Tag Archives: # SERIES WRAPUP

MADDON IS CUBS ‘RAY’ OF HOPE

The Chicago Cubs announced this week that their new Field Manager, replacing Rick Renteria, would be Joe Maddon. Renteria’s Cubs went 73-89 in 2014, his first season as a Big League Manager, and finished last in the tough National League Central Division. His record during that year was seven games better than the 2013 Cubs and 12 games better than 2012.

However, with the team that Cubs Vice President for Baseball Operations Theo Epstein has been putting together and the club’s declared intention to go all out in the Free Agent Market this year, Maddon appears to have been available at just the right time.

Since coming to the Cubs after the disastrous 2011 season in Boston, Epstein has moved to build a young team and develop the farm system. The Cubs have possibly the most loyal fan base in baseball after having not won a World Series in 106 years. The City of Mesa, Arizona built a state of the art new spring training facility which seats 15,000 fans for the Cubs last year and it was sold out every game in spring training. Despite their last place finish in 2014, the Cubs drew an average of 32,742 fans per game at home, 11th in all of baseball.

Maddon brings a ‘ can do ‘ attitude to the team. In his nine years with Tampa Bay, he was named American League Manager of the Year twice, in 2008 and 2011, and took them to the World Series in 2008 and to the Playoffs in 2010, 2011 and 2013. After taking over a horrible team, then called the Devil Rays, in 2006, he won only 127 while losing 197 his first two years but for the next seven years he won 627, while losing just 508.

He is an unconventional Manager in many ways running the team like a college team, complete with dress up days, entertainment, including animals in the club house, and treating his team like a family. He is often quoted as saying ‘ Don’t ever let the pressure exceed the pleasure.’ He is already talking playoffs next year which may be a bit optimistic with the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds to get by. The division may be the strongest in baseball at this time.

Maddon never played in a Major League Baseball game. Like many Managers, he was a catcher by trade but, after being signed as free agent in 1975, he only spent four seasons as a player in the California Angels system from 1976 through 1979, never getting above A ball. He managed in the Angels system from 1981 to 1986, starting with the Rookie League at Idaho Falls and progressing to Midland, Texas in AA in 1985 and 1986. He was an interim Manager for the Angels for 22 games in 1996 and for 29 games in 1999. He spent 31 years in various capacities with the Angels before joining the Devil Rays.

At 60 years old, Maddon is a great motivator and teacher who gets the most out of his players. If you play for Joe Maddon you’d better be ready to play anywhere in the field. He has had more multi-position players than any manager I have ever seen. At Tampa Bay, it seemed like he had to come up with a new pitching staff every year as his best were traded away or left to go elsewhere, including David Price and James Shields, two of the best in baseball, in the past two seasons. At Tampa Bay, he had the advantage, also, of Jim Hickey, perhaps the best Pitching Coach in baseball.

Epstein is reported to have long admired Maddon’s managerial style and most baseball people were not surprised how quickly he replaced Renteria. Almost immediately after he announced he was leaving the Rays, rumors began to circulate that he was going to the Cubs and the only thing that delayed the actual announcement was baseball’s tradition of not making public announcements during the World Series to avoid detracting from the series.

Epstein brought the Red Sox their first World Series in 86 years in 2004 and his team won it again in 2007. He was named American League Executive of the Year by Baseball America in 2008 and Sporting News Executive of the Decade in 2009 after becoming the youngest General Manager in baseball history with the Sox in 2002.

The Cubs have a solid nucleus and are committed to building a competitive team quickly. The hiring of Maddon for five years at $5. million per year seems to indicate a willingness and ability to spend money to achieve that end. With Maddon at the helm and Epstein in the office, they could put together a team that could end the longest drought in baseball history.

Can they improve enough to make the playoffs this year, or even next year? Not in the division they have to compete in but Joe Maddon will make the Cubs a much better team.

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UNBELIEVABLE ENDING TO IMPROBABLE SERIES MATCHUP

Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What else can you say after a baseball season that ended like that. Forget the fact that the best teams in baseball either didn’t make it to the playoffs or were eliminated in the first round.

