Wednesday was a good night for two teams on the brink, as the Los Angeles Dodgers mollywhopped the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS, earning their first win of the series, while the Houston Astros did just enough to live another day against the Tampa Bay Rays, avoiding a sweep in the ALCS.
That means we’ll get another double dip on Thursday as these two entertaining series continue. But before we get there, we must look back and round up some takeaways from Wednesday night’s action.
Los Angeles Dodgers 15 — Atlanta Braves 3
Braves lead the series, 2-1
An ugly beginning
Usually, when things go haywire in a ball game, you can say it could’ve always been worse. But in this case, it literally never has been worse than the 11-spot Atlanta allowed the Dodgers to hang on them in Wednesday’s first inning. That 32-minute frame set a post-season record for most runs scored in an inning as the Dodgers ambushed Braves starter Kyle Wright, running him from the game having recorded only two outs.
MAX MUNCY. GRAND SLAM. 11-0 DODGERS.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 14, 2020
The issue for Wright was all location, as his sinkers and sliders either missed well outside the zone or sat up on the plate for Dodgers hitters to tee off on:
You just can’t make mistakes like those to a lineup as dangerous and well prepared as the one Wright was facing. The same can be said of veteran reliever Grant Dayton, who followed Wright, left a bevy of fastballs up over the heart of the plate, and suffered a similar fate:
Dayton was making his first appearance of the post-season and isn’t a pitcher the Braves will rely upon in crucial moments. But if and when Atlanta goes back to Wright in this series will be a fascinating decision to watch.
For better or worse, he’s Atlanta’s third-best starting pitcher following Max Fried and Ian Anderson. So if this series goes the distance, Wright will likely be needed again. You can even make a case, considering he threw only 28 pitches Wednesday, that he’d be available to return to the mound in Friday’s Game 5 or Saturday’s Game 6.
Wright did pitch brilliantly against the Miami Marlins in the division series only a week ago, working six scoreless innings while striking out seven. There’s reason to have confidence he can bounce back. But this Los Angeles lineup is a different animal than Miami’s. The Braves have now seen one really good start and one really bad one from Wright. It’ll be interesting to see if he gets another crack at it.
Managing for tomorrow
After the first, Braves manager Brian Snitker’s night evolved into a delicate exercise of balancing the short term requirement to fulfill nine innings of baseball with the long-term desire to preserve leverage bullpen arms and put his team in position to be as competitive as possible for Thursday night’s Game 4.
That’s why, even as it became extremely evident he didn’t have it on the night, Dayton wore it from midway through the first until there were two out in the third, allowing eight runs on eight hits — three of them homers — while 10 of the 16 batters he saw reached base.
It’s also why Travis d’Arnaud, who caught every pitch of the 66 innings the Braves played this post-season coming into the night, was pinch-hit for in the third inning, taking the rest of his night off to recover ahead of however many more games this series brings. Same for 31-year-old first baseman Freddie Freeman and young superstar Ronald Acuna Jr., who both came out of the game after their second plate appearances of the night.
There are no days off in this series, remember, so energy must be managed. Even Dave Roberts took the opportunity to get Mookie Betts out of the game in the fourth and Corey Seager off his feet an inning later.
In the end, Snitker got through 27 outs without having to get too deep into his bullpen, a major credit to rookie swingman Huascar Ynoa, who carried his team through the middle frames with four innings of one-hit ball in his post-season debut. Ynoa’s work is probably the only reason the Braves didn’t end up resorting to using a position player on the mound.
It was especially important considering Thursday the Braves are expected to start Bryse Wilson, a 22-year-old who’s made only 15 big-league appearances and pitched to a 5.91 ERA between them. The longest of Wilson’s six outings this season was 82 pitches. And it’ll be surprising to see him get anywhere near that amount Thursday against the best team in baseball. Snitker will likely be going to his bullpen early and often.
Meanwhile, Clayton Kershaw will be on the hill for the Dodgers, and the massive talent discrepancy in that pitching matchup gives Los Angeles a 58.2 per cent probability of evening the series, per ZIPS projections. But the Braves are still favoured to win the NLCS in 62.2 per cent of outcomes. That’s counting on them getting back around to Fried and Anderson later in the series. Considering how things went for them Wednesday, that can’t happen soon enough.
Houston Astros 4 — Tampa Bay Rays 3
Rays lead the series, 3-1
Living and dying with Altuve
Jose Altuve’s uncharacteristic struggles throwing from second base over the course the ALCS were a big topic coming into Wednesday’s game, as many wondered whether the Astros could afford to trust him playing the position with so little margin for error remaining in the series. Thing is, Dusty Baker’s running the club. And he’s nothing if not an old school, player’s manager. He probably never thought about it.
