Sunday, August 1, 2010

Who Cares About The Division Anyway?

I mean, it's not like it guarantees a playoff spot. Doesn't guarantee home-field in the first-round, or playing the weaker of the other two division winners (assuming two teams come out of the East and the team that wins it has the best record in the AL). Doesn't guarantee home-field in the ALCS either (again if 2010 keeps going this way). None of these things are important, so therefore it isn't that important to win games that count twice against what is currently your stiffest competition. Having a three game lead, putting pressure on the Rays to make up those games with no head-to-heads with the Yankees until mid-September, isn't really any different than having a one game lead, essentially making the division a toss up at the beginning of August. And that's before you even consider how very much within striking distance the Red Sox are.

This is how Joe Girardi "managed" Sunday's rubber game against Tampa Bay, which was probably the biggest game of the season to date. Sure, there will be more important games. But that doesn't change this being the most important game to date. Again, the difference between a three game lead and a one game lead is not inconsequential. Let's take a look at how Girardi approached this game:

- Alex Rodriguez, one of the most prolific run producers in the game in 2010 and the Yankees clean-up hitter, gets the day off. This after playing EVERY GAME against Kansas City and Cleveland the eight days prior to this big series.

- As a result, Ramiro Pena and his .210 batting average is in the lineup.

- Mark Teixeira, easily one of the best defensive first baseman in the game, gets a DH day.

- As a result, Lance Berkman, in his second day with the Yankees, gets a start at first base.

- Brett Gardner, who has the 5th highest OBP in the AL, gets the day off.

- As a result, Austin Kearns, in his first action for the Yankees, gets the start in left field.

- Kerry Wood, in his first game with the Yankees, comes in to get Longoria with nobody on and 2 out. This was fine. Instead of letting him finish on that high note in his first action with the Yankees, he comes back out for another inning to try to keep the deficit where it was in the 8th inning of a huge game. He loads the bases with 2 outs. Who does Girardi bring in? Long-reliever Chad Gaudin. Nothing against Gaudin, he does his job in his role. That's just not his role. Good job by him doing the job, but a good result doesn't make a wrong decision right. Just like a bad result doesn't make a good decision wrong. There isn't anything more to add, but even if there was, it wouldn't be necessary. Bringing in a long reliever with the bases loaded to keep a 3-0 deficit at 3-0, and get a crack at the Rays closer who has already worked both games in the series and took the loss the night before, pretty much sums up where Girardi was at with this one.

Listen, as DV and I always talk about, it's not that these things are bad individually. Players need rest, and managers do need to have the big picture in mind. These things are bad when too many of them happen at once. Really, there is very little reason for this at any point in the season, let alone in a game with the kind of implications this one had today.

For example, Girardi said Rodriguez got the day off because he had played 12 days in a row and didn't want him to play a third straight game on turf because last time he did that his hip started barking. Um, okay, you're the manager, do you look ahead on the schedule? If you know a huge series at Tampa is coming up, why not give