October 14, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Red Sox, Astros, Braves advance; Dodgers survive
Thus far the 2021 MLB postseason is proceeding in a rather predictable, consistent way. The home teams won the two wild card games (see below), and did likewise in the opening games of all four divisional series. In contrast, the visiting team prevailed in Game 2 of three of the four divisional series, and three of those four series were ultimately decided in Game 4.
The American League divisional series got underway in St. Petersburg and Houston last Thursday, October 7th. Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. went 6 2/3 innings without giving up a run, and the [Astros easily beat the White Sox], 6-1. In Game 2 the White Sox took a 4-2 lead in the top of the 5th inning, but the Astros came right back to tie it, as their star ace pitcher Lucas Giolito (a former National) faltered. Thanks to a 5-run rally in the 7th inning (for which Chicago relievers Aaron Bummer and veteran Craig Kimbrel were jointly responsible), the Astros secured the 9-4 win. At home on Sunday, the White Sox fell behind 5-1 in the top of the 3rd, but just when things looked bleakest they came roaring back with 5 runs in the bottom of that inning, and 3 more in the 4th. Final score: 12-6. Rain forced a postponement of Game 4 until Tuesday. The White Sox took an early lead when rookie Gavin Sheets* hit a solo home run in the 2nd inning, but that was the last run they would score as the Astros eventually won it, 10-1.
* While chatting about baseball with a retail cashier last month, I learned that he was a second cousin of Gavin Sheets, who was born in Lutherville, MD and played college baseball at Wake Forest. It's a small world! Sheets was called up by the White Sox from the AAA Charlotte Knights in late June, and hit a home run in his second-ever MLB game! He went back down to Charlotte in early August, and then returned to Chicago at the beginning of September. He finished the regular season with an amazing 11 home runs, in only 160 total at bats. He seems to have quite a promising future!
The Tampa Bay Rays beat the Boston Red Sox 5-0 in their series opener, sparked by Randy Arozarena who homered in the 5th inning and actually stole home in the 7th inning. You don't see that very often! Game 2 was a wild one, as the Rays came right back with 5 runs after Boston scored two runs in the top of the first inning. As the innings passed, the Red Sox kept putting runs on the board, and the Rays' relief pitchers couldn't seem to stop them. Former Cardinal pitcher Michael Wacha gave up 6 runs in the final three innings, as the Red Sox won it, 14-6. In Boston for Game 3, the Rays rallied to tie it 4-4 in the top of the 8th inning, but wasted crucial run-scoring opportunites as the game went on into the 13th inning. That's when Christian Vazquez hit a 2-run homer to give the Red Sox a 6-4 victory. Game 4 featured a similar heroic comeback effort by the Rays that wasn't quite enough: Down 5-0 after 3 innings, they tied it 5-5 in the top of the 8th, only to lose the game and the series on a walk off sac fly by Enrique Hernandez in the bottom of the 9th. The Fenway Park faithful went wild at yet another epic postseason triumph!
In the National League, the Atlanta Braves faced the Brewers in Milwaukee's American Family Field (formerly Miller Park) last Friday. (History-oriented fans noted that this matchup took place in the Braves' former home city.) Braves pitcher Charlie Morton (formerly with the Rays and Astros) struck out 9 batters and only allowed 3 hits over 6-plus innings, but one of those was a 2-run homer by Rowdy Tellez in the bottom of the 7th. A solo shot by Joc Pederson in the top of the 8th inning narrowed the gap, but the Brewers remained on top, winning 2-1. The Braves won Game 2 thanks mainly to Max Fried, who struck out 9 batters over 6 innings -- the same as Morton the day before. An apparent home run in the 3rd inning by Ozzie Albies (it bounced back from the top of the right field wall) was ruled a double after further review, but the Braves won it anyway, 3-0. In Game 4 on Monday Joc Pederson hit a 3-run home for the Braves in the 5th inning, the only scoring play of the game, as Atlanta took the NL divisional series 3 games to 1.
