Friday, October 17, 2014

Tough To Top

The NLCS pitted a pair of teams I don't especially care much for in the Giants and Cardinals against each other for the second time in 3 years. I had to root for the Giants, because as I've said many times over, I'm just sick of the Cardinals and I just want them to go away and stop being so smarmily successful.

But if I have to throw some praise at these two teams, I will, and after watching this 5-game NLCS play out, both teams deserve some praise because this was one hell of a series. Sure, the Giants ended up winning 4 games to 1, and if you look back on it 20 years from now, you might think this was sort of a ho-hum kind of series, and you'd be severely wrong. Every game in this series had some sort of weird drama going on, starting with Madison Bumgarner's shutout in Game 1, followed by the Cardinals Home Run barrage in Game 2, an extra-inning throwing error in Game 3 and the back-and-forth Game 4. But it was capped last night by perhaps the most memorable game of them all. In a game that really had just about everything you could want in a Baseball game, the Giants won 6-3 on a walk-off Home Run from unlikely hero Travis Ishikawa. That's what everyone will recall. But what got the game to that point was sort of the epitome of everything that makes Baseball great.

Start with the classic Pitcher's duel that ensued between Madison Bumgarner and Adam Wainwright, a pair of sage veterans (if you can call the 25-year old Bumgarner a veteran—considering he's going to his 3rd World Series, that's all the street cred he needs) that can boast all sorts of accolades. They both got dinged for some early runs but by time the middle innings rolled around, they'd settled in and were just throwing darts at each other. At one point, Wainwright had retired something like 10 in a row which was pretty good, except that Bumgarner had retired 13 in a row. Still, the Cardinals clung to a slim 3-2 lead, which they needed to hang on to if they had any kind of hope of getting the series back to their home park in a situation that could have been demoralizing for the Giants.

But the Cardinals removed Wainwright in the 8th in favor of crafty submariner Pat Neshek and immediately the Giants got off the mat and tied the game courtesy of a lightning-like Home Run off the bat of Michael Morse. Again, the kind of play that might get forgotten given how the rest of the game played out, but a huge hit that tied the game and changed the way the Cardinals handled the remainder of the proceedings. Rather than setting things up for their closer Trevor Rosenthal, the Cardinals went to Michael Wacha for the 9th inning in a tie game. This is all fine and good, considering Wacha's outstanding postseason in 2013. But Wacha was injured for a good share of this year, returned very late in September, was kind of erratic and hadn't pitched in a game at all since September 26th. And now, Mike Matheny threw him out there in the 9th inning of a tie game he couldn't lose? A calculated risk, but it didn't work. Wacha gave up a leadoff single to Pablo Sandoval, followed by a Hunter Pence fly out, but then Wacha essentially lost the plate. He walked Brandon Belt on 4 pitches and then, after Matheny elected to leave him in to face Ishikawa, fell behind 2-0. Needing to throw a strike, Wacha more or less aimed one and the result for him was instant disaster, because Ishikawa shot the pitch straight out over the Right field wall, and the Giants Won The Pennant, the Giants Won the Pennant.

Whichever team ended up winning this series would have done so falling in line with the "Team Above All" theory, because there's no one breakaway star on either side. True, Bumgarner was particularly dominant for the Giants and his NLCS MVP was well-earned. But the Giants still had to win on the days he wasn't pitching, and in those instances, it was usually someone like Hunter Pence or Gregor Blanco stepping up and getting the job done. They continued this little every other year thing they have going on and advanced to the World Series for the 3rd time in 5 years, with mostly the same group of guys that have done it for them twice previously. They'll now match up with the Great Cinderella Story that is the Kansas City Royals in a series that, for once, they'll probably be favored to win. But whatever happens, this should be a real treat of a World Series coming up next week, because these two teams really know how to play the game, and they've already put forth several top-quality efforts this Postseason. I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Hope For Us All

It's not exactly a secret at this point that the Kansas City Royals, who stamped their ticket to the 2014 World Series last night, are here after 29 years in the wilderness. But after years of general mediocrity, rebuilding projects that went nowhere, stars that were dealt away for never-will-bes and so many Runelvys Hernandez-types that blew threw the system, they've finally put it together. And it wasn't even quite a sure thing this year, when they sat however many games back in August, but somehow, they caught fire, got into the Playoffs and just took off from there.

