Thursday, September 29, 2011

Game Reflections - #162 vs Cubs

It's been an emotional roller-coaster of a last 24 hours.  Three ridiculously tense elimination games stretched the drama out for almost 3 hours, and then today Geoff Young announces he's hanging them up

What will tomorrow bring?

We have one more Game Reflection to go, as I was at last night's game.  Then, back to the GM series (no really - they are going to happen; it's not just a tease).  Padres won last night 9-2.

-  Cameron Maybin stole his 40th base last night, a third inning swipe of third with two out.  He became the ninth Padre to steal at least that many and the first Padre to do so since Dave Roberts in 2006.  The milestone was important to him and congratulations are appropriate for acheiving it.  In terms of pure baseball, however, there was no reason to steal that bag.  With two out, he would have been running on any pitch hit into play, and with his speed, he would have scored easily from second on a base hit to the outfield.  I guess these are the things that happen during the last game of the season.

- Chase Headley's strikeout to end the third, and Will Venable's strikeout for the second out of the eighth, should be credited to home plate umpire Mark Ripperger.  Why? Because the 3-1 pitch Ripperger called a strike was a ball.  It was off the plate outside, and had been called a ball pretty consistently by Ripperger to that point.  Headley swung and missed a 3-2 pitch in the same spot (also a ball).  Same thing happened to Will Venable on a 3-0 pitch.  He swung at a 3-2 pitch that was ball because the same pitch was a strike 3-0.  When people get irritated by inconsistent umpiring, this is what they're talking about.

- The fourth inning ended with a caught stealing of home, but it wasn't a true caught stealing of home.  Wade LeBlanc picked off Cub speedster Tony Campana with the third consecutive throw over.  During that rundown, Lou Montanez broke for the plate, and the Padres tagged him out.  I love rundowns, because you get cool sequences of numbers when the out is recorded.  This play went 1-3-6-2-5-3.

- Ryan Dempster was cruising right along until he walked LeBlanc on 5 pitches.  Then the wheels came off.  Double to Maybin, walk to Venable, 3-Run shot to Nick Hundley.  The 3-2 pitch Hundley hit out was RIGHT down the middle; I mean, it couldn't have been set on a tee in a more advantageous hitting position.  Dempster wobbled through the 4th, although to be fair his defense betrayed him, kicking a sure double-play ball; recovered for a strong fifth, then started getting tagged in the sixth.  I was very surprised Cub manager Mike Quade left him in there for 119 pitches.

- Venable ended the drama in this game with a Grand Slam in the sixth, Dempster's last pitch.  It was the only grand slam hit by the Padres this year at Petco, and brings us to an interesting stat.  San Diego (by my count) has hit 12 home grand slams since Petco Park opened in 2004 (they're buried in this list).  That's not what's interesting, here is what is:  last night marked only the second time since Petco opened that the home team has hit a 3-R HR and a grand slam in the same game. The other time?  September 17, 2005, the night the first grand slam was hit at Petco by a Padre.  Ramon Hernandez hit the 3-run shot and Khalil Greene the slam.

Once Venable's HR left the ballpark the scoreboard watching started in earnest.  I don't have to explain what that was like, as it's all over the internet today.  An incredible night of baseball.  The funniest thing about it to me is the sequence of games.  St Louis/Houston was the last of the 4 wild card impact games to start and the first one to finish, thanks to Chris Carpenter's 11-strikeout complete game.  Philadelphia/Atlanta, Boston/Baltimore, and New York/Tampa Bay all ended within 25 minutes of each other, or, in different units of measure, while I was walking across the parking lot, while I was on the freeway headed home, and while I was turning onto my street.  If the playoffs bring half that much tension to the table, it will be an exciting 2011 post-season.

We can only hope.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Short Term Gain, Long Term Loss

Amazingly, the Scott and BR show this morning did not start off with a Chargers discussion.  They actually talked a little baseball.  What, you might wonder?  San Diego's loss last night to Chicago?  The race for second best record in the NL?  The now impossible to predict outcome in both Wild Card races?

