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Padre Steve’s MLB LCS Picks

The Vicar of the Church of Baseball Harbor Park Parish makes his LCS Predictions

Well baseball fans it is time to pick who I think will be in the 2010 World Series.  This year we have the heavyweights, the New York Yankees the defending World Series Champions and the Philadelphia Phillies who won the Series in 2008. The Yankees will be facing the upstart Texas Rangers who are fresh off their first playoff series victory in franchise history while the Phillies face the irrepressible collection of unknown underdogs the San Francisco Giants.

The NLCS

“The main idea is to win.” John McGraw

Roy Halladay no-hit the Reds has his worst record against the Giants of any team that he has faced more than 3 times

Both of these series will be fascinating to watch and should provide baseball fans with some memorable moments. The teams took different paths to get the LCS.  The Phillies as expected took the NL East in a convincing manner going 97-65 in the regular season and having one of the best trios of starting pitchers seen in the Majors for a long time.  The Phillies defeated the Cincinnati Reds sweeping the Big Red Machine in the NLDS.  Despite this the Phillies, apart from the great pitching of Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels were not impressive hitting only .212 against a rather lackluster Reds pitching staff. The Phillies scored only 13 runs on 16 hits in that series, just a fraction above 4 runs a game but only 7 of those 13 runs were earned runs, the rest came as a result of the Reds abdication of something that is known as defense. To skew the numbers even more 4 of those earned runs came in a 1.2 inning period against Reds game one starter Edinson Volquez. Remove those 4 runs and the Phillies scored just 3 earned runs in 25 innings. The Phillies had a .301 OBP and an anemic .273 SLG against the Reds. In the series the Phillies had just one home run, that coming from Chase Utley who led the team in RBIs with 4 in the series. Only one other player had more than 1 RBI and that was Shane Victorino with three. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley led the team’s position players tied with a .273 batting average. Phillies starters had a 1.17 ERA while the team staff had a collection 1.00 ERA.

Jonathan Sanchez beat the Phillies twice in 2010 in a convincing manner (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The Giants are the dark horse of the playoffs in fact if you look at all of the “expert” predictions no one had the Giants finishing better than 4th in the NL West behind the Padres, Dodgers and Rockies. The team was a collection of no-names at the start of the season save their starting pitching rotation of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez.  During the regular season and at the trading deadline the Giants went and picked up a bunch of journeymen rejected by other teams leading Padres ace Matt Latos to call them a team made up of “mercenaries.” Since the Giants have gotten little respect most of the year why should they now? The Giants went 92-70 in the NL West taking the division on the last day of the season from their nemesis the San Diego Padres.  The Giants get to the NLCS after gutting it out in four one run games against the Atlanta Braves, a team so evenly matched in most departments in a series that was arguably one of the most filled with tension and exciting in recent divisional series history.  Like the Phillies the Giants hitting was weak hitting .212 and scoring 11 runs 7 of which were earned on 23 hits. Rookie Buster Posey led the team in hitting with a .375 batting average followed by Cody Ross at .286 and Aubrey Huff at .267.  The Giants had a .288 OBP and .295 SLG against the Braves. Giants starting pitchers had a .089 ERA in the series and the team staff had a collective 1.66 ERA.

In the Regular season the Phillies went 97-65 but there is a caveat 25 of those 97 wins came against the Nationals and Marlins. Remove those two teams stats out of the equation and the Phillies are 72-54 against the rest of the league.  The undoubtedly a great record but over a quarter of Phillies wins came against two bad opponents. Now I am not dissing the Phillies in any way as it would have been criminal if they even were close to having a .500 record against them. The Giants went 92-70 and like the Phillies they beat up on their division’s cellar dweller the Arizona Diamondbacks with a 13-5 record.  The only team in the league that had the Giants’ number was the Padres who the Giants edged out on the last day of the season for the Division title.

Playing against common NL opponents the Phillies went 84-54 against the Giants went 82-57 and the teams were 3 and 3 against each other in 2010.  In those 6 games the Phillies had 28 runs to the Giants 27, 45 hits compared to 60 for the Giants and 2 errors against the Giants 4.  But I think the real key is how the starting pitchers did in head to head matchups against the opposing team and I find these numbers to be interesting.

