An incredible first round of the MLB postseason is officially complete, after the Cubs outlasted the Nationals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series on Thursday night. It lived up to its billing. Here are some Detroit Tigers-centric notes from the first round of the postseason:
More: 2017 MLB playoffs: Schedule, results
• In the finale, left-handed reliever Justin Wilson was the only reliever not used in the Cubs’ bullpen. It illustrated how much he has fallen out of favor with manager Joe Maddon after struggling mightily since joining the team on July 31. In 23 games, Wilson posted a 5.09 ERA and 2.09 WHIP. Given third baseman Jeimer Candelario’s performance in September – not to mention the promise of prospect shortstop Isaac Paredes – it is not a stretch to call the Tigers big winners in the deal.
Wilson’s ineffectiveness looms large: In Game 2, righty Carl Edwards, Jr. coughed up a game-tying, two-run home run to Bryce Harper in the bottom of the eighth inning. This was the exact situation the Cubs acquired Wilson for, a lefty-on-lefty matchup late in a close playoff game. His performance has left a big void in the bullpen. Perhaps with a depleted bullpen for Game 1 of the NL Championship Series against the Dodgers, Maddon will be forced into calling on him and Wilson can earn some trust. The Cubs could use it.
Cubs reliever Justin Wilson pitches in the ninth inning during Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals at Wrigley Field on Oct. 11, 2017 in Chicago. (Photo: Stacy Revere, Getty Images)
• Wilson’s absence was most obvious in Thursday night’s Game 5, when lefties Brian Duensing and Mike Montgomery were used ahead of him. Earlier in the game, former Tiger Max Scherzer entered in relief, holding the slimmest of leads. Scherzer, remember, came through in the biggest of relief situations in Game 4 of the 2012 AL Division Series against the Athletics at Comerica Park. This time, though, he was victimized by the most random happenstance of an inning. After recording the first two outs, he allowed four runs on a pair of singles, a double, an intentional walk, a strikeout-error in which Cubs second baseman Javier Baez struck Nationals catcher Matt Wieters on the backswing, a catcher’s interference and a hit-by-pitch.
• In Game 5, Michael A. Taylor hit his second big home run in as many games, a three-run shot to give the Nationals an early 4-1 lead. Taylor emerged in a big way this season after centerfielder Adam Eaton was lost for the year with knee surgery in April. It was not a surprise to former Tiger J.D. Martinez, who works out with Taylor in South Florida in the off-season and has spoken often about his promise as a power hitter.
• Speaking of Martinez, the Diamondbacks slugger and free agent to be who was swept by the Dodgers: He hit a Game 1 home run off Clayton Kershaw. Earlier in the season, I mentioned to Martinez how much I was hoping Kershaw would face the Tigers in Detroit in mid-August. He did not share that same hope but offered this oddity: With his home run off Kershaw, Martinez has now homered off five Cy Young Award-winning pitchers: Scherzer in 2013 and 2016, Corey Kluber in 2014, Rick Porcello in 2016 and David Price in 2014.
• The best game of the opening round – Game 4 of the AL Division Series between the Astros and Red Sox at Fenway Park – featured former Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander coming in for his first relief appearance in, well, forever. Never before in his professional or collegiate career had Verlander pitched in relief. It was a fascinating display of game and series management: I was not in favor of Astros manager A.J. Hinch’s move, though I fully understood it. Simply put, Verlander – a pitcher wired by routine – had never been in such a position. Using Verlander in Game 4 meant he would not be available for Game 5. Though top lefty Dallas Keuchel was available to start that game, Verlander is arguably the best big game pitcher in baseball. The Astros led the series, 2-1, and had the deciding game on their home turf, although Hinch managed the other way around. Verlander allowed a two-run home run to Andrew Benintendi, coughing up the lead and awakening the Fenway faithful, but the Astros would come back to win the game and the series with big hits against Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel, silencing the second-guessers.
• The postseason began in a familiar fashion of sorts, with the Twins jumping on top of the Yankees in the AL Wild-Card game. Brian Dozier led off with a solo home run before Eddie Rosario hit a two-run home run in the top of the first inning. The scene was reminiscent of one in 2012, when Don Kelly and Delmon Young hit back-to-back home runs in the top of the first inning of Game 5 of the AL Division Series against the Yankees.
• Young righty Luis Severino was soon chased from the contest but in came righty Chad Green, who was traded for Wilson two off-seasons ago along with Luis Cessa, to stop the bleeding. Green danced out of two on, one out damage in the first inning with a pair of strikeouts, keeping the score close enough for the Yankees to come back and win.
Contact Anthony Fenech: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech.
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