TSN Baseball Insider Steve Phillips answers three questions each week. This week, topics cover the World Series, the departure of Jim Leyland, and the age-old question about pitchers doctoring the ball.
1. With two games played so far in the World Series, who do you think has been the most impressive player on each team?
So far in this World series we have seen some sloppy baseball. In the first inning of Game 1 we saw second base umpire Dana Demuth absolutely botch a call. The Cards committed three errors in Game 1 as well. Plus two Gold Glovers in Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina let a pop-up fall in between them for a hit. It was embarrassing. But not to be outdone the Red Sox gave away Game 2 with shoddy defence when reliever Craig Breslow launched a throw down the left field line allowing what turned out to be the winning run to score.
Despite the sloppy play we have seen some excellence as well.
For the Cardinals Michael Wacha has really stood out throughout the playoffs. He is 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA. He was the NLCS MVP. He had an 18-inning scoreless streak. He has thrown 27 innings in the playoffs and struck out 28 batters all while only giving up 11 hits. He held the Dodgers scoreless twice and held the Pirates to a single hit.
But of his four post-season starts his Game 2 performance on Thursday night was the best for me. He only went six innings and needed 114 pitches to get through it. He gave up two runs and walked four batters. By the numbers, not all that impressive. When he left the game after six innings he slammed his fist and glove in anger and disappointment. I love it! Here is a 22 year-old kid mad that he held the Red Sox to only two runs in the World Series and he was mad at himself. The Sox are the most patient and productive lineup in all of baseball. They chew up young pitchers and spit them out. Wacha had to work. He had to grind. He battled and scratched and clawed. He didn't have his best stuff yet he had his best heart. This kid is a winner. I can't wait to see him pitch again in Game 6.
On the Red Sox side of things, David Ortiz is the story. He has long been respected as a great clutch hitter. He is adding to his legacy so far in the Series. It was his big grand slam against the Tigers that helped the Sox win Game 2 of the ALCS. In Game 1 of the World Series Ortiz nearly had another grand slam but was robbed by a great Carlos Beltran catch. He still got an RBI as the runner tagged from third.
He had two more hits in the game including a home run against a young power-armed lefty named Kevin Siegrist. Joe Buck, the announcer on Fox, said that Siegrist had developed into a shutdown lefty as the pitch was going to the plate. Ortiz deposited that pitch over the wall. So much for being a shutdown lefty. In Game 2 Ortiz slammed a two-run shot off of the unhittable Michael Wacha that at the time gave the Sox a 2-1 lead. Ortiz has a flair for the dramatic. He thrives in critical situations. He looks huge in the batter's box. His presence is overwhelming.
Ortiz is a Hall of Famer in my book. He won't likely get elected early on as he has some ties to PEDs going back to the initial testing in 2003. He was reportedly one of the 103 players that tested positive that year. All I know is that with the game on the line I want him at the plate.
2. With Jim Leyland stepping down in Detroit, which open managerial job do you think is more appealing, the Tigers or the Washington Nationals?
Jim Leyland has stepped down after eight very successful years in Detroit and will serve as a special assistant to the General Manager next year. Davey Johnson will serve in a similar capacity for the Nationals as well. These are the two best managerial positions available this off-season.
Both teams have owners committed to winning. They have been willing to spend money on both major league talent as well as premium amateur talent. Ownership commitment is critical for managers as they want to know there is money available for off-season acquisitions as well as in-season additions when necessary.
The Tigers (93-69) are built to win now. They have put together a team that has made the ALCS in three consecutive years. They have depth and balance on their roster. It is a roster consisting of primarily veteran players with a few youngster sprinkled in. They have arguably the best pitcher in the AL in Justin Verlander and the best position player as well in Miguel Cabrera. That is an amazing starting point around which to build a team. There is no one who can truly protect Cabrera in a lineup but Prince Fielder is about as scary a presence as you can have in the on-deck circle. The offence underperformed at times this year but there is a strong offensive foundation.
Detroit also has starting pitching depth with impact arms. Max Scherzer and Verlander are as good a dynamic duo as there is in baseball. This team has two weaknesses: they are not a great defensive team particularly because of Cabrera and Fielder on the corners of the infield and they lack a dominant closer.
The Nationals (86-76) were a bit of a disappointment this year after winning 98 games in 2012. The pitching was good but not great. Many of the young pitchers who were so dominant last year struggled at times this season. This includes both the starting rotation as well as the bullpen. Offensively they scuffled to score runs for the majority of the season. Washington lacks a middle of the lineup force. Ryan Zimmerman is a good player but he does not strike fear in the opposition. Plus they need a table setter at the top of the order.
Injuries were certainly a part of that but so was inconsistency of production. The Nationals do have two great young stars: Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg have the potential to be MVP and Cy Young award winners respectively. That certainly bodes well for the future of the Nats both short term and long term.
Both the NL Central and AL Central are winnable divisions. The Indians are a nice young team but feel like a second place club to the Tigers.
