Results tagged ‘ Joe Girardi ’

2010 Forecasts: AL East

Having careened through the NL (Rockies beating the Braves in the NLCS, after the Rockies had beaten the Reds, and the Braves the wild-card Giants), we begin three nights’ worth of AL divisional previews, in the East:

Wow does
BALTIMORE not have pitching. Surely they could
have pitching by 2011, but right now
there is nothing on which to rely beyond Kevin Millwood, and no team relying on
Kevin Millwood has made the post-season since 2002 (and what is the excitement over
a pitcher who has produced exactly three winning seasons since that long-ago
last playoff appearance?). There are also worries offensively. Adam Jones was a
superstar at the All-Star break, but flatlined soon after, and any team relying
on Garrett Atkins clearly has not seen a National League game since 2006.

Here is
the unasked question in BOSTON: would the Red Sox rather have David Ortiz at DH
this year… or Luke Scott? Where, production-wise, will Not-So-Big-Papi fall in
2010? I think he’s behind Guerrero, Kubel, Lind, Matsui, Scott, and maybe
others. If the demise of the beast continues, the Red Sox are suddenly
presenting a very pedestrian line-up, one that might be the second weakest in
the division. Of course, Theo Epstein might have made this determination
already, which would explain the willingness to fill the big openings with the
great gloves of Beltre, Cameron, and Scutaro, rather than slightly bigger bats
that couldn’t have changed the overall new dynamic – the Red Sox are a pitching
and defense outfit. Mind you, as those outfits go, they’re among the best in
recent years. The rotation is deep enough to survive Matsuzaka on the DL, the
bullpen robust enough to survive if that soggy finish by Papelbon in the ALDS
was more than a one-game thing, and the cadre of young cameo pitchers has been
refreshed with the rapid maturation of Casey Kelly. But no matter how the Old
Towne Team fairs in 2010, keep the Ortiz thought in the back of your mind. What
if the second half of ’09 was the aberration, not the first half? Will the Sox
have to bench him? And if so, could the twists and turns of fate find them
suddenly grateful that they had been unable to trade Mike Lowell?

Oh is this
a conflict of interest. This will be the 39th season my family has
had season tickets in NEW YORK, and I’m not convinced the Yankees will be
hitting me up for playoff ducats this fall. Things I do not expect to see
repeated from 2009: 1) A.J. Burnett’s reliability and perhaps even his stamina;
2) Joe Girardi’s ability to survive without a reliable fifth starter (if Phil
Hughes really can pull it off in this, his fourth attempt, he might become the
fourth starter if my instincts on Burnett are correct); 3) Nick Swisher’s
offensive performance (his average and his RBI totals have never
increased two years in a row); 4)
Derek Jeter’s renaissance (as the Baseball Prospectus
folks note, 36-year old shortstops
deteriorate quickly); 5) Jorge Posada’s prospects of getting 433 plate
appearances (which begs the question: if you were hoping to DH Posada on
occasion, why did you sign as your primary DH, a guy who cannot play the
outfield, and can barely play first base?). As I have written here before, I am
not buying the premise that what in essence was a trade of Melky Cabrera,
Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, for a full-time Brett Gardner plus Curtis
Granderson and Nick Johnson was necessarily an upgrade – even if Javier Vazquez (9
career post-season innings; 11 career post-season earned runs) was thrown in,
in the bargain. Anybody wanna buy some of my tickets?

In TAMPA
BAY, I’m betting 2009 was the fluke and not 2008. What does one not like about
this team? Is rightfield confused? Stick Ben Zobrist there and let Sean
Rodriguez have a shot at second. That doesn’t work? Wait for mid-season and the
promotion of Desmond Jennings. You don’t like Crawford and Upton? Bartlett and
Longoria? Pena? The law firm of Shoppach and Navarro? The Rays seem to summon a
fully-grown starter from the minors each year – Price in ’08, Niemann in ’09,
Wade Davis in ’10. I do not think Rafael Soriano is the world’s greatest
reliever, but his acquisition is an acknowledgment that championship teams do
not muddle through with closers who pitched in All-Star Games prior to 2001.
What is the most remarkable fact about this extremely talented and balanced
team can be summed up by the caveat I have to offer in praising them. Shortly
after they were ransomed from Vince Naimoli, I discovered to my shock that a
college pal of mine had, for all these years, been married to the man who had just
done the ransoming.
A
few innings later, Stu and Lisa Sternberg and I sat in their seats at Yankee
Stadium and he was earnestly asking how I thought he could convince the players
to accept a salary cap so the Rays could contend. I told him I wasn’t sure, but
he wouldn’t have to worry about it any earlier than our next lifetimes. So what
you are seeing in Tampa is, in fact, Plan “B” – and it may be the greatest Plan
“B” in baseball history. 

