From The Dugout
[Editor's note: This feature
coordinated by Denny O'Brien]
OK, so the guy knows a little baseball. If
you recall, Coach LeClair made a few bold predictions heading into the
He predicted victories for the Marlins,
Yankees, and Red Sox ó and he said the Braves didn't wan to face the Cubs and
fireballers Kerry Wood and Mark Prior in a best-of-five series. Good call.
Coach is back this week with more in-depth
analysis. Got a question about the Major League playoffs? Feel free to aim your
best pitch right here --
Or, if you just want to send coach LeClair a personal note, do so at
League Championship Series Analyses
By Keith LeClair
National League Ė
Florida vs. Chicago
I have to be honest,
after the first inning, I thought the Cubs were going to blow the
Marlins out in Game One. I have grown to really appreciate these
Marlins players and their skipper -- Jack McKeon for the way they keep
battling. The Cubs just came out blistering every pitch Beckett threw.
I was beginning to wonder if the Cubs had his pitches out of the glove
it was so bad. But often times, you will see a starting pitcher settle
down after giving up a big first inning. I dont know if itís because
the offense relaxes or the pitcher just begins to make better pitches.
Last night, I think it
was a little of both. The first inning Beckett was using too much of
the middle part of plate, and secondly, Beckett certainly was not used
to that kind of cold weather after pitching most of the year in the
summer heat. Itís awfully tough at times in the first inning to get
that sweat going and actually get a feel for the baseball. Thatís why in
cold weather you see pitchers blowing on their hand so they can feel the
ball better. If you donít think thatís important, go outside some day
when temperatures are below freezing and see how much longer it takes
you to get loose. Well, thatís my philosophy on the possibility of
Beckettís bad first inning, and then settling down and pitching pretty
well after that, until Grudzielanek's homerun that tied the game 6-6.
What a clutch homerun
by Rodriguez to get the Marlins back even at four apiece. That just gave
the Marlins such a boost offensively and allowed their speed to be a
factor back on the bases. When youíre down three or four runs, itís
very difficult to take chances stealing bases and risk being thrown out.
A total of seven homeruns hit in an LCS game is hard to imagine. To
think the cubs hit four and still lost is a tough pill to swallow.
Thatís what makes baseball so fun to watch. There are no set plays
except the pitcher catcher and hitter, and you must react to whatever
comes next. Youíre up four-zip one minute and down six- four the next.
You scratch back in to tie the game with a homerun and then youíre down
two going into the ninth until Sosa drives one on the street to tie it
up again for the third time, only to lose on a pinch-hit homerun by Mike
Lowell who has just come off the DL.
I canít figure this
game out and never will, but I'll at least keep on trying. Keys for the
Marlins to beat Prior and Wood: They have to get guys on base and make
them pitch out of stretch, so they can use their team speed to put
pressure on. Teams cannot just sit back and be swingers against these
guys and win. I also believe that the Marlins need to work the count
early to get the pitch count up, so in the middle innings they will get
better pitches to hit. More runs are scored in those innings off
starters, because fatigue starts to become a factor and the hitters get
better pitches to hit -- and itís the third time through the order and
hitters have seen more pitches and are able to make adjustments.
I have to be honest, I
didnít watch but maybe ten pitches of this game because my attention was
on the Red Sox-Yankees game. I did see that Prior pitched out of a jam
in the first, which gave Chicago some life early, and Randall Simon got
a huge two-out hit with the bases loaded in the first. From that point
on, the Cubs just hammered the Marlinsí Brad Penny. The ball was
jumping out of Wrigley on an unseasonable warm night in Chicago.
Any time the Cubs jump
out with a lead and can maintain it through the middle innings really
takes away Floridaís ability to be more aggressive on the base paths.
This was a huge win for the cubs, and allowed Prior to shorten his pitch
count, so he should be ready for his next start. The Marlins better
find a way to beat Prior and Wood at least one game or their hopes for a
World Series is over. This makes Game Three a pivotal game in
determining who wins this series. I am predicting whoever wins Game
Three will win the series.
American League Ė
Boston vs. New York
a huge win for the Sox, with Wakefield beating Mussina. I thought the
Yankees looked really tight offensively while the Sox looked relaxed and
swung the bats like they did during the regular season. This is what I
saw during the game that really decided the outcome. Early on, I
thought Wakefield's knuckle ball was up in the zone and not as sharp,
but the Yankees swung through some good pitches to hit or either popped
them up. Against a knuckle baller, you cant miss his mistakes and score
a lot of runs.
As the game went on
and Wakefield got tired, his knuckler started dancing. When you see a
knuckle ball that comes to the plate and you see all white, guess what?
You're in trouble because that ball is going to fall in the zone quick.
And that's what Wakefield's ball began to do in the middle innings. If
you don't believe me, go catch one of coach Eason's good knucklers and
see if you don't take one in the shin. It's hard to hit when its thrown
at the knees. As for Mussina, he simply couldn't find the plate early.
