MLB Game 162 2011

Remembering baseball’s best night ever: Game 162

It is times like this when the average fan will look back and remember some great moments in baseball history. The hot stove is rather cold, and we are still six weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting in the spring.

One of the greatest moments of the 21st century, if not ever, was the 162nd game of the 2011 regular season. I am not talking about one game in particular. I am talking about four different games that all led to one of the greatest finishes to a regular season ever.

Before we can focus on game 162, we need to know the context of the season.

September 2011

On Sept. 1, 2011, the Boston Red Sox were in first place of the AL East and were nine games ahead of the third place Tampa Bay Rays. In the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals were 7.5 games back of the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central and 8.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the Wild Card. Remember, this was the year before there were two Wild Card teams accepted from each league.

At the beginning of the month, everything was perfectly laid out for teams that looked playoff bound. Boston was a favorite to go to the World Series at the beginning of the year, and they looked poised to make another trip. However, they went 7-18 going into the last game of the season, and the Rays went 16-9 going into game 162. They were tied for the Wild Card with one game left, and everyone knew it would be exciting night just on that front.

The Cardinals were long shots for the postseason at the beginning of September. They were further back in the Wild Card than they were in the division. Luckily for them, the Braves went 8-17 going into game 162, while the Cardinals went a solid 16-10. This also left Atlanta and St. Louis tied for the NL Wild Card, just like the American League.

The hype for these games was there, and luckily for us, they did not disappoint one iota.

What was the situation for game 162?

Where even to start? The Cardinals were playing the Astros in Houston in what would be the last time Minute Maid Park would ever be a part of the National League. The Astros were also the worst team in the league with a lowly 56-105 record.

The Braves, on the other hand, were playing at home. The only problem is that they were playing the best team in the majors, and their bitter rival, the Philadelphia Phillies. Even though the Phillies had clinched the division and home field advantage through the entire postseason long before this game, they still had every intention of keeping their division rival out of the playoffs.

Much like the Cardinals, the Red Sox were on the road and they were playing one of the worst teams in the league in the Baltimore Orioles. Baltimore had lost the previous game, but were treating this last one like it was their World Series. Under no circumstances were they going to let Boston have a free ticket into the playoffs.

Down in Tampa, the Rays were playing the New York Yankees, who already clinched the AL East as well as home-field advantage through American League playoffs. The Rays had won five games in a row and had Boston sweating up in Baltimore. A Boston loss and a win against New York would give the Rays their third playoff birth in franchise history.

The National League

MLB Game 162 2011

The Braves collapse will go down as one of the “greatest” ever (Photo from NY Daily News)

The first domino to fall on the historic day was St. Louis beating Houston 8-0. It was a straight forward game that left the Cardinals confident they would have a ticket to the postseason. The problem was that the Phillies were down to the Braves 3-2 going into the ninth inning. It looked like the Braves would hold on amidst their September collapse.

Not so fast. Chase Utley flew out to left field to allow Pete Orr to score and tie the game. They were on the way to extra innings.

The Braves were not able to muster much of anything in extras. The closest they got was in the 12th where they had runners on first and second with two outs. Martin Prado proceeded to ground out, and they went to the 13th.

Hunter Pence came to bat in the 13th and was able to drive in the go-ahead run on an opposite field single. That gave the Phillies a 4-3 lead going into the bottom of the inning where the Braves would fight to stay alive.

Due up in the bottom of the inning were three of the Braves best hitters in Chipper Jones, Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman. Jones began the inning by striking out, followed by Uggla being walked. It was a runner at first with one out with the young Freeman at the plate. He then grounded to first base, where John Mayberry and Jimmy Rollins were able to turn the double play, and Freeman slammed his helmet on the ground in disgust, finishing off what was an epic collapse to miss the postseason.

The American League

The results of the day are not the only thing that makes these games incredible, but it was in the manner in which it happened. Fangraphs did an excellent piece on the timing and odds that went into the regular season finale in the American League.

