Author: Matthew Pouliot

Don Mattingly

Don Mattingly has no idea how to deal with the eighth inning


It was Brian Wilson pretty much all season, for better or worse. Mostly worse. Wilson ended the regular season with a 4.66 ERA, but he was the Dodgers’ eighth-inning guy the whole way through (at least in some combination with J.P. Howell), collecting 22 holds as Kenley Jansen’s setup man.

In the postseason, Don Mattingly suddenly abandoned that plan. Pedro Baez relieved Clayton Kershaw with the Dodgers down 7-6 in Game 1 of the NLDS, and Wilson wasn’t among four relievers used in what turned out to be a 10-9 loss.

Wilson also went unused in Game 2, which the Dodgers led 2-0 after seven innings. Howell relieved Zack Greinke with lefties due up in the eighth, but he didn’t get an out before allowing a game-tying homer. Brandon League, not Wilson, took over from there in a 2-2 game in the eighth. Kenley Jansen pitched the ninth in the 3-2 win.

In Game 3, Mattingly turned to Scott Elbert in the seventh in a 1-1 game. He gave up a two-run homer to Kolten Wong before being lifted. League finished the seventh. Wilson came in down 3-1 in the eighth, allowed two out of three batters to reach and was replaced by Howell. The Dodgers went on to lose by the same score.

At this point, Mattingly simply has no idea how best to get to Jansen in the ninth inning. His hope for Games 4 and 5 has to be that his starters go eight innings, though that will be a lot to ask from Clayton Kershaw on three days’ rest. Mattingly has tried Baez, a hard-throwing rookie who has spent most of his pro career as a third baseman,  as his bridge to his closer. He’s tried Howell. On Monday, he went to Elbert, who pitched 4 1/3 innings in the majors this season and was the last pitcher included on the postseason roster. Mattingly is winging in, and nothing has worked as hoped so far.

What Mattingly hasn’t done is try to stretch Jansen beyond one inning. That might need to change on Tuesday. If the Dodgers take a narrow lead into the eighth, Mattingly’s best bet is to ask Jansen to go two innings. The closer will have Wednesday off anyway.

Madison Bumgarner’s big error not all his fault

Madison Bumgarner

It was the play that changed the series. After the first two Nationals reached in a scoreless game in the seventh inning Monday, Wilson Ramos dropped down a bunt. Madison Bumgarner grabbed the ball and then immediately whirled and threw wildly to third. Pablo Sandoval couldn’t make the grab, the ball got mixed up in the bullpen down the left-field line and both baserunners came around to score, putting the Giants in a 2-0 hole. Asdrubal Cabrera went on to single Ramos in from third to make it a 3-0 game. The Nationals ended up winning 4-1 to stay alive and send the NLDS to a Game 4 on Tuesday.

But you probably already knew all of that. What you might not have known was that catcher Buster Posey was at the root of the whole mess.

As can be heard in the video, “three” is yelled before Bumgarner even picks up the ball. Unless I’ve completely lost my mind, that’s Posey doing the yelling, telling Bumgarner where he needs to go with throw. That’s the catcher’s job in these instances, and it’s the pitcher’s responsibility to follow through; he’s not going to take the time to survey the field himself.

Bumgarner, of course, is still responsible for his bad throw on the play. But it’s Posey who made the wrong call in the first place; even if Bumgarner had made a good throw, Ian Desmond was going to be safe at third on the bunt. The play was at first base all along.

Eric Hosmer’s emergence, Kelvin Herrera’s return bode well for Royals in ALCS

Eric Hosmer

Eric Hosmer had nine homers and a 93/35 K/BB ratio in 131 games this season. After going deep again in Sunday’s victory, he’s hitting .400 with two homers and a 4/5 K/BB ratio in four postseason games for the ALCS-bound Royals.

And that’s pretty much the best thing that could have happened to Kansas City’s offense, especially considering that Hosmer was going to occupy the cleanup spot whether he hit or not. Manager Ned Yost has used the exact same starting lineup 12 straight games now.

Obviously, Yost is very much a “don’t mess with what’s working” sort of manager, and since his team is winning (10-2 with the set lineup), nothing figures to change in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Orioles, even though it’d probably make sense to sit Billy Butler, use Norichika Aoki as a DH and give Jarrod Dyson a start against a tough righty in Chris Tillman.

Other thoughts on the Royals:

– Kelvin Herrera, who left Thursday’s Game 1 with a forearm problem, seemed just fine in throwing a scoreless inning in Sunday’s Game 3. His presence will be huge with several ALCS games likely to turn into battles of the bullpens. The Royals still have the edge there with Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland set to work the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, but it’s a smaller one against the Orioles than it would be against any other playoff team. Baltimore will counter with Darren O’Day, Andrew Miller and Zach Britton at the end of games.

