Previewing the Giants-Cardinals NLCS

The National League Championship series will be a rematch of the 2012 version, as the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals both wrapped up their NLDS series in four games on Tuesday. These two teams also met in the 2002 and 1987 NLCS.

Here’s the schedule:

Saturday: at St. Louis, 8 p.m.

Sunday: at St. Louis, TBD

Tuesday: at San Francisco, TBD

Wednesday: at San Francisco, TBD

Thursday: at San Francisco, TBD (if necessary)

Saturday: at St. Louis, TBD (if necessary)

Sunday: at St. Louis, TBD (if necessary)

The Cardinals have announced that Adam Wainwright will start game 1. The rest of the starters are TBD, but here’s what the rotations could look like.

Cardinals

  • Wainwright
  • Lance Lynn
  • John Lackey
  • Shelby Miller

Giants

  • Madison Bumgarner (pitched on Monday, would be on full rest)
  • Jake Peavy
  • Tim Hudson
  • Ryan Vogelsong

San Francisco Giants players greet fans after the Giants beat the Washington Nationals 3-2 to win Game 4 of baseball's NL Division Series in San Francisco, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

San Francisco

The Giants are sort of the National League’s equivalent of the Kansas City Royals. San Francisco, which finished behind the Dodgers in the NL West race, had to play in the Wild Card playoff game, beating the Pirates 8-0 behind a Brandon Crawford grand slam and a shutout from Madison Bumgarner.

The Giants have a little more pop in the lineup than do the Royals, as Buster Posey (22 regular season HRs) and Hunter Pence (20 HRs) have the ability to go deep at any time. One bright note for the Giants this postseason has been rookie second baseman Joe Panik, a Dutchess County native of Hopewell Junction. Panik is 7-for-24 this postseason and he scored the g0-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh inning in the deciding game of the NLDS.

Strengths: Other than Bumgarner, the rotation isn’t the best on paper. Behind Posey and Pence, neither is the starting lineup. The bullpen is fine, but it’s far from the best group of relieves left in the postseason.

So how has this Giants team managed to make it to another NLCS?

That really is the question. They have a great manager in Bruce Bochy. The Giants also have plenty of guys with significant playoff experience. And they just tend to succeed at coming up clutch. I don’t think anyone expected them to knock out the powerful Washington Nationals in the Division Series round, but they did. They’re the underdogs yet again, but don’t be surprised if the Giants, someway, somehow, make this a series.

Weaknesses: There will be a lot of pressure on Bumgarner to win two games by himself in this series. Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy have had fine careers, but they’ve seen better days. Matt Cain is out for the season. Tim Lincecum has been so hit-or-miss that he’s been demoted to the bullpen. So this Giants rotation has some question marks behind Bumgarner, which could be an issue against a Cardinals offense that had no trouble with Clayton Kershaw in the division series.

There are some matters for concern with the Giants’ lineup as well. Will Joe Panik continue to hit? Will guys like Brandon Belt hit clutch home runs? That remains to be seen, but San Francisco has shown that its been able to do that in its recent postseason playoff runs.

St. Louis Cardinals' Matt Adams celebrates after hitting a three-run home off Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw, right, during the seventh inning of Game 4 of baseball's NL Division Series, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014, in St. Louis. The Cardinals won 3-2. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

St. Louis

It’s no shock that the Cardinals have advanced to the NLCS.

It’s just how they did it.

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, who allowed one home run on his curveball all through the regular season, gave up a pair of bombs on the curve during the NLDS.

Once again, St. Louis has sent a very respectable team on a deep postseason run. Will the Cards make it to the Fall Classic yet again?

Strengths: St. Louis has some darn good starting pitchers. Adam Wainwright had a Cy Young-caliber year, if it wasn’t for Kershaw’s insane regular season. John Lackey has returned to his ace-like form he had with the Angels about a decade ago. Lance Lynn is a fine No. 3 starter and Shelby Miller is still a young gun on the way up.

The bullpen also is a relative strong point for this team. Trevor Rosenthal is sort of the National League version of David Robertson – lots of walks and hits, but that’s countered with all the strikeouts. Pat Neshek has had a bounce-back year.

Of course, the Cards’ lineup is packed with experienced studs in Yadier Molina, Matt Holiday and Jhonny Peralta.

Weaknesses: It’s hard to pick a hole with this team. Sure, the defense isn’t the greatest, not with Peralta playing short although he did have a career-best 2.6 defensive Wins Above Replacement this season.

As strong as the St. Louis bullpen has been in stretches, it could also collapse in a sudden. As long as the Cards’ starters work deep into games – and there’s every indication they can in this series – that limits the innings that will come from the bullpen in the first place.

Series prediction: Like the American League series, it’s hard to imagine this one being a sweep. It’s also very hard to discount the Giants for all they’ve been able to do in October in recent years.

But when it comes down to it, the Cardinals are just a better team across the board. I have a feeling that one of these series will wrap up early, so I’ll take St. Louis in five games.

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Previewing the Orioles-Royals ALCS

The Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals will meet in the ALCS, which opens on Friday night.

Here is the schedule:

Friday: at Baltimore, 8 p.m.

Saturday: at Baltimore, 4 p.m.

Monday: at Kansas City, TBD

Tuesday: at Kansas City, TBD

Wednesday: at Kansas City, TBD (if necessary)

Friday: at Baltimore, TBD (if necessary)

Saturday: at Baltimore, TBD (if necessary)

Both the Orioles and Royals won their ALDS series in 3-game sweeps, with Baltimore not exactly surprisingly dispatching the Tigers and the Royals shockingly knocking out the Angels. Kansas City, one of the Wild Card teams, also won its one-game playoff over Oakland to advance to the ALDS.

So let’s take a look at the teams and how they stack up for this most interesting ALCS.

Kansas City Royals players celebrate following Game 3 of baseball's AL Division Series in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014. The Kansas City Royals defeated the Los Angeles Angels 8-3 to sweep the series. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Kansas City

The Royals appeared to be the fringiest team in the playoffs this season. Kansas City has a dodgy starting rotation behind James Shields, an offense that doesn’t hit for much, if any, power, and a manager in Ned Yost who often looks like he’s in over his head.

But for some reason, the Royals have made it all work this postseason.

Kansas City beat Oakland in thrilling fashion in extra innings in the Wild Card game. They followed it up with extra innings wins over the Angels in Anaheim in the first two games of the ALDS. James Shields pitched six solid innings and then turned it over the bullpen as the Royals closed it out in game 3 at home.

Billy Butler even stole a base in game 3, so it’s been that kind of a postseason for the Royals so far.

Strengths: The Royals’ biggest asset is its tremendous bullpen. Greg Holland (46 saves) is perhaps the best closer you’ve never heard of. Wade Davis, a former Hudson Valley Renegades starter, has blossomed into one of baseball’s best set-up men. Kelvin Herrera gave up 54 hits in 70 innings in the regular season. So if the Royals can pass the ball off to them with a late in the late innings, odds are that they’re going to hold on.

Lineup balance. The Royals have seen a power surge from Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, who hit two homers apiece in the ALDS. Balance that with Kansas City’s mix of speedsters and this team is capable of playing for many runs in the early innings or playing small ball late.

