What lies ahead for key Series people 

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy Jason O. Watson/Getty ImagesGM Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy deserve a lot of credit for three Giants titles in five years.
Here's a look at what comes next for many of the primary figures from the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals

For Pablo Sandoval, there's free agency. Six months ago, it seemed like there was no chance Sandoval would work out a deal with the Giants, and it's still very possible he'll leave, given the gap between what he might ask for and what the Giants seem comfortable in paying. They've had concerns about his conditioning, and going beyond a three-year deal may seem like an enormous risk.

But more than any other franchise, San Francisco places a high value on what a player has done in the past, including contributions on the field, clubhouse standing and with Giants fans. This is part of the reason they gave Tim Lincecum a two-year, $35 million deal last fall: He won Cy Young Awards for the team, and was beloved by the fans.

So it's possible that the Giants will extend themselves beyond their comfort level for Sandoval, given his role in the team's three championships and how revered he is in San Francisco. And no one can doubt how much confidence he plays with on the sport's greatest stage.

Before Game 7, Sandoval chatted next to the batting cage, and I asked him about how Yordano Ventura had stared him down in two plate appearances in Game 6, first when he hit a bouncer to the mound and then later after he drew a walk.

Bumgarner set to do whatever team needs 

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
Madison BumgarnerKyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsGiants ace Madison Bumgarner said he's ready to throw "200 pitches" in Game 7 if necessary.
KANSAS CITY -- A small group of reporters waited near Madison Bumgarner's locker Tuesday night as he finished dressing following the Giants' Game 6 loss. He buckled his belt, his back to the room, and as he turned, his hair still damp from the shower, he noticed the waiting gaggle.

"You want to talk with me?" he asked. "I didn't play."

Yes, but he probably will Wednesday night, presumably, in the decisive innings of the World Series, in the 2,462nd and final game of the long season. Giants manager Bruce Bochy could not detail after the Game 6 blowout exactly when or how he might use Bumgarner, or for how long, because he doesn't know how well Tim Hudson will fare in his Game 7 start.

But as Hudson throws his first pitch, Bumgarner will almost certainly be in the San Francisco bullpen, and if the phone there rings in the first or second or third inning, the name uttered by pitching coach Dave Righetti will probably be "Bum." The call will be for Bumgarner, 25, who has been transcendent in this postseason. That's why reporters staked out his locker late Tuesday night, looking to flush out the details of how Bumgarner feels, how he will prepare, how he might fare in the biggest game of the season.

Except Bumgarner really isn't a details person. He is more about the task and getting it done.

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Russell Martin set up for big payday 

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
Russell MartinDavid Maxwell/Getty ImagesRussell Martin finished second among all MLB catchers in WAR in 2014 (behind only Jonathan Lucroy).
KANSAS CITY -- The final innings of the 2014 Major League Baseball season will play out here in the next 36 hours; meanwhile, executives from 28 other teams and dozens of agents are lining up for the start of the offseason, like runners lining up for the opening gun of the winter marathon.

There is enormous curiosity within the industry about how many dollars will be paid out in the pitching market, given the relatively high volume of elite starters that will be available in one way or another over the next 13 months. Will Max Scherzer get offers of greater than $144 million (which is how much he reportedly turned down from the Tigers in the spring)? How much will Jon Lester get? Will the Reds seriously consider trading Johnny Cueto, who is headed toward free agency next fall? Will the Nationals be able to lock down Jordan Zimmermann? Will some agents try to move quickly to grab a share of the available dollars, in anticipation of what could be a pitching market depression by late December?

No such questions hover over Russell Martin, who might be the best-positioned player in the free-agent market this fall, because he is a one-of-a-kind luxury item. He is the Lamborghini of the catching market.

Martin will be 32 at the outset of the 2015 season, coming off a year in which he had a .402 on-base percentage, fourth best among all hitters with at least 400 plate appearances.

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The keys to Pablo Sandoval's success 

October, 26, 2014
Oct 26
Pablo SandovalEzra Shaw/Getty ImagesHampered by illness, Pablo Sandoval still managed to smack two pivotal hits in Game 4.
SAN FRANCISCO -- The great thing about working with Pablo Sandoval, says San Francisco Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens, is that no matter the situation, he possesses a relentless optimism. He is upbeat. He is convinced he will figure out a way to succeed.

This trait served him well Saturday, because he had plenty of reason to be miserable. Sandoval had been one of the unlucky souls who contracted the bug that has been going through the San Francisco clubhouse in recent days, from Tim Lincecum to Michael Morse, and as he completed batting practice before Game 4, Sandoval explained through stuffed sinuses how awful he had been feeling, how he had been throwing up the night before, how he had been administered IV fluids. Sandoval was breathing through his mouth because of how congested he was.