To sum up the games, New York had taken a 7-0 lead over Tampa, while Boston had a 3-2 lead over Baltimore. It looked like Tampa had no chance of coming back and that Boston would hold on. The stadium had emptied out as all hopes of the postseason alluded the Tampa faithful. About half the stadium looked emptied out at this point. All those fans forgot the wise words of Lenny Kravitz.

It ain’t over til it’s over.

The Rays burst out for a six-run bottom of the eighth, largely thanks to a three-run home run by Evan Longoria. The only problem was that they were still down 7-6 going into the ninth inning. They were down, but not out.

MLB Game 162 2011

The Rays react to a stunning home run from Dan Johnson (Photo from mlb.com)

The Rays found themselves down to one out in the bottom of the ninth. Joe Maddon used Dan Johnson as a pinch hitter to try and save their season against Cory Wade. Johnson fell behind and eventually reached a 2-2 count. The season was all but lost. Then, something magical happened.

Johnson roped a ball around the right field post for his second home run all season long.

Johnson trotted around the bases taking in what would be one of the greatest moments of the year. Everyone in Tropicana field went nuts, except for the skipper, Joe Maddon, who was stunned beyond belief.

It wasn’t over yet though. Boston and Baltimore had been in a rain delay, and they were just beginning to resume their game with Boston leading 3-2. They went to the bottom of the ninth, and Jonathan Papelbon had retired the first two hitters, and Baltimore was down to their final out.

Chris Davis was at the plate and was able to rope a ball down the right field line and get to second base for a two-out double. Nolan Reimold proceeded to drive a ball into the right-center gap for a ground-rule double to tie the game. Papelbon was just trying to get out of the inning at this point with Robert Andino at the plate. Andino was batting just .262 and was not a big threat at the plate. No problem for Papelbon, right?

MLB Game 162 2011

Mike Aviles walked off the field watching Baltimore celebrate their improbable victory (Photo from New York Times)

Wrong. Andino hit a line drive to the left fielder, Carl Crawford. Crawford bobbled the ball on the hop as he tried to make a play to catch the ball. That brief moment where he could not gather the ball led Reimold to round third base. Reimold steamrolled into home and just beat the throw. You might have thought that Baltimore had just won the World Series after that play.

Even after the blown save by Papelbon, the Red Sox still had hope. Hope that relied on the dreaded New York Yankees taking an extra-inning lead against the Rays. A moment where the Red Sox and their fan base would pray all they could for the Yankees to win, a true once in a lifetime moment. That moment was short lived.

It was not but three minutes later that those hopes would go down the drain.

Evan Longoria, the cornerstone player of Tampa Bay, perfectly fit a baseball just over the 315-foot marker on the short left field wall. The Rays came back from the grave in the Wild Card race in game 162 to stun the Boston Red Sox, who had just lost a heartbreaker 1,000 miles away.

The Aftermath

Terry Francona left as the Red Sox manager shortly after they blew their postseason chances. The Tampa Bay Rays lost in four games to the Texas Rangers, who eventually went on to the World Series.

The Philadelphia Phillies played the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, the very team they allowed to enter the postseason after they stunned Atlanta. They lost the series to the Cardinals after a stunning performance by Chris Carpenter, outdueling the great Roy Halladay.

St. Louis went on to beat the Texas Rangers in seven games in the World Series in stunning fashion. That story is for another day though.

 

Featured image from the Tampa Bay Times

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Domingo Santana fantasy

Domingo Santana fantasy: By the numbers

Domingo Santana broke out in 2017, finishing as a top-20 outfielder in standard ESPN fantasy baseball leagues, ahead of players like Cody Bellinger, Christian Yelich, Andrew Benintendi and Andrew McCutchen. Was Santana’s 2017 season a fluke, or a sign of what’s to come?

Background

Domingo Santana fantasy

Domingo Santana was traded to the Houston Astros in a multi-player deal that sent All-Star outfielder Hunter Pence to Philadelphia. (Photo from Wikipedia.com)

Santana originally signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009 as an international free agent. After three mediocre minor league seasons in low and single-A, Santana was traded to the Houston Astros in a multi-player deal that sent All-Star outfielder Hunter Pence to Philadelphia.

