Jeff Passan

  • The stories of the six men who caught the Cubs' historic home run balls

    Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports 9 hrs ago

    CHICAGO – The Wrigley Field bleachers were built for $200,000 in 1937, and they've lived a good 78 years. They witnessed plenty of wins and a few more losses, millions of beers slugged in elation and about half that spilled in frustration. The ivy grew and the bums sunbathed and the bleachers lived the same existence every year, absorbing each moment, soaking up history. They had seen everything except the Chicago Cubs win a World Series.

    Or at least they thought so until Monday night.

    Every time Jeff Baum went up and down the stands to grab another beer, his legs burned. Six months ago, Baum booked a plane ticket here from Lubbock, Texas, to run the Chicago Marathon, which he finished in six hours, 29 minutes Sunday. He loves this city, and no place means more to him than Wrigley Field.

    "This is the happiest spot in the world for me," Baum said.

    "And I'm in the right place," Baum said.

    "It's a heartbreaking, gut-wrenching feeling any time the Cubs get close and don't make it," Baum said. "I've felt from Day 1 this year they were going to be special."

    "The Bartman game," said Steve Fromm, his father.

  • Joe Maddon, small-ball manager? Cubs level series as coach embraces the bunt

    Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports 2 days ago

    ST. LOUIS – The bunt might be the most reviled play in modern baseball, the domain of incompetent managers who don’t understand the value of an out and hoary old-timers who believe in the nobility of sacrificing oneself. Nothing works the sabermetric masses into a frothing, dogmatic tizzy quite like a bunt.

    Imagine the cognitive dissonance, then, at the sight of Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon in Game 2 of the National League division series on Saturday. Maddon is the thinking man’s manager, keen to matchups and platoons and the kinds of numbers so detailed they never enter the public domain. The same guy who, two years ago, said: “I think the bunt is an overrated play.”

    And here he was in the second inning against the St. Louis Cardinals, calling not for one bunt but bunts on back-to-back plays, and in a vacuum it seemed like the ghost of Gene Mauch inhibited his body and implored him to bunt like he’d never bunted before. And of course it worked, this being Joe Maddon, this being the 2015 Cubs and this being a series that deserves to see itself to an epic conclusion.

  • The most awful beautiful swing helped the Royals even their series with the Astros

    Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports 3 days ago

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Desperation can manifest itself in funny ways on the baseball field. Nobody in Kansas City looks as cool day after day as Eric Hosmer, the Royals' first baseman, originator of a fauxhawk worn by kids around the city and boyfriend of the TV traffic reporter who sets hearts aflutter. And here were his Royals, down again to the Houston Astros, staring at a series deficit no playoff team wants, facing the very last person he needed to see.

    Perhaps desperation isn't a strong enough word. This was survival mode.

    This was modern baseball personified: an effective starter yanked before he could finish the sixth inning and a manager giddy to play platoon matchups the rest of the way because depth allowed him to. Hosmer is arguably the Royals' best hitter, his swing the purest and packing the most power, and opponents will fight for every advantage. So in came Perez, against whom left-handers hit .194/.242/.290 this season.

    "Damn near impossible," Astros closer Luke Gregerson said.

  • The Kansas City Royals are in deep trouble after a Game 1 loss to Houston

    Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports 4 days ago

    "It's not a death sentence to lose Game 1." – Ned Yost

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. – For a noted clinician, Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost seemed to be ignoring the facts in the aftermath of his team's 5-2 loss to the Houston Astros in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday night. If dropping Game 1 of the division series isn't a death sentence, it's at very least a sudden cardiac arrest that necessitates a defibrillator and a prayer.

    Baseball frowns on teams that lose the opening game of the best-of-five series at home, watching 28 of the 39 go on to eventual defeat. That history, of course, is little more than a collection of what happened to others, and in a sport as random as baseball it doesn't necessarily repeat itself. And yet the Royals understand the calculus of Game 2 on Friday afternoon: win or spend the rest of October watching others on TV instead of playing them.

    "I almost expect to win," Astros reliever Tony Sipp said. "I know he can't say that. I can."

    "It gets the hair on my back standing up," Rasmus said.

  • How Jake Arrieta guaranteed the Cubs' wild-card victory three weeks ago

    Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports 5 days ago

    PITTSBURGH – On the flight home, they were talking about possibilities. These Chicago Cubs are too young to understand the gravity of their optimism and the weight of their positivity, too footloose and fancy-free to wear the burden of more than a century. They live instead for the present and the future, and on Sept. 17, both looked promising. The Cubs had taken three straight games from the Pirates in Pittsburgh, and that got them talking: If they could just win the National League wild-card game against the Pirates in a few weeks, they might go deep into the playoffs, maybe even win the whole damn thing.

    Sitting on the periphery of the conversation was Jake Arrieta, the Cubs' ace and presumed starter for the wild card. He cast an annoyed look at the group, according to players on the plane, and slowly stood up. Arrieta wanted to address his teammates.

    "Boys," Arrieta said, "we're winning the one-game playoff."

    "I could just think of Namath guaranteeing the Super Bowl victory," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "That's all I could think of the last few days."

    "Oh, yeah," Arrieta said. "I'll work out twice."

