1:00: Welcome to the Sunday LiveBlog! Rays vs. Rangers will be starting momentarily. If you have any questions, comments or insight, e-mail it my way at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll see how long it takes for me to get tired of this.
1:08. I love that Maddon bats John Jaso leadoff. Get that high OBP at the top of the lineup, and he starts it off with a solid single to CF. Rickey Henderson (and Tim Raines to an extent) totally changed the complexion of what a leadoff hitter should be. For awhile you would get guys like Dwight Evans and Brian Downing who could put up a high OBP in front of the power hitters. Then in the late '80's, everyone thought that it was the speed of Henderson and Raines that was making the difference. It was important, but the bigger part was how hard they were to get out.
1:14: Buck Martinez propagating the "knows how to win" myth. Tommy Hunter doesn't win because he "knows how to win." He wins because he's a pretty good pitcher in front of a good defense on a team with a good offense. Is that a bad thing?
1:27: Vlad Guerrero just hit into a double play. Vlad cooled down significantly in the second half, but I'd have to say he's the one player who cemented his Hall of Fame case this year. With the election of Andre Dawson, the comparison between the two is obvious. Both were great athletes when they were young whose knees were shot playing on the bad turf in Montreal. Both had a reputation for swinging at bad pitches. However, Guerrero is the better player, because he actually hit more of those bad pitches.
1:56: Who would have a better chance of beating the Yankees? The conventional wisdom has been the Rays, but the Rangers have Cliff Lee, who the Yankees can't be quite as patient against, and Josh Hamilton, arguably the best left power hitter in baseball, going into the best park in baseball for a lefty power hitter. Thoughts?
2:06: The Rays are very reminiscent of the 2000-2005 A's in my mind. A team that walks a lot and hits a lot of home runs, but does not hit for a high average, is well built for the regular season. Over 162 games, a team sees a lot of mediocre to bad pitching, and the approach of waiting for a pitch you can drive instead of swinging at the first strike makes lesser pitchers pay. However, in the playoffs, you face the best pitchers on the best teams. Generally, those aren't the type who are prone to giving up walks and homers. That's why the Rays, despite being a good team, have been no-hitter prone, and it's something they need to make up for in the playoffs with good defense and pitching.
3:42: Calzones interrupted my posting. Anyway, another way in which the Rays remind me of those A's teams is all the talk about how much trouble they'll be in losing Crawford, Pena and Soriano. Crawford will be a big loss, no doubt. Wishy-washy "face of the franchise" discussion notwithstanding, Crawford had 62 extra base hits and 47 steals. He's a dynamic player still in his 20's who will get lots and lots of money. Pena, however, is replaceable. He has good power, and plays good defense, but 1B who can't put up a .330 OBP are a luxury that a poor team can't afford. As he moves into his mid-30's, his inability to make consistent enough contact could lead to his value diminishing in a hurry, a la Jason Giambi. Soriano had a great year as a closer and is a very good pitcher. But again, poor teams can't pay a premium for 50 innings a year. Like those A's teams, the Rays ability to continue developing their young pitching will keep them contenders despite the loss of significant talent.
4:41: And by "live" I mean "updated once or so an hour." Anyhow, after they Rays win today, the road team has won all four games of their series. The only time that I recall a team has lost the first two of a best of five at home, and then got back their for Game 5 was the 2001 Yankees. Those Yankees did not have to go home to meet Cliff Lee, who the Rays will see on Tuesday. David Price is very good, but Lee gets the slight edge, even on the road. The big winner here is the Yankees, who will face neither of those two in Game 1 of the ALCS.
5:00: Jason Heyward has impressed me this year. Ken Griffey didn't have a .390+ OBP until his 3rd year, Barry Bonds until his 5th. Heyward's power will continue to develop, and a batting eye that good is something you can't teach. He will have some adjustments to make on the hard stuff inside, but he is already a very, very good baseball player. If he'd had the numbers he had in Atlanta in Double A, he'd still be the #1 prospect in baseball. If he's not an MVP candidate from 2012-2022, something went terribly wrong.
5:12: Something like running too hard into a wall, for example.
