Jason Heyward struggled with the bat all year. The expensive free agent acquisition had a .631 OPS during the regular season, and he went 5 for 48 during the postseason. He didn’t struggle with perspective.
Heyward pulled his Cubs teammates together during the Game 7 rain delay, reminding them that they were baseball’s best team. He told them, ‘We’re going to win this game.”
Nine days earlier, on the eve of the World Series, he was thoughtful while espousing the quality of his club.
“There’s talent everywhere,” said Heyward. “There’s (also) the work ethic, the makeup, the pride these guys take. They don’t settle for anything. They want to do more; they want to do better. You understand that you can’t outdo what you’re trying to outdo, but at the same time, they don’t get complacent. They want to be the best version of themselves.
“We’re not going to be perfect. There are going to be moments that go your way, and there are going to be moments that don’t go your way. Everything happens for a reason. Tomorrow you can wake up and everything will be completely different. It’s a blessing to be in this situation. I’m 27 years old and playing in the World Series. In Chicago.”
Having been at all seven games, I can vouch for the passion of both fan bases. The energy and emotion I observed in both cities was intense. Cubs fans and Indians cared. A lot.
There was a notable difference at the two venues. Wrigley Field was almost devoid of Indians supporters. They were there, but it was a smattering. Progressive Field was another story. To say that Cubs fans travel well — have the wherewithal to travel well — is stating the obvious. You heard them during the broadcasts. Dexter Fowler’s leadoff home run in Game 7 elicited an ear-splitting roar, which was followed by a loud ‘Let’s Go Cubs’ chant. At the conclusion of the game, thousands of ecstatic fans swarmed the lower bowl, celebrating the win.
How dd so many Cubs fans get tickets to the games played in Cleveland?
Call me crazy, but I liked Javier Baez attempting to bunt on a 3-2 pitch with the potential winning run on third base in the ninth inning of Game 7. The youngster —admittedly pressing throughout the Series — was 5 for 28 and had fanned a dozen times. His regular season strikeout rate was the highest among Cub regulars, and his seven bunt hits were the most on the team.
Bunting is usually a bad idea. This was an exception. There’s a big difference between giving up an out to move a runner to second base, and plating a run that potentially wins you the World Series.
Rob Zastryzny wasn’t the most obscure player to see action for the Cubs this year — Gerardo Concepcion probably gets the nod there — but among those who appeared on a post-season roster, the rookie left-hander wins that designation hands down. He pitched in eight regular season games and worked just 16 innings.
Prior to the start of the World Series, Zastryzny opined on how an Indians pitcher with even less big-league experience was able to stand tall in the ALCS:
“He’s from Texas.”
When I shared that with the Texan in question, Ryan Merritt knew exactly where Zastrzyny was coming from.
“I grew up in a small town, probably 7,000 people, so it was almost a sin to not play football,” said the native of Celina. “It’s a competitive sport and it kind of molds you. You want to win. It’s a big thing with a lot of Texas kids, in football and in baseball too. You don’t want to lose. You’re competitive.”
Merritt’s competitiveness doesn’t manifest itself in typical football fashion. There is no smash-mouth in his mound demeanor.
“I’m wired a little more laid back,” said Merritt. “I do get adrenaline going, but I know you can’t get too hyped up or crazy. You have to stay in the moment, relax, breathe, stay within yourself, trust yourself.”
As the Blue Jays learned all too well, the 24-year-old southpaw is more than capable of being competitively composed.
Brian Jeroloman was on the Toronto roster for the last 37 days of the 2011 season, but never got into a game. He was apparently injured, although it wasn’t reported at the time. Jeroloman, who spent 2016 in the Nationals system, has yet to appear in a big-league game
Which brings us to Gene Michael. The 37-year-old former Yankees-and-Tigers infielder was on Boston’s opening day roster in 1976, and he remained there until May 4. He was then released, having never appeared in a game with the Red Sox. “Stick” retired and went to become both a manager and a general manager.
It is often said that hitting is timing, and pitching is upsetting timing. The latter is occasionally achieved via a hitch in a delivery, a la Johnny Cueto or Roberto Osuna. Those names came up when I talked hitting with veteran infielder Aaron Hill at season’s end.
“We’re starting to see that a lot more,” Hill told me. “Along with a long hold when they come up in their delivery, you’ll see guys do kind of a quick pitch, too. That can mess up hitters.”
It’s obviously not the only way a pitcher can disrupt a hitter’s rhythm.
“There are some guys where the timing of their delivery matches up with the timing of your swing,” said Hill. “The good ones recognize that. Most won’t (alter their delivery), but they will start working sequences you wouldn’t expect. That can throw you off as well.”
Brian Bannister has a new title and job description. On Thursday, the Red Sox promoted the deep-into-data former pitcher from Director of Pitching Analysis and Development to Vice President of Pitching Development and Assistant Pitching Coach.
Bannister received a lot of kudos this past season, with Clay Buchholz, Drew Pomeranz, and Rick Porcello among those championing his concepts and ideas. Following the team’s ALDS demise, I asked Manager John Farrell about the scope of Bannister’s contributions. Is he changing the organization’s pitching culture, or is simply influencing individuals?
“The data he provides… I think it’s becoming more accepted, maybe more known by pitchers,” answered Farrell. “Maybe their willingness to learn about it has created a lot more open-mindedness. But it’s been more individual to this point. I can’t say it’s a blanket approach. The individual pitcher has to be ready to find ways to apply the information he’s being given. But we’re always going to look for ways to help players, in any form or fashion. Brian is one of them.”
