For Leyland, the hard part is over


For Leyland, the hard part is over

SAN FRANCISCO -- Hours before the scheduled start time of World Series Game 1, Tigers manager Jim Leyland took care of what he described as his most difficult task.

"I think the hardest part is meeting with the media," Leyland said. "I don't mean that disrespectfully. It takes a lot of time; you're answering a lot of questions."

The fact the Tigers' manager is more concerned about talking to a bunch of scribes than watching his team take the field after a routine-ruining five days off might be attributed to the fact he has the best pitcher in baseball on the mound, reigning American League Cy Young winner and MVP Justin Verlander.

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Verlander has been virtually un-hittable in the postseason. He's only allowed two earned runs in 24 13 innings and has won all three of his starts. If that's not reason enough for confidence, all Leyland has to do is look toward his corner infielders. Miguel Cabrera won MLB's first Triple Crown since 1967, and Prince Fielder has eclipsed 30 homers and 100 RBI in five of his last six seasons.

Knowing you have those guys on your side must make facing the media feel daunting in comparison to managing the actual game.

"We're blessed," Leyland admitted. "We have three superstars on our team."

Two of those three Leyland mentioned look more like WWE Superstars than baseball players. Cabrera is listed at 6'4" and 240 pounds, and Fielder is 5'11" and weighs in at 275 pounds. Call them the "Natural Disasters," because they resemble Earthquake and Typhoon when in the batters box and the on-deck circle.

Cabrera and Fielder, have mastered hitting almost as well as they've perfected the art of the celebratory handshake. The Giants will have to hope they don't give them a reason to show off their elaborate succession of hand slaps that precede a strange sprinkling motion before ending in a hug. Leyland says he hasn't quite figured out what his two sluggers are doing with it.

"They say I'm old school, I'm really not," he said. "I don't get into that whether it's our team or the other team. I kind of don't really look to be honest with you."

With all the attention payed the three superstars, as Leyland called them, it's the supporting cast that's getting it done. Tiger's DH Delmon Young is leading the team with eight postseason RBI. The way he's swinging it right now the Tigers can't afford to take him out of the lineup and that could hurt them. With Games One and Two being played at AT&T Park under NL rules, Young will have to play defense.

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Another weakness for Detroit could be their bullpen. Closer Jose Valverde has been demoted after allowing seven runs in his three postseason appearances. Leyland broke the news to him the only way he knows how.

"Honesty is the best policy," he said. "Tell it like it is."

Leyland will play the match-ups as he navigates late inning situations. Two of the first three spots in the Giants lineup feature switch hitters, but Marco Scutaro, Buster Posey, and Hunter Pence all bat right-handed. The five through eight spots in the Giants' lineup bat left-handed. That could make Leyland's decisions awfully easy.

Assuming Verlander allows a reliever to take the mound.

A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge


A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge

OAKLAND — Matt Olson is aware of the company he’s keeping in the A’s record books.

His reaction is a mix of reverence and a shrug-of-the-shoulders type humbleness.

That’s the personality of the A’s rookie first baseman. Even as the conversation about him and his awe-inspiring home run pace grows louder, he remains the same steady, grounded presence.

“I’m happy for him,” A’s hitting coach Darren Bush said. “The guy’s worked his butt off. He’s the same today as was when he first got called up.”

Olson cleared the fences once again Friday night, his two-run homer off Nick Martinez in the second inning helping the A’s to a 4-1 victory over the Texas Rangers. At this point, it’s much more newsworthy when Olson doesn’t homer than when he does.

He’s crammed 24 homers into just 57 games this season. Taking into account his first call-up last September, and Olson’s 24 homers over the first 68 games of his career are the second-most in the history of major league baseball over that span to open a career. The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger also hit 24 and only the White Sox’s Jose Abreu, with 25, hit more over his first 68.

Olson’s 13 homers in September are the most by any rookie in major league history for the month, and there’s still eight games left in it. But Olson’s hot streak dates back to Aug. 27. He’s hit a major league-best 16 homers in 23 games since then.

Among rookies in A’s history, only Mark McGwire (49) in 1987 and Jose Canseco (33) in 1986 have hit more than Olson’s 24. But neither Bash Brother, nor any other player in Oakland history, ever hit 15 homers in a 21-game span as Olson recently did.

