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The 5 worst moments of the League Championship Series

The slide rule, cheating scandals and the #UmpShow, oh my!

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Joe West calls Jose Altuve out for fan interference during Game 4 of the ALCS
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Yesterday I looked at my five best moments of the League Championship Series, it was a post filled with great plays, celebrations and epic social media posts by players. But for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction so today I had to take a look at the five worst moments of the LCS.

5 - Brewers bullpen shenanigans

I think approximately 75,000 words have been written in 2018 about the Brewers’ bullpen, but at the risk of adding a few more, Craig Counsell was not about to let his biggest weapon go unused during the NLCS. He went to the bullpen and he went to the bullpen often. The below table shows bullpen usage through the LCS by team:

Bullpen usage and earned runs by team

Brewers 45.1 17 3.39
Dodgers 30.1 5 1.50
Red Sox 20.1 8 3.58
Astros 18.2 12 5.93
Bullpen innings pitched and earned runs Baseball Reference compiled by Sara Sanchez

Unsurprisingly the Brewers were the only team whose relievers threw more innings than their starters. And they weren’t just looking for innings, Counsell was ready to play any potential advantage, including using Wade Miley as a five-pitch opener in Game 5. Even Brian Kenny wasn’t sure this was the right move:

The Dodgers didn’t radically alter their line-up to face Wade Miley on short rest and the Dodgers wound up getting to Brandon Woodruff later in the game and winning Game 5 anyway.

Beyond strategic advantages or disadvantages, bullpenning slows the NL game down to a crawl. I’m usually the last to complain about pace of play but these games seemed to have a tremendous amount of downtime between platoon switches, bullpen switches, and Pedro Baez.

It felt too cute by half and didn’t seem to work anyway.

4 - Joe West calls fan interference

Al had a lengthy write-up of this play, so I won’t rehash all of that. I’m not even here to say that Joe West was wrong. As I watched the play, and then the endless rehashing of the play a couple of things were clear. Well, I should say unclear. There is almost no way to know if that ball was interfered with or a HR. Every write-up I saw that included a poll concluded differently. If the article at hand thought it should have been a home run, the fan poll thought it should have been a home run. If the article at hand thought the correct call was fan interference, the poll agreed that it was fan interference.

This was the definition of too close to call. It’s a shame because the promise of replay was that MLB would get those calls right, and the fans would never again have to wonder what would have happened if the call had been made the right way. But in a cruel twist of fate from the universe, the only angle that could have showed the play definitively was blocked by a security guard:

Frankly, I even feel bad for Joe West here. For once, he wasn’t grandstanding. He had to make a call, and whatever call he made the review would have resulted in “call stands.” This is one of the worst moments of the LCS because we’ll never know if a 50-50 call by Joe West should have gone the other way. I imagine it will haunt Astros fans for years.

3 - Alex Cora ejected for knowing the strike zone

Joe West was in an impossible situation, but the crew in the ALCS had some actual issues. At the outset of the series I knew this crew would provide some drama, I was just wrong about who would cause it.

In Game 1 of the ALCS Alex Cora got ejected by home plate umpire James Hoye for arguing balls and strikes knowing the strike zone. I mean, look at the called strike that got Cora tossed:

The sixth pitch is a called strike and Cora got tossed for arguing it
Boston Globe

Honestly, that’s pretty close and I understand that call being missed now and again. What I don’t understand is tossing Cora in the situation. It was a pure power play and I’m sick of watching umpires and their power plays. I’m sick of it in April when games have fewer stakes, I definitely don’t want to see it in October in the ALCS. Here’s what Cora told the Boston Globe:

“I guess [Justin] Verlander executed his pitch,” Cora said. “[Hoye] called it a strike. Andrew didn’t agree. I didn’t agree. It’s a big pitch right there. If it’s ball four, it’s bases loaded. They got [Ryan] Pressly in the bullpen, [and] most likely Verlander comes out of the game. But, you can’t argue balls and strikes — and I did.”

You just can’t miss that call. Ball four with the bases loaded? It’s unacceptable.

I, for one, will welcome our new robot overlords to the LCS.

2 - The feud between Manny Machado and Jesus Aguilar

I’m generally a fan of Manny Machado, but as Al noted, he didn’t have a great LCS. It wasn’t even the two slides, I honestly thought those might endear him to Joe Maddon in free agency. No, the worst Manny moments for me were his bizarre explanation for why he doesn’t hustle and his attempt to step on Jesus Aguilar. I’m not sure who exactly he thought he’d impress with his rationale for not hustling, but that would have likely been a footnote on the post. Whatever is going on between Machado and Aguilar rises to a whole new level.

Let’s start with the play [VIDEO].

There is no reason to hit Aguilar’s ankle there and it could have been dangerous, the next day he was fined by the league. Machado wasn’t the only one who needed to do some apologizing, however. What got a lot less coverage after the game was Aguilar using a gay slur that escalated the situation. That is also an incident that MLB has fined in the past, although they didn’t fine Aguilar in the NLCS.

It was basically a mess. Aguilar could have been hurt, his acted terribly in the aftermath and everyone in the situation, including MLB, wound up looking bad.

1 - We’re only cheating to make sure you’re not cheating

The accusations of cheating in both series were a little bizarre. It started in the ALCS with the Red Sox being alerted to a person affiliated with the Astros who was taking footage of the Red Sox dugout. That was soon followed up with complaints from other teams about the same behavior from the Astros in the ALDS against the Indians.

The Astros’ staffer didn’t have a credential and was seen texting frequently from the camera well. The Astros explanation was that they were monitoring the Red Sox dugout to make sure they weren’t cheating, and MLB was quick to agree with that assessment although they didn’t let the Astros continue their counterintelligence operations in the series.

We’re not done yet. MLB had barely cleared the Astros when a report broke that the Brewers thought the Dodgers were stealing their signs. From The Athletic:

There is concern among some Brewers that the Dodgers are using video to pick up their signs, multiple sources tell The Athletic. One person inside the organization said that on videos of the games, a coach could be seen running from the hallway into the Dodgers’ dugout whenever a runner reached second base, possibly a sign that L.A. was relaying a pitchers’ sequences to the runner during those at-bats.

Ultimately, this is much ado about something that is as old as baseball and Alex Cora summed up my thoughts on it pretty well:

It’s unclear whether Cora believes MLB should’ve come down harder on the Astros. The Red Sox manager does, however, believe his team benefited from the entire ordeal.

“I took it the other way around because they openly said that they were playing defense,” Cora said Friday on WEEI’s “Ordway, Merloni & Fauria” program. “They said they were checking on us if we were stealing signs, or doing something wrong in the dugout. … I took it the other way around. I was like, ‘Paranoia is working for us.’ Like they are panicking. Throughout the series we did a lot of stuff as far as like dummy signs and all this stuff to keep the paranoia going.

“That is part of the game — tipping, stealing signs, relaying pitches and paying attention to details. That is the way I took it. If they feel that way about us, we might as well push the envelope and keep doing a lot of things that are going to make them uncomfortable and you saw it. They kept changing signs and the tempo of the games was awful, but that worked into our advantage, I think.”

Cora’s exactly right to stay focused and not let elements outside the game interfere with the game. Since it’s unlikely that such gamesmanship will stay out of the World Series, I’ll hope that Dave Roberts and Alex Cora can both be level headed about their responses to it.

What moments really stood out and irked you during the LCS? Let us know in the comments below.