No.  They talked about Channel 4 and the San Diego Padres broadcast rights.

Well, OK, that is a bit of a local story.  As you probably know, Cox Communications and Channel 4 will not be carrying Padres games in 2012.  Nor formal announcement has yet been made, but Scott rightly called it the 'worst kept secret in San Diego'.  Earlier this year Channel 4 employees were notified they would likely not be brought back for 2012.

On the one hand I agree with the XX 1090 morning talent.  It is sad to see Channel 4 lose the Padres.  They have done a professional job in presenting the Padres; they are not losing the contract due to a lack of competence.  Besides, who wishes job loss on anyone?  On the other hand, this turn of events is ultimately not solely the Padres fault; this decision today is the product of a business decision Cox made years ago, to not allow Padres games to be broadcast locally on anything but cable.

One of the biggest problems the San Diego Padres face in this market is how to build brand loyalty.  This team has had some success, but over their entire history they have usually been a bad team playing bad baseball.  Obviously brand loyalty starts there.  It has been said on multiple occasions San Diego is restricted by who their local fan base can be, hemmed in by the Pacific Ocean to the West, the Mojave Desert to the East, Mexico to the South, and Los Angeles Baseball to the North.  Complicating that, their three closest rivals (in terms of Geography) have all won a World Series; two of them have won one this millenium.  The other, the Dodgers, has been an institution in Southern California for better than 50 years, with multiple World Series titles, players making multiple appearances on TV, Vin Scully, and Fernandomania.

Having an artifical constraint like the broadcast rights has made the brand loyalty-building that much tougher, specifically hamstringing efforts in the San Diego Metro/San Diego County area.  The Padres could not reach all the households they should be able to reach based on a business decision Cox made.  I do not know and would be interested to find out if that exclusivity was written into the broadcast rights contract signed by Cox and the Padres.  I suspect it was, which would explain why the Padres could not influence Cox to amend their stance.  Once it was raised as an issue Cox should have seen this coming.

Of course it's moot now.  Fox will get the Padres for the next 15-20 years; they are building a channel specifically to cover the Padres; they will allow it to be received via cable or satellite.

I hope Cox enjoyed their short term gains and exclusive rights to the Padres.  In the name of that short-term gain they slit their own throat.  Whether or not the station continues to exist after this season remains to be seen.  When Fox San Diego stands up, it would be nice to see many familiar faces from the past few years doing Padre broadcasts again.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Game Reflections - #157 vs Dodgers

Yeah a little behind on the GM series.  We'll get back to that.  Tonight I sat through a 2 hour 43 minute 2-0 game.  There should be a law against games in which 8 runners are stranded and 2 runs scored cannot last more than 2 hours 15 minutes.

Anyway, some random thoughts.

- Why in the world did Anthony Rizzo not start this game?  Rizzo has actually had the most success against lefthanded starters (.194 batting average).  Yeah that's still below the Mendoza Line, but still.  One would think a guy with his long swing would match up pretty well against a guy who throws a lot of junk.  Besides, Rizzo has demonstrated better plate discipline than Alberto Gonzalez has this season.

- Gonzalez looked absolutely flummoxed up there against Ted Lilly.  After he looked at two curve balls and swung at a pitch in the dirt for strike 3 in the second inning, all I could think of was Pedro Cerrano.  He popped to first and tapped out weakly to Lilly in his other 2 ABs versus the Dodger lefty.

- Dodgers had 2 extra base hits.  Both of them came around to score.  Padres were oh-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

- Did you know Matt Kemp has a shot at the triple crown?  I didn't.  After his 426' HR to the deepest part of Petco, he is tied for the league lead in HR, leads the league in RBI, and trails Ryan Braun/Jose Reyes in AVG by .002.  Sabermetrics has taken a lot of the luster out of 2/3 of those statistics, but if he does something no NL hitter has done in 74 years?  That's pretty special.

