Grant Balfour

Backs against the wall, Giants and A’s come through


With four teams combining on just 16 hits and five runs, Tuesday’s games were all about the pitching. Facing elimination, the Giants and A’s survived thanks to the strength of their rotations and bullpens.

Tied 1-1 for most of the day, the Giants tried emptying their bench as a means to score a run in the eighth after the Reds brought in lefty Sean Marshall. They sent up three straight pinch-hitters, none of whom reached base in the inning. The strategy may have proved very costly in time, particularly with Hunter Pence nursing a leg problem that left him hobbled after he reached base in the 10th. The Giants still had catcher Hector Sanchez available, and they could have put Buster Posey at first base and Brandon Belt in the outfield had the need arisen. But if they had made that move, the bench would have been completely exhausted for the rest of the game.

Fortunately, the Giants were able to win the game in the 10th, after a bad-hop grounder led to a Scott Rolen error and an unearned run against Jonathan Broxton. Sergio Romo, who got his first at-bat since 2010 in the top of the 10th, closed out the game.

After Ryan Vogelsong’s shaky first inning, Giants pitchers allowed a total of one-hit to the Reds in the 2-1 victory. Still, one wonders just how differently the game might have gone had Brandon Phillips not gotten thrown out trying to take third in the top of the first. The Reds ended up with three hits and a walk in the inning, yet scored just one run.

That first inning was the only time the Giants were in trouble today. One could say A’s pitchers weren’t even in trouble the once. The Tigers were able to put two men on just once, doing so with one out in the top of the second. Too bad for them that the wrong part of the Detroit lineup was up in that situation. Andy Dirks and Avisail Garcia both grounded out to strand the runners.

Thanks to a couple of sterling plays by A’s outfielders, both on balls hit by Prince Fielder, the Tigers never had an extra-base hit in their 2-0 loss in Oakland. The A’s bullpen, which was so disappointing in the Game 2 loss, rebounded to pitch three scoreless innings, with just two hits and no walks allowed. Sean Doolittle fanned all three batters he faced in the eighth. Grant Balfour gave up a single to Miguel Cabrera in the ninth, only to induce a double play from Fielder afterwards.

And thus the Bay Area teams will live to play another day. By virtue of being at home for the remainder of the series, one imagines the A’s will have a better chance than the Giants of advancing. Of course, they’ll have to keep pitching well, as the offense could be stymied by Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. The Giants haven’t inspired a lot of faith, not with their offense scoring a total of five runs in three games. It’s a good bet that the Reds will put up some runs at least one of these next two games, and the Giants might be hard-pressed to match them.

Jessica Mendoza and Chris Archer were great in the booth

Jessica Mendoza

Not news: Jessica Mendoza, who has been excellent on all of the ESPN broadcasts she has done since taking over for Curt Schilling, was excellent last night too.

She was great on the nuts and bolts, continued to show that she can describe hitting mechanics better than most color commentators — way more of them seem to be more comfortable talking about pitching — and was a seamless presence in the booth in terms of flow, timbre and all of the aesthetic aspects of broadcasting. If she has a fault thus far it’s that she leans on some cliches about hitters’ mindsets and desire to win sometimes. This puts her in with approximately 100% of all other color commentators in baseball now and throughout the history of baseball, of course, so it’s not really a demerit.

Ultimately, the true test of a good commentator is whether they (a) add insight; and (b) do so without distracting or upstaging the game. In this Mendoza is superior to most commentators in baseball and clearly superior to the “stop and listen to me” brand of analysts the major networks have employed on national broadcasts in recent years.

Indeed, the best compliment I think I can give Mendoza is that she was — in the literal sense, not the judgmental sense — unremarkable. Meaning: during the game and after there was nothing she said or did that was worthy of the highly-critical remarks almost every broadcaster gets, going back through Schilling, Kruk, Harold Reynolds Tim McCarver, Joe Morgan and everyone else ESPN and Fox have forced upon us in their history doing playoff baseball. I’m on Twitter during most playoff games and sometimes the broadcaster bashing is more interesting than the game. Mendoza gives the would-be bashers very little material.

At least those who would bash on the actual merits. There remains a group of deadenders who are irked by her very presence in the booth because she is a woman. The New York times rounds up some of the less mouth-breathery types today, but God knows there are many, many worse. Some of them even in professional media. At least for now. Whether you choose to ignore those people or choose to engage them — which, their dead end opinions notwithstanding can be a useful exercise in my view — know that they are out there being miserable and sexist as God and the First Amendment intended them to be.

While there are many who slam Mendoza on the faulty premise that she lacks credentials and experience in the booth, there was one person in the ESPN booth last night, at least for a while, who was a total TV noob. His name was Chris Archer. He pitches a bit for the Tampa Bay Rays. And lo and behold, he was pretty damn good himself.

Archer needs some polish for style — he has a lot of “ummms” and “uhhhs” about him — but his analysis is both sharp and quick. Meaning he was RIGHT ON the points when he needed to be without any of the usual prompting guests in the booth need from the play-by-play guy. At one point he even flowed into play-by-play and did a pretty good job of it.  Chris: if that pitching stuff doesn’t work out, you have a bright, bright future in television.

So, on the first night of the playoffs, there were no complaints about the broadcast. Mostly because the broadcasters weren’t the stars of the show. The game was. And it was complemented nicely by a couple of good voices.

And John Kruk.

NL Wild Card Game: Cubs vs. Pirates lineups

Jake Arrieta

Here are the Cubs and Pirates lineups for tonight’s Wild Card game in Pittsburgh:

CF Dexter Fowler
RF Kyle Schwarber
LF Kris Bryant
1B Anthony Rizzo
3B Tommy La Stella
2B Starlin Castro
C Miguel Montero
SS Addison Russell
SP Jake Arrieta

Cubs manager Joe Maddon wanted Tommy La Stella in the lineup over Jorge Soler or Chris Coghlan, so he starts at third base and Kris Bryant shifts to left field. Bryant started just four games in left field all season, compared to 136 starts at third base. Also of note: After batting Addison Russell ninth–behind the pitcher–116 times this season Maddon has him in the more traditional eighth spot tonight.

RF Gregory Polanco
3B Josh Harrison
CF Andrew McCutchen
LF Starling Marte
C Francisco Cervelli
2B Neil Walker
SS Jordy Mercer
1B Sean Rodriguez
SP Gerrit Cole

Pedro Alvarez started 119 games at first base for the Pirates and with right-hander Jake Arrieta on the mound he was the presumed starter tonight, but instead manager Clint Hurdle has benched the 27-homer slugger in favor of utility man Sean Rodriguez. Alvarez is vastly superior to Rodriguez offensively, especially versus a righty, but he’s also very shaky defensively. During the regular season Rodriguez started a grand total of one game at first base against a right-hander, so this qualifies as a hunch by Hurdle.