The exception among the four divisional series was the "clash of titans" between the two winningest teams in the majors this year: the wild card Dodgers (106 - 56) vs. the NL West champion Giants' (107 - 55). It has been a back-and-forth series, with the Giants taking Game 1 by a 4-0 score, handing a rare defeat to Walker Buehler. The Dodgers won Game 2 by a score of 9-2, thanks in large measure to clutch RBI doubles by Cody Bellinger and A.J. Pollock. In Game 3, former Nationals ace Max Scherzer took the mound, and he lived up to his reputation, striking out 10 batters over 7 innings, giving up just 3 hits, one of which was a solo home run by Evan Longoria in the 5th inning -- the only runs scored in that game. Max was furious when he was replaced in the 8th inning, reminiscent of his days with the Nationals. (Too many times in D.C. he didn't get enough run support.) It was the first time Scherzer was tagged for a loss in a Dodger uniform; he was 7-0 with them in the regular season. In Game 4 on Tuesday night the Dodgers took an early lead thanks to an RBI double in the 1st inning, and they never looked back. Final score: 7-2, evening the series at two games apiece and forcing Game 5, which is taking place at Oracle Park in San Francisco this evening. (It's 1-1 as of the 8th inning.)
Wild cards: Red Sox, Dodgers win
The Red Sox made full use of home field advantage in Fenway Park, taking an early 2-0 lead in the AL wild card game against the New York Yankees thanks to a home run by Xander Bogaerts. Former National (and Cub) Kyle Schwarber hit a solo homer in the 3rd inning, and center fielder Alex Verdugo contributed 3 RBIs to Boston's total. The home team prevailed in convincing fashion, 6-2. (See the Postseason scores page.)
With a win-loss record of 106 - 56, the L.A. Dodgers ranked high above the other wild card team, the St. Louis Cardinals. Max Scherzer was pitching for L.A. in Dodger Stadium, but he had kind of an off day. The Cardinals scored a run when he threw a wild pitch in the top of the 1st, but that would be their last run scored. Justin Turner tied the game with a solo homer in the 4th inning, and Chris Taylor hit a fabulous walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th to win it for the home team, 3-1. Dodger Stadium was virtually filled to capacity, with 53,193 happy fans in attendance.
Tricky dealings in Tampa Bay
A public relations goof put the damper on spirits in St. Petersburg, home of the Tampa Bay Rays. The front office thought it would be a good idea to promote the idea of having the Rays split their season between Florida and Montreal, Canada. The banner they put up behind the outfield seats caused an uproar, however, and was quickly taken down. Personally, I kind of like that idea, but if it is to succeed, it will have to be handled in a very delicate fashion.
Back in May, the minority owners of the Rays filed a lawsuit against franchise owner Stuart Sternberg, accusing him of leaving them out of secret negotiations with Montreal. See tampabay.com
Nationals end bad season badly
The Washington Nationals came close to winning the final two games of the season, facing the visiting Boston Red Sox, who were in a tight four-way race for the two AL wild card spots. In all three games the Nats' starting pitchers pitched into the 6th inning, and in the latter two games they were in line for the win until the bullpen crumbled once again. Friday night's game was quite a pitchers' duel until the 6th inning, when the Red Sox scored 4 runs on back-to-back home runs by Hunter Renfroe and Bobby Dalbec. It's a shame Josh Rogers couldn't keep up his otherwise-stellar pitching record for just one more inning. Final score: 4-2. On Saturday Nats rookie pitcher Josiah Gray (formerly with the Dodgers) struck out 7 while only giving up one run in 6 innings, and the game was tied 1-1 after 8 innings, but the Red Sox scored 4 runs in the top of the 9th and won it, 5-3. In the finale on Sunday, a rookie named Joan Adon (from the Dominican Republic) was the starting pitcher for the Nationals, and he did amazingly well: 9 strikeouts and just 2 earned runs over 5 1/3 innings. The Nats led 5-2 when Erick Fedde gave up 3 runs to the Red Sox in the top of the 7th inning. Kyle Finnegan gave up a 2-run homer to Rafael Devers, and the Red Sox completed their sweep of the Nationals with a 7-5 victory. That put them in the top-seed position for the wild card game, which proved to be crucial. And thus, a very bad season for the Washington Baseball Team (!) ended on a gloomy note.