- Wade LeBlanc dominated as he has not dominated since pitching against the Phillies way back in May.  He struck out 10, including the side looking in the seventh following Kemp's HR.  The high strikeout total may have been helped by all the AAA hitters in the Dodger lineup...

- Three of the first 5 Dodger hitters tried to bunt. Only one of those was a sacrifice attempt to move a runner over.  Weird.

- I didn't see the balk play clearly, but I will say it is unusual in my experience for the home plate umpire to call a balk, unless it is because the pitcher flinched, i.e., started then stopped his windup.  LeBlanc didn't flinch.  Neither the second nor first base umpires thought it was a balk, and first base umpire Todd Tichenor had the best angle.

- Speaking of Angel Hernandez, Friday's home plate umpire, his strike zone was ridiculous and inconsistent.  It looked to me some of his inconsistency on outside pitches derived directly from how the catcher caught the ball.  If the catcher set up off the outside corner and the pitcher hit his glove, even if it was a ball, they generally got the strike call.  If the catcher set up somewhere else and the pitch missed the target (like for example, he sets up inside and the pitch is outside so he has to reach across to catch it), even if the pitch was a strike Hernandez called it a ball.

Fully 24 of the 54 total outs were by strikeout.  That's 45% of all the outs in this game.  Of those, a third were looking.  Ted Lilly strikes out about 7 hitters per 9 innings.  He did that tonight in 6 and 1/3.Wade LeBlanc strikes out about 5 per 9.  Tonight he struck out 10 in 7.  Methinks an inconsistent strike zone had a lot to do with that.

- Aaron Cunningham made a bad baserunning play with one out in the seventh, trying to advance to third on a ground ball to third.  Ultimately it didn't matter - Jeremy Hermida walked, so the Padres had runners on first and second with two out anyway - but it was still a bonehead play.  He should have waited until Dodger 3B Justin Sellers went to first before taking off for third.

Padres need to win all their remaining games to avoid losing 90 this season.  No odds will be given on that happening.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Well, What WOULD You Do?

During one of my recent drives home, the Coach John Kentera started asking the audience, "What would you do if you were the Padres GM?", hoping to engender discussion.

State laws and my lack of a head set on that particular afternoon prevented a call-in, but as Dispicable Me lead 'villian' Gru might say, LIGHT .... BULB!

This Padres club will lose 90 games and is headed for the long off-season.  Why not talk about how to improve next year's team?  Over the next several posts, I'll explore that.

To set the battlespace for debate, let's look at Padre contractural obligations for 2012.  It's a pretty short list.  Currently the Padres have only two players under contract for next year:  Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett.  They will each make $5.5M in 2012.  Now naturally the rest of the roster is not nearly that simple.

San Diego holds a club option for Chad Qualls ($6M), and a mutual option for 2012 with Brad Hawpe ($6M) and Aaron Harang ($5M).  There's no way Hawpe returns for 2012.  GM Jed Hoyer will decline the option, pay the $1M buyout, and cut his losses.  Not only has Hawpe been hurt most of the year, but San Diego has a lot of guys who can play first.  Qualls might return - he's pitched fairly well out of the Padres bullpen - but I wonder if the club will pick up his $6M.  Can you imagine a world where a middle reliever is the highest paid player on the roster?  That could happen if Qualls returns.  Aaron Harang might return as well, and would be a bargain for $5M.  Harang has pitched very well this year.

The big Free Agent question San Diego has is Heath Bell.  Only Heath Bell has an inkling on how that will play out.  The Padres would be crazy not to offer him arbitration, unless they know he'll accept arbitration, in which case they'd be crazy to offer him arbitration.  What to do, what to do....

