For want of a nail: the Braves stun the Giants and then the Giants stun them right back

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For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.

Or was that about second basemen?

Before I start in on the Brooks Conrad sturm und drang, allow me to say that no matter who wins this series, it has been a fantastic one.  Close. Exciting.  Filled with the unexpected.  That went for Friday’s game without question, but perhaps it went even more for tonight.

The Giants led most of the way behind a strong performance from Jonathan Sanchez.  Meanwhile, the only damage the Giants could do resulted from Jason Heyward slamming against the wall to give Mike Fontenot a triple, followed by a Brooks Conrad error that allowed Fontenot to score.

Well, at least he got that out of his system, right?

Flash forward to the eighth inning where pinch-hitter Eric Hinske hit a two-run homer.  It’s the kind of thing, combined with Rick Ankiel’s home run on Friday, that truly makes you marvel at the blinding star power the Braves are riding in this series. Frank Wren had put a call in to Francisco Cabrera to ask if he wanted to pinch hit and Cabrera turned him down because the gig was way too low-rent for him.  Hinske was dramatic enough, however, yelling and pumping his fist at one of the more improbable home runs in recent memory.  If the game could have ended right there, oh how memorable it would have been.

But with Billy Wagner at a field hospital someplace, no lead is a sure thing for the Braves.  After getting two outs and allowing one baserunner, Craig Kimbrel allowed a Freddy Sanchez single to center.  Bobby Cox — who is so damn trusting that he doesn’t even remove Brooks Conrad for a defensive replacement — doesn’t trust Kimbrel to get one more out and brings in Mike Dunn to face Aubrey Huff. Huff singled in the tying run.

What happened next was just so . . . appropriate.  Peter Moylan comes in and induces a grounder to second by Buster Posey.  That goes right through Brooks Conrad’s wickets. It was his third error of the game.  If Bobby Cox wishes to manage more than one more game in his career, it will be the last defensive chance Conrad ever receives.  Seriously, put Tim Hudson in at second base. It couldn’t be worse.

It was lost in rage-haze, but I’m told that the Braves eventually got the third out and then went down mostly quietly in the bottom of the ninth.  Game over: Giants win 3-2.

If they could take a man’s life for the thoughts that’s in his head . . .

Astros vs. Dodgers is a match made in heaven

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A lot of people who work at the league office or who take paychecks from the Fox network probably wanted to see the Yankees and the Cubs in the World Series. They won’t admit it, of course, but I suspect that many did, as the ratings for a Cubs-Yankees Series might’ve broken modern records. If they are at all disappointed by the Astros and Dodgers winning the pennant, however, they should let that go because they’ve been gifted by a wonderful matchup from a purely baseball perspective. Indeed, it’s one of the best on-paper matchups we’ve had in the Fall Classic in many years.

Before the Dodgers went on their late-August, early-September swoon, this was the potential World Series pairing most folks who know a thing or two wanted to see. At least I did, and I don’t think I was alone. It was certainly the matchup which represented the teams with the two best regular season records and storylines at the time. While Cleveland ended up winning more games than Houston did, for the first time since 1970 we have a World Series pitting two 100-win teams against each other.

Like that Orioles-Reds series in 1970, which featured Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and a host of other All-Stars, the Dodgers-Astros provide us with an embarrassment of big names and future Hall of Famers. Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw and Astros DH/OF Carlos Beltran are destined for induction already. Astros ace Justin Verlander may very well join them, especially if his late 2017 surge is evidence of a second career peak. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve‘s first seven years and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen‘s first eight are the stuff upon which Cooperstown resumes are made as well. People will be arguing Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley‘s Hall of Fame case for years once he retires.

Youth is served as well in this matchup, with each club featuring a handful of the game’s best young players to accompany their big name veteran stars.

The Dodgers will bat their no-doubt N.L. Rookie of the Year first baseman Cody Bellinger second or third in the lineup every game. 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, who sat out the NLCS with a bad back, is expected to be activated for the Series where he’ll be the Dodgers shortstop. The Astros are actually an old team on paper — Verlander, catcher Brian McCann, starter Charlie Morton, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, outfielder Josh Reddick and DH Evan Gattis are all over 30 while Beltran is 40 — but young players are essential to their attack as well. Shortstop Carlos Correa just turned 23 and he’s one of the game’s brightest stars. Third baseman Alex Bregman, also 23, made the play that may very well have broken the Yankees’ back during Saturday night’s pennant clincher. Age aside, the Astros are the product of a major, multi-year rebuild and many of their players are making their first national splash this postseason.

Beyond just the names and resumes, though, the Dodgers and Astros represent a fantastic strategic matchup. The Dodgers attack this postseason has featured admirable plate discipline, with third baseman Justin Turner, right fielder Yasiel Puig and center fielder Chris Taylor all letting balls out of the zone pass them by while abusing pitches left out over the plate. Astros pitchers not named Justin Verlander, however, have lived by getting the opposition to chase bad balls. Game one starter Dallas Keuchel did this by relying on his very fast sinker. Lance McCullers pitched well starting Game 4 of the ALCS and pitched spectacularly closing out the final four innings of Game 7 mostly by virtue of his curveball, which Yankees pitchers could simply not lay off. Indeed, his final 24 pitches of Game 7 were all curves, many of them low and away. Who will give in first in this series?

On the side of things, Dodgers relievers have made a living by pumping in strikes. Particularly strikes high in the zone from Jansen and Brandon Morrow. There may be no better fastball hitter in all of baseball than Jose Altuve, however, and the team as a whole was one of the best in the bigs in dealing with gas in the zone. This was a big reason why the Astros struck out less than any team in baseball this year while simultaneously boasting the best offense in the game. The Dodgers throw strikes. The Astros make you pay when you throw them strikes. Again, something’s gotta give.

Maybe the suits in New York wanted the Yankees and Cubs. But everyone else is getting exactly what we want: a matchup of the two best teams in the game. A matchup of strength against strength. What is, from a purely baseball perspective, the best World Series we could’ve possibly hoped for.