It seems like an eternity ago, but Game 5 of the 2016 NLDS ended in a dramatic fashion.
Of course, the main storyline was the fact that Clayton Kershaw came out of the bullpen to close out the Dodgers' 4-3 win. Flashing back to the 7th inning, though, is where the Nationals--and Dusty Baker--fell apart.
To open up the inning, Dodgers' center fielder Joc Pederson hit a first-pitch home run off of Max Scherzer, tying the game at one apiece. With Scherzer at 99 pitches, Baker decided that he would be done for the evening and turned to his bullpen.
Madness ensued. After Scherzer, it took five relievers to get the three outs in the inning. Four runs scored, and the Nationals' postseason hopes went down the drain as quickly as they began.
Where did Baker make his mistake? Bullpen management. If Dusty Baker's name was Terry Francona, it would not have been Marc Rzepczynski coming in to relieve Scherzer. Rather, it would have been Mark Melancon, who pitched the final four outs despite his team being down a run instead of tied.
Of course, hindsight is 20-20, and Baker could not have known that his bullpen was going to give up four runs with the bases empty and nobody out. At the very least, Melancon should have been in the game after Charlie Culberson struck out against Blake Treinen to make the first out of the inning. Two runners were on base, and it was obviously the biggest moment of the Nationals' season. Instead, 28-year-old Sammy Solis, who had just a career 62.1 regular season innings pitched, came into the game and promptly gave up the go-ahead runs.
We've seen this a lot, especially in the past few postseasons. Good bullpen management wins postseason baseball games. In the 2014 World Series, it was Madison Bumgarner who pitched five innings of relief in Game 7 to lead the Giants to the crown.
In 2015, it was the Kansas City Royals' entire bullpen to lead them to the championship. That year, it was less of Ned Yost having good bullpen management than it was the Royals' bullpen being so dominant. It just did not matter.
This year, however, it's more about the management than anything else.
Andrew Miller, the Indians' relief ace, won the ALCS MVP award, and he only technically made one "save." (And it wasn't even the traditional three out, ninth-inning-only type save.) In the series, Miller came into the game in the seventh, seventh, eighth, and sixth innings during his four appearances.
As a Yankee for the first half of this season, Miller pitched in the seventh inning once. He came into the game in the seventh more during the American League Championship Series than he did during the entire first half of the season.
And that speaks volumes about the riskiness of Indians manager Terry Francona, who, before this World Series, had never lost a single World Series game. There's a reason for that. Francona is willing to take the risks to be a successful manager that few others are. Francona pitches his best relievers in the most dire situations. That is one of the reasons why he is on the fast track to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
While Cubs manager Joe Maddon is not given the same praise for his bullpen usage as Terry Francona, he's done a nice job this postseason, too.
No, he is not using Aroldis Chapman in the fourth inning. But he does manage to use the right relievers in the right situations, including the use of--yes--Chapman in Game 6 of the NLCS for the final five outs.
The 2016 World Series is seeing two great managers go at it. And this year, perhaps more than ever, is truly changing the game and how bullpens will be viewed going forward.
No matter who wins, baseball will get something more out of it than just a long-term drought coming to an end. Baseball is going to get a change in philosophy. The best pitchers are going to finally be pitching in the situations they are needed most.