Jeremy Hermida will also be a free agent at the end of the year (5 years service time) but his contract demands won't be very high given the amount of time he's spent in the minor leagues lately.  San Diego can manage that if they decide to retain him.  The rest of the roster is either arbitration eligible or not quite ready for arbitration.

The Arbitration Eligibles:
  • Pat Neshek (Year 3)
  • Chase Headley, Tim Stauffer, Dustin Moseley, Chris Denorfia, Alberto Gonzalez (Year 2)
  • Clayton Richard, Luke Gregerson, Will Venable, Nick Hundley, Joe Thatcher, Rob Johnson, Ernesto Frieri, Jeff Fulchino (Year 1)
The not-yet eligibles:
  • Mat Latos, Cameron Maybin, Kyle Blanks, Cory Luebke, Wade LeBlanc, Anthony Bass, Josh Spence, Andrew Carpenter, Brad Brach, Aaron Cunningham, James Darnell, Logan Forsythe, Andy Parrino, Evan Scribner, Blake Tekotte.
There has been a lot of ink spilled about the size of the Padres payroll, whether or not it will start with a 3, 4, or 5. With the players they have under contract, San Diego could certainly field a team whose payroll still sits in the mid-to-upper 40s.  Which would pretty much guarantee another season groping for runs.

It is a cost-effective roster at the moment.  But what this team really, REALLY needs is a big bat in the lineup.  We'll explore that and other questions over the next several days.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Game Reflections - #152 vs Diamondbacks

Tonight's game took 2:31, and 3 of the 4 runs scored were via solo home run.  Not a whole lot to talk about, but I have some thoughts on the limited action.

- Had a chance to talk with David Garcia before the game.  Well actually Mr. Garcia talked and I listened.  His baseball reference page talks about his 6-year managerial career, and that is only the tip of the iceberg.  He's been in the game for over 70 years, the vast majority of which spent as a scout.  I wish I had more than 25 minutes with him.

- Wonder why Josh Collmenter has such an awkward motion? He learned to throw an ax before throwing a baseball.  Rumor has it he was a Michigan state champion in ax-throwing.

- Andy Parrino walks to the plate to Iron Man.  I like to think it's the Ozzy Osbourne version.  I do believe I'm an Andy Parrino fan.

- Orlando Hudson suffers from a lot of mental lapses.  Apparently last night he lost the handle on the ball while attempting to throw Justin Upton out at first, then lay on the ground while the ball rolled away from him.  Upton ended up at second, gifted a double.  Earlier in the year he did the same thing after Troy Tulowitzki's low line drive glanced off his glove and rolled away.  Tonight it appeared he missed a hit-and-run sign and hung Nick Hundley out to dry - caught stealing 2-6-3.  He's a former All-Star in the 152nd game of the season - why does this stuff happen?  Hudson did homer later in the at-bat to give the Padres the lead.

- Starter Wade LeBlanc had an odd line - 103 pitches thrown, 53 strikes.  He got hit hard in the first inning, which is a trend.  He's allowed 8 first inning earned runs this season, and 16 ER to teams the first time through the order (of 37 total allowed).  On this night, however, LeBlanc gutted through 6 innings, allowing only that first inning home run to Aaron Hill.

- Odd line of the night.  Chris Young of Arizona saw 14 pitches from 3 different pitchers.  One strike.  And he just missed that strike, hitting a 'home run in a silo' off Gregerson that went as a pop-up to short.  I can't remember the last time I saw a hitter walk 3 times in a game on 12 pitches.

- At one point, there was a Qualls and a Ziegler pitching against each other.  When was the last time the pitching matchup was a guy who's last name started with a 'Q' facing a guy who's last name started with a 'Z'?

- Four caught stealings in the game, although one was of the picked-off-caught-stealing variety.

- Finally the double play Anthony Rizzo started to end the fifth.  He made a nice play on the ground ball from Parra as it reached the bag, but his throw was sublime.  He threw it so it pulled Jason Bartlett's glove to the feet of John McDonald, who was running from first to second on the play.  If he doesn't throw that ball that way McDonald is likely safe.  Superb defensive play.

