Would bringing in Zach Britton out of the bullpen have resulted in an Orioles victory? Maybe. Should Buck Showalter have gone to him sooner, or at least at all? Probably. Was not going to Britton the No. 1 reason why the Orioles lost? Absolutely not.
The Orioles lost to the Blue Jays in the American League wild-card game because Baltimore went 0-16 with six strikeouts after Manny Machado reached on an infield single in the top of the sixth inning. After Machado’s hit, the only other base runner the Orioles had in the game was when Chris Davis walked with one out in the top of the seventh.
Showalter could have brought Britton into the game in the ninth inning when Josh Donaldson led-off with a double and Edwin Encarnacion was intentionally walked to put runners on first and second with nobody out. Brad Brach ended up getting Jose Bautista to strike out and then Darren O’Day got Russell Martin to hit into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.
If Showalter had brought Britton in to escape the ninth inning jam, then he would have likely pitched the 10th inning as well and who knows how much he would have had left for the 11th. Even if Britton gets through the 11th, you’re not bringing in your closer to pitch four innings. That would be putting Britton’s career in jeopardy.
The only debatable move in my mind was if the Orioles should have intentionally walked Encarnacion like Showalter called for in the bottom of the ninth inning which ended up working in order to set up a potential out at every base. But Encarnacion is such a slow runner, if you can get him to roll over on a pitch it’s an easy inning-ending double play.
Instead, Ubaldo Jiminez challenged Encarnacion with a fastball right down the middle and a hitter of Encarnacion’s caliber isn’t going to miss that pitch.
I look at the Orioles’ loss this way. The bottom line is you can’t win if you can’t score. It’s been the biggest reason why the Yankees have missed the playoffs in three of the last four seasons, and if you only have one base runner after the sixth inning of a winner-take-all game, chances are you’re not going to win.
When to bring in the “closer” is becoming one of the most highly debated baseball topics. For home teams, the role is defined clearly. Closers come into the game if their team is winning by three or fewer runs or is tied in the top of the ninth inning and then it’s up to the manager how long they want to stick with their closer.
For road teams, the parameters are significantly more vague. The unwritten rule is you don’t bring in your closer on the road unless you have a lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning or later with a chance to win the game, because if you waste your closer, you won’t have him in a situation you wished you had him.
It’s should have, would have, could have for Showlater and his decision or lack thereof to bring in Britton, but it was the Baltimore offense that ultimately came up small when it mattered the most.