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Dusty Baker made the right call taking out Max Scherzer

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For a long time, manager Dusty Baker was known for leaving his starters in games too long. Many blamed him for the downfalls of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior back when he managed the Cubs. On Monday, he will be criticized for not leaving his starter in long enough.

Max Scherzer started Game 3 of the NLDS for the Nationals against the Cubs on Monday. He suffered a minor hamstring injury in his last start of the regular season, which delayed his first appearance in the postseason by a few days. As a result, the Nationals are unlikely — I would argue unable — to start him twice in NLDS.

Scherzer, though, had his stuff working. He no-hit the Cubs through the first six innings, issuing three walks while striking out six batters on 98 pitches. In the seventh, however, Scherzer’s no-hit bid went up in smoke as Ben Zobrist laced a one-out double to left-center field.

Baker came out to the mound. As has been done many times before, Scherzer pleaded his case to stay in the game, despite being at 98 pitches, close to his previously-stated goal. Sammy Solis, a reliever who finds success in particular when he faces left-handed hitters, was warming up in the bullpen. The left-handed-hitting Kyle Schwarber, who struggles against lefties and was eager to make up for an earlier defensive miscue, was coming up to the plate. Baker opted to take out Scherzer in favor of Solis.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon countered by bringing Albert Almora, Jr. in to pinch-hit for Schwarber. Almora had an .898 OPS against lefties during the regular season. Almora sent a 3-2, 84 MPH change-up from Solis into left-field to bring home Zobrist, tying the game up at one apiece. The Cubs would go on to score again in the eighth to take a 2-1 lead and Wade Davis closed out the game, giving the Cubs a 2-1 lead in the NLDS.

Baker made the right call, even though the results didn’t bear that out. Scherzer was coming off an injury and was at 98 pitches. Furthermore, he was going through the Cubs’ lineup a third time, handled lefties worse than Solis (the left-handed-hitting Jason Heyward was also due up after Schwarber/Almora), and his departure forced the Cubs to sub out Schwarber. All good things. Baker, unfortunately, was punished and he’ll find out — as if he didn’t already know — that managers will be second-guessed no matter what they do.

The Astros gave the Yankees an opening. Keuchel and Verlander will try to close the door.

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If Game 4 of the ALCS had been even remotely conventional, it’d stand at 3-1 in favor of Houston right now. The Yankees’ starter pitched well but got no run support. A mighty Astros team with an ordinarily good closer in Ken Giles had a 4-0 lead in the late innings. As the Yankees set out to mount a comeback, a base runner fell down in between first and second and should’ve been dead to rights. This is playoff baseball, however, so stuff, as they say, happens. The runner was safe, the closer struggled, the Yankees rallied and now we’re tied 2-2.

But are we even at 2-2?

On paper, no, because the Astros now will send Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander out in Games 5 and 6, and that gives them a clear advantage. Keuchel dominated the Yankees in Game 1, tossing seven scoreless innings and striking out ten batters. Verlander struck out 13 batters in a 124-pitch complete game in which he allowed only a single run. Beyond the mere facts of the box scores, however, the Yankees have looked profoundly overmatched by both of the Astros’ aces, in this postseason and on other occasions on which they’ve faced off against them. Most notably in the 2015 wild-card game at Yankee Stadium when Keuchel pitched six scoreless innings in the 3-0 victory.

But remember: stuff happens.

Stuff like Aaron Judge‘s and Gary Sanchez‘s bats waking up. The two most important sluggers in the Bombers lineup combined to go 3-for-6 with two doubles, a homer, a walk and five RBI in last night’s victory. Each of them had been silent for the first three games of the series but if they’re heating up, the Yankees will be a lot harder to pitch to.

Stuff like Masahiro Tanaka showing that he can tame the Astros’ lineup. Which he did pretty well in Game 1, giving up only two runs on four hits in six innings. He was overshadowed by Keuchel in that game, but it was a good performance against a strong lineup in a hostile environment. Tanaka pitches much better at Yankee Stadium than he does on the road, so don’t for a second think that the Astros bats will have an easy time of it today.

Stuff like the Yankees bullpen still being the Yankees bullpen. Yes, the Astros got to David Robertson yesterday, but it’s still a strong, strong group that gives the Yankees a clear advantage if the game is close late or if they hold a lead.

All of which is to say that we have ourselves a series, friends. While, 48 hours ago, it seemed like we were on our way to an Astros coronation, the Yankees have shown up in a major way in Games 3 and 4. If you’re an Astros fan you should feel pretty confident with Keuchel and Verlander heading into action over the next two games, but we have learned that absolutely nothing is guaranteed in the postseason.