So of course Altuve’s name was on the Astros lineup card, batting third and playing second. And it didn’t take long for him to make a statement with his bat, as he took a 100-m.p.h. Tyler Glasnow fastball 400-feet over the left field wall in the first to open the scoring:
Jose Altuve gets the @astros on board first again!
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 15, 2020
Back up in the third with two on and two out, Altuve turned around another Glasnow heater, this time bouncing it off the base of the right field wall, supplying Houston’s second run of the game.
Throwing difficulties or not, this is why the Astros will always have Altuve near the top of their lineup. He’s a .293/.361/.545 career hitter in 59 career post-season games, and he now has homers in five of his last six.
Greinke vs. Arozarena and Dusty the gambler
Astros starter Zack Greinke was cruising right along through three innings, allowing only a walk as he mixed and matched with high-80’s fastballs, low-80’s changeups and big, looping curveballs that all landed somewhere along the edge of the strike zone. It was Greinke at his best, as the likely future Hall-of-Famer earned well-located called strikes and minimized hard contact, erasing that lone walk with a double play groundball.
Zack Greinke, Filthy 86mph Back Door Slider. pic.twitter.com/hAdYfIL4tE
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 15, 2020
But an Austin Meadows blooper found outfield grass for a single in the fourth, which brought up the insatiable Randy Arozarena, who entered the game hitting an absurd .419/.479/.814 in the post-season. That considered, you can’t blame Greinke for nibbling at the edges early in the plate appearance, just as you can’t be surprised that Arozarena wasn’t having it, laying off two changeups and a curveball to work a 3-0 count.
Arozarena was taking all the way when Greinke gave him a 3-0 fastball, but he was in attack mode a pitch later, as Greinke left a breaking all up and on the inner half:
That’s a 73-m.p.h. pitch that left Arozarena’s bat at 102, as he hammered it over the left field wall to tie the game.
So, pretty interesting call for Baker two innings later when Greinke allowed back-to-back singles with one out, bringing Arozarena back to the plate representing the go-ahead run.
Ryan Pressly was warm and ready in the Astros bullpen and it appeared he’d be entering the game as Baker emerged from the Astros dugout. But after a conference on the mound with Greinke, Baker left his starter in the game for another crack against Arozarena. Again, nothing if not an old school, player’s manager.
And Greinke rewarded his manager’s confidence, getting Arozarena to go just a hair too far on a checked swing and strike out chasing a 1-2 changeup. (On replay, it appears Arozarena was hard done by, but no human should be expected to accurately make such a borderline call from more than 90 feet away)
Zack Greinke, 87mph Changeup…and Sword.
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 15, 2020
But if you thought that was a gamble, how about Baker’s decision to leave Greinke in the game after Ji-man Choi extended the inning and loaded the bases with an infield single? Again, Pressly was warmed and waiting. But this time Baker didn’t even move. And it would’ve been something to see the discussion within Houston’s front office group chat as the next batter, Mike Brosseau, worked the count full.
But Greinke came through once again, getting Brosseau to chase a devastating changeup — his 93rd and final pitch of the night — for the third out of the inning.
Oh, to see the glasses falling off the faces of analysts in front offices across MLB when that happened. The obvious, progressive move to make in each of those spots was to put Pressly in the game. Greinke was at the end of the line, Arozarena and Brosseau had already seen him twice, and one of the game’s best relievers was ready to come in and give them a different look. You’d be hard pressed to find a manager in the game who wouldn’t do it.
But that’s not Dusty Baker’s style. The man’s 71 years old. He’s been around so long that he managed Bud Black — nearing 2,000 games managed himself — as a player. He’s currently leading his fifth different team in the post-season, the only MLB manager to ever do it. And, amazingly enough, he’s out here taking bigger risks than any of his peers.
There’s going upper deck and then there’s this:
That George Springer bomb — 110.9 m.p.h. off the bat, 405 feet projected distance — broke a 2-2 tie in the fifth and gave the Astros all they’d need to stay alive in the series.
The Rays scored one late, and put the tying run on third against Pressly, who was finally brought into the game a batter into the ninth. But Yoshi Tsutsugo flew out to right to end it.
The Rays still have a 91.8 per cent chance of winning the series, per ZIPS projections. But the Astros live to fight another day. And in baseball, that’s all you need.