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Inside Baseball: At-bats with runners on have told the AL tale

A quick funk for a game or two at the plate in the postseason and your season can be over quickly, especially in the best-of-five division series. The Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox both scored only four runs in losing the first two games, with Texas batting just .246 and Boston hitting only. 200 while striking out 22 times.

The Red Sox stand a reasonable chance of staying alive against the Cleveland Indians -- and extending David Ortiz's career -- now that they're going back to Fenway Park for Game Three on Sunday. But the Rangers look cooked, especially since they'll be dealing with the roaring crowd Sunday night in Rogers Centre as well as Toronto Blue Jays 15-game winner and AL ERA champ Aaron Sanchez.

The tale of both surprisingly lopsided AL series has essentially been written by the jarring differences at the plate with runners in scoring position.

Texas had only one at-bat in that spot in its 10-1 loss in Game One (and did not get a hit). The
Rangers had all kinds of opportunities in Game Two -- but went 2 for 18 and left 13 men on base in a 5-3 loss. Boston went just 2 for 14 in RISP situations in its two losses, so the two losers are just 4 for 33 thus far for a sickly .121 batting average.
The Blue Jays and Indians, meanwhile, batted .538 in those spots the first two games, with Toronto going 9 for 16 and Cleveland 5 for 10. Toronto shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has battered the Rangers in three of the last four postseason meetings in Arlington, with a three-run homer in Game Three last year, a three-run triple in Game One this season and a two-run homer in Game Two.

The Blue Jays are obviously wary of a Texas comeback because of what they did in 2015, becoming just the third team in history to drop the first two games at home in a best-of-five affair and then rebounding to win three straight.

And history says the Indians should be concerned too. They've blown a pair of big leads over Boston before -- a 2-0 edge in the '99 division series when they won the first two in Cleveland and then gave up 44 runs in losing three straight, and a 3-1 lead in the 2007 ALCS.

Still, everything Terry Francona has done so far has turned out fine. He used Andrew Miller and Cody Allen for 80 pitches in Game One and didn't have to go to them in Game Two, and inserted Lonnie Chisenhall in the lineup for the second game and got a three-run homer off David Price from him. Advantage, Tribe.

Buck's blunder one for the books

I will never ever ever ever ever get over the blunder Baltimore manager Buck Showalter made Tuesday night in Toronto. Ever. Is that clear enough? The Orioles are done for the winter in part because they managed a paltry five baserunners in 11 innings as 33 of 38 hitters were retired. But history will remember only that Showalter didn't use his best pitcher, a guy who had given up one run since May 1, in a winner-take-all game.

It's unfathomable. Showalter's answers after the game were that other guys were simply pitching fine and that he was on the road, whichi means he was probably waiting for a save situation to give Zach Britton a lead. What a joke. Did you see what Francona did with Miller on Thursday? Brought in his best guy in the fifth inning. In a key spot. That's what you do if the need arises in the playoffs.

“I figured he would wait, maybe eighth or ninth if we were ahead, I would be in the game,” a confused Britton told reporters in a somber Baltimore clubhouse. “Once the score was tied, I felt like when there was an opportunity for me in the game, I was gonna get in the game. Whether that was a lead or not, I wasn’t sure. It was just frustrating having to sit down there and watch, and not be able to help the team.”

Showalter didn't live by his own comment to his team relayed during his pregame meeting Tuesday with reporters: "Go for it. You feel something, go get it." And there's this stunner: Britton came into a tie game in the ninth this season -- on July 31 in Toronto, no less! -- and threw two shutout innings to extend the game until the Orioles won it in the 12th. How did that not happen Tuesday?

What now for the Mets?

Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes declined to speak to reporters after the Mets were blanked by San
Francisco's Madison Bumgarner in the NL Wild Card Game so there was no way to get an early gauge on his plans. Cespedes is expected to exercise the opt-out on his contract after the World Series and head into free agency.

He would make $47.5 million on the final two years of his deal but obviously can get much more dollars and terms with a new contract. Mets GM Sandy Alderson tends to be conservative in these spots and the team has prospects who can play the outfield, as well as the likely decision that it will exercise Jay Bruce's $13 million option. But Cespedes has been a key player in two straight runs to the postseason and is known to love playing in the spotlight of New York.

One potential option could be Miami, where the Marlins could sign him to form a sort of mega outfield with Giancarlo Stanton -- and present another Cuban star to its community in the wake of the tragic death of pitcher Jose Fernandez.

