Arcia hits 3rd postseason HR amid wild year

Shortstop's bat thriving after midseason adjustment at Triple-A

October 16th, 2018

LOS ANGELES -- A little more than three months ago, 's career sat at a crossroads. Fresh off something of a breakout sophomore campaign, Arcia had spent the spring watching his batting average sink below the Mendoza Line. His plate discipline plummeted. His confidence sagged.

Then one day Arcia woke up in Colorado Springs, demoted for the second time in six weeks. The glove that buoyed him to the big leagues was no longer enough to keep him there, the Brewers willing to brave the summer without their starting shortstop if that was what it took. There at Triple-A, Arcia resolved to turn around a season he characterized Monday as filled with "definitely a lot of downs."

"I was able to work on stuff, recognize pitches, and especially breaking balls," Arcia said. "And now I do my adjustments and things have been working better, and now we're here."

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The "here" in question is the postseason, where the payoffs have been plain to see. There has been perhaps no bigger October surprise than Arcia, who continued to emerge as an unlikely force for Milwaukee in its 4-0 win over the Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series.

By slicing a two-run homer over the short right-field porch off in the seventh, the glove-first shortstop matched his home run total from the regular season, when he ranked as one of the least productive hitters in baseball by a variety of measures.

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The home run marked Arcia's third this postseason, in 20 plate appearances. That pulls him into a tie with Manny Machado, and for the most in baseball.

This season, Arcia hit three home runs in 366 plate appearances. The .307 slugging percentage that resulted would've ranked him next-to-last in baseball had he the at-bats to qualify, ahead of only the Orioles' Chris Davis.

"The home runs are probably surprising. The fact that he's playing at a really high level throughout the playoffs, that's not surprising," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "Orlando has always been a guy that you want to put a moment on him, put pressure on him. Put a big moment on him. Put the spotlight on him."

That's precisely what the Brewers did when they optioned Arcia, who hit 15 home runs while showing flashes of elite defense in 2017, in a surprise move at the end of May. The second option, on July 1, was less shocking. Arcia hit just .197 over the season's first three months, and finished June without notching an extra-base hit in his last 27 games. It was with this large sample in mind that Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said late Monday, when defending his decision to leave Buehler in for an extra inning, "I'll take Walker against Arcia any day."

But by the time Arcia got his third look at Buehler, the adjustments he'd made at Triple-A manifested in real time. He recognized fastball -- the fifth and last Buehler showed him -- early. His front foot planted in proper time. That allowed his hands to fire quickly when Buehler's pitch buzzed the top of the zone at 96.9 mph. Arcia beat it to the spot.

"I thought it was a decent pitch," Roberts said.

Those were the areas -- pitch recognition, timing and the mechanics that meld the two -- Arcia was sent to Colorado Springs with an imperative to improve. He hit .341 over 22 games at Triple-A, then returned to hit .309 over his final 47 games. Two weeks later, he has a place in Brewers history. Arcia is now tied with Paul Molitor and Ted Simmons for the second most postseason home runs in club history. Prince Fielder owns the record, with four.

"He's probably disappointed in the season he had, but he can't be disappointed about what he's doing right now," said Brewers catcher , who has teamed with Arcia to power Milwaukee's offense from the bottom of the order this October. "He's swinging the bat so well. If people are saying it's a surprise, I don't think they were watching the season he had last year. It's in there. Maybe water levels out. Maybe he's coming back to level."