W-L             IP       H         ER      BB      SO      HR         ERA

Hamels     Phi      0-1             20        11        9        5        15         1         4.05

Sanchez    SF        2-0            13       5         2        6         8         0             1.38

Cain           SF        0-1           6        7        5        1          4         1               7.50

Blanton     Phi      1-0           6.1     8        2         2         7         2              2.95

Zito            SF        0-1          5          8        4         4         0         0             7.20

Oswalt      Phi       1-0          7           6        3          3        7        2             3.86

Lincecum   SF       0-0          8.1        3         2         2        1       11           2.22

Moyer        Phi      0-1          6          10        4         4        1        2            6.00

Wellmeyer  SF      1-0          7           3          2         2        4        0           5.27

Halladay      Phi      0-1        7           10        5         5         0        1           6.43

“The only thing that matters is what happens on the little hump out in the middle of the field.” Earl Weaver

In the coming series the pitching rotations tentatively have Lincecum against Hallady in game one, Sanchez against Oswalt in game 2, Cain against Hamels in game 3 and Bumgarner against Blanton in game 4. Both managers have not ruled out pitching either Halladay or Lincecum on short rest. The Giants have a stronger bullpen but Giants closer was banged around by the Phillies worse than any of his other opponents.

Padre Steve’s NLCS Pick

I think this series goes 7 games and I hate to try to pick a winner based on these numbers. All the experts are picking the Phillies in 5 or 6 games but I don’t know if they will manage that based on the statistics. My heart lies with the Giants but the Phillies do have more pop in their bats. In the starting pitching it looks like the Giants have the edge in the head to head match ups.  Also the Giants did not have a good number of new players in their first two games against the Phillies. I am going to be the odd guy out and I will probably be wrong but I am going with the Giants to upset the Phillies in seven simply because the Giants have nothing to lose in this series, none of the real experts expects them to win. I expect Lincecum and Sanchez to be the difference and for Hamels and Halladay not to do as well against the Giants as they have the Reds and their own division. If the Giants lose the series then people will say that I didn’t know what I was talking about and forget these picks by game one of the World Series. If not people will say that I am a genius or incredibly luck. Either way I’m okay with this pick.

The ALCS

“You got to get twenty-seven outs to win.” Casey Stengel

Cliff Lee Owns the Yankees (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

In the ALCS we have the Yankees (95-67) looking to secure their chance to get in the World Series and win in for the 28th time going up against the playoff novice Texas Rangers (90-72).  The Rangers walked away in a weak AL West race and the Yankees finished as the Wild Card winner just behind the Division champs, the now eliminated Tampa Bay Rays. The Yankees rolled by the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS humiliating the Twinkies again proving as I said in my ALDS prediction that the Twins can’t beat the Yankees with a stick.  The Rangers defeated the Rays in a close series that went the full five games with their ace, Cliff Lee being the difference maker. The Yankees swept the Twins in a one sided series where they outscored the Twins 17-7 and outhit them 36-21 with their pitching staff having a 1.73 ERA against the Twinkies.  Phil Hughes was dominate in 7 innings work in game three while Andy Pettitte showed that he had recovered from injury and was effective in game two. C.C. Sabathia was banged around in game one but had the good fortune to have Yankees hitters come on strong. Mariano Rivera was simply lights out.

The Rangers won the AL West and faced the AL East champion the Tampa Bay Rays. This was the only series to go five games and the first division series to do so since 2005.  It was also a series where no home team won a game on its own field, so much for home field advantage.  In the series the 21 runs on 44 hits and committed 5 errors against the Rays 13 runs on 37 hits and 5 errors.  The Rangers pitching staff had a 2.40 ERA and was led by Cliff Lee and C. J. Wilson.  Lee was 2-0 in the series going 16 innings giving up 2 runs on 11 hits with a 1.13 ERA.

Mariano Rivera and the Yankees look to down the Rangers and try for their 28th World Series Title (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

In the regular season the Yankees went 84-60 and the Rangers went 76-68 against common AL opponents.  The teams went head to head 8 times splitting 4 games each. The Yankees swept the Rangers in mid-April and split a pair in mid August with the Rangers sweeping the Yankees at home in September. The Yankees pitching staff gave up 33 earned runs on 51 hits in those 8 games with a 4.23 ERA against the Rangers.  The Rangers pitching staff gave up 37 earned runs on 63 hits with a 4.62 ERA. The only pitcher to completely dominate the Yankees was Cliff Lee just as he did in the 2009 World Series when he was with the Phillies.

