Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Sports

As the baseball playoffs open, a few questions

RECOMMENDED READING


After a scramble to finish the regular season, the playoffs are finally on deck. With 10 teams left, here are 10 questions to carry fans through October:

Can the Cubs do it? Joe Maddon's crew romped to 103 wins, and now the North Side of Chicago is set up for either the biggest party of all time or the most brutal disappointment ever. Nothing in between for Wrigleyville, really. The pressure won't rattle Jon Lester and John Lackey — they've pitched in these spots. Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and the young hitters must handle hopes and expectations that have been building since the Cubs' last World Series championship in 1908.

Will Kershaw come up aces? Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw is all set to pitch Game 1 at Washington. He's certainly got the pedigree: Cy Young Awards, ERA titles, 20-win seasons and an MVP. What he doesn't have is a winning record in the playoffs — 2-6. And in his last six starts in the postseason over the past three years, he's 1-5 with a 5.45 ERA, plus a high walk and home-run rate. Remember, Hall of Famers Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine had losing career marks in the postseason. But Kershaw could use a couple of wins to round out an otherwise glittering resume.

One more big swing for Big Papi? David Ortiz had a dream season in his final year — huge numbers, an MVP candidate, a worst-to-first turnaround by the Red Sox. His likeness has been cut into the grass at Fenway Park, his legacy is etched into history. What the retiring 40-year-old DH really wants is one more ring — he's won three with Boston and owns a career .455 batting average and .576 on-base percentage in the World Series. He begins these playoffs against former manager Terry Francona and Cleveland.

Will "Madbum" stand tall? When last seen in the postseason, Madison Bumgarner posted a Giant save to win Game 7 in Kansas City. The 6-foot-5 lefty will try to save San Francisco's season on Wednesday night in the NL Wild Card Game, on the road vs. the Mets. In 2014, he pitched a shutout at Pittsburgh to win the Wild Card Game. If he gets to the World Series, watch out — no one can match his 4-0 mark with one save and an 0.25 ERA.

Who's hurting? Stephen Strasburg, Carlos Carrasco and Jacob deGrom are among the injured aces as the playoffs begin. Wilson Ramos, Neil Walker and Michael Brantley are out, too. A few others have been banged up, with Daniel Murphy, Eduardo Nunez and Danny Salazar among them.

What about the trade-offs? In late July 2015, the Royals acquired Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist, and the pair helped them win the crown. A lot of big names moved to contenders this year in midseason — Carlos Beltran and Jonathan Lucroy to Texas, Matt Moore (Giants), Aroldis Chapman (Cubs), Andrew Miller (Indians), Mark Melancon (Nationals) and Jay Bruce (Mets). We'll soon see which trade-deadline guys deliver.

Anyone get skipped? Quite a collection of managers in these playoffs. Some have won the World Series (Bruce Bochy, Francona, John Farrell), others have gotten close (Dusty Baker, Terry Collins). Some have been in the playoffs before (Buck Showalter, Joe Maddon, John Gibbons, Jeff Banister), while Dave Roberts (Dodgers) made it in his first year.

Pitching in? Many of the most-scrutinized decisions will involve how managers handle their staffs. Use a starter like Cole Hamels on short rest, or maybe in emergency relief? Push a closer like Kenley Jansen for four outs, or five or six? Four-man rotation or three? With a lot of teams trying to advance farther than they've been in years, get ready to ramp up the second-guessing.

Comments
NFL Power Rankings, Week 12: Patriots remain No. 1, Eagles rise to No. 2

NFL Power Rankings, Week 12: Patriots remain No. 1, Eagles rise to No. 2

What follows below is a ranking of all 32 NFL teams. To build this list, we consulted five objective measures of team strength: Pro Football Reference’s Simple Rating System, Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average ratings...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Armwood, Miami Central will have strongest USF-UCF representation

Armwood, Miami Central will have strongest USF-UCF representation

Armwood and Miami Central will have the strongest roster representation of any state high school when No. 13 UCF hosts No. 22 USF on Friday.The Hawks and Rockets both will boast five alumni (including walk-ons) among the two teams. Surprisingly, Sick...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Presenting the 2017 Sports Turkey of the Year

Presenting the 2017 Sports Turkey of the Year

Happy Turkey Day!Thursday is a day of tradition.Macy’s Day Parade. Turkey and stuffing. The Lions and Cowboys.And our annual "Turkey of the Year.’’It’s a tradition started by my former colleague at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the brilliant columnis...
Updated: 1 hour ago
NFL Week 12: Tampa Bay Times staff picks

NFL Week 12: Tampa Bay Times staff picks

Happy Thanksgiving! It's already week 12 of the NFL season, and the football feast is set to begin. It all starts at at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, when the Lions try to win their fifth straight Thanksgiving Day game against a Minnesota team out to bec...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Unsung heroes on the remaining playoff teams

Unsung heroes on the remaining playoff teams

In the spirit of the holiday, we asked our six remaining high school football playoff teams who they're most thankful for this postseason.Beth Dare, Cambridge ChristianThere is no bigger cheerleader for Cambridge Christian football than Beth, wife of...
Updated: 1 hour ago
University of Tampa volleyball finds playoff form in time

University of Tampa volleyball finds playoff form in time

TAMPA — Earning an NCAA Tournament bid is usually not cause for celebration with the University of Tampa volleyball program. It has become routine.But after hitting the abyss of a 3-10 record, after players felt their confidence was shot, after coach...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Admiral Farragut’s John Waller commits to USF

Admiral Farragut’s John Waller commits to USF

Admiral Farragut DT John Waller announced Wednesday via Twitter he intends to sign with USF.A three-star prospect per 247Sports, he becomes the Bulls' 23rd non-binding commitment from the Class of 2018, and second from Admiral Farragut. WR Zion Rolan...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Tampa Bay Times Turkey Trot: What you need to know

Tampa Bay Times Turkey Trot: What you need to know

Just like the several types of dishes you’ll see at Thanksgiving, you can run any type of race before you stuff your face. The Tampa Bay Times’ annual Turkey Trot offers a race for nearly every distance, from a one-mile run/walk to a 10k race. • Clea...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Sports doctor pleads guilty to sex charges that involved Olympic gymnasts

Sports doctor pleads guilty to sex charges that involved Olympic gymnasts

LANSING, Mich. —A former doctor accused of molesting girls while working for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University pleaded guilty Wednesday to multiple charges of sexual assault and will face at least 25 years in prison. Larry Nassar, 54, admi...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Cannon Fodder podcast: Examining the Bucs’ Hall of Fame semifinalists

Cannon Fodder podcast: Examining the Bucs’ Hall of Fame semifinalists

Times Bucs writer Greg Auman takes a closer look at the three former Bucs who are semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.He also looks at the constant churn on the Bucs’ practice squad and why Julio Jones’ stats have dropped off this season,...
Updated: 3 hours ago