Hey, let's talk strategy! There isn't much of it employed in today's game, but there were a couple of interesting managerial decisions in Boston's 4-3 win over the Nationals on Monday.
First, Nationals manager Dave Martinez intentionally walked Jackie Bradley Jr. with two outs in the second inning, runners on second and third and Max Scherzer on the mound. Red Sox pitcher Rick Porcello followed with a bases-clearing double over the head of left fielder Juan Soto.
Red Sox skipper Alex Cora later called on closer Craig Kimbrel for a four-out save, bringing him in for Joe Kelly after a two-out walk to Mark Reynolds (and a home run earlier in the inning byBryce Harper).
Martinez gave Bradley the free pass in a rather conventional situation: to get to the pitcher with two outs. It was unconventional to issue one with Scherzer pitching, however, and he was clearly perturbed by the decision. Porcello then hit an 0-2 fastball for his first RBIs since 2009 -- and the first extra-base hit Scherzer had ever allowed to a pitcher on an 0-2 count.
Even stranger, Martinez again intentionally walked Bradley with two outs and a runner on second in the sixth and Washington trailing 3-1. Coming into the game, Scherzer had just 14 career intentional walks and never more than two in a season. Only twice had he walked the No. 8 hitter in his career, with the last time coming in 2012. So you can see why he was a little surprised at the decision -- not that he should groove an 0-2 fastball to Porcello as a result.
Martinez is a first-year manager, and my first thought was, "Uh-oh, does he love the intentional walk?" As it turns out, not really. He had 18 entering the game, compared to the NL average of 20, so there's nothing extreme there. For some reason, he just didn't like the Scherzer-Bradley matchup.
Meanwhile, Cora's usage of Kimbrel showed some unusual urgency for a game on July 2 -- and gives a clear indication of the every-game-matters nature of the AL East race. The Red Sox had a chance to win, and Cora didn't want to blow a lead before getting the ball to Kimbrel. It was Kimbrel's second four-out save of the season and just the 13th of his career. He was available in part because he hadn't pitched since Thursday, but he threw 33 pitches before closing things out, so we'll see if he's available on Tuesday.
The Nationals dropped to just one game over .500. You sense a team on the ledge.
It was a classic Yankee Stadium short porch home run: Given standard weather conditions, that isn't a home run anywhere else, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Two impressive notes about the Braves: (1) They're 26-17 on the road, and (2) they're 24-18 against teams .500 or better.
Good note here about the Yankees' offense:
The Yankees have averaged just 4.17 runs per game since June 1, compared to 5.64 through May 31. Moving up Gleyber Torres makes sense, though batting order has only a minimal impact on run scoring. I think the Yankees need to take a deep look at Greg Bird and ask if he's really the answer at first base. The big out in the game for the Yankees came when Bird struck out with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th against Braves lefty Jesse Biddle.
Bird's impressive 46-game rookie stint came way back in 2015, but his career has stalled with injuries since, including his missing all of 2016 and missing the start of 2018 after surgery on his foot late in spring training. It's possible that the hitter who showed promise in 2015 has been compromised by the injuries. He has hit .194/.296/.423 the past two seasons, albeit in only 287 plate appearances. It's a tough one because he does need playing time. But as Cora showed, there's also urgency to every game in the AL East race.
Lindor the great: Is it time to throw Francisco Lindor's name in the MVP mix? It seems we handed that award to Mike Trout weeks ago, but the playoff status of the MVP contenders could factor into the vote -- oh, and the fact that Lindor has some monster numbers. He mashed two more home runs in Cleveland's 9-3 win over the Royals, drove in seven runs, scored three and then did the laundry after the game.
Makeshift Brewers lineup keeps on winning: Let's see. No Lorenzo Cain, no Christian Yelich, no Domingo Santana, no Orlando Arcia, no whoever the second baseman was supposed to be because the starting second baseman on Monday was a 28-year-old named Nate Orf making his major league debut. The Brewers won anyway, beating the Twins 6-5 on Brad Miller's one-out, bases-loaded, walk-off walk in the 10th.
It wasn't the prettiest of games -- there was a runner picked off and a strange double play with an error in the middle of it -- except for this defensive gem from Keon Broxton:
The Twins failed to take advantage of Miller's two errors at shortstop in the ninth, when Eduardo Escobar was thrown out at home on a baserunning gaffe. Travis Shaw's sacrifice fly off Fernando Rodney tied it in the bottom of the inning. Orf started the winning rally when he was hit by a pitch. Broxton kept it going with a walk -- but only after he failed to bunt the first two pitches. But as our friend Harper said, a win is a win.
I'm not sure a Brad Miller-Nate Orf double-play combo is that of a championship team -- as Miller showed in the ninth inning, there's a reason he was moved from shortstop with Seattle to first base with Tampa Bay -- but that's what Craig Counsell has to work with right now.
The Reds aren't awful: They beat the White Sox 5-3 with four runs in the eighth, giving us this note:
Alex Blandino had the pinch-hit, two-run double that put the Reds ahead. Scooter Gennett went 2-for-3 to raise his average to an NL-leading .336, and he remains one of the more interesting names that could be traded. Hmm, I know a team in the NL Central that could use a second baseman ... a team with which Mr. Gennett is familiar.