The Braves led the Wild Card by 10 1/2 games on the morning of August 26, but after a 7-1 loss to the Phillies earlier this evening and the Cardinals’ 13-6 win over the Astros just moments ago, we’ll head into the final day of the season all tied up.
The Braves appeared as lifeless as the sparsely attended crowd at Turner Field tonight. Derek Lowe was touched up for five runs over four innings while the offense could only muster four hits. Their only run scored via a solo home run by Martin Prado in the bottom of the ninth inning. But that’s a minor footnote in their fourth straight loss and their 12th in their last 17 games.
Meanwhile, Roy Oswalt was solid in his playoff tuneup, allowing just three hits over six shutout innings while striking out four and walking one. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Hunter Pence all homered in win No. 101 for the Phillies, which ties a franchise record. It looked like a forgone conclusion prior to their recent eight-game losing streak, but they can still establish a new club record with a win in tomorrow’s season finale.
As for the Cardinals, it appeared as though they were in a lot of trouble after Jake Westbrook gave up five runs over just 2 1/3 innings, but they fought back to tie the game in the top of the fourth inning. The Astros took the lead back when Jimmy Paredes grounded into a double play in the bottom of the fifth, but the Cardinals pulled ahead for good thanks to a four-run top of the seventh, including a go-ahead two-run triple by Ryan Theriot. Allen Craig added a three-run blast in the top of the eighth to officially put the game out of reach. While it was a very different game early on, the Cardinals outscored the Astros 13-1 over the final six innings.
The Braves are scheduled to throw Tim Hudson tomorrow against Joe Blanton in what will likely be a bullpen game for the Phillies. Meanwhile, the Cardinals will send Chris Carpenter to the hill against Astros’ right-hander Brett Myers. If the Braves and Cardinals are still tied at the conclusion of tomorrow’s action, we’ll see a one-game playoff Thursday night in St. Louis.
The Red Sox have some tough decisions to make in advance of the World Series next week; namely, what to do with some of their hottest-hitting players once the series shifts to a National League park — and National League rules. During a press conference on Saturday, manager Alex Cora said he’d be open to the idea of starting All-Star right fielder Mookie Betts at second base when the club’s regular DH, J.D. Martinez, is forced to play the outfield during away games.
The Red Sox carry home field advantage through the Fall Classic, so Games 1 and 2 will be played at Fenway Park — as well as Games 6 and 7, should those become necessary. Depending on the outcome of NLCS Game 7 later tonight, World Series Games 3 through 5 will be played at Dodger Stadium or Miller Park. That’s when Betts might take over the keystone from Ian Kinsler and Brock Holt, both of whom have shared second base duties over the course of the 2018 postseason.
The idea isn’t without merit. Betts and Martinez comprise two of the team’s top talents at the plate and, should the Red Sox need to stave off elimination in Games 4 and 5, sitting either of them doesn’t make sense. The 26-year-old Betts led the team with a staggering .346/.438/.640 batting line, 32 home runs, 30 stolen bases, and career-best 10.4 fWAR over 614 PA, while Martinez posted some career totals of his own, slashing .330/.402/.629 with 43 home runs, a 1.031 OPS, and 5.9 fWAR in 649 PA. This wouldn’t be the first time Betts has taken reps at second, either, as he’s logged 15 games at the position over the course of his five-year career, most recently during a 4-1 win over the Yankees in August.
Whether or not Betts is considered a lock for all three games is another question, one to which Cora didn’t give a definite answer. “I don’t know, man,” the skipper told reporters Saturday. “[Betts] already played second during the regular season, so there’s always a chance, I guess.” He later added that while Betts would be taking ground balls at second, it’s part of the routine he’s maintained all year — so nothing should be read into it until a clear decision has been announced.