Carrying his bat, Sandoval turned to bench coach Ron Wotus, who was in the midst of hitting ground balls to infielders, and started to explain to Wotus why he hadn’t taken his share. Wotus nodded, and encouraged Sandoval to go to the clubhouse. “Save it for the game,” Wotus said.

Sandoval did that, found a quiet place, and slept. “A power nap,” Sandoval said later. When he awoke about 30 to 45 minutes later, he felt better, and he was able to go through his typical pregame preparation that served him well in Game 4.

Sandoval is a switch hitter who has struggled from the right side of the plate this year, but Meulens and manager Bruce Bochy believe that Sandoval’s struggles as a right-handed hitter this season are simply explained: He just doesn’t get as many reps against left-handed pitching as he does against right-handed pitching, a common problem for switch-hitters.

But before every game, Meulens says, Sandoval has made a point of going into the indoor batting cage and taking some right-handed swings against a left-handed batting practice pitcher.

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Maddon could add to Cubs' elite build 

October, 25, 2014
Oct 25
Joe Maddon is widely regarded as one of the best managers in major league baseball.Jerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsJoe Maddon is widely regarded as one of the best managers in major league baseball.
SAN FRANCISCO – The Chicago Cubs are not in the World Series and have not been since 1945, but on Friday afternoon, they were the talk of the World Series after news broke of Joe Maddon’s departure from Tampa Bay.

Maddon is not the manager of the Cubs yet, but in the same way that Hillary Clinton is not a 2016 presidential candidate yet. A river of gossip about Maddon going to the Cubs flowed among folks on the field here, and in the offices of other teams, which is why Maddon as the leader of the North Siders is regarded as a fait accompli – and why rival officials fully expect the issue of tampering to come up before this plays out.

Maddon is widely regarded as one of the best managers in the sport, and assuming that he lands with the Cubs, he will be one more elite piece to the growing monster that other teams see forming.

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Phillies could move Cole Hamels 

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
Cole HamelsDrew Hallowell/Getty ImagesCole Hamels had a 2.46 ERA with a 1.15 WHIP this past season in Philadelphia.
This is called lowering the bar: Interim team president Pat Gillick says the Philadelphia Phillies are not likely to contend in the next two seasons.

From his interview with CSN Philly:

"I think where we are right now, it's probably a couple years," Gillick told CSN's John Clark in a one-on-one interview Thursday. "I wouldn't think [2015] or [2016], I don't think is in the cards. I think somewhere around 2017 or 2018."

Whether he meant to do this or not -- and Gillick is a really, really smart person -- his words prepare the Phillies’ fan base for a possible deal of star pitcher Cole Hamels.

Look, if the Phillies’ baseball operations department doesn’t believe that the team is going to contend in the next two seasons, then now is the time to trade the left-hander. Hamels, who turns 31 in December, is guaranteed $90 million for the next four years, with a vesting option for the 2019 season, and if the Phillies follow the timeline laid out by Gillick, then Hamels will be in the last seasons of his deal and in his mid-30s when the club becomes relevant again.

Given the landscape of the pitching market right now, and considering how great Hamels threw in 2014 -- a career-low 2.46 ERA in 30 starts -- his trade value will never be higher than it is right now, and the Phillies could flip him for a really good package of prospects that could help Philadelphia move forward.

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BumgarnerAP Photo/Jamie SquireMadison Bumgarner had a masterful performance in Game 1 of the World Series.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Royals have become America's team during the postseason, the team that casual fans are rooting for because of their energetic style and because, quite simply, they haven't been on this stage for a very long time.

But the difference in experience between these Royals and the Giants showed itself in a sequence of hitters in the third inning, in Kansas City's one serious opportunity to climb back into the game.

With the Giants leading 3-0, Brandon Crawford made an error and Mike Moustakas pulled a double into the right-field corner. The Royals had runners at second and third and nobody out and the top of their lineup coming up, and Madison Bumgarner and catcher Buster Posey faced a difficult challenge in trying to navigate their way without surrendering runs.

Alcides Escobar struck out just 83 times in more than 600 plate appearances during the regular season, but it had become evident in his first at-bat that when Bumgarner got ahead in the count, he intended to attack the shortstop at the top of the strike zone, and now in the third inning, he did this again.

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Madison BumgarnerAP Photo/Jack DempseyMadison Bumgarner has an elongated delivery, which the Royals might try to take advantage of.
KANSAS CITY -- When San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner delivers the ball to home plate with a runner at first base tonight, the numbers that appear on the stopwatch of Kansas City Royals first-base coach Rusty Kuntz will indicate to him that the Royals should try to steal.

