Post-Game Reaction: AL Wild Card Game- Oakland Athletics @ Kansas City Royals

Oakland Athletics' Eric Sogard, left, and Brandon Moss sit in the dugout after the Athletics lost 9-8 to the Kansas City Royals in 12 innings in the AL wild-card playoff baseball game Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) Photo: Jeff Roberson, Associated Press

Eric Sogard crying. That is heartbreaking, right there.

I swear that I’m working on getting that Gotham review up. It should be posted later Wednesday night, though I would have had it up sometime tonight if not for this long-ass game. What was expected to be a pitchers’ duel between A’s ace Jon Lester and the Royals’ James Shields and, indeed, it looked like the A’s were going to cruise to the win after Brandon Moss hit two homers and Jon Lester turned in a decent (If not great) start, outlasting Shields, who got chased out in the sixth. However, the Royals struck back, clobbering Lester to make it 7-6 heading into he ninth and scoring the tying run off of a sacrifice fly from Norichika Aoki.

The Relentless Royals continued to put runners on base, and took advantage of the weak defense of Derek Norris (Substituting Geovany Soto, who was knocked out with a thumb injury in the fourth inning) by wreaking absolute havoc on the basepaths, with Aoki, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon, Terrence Gore, Jarrod Dyson and Christian Colon stealing a base apiece. It also didn’t help that outfielder Coco Crisp also left the game with a hamstring injury. A’s relievers Sean Doolittle and Danny Otero kept the game tied long enough for Josh Reddick to walk, Jed Lowrie to bunt him over, and Alberto Callaspo, of all people, to drive the lead runner in.

Leaving Otero in to pitch the bottom of the 12th inning, the A’s promptly got Cain to ground out, but fell victim to Eric Hosmer’s triple, which probably would have been a double had Jonny Gomes and Sam Fuld not crashed into each other at the wall. Bad luck then befell the A’s, as Colon hit a bouncing ball that Josh Donaldson had absolutely no chance to convert for the out, which scored the tying run. After lefty specialist Fernando Abad came in and got Gordon to pop out, he was promptly replaced with Jason Hammel, even though Salvador Perez had only hit for a measly .632 OPS against lefties this year. After Colon immediately stole second after the ball bounced out of Derek Norris’s glove, Perez, mired in a terrible game, recent slump and an all-around disappointing year,  struck a liner down the third-base glove, just past the glove of a diving Josh Donaldson and into left field. Scoring Colon, this base hit won the game for the Royals (Their first postseason win since Reagan’s first term), eliminated the A’s, and means that the Royals will face the Angels in the ALDS. It also means that I, not exactly being the biggest fan of the Angels, will have to cheer for the Royals against them, despite the fact that not only did they eliminate my second-favourite team, but their clinching of the playoff spot a few days back means that my beloved Toronto Blue Jays are now experiencing the longest playoff drought in baseball.

Fuck me, right?!?!

PLAYERS OF THE GAME:

Royals Pitcher: Brandon Finnegan (2 1/3 Innings Pitched, 1 Hit, 1 Earned Run, 1 Walk, 3 Strikeouts)

And to think that just a few months ago, Finnegan was pitching for Texas Christian University. Go Horned Frogs!

Royals Hitter: Eric Hosmer (3 Hits in 4 At-Bats, 1 Triple, 2 Runs, 1 RBI, 2 Walks, 0/1 Stolen Base Attempts)

Salvador Perez may have gotten the walk-off, but without Hosmer, the game never would have been tied in the first place.

2nd Royals Hitter: Salvador Perez (1 Hit in 6 At-Bats, 1 RBI)

It’s not like I could have left him off though. Look at him! He’s adorable!

Athletics Pitcher: N/A

I wonder how much A’s fans are going to remember how tremendous Jon Lester was before this game…

Athletics Hitter: Brandon Moss (2 Hits in 5 At-bats, 2 Home runs, 2 Runs, 5 RBI, 1 Walk)

Proof that hitting two home runs in a game can only go so far if your pitching staff doesn’t back you up.

Royals Clutch Relievers: Wade Davis, Brandon Finnegan, Jason Frasor

Athletics Clutch Reliever: Fernando Abad

 

American League West Predictions

(Looking for my NL West preview? Here it is!)

“Oh cool, a helicopter!” -Jose Altuve, probably

5. Houston Astros 

 2013 Record: 51-111 (5th in division)

Manager: Bo Porter (2nd season as mansger, 51-111 career record)

General manager: Jeff Luhnow

Home field: Minute Maid Park

So what’s good?: Bupkiss.

