Author: Matthew Pouliot

Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw can win in the postseason! Who knew?

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Sometime after their Game 2 loss to the Rangers last week, the Blue Jays decided they trusted Marcus Stroman more than Cy Young candidate David Price in a potential Game 5 start. Such is the power of a postseason slump.

It can lead to one of the best hitters in the world being dropped to the eighth spot in the lineup. It can lead to quality regulars sitting at highly irregular times. In the postseason, what you did yesterday matters 10 times as much as what you did last month, usually not for the better.

Fortunately, Clayton Kershaw never had to worry about being skipped because of his postseason struggles. Even calling them struggles overstate the reality. In his previous three postseason starts, Kershaw had:

  • Allowed two runs over six innings in Game 1 of the 2014 NLDS against the Cardinals before being left in to give up a whopping six runs in the seventh
  • Pitched six scoreless innings on three days’ rest in Game 4 of the 2014 NLDS before giving up a three-run homer in the seventh
  • Allowed one run over 6 2/3 innings in Game 1 against the Mets before his two inherited runners came around to score off the pen
So, yes, Kershaw entered Tuesday’s outing against the Mets with a 4.99 postseason ERA, but he had turned in six quality starts in nine tries, allowing one earned run or fewer three times. It wasn’t nearly regular-season Kershaw, but it also wasn’t as bad as the ERA suggests, not when he’d been the victim of slow hooks and lousy bullpen support.

And, really, Tuesday’s win over the Mets didn’t seem much different at all than Kershaw previous couple of postseason starts, at least through six innings. Maybe the fastball was amped a bit. The real difference this time was that he made it through the seventh. Best of all, since he was on three days’ rest, Don Mattingly wasn’t tempted to send him back out for the eighth at 94 pitches, as he probably would have done had Kershaw been on normal rest. The bullpen took over and turned in two hitless innings in the 3-1 win, sending the NLDS back to Los Angeles for a decisive Game 5 on Thursday.

It’s completely unnecessary redemption for Kershaw, who had nothing in need of redeeming. But it’ll keep the trolls quiet for now and also all winter if Kershaw doesn’t get the chance to pitch again. He’d surely prefer to risk the chance of failure again next week in the NLCS.

Cardinals miss Martinez even more than Molina

Carlos Martinez
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After taking Game 1 of the NLDS in an outstanding performance from John Lackey, the Cardinals dropped three straight to the Cubs by scores of 6-3, 8-6 and 6-4. It’s not difficult at all to imagine a healthy Carlos Martinez swinging one of those games.

Martinez wasn’t the Cardinals’ best starter this year, but he was the one who could shut a team down by himself, with little help from the defense needed. Martinez struck out 184 batters in 179 2/3 innings while going 14-7 with a 3.01 ERA. He left his next-to-last regular season start with a shoulder strain that was going to cost him the entirety of the postseason no matter how far the Cardinals advanced. It was a killer blow for a team whose offense had already been slowed by injuries.

October just came at the wrong time for the Cardinals, what with Martinez down, Yadier Molina nursing a significant thumb injury, Matt Holliday and Randal Grichuk far from 100 percent and Adam Wainwright still weeks short of potentially pulling off a Marcus Stroman-like return to the rotation.

It’s Molina absence Thursday and lack of effectiveness otherwise that serve as a popular explanation/excuse for the Cardinals’ loss. And the downgrade from him to Tony Cruz behind the plate was huge, even if Molina is no longer the hitter he was a couple of years back.

Martinez, though, had the potential to even up the NLDS just by doing what he did in the regular season. And had Martinez been in the rotation, the Cardinals wouldn’t have moved up Lackey to start Game 4 on three days’ rest. They’d have been the clear favorites in a Game 5 Jon Lester-Lackey rematch back in St. Louis, though we’ll never know how that might have worked out.

Jake Arrieta beatable, but still unbeaten

Jake Arrieta
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Jake Arrieta gave up as many earned runs Monday against the Cardinals as he had in his previous 13 starts combined, yet the Cubs still won 8-6.

It’s the 15th straight time the Cubs have won a game started by Arrieta, who is set to finish first or second in the Cy Young balloting announced next month. Their last loss in an Arrieta-pitched game was when the Phillies’ Cole Hamels no-hit them on July 25. They won the previous four before that, too, so make it 19 of 20.

