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Bruce Bochy says Max Muncy is ‘poking the bear’ with t-shirt

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Earlier this month, Max Muncy hit a home run off of Madison Bumgarner that landed on the fly into McCovey Cove, a relatively rare feat, especially from opposing hitters. Bumgarner wasn’t happy that Muncy was admiring his homer as it soared in the air, so he yelled at Muncy to put his head down and run the bases. Muncy barked back at him. After the game, Muncy said, “I told him if he doesn’t want me to watch the ball, go get it out of the ocean.”

And lo, a catchphrase was born. T-shirts were immediately made and those shirts have found their way into the Dodgers’ clubhouse. Muncy worse a “Go Get It Out Of The Ocean” t-shirt during batting practice ahead of Thursday night’s game against the Giants in L.A., which will feature Bumgarner starting.

According to Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area, manager Bruce Bochy said of the shirt, “That’s poking the bear. You poke the bear enough and you can’t be upset if he bites back.” Bochy added, “they want to let kids play, but he’s fiery. I’ll miss that as much as anything, the way this man plays.”

It’s one thing to bark back at a player, but Bumgarner has a long history of stepping over the line. He has, on many occasions, thrown at hitters, escalating things into a benches-clearing confrontation. Bochy is certainly fair to say, “You poke the bear enough and you can’t be upset if he bites back.” However, if “bite” is a euphemism for intentionally throwing a 95 MPH fastball at a player, then that’s taking it too far. Rivalries and smack-talk are fun; injuries are not fun.

Nationals’ starting pitching carrying them into World Series

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In my postseason preview at the end of September, I listed the Nationals’ starting rotation as a strength and their bullpen as a weakness. Anyone who had followed the club this season could have told you that. Even the Nats are aware of it as manager Dave Martinez has leaned on his rotation to hide his sometimes unreliable ‘pen.

In Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, Martinez was burned by his bullpen as Tanner Rainey, Fernando Rodney, and Hunter Strickland combined to allow six base runners and four runs. Martinez used ace Max Scherzer in relief in Game 2, sandwiched by Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. Starter Patrick Corbin pitched in relief in Game 3 and it backfired, but the bullpen after Corbin continued to allow more runs — three officially, but Wander Suero allowed two inherited runners to score on a three-run homer by Max Muncy. Martinez only had to rely on Doolittle and Hudson in Game 4 and he again went to Corbin in relief in Game 5.

The strategy was clear: use the actual bullpen as little as possible. If Martinez absolutely has to, Doolittle and Hudson get top priory by a country mile, followed by a starter, then the rest of the bullpen.

Thankfully for Martinez and the Nationals, the starting pitching has done yeoman’s work in the NLCS, jumping out to a three games to none series lead over the Cardinals. Aníbal Sánchez famously brought a no-hit bid into the eighth inning of Game 1, finally relenting a two-out single to José Martínez before his night was over. Doolittle got the final four outs in the 2-0 win. Max Scherzer flirted with a no-hitter in his Game 2 start as well, losing it when Paul Goldschmidt led off the seventh with a single. He was erased on an inning-ending double play. Doolittle, Corbin, and Hudson got the final six outs in the 3-1 victory.

It was more of the same in Game 3. While Stephen Strasburg didn’t flirt with a no-hitter, he was dominant over seven innings, yielding one unearned run on seven hits with no walks and 12 strikeouts. The Nats’ offense woke up, amassing eight runs through seven innings which allowed Martinez to give his main relief guys a night off. Rodney and Rainey each pitched a perfect inning of relief with two strikeouts in low-leverage situations, their first appearances in the NLCS.

The Nationals starting pitching has been outstanding by itself, but it has also had the secondary effect of allowing Martinez to hide his team’s biggest weakness. Now Martinez just has to hope for more of the same for one more game, then at least four more in the World Series.