The Rangers had a regular season team ERA of 3.93 giving up 636 earned runs, 163 home runs and 551 walks.  In the hitting department the Rangers had a .276 team batting average, a .338 OBP and .491 SLG driving in 787 runs on 1556 hits of which 455 were extra base hits including 162 home runs.

The Yankees pitching staff had a team ERA of 4.06 giving up 651 earned runs and 179 home runs.  The Yankees hitters had a .267 team batting average, a .350 OBP (the best in the AL) and a .436 SLG producing 859 runs on 1485 hits including 508 extra base hits of which 201 were home runs.

Padre Steve’s ALCS pick

All things considered the teams match up well but no matter how well Cliff Lee pitches I see the Rangers losing in 6 games. However if the Series goes to 7 games and the Rangers can pitch Cliff Lee a third time I think that they will steal the AL Pennant from the Yankees, but they have to get to game 7 or they will not will the series.  My pick is the Yankees in 7 setting up an old fashioned World Series between two historic franchises the San Francisco Giants and the New York Yankees. What baseball fan besides Phillies and Rangers fans wouldn’t want to see that?  The last time the Giants and Yankees faced off in the World Series was 1951 when the Giants were still in New York which the Yankees won as well as 1936 and 1937 both of which were captured by the Yankees. One has to go back to 1921 and 1922 for the last times that the Giants defeat the Yankees in the Series, the last time that the Giants won a series was 1954 against the Indians.  A Giants and Yankees series might even bring back the ghosts of baseball past who will float into the New Yankee Stadium and AT&T Park remembering the old Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds with great fondness while those still living from the 1951 series like Willie Mays and Yogi Berra see their successors battle it our.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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For the Love of the Game and the Love of Life; Finding Meaning Life and Love in the Perfect Game

for_love_of_the_gameKevin Costner as Billy Chapel

One of my favorite movies is the baseball story For the Love of the Game which starred Kevin Costner.  This is the film rendition of Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Perfect Game. Both the book and the movie tell the story of “Billy Chapel” a pitcher who played 19 seasons with the same team, in the movie the Detroit Tigers.  The story focuses on the last game of the season in which Chapel is to start.  The game for his team is meaningless; they will not be going to the playoffs as they are a bad team.  Compounding the team’s situation is the uncertainty of the team’s future as the long time owner who signed Chapel out of high school is about to sell the team.  The new ownership group wants to make changes, among the changes a trade involving Billy Chapel to the Giants. The trade would force him to play the next season in another uniform and another city when he wants to finish his career in the same city where it started.  Before the game the owner comes to Chapel to talk about possibilities and then begins to criticize the game, saying that it stinks.  Chapel responds: “The game doesn’t stink, Mr. Wheeler. It’s a great game.”

The book and the movie present a tapestry of the Billy Chapel’s life in between pitches.  Unlike most baseball films this focus’s not on a season, but a game, a single game.  Woven in this rich tapestry of this game are the lives of several people besides the lead character played by Kevin Costner.  The manager of the team has a wife with cancer.  His love, Jane Aubrey played by Kelly Preston is leaving him, going to London for a new job and stands him up the previous night.  She tells him “You’re perfect. You, and the ball, and the diamond, you’re this perfectly beautiful thing. You can win or lose the game, all by yourself. You don’t need me.” It is the classic cry of a woman whose true love is absolutely passionate about what he does well.

costner and preston for the love of the gameBilly Chapel (Costner) and Jane Aubrey (Kelly Preston)

A friend and former team mate now plays for the Yankees who Chapel’s Tigers will play in the last game of the season. Billy’s catcher Gus is not much of a hitter and the manager wants to play a better hitting catcher but Chapel will have nothing of it as Gus is “his catcher.”  As the game goes on Chapel’s arm begins to hurt from an old off season injury, he’s tired and feeling the pressure. Throughout the game Gus helps Billy keep it together and as they go out for the last inning he goes out to the mound and says to Billy: “The boys are all here for ya, we’ll back you up, we’ll be there, cause, Billy, we don’t stink right now. We’re the best team in baseball, right now, right this minute, because of you. You’re the reason. We’re not gonna screw that up, we’re gonna be awesome for you right now. Just throw.” It’s the kind of word that anyone can need when they are exhausted but about to accomplish something great, the team is there for them.