– With Herrera proving healthy, the Royals might not make any roster changes prior to the ALCS. They have the option of going with lefty Raul Ibanez over righty Josh Willingham as a bat off the bench, which might make sense given the short right field in Camden Yards. However, Willingham actually has better career numbers at the park, for what little it’s worth. Another option would be to go with utilityman Jayson Nix in that spot, but they’d only do that if they were worried about Omar Infante’s shoulder.

– By winning early, the Royals have the ability to set up their ALCS rotation however they’d like. They could even bring Game 3 winner James Shields back for the opener Friday, though they probably won’t. It make more sense to stick with the ALDS alignment, with Jason Vargas in Game 1, Yordano Ventura in Game 2 and Shields in Game 3. That would prevent anyone from having to go too long in between starts, and it’d set up Shields to start a potential Game 7. It’d also clear the way for Ventura, who has the best pure stuff and gives up the fewest homers of the starters, to pitch twice in Camden Yards. Game 4 will probably be Jeremy Guthrie over Danny Duffy, but that can always be decided later.

Tigers face losing Max Scherzer, Victor Martinez to free agency

Max Scherzer

Celebrated Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski has a very difficult couple of months ahead of him. Not only is he faced with the annual questions about the state of his bullpen, but he could lose 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and 2014 AL MVP candidate Victor Martinez in free agency.

Related: Orioles sweep away Tigers in ALDS

The Tigers prepared for Scherzer’s departure when they made the David Price trade in July, so they can subtract their best pitcher and still have one of the AL’s best rotations with Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and Anibal Sanchez sticking around. They’ll probably add a veteran fifth starter, too, or at least someone who can compete with internal candidates like Kyle Lobstein and Robbie Ray.

The lineup is a bigger concern. Martinez seems happy in Detroit and will be quite a bit cheaper to retain than Scherzer. There’s a good chance Dombrowski can convince him to stick around, perhaps for something like $60 million for three years. The Tigers will also have to decide whether to retain Torii Hunter in free agency. He might choose to retire. They’ll need to go out and get a center fielder after trading Austin Jackson as part of the Price deal. The shortstop situation could be resolved if Jose Iglesias makes a successful return after missing the season with shin splints. Thoughts of trading Ian Kinsler and installing Eugenio Suarez at second base should be on the backburner now after the rookie’s disappointing finish.

Of course, Dombrowski can be expected to throw some more money at the bullpen this winter. Last year, he let Joaquin Benoit and Jose Veras go, replacing them with Joe Nathan and Joba Chamberlain. He also traded for Joakim Soria in July. Nathan is due to return in 2015, but Chamberlain is a free agent. The Tigers hold a $7 million option on Soria’s contract that they might prefer to decline. Expect Dombrowski to open the wallet for a lefty this time around. Andrew Miller , who pitched 3 1/3 hitless innings in the ALDS, would be ideal, and the Tigers might well be the favorites to land him. Zach Duke, Neal Cotts and Joe Beimel would be more affordable options. Depending on how much he spends on offense, Dombrowski could also sign one of the top righties available from the group of David Robertson, Koji Uehara, Francisco Rodriguez and Sergio Romo.

With the Royals expected to lose James Shields and no one else spending big in the AL Central, the Tigers will likely enter next year as division favorites once again. After all, they have one of the best GMs around and almost twice the budget of their competition. It just won’t be as clear cut as it has been in recent seasons, at least not unless Dombrowski has something truly special in store.

Nelson Cruz up to ninth all-time on postseason home runs list

Nelson Cruz

It’s not every day you get a chance to overtake Babe Ruth.

Most Postseason Home Runs (via Baseball-reference)
1. Manny Ramirez – 29 HR in 493 PA
2. Bernie Williams – 22 HR in 545 PA
3. Derek Jeter – 20 HR in 734 PA
4. Albert Pujols – 19 HR in 333 PA
5. Reggie Jackson – 18 HR in 318 PA
5. Mickey Mantle – 18 HR in 273 PA
7. David Ortiz – 17 HR in 357 PA
7. Jim Thome – 17 HR in 267 PA
9. Nelson Cruz – 16 HR in 149 PA
9. Carlos Beltran – 16 HR in 219 PA
11. Babe Ruth – 15 HR in 167 PA

The Pujols total is also up to the minute, following his homer Sunday.

That’s pretty good company Cruz is keeping, especially since this is just his third extended postseason. He hit six homers in the Rangers’ World Series run in 2010 and then eight the following year, including six in the ALCS alone. He also played in the wild card game in 2012, which the Rangers lost to the Orioles. Technically, that was his third postseason, making this one his fourth. But one game isn’t much of a postseason.

Cruz’s two-run homer off David Price today accounted for the Orioles’ only runs as they completed their three-game sweep of the Tigers. He had two homers and five RBI in the series. Cruz is a .297 hitter with 32 RBI in 37 career postseason games. In the regular season, he’s a lifetime .268 hitter. He’s averaged eight homers and 23 RBI per 37 regular-season games.