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Lessons From The League Championship Serieses

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MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Atlanta Braves
Heroes are made in October.
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

And yes, “serieses” is a word. I just invented it. There is much gnashing of teeth and shaking of wrists over the A’s immediate future. At worst it looks like a rebuild and at best it looks like trying to run it back with a core that is losing its left fielder, second baseman, and thankfully most of its bullpen, to free agency.

Fear not! If 2021 has taught us anything it’s that the Giants can construct a team pundits figure will win around 81 games but actually wins 107 instead. What’s 26 games off among prognosticating friends? That the Braves can ride 88 regular season wins, knock off a team that won 18 more, and prance to the World Series on the backs of a deadline acquisition nobody especially coveted and a left-handed relief pitcher you likely never heard of until he struck out everyone when it mattered.

In a way, the Braves are the A’s only in a slightly more magical context. The A’s won 86 games and would have been neck and neck with Atlanta for the division to the end had Oakland been in the NL East. Each team lost a key player to ‘non baseball reasons’, with the A’s losing Ramon Laureano and the Braves Marcel Ozuna. Each team unexpectedly lost another key player to injury, with the Braves losing Ronald Acuna in July to an ill-fated leap at the wall and the A’s losing Chris Bassitt in August to an ill-fated line drive through the box. Each team made a key add at the deadline, with Oakland landing Starling Marte and Atlanta landing Eddie Rosario. Marte is better; Rosario got the Braves to the World Series almost single-handedly.

So whether pundits assess you as about a .500 team or you barely sneak into the post-season with less than 90 wins, if baseball has proven anything it’s that the game just isn’t played on paper. Eddie Rosario can be the best player on the planet when it most matters, something called a Matzek can dominate a star-studded lineup, and your Ian Anderson-Walker Buehler matchup can favor the no-name.

Bullpenning

One thing we saw, in game 6, was a technique I have long favored and that is the “2 inning stint” from your plus relievers. Yesterday Ian Anderson went only 4 IP, but with A.J. Minter and Tyler Matsek throwing 2 IP each the Braves were able to navigate the last 5 IP just fine.

One mistake I feel managers tend to make is to throw their best relievers consecutive days, and overall too often in smaller stints, rather than throwing them for a bit longer and just not as many times. That is, I would sooner see a Petit or Trivino throw a couple 2 IP stints in a week than see them throw those 4 IP as 1 IP on 4 of 6 days.

I suspect some of the wearing down of relievers at the end of the season comes from how they are used, and also the practice of asking 4 relievers to give you 4 IP is asking for trouble. Given that the A’s need to pretty much reinvent their bullpen (Petit, Romo, Chafin, and Diekman can all become free agents), my advice is to invest in relievers who can give you 2 IP when they give you anything. I also recommend good relievers instead of bad ones — see, I’ve been watching the NLCS carefully!

Tactical Mess: Red Sox

The other thing I relearned watching the League Championship Serieses (still a word) is that managers can really undermine their own team’s cause. Alex Cora had a bad series, starting with a decision I still can’t wrap my head around no matter how hard I squint to try to see the logic.

Up 9-3 going to the 7th inning Cora selected his closer, Garrett Whitlock, and chose that game to ask him to pitch 2 IP (not what I meant, Alex, not what I meant). Then he went to the other extreme and selected his worst reliever (who shouldn’t even been on the roster), Darwinzon Hernandez, who was bad enough that he couldn’t even finish the 9th.

No idea what Cora was thinking there, but it wasn’t even his costliest blunder. He yanked Nick Pivetta after 5 dominant innings, undoubtedly because metrics showed that Pivetta tends to be much less effective the 3rd time through the order. You might want to wait until the hitters corroborate this because Pivetta was dealing, right up to the point where he retired Jose Altuve — in his 3rd plate appearance I might add, and I will — and then left the game after 65 pitches because general metrics. Boston lost that game late, unable to cobble together 4 effective relief innings.

Finally comes another hard-to-comprehend decision to pitch to Yordan Alvarez (game 5) with runners at 2nd and 3rd and 2 outs and Chris Sale on the mound trailing 1-0. I guess the old “left-right” factors came into play, but the only pitch Alvarez really struggles with is the changeup (from a RHP) and he had already smacked Sale around twice. On deck was a good hitter, Carlos Correa, but Sale had owned the last matchup with a key strikeout on 3 pitches and Correa was not “Eddie Rosario level all-worldly” in the series. Seemed to me like an obvious choice, even more so when Alvarez put a predictable dagger in the Red Sox hearts with his 3rd hit of the day off Sale.

All of which is to say that I certainly do not agree with all of Bob Melvin’s moves, but when you think he’s a bad tactical manager you should look around the league to realize he has plenty of company in the “head scratcher” department.

Go Braves because they’re playing the Astros, and also because they haven’t even been to the World Series in this particular millennium. I will forgive the Tomahawk Chop for a week and go “all in” to pull for Atlanta.