CINCINNATI -- Can the Athletics and Nationals survive the postseason by accounting for nearly half their outs with strikeouts? Oakland already is on the verge of elimination in a rough matchup against Detroit: the team that strikes out the most in baseball against the No. 2 strikeout staff in the American League. Washington also would be down 2-games-to-0 in their NLDS but for the help from St. Louis manager Mike Matheny in Game 1.
Oakland has whiffed 23 times in two games. Washington has struck out 24 times. The clubs ranked first and fourth this year in striking out, with Houston and Pittsburgh between them.
Strikeouts are not a big deal as long as you pound home runs, especially with runners on base, and both the Athletics and Nationals do have such thunder in their lineups. And strikeouts are a bigger part of the game than ever before in baseball history. But . . . there are limits to blithely accepting punchouts as the cost of doing home run business. Survival for Oakland might come down to how often they put the ball in play today in Game 3 against Detroit starter Anibal Sanchez.
Though Cincinnati holds a comfortable 2-games-to-0 lead on San Francisco, Game 3 tonight looms large for the Reds in the bigger playoff picture. If the Reds can finish off the Giants tonight they will buy more time for ace Johnny Cueto to recover from the back spasms that knocked him out of Game 1 after just eight pitches. Homer Bailey, who was scheduled for Game 4, gets the ball tonight for the Reds.
Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said last night that Cueto "received treatment twice" yesterday and reported that Cueto "said he felt much better." The Reds will continue to monitor Cueto today to see if he is available for Game 4 if that game is necessary.
If the Reds lose tonight, manager Dusty Baker's options are to give the ball to Cueto after two days of treatment on his back or pitch Mat Latos on short rest after his 57-pitch emergency relief appearance in Game 1. Latos never has made a start on short rest. And if the Reds lose that one, then Baker might have to bring back Game 2 winner Bronson Arroyo on short rest for Game 5. Arroyo has made eight career starts on short rest and has a superb record: 3-1 with a 3.19 ERA.
A win tonight for Cincinnati would leave the Reds in the best position of all: a well-rested Cueto for Game 1 of the NLCS Sunday, either at home against St. Louis or in Washington.
So much for pitching and defense winning postseason games. The Orioles and Yankees kicked the ball around for four errors last night. That brings the error count to 21 in all 10 postseason games, a rate of errors per game (2.10) that is almost double what it was in the regular season (1.24).
You best not keep trying to figure out this Oriole team. They did not play a clean Game 2 by any means. Shortstop J.J. Hardy let a grounder go through his legs, which almost never happens in the big leagues. He also got deked by Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez on what should have been a two-out run. (He should have picked up his third-base coach or seen the ball past shortstop Derek Jeter, but did neither.) Rightfielder Chris Davis dove for a leadoff pop fly without having any shot of catching it, which was confirmed by his palm facing down as the ball hit the ground -- an error in judgment that allowed an extra base to set up a run. Catcher Matt Wieters failed to tag a runner who should have been out by a mile and let a fastball pass right under his glove, allowing two runners to move up.
But these are the Orioles, who somehow win close games without any style points. With the 3-2 win in Game 2, Baltimore is now 30-9 in one-run games. That's just absurd. And this was only the fifth time they won a one-run game without a home run.
Baltimore did go 3-for-6 with runners in scoring position, including an extremely rare opposite-field single by Mark Reynolds. How rare? Reynolds had 538 plate appearances this year. He had exactly two opposite field singles. Yep -- that's been the story of the Orioles.
Is Andy Pettitte "clutch?" Most fans would tell you the guy "comes up big" in the postseason and "steps up his game." He does have a sterling reputation in October. And Pettitte threw well last night in Baltimore even though he took the loss.
But actually, Pettitte is almost exactly the same pitcher in the postseason as he is in the regular season. He has made 43 postseason starts, so the biggest sample size in postseason history does yield big moments that influence how we think of him as a "big game pitcher." Where you give credit to Pettitte is that he is able to maintain his standard of pitching under pressure -- not that he elevates it.
With the loss last night, Pettitte wins and loses games in October at the exact same rate as he does in all other months. Just about all other facets of his game remain the same. Check the freakish similarities in Pettitte's work:
The Yankees lost a one-run game that ended with their best hitter in the on-deck circle. As Alex Rodriguez struck out to end the game, denying Robinson Cano a fifth plate appearance, the questions about why manager Joe Girardi continues to bat Rodriguez third seem even more pointed.
Remember when Girardi batted Cano third at the end of last season? It was a statement that this was now Cano's team -- and the second basemen consolidated that statement with a 1.057 OPS against Detroit in the ALDS.
Rodriguez hasn't hit a home run in 77 at-bats since Sept. 14 -- almost a month. Since then, he has batted .234 with a .247 slugging percentage (just one extra-base hit, a double) while striking out 25 times in 19 games. He is 1-for-9 in this ALDS with five punchouts.
Rodriguez is a .254 playoff hitter with New York, including a slash line of .169/.282/.203 in his past 16 postseason games.