Friday, October 29, 2010

More on the World Series, Ron Washington Blunders

What has gotten into the Giants?  No, seriously.  What has gotten into them?  Offensively, they’ve exploded for twenty runs in two games.  All of this coming from a team that finished ninth in the NL in scoring with 697 runs scored.  Coming into the series, everyone knew that the Giants had the slight edge in pitching, (with the exception of Texas’s Cliff Lee), and that the Rangers had a huge edge in hitting.  What we didn’t know was that the Rangers bats would fall silent, and the Giants would wake up after nearly a season long slumber. 

Through six and a half innings last night, we had a tremendous pitching duel.  Matt Cain was inducing lazy fly balls, while C.J. Wilson kept Giant batters off balance by mixing up his array of pitches.  Then, with the Giants up 1-0, Wilson was forced out of the game after 101 pitches and one batter faced in the seventh, due to a blister on his pitching hand.  Darren Oliver came on in relief, and pitched fairly well giving up one hit and an inherited runner. 

After a quick eighth inning for the Giants (Cain was removed with two outs and replaced by Javier Lopez), the Rangers trotted back out to the field with righty Darren O’Day on the mound.  O’Day gave up one hit (a single to Buster Posey) and struck out two, before giving way to lefty Derek Holland.  Washington’s choice of Holland could be best described as perplexing because he was brought in to fact two right handed batters, Burrell (who was immediately replaced by the left-handed Nate Schierholtz) and Cody Ross.  Perhaps Washington’s strategy was to get Burrell out of the lineup for the rest of the night.  If so, mission accomplished.  Either way, the strategy backfired.  Holland walked three consecutive batters on 13 pitches before getting pulled.  The Rangers were now down 3-0.  In hopes of turning things around, Washington calls on Mark Lowe to finish off the inning.  This doesn’t work either.  Lowe walks Juan Uribe, which brings in another run.  (Yes, the same Juan Uribe that has a career .300 OBP and 5.6% walk rate.  I can’t make this up.)  The score is now 4-0 Giants.  Then, with the bases still loaded, Lowe gives up a single to Edgar Renteria, which goes just past the statuesque Mike Young.  Two runs score, Giants up 6-0.  Washington’s had enough, and makes another call to the bullpen.  This time he calls for Michael Kirkman.   Does Kirkman stop the bleeding?  Well, eventually, but not before giving up a triple to Andre Torres and a double to Freddie Sanchez.  When the inning is finally over, the Rangers are behind 9-0, which ended up being the final score.

Now, if you’re like me, you have this sneaking suspicion that something isn’t quite right.  I can’t quite put my finger on it…  Oh wait.  Yes I can!  Rob Neyer, take it away:

“It's 2-0 in the eighth inning of the second game of the World Series. You've already lost the first game (through no fault of the manager). If you don't win this one, you're in big trouble. You've got tomorrow off. Your best pitcher hasn't pitched in nearly a week, and has pitched only three innings in the last two weeks.

And you never use him. You leave Neftali Feliz rotting away in the bullpen, just as you've left him rotting away through most of October.”

Sound familiar?  Didn’t I say the same thing after Game 1 of the ALCS?  Why is Ron Washington so afraid to use Feliz in non-save situations?  I don’t get it.  Look, I’m not saying Washington should’ve brought him in instead of Derek Holland.  Perhaps bringing in Holland was the right move at the time because it forced the Giants to remove Pat Burrell from the game.  I can accept that.  What I can’t (and won’t) accept is the idea that keeping Holland in the game after he walked Schierholz was the right move.  I also won’t accept that bringing in Mark Lowe and Michael Kirkman after Holland failed were the right moves either.  (Just to note, Feliz didn’t get up once to warm up during the eighth.  Had Kirkman failed to get the final out, potential Game 4 starter Tommy Hunter was apparently next in line to pitch.)  Washington needs to manage his team in a manner that puts his team in the best position to win, and he’s not doing that.  He’s leaving his best relief pitcher to rot in the bullpen, while inferior pitchers are being asked to handle the most crucial situations.  This is unfair not only to Feliz (who I’m sure is dying to pitch), but the whole team. 

Look, I’m not saying the Rangers would’ve won had they put Feliz into the game after Holland walked Schierholtz.  They wouldn’t have.  The Rangers failed to score any runs all game, and I don’t see any reason to believe the outcome would’ve been any different had Feliz come in to get the final out in the eighth.  My argument is that pitching Feliz would’ve put the Rangers in a much better position to win.  (A team down 2-0 has a much greater chance of winning than one down 9-0.)  To win a best of seven series, a manager needs to take advantage of situations that give his team an edge.  Washington has shown time and again this postseason (especially through the first two games of the World Series) that he’s not up to the task. 

UPDATE:  NBC’s Hardball Talk Craig Calcaterra added this hysterical anecdote about Ron Washington’s managing ability:

“I’ll simply add that watching Ron Washington manage the Rangers’ bullpen in the postseason has been like watching Richie Tennebaum against Gandhi at the U.S. Nationals tournament. All I can think is that Washington’s adopted sister married Raleigh St. Clair yesterday, throwing him off his game, leading to all of these unforced errors.”

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