Perhaps the Greatest 8-game winning streak in Royals history culminated yesterday with the completion of a convincing ALCS Sweep over the Baltimore Orioles, in which they outhit the O's for two games in Baltimore, outpitched them in two games in KC and basically shoved them off the field with a near-miraculous string of defensive gems. This is a team that's completely unheralded, a group of mostly young players mixed in with some shrewdly-acquired veteran leaders that has banded together in the name of speed, defense and a dominant bullpen. Though they managed only 4 runs over the final two games of the ALCS, and those runs scored on a Sacrifice Fly, an Infield Out and a 2-run Error, their pitching and defense held the Orioles and their lineup of power hitters to 2 runs, which is usually good enough to win every time. Tuesday, the Royals won 2-1. Wednesday, 2-1 again. Both days, all they needed their starting pitchers to do was get the game through 6 innings so that they could turn things over to the 1-2-3 punch of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland to finish things off, and finish it off they did.

During the Division Series, I wrote about how the Postseason chooses who becomes a legend, and how perhaps the Royals Eric Hosmer had been chosen. Hosmer hit .400 for the ALCS, but he didn't stand out among this group. No one player rose up to carry the Royals to victory, they did it all together. Whether it was Alex Gordon or Mike Moustakas, whose Extra-inning Home Runs were key in Game 1, or Salvador Perez, who shook off getting banged around behind the plate to call consistently solid games, or Alcides Escobar, who's emerged as one of those Edgardo Alfonzo-like "Knows How To Play" types, or Lorenzo Cain, who it seems was chosen as the series MVP just because they had to pick someone. This is the recipe for winners. Look at some of the teams that have won World Series Championships in recent years. Like a team the Royals could end up meeting in the World Series, the Giants. Above all, a Team.

A team that only hit 95 Home Runs in the regular season and won only 89 games. A team that was down 4 runs in the Wildcard Game with time running out. But a team that caught fire at the right time and hasn't come down yet. That's the Kansas City Royals of 2014, a team above all, and that's why they're going to represent the American League in the World Series.

And if they can do it, well, hey, anything's possible, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

2014 Mets: Small Steps Forward, Part II

Part 2 of the Mets 2014 Report Card. Now, for the Pitchers. The Mets used 22 of them this season, down from 29 in 2013. Part 1, the hitters, is here in case you missed it.

Bartolo Colon - B+
Well, hey, he won 15 games at age 41 and proved himself consistently entertaining just about every time out, not quite the same way that Pedro was entertaining, but because it was generally just amusing to watch a guy so comically out of shape pitch well and then try to do things like bat. Usually he was given a rousing ovation simply for making contact, but when he managed to get a couple of hits, it brought the house down. But in all seriousness, Colon pretty much did everything that could have been expected of him. He wasn't going to replace the void left by Harvey, but if nothing else, he ate up his share of innings, topping 200 for the first time since 2005, only walked 30 batters and although the ERA at 4.09 was a bit high, simply based on some instances where he really didn't have it and got bombed, more often than not he rather effortlessly worked his way deep into games and kept things competitive.

Jon Niese - C
Niese had another typically annoying season where all too often, he was getting into jams and letting them snowball out of control, leaving him to mope around the mound with a Marcumesque puss on his face. Though he did manage to keep his ERA down, matching his career best at 3.40, a particularly bad stretch in July and August, in which he went 2-6 and routinely found himself struggling to get through games kind of took the starch out of his season. At age 27 and now one of the veterans on this pitching staff, as well as the only lefthanded starter the Mets have, it's getting to the point where Niese needs to put up or shut up. We know he can pitch better than what he's displayed over the past two seasons, but for whatever reason, the kind of success he had in 2012 has eluded him. There's enough depth around that he could be viewed as a tradeable commodity should the situation present itself.

Zack Wheeler - B+
Wheeler's first full season was about what you'd expect from a 24-year old well-hyped prospect: Flashes of brilliance combined with flashes of youth. Wheeler, whose biggest problem among Mets fans may simply be that he's not Matt Harvey, displayed a spate of control issues throughout the season which prevented him from working deep into games on many occasions. But, as the season progressed and he got his legs under him, he did managed to grit his way through a majority of his outings. That he went from 3-8 with an ERA of 4.25 at the end of June to finish up with a record of 11-11 and an ERA of 3.54 is a testament to Wheeler growing and improving as the season drew on. Still has tantalizing stuff and still has a good amount of upside, which he did display, although not quite often enough. Obviously, once he can make the necessary corrections and stop throwing too many pitches too early in games, things like durability will follow, but he's not quite put it all together yet.