Did you
know TORONTO is a small market team? Here is something the writers apparently
promised not to tell: the Jays got almost nothing for Roy Halladay. Sorry. When
the reward was Travis D’Arnaud, Kyle Drabek, and Michael Taylor, it was only a
pair of pants being pressed. When the Jays inexplicably swapped Taylor to
Oakland for the lump-like Brett Wallace, it became the full trip to the
cleaners. One of the oldest rules of talent evaluation is: if a prospect has
been traded twice in four months, he may not be quite the prospect you think he
is (one of the older rules is: if one of your starting middle infielders has a
weight clause in his contract, you only have one
starting middle infielder). On top of
which, when you consider the Jays paid $6 million in salary offset for the
privilege of giving Doc away, this trade has to be called what it was: a salary
dump in which ownership was admitting it had no interest in competing. Jays
fans are left to cheer three very exciting hitters in Aaron Hill, Adam Lind,
and Travis Snider; to try to get the correct spellings and pronunciations of the
guys in their rotation (“excuse me, are you Brett Cecil, or Cecil Brett?”);
and, since there really won’t be much else to do under the roof this summer,
buy and read injured reliever Dirk Hayhurst’s marvelous book The Bull…
oh, sorry, did I already mention it?

PREDICTIONS:
Tampa Bay steps back into the forefront in an exciting race with the
well-managed but decreasingly potent Red Sox, and bests Boston by a game or
two. The Yankees contend – possibly even dominate – into June or July before the
rotation, and/or Posada, and/or Jeter, blow up, and they fade to a distant
third. The Jays and Orioles compete only to be less like The Washington
Generals.

Game 5: Forecast Correct

So you can now score the Joe Girardi/Dave Eiland experiment with pitching starters on three days’ rest at 1-for-3: a Sabathia victory in the ALCS, a Sabathia no decision in which he gave back a 2-0 lead and half of a subsequent 4-2 lead, and tonight’s Burnett implosion.

This does beg a question I had not considered before. Perhaps Girardi and Eiland were not shooting the works with Burnett on short rest rather than throwing Chad Gaudin as a sacrificial lamb. Maybe the Yankees knew they got an unrepeatable performance by the eminently reliable Burnett (you can always depend on him; he will always let you down) and he was the sacrificial lamb tonight.

Could’ve been worse from the Yankee perspective. When he went to the bullpen tonight, Girardi could have gone not to David Robertson but to Gaudin.

How The Phillies Can Still Win

So,
once again, how happy would they have been if you had told the Phillies before
the World Series started, that after four games, all this would have been true:

- CC
Sabathia would be winless against them in two starts?

- Chase
Utley would have hit three homers against Sabathia?

- Two
Philly sluggers would have produced two-homer games and seven blasts total?

- Joe
Blanton would have produced a five-hit, two-walk, seven-strikeout performance?

- Cliff
Lee would have pitched a complete game?

- The
Phillies would have rallied off the Yankee bullpen in the eighth?

- Ryan
Howard would have stolen a base and then scored the tying run thanks to his
daring base-running?

- Mark
Teixeira would have held to 1-for-14, Melky Cabrera 2-for-13, Robinson Cano
2-for-14, and Alex Rodriguez, 2-for-15?

- Joe
Girardi would have had to bench one outfielder and might have to replace
another one due to injury?

