The clutch closer again makes the difference in the playoffs. Whether it was Luke Gregerson for Houston or Kenley Jansen for the Dodgers or Wade Davis for the Royals or Jeurys Familia for the Mets these closers made every save and not just 9th inning saves but also taking on some situations before the 9th inning. Not every closer throws 97 smoke, but none of these closers showed any signs of folding. Each one of these closers were also called on in the 8th inning to put out a smoldering flame. You saw it last night with Wade Davis after Ryan Madson blew a 2 run lead in the 8th that Ned Yost inserted his closer with 2 out and a man on 1st. In the 9th inning after a lengthy rain delay, Davis emerged to save the 9th and wasn’t overly sharp and really had to save himself in a 1 run game and did. That’s how a closer does it sometimes living on the edge of disaster to get your heart thumping and they seem to pull it out when the odds are short. Davis had men on 2nd and 3rd and no out and got out of his own jam.
— MLB Network Radio (@MLBNetworkRadio) October 23, 2015
Strategy number 1 in the postseason is that you need a shutdown closer. Your closer might have to be inserted in a stopper role and pitch multiple innings and the manager must be flexible to the given situation, and there certainly is no “cult of the closer” where you post yank your closer if don’t have the right matchup. Let’s face it, if Wade Davis didn’t get it done last night, the blame would have gone on Ned Yost for inserting his closer back in the game after a long rain delay. When something doesn’t work out in the post-season, the blame almost always falls on the manager. There wasn’t an instant in this years postseason for a manager to pull his closer, but last night you saw Yost pull his 8th inning set-up man. The “cult of the closer” might get tested in the World Series, and we will see. The bigger issue is a personnel issue. You can’t have a closer in the post-season that blows the save. Each game in these short series are too crucial which makes the closers essential. The Nats know this all to well with Blown Saves and bullpen meltdowns to end the Nats last 2 postseasons.
Strategy number 2 is line-up construction is a key to put your hot hitters together in the line-up as scoring runs are the key. Joe Maddon is a great manager, and his batters were struggling the whole series in a “great pitching beats great hitting” type of way. Maddon didn’t mix up his line-up until Game 4 when he inserted Soler into the 2 hole, but he left Bryant in the 3 hole in every game and Bryant only had 2 hits in the first 3 games. The toughest decision was offense over defense with Schwarber who only had 2 hits in the entire series and both hits were HRs, but his defense was poor and cost the Cubs dearly. With the Mets, they weren’t hitting the ball well as a team (.269) until Game 4 which skewed all the numbers up in that small sample size type of way; however, they had David Wright who took his walks and Daniel Murphy behind him knocked him in time after time so it worked for the Mets and they didn’t need to change up what was working. With the Royals, their leadoff man Alcides Escobar was the MVP and all the credit to the player and his manager who talked before the series started about his line-up construction and putting Escobar back in the leadoff in almost like he was looking into a crystal ball. Listen to this interview before Game #1 https://soundcloud.com/mlbnetworkradio/ned-yost-before-game-1-of-the-alcs-on-how-they-match-up-with-the-blue-jays Now contrast this to the Nats last year where they had 2 batters hitting well all series and MW didn’t change the line-up at all. He left Rendon (.368) in the 2 hole which was fine but Harper (1.251 OPS) was left in the 6 hole.
Strategy number 3 just proves it could be strategy #1 but if you can’t save a game a great start is wasted (just ask Jordan Zimmerman about Game 2 last year). Starters need to be on a quick hook and a short leash if they don’t have it in the post-season, and in later innings must be watched closely so they don’t hit the wall and let the other team put up a crooked number. The Toronto series changed quickly in Game 2 when David Price got through 6 innings of shutout baseball with 68 pitches ahead 3-0 on the scoreboard. Sure, bring David Price out for the 7th but pull him in 1st sign of trouble. Gibbons let the 7th inning get out of hand and Price’s gem turned into a disaster. He was charged with 5 earned runs and the Royals went from being behind 3-0 to winning 6-3 in a game that changed the entire series. The Nats know all about those pivotal Game 2’s. To be tied 1-1 vs behind 0-2 was the difference in the Royals being up 3-2 vs the Blue Jays up 3-2 going into Game #6. All games are important in a short series but Game 2 is the equalizer.
Strategy number 4. Hurt feelings if you have to for your post-season roster and line-up changes, and quick hooks or just asking a player to do something outside of their comfort zone. Managers can’t put in a player or leave a player in a game because that’s how it’s always been done or sticking with the status quo. One of Terry Collins biggest decisions was what to do with a struggling Lucas Duda who had 1 hit in the NLCS and Collins had an idea. He let Duda know beforehand he might bunt him if the situation was right. That situation came up in Game 3 when he bunted Lucas Duda who was struggling with the bat and Duda got the sacrifice bunt in Game 3 as he was slashing .125/.192/.125/.317. In Game 4, Duda went en fuego going 3-4 with the big 3 run HR in the 1st inning. Collins calls that bunt a pivotal point in Game 3 to make Duda feel like he was part of the offense and hoped something outside of the comfort zone would jumpstart him. It did. Small things, big results.
Strategy number 5 is letting the XFactor happen and prosper and play that hot hand. Each series is usually determined in a short series by one or two defining plays. Last night it was Lorenzo Cain scoring from 1st base on a long single and the XFactor award goes to the 3rd base coach for knowing the situation and to Cain for never looking around or breaking stride as he kept running and scored the winning run in the clinching game. Gibbons inserted speedster Dalton Pompey as a pinch-runner to steal 2nd on the 1st pitch in the top of the 9th and then had him steal 3rd. Pompey was standing on 3rd with no outs and it was a gutsy call and if it failed it would have been Gibbons getting criticized but you have to like XFactor moves. Daniel Murphy has been the XFactor overall. Murphy had 14 HRs in the regular season and has 6 HRs in 9 post-season games. Each post-season there’s an X-Factor player who steps up and is a difference maker.
Strategy number 6 is you need “prime time” players. Some players wilt in the big games and some seemingly get the adrenaline pumping and shine in those situations. You need players that execute in short series. Doing the little things be it on offense or defense or on the basepaths or on the mound or in a situational moment where they’re asked to bunt or steal a base or be a LOOGY, etc. Execution is the key. Even managerial mistakes look brilliant when a player executes. Ned Yost before Game 5 was asked about his strategies and it was a great interview. He talked about how his players use productive outs (5 Sac Flies in Game 4) and how great defense is a key and their running game which sets them apart, and just doing the little things and then he said the magic words that his players “execute” at the right times.
Post-season baseball is different. Managers know that but somehow they are slow to react to it (Gibbons Game #2 ALCS 7th inning)
Fanbases and owners hold onto postseason failures for a long time as you never know when you will get back to the post-season and redemption isn’t guaranteed. Just ask the Cubs.
If you play it like game #86 you can be the Manager who gets 86’d!