Bumgarner is 6-foot-5 and has the wing span of a condor, and if you think of his body like a catapult, the time required to remove the ball from his glove, draw his arm all the way back and then sling it toward home plate is relatively slow, no less than 1.3 or 1.4 seconds.

Kuntz has said during the course of the postseason that everything the Royals try to do is dictated by those numbers on the stopwatch: If the pitcher's delivery time is 1.2 seconds or more, Kansas City will run. But 1.3 seconds? In the Royals' world, that's like a green light.

But over time, Bumgarner has developed a speed trap.

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10 key matchups in the World Series 

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
Bruce Bochy and Ned YostGetty Images, US TODAY SportsBruce Bochy and Ned Yost will match managerial wits in the 2014 World Series, which begins Tuesday.
Time to look at the crucial matchups to watch in the World Series:

1. The San Francisco Giants vs. the Kansas City Royals' track team

The Baltimore Orioles demonstrated that it's very possible to slow the Royals' baserunners with pitchers who deliver the ball quickly and with an unorthodox approach to holding runners on. Kansas City had just one steal in the American League Championship Series.

Some of Kansas City's baserunners never seemed completely comfortable in reading the intent of first baseman Steve Pearce, who would be five feet off the base and then retreat, sometimes for a pickoff, sometimes not. The Giants could have Brandon Belt do the same thing.

The Giants' starting pitchers, like the Orioles' starters, are generally effective in controlling a running game.

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OriolesJoy R. Absalon/USA TODAY SportsThe Baltimore had a sudden end to their season, getting swept by Kansas City in the ALCS.
The Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants are moving on, while the Baltimore Orioles and St. Louis Cardinals are left to wonder about what might have been. What if Manny Machado hadn’t gotten hurt, or Yadier Molina? What if Randy Choate’s throw to first base had been true in Game 4, or if the O’s had done something more with their sixth-inning rally in Game 1?

Each of these teams has its own set of questions going into an offseason that started sooner than it expected. Here are the three biggest ones for each team.

For Baltimore:

1. What will Manny Machado be going forward?

He’s had two significant knee injuries in two years. The Orioles have to begin to wonder whether this is going to be a chronic situation and whether Machado is a player who can be a franchise cornerstone. In fact, there’s a chance that

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A hero one step beyond 'unlikely' 

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
Travis IshikawaThearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesTravis Ishikawa would normally be out of a tight game in the later innings.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Jake Peavy’s eyesight is awful, and the truth is he sprinted out of the Giants’ dugout Thursday night not entirely sure of what he had just seen. Peavy didn’t know whether Travis Ishikawa’s long drive to right field had cleared the tin on top of the wall, or if it had ricocheted off the brick. He only knew that Ishikawa had mashed a ball beyond the reach of the Cardinals’ outfielders, far enough to score the game-winning run and win the pennant.

“I’m so proud of you!” Peavy screamed at Ishikawa, as he moved to embrace him.

“Get out of the way!” Ishikawa shouted while trying to dodge Peavy, unsure of whether he needed to avoid being touched by teammates in order to make this journey around the bases count.

Or at least that’s what Ishikawa and Peavy think he shouted; nobody could remember with complete clarity even a few minutes after, because of how overwhelmed they were by the moment.

Tim Hudson couldn’t recall exactly what Giants manager Bruce Bochy said to him when they hugged on the field, but whatever it was, Hudson was weeping with the realization that after 16 years in the major leagues, and after having his ankle dislocated in 2013, he will play in the World Series. Hudson started tearing up again as he started talking about the words between him and his manager. “I’m a marshmallow,” he said.

Buster Posey, the catcher admired by teammates because of how understated he is no matter how tense the situation, pumped his fists happily on the field, once, between hugs with teammates. Third-base coach Tim Flannery was crying. Mike Morse waved happily to someone he knew in the stands. The stoic Madison Bumgarner couldn’t stop smiling; neither could Brandon Crawford. Jeremy Affeldt shouted, randomly.

Among them, Ishikawa struggled to catch his breath.

On the last Wednesday of the regular season, the day of Game No. 158, there was no thought that he would play a meaningful role in the postseason, let alone play left field. He has been a first baseman for almost his entire career, and 23 days ago, he had exactly zero career starts in left field in the major leagues.

But the Giants were desperately seeking a solution in left field, having learned the last week of the regular season that Angel Pagan would miss the rest of the season and the playoffs. Gregor Blanco was needed in center field and Juan Perez had performed poorly in September, and in conversation with Bochy, Giants general manager Brian Sabean suggested that he try Ishikawa, who had a handful of outfield starts in the minor leagues. Bochy, with nothing to lose, went along with it and found a left fielder in the last hours of the regular season -- a decision that had gone well right up until the third inning of Game 5 Thursday night, when Ishikawa misread a line drive by Jon Jay.

