Angelino in the Outfield (Episode XXXI: The ALCS and NLCS)

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Published on : October 21, 2016
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We’ve come a long way. And it’s been an emotional roller coaster of a week. I’ve sat in silence in the nosebleed section of Dodger Stadium, while my beloved juggernaut of a team forgot how to hit. I’ve had a full-on doggypile in my living room. Somewhere in there, the Cleveland Indians won the American League pennant. For this week’s episode, I’m going to give you all of the games from the past week, and my reaction to them immediately after. You get to ride in the roller coaster with me for the ups and the downs. And then feel assured that we still have a long way to go.

 

Thursday, October 13th. NLDS Game 5. The Dodgers beat the Nationals 4-3. They take the series 3-2.

Wow. It’s pretty rare that a Division Series game would be considered an instant classic. But this year, we’d already had Games 1, 3 and 4 of the Cubs-Giants series vie for that title. And now we have what might go down as “The Clayton Kershaw Game” if it weren’t for the fact that that one-hour-and-six-minute 7th inning was one of the most bizarre/unique innings in the history of baseball. I could listen to people dissect every decision by managers, Dusty Baker and Dave Roberts, in that inning, forever. And luckily for me, baseball nerds are going to be talking about this one for a long time.

 

Prior to that 7th inning, the game already had its fair share of pivotal moments. The Nationals went up 1-0 in the 2nd, but also stranded runners on first and third. They also had runners on second and third in the 3rd inning, when Roberts brought in Joe Blanton (his set-up guy!) to replace Rich Hill. Blanton got Anthony Rendon to fly out and the Nats squandered another scoring opportunity. In the 4th, Max Scherzer still hadn’t allowed a hit. And he’d end up striking out the side, but it was his 13-pitch walk to Justin Turner in the inning that would be consequential deeper into the game. Yeah. A two-out walk in the top of the 4th, where the runner was stranded. It mattered. And that was all before third base coach, Bob Henley, waved Jayson Werth home in the 6th.

 

 That 13-pitch walk to Justin Turner would come back to haunt Max.

 

That was quite possibly the worst ‘send’ I have ever seen in my life. I know you’re supposed to be aggressive with two outs. I know the bottom of the order was coming up. And I know the Nats had already stranded two guys at third. But even the Dodgers seemed to be going, “What are you thinking???” when the ball was relayed home. I’ve re-watched that play ten times now. And my eyes tell me that Werth had already rounded third when Corey Seager got the relay throw. But in my head, I’ll always remember it comically, like the slowest, most awkward runner on earth was midway between second and third and just kept a-scootin’ on home. Maybe Henley lost the ball in the corner. Maybe Andrew Toles just played it perfectly. Maybe Julio Urias’ pickoff of Bryce Harper in the previous inning cost Werth valuable lead distance from first. Maybe it was just a perfect storm of suck. The juke attempt at the end and defeated facial expression from Werth did not help. The only thing that could have made that worse is if they only lost by one run or something.

 

The very next pitch of the game, in the top of the 7th, was bashed over the wall by Joc Pederson, tying the score at 1. Nobody thinks it was a bad pitch. There was no sign of fatigue or a loss in velocity in Scherzer. It was just a great piece of hitting by Pederson. And Baker still yanked Scherzer after 99 pitches. It might be the first time in history people were complaining for Baker NOT leaving someone in. But why even bring Scherzer out for the 7th if you were just gonna yank him after one ‘mistake’? And now how consequential does that 13-pitch walk to Turner look? Because if he’s at 80-something pitches, he probably gets left in the game. He’d only given up 1 run on 5 hits to that point. This is a guy who will probably win the Cy Young this year. He’s getting paid $15 million. Isn’t this exactly what you’re paying him to be? Instead, the Nats opted to send in the clowns.

 

Ah, the 7th. The Dodgers scored four runs off six pitchers in one inning. Scherzer, Marc Rzepczynski, Blake Treinen, Sammy Solis, Shawn Kelley and Oliver Perez. Roberts countered with three pinch hitters and a pinch runner. Harold Reynolds said his scorecard looked like a Jackson Pollock painting. You gotta love National League baseball. The chess match continued in the bottom of the 7th, when Baker called on Chris Heisey to pinch-hit off of Grant Dayton. And Heisey launched a two-run bomb to left, making it 4-3. With one man on and the top of the Nationals’ order coming up, Roberts called for his closer, Kenley Jansen, to make a 9-out save. And Jansen loaded the bases, before striking out Rendon to stave off any further damage. As if that inning couldn’t have gotten any crazier, it was also about the time in the game that Clayton Kershaw got an idea.

