Moser: On squandering slight advantages in the playoffs

From SABR member Zack Moser at Baseball Prospectus on October 16, 2017:

Margins of error in the playoffs are thin. So thin. More often than not, games between two evenly matched teams in October turn on the smallest mistakes: a hung breaking ball, a bobbled grounder, a pitcher deployed in the wrong situation. Ah, a pitcher deployed in the wrong situation—there it is, one of the few ways a manager can impact their team’s chances, turning a slight advantage into a chasmic disadvantage just by signaling to the bullpen at the wrong time. Unless the team boasts a many-headed Hydra of late-inning relievers, or a trio of workhorse starters, the manager will inevitably stare down a situation where the personnel in their bullpen doesn’t match the situation staring back. Such is the crucible of playoff baseball.

To gain a slight advantage in the playoffs versus a team like the Los Angeles Dodgers is imperative in a tight series. Sure, an unexpected home run from a role player who didn’t match up well versus the opposing pitcher can render moot the fine tuning of bullpen management or lineup creation, but more often than not one must eek out these slight advantages and capitalize on them in order to bring home a victory. For example: the entirety of the Cubs’ NLDS Game Five in Washington turned on matchups, the right personnel, the wrong mistakes. It was a game of attrition, as so many of these games turn out to be. Joe Maddon found advantages where he could, tossing Jose Quintana into relief for twelve pitches and two quick outs; yanking Mike Montgomery after the lefty showed no semblance of command; pinch-hitting with Kyle Schwarber against hard-throwing righty Ryan Madson. When the home half of the seventh rolled around, the fount of matchups and advantages had dried up. The Cubs, and Wade Davis, weathered a ceaseless offensive attack from the Nationals, securing a victory mostly because time ran out and less so due to outwitting the Washington hitters.

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Originally published: October 16, 2017. Last Updated: October 16, 2017.