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East Carolina Hall of Fame member
and former baseball coach Keith
LeClair.  (Photo: ECU Media Relations)

View last week's FROM THE DUGOUT...

Send Coach LeClair a baseball question...
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From The Dugout

[Editor's note: This feature coordinated by Denny O'Brien]

East Carolina Hall of Fame coach Keith LeClair is back for his weekly no-holds-barred analysis of America's favorite past time.

While most Pirates fans have kept their eyes glued to the gridiron radar, Coach LeClair has been closely monitoring the Major League Playoffs and has your analysis right here, along with the answers to all your questions.

Think you're ready to step on the mound and challenge Coach LeClair? By all means do. Fire your best pitch right here: coachleclair@bonesville.net. Or, if you just want to drop a line to the coach and say hello, use this address: komaha23@cox.net.


Divisional Series Game-by-Game Analysis

By Keith LeClair

Yankees-Twins

GAME ONE

In Game One, you donít have to look far to understand why the Yankees lost. Most often as fans, we want to talk about the great players and all the big things they have to do to win games. Reality is that most games are won and lost by doing the little things. Great example was in Tuesdayís Game One. The Yanks made several little mistakes that could very well have cost them the game. When Bernie Williams took a bad angle to the ball on a line drive that got by him, two runs scored. Two runs that could have been prevented, but it didnít end there. If you remember, Sorianoís relay throw was over the head of Boone at third, enabling the runner to score. This run scored from a lack of hustle or mental lapse from the left fielder. The pitcherís responsibility is to back up home and the left fielderís job is to back up third on a ball in the right-center gap with a man on first. If you watched the play you would have noticed Matsui was nowhere close. Two little things on one play cost the Yanks two runs.

Another little thing occurred early in the game when Guzman stole third and the throw from Pasada beat the runner, and Boone, instead of taking the tag to the base, tried to swipe-tag the runner and missed him. I know I am being a little critical, but these are the little things that cost your team wins. That certainly is not typical of the Yankees.

On the other hand, the Twins played great defense and situational hit. Plus, they pitched absolutely superb and Hawkins was lights out coming in from bullpen.

Red Sox-Athletics

GAME ONE

This game breaks my heart and possibly the Soxís back. Itís tough to come back on the road when you lose in twelve innings after blowing a lead in the ninth. I must admit, I didnít see the game because of start time, but my fear of the closer Kim became a reality when he walked the first guy and hit the second.

I bet I know one Boston fan who saw every pitch and he lives in Greenville ó my man coach Herrion. Yes, Coach is a die-hard Sox fan and knows his baseball. As for me it was way past my bedtime so thatís all I have on Boston and Oakland.

GAME TWO

What won the American League West for Oakland so far is shutting down the Sox, and thatís pitching. Barry Zito really pitched well mixing his fastball and breaking ball to keep Boston off balance all day. He was able elevate his fastball up and down with command that enabled him to use his breaking ball as his out pitch. The only jam he really got into all day was early in the game when the Sox had men on second and third when Guillen made nice play in left center on ball Ramirez hit. After that jam, he settled down and got command of his breaking ball, which was nearly unhittable from that point on.

On Bostonís side of the ball, the play that really hurt was Walkerís error that cost two runs. I talked about Mike Hampton managing to not give up the big inning when he had bases loaded and no outs. The opposite happened to Tim Wakefield in game two, although that error wasnít his fault. But when it went from 3-1 to 5-1, it really allowed Zito to relax and really find his breaking ball. The first couple of innings, Zito overthrew his breaking ball and couldnít find the zone with it. Once he got the lead and pitched out of the third-inning jam, he appeared much more confident and loose with the deuce.

Wakefield only gave up six hits and really pitched OK, except for the five-run second. In a short series, pitching ó especially starting pitching ó is key. Boston got into the playoffs with offense and will have to hit its way back into the series, or it will be time for Bostonians to turn to the Bruins. For anyone who doesnít know, thatís a hockey team. As a Sox fan, I canít wait to get back to Fenway Park. Coach Herrion, donít give up quite yet. The Sox in five and you heard it right here first.

Braves-Cubs

GAME ONE

Due to the Piratesí football game, I only got to see Gilesí homerun and a few other outs of Game 1. I did see the highlights and Kerry Wood just dominated the Braves lineup. I said before the series the Cubs provided a difficult match-up for the Braves because of their dominating right-handed hitting lineup. Woods and Prior are just so difficult on righties, not that lefties can hit them any better.

GAME TWO

A must win for the Braves and they had to overcome only John Smoltzís fourth blown save in the ninth. But this game was won early in the contest when the Braves were down two-zip and the Cubs had bases loaded and nobody out when Mike Hampton struck out the next three guys. Little things like this get lost in the shuffle when we read the final score.

Tommy Eason, my pitching coach for four seasons at ECU, always preached to our staff not to give up the big inning, to battle for every out and find ways to pitch yourself out of jams. A lot of pitchers will crumble in these situations and give up. In game two, you saw Mike Hampton bow his neck and make quality pitches when he had to.

