Getty Images

Previewing AL Wild Card Game

22 Comments

Last night two teams who had to play, and lose, a tiebreaker faced off in the N.L. Wild Card Game. Tonight two teams which would, if they were in the National League, enjoy home field advantage throughout the playoffs are forced into a one-and-done scenario. Life ain’t fair and no one said it was. Just know that the 100-win Yankees and the 97-win Athletics are not your typical Wild Card teams.

And this will not be a typical game either. For the first time we’ll see an “opener” used in a postseason game as the A’s will begin the bottom of the first with a relief pitcher on the hill. The Yankees will use a starter but he will have the shortest of leashes.

The A’s and Yankees will be playing this one as if the world is going to end tomorrow. That’s not going to happen but, for one of them, the season will end tonight. As such it makes sense that they will pull out all the stops.

 

The “starting” pitchers:

The quotes are for Hendriks who, as we noted yesterday, will be the opener for the A’s and will pitch for only one inning most likely. Which, as we also noted yesterday, would be longer than Severino lasted in last year’s Wild Card game, in which he got shelled. All of which suggests that you should not get too hung up on starting pitching tonight, because, at most, we’ll see a “starting” pitcher go maybe four innings, and that’s if Severino is electric. The A’s are certain to go to a reliever early, although it could be a starting pitcher in relief. The Yankees will be taking an all-hands-on-deck approach as well.

 

The bullpens:

This is what this game will be all about, folks.

The A’s used an opener nine times in September, with Hendriks taking eight of those “starts,” going one inning seven times and one and two-thirds innings once. In each of them a guy who is usually a starting pitcher came in for the second inning, though it’s quite possible that Bob Melvin goes all-relievers here. Among those options tonight are Lou TrivinoShawn KelleyYusmeiro Petit and Ryan Buchter. Those guys will be expected to be the bridge to setup men Fernando Rodney and Jeurys Familia before the closer Blake Treinen ends the night, one way or another. It’s a good bullpen — it has had to be given how many injuries the A’s starters have experienced — but not quite as good as the Yankees’ relief corps.

As for that Yankees bullpen, it’ll be some combination of Zach Britton, Chad Green, Dellin Betances, David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman. Some of those guys have struggled at times this year and, especially in Yankee Stadium, one errant longball can change the complexion of the game, but it’s a near-historically good set of relievers with whom the Bombers will ride or die.

 

The lineups:

Contending with all of those relief arms are the number two (Yankees) and number four (A’s) run-scoring offenses in all of baseball this year. The longball is key, obviously. New York led the majors by hitting an all-time record 267 homers. The A’s were third in baseball with 227, 48 of which came off the bat of Khris Davis. The A’s are pretty right-handed heavy, and Severino deals with right-handed pitching pretty well, so that’ll be a plus for the Yankees. The A’s have actually hit right-handed hitting pretty well, however, so maybe that plus is negated? Again — and I feel like I say this 100 times when talking about the Wild Card games — those kinds of numbers really don’t matter in a single elimination scenario. As we saw last night from the Cubs, one cold-bat evening can end a season. For all of the heavy hitting on display here, this could be decided by a Brett Gardner bloop single or a .291-OBP-having Jonathan Lucroy drawing a bases-loaded walk.

The teams split their six regular-season meetings this year with the Yankees taking two of three in mid-May and the A’s taking two of three in early September. That doesn’t matter now. Nothing matters but the heat from the relievers and the timing of the pitching changes. We won’t predict the outcome because who really knows, but expect to see high velocity and high drama, with every pitch carrying with it a weight and an effort that only 21st century relief pitchers and bullpen strategy can provide.

The Cubs played under protest after Joe Maddon disputed an ‘illegal’ pitching motion

Joe Maddon
AP Images
1 Comment

The Cubs found themselves in a disadvantageous position toward the end of their 5-2 loss to the Nationals on Saturday. Down by three in the ninth, they were finally looking to gain some ground against closer Sean Doolittle after wearying themselves against Stephen Strasburg for the first eight innings of the game. Instead, the game ended under protest when Cubs skipper Joe Maddon took umbrage with Doolittle’s delivery:

The issue appeared to stem from the motion Doolittle made with his left foot, a kind of “toe-tapping” gesture that Maddon believed had previously been made illegal. The official rules state that a pitcher may not take a second step toward home plate during his delivery, a stipulation that had previously been violated by Cubs’ pitcher Carl Edwards Jr.:

Comparing the two motions, however, one would be hard-pressed to characterize Doolittle’s tapping motion as a full step toward the plate. Maddon clearly didn’t see it that way, and emerged from the dugout to dispute the pitcher’s delivery twice. Following Doolittle’s first-pitch strike to Albert Almora, the manager informed home-plate umpire Sam Holbrook that the Cubs would play the remainder of the game under protest.

An official decision has not yet been announced regarding the illegality of the delivery and the validity of the Cubs’ protest. According to league rules, “the game will not be replayed unless it is also determined that the violation adversely affected the protesting team’s chances of winning.”

During the inning in question, however, the umpiring crew allowed Doolittle to continue his delivery. He helped secure the Nationals’ 5-2 win after inducing a groundout from Almora, striking out Kyle Schwarber, and getting a game-ending pop-out from Kris Bryant.

After the game, both Holbrook and Doolittle took issue with Maddon’s protest.

“In that moment, he’s not trying to do anything other than rattle me,” Doolittle told reporters. “And it was kind of tired. I don’t know, sometimes he has to remind people how smart he is and how much he pays attention to the game. So he put his stamp on it, for sure.”

Holbrook, meanwhile, said Doolittle did “absolutely nothing illegal at all.”