In Game 4 of the ALDS, the Houston Astros had a 5-1 lead, and Lance McCullers Jr. was dealing. The right-hander had given up only five hits and manager Dusty Baker pulled him after four complete innings due to right-forearm tightness.
Certainly starters get tired, especially this time of year and are on a pitch count but at only 73 pitches he could have pitches two more innings and been around the same pitch count as his Game 1 start, if this was the case.
Other analytic-heavy coaches and commentators caution against the third time through the lineup and how it can be the danger zone with pitchers. The Chicago White Sox were entering their third go round the following inning.
Baker threw off any doubt from the Game 3 performance of Yimi Garcia and put him in to face the top of the White Sox order. Garcia lived up to Baker’s expectation going three up and three down in the bottom of the fifth, getting Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada to ground out to second and striking out Luis Robert.
What a brave vote of confidence Baker gave Garcia after giving up a two-out three-run homer to Leury Garcia in the third inning in Game 3. I for one was doubting the substitution and yet Baker and Garcia proved me wrong, and I was happy to be for the record.
Baker then tapped Phil Maton in the bottom of the sixth, and he answered the call going three up and three down with a ground out, a fly out and a strikeout. Maton continued into the seventh getting the first two batters out, bringing the bullpen’s streak of retiring hitters to eight in a row.
After giving up a hit, Maton was pulled for Ryne Stanek who then retired Anderson for the final out in the seventh. Despite the battered ‘pen’s performance in Game 3, and in the face of all the haters, Bakers’ moves worked out as designed.
Then in another controversial move, Baker put in Kendall Graveman after Stanek only faced one batter in the bottom of the seventh. Graveman did not disappoint. After Graveman’s Game 2 nail-biting one hit, one walk inning and his Game 1 performance giving up a run on two hits and a walk, this was certainly redemption.
Graveman pitched a nearly perfect eighth. After a fly out and ground out, he plunked Abreu with two strikes on him on a wild pitch and then closed out the inning getting Grandal to ground out to Correa.
Pressly came in and pitched a one-hit ninth inning with a solid performance, as per usual. Although the Astros were up 10-1, Baker wanted to leave no doubt they were shutting the White Sox down and ending the series.
Are those moves Baker made a prototype for the future and did the Astros’ win the trade deals in July?
The past two game, Baker has gone to Garcia early on in the game in either a dire situation like that of Game 3 or a significant situation, facing the top of the order with a lead in Game 4.
Does that mean Garcia is the go-to guy prior to the seventh inning for a shut down inning and Maton is the longer outing guy? I’m not sure who to put in, as both Maton and Garcia have had great appearances this season in relief and poor appearances.
If the pen is Stanek, Graveman and Pressly for sure, who is the sixth inning guy? Maton or Garcia? I lean towards Zack Greinke as the fifth or sixth inning guy this postseason unless he is declared not able to pitch out of the bullpen either because of innings or pitch count or injury status. So the question remains, who do you go to in the sixth? It seems early on in August, it was Maton but now it’s Garcia.
Graveman has seemed to prove his worth after his Game 3 and 4 performances and solidified once again he is the setup man. With that, the Astros wrapped up a 3-1 series win and advanced to the ALCS for the fifth straight year.