On offense, the Braves made some outstanding adjustments on Zambrano that got them back in the game. Early in the game, they were pulling off balls and it looked like it was going to be a long night until they banged three balls the opposite way to get things going, capped off by a Marcus Gilesí pinch-hit single to right field. This was a great lesson for young hitters to see these guys keep their hands inside the baseball and drive the ball to the opposite field. Hats off to Terry Pendleton, the hitting coach, for getting those guys to make adjustments. By the way, Pendleton will be a great manager in the near future.

Give credit to the Cubs for battling back against Smoltz to tie the score in the eighth, only to see Mark DeRosa deliver a big two-run double in the bottom half. I always told my bench guys they better be ready because you never know when your chance will come, and that hit may be what decides this series.

Game Three, Maddux versus Prior. The Braves better win because Kerry Wood is ready to go in Game Four.

Marlins-Giants

GAME ONE

This was a classic match-up between two great young pitchers. You got the feeling all the Giants needed to do was scratch one run across for Schmidt to win. His stuff and command was a lot of fun to watch for nine innings, not to mention Josh Beckett almost matched him pitch-for-pitch. The only difference was the fact Beckett didnít have quite the command Schmidt showed. Of course, he didnít have Bonds to pitch to either.

As I said prior to the series, Bonds could be walked two or three times a game and that was the case. Only problem, Bonds is such a great athlete that can run, he has the ability to steal bases and score runs, instead of driving them in ó and thatís exactly what happened. Giants win two-zip and Bonds scored both runs, if I am not mistaken. Itís such a tough decision whether to pitch and go at Bonds or walk him. In any case, Schmidt was the difference, tossing a three-hit shutout.

GAME TWO

Watch out, the Marlins are back and headed to Miami where they are tough to beat at home. Itís so good to see a young club bounce back from being shutout to score nine runs. That goes to show you the kind of leadership Jack McKeon has provided for this Marlins team.

The Marlins are so balanced on offense that it is hard to keep them down long. They can beat you with their speed and ability to spray the ball in the gaps with occasional power as we saw in Game Two. The guy that got them going yesterday and all year is Juan Pierre. He is a prototype leadoff hitter that can run and spray the ball around from foul line to foul line. He is so fast out of the box that the infield has to play much more shallow than usual and that allows more of his ground balls to get through, especially on the corners with his ability to bunt. Pierre also puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the pitcher when he is on base and forces him to throw more fastballs. Thatís why it is critical that your two-hole hitter can handle the hard stuff.

The Marlins bullpen also did a good job after Penny came out of the game. They kept the Giants in check and that allowed the Marlins to come back and build their lead. Both Pavano and Looper did a good job getting out of jams in relief. The Marlins bullpen is deep, talented and young. Only thing I questioned was using Willis in relief after he had been up in the pen so many times getting ready to come in earlier in the game.

As for the Giants, they were sloppy on defense, allowing the Marlins several four-out innings, which cost them three runs, and neither did Ponson nor the bullpen throw well. For the Giants to win, the bullpen has to step up, because outside of Schmidt, they will probably have to win the game.

The bright spot in Game Two was Alfonso swinging the bat so well behind Bonds. If he can continue to do that, it will force the Marlins to pitch to Bonds.

Game Three, you have two crafty lefties going ó Rueter for the Giants and Redman for the Marlins. It will be interesting to see which guy can give his team six solid innings.

Q&A with Coach LeClair

Mike Morgan: I'm a huge Braves fan and anyone who plays the Yankees. I wanted to know your picks on the NL & AL MVP. The so called experts are picking Gagne for NL MVP, even though he is hated by all Atlanta fans because of his choke job in the All Star game, costing the NL home field advantage. As for the AL, it's up in the air??

Coach LeClair: National League, this could be disputed by many fans, but if I had to vote I would have to go with Albert Pujols. What he did this year was absolutely remarkable. He ended up tied for the league lead in hitting at .358, fourth in home runs, fourth in runs batted in and first in slugging percentage. I know Barry Bonds had an incredible year and is very deserving of the MVP as well, but I just think Pujols is the MVP. As for Eric Gagne, even though his numbers are absolutely ridiculous, I personally think pitchers have a Cy Young award for a reason, and he is the unanimous choice for that award. I am biased to position players because I played everyday as a player myself and know the grind it can be, especially when you play 162 games. I know I will probably get ripped for this pick, but that's just one of many opinions on who the MVP is.

American League, your guess is as good as mine, but since I am a Red Sox fan, Manny Ramirez wins. I know Alex Rodriguez had a great year, but he didn't do it with the pressure of a pennant race. I know that's not his fault, but if he would go buy some pitching with his contract, maybe the Rangers would be in a pennant race.

Darrell Smith: Coach, how much scouting goes into college baseball?