In his first full minor league season with Houston, Santana batted .302 with 23 home runs, 87 runs scored and 97 RBIs in 119 games in high-A. He was promoted to double-A in 2013 and batted .252 with 25 home runs, 72 runs scored and 64 RBIs in 112 games. Although there was a bit of regression in his batting average and BABIP from 2012 to 2013, the Astros felt enough comfort to continue Santana’s ascension through the minors.

In 2014, Santana played 120 games with the triple-A Oklahoma City Red Hawks, where he would bat .296 with 16 home runs, 63 runs scored and 81 RBIs. His first major league action came in 2014, but in his six games and 18 plate appearances, Santana failed to record a hit and struck out 77.8 percent of the time.

Santana began his 2015 campaign in Oklahoma City. After 75 games played with a .320 batting average and 16 home runs, the Astros decided to trade the then 22-year-old and others to the Milwaukee Brewers for starting pitcher Mike Fiers and All-Star outfielder Carlos Gomez. Santana continued his success that season, batting .380 with 18 RBIs in the remaining 20 games of the season with the triple-A Colorado Springs Sky Sox.

In 2016, Santana began the year in the major leagues with Milwaukee, but only played in 77 games due to right elbow and shoulder injuries that landed him on the disabled list on two separate occasions. Santana went on to bat .256 with 11 home runs and 32 RBIs, putting him on a 162-game pace to hit 23 home runs with 67 RBIs.

2017 season 

2017 will be considered Santana’s breakout campaign. In 151 games, a 24-year-old Santana batted .278 with 30 home runs, 88 runs scored, 85 RBIs and 15 stolen bases. He managed to finish as a top-20 fantasy baseball outfielder and can be considered one of the biggest draft steals of the season.

Among qualified batters, Santana’s BABIP, or batting average on balls in play, ranked sixth highest with .363, and his strikeout rate ranked ninth worst at 29.3 percent. Out of the four professional seasons in which Santana played in over 100 games, he has registered a BABIP of at least .316 and strikeout rate above 28 percent. Santana fits in perfectly in this new era of baseball where sluggers are not afraid to strikeout, as guys like Aaron Judge (30.7), Khris Davis (29.9), Eric Thames (29.6) and Justin Upton (28.3) all managed to hit 30 or more home runs while striking out at least 28 percent of the time.

2018 outlook

Domingo Santana fantasy

Domingo Santana batted .278 with 30 home runs, 88 runs scored, 85 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 2017. (Photo by AP Photo/Tom Lynn)

Due to his unproven track record and playing in Milwaukee, Santana’s cost is sure to be discounted on draft day. Do I think he will hit 30 home runs again? No, as his 30.9 home run to fly ball rate seems unsustainable, as it ranked third in the MLB behind only Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.

Do I think he will steal 15 bases again? Yes, as Milwaukee has finished within the top two in stolen bases in the last two seasons, suggesting that Santana will have no problem swiping double-digit bags.

Do I think he can score and drive in over 80 runs? Yes, as he spent the majority of the season batting fifth, and even spent seven of his last 23 games batting second. This suggests that Milwaukee will use Santana in multiple fantasy friendly spots in the top half of their lineup in 2018.

Finally, do I think he can bat above .275? No, as his BABIP ranked sixth highest in the MLB at .363, suggesting that luck was on his side in 2017. I understand his medium and hard contact rates are impressive at 39.7 percent and 48.6 percent respectively, but I anticipate pitchers to continue to make adjustments, as Santana batted .291 in the first half, and just .262 in the second.

Overall, I think Santana will be a solid fantasy asset and will finish the year batting around .260 with 25 home runs, 80 runs scored, 80 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. In my mind, he will finish as a top-40 outfielder in 2018. Feel free to let me know your thoughts on Domingo Santana and his outlook heading into the 2018 MLB season.

 

Featured image by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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NL Wildcard Down the Home Stretch

We’re finally at twilight of the MLB regular season, and while all of the divisions in the NL have been clinched, there’s still three teams hunting for the final two wildcard spots. Here, I’ll look at the remaining schedule for each team and make my picks on who ends up snagging the last two spots in this photo finish to make the postseason.