In Sunday's game there was an emotional moment when Ryan Zimmerman trotted out to first base alone in the top of the 8th inning, then did a ritual U-turn waving to the crowd when it was announced that he was being replaced. He got a standing (and teary-eyed) ovation from the big crowd of nearly 34,000 fans. Since Zimmerman has not decided whether he will return to play with the Nationals this year, that may have been his final moment on the field in a Nats uniform. I certainly hope not. I was aware of the solemnity of the occasion that day, and did my best to see that game in person:
It was a beautiful day for baseball in Our Nation's Capital on October 3rd, and since I happened to be in Washington, I drove right past Nationals Park about three hours before game time. Unfortunately, however, I had to attend to More Important Obligations, and was therefore unable to see the Nationals' 2021 finale. The road construction in the foreground is where South Capitol Street is being re-aligned to more smoothly access the newly-completed Frederick Douglass Bridge, just southwest from the old bridge of that same name.
The astonishing magnitude of the Nationals' second-half collapse got me to thinking how this year compares with preceding years, so I came up with the following table. From April through the end of June this year, the Nats won 40 games and lost 38 (.513), but from July until the end of the season their record was a horrific 25 - 59 (.298).
Nats' 1st & 2nd halves
|Year||Winning % |
April - June
|Winning % |
July - September
The data above pertain to the first and second three-month periods of each season (including March games under April, and October regular-season games under September), not to the actual 81-game halves of each year. (In 2020, no games were played until late July.)
[This post was corrected two days later.]
October 20, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Astros, Dodgers avert the precipice of doom
The Boston Red Sox and Atlanta (formerly Boston) Braves both had a chance to take commanding leads in their respective league championship series, but in remarkably similar fashion, the Houston Astros and L.A. Dodgers staged huge late-inning comebacks. Here is a quick rundown:
In Game 1 of the ALCS in Houston's Minute Maid Park on Friday October 15, neither of the starting pitchers (Chris Sale for the Red Sox and Framber Valdez for the Astros) managed to complete three innings. Short outings by starting pitchers have become rather common this postseason, for some reason. Boston took a 3-1 lead on a big rally in the 3rd inning, but their bullpen faltered later on, and the home team held on to win, 5-4. But in Game 2 the Red Sox came roaring back, with grand slams in both the first and second innings: Rafael Devers and J.D. Martinez, respectively. Having an 8-run cushion (briefly 9) was more than enough as the Red Sox won that one, 9-5, thus evening the series. In Fenway Park for Game 3, Boston kept up the offensive momentum with a 6-run rally in the 2nd inning, capped by yet another grand slam -- this time for former National Kyle Schwarber. And the crowd went wild! Once again the Red Sox briefly had a 9-run cushion, but this time they added later runs to finish the game with that margin; final score 12-3. Last night the Red Sox had a 2-1 lead going from the end of the first inning (after Xander Bogaerts hit a homer) until the top of the 8th, when Jose Altuve hit a solo shot to even the score. Then in the 9th inning, the Red Sox bullpen imploded as little-known Jason Castro hit an RBI single to take the lead. Before you knew it, six more runs had scored, and the visitors triumphed over the gleefully expectant Red Sox by a score of 9-2. So instead of taking a 3-1 series lead, the Red Sox now find themselves in a 2-2 series, and are behind the Astros 1-0 in the middle of Game 5 right now.