Cleveland reliever Bryan Shaw is aware that his club’s front office is on the cutting edge of analytics. It doesn’t affect his approach on the mound — “I’m going to throw my cutter regardless” — but he’s comfortable knowing how the organization operates. That doesn’t mean he’s about to take sides in an us-versus-them, Moneyball-style debate.
“There are definitely organizations that are known for an old-school style of finding players,” said Shaw. “They see what their talent is and go off of that. There are others that look for certain guys based more on what numbers say they’re going to do. There’s nothing wrong with either one.”
Buy-in has been a buzzword over the past month, with both the Cubs and Indians employing innovative strategies in their quest for a championship. Expect Torey Lovullo to emphasize the same in Arizona. Three years before being hired by the Diamondbacks, Boston’s erstwhile bench coach said the following in an interview titled Torey Lovullo, Future Big League manager:
“As coaches, we all try to build credibility. If you don’t have that, you can’t keep pushing forward with these guys. Early on, they looked at us like we had two heads when we were talking about some of these concepts. We’ve created a totally different language. That’s our system. There’s a great amount of trust between the players and coaches, and that’s what makes what we’re doing special.”
MLB.com’s Mike Petriello was asked on Twitter if a Jackie Bradley, Jr. for Kyle Schwarber trade would make sense for the Red Sox and Cubs. Petriello opined that it was a crazy idea, in part because Schwarber is more valuable than Bradley.
Schwarber is three years younger and isn’t arbitration eligible until 2019 — he has that in his favor — but and he clearly has huge upside with the bat. But is he indeed more valuable than Bradley? The latter is an elite defensive centerfielder coming off a season where he logged an .835 OPS and 63 extra-base hits. Schwarber is a defensive question mark with an .831 OPS in 278 career plate appearances.
I agree with Petriello the vast majority of the time. In this case, I’m not sure I do.
Dan Otero was largely a forgotten man in the Indians bullpen during the postseason. The 31-year-old veteran worked just six-and-two-third innings. It wasn’t for lack of a track record. During the regular season, he logged a 1.53 ERA over 62 relief appearances.
“In the playoffs, with the built in off days, you don’t need as many guys in the bullpen to cover innings,” rationalized the righty. “Miller, Allen, and Shaw are obviously pitching really well. Those are our three horses, and they’re going to be out there trying to get us as many outs as possible.”
They got a lot of them. In the World Series alone, the aforementioned trio combined to pitch 18-and-third innings. Otero didn’t mind being an afterthought.
“I hope to not get in tonight,” Otero told me before Game 6. “That would mean (Josh Tomlin) got the ball to those guys and we won the game. If I do get in, I’ll hand the ball over to them in some capacity.”
He ended up handing the ball to Danny Salazar instead. After replacing Tomlin in the third inning, he gave up a grand slam to Addison Russell. The horses stayed in the stable, as the Cubs coasted 9-3.
The first grand slam in World Series history was hit by Elmer Smith, at Cleveland’s League Park, in 1920. The first home run hit by a pitcher — Jim Bagby — also came in that Series. Ditto the only unassisted triple play, which was pulled off by Bill Wambsganss.
From an aesthetic standpoint, this year’s World Series featured two extremes. Game 2, a 5-1 Cubs win, lasted 4:04 and felt like it would never end. Game 7, an 8-7 Cubs win, lasted 4:28 and felt like it should never end.
In a span of one week, we got the best and worst the game has to offer. As aesthetically disappointing as the earlier game was, it would be an understatement to say we ended with a bang. Game 7 was undeniably a classic.
It’s a shame so many people missed it. (Yes, the ratings were sky high, but millions of school-age children were nonetheless under the covers.)
Two years ago, the New England Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks in a scintillating Super Bowl that wasn’t decided until the final seconds. The contest, which likely turned myriad youngsters into lifelong football fans, ended at 10:06 p.m. EST.
Wednesday’s Game 7 — one of the most-captivating World Series games of all time — ended at 12:47 a.m. EST.
MLB should do better in this respect.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
The Rays have restructured their front office. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times has the details.
At the New York Post, Ken Davidoff tells us about Theo Epstein’s next step: Cooperstown.
At the New York Daily News, Ebenezer Samuel wrote about how Baseball play-by-play broadcasting remains a white man’s game.
The Boston Globe’s Chad Finn heaped praise on John Smoltz for his Game 7 commentary. Included in the story is an imagined line from Harold Reynolds: “Fisk should just try to punch one to right field here, Joe”
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Terry Francona had losing records in each of his first four seasons as a big-league manager. Since that time, he’s had 12 winning seasons.
Mike Montgomery’s save in Game 7 was his first in 242 professional appearances.
Babe Ruth was the winning pitcher in all three of his World Series starts. One of them was a 14-inning complete-game. Overall, he allowed three runs in 31 innings.
Del Gainer’s only plate appearance in the 1916 World Series was a walk-off single in the bottom of the 14th inning of Game 2. Gainer was pinch-hitting for Larry Gardner, who led the Red Sox in batting average, OBP, and OPS during the regular season.
In his career, Cameron Maybin — acquired by the Angels from the Tigers on Thursday — is 77 for 217 (.355) at Comerica Park. He is 14 for 103 (.136) in American League West venues.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.