 

Before the game started, a reporter asked Roberts if Kershaw would be available to come out of the pen. “Absolutely not,” was the curt response. That reporter was a fucking idiot. Kershaw had thrown 110 pitches two days prior. And THAT was only on three days rest. It would be crazy to ask Kershaw to even consider pitching. But what if it’s his idea? When Jansen came on in the 7th, Kershaw started doing the math in his head and realized that Jansen was going to run out of gas before he got that 9th out. And after the 8th inning, the TV broadcast cut to images Kershaw making his way to the bullpen. It was all the announcers could do to stop from shouting, “No fucking way!” My phone started blowing up with texts.

 

 The Legend of Kershaw grows.

 

Jansen struck out Turner to start the bottom of the 9th. Then he walked Harper. At this point, Jansen was past his career high in pitches and looked like Ali at the end of the fight in Manila. But he stayed in to face Werth. That could have something to do with Werth’s .313/.389/.500 slash line against Kershaw. But Jansen walked Werth as well. And then Daniel Murphy was up next. That’s when Roberts called for Kershaw.

 

I mean, holy shit.

 

Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball. But he had a reputation for choking in October. Murphy plucked himself from obscurity last October and then proved it wasn’t a fluke over the course of the 2016 regular season, with one of the best hitting performances in the National League. He hit .438 in this series, for Chrissakes. Plus, Kershaw and Murphy have a history. It was Murphy’s home run in Game 1 of the NLDS last year that started his legend and simultaneously contributed to another Kershaw postseason loss. Then Murphy homered off Kershaw again in Game 4 of that series, exactly a year removed from when he’d be called to the mound with two on, one out and the season on the line.

 

Murphy popped out to second.

 

The next batter was Wilmer Difo, a Dominican pinch hitter whose name, when typed, looks way too much like Willem Dafoe. And Kershaw would strike him out to end the game. The Nationals have still never advanced past the NLDS. According to Sarah Langs, Kershaw’s last professional save was in the Gulf Coast League in 2006. His catcher was current Dodgers closer, Kenley Jansen. The team he was facing was the GCL Nationals. And that team’s manager was current Nats third base coach, Bob Henley.

 

 Live it up boys.

 

Add this game to the postseason legend of Dave Roberts. This guy isn’t going to just be defined by one stolen base in 2004. And mark this game as Exhibit A in the postseason narrative shift for Kershaw, who pitched in every game the Dodgers won in the series. Remember, Randy Johnson lost seven playoff games in a row with the Mariners, Astros and Diamondbacks between 1995 and 2001 before his dominance in the 2001 NLCS and World Series made him synonymous with postseason excellence. I feel like Kershaw could do the same. I’m a Cubs fan and I don’t want him to do that. But its not like it’s up to me. Congrats Dodgers. I’ll see you at Games 3, 4 and 5.

 

Friday, October 14th. ALCS Game 1. The Indians beat the Blue Jays 2-0. They lead the series 1-0.

“If this is what October is like, I want to do this every year.” That’s what Francisco Lindor said after Game 1 of the ALDS against the Red Sox. In Game 1 of the ALCS, Lindor’s two run homer off of Marco Estrada was all the Indians needed after Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen silenced a Blue Jays offense that scored 22 runs in three games against Texas. Kluber is now at 13 1/3 scoreless innings in the postseason. Miller struck out five of the six batters he faced. Allen had a 1-2-3 9th.

 

Game 1 was probably a must-win for the Indians, since Kluber is really their only reliable starter. Especially now that Trevor Bauer has sliced his pinkie finger repairing a drone. You read that correctly. Dude is 25 and makes $2 million a year. He fixes drones, apparently. The positive for Cleveland is that this is their 4th win in a row. And current  projections still favor them over Toronto (FanGraphs gives the Dodgers a slight edge over the Cubs in the NLCS). And even the East-loving pundits, who still aren’t really sure what to make of Terry Francona’s bullpen usage are saying things like, “This is a team that swept a very good Boston Red Sox lineup.” Still mostly just a Red Sox compliment, but baby steps.

 

Saturday, October 15th. ALCS Game 2. The Indians beat the Blue Jays 2-1. They lead the series 2-0.