for the love of the gameThe Wind Up

Billy chapel is old.  He has had a mediocre season for anyone else but for him a bad season.  His all star days are past.  His dad who taught him the game and witnessed his greatest moments is dead as is his mother.  He is, with the exception of Gus alone.  It is a story that could end like so many stories in sadness or despair.  Instead it is the story of triumph.  It is the story of how in spite of a whirl of emotions and a lot of pain from past injuries he triumphs.  He does so against an opponent that is going to the playoffs, the always dangerous Yankees in the venerable Yankee Stadium.  Chapel pitches a perfect game against the odds.  Supporting players who had failed during the season make stellar plays.  The team which had nothing to look forward to celebrates one of the rarest of human events, a Major League perfect game. Not just a “no-hitter” which I have been specially graced by the Deity Herself to see in person, but a perfect game of which only 18 have been thrown.  Perfect games are unforgettable and this story gets it right.  The game itself is a story of redemption, in life, love and the pursuit of excellence.  During the game the grandson of the owner is sent to get Chapel’s answer about taking the trade.  Chapel writes his response on a baseball: Tell them I’m through, “for love of the game”, Billy Chapel. Chapel the game is more than a paycheck, it is about life and relationships.

After the post game celebration he pours Gus out in his room and He then goes to find Jane, who due to a flight delay is stuck waiting at JFK in a bar watching the game.  She realizes what she is walking out on.  When Chapel finds out about her leaving the next morning he goes to the airport.  He says something that I think really sticks out to guys who have invested much in their careers but left love behind or had it go stale:

“I used to believe, I still do, that if you give something your all it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, as long as you’ve risked everything put everything out there. And I’ve done that. I did it my entire life. I did it with the game. But I never did it with you, I never gave you that. And I’m sorry. I know I’m on really thin ice but, when you said I didn’t need you… well last night should’ve been the biggest night of my life, and it wasn’t. It wasn’t because you weren’t there. So I just wanted to tell you, not to change your mind or keep you from going, but just so you know, that I know, that I do need you.”

Dundas at HitPadre Steve Doing What He Loves

The story of Billy Chapel is one of finishing well.  So many people start their lives full of promise and somewhere along the way give up. They exist, go through the motions and stop believing in themselves and those who love them.  For whatever reason some people, maybe a lot of people stop living long before they die. The wake up, go through the motions and stop striving for excellence and forget about love, life and friendship. They forget what loyalty means and take for granted the love of people who care about them.  They have lost their love and passion and simply go through the motions of existence.  It happens in all phases of life. In the military we have a slang term called the “ROAD program.”  It means “Retired On Active Duty.  These are the guys who have stopped trying; they know that short of committing a criminal act that they can retire.  They go through the motions.  There are these kinds of folks everywhere, not just the military and unfortunately a decent number in minstry.  Somewhere, somehow they have given up. I don’t want to do that.  I want my last game to be my best.

Billy Chapel is the epitome of a man who gives his all in what he knows will be his final game, a game that for everyone else but him is meaningless.  However in the microcosm of that game everyone finds meaning.  As he pitches and the tension builds, those who had just been along for the ride get caught up in the magic.  His manager, his journeyman catcher “Gus,” his team mates, and even the opposing players and the hostile Yankee fans discover what it is to live again.  People who had given up find inspiration and hope. Billy Chapel creates magic on the mound which in that moment of time makes life right.  Sure it is just a novel, it is just a film, but it is life just as baseball is life, a game played like most of us live, some great performances, slumps, winning and losing streaks, errors, bad calls, trades, being fired and even rain or on rare occasion Colorado fans, snow delays.  In baseball great players are still not perfect the majority of the time, baseball unlike any other sport is humanity at its best and worst.

Judy and Steve[1]_edited-1Me with My Love

I find the story of Billy Chapel in The Perfect Game to be compelling.  I love baseball and for me the story of someone at the tail end of their career achieving the next to impossible is inspiring.  I find inspiration in other old ball players who keep doing well. It is the old guys of baseball who inspire me now, guys like Jamie Moyer of the Phillies and Mike Mussina who retired from the Yankees last year at the top of his game. I could well be finishing my career in the next few years.  I want my time in the Navy to matter in my last few years. If I get promoted and remain a few more, that is okay, but even then I want to finish well.  When I’m done with that I hope that the Deity Herself will give me the grace to continue to strive for excellence in serving people as a priest.  I never want to be on the ROAD program even if I live to be 90. I want my last years, be they a military career, or the rest of my life and ministry to be my best and that means my life.

Peace, Padre Steve+

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