Today marks the first day when a team could be eliminated from the division series. The Athletics and the Giants are both in action and both face 0-2 deficits. It’s do or die time, Bay Area baseball fans.
The Giants find themselves in Ohio of all places, facing a pitcher who tossed a no-hitter 11 days ago. Opposing Homer Bailey is Ryan Vogelsong. Vogelsong made two starts against the Reds this year, allowing six runs in thirteen innings. Bailey started once against the Giants, allowing three runs — two earned — in six and a third. Bailey, it should also be noted, is way worse at home this season than he is on the road. And the Reds, it should be noted, haven’t won a home playoff game since 1995. They need to win one of the next three to advance.
Meanwhile in Oakland, Brett Anderson squares off against Anibal Sanchez and the Tigers. All of the talk for the past two days has been about Al Alburquerque sealing a 1-3 putout with a kiss, but the A’s need to get over that in a hurry and focus on saving their playoff lives. The last time Anderson saw the Tigers — or any game action at all — was on September 19. That day he tweaked his oblique and left the game after giving up three earned runs in two and a third. Sanchez had no better luck against the A’s. He faced them back on September 20 and was tagged for five earned runs in five and two-thirds. Also worth noting that (a) the last time the A’s played in any playoff series at all, they were swept by the Tigers, back in 2006; and (b) the A’s have found themselves down 0-2 in seven previous playoff series, and ended up getting swept in six of the seven.
It’s pins and needles time for A’s and Giants fans. For the rest of us: the thrill of win-or-go-home baseball. The Giants play the Reds at 5:37 PM Eastern. The Tigers and A’s go off at 9:37 PM Eastern.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.