That’s the lead for a column I wrote after the World Series of 2011 when the Wild Card St. Louis Cardinals beat the Texas Rangers in Game 7 of the World Series. I thought that that post season had had it all and would be a hard act to follow.

Who could have imagined two teams that had barely made it into the Playoffs as Wild Cards would meet in Game 7 this year? Who could have predicted that the Kansas City Royals who were down 7-3 going to the last of the eighth in the Wild Card Game against the Oakland Athletics would tie the game in the last of the ninth, give up a run in the top of the twelfth and come back with two in the bottom to win 8-7 and get into the Playoffs?

Who would have believed that that same Royals team, which had not been in the World Series since 1985, would sweep the mighty Los Angeles Angels in the ALDS and then do the same to the powerful Baltimore Orioles in the ALCS?

On the other hand, would anyone have foretold that the Giants, after beating the Pittsburgh Pirates easily in the Wild Card Game to make the playoffs, would make short work of the Western Division winner Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS and Central Division winner St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS? Remember the Giants finished with an 88-74 record, six games behind those same Dodgers with their outrageous payroll.

Well, as I guess you now know, they did! Not only did they make the World Series, they split the first six games and gave us what every baseball fan dreams of, a nailbiter of a seventh game of the World Series.

Kansas City had the home field advantage because the American League had won the field trip/picnic/photo op that they call the All Star Game in July. The old system of alternating the home field advantage between leagues made more sense and was fairer but maybe, with Bud Sellig gone now, some degree of sanity can be restored to the game.

The Royals proceeded to lose that advantage by dropping Game 1 to the Giants 7-1 as Madison Bumgarner shut them down with one run for seven innings before being relieved. Pulling Bumgarner early in this game may have been the smartest thing Bruce Bochy did in the series as he would come back to pitch a complete game shutout in Game 5 and have enough left to save Game 7 by pitching five innings of scoreless relief.

After losing Game 1 at home, the Royals managed a split by winning Game 2 and then went to San Francisco and took the home field advantage back by beating the Giants 3-2 in Game 3. The Giant bats finally came to life in Game 4 and they tied the series at 2-2 with an 11-4 win. With it all tied, the Royals had the advantage needing two to win it all and having two of the remaining three games at home.

Madison Bumgarner put the Giants up three games to two with a complete game, shutout, winning 5-0, in Game 5. The series then went back to Kansas City with the Royals needing two wins at home and the Giants needing just one on the road. The Royals blasted the Giants 10-0 in Game 6 to set the stage for Game 7.

Game 7 started with 39 year old Tim Hudson on the mound for the Giants and 35 year old Jeremy Guthrie for the Royals. The two combined for the highest age ever for the starting pitchers in a Game 7. Neither was around long. Hudson lasted just 1 2/3 innings and Guthrie 3 1/3 but the game was still close, 3-2 Giants after four innings.

There had been talk that Bochy might bring Bumgarner back to start Game 7 but he elected to hold him off until he needed him. Bochy called on him to come in in relief in the bottom of the fifth with the score still 3-2. All he did, on two days rest, after winning Games 1 and 5, was pitch five scoreless innings, giving up just two hits to clinch the series for his Giants.

Bumgarner, who else, was awarded the Most Valuable Player trophy although in another year either Hunter Pence or Pablo Sandoval, whose value as a Free Agent probably doubled after his play in the entire playoffs, could have won the MVP.

There were so many spectacular plays in the field during this series that it would take another column to mention them all but the biggest of them all was in the third inning of Game 7 when, with the score 2-2, the Royals batting, no outs and Lorenzo Cain, who had singled, on first, Eric Hosmer hit a hard ground ball to the right field side of second. The Giants rookie second baseman, Joe Panik dove to his right, stabbed the ball and, using his glove hand while on his stomach, flipped the ball to shortstop Brandon Crawford who stepped on second and threw to first to get Hosmer for the double play.

If the ball had gone through, the Royals would have had men on first and third with no outs and Bill Butler, the designated hitter, up. This play made Bumgarner’s sensational performance possible as it kept the score tied until DH Mike Morse singled to put the Giants up 3-2 in the top of the fourth and set the stage for his entrance.

There have been many exciting World Series game but this Game 7 has to be one of the best in a series that kept America on the edge of its seat. It’s okay to start the football season now.