Matthew Pouliot

Atlanta Braves v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Four

A bust for two years, Juan Uribe plays the hero now

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There was a great case for the Dodgers releasing Juan Uribe last winter.

Fresh off a 24-homer campaign for the world champion Giants, Uribe was given a three-year, $21 million deal as a free agent after the 2010 season. It was a move widely panned at the time, and it worked out even worse than anyone could have imagined, with Uribe hitting .204-4-28 in 270 at-bats in 2011 and .191-2-17 in 162 at-bats in 2012.

Things got so bad last year that Uribe appeared in one game and had one plate appearance over the final five weeks of the season. He was healthy and on the active roster the whole time, but the Dodgers refused to use him. His received one start after July 23, that coming on Aug. 14. All signs pointed to him being released over the winter. The Dodgers had Hanley Ramirez starting at shortstop and Luis Cruz penciled in at third, with Jerry Hairston Jr., Skip Schumaker and Nick Punto also on guaranteed deals as utilitymen. Of course, Uribe was making more than any of them except Ramirez, but that still didn’t figure to save him.

But, oddly, the DFA or release never came, and while the Dodgers would have been more than happy to trade him, he was back in spring training with the team. Ramirez’s injury opened up an infield spot, allowing all of the veteran backups to make the squad. Uribe still didn’t play a lot — he made three starts in the first two weeks and totaled 32 at-bats in April — but he contributed in his limited action and overtook Cruz, eventually settling in as the Dodgers’ primary third baseman and still keeping that role after Michael Young was acquired. After a strong finish that saw him collect five of his 12 homers in September, Uribe started all four games in the ALDS against the Braves. He homered Sunday in the Game 3 victory and then, after failing to get a sac bunt down, delivered the big blast on Monday, a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth that gave the Dodgers a 4-3 lead they’d make stand up.

It’s a pretty amazing turnaround and still not his first. When he originally signed with the Giants, he was forced to take a minor league deal after hitting just seven homers for the White Sox the year before. Consistency obviously isn’t a strength. His four career-high OPSs came in 2001, 2004, 2009 and this year, for four different teams (he started off with the Rockies). The only one of those teams that never gave up on him was the Giants, unless you want to count the Dodgers, too. After all, here he is. Next stop: the NLCS.

With Craig Kimbrel watching, Braves blow late lead

Juan Uribe, Yasiel Puig
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Craig Kimbrel hadn’t pitched two innings in a game since 2011, and the Braves weren’t about to have him try to get six outs now. It’s a decision they’ll think about all winter after Juan Uribe hit a go-ahead two-run homer off David Carpenter, leading the Dodgers past the Braves and into the NLCS on Monday.

The easy narrative is that the Dodgers asked their stud to do something he’s never done before and the Braves wouldn’t. And the Dodgers won and the Braves didn’t.

Of course, that’s oversimplifying things. And the Dodgers’ decision could have backfired in a big way, even though Clayton Kershaw was as good as they possibly could have hoped for while pitching on three days’ rest. He allowed just two unearned runs in six innings, but he did leave with the game tied. He also left earlier than he might have otherwise, and the Braves were able to capitalize and take a 3-2 lead in the seventh against Ronald Belisario.

But then the eighth inning came. And it’s worth noting that the Braves are on their fourth setup man of the season after Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty succumbed to season-ending injuries and Jordan Walden’s shoulder problems left him a little shaky. Carpenter’s been great, but he’s no Kimbrel and he did give up a two-run homer to Hanley Ramirez in Game 2. The Braves had Kimbrel warming up behind Carpenter in the eighth, but decided not to bring him in even after Yasiel Puig’s leadoff double. Uribe, after missing a sac bunt attempt, followed with the homer that made it a 4-3 game.

The thing is the both the Braves and Dodgers knew situations like this might arise. The Dodgers knew how the NLDS schedules were laid out. Both teams had their respective divisions wrapped up in September. Both could have experimented. The Braves could have tried Kimbrel in a two-inning save. The Dodgers could have used Kershaw on three days’ rest and then given him extra rest afterwards. It not only would have provided the teams with data, but it would have given Kimbrel and Kershaw both a better idea how to approach the situations in the bigger games. But major league teams are rarely that proactive.

Now the Braves are headed home in early October again. If you count last year’s one-game wild card, this makes eight straight postseason series lost by the team dating back to 2001. In this case, the better team won. Still, being so close to have a decisive Game 5 back in Atlanta will have the team thinking “what if?” all offseason long.

 

Red Sox guilty of a little too much playoff baseball

Division Series - Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Three
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The Red Sox could have played this one straight up tonight. Instead, they made concessions to it being a postseason games. Because postseason games are rarely won 12-2 or 7-4.

– In the seventh, with the score tied at 3, the Red Sox used Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa to get three outs. Those are John Farrell’s second and third most trusted relievers, yet they faced two batters apiece in a tie game. As a result, it was the team’s fifth or sixth best reliever, Franklin Morales, who got the ball in the eighth. And while he didn’t necessarily pitch badly — the inning was a calamity all around — he was charged with the go-ahead run after the other fifth or sixth best reliever, Brandon Workman, was called on with a runner on second base.

– In the eighth, David Ortiz was removed for a pinch-runner after drawing a leadoff walk. It was the fourth time he had been on base in four trips. It nearly resulted in disaster, as pinch-runner Quintin Berry should have been called out on his attempted steal of second base. He was declared safe anyway, but he didn’t come around to score. When Ortiz’s spot came up in a tie game in the ninth, Mike Carp hit in his place.

It was the first time since May 8 that Ortiz had been removed for a pinch-runner in the eighth or earlier in a close game.

– In the top of the ninth, with the Red Sox down by one and runners on first and second, Shane Victorino decided to bunt against a wild Fernando Rodney even after Will Middlebrooks walked on five pitches and Jacoby Ellsbury singled on a 2-0 pitch. He continued to bunt even after the first pitch was called a ball. Victorino hit .315/.395/.560 after a 1-0 count this year. Still, he gave himself up. With a big inning potentially there for the taking, the Red Sox scored one run to tie it back up.

– In the bottom of the ninth, closer Koji Uehara took over even though it was a tie game and the Red Sox were playing on the road. Actually, this was totally the right call. It just didn’t work out. Jose Lobaton hit a walkoff homer.

The rest of it, though… there’s not any one thing move cost the Red Sox the game. But they surely would have been better off had they played it the same way they did when they amassed the best record in the American League this year.