The business of compiling a playoff roster is a messy one indeed. The Wild Card teams must consider many additional factors and have so many contingencies to plan for. The season is on the line, after all. Managers try building the best team they can to win one game.
For Cleveland, that meant pitchers. More pitchers. Pitchers stacked on pitchers stacked on top of more pitchers. Eleven in total, including two would-be starters if the Tribe moves on to the next round of games. The Red Sox set their roster similarly, opting for 11 pitchers on the post season roster.
Keeping starters over relievers makes sense, as those starters likely make better relievers than the guys who do that job ordinarily. It’s the hierarchy of pitching talent, really. Terry Francona dreamed on Corey Kluber, who averages 93 mph as a starter, humping his fastball in at 96 or even 97 in an all-out, one inning outing in a do-or-die game. That’s a better option than…the seventh guy in Cleveland’s usual bullpen. The Rays, conversely, only dressed nine pitchers for the battle in Cleveland. A study in contrasts, you know? (Tampa Bay will likely replace one position player with David Price for the ALDS.)
The Reds made their choices, keeping Billy Hamilton on their bench as a potential late-game weapon. Sadly, the nation was deprived the chance watching Billy run as no Red was able to getting on base on his behalf.
Unlike last season, the Atlanta Braves are spared the pain of the Wild Card game. Already home and cooled in the division series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Braves made some…brave (?) choices in building their NLDS roster. They kept trade deadline acquisition Scott Downs off the roster, opting for left-handed starter Alex Wood as their second bullpen lefty instead.
The big news, of course, is the choice to leave struggling slugger Dan Uggla on the sidelines. Or in the pressbox. Or at home. Wherever. Not on the field, because Dan Uggla ain’t playing in the NLDS. A bold choice that could end up being the right one for Fredi Gonzalez.
Is there such as the hot hand in baseball? What about momentum? While all studies say “no”, there is more than just nebulous ideas applied post-hoc. The margin for error when attempting to hit Major League baseball pitching is razor thin. Even the slightest mechanical error can send a batter spiralling into a prolonged slump. A batter’s timing also factors into this consideration.
As stated earlier this week, the playoffs are no time for True Talent concerns. This is a time for urgency. When a player like Dan Uggla is mired in month-long batting trough, unless there are appreciable reasons to believe he’s coming out of it, how can the Braves count on him to produce in the playoffs?
Over a long season, sure. There is time and space to refine his swing, look over tape and dig into the batting cage with the hitting coach to try and find the reason for Uggla’s current struggles. The playoffs are different. By selecting Elliot Johnson (and Paul Janish?) over Dan Uggla, the Braves prize defense over offense. Uggla was never a great defensive second baseman, a detail easily overlooked when he bangs out 25 home runs a year.
But when he isn’t producing on offense and can’t do much defensively, what exactly does he offer the Braves, anyway?
The Braves already have Evan Gattis if they need a jolt of offense. Atlanta is in fact carrying a third catcher, Gerald Laird, should they choose to play Gattis in left field – an offense for defense sacrifice if ever there was one.
With Uggla, it is more a matter of potential offense. Even while hitting worse than ever, he still posted a higher walk rate than all but five batters in baseball. He can, of course, put the ball in the seats but his waning contact rate gave Fredi and friends enough pause for Atlanta to leave him off in favor of Johnson. More than just a lacklustre batting average over the past few months, Atlanta’s decision makers see something they don’t like. So he’s out.
Dodger executive on how they plan to win with matt kemp out and andre ethier hobbled: "a lot of low-scoring games"
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) October 2, 2013
Perhaps giving up offense for defense is a good idea against a Dodger team hobbled by injuries in their outfield. Run prevention is a worthwhile concern for a team potentially starting Freddy Garcia in Game Four (if necessary). It is actually refreshing to see a team making the difficult, sober decision to leave a well-like veteran player on the outside looking in because, in their view, it is in the best interests of the team.
Should the Braves bow out, failing to post much offense against the vaunted Dodgers pitching staff, you can bet the second guessers will turn out in force to criticize the Brave braintrust – that’s what makes it a tough decision, the fact that it could easily blow up in the collective faces of the Brave brain trust. I suppose that’s what makes it a “tough” decision in the first place.