Over the last few years, I’ve been pretty neutral about the job Brian Snitker has done. There’s no questioning he’s been a fantastic manager during the regular season. The guys love playing for him, and they seem to stay incredibly focused for him all season, which is difficult to do for 162 straight games. However, Snitker has had his fair share of head-scratching decisions, particularly in the postseason, and as long as this team continues to lose in the playoffs, he will not receive much credit. However, his critics seem much quieter after the Wild Card Series.
In Game 1, Snitker pulled all the right cards, especially when it came to the management of his pitchers. He didn’t force Fried to go nine innings even though his pitch count wasn’t high. The Braves’ ace was cruising; however, he had only thrown six innings combined over the last two weeks, and there was no reason to push things, given the stable of high-quality relievers at Snitker’s expense. I’m not sure that’s a move many managers would have made, but it was the right one, and Atlanta’s bullpen did not let him down, tossing six scoreless innings once Fried exited.
Snitker also didn’t panic and start making changes to his lineup left and right because they could not score. He stuck with his guys at the back-end of the order, and at the end of the game, they are the ones that came through. Nick Markakis didn’t score the game-winning run — Cristian Pache did — but Markakis delivered the hit in the 13th that got the rally started before Pache was inserted as a pinch-runner.
Meanwhile, Reds’ manager, David Bell, made a ton of lineup adjustments throughout the game — none of which worked. Who knows if things would have gone differently had he stuck to his guns, but I do know he made a ton of questionable decisions throughout Game 1.
There are two in particular that I will focus on. The first was Cincinnati’s attempt at a delayed steal with two outs in the top of the 7th. They intentionally got into a rundown between first and second, hoping that the runner from third would score before the tag was made. I hadn’t seen this play since I was playing travel ball when I was 13, but this isn’t something you try in the majors. Bell took the outcome of the game out of his own players’ hands and put it in the hands of the Braves, hoping they would make a mental mistake, and it failed miserably.
While that was bad, the decision to pitch to Freddie Freeman in the 13th with one out and a runner on third was worse. Walking Freddie there to set up a double play opportunity for Marcell Ozuna, who looked lost at the plate all afternoon, was a no-brainer. Instead, the Reds chose to pitch to Freeman, and he delivered the game-winning single.
Back to Snitker, though, I thought he made all the right decisions in Game 2 as well. Ian Anderson found himself in some serious trouble in the second inning, but he didn’t get trigger happy and allowed the rookie to work out of it. The results couldn’t have turned out better, as Anderson forced a groundout and then cruised for the next four innings before being replaced by Will Smith.
Speaking of Smith, Snitker’s confidence in him in Games 1 and 2 paid substantial dividends. This past offseason’s prized possession did not have the greatest first year in Atlanta, but he ended the season well, and Snitker trusted him in a couple of crucial situations. I’m not sure too many managers would have turned to him over guys like Shane Greene or A.J. Minter, who were much better in the regular season, but Snitker did, and it worked to perfection. Smith looked incredibly comfortable under pressure, pitching 2.1 scoreless innings without allowing a hit and striking out five.
The life of a manager is a difficult one. When you lose, the army of pitchforks is standing outside of your house, and when you win, you barely receive any praise. Like everything in life, you learn as you go. Snitker seems to have done just that as a major league manager, and I expect him to continue to make the right decisions throughout the remainder of the postseason.