well, so much for mystique . . . .
the play that gnaws at me most from last night's heartbreaker is the 8th-inning walk to derrek lee with nobody one, one out, and the cards ahead 3-2. it was in essence an intentional walk -- thompson obviously was under strict orders not to throw it over the plate -- and it typified my least favorite la russa trait, one that becomes especially pronounced in important games: the scaredy-cat approach of treating the opponent's best/hottest hitter like babe ruth himself. in tony's mind, this is the "we won't let him beat us" philosophy; in my mind it's the "we're afraid of him" philosophy, the "we can't get him out" philosophy. i know lee's a triple-crown candidate -- big f' ing deal, take the battle to him. we've got the best bullpen in mlb, right? let's stay aggresive, make good pitches to the guy and see what he can do with them. the worst he can do is tie the game.
but in their determination to prevent lee from tying the game, the cards gave ramirez -- who is at least as big a home-run threat -- the opportunity to put the cubs ahead. an utterly nonsensical tradeoff. instead of issuing the unintentional-intentional to lee, tony should have let either tavarez or isringhausen pitch to him.
lee is 3 for 15 lifetime against tavarez with 1 hr; decent matchup for stl. the hitters before and after lee (todd walker and jeromy burnitz) both have destroyed tavarez over their careers, so this would have been a rare one-hitter outing for julian; king would have come in to face burnitz -- and hopefully that would end the 8th. if either man got on and brought ramirez to the plate in the 8th inning, then you go to isringhausen and let him get a four- or five-out save.
for that matter, the cards could simply have summoned isringhausen with one out in the 8th to face lee and burnitz (and, if need be, ramirez), then close out the 9th. morgan and miller pointed out several times on espn that the cubs are inordinately reliant on the home run for their offense; izzy has yielded only one dinger all season and just 8 in 200+ innings as the cardinals' closer, going back to 2002. he's the perfect guy to face the heart of the order; indeed, since he's our best reliever it only makes sense that he would pitch to the cubs' best hitters. (for the record, derrek lee is 0 for 4 lifetime against izzy; burnitz, 0 for 2; ramirez, 3 for 11 with no homers.) but tony -- per conventional bullpen usage -- was saving his "closer" for the 9th inning, even though the bottom of the cubs' order was due up in that inning. hence he had to send lesser pitchers out there against the cubs' best hitters. seems like it should have been the other way around; let izzy get the tough hitters out and, if necessary, leave the rump of the order to tavarez & co.
or just let izzy face them all. there's an off-day tomorrow; jason didn't pitch yesterday; he has thrown but 35 innings this season. come playoff time he may be asked to stretch to four, five, even six outs in some tense ballgame, so why not let him stretch here, just for practice?
several times this year i have referenced this article on bullpen management, in which rich lederer argues: "[I]t should be the responsibility of all managers to use whatever they wish to call their best reliever when the game is on the line, starting as early as the seventh inning. If it means letting these pitchers throw more than one inning, well, that would be a good change, too." last night's game was a case in point. get past the three hr hitters in the 8th and you're likely home free. the cards should have sent their strongest relief pitcher out there to face at least one of those guys.
that's not how tony plays these things -- nor most other managers; we know it, we have to accept it, no matter how little sense it makes. and to be fair there were plenty of other turning points -- bottom 2, when pujols and edmonds failed to get a man home from 3d; top 4, when supps made a terrible 0-0 pitch to henry blanco and yielded run #2 (i agreed with the decision to pitch to him there, by the way); bottom 9, when pujols had another weak at-bat in a clutch situation. how much should this game have been in the bag? i don't have time to do a full-blown win-expectancy chart, but here are a few highlights/lowlights:
- after posting 3 runs in the 1st, the cards' win expectancy stood at 82 percent
- blanco's homer shaved it to 79 percent
- the 4th-inning run cut it down to 69 percent
- when lee came up in the bottom of the 8th, stl's win expectancy was back up to 84 percent
- the walk to lee decreased win expectancy by 7 percent, to 77
- ramirez's home run left stl with a 30 percent win expectancy
- when seabol came to the plate, stl's win expectancy stood at 4 percent
- two batters later -- with the score tied and eckstein at 2d -- it had shot up to 61 percent . . . .
- . . . . and to 67 percent when albert stepped up with men at 1st and 3d and two out
- perez's grand slam left stl with a win expectancy of 2 percent
i said before the series these games vs the cubs would be good tests for the cards -- tough competition, sellout crowds, national tv, a simulated playoff atmosphere. circumstances forced us to play the `b' team, and the cards nearly won all three games anyway, so that might be taken as a sign of encouragment. but in the end this team will only go as far as the pitching takes it, and stl's pitchers failed a crucial test this weekend: they didn't keep the ball in the ballpark. 11 of the cubs' 14 runs scored via the homer. per this post, postseason baseball is all about hitting and preventing home runs. the cards gave up 6 in three games.
that's not encouraging to me. we gotta do better.