We knew going into the playoffs that the Braves’ biggest strength was their pitching and it shone through tonight against the Dodgers. Starter Mike Minor held the Dodgers to one run over six and one-third innings of work on eight hits and a walk while striking out five. The Dodgers’ lone run against him came on a Hanley Ramirez RBI double in the first inning that staked the Dodgers to a 1-0 lead.
The Braves struck back in the second as Andrelton Simmons doubled to right field to score Evan Gattis, tying the game at one apiece. They would take a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth following a Freddie Freeman lead-off double and a two-out RBI single by Chris Johnson.
The Dodgers appeared to be in prime position to at least tie the game in the seventh, putting runners on first and third with one out on two infield singles by Skip Schumaker and pinch-hitter Michael Young, but Carl Crawford sharply grounded back to reliever Luis Avilan, who fired to shortstop Andrelton Simmons to complete an inning-ending double play.
The Braves added two crucial insurance runs in the bottom of the seventh, taking advantage of some overmanaging by Dodgers manager Don Mattingly (which we will cover in upcoming posts). Rather than let right-handed reliever Chris Withrow pitch to the light-hitting left-handed hitter Jose Constanza, Mattingly opted to call on lefty reliever Paco Rodriguez. That prompted Fredi Gonzalez to pinch-hit for Constanza with Reed Johnson, which then allowed Mattingly to walk Johnson to reacquire the platoon advantage by allowing Rodriguez to face Jason Heyward. Heyward responded by driving a single up the middle, scoring two runs.
In the eighth inning, Braves reliever David Carpenter helped breathe new life into the Dodgers, walking Mark Ellis to lead off the inning, then surrendering a two-run home run that just barely got over the fence in the left field corner, bringing the score to 4-3. He calmed down, striking out two, then gave way to closer Craig Kimbrel attempting a four-out save. Kimbrel got Juan Uribe to ground out to end the eighth inning, then worked around two ninth inning walks to seal the 4-3 victory for the Braves.
With the series tied at 1-1, play will resume on Sunday in Los Angeles as Braves starter Julio Teheran will oppose Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts will likely be second-guessed heavily during tomorrow’s news cycle. Starter Clayton Kershaw had pitched a terrific ballgame, as is his tendency, but with 114 pitches to his name, Roberts decided to pull him from the game in the eighth inning with two outs and a runner on first base.
Roberts opted not for closer Kenley Jansen, who hasn’t pitched since Wednesday, but for another lefty in Adam Liberatore. He was playing the numbers, with the left-handed-hitting Curtis Granderson coming up. Liberatore, much to Roberts’ chagrin, served up what turned out to be a game-tying triple to Granderson, hitting a rocket to right-center just out of the reach of a leaping Yasiel Puig.
Jansen has, for six years, been one of the game’s elite relievers. Kershaw, though at a high pitch count, doesn’t seem to suffer from the times through the order penalty like most pitchers. Kershaw’s opponents’ OPS facing him for the first time was .525 coming into Sunday. Twice, .597. Three times, .587. Four times, .526 (but this suffers from survivorship bias so it’s not exactly representative).
Furthermore, Kershaw held lefties to a .546 OPS over his career. Liberatore, in 99 plate appearances against lefty hitters, gave up a .575 OPS. Jansen? .560. It seems that, faced with three decisions, Roberts arguably made the worst one. Playing conservative with Kershaw at 114 pitches is defensible, but only if Jansen comes in. If Roberts wanted the platoon advantage, Kershaw should have stayed in.
Luckily for the Dodgers, Mets closer Jeurys Familia didn’t have his best stuff. He loaded the bases with one out in the top of the ninth on a single and two walks, then gave up a two-run single to Adrian Gonzalez, giving the Dodgers a 4-2 lead. Jansen came on in the bottom half of the ninth and retired the side in order to pick up his 15th save of the season.
The Royals had themselves a pretty good weekend. The quickly fading White Sox, not so much.
On Friday, the Royals fell behind 5-1 after the top of the sixth. They would score once in the bottom of the sixth, four times in the seventh, and once in the eighth to steal a 7-5 win facing pitchers Miguel Gonzalez Dan Jennings, Matt Albers, Zach Duke and Nate Jones.
On Saturday, the Royals entered the bottom of the ninth down 7-1. They scored seven runs on closer David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to win 8-7.
On Sunday, the Royals were down 4-2 after the top of the eighth. They plated three runs in the bottom half of the eighth against Jones and Albers, going on to win 5-4.
Coming into the weekend, the Royals were 24-22 in third place. The White Sox were 27-21, a half-game up in first place. Now the Royals are in first place by a game and a half, and the White Sox are in third place, two games out of first.
Here’s video of the Royals’ comeback on Saturday, since it was so unlikely:
In Saturday’s column for The Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo notes that, according to a scout, Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun is “the hot name out there.” Braun has been bothered by neck and back issues this year, missing on Sunday his eighth start out of the Brewers’ last 14 games, but he has still put up a quality .351/.424/.583 triple-slash line in 170 plate appearances this year.
More importantly for an acquiring team, Braun is in the first year of a five-year, $105 million contract. He’s earning $19 million this season and in the ensuing two seasons, and then his salary decreases slightly to $18 million in 2019, $16 million in 2020, and $15 million if both sides pick up his mutual option (else a $4 million buyout would be exercised).
Per Cafardo, the Astros, Cardinals, Red Sox, Phillies, Mets, Giants, and White Sox are potential landing spots for Braun.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Mets have asked MLB for clarification on the Dodgers’ use of a laser rangefinder for defensive positioning over this weekend’s series at Citi Field. The Dodgers notified the Mets’ ground crew that they wanted to mark certain positions in the outfield grass after determining positions with the rangefinder. The grounds crew said they could leave two marks in center field and one in left field.
However, the grounds crew then went to their superiors and told them that the Dodgers threatened to dig holes in the outfield grass with their cleats, so the grounds crew was then instructed to “erase or obliterate” any of the Dodgers’ markings.
According to Rosenthal, Major League Baseball reinforced a few weeks ago that teams aren’t allowed to use markers to aid defensive positioning. The Dodgers haven’t been accused of doing anything nefarious during a game. Howie Kendrick was seen pulling something out of his pocket in the outfield, but Brett Anderson clarified on Twitter that it was just a piece of paper with notes for defensive positioning.
The series between the Mets and Dodgers has been heated, as Noah Syndergaard was ejected for throwing at Chase Utley on Saturday. Utley then responded by hitting two home runs, one of which was a grand slam. The Mets may have a legitimate concern, or it may just be gamesmanship.