I’m sensing a pattern here. Indians pitcher keeps a formerly-unstoppable offense silent. Indians’ offense scores a couple of runs. Andrew Miller comes in strikes everybody out for two innings. Cody Allen slams the door. It was the exact same game as Game 1. Why would you change anything?

 

 ANDREW. MILLER.

 

For two games in a row, I thought the Toronto bats looked poised to explode. I was wrong both times. But we’re heading to Toronto, where things could change. If not, Francisco Lindor (who wasn’t even alive when Joe Carter hit that walk-off in 1993) is about to be really famous. And Andrew Miller (plus Buck Showalter) could change the entire way bullpens are designed going forward.

 

Saturday, October 15th. NLCS Game 1. The Cubs beat the Dodgers 8-4. They lead the series 1-0.   

Holy shit, that was beautiful. An 8th-inning gamble by Dodgers manager, Dave Roberts, backfired so epically and in such a shockingly unexpected fashion, that I doubt, years from now, many people remember all of the other Cubs awesomeness that happened in this game, prior to that 8th.

 

I doubt they remember Ben Zobrist throwing Adrian Gonzalez out at the plate in the top of the 2nd. I doubt they remember Javier Baez’ heads-up bloop double that put the Cubs up 2-0 in the bottom of the inning. They might not even remember Baez stealing home after he got caught off third base on a safety squeeze. And Dexter Fowler, who had a better game than anyone, made two diving catches, one of which was fucking spectacular. If you mention it at a bar years from now, you might mention that he broke his belt on the play, just to jog a memory or two. Even Joe Buck, who I’d spent years dogging, had a superb night in the announce booth. When Pedro Baez’ molasses pace was sucking the life out of the entire game in the 5th or 6th, he blurted out, “This Pedro Baez is really tough to watch.” But all of that is dust in the wind.

 

The only thing people will probably be talking about years from now (and they will be talking about it), was that 8th inning. Adrian Gonzalez’ two-out, bases-loaded single off Aroldis Chapman tied the game at 3 in the top of the inning. And then the Cubs came to the plate needing the same type of late-inning heroics that won them the Division Series in San Francisco. Joe Blanton was on the hill for Los Angeles. Oh man.

 

Zobrist led off with a double. Then the ice-cold Addison Russell grounded out and couldn’t advance Zobrist to third. Why Joe Maddon didn’t have Russell bunt there is pretty confusing, but I’m already over it. Then the Dodgers intentionally walked Jason Heyward to get to Javy Baez. At the time, everyone I was watching with said, “Uh… thank you.” But Baez flew out. Two down. This is when Roberts started doing his chess match shit that won him the NLDS in D.C. And Blanton intentionally walked Chris Coughlan, since Chapman was next in the batting order. Joe Maddon’s hand was forced. He sent Miguel Montero (a lefty) to the plate to face Blanton (a righty). In theory, Roberts was going to pull Blanton and bring in Grant Dayton (lefty) and then Maddon would burn Montero and counter with the hot-hitting Wilson Contreras (righty). But Blanton stayed in and went up on Montero 0-2. Oh man. Lemme quote Joe Buck one more time.

 

“Here comes the 0-2. Line drive into right, back at the wall, it is GONE!!! GRAND SLAM, MONTERO! Game 1 HERO!”

 

And here’s Pat Hughes on 670 The Score.

 

“Blanton ahead of Montero nothing and two. The windup and the pitch… Montero drives one in the air! Deep right field! It’s got a chaaaaaaaaaance! GRAND SLAM!!! GRAND SLAM, MIGUEL MONTERO!!! CUBS LEAD 7-3!” Then Ron Coomer added, “WRIGLEY FIELD IS SHAKING RIGHT NOW AFTER THE BLAST THAT MONTERO – UNBELIEVABLE!”

 

 

I completely lost it. A hugging, jumping, screaming fit in the middle of my living room that went on for so long that I barely noticed that Fowler hit a solo shot, back-to-back on the very next pitch. I honestly don’t even care how the game ended. I think Anthony Rizzo made a sick defensive play to double off Andrew Toles. Whatever. Nobody will remember. It was another dramatic victory for the Cubs. And their first in the NLCS since 2003. I promptly found a photo of Montero’s shot (the one where Fowler is tossing his bat into the air in the on deck circle) and made it my background photo on Facebook. One win down. And now we face Kershaw.

 

Sunday, October 16th. NLCS Game 2. The Dodgers beat the Cubs 1-0. The series is tied 1-1.

