The Atlanta Braves have an awfully good baseball team and one of the five best franchises in the major leagues.
But their manager, Fredi Gonzalez, insisted on making a killing mistake this past week, and it’s why you Braves fans are moping this week, rather than looking forward to the National League Championship Series.
The regular season is one thing, but the playoffs are another. And they shouldn’t be managed the same way.
In a season-ending 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday, Gonzalez didn’t bring in ace closer Craig Kimbrel to start the eighth inning and protect a 3-2 lead. If Kimbrel had, he would’ve needed to work two full innings to close out the game.
He hadn’t pitched two innings in a game all year. Twice, he went 1 1/3 innings, including Friday in a playoff game against the Dodgers.
But this is the playoffs. The Dodgers understood this by starting Clayton Kershaw on three days of rest for the first time in his career.
The reason closers typically work only an inning in the regular season is so they’ll be able to pitch on back-to-back days (or back-to-back-to-back), if necessary.
In the playoffs, there are enough off days that it’s not as important to limit your closer. Also, this is the playoffs — if you lose, you don’t have to worry about how tired somebody is for the next game, which won’t be until spring training.
Joe Torre understood this with the New York Yankees. As a result, ace closer Mariano Rivera worked at least two innings in 33 playoff games. In 25 other games, he worked an inning and a fraction of another.
Mariano Rivera is a closer for the ages, and Kimbrel appears to be one in the making. Rivera made his reputation in the postseason.
Twice, he beat the Braves, who seem to insist the regular-season model is plenty good enough for the playoffs.
Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter @MarkSportsStar.