The potential for another crushing defensive mistake like that loomed in Bochy’s mind into the middle innings. He had usually pulled Ishikawa out of games in the sixth or seventh inning, and as he and bench coach Ron Wotus shared thoughts in the eighth inning, Bochy decided that he was going to give Ishikawa one more at-bat and then replace him with Perez.

One more chance for Ishikawa. One more swing. And when he hit the ball

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Andrew FriedmanKim Klement/USA TODAY SportsLongtime Rays GM Andrew Friedman was hired Tuesday to run the Dodgers' front office.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Andrew Friedman takes over as president of baseball operations for a Los Angeles Dodgers franchise that has a payroll three times larger than what he's worked with in the past, with an all-time great pitcher in Clayton Kershaw and a ton of talent in both the major leagues and the minors.

Here is Friedman's partial to-do list:

1. Work out a deal with his former team, the Tampa Bay Rays, and hire manager Joe Maddon

Dodgers officials made it clear Tuesday that Don Mattingly is their manager, with two years remaining on his contract. Maddon, who has one year left on his contract, is saying all the right things about not wanting to leave Tampa Bay. But what needs to happen next is for Rays owner Stuart Sternberg to sit down with Maddon -- like, today -- and ask him: Will you commit to the Rays with a long-term extension?

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Five ways a Molina absence hurts Cards 

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
Molinamie Squire/Getty ImagesA strained oblique has put All-Star catcher Yadier Molina's status for the rest of this series in doubt.
Yadier Molina still hasn't ruled out the possibility that he could play in Game 3, writes Derrick Goold, but there is some mystery about what Molina's role could be, writes Jayson Stark.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny isn't saying exactly how -- or when -- he might use Molina, but he sounded more inclined to consider him as a defensive replacement than as a starter. Molina didn't swing a bat Monday to test his oblique strain, but Matheny said that wasn't a priority.

Let's say Molina is out of the starting lineup Tuesday, and that his greatest contribution is the counsel he offers to the catcher who replaces him and to the pitchers. What is the practical impact of his absence?

1. Some baserunning possibilities open up for San Francisco.

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Wainwright decision looms for Matheny 

October, 12, 2014
Oct 12
Adam WainwrightDilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesAdam Wainwright allowed two earned runs on six hits in 4 2/3 innings Saturday night.
ST. LOUIS -- The topic was about managing in October with urgency, and San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy stood at the back rail of the batting cage before Game 1 on Saturday night and recalled, with great detail, a bullpen decision he regrets from the 1998 World Series.

But Bochy paused and said, “The toughest decisions are what to do with your horses.”

By horses, he meant pitching staff ace -- the guy who leads your staff all summer, who takes the ball every fifth day through the cold and the heat and the aches of a long year, and earns longer reins of trust. If a rookie starter struggles in the postseason, the manager’s evaluation is performance-based only, because there are no emotional strings attached.

But the staff horse is different, which is why the decisions can be wrenching, as Bochy knows, as Grady Little knows from his choice to stick with Pedro Martinez in the 2003 playoffs, and as St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny knows too well today.

The St. Louis Game 1 starter had previously worked in two games since Sept. 22, two appearances in 20 days partly because of the discomfort he was feeling in his pitching elbow, and in those two games he allowed 17 hits, four walks and nine runs in nine innings. He was taken out after 4 2/3 innings Saturday, at the end of an erratic performance in which he got little help from his defense, or his own command. If Matheny made all choices blindly, without regard to history, then he might weigh an alternative starter in Game 5 of this short series.

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Max ScherzerMike DiNovo/USA TODAY SportsMax Scherzer will be hitting free agency this fall.
ST. LOUIS – A growing trend, over the last decade, has been for teams to lock down their best young talent into long-term deals, whether it be the Giants signing Madison Bumgarner to a contract through 2017 with club options for 2018 and 2019, or the Rays signing Matt Moore and Chris Archer to what are perceived to be team-friendly deals.

These sorts of contracts have meant that fewer high-end players have gone into free agency, and some agents say there has been a nudge from the players' association to get more players into the open market; to not settle for deals that are perceived to have significant value to teams.

An elite free agent, like CC Sabathia in the fall of 2008, has maximum leverage and can drive the salary ceiling higher. Sabathia got $161 million over seven years -- a record-setting deal that set the tables for some of the deals that followed, like that of Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw, who all agreed to deals before reaching free agency.

Max Scherzer and Jon Lester are heading into free agency this fall, along with James Shields, and they will all be paid well. But like changing weather conditions, the market setting for these free agents may not be as strong as it was for Sabathia.

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