It was a nice day of baseball. The Chicago Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals with some surprising tactics, Zack Greinke and Noah Syndergaard were locked up in another pitcher's duel at Dodger Stadium ... and then Chase Utley tried to kill Ruben Tejada, and everybody lost it.
1. The slide. In my view, Utley's slide on Tejada is not how the game should be played. I'd argue the rule already exists to call Utley out, but the rule is rarely, if ever, enforced. It's time to start enforcing it. After Utley was initially called out, the Dodgers successfully appealed the play because Tejada never actually touched the bag. Neighborhood plays can't be reviewed, but somehow the umpires determined it wasn't a neighborhood play. Ugh.
The Dodgers tied the game on that play and then added three more runs to win 5-2. That inning revealed the perceived weakness of the Mets: middle relief. Bartolo Colon was an interesting choice to replace Syndergaard with runners at the corners, one out and a 2-1 lead, considering the Mets needed a strikeout and Colon isn't a big strikeout guy. Howie Kendrick was 2-for-22 against Colon, and that's certainly why Collins brought in Colon, but the stats guys will tell you that's not a significant sample size. Addison Reed replaced Colon, and he got Corey Seager, but Reed was left in to face lefty Adrian Gonzalez, who doubled in two runs, and Justin Turner, who doubled in another.
Everyone will be talking the slide, but Terry Collins' bullpen decisions and results should be discussed as well. Should Jonathon Niese have faced Gonzalez? Can Reed and Tyler Clippard bridge the gap to Jeurys Familia moving forward?
By the way, the Dodgers' win probabilities from ESPN Stats & Info:
Reality: Chase Utley ruled safe upon review, slide ruled legal
-- 1st and 2nd, 1 out (win probability = 64.2%)
Scenario 2: No challenge of neighborhood play
-- Runner at 1st, 2 outs (win probability = 53.9%)
Scenario 3: Utley slide ruled illegal
-- 7th inning over (win probability = 23.6%)
Lots of instant reaction to Chase Utley's slide. pic.twitter.com/xwiZY7c23j— Baseball Tonight (@BBTN) October 11, 2015
2. Zack Greinke, Dodgers. Hey, he was good. He had that blip in the second inning, when he gave up home runs to Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto (an absolute rocket to right field). Not surprisingly for a guy with a 1.66 ERA, it was the first time all year Greinke had allowed two home runs in an inning, but otherwise, he was masterful, as he allowed five hits in seven innings and struck out eight.
3. Cubs play small ball. One thing we know is Cubs manager Joe Maddon isn't afraid of the unconventional. His Tampa Bay squads first popularized the heavy shifting we now see across the sport. He spent most of this season batting his pitcher in the eighth spot. His lineup in the wild-card game included three players in positions they had rarely played before. So here we were in the top of the second inning, with the Cardinals leading 1-0, runners at first and third, one out and pitcher Kyle Hendricks up. Maddon seems to have settled on batting Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester ninth when they start, due to their likelihood of pitching deeper into the game, but Maddon bats his other pitchers eighth. This is the negative aspect to doing that: the pitcher comes up in an RBI situation with multiple runners on base. Hendricks has been awful at the plate in his career, even for a pitcher: He hit .050 this year (3-for-60) with 24 strikeouts, and his success rate on sacrifice bunts wasn't good (3-for-8).
But on squeeze bunts in the postseason, he is now 1-for-1. Hendricks got the bunt down, Austin Jackson scored and pitcher Jaime Garcia threw the ball away, which put runners on second and third with out.
Mad sorcerer Maddon then called for another squeeze play, with Addison Russell getting it down to score Miguel Montero for the Cubs' second run of the inning. Dexter Fowler followed with an RBI infield single, and then Jorge Soler cracked a two-run homer. The Cubs scored five runs in the inning -- all five unearned.
According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, there had been 1,360 sacrifice bunts in postseason history. Most of those (865) have come with a runner on first base or first and second. How unexpected were Maddon's two bunts? There had been just 28 successful sacrifices with runners on first and third, though 12 of those just moved the runner to second. One of the successful first-and-third squeeze plays? Jason Bartlett of the Rays in the 2008 World Series against the Phillies.
But a squeeze with runners on second and third? That had happened just once in 112 years of playoff baseball, with Mike Gallego of the A's squeezing in Mark McGwire in the 1989 ALCS.
Two gutsy, bold calls early in the game, when you might be more inclined to play for the big inning. After the game, a 6-3 Cubs win, Maddon paid tribute to Don Zimmer for his small-ball inspiration. I'm not sure it's smart to invoke the name of a Cubs manager of the past, but Maddon is clearly a guy who isn't going to let history get in his way.
#Cubs 1B Anthony Rizzo: "We don't plan on coming back here (to St. Louis for a Game 5)."— 670 The Score (@670TheScore) October 11, 2015
4. Jorge Soler, Cubs. This was another move that worked out for Maddon. With the lefty Garcia starting, Maddon replaced rookie Kyle Schwarber with another rookie in Soler, who has kind of been left in the dust of Schwarber, Russell and Kris Bryant. Soler's rookie season was a bit of a disappointment, as the power he displayed in his late-season call-up last year didn't materialize, with just 10 home runs in 366 at-bats, and he finished with a .262/.324/.399 line. Soler is aggressive at the plate, which allowed him to kill fastballs to the tune of a .387/.448/.581. But throw him something with a little wiggle to it, and he struggled, hitting .149 against curveballs and sliders.
Maybe he's learning. Batting second in the first inning, Soler worked the count full. He laid off a curveball and two changeups, fouled off a fastball and then hit a line-drive double to left field. In the second inning, he fouled off a 2-2 slider, got another slider and powered a line-shot two-run homer to center. It wasn't a good slider by Garcia, but it was the kind of pitch Soler had trouble with all season. Soler followed that home run with two walks before being replaced for defense. Those walks came on the heels of a walk in Game 1 while pinch-hitting against Trevor Rosenthal. If Soler can learn to recognize those offspeed pitches and show a little more patience, watch out, because he has the bat speed and raw power to spray line drives all over the park.
Maddon gave credit to Manny Ramirez for staying in Jorge Soler's ear, keeping him ready. Along w his work w hitting coaches— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) October 11, 2015
5. Trevor Cahill, Cubs. Yes, this is the same Trevor Cahill the Diamondbacks happily dumped on the Braves at the end of spring training, even paying the Braves $6.5 million of his salary. Yes, it's the same Trevor Cahill the Braves released two months later with a 7.52 ERA and just 14 strikeouts in 26.1 innings. Yes, it's again Trevor Cahill who signed with the Dodgers, went to the minors and then exercised an opt-out clause in early August, when he hadn't been called up to the majors. The Cubs signed him, called him up in September and watched him allow just eight hits in 17 innings with 22 strikeouts and a good groundball rate with that sinker of his, and now he's pitching in the eighth inning of a playoff game and protecting a 6-3 lead.
Cahill threw eight pitches, hit 95 on the radar gun on one sinker to Stephen Piscotty and has apparently supplanted Pedro Strop as the top setup guy. The middle relief getting to closer Hector Rondon was a big concern heading into the playoffs, but both Cahill and Travis Wood were effective in Game 2. At this time of year, it's all about finding the right weapons, and Cahill looks a guy who has found his.