Even though the Sox didn't score, they made him work and got his pitch
count up. I believe in the second inning, Mussina had three-ball counts
on three-consecutive Sox hitters, which is very uncharacteristic for a
guy who gave up only 40 walks all year. As I said earlier in one of my
articles, most runs are scored in the middle innings held true to form
The second time around
the order, Ortiz got a ball down low in the zone and hammered it out of
park and then Mussina left a few balls out over the plate to Walker and
Ramirez and they took advantage of it. A typical Boston night
offensively with the middle of the order guys coming through. That's
got to be how Boston wins this series. Have a lead late and keep Rivera
watching from behind the fence, and Boston has to hope Williamson comes
up big while Kim is in the dog house.
a sad day as I sit in front of my computer because I really thought the
Sox let one slip away. The first two innings, the Sox had the Bronx
Bombers and Andy Pettite on the ropes but just could not take advantage
of their opportunities. The Red Sox came out swinging the first two
innings and had six hits and only one run. Being a coach, I know what
it's like to b second-guessed, but also realize it comes with the
territory. I can't help but wonder why with Andy Pettite on the mound
and with his great move that you decide to send runners on a full
count, no-out situation knowing its an automatic double play if Mueller
doesn't put the ball in play. The runner can't get a good jump with
Pettite's move, so even if Mueller hits a groundball, it's still going
to be a double-play anyway. Instead Mueller took a called strike three
that was right down the pipe (belt high), so you can't blame Grady
Little for that. After that, Nomar and Ramirez get back-to-back singles
that would have given Boston another run and first-and-third with one
next inning, Boston has first and second with nobody out and Kapler at
the plate, surely in my eyes a perfect time to bunt and keep the
pressure on New York with your two and three hitters up. They elected
to swing away and Kapler hits into a tailor made double play.
not trying to bash Grady Little because I have walked in the shoes of a
coach. In fact, I think he is a terrific manager and with his pitching
should be manager of the year. But as a die hard Sox man, I just don't
buy you don't do things a little different in the LCS compared to how
you played during the regular season, especially with a backup player in
for the injured Johnny Damon. You're playing to go to the World Series
that Boston has never won before and their opponent has 26 titles under
you noticed Pettite was struggling leaving his cut fastball up and
Boston was right on him, but after that double play ball, the whole
momentum of the game changed. I was watching the game with Nick
Schnabel, one of my former all-time great players who is now coaching at
ECU with coach Mazey, and after that two-ball, I told Nick that could be
the ballgame. I said that because when you don't take advantage of
scoring opportunities early in the game against great pitchers,
especially on the road, they eventually will hit a rhythm and get
stronger as the game goes on. That's exactly what happened to Pettite
after that inning as he suddenly found command of his cutter.
fault Lowe. He battled and kept the Red Sox in it, but Pettite was just
too good after the early innings. Lowe made one mistake to Nick Johnson
that cost him two runs and the lead. Derek Lowe said it best: "I threw
him a cutter and it didnt cut." You could tell after that pitch he was
mad at himself for throwing it. If you're going to pitch in Yankee
stadium inside to lefties, you best get the ball in, or you're going to
give up some gopher balls.
still early in the series and at least we have one on the road before
heading back to sweet ole Fenway. I am excited about seeing Clemens
versus Pedro, a showdown you don't want to miss.
Glenn Tucker: Forget about all the baseball
and football out there. How about a real sport like the soccer world
cup. I know you've been keeping close tabs on that. Who do you think has
the edge? Just Kidding. I just wanted to have your opinion on Barry
Bonds. It seems to me that teams are giving him to much respect. I know
he is a great hitter, but he gets out 7 out of every 10 times like the
rest of the good hitters in the bigs. Why not pitch to him?
Coach LeClair: What most managers are saying
to Barry Bonds and the Giants is simple. We are not going to let Bonds
beat us, and until somebody else steps up that will be the case. It
worked for the Marlins, and until the giants sign another marquee power
hitter to hit behind Bonds, that's going to be the strategy. It also
puts a lot of mental stress on not only Bonds, but the rest of the team.
You could see the frustration on Bonds' face when the Marlins kept
intentionally walking him. What amazes me is how patient Bonds remains
at the plate, which tells me he is a better team guy than we give him
credit for. Tuck, I personally wouldn't pitch to him either until they
get a legit guy to hit behind him. That's why most of his homers are
with nobody on base. But if you were on the mound, I would go right at
I grew up in a baseball family. Father worked for the old Washington
Senators and Minnesota Twins. I played ball myself. Is it me or do you
agree that the professional ball players today are lacking basic skills?
I do see an increase in HR but I feel that is due to the use of steroids
with some of the big name guys -- Bonds, McGuire and Sosa.