Jacob deGrom - A
The revelation of the season, deGrom ascended to the Majors in May and although he didn't pitch especially badly at first, he took losses in 4 of his first 6 starts. But once he finally got his first win out of the way on June 21st, deGrom took off from there. Displaying a fan-friendly moppish hairstyle and a fine array of pitches, deGrom quickly became a Dickey-like folk hero, running off a string of victories and sterling efforts, barely missing a beat when he found himself on the DL for 2 weeks in August. He saved his best efforts for the end, closing his season by first tying a Major League record by striking out the first 8 Marlins to face him en route to a 13K performance on September 15th, and then on September 21st, finished off his season with a 10 strikeout effort in Atlanta. Finished up 9-6, impressive enough considering he started 0-4, with a 2.69 ERA, including an ERA of 1.99 over his final 15 games, and 144 Ks in 140.1 IP. In a year that didn't feature a breakout candidate, it's probably a crime if he's not voted NL Rookie of the Year.

Dillon Gee - C-
Gee, like Niese, had a year that brought more frustration than good vibes. After being named the surprise Opening Day starter and getting off to a solid start, Gee's season went off the rails after an oblique injury kept him on the shelf for 2 months. When he returned, his consistency was gone and he fizzled out with a series of poor starts and no-decisions, a far cry from the pitcher that looked so good for a majority of the 2013 season. Finished up a disappointing 7-8 with an ERA that ended up at 4.00 after sitting at a nice 2.73 when he got injured. Still serviceable depth for the Mets' rotation, but as things get more crowded, you have to wonder how much of a future he has with the team.

Jenrry Mejia - B+
If ever there was a tale of two seasons, it would be Jenrry Mejia's 2014 campaign. Mejia won the 5th spot in the rotation out of Spring Training and all he did was start out with a record of 3-0 and a 1.99 ERA in his first 4 starts. Then he had a pair of starts in which he gave up 6 runs to Florida and 8 runs in Colorado, and the bloom was off his rose. Rather quickly, Mejia was pulled from the rotation—an odd move at the time considering he'd only had a couple of bad outings and there are certainly plenty of pitchers who have continued to start games with less success (see Marcum, Shaun). But instead of moping around, Mejia instead grabbed an opportunity to close games and ran with it. Before too long, Mejia's end-game stomp became a regular occurrence, as he eventually racked up 28 Saves to go along with 98 strikeouts in 93.2 innings. 41 walks was a bit high, but considering 20 of them came in his 7 early-season starts, I think we can look past that. Going forward, has to be considered the favorite to maintain the closer's role even with the likely return of Parnell.

Rafael Montero - C
Montero, who was thought of as the top name among the second tier of Mets pitching prospects, hit the Majors in late May, the same time as deGrom, but unlike deGrom, Montero had a rough time of things in New York. Of particular concern was the fact that he walked 23 in 44 innings pitched, a clear departure from a pitcher who'd boasted a WHIP of 1.066 in 4 Minor League seasons. He was also tagged for 8 Home Runs, including 3 in one particularly bad game against Washington (although in his defense, everyone on Washington hit Home Runs against the Mets). He did finish out with 3 solid outings in September, among them his first Major League win over the Colorados and a fine 1-run effort against Houston, but by that point, he'd become a bit of a forgotten prospect based on his struggles measured against deGrom's success. At 24, there's still room for some upside, but just as much of a chance he could be better utilized as a trade chip.

Carlos Torres - B+
Deceptively good might be a good way to describe Carlos Torres this season. Torres has never boasted eye-popping stats or stuff, but for the most part he was effective whenever he was called on over the course of the season. His WHIP at 1.3 wasn't great, an indicator of his general hittability, but he's shown a knack for being able to get out of his own jams, as indicated by his 3.06 ERA, which was down from 3.44 last season, and his 96 strikeouts in 97 innings pitched, which means he was able to get key strikeouts when he needed them. Sure, he had his moments, as any reliever is apt to do, but in general Torres managed to acquit himself well enough to stick around the season, and he'll probably be back, at least until he hits Free Agency and some team offers him a multi-year contract.

