Braves bench Brian McCann for Wild Card playoff game

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David Ross, not Brian McCann, will be behind the plate for the Braves’ playoff game against the Cardinals tomorrow night.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez made that announcement today, saying Ross provides the best chance to win in part because McCann is “beat up” physically after playing through various injuries all season.

During the regular season McCann started 113 times, compared to 47 for Ross, but they essentially split the playing time evenly for the last two weeks and McCann was terrible throughout August and September.

McCann hit .243 with a .768 OPS through the end of July, which isn’t that far off from his career .826 OPS, but during the final two months the six-time All-Star batted just .201 with two homers in a .541 OPS in 39 games.

Ross, meanwhile, did his usual solid work in a backup role while hitting .256 with a .770 OPS in 62 games, but the decision to bench the left-handed-hitting McCann in favor of the right-handed-hitting Ross versus Cardinals right-hander Kyle Lohse is a bold move by Gonzalez.

Also worth noting is that McCann caught Atlanta starter Kris Medlen for 93 innings during the regular season, compared to 44 innings for Ross. And Medlen had a sub-2.00 ERA working with both catchers.

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.