Coach LeClair: This is a great question that
will be debated until the game of baseball ends. This is my opinion on
this subject and by no means am I right. You're really talking about two
different sculptured athletes today versus the modern day player. In
today's game, you have trained a specific baseball player. What I mean
by this is that athletes today are much better trained in the
advancements of weight and conditioning and muscle enhancements to make
guys bigger and stronger. In addition to that, baseball players today
are on a routine, whether it be a pitcher or position player.
example, a starting pitcher is on a strict throwing program and he
pitches every fifth day. Or, you take a hitter who studies film and can
break down his mechianics. I don't know if I am explaining this very
well, but basically the game is much more scientific. Whether guys are
on steroids or not, that's something I can't say because I don't know. I
do know when I trained college baseball players, we could make them
bigger and stronger by working hard in the weight room.
question: Are guys less skilled today? I would say they have better
equipment and are better trained physically, which has led to better
skills. What we don't have today is the hard-nosed player that will walk
up to bat facing Sandy Koufax with no helmet on. Today we have guys who
go to the plate dressed in armor so they can stand on top of plate with
no fear. If Bob Gibson pitched today, he would knock so many guys down
you would lose count. More than that, players have lost respect for the
game. You think Mickey Mantle would have hit a homerun and walked down
the baseline pointing in his dugout? What Do you suppose Casey Stengle
would have said to Jason Schmidt when he asked him if he could go on
three days rest and he said no?
there was no such thing as a five-man rotation back in those days.
Everybody threw on three-days rest. The game is still the same today
that it was a hundred years ago, but the players have changed. And I
don't blame them at all because this is what most fans want and this is
how we are teaching our younger kids to play.
Denny: Coach, what are your thoughts about
starting the college baseball season after final exams in the spring?
Coach LeClair: Personally, I don't like it for
the game, but I love the game too much not to watch and enjoy it. There
has been some strong talk about pushing the college season back to give
northern schools a better opportunity to compete and to become more of a
revenue-producing sport. The pros to this happening would be the
exposure and TV opportunities it could create throughout the nation and
not just In the south and west coast. It really is an unfair advantage
that southern schools have over the northern schools. Plus, it would be
the only collegiate sport taking place during that time. As it stands
now, we compete with basketball until midway through March. And, half
the season is played during the winter months where it's so cold that
nobody wants to watch teams play.
cons to it all is how does the NCAA make it work for the best Interest
of the student athlete, and financially is this possible? It has been
discussed that baseball players could go to school in the spring and use
the summer sessions as their fall semester, which they would have an
option of attending or taking a break. The other drawbacks would be the
loss of summer leagues for colleges and what to do with the major league
draft. I personally am in favor of this move and think it would take
college baseball to another level. But I don't see it happening until
the southern and west coast schools get behind it as well. It's somewhat
like the BCS in football, where you have a select few schools running
Did you agree with Bobby Cox's decision to use a three-man rotation?
Coach LeClair: It's hard to ever disagree with
Bobby Cox, but as I stated before the playoffs, it is awfully tough to
suddenly change a pitcher's routine. The two teams that did go with a
three-man rotation both lost (Oakland and Atlanta). Why Bobby Cox chose
not to go with Horacio Ramirez, I truly can't answer that, except he is
a young guy and the Braves just didn't feel like he gave them the best
option to win. This decision did not cost the Braves this series against
the cubs, rather a lack of offense against perhaps two of the best young
pitchers in the game.
agree that the Braves certainly lacked a dominant number one pitcher to
offset the Cubs in a best of five series. Nothing against Russ Ortiz and
the year he had, but his stuff is not that of a Kerry wood or Mark
Prior. If you noticed the other night Kerry Wood was throwing 97 in the
sixth inning with an 87 MPH breaking ball. When you have a guy throwing
like he was, you're capable of winning every low scoring game, and your
team mentally knows all they have to do is manufacture a couple of runs
Denny: Why isn't Gary Sheffield getting any
attention for MVP honors?
LeClair: I just can't see putting Sheffield in the running against
Albert Pujols and BarryB bonds for the MVP this year. Sheffield ended up
hitting .330 with 39 HRs 138 RBIs. Although this is a great year by most
standards, it is in my mind still not good enough to overtake Pujols and
Bonds for the MVP. If he was playing in the AL, Sheffield probably wins.
Why is Javy Lopez not getting any support for mvp? All he did was hit 42
HRs, 109 RBIs and batted .328, while catching o128 games. Just throwing
his name out there.
Denny: What do you think the perfect formula
is for a championship club?
Coach LeClair: The problem organizations run
into putting together the perfect, well-balanced club is free agency and
how you're going to spend your money. I think the perfect formula for
success would be to build a great pitching staff through the minors,
much like the Cubs and Marlins, and surround them with some excellent
defensive of players up the middle (catcher, shortstop, second and
offense, sign a shortstop, second baseman and centerfielder that not
only can play defense, but give you some speed and ability to put some
pressure on the opposing team. I would then go ahead and sign four guys
that can swing it at first, third, left and right field. Preferably, at
least three of those guys would be left-handed hitters. I would then go
sign a catcher that can control a pitching staff and play defense, but
during this age in the game, you're going to get some offense as well.
The Cubs and Marlins are both real close to having a team that
represents this formula with a few quality additions on each team.
Unfortunately, just when have, it your superstars get signed by somebody
else and you're back to square one. That's why the draft and minor
league system is so important to maintain success.
02.23.07 10:27 AM