Jeurys Familia - A
Familia, perhaps even moreso than Mejia, took a major step forward in establishing himself as a key member of the bullpen. Though he started slow, with an ERA in the 4s through an April in which he looked more thrower than pitcher, Familia very slowly found his way and started pitching like he meant it. From May 1 on, Familia threw to a 1.86 ERA with better than a strikeout an inning, bringing his season totals to an outstanding 2.21 ERA with 73 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.12 over 77.1 innings and 5 saves in instances where he spelled Mejia. He certainly established himself as the front end of a very talented 8-9 inning tandem; the sort of pitcher that a contending team almost always has (see Herrera, Kelvin).

Vic Black - B-
Black didn't quite live up to the fireballer hype that he came over from Pittsburgh with, and a frustrating season for him that started out with a Spring Training in which he got repeatedly shelled and didn't make the team ended up with him surfacing in May and generally throwing hard with not much control. The 2.60 ERA he put together in 41 games and 34.2 innings featured some good (32 strikeouts, only 2 Home Runs) and some bad (19 walks and several outings in which he couldn't finish out an inning) before his season kind of ground to a stop after an injury of which type I can't remember. 

Josh Edgin - A-
Edgin, who still hasn't quite put it all together, did have a fine season this year, pitching to a 1.32 ERA in 47 games, mostly as a lefty specialist. Didn't emerge until May after a poor Spring and also battled a couple of nagging injuries that ended up cutting his season short, but 28 strikeouts and a WHIP under 1.0 in 27 innings was a welcome sight in the right direction for a guy who's suffered from a bit of inconsistency over the early part of his career.

Daisuke Matsuzaka - B+
Though Dice-K certainly doesn't come with the panaché he boasted when he came over from Japan, he can still entertain, whether it was his 3-inning warmup that started with him throwing without his cap before cranking it up, or throwing some key multi-inning relief efforts, or making some spot starts. Pitched in 34 games, making 9 starts. 83 innings, 78 strikeouts and a 3.89 ERA and even picked up a Save in the process.

Buddy Carlyle - A
A "Scrap Heap" special! Carlyle, who hadn't pitched in the Majors since 2011 and when he did hadn't found a great deal of success, shined in a kind of a multipurpose role coming out of the bullpen, chewing up innings (31 in 27 games), throwing strikes (only walked 5 guys) and not allowing many runs (a 1.45 ERA). Strikes me, however, as one of those guys who's going to be brought back as a middle-inning guy and give up 3 runs on Opening Day and get released in May. But I've been wrong before. 

Gonzalez Germen - C-
Germen, who pitched rather well as a Rookie in 2013, did not find similar success in 2014. Of most alarm was his Home Runs allowed, which jumped from 1 in 34.1 innings last season to 7 in 30.1 innings, which led to a 4.75 ERA, which led to him being shuttled between AAA and the Majors 3 times over the course of the season and didn't exactly inspire much confidence.

Dana Eveland - B+
Hefty Lefty Eveland surfaced in June as another of Alderson's patented "Scrap heap" guys, but he actually pitched reasonably well as compared to, say, Farnsworth or Valverde. Lefty specialist performed reasonably well, striking out 27 in 27.1 innings over 30 games and rang up a 2.63 ERA after not pitching in the Majors at all last season.

Jose Valverde - F
Valverde was one of those calculated gambles that Sandy Alderson took, because every year there's always a few of them when it comes to cobbling together a bullpen. Successful teams can make these sorts of gambles work out. For the Mets, well, they ended up with Jose Valverde. The natural choice to grab the closer role when Parnell went down, Valverde saved a pair of games in the first weeks of the season before vomiting up a trio of terrible performances and getting demoted to the back of the bullpen, which for all intents and purposes was his rightful place. Released in late may following more outings in which he either got the side in order or gave up 4 runs with not any in-between. 20 innings yielded a nice-looking 23 strikeouts to go along with a completely putrid 5.66 ERA.

