Having been off the air for a few days, I realize that some of this commentary is a tad late, but I want to make a few points about the MLB playoffs. The Washington Nationals lost in the final game of their series with the LA Dodgers after leading the best of five series two games to one. Lost in the heroics of Clayton Kershaw winning Game 4 and then coming in to pitch in the 9th inning of Game 5, is the fact that Nats’ manager Dusty Baker so over-managed that game that it was laughable.
Many of the folks who commented on that series were reluctant to indict Baker for many of his “strategeries”. I get that; Dusty Baker is a baseball-lifer; he is obviously a likeable person; he is accommodating with regard to the access he gives to the commentators. Notwithstanding any or all of the above, he stuck in his thumb and pulled out a turd last week:
Max Scherzer has been and remains the stud pitcher on the Nats’ staff. He had thrown a shut out until a leadoff home run – to the opposite field and just over the wall – on the first pitch of the 7th inning. That tied the game. That was Scherzer’s 99th pitch but it is not as if he never threw that many pitches in a game in the past. As Baker came to the mound, I figured he was going to tell Scherzer to shake it off and the team would get him another run to win this thing. But Baker took him out and went to the Nats’ bullpen.
If there was a weak link in the Nats’ season in 2016, it would have to have been the bullpen. It had been good in the series against the Dodgers but it was not the strength of the team. So “strategery #1” was to take out the best pitcher on the team and to rely on the weakest link of the team.
What followed was a parade of pitchers to the mound in the 7th inning giving the Dodgers a 4-1 lead. What was even worse was the start of a series of double switches that used up position players when new pitchers went to the mound. After the Nats closed the game to 4-3 in the 9th inning, there were no more pinch hitters in the dugout and many of the better offensive players on the team were out of the game. Second-rate hitters had to face Clayton Kershaw and – as you might expect – they were over-matched. The reason they were over-matched is because Dusty Baker over-managed.
One other observation about that series… It was likely the final curtain call for the core of the Phillies teams of 2008 – 2012. Let me cite the following:
In Game 4, Chase Utley had the game winning hit.
In Game 5, Carlos Ruiz – batting for Chase Utley – in that fateful 7th inning drove in a run and scored the winning run.
In Game 5, Joe Blanton came in for the Dodgers and threw one-and-a third innings of perfect baseball.
In Game 5, Jayson Werth was thrown out at home plate – by about 10 yards – when the Nats’ third-base coach did not hold him at third base on a double down the left field line. I could have made that relay throw from shallow left field to get Werth at the plate on that play. The coach clearly had a brain-lock there.
In other MLB playoff commentary, may I ask where the phone booth is that Andrew Miller uses to put on his Indians’ uniform and cover up the big red “S” on his chest? It is not that opposing players are not hitting the ball hard; they are not hitting the ball at all. It looks as if he is throwing to high school players on many of his pitches.
The Indians acquired Miller at the trade deadline. This was not a “rent-a-player” sort of deal because Miller is signed through the 2018 season at $9M per year. If he continues to pitch like this, he is an ever-loving bargain.
Should the World Series come down to a face-off between the Indians (leading 3-0 over the Jays at the moment) and the Cubs (tied 1-1 with the Dodgers at the moment), MLB could market this as the Exorcism World Series. Both teams have demons and one of them will rid themselves of said demons in that Series:
Cubs’ last World Series victory was in 1908. The “Billy Goat Curse” was put on the team in 1945 which is the last time the Cubs were in the World Series – they lost to the Tigers that year.
Indians’ last World Series victory was in 1948. The went back to the World Series in 1954 having won 111 games in that 154-game season. [Aside: the Yankees won 103 games that season and finished 8 games out of first place.] Nonetheless, in the 1954 series, the Indians lost to the Giants 4-0; that was the series where Willie Mays made the famous over-the-head catch of the deep shot to center field by Vic Wertz.
Linda Blair should throw out the first pitch if the Series comes down to the Cubs/Indians…
Rich Hill is starting playoff games for the Dodgers and getting people out. That is a bit strange. He has been in MLB for 11 years – but not pitching at this level. In fact, after shoulder and Tommy John surgery, he was in the Nats’ minor league system just last year until they released him. From there he went to the Long Island Ducks in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball as a stepping stone to signing with the Red Sox. The Dodgers acquired Hill at the trading deadline from the Oakland A’s; he is playing on a 1-year contract worth $6M and will be a free agent in less than a month. Given the way he has been pitching for the Dodgers in the last couple of months, he will likely make more than that starting next year.
Finally, here is a comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:
“Barry Bonds, fired as Marlins hitting coach after one season, thanked the club for what he called ‘one of the most rewarding experiences of my baseball career.’ Which I think officially lowers the bar on rewarding experiences.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………