It’s been brought to my attention that I’m too hard on major league baseball managers.
Is that a bad thing?
I mean, c’mon. There are only 30 of these jobs in the world. They pay millions of dollars in salary to even the least experienced and inexpensive of the lot (you know, the kind the Mets shop for). And they get to spend their workdays wearing an official baseball uniform at the ballpark.
To me, such a job description should also include, at the least, high expectations. Now don’t get me wrong, managing a professional baseball team is a damn hard job. The degree of difficulty is so high in part because it is a sport that millions of us have grown up around, and consider ourselves experts in. Members of the media (and that distant cousin of the media — bloggers), die hard fans, and little leaguers alike, can all be excused for considering themselves savants when it comes to the National Pastime. And as a result, even the most mundane of the big league manager’s daily strategic decisions are open for interpretation, debate, second guessing, and yes, hostile criticism.
Because there are fundamental truths to the game of baseball that we all grew up understanding. Such as, when trying to keep Game 7 of the World Series close, you don’t leave the best pitcher on the planet sitting in your bullpen. Or when hitting with two outs in the bottom of the 9th of the 2006 NLCS (with the tying and winning runners on base for crying out loud), you don’t watch strike three go by without taking the bat off your shoulder.
And that’s where we’ll start today’s postseason post-mortem.
Astros skipper A.J. Hinch entered the World Series hailed as some sort of combination of John McGraw and Miller Huggins, with a splash of (fill in the name of some other all-time great manager here — you get the idea) thrown in. Yet, Hinch chose to construct a postseason bullpen without a left-handed pitcher on his roster. This became quite problematic when the Washington Nationals wound up as the Astros opponent in the Fall Classic. Washington featured 20-year-old wunderkind Juan Soto in their middle of their lineup. And all the kid had done all season was mash and rake anything and everything from his stance on the left side of the plate. Especially when facing right-handers. Doh!
I had no problem with Hinch riding Zack Greinke into the 7th inning of Game 7. The quirky right-hander was dealing, and even when he gave up the Rendon leadoff home run, I was still in agreement with leaving him in. When he walked the next hitter, I also agreed with Hinch that it was time to come get Greinke. But not for Will Harris, for chrissakes! The best pitcher in baseball was sitting warm in the Houston pen, and with the red hot Howie Kendrick due up, was there going to be a more highly leveraged situation to go to Gerrit Cole? You throw out any “game plan” at that point. Protect your lead with everything you’ve got, right?
Shit, Cole was going to be a free agent in a matter of hours. This is akin to Hinch having rented a Ferrari and the deadline for returning the sports car is about an hour from now. You don’t put the thing back in the garage to save gas mileage, you see how fast you can get it up to on the interstate! And then if there’s still time, you try to get it onto two wheels with a couple of ill-advised sharp turns, and maybe even run over a couple curbs for good measure as you pull into the rental car return place.
But not only didn’t Hinch bring in Cole there as Harris turned a 2-1 lead into a 3-2 deficit, he let him sit the rest of the game! We even watched Ryan Pressly (and his 11+ postseason ERA for fucksake) come in and take a turn, and this game was still only a two run deficit through 8. WTF, A.J.?
Now I wasn’t even rooting for the Astros, mind you. I was simply rooting for a tense ninth inning where the D.C. fans would have to sweat through a high wire act from their rickety bullpen one final time, before taking home their long awaited title. But thanks to A.J. Hinch, we got no such opportunity, and the Nats fans received as low stress a ninth as one could imagine to begin their celebration with.
Other postseason thoughts:
*Speaking of the Nats. Did anyone else find them so much easier to root for without that all-time dickhead Bryce Harper in right field sucking the air out of the rest of his club? I, for one, can not wait for the first time Joe Girardi punches out Harper in the Philly dugout in 2020.
*More Nats — I suppose I owe Dave Martinez an apology. I still don’t think the guy has a clue heading into the late innings, but a title is a title, and his meltdown in Game 6 was the stuff dreams are made of. Absolutely epic, Davey. Thank you for that memorable contribution to postseason baseball lore.
*Yup, congrats to Expos Nation. Er, I mean all those Senators fans out there. Whatever — way to go Nationals (I guess, although don’t somehow the Padres, Texas Rangers and Minnesota Twins all get one of those convoluted hockey assists now that D.C. has recaptured the title for the first time since Walter Johnson was the ace of their staff?)!
*Every 95 years, like clockwork, another World Series title arrives in our nation’s capital.
*“First in war, first in peace, last in the American League.” — sorry, but we just love that saying, and felt the need to include it.
*And how about that Mets managerial hire, huh? Yeah, I know, it’s not technically part of the postseason, but the drama of watching the Wilpons sift through the discount drawer of bench coaches, fringe TV personalities and other assorted second-tier candidates lasted the entire postseason, so we will include it. Carlos Beltran? I heard someone on Baseball Tonight describe him as the best free agent signing ever. EVER. Not just by the Mets, buy by any team. Huh, you don’t say? Funny, since all I remember of Beltran’s Mets tenure is him keeping us out of the World Series by letting some Cardinals rookie strike him out — looking — to end Game 7 of the NLCS back in ’06. Bitter? You bet.
