Buck Showalter cost the Orioles the AL Wild Card game by not using a healthy Zach Britton

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Orioles closer Zach Britton‘s absence stuck out like a sore thumb in Tuesday night’s American League Wild Card game, a game which the Orioles lost in walk-off fashion after failing to hand the ball to Britton for three consecutive innings in the ninth, 10th, and 11th. As the 11th inning ended with Edwin Encarnacion circling the bases on a walk-off home run against Ubaldo Jimenez, many speculated that Britton must have been injured for manager Buck Showalter to refrain from using him for three innings in the most important game of the season.

Britton was so dominant during the 2016 regular season that he had many people championing his cause for the AL Cy Young Award — an award that has very, very rarely been given to relievers. The lefty finished with a 0.54 ERA, an 80 percent ground ball rate, and a 74/18 K/BB ratio.

Britton should have started the ninth inning, but Brad Brach came out for his second inning of work. He allowed a leadoff double to Josh Donaldson… and remained in the game in a situation in which preventing base advancement is critical. Britton, a ground ball machine with a terrific strikeout rate, would seem like a good candidate. With a base open, Brach intentionally walked Edwin Encarnacion, then struck out Jose Bautista before departing. Darren O'Day, definitively not Britton, came into the game. As fate would have it, O’Day induced an inning-ending ground ball double play from Russell Martin, sending the game into extras.

In the bottom of the 10th, O’Day again took the mound. Facing right-hander Troy Tulowitzki, who popped out, is defensible, but stayed in to face pinch-hitter Justin Smoak who has traditionally hit right-handed pitching much better than left-handed. Again, Showalter’s gamble paid off, as O’Day struck him out. O’Day got Kevin Pillar to line out to end the bottom of the 10th.

In the 11th and final inning, lefty Brian Duensing — also definitively not Britton — toed the slab to face Ezequiel Carrera. Carrera struck out looking, and Showalter walked to the mound, calling in right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez. The results were predictable. Devon Travis singled to left field on the third pitch he saw from Jimenez. Donaldson followed up with a single of his own on the first pitch he saw, bringing up Encarnacion. Encarnacion swung at the first pitch, a fastball right down the middle, and launched it to left field for a no-doubt walk-off three-run home run to send the Blue Jays to the ALDS to face the Rangers.

At the post-game press conference, Showalter said of his closer’s health, “Zach Britton was fine.” Reporters continued to ask him about his rationale for letting Britton sit, suggesting he was adhering to baseball orthodoxy. Showalter deflected. Baseball orthodoxy says not to use your closer in a tie game on the road because you might need him to finish the game once you get a lead. The problem with that logic is you might lose the game due to using lesser relievers before you’re able to claim a lead. And that’s what happened to the Orioles.

Britton said not getting into Tuesday night’s game was “frustrating,” as ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports.

Showalter is a smart guy who has not shown a stubborn allegiance to old school baseball orthodoxy in the past. It’s a shame that his decision not to use Britton will haunt him for the foreseeable future. Grady Little is, to this day, still most remembered for his stubbornness in letting Pedro Martinez start the eighth inning in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS with his pitch count at 100. Martinez proceeded to allow three runs to the Yankees to tie the game at 5-5. Aaron Boone would later hit a walk-off home run against Tim Wakefield in the bottom of the 11th inning.

Showalter’s legacy is far too great for it to be sullied for one mistake, but it is a mistake he repeated three times on Tuesday night and it cost the Orioles big time.

Major League Baseball threatens to walk away from Minor League Baseball entirely

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The war between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball escalated significantly last night, with Minor League Baseball releasing a memo accusing Major League Baseball of “repeatedly and inaccurately” describing the former’s stance in negotiations and Major League Baseball responding by threatening to cut ties with Minor League Baseball entirely.

As you’re no doubt aware, negotiations of the next, 10-year Professional Baseball Agreement, which governs the relationship between the big leagues and the minors — and which is set to expire following the 2020 season — have turned acrimonious. Whereas past negotiations have been quick and uncontroversial, this time Major League Baseball presented Minor League Baseball with a plan to essentially contract 42 minor league baseball teams by eliminating their major league affiliation while demanding that Minor League Baseball undertake far more of the financial burden of player development which is normally the responsibility of the majors.

That plan became public in October when Baseball America reported on it, after which elected officials such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren began weighing in on the side of Minor League Baseball. Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball were not happy with all of that and, on Wednesday, Manfred bashed Minor League Baseball for taking the negotiations public and accused Minor League Baseball of intransigence, saying the minors had assumed a “take it or leave it” negotiating stance.

Last night Minor League Baseball bashed back in the form of a four-page public memo countering Manfred’s claims, with point-point-by-point rebuttals of Major League Baseball’s talking points on various matters ranging from stadium facilities, team travel, and player health and welfare. You can read the memo in this Twitter thread from Josh Norris of Baseball America.

Major League Baseball responded with its own public statement last night. But rather than publicly rebut Minor League Baseball’s claims, it threatened to simply drop any agreement with Minor League Baseball and, presumably start its own minor league system bypassing MiLB entirely:

“If the National Association [of Minor League Clubs] has an interest in an agreement with Major League Baseball, it must address the very significant issues with the current system at the bargaining table. Otherwise, MLB clubs will be free to affiliate with any minor league team or potential team in the United States, including independent league teams and cities which are not permitted to compete for an affiliate under the current agreement.”

So, in the space of about 48 hours, Manfred has gone from being angry at the existence of public negotiations to negotiating in public, angrily.

As for Minor League Baseball going public itself, one Minor League Baseball owner’s comments to the Los Angeles Times seems to sum up the thinking pretty well:

“Rob is attempting to decimate the industry, destroy baseball in communities and eliminate thousands of jobs, and he’s upset that the owners of the teams have gone public with that information in an effort to save their teams. That’s rich.”

Things, it seems, are going to get far worse before they get better. If, in fact, they do get better.