Kyle Farnsworth - D
Farnsworth's 3.18 ERA in 19 games kind of belies the fact that he was very up-and-down. He had a stretch in April where he was actually one of the better relievers on the team and parlayed that into briefly holding the closer's role and actually picked up 3 Saves in the process. But once it became evident that there were better options available to the team for the later innings, Farnsworth was deemed expendable and released.

Scott Rice - F
Rice, last year's feel-good story did not build on his success, pitching 13.2 innings in 32 games, as any lefty specialist is wont to do, but they were 13.2 bad innings. These innings included 5 Wild Pitches, 15 hits, 12 walks a 5.93 ERA and, not surprisingly, a June demotion to AAA from which he did not return after suffering an elbow injury. At 33 by next Opening Day not likely to resurface but, then again, this is the team that kept Manny Acosta around for 4 seasons...

Erik Goeddel
Goeddel didn't exactly distinguish himself in the Minors, pitching to a 5.37 ERA in AAA, but somehow he parlayed this into a September call-up where he was spotted mostly in low/no-pressure situations. Pitched reasonably well in his 6 games, which included 6.2 IP, 6 K and a 2.70 ERA but whether or not that's a mirage remains to be seen. 

John Lannan - F
Long Beach, NY's own John Lannan probably shouldn't have been on the team at all. He certainly shouldn't have been given serious consideration for the #5 spot in the rotation when he clearly wasn't as good as competitors Mejia or Matsuzaka, but he had that whole "being a lefty" thing going for him. Given the results the Mets got from him out of the bullpen—5 games, 4IP, and a comically bad 15.75 ERA, it's not really surprising he didn't last much longer than the first couple of weeks of the season. 

Dario Alvarez
September callup who only surfaced in 4 games for 1.1 innings where he was used as a lefty specialist and though his 13.50 ERA might indicate a struggle, his Major League Debut consisted of him being put in a situation with men on base and he gave up an inherited run in a game the Mets won, and then later being used as a sacrificial lamb in the 9th inning of a blowout loss against Washington. One of these guys I'd never heard of prior to the season who could end up going the route of, say, Willie Collazo

Bobby Parnell
I can't in good faith give Bobby Parnell a grade based on one inning, but that one inning certainly was telling as far as the way the season was going to go for him. Entrusted with a 1-run lead on Opening Day, Parnell was a strike away from closing out the Nationals, blew the save, and before the paint dried on the game he was done for the season with the Big Boy Surgery. In his place, a couple of strong candidates emerged, namely Familia and Mejia, to challenge him for the closer role, so he's got to earn his way back into the spot. But, it's worth considering that Parnell, who had a fine season in 2013, with 22 Saves and a 2.16 ERA, could end up being combined with these guys and give the Mets one hell of a bullpen if he returns strong next season.

And, for good measure:
MANAGER
Terry Collins - B
Once again, Collins was sort of left to fend for himself with a limited amount of pieces to work with, but for the first time in his tenure as Manager, the team actually improved from a win-loss standpoint, jumping from a pair of 74-88 seasons to 79-83. Not quite the 90 wins Sandy Alderson had somewhat blindly called for, but if nothing else, it's a step in the right direction. He did have his usual problem of sometimes pulling his starters too soon in favor of guys like Valverde, Rice, Farnsworth or Black and that had a tendency to blow up on him, but his handling of Familia and Mejia is to be commended, particularly considering Mejia's preference to remain a starter. But, after what essentially amounts to a 4-year mulligan, the Alderson/Collins regime is going to have to start producing results in 2015. Collins has proven himself to be reasonably effective as a manager and I don't think sentimental favorite Wally Backman is going to make this team any better than Collins will—Backman might be more lively but that's about it. Now, he's got some players here, he's got to get the results.

