If you wanted to watch hitting, then Tuesday night in the MLB playoffs wasn’t for you. There were a combined 16 hits in the two games, and 15 of them were singles. But no one in San Francisco or Oakland was complaining, as the Giants beat the Reds, the A’s beat the Tigers and both teams averted sweeps in Game 3 of their respective Division Series matchups. Let’s look back on Tuesday and ahead to Wednesday’s all-day quadruple header…
San Francisco 2 Cincinnati 1 (10): CIncy might have pitched well—Homer Bailey was exceptional in going seven innings—but they didn’t play defense at the end and they essentially gifted San Francisco both of their runs, while costing themselves a key scoring chance on the bases.
In the bottom of the first, Brandon Phillips stole second, but then tried to take third after an errant throw and was out. Cincinnati still scored, thanks to a walk from Zack Cozart and consecutive singles by Ryan Ludwick and Jay Bruce, but they might have gotten a multiple-run inning and put San Fran in an early hole. As it was, Ryan Vogelsong settled in, and Cincinnati not only never scored again, they never really threatened again.
It might have not mattered the way Bailey was pitching, but in the fourth he opened the inning with a walk and a hit batter. Bruce Bochy manufactured the run from there, with a sac bunt, then a sac fly and even though the Giants didn’t get their first hit until the sixth, the game was tied.
Finally we come to the fateful 10th inning. Baker had used Aroldis Chapman for one inning, but declined to bring him back out of the 10th. In of itself, this is worth a raised eyebrow. Playing at home, an inning from Chapman meant buying six extra outs at the plate. This series had also been off the previous day, so the flamethrowing Cuban lefty should have been rested enough to go. And to top it off, Chapman was leading off the bottom of the 10th anyway, so it would have been a good shot to pinch-hit for him.
Instead, Jonathan Broxton was summoned and the San Francisco stars—Buster Posey and Hunter Pence—each touched him for singles. Broxton still got the next two batters and looked ready to escape the inning. Then he uncorked a wild pitch, then Scott Rolen made an error and the winning run was home.
I like Dusty Baker—how can you not, given his track record of success everywhere he goes? But the decision on Chapman enabled San Francisco’s best hitters to avoid facing his own best reliever. And I’ve been shouting from the start of this series that Rolen should be out and Todd Frazier should be in at third base. Those decisions bit the Cincy manager on Tuesday in a game where the margin for error was somewhere less than zero.
Oakland 2 Detroit 0—The decisive sequence of this game was in the second inning. Detroit came to the plate trailing 1-0, but with the potential for some early momentum. Oakland started the scoring with a leadoff single from Coco Crisp, a walk from Stephen Drew and an RBI single from Yoenis Cespedes before the fans could get settled in their seats. But Detroit starter Anibal Sanchez induced a double-play ball from Josh Reddick and a potential big inning ended with one run.
Then Prince Fielder led off the second with a massive shot to centerfield, but Crisp made a great defensive play and ran it down. Crisp has now started Game 1 with a home run, Game 3 with a rally-starting single and made two defensive gems in the outfield. I’d say he’s enjoying his return to the postseason, a place he was last found in 2007 when he ran down a deep fly in the Fenway Park triangle for the final out of the ALCS (as a Boston fan, this is my shameless way of inserting the Red Sox into the postseason discussion when the relevance is peripheral at best).
Detroit looked unfazed though, and got consecutive singles. But Oakland starter Brett Anderson got out of the inning unscathed, got a home run from Seth Smith in the fifth and the A’s cruised home on a day when a two-run lead in either game felt like it was about a five-run cushion. The closest Detroit really got to doing anything was a one-out single from Miguel Cabrera in the ninth, bringing up Fielder, But A’s closer Grant Balfour, after having lost Game 2, induced a game-ending double play.
WEDNESDAY’S GRAND SLAM
If there was ever a day to call in sick, this is it. The baseball starts at 1 PM ET on the MLB Network, and then at 3 PM ET, TBS takes over with a tripleheader that carries us well past midnight on the East Coast. Here’s a rundown of the games, in the order they start…
*St. Louis-Washington: The last time Chris Carpenter and Edwin Jackson were seen pitching in the playoffs, both were leading the Cardinals to the 2011 World Series title. Carpenter makes his first start of this year’s playoffs after a year in which he pitched only three times after elbow surgery. The former ace did pitch well all three times, but two of those were against the Cubs & Astros.
Jackson is now filling the role of solid middle-of-the-rotation veteran for Washington. Ideally you’d like someone a little bit better to pitch a game of this magnitude—the pivot game of a best-of-five series tied 1-1, but Jackson is a natural fourth starter moved up after the Strasburg Shutdown.
*San Francisco-Cincinnati: Yesterday’s loss moved Cincinnati from the team in the most command, needing just one win in three tries at home, to one of the most vulnerable. We don’t know who’s going to pitch today for the Reds, as Johnny Cueto is still ruled out.
It’s either Mat Latos on three days’ rest (although he only pitched four innings of relief in Game 1 after Cueto left with back spasms), or Mike Leake. And since Leake is not currently on the active roster, starting him means Cueto would have to be shelved and not able to return unless the team made the World Series. All of that’s reason enough for me to go with Latos. I don’t have confidence in Leake, and somewhere along the line the Reds’ hitters have to do something against Barry Zito.
*Baltimore-NY Yanks: The Orioles are sending lefty Miguel Gonzalez to the mound, who has pitched well for them in the second half of the season, and you ideally prefer a southpaw in the Bronx when pitching to lefthanded Yankee hitters like Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano and Raul Ibanez who can target the short porch in right. It also turns switch-hitters Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher around to their weaker side.
New York turns to Hiroki Kuroda to try and get control of the series. Based on regular season performance, Kuroda can be every bit as reliable as C.C. Sabathia and Andy Pettite were in the first two games, but tonight’s starter doesn’t have the same October pedigree. He won a clinching game for the Dodgers over the Cubs back in 2008 but that was a Game 3 spot when his team had won the first two and Chicago was disintegrating. The pressure will be more intense tonight and we’ll see how Kuroda responds.
*Detroit-Oakland: Max Scherzer has gotten the job done for Detroit down the stretch, and it’s worth noting that every Detroit starter—not just Justin Verlander—has pitched well in this series. Now it’s up to Scherzer to beat rookie A.J. Griffin. While Detroit has Verlander in reserve for Game 5, I don’t think they relish the thought of a road Game 5 against an Oakland team that would be feeling its Cinderella oats all over again. And even if you assume Verlander still wins, wouldn’t you rather have him for Game 1 of the ALCS?