It seems odd that the Atlanta Braves (89-73) had the home field advantage in the NLCS against the L.A. Dodgers (106-56), but the division winners automatically get a higher seed over the wild card teams. That made a huge difference, as the Braves went toe-to-toe against the Dodgers, with the game tied 2-2 from the end of the 4th inning until the bottom of the 9th. That's when their young slugger hit an RBI single to win the game in dramatic walk-off fashion. Former Nationals reliever Blake Treinen, who has done excellent work with the Dodgers all year, was unfortunately tagged with the loss. In Game 2, a similar sequence of events transpired, with the game tied 4-4 going into the bottom of the 9th. That's when Eddie Rosario (formerly of the Minnesota Twins) hit an RBI single to win it 5-4: another walk-off triumph! In Game 3 last night the Braves were ahead 5-2 from the top of the 5th until the bottom of the 8th. Luke Jackson took the mound as Atlanta's reliever, and before you knew it, the Dodgers had taken the lead on a home run by none other than Cody Bellinger (!), followed by an RBI double by Mookie Betts. Dodgers 6, Braves 5. If Atlanta had won that game, they would have been virtually assured of winning the NLCS, but now that it's merely a 2-1 series lead, the Dodgers have a better-than-even chance of coming back and returning to the World Series. Simply amazing turns of events!
NLDS: Dodgers edge Giants
In Game 5 of the NLDS in San Francisco late in the evening on October 14 (at which point the score was tied 1-1 going into), the Los Angeles Dodgers somehow managed to beat the Giants, 2-1. At the top of the 9th inning, with one out and runners on first and second, Cody Bellinger punched a single into right field, allowing Justin Turner to score. It was quite a surprise, since Bellinger had a horrible regular season, with a .165 batting average and only 315 at bats. Now he has redeemed himself as a hero. In the bottom of the 9th, the Dodgers had Max Scherzer pitch, since their usual closer Kenley Jansen had already pitched the inning before, and had been pinch-hit for in the top of the 9th. Max overcame an error by Justin Turner at third base, and retired the other three batters, two on strikeouts. He thus earned his first career save. I believe his only previous relief pitching appearance was in the calamitous 5th inning of 2017 NLDS Game 5 against the Chicago Cubs. (Yet another gut-wrenching heartbreaker for the Nats.)
Nationals look ahead
Almost as soon as the regular season was over, the Washington Nationals signed infielder Alicides Escobar to a one-year contract renewal. He was one of their most reliable new players, and will presumably return as the starting shortstop when the 2022 season begins. Since joining the team on July 3 (in a cash transaction with the Kansas City Royals), he led the Nationals in doubles (21) and hits (92), and his .379 RISP batting average ranked sixth in the National League. He is a 12-year veteran who helped the Royals win the World Series in 2015. (See MLB.com.)
The Nats also signed Darnell Cole as their new hitting coach, replacing Kevin Long, who was hired by the Philadelphia Phillies. Cole has worked as a coach for various teams in the Nationals' minor league farm system. He's an old friend of manager Dave Martinez, and played with him for the Reds in 1992.
Diagram updates? Yes!
In case you are wondering about the lack of stadium diagram updates recently, rest assured that more are on the way in the near future! One or two surprises, and then the remaining MLB stadiums in coming days and weeks...
October 23, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Astros turn the tables & triumph; Dodgers too?
Just a few days ago, it looked like the Boston Red Sox were headed to the World Series for the first time in three years, with a 2-1 series lead and two more games to play in the (usually) home-team-friendly Fenway Park. However, their bats suddenly turned ice cold, and their bullpens melted down in historically awful fashion. Almost as soon as I posted on my blog on Wednesday, the Astros erupted with a 5-run rally, after Kyle Schwarber missed a catch at first base and Yordan Alvarez hit a 2-run double. That knocked starting pitcher Chris Sale out of the game, and his replacement Ryan Brasier gave up three more runs after that. The Astros added a run in the top of the 7th inning, matched by the first and only run by the Red Sox in the bottom of the inning. By then there wasn't much hope for the home town fans, and the Astros won it 9-1. Last night at Minute Maid Park in Houston, a similar sequence of events transpired, as the Red Sox seemed glumly resigned to doom. Yordan Alvarez hit an RBI double in the 1st inning, and scored in the bottom of the 6th on a strange double play in which Kyle Schwarber chose to tag the runner at first instead of immedidately throwing home to prevent the run from scoring. The Astros added three runs on a home run by Kyle Tucker in the 8th inning, and won the game 5-0.
Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves took NLCS Game 4, thanks to two home runs by Eddie Rosario and one by Freddie Freeman, whose batting performance has been mediocre lately. With a 4-run rally in the top of the 9th they won it easily, 9-2. That gave them a 3-1 series lead and a chance to finish the job on the road. Once again, however, the L.A. Dodgers turned the tables, shocking Braves ace pitcher Max Fried. Overcoming a 1st-inning homer by Freddie Freeman, the Dodgers took a 3-2 lead in the 2nd inning, and kept adding to their run total in subsequent innings. It was rather embarrassing for Fried and his team. Chris Taylor, the little-know utility player who stunned the world with a game-winning home run in the NLDS against the Giants, hit three more home runs, with 6 RBIs total. A.J. Pollock hit two homers of his own, and former National Trea Turner finally started hitting as he was expected to do; he went 3 for 4 at the plate. So, the Dodgers narrowed the series deficit to 3 games to 2.
Tonight the Braves will try to seal the deal at home in Truist Park, trying to put aside fears of repeating the same thing that the Dodgers inflicted up them in the NLCS last year. (The Dodgers won the last three games after the Braves took a 3-1 series lead.) The Braves really need to win the game tonight, or else the momentum will shift even more strongly to the Dodgers. Walker Buehler will be pitching for the Dodgers tonight instead of Max Scherzer. Max apparently hurt his throwing arm after pitching as closer in NLDS Game 5 and then starting on short rest in NLCS Game 2. Presumably he will be available to pitch in the later innings tonight, if needed, or perhaps as a starter in Game 7, if there is one...
October 31, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Braves stun Dodgers, win National League pennant
The Braves did indeed "seal the deal" at home in Truist Park two Saturdays ago, beating the heavily-favored L.A. Dodgers in Game 6 the National League Championship Series by a score of 4-2. Fears of another improbable series comeback such as the Dodgers inflicted upon them in October 2020 (winning the final three games) were surely in all the players' minds, even if they didn't admit it. The Braves took a 1-0 lead in the first inning, thanks to an RBI double by Ozzie Albies. Then the Astros tied it in the fourth inning, but Eddie Rosario immediately put the Braves back on top with a 3-run home run, his third this postseason. He was named NLCS Most Valuable Player. Starting pitcher Ian Anderson was replaced in the fifth inning, but the bullpen held the line, only giving up one run and two hits for the rest of the game. And thus, the Braves won the game, 4-2, thereby claiming the National League pennant for the first time since 1999.
World Series: Braves stun Astros, win 3 games
As an upstart "Cinderella" team with a history of postseason misfortune, the Atlanta Braves were clearly the underdogs going up against the Houston Astros in the 2021 World Series. (Much like the Washington Nationals two years ago, they were "just happy to be here"!) That's why it was such a shock when the Braves beat the host team in Game 1 last Tuesday night, October 26. For the first time ever, the first batter in Game 1 of the World Series hit a home run: Jorge Soler will long be remembered for that feat. That sparked a rally that scored another run for the Braves, and the Astros were lucky that was the extent of it. The Braves scored again in the second inning, and twice more in the third, thanks to a home run by Adam Duvall. But the big news of that game was that Braves starting pitcher Charlie Morton had to be replaced in the third inning as the pain in his leg which had been hit by a line drive kept getting worse. It turns out that he had pitched to several batters with a fractured fibula! Losing him was a terrible blow to the Braves, and that cast a shadow on their prospects. The rest of the game was fairly uneventful, and just like the Nationals did in the very same place two years earlier, the visiting team came away with the victory: 6-2, Braves.
Game 2 was almost a complete reversal of Game 1, as the Astros took a 5-1 lead after scoring 4 runs in the bottom of the 2nd inning. The fact that the Braves' other ace pitcher, Max Fried, got shellacked was an ill omen for Atlanta. The final score of that one was 7-2, Astros.