I think we can officially put the whole ‘Clayton Kershaw sucks in October’ narrative to bed. He was dominant through seven innings of a virtual must-win game, limiting the Cubs to two hits in a shutout. And Kenley Jansen struck out four in two perfect innings of relief. Kyle Hendricks made one mistake to Adrian Gonzalez in the 2nd. And that’s the ballgame. I was stuck complaining about Eric Cooper’s bullshit strike zone and occasionally popping out of my seat, like when Anthony Rizzo cranked that massive foul ball or when Javy Baez made a great play at second to force out Josh Reddick and then catch Gonzalez in a run-down. Or when I was convinced Baez hit a two-run bomb in the 7th. According to Statcast, 67% of balls like the one he hit have been home runs at Wrigley this year. Even Kershaw thought it was gone. And Dave Roberts’ annoyingly maniacal laughter after the fact leads me to believe he did too.

 

Kershaw is the greatest pitcher on Planet Earth. But (other than Baez and Kris Bryant) the Cubs just aren’t hitting in the postseason. Like, at fucking all. Ben Zobrist is hitting .182. Dexter Fowler is .167. Jason Heyward is .111. Addison Russell is .045. And Anthony Rizzo – their three hitter – is batting .043. They’ve gotten contributions from the pitchers at the plate. And they went off on Jeff Samardzija for two innings in Game 2 of the NLDS and then the Giants’ garbage bullpen in Game 4. Those bats need to wake up. And hopefully they do. Because I want to be sitting in a silent Dodger Stadium when the Cubs doggypile after Game 5.

 

I still think it might happen. In the last four games, Kershaw and Jansen have pitched more innings than everyone else on the team, combined. They’re 3-1 in those games, which were all one-run wins. But Rich Hill has a 6.43 postseason ERA. He also has blister problems. Kenta Maeda’s postseason ERA is 9.00. It’s like they either get shelled or Kershaw/Jansen save the day. This team just doesn’t have a rotation. If the Cubs can find their bats at all in Los Angeles, we should be moving on. I think.

 

Monday, October 17th. ALCS Game 3. The Indians beat the Blue Jays 4-2. The Indians lead 3-0.

Trevor Bauer’s finger is fucking disgusting. But so is the Cleveland bullpen. I think everybody thought the story of this game was gonna be Jose Bautista’s comments about the mysterious “circumstances” that inhibited the Jays in the first two games of the series (read: strike zone). Especially when his game started with Mike Napoli’s fly ball bouncing out of his glove for an RBI double. And then he led off the bottom of the first taking a called strike three. But it wasn’t too long after that Bauer started gushing.

 

I love that Bauer almost looked like he was trying to hide his pinky from the umpire. It’s still making me laugh picturing some old timer like Joe Niekro pretending it’s not his blood and then using his own wound like a sneaky emery board. But Bauer was out after only facing four batters and Terry Francona would have to rely on his bullpen for the remainder of the game. And I had to assume the Blue Jays would finally decide to hit and the Indians would be drone-fucked.

 

Michael Saunders tied the game in the bottom of the 2nd with a solo shot off Dan Otero. But it was answered in the 4th when Napoli hit a solo shot of his own. Ezekiel Carrera tripled in the 5th and was singled in by Josh Donaldson, tying the game again. But the Indians answered in the 6th with a homer by Jason Kipnis and some great base running by Napoli after he was walked. All the Indians had to do was get to Bryan Shaw, put in Cody Allen in the 7th and let Andrew Miller get the final four outs. Francona looks like a genius. But then again, any manager who has a guy with the ability to strike out 20 batters in 9 innings of postseason work is gonna end up looking pretty good.

 

Corey Kluber is being called on for Game 4 on three days rest. If they win (53% according to FiveThirtyEight), it’s the Indians’ first pennant since 1997. It’s also their 10th win in a row. And everyone will rightfully heap praise upon Miller and the rest of the Indians’ staff. But the longer this team goes into October, the more evident it will be that they’re severely shorthanded. They’ve only started Bauer, Kluber and Josh Tomlin in their 6 postseason games. Now Bauer is drone-fucked. And they’d have to use Ryan Merritt for a potential Game 5. I don’t really know who he is either. The Red Sox and Blue Jays vanished in the first six games (seriously, the Blue Jays have scored three runs and have never had a lead), but I gotta think Cleveland is vulnerable for whoever they face (Cubs???) in the World Series.

 

Tuesday, October 18th. The Blue Jays beat the Indians 5-1. The Indians lead the series 3-1.