These
are the little things that usually put a team ahead three games to one, not
behind by that margin. While Johnny Damon has rightly been lionized (and would be the Series MVP to this point), there are two totally under-reported secrets to the
Yankees’ success. Consider the last outs Sabathia got last night: Jimmy Rollins
lined a one-bouncer directly to Alex Rodriguez, and Shane Victorino flied right
to Nick Swisher. Throughout the Series, particularly last night, the Yanks’
major league scouting – coordinated by Gene Michael – has positioned its
fielders nearly perfectly, exploiting pitch selection and a thorough knowledge
of where each Philadelphia hitter is likely to hit a given pitch. I’ve always
thought somebody could get a PHD calculating just how little Yankee fielders
had to travel to get balls hit by the Braves in the 1999 Series, when Michael’s
charts were at their maximum value.

The
other hidden headline: Damaso Marte, a pitcher who before the Series would have
been ranked somewhere behind the Phillie Phanatic in likely impact on the
outcome. All he has done thus far is strike out Utley and get Howard on a fly
while the first game was still close, punch out Howard and Werth and get Ibanez
on a liner in the third game, and retire Howard on another fly last night. He
has been flawless after a 9.45 ERA and just five holds during the regular
season.

But by no
means are the Phillies dead. One of the realities of those “Advantage Phillies” stats listed above is that they either won’t last, or that if they do, they are likely to suddenly start producing dramatic results for Philadelphia, and possibly in sufficient supply to produce three straight wins. And Joe Girardi has opened the door for that slim hope with the decision to go with A.J. Burnett on short
rest tonight.

Rather than risk Chad
Gaudin, with Burnett available on extra rest in Game Six, and Andy Pettitte on
the same (or Sabathia) for Game Seven, he will pitch Burnett with a line-up
behind him that could lack not just a DH, but also perhaps Cabrera and Jorge
Posada. As it lays out now, Burnett, Pettitte and Sabathia will all go on short
rest in pursuit of one win. Or it won’t be Pettitte in Game Six – it’ll be Gaudin anyway.

Phils: Winning Stats, Losing Series

So, you’re the Phillies and three games into the World Series, you have already beaten CC Sabathia, and two of your stars have each produced a two-homer game. You’ve limited Melky Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira to one hit apiece. You caused Joe Girardi to bench Nick Swisher, you’ve faced Phil Hughes for four batters and gotten three of them on base, and you’ve not only scored first in every game, the latest you’ve scored your first run is the third inning.


You’re winning the Series, right?
If the Game Three loss were not critical enough – throw in the wasting of a two-clout night from Jayson “Stop Calling Me Dennis, Olbermann” Werth – please note Swisher is a breathing cliche of a streak hitter and a road hitter. I am still not a believer in using starters on short rest, but to tie the Series, the Phils must now defeat, or at least not be defeated by, Sabathia, again. 

Swish

Win, Or Lose Job

So the scenario has almost completely played out: Joe Girardi’s misuse of his bullpen, and the forces of nature, have combined to push Game Six of the ALCS to Sunday. It is a game that likely will determine whether or not Girardi is still Yankee manager on the 15th of next June.

