Bill Baer

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 10:  Sergio Romo #54 of the San Francisco Giants delivers a pitch in the ninth inning against the Chicago Cubs during Game Three of their National League Division Series against the Chicago Cubs at AT&T Park on October 10, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

2016 postseason a reminder of how important bullpen management is


The Giants were escorted out of the 2016 postseason by the Cubs on Tuesday night, suffering a heartbreaking 6-5 loss after bringing a 5-2 lead into the top of the ninth inning. The bullpen would allow four runs, three of which scored before an out was recorded. That was one night after the Giants’ bullpen nearly cost them Game 3, as Sergio Romo allowed two ninth-inning runs to erase a 5-3 lead. The Giants would eventually walk off 6-5 winners in the bottom of the 13th inning.

The start of the postseason brought us the Buck Showalter fiasco in the AL Wild Card game against the Blue Jays. Showalter never used Zach Britton, the best reliever in baseball this year, and the Orioles suffered a 5-2 walk-off loss in the 11th inning. In the NL Wild Card game, Mets closer Jeurys Familia gave up a three-run home run to Conor Gillaspie to break a 0-0 tie in the top of the ninth inning.

Indians manager Terry Francona brought in Andrew Miller — one of the top-three relievers in baseball — in the fifth inning of ALDS Game 1 against the Red Sox. I wasn’t a fan of the move at the time, but ultimately it turned out to be the right call. Miller came in the sixth inning of Game 3 as well, and the Indians moved onto the ALCS.

During the regular season, the Giants’ bullpen blew 30 save chances, the most in baseball and the most by a playoff team since saves became an official statistic in 1969. Manager Bruce Bochy did not have a Britton or Miller to whom to turn. Don’t let this be confused, though, with a totally incompetent bullpen. As a unit, the ‘pen had a 3.65 ERA, 15th best of 30 MLB teams. So, average. Probably better, as the ‘pen allowed hitters to make “hard” contact at a 27.8 clip according to FanGraphs, the second-best mark in the majors behind the Orioles at 27.3 percent.

Bochy managed the top of the ninth inning of Tuesday’s game like he was scared out of his baseball pants. Derek Law started the inning and was immediately replaced when he gave up a single to Kris Bryant. Javier Lopez came in and was immediately replaced after he walked Kris Bryant. Sergio Romo came in and was immediately replaced after he gave up a double to Ben Zobrist. Will Smith came in and faced two hitters, yielding a two-run go-ahead single to Willson Contreras and a bunt/error to Jason Heyward. Hunter Strickland came in and faced two batters, giving up a go-ahead single to Javier Baez and inducing an inning-ending double play from David Ross. If you’re counting, five pitchers saw a total of seven batters.

People cater to the expectations you set for them and that’s true whether it’s in an office, a classroom, or on the baseball field. If you treat your players like they’re incompetent, they’ll begin to believe that and eventually perform that way like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Bochy treated the Giants’ bullpen like it was incompetent. Prior to Game 4, he was asked about his plan for the ninth inning if the Giants were to have a lead. “I’ll let you know in the ninth,” Bochy said, as CSN Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic reported.

It’s not enough just to have big-name closers like an Aroldis Chapman. The manager needs to utilize his relievers well and adeptly deal with various personality types and expectations. Showalter and Bochy mismanaged their bullpens in different ways and their teams will watch the rest of the postseason from home or the clubhouse of a golf course. Francona managed his bullpen correctly and will try to do it again in the ALCS against the Blue Jays.

Giants’ bullpen has an all-time meltdown, Cubs move on to the NLCS

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 11:  Ben Zobrist #18 of the Chicago Cubs hits a RBI double in the ninth inning of Game Four of their National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on October 11, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Giants’ problematic bullpen reared its ugly head once again in Game 4 of the NLDS at AT&T Park on Tuesday evening. During the regular season that bullpen blew 30 saves, most in baseball and the most for any playoff team since saves became an official stat in 1969. That bullpen nearly cost the Giants Game 3. It cost them Game 4. But let’s start from the top.

The Giants opened the scoring in the bottom of the first, plating a run on a Buster Posey sacrifice fly off of Cubs starter John Lackey. The Cubs tied it at once apiece in the third inning when David Ross swatted a solo home run to left field off of Giants starter Matt Moore.

In the fourth inning, the Giants staged a one-out rally as Conor Gillaspie and Joe Panik singled and Gregor Blanco walked to load the bases for Moore. Moore, an American League pitcher until joining the Giants this summer, has taken 44 career plate appearances and has just three hits (all singles) to show for it. Nevertheless, the Giants’ lefty grounded a single to right field, plating a run to break the 1-1 tie. Denard Span then hit what appeared to be an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play ball, but Lackey slipped over the first base bag and missed the out, allowing another run to score.

The Cubs fought back for a run in the top of the fifth on a Ross sacrifice fly. In the bottom half, the Giants scored two more. With one out, Hunter Pence singled up the middle and Brandon Crawford doubled to deep right-center on a play that was reviewed. Lefty reliever Travis Wood relieved Lackey, but postseason hero Conor Gillaspie came through with an RBI single to center and Panik followed up with a sacrifice fly to make it 5-2.

Moore cruised through eight innings. He gave up just the two runs on two hits and two walks with 10 strikeouts on 120 pitches. It’s really a shame what happened next, considering how well he pitched.

Derek Law, with all of one career save to his name, took over in the ninth. He allowed a leadoff single to Kris Bryant and was immediately replaced by lefty Javier Lopez. Lopez walked Anthony Rizzo to bring the tying run to the plate with no outs in Ben Zobrist. Lopez out, Sergio Romo in. Zobrist ripped a double down the left field line, plating Bryant. Romo exited and lefty Will Smith came in. Smith gave up a two-run, game-tying single up the middle to Willson Contreras. 5-5. Jason Heyward tried to bunt Contreras over to second base, but Contreras was forced out at second. Shortstop Brandon Crawford, though, made a wild throw to first base, allowing Heyward to advance to second base. Can you guess what happened next? That’s right, another pitching change. Hunter Strickland came in and immediately gave up a go-ahead RBI single up the middle to Javier Baez, making it a 6-5 game. At long last, Strickland ended the inning by inducing a 4-6-3 double play out of Ross.

Aroldis Chapman toed the slab for the Cubs in the bottom of the ninth, fresh off of his abysmal showing in Game 3. This time was different. Chapman struck out the side: Gorkys Hernandez, Denard Span, and Brandon Belt.

The Cubs move onto the NLCS. They’ll play the winner of Thursday’s Game 5 between the Dodgers and Nationals.

Max Scherzer and Rich Hill to duel in Game 5 of the NLDS

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 11:  Max Scherzer #31 of the Washington Nationals looks on against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the second inning during game four of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 11, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

We didn’t have to wait long to find out who’s starting Game 5 of the NLDS for the Nationals and Dodgers. Max Scherzer is going for the Nats, MASN’s Dan Kolko reports. Scherzer said, “Biggest start of my career. Biggest start of my life.”

Scherzer, a candidate for the National League Cy Young Award, went six innings in Game 1 against the Dodgers, giving up four runs over six innings.

Rich Hill will start for the Dodgers, Andy McCullough of The Los Angeles Times reports. Hill lasted only 4 1/3 innings in Game 2, yielding four runs.

Game 5 will be played at Nationals Park at 5:00 PM EDT and will be broadcast on FS1. The winner will move on to the NLCS to face the winner of the Cubs’ and Giants’ series.