A few thoughts on just another imperfect day:
- The Indians and Blue Jays played Opening Day in Toronto yesterday, and although Cleveland won, I came away wondering what Terry Francona is up to with that lineup construction. I am not usually a stickler for these things, but here’s how he lined them up yesterday, side-by-side with how I would do it:
[Table] (Bourn, Cabrera, Kipnis, Swisher, Brantley, Santana, Reynolds, Chisenhall, Stubbs) (Brantley, Bourn, Cabrera, Santana, Swisher, Kipnis, Reynolds, Chisenhall, Stubbs)
Michael Brantley in the fifth slot is a glaring mistake, to me. No way he fits that role. He’s a contact-oriented singles and doubles hitter. He had a good game, but I would rather see him either at the top or the bottom of the order.
- In the top of the seventh inning Tuesday night, the Giants had a 1-0 lead, and Madison Bumgarner was due up with runners on second and third and no one out. It was the most important situation imaginable in which to get a batter to the plate who could make contact. Bumgarner, to his credit, is an above-average hitter for a pitcher, especially in regard to contact, and had fanned in only 55 of his 196 career plate appearances. Respecting that, or just being an idiot, Don Mattingly made the first move, and brought in Ronald Belisario to face Bumgarner.
Yes, the opposing manager made a pitching switch to have a reliever face the pitcher. Belisario was locked in, a right-hander on the mound against whom lefties tended to have success, and who had struck out only 15 percent of opposing left-handed batters in 2012. By a stroke of luck, Bruce Bochy had Brandon Belt on his bench, Belt having been given the day off in favor of Joaquin Arias. (Draw your own conclusions there.)
He didn’t use him. Just as Mattingly had botched a late-game pinch-hit situation and let Clayton Kershaw bat for himself Monday, Bochy blew it and allowed Bumgarner to face Belisario. Just as it had for Mattingly on Monday, the idiot tactic worked, although less convincingly, when Bumgarner bounced a ball to Justin Sellers at shortstop and Sellers threw it toward a pretty girl in the stands, or something.
I weep for managers. Bochy is one of the best in baseball, tactically, and he still made about as bone-headed a non-move as I have seen in some time. Matt Cain had pitched only six innings Monday, and under the modern construction, that actually means your high-leverage relievers might have been worn out. That’s how much teams have hamstrung themselves by locking pitchers into one-inning roles and filling the last few spots in their pen with such miserable match-up specialists. That’s the closest I can get to defending that decision, and it’s still not a full-throated defense, and it’s also a caveat borne of pre-existing stupidity. Yikes.
- One other, shorter note on the Giants: They racked up 11 base runners on Tuesday night, but only scored three runs. It;s 15 total men on, and just the three runs, for the year now. They’re still waiting on an extra-base hit.
Aside from Buster Posey, this is a lineup very much lacking power. They’re the most long-sequence offense in baseball, and should expect some frustrating nights and days through the first six to eight weeks of the season. The good news is that, once the weather warms a bit, their BABIP and home-run rates will warm somewhat, too. The bad news is that their pitching staff may need to come up with more big hits to get themselves many wins through Memorial Day.
- With Ryan Ludwick hitting the DL for a long while thanks to his shoulder injury, the Cincinnati Reds need a center fielder. They didn’t have an acceptable one before, and with Shin-Soo Choo blessedly able to slide to a corner again, they literally do not have one. Chris Heisey is going to start there until they find a real, lasting answer.
I have a few ideas. The guys who fit fall into three categories: long-term additions, stopgap studs and platoon partners for Heisey. The third would be the easiest path, with the Cubs’ David DeJesus available for very little and Julio Borbon of the Rangers offering a bit more upside. Of the potential long-term additions, Dexter Fowler is the sensible fit, really the only candidate playing for a team that might be willing to sell this early in the year. The stopgap stud option is the most intriguing, perhaps. Jacoby Ellsbury would be tough to wrangle out of Boston, but given Jackie Bradley, Jr.’s play in the early going, maybe not that tough.
Were I Walt Jocketty, I would offer Texas Devin Mesoraco for Borbon and Geovany Soto. In the right environment, with no need to face left-handed pitching at all, Borbon still may thrive, and Soto would be a fine backup behind Ryan Hanigan. Mesoraco might seem a steep price to pay, but if the Reds actually felt it was one, he would be starting for them, and Hanigan would be finding playing time as able. Texas might turn that deal down, but I doubt it. The Rangers could really use that depth at catcher; Soto is no longer even the lefty-masher he once was. He’s a miserable defensive backstop, too.
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