I never thought I’d see the day that my team would lose to the Chicago Cubs. But here we are, with the defending World Series Champions losing their first game of the post-season to the Pirates in one of the most stunning upsets in baseball history. What happened? How could this have possibly happened?
Well, for one thing, it was the final game of the season. The last game on the schedule is often a meaningless one, as the teams involved don’t care about the results as much as the fans. A game like this is traditionally not played to the highest degree of competition due to the unimportance of the results. In fact, many teams will use these kinds of final games to rest their regulars playing only catch-up in the quest for a playoff spot.
Another problem was the score. It was a 4-4 tie going into the last inning, and the Cubs had runners on first and third with two outs. After a Jon Lester strikeout and A.J. Preller walk, Ben Zobrist drew a two-out, two-strike walk. It looked like it was going to be the winning run until Javier Baez hit a spectacular diving stop on a hard-hit chopper that he threw to first to double up the batter and score the winning run.
Now, I don’t want to make this article all about baseball, so let’s get back to the main point: What does it mean if the score is -4.0 and the game is in Pittsburg?
Well, for one thing, it’s a sign that the Braves are for real. No longer content to rest on their laurels, the Braves looked completely rejuvenated in their elimination game against the Nationals. They were relentless in their pursuit of Stephen Strasburg, and they won handily on an absolute masterpiece by Max Fried, who struck out 13 batters and allowed just one hit in 7 2/3 innings.
And it was a similar story in the other game. The Tigers had Jon Lester on the mound and looked like they were going to make short work of the Blue Jays, particularly after Jose Iglesias and Justin Verlander combined for a no-hitter through 5 2/3 innings. But then, in the pivotal 7th inning, the Blue Jays struck back with three runs and an unlikely home run from Jose Bautista that turned the tables around and gave the Tigers a heartbreaking 7-6 victory.
The point is that these are two really good teams, and for the most part, the playoffs are bound to be a real battle. What it means is that the competition is about to ramp up a gear, and the games are going to get a lot more interesting. For now, though, we have to content ourselves with these two heartwarming stories, because let’s face facts: These are not the Chicago Cubs we all know and love.
Signs Of Life
I hope everyone has now recovered from the shock of seeing the Braves lose the first game of the NLDS, because the tables have turned and things are about to get much more interesting. In fact, in the next three weeks, we’re going to see the best the NL has to offer and a battle for survival that will delight and intrigue the entire country. And to get you in the mood, here’s a sign that the Braves are for real:
Last week, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that the Dodgers had approached the Braves about a trade that would’ve brought in one of the best second basemen in the game. According to Rosenthal’s sources, the talks were very serious and got as far as the exchanging of contract information. Now, let’s be honest; given how things have gone for the Dodgers this year, it’s difficult to imagine that they aren’t shopping for potential replacements for their fan-favorite Corey Seager at the trade deadline. Still, it’s nice to see the Braves are willing to fight to keep one of their best players. Especially since they really have no internal options at the position. And considering the Dodgers’ rumored interest, it’s almost certain that they will make a move at the deadline. But for now, let’s bask in the fact that they want to keep their best players for as long as possible.
The tables have turned again, this time in the divisional round. The Brewers defeated the Pirates in five games, and while it’s a tad early to crown the 2018 NL MVP, Christian Yelich and company are looking pretty darn good so far. Of course, this hasn’t been an easy run. The Pirates have to battle all the way to the end of the season to make the playoffs, and they’ve had to scrap and claw their way to a couple of those wins. Still, they’re entering the postseason as one of the hottest teams in the National League and looking to get back to the World Series for the first time since their franchise-record tying season in 2013.
In that game against the Cubs, the Pirates trailed, 4-0, after the third inning, but thanks to an aggressive pitching strategy and a few timely hits, they surged ahead and put the game away in the later innings. At the end of August, I wrote an article about how the Pirates had pivoted to a more aggressive approach at the plate and how their hot hitting was the result. Since that time, they’ve continued to score early and often, and it’s made a world of difference. The biggest reason for their success is their leadoff hitter, Keon Broxton, who is hitting..458 with a 1.154 OPS this season. The speedy outfielder is the perfect leadoff man, as he’s quick enough to get on base consistently yet smart enough to know when to hold back and when to attack. With runners on base, he’s even more dangerous. If you want to see more, check out this highlight package from Pirates broadcaster Bob Walk:
This is what the postseason is all about. It’s about who wants it more and is willing to fight for it. The Cubs certainly seem to want it more, and they’re going to have to work for it, because the Pirates are a tough team to pitch to. Even the best pitchers have had a hard time keeping the ball in the park against Pittsburgh this year. And they’ve shown that they’re not afraid to battle all the way to the finish. Now, it’s up to them to see if they can continue this momentum into the World Series. So far, it doesn’t look good for the Indians or the Astros. The defending champs are going to have to fend for themselves, because the Pirates are coming for them.