A stellar rotation or a stellar bullpen. Choose one and you'll likely find the key to postseason success.
The ability to shorten games is how teams win in the postseason. Just take a look at our two World Series-bound teams.
The Royals have long been known as a team with a great bullpen, thanks to Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, Greg Holland (until he got injured), and Ryan Madson. The trio of Herrera, Davis, and Madson did not post an ERA above 2.71 this season.
The Mets, on the other hand, might not have as strong of a bullpen as Kansas City, but they more than make up for it in their rotation. The Mets rode Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Bartolo Colon to where they are today.
What's the common theme between these two teams? The ability to shorten games.
The Royals get that ability at the end of games, where they only need six or seven solid innings from their starter in order to win. Kansas City has gone 157-4 when leading after seven innings, including postseason, according to STATS LLC.
Being able to have the confidence in a bullpen to completely shut down the opposing team when the game is at its highest leverage has allowed the Royals to get back to the World Series in back-to-back years.
For the Mets, it's almost the complete opposite. They were able to use their scary starting rotation to limit the amount of innings they needed from their bullpen. This meant that they could get closer to their closer and by far best reliever, Jeurys Familia faster.
In Games 1-3 in the NLCS against the Cubs combined, the Mets only used four relief pitchers that were not named Jeurys.
In Game 1, they used this strategy to almost perfect execution, getting 7 2/3 masterful innings from Matt Harvey. They then immediately turned it over to Familia, who shut the door on the Cubs for a four-out save.
In Game 3, something similar happened. Jacob deGrom went seven strong. Following three outs from Tyler Clippard, the Mets turned the ball back to Familia, who recorded the save once again.
So, you don't need to have an amazing bullpen from top to bottom to win playoff series. What you need to have, however, is a way to shut the door on teams, whether that be early in the game or late in the game. That's what is going to make this 2015 World Series so fun.
See you on Tuesday.
Daniel Murphy has "made himself millions" with his postseason performance, said one scout to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
Murphy has been the Mets' unsung hero this October, homering for his fifth time tonight in the playoffs.
Already a hot topic is whether the Mets should extend Murphy a qualifying offer, a one-year, $15.8 million deal. If he declines the offer, then the Mets get a first round draft pick if he signs elsewhere. My thought is that if he accepts the offer (still no player has), the Mets could handle the salary on their payroll for just one season, even if Murphy is $2-4 million overpaid.
Murphy, traditionally the Mets' second baseman, also provides a plus with his versatility, also being able to play third and first base if needed. That should also help his value, mostly due to the fact that that could bring more teams into play for his services.
Using MLB Trade Rumors' transaction tracker, I have determined what I believe could be considered a good, comparable contract to what Murphy could get this offseason.
Nick Swisher: Four-years, $56 million ($14 million AAV)
Chase Headley: Four-years, $52 million ($13 million AAV)
Aramis Ramirez: Three-years, $36 million ($12 million AAV)
Omar Infante: Four-years, $30.25 million ($7.56 million AAV)
It's really hard for me to imagine Murphy getting Infante-type money, especially considering the lack of depth of second basemen on the free agent market. Generally speaking, Murphy is a guy who could fit in the $10-15 million AAV range, depending on how well teams value his power.
One scout told Joel Sherman of the New York Post that Murphy “has been on everything, pulled for power more than I can ever remember and made me start to think if you put him in the right stadium would some of all those doubles he hits every year turn into 20-plus homers annually?”
Murphy, statistically-speaking, has already been an above-average player regardless of his home run totals. According to FanGraphs, Murphy has posted Wins Above Replacement totals of 3.1, 2.5, and 2.5 over the past three years, respectively.
If a team believed that they could be buying into Murphy at a minimum of 5-6 Wins Above Replacement over the next three to four seasons and a maximum (depending on his power totals) of a 9-11 Wins Above Replacement, we could possibly see Murphy's free agent contract balloon above Headley's and Swisher's.
With everything lining up the way it has been, coupled with the fact that Murphy has been consistently solid over the past three seasons, he could be in for a fairly large payday at the end of this season. My prediction is that Murphy signs a four-year, $60 million contract as a first-time free agent this offseason.
So what does this all have to do with the Mets? I personally think this means they should extend Murphy a qualifying offer this offseason. If he re-signs the deal, they could be paying a tad bit more than he would be getting as a free agent for his production totals. However, it's just a one-year deal. If he declines (which is still way more likelier), the Mets can guarantee themselves another first round pick in next year's draft. Decisions like these can make or break front offices.