New York Mets – (83-73) +1 

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Asdrubal Cabrera has been phenomenal this September. Photo courtesy of northjersey.com

The Mets have been one of the biggest surprises in the second half of this season, and they’ve continued to make their shocking playoff run with fewer and fewer players from their Opening Day roster. With Jacob deGrom undergoing season-ending elbow surgery last Wednesday, and Steven Matz ending up on the DL in late August, only Bartolo Colon and Noah Syndergaard have made it all the way from April to the end of September in the rotation.

The injuries haven’t only only plagued the Mets’ pitching, though, but this offense has really stepped up in the face of adversity in these past couple months. Asdrubal Cabrera, in particular, has been on fire since returning from injury in mid-August. Since then, he’s hitting .360, with ten homers, including a monster, come from behind, three run walk-off homer in extras against the Phillies last week (followed by a wicked bat flip). But it hasn’t just been Asdrubal Cabrera providing at the plate, the entire Mets offense seemed to wake up in that four-game set against the Phils, averaging 11 runs per game, compared to their average of four per game throughout 2016. Obviously this is a small sample size against a Phillies team that isn’t that great, but to be cliche, every win counts at this stage of the season regardless of who it’s against.

The Mets head to Miami for a three-game set against a grieving Marlins team before getting another three games against the Phillies team that their offense saw so much success against to finish out the 2016 regular season. If the offense stays hot, they can really take advantage of these struggling pitching staffs, it then falls on the remnants of the Mets pitching staff to hold things together on the mound.

San Francisco Giants – (82-74) 

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Hunter Pence will have to provide a spark for San Fran’s offense this week. Photo courtesy of nbcbaseball.com

The Giants currently hold a half game lead over St. Louis for the second wildcard spot, which certainly isn’t where most people saw them sitting coming into the All-Star Break, up eight games over the Dodgers (LA’s playoff odds were 24.1% at that point according to ESPN). San Fran has been having some trouble lately, going 10-14 so far this month. However, they can eliminate all of their past mistakes and continue their even-year legacy by cementing a playoff spot over these next six games.

The bullpen has been shaky for the Giants, and hopefully a day off on Monday before their final six games will give them a chance to recollect themselves before crunch time. They blew a six run lead against San Diego on Saturday, but were able to salvage the game in extras. They weren’t so lucky the following day, giving up the tying and winning runs in the 5th and 7th runs respectively, on their way to a 4-3 loss, which also allowed the Mets to take a full game lead over them in the wildcard.

The bullpen isn’t the only struggling entity for the Giants right now, as their offense ranks at the bottom of the MLB in a number of categories, according to ESPN’s Dave Schoenfield. The team is hitting just .220 as a whole, which puts even more pressure on the bullpen by not being able to provide insurance runs later in the game. Hunter Pence has been the team’s top performer this month, and is looking much stronger now than he did when he was first returning from his two-month stint on the DL. He’s hitting .315 with four homers and 12 RBIs. He, and the rest of the Giants offense, will really need to step up and provide their starters and bullpen with some breathing room in this final week.

The Giants play six games at home to end out the season, three vs. Colorado and three against the Dodgers. Their final series is highlighted by some critical pitching duels: Madison Bumgarner vs. Clayton Kershaw on Friday, and Johnny Cueto vs. Rich Hill on Saturday.

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Can Adam Wainwright lead the Cards back to the playoffs? Photo courtesy of grantland.com

St. Louis Cardinals – (81-74) 0.5 GB

The Cards are the only team of the three that plays a game every day this week. They have a chance to level the playing field with the Giants on Monday, making it a very simple race beginning on Tuesday. Their offense has been getting help from some unexpected places this month, with some of the bigger names on the roster experiencing some very untimely slumps. Randal Grichuk has led the team with 15 RBIs and four homers this month. Brandon Moss, on the other hand, has hit just .071 in what has statistically been the worst month of his career. The offense as a whole has struggled with consistency, but all of that can be erased with a strong showing for seven games this week.

