If not for Bud, Braves would be World Series favorites

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Who’s with me?

The Nationals’ four projected starters are a combined 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA in the postseason, with that entire track record belonging to Edwin Jackson. They have one hitter in their lineup with a .350 OBP. They don’t have any big holes in their lineup, but they also don’t have anyone with an OPS over .850.

The Reds’ No. 1 starter, Johnny Cueto, has a history of fatiguing as the year goes on, something that seems to have manifested again this year. He’ll enter the postseason having already topped his career high in innings by about 20. Their best hitter has gone 41 at-bats without homering since returning from a seven-week injury. The team as a whole has hit .249/.309/.395 in road games this year. Their elite closer has been dealing with shoulder weakness. They’ll almost certainly be starting Bronson Arroyo in Game 3 of the NLDS.

The Giants have the worst run differential of any of the NL’s big four. Their offense has performed surprisingly well without the suspended NL batting champ, but there’s only one guy with an .800 OPS left in the lineup. Besides Buster Posey, there isn’t anyone on the team with even a dozen homers. And while the Giants have the best one-two rotation punch in the NL, it’s going to be hard to trust Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong or Barry Zito in Games 3 and 4. Also, they don’t have a closer.

The Braves have the game’s hottest pitcher in Kris Medlen, with Tim Hudson available to start Game 2. They’ll have to choose from the Paul Maholm, Mike Minor and Tommy Hanson trio after that, but the top two should be tough. They have an incredibly dominant force to pitch the ninth and a top notch lefty in front of him. With Michael Bourn and Martin Prado, they should be able to manufacture runs at the top of the lineup, and they have five guys behind them capable of delivering the long ball.

Atlanta isn’t about to make up 5 1/2 games on Washington to win the NL East. As a result, a one-game wild card playoff seems assured, and even if the Braves will be good bets to win that game with Medlen or Hudson starting, there’s still at least a 35-40 percent chance they come up short.

Under the old system, the Braves would be my pick to represent the NL in the World Series. The lack of home-field advantage would be a problem, but they look like the best team to me, particularly since they’d be able to get a little more out of Chipper Jones, Craig Kimbrel and Eric O’Flaherty with the additional days off in the postseason schedule.

As is, they’re a big underdog. Which is precisely what Bud Selig and the others wanted in agreeing to the new wild card format. The Braves are still capable of advancing, but I think I’d have to go with the Giants at the moment.

A.J. Hinch: “We’ll use every pitcher in Game 7 if we have to”

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It’s not entirely clear why the Astros threw Ken Giles into the ninth inning of Game 6 of the ALCS. With a six-run advantage and the bottom half of the Yankees’ lineup due up, pushing the series to its seven-game capacity looked like a sure bet. Giles may be one of Houston’s better bullpen arms, but he’s not their only option, and it would have made more sense to keep him fresh for a do-or-die Game 7 on Saturday night.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a sure bet when it comes to postseason baseball. That’s more or less what Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch had to say after the game, telling reporters that he had envisioned a quick three outs from his closer as they tried to pull back from the brink of elimination. “We didn’t have the luxury of limping into that inning,” Hinch said. “We’ve seen how these guys can explode in these innings.”

It’s not difficult to recall the Yankees’ explosive drive in the eighth inning of Game 4, when they exploited the holes in Houston’s ‘pen and evened the series with Gary Sanchez‘s go-ahead double off of Giles. Back home in Minute Maid Park, however, there was a slightly different feel to the eighth and ninth innings of Game 6. Jose Altuve led off the eighth with a solo home run, followed by Alex Bregman‘s two-run double and Evan Gattis‘ sac fly. In the ninth, Giles labored through a 23-pitch outing to lock down the win, handing out a base hit and a seven-pitch walk before eventually whiffing Chase Headley on three straight pitches for the last out.

So, while Hinch’s decision to lean on Giles in Game 6 may have felt wasteful, his concerns were not entirely unfounded. He’s prepared to roll with the same strategy during Saturday’s series finale, too, leaving nothing on the table as the Astros battle for their first World Series showdown since 2005. According to Dallas Keuchel, that means all hands on deck — except for Justin Verlander, whose four wins, 24 strikeouts and 1.46 postseason ERA have gotten the Astros as far as he could possibly be expected to take them. “No pitcher is going to be in the dugout,” said Keuchel. “They’re all going to be in the bullpen, myself included. Any way we can help out, we’re trying to get to the World Series, the same way the Yankees are, and that’s a nice feeling to have.”

Does that mean Giles will be available for a Game 7 appearance? Stranger things have happened. Joe Sheehan notes that the right-hander has pitched in back-to-back days 13 times this year, though he’s never thrown as many as 23 pitches on Day 1. Granted, he likely doesn’t have enough left in the tank for another 20+ pitch run on Saturday, but with the World Series on the line, any help he can offer will be invaluable.