Weaknesses: The starting rotation, excepting James Shields, is an issue. Yordano Ventura had a brilliant rookie season but the fireballing right-hander doesn’t have any playoff experience and he’s already well beyond his mark for most innings pitched in a single season. Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas are fine, but they’re the kind of pitchers you don’t mind running out there for regular season games, not huge spots in the playoffs.

The manager. Of course, for the Royals to get to that great bullpen, Yost is going to have to walk that fine line of knowing when to yank his starter and go to his relievers. He never really fluctuated from his strict usage rules during the regular season, but there’s been some signs he’s been willing to have a quick hook in the playoffs.

Baltimore Orioles left fielder David Lough (9) , Adam Jones (10) and Nick Markakis (21) celebrate after Baltimore defeated the Detroit Tigers, 2-1, in Game 3 of baseball's AL Division Series Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014, in Detroit. Baltimore won the series 3-0. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Baltimore

The Orioles, who surged to a huge lead in the AL East this season, pretty easily swept their ALDS series over the Tigers. Detroit’s bullpen imploded and the Tigers’ offense, which had been so good all year long, fell apart when it mattered most.

On paper, this Baltimore team doesn’t look the greatest of those that made the playoffs. The Orioles lack a top-of-the-rotation ace and are missing three key players in the lineup (Chris Davis, Manny Machado and Matt Wieters) but they’ve been able to ride a strong bullpen and have one of baseball’s best managers in the dugout in Buck Showalter.

Baltimore is making its first appearance in the ALCS since 1997, when it lost to Cleveland. The O’s last played in the World Series in 1983.

Strengths: Like Kansas City, Baltimore’s strength is its bullpen. Zach Britton, who never quite caught on in the O’s starting rotation, has thrived since falling into the closer’s role. Andrew Miller, a situational lefty who came over in a deadline day trade from Boston, has been excellent. Miller allowed eight hits and four walks in 20 innings pitched during the regular season. Darren O’Day has been a strikeout machine as the righty set-up man and Tommy Hunter, like Britton, has improved since shifting from a starting to a relieving role.

The O’s also have some major pop in the lineup. Nelson Cruz hit 40 homers this year. Nick Markakis, J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones are also power threats. In a short series format, a late home run can really change the course of a game and shift momentum in the series.

Showalter could factor into play here as well, especially if some part of this series becomes a chess game with Yost.

Weaknesses: Defense. J.J. Hardy has been one of baseball’s best defensive shortstops in recent years and Adam Jones is a perennial Gold Glove candidate in center field. The rest of the fielders, however? They leave a little to be desired. David Lough turned a diving catch attempt into a double for Victor Martinez in the ninth inning of the deciding game 3 of the ALDS. Delmon Young has been a fine hitter this year, but he absolutely cannot play the field and with Cruz taking the DH at-bats, he’s become a pinch-hitter at best.

Baltimore has managed to get some good performances out of its starting rotation, despite it lacking any household names. Chris Tillman has been one of the better pitchers in the AL in the last few years but this is his first go-round in the playoffs. Baltimore’s top four starters this season all had WHIPs in the 1.20s, which is too many baserunners for a playoff series. Still, if the O’s can get just enough out of the starters and turn things over to the rotation, that will take some of the sting out of their deficiencies in this department.

Series prediction: Well, this should be a fun one seeing as both teams have similar strengths and weaknesses. I don’t think there’s necessarily one area where on team has a huge edge over the other, so this ought to be pretty even all around.

As both teams won their division series in sweeps, they’ve had some time to reset their rotations and give their bullpens a few days off. So that’s a push.

It looks like Moustakas and Hosmer are heating up at just the right time, so they should be able to match Cruz in the home run department.

I like the Royals in that they have the “team of destiny” vibe going for them this season. I can’t quantify that, I can’t prove that, but it’s undeniable and it’s a great story.

I also like Baltimore because I think they have a little, slight edge in the talent department. I think the home field advantage and the Showalter advantage help put the O’s over the top in this one, but I see this series going all seven games. Should be a classic.

Baltimore in seven.

The Cardinals have just moved on to the NLCS with a thrilling series of comebacks and upsets to knock off the Dodgers. I’ll preview that series once we figure out who’s moving on in the San Francisco-Washington NLDS.

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Looking back at Pirates-Giants and forward at the NLDS

San Francisco Giants' Brandon Crawford points skyward as he heads home after hitting a grand slam during the fourth inning of the NL wild-card playoff baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

Wednesday’s National League Wild Card game lacked the drama of Tuesday’s AL version.

Brandon Crawford hit a grand slam, becoming the first shortstop to hit a grand slam in the postseason. The Giants’ Madison Baumgarner pitched a shutout, striking out 10, walking one and allowing four hits in an 8-0. San Francisco moves on to face Washington in the NLDS.

Now that the matchups are set, let’s take a look at the NLDS.

Clayton Kershaw leaps on A.J. Ellis and Brian Wilson to start the celebration after the Dodgers won the National League West against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium Wednesday night Sept. 24, 2014. The Los Angeles Dodgers won the NL West title with a 9-1 victory over the second-place San Francisco Giants on Wednesday night. (AP Photo/The Orange County Register, Ed Crisostomo)

St. Louis vs. Los Angeles

It’ll be a great opening game on Friday, as the Cards send Adam Wainwright to the mound against Clayton Kershaw at Dodger Stadium.

The Cardinals plan to send out Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller and John Lackey in the remaining games. The Dodgers will use Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dan Haren.

Starting pitching: Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet, so the Dodgers have a huge advantage here.

If not for Kershaw’s remarkable 2014 season, you’d be hearing a lot more about Wainwright, who had a terrific year as well. Wainwright went 20-9 with a 2.38 ERA, allowing 184 hits in 227 innings. He won’t pile up the strikeouts quite like Kershaw, but if should be a great head-to-head battle in game 1.

Really, both groups of starters are very strong, so I wouldn’t expect many high-scoring games in this series. Still, the Dodgers will get the points here thanks to Kershaw.

Edge – Los Angeles.

Bullpen: The Dodgers also have a fine closer in Kenley Jansen, who struck out 101 and walked 19 over 65 1/3 innings during the regular season. The rest of the LA pen, however, leaves something to be desired. Brandon League and J.P. Howell are probably the most dependable set-up men. Brian Wilson has had some postseason success with the Giants, but he’s been a little hit-or-miss this year.

St. Louis’ Trevor Rosenthal saved 45 games this year, but his weakness is his wildness. He walked 42 batters in 70 1/3 innings.

Pat Neshek had a career resurgence this year. Seth Maness had a great year with only 11 walks in 80 1/3 innings pitched.

Jason Motte, a Valley Central grad, has been left off the NLDS roster, so you won’t see him in this series. Still, the Cards get a slight edge here with more weapons, but this might be a moot point if Dodgers starters are able to go deep into games and help make the bridge to Jansen.

Edge – St. Louis.

Lineup: The Dodgers can mash, that’s still clear.

Adrian Gonzalez led the NL with 116 RBI this year. Gonzalez (27 home runs) and Matt Kemp (25) led the team in power. Juan Uribe (.311) and Carl Crawford (.300) led the team in average. Justin Turner, formerly the Mets’ jack of all trades, hit .340, yes, .340!, in 288 at-bats over 109 games in a super utility role.