The rotation saw a lot of hype with the additions of prospects Luke Weaver and Alex Reyes being added to give an air of pseudo-rebuilding while still making a playoff run. For Reyes, it’s been great. He’s 4-1 since joining the rotation in August (3-1 in September) with a 1.58 ERA and has won his last three starts. Weaver, on the other hand, has gone 1-4 with a 4.54 ERA in eight starts. He’s been replaced by Jaime Garcia coming into this critical week. The older guys on the team, Carlos Martinez and Adam Wainwright, have been doing nicely this month and Wainwright will get the start in the Cards final regular season game on Sunday.

The Cardinals play seven games at home to finish out the regular season. They play four against the Reds before finishing up against the Pirates. Luckily, their struggling offense avoids any major pitching threats in their final week, which I think will play to their advantage. Both offenses have also been mediocre this year, so barring any pitching meltdowns I think St. Louis is in decent shape coming down the stretch.

Last Two Spots – New York & St. Louis

I think the Giants have the most difficult schedule here at the end, and they’re playing a Dodgers team who can still try to snag the higher seed for their series against Washington in the postseason. The Mets offense has come from out of nowhere as of late, and they have defied all expectations set for them thus far in the second half, and I think they’ll continue to do so here.

 

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5 Reasons the San Francisco Giants will win the 2016 World Series

Spring training has started and it is now time to make predictions for the upcoming baseball season. 2016 has plenty of capable teams that can win the championship, making it an exciting season to look forward to.  The San Francisco Giants will win their fourth World Series since 2010. Here are five reasons why:

Manager Bruce Bochy is a future Hall of Famer. Photo courtesy zimbio.com.

  1. Bruce Bochy

Bruce Bochy is the greatest manager of this era. He is entering his tenth year as manager of the Giants, and he has won three World Series Championships as their manager. Bochy even took the Padres to the World Series during his stint as their manager in 1998. He is very good with the strategy side of baseball and gets the most out of his players. Bochy also knows how to manage a pitching staff, which has paid off in multiple postseason games.

Madison Bumgarner is one of the best pitchers in baseball. Photo courtesy of sportingnews.com.

2. Starting Pitching

The Giants will have one of the best rotations in the history of baseball this season. Their number one starter is Madison Bumgarner, who has already proven he is one of the best pitchers in baseball, with a career ERA of 3.04. This off-season the Giants acquired Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, both of whom are top of the rotation starters. Cueto has an ERA below 3 since 2011, while pitching for a National League team, making him an ace. He did struggle after being traded to the Royals last season, but should regain his form this season. Samardzija is a former great pitcher, who will also have to regain his form. Rounding out the rotation are Jake Peavy and Matt Cain, both of whom are former aces, who have some good pitching left.

Buster Posey will be in the Baseball Hall of Fame along with his manager. Photo courtesy of usatoday.com.

3. Buster Posey

Many players have come and gone since San Francisco’s first World Series win in 2010, but Buster Posey has been a constant. He has a career batting average of .310 and will be in the Baseball Hall of Fame when his career ends. Posey is a solid defensive catcher, but is also capable of playing first base, which gives the Giants more options during the season. Posey is just entering his prime, as he will be 29 when this season starts.

4. It is an even year

The Giants have won the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014. They failed to make the playoffs in the years in between. There is really no rhyme or reason to make this a legitimate reason of why the Giants will win the World Series, but baseball is a sport in which players are superstitious and weird things happen.

Hunter Pence is a player fans love to pick on, but he produces. Photo courtesy city-data.com.

5. Hunter Pence

Hunter Pence is the most unique player in all of baseball. When he played for the Houston Astros, his walk-up music was “California Girls” by Katy Perry. People hold up signs of him saying he does awkward things, like play Marv in the Home Alone movies or wear crocs. What is missed when people think about Hunter Pence is his effort and play style. He isn’t afraid to dive for balls or get pumped after getting a big hit. His energy is something that Bochy says leads the team and raises the level of play of his teammates. If that isn’t enough to convince people that Hunter Pence is a key to the Giants’ success this season, look no further than his .284 career batting average and his 729 career RBI.

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