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For second straight night Ryan Madson blows up in fifth inning

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There were nine innings of baseball tonight, but Game 2 of the 2018 World Series was decided in the fifth.

The top of the fifth didn’t matter all that much, really. The Dodgers went down 1-2-3. But before we get into the consequential bottom half of it, can we take a moment to appreciate just how dang pretty Andrew Benintendi‘s catch of Brian Dozier‘s fly to left field really was?

Cue up the Tchaikovsky and get a load of this:

The Red Sox outfield defense is ridiculously good. So good it makes me wonder if they may not just bench J.D. Martinez for the games in Los Angeles and let him pinch-hit here and there rather than break up this group. If you made me decide right now, that’s what I’d do.

OK, now let’s get into the part of the fifth that decided this game.

The bottom half started so promisingly for Los Angeles. For one thing, they held a 2-1 lead. For another Hyun-Jin Ryu was still on the mound and looked to be cruising along quite nicely. Indeed, he needed only three pitches to get the first two Red Sox out and then went 0-2 on Christian Vazquez. He was only five pitches into the inning and he was a strike away from getting out of it.

It would take 25 more pitches from two pitchers to get that final out and by the time they did, Boston had turned a one-run deficit into a two-run lead they’d never relinquish.

Ryu, it turned out, was out of gas. He gave up a single to Vazquez, a single to Mookie Betts and then he’d walk Andrew Benintendi to load the bases. That led Dave Roberts to call on Ryan Madson. It was the second straight night he went to Madson as the first man out of the pen. In Game 1, we learned later, Madson wasn’t even fully warmed up when he relieved Clayton Kershaw. He’d bounce a pitch into the dirt, walk a batter and then allow two inherited runners to score, the second one proving, eventually, to be the one which gave Boston the winning margin.

Things weren’t much better on this night.

Madson walked the first batter he faced, Steven Pearce, on five pitches, forcing in a run. It really should’ve been just four pitches, as the strike that was called on Pearce was nowhere near the plate. The walk tied the game at two. Madson would throw ball one to the next hitter, J.D. Martinez, before trying to get a get-me-over pitch passed him. That didn’t work and Martinez drove in the Sox’ third and fourth run of the game with a single to right. OK, maybe he should play in Los Angeles. Don’t ask me how. That’s Alex Cora’s job to figure out before Game 3.

After this game it will be Dave Roberts’ job to answer questions, and a lot of those questions are likely to be about the choices he made in the fifth inning. I don’t know if he has any great answers, really. All I know for sure is that, if he was going to pull Hyun-Jin Ryu with two outs in the fifth — and I’d say Roberts probably had to, given that he seemed to be flaming out — maybe he needed to replace him with someone who isn’t Ryan Madson. The same Ryan Madson who wasn’t ready the night before. The same Ryan Madson who, before Game 2, said this about the cold weather in Fenway Park:

“Grip is essential obviously in a breaking ball. And a lot of times with the cold weather, I’m not saying anybody uses anything, but if you use anything, a lot of times it’s not as effective in cold weather.”

Madson is also on record describing facing J.D. Martinez as “being in a pit with a rattlesnake.”  Madson wasn’t physically ready for Game 1. Given these quotes, part of me wonders if he wasn’t mentally ready for Game 2. A bigger part of me wonders if maybe Pedro Baez wasn’t sweating this sort of stuff earlier this afternoon and if, unlike Madson, Baez would not have allowed all five of the runners he’s inherited in the first two games of this series to score.

All I know for sure is that Dave Roberts is catching a lot of hell so far some moves he’s made or hasn’t made in this series. As I wrote last night, he wouldn’t have been if the guys he called on had simply executed. For two straight nights, however, Madson was called on to put out a fire in the fifth inning. For the second straight night he failed to do so. It makes one wonder if, perhaps, he should not have been called on at all.

The Giants are winning but they’re still gonna sell

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The state of baseball in general, the state of the National League in particular and the state of the San Francisco Giants as a competitor are conspiring to create what seems like at least a mildly absurd situation.

The Giants, a veteran-laden team that, as recently as this past offseason but definitely within the past couple of years, were at least talking about being on a win-now footing, just swept a four-game series, have won five straight games and have won 12 of 14 to pull themselves to within two and a half games of a playoff spot.

Yet, that’s all for temporary show, because they’re about to sell off. At least according to Jeff Passan at ESPN. Giants president Farhan Zaidi tried to push back on that in a radio interview yesterday, denying that the club has foreclosed the possibility of a postseason push, but I’m not really buying that and I don’t think most people are.

On one level it makes sense to ignore the recent surge and forge on with a rebuild. Sure, the Giants are winning but they’re not exactly good. They’re two and a half out of the Wild Card, but there are many teams ahead of them. There’s a lot of reason to think that they’re playing in good fortune right now and that that, rather than finding some extra gear of sustainable better play, is what’s to credit. Hot streaks can happen at any time but the trade deadline only comes once a year. When you have the best starter available in Madison Bumgarner and the best reliever available in Will Smith, you gotta make those deals. That’s what I’d probably do if I ran the Giants and I think that that’s, wisely, what Zaidi will do.

Still, it’s an odd look, less for the Giants specifically than for baseball as a whole. We may in an era of cheap front offices who don’t like to contend if it means spending money, but it’s unfair to paint the Giants with that brush. They’ve spent money and acquired talent and have done whatever they can to extend their 2010-2014 mini-dynasty a few more years and in doing so they’ve made a lot of fans happy. That team has pretty much reached the end and, even in an earlier, more competitive era, they’d not be properly criticized for starting in on a rebuild. Heck, they’d be excused if they had done it a year or two earlier, frankly.

But, because so many teams have punted on improving themselves, these aging Giants are at least superficially competitive. As such, when they do sell off in the coming days, it’ll look to some like they’re waving a white flag or something when they’re not really doing that. I mean, the Rockies and the Pirates, among other teams, should be much better than they are but didn’t seem all that interested in improving, thereby helping the Giants look better, right? It’s less a knock on the Giants for rebuilding when they’re within striking distance of the playoffs than it is on the rest of the league for allowing a team like the Giants to be within striking distance of a playoff spot.

But that’s where we are right now. An insanely competitive Wild Card race from teams that, on the whole, are rather unconcerned with being competitive. What a time to be a baseball fan.