Coach LeClair: This is an area that you have to be very careful with in college baseball. It's not like basketball and football where you're looking at films to put together your game plan. You're solely doing it by fax, phone, and now most of it is done over the Internet. I had my assistants gather as much info they could from reliable sources we trusted.

The best I ever had with doing scouting reports was coach McMullan, who is now at UVa. He would gather play-by-play game summaries and chart what the lineup was for that day and tendencies they showed at the plate. This way you could tell who was hot swinging the bat and who had been struggling. It also gave you an idea of how LHP versus RHP did against that particular team we are about to play. Game summaries will also give you a tendency whether teams will bunt.

After that, I like to have a report on the upcoming opponents pitching staff. For example, what their rotation will be (LHP or RHP) and are they breaking-ball pitchers or power guys. How do they hold runners? Who is the closer and what's his best pitch? If you can get a scouting report from someone trustworthy it really helps you prepare your hitters for what to expect. The other important thing I want to know is how good the opposing catcher is defensively. Can we run on him or will we have to hit-and-run. Does he like to throw behind runners on base? Just taking notes on little things that help prepare your team, so you don't get caught by surprise.

The last thing I will do personally is take the opponent's stat sheet and begin to mark what I think are important stats and highlight each one. First, I mark each projected starting position player whether he is lefty, righty or switch. This allows me to form an idea of how I will use my bullpen in the first game of the series. Second, I highlight batting average, on-base percentage, home runs, stolen bases, sac bunts and most importantly strikeouts. This allows you to make decisions on intentionally walking guys or pitching to them late. I will also highlight a team's leading RBI guys so you know who produces with men on base.

Next, I highlight the opposing team's starting pitchers and bullpen guys. I especially want to know who the closer is and what numbers he brings into the game. The numbers I look at here are bases on balls per innings pitched. This helps your hitters know whether they need to be patient and work the count or work early in the count. Obviously, if a guy doesn't give up many bases on balls, then your hitters need to swing early. If he has a lot of bases on balls, work the count and don't help him out.

Another key stat is how well guys hold runners and how many pickoffs he has. For example, any coach that played ECU when Sam Narron pitched only needed to look at our stat sheet to know he had a great move. If guys give up a lot of stolen bases, its safe to say they struggle holding runners.

This may seem like an awful lot, but it's really not that bad. As a coach and player, you always want to be prepared going into a game. You also use charts on previous teams you played the year before, which helps tremendously. I always told my team that, most often when you lose, it's because you beat yourself. Scouting reports just help, so that doesn't happen because you're not prepared.

Tripp Roakes: What are some drills you would recommend for a good little league hitter?

Coach LeClair: Drills for a little league hitter? My honest opinion at this age is to play stick ball, wiffle ball or anything that involves hand-eye coordination. I can remember hammering tennis balls in the back yard with a broom stick or playing wiffle ball with my brother. I always had something in my hand to swing.

As for drills, make them simple and not long in time. Kids at that age want to compete and have fun. The drills I would spend a lot of time on at that age on would be balance drills. Example: standing on one foot and holding balance, hopping on one foot and walking a two by four. Balance is so important for young hitters as they grow and go through clumsy spells. Also, tee work, straight on soft toss. I don't like angled soft toss for young hitters because bad habits are picked up. Most importantly, keep it simple and have fun. Using your hands and balance are the keys to a great hitter.

Matt Stewart: I enjoyed tonightís Braves victory over the Cubs. I know you were watching. I did want to get your opinion on John Smoltz. His stuff did not look nearly as filthy as it did earlier in the year. Did John just have an off night or are we seeing the effects of his elbow injury? Do you expect him to get back to being his nasty self in these playoffs?

Coach LeClair: I was thinking the same exact thing when I saw Smoltz pitch the eighth and ninth last night. His stuff wasnít nearly as sharp and his fastball was down three or four miles an hour. This doesnít necessarily mean his elbow is still bothering him, but rather his arm is still out of shape from the injury.

The thing about Smoltz, when he doesnít have his great stuff, he still commands the zone and gets hitters out. His bad days are better than most guysí good days. Donít be alarmed that he gave up the tying run in eighth. He will be sharper next time out. Bobby Cox probably used him for the eighth because of bullpen concerns and they had an off day Thursday. If he had any question about his arm, he never would have used him for two innings.

Pirate Al: The bases are loaded, two outs, and your team is down one run. Who do you want in the batters box with a chance to win a world championship?

Coach LeClair: Bases loaded, two outs, down by one, and who do I want at the plate? Bucky Dent. Just kidding!

I have no reservation in this situation picking Pete Rose. One way or another, Rose will get the job done, and being a switch hitter limits the opposing managerís options. Pete will either walk, get hit by a pitch or win the game with a base hit. I donít need any help with this one, because who would not want Rose up? Unless, of course, he had money riding on the other team.

Submit baseball questions to:
coachleclair@bonesville.net
Send personal messages to:
komaha23@cox.net

02.23.07 10:27 AM

 

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