Well, the Blue Jays finally found their bats. And it started with Josh Donaldson, who also flashed a little leather at third to save a run. I don’t know how much to read in to the fact that Corey Kluber has never pitched on three days rest before. But with Ryan Merritt going in Game 5 for Cleveland and possibly no one (or probz Kluber again) available for them if it goes all the way to Game 7, this thing could have just gotten interesting.

 

 Hey Blue Jays, you got one!

 

Tuesday, October 18th. The Dodgers beat the Cubs 6-0. The Dodgers lead 2-1.

What a shitty time to go to my first Cubs postseason game. And good thing I also have tickets for Games 4 and 5. Ugh. I know Rich Hill pitched well this season. I know he pitched well enough in the game. I know Clayton Kershaw was good the game before. But that’s 18 innings in a row for the Cubs without a run. That’s not something that usually happens. The analysis prior to the game, at least by Jess Mendoza of ESPN, was that if the Cubs were going to bust out their slumps in the series, Hill wasn’t gonna be the guy they did it against. She also said the Cubs were gonna play better with their backs against the wall, and unfortunately, I’m probably gonna have to see if she’s right on that front too. I’ve watched the Cubs lose big games before, but never surrounded by so many people so happy about my misery. Fuckin’ Dodgers fans. Being down 2-1 would feel a lot less insurmountable if anyone on this goddamn team felt like hitting. 103 wins just to all collectively slump in October? So grumpy.

 

Wednesday, October 19th. The Indians beat the Blue Jays 3-0. They win the series 4-1. 

Prior to Game 5, Jose Bautista, who is not everyone’s favorite player, said that Indians’ starter, Ryan Merritt, would be “shaking in his boots” thinking about facing the Blue Jays’ hitters. Merritt is 24-years-old. He was a 16th-round pick out of a community college in Waco. He has an 83-mile-per-hour fastball. Prior to the game, he had one career start and 11 career innings pitched. Keep in mind that, if not for a freak drone accident, he probably wouldn’t be getting his second career start in a potential pennant-clincher. The kid’s from Texas, so he might own boots. But he was certainly not shaking in a goddamn thing.

 

 Believeland again?

 

Merrit pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings. He retired the first 10 batters of the game. By that point the Indians were up 3-0 off of a double from Mike Napoli and homers from Carlos Santana and Coco Crisp. And then that bullpen came in. Series over. Andrew Miller got MVP honors. The Indians had a little bit of fun with the whole boots comment in the clubhouse and on social media during their celebration. Jason Kipnis told reporters, “That’s why you don’t say dumb shit.” Now is as good a time as any to mention it was also Bautista’s 36th birthday. He batted .167 in what will probably be his last series with Toronto. You’re going to be hearing a lot about 1948, 1997 and the Cleveland Caviliers in the next week. I’ll be worried about what happens if the Indians have a lead on the Cubs after the 5th inning in any of the World Series games. But that thought will have to be tabled for the time being.

 

Wednesday, October 19th. The Cubs beat the Dodgers 10-2. The series is tied 2-2.

Addison Russell and Anthony Rizzo were a combined 3-for-50 in the postseason heading in to Game 4. Regression to the mean is a motherfucker. They each went 3-for-5 with home runs and the Cubs’ bats finally came alive after 21 scoreless innings. Maybe everything was a bit overblown since this is the Cubs we’re talking about. The ’98 Yankees were down 2-1 in the ALCS, for crying out loud. It happens all the time. Cubs fans may even remember the ’84 Padres being down 2-1. Or the 2003 Marlins. This is a fairly normal thing. But the Cubs hadn’t been in this sort of trouble all season long. Yeah, Dodger fans will cry about Adrian Gonzalez being thrown out at home in the 2nd (his hand looked like it was hovering to me). But the Dodgers gave up 10 runs and committed 4 errors. And if it wasn’t for Justin Turner’s grounder taking a bad hop off of Mike Montgomery’s glove in the 5th, the score would have been 10-0. I’d rather be Anthony Rizzo apologizing to Angel Hernandez for trotting to first on a called strike (and homering on the next pitch) than Adrian Gonzalez doing his best Jose Bautista whine impression in the clubhouse after the game. I just hope these bats can stay hot against Kenta Maeda in Game 5 before this series heads back to Wrigley Field.

 

 

Alright. That’s it for this week. If you need more baseball from me, check me out on Comedians Talking Sports with Joe Kilgallon, available on the podcast things. Until then, the Cubs’ Magic Number is 6. Ohmygod.

 

 

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