Last night was not the shining moment of Matt Williams‘ first season as a manager, and first season with the Washington Nationals franchise. Through out the season, he had what you could call, set pieces in the bullpen and that is fine through the first 162 games, but in the playoffs that can’t happen. In the postseason you have to put your best arm in the game, in the highest leverage of situations. Matt Williams stuck with his “7th inning guys” with the game on the line. Well Matt, while the Nats are watching the rest of the postseason, you need to be paying close attention to the ALCs, and particularly Buck Showalter.
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The Baltimore Orioles won the American League East by double digit games, by getting decent starting pitching, hitting a couple home runs, and set pieces in their bullpen that shut the game down. They used the same formula in the first round against the Detroit Tigers except for one thing, Showalter managed his bullpen like the three outs he needed in the sixth, were the final three outs of the game.
Andrew Miller hadn’t pitched before the seventh inning all season long, between the Boston Red Sox and Orioles, but in game one of the ALCS he came into the game in the sixth inning, in a 3-2 game, needing to preserve a one run lead against one of the best offenses in baseball. He escaped the heart of the Tigers lineup rather easily, but he wasn’t finished. Knowing that the Orioles needed to shorten the game, Showalter sent Miller back out for a second inning. Miller finished after one and two-thirds innings, throwing a season high in pitches and threw at least one and two-thirds innings for just the fifth time all season. That is how you manage a bullpen in a tough situation in October.
Later on in the game, the Orioles led by one run again, 4-3, with two outs in the eighth inning and arguably the most dangerous left-handed hitter this season in Victor Martinez at the plate. Instead of waiting for his inning, the ninth, Buck Showalter went to Zach Britton in the biggest part of the game. He got Martinez to ground out weakly to short on a 3-1 pitch, ending the inning and eventually the Orioles blew the game open and won.
In game two the same thing happened, but with a different pitcher. Kevin Gausman pitched three and one-third innings out of the bullpen keeping the Tigers lead at two. Gausman was the Orioles long-man after being a starter this season and the Orioles needed multiple innings, so they made the switch. Wouldn’t you know it the baseball god’s helped Buck Showalter and the Orioles because they have used their bullpen perfectly and rewarded them with a comeback win.
The point of this is, that sometimes, the biggest situation in the game, isn’t in the ninth. Sometimes it is in the sixth and the situation calls for your best reliever that can face both righties and lefties (Jerry Blevins, Tyler Clippard). Tyler Clippard didn’t pitch in the most important game of the season, because it wasn’t his inning. Going to a rookie in the biggest part of the game, with a proven veteran sitting in your bullpen wasn’t the best move Matt Williams made.
So Matt, while you are watching the rest of the postseason, make sure you pay close attention to how Buck Showalter manages his bullpen, it will benefit you in the future.