If the Yankees beat the Angels Sunday Night their intended World Series rotation will be unchanged and they will still be able to throw lefthanded starters against the Phillies at least four times and probably five. Two posts back you’ll see the key southpaw splits for Phils’ lefthanded and switch bats, but the money line remains Ryan Howard’s nightmarish production at home against lefties: one homer, eight RBI, a .178 batting average, a .290 slugging percentage (numbers that suggest they’d be better off starting Eric Bruntlett at first base in those match-ups. Or Miguel Cairo. Or Chris Wheeler).
But if the Yankees lose the Sunday Night game, Girardi is facing a choice of three unpleasant futures:
a) The Angels win Game Seven. It is hard to believe that Girardi, with a year left to go on his contract, would not be the scapegoat for the Yankees’ collapse. It might be one of those old-fashioned quick firings, too, especially if George Steinbrenner is even tangentially involved in the decision, especially with Don Mattingly ‘in play’ as at last a nominal candidate for the Indians’ managerial job.
b) The Yankees win Game Seven. But with the rotation plans scuttled by the extended ALCS and the weather, they have no choice but to open the World Series behind A.J. Burnett on Wednesday and Chad Gaudin on Thursday. CC Sabathia might yet shine on three days’ rest, but he’s not going on two. The Yanks would no longer be favorites, for at least the first two games, and perhaps for the Series. Whereas they still get the opportunity to fire Sabathia and then Andy Pettitte in Philadelphia in Games Three and Four next weekend, to use them both twice in the Series, he’d have to use them both on short rest, and there would be absolutely no way to use Sabathia three times. In short, the extension of the ALCS to a seventh game would move the Yankees from the chance to pitch them each twice in the first five games, to the prospect of having pitched them each only once in a Series that could conceivably be lost in five games.
Presumably that would cost Girardi his job, too – only about a week later.
c) The Yankees beat the Angels and despite the astrayness of the best laid plans, also beat the Phillies. Yet in the back of the minds of everybody who counts at Yankee Stadium is this unspoken doubt that they can be confident that Girardi – entering the last year of his deal and doubtless pushing for an extension – knows how to manage a bullpen. Even Defending World Champion Yankees can change managers (ask Billy Martin and Bob Lemon)  when things start slowly or unhappily the next season.
And yet all of those unhappy events are nearly obscured, if not totally forgotten, if they still put away the Angels in Game Six. Remarkable on how the game turns on such seemingly small things.

LP: Girardi (0-2)

Seriously: you rally back after another wobbly A.J. Burnett start to put up a six-spot when Mike Scioscia takes out John Lackey too soon – and you leave Burnett, whose normal yips could only have been exaggerated by sitting on the bench during the rally, in to pitch the bottom of the seventh? And when you finally go and get him you turn to Damaso Marte? And then Phil Hughes in the middle of an inning?
The Yankees are not in the World Series, clearly and unequivocally, because Joe Girardi has mishandled his pitching staff. It’s as shocking and as obvious as some of the eyechart-defying umpiring in this post-season.
What exactly was the intent in leaving Burnett in, and eschewing the seventh-eighth-ninth format that has served the Yankees so well since late spring? To make him feel better or more confident? Burnett had just rebounded from a first-inning tank job to throw five scoreless. He should’ve felt better or more confident as it was. Instead, he now can reflect on blowing the same game twice.
Even if Girardi and his Yankees survive a second tactical disaster in three games, he may pay for his unpredictable combination of going to his bullpen too soon and then too late. No matter how they do henceforth, the Halos are increasing the Phillies’ chances of winning the World Series. With a game sixth forced, huge crimps develop on the horizon in the Yankees’ rotation, even assuming they win one of the last two. The forecast for Saturday’s game in New York is “rain/thunder/90% chance of precipitation.” Suddenly the prospect of the Yankees having to pitch Andy Pettitte on Sunday, and maybe CC Sabathia in a Monday Game Seven, is very real.
Look what that combination would do to the Yankee plans, assuming they win in a Monday finale:

   Game One, Wednesday, New York: Burnett

   Game Two, Thursday, New York: Gaudin? Chamberlain?

   Game Three, Saturday, Philadelphia: Sabathia*

   Game Four, Sunday, Philadelphia: Pettitte*

   Game Five, Monday, Philadelphia: Burnett

   Game Six, Wednesday, New York: Game Two Starter or Sabathia*

   Game Seven, Thursday, New York: Sabathia* or Pettitte*

The Phillies would be favored to win the first two games in New York.
To get to the Series the Angels would have to stick to the current rotation, Joe Saunders Saturday and Jered Weaver or Scott Kazmir Sunday (or a day later in the event of rain in New York). So what does their rotation look like in a Series that would seem to pivot on throwing as many lefties as possible at Ryan Howard in Philadelphia?

