Wednesday, October 8, 2014

MLB Playoffs, Days 5 and 6

The San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals laugh at your theories about how the MLB Playoffs are random.  Since 2010, the Giants have won seven post-season series in a row.  Over that same period, the Giants are the only National League team to win a playoff series against the Cardinals.  Here's what the list of NL Champions looks like:

2010:  San Francisco
2011:  St. Louis
2012:  San Francisco
2013:  St. Louis
2014:  St. Louis or San Francisco

In recent years, the Nats and the Dodgers have played the Washington Generals to these two champions.  In 2012, the Nats had a 7-5 lead in the 9th inning of Game Five of the National League Division Series against the Cardinals -- only to blow that lead and the series.  This year, the Nats led Game Two against the Giants 1-0 with two outs and no one on on base in the 9th inning -- and managed to lose in 18 innings.  The Nats fought back with a 4-1 win in Game Three -- and then got a dramatic, game-tying homer from Bryce Harper in the top of the seventh in Game Four.  With momentum seemingly on their side, the Nats then gave up the winning run in the bottom of the seventh as follows:  a single, a single, a walk, and a wild pitch.  So long, thanks for playing.

Matthew asked me once if the Nats -- with their staunch starters and shaky relievers -- reminded me of the Steve Garvey-era Dodgers.  I don't think the Nats' hitters are really close to the level of those Dodgers -- in this series, the Nats rolled out Jason Werth and Adam LaRoche as their three and four hitters, and those two guys combined to go 2 for 35.  Instead, the Nats remind me of the Braves teams from the early 2000's -- they use their deep starting rotation to beat up on a weak NL East during the regular season, but they lack the firepower or fundamental soundness to survive a series of close, hard-fought games.

As for the Dodgers, they are racking up quite a record of failure in the playoffs.  In 2008 and 2009, they lost the NLCS to Philadelphia.  Last year, they lost the 2013 NLCS to St. Louis.  This year, the Dodgers had home field advantage over St. Louis -- and they had Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher anyone has seen in the National League for years.  Then they went out and staked Kershaw to a 6-1 lead in Game One.  That should work, right?  No.  Kershaw melted down in the late innings, and the Dodgers lost 10-9.  But then L.A. tied the series with a late Matt Kemp homer and a 3-2 victory in Game Two.  All the Dodgers had to do was win one game in St. Louis, and they could get Game Five in Dodger Stadium.

They couldn't do it.  In Game Four, with the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the 7th, the Dodgers gave up a two-run homer to Kolten Wong, the Cardinals' 8th-place hitter.  The Cards won 3-1.  Last night, Dodger Manager Don Mattingly decided to go Old School.  He benched the eccentric Yasiel Puig, the Dodgers' best player, on the grounds that Puig struck out seven times in a row before hitting a triple in the sixth inning of Game Three.  Personally, I would have paid more attention to the triple than the strikeouts, but Puig is always treated like the Dennis Rodman of baseball -- the ultimate example of the guy who plays the game the Wrong Way.  Inspired by no longer having to trod the same turf with Yasiel Puig, the remaining Dodgers scratched out two runs in the top of the 6th to take a 2-0 lead -- which they then turned over to Kershaw, who was pitching on three days' rest.

Some people -- modern softies, no doubt, who go in for the antics of someone like Yasiel Puig -- believe in "relief" pitchers when a starter on three days' rest starts to lose effectiveness.  But Don Mattingly is not one of those people.  He understands that Dodger greatness means pitching complete game shutouts in the playoffs -- that's how Sandy Koufax and Orel Hershiser did it.  So when the Cardinals led off the bottom of the 7th with two singles, thus bringing the lead run to the plate, Mattingly didn't bother with any so-called "pitching change."  He expected Kershaw to man up.  Unfortunately for Dodger fans, Kershaw didn't have enough manliness to deal with Matt Adams, the St. Louis first baseman and number-five hitter.  Adams drilled Kershaw's 102d pitch of the evening for a three-run homer to put St. Louis on top.

Still inspired by not having to play with Yaseil Puig, the Dodgers fought back in the top of the 9th, as Dodger catcher A.J. Ellis drew a one-out walk.  This presented Manager Mattingly with a moral dilemma:  he needed a pinch-runner for Ellis and a pinch-hitter for the pitcher's spot, and Puig is both his fastest player and his best hitter.  Rising to the occasion, he used Puig to pinch run, sending up Justin Turner (a lifetime .281 hitter who did bat .340 this year) to hit.  But seeing Puig on the base paths probably discouraged Turner, who struck out.  A few minutes later, the Dodgers' season was over.  But at least they lost the Right Way.

American League Divisional Series:
Kansas City beat Los Angeles 3-0
Baltimore beat Detroit 3-0

National League Divisional Series:
San Francisco beat Washington 3-1
St. Louis beat Los Angeles 3-1

1 comment:

  1. This is devastating.

    I am now for the Orioles and the Cardinals.