Despite all of their offensive prowess and mix of speed and power, none of the Dodgers scored 100 runs this year. Can this team find ways to push runs across the plate after getting men on base? That’ll be the question for the Dodgers.

St. Louis had neither a 100-run-scorer or a 100-RBI hitter. Jhonny Peralta hit 21 home runs and Matt Holiday hit 20. The Cardinals do have some speed from Kolten Wong and Peter Bourjos, but both of those players had sub-.300 OBPs, so they struggle to get chances to steal.

While this St. Louis has a lot of recognizable names and players with postseason experience, they just don’t stack up on paper to the Dodgers’ hitters. That doesn’t mean the Cardinals can’t scrape together some runs and win this series, but they’ll be hard-pressed to do it against a tough Dodgers staff.

Edge- Los Angeles.

Intangibles: We have a couple of young managers squaring off in this series in Don Mattingly and Mike Matheny. They’ve both done a fine job in their few years on the job, so it’s tough to see one being much better than the other at this point. So the managers are a push.

The Dodgers do have home field advantage and they will throw Kershaw in game 1, so odds are good the Dodgers get a one-game headstart here. That’s enough for a win in this category.

Edge – Los Angeles.

Prediction: Dodgers in seven. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the Cardinals pull out a win here, but they just don’t quite stack up to the Dodgers on paper. Should be a great back-and-forth kind of series with low-scoring games and big strategy decisions every night.

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, left, and left fielder Bryce Harper wear their playoffs sweatshirts in the dugout during the second baseball game of a doubleheader at Nationals Park, Friday, Sept. 26, 2014, in Washington. The Nationals clinched the lead in the National League earlier with a win over the Miami Marlins in the first game of their doubleheader. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washington vs. San Francisco

The Giants won the Wild Card game in dominating fashion, but much like Kansas City in the AL, they had to use their ace pitcher to do it. So Madison Bumgarner won’t be available until Game 4 or maybe Game 3 if the Giants get aggressive.

Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong likely round out the Giants’ rotation. Tim Lincecum probably gets used out of the bullpen.

The Nationals have yet to announce their rotation for this series. They’ll have plenty of options. Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann look like locks to get starts here. Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez will be in the discussion as well.

Starting pitching: It really has been a great year for starting pitching in the NL. Strasburg struck out 242 batters this year and has lived up to the hype after being selected No. 1 overall. Fister went 16-6 with a 2.41 ERA after coming over in a trade from the Tigers. Zimmermann, who threw a no-hitter on the last day of the season, went 14-5 with a 2.66 ERA and 29 walks in 199 2/3 innings. Roark and Gonzalez also had fine years, so the Nationals have an embarrassment of riches in the rotation.

San Francisco’s rotation doesn’t quite stack up. Vogelsong and Hudson finished the season with losing records, for whatever that’s worth. Peavy pitched well, to a 1.04 WHIP, but he’s 0-3 with a 9.27 ERA in his career in the postseason.

Edge – Washington

Bullpen: A big reason why the Giants made the playoffs was the strength of their bullpen. Sergio Romo had 23 saves and a 0.95 WHIP. Jean Machi was stellar in a set-up role. Jeremy Affeldt is still one of the best at getting out lefties.

But the Nationals, who might be the most well-balanced team in baseball, also have a terrific pen.

Rafael Soriano had 32 saves and Drew Storen picked up 11 saves to go along with his 1.12 ERA. Tyler Clippard has 82 strikeouts in 70 1/3 innings. Between Jerry Blevins, Matt Thornton and Ross Detwiler, the Nationals also have some good lefties available for matchup situations.

With Soriano and Storen to lock down the eighth and ninth innings and a whole bunch of other relievers ready for action in earlier innings, the Nationals are set up well for postseason baseball. San Francisco’s got a great pen, too, but Washington’s looks a bit better on paper.

Edge – Washington

Lineup: Buster Posey remains one of the best hitters in baseball. Pablo Sandoval has had some big postseason moments in his career. Rookie second baseman Joe Panik has had a fine MLB debut this year. Hunter Pence, weirdo that he is, always seems to come up clutch in the big moments.

Washington, however, has an even better set of hitters.

Denard Span, with his .355 OBP and 31 stolen bases, is a model of a leadoff hitter. Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper provide some punch in the outfield corners. Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond have plenty of pop and can produce runs in the middle of the lineup. Anthony Rendon, forced into action with Ryan Zimmerman’s injuries, had a great season. Rendon hit .287 with 21 home runs, 83 RBI and scored a team-high 111 runs. Don’t forget Zimmerman off the bench, who could be key as a pinch-hitter in this series.

The Nationals have everything you want in a lineup. The question is, will they be able to duplicate what they did during the regular season?

Edge- Washington

Intangibles: Looking at the managers, Bruce Bochy certainly gets the nod over Matt Williams with his extensive history managing postseason games. But the Nationals do have home field advantage.

This is just the Washington franchise’s third playoff appearance since 1981. The Nats lost in the NLDS in 2012. The Montreal Expos lost in the 1981 NLCS.

San Francisco has won World Series titles in 2010 and 2012. Will they prevail again in an even-numbered year?

How will Washington deal with being the World Series pick of many experts?

Since the Giants have nothing to lose here, and since the team has proven it can prevail as the underdog, I’m going to go with my gut and give San Francisco the edge here.

Edge – San Francisco.

Prediction: Washington in six. The Giants have a funny way of making things work in the playoffs over the past few seasons, but I just don’t see how they come out on top against a rested Washington team playing at home. San Francisco wins Bumgarner’s start and manages to steal another win elsewhere, but the Nats just have too much talent to get knocked out here.

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Looking back at Royals-Athletics and forward at the ALDS

Kansas City Royals' Greg Holland celebrates after the Royals' 9-8 victory over the Oakland Athletics in 12 innings in the AL wild-card playoff baseball game in Kansas City, Mo. Baseball has had a history of one-game playoffs dating to Cleveland's 8-3 victory over Boston at Fenway Park to win the 1948 American League pennant. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

The 2014 Major League Baseball playoffs started last night with an instant classic in Kansas City.

The Royals, making their first postseason appearance since the 1985 World Series, hosted the Oakland A’s in a one-game playoff to determine who would move on to the next round.

Oakland’s Brandon Moss hit a 2-run home run in the first inning and he hit a 3-run shot in the fifth as the A’s built a 7-3 lead.

It wouldn’t hold.

Kansas City responded with three runs in the eighth and one in the ninth to force extra innings. The game turned into a buntfest in extras, with Oakland pushing one run across in the top of the 12th.

The Royals used a one-out triple for Eric Hosmer, a Christian Colon single and steal of second base and a Salvador Perez single to win it in walkoff fashion in the 12th, 9-8.

Kansas City moves on to take on the Angels in the ALDS. It’ll be Detroit-Baltimore in the other series.

First, some thoughts on the Royals’ game.

Ned Yost, KC manager, left James Shields in the sixth inning and he gave up a single and a walk to start the inning. Yost then called on fireballing starting pitcher Yordano Ventura in relief, even after Ventura had thrown 73 pitches in a Sunday start. Moss homered and Kelvin Herrera gave up three straight singles later in the inning as the A’s surged ahead.

