Surreal has become one of those overused terms used more and more by athletes and their coaches to describe things that happen in the course of events and, while occasionally it may be apt, too often it is not. For instance, if a pitcher from the American League has to bat in an interleague game or the World Series and he hits a triple off a Cy Young Award winning pitcher, that’s an unusual thing but it’s not surreal. Now, if a manager called time out and approached the mound in order to replace his pitcher and the pitcher suddenly transformed into a giant cockroach and bit the manager’s head off, that would be surreal, like Jefferson Airplane’s pillow. The 2016 World Series managed to come close to being surreal, especially when rain starting pouring down as extra innings approached but let’s just call it bizarre and go from there.
Corey Kluber, Francisco Lindor,Jason Kipnis and most of those tough, gritty, never say die Clevelanders will most assuredly remain in contention for the World Series for many years to come even if some veterans like Carlos Santana and Rajai Davis begin to fade away. Cleveland, playing without some of its best players due to injuries (Michael Brantley, Carlos Carrasco, most of Danny Salazar) went up against the powerhouse Cubs and very nearly pulled it off. The midseason acquisition of Andrew Miller obviously helped a lot but the core of this team is solid. Their one vulnerability is outfield defense, which finally showed itself in the last two games, but the return of Brantley will help that problem. This team seemed to take many observers by surprise, but that is only because we hadn’t seen them very much and their success through most of the playoffs confirmed my prejudice that strong starting pitching is still the basis of winning baseball.
Jake Arrieta‘s home run and a pleasant sprinkling of other hits by pitchers throughout the playoffs confirmed another prejudice—that the designated sitter is for slow pitch softball only. Also, I think we saw ample evidence that teams with players that know how to bunt successfully and are willing to do it can score more runs than the teams that prefer to pop up or hit into double plays. Another difference that pitchers batting makes is that the managers may choose to use a pinch hitter at times to replace them. This might have fouled up Madman Maddon’s overuse of Aroldis Chapman in the sixth and seventh games. The Cubs won the series but, while I have long been a Joe Maddon fan because of his unorthodox thinking and refreshing approach, I think he was blowing the series for his team but that his players picked him up, as they say. Arrieta and Hendricks both came out of their last starts too soon. Maddon was reminding me of the tight sphincter reaction of Matt Williams‘ removal of Jordan Zimmermann a couple of playoffs ago that helped the Giants eventually beat the Nationals in the 2014 N.L. championship series. I think sometimes that a manager who, like us in our uneasy chairs rooting at home, gets nervous and feels like he just has to do something so he changes pitchers. Maddon, having won, is covered, but here’s what I think the repercussions of that kind of maneuvering are: the starter pulled too soon is shown a lack of confidence which may surface in the future to the detriment of the team and himself; the rest of the bullpen gets a loud and clear message that they are thought not good enough and, as in the seventh game, when they have to be used after all, the message may be resonating. Is that putting too much psychology into it? Aren’t these big boys playing at the highest level who are confident, secure people? Well, so far, humans are still human. As for Chapman, maybe he is that strong. Or, maybe things won’t be so rosy when spring training rolls around for whatever team he pitches for next.
All of that brings up another favorite prejudice of mine, the almost absurdly funny fascination with the closer as I described in a previous diatribe. Francona, unlike Maddon, was pretty much forced to use the bullpen earlier and more frequently due to the fact that two of his starters were injured in September and the probably correct decision was made to use only three starters. Thus, the way Andrew Miller was used was more like the way relievers were used back in the day: get us out of trouble now. I predict that the whole emphasis on “closers” will one day, perhaps soon, go away.
It was a great series after all, however, and my one last complaint is that it’s too bad that so many young (and old!) people were not able to enjoy it “live” because Generalissimo Rupert had to have all night games. Many bright stars like Javier Baez, Roberto Perez, Addison Russell, and Kyle Schwarber were on display and gave us thrills. And Kyle Hendricks. Maybe the real reason I got mad at Maddon was that he ruined my quip that, with the game so near the rock and roll Hall of Fame, my money was on Hendrix.