“It’s definitely an honor,” Olson said before Friday’s game. “I grew up with a Mark McGwire poster on my wall. It’s a little surreal.”

Who saw this coming?

Olson went 2-for-21 without a single RBI in his first taste of the bigs last September. Then he shuttled five times between Triple-A and the majors this season before getting called up once again Aug. 8 and being told he’d get a shot as the A’s regular first baseman with Yonder Alonso having been traded. The constant shuttling took its toll, though Olson never let on about that publicly to reporters.

“You could see (the frustration),” said Ryan Christenson, his manager at Triple-A. “When he walks in and you tell him ‘You’re getting sent up,’ and he’s like, ‘Well, how many days is it for this time?’ He wouldn’t voice it necessarily, but you could sense it.”

Olson, with help from Bush and others, made an adjustment coming into this season. He began holding his hands out farther away from his body to begin his swing. With his 6-foot-5 frame, Olson had found himself getting jammed inside. Then in trying to adjust to that, he couldn’t square up pitches on the outer half.

“Now, his hands are firing from where he wants them to,” Bush said. “He doesn’t have to fight. You want your hands to have a clean path. Now he can stay in there, stay behind the ball, let his hands work for him.”

Olson, a 23-year-old from Lilburn, Ga., takes this sudden burst of success — and attention — in stride.

“I’ve been hit with so many stats here in the past week, I can’t even keep track of who’s done what, and honestly what I’ve done,” he said. “I kind of try to ignore all that.”

That’s OK. Others are taking plenty of notice.


As Dodgers celebrate, Bochy turns eyes to franchise-altering talent


As Dodgers celebrate, Bochy turns eyes to franchise-altering talent

LOS ANGELES — The Giants left their dugout quickly after Friday’s loss, escaping a celebration on the mound and a fireworks show in the sky. As Dodger Stadium shook with cheers, Bruce Bochy sat in the visiting clubhouse and smiled. He nodded at his laptop, which earlier had been used to pull up highlights of Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani. 

“He’s good,” Bochy said, laughing. “I absolutely would play him every day.”

Earlier in the week, when it became known that Bobby Evans and Jeremy Shelley were headed to Japan to scout Otani, Bochy said he couldn’t imagine a player pitching and then moving to the outfield between starts. What changed? 

Perhaps it was the tape Bochy saw. Otani throws 100 mph and hits homers with ease. Or perhaps it was the game he watched Friday. The Giants lost for the 94th time, with the big blow coming from a 22-year-old Dodgers star. Cody Bellinger’s blast was the difference in a 4-2 win, and the Giants don’t have a Bellinger, or anything close. Otani, 23, is a long shot for a team that very well could finish with the worst record in baseball. Still, he’s the kind of talent that could help pull the Giants closer in a hurry. He’s the  kind of talent they haven’t developed in years, and Bochy certainly sounded a bit wistful as he talked of the power Bellinger has put on display. 

“You call up a guy and he does that — that just doesn’t happen,” he said. “It’s a rare deal.”

The ninth inning of the Dodgers’ clincher reinforced that point for the Giants. They got a homer from Pablo Sandoval, but he’s playing only because Christian Arroyo — the Giants’ best prospect bet this year — is hurt. Ryder Jones, their 23-year-old prospect, struck out to end the night, dropping his average to .180. 

That set off a celebration for Bellinger and the Dodgers. They have won five straight NL West titles, with three of the last four clinched against the Giants. 

“Congrats to them,” Bochy said. “They’ve had a tremendous year across the board, and they’ve played great baseball. They brought some guys up that really did a great job for them. It’s well deserved.”

Bochy said it was not difficult to watch this one. The division has been wrapped up for months, with only a September slide keeping the Dodgers from clinching earlier. 

“We knew what we were facing here,” Bochy said. 

The Giants have two more against the Dodgers and then six more before a long winter. The Dodgers, on the other hand, will host an NLDS series here at Dodger Stadium. Both Bochy and starter Jeff Samardzija made the same observation, that the Dodgers will have a hard time cutting their deep roster down to 25 postseason players. 

That’s a nice problem to have. It’s a foreign one right now for the Giants, who have a serious talent gap and no clear solutions internally. It’s no wonder, then, that Bochy has all of a sudden become so intrigued by a wondrous talent overseas.