San Diego goes for its first series sweep since taking four from Florida almost a month ago.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Game Reflections - #141 vs Giants

Another game, another 10+ strikeout day for a Giant pitcher.  This game was closer, and not as close, as the 7-2 final would suggest.  Hard to believe, but true.

- Pablo Sandoval hit the longest HR I've seen at Petco this year with 2 out in the first - 436' to the beach in deep RC.  Two innings later he followed up with a moonshot to RF.  It's worth wondering what has happened to Tim Stauffer.  In his last 31 innings he's been torched, including 12 HR allowed.  His 173 2/3 IP this season is more than double the most innings he'd ever thrown at the major league level.  Fatigue maybe?

- Stauffer did hang on to finish six innings.  I was mildly surprised Bud Black didn't pinch hit for him in the fourth with Chris Denorfia at third and two out.  At that point the score was 4-1.  Faced with a similar decision on Saturday afternoon Black also chose to stay with Cory Luebke.  At least Stauffer went out and pitched two more effective innings; Luebke got lit up in the fifth inning Saturday and was removed.

- Welcome Back Chris Denorfia.  The first three balls he hit were hammered, including his double to deep CF in the fourth which missed being a HR by about 5 feet.  However, when he struck out against Santiago Casilla in the ninth it meant every Padre hitter struck out at least once on the afternoon. And that does include the lone pinch hitter (Aaron Cunningham).

- Maybe it's me, but it seems every time Cunningham hits he either strikes out or pops up.

- The 4-1 score held through the seventh, which is why I said at the top the game seemed closer than it was.   Giant starter Madison Bumgarner retired 12 in a row after Denorfia's double in the fourth, broken by Bartlett's soft single to CF in the eighth, which is why I said at the top the game seemed not as close as it was.

- The top of the eighth is one of the more surreal innings of the year.  Newly acquired reliever Jeff Fulchino walked Andres Torres on 5 pitches.  Torres stole second, Jeff Keppinger signed softly to center, Fulchino's 1-0 pitch to Sandoval found the backstop sending Keppinger to second.  Sandoval was walked intentionally.  After getting Darren Ford to hit into a force out (Torres retired 4-2), Cody Ross hit the next pitch into the LF corner for a 2-run double.  Cue the RAIN, and Black taking Fulchino out.  Josh Spence walks Brandon Belt; Brad Brach walks Mark Derosa, forcing in a run; the second runner is retired at the plate on Chris Stewart's ground ball to third; and Bumgarner strikes out looking to end the inning.

So four walks (one intentional), three pitching changes (including Fulchino relieving Andrew Carpenter to start the inning), two runners retired at the plate, and a rain squall.  Surreal.  It sounds better if you sing it to 'A Partridge in a Pear Tree'.

Yesterday's game was the 10th time this season a starting pitcher has rung up at least 10 Padres in a game.  It's the second time a Giant has done it; it's the second time said Giant has struck out 13.  Tim Lincecum fanned 13 on April 6, the fifth game of the year; San Diego was 3-1 going into that game.  Seems like a very long time ago.

Eric Surkamp will make his second career start tonight against Wade LeBlanc.  LeBlanc has only faced the Giants once at Petco; he won that night.

It would have helped if I had looked at my notes before I finalized this post.  Some other things from yesterday's game that I meant to mention:

- Belt rolled a single to RF in the second, sending Ross to third.  Jesus Guzman didn't even flinch as the ball went through the infield.  It is entirely possible he had no play on the ball - it was to his right, he was holding Ross at first - however the ball rolled closer to him than it did to Hudson, who ran a long way and couldn't get it.  I've played a little 1B in my time; I was surprised Guzman didn't move at all.