So, that finishes it up for the Mets in 2014. Now, let's see what happens over the next few months to make this group winners in 2015.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Monday Magic

Brandon Lloyd has had a bit of a checkered career that's led him from a reserve with the 49ers that had a penchant for acrobatic catches, to the trappings of stardom with Washington, Chicago, Denver, St. Louis and New England, to out of Football completely last season, and now back to the 49ers as a kind of change-of-pace guy, a deep threat to complement an already strong receiving corps. Last week, against Kansas City, he showed he still has the ability to make the jaw-dropping catches. On Monday night, in St. Louis, he had the catch of the day, reeling in an 80-yard Touchdown pass from Colin Kaepernick with :14 seconds to go in the 1st half. Before his clinical roasting of Janoris Jenkins, the 49ers had had a difficult time of things in St. Louis, as Austin Davis and his group of speedy, young backs and receivers had kept the 49ers off guard and in check, dominating the clock and running out to a 14-0 lead. The Rams appeared primed to take a 14-3 lead into the half, particularly after Rams Punter Johnny Hekker pinned the 49ers back at their own 5 yard line with under 2 minutes to play. But instead of sitting on the ball, the 49ers took a shot. Kaepernick connected with Lloyd, Lloyd took it to the house, and the 49ers grabbed the momentum and ran with it, spinning their 14-0 deficit into a decisive 31-17 victory in St. Louis, their 3rd win in a row and 7th consecutive victory on Monday Night Football, where their prime-time players generally play their best.

Early in the game, however, the 49ers didn't really look their best. The intrepid Rams, who boast an out-of-nowhere Rookie Quarterback in Austin Davis, jumped on the 49ers early. The 49ers fell into some of their usual bad habits as the Rams embarked on an opening drive that took up nearly half the 1st Quarter. They committed two penalties, one of which wiped out an Ahmad Brooks sack and another which negated a key incomplete pass, and also allowed the Rams to convert a pair of 3rd downs on a drive that ultimately ended in a Bennie Cunningham Touchdown that gave the Rams the lead. The 49ers offense came out and did nothing on their first drive, and although they appeared to be moving on their second drive, things fell apart when Vance McDonald, after a rare reception, fumbled the ball and James Laurinitis recovered for the Rams near midfield. The Rams then gashed the 49ers behind Tre Mason for a pair of big gains, and then Davis ran a brilliant play fake and was able to find an absurdly wide open Lance Kendricks for a 22-yard Touchdown to put the Rams up by 14.

Down by 14, the 49ers responded by punting. Fortunately, the 49ers defense began to wake up, as Dan Skuta sacked Davis twice on their ensuing possession, and the 49ers partially blocked Hekker's punt to put themselves in good field position. Still, they couldn't move the ball at all, went 3-and-out, and ended up settling for a long Phil Dawson Field Goal to get them on the board. By this point, the Rams had basically dominated the game, dominated the clock and seemed primed to run out the clock on the half and take a double-digit lead into the locker room. But their ensuing drive was cut short after a questionable Offensive Pass Interference penalty called on Jared Cook. This, of course, led to the sequence that led to Brandon Lloyd's Touchdown that for all intents and purposes tilted everything into San Francisco's favor.

The game after Halftime was basically all 49ers. Though the 49ers had a difficult time establishing the run game with Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde, Colin Kaepernick had no problem throwing the ball around against an inexperienced Rams secondary. He spread the ball around to multiple receivers on the 49ers first drive of the 3rd Quarter, ultimately throwing his 2nd Touchdown pass of the game on a play where he had to scramble around the backfield to avoid the Rams pass rush. Eventually, he bought himself enough time to whip a pass into the back of the end zone and into the arms of the trusty Anquan Boldin, who reeled it in for his 1st Touchdown catch of the season. Boldin's Touchdown gave the 49ers their first lead of the game, although by that point it almost seemed a foregone conclusion that they would find a way to take control. The Rams had no particular response, except for Davis getting sacked by Ahmad Brooks, and after punting back to San Francisco, Kaepernick hit Stevie Johnson for a pair of long completions to kick off a drive that finished with Michael Crabtree catching a crisp pass from Kaepernick on a post pattern in stride and waltzing into the End Zone for another Touchdown that put the 49ers ahead by 10 points.

The 4th Quarter of the game was mostly academic. The 49ers basically held court, mostly running the ball behind Gore and Hyde and eating up the clock. The Rams tried in vain to get themselves back into the game. Ultimately, they did manage to close the deficit to 7 points when they drove down and scored on a Greg Zuerlein Field Goal, but by that point, barely 2 minutes remained, and when the 49ers recovered the ensuing onside kick, they took even more time off the clock and forced the Rams to use their remaining Time Outs. The 49ers did punt the ball back to St. Louis, but their last second desperation drive was cut off rudely when Dontae Johnson intercepted Davis and ran the ball back for a 20-yard Touchdown that put the finishing touches on the 49ers 31-17 victory.

