It’s the bottom of the 8th inning on Saturday night and I had sat in Kaufmann Stadium and watched the Cubs and Royals play a very good game. It was well pitched. The umpires, at least from my perspective, made all the right calls. There were some nice plays on defense made by each team. Both teams put runners on, but the opposing pitcher was better than the hitters when it mattered.
To be quite honest, I was quite surprised to see these two teams play a game that actually resembled a Major League game. Prior to the game the Royals held a .5 game advantage on the Cubs for the 2nd pick of next year’s draft. Only the Astros have been worse than either of these teams. If we saw what would typically be a minor league game, it would not be the least bit surprising. It was, in fact, exactly what I expected to see this series. Just two very good minor league teams squaring off at the Major League level in a battle for the second worst record in baseball.
So it was refreshing to see a well played game, especially after last night’s debacle. Both teams lived up to their minor league hype on Friday as each team tried to best the other. In the end it was the Royals who proved to be more inept than the Cubs on Friday. But on Saturday, that was good baseball. That was good Major League Baseball.
Prior to the bottom of the 8th, my only complaint to that point was that I thought whoever the hell that AAA pitching coach is for the Cubs should have visited Carlos Zambrano in the 5th inning after he went 1-0 following the walk. A real pitching coach, say Larry Rothschild, would have ran out to the mound to give Z a breather and give him a moment to settle down. Perhaps it makes no difference. It probably doesn’t so it’s only a minor complaint. Can’t blame Zambrano’s ineffectiveness that inning on the pitching coach. That’s Z’s fault. Would have been nice to see a real pitching coach in the Cubs dugout who could have ran to the mound to talk about what they’re going to have for breakfast tomorrow morning. I don’t know. Not likely it made a bit of difference in the end, but it’s something Major League pitching coaches do.
Then came the bottom of the 8th. I was quite pleased with how Zambrano had battled all night. He didn’t have his best stuff, allowed some baserunners, but made pitches when he needed to. After allowing two runs the Cubs came right back with back to back home runs and Z goes out there in the 6th and 7th and has his best innings. Shut down innings.
I look into the bullpen and see a lefty throwing knowing Z’s night is done. Sweet. Good start for Big Z and now they turn it over to the back-end of the bullpen. It’s gotta be Sean Marshall. Tie game, bottom of the 8th, he’s your setup man, it’s obvious. That lefty in the bullpen is Sean Marshall. I didn’t even bother to take a second look because it had to be Sean Marshall. The possibility of another lefty being up never even entered my mind. I’m not joking. I’ve been watching this team since the early 80s and I can honestly say that I took a look into the bullpen, saw the lefty, looked away knowing for certain it was Sean Marshall. Had to be. It fucking had to be, because any other lefty up in the pen would have been flat out fucking retarded. Sean Marshall was up in the bullpen. Or so I thought.
Turns out the lefty is John Grabow. That’s bad enough, but it gets worse. Grabow easily gets Alex Gordon out. Nothing is easy for John Grabow, but trust me, getting Alex Gordon out on this night was easy for him. The Royals naturally pinch hit for Mitch Maier with Jeff Francouer. Speaking of this, is the first time in history that a player whose name had three consecutive vowels in a row was pinch hit for with a guy whose name also had three consecutive vowels? Probalby not, but those names always piss me off. I can never remember how to spell them.
Anyway, Francouer up and Mike Moustakas on deck. For those not paying attention, that’s a right-hander at bat and a left-hander on deck. There’s one out so you’re looking at the next two batters. One righty, one lefty. What do you do?
Well, you have a couple choices. First, you bring out a righty and have a lefty ready in the pen to face Mike Moustakas. Why? Because it doesn’t fucking matter if you have you have a lefty or right on the mound when Francouer comes up. Whoever is facing the next two batters is going to face one righty and one lefty. That’s right. There is no way around it. One righty (Francouer) and one lefty (Moustakas). It’s science.
If you bring in the righty, you have the platoon advantage vs. Francouer but the disadvantage vs. Moustakas. If you leave the lefty in you have the disadvantage vs Francouer and the advantage vs. Moustakas. If you don’t have a calculator or spreadsheet handy, that’s one platoon advantage and one platoon disadvantage. No. Matter. What.
The second option is to go with with the guy in the game or bring in the righty (Jeff Samardzija since he was up in the pen). As bad at baseball as John Grabow is, does anybody honestly believe that Jeff Samardzija is anywhere as close to as good as Grabow? Forget that shit though. Where the hell was Sean Marshall?
You got lucky with Gordon vs Grabow. If you want to do the lefty/righty/left thing, I’m OK with that even though I think it’s not necessary. But no matter what, if you take the lefty out you have another lefty up to replace the righty when Moustakas comes to bat. Under no circumstances do you ever take out any relief pitcher on the planet who is scheduled for one platoon advantage and disadvantage for Jeff Samardzija who is also going to have the same advantage/disadvantage as the lefty.
A well played game by both teams quickly became a game that was difficult to even watch. I don’t mind if players make mistakes. I don’t even mind if the manager occasionally makes a mistake, but this one is unaceptable. These decisions were some of the worst I’ve seen Quade make. The guy couldn’t even figure out that it didn’t matter if you brought a righty in that you were still going to face one righty and one lefty. That’s ridiculous.
I skimmed through the comments last night and I disagree about the Reed Johnson play at the plate. Gordon picked the ball up when Johnson had just rounded third. I send the runner every time in that situation unless it’s someone like Ramirez or Soto. Gordon has a strong arm, the throw wasn’t perfect, but he got to the catcher in time to make the play. It happens. I don’t want station to station baseball.
Off the top of my head last night I figured the WE for the Royals without sending the runners was probably 42 to 43 percent or so and after the out about 55%. Thereabouts. Too lazy to look it up. If I’m wrong, tell me. So that play cost the Cubs a -.125 chance of winning. Pretty big play, but not a huge one by any stretch of the imagination. If Reed scores it’s probably a WE of 36%. So he gained .065 if he scored and lost .125 if he didn’t. He have to be safe on that play two out of ever three times to make it worth it. You may disagree that he wasn’t going to be safe on that one, but in order to gain bases you absolutely must accept that you will occasionally make outs on the bases. That’s just how it works. I don’t know for sure if he’s safe two out of three times, but I’m sending him. I’m sending every runner who has rounded 3rd at the time he picks the ball up.
I hate outs on the bases as much as the next guy, but you’ve got two options: play station to station baseball or accept that sometimes you’re going to run into outs on the bases. I don’t know about you guys, but if I was a manager and I played a team that played station to station, I’m position my outfielders as deep as possible. I’m going to take away every extra base hit but the home run of course. In order to bring those outfielders in, you have to make some outs on the bases.
If you’re not making outs on the bases on those plays, the outfielders are playing too deep. That’s never going to happen because they will come in as far as they need to cut you down right at the breakeven point. The same is true with infield defense on a bunt. You play your 3rd baseman in as far as possible so that if the batter bunts you can get him out at the breakeven point. That way the batter doesn’t have an advantage when he bunts. On the other hand, you give him some advantage on swinging away. There’s a tradeoff and it’s not just on bunts, but running the bases too.