There were 13 games played in the first six days of the baseball postseason (including the Texas-Tampa Bay elimination), and most of them were as boring as a Mariners’ series in July. The 13 combined had a 52-run margin, and averaged a four-run differential per game; there were three one-run games, four blowouts and two shutouts.
The post-game show was almost as exciting as the ninth innings.
That all changed on Monday, which brought three one-run games, a favorite staving off elimination, a walk-off homer, a dramatic late-night, game-winning and series-winning home run, and at long last, some drama.
Three teams started Monday with a chance to advance and only one did. The Dodgers did that in the most unlikeliest of manners, bringing back their ace on three days rest, falling behind, failing to bunt and then homering. Sabermeticians abhor the bunt anyway.
Two more teams have a chance to clinch Tuesday, and one Game 5 is already assured.
We could be talking about the managerial move that cost his team the series. But Juan Uribe’s eighth-inning home run saved Dodgers’ manager Don Mattingly from the inquisition which surely would have been coming had the Dodgers lost Game 4. (We’ll get to Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez and his bullpen).
Mattingly abruptly changed his rotation Monday and started Clayton Kershaw on three days rest. Predictably, Kershaw was less effective and the Dodgers were fortunate to win.
Mattingly’s lack of orthodoxy is admirable, but his lack of preparation is not. Kershaw threw 124 pitches in Game 1, his second-highest total this year (132 in a May shutout of the Nats). Had the Dodgers even been entertaining the idea of Kershaw starting Game 4, why then did they allow him to throw so many pitches when it wasn’t necessary in a 6-1 game?
Spontaneity may work on a date, but it’s no way to manage a baseball team.
And speaking of bad decisions, for the love of everything that is Dodger Blue, can someone please tell Yasiel Puig to stop trying to steal bases? Puig was thrown out again on Monday, which makes him 11-for-20 on the year. He’s stealing bases at a 55% success rate, which would earn him a well-deserved grade of F in a classroom. Yes, Puig is exciting running the bases, in a reality show kind of way. He’s just not always good at it.
As for the Braves, it was a dispiriting end for a fan base that is used to them. It’s tempting to blame Gonzalez for not turning to closer Craig Kimbrel in the eighth inning, and you can do a Google search and find an expanded roster full of links that does exactly that. Don’t believe it. There’s a simple reason the Braves lost this series, and it’s not about how Gonzalez used his bullpen: the Dodgers were better. Way better.
The Dodgers won two lopsided games and the teams split two close ones. The Braves’ problems have been well-documented here (we would be remiss not to give the Elliot Johnson update: he did triple Monday, thanks to Puig’s misadventure in the right-field corner, and score the go-ahead run, his only hit of a 1-for-14 series). David Carpenter didn’t figure to be one of them.
Carpenter was one of the best eighth-inning pitchers in baseball this season: he had a 1.78 ERA, .558 OPS and 74 strikeouts and 45 hits allowed in 65.2 innings. He didn’t pitch like it in this series, allowing two home runs in just 2.2 innings, but that’s the nature of short series (see Jose Lobaton vs. Koji Uehara).
Having allowed a double to Puig — which would have been a routine groundout to first had the Braves been guarding the lines; not to say they should have been, just pointing out the randomness of it — Juan Uribe was up to bunt. There was no reason to bring in Kimbrel then, since the Dodgers were conceding an out; when Uribe failed to bunt, there still seemed no reason to bring in Kimbrel given the probabilities with two strikes on Uribe.
Should Kimbrel have started the inning? Perhaps. From the vantage point of Uribe’s homer, assuredly yes. But Kimbrel needed 25 pitches to get four outs in Game 2, and one of those was on the bases. It’s not inconceivable to assume Kimbrel would have needed 40 pitches, or more, to get six outs.
Kimbrel’s high was 36 pitches this year, three other times he threw 28. What if Kimbrel tired and blew the save? What if he blew it anyway (he had four of those this year)? Then Gonzalez would have to explain why he panicked and brought in Kimbrel so early when he had Carpenter.
The abruptness of Monday’s change of fortune shouldn’t change the dynamics of this series, and there wasn’t much Gonzalez could do about that.
The Cardinals’ Michael Wacha got 22 outs without allowing a Pirate hit, which wasn’t as good as his last regular-season start, when he went 26 outs without giving up a hit. The rookie is slipping.
The good news for the Pirates is they won’t face Wacha in Game 5, although Adam Wainwright is no slouch. He has three postseason wins (including Game 1), four saves and a 2.27 ERA.
The Pirates have their own rookie phenom for Game 5 in Gerrit Cole, but what they really need are baserunners. Starling Marte and Neal Walker, the top two hitters in the Pirates’ lineup, are a combined 1-for-31 with two walks.
Pitching has dominated the series — the Pirates have 23 hits and a .596 OPS in four games, the Cards 24 hits and a .612 OPS. Game 5 should be no different.
It would be nice to see the A’s-Tigers series come down to Grant Balfour vs. Victor Martinez after Monday’s woof-oof, but the Tigers need more bark from Miguel Cabrera. Baseball’s best hitter has two hits in the series, both singles, entering Tuesday’s game, and he hasn’t had an extra-base hit since a Sept. 17 homer vs. Seattle.
That’s 47 at-bats without even a bloop double for a hitter with a .636 slugging percentage in 2013. Cabrera played hurt for most of September (his .729 OPS for the month was 349 points less than his season total), and it could be the difference in a close series.
Koji Uehara had allowed a single earned run in his last 42 innings, dating to June 30, before Lobaton’s home run Monday. The Red Sox lost with their best pitcher on the mound, which doesn’t make it any less of a loss than the Braves’. That the Red Sox still lead 2-1 perhaps does.
Uehara was haunted by home runs in 2011 — he threw 11 in 65 innings, and 5 in just 18 after the Rangers acquired him — but threw only five this year. Two were in back-to-back appearances in April; the Red Sox hope that doesn’t repeat Tuesday.