5:13: Maybe if he's healthy, Heyward makes it to that ball, but Brooks Conrad is crushing the Braves. Chipper Jones' injury was tough, but it looks like the Prado injury is the one having the larger affect on the Braves.
5:42: Watching Mike Fontenot making a nice play on an Omar Infante grounder, it's crazy to think that the Giants were able to put a playoff team together with almost no contribution from Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval's extra base hits fell from 74 to 50, and since he doesn't walk or play great defense, that's basically where all of his value comes from. AT&T Park is a tough place to hit, but plenty of hitters have put up 20 HR seasons there.
6:26: Love the no-hitter being broken up by the opposing pitcher.
7:21: Eric Hinske! Following Hinske's 2002 Rookie of the Year campaign, settling in to a long career as a backup four corners guy may seem like a bit of a disappointment. Hinske really seems to have had more than his share of big moments on good teams since moving over to the Red Sox four years ago. Unlike his mammoth home run off of Joe Blanton in Game 4 of the '08 series this one was a line drive that barely cleared the wall. He's not quite baseball's Robert Horry, and Big Shot Eric just doesn't roll off the tongue the same way, but let's go with it.
7:29: When Brooks Conrad called off Derrek Lee for that pop-up, I'm pretty sure Turner Field made a sound sort of like "AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWHEW"
7:40: While the idea of the "Proven Closer" may be severely overrated, what is NOT overrated is having good pitchers in your bullpen. Billy Wagner is not as good as he once was, but he was the best reliever the Braves had.
7:46: This Giants rally is the fire, and Kyle Farnsworth is the fuel that Bobby Cox has just decided to throw onto it. Peter Moylan gave up a ground ball to second base, it's not his fault that Brooks Conrad is having a meltdown on national television. Moylan should still be in this game.
8:16: For the 29 teams about to lose out to the Yankees for the right to pay Carl Crawford $150M over the next 8 years, Jayson Werth will be a nice consolation prize. Attitude problems notwithstanding, he had a great season. 75 extra base hits this year, and four straight years with an OPS above .850. Some of those homers and doubles may turn into outs elsewhere, but his road OPS over the last four years is only about 40 points lower than his home OPS, which isn't far off the normal home/road split. He won't cost nearly as much as Crawford, and won't end up with as many years either. Because of injuries it took him awhile to get good - he's 31, so he is not going to get better than that, but he is a well-rounded player who will be a solid investment over the next four years.
9:11: For all of the talk about the inconsistency of Raul Ibanez this year, he has been one of the most consistent players of the past decade. His OBP has been between .345 and .358 every year since 2001. Despite the huge drop in power numbers this year, his OBP actually went UP two points from '09. This speaks to the consistency of his plate approach. For the criticism his contact took, he has been worth at least the $23.5M he's gotten the past two years, and is a safe bet to be worth the $10M he'll get next year. It's not the late career improvement on the level of Dwight Evans, Chili Davis or Jim Edmonds, but Ibanez has had a nice career.
9:42: I don't think I agree with taking Johnny Cueto out right here. I'm all for the quick hook in the playoffs, especially when a team is in the Reds position. Ron Gardenhire left Brian Duensing in a bit too long yesterday when he clearly didn't have good stuff. Cueto though, has been pitching very well, only one earned run in five innings, and not a whole ton of hard hit balls. The bigger issue is that Miguel Cairo isn't such a good hitter that he's likely to tie this game, and there is nobody on base, so they need two runs back. Cueto seems to me to be as good a bet as anyone in the Cincinnati bullpen to keep this a two run game.
10:42: You have to feel a little bit of sympathy for Cincinnati. After a very good season where they really didn't get as much attention as they deserved, they're running into a Philadelphia team whose pitching staff is as dominant as any and seems to be catching every break. Plus their football team is atrocious. If their season does end tonight though, they should take heart - they made a huge step forward this year. Joey Votto will likely win the NL MVP (and deserve it), Jay Bruce was one of the best players in the league in the last two months, and I'll take a Volquez/Cueto/Arroyo/Bailey/Harang rotation over any in the NL outside of Philly in 2011. They, along with San Francisco and Texas, are one of the few teams that can consider their season a success no matter what happens the rest of the way.