Wednesday, October 15, 2014

MLB Playoffs, Day 13

Here's the most important thing to understand about these playoffs:  since the divisional series began, there have been five games that went into extra innings.  Three of those games were won by the Royals, and the other two were won by the Giants.  That is the main reason that the two Wild Cards are on track to meet in the World Series.

Yesterday we had two more exciting, tense games.  The Cardinals and Giants put on a masterpiece -- the Giants had an early 4-0 lead, the Cardinals fought back to tie it at 4, and the two teams went into extra innings.  In the bottom of the 10th, a series of mistakes by the Cardinals -- a walk, a single allowed to a weak-hitting substitute, and an error on a bunt -- gave the game to San Francisco.  This is how San Francisco has played the whole post-season so far -- they force the game into these incredibly tense situations, and then they usually handle things better than the other team.  It doesn't always work -- the Cardinals won Game Two with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th -- but so far the Giants are mostly coming out ahead.

Meanwhile, in Kansas City, the party continues for the Royals, who have now won six in a row since the Divisional Series started.  Baltimore, like the Nats and the Angels, is a slugging team -- which is great in the regular season, where you face a lot of second- and third-tier pitchers.  But in the playoffs, where runs are precious, you really need to be able to put people on base.  Yesterday, as we discussed, the Giants' winning rally started with a walk and ended with an error.  But you don't get as many of those breaks when everyone is swinging for the fences.

Yesterday, the Royals and Orioles were tied at 1 in the bottom of the 6th when the Royals got a leadoff single from their number-two hitter, right fielder Norichika Aoki.  The Royals decided to go for the win right there, pulling Aoki and sending in Jerrod Dyson, their best pinch runner.  One out later, Dyson scooted to third on a single to right by first baseman Eric Hosmer.  The next batter was Billy Butler, the Royals' designated hitter, and he lofted a fly ball to left, scoring Dyson and putting the Royals up 2-1.

Now the Orioles were down to their last nine outs -- they had to score one run to avoid going down 3-0, and effectively seeing their season come to an end.  The Giants, Cardinals, or Royals would have been trying for walks, bloops -- anything to get a man on base and start a rally.  The Orioles kept going for the long ball.  Here's how their last three innings went:

Seventh Inning:
J.J. Hardy (shortstop) grounded out to short
Ryan Flaherty (third base) struck out swinging
Nick Hundley (catcher) struck out swinging

Eighth Inning:
Jonathan Schoop (second base) struck out swinging
Nick Markakis (right field) flied out to left
Alejandro De Aza (left field) grounded out to pitcher

Ninth Inning:
Adam Jones (center field):  flied out to second
Nelson Cruz (designated hitter):  fouled out to right
Steve Pearce (first base):  grounded out to second

That's it -- nine up, nine down.  No pinch hitters.  No one who fouled off enough pitches to reach a three-ball count.  No pressure on the Royals' pitchers or fielders.  Just a lot of hard swings and easy outs.  In the 9th inning -- by far the most important inning of their entire season -- Oriole hitters saw only six pitches.  And so the Orioles will soon be joining teams like the Nats, Dodgers, and Angels on the sidelines, watching the grown-ups play for the title.

American League Championship Series:
Kansas City leads Baltimore 3-0

National League Championship Series:
San Francisco leads St. Louis 2-1

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