*Is it too soon for me to start lobbying Gerrit Cole not to sign with the Yankees?
*Dave Roberts must have something on his bosses over at Chavez Ravine. Let’s see, he completely managed the Dodgers out of the 2017 World Series (beginning the knighthood of Mr. Hinch, by the way), was uncompetitive against the BoSox in the 2018 WS, and lost to a Nationals team that finished with 13 fewer regular season wins than L.A. in the 2019 NLDS. Yeah, bring that guy back. I know, everybody says Roberts is a nice guy. So was Art Howe…
*For the umpteenth time, the skills that help a manager guide a team during the regular season are entirely different than those that can win three playoff series in three weeks. As much as it upsets me to admit it, it appears Aaron Boone may be capable of doing both well. Mets fans can only hope Carlos Beltran becomes another in that elite club, but as I sit here today I can’t tell you I’m feeling it.
*Did the Cardinals really beat the Braves in the NLDS? That ten-run first by the Cards in Game 5 feels like it happened about 15 years ago.
*The A’s ticket office has left me no fewer than 11 messages since they were bounced (again) from the Wild Card game. Their latest offer included an exclusive opportunity to meet Marcus Semien. Yes, I’m a sucker for that sort of thing, but I think Oakland may be maxed out in their current value-seeking business model.
*Joe Maddon to the Angels with Mickey Callaway as his pitching coach? I like both moves. Put Cole at the front of the Angels rotation, with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani in the middle of the order, and that’s the season ticket package I want to hear about.
*I guess we should have smelled something rotten in Denmark (or Houston) when the Rays took them to the limit in the ALDS. Cole saved Hinch and the ‘Stros there, though, didn’t he? Hell of a season down in Tampa, especially when I factor in that I still can’t name five players on the Rays roster. Even so, I’m going on record now that the Rays don’t make the 2020 playoffs.
*Who is it at Fox Sports that feels A-Rod, Big Papi and the Big Hurt make for entertaining pregame and postgame commentary? A-Rod is so busy letting everyone know how he was indirectly involved in every star’s early development that he barely notices Papi frothing at the mouth to his left, looking for the first pause where can force his Boston-biased opinions on an unsuspecting nation. And poor Frank Thomas. Sitting at the end of the row with that placid smile of his plastered across his face, wishing he would get an opportunity to speak. Then, on the rare occasions that Kevin Burkhardt throws a softball his way, the shock of it is so overpowering that Thomas becomes tongue-tied and defaults to cliches and platitudes. Let’s start over in 2020, Fox Sports. Please!
*How scary would the Yankees be if Gary Sanchez learned how to hit in the postseason?
*Aaron Judge is the most fundamentally sound, 6’7 home run hitting freak I’ve ever seen. I’d pay to watch him field his position and run the bases. He’s that solid.
*I think I’d be more comfortable praising Yuli Gurriel for his all-around excellence if he had a different haircut. You can’t tell me someone in the Astros locker room hasn’t pointed out the resemblance to Sideshow Bob of The Simpsons, right?
*Is Jose Altuve a Hall of Famer right now, if he never played another game? Not quite, if you ask me, but he’s a top five guy in the league and shows no signs of slowing down.
*And since you asked — today’s top 5 MLB non-pitchers — Mike Trout, Jose Altuve, Christian Yelich, Aaron Judge, Anthony Rendon. Sorry Alex Bregman, but Rendon leap-frogged you in the last 10 days (drop your damn bat like a professional, for God’s sake), and probably added about $50 million to his offseason in the process.
*Watching these two teams play defense during the World Series was a pleasure. And thank you to MLB for removing the juiced baseballs this postseason. It allowed us to focus back in on the finer and more subtle aspects of the National Pastime, played by two outstanding clubs. The Nationals and Astros were two damned good baseball teams, and we appreciated not having that diminished in any way by a game of Home Run Derby breaking out.
*And watching two teams that can flat out pick it in the field made this Mets fan green with envy. If you plan to build around your pitching, shouldn’t you surround those pitchers with fielders that are actually skilled at catching a batted ball? Apparently the Wilpons missed that breakout session at the last Owners Meeting. Once again the Mets head into the offseason with no every day centerfielder, an overload of corner outfielders, a second baseman with no range, and no reliable defensive catcher. Welcome, Carlos Beltran.
*Top five pitchers today in MLB? Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom. Apologies to Walker Buehler, but he will find this list and stick for years to follow one day soon. Seeing four of these aces compete in the Fall Classic was awesome, and while I’ve always known Strasburg was good, he took it to a whole new level on the biggest of stages. Deserving MVP.
*Too soon for 2020 predictions? Of course it is, but here goes — Yankees over Astros in an ALCS rematch. Braves over Padres (riding Manny Machado and, wait for it, Gerrit Cole) in the NLCS. Braves over Yanks in the 2020 World Series.
See you all in February along with pitchers and catchers!