going to game 7 (1997). Nine other teams have returned home trailing 3-2 and seven of the nine have won the Series (exceptions: '92 Braves, '03 Yankees who both lost game 6). Sounds good, right? That's 15 Series, and the team coming home in game 6, whether up 3-2 or down 3-2, is 12-3.

Then again, since the ALCS and NLCS has expanded to seven games, four teams came home with 3-2 series leads and lost: '85 Jays, '91 Pirates, '03 Cubs, and '04 Yankees. Twelve others came home with 3-2 leads and won (including the '98, '00, '03 and '09 Yanks) but four of those went to a game 7 and two of the winners ('92 Braves, '03 Yanks) needed unlikely rallies to win (remember: if the '92 Pirates had a decent closer, they would have won the NL). The key fact in those four series where the leader lost -- only the '03 Cubs ever led at any point in game 6 or 7 (the Royals never trailed the Jays, the Braves blanked the Pirates twice, the Blosax never trailed the '04 Skanks). Total tally: 16 LCS where the team leading 3-2 came home for game 6 and (possibly) 7, home teams are just 8-8 in game 6, 4-4 in game 7. Crapshoot.

Hoo boy.

Baseball conventional wisdom = still just half accurate

In 1965, Sandy Koufax started game 7 of the World Series. He had pitched in Game 2, not Game 1, because the opener fell on Yom Kippur and as a Jew he felt it would send a bad message to pitch on the Day of Atonement of his religion. He lost in Game 2, pitching six innings, allowing one earned run and striking out 9, then pitched a complete game shutout (4 H, 10 K) in Game 5 on three days' rest. Although Don Drysdale was on turn for game 7, Koufax was given the start on TWO days' rest. The result? Complete game, three-hit, 10 K, 132-pitch shutout on the road where the Twins' hitters swung and missed at 27 pitches(!). And Koufax did it with essentially one pitch -- his fastball, because his curve didn't work that day.

Jim "Mudcat" Grant -- one of the 13 African-American pitchers to win 20 games in a season or "Black Aces" as he calls his group on his website -- pitched game 6 of that same series. Grant started and won game 1, started and lost game 4, and then started game 6 on two days of rest. He pitched a complete game victory.

Fast forward to modern baseball where the complete game is a rarity. In 2001, Curt Schilling started games 4 and 7 of the World Series on three days' rest. His line for two no-decisions: 14.1 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 18 K. In 2004, Derek Lowe started game 7 of the ALCS on two days' rest and pitched six innings of one-run ball for the win. Anyone remember what Pedro did in 1999? Six innings of shutout relief in an ALDS game 5 do-or-die game against the Indians

The point is simple: pitching on three days' rest is not a life-altering occurrence for a competent starting pitcher.

The belief that Joe Girardi fouled up or may foul up the Yankees' World Series by starting Burnett and Pettitte on three days' rest is flat-out stupid. You put out your best players to beat the other team in a winner-take-all series and Girardi is doing the exact right thing. Burnett didn't lose Monday because of short rest, he lost because he pitched the same way in game 5 as he did in game 2 and the Phils stopped taking the first pitch. Burnett failed to adjust, the Phils didn't, and he got whacked. His career record on short rest was outstanding before that game. Pettitte should be ready to embrace the assignment, not worry about it. If he wins tonight, his legacy grows even greater than just being the winningest pitcher in postseason history.

In other words, this is no time for whining: it's time to man up and get the f---ing ring.

Pettitte is a man, unlike the whiny and fussy baseball press that thinks a guy who can throw a ball 90+ mph on 3,500-4,000 occasions each year will be decimated by the potential of having to do that same task on one occasion without the usual rest. I'd take him over Chad Gaudin in game 5 and a flaky Burnett in game 6.

On another topic, who's the MVP? If the Phils come back to win, unless Lee plays a major role in the game 7 win, the Phils' MVP would be Utley in a walk. Remember, in '77 Jackson won the MVP even though Mike Torrez pitched two complete game victories with a 2.50 ERA -- better numbers than Lee this year.

Utley's slugging percentage in this Series is currently seventh all-time for any World Series. He has tied Jackson for most home runs (5) and has the same RBI total Jackson had (8) when Reggie won the MVP in '77 (the record is 12) and has matched Reggie's six-game totals in five games. Utley has 22 total bases, which is three off the record by Jackson ('77, six games) and Stargell ('79, seven games). Even if the Phils lose, Utley has a credible case for being the second player on a losing team to win the World Series MVP (Bobby Richardson, 1960) -- in addition to his ridiculous OPS (1.651), homers, RBI and runs scored (6), Utley hit four of his five homers in the two games the Phils have won and has hit THREE off Sabathia, who was the best AL starting pitcher to play postseason baseball.

If the Yanks win and a Yankee gets the MVP, the race is closer -- Rivera has two saves and 3.2 scoreless innings; Damon is hitting .391 with 5 runs, 4 RBI and that crucial play in game 4; A-Rod is only 4-18, but he was 4-10 in Philly and has 6 RBI, all on the road. If the Yanks bonk, Utley wins.

Ultimately, The Monk would have no problem with either of these two scenarios: (1) a Yankee wins the World Series MVP award; (2) Utley becomes the second player on a losing team to win the award.

Against the policies, not the man

Last night Democrats Jon Corzine and Creigh Deeds, the incumbent governor of New Jersey and candidate for Virginia governorship, lost last night. Republican Bob McDonnell trounced Deeds, a pro-labor, pro-Keynesian, pro-Obamanomics candidate by 18 points in a state Obama won last year and in which Obama campaigned for Deeds this year.

Chris Christie beat Corzine in New Jersey despite being outspent 3-1 and running in a state that Obama carried by 15 points last year. Even with the loss of an upstate New York congressional district due primarily to its own stupidity, last night was a good one for the GOP.

Corzine is an a*s. He's a poor man's George Soros -- wealthy beyond description after a successful career on Wall Street, Corzine turned to politics as a tax-tax-tax-tax-tax-and-spend-spend-spend liberal in one of the highest tax states in the country. He's a redistributionist, pure and simple, which is fine for him now that he has more money than Croesus, but is harmful to the small businesses that form the backbone of New Jersey's economy. And he's nearly as corrupt as Tony Soprano. Christie won because he's moderate, affable and made his reputation as a corruption fighter as the United States Attorney for New Jersey.

Peter Wehner says McDonnell "ran what will become a model campaign for many other Republicans. Virginia’s governor-elect came across as conservative and practical, substantive and solution-based, disciplined and focused, calm and reassuring. He tapped into the fears and concerns of voters and seemed able to channel them in all the right ways. For Republicans to continue the restoration of public trust in their party, they must stand against Obamaism, in all its particulars, and offer compelling answers to pressing public needs."

Most importantly, McDonnell ran against Obamism, not Obama. And that's what the GOP must learn from. The American people generally like Obama personally. Running against the man is a fruitless endeavor. Running against his policies, now that we know them and can define them (unlike in the 2008 campaign), is a winning strategy because his policies are dreadfully unpopular. Lump in running against Nancy Pelosi and Congress with that strategy and the GOP has the ingredients for success. Now, it needs the candidates.