The Royals have such a good bullpen, so it’s puzzling why Yost when with Ventura in that situation when he’s not accustomed to pitching with inherited runners.

Wade Davis and Greg Holland followed with one flawless inning apiece. Rookie Brandon Finnegan, who was selected in the June draft, gave up one run on one hit over 2 1/3 innings of relief. Jason Frasor recorded the final two outs for the save.

Yost’s bullpen usage has been an issue all season long and the Royals kind of made the playoffs in spite of that. We’ll see if Mike Scioscia manages circles around him in the next round.

The Royals also had four successful sacrifice bunts as Yost decided to play for one run. For this team, it’s not the worst idea. The Royals don’t hit a ton of home runs or extra base hits, but the bunting puts a ton of pressure on the hitter at the plate as you’ve given away an out to move up 90 feet. With a special, one-time-use Wild Card roster, Yost had plenty of flexibility to make moves. He’ll be limited in the ALCS, having to carry four starting pitchers.

Now that the matchups are set, let’s take a look at the ALDS.

Detroit Tigers pitcher Joba Chamberlain swings a bat during baseball practice in Detroit Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014. The Detroit Tigers start the playoffs at the Baltimore Orioles in Game 1 of the American League Division Series Thursday. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Detroit vs. Baltimore

This series starts Thursday in Baltimore. It’ll be Max Scherzer vs. Chris Tillman in the opener.

Detroit will use Justin Verlander, David Price and Rick Porcello in games 2, 3 and 4, respectively.

Baltimore hasn’t yet announced its rotation for the rest of the series, but the O’s expect to use Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris in some order.

Let’s take a look at who’s got the edge.

Starting pitching: Detroit pushed its chips to the center of the table at the trade deadline, acquiring Price from Tampa Bay for a haul of prospects. Scherzer has again been terrific this year and Porcello, 25, has had a career year. Verlander has slipped from his prime of a few years ago, but he came on strong with a solid August and September.

Add that up and it’s a much stronger unit than what Baltimore will send to the mound. Expect Detroit’s starters to go deep into these games and give the Tigers a huge boost.

Edge – Detroit.

Bullpen: What the Orioles lack in the starting rotation, they make up for in the bullpen. Zach Britton has had a career resurgence since taking over as closer. Darren O’Day was one of the top set-up men in baseball and Tommy Hunter is a fine sidekick in the late innings. Brian Matusz, another Baltimore starter who has found a home in the bullpen, is killer on left-handed hitters.

Detroit, on the other hand, has had a dumpster fire of a bullpen all year long. Closer Joe Nathan has a 4.81 ERA and blew a career-high seven saves. Al Alburquerque has been fine, but he probably walks too many batters. Former Yankee farmhands Phil Coke and Joba Chamberlain probably don’t inspire a lot of confidence.

The O’s also have Buck Showalter calling the shots from the dugout, so expect Baltimore to go to the bullpen early and often if their starters can’t cut it. Also look for the Baltimore hitters to be patient, trying to drive up the pitch count and get the Detroit starters out of the game.

Edge – Baltimore.

Lineup: Both of these teams can mash.

Baltimore’s Nelson Cruz led the league with 40 homers. Adam Jones is another of the league’s top sluggers. Nick Markakis, J.J. Hardy and Steve Pearce have also had strong years at the plate.

The O’s have been hard-hit by injuries and suspensions, as Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Matt Wieters are all out.

Detroit has a incredible middle of the order with Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. Torii Hunter can still rake, Ian Kinsler has a mix of power and speed and J.D. Martinez has had a breakout year in left field. It’s going to be hard to see Detroit failing to score runs, especially against the O’s rotation. The question is, how many will they score?

Edge – Detroit.

Intangibles: Brad Ausmus has had a fine first year on the job as Tigers’ manager, winning 90 games.

Still, he’s no Buck Showalter. With playoff games often coming down to the decisions made by a manager on when to go to the bullpen or when to put in a pinch-runner, give Baltimore the edge with their manager’s experience.

If necessary, Game 7 will be at Camden Yards, so that’s a plus for the Birds as well.

Edge – Baltimore.

Prediction: Baltimore in seven. Most of the other playoff teams are better than the Orioles in some regards, but their bullpen puts them over the top in this series.

Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout hits a home run in the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Friday, Sept. 26, 2014, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Los Angeles vs. Kansas City

The only pitching pairing announced for this series so far is Thursday’s opener, which features Jason Vargas against Jered Weaver.

Yordano Ventura, Jeremy Guthrie and James Shields likely round out the Royals’ rotation. Shields could pitch game 4 on four days’ rest, or he could go earlier if the Royals feel they need him.

C.J. Wilson and Matt Shoemaker will follow Weaver in some order, with Hector Santiago also likely to get a start.

Let’s take a look at who’s got the edge.

Starting pitching: The Angels are hurting from the loss of Garrett Richards, who was having a Cy Young-caliber year before being lost for the year with a leg injury suffered at Fenway Park. Still, LA’s mix of talent, experience and rest – not to mention home field advantage – gives them the advantage here.

Weaver isn’t one of the hardest throwers in the game, but he knows how to throw strikes and work effectively. Wilson isn’t exactly efficient, but he’s a crafty lefty who can rack up some punchouts. Shoemaker (16-4, 3.04 ERA) has had a breakout year between the bullpen and the rotation.

What really hurts the Royals is the fact that they had to use Shields in Tuesday’s Wild Card game. He’ll probably be on the shelf until Game 4, which might be too late for Kansas City in this series. Vargas is the definition of a league-average pitcher, as is Guthrie. Ventura has had a fine rookie year with his impressive fastball, but how will he fare in his first playoff start?

Edge – Los Angeles.

Bullpen: The Angels have done a bullpen makeover this year, picking up Jason Grilli and Huston Street in trades. Joe Smith, signed as a free agent in the offseason, had a fine year in a set-up role, going 7-2 with a 1.81 ERA and 68 strikeouts and 45 hits allowed over 74 2/3 innings. If there’s a flaw with the Angels’ bullpen it’s that they don’t really have a go-to lefty for matchups. KC has some good left-handed hitters, so that might be an advantage for the Royals.

The Royals, however, have the bullpen as the primary strength of the team. Former Hudson Valley Renegades starter Wade Davis, almost a throw-in to the James Shields-Wil Myers trade, had a terrific year in the pen. Davis allowed 38 hits over 72 innings and struck out 109 against 23 walks. Greg Holland was one of the best closers in baseball with 46 saves and he struck out 90 and allowed 37 hits over 62 1/3 innings. Kelvin Herrera, Jason Frasor and Brandon Finnegan, all of whom have pitched well this season, round out the pen. Danny Duffy, a hard-throwing lefty, could be the long man or a spot starter depending on how the series pans out.

The problem with the Royals’ pen is the manager. Will Ned Yost make the right call at the right time or will he stay away from Davis and Holland until the eighth and ninth? If he’s willing to lean on the back end of his bullpen a little more, the Royals shouldn’t have a problem protecting a lead.

Edge – Kansas City.

