Home » MLB playoff takeaways: Max Muncy's absence sinking Dodgers; Tanner Houck's emergence saving Red Sox

MLB playoff takeaways: Max Muncy's absence sinking Dodgers; Tanner Houck's emergence saving Red Sox

by Lester Blair
Tanner Houck tossed five innings in relief for the Red Sox.
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Over 10 hours and four games, the arc of Major League Baseball’s playoffs were vastly altered Friday, when every Division Series in both leagues were in action. On Monday there will be a tripleheader, and the National League will host two games Saturday and Sunday.

Only the Houston Astros have the chance to sweep the AL. There is the possibility of another ALDS Game 5.

So what did we learn from a long day’s journey from Houston to Milwaukee to Tampa Bay and then San Francisco? Here’s four takeaways from Friday’s action:

Minimum effort

Lost in the haze of MLB’s chaotic final day of the season might have been its most important development: An elbow injury that will likely sideline Max Muncy throughout the playoffs.

And after two games without their most disciplined hitter, there’s a decent chance the Los Angeles Dodgers’ stay in these playoffs will be a brief one.

Take nothing away from Logan Webb, whose postseason debut evoked memories of San Francisco Giants legends Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, as he punched out 10 Dodgers over 7 ⅔ shutout innings in the Giants’ 4-0 victory.

Yet you combine Game 1 of this NLDS with the Dodgers’ impotent performance in squeaking out a 3-1 win over St. Louis in Wednesday’s wild-card game, and it’s possible they have a Muncy Problem.

Webb was amazing, walking everyone and giving up only five hits. It’s likely nobody was hitting him on this chilly night in China Basin.

It was probably too simple. Webb took down eight innings with just 92 pitches. In fact, the Dodgers were rarely able to even manage a three-ball count. It’s a marked contrast to Webb’s last two starts against the Dodgers, during which he lasted five and six innings, respectively, the Giants winning those late-July games 2-1 and 4-2.

Muncy began in them both and saw 18 pitches in each of the four plate appearances. Chris Taylor only saw more (19).

The story was similar in recent games against Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright. In a September 5-4 defeat, the Dodgers threw four runs at him in just 8 1/3 innings. Wainwright threw 100 pitches, while Muncy saw almost a third of those pitches. Muncy absorbed 22 pitches (a team record) and hit a homer in the sixth inning.

What was Muncy’s performance in the wild card game? Wainwright went 5 ⅓ innings but only gave up one run – Justin Turner’s solo homer, the Dodgers’ only extra-base hit until Taylor’s walk-off against reliever Alex Reyes.

Muncy ranked sixth in the major leagues in StatCast’s overall plate discipline metric, and his .973 OPS ranked third in the NL. He’s not always essential to the Dodgers’ attack, but with Taylor flailing and Cody Bellinger a shell of his usual self, the Dodgers are a far easier lineup to navigate these days.

Taylor was in Game 1 but Dave Roberts, his manager, said that Taylor would start Game 2 at center and Bellinger will move to the front. Perhaps Kevin Gausman’s two-pitch repertoire will be more to the Dodgers’ liking in Game 2. Or Julio Urias and Max Scherzer ensure they aren’t climbing uphill from the jump in Games 2 and 3, easing some pressure on hitters.

The Dodgers, however, are an insufferable bunch. The defending World Series champs are currently on the ropes.

Red Sox’s savior

Had it not been coined by an ad agency to sell auto insurance, “Life comes at you fast” would make a decent mantra for October baseball.

Tanner Houck, what do you think about the position of No. 2. Starter for the Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox were able to take control of the AL Division Series against Tampa Bay Rays in a matter of a few innings. Their  Game 1 and 2 starters, lefties Eduardo Rodriguez and Chris Sale, combined to record eight outs, stressing their pitching staff and shoving them deep in what looked like a 2-0 hole in a best-of-five series.

After the first inning, Houck was given the ball and they got out of the game.

Houck lasted five innings, and only two hits were allowed. This record-setting offensive performance turned a three-run deficit to a two run advantage, and eventually led to a 14-6 Red Sox victory that tied the series.

How pivotal was Houck’s performance?

So, instead of facing elimination in Game 3, the Red Sox handed the ball at Fenway Park to Nate Eovaldi. This gave the Rays a chance to win.

Here’s a pair of not-so-bold predictions: This series is going five games, and Houck will start Game 5 for Boston.

He’s certainly earned that much by saving the Red Sox’s season not once, but twice. Houck pitched five flawless innings against the Washington Nationals in Game 161, three days after his 41-pitch relief effort. So in two essentially must-win games, that’s 10 innings pitched, two hits, 13 strikeouts and no walks.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora’s October aggressiveness paid huge dividends in 2018, in the manner in which he deployed his bullpen. He ignored Sale’s track record in quickly hooking him both in Game 162 and Game 2 of the ALDS.

This decision will be far easier – Houck, essentially, has made it for him.

Chunder and fire

Perhaps you’ve heard a thing or two about the Rays’ uncanny ability to pluck fringe players from baseball oblivion, sprinkle some analytics on them and watch the magic unfold. One hundred wins, miniscule payroll – same as it ever was.

Both the positives and the pitfalls of roster churn are exposed by their XXXX loss against the Boston Red Sox.

The Rays completed a quiet trade on July 30 to acquire Jordan Luplow, an outfielder and first baseman from Cleveland.

Luplow hit a grand slam on Sale in Game 2. This gave the Rays an imposing 5-2 lead.

Matt Wisler was in the fifth. He had a runner and it was 5-5. Wisler was selected for…

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