As the MLB playoffs come to a close, it becomes more and more apparent the amount of strategy needed to make it big in the month of October.
Baseball is always a cerebral game. Whether it be through double-switches for position players of contemplating bullpen configurations, it is extremely important for managers and other executives alike to be in tune with the game and what is going on around them. Miss an opportunity to gain an advantage and that can be the one run driven in that can make the difference.
This concept is heightened greatly in the playoffs and especially the World Series. Currently, Davey Martinez of the Washington Nationals and A.J. Hinch of the Houston Astros are locked in this mind game to hoist the coveted Commissioner’s Trophy.
Much chagrin was made to Martinez’s ejection in Game 6 over an already reviewed call. When Trea Turner was thrown out at first base, whether or not one’s opinion on that, Martinez gave up a huge right to being on the bench for the final innings of what could have been his team’s last game of the season.
Luckily for him and his team, they were already supporting a lead at that time, and it was augmented by some clutch hitting from National League MVP candidate Anthony Rendon and other players.
Yet, still, one has to wonder – if Martinez was ejected and the Astros come back to force extras – is his second in command fit to run a bench in a moment like that?
Regardless, the Nationals went on to win and force a Game 7 on Wednesday night in Houston. No harm was done by the Martinez ejection, but it played as a risky move in that scenario, especially with how aggressive he was towards the umpire crew.
Now, Martinez is back for the crucial Game 7 which faces a variety of other obstacles to overcome. It is Washington’s first time in this situation, and nation capital’s team has significantly less experience than the Astros. Even for the most seasoned Nationals players, like Ryan Zimmerman, this is an entirely new experience.
The game will likely face multiple pitching changes, provided starters Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke do not go deep into the game. It seems more unlikely for the former, as Scherzer sat out a pivotal Game 5 start with neck and back spasms. Martinez will have to balance the dominance of his starter to the risk of leaving him in for too long against a lethal Astros lineup. Martinez will also have to carefully navigate his relief pitchers, which can include but is not limited to Anibal Sanchez, Sean Doolittle, and Daniel Hudson, for the game.
Houston and Hinch will also have to decide how to pit the bullpen against the heat of the Nationals order, especially with Gerrit Cole on limited rest.
The other ripple in the bullpen saga is that the game is being played in Houston, an American League park, which makes way for a designated hitter. It takes out some of the concern for leaving pitchers in to hit for a nearly guaranteed out – unless, of course, Greinke takes to the plate with his above-average skill in the box.
By the time Thursday morning rolls around, and all of this analysis it moot, it will be easy to diagnose how Martinez and Hinch navigated the fall classic. All that can be said about the game prior, however, is that it can be expected to see plenty of switches and strategy implemented over the course of a game.
Kevin Kopf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @KevinKopfHWH.