Lineup: The Royals have a bunch of guys who hit for average, but they’re never going to hit for all that much power. Alex Gordon (19), Sal Perez (17) and Mike Moustakas (15) were the only Royals to hit double-digit home runs this season.

What the Royals do have is a solid mix of contact and speed, which at this time of year is generally a good strategy to have.

The Angels, of course, have the game’s best all-around player in outfielder Mike Trout. Trout had a “down year,” hitting .287 with 39 doubles, 36 home runs with 115 runs scored and 111 RBI. He only stole 16 bases this year but could be more of a threat in playoff situations.

Add in a rejuvenated Albert Pujols and guys like Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar and David Freese, all of whom had decent, if not good years, and it’s going to be tough to keep the Angels off the scoreboard.

Josh Hamilton is the wild card here. He played in just one of the Angels’ final 23 regular season games, but he’ll be starting on Thursday. Will that be a blessing or a curse for the Angels to have a power hitter back after a long layoff? We’ll see.

Regardless, the Angels are in a better position to score runs and they should do just that in this series.

Edge – Los Angeles.

Intangibles: The Royals might have that team of destiny thing going for them, but they are at some major disadvantages in this series.

1) LA has the home field.

2) LA has the rest of not having to play in the Wild Card game.

3) LA doesn’t have Ned Yost as manager.

Perhaps that’s a little harsh, but Scioscia has proven he can win in the postseason before. Now, he’s got an entirely new group of players. His team had the best record in baseball during the regular season. I’m not saying the Angels are a lock to win the World Series, but LA’s playoff run doesn’t end here.

Edge – Los Angeles.

Prediction: Angels in five. KC is just fighting too much of an uphill battle to gain much traction in this series. The Royals’ starting pitchers just don’t stack up, not against the LA lineup.

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Taking a guess at the 2014 MLB award winners

With the regular season winding down – and both New York teams out of the playoff hunt – it’s time to take a look at which players will bring home the end of season awards. Here are my best guesses in the major categories.

Note: All stats, taken from Baseball-Reference.com, are through Sunday’s games.

American League MVP

Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout (27) catches a fly off the Texas Rangers' Leonys Martin in the first inning of a baseball game in Anaheim, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

It looks like it’s finally Mike Trout’s time to shine. With Miguel Cabrera having a bit of a down year (if you can call .314, 23 HR and 104 RBI a down year), Trout stands above the rest in the American League this year.

He’s hitting .291 with 35 home runs and 109 RBI and leads the league with 112 runs scored. He’s also 15-for-17 in stolen base attempts. Trout’s strikeout rate has surged this year, as he leads the league with 176 punchouts. He’s also running much less than he did each of his first two seasons.

Still, he’s hitting for power and average and producing runs for the best team in baseball. After two years of finishing as the runner-up, Trout wins his first MVP, even if it’s been his worst professional season so far.

National League MVP

The consensus seems to be that Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw has been so good this year that he’ll also win the MVP award. I don’t disagree with that and I won’t deny how good Kershaw’s been, but for the sake of argument here, let’s try to pick the NL’s best position player in this spot.

I think this comes down to two players. Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen has had another tremendous year, as he’s hitting .310 with 36 doubles, 23 home runs and 75 RBI. His .404 on-base percentage leads the NL.

But if I had a vote, I think I’d cast it for Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton leads the league in home runs (37) and walks (94) and also has 31 doubles, 105 RBI and a .288 batting average. He’s done all that with virtually no support in the lineup.

Stanton will miss the rest of the season after taking a pitch to the face recently, so he won’t get a chance to add to those stats. At age 24, he’s basically returned the Marlins to the conversation all by himself, especially after Jose Fernandez went down with an elbow injury. There’s no hitter in the NL more feared than Stanton and it’s a wonder he put up the numbers he did when other teams could have (and maybe should have) just walked him every time they had the chance.

American League Cy Young

There are any number of candidates for this one. Chris Sale. Corey Kluber. Jered Weaver. Max Scherzer…just to name a few.

But I think this goes to Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, who’s having perhaps the best season of his career.

The King is 14-5 with a 2.07 ERA and leads the league with a 0.91 WHIP. In 226 innings, he’s struck out 236 and walked 43. Simply put, he’s a guy who doesn’t put many runners on base and when he does, he’s got the ability to get out of jams via the strikeout. That, and his durability, make him exactly the kind of pitcher you’d want on the mound in a big game. Will he finally get a chance to pitch in a postseason game this year? Well, the Mariners’ generally lackluster offense probably determines that over the final week of the season. But there’s no denying that King Felix still has it.

National League Cy Young

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw delivers during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Friday, Sept. 19, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

There have been many fine pitching performances in the senior circuit this season, but the NL Cy Young will almost assuredly be an unanimous vote.

If you look at his Baseball-Reference player page, Clayton Kershaw leads the league in 10 different categories. He’s 20-3 with a 1.80 ERA. He’s pitched six complete games. In 190 1/3 innings – he missed some time early in the year – he’s struck out 228, allowed 132 hits and walked 31. He has a ridiculous 0.86 WHIP.

One wonders just how bonkers his stats would have been had he not missed the entire month of April. Still, he’s had one of the great years for a starting pitcher in the modern era.

Kershaw will win his third Cy Young Award in the last four years and could very well wind up the NL MVP as well. He’s finished 12th, 16th and 7th, respectively, in the MVP voting over the last three seasons.

American League Rookie of the Year

This one is a slam dunk.

Chicago’s Jose Abreu is old for a rookie at 27, but came straight to the big leagues this year from Cuba. And he more than lived up to all the high expectations.

Abreu has hit 35 home runs, 35 doubles and has driven in 105 runs to go along with a .319 batting average. He leads the league in slugging and OPS and made the All-Star team this year. Essentially, he’s become the modern day version of Frank Thomas on the South Side.

National League Rookie of the Year

Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton has had an impressive year, playing nearly every day and stealing 56 bases in 79 attempts. His average, however, is at .253 and his OBP at .295. Imagine how many bases he could have stolen had he ever gotten on base.

With so few other position players really able to make a case for Rookie of the Year, that leaves Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom as the front-runner.

deGrom, through 22 starts, is 9-6 with a 2.63 ERA. In 140 1/3 innings, he’s struck out 144, walked 43 and allowed 116 hits.

New York Mets starter Jacob deGrom (48) pitches against the Philadelphia Phillies in the first inning of a baseball game at Citi Field on Friday, Aug. 29, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

A 9th round pick in the 2010 draft, deGrom wasn’t even really among the Mets’ top starting pitching prospects at the beginning of the season, as he fell somewhere behind Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero, and perhaps behind some younger prospects at the lower levels of the minors. deGrom made his MLB debut in mid-May to replace an injured Dillon Gee and has struck around ever since. He’s been a notch below the elite starting pitchers in the NL this year, but he’s been fine, more than fine, really, for an unheralded rookie. deGrom’s rise might also make the Mets big movers and shakers during the winter meetings, as his rookie year may allow the club to trade another of its pitching prospects to obtain a bat.

American League Manager of the Year

There are plenty of candidates here, but there seems to be a frontrunner for this award.

The Baltimore Orioles weren’t picked to win the AL East by many experts, not with the Yankees having reloaded, the Red Sox fresh of a World Series title and Toronto and Tampa Bay teams with plenty of talent on the roster.