Just kidding. There isn’t any reason for Astros fans to commit mass suicide yet. While this team has absolutely no hope of a winning record, much less making the playoffs, this season, there still are reasons to head to Minute Maid Park in 2014. For one, the big league team, despite barely being better than most AAA teams, has some solid talent in young players such as Jason Castro, Jose Altuve, Dexter Fowler, Chris Carter, Matt Dominguez, Jarred Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer and L.J. Hoes. None of these guys are superstars, obviously, but as a young core group of players, you could do worse.

And lest we forget that the Astros have the best farm system in the game, the beneficiaries of a bunch of good drafts. George Springer, Domingo Santana and Jonathan Singleton are all knocking on the door of the big league club, and Carlos Correa, Mark Appel and Mike Foltynewicz should all be factors way down the line.

Sounds great, but what sucks?: What could I possibly say about the Astros’ chances this year that hasn’t already been said?

Team Grade: D

Insert “99 Problems”joke here.

4. Seattle Mariners

 2013 Record: 71-91 (4th in division)

 Manager: Lloyd McClendon (6th season as manager (1st with Mariners) 336-446 career record)

 General manager: Jack Zdurienczik

 Home field: Safeco Field

 So, what’s good?: If there’s one nice thing to say about the Seattle Mariners, it’s that their rotation is very impressive. Felix Hernandez, of course is a wonderful pitcher, and should contend for the Cy Young Award, but often overlooked is Japanese hurler Hisashi Iwakuma, who was arguably even better than Hernandez last year. When you factor in the arrivals of prospects Taijuan Walker and Canadian lefty James Paxton, you have what could potentially be a great rotation on your hands.

There are some bright spots in this lineup as well, such as the highly underrated third-baseman, Kyle Seager, highly-touted catching prospect Mike Zunino and, of course, the highest profile signing of the offseason, Yankee expat Robinson Cano, probably the best second baseman in the game and a probable MVP candidate.

Sounds great, but what sucks?: Remember how I said how great the M’s rotation was? Well, that was before Walker and Iwakuma got hurt and became doubtful to not miss the start of the season and the rotation was depleted to Hernandez, Paxton and such superstars as Erasmo Ramirez and Blake Beavan. Add what looks to be, even with the addition of Fernando Rodney, a very thin bullpen (Although Rodney’s in decline, anyways) and you have a recipe for a ton of runs allowed, at least until the starting pitching gets healthy.

And the starting lineup doesn’t inspire much confidence either. Aside from Seager and Cano, most of the hitters are either mediocre (Justin Smoak, Logan Morrison, Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley) or unproven (Zunino, Brad Miller). And holy shit, why would you pay $6 million dollars to Corey Hart? I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but I’m even more sure he hasn’t played in a major league baseball game since the end of the 2012 season. And while I may not be the best judge of managers, Lloyd McClendon’s poor record with the Pirates from 2001-05 isn’t that impressive.

Team Grade: C-

Admit it. You thought Bryce Harper was gonna be the next big thing too.

 3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

 2013 record: 78-84 (3rd in division)

 Manager: Mike Scioscia (15th season as manager, 1233-1035 career record)

 General manager:Jerry Dipoto

 Home field: Angel Stadium of Anaheim

 So what’s good?: Any discussion about the strong points of the Angels has to begin and end with Mike Trout, the best all-around player in MLB bar none. He probably should have won MVP awards the last two seasons (Although it’d be hard to make an argument against Miguel Cabrera) and has to be considered the favourite to win the big prize this year, even if his team doesn’t make the playoffs.

 Another point in the Angels favour is the improved starting rotation, which was just plain rancid last year. Jered Weaver should be excellent, as long as he stays healthy, C.J. Wilson is a very good pitcher, although he is criminally overpaid, and Garrett Richards and Hector Santiago are some nice young talent. And let’s not forget about Tyler Skaggs, whom they acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Sounds great, but what sucks?: I have a feeling that Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton are going to rebound a bit this year, but I’m also quite sure that a) neither are going to be elite players ever again and b) even that slight rebound will not be enough to justify the inhuman amount of money that they’re being awarded in 2014 or going to be awarded way down the line. These idiotic contracts may turn out to be the reason that the Angels may not be able to afford to lock up Mike Trout before he becomes a free agent in 2018.

Team Grade: B-

 

Just let them move to San Jose already! That’s fucking disgusting!

2. Oakland Athletics

2013 record: 96-66 (1st in division)

Manager: Bob Melvin (11th season as manager (4th with A’s) 730-694 career record (237-186 with A’s))

General manager: Billy Beane

Home field: O.co Coliseum

So what’s good?: The good news is, aside from the recent injuries to their starting rotation, the A’s don’t really have a discernible weakness. The bullpen looks great, as seems to be the norm in Oakland, even if I maintain that Jim Johnson is highly overrated, and there isn’t a single bad player on the starting lineup. Sure, one could complain that there’s no real superstar, but who could really complain about a 1-2-3-4-5 of Coco Crisp, Josh Donaldson, Jed Lowrie, Yoenis Cespedes and Brandon Moss?

