My friends, there is something magical going on in playoff baseball this year, and I don't mean the Chicago Cubs winning a thrilling 1-0 series opener over the San Francisco Giants on Javier Baez's eighth-inning home run. No, I refer to managers thinking along with ... well, with the stat nerds. As for the day of aces, it was a bit of a letdown as only Johnny Cueto and Jon Lester delivered us a great pitching matchup. What we learned ...
1. It's OK to use your closer for more than three outs. For years, the statheads have wanted to see managers use their closers or best relievers for more outs or in higher-leverage situations in the postseason. The low point in this area came in the 2013 NLDS, when Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez refused to bring in Craig Kimbrel -- the most dominant reliever in the game at the time -- in Game 4 with a lead and instead watched David Carpenter give up a series-losing home run to the Dodgers' Juan Uribe.
Well, on Friday we saw the Blue Jays' Roberto Osuna and the Dodgers' Kenley Jansen both record five-out saves, closing out 5-3 and 4-3 victories, respectively. This after Terry Francona used Cody Allen for a five-out save on Thursday (after using setup guy Andrew Miller in the fifth inning). So that's three five-out saves already. I don't know if this is a reaction to Buck Showalter's monumental failure to not use Zach Britton in the wild-card game, but it's a trend that is hopefully here to stay. Compare this to saves in the past five postseasons:
Four outs: 4
Five outs: 1 (Osuna)
Familia had two of the four-out saves as well.
15 outs: 1 (Madison Bumgarner)
That's right, the only save of more than three outs was Bumgarner's epic five-inning relief appearance in Game 7 of the World Series.
Four outs: 5
Five outs: 1 (Koji Uehara)
Uehara had four of the six long saves.
Four outs: 2
Coke got his six-out save after Jose Valverde lost his job earlier in the postseason.
Four outs: 4
Five outs: 2 (Phil Coke, Ryan Madson)
Yep, Phil Coke is tied with Wade Davis for most saves of more than four outs over the past five postseasons.
2. Fly the W. The late game was a tense, beautiful affair -- exactly what you want from playoff baseball. Gorkys Hernandez made a spectacular diving catch for the Giants. Cueto whirled and twisted his way to a 10-strikeout game. Lester threw an efficient 86 pitches in eight innings. With Bumgarner looming in the background for Game 3, there's a little extra pressure for the Cubs to win both of these games at Wrigley. Two plays the Giants will look back at:
• In the third inning, Conor Gillaspie led off with a single but got picked off with Cueto attempting to bunt, when second baseman Baez wheeled in behind and took a pickoff throw from catcher David Ross. Terrific play by the Cubs.
• Buster Posey was on first with two outs in the fourth when Angel Pagan blooped a ball in front of left fielder Ben Zobrist, who dove and missed, the ball skipping a few feet past him. Posey runs like a catcher -- hey, he's a catcher! -- but didn't seem to be tailing it around second. Or maybe he was. Maybe he wouldn't have scored anyway given his lack of speed. Lester then got Brandon Crawford on a grounder to short to escape his biggest jam.
Baez would then win it. Known for his aggressive approach at the plate, he took a 2-2 fastball off the plate to work the count full. Cueto then tried to quick pitch him with another fastball and Baez lofted the 93 mph pitch into the netting above the ivy in left field.
Bill at Wrigley tonight. Lol pic.twitter.com/siittrLCUk— James Carroll (@643equals2) October 8, 2016
3. Clayton Kershaw-Max Scherzer duel fails to materialize. The Dodgers would win 4-3, but both guys scuffled. Scherzer gave up two home runs (Corey Seager, Justin Turner) and four runs in six innings. Kershaw labored through 101 pitches in just five frames. He ended up with the win, but it was a tough effort, and his biggest out came against Scherzer with the bases loaded in the second, an eight-pitch battle that ended with Scherzer popping out. More on the day of aces here.
Sandy Koufax was in the house for this one. Talked to Kershaw in clubhouse after game. Asked what Koufax said, Kershaw wouldn't share— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) October 8, 2016
4. The Red Sox are in trouble. Corey Kluber was magnificent with seven shutout innings, and David Price fell to 0-8 in nine career playoff starts. The big blow: Lonnie Chisenhall's three-run homer, his first against a lefty this season (he only started eight games against southpaws). Boston's season will now fall on Clay Buchholz, and that can't inspire much confidence in Red Sox fans, even if he did post a 3.14 ERA in five September starts after rejoining the rotation. With the 6-0 win, Francona didn't have to use Miller or Allen, so both will have two days of rest for Game 3, suggesting Francona can once again have a quick hook with his starter (Josh Tomlin) and rely on his bullpen. Then you have the built-in drama of David Ortiz's potential last game. Otherwise, just another playoff game.
5. Dusty Baker's legacy needs three wins in four games. While Bumgarner already has added an exclamation point to his legacy as one of the game's clutch -- yes, I said clutch -- performers and Price's took another hit and Kershaw's remained in neutral, perhaps no one has more on the line this postseason than the Nationals manager. Baker is 17th on the all-time wins list, and everybody ahead of him is in the Hall of Fame except Gene Mauch, Lou Piniella, Bruce Bochy and Jim Leyland. Bochy will get in when eligible, and Piniella is on the ballot this year. With a World Series title, Baker probably gets elected. The Nationals face another tough lefty in Game 2 in Rich Hill. They obviously don't want to go to Dodger Stadium -- where the Dodgers were 53-28 -- down two games to none. Tanner Roark, you're up.