The outing could go down as Arrieta’s last of the season, though that would require the Cardinals beating the Cubs in back-to-back games to finish the NLDS. The more likely scenario at this point is that Arrieta starts Game 1 of the NLCS against the Dodgers or Mets.

Arrieta, though, was vulnerable in this one, turning in his shortest start since June. Even in the shutout of Pittsburgh in the wild card game, the Pirates had chances in the middle innings (most notably before Starling Marte‘s well-hit grounder with the bases loaded turned into a double play in the sixth).

Tonight, he walked two in a row at one point, after not walking a single batter in his previous three starts. He gave up his first homer in six starts. The wind was a factor in tonight’s eight-homer barrage, but Jason Heyward‘s two-run shot off Arrieta went against the grain in left-center.

So, if nothing else, the illusion of impenetrability is now gone. Arrieta can be gotten to, if primarily in short bursts. That’s not going to do anything for the Cardinals — at least not unless Arrieta is called on to pitch an inning or two in Game 5 — but it’ll probably come into play later in the postseason.

Thanks to Chase Utley, we’ve finally reached the tipping point

utley
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Through the first four days of LDS play, we’ve seen:

This comes a few weeks after Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang, who never had to worry about such slides while playing in Korea, suffered a broken leg of his own when the Cubs’ Chris Coghlan took him out.

If you follow me on twitter, well, then I probably owe you an apology. But you know getting rid of the takeout slide is a running theme of mine. Heck, here’s a blog entry on the subject from six years ago. I’m glad MLB addressed collisions at home plate when they did, but eliminating the takeout slide on double plays really should have been more of a priority.

Now, because of Chase Utley, it’s really going to happen.

It was only a matter of time anyway. Teams invest too much in players to want to see them get hurt, and takeout slides aren’t just dangerous for the infielder, but for the player doing the sliding as well. The players themselves can’t take the step to get rid of them; it’s a peer-pressure thing. The umpires won’t do anything about it, even though slides designed to take out fielders are already illegal in the eyes of the rulebook. It’s up to MLB to take the stand. They actually already did in the Arizona Fall League, which is where they like to try their experimental rules before implementing them elsewhere.

So, yeah, this was going to happen with or without Chase Utley. But now it has a realistic chance of happening next year, which is something I wouldn’t have thought possible a few days ago. So, thank you, Chase. It’s just too bad it took a broken leg to build the sentiment.

 

Astros err in letting Scott Kazmir start sixth

Scott Kazmir
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Scott Kazmir went winless with a 6.52 ERA in six September starts. He allowed 41 hits, eight of them homers, in 29 innings, posting an 18/11 K/BB ratio. When the Astros got five innings of two-run ball from him Friday against the Royals, they should have thanked their good fortune and moved right along to the pen.

And they knew this. They must have. Josh Fields got up in the pen after Kazmir issued a one-out walk in the fifth. The left-hander got out of the frame, making himself eligible for the victory in what was then a 4-2 game, but it was still very surprising to see him come back out for the sixth, particularly with the switch-hitting Ben Zobrist (.926 OPS against lefties) and right-handed Lorenzo Cain due up.

Kazmir retired Zobrist, but he gave up a double to Cain. He was then pulled, even with the left-handed Eric Hosmer coming up. Manager A.J. Hinch had committed my biggest baseball pet peeve: he sent his starter back to the mound with the idea of pulling him after his first mistake.

It worked out terribly. Oliver Perez gave up a pair of soft hits to Hosmer and Kendrys Morales before walking Mike Moustakas. Fields then entered and walked the unwalkable Salvador Perez to tie the game at 4. The Astros gave up another run in the seventh and lost the game 5-4.

Maybe that’s the way it would have worked out anyway. Kazmir did give up just the one baserunner. It might not have even harmed the Astros if Perez had better luck.

Still, the thinking that went into the decision was disturbing. It’s always better to bring that reliever in with no one on base when you can. That’s especially the case with this Astros pen, which lacks a double-play specialist, much less a Wade Davis. But anyone in that pen would have been a better choice than sending Kazmir out to face Zobrist and Cain for a third time. Hinch needs to be more aggressive going forward.