Sounds great, but what sucks?: The young A’s rotation has, unfortunately for my second-favourite team, fallen prey to injuries. Jarrod Parker is going to miss the season because of Tommy John surgery and A.J. Griffin is going to miss the first few weeks of the regular season with elbow tendinitis. I suppose you could ask for a worse rotation than Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Dan Straily, Tommy Milone and Jesse Chavez, but it could still cost them some serious ground.

Team grade: B+

Catcher J.P. Arencibia posing for his first Texas Rangers headshot. Or hiding from irate Blue Jays fans. Either would be applicable.

1. Texas Rangers

2013 record: 91-72 (2nd in division)

Manager: Ron Washington (8th season as manager, 611-524 career record)

General Manager: Jon Daniels

Home field: Globe Life Park in Arlington

So what’s good?: No intelligent pitching staff wouldn’t shudder in fear upon glancing at the Rangers’ lineup. It’s a nice mix of 20-20 candidates (Alex Rios, Shin-Soo Choo) elite hitters (Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder) speedsters (Elvis Andrus, Leonys Martin) and even a couple of strikeout-prone sluggers (J.P. Arencibia, Mitch Moreland), you know, to lull opponents into a false sense of security until they get hot. Or something.

To compliment this beast of a lineup, the Rangers have a good bullpen, led by Joakim Soria, Alexi Ogando, Neal Cotts and Jason Frasor among others, a good rotation, once healthy, and the great management skills of Ron Washington backing them up.

Sounds great, but what sucks?: What with all the injuries to the A’s pitching staff, I would  have had Texas as the clear favourite to win the division… Until 60% of their rotation was struck down by the injury bug.

Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison are likely to miss a few starts at the beginning of the season, and Derek Holland will be out ’till mid-season.  Until they return, their rotation will likely consist of Martin Perez (A very good young starter), Tanner Scheppers (Who has a previous career high of seven starts in the minors), Robbie Ross (Hasn’t started a game since since 2011, in the minors), Joe Saunders (5.26 ERA in 2013) and Nick Martinez (Who the hell is Nick Martinez). Also, second baseman Jurickson Profar will miss a whole bunch of time in the beginning of the year. Other than that though, I don’t see why the Rangers shouldn’t compete this year.

Team Grade: A-

To be continued…

MLB’s Japanese Dream Team (Part 2: The Starting Rotation)

(This is a continuation of this post)

1. Yu Darvish

 Japanese team: Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters (2005-2011)

  MLB team: Texas Rangers (2012-Present)

   Scouted by the Angels and the Braves as early as high school, this Japanese-Iranian righty decided instead to sign with the hilariously named Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. Darvish spent the next seven seasons putting up some of the best numbers that Nippon Professional Baseball had ever seen, going 93-38, with a 1.99 ERA, a couple MVP awards, an Eiji Sawamura Award (The Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young Award), two Gold Glove Awards, and five All-Star nods. That and his performance in the 2009 World Baseball Classic (In which he got the last out of the tournament in the championship game against South Korea) started making fans and big league teams in North America salivate.

After a long bidding war, the Texas Rangers beat out the Toronto Blue Jays (Goddammit!) for Darvish’s services. He signed a six-year, $60 million dollar contract. I believe Clayton Kershaw referred to that sum as: “adorable.”

Anyway, his first season in America wasn’t quite Clayton Kershaw-like, but he was still very good, posting a 3.90 Earned Run Average and striking out 221 hitters. He finished in the top 10 of both the Rookie of the Year race (Behind Mike Trout and Yoenis Cespedes) and the Cy Young  race (In which David Price won). In 2013, however, he really pitched at or near his full potential, nearly throwing a perfect game on Opening Day (Granted, it was against the Astros, but still…) and finishing second in the Cy Young Award Race, ahead of countryman Hisashi Iwakuma, but behind the Tigers ace, Max Scherzer.

2. Hiroki Kuroda

  Japanese Team: Hiroshima Toyo Carp (1997-2007)

  MLB Teams: Los Angeles Dodgers (2008-2011) New York Yankees (2012-2013)

  The relentlessly good 38-year old from Osaka, Hiroki Kuroda has, over the last five years, become not only one of the best pitchers to ever cross the Pacific, but one of the most consistent players in baseball today.