Not only has Buck Showalter guided the O’s to the playoffs, Baltimore has the second-best record in baseball behind the Angels.

Baltimore has dealt with injuries this year, as Matt Wieters and Manny Machado have missed significant chunks of the season. Nick Markakis has struggled in the second half. Baltimore’s had a black hole at second base all year. There’s not a lot about the starting rotation that jumps out at you.

And yet, the O’s have a terrific bullpen and play great defense and find ways to score runs on a consistent basis. On paper, this team isn’t better than any other in its division, but Showalter makes this team better than it is. Do they have what it takes to make a run in the postseason? Time will tell, but the O’s are the team that have benefitted the most from its manager.

National League Manager of the Year

There are some interesting candidates in the NL this year.

I’ll take out the division-winning managers in Washington, St. Louis and Los Angeles because those teams have so much talent, they were really expected to win. I don’t know how many points you can give a manager for that.

It looks like Clint Hurdle is about to lead the Pirates to a second straight playoff appearance, which certainly deserves some credit.

I, however, would go with San Francisco’s Bruce Bochy this year. The Giants have had a mess of a situation at first and second base and shortstop Brandon Crawford, while among the best with the glove, still can’t hit a lick. Add in a lost season from Matt Cain and another baffling performance from Tim Lincecum as well as frustrating years from Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong, and it’s kind of amazing that San Francisco is in the playoff race at all.

Like Showalter in Baltimore, Bochy has a good bullpen and he knows how to get the most out of it. He’s also taken this Island of Misfit Toys roster of his – Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Madison Bumgarner and Sergio Romo aside – and made them better.

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Mets to retain Alderson & Collins in 2015

New York Mets manager Terry Collins, left, speaks to the media alongside general manager Sandy Alderson during a news conference at Citi Field, Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, in New York. The Mets have announced a two-year extension for Collins with a club option in 2016. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

According to a report in the Daily News, the Mets are planning to retain both general manager Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins for the 2015 season.

Collins is already signed through the end of 2015, with an option for 2016, so he was going to be back anyway, unless the Mets decide to fire him and eat the money. Alderson’s contract is up at the end of this season and it appears as if he’ll get an extension, although the length of that extension is to be determined.

Collins and Alderson, who both joined the club for the 2011 season, haven’t exactly had a ton of success on the field at the major league level. The Mets are 297-339 in their tenure so far.

The Mets do have a promising farm system, as we’ve seen with the emergence of Jacob deGrom, who is a Rookie of the Year candidate in the National League. The Binghamton Mets, the team’s Double-A affiliate, won the Eastern League title a few days ago, whatever that’s worth.

I’ve been saying for some time that 2015 is going to be a make-or-break year for the Mets’ management.

Matt Harvey pledges to be back from Tommy John surgery and has already said that he plans to be on the mound – and win – the Mets’ 2015 season opener against Washington on April 6. Harvey, however, will probably be capped at 150 innings or so next year, so he might not be around in September. One would figure David Wright also returns healthy and bounces back from a down year.

Add in the mix of young pitching the Mets have in their system and perhaps a trade or two to strengthen the lineup in the offseason – Alderson has said the Mets won’t spend much in free agency this winter – and it’s not hard to see the Mets being better next year. A playoff team? That’s a little bit harder to envision, but 81 wins and a .500 record doesn’t seem like an unreasonable goal.

Alderson famously made a pledge this past offseason that the Mets should be expecting to win 90 games. That was out of the question for 2014 from the get-go, but it might not be much of a stretch for next year if everything goes right.

Collins and Alderson have had plenty of time to put the pieces in place. And to a large extent, the pieces are there. Lucas Duda is the everyday first baseman has had a solid year since Ike Davis was traded to Pittsburgh. Travis d’Arnaud has shown signs of being a regular behind the plate and being a guy that can hit for power. The outfield looks OK with Juan Lagares patrolling center and Curtis Granderson in one of the corner spots. Eric Young Jr. will still be around as well. The Mets have a bunch of Triple-A type players in Matt den Dekker and Kirk Nieuwenhuis to choose from for the other corner or as a fourth outfielder.

Add in a strong rotation headed by Harvey and an ever-improving bullpen with some of the pitchers squeezed out of the rotation picture and the Mets have the making of a solid all-around team. So there won’t be room for any more excuses for Alderson and Collins. I think 2015 will decide their fate. That doesn’t mean they won’t be back in 2016 if the Mets miss the playoffs next year, as injuries and other unforeseen circumstances could buy them some more time if things don’t work out. But when Harvey strolls out to the mound to pitch to the Nationals’ leadoff man on April 6, it’s going to be time to start judging the Mets for real. And if the team isn’t winning, a team with the talent to win, it’ll be time to start to wonder if a new field manager and general manager might change that.

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Thoughts to ponder while watching Yankees-Orioles

New York Yankees starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy throws to the Baltimore Orioles during the first inning in the first baseball game of a doubleheader, Friday, Sept. 12, 2014, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

  • Some thoughts to ponder as I watch the Yankees and Orioles play extra innings in the first game of a doubleheader on Sept. 12.
  • Who would’ve thought, even a few weeks ago, that Chris Young would have one of the Yankees’ most memorable moments of the 2014 season? Young fizzled out on a one-year contract with the Mets this year, but he was the star of the show on Thursday night. First, he broke up Alex Cobb’s no-hit bid in the eighth inning. In the bottom of the ninth, he delivered a walk-off 3-run home run in an improbable come-from-behind win for the Yankees.
  • The Yankees are a long-shot when it comes to the AL Wild Card race, but they are still alive. However, they’re going to have to rattle off something like a 10-game win streak in the coming days to keep the pace with the teams like Seattle, Oakland, Cleveland, Toronto and Detroit, all of whom are ahead of the Yankees in the standings as of the moment. Before the end of the first game of today’s doubleheader, the Yankees have 75 wins. They’ll need to get to 89 or so to be in the playoff hunt at the end of the month, so that means a 14-4 stretch over the final 18 games is a necessity.
  • With the way this team is hitting, that seems highly improbable. Right now, there is one out in the top of the 11th and the Yankees have failed to score.
  • At the same time, Baltimore is also scoreless. It’s going to be hard to believe, but the obit on the 2014 Yankees, a team that lost 80 percent of its opening day starting rotation to the disabled list for most of the season, is going to be that this team couldn’t hit despite getting great pitching.
  • Brandon McCarthy – I interrupt this message to write Chris Young just hit another home run, a go-ahead shot in the 11th. Yankees now three outs away from a big win here if they can hang on in the bottom of the 11th.
  • Anyway, back to McCarthy, who allowed four hits, struck out six and walked none over seven innings today. He pitched to one batter in the eighth. McCarthy, a free agent at season’s end, is 6-4 with a 2.54 ERA and has 70 strikeouts, 12 walks and allowed 76 hits in 78 innings in a Yankees uniform. Next year’s rotation is a bit of a toss-up at this point. CC Sabathia pledges he’ll be back and ready to go by spring training. Michael Pineda, barring any other injuries, should also be in the rotation. The rest of the rotation is up for grabs. Masahiro Tanaka may or may not need Tommy John surgery. Ivan Nova probably won’t be ready to pitch until the All-Star break, at the earliest. Hiroki Kuroda, also a free agent, may or may not be back for his age 40 season. So could the Yankees make a play for McCarthy? It seems like he’s regained his form since the trade from Arizona, so perhaps there’s something he likes about Yankees. But his recent string of success may bring some other teams into the fold as bidders for his services. McCarthy surely would plug a hole in a shaky Yankees rotation for 2015, but are the Yankees willing to commit much money and years beyond that?
  • The Yankees are also going to have an interesting offseason decision with closer David Robertson, who pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings and would be in line for the win should the Yankees hold on here. Robertson has had another solid year in the bullpen, taking over admirably for the retired Mariano Rivera. Robertson has saved 35 games, struck out 86, walked 21 and allowed 35 hits in 57 innings. With numbers like that, he’s going to get paid somewhere. The question is, do the Yankees feel the need to lock him up after the emergence of Dellin Betances in a set-up role? Betances could probably post similar numbers as a closer and he’d be doing it for less money for the next few years. Do the Yankees think they could find an adequate set-up man and save money for other problem spots? We’ll see. You can expect that to be one of the big offseason storylines in the Bronx this winter.
  • Adam Warren has just loaded the bases with two out in the bottom of the 11th. Jimmy Paredes coming in to pinch-hit. He got a hit and the Orioles win, 2-1.
  • So the Yankees’ playoffs odds shrink a little more. It’s not over yet, but do they have a miracle 14-3 run left in them? Not with this offense, is how I see it.