Game One, Wednesday, Anaheim: Lackey

Game Two, Thursday, Anaheim: Saunders*

Game Three, Saturday, Philadelphia: Weaver

Game Four, Sunday, Philadelphia: Kazmir* or Lackey

Game Five, Monday, Philadelphia: Lackey or Kazmir*

Game Six, Wednesday, Anaheim: Saunders*

Game Seven, Thursday, Anaheim: Weaver

The gutsy play by Mike Scioscia here would be, use Kazmir on Sunday, bring Saunders back on three days’ rest to pitch in Philly on Monday, and hold Lackey back when the series goes back to California. You get both your lefties in Philly.
A rainout Saturday in New York and a Game Seven win by the Angels on Monday would force the Angels to do that – but also force them to swap Kazmir out:

Game One, Wednesday, Anaheim: Lackey

Game Two, Thursday, Anaheim: Kazmir*

Game Three, Saturday, Philadelphia: Saunders* 

Game Four, Sunday, Philadelphia: Weaver

Game Five, Monday, Philadelphia: Lackey

Game Six, Wednesday, Anaheim: Kazmir*

Game Seven, Thursday, Anaheim: Saunders*

At least this gives you a lefthander against Howard in your decisive game.
Let’s look at those two critical statistical lines again. Ryan Howard, in Philadelphia, 2009 season, versus lefthanded pitchers:

1 HR, 8 RBI, .178 BA, .290 OBP, .290 SLG. (107 At Bats)

Ryan Howard, not in Philadelphia, 2009 season, versus lefthanded pitchers:

5 HR, 25 RBI, .235 BA, .305 OBP, .417 SLG. (115 At Bats)

THAT TRICK NEVER WORKS
“With Robinson Cano coming up, one swing can change the complexion of this game.”
So said my old pal Joe Buck as Hideki Matsui walked in the 6th inning of tonight’s Game Five in Anaheim. The score was 4-0 Angels, and a Cano homer would’ve scored three runs. And I have now been watching and listening to baseball broadcasts for 43 seasons and not once can I recall ever seeing a pronouncement about “one swing” changing the game, actually being followed by such a swing.

Yankees, Quickly

I know, I know – the Yankees have not even made the World Series yet. George Steinbrenner would file a protest if somebody told him I was already picking them to beat the Phillies.

But I speak to you as a season-long skeptic about New York, who now looks at this team and believes they should’ve swept the Angels, but for some over-managing by Joe Girardi. I still think the Yankees have some holes and I wouldn’t leave my season in the hands of A.J. Burnett and I still don’t like starting CC Sabathia on short rest. 
But one set of statistics should make Phillies fans shudder: 

1-8-.178-.290-.290.

Those are Ryan Howard’s numbers against lefthanded pitchers, during the regular season, in Citizens Bank Park, in 2009. And it’s not a small sample, it’s 107 at bats, and he struck out in 51 of them. And no matter whether Girardi is going to push the envelope on Sabathia and try him on three days’ rest again, or play it safe, there will be two games at home in which Ryan Howard will have to face Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. He has seen nothing like them individually during the post-season, and nothing like them in tandem, conceivably in consecutive starts, during the regular season. The Phillies might as well bench him in those games over Halloween weekend.
It’s not like he’s good against lefties out-of-town, either. Howard’s line this year is 6-33-.207-.298-.356. And he will open at Yankee Stadium against Sabathia, who during the season gave up twelve hits, and no home runs, to lefthanded batters, in fourteen starts. Pettitte has been less dominant than Sabathia against lefty hitters in New York, but even he has only surrendered five homers to them at home.
The other Phillies do not fold entirely against southpaws but they become less imposing. Here are their key lefthanded or switch batters versus lefty pitchers:

Ibanez:   13-40-.285-.359*-.639*

Rollins:     7-22-.230-.266-.425*

Utley:      11-33-.288-.417-.545

Victorino:  2-12-.314*-.385*-.459*

  * better LH than RH

The problem becomes apparent when you consider the way the two ways the Yankees could set up their rotation:

Game One, Wednesday 10/28, @ New York: Sabathia*

Game Two, Thursday 10/29, @ New York: Burnett

Game Three, Saturday 10/31, @ Philadelphia: Pettitte*

Game Four, Sunday 11/1, @ Philadelphia: Sabathia* or ?