  Kuroda was a mediocre-to-bad pitcher for his first few years with the Hiroshima Carp (Carps?), posting 6.00+ ERA’s in ’98 and ’99. He righted the ship at the turn of the century, however, and went on to post a 3.69 ERA in the NPB. Signing with the Dodgers in 2007, he pitched four rather under-the-radar seasons with the Dodgers that were nonetheless very good, even contributing a 2011 season that could have been a top-ten Cy Young Award contender if his 13-16 record didn’t look so bad in the eyes of people who still think that wins and losses are worth a damn. Leaving the Dodgers after the 2011 season, Kuroda signed with the Yankees, and has been re-signed two more times to one-year deals. He might’ve been in the mix for the AL Cy Young Award in 2013 if he hadn’t faded in August and September, as the Yankees missed the playoffs.

  3. Hisashi Iwakuma 

  Japanese Teams: Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes (2000-04) Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (2005-11)

  MLB Team: Seattle Mariners (2012-Present)

  Poor Hisashi Iwakuma. Not only is he not the first player that leaps to mind when you think of Japanese aces (That’d be Yu Darvish, obviously), he isn’t even the most well-known pitcher on the Mariners!

That said, maybe living under Felix Hernandez’s shadow has helped Iwakuma excel, performing exceptionally well in both his seasons with the Mariners so far.

An elite pitcher in Japan and the 2009 World Baseball Classic along with future big leaguer Yu Darvish and future train wreck Daisuke Matsuzaka, Iwakuma was posted by the Golden Eagles, with the Oakland Athletics winning the bidding. However the two sides did not agree to a deal, and Iwakuma  played in Japan for one more year before signing with the Seattle Mariners.

(Fact: The A’s are 1 for 6 when it comes to Japanese players.  Their only success was the short stint that Hideki Okajima had at the end of 2013. Relief pitcher Keiichi Yabu pitched poorly for them in 2005, Akinori Iwamura hit .129 in 10 games with them in 2010, Hideki Matsui was very bad for them in 2011, they failed to sign Iwakuma, and, most recently, they signed charismatic star shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima to a two-year deal prior to the 2013 season only to have him display poor form in Spring Training (During which he lost the starting job to Jed Lowrie), started the season in AAA, hit for a .698 OPS (Bad) for the Sacramento River Cats, and get outrighted to the minors)

  4. Hideo “The Tornado” Nomo 

  Japanese Team: Kintetsu Buffaloes

  MLB Teams: Los Angeles Dodgers (1995-98, 2002-04) New York Mets (1998) Milwaukee Brewers (1999) Detroit Tigers (2000) B0ston Red Sox (2001) Tampa Bay Devil Rays (2005) Kansas City Royals (2008)

  This is him, folks. The man who really got the ball rolling  when it comes to Asian baseball players. Nicknamed “The Tornado” because of his bizarre mechanics, Nomo pitched great for the Kintetsu Buffaloes, but got into a contract dispute with them. To get off the team and break into a career in America, he exploited a loophole in his contract with the Buffaloes and was signed by the Dodgers in February of 1995.

After a month spent pitching in the minors thanks to the strike, Nomo made his debut and took the nation by storm, becoming a minor celebrity in the States, and a hero in Japan. His best season was his first one, when he posted a 2.54 ERA (Which is excellent) and won the Rookie of the Year Award. He had a couple more fine seasons (In 1996, he became the last Dodger to throw a no-hitter) with the Dodgers before imploding and bouncing from team to team over the next few years. In 2001, he finally put together an OK season with the Boston Red Sox (In which he threw a no-hitter on his first start of the season), which convinced the Dodgers to re-sign him. He had two great years with the Dodgers before imploding once again. Nomo may have been nowhere near a Hall of Famer, but every Japanese big league star owes at least part of their success to the Tornado.

 5. Tomo Ohka

Japanese Teams: Yokohama BayStars (1994-98, 2010-11) Toyama Thunderbirds (Independent) (2013)

 MLB Teams: Boston Red Sox (1999-2001) Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals (2001-2005) Milwaukee Brewers (2005-06) Toronto Blue Jays (2007) Cleveland Indians (2009)

 “Who?” is right.

  Tomo Ohka wasn’t well known or good in Japan either, but his ability to control pitches drew interest from the Boston Red Sox, who signed him in 1999. After pitching well in AAA, he was called up in July, and pitched poorly for the Red Sox. He righted the ship the next year, however, and pitched solidly before being traded to the Expos. He actually pitched very well for the Expos and Nationals in his years with the team, but pitched poorly once again after being traded to the Brewers. After short stints with the Jays and the Indians, he returned to Japan, where he was pretty much awful. In 2013, he reinvented himself as a knuckeball pitcher with the indie league Toyama Thunderbirds, and, after the season, signed a minor league contract with the Blue Jays.

To be continued…