We will have to see how it all plays out, but the winner of these playoffs might not be the Mets, but it will surely be Daniel Murphy.
Chase Utley's slide in the seventh inning was probably not the cleanest.
He slid hard into Ruben Tejada behind second base at Dodgers' Stadium to break up a double play, injuring the Mets' shortstop. The game-tying run scored.
Neither Utley nor Tejada touched the bag at second base, however. But after a delay and a review, Utley was ruled safe. The umpires determined that because Utley was ruled out initially, he never was required to touch second base. So by overturning the umpire's call there, Utley was safe.
The "neighborhood play" was also not in effect there. A shortstop or second baseman does not have to touch the base in an instance of staying out of the runners' way. If a neighborhood play occurs, and the middle infielder gets close enough to the base so that the umpire thinks the runner is out, he will be called out. These types of plays are not reviewable.
In this instance, however, Major League Baseball determined that because the throw was off the bag to begin with, and Tejada having to make that spin, that was a force play and not a neighborhood play, making it a force play, which is reviewable. And because Utley never touched second base, he was called safe.
Regardless, the slide was dirty. It doesn't look like Utley even tried to slide into the bag, and stuck his hand out to make it appear like he wanted to get into the base. But by taking out Tejada, especially with a possibly playoff-changing injury in a broken right fibula, Utley's slide, or tackle as some like to refer it, was not clean.
MLB Rule 6.01(6) states as follows:
If, in the judgment of the umpire, a base runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead. The umpire shall call the runner out for interference and also call out the batter-runner because of the action of his teammate. In no event may bases be run or runs scored because of such action by a runner.
If MLB enforced that rule, Utley should have been out by interference and no run would have scored. However, it isn't enforced like it should be.
Joe Torre, MLB's Chief Baseball Officer, noted that these types of plays will be under consideration for a rule change. Additionally, MLB will try and experiment with them in the Arizona Fall League.
"...in the Fall League we're having the players work on sliding directly into the bag, just to see how that works and stuff," Torre said in a press conference.
The Dodgers went on to win the game 5-2 and the Mets' regular shortstop Tejada is out for the rest of the postseason. This NLDS series took a huge swing just because of a slide into second base.
The Cubs came exactly as scripted in last night's 4-0 win in the NL Wild Card Game.
Jake Arrieta was masterful. Kyle Schwarber was powerful. The team was headstrong. They played just as they had been playing all season. They were unfazed by 40,000 fans, all in black, rooting for the opposition.
I picked the Cubs to win the World Series. It was just an impulse of mine. I didn't think the Blue Jays, the pre-postseason favorite, could deliver on their promises. I'm not a fan of the Mets streakiness. I don't like the Dodgers' hitting. The Royals' managing is just as questionable.
One by one, team by team, I continued to find reasons why every single postseason team wouldn't win the World Series.
Then I came to the Cubs.
And why not? The Royals made it to the World Series last year, even though everyone had Jon Lester and the A's knocking them off in the Wild Card game. So why not the Cubs?
This is a deep team with a good manager, great hitting and defense, and, overall, good-enough-to-get-by pitching. They've got the intangibles too: hunger, fight, and heart.
What really bothered me by the pick was the Wild Card game. The Cubs don't have a lot of postseason experience to say the least. The oldest man in their regular starting lineup is 31-year-old catcher Miguel Montero. Five are 25 or younger.
The Wild Card game bothered me because the Cubs might get fazed by the rambunctious, loud, and proud Pittsburgh fans and a team that has been in this position before.
I overlooked something right in front of me: Jake Arrieta.
By Bill James' pitching game score, Arrieta's pitching performance last night was the third-best start he's made all season, even in a year where he posted an absurd 0.75 ERA in the second half. Arrieta struck out 11, walked none, and pitched a shutout.
"I didn't want to see anybody in the bullpen," Arrieta said, via MLB.com. "I wanted to finish what I started and be the guy to get the last out. That was the mindset."
And the script continues to get written.
The 2015 regular season has come to an end. Twenty teams went home packing for the offseason today, ending what has been a long road of just over six months of baseball. With the Cover Those Bases season awards, I am selecting who best made the 2015 season a great one. Without further ado, here are my selections.