In Game 3 in Atlanta, with Truist Park jam-packed full of thrilled (but long-suffering) fans, Ian Anderson pitched 5 hitless innings, and in fact none of the Astros got a hit until the 8th inning. All the Braves needed was an RBI double by Austin Riley in the 3rd inning and a solo home run by Travis d'Arnaud in the 8th inning. Final score: [2-0 -- correction].
Game 4 on Saturday night seemed almost hopeless for the Braves, who didn't have an experienced starting pitcher available. So they gave that job to Dylan Lee, who was replaced after loading the bases and getting just one out in the first inning. Kyle Wright escaped major damage, and managed to pitch through the fifth inning, at which point the score was 2-0; rather surprisingly, the Braves were still in the game! They rallied to score a run in the 6th inning, and then in the bottom of the 7th inning something truly incredible happened: back-to-back solo home runs by Dansby Swanson and Jorge Soler!! Relief pitchers Luke Jackson and Will Smith got the last six batters out, and the Braves somehow overcame heavy odds to win the game, 3-2.
That gave the Braves a 3-1 series lead, giving them the opportunity to win the World Series in tonight's Game [5 -- correction]. When Adam Duvall hit a grand slam in the 1st inning, it seemed like the proverbial Fat Lady was getting ready to sing and make the Braves' triumph official. Not so fast!!! The Astros tied the game in the 3rd inning, running roughshod over the Braves hodgepodge of relief pitchers. (25-year old Tucker Davidson was the Braves' starter, and he was replaced after giving up the tying run in the 3rd inning.) Freddie Freeman hit a solo homer right after that, giving the lead back to Atlanta, but a dumb decision to give an automatic walk to Alex Bregman in the 5th inning led to a 3-run rally that gave the lead to the Astros. The score is now 8-5 in the bottom of the 7th inning, and chances are that the series will go back to Houston... It's kind of spooky in a way. [UPDATE: The Astros added a run in the 8th inning, and won Game 5 by a score of 9-5.]
Happy Halloween! *
* And for Nationals fans, happy second anniversary of their World Series victory!!
Comparing the ballparks
Just like two years ago (but not last year, when the baseball season was upended by the covid-19 pandemic), and several years before that, I present the home ballparks of the two World Series teams, for easy comparison. Also just like last year (Fenway Park and Dodger Stadium), the contrasts between the two stadiums this year (Minute Maid Park and Truist Park) are very sharp. Left field in particular differs radically, and the line drive home run into the left field bullpen by Jorge Soler last night was of such a low trajectory that it might not have carried the high wall at Minute Maid Park.
Just roll your mouse over the thumbnail images to switch between the respective full-size diagrams.
Monthly links this year:
Culture & Travel
Science & Technology
Jan 18, 2021 ~ Dodgers end 32-year World Series drought
Jan 19, 2021 ~ Trump loses re-election, incites riot, gets impeached
Jan 31, 2021 ~ Birding in Autumn (and early winter)
Feb 8, 2021 ~ The Nationals in 2020: Lousy season ends well
Feb 12, 2021 ~ Return to normalcy? Joe Biden becomes president
Feb 18, 2021 ~ Impeachment trial #2: Trump is acquitted again!
March 9, 2021 ~ Nationals assemble championship-caliber team / Spring 2021 road trip
March 10, 2021 ~ Birding in Louisiana (& nearby areas)
March 16, 2021 ~ Spring break (early): road trip to New Orleans
April 3, 2021 ~ All Star Game pulled from Atlanta
April 20, 2021 ~ Birding in March
May 26, 2021 ~ Birding in April: pretty good, but...
June 16, 2021 ~ Nationals struggle to climb out of NL East "cellar"
June 23, 2021 ~ Red-hot Nationals surge into
third second place
July 1, 2021 ~ Super Schwarber sparks Nats' amazing upsurge
July 4, 2021 ~ Birding in May: many great views, a few rarities
July 10, 2021 ~ Birding in June: ducks, orioles, and falcons