The 49ers now sit at 4-2 and things certainly look a lot better now than they did 3 weeks ago when the team was 1-2. Sound familiar? It should, since they did the same thing last season. This wasn't a perfect performance by the 49ers, and they still haven't clicked on all cylinders this season, but Kaepernick certainly had a great game, completing 22 of 36 passes for 343 yards and 3 Touchdowns with no Interceptions. He was generous with the ball, with Boldin catching 7 passes, Johnson 5 and Crabtree 3. Lloyd of course had his one show-stopper and Vernon Davis returned to action with 3 catches. Defensively, though Patrick Willis was lost for the game after Halftime with a toe injury that hopefully won't linger, the 49ers had a solid performance, holding Davis and the Rams to 3 points after the 1st Quarter and sacking him 5 times, two each for Skuta and Ahmad Brooks, and one for Antoine Bethea.

So, now, the 49ers will keep their Prime Time presence going when they're featured on the Biggest Game In The Galaxy next Sunday night, a game that stands to be an even bigger hype-fest because they're voyaging to the rarefied air of Denver to take on Peyton Manning and the Denver PeytonMannings PapaJohnsPizzas MeatCutters Broncos. That should be fun.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Same Story As Before

If you're like me, and you've had enough of the St. Louis Cardinals, that's too bad, because here they are, back in the NLCS for the 4th year in a row. It doesn't matter who's in their lineup or who's pitching for them, or who they face in the postseason, they always seem to find a way to win the necessary games. That includes beating Clayton Kershaw twice, because when you're the Cardinals, and you basically shit gold at every turn, you do things like that. In Game 1, they basically singled him to death in an 8-run, 7th inning rally. In the series finale on Tuesday, Kershaw was again cruising along until the 7th inning, when he gave up 2 singles, and then a massive 3-run Home Run to the Cardinals Duda-like 1st Baseman Matt Adams that gave the Cardinals a lead. The shell-shocked Dodgers could not recover and the Cardinals advanced once again.

The Cardinals are playing in their 4th NLCS in a row and they won 2 of the 3 prior. The team that beat them happens to be their opponent in this year's NLCS, the San Francisco Giants. The Giants, who have this every-other-year thing going on, are in the NLCS for the 3rd time in the last 5 years, and haven't lost one in that time period. In 2012, these two teams met, and although the Cardinals ran out to a 3 games to 1 lead and appeared primed to annoy their way into another World Series, the Giants fought back and won the final 3 games, shutting out the Cardinals twice and ended up riding their mojo all the way to a World Series Championship.

So, to boil it down to simple facts, there have only been two teams that have won the last 4 National League Championships. They're both playing for the pennant in 2014. How little has changed. Where the American League Championship features fresh teams and new faces, this series is teams that we as Mets fans don't like and have seen too much of. This is what I have to pick from? What happened to the Pirates? What happened to Washington? Well, both of them were victimized by The Giants, specifically Madison Bumgarner, Jake Peavy, Yusmeiro Petit and other, lesser known players like Brandon Belt and Joe Panik. Bumgarner pistolwhipped the Pirates in the Wildcard game, which was non-competitive. After beating the Nationals in Game 1 of the NLDS, Petit and Belt conspired to win an 18-inning marathon in Game 2, which featured a sterling 6 scoreless innings from the former, and a game-winning Home Run from the latter after a 9th inning comeback. The Giants dropped Game 3, but unfazed came back and waited around for the Nationals to predictably self-destruct in Game 4, which they did, and the Giants won the game and the series.

And now, here we are again. Which team do you dislike less I suppose is the key thing here, and for me, it's the Giants. Not that I have any particular reason to dislike them, but I will say that their recent run of overwhelming success has brought a spate of annoying fans out of the woodwork, which I suppose can happen to any team that finds success. Except for the Cardinals, whose fans are overbearing and annoying no matter how the team is doing (although let's face it, I find fans of just about any team that's not the Mets annoying, but to be fair, there are plenty of teams that I've never actually met a fan of). So because I'm sick of the Cardinals, I'm going to pick the Giants in this series, partially because I think they're the better team, and partially out of spite. It's nice to be well-informed about these things. Giants in 5-6.