The Royals, Twins and White Sox are wannabes and not on the same level as Detroit. In the NL East the Mets and Marlins are still rebuilding and the Phils are trying to figure out what they are. The Braves are a good team but something seems to be missing with them. The Nats beat them before and they can do it again.
Dave Dombrowski is a much more experienced and successful general manager than Mike Rizzo in Washington. Rizzo is good but Dombrowski is one of the best.
These are both good jobs. But the Detroit job is better. The Tigers have a better team with better management in a more winnable division.
It sounds like Matt Williams is getting the Nationals job. He has no managerial experience but he has been a coach for the Diamondbacks since 2010.
Take the Nats' job off the board. The Tigers job is still there though. Heck, I am from Detroit, maybe I will apply for it.
3. There was enough speculation about Jon Lester doctoring the ball in Game 1, that MLB released a statement saying there was no conclusive evidence of Lester doing anything untoward. How common do you think doctoring the ball is in the game right now?
Jon Lester clearly had something in his glove when he threw a gem against the Cardinals in Game 1 of the World Series. It was lime green in color and quite honestly I have never see a substance that color in a glove. He said it was a "booger." Of course, he was kidding. He was a bit elusive about it but his manager John Farrell cleared it up. It was "rosin", said Farrell. A Cardinals minor leaguer sent out a Vine video which showed Lester dabbing the green spot before throwing the ball.
I truly believe that Lester was only trying to grip the ball and not deface it. Lester was not trying to put some foreign substance on it to get it to move more. He was trying to get a better grip on a cold night.
Gaylord Perry is in the Hall of Fame and he was an admitted cheater. His use of the spitball is celebrated. It is fun and funny for some reason. I am sure there are a few pitchers out there today who try to deface the ball with Vaseline or spit. There are a few who probably try and scuff the ball to get it to move more. But with all of the different camera angles today it has become very difficult to get away with much of anything.
Ironically, seven years ago, Tigers' pitcher Kenny Rogers was thought to be using pine tar on his hand to help throw his breaking balls against the Cards in the World Series. When the telecast highlighted the dark spot on his hand, Rogers washed it off.
By far the vast majority of pitchers today who are using rosin or pine tar do so only for grip and not to deceive the hitter with additional movement. On a cool night a pitcher's hand can become slick and smooth.
I know a few of the pitchers on my team back in the day who used pine tar as well. They argued that the use of it made it safer for the hitter because the pitcher had better grip and there was less of a risk of a pitch slipping and hitting a batter.
Fair or Foul
Major League Baseball will be a little bit less next year than this year. Jim Leyland announced his retirement from managing. He will assume a role in the Detroit's front office advising David Dombrowski, the President and GM of the Tigers. The game will miss Leyland. He managed 3,499 games in his career with four different teams (Pittsburgh, Florida, Colorado and Detroit). He won a World Series in 1997 with the Florida Marlins. He was a three-time manager of the year.
One of the best things about being a broadcaster is getting to visit with managers before the games. It has taught me that there is no perfect manager or managerial style. They all have their own personalities and set of strengths and weaknesses.
Over the years several managers made quite an impression on me. Tony LaRussa was the manager that you really had to think along with during the game. You knew he was always going to try and do something to impact the game from the dugout. He would hit and run or pull off a suicide squeeze. He would bat the pitcher eighth instead of ninth in the order. He always kept you thinking and guessing.
Bobby Cox was his player's biggest supporter and cheerleader. It amazed me how a man of nearly 70 years of age so easily related to 20-something athletes. A player once told me that he could be 0-for-20 at the plate but Bobby would cheer him on like he was 15-for-20. The player said anytime he made a mistake Bobby accepted responsibility for not putting the player in the right spot to succeed. Guys loved playing for Cox.
When it comes to Leyland, he is one of the best communicators ever. Communication is as important or more important than actual game management. It is people that play the game, not robots or numbers. How a player feels impacts how he plays. The environment in the clubhouse and dugout affects what happens on the field.
Jim Leyland's words make an impact. He speaks in statements. In fact he speaks in Leylandisms. If it happens in baseball he has thought about it and has an intelligent perspective that he shares in a simple way. Every single time I covered a Tigers game I was struck by the fact that when Jim speaks his players listen.
How do I know that?
Before a game telecast I always go down to the manager's office or dugout as he addresses the media. Then I steal a few private moments with the manager to ask a few game-specific questions. Then I go and mingle with the players to further some angles for the game. When I have spoken to the Tigers players I have been amazed by what I have heard. The players speak in "Leylandisms." His words get repeated back to me by the players. No other manager's players have ever done that to me.
In addition to this, despite his gruff Marlboro Man exterior Leyland is a big softie. We have seen him get emotional at press conferences multiple times. He cries for his players and for the city of Detroit. He calls an ailing friend in the game several times a day to check in with him.
Through all of my personal turmoil he has been a supportive friend in the game as well. He always takes my call or returns my call or text. He always ends our interaction with a positive comment of support. I am very grateful for that.
Baseball will miss Jim Leyland and so will I.