The 2016 MLB playoffs kicked off last night with one of the best games in recent memory, a close, homer-filled battle between the Orioles and Blue Jays in the AL Wild Game. It went into the 11th inning when Edwin Encarnacion walked it off with a no-doubt three-run blast.
It was a great game that will be remembered almost entirely for two things: (1) that home run, and (2) one of the worst managerial mistakes in playoff history.
- In a game that went 11 innings, the Orioles didn’t use their best pitcher in any of them. It was so mind-boggling to me and most everyone else last night that Orioles manager Buck Showalter didn’t use closer Zach Britton at any point during the tie game that I assumed he had to be hurt. There was no other defensible explanation for such an insanely antiquated, embarrassing, and terrible use of the bullpen in a do-or-die game. Except … there’s no injury. Britton was fine and available, said Showalter after the game. Yikes.
- Britton sounded perplexed why he wasn’t used, and the only explanation offered by Showalter – as far as I can tell, because it wasn’t entirely clear – was that, by the time the 11th inning came around, Showalter was expecting to need a couple innings out of the next pitcher, and Ubaldo Jimenez had been pitching really well. He added that if he’d used Britton before the final inning, whenever it came, there would be risk in doing so because Britton wouldn’t be available anymore. And, of course, it doesn’t much matter if you get walked-off on because the best pitcher you have is sitting their watching from the bullpen. Showalter is going to have to wear this one for a very long time.
- It’s not as if there weren’t obvious opportunities to use Britton, either. The Orioles used seven(!) pitchers in the game, none of them named Britton. They got into serious jams in the 9th and 11th and Britton was warmed up and ready to go. But he watched, like the rest of us.
- In case you didn’t follow closely this year, Britton is coming off a season in which he converted all 47 of his save chances, posted a 0.54 ERA over 67.0 innings, struck out 29.1% of the batters he faced, and netted an almost unthinkably-high, and record-breaking 80.0% groundball rate. (The most extreme relievers of the past 15 years – outside of his own 2014 and 2015 seasons (75.3% and 79.1%), that is – are typically in the upper 60s to lower 70s.) He’s in the discussion for the AL Cy Young, despite being a reliever.
- Last thing and then I’ll leave it: not that I would expect Joe Maddon to screw this one up, but if the Cubs are in an identical situation in the upcoming playoffs (even if it’s not a do-or-die game), here’s hoping he makes sure Aroldis Chapman is used at some point, and not saved for a moment that might never come.
- If you didn’t see Encarnacion’s walk-off blast on an especially terrible pitch from Jimenez, you can watch it here.
- Earlier in the game, some butthole threw a beer can at Orioles outfielder Hyun Soo Kim as he tried to catch a fly ball, which is just awful. I remember when that happened to Kyle Schwarber last year at The Cell, and although it turned into something of a joke, it’s actually really dangerous – not just that the player could be hit by the can, but the dude is trying to catch a flying rock that is hurtling toward his face.
- The win for the Blue Jays sets up a rematch with the Rangers in the ALDS, of which the 2015 installment was known for its own iconic homer.
- Tonight’s game is the NL Wild Card installment, and I don’t think any Cubs fans would complain if it also went well into extra innings:
*Cubs fans watching Mets-Giants go 15 innings tomorrow night.* pic.twitter.com/vjNe3LVorQ
— Brett Taylor (@BleacherNation) October 5, 2016