Reds still hold the advantage in winner-take-all Game 5

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Momentum, if such a thing exists in baseball, favors the Giants. Thursday’s matchup, Matt Cain vs. Mat Latos, would likewise seem to favor the Giants. And yet the Reds are still the better bet to win Thursday’s series-ending Game 5.

– The Reds have home-field advantage. It didn’t count for much the last two days, but the Reds were tied for the NL’s best record at home (50-31) this season.

– Recent history suggests the Reds have Cain’s number. Including Saturday’s Game 1, in which the Giants ace allowed three runs in five innings, Cain is 0-3 with a 5.50 ERA and six homers surrendered in 18 innings against the Reds this year. Two of those three starts were in San Francisco, too. Overall, Cain was far better at home this year (2.03 ERA, seven homers allowed in 111 IP) than on the road (3.56 ERA, 14 homers allowed in 109 IP).

– Latos is pitching even better than Cain at the moment. He had a 2.41 ERA over the final two months of the regular season. Plus, he’s dominated the Giants. He was 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA in two starts during the season. Pitching in relief of the injured Johnny Cueto, he allowed one run over four innings in relief in the Game 1 victory.

– Even though the Reds’ No. 1 starter (Cuet0) faced two batters in Game 1 and their hottest starter going into the series (Latos) hasn’t started at all, the Reds have outscored the Giants 18-12 in the NLDS. They’ve been the better team.

– Since Wednesday’s game wasn’t close, the key relievers on both teams will be rested for Game 5. That favors the Reds, given that Aroldis Chapman and Sean Marshall are a bit stronger than the Giants’ late-game committee.

– The Reds also have Bronson Arroyo lurking if something truly unexpected happens. It’s doubtful Dusty Baker will be looking to go to him, but he was awesome in Game 2 and he’s actually been quite successful on three days’ rest in his career, going 3-1 with a 3.19 ERA in eight starts.

Of course, just about anything can happen in an all-hands-on-deck game, and things will get very interesting if Latos happens to struggle early. I like the Reds in this one, but given that I preferred the Giants a week ago, what do I know?

Andrelton Simmons is absolutely freaking ridiculous

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I’ve been watching Andrelton Simmons play shortstop since he came up with the Braves back in 2012. From the moment he burst onto the scene it was clear that he was an otherworldly defensive talent. His arm was incredible. His range was astonishing. His sense of where he was on the field and his instincts about what to do with the ball were unmatched.

I’ll admit, however, that I’ve seen him less in the past couple of seasons than I used to. It’s understandable: he no longer plays for my favorite team and he now plays most of his games after old men like me go to bed back east. The numbers have shown that he’s still the best defensive shortstop around and the highlights which get circulated are still astounding, but I’ve not appreciated him on a day-to-day level like I once did.

But that just makes me more grateful for the highlights when I miss him in action. Like this one, from last night’s game against the Astros. You can see it in high resolution here, but if you can’t click over there, here’s the play as it was tweeted around:

I didn’t see last night’s game, but my friend Dan Lewis tweeted this out a bit. His observations about it in this thread explain why what Simmons is doing here is so amazing:

The lay-outs, the bobble-saves, the jump-throws and all of that spectacular stuff are understandably appreciated, but the various skills Simmons displayed in just this one play — not to mention the freakin’ hustle he displays backing up third base after it all — is just astounding.

There hasn’t been one like him for a while. We should all appreciate him while he’s still in his prime.

The Braves are leaning toward keeping Brian Snitker as manager

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Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported over the weekend that the Braves are leaning toward keeping Brian Snitker as manager. Part of that comes after team meetings between Snitker and top brass. Some of it, however, is likely attributable to player sentiment, with Bob Nightengale of USA Today reporting this morning that Freddie Freeman and several Braves players have told the Braves front office that they want Snitker back.

Is it a good idea to bring Snitker back? Eh, I’m leaning no, with the caveat that it probably doesn’t make a huge difference in the short term.

The “no” is based mostly on the fact that Snitker has had a disturbing trend of preferring veterans over young players, as Bradley explains in detail here. For a brief moment this summer the Braves seemed surprisingly competitive. Not truly competitive if anyone was being honest, but they were hovering around .500 and were arguably in the wild card race. Around that time he made a number of questionable decisions that favored marginal and/or injured veterans over some young players who will be a part of the next truly competitive Braves team, likely messing with their confidence and possibly messing with their development.

These moves were not damaging, ultimately, to the 2017 Braves on the field — they were going to be under .500 regardless — but it was the sort of short-term thinking that a manager for a rebuilding team should not be employing. Part of the blame for this, by the way, can be put on the front office, who only gave Snitker a one-year contract when they made him the permanent manager last year, creating an incentive for him to win in 2017 rather than manage the club the way a guy who knows when the team will truly be competitive should manage it. Then again, if Snitker was so great a candidate in the front office’s mind, why did they only give him a one-year contract?

I suspect a lot of it has to do with loyalty. Snitker has been an admirable Braves company man for decades, and that was certainly worthy of respect by the club. That he got the gig was likewise due in part to the players liking him — the veteran players — and they now are weighing in with their support once again. At some point, however, loyalty and respect of veterans has to take a back seat to a determination of who is the best person to bring the team from rebuilding to competitiveness, and Snitker has not made the case why he is that man.

Earlier, of course, I said it probably doesn’t matter all that much if they do, in fact, bring Snitker back. I say this because he will, in all likelihood, be given a short leash again, probably in the form of a one-year extension. It would not surprise me at all if, in the extraordinarily likely event the Braves look to be outclassed in the division by the Nationals again in 2018, they made a managerial switch midseason, as they did in 2016. If that is, indeed, the plan, it seems like the front office is almost planning on losing again in 2018 and using the future firing of Snitker as a time-buying exercise. Not that I’m cynical or anything.

Either way, I don’t think Snitker is the right guy for the job. Seems, though, that he’ll get at least an offseason and a couple of months to prove me wrong.