Anyway, I came here to pick up on the baseball talk. We’re waist-deep in the playoffs now, and I think we all owe a big apology to Dusty Baker.
Look, I’ve done some Dusty-bashing in the past. I don’t know if I’ve done it here or not, but I’ve taken part in it. And I have to admit, my heart is never really in it. I’ve always liked Dusty Baker, and I never blamed him in the least for what happened with the Cubs. Does he work pitchers hard? Maybe. But, if you asked me in all honesty, I think pitchers should be worked hard. That’s how you get better and stronger. There are going to be some injuries along the way, some players that can’t take it. But do I think it was really Baker’s fault that Kerry Wood and Mark Prior’s arms broke down? Not really. I don’t remember any big Giants pitchers going down the drain with all the years he spent out there, and you haven’t really seen that many pitching injuries for the Reds. At least, not any more than a typical team would have to deal with. So, yeah, I firmly believe that Baker has gotten a bad break. In fact, I think he’s one of the best managers in baseball. Not the absolute best, but he’s in the conversation for me. I just try to keep that to a mumble most times.
But, you know, game one of this year’s NLDS might make me speak up a bit more. No manager has a contingency plan for his starter to go a third of an inning. That just never happens. Hell, even if your pitcher is hurt, he’ll gut out the inning before he realizes it. But, that didn’t happen in game one. Johnny Cueto’s back just did not allow that. And, you know, Baker could not have navigated that crisis any better. No manager could have, and I would bet that a lot managers would have had the game blow up in their face. And nobody would really blame him. That’s a tough hand to be dealt. But, Baker persevered and cobbled together a sequence of pitchers that held San Francisco to two runs. Not too shabby.
Then, we get Bronson Arroyo in San Francisco. The grumblings began anew. Everybody was atwitter about how good Arroyo is at home, but how shaky he is at home and this and that. All Arroyo did was throw seven shutout innings, giving up all of one hit and one walk. Throw in four strikeouts for good measure. Their pitching was superb again last night, the Giants needing to get an unearned run in the tenth to win the game.* For supposedly being in shambles, Reds pitching has been dominant this October.
*While I don’t necessarily disagree with calling that play an error, it wasn’t exactly through the wickets. I also think a younger Scott Rolen might have had enough arm to still get the out at first. Then again, a younger Rolen probably would have caught the ball cleanly in the first place. The dude was an amazing defender before the injuries started piling up.
Which brings us to tonight’s game.* At the time of writing (10:20 AM), ESPN is saying Mike Leake will be the starter, while MLB.com is saying it’s still TBD. There’s a chance it’s as simple as bringing back Matt Latos on short rest again. But, it does look more likely to be Leake. Bringing Leake on would mean the Reds have made a roster change. Unfortunately, nobody seems to know who the Reds dropped to bring Leake on. The interesting thing is whoever is dropped can’t come back for the NLCS. Did they just make a swap, Leake for Cueto? Do they expect Cueto back for the World Series, assuming they go that far? Is he bad off enough that they’re writing him off for the season? Did they drop a reliever instead, thinking maybe they won’t need Cueto this series, but they will for the Nationals or Cardinals? So many questions, so few answers. Answers we probably won’t fully have until almost game time. Nevermind the game is now only about five hours away. That sure doesn’t leave a whole lot of time to make new travel plans.
*By the time this is posted, St. Louis-Washington will probably already be done and Cincinnati-San Francisco will have already started. Unless I do some finagling to get somebody else to post this one for me, which I very well might do.
On the other side of the ball, you have the Giants fighting for their life. They’ve relegated Tim Lincecum to the bullpen, even though he had been looking more like the Lincecum of old towards the end of the season. So, now, San Francisco has staved off elimination for one game. If they want to force a deciding game five, the onus lies on the shoulders of. . .Barry Zito? The same Barry Zito that was being ridiculed for basically stealing the Giants’ money because he was so awful when he moved across the bay? The same Zito that was left off the playoff roster when the Giants made their championship run? I guess I’m not a Giant fan, but if I were, I don’t think I would be very comfortable this afternoon. Granted, Zito has looked very much improved this year over any of his previous National League seasons, but it only takes one outing for him to look like the Zito Giants fans have come to know to end the season.
As you might be able to tell, this is the series that interests me the most. Cardinals-Nationals just isn’t doing it for me. Maybe I’m still a little sick over the Cardinals sneaking into the playoffs (again). I know I’m angry at Washington for shutting down Strasburg for the playoffs. But, yeah, especially for being in the National League, I can’t get into this one. I’m sure the vast majority of my family would disagree.
Over in the American League, the A’s staved off elimination for another night. I don’t know what to think of this series. It just felt all sorts of wrong that the A’s had their backs against the wall before they ever got to see Oakland. It’s one thing to have the pressure to win all your playoff games at home. It’s another thing to have all those games in a row. That just isn’t right when you’re the higher seeded team. But, it looks like they are the only higher seed to face it, so maybe Detroit is just the better team here. You would certainly think so on paper. But, the A’s did have the better record, and their division wasn’t a slouch. Max Scherzer goes tonight for the Tigers. AJ Griffin is throwing for the A’s. I don’t know anything about Griffin, but I know Scherzer is a pretty darned good pitcher. Still, I just have this feeling that the A’s will pull it out tonight. That will set up a game five showdown, the A’s bats against Jason Verlander’s arm. I’m sure the A’s had hoped in some capacity they could win this series without being forced to beat Verlander, but the wild pitch in game two ruined that plan. Still, Verlander has not exactly been money in the playoffs, and especially not in deciding games. That would be appointment viewing for me. So, even though I kind of like the Tigers,* I’m all in for the A’s tonight. A win for Oakland tonight is a win for America.
*More than the A’s, though? I really don’t know. Probably not.
There’s also the matter of the Orioles and Yankees. This has been, for New York reasons, the most covered series in the nation, so I don’t know how much more I can add. But you can definitely count me in on this series. I usually don’t even like watching the Yankees play, but this series has my interest. Admittedly, this is almost entirely because of Baltimore. This series is maybe the most evenly matched of all, and that is really saying something. I’m a card-carrying Yankee-hater, and I’ve always liked the Orioles. Having family in Maryland doesn’t hurt that a bit. But, I am well-known to like underdog stories, and the Orioles being down for so long before roaring back definitely has my attention.
This series could very well be 2-0 either way, both games being played pretty well on a razor’s edge, ninth inning of game one notwithstanding. But, as it is, it’s 1-1, which certainly feels right in this series. Now, though, the series goes to New York, and the Yankees did what they had to do on the road. But, if any team is going to win two out of three on the road this year, I would have the most faith in either the Reds or the Orioles being able to do it. This is the most excited I’ve been to watch a Yankees series in some time.
Now if only my DVR will let me watch live TV tonight.