Matthew Pouliot

Juan Uribe, Yasiel Puig

With Craig Kimbrel watching, Braves blow late lead

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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.

Adam Wainwright’s second Game 5 needs to go better than his first

Pittsburgh Pirates v St Louis Cardinals - Game One
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For the second year in a row, the Cardinals will turn to Adam Wainwright in a decisive NLDS Game 5. Last year, they escaped with a win, but it was with no help from their ace.

Wainwright was tagged for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Nationals in Game 5 of the NLDS last year, and with Cy Young contender Gio Gonzalez on the mound for the Nats, things seemed bleak. The Cards offense, though, managed to score three times off Gonzalez in the fourth and fifth innings and then add six runs off the Nationals bullpen — including four in the ninth coming against Drew Storen — in a 9-7 win.

That’s the only bad outing Wainwright has had in five starts and nine relief appearances in the postseason. Including his Game 1 win against the Pirates, he’s allowed a total of four runs in his other 37 1/3 innings of work. The Cardinals will be counting on similar success if they’re going to make it back to the NLCS this year.