Saturday, October 8, 2016

Showalter: Off The Hook!

For days now, as Toronto Blue Jays' fans like me celebrate their team's 5-2 win over Baltimore in the winner-take-all Wild Card game, the question still lingers: Why didn't Buck Showalter bring in his ace closer?

To tell you the truth, it might not have mattered. Toronto was going to find a way.

Let's look at a few key facts of the game:

1) The Orioles weren't hitting the Blue Jays' starter

Well, you can't win a baseball game without scoring a run, now can you? The Orioles were having all sorts of problems with Marcus Stroman, who was just zoned in. Baltimore did good to overcome Jose Bautista's early solo home run to stay in the game. Mark Trumbo trumped that with a two-run shot of his own in the top of the fourth. However, that proved to the Toronto's starter's one bad pitch. When he left after six inning of work, it was 2-2 (The Blue Jays tied it in the bottom of the fifth) and Baltimore managed just four hits (And no walks) off him in those six innings. That was all. The game stayed that way until Encanacion's three-run walk-off in extras. If the Orioles could have just gotten to Stroman (9-10), they might have had the game in the bag and perhaps not even need Zack Britton to warm up. Stroman's ERA in 2016? 4.37. His best ever earned run average in a full season was 3.65 in his rookie campaign of 2014. He's 24 years old. After this outing, despite just two earned runs, his postseason ERA is 3.91. You had to think the O's should have done more versus him!

2) The Orioles weren't hitting the relief corps of the Jays, either (*Groan*)

Stroman gave way to Brett Cecil, who started the seventh by getting Matt Wieters. Chris Davis, a lefty facing the lefty Cecil, coaxed a full-count walk off him. But that proved to be Baltimore's last base runner. Joe Biagini came in and fanned the next two batters. Davis was the O's last man to reach first. Jason Grilli, Roberto Osuna and Francisco Liriano came in and combined to retire the next 12 batters, meaning the Toronto bullpen went five innings, allowing not a run or a hit. Even if Britton had matched that, what was his team going to do against that bullpen?

3) Chris Tillman was pulled too soon

Okay, here's where you do fault Showalter. He sent out Chris Tillman to the hill to get the job done, and he was a better choice than the Jays decision of going with Stroman. Tillman was not only 16-6 in 2016, but 65-33 over the course of the last five seasons, so a proven winner. Although his ERA is 3.91 during that span, that's in large part due to it being 4.99 in 2015. Tillman has had seasons (So far) of his earned run average at 2.93 and 3.34, far better than Stroman.

Tillman gave up the early home run to Bautista in the second inning, after a 1-2-3 first. He also had a 1-2-3 third. He got through the fourth by allowing Toronto just a walk. So ahead 2-1 going into the bottom of the fifth, Tillman looked like he had it. And then the wheels came off the chariot.

Troy Tulowitzki flied out, and Tillman appeared to be safe. But then he gave up a double, another double, and a single. The score was tied at two and there was just one out. Showalter removed him, bringing in Mychal Givens, who got out of that via a double play.

However, with that, and the game essentially like game seven, it was going to be a long night for the Orioles' bullpen. Tillman had only walked one batter in 4 1/3 innings and fanned four.

4) The Orioles Bullpen Was Pretty Good Without Britton Pitching

Givens gave way to Donnie Hart after 2 1/3, who held 'em in check. Hart got the only batter to face him out. In came in Brad Brach, who won 10 games in 2016. You know, the guy that made my list of "Greatest Relief Seasons Of All Time?" Check out his first and second set of stats for 2016 (Albeit not final ones). Brach had a 1-2-3 eighth. Showing great confidence in him, Showalter let him pitch the ninth. Toronto looked like they were going to win it as Josh Donaldson led off with a double. Showalter then ordered Edwin Encarnacion walked intentionally, so Brach would face Bautista. Bautista fanned.

Darren O'Day was brought in to pitch and try to send this to extras. He did just that as he induced Russell Martin to hit into an inning-ending double play. The home team had now done that twice in the ballgame, missing out on two key opportunities to score important runs.

O'Day got through the 10th 1-2-3, as Baltimore kept hanging around. Brian Duensing came in to pitch the next inning, and got the only batter to face him on a strikeout. The game, however, would come to a sudden end.

Britton was being saved for a save situation by Baltimore, who's bullpen was nearly matching Toronto's. Ironically, it was one of their starters that lost the game. Ubaldo Jimenez hopped in, and the Blue Jays pounced on him. Devon Travis wasted no time and singled on a 1-1 pitch. Donaldson followed suit on the first pitch, Travis taking third. Encarnacion wasted no time himself. He played hero on the first pitch, smacking it out of here to win the game in dramatic fashion.

5) Bringing In Your Closer To Early Can Have Disastrous Consequences!

The Jays found that out. Roberto Osuna, their closer, who'd struggled as of late, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth in a non-save situation, of course. Now, that's about that should have been asked of him, or Britton for that matter. If there was a time to bring in Britton, it would have been in the Toronto half of that inning,

The start of the inning. Toronto nearly won it. But say Zack throws a 1-2-3 inning, how does that change the outcome when the team isn't hitting? So Britton gets them to the 10th, only to see his team get set down in order in that inning. Not without some drama.

The Jays (Foolishly) brought Osuna back out. He fell behind Chris Davis 2-1, then got a called strike on a very high pitch. On the 2-2, Bautista put the squeeze on Davis' fly. That, however, proved to be Osuna's last pitch. Roberto's shoulder had tightened. He'd been out there too long. Today's closer's are one inning guys. No more. Osuna appeared to be alright a few days later in game two of the ALDS vs. Texas, but we will see how this shoulder trouble plays out in the coming days.

In any event, if Showalter wasn't going to use Britton then, with the game on the line, why should he later? Point #4, perhaps?


Agsgdgfg01. "AL Wild Card [Toronto Blue Jays] vs [Baltimore Orioles] 2016.10.04." Online Video Clip. YouTube. YouTube, 05 Oct. 2016. Web. 08 Oct. 2016. <>

Kennedy, Brendan. "Is Osuna OK? Plus Other Fallout From Blue Jays Wild-Card Win." The Toronto Star, 05 Oct. 2016. Web. 08 Oct. 2016. < 2016/10/05/is-osuna-ok-plus-other-fallout-from-blue-jays-wild-card-win.html>

Sports Reference LLC. - Major League Statistics and Information. Web. 08 Oct. 2016.

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