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Renegades season recap: 2014

The Hudson Valley Renegades’ 2014 season came to an uncharacteristic end on Friday night. A pair of errors in the bottom of the eighth inning allowed State College to pull out a 2-1 victory in the third and deciding game of a New York-Penn League semifinal series.

Still, it was a season to remember for the Renegades, who won a McNamara Division title for the fourth time in the franchise’s 21-season history.

The Times Herald-Record takes a look back at some of the superlative moments of the 2014 campaign.

Grant Kay watches the opposing pitcher from the on-deck circle. (Will Montgomery photo)

BEST SINGLE-GAME PERFORMANCE:

Grant Kay, drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays out of the University of Louisville in June, arrived to the Renegades in mid-July after taking some time to play in the Cape Cod League.

In his first professional game on July 14, Kay launched the first pitch he saw over the left field fence for a three-run home run. He wasn’t done yet. Kay added a double, two singles and capped off his 5-for-6 performance with a triple down the right field line, hitting for the cycle.

Kay never quite cooled down, finishing the year with a .314 batting average, 14 doubles, four triples, two home runs and 20 RBI. His versatility in the field – he played second base, third base and left field – could make Kay a valuable piece in the Tampa Bay organization in the years to come.

Hudson Valley Renegades first baseman Casey Gillaspie gets ready to field his position. (Will Montgomery photo)

FUTURE BOBBLEHEAD DAY AT THE DUTCH:

Casey Gillaspie might not be the first player from this Renegades team to reach the big leagues, but he’s got the best chance to be celebrated in miniature plastic form at Dutchess Stadium at some point in the future.

Gillaspie, Tampa Bay’s first round pick in the June draft, surely looked every bit a major leaguer in July, as he hit .330 with 10 doubles, one triple, three home runs and 25 RBI over 29 games that month. He finished the year with seven home runs and a .364 on-base percentage, so you can expect the switch-hitting first baseman to rocket through Tampa Bay’s minor league system over the next few years. Someday, Gillaspie will join the list of former Renegades in the majors, which includes Josh Hamilton, Evan Longoria, James Shields and Wade Davis, to name a few.

Renegades outfielder Hunter Lockwood signs an autograph for a fan prior to a game at Dutchess Stadium. (Will Montgomery photo)

MOST LOCKED IN:

The Renegades went 25-12 in games at Dutchess Stadium, the second-best home record in the NY-PL. Six of those games were won in walkoff fashion, including three on game-ending home runs hit by outfielder Hunter Lockwood.

Lockwood finished the year with a .266 batting average and 13 home runs, becoming just the sixth player in franchise history to hit double-digit home runs in a single season.

A round 11 pick in the 2013 draft, Lockwood showed power potential at Rookie-level Princeton (W. Va.) last year, hitting nine home runs in 64 games. He will have to cut down on his strikeouts if he hopes to keep advancing through the Tampa Bay system, as he struck out 98 times in 271 at-bats this summer.

Hudson Valley starting pitcher Enderson Franco deals during the Renegades' playoff opener against the State College Spikes. (Will Montgomery photo)

POUNDING THE ZONE:

It was a standout year for the Renegades’ pitching staff as well. Hudson Valley’s pitchers issued fewer walks than any team in the NY-PL, a big reason why the team had a league-best 1.17 WHIP at the end of the regular season.

Starting pitchers Nolan Gannon and Hunter Wood, both 20 years old, were named to the NY-PL All-Star team. Enderson Franco and Oscar Armenta tied with Wood for the team lead with 13 starts apiece. Franco, Hudson Valley’s starter in the first game of the NY-PL semifinals, finished with a 7-3 record and a 3.28 ERA in his 13 regular season starts, striking out 50 and walking eight over 68 2/3 innings. Gannon had a similar strikeout-to-walk ratio, punching out 47 and walking nine over 57 innings.

The Renegades also had some standouts in the bullpen, as Edgar Gomez pitched to a 0.92 WHIP in 48 innings of relief. He allowed 31 hits in 48 innings. Brian Miller, who pitched Vanderbilt to a National Championship in June, made just seven appearances in a Renegades uniform before being promoted mid-season. Over 13 innings, Miller allowed two hits, walked one and struck out 16. Miller might just be the first player from this Renegades team to make it to the big leagues, considering his resume and his promotion-friendly position as a reliever.

In all, the Renegades’ pitching staff walked 2.4 batters per nine innings. Add that to a defense that committed the fewest errors in the league and the baseball purists among the Hudson Valley fan base were treated to some pretty sharp play this summer.

Renegades manager Tim Parenton goes through the signs in the third base coaches' box during a game at Dutchess Stadium. (Will Montgomery photo)

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR:

Tim Parenton spent the last 20-plus years coaching baseball at the high school and college levels but he decided he was ready for a new challenge. Parenton’s first season in professional baseball was a smashing success, as he led the Renegades to a division title and a playoff berth. It’s not an easy job, managing in the NY-PL. The clubhouse is a mixture of first round picks with multi-million signing bonuses and undrafted free agents chasing their dream. Language barriers and cultural differences make it an even more diverse place.

Under Parenton’s guidance and with his support, the Renegades had tremendous team chemistry. Prior to their pregame stretches, Hudson Valley players gathered to trade handshakes and jokes and laughs. As starting pitcher Chris Pike said before the playoffs, “You genuinely want to see your teammates do well. I think that’s one of the key aspects to help us win.”

Parenton deserves as much credit for that as he does for the Renegades’ won-loss record.

