One would think after all these years and all the data every baseball fan has been shown, they wouldn’t treat modern managing in the playoffs like we were still in Salem in the 1600s. Torey Lovullo wasn’t desecrating all that we hold dear when he pulled Brandon Pfaadt in the sixth inning, even though Pfaadt had faced one over the minimum and had struck out nine of his 17 outs.
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As we previously stated when Brian Snitker fell asleep in South Philly, once a team gets past its best starters, and the Diamondbacks have two, 18 outs or twice through the lineup is the absolute best a manager can hope for, or even aim for from his other starters in a playoff game. Lovullo knows this and acted the same way in the Division Series against the Dodgers with Pfaadt. Just because Pfaadt went through his two trips through the Phillies lineup as close to flawlessly without being so as possible doesn’t mean he was ready to do it for a third time. Lovullo was ready.
And no, despite what Ron Darling and Jeff Francouer were saying in the booth, a solo homer from Kyle Schwarber would not have been “acceptable.” As the game ended, 2-1, as the D-Backs have had a hard time even seeing home plate this series, every run is momentous. Lovullo was just more at the ready than most managers, which threw most observers off.
Pfaadt is a rookie, and has yet to prove he can negotiate any hitter for a third time in a game. Hitters slugged .720 against him third time through the lineup and that number only dropped to .542 in August and September when he finally locked in his place on the MLB roster. Given how quickly the Phillies have turned games into Whiffle Ball, this was not to be risked.
Joe Sheehan talks a lot about the myth of “dealing,” though Pfaadt was as “dealing” as any pitcher could be. But just because he was making the Phillies hitters look foolish for 17 outs, that’s no guarantee he could do it for a third time. Any previous strikeout is no indication that he could make Schwarber look foolish a third time. It’s a new roll of the dice. Pfaadt still very much learning how to do that. And the Diamondbacks didn’t have a game to spare to see if he could figure it out on the biggest stage.
Lovullo knows that once he gets past Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly, 18 outs is the absolute max he can hope for. It was fortunate that Pfaadt gave him that, and in such dominant fashion, but again, that performance is rolling 7s. Lovullo didn’t push his luck any further and he was rewarded with his team getting back into the series for at least a day.
It may not look like what we remember, but teams aren’t rocking deep rotations that consistently either. The D-Backs are an 84-win team for a reason. This isn’t a Yankees team that can roll out Mike Mussina as a No. 3 starter or the 1990s Atlanta teams that had John Smoltz in the same slot. Lovullo has to pull out all the carnival tricks.
On the other side of the bracket, a manager can still get into trouble when he thinks he has a game to play with. Bruce Bochy was awfully slow yanking Max Scherzer in Game 3 when it was clear he didn’t really have a secondary pitch or his usual fastball after the initial adrenaline wore off, and it got away in a hurry. Up 2-0, maybe Bochy thought he had wiggle room. He doesn’t now. Again, when the Astros are on the mat, it’s best to keep them there. The Rangers didn’t, and now they’re knee-deep in it.
For the second straight game, the Rangers pen – their biggest vulnerability heading into October – couldn’t keep the Astros corralled long enough to give the offense a chance to bring them all the way back. However, the Rangers will benefit from Bochy knowing how to lose a game, which is usually a skill only reserved for the regular season. None of Sborz, Chapman, and LeClerc have pitched the past two games, which means they’re as fresh as can be with an off day on the backside of Friday’s Game 5. And the Rangers are about to cycle back through Montgomery and Eovaldi. It’s likely that Bochy is planning on only using those five pitchers in the next two games.
Still, the Astros now have a taste for it, and once they get that they’re usually pretty damn hard to keep down again. This will get rocky.
Sadly, my father won’t be around to see perhaps the only thing that would have ever got him interested in soccer:
If you’re wondering how this would come about, Barcelona’s shirt sponsor is Spotify, and they occasionally rotate the actual ad on those shirts to coincide with big releases on their platform.
Anyway, if you had an older relative who mocks your soccer fandom, here is the gateway.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky @felsgate.bsky.social