Crowd counts

There has been an undercurrent about attendance figures in both American League division series, albeit for very different reasons.

Progressive Field in Cleveland was thankfully packed with two rollicking sellout crowds in a season where the city embarrassed itself by finishing 28th in attendance for a division champion at 19,650 per game -- ahead of only two terrible teams who are stadium-challenged in Oakland and Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, there were large swaths of empty seats in Texas at a time when the Rangers are hoping to strong-arm the city of Arlington for a new facility with a roof to replace 22-year-old Globe Life Park.

The problems in Cleveland confound plenty of people in baseball. The Indians' local television ratings are strong. The ballpark opened in 1994 and has stayed current with plenty of great renovations the last two years, highlighted by the addition of many local restaurants to the concession menu and a terrific brew pub in right field that offers all kinds of standing and mingling area to watch the game.

But there's no question that Cleveland is a poor city and tickets outside of the upper deck get pricey to the fan base. Folks there spent plenty of money on tickets and merchandise for the NBA champion Cavs, and do likewise for the Browns (for some reason). The ballpark novelty has long worn off and Cleveland was never a great baseball town as sub-10,000 crowds were norm in cavernous Municipal Stadium while the Tribe never played in the postseason from 1955 until it closed in 1993.

From 1995-99, the team had 455 straight sellouts in then-Jacobs Field. But the Browns were gone to Baltimore, LeBron was in elementary school, the ballpark and winning were novelties and there were some Fortune 500 companies in town. All of that obviously has changed now.

As for the Rangers, it's a huge controversy in Texas whether they actually need a new park. Reporters in Arlington openly derided the announced sellout crowd of 48,019 for Thursday's noon local time start in Game Two. Locals on social media bashed the mainstream media, pointing out there was rain in the morning and the mid-day start time on a work day. And while that may be true, it's hard to fathom any other playoff team having trouble getting fans to show up for a home game even with those factors.

The Rangers are trying to get approval for a $1 billion replacement because they do things big in Texas, of course. But Globe Life, as nice as it is, doesn't have a roof, the summer heat is difficult on both players and fans and the team feels is a deterrent on attendance. The Rangers finished 10th in MLB this year at around 33,000 per game, a jump from last year's 16th, but many observers think a new stadium needs to go to Dallas rather than stay in Arlington, the city between Big D and Fort Worth that's been home to the Rangers since they moved from Washington in 1972.

The Arlington stadium vote comes up in November. How much will those empty seats against the Blue Jays factor in the vote? Stay tuned.

Around the horn

---The Blue Jays, by the way, led the American League in attendance this year at around 3.4 million, averaging 41,880 per game. They finished third in MLB to the Dodgers and St. Louis. It was their first time over 3 million since their 1993 World Series campaign, which was actually the last of three straight seasons that were over 4 million. As recently as 2010, the Jays were just under 1.5 million for the season and 12th in the AL.

---Wild numbers: The Cubs entered their NL division series against the Giants with 32 postseason victories since 1903. The Giants' wild-card win over the Mets was their 35th since 2010.

---Just can't get used to the glitzy video boards in Wrigley Field. Especially the one in left field, which is just too darn big for the ballpark and completely overwhelms the iconic manual scoreboard in center field. During the many changes at Fenway Park the last 15 years, the Red Sox made things seamless and they look like they've been there for many years (do you remember when they were NOT seats atop the Green Monster, for instance?). The Cubs need to follow that blueprint and not just drop things all over their ballpark that don't fit or are too jarring to its wonderful character.

---Tweet from Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard a couple of hours after the NL Wild Card Game ended: "Baseball has a way of ripping your (heart emoji) out, stabbing it, putting it back in your chest, then healing itself just in time for Spring Training."

---Did you know: Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor, whose punch to the jaw of Jose Bautista in May was heard around baseball and sparked so much of the chatter before this series, is the nephew of former Bisons outfielder Eddie Zambrano. They both hail from Maracaibo, the second-largest city in Venezuela.

Zambrano, now 50 and a folk singer in his hometown, had 16 homers and 79 RBIs (second on the club) to help the 1992 Bisons win the American Association East Division title. Zambrano joined the Herd in the second half of its 1991 title run. He played 75 games at outfield and first base for the Cubs in 1993 and 1994.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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