NY-PL REGULAR SEASON STATISTICAL LEADERS
1.17: team, lowest WHIP
7: Enderson Franco, tied for league lead in games won
42: Casey Gillaspie, league lead in walks drawn
47: Hunter Lockwood, tied for league lead in runs scored
106: team, league lead in stolen bases
134: Hunter Lockwood, league lead in total bases
175: team, fewest walks issued

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Say Hello to the Newburgh Newts

The East Coast Baseball League announced on Aug. 21 that it would be bringing professional baseball back to Orange County in 2015, with a team based at Delano-Hitch Stadium in Newburgh.

For more on that, click here for a blog post from last month.

Part of that announcement included a “name the team” contest.

The results are in.

The club will be known as the Newburgh Newts. Team colors and logos will be released by the end of September.

Another franchise, located in Welland, Ontario, Canada, will be known as the Niagara Wild.

“We had over 200 names sent it by the fans but the name Newts really stood out,” said Colin Cummins of NPBG. “It is definitely a different name and interesting creature. We are excited to be bringing professional baseball back to the city of Newburgh, NY. Each of the 30 home games at Delano-Hitch Stadium will be packed with exciting in-game entertainment and have a fun family atmosphere.”

The ECBL plans to announce the location of additional franchises in the near future. Newburgh will have 30 games at Delano-Hitch in 2015. Season tickets are available for purchase at eastcoastbaseballleague.com.

I’m not a herpetologist (someone who studies amphibians) so I’m not sure if there’s a specific species that adds some local flavor to the nickname. But it certainly is alliterative, offers some possibilities for logos and is sort of a neat play on Newburgh’s American Legion team, the Nuclears, commonly referred to as the Nucs (Nukes).

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Renegades ready for NY-PL playoffs

Hudson Valley Renegades outfielder Hunter Lockwood laughs with first base coach Manny Castillo after hitting a ground-rule double in the bottom of the ninth inning of a New York-Penn League game against the Tri-City ValleyCats at Dutchess Stadium on Aug. 11, 2014. (Will Montgomery photo).

The Hudson Valley Renegades begin their New York-Penn League semifinal playoff series on Wednesday with a 6:35 p.m. game against the State College Spikes at Dutchess Stadium.

I had a preview story in today’s Times Herald-Record, with some of the Renegades players talking about the special bonds they have with one another and how that has made the 2014 season one to remember. Click here to read that story.

The Renegades finished the regular season 46-30, which included a four-game losing streak to end the year. That dropped Hudson Valley from contention for the No. 1 seed, which would have meant home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Yet in the NY-PL playoffs, which feature best-of-three-game semifinals and championship series, the lower-seeded team gets the first game at home. So if the Renegades win on Wednesday night, they’d have to win one of two at State College on Thursday and Friday. It might actually be a blessing in disguise to get home field in Game 1.

Here are the pitching matchups for the series.

Game One

Wednesday

State College (Daniel Poncedelon, 3-3, 2.44 ERA) at Hudson Valley (Enderson Franco, 7-3, 3.28 ERA), 6:35 p.m.

Game Two

Thursday

Hudson Valley (Nolan Gannon, 6-2, 2.84 ERA) at State College (Will Anderson, 6-2, 2.43 ERA), 7:05 p.m.

Game Three (if necessary)

Friday

Hudson Valley (Hunter Wood, 3-4, 3.08 ERA) at State College (Fernando Baez, 2-2, 3.94 ERA), 7:05 p.m.

In the other semifinal, Tri-City plays Connecticut. Connecticut, which was tied with Brooklyn for the Wild Card spot on the final day of the season, clinched its berth with a 9-8 win over Lowell on Monday night.

Semifinal series winners will meet in a best-of-three championship series beginning either Saturday or Sunday, depending on how long the semifinal series last. If both series wrap up on Thursday after two games, the finals will start on Saturday, with the lowest remaining seed hosting Game 1.

One thing I know about this series is that the Renegades won’t approach the games any differently than they do their regular season contests. The starters will still be on their strict pitch counts/innings limits, but there may be some more flexibility in who comes out of the bullpen, how long they’re used and in what kind of situations. I would imagine there will be more matchup moves made for relief pitchers than there are during the regular season. Even if Franco is cruising through five or six innings, that’ll be all for him. So the bullpen will surely be tested one way or another in this series.

Season series: Hudson Valley and State College, the No. 2 seed, played just three games during the regular season. The Renegades made it a three-game sweep in the Keystone State from Aug. 2-4. Franco and Gannon pitched the first two games of that series and both earned wins. Oscar Armenta was the winner in the series finale. Hudson Valley allowed four runs in the three games, including a 2-0 win in Gannon’s start in the middle game.

Ones to watch:

State College

Danny Diekroeger, third base: A 10th round pick out of Stanford in June, Diekroeger is hitting .286 with 13 doubles, five home runs and 35 RBI. He has made 16 errors in 49 games at third this season.

Robelys Reyes, shortstop: A native of Valverde, Dominican Republic, Reyes is in his fifth season in the Cardinals’ minor league system. He’s a career .300 – on the nose – hitter in his minor league career. This season, he’s hitting .284, has 31 RBI and has scored 36 runs. He’s stolen 16 bases and has a .936 fielding percentage.

Alex De Leon, first base: A 23rd round pick from the University of Kansas in 2013, De Leon is in his second season in the NY-PL. It’s been a breakout year for a player who hit .197 in 38 games as a catcher with the Spikes last summer. This season, after shifting to first, De Leon has 17 doubles, nine home runs and 29 RBI on top of a .268 batting average.

Nick Thompson, left field: An eight round pick out of William & Mary in June, Thompson has had quite the eye at the plate. He’s hitting .282 and has also drawn 39 walks in 65 walks, pushing his on-base percentage to .396. He’s also got 12 doubles, five homers and 42 RBI.

Hudson Valley

Hunter Lockwood, left field: Lockwood has been one of the team’s leading hitters all season, as he carries a .266 average, 13 doubles, five triples, 13 homers and 46 RBI into the postseason. He’s scored a team-high 47 runs. Lockwood has also hit three walkoff homers at Dutchess Stadium this season, including one on opening night. Does he have any heroics left over for the playoffs?

Coty Blanchard, super utility: Blanchard has spent time at second, third, short and the outfield this year, giving Renegades manager Tim Parenton plenty of flexibility when it comes to putting a lineup together. Blanchard is hitting .298 with 15 doubles, five triples, two homers and 30 RBI. He also led the NY-PL with 22 stolen bases this season.

Alec Sole, shortstop: Sole played in 63 of the Renegades’ 76 games, thanks in large part to his excellent skills defensively. He made just nine errors all year. However, Sole finished the season with a .199 batting average. Will he come up with a clutch hit in a key spot this series or will he make any dazzling plays in the field?

Oscar Armenta and Chris Pike, starting pitchers: The other two fifths of the Renegades’ starting rotation this season, will Armenta and Pike be needed in relief in this series? If so, how do they adapt to the role change? Should the Renegades advance out of the semifinal round, expect Armenta and/or Pike to be called upon to start the opening games of the championship series.

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    Will Montgomery

    Will Montgomery covers boys' soccer, girls' basketball, boys' and girls' swimming and diving, boys' lacrosse and baseball (including the Hudson Valley Renegades) for Varsity845.com and the Times Herald-Record. Prior to joining the TH-R in November ... Read Full
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