Game Five, Monday, 11/2, @ Philadelphia: Burnett, ? or Sabathia*

Game Six, Wednesday, 11/4 @ New York: Pettitte* or Burnett

Game Seven, Thursday, 11/5 @ New York: Sabathia* or Pettitte*

If the Phillies get to the seventh game, and if Joe Girardi plays it conservatively, they will have already had to face starts by three southpaws, and then beat Pettitte in the finale, with Sabathia available in the bullpen. It is absolutely plausible that Girardi will not be conservative at all, and will have already started both Sabathia and Pettitte twice each, with Sabathia gearing up for the start in the decider.

It’s a slightly more daunting task than beating the Rockies with no lefty starters, and then flummoxing a slumping Clayton Kershaw and beating, in a do-or-die game for the other team, a starter who was released by Texas two months ago and on whom you can always rely – he’ll always let you down. And they don’t have a power plug-in for the DH in The Stadium (unless Charlie Manuel were to pull a real rabbit out of his hat, like John Mayberry, Jr.).

I don’t think they can do it. Congrats on that pennant.
PS: For whatever this is worth, Howard went 2-for-14 in the three-game clash at Yankee Stadium in May. The hits were both off Sabathia, and both infield singles to the left side.

How To Lose The American League Championship Series

When Terry Francona managed the Red Sox to the 2007 World Series, his greatest contribution came two years ago this Friday. Down two games to one to the Indians in the ALCS and facing a fifth game in Cleveland, Francona resisted the temptation to start Josh Beckett on three days’ rest and instead stuck to his plan, and Game Four starter Tim Wakefield. Wakefield got lit up like Christmas, and much of Boston was ready for a new manager for their Nine. And then the Sox, buoyed by Beckett’s five-hitter over eight (with eleven strikeouts), won Game Five, and ran the table right through the World Series sweep of Colorado.

And yet Joe Girardi is mulling starting CC Sabathia on short rest in Game Four in Anaheim, then coming back with him on full rest for Game Seven. It is mighty tempting with a horse like Sabathia – as it was tempting for Francona two years ago. And the record book warns Girardi to dismiss the idea despite its obvious siren-like call, and its additional charms (like being able to keep Joba Chamberlain in the bullpen, and Chad Gaudin off the line-up card).
Like all men, Bobby Cox, who by rights should be elected to the Hall of Fame next winter if he goes through with his plan to retire after next season, has had one Achilles Heel that he’s never overcome. Coxy has always been convinced that when all the chips were on the table his starters could do the job on three days’ rest, even as the statistics accumulated, proving they could not.
During Atlanta’s unprecedented, probably unmatchable playoff run of 1991 through 2005, Cox tried the short-rest thing nineteen times. The Braves lost thirteen of those games.
Every defeat has a thousand parents, but at minimum, starting a pitcher prematurely is a very heavy straw meeting a very weak camel. More over, all Cox’s successes came before 1995, when Steve Avery and Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were all young and elastic. Cox would go on to try it six more times between 1996 and 2005, and the Braves didn’t win even one of the games. Tim Hudson couldn’t do it, nor Kevin Millwood, nor Greg Maddux, nor Smoltz, nor Glavine – and Glavine tried, twice.
If those stats aren’t a bright enough white line, there’s one more. Cox did it nine times in the World Series, and the Braves won only three of those games. You might get away with it – Beckett did once – but eventually the odds start mounting, and sooner or later it will cost you the playoff series, or the whole ball of wax.
Girardi can point, seemingly with confidence, to Sabathia and say that his personal track record is far more relevant than what Steve Avery did or didn’t do a generation ago. CC’s last three regular season starts of 2008 were each on short rest and all he did was go 2-1 (and give up just one earned run in the loss) and pitch the Brewers into the playoffs. The snag, of course, was that they decided to go to the well again in Game Two of those playoffs against Phillies – Sabathia’s fourth consecutive start on three days’ rest. And by the time Dale Sveum had to come get him with two outs in the fourth, he was out of gas, and the Brewers were essentially out of the post-season. His line was as bad as imaginable:

Milwaukee Brewers IP H R ER BB SO HR BFP

Sabathia L(0-1) 3.2 6 5 5 4 5 1 21


Would he necessarily repeat that in Game Four against the Angels? Nope, not necessarily. But what might the impact be on his Game Seven start? And what if there was no need for one, and Girardi was then faced with the scenario of opening the World Series with him, again bringing him back in Game Four on short rest, with the dream of having him ready for Game Seven?
The more often you try it, the less likely it is to keep working. The last month of 2008 might as well have been the post-season for the Brewers and Sabathia. The first three times, he either won, or pitched well enough to win. Then the fourth time, everything ended. Game Four of the ALCS will effectively be attempt Number Five. There could be a sixth in the Series.
The Braves’ fifteen-year record was six wins and thirteen losses. At one point, it was six wins and seven losses. The time of Lew Burdette shutting out the Yankees twice in four days is more than half a century ago. It might as well have happened before the invention of electricity. CC Sabathia on three days’ rest – a dramatic, romantic concept. And a recipe for dramatic, decisive failure.

Outfield Defense!

Carlos Ruiz’s sinking liner meets Brad Hawpe’s ole’ play and the Phillies extend a 1-0 lead over the Rockies in the fifth. An inning later, Carlos Gonzalez plays pin ball with his own body, and Ryan Howard’s screamer to left – and then Utley sticks Dexter Fowler against the centerfield fence like a butterfly stuck in a collection. I know the wind was in the 40’s – my home in New York was creaking the Pequod going after Moby-Dick. 

But in the post-season, the two biggest changes are: A) the evaporation of mediocre pitching, and B) if your outfield defense is mediocre, it will be writ large against the sky before the 27th out is completed.
Looking ahead: if you watch Cole Hamels pitch against the Rockies today will you, like me, be unable to get out of your head his new commercial, and that almost munchkin-like question to the fan who comes to the mound: “Who are yoooooo?”
One other note: I commend Joe Girardi for trying something to make A.J. Burnett into a winner Friday night, even if it is the silliness that is the personal catcher. It may or may not work, but it shows the kind of imagination and flexibility that are usually the only traits a skipper can bring that might really impact the outcome of a game.

Managers (Updated)

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that annually, Terry Francona lets me sit with him, on the bench, during a spring training game. This is half out of friendship and half, I think, to remind me how little I actually understand about managing – or baseball itself – compared to the pros.

Having acknowledged that, and presented the caveat, I’d still like to point out that actual major league managers have done the following things in the last few days:
Mike Scioscia sent poor Brandon Wood back to the minors – having given him, I believe, three starts during two weeks in the bigs, during which he hit the ball with authority and acquitted himself well in the field – so he could bring back Reggie Willits on the premise that “some of the outfielders are a bit nicked up.” This after explaining that previous plans for Wood were scuttled because Gary Matthews had played so well, and despite the fact that Chone Figgins and even Wood himself can play the outfield. The logical extension of this utterly illogical handling of one of the game’s premier prospects must be that the Angels hope to waste all of Wood’s options and wind up selling him on waivers, or possibly to the Samsung team of the Korean League.
Joe Girardi benches Hideki Matsui against Jon Lester Monday, even though Matsui had been hot, and particularly so against lefties. He thus instead DH’s Jorge Posada, who promptly sends himself onto the DL, requiring Joe to pinch-hit for Posada with… Matsui.
And though the Diamondbacks might be the coldest team offensively in the majors, and though he has one guy who can play first and third, another who can play first and left, and a third who can play third and second (poorly), when facing Jeff Weaver in the latter’s first major league start since 2007, Bob Melvin leaves Tony Clark on his bench. Batter-Vs-Pitcher numbers are sometimes misleading. But Clark was 7-for-11 lifetime against Weaver with two homers. The D-Backs got five hits off Weaver.
What’s worse is, if early in the week, Melvin happened to stand on a piece of paper that had fallen from the stands with the words “Play Tony Clark against Weaver” written on it, and his team had scored a run during the inning, he might’ve made the line-up change out of superstition.
Managers know 50 times as much as we do. Just not every second.
 
Postscript: Melvin deserves less tweaking, and I recall my snark. Tony Clark was put on the disabled list this afternoon (Wednesday) with continuing wrist problems. Presumably Bob knew about this Tuesday. It certainly denies us a chance for Melvin to take a re-test: Clark has four career homers against the pitcher Arizona faces tomorrow night, Chris Young.
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