  • How the Astros rode bat flips to a wild-card victory over the Yankees

    Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports 6 days ago

    NEW YORK – The bat flip is a glorious thing, baseball's version of interpretive dance, ripe for creativity and flair and all of the other things systematically beaten out of players at a young age. Sometimes, blessedly, the deprogramming doesn't work. And for such insolence to end up on a stage like Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night, in the first game of the 2015 postseason no less, indeed tickled the bat-flip gods.

    What came of this weren't the sort of flips that will adorn highlight reels or make best-of lists. No overhead tomahawking or single-handed air-chuck or even a laser side-toss. Just the Houston Astros being the Houston Astros, which is as wonderful a thing as it is a story.

    Down went the Yankees in inglorious fashion, three-hit by a combination of Astros ace Dallas Keuchel – working on three days' rest for the first time in his career – and three relief pitchers from September's worst bullpen. It's October, of course, and the travails of last month mean nothing when great pitching marries the timely hitting worthy of some flippery.

    "We are a young team," Carlos Correa said. "We're going to have fun playing baseball."

  • 10 Degrees: It's season awards time

    Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports 10 days ago

    This again. It’s like the American League MVP award exists to polarize the masses. It is baseball’s version of electoral politics, with the debates devolving into ad hominem attacks and factual misrepresentation and everything that pollutes discourse. It’s ugly and shameful and, fine, if you really want to know, it’s devilishly fun.

    Stay above the fray, and the Mike Trout-vs.-Miguel Cabrera debates of yore were tremendous mental exercises, offering the ability to debunk myths of the past using knowledge from the present. Baseball, an ever-evolving game, allowed us to see how a kid in center field can be better than a Triple Crown winner.

    This year’s deliberation is far more difficult, because Trout and Josh Donaldson are so very similar. They play important, difficult positions. Their offensive profiles are quite close. And amid the handful of meaningful games left in this 2015 season, they are putting on a daily anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better show.

    On Saturday night, Trout did this.

    And then, less than 24 hours later, Donaldson did this.

    Traditional stats

    Here is Donaldson with: Runners on: .335/.409/.601 Runners in scoring position: .358/.445/.627 RISP with 2 outs: .254/.382/.444

  • Francisco Lindor's journey from Puerto Rico to AL Rookie of the Year favorite

    Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports 12 days ago

    On the side of a house in Caguas, Puerto Rico, a hill descended about 100 yards into a swath of bushes. At the top stood Miguel Lindor, and he would instruct his son Francisco to move about halfway down. Miguel would grab one of those bouncy, yellow rubber balls and whack it toward Francisco, again and again, every chance fraught with peril.

    “If I missed a groundball,” Francisco Lindor said, “I had to chase the ball.” He did everything he could to stop the ball from getting past him. Throw his glove at it. Try to knock it toward a tree and get a kind ricochet. Or, best of all, hoover it and fling it back to Miguel so he could tempt fate one more time.

    What Francisco Lindor is today – 5-foot-11, 190 pounds of instinct draped in a Cleveland Indians uniform, doing things at the shortstop position not seen there since Omar Vizquel last patrolled the infield at Progressive Field, and sneaking up to position himself as the leading candidate for American League Rookie of the Year because his bat is every bit as precocious as his glove – comes directly from those afternoons in Caguas and the lessons he learned before moving to Florida as a teenager.

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  • How much does Bryce Harper actually hustle? Quite a lot

    Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports 13 days ago

    Bryce Harper is a walking kick-me sign, his every move guaranteed to draw the ire of those who don't know him and don't care what he stands for. It's how Jonathan Papelbon's hands ended up around the neck of Harper, his Washington Nationals teammate, on Sunday: He ignored facts and let perceptions guide his stupidity.

    Let's delve into these perceptions and facts, because they're central to the absolution of Harper at a time where his greatest sin was allowing a troglodyte relief pitcher to burrow into his head.

    Perception: Harper does not hustle.

    Fact: Harper's average time from home to first base is among the top one-third in all of baseball. His average speed down the line is even higher than that. He hustles pretty damn hard actually.'s Statcast system tracks every runner who puts a ball in play and clocks his speed from home to first. A query of the Statcast database looked at who ran the fastest time (on plays that took between 3.5 and 5.5 seconds) and who had the best top-end speed.

    Perception: Harper did not run out his pop fly to left field in Sunday's game.

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  • 10 Degrees: The incredible run of Jake Arrieta and his minuscule ERA

    Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports 15 days ago

    As they spent draft picks and money to build a war chest of bats, the Chicago Cubs always came back to the same thought: We'll find pitching. There was some cockiness to this, as there is to much of what the Cubs do, because the people who run the organization know they're good at their jobs and have seen their process manifest itself in diamond-encrusted rings.

    Some of the arms would come through their checkbook. They tried for Masahiro Tanaka; they succeeded with Jon Lester. Others came through savvy: Getting Jason Hammel on the cheap not once but twice, nabbing Kyle Hendricks in a trade. And then there was the case of a tall, well-put-together right-hander who at age 27 looked to the rest of the world like little more than another pitching prospect who simply didn't pan out.

    The Cubs saw something different in Jake Arrieta, and when they acquired him July 2, 2013, in exchange for free agent-to-be Scott Feldman, so began the two-year buildup to one of the finest stretches of pitching in history.

    Nobody wants to face him today, not in a five- or seven-game series and especially not in a one-and-done game. It's the hitter's equivalent to what pitchers face when …