- Denorfia might have had a play on Ross at the plate in the third inning, but the ball slipped out of his grasp on the exchange from glove to hand so that went by the boards.  He then had a play on Brandon Crawford at first (Crawford had taken a wide turn), but his throw to Hudson (who alertly came over to cover first) was a bit behind him and he couldn't get back to tag Crawford in time.  Tough play.

- Torres should have scored on Fulchino's wild pitch in the eighth. The ball ended up kicking all the way to the camera well next to the Padres dugout.  No idea what Torres was thinking on that play.

- I think Kyle Blanks got an off-speed pitch on a 2-0 count in the first inning, but it was middle-out on the plate and he fouled it straight back off the end of the bat.  He might have been off-balance because he was expecting a fastball, but it really looked like he was trying to pull it.  I said it before but it bears repeating - Blanks desperately needs to learn to take that outside pitch the other way and not try to pull everything.  I can't understand why any pitcher would ever pitch him inside since he can't handle the outside pitch.

- Jason Bartlett almost lined into an other 5-3 DP in the third inning. It would have been the second time in 3 days that had happened to him, but this time the baserunner (Cameron Maybin) managed to get back.  Talk about hitting in tough luck.  Maybin inadvertently caught Aubrey Huff's glove hand under his body as he dove back in; Huff came up in obvious pain and eventually left the game because of it.

- Bumgarner set a career high for strikeouts yesterday.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Game Reflections - #139 vs Rockies

The Padres will drive you crazy sometimes...

Last night's game was a bit surreal.  Four foul outs, including a rarely foul popout/double play when Ryan Spilborghs broke for the plate and was cut down by Orlando Hudson.  One of the fastest men in the NL picked off second . . . on a throw down from Nick Hundley. A 1-6-4 force out at second.  And so on.

Part of it was not so surreal, as the Padres dropped their ninth straight.

I was really looking forward to seeing Cory Luebke pitch again.  The last game I attended that he started, he retired the first 11 hitters he saw.  Last night's game was aptly summed up on Twitter by Geoff Young of Ducksnorts:

Great second inning surrounded by a whole lotta batting practice.

On to the thoughts.

- Lubeke must have thought he was in a shooting gallery.  On three separate instances a hard shot went right through the box, started by Todd Helton on his line drive single in the first.  Kevin Kouzmanoff and Dexter Fowler also buzzed the tower, as it were. I would think that unsettles a pitcher.  After Helton's near miss Luebke retired the next 7 hitters he saw.

- It could have been eight, but Hudson had a sinking line drive off Troy Tulowitzki's bat glance off his glove and roll away. O-Dog then watched it roll into short RF. Tulo, hustling all the way, made it to second standing.  Two thoughts here - (a) why did O-Dog buy a ticket after missing the play, and (b) what the heck was Jason Bartlett doing not covering second base?

- Luebke threw 37 pitches in the first inning.  Not to be outdone, Rockies starter Alex White threw 28.  The first inning took almost 40 minutes to play.

- Padres got the leadoff hitter on in the first, third, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth innings.  In the third, sixth, and seventh he didn't get to second.  In the eighth he did thanks to a 2-out walk, but was still stranded.

- San Diego showed no interest in trying to move the runner up by bunting in the seventh or eighth innings.  I don't count the half-hearted bunt attempt by Hudson that he fouled back over the screen.  Stuck in an eight-game losing streak, I would have expected to find Bud Black willing to pull out all the stops in an attempt to break the streak.

- Of course, if Kouzmanoff does not make a tremendous play on Jason Bartlett's line shot in the seventh the game might have ended differently.  Kouz dove to his left to snare the drive, then doubled Will Venable off first.

It's been said elsewhere but will be said again here.  San Diego lost 10 straight last year from 26 August to 5 September.  The current streak started 24 August. Let us hope long losing streaks in late August don't become the norm.

Padres send Mat Latos to the hill today against Padre Killer Aaron Cook.