I’ve been following major league baseball pretty intensively for 55 years. You don’t need me to point out how the game has changed tremendously over those decades.
On the other hand, last night’s game brought to mind some eternal truths taught by two of the greatest baseball minds of my lifetime. Earl Weaver insisted—and his teams proved year after year–that good starting pitching and three run homers will win most baseball games. The Dodgers got a terrific start from Hyun-Jin Ryu: seven shutout innings, eight K’s, four singles, and perhaps most significantly to Weaver afficianados, no bases on balls. On offense, the Dodgers scored six runs on only five hits. But three of those hits left the yard, and one dinger was of the three run variety. Max Muncy’s 3 run homer in the second off Mike Foltynewicz followed a hit by pitch and a walk.
Leo Mazzone insisted—and his pitchers proved year after year—that fastball command is the key to good pitching. Folty’s performance in his two innings of work demonstrated Leo’s truth. He walked 3 and hit a batter. But the lack of command showed most noticeably on the two home runs he surrendered; both were on upper nineties fastballs that were right over the plate.
Speaking of great baseball minds, I happened to catch Jeff Francouer on the radio pregame. Frenchy said that the key for Folty, and indeed all Braves pitchers in the series, would be to avoid walks. The man knows whererof he speaks. We all remember Frenchy’s playing days; rarely was there ever a batter better at avoiding walks.
On offense, the Braves never really threatened. All six hits they garnered were singles, and they drew no walks. I thought of Earl Weaver once again in the sixth, when RAJ reached on an error. He was erased on a caught stealing, down four with Freeman on deck. (It was actually a hit and run in which John could not make contact). Outs are your most precious commodity—don’t be giving them away!
One small positive sign in the game. Newcomb and Fried both got their playoff feet wet and pitched well. Perhaps that will pay dividends down the line.
So, another inauspicious start to the Braves postseason. This game—the first of the 2018 playoffs for the Braves—had one very important thing in common with the Braves’ six previous playoff openers: a Braves loss. I don’t need to remind you how those six previous division series turned out.
But as much as I love dwelling on the past (y’all may have noticed), history is not destiny. One lopsided loss is still just one loss. They play again today. The Braves still have the opportunity to split the two games in LA and come home with home field advantage for the final three.
Weaver said momentum in baseball is the next day’s starting pitcher. Well, that’s not encouraging. The Dodgers start Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher of his generation in game two, followed by Walker Buehler, who is looking more and more like a young right handed version of Kershaw, in game three.
Still, the 2018 Braves have defied the odds all year. And they have made their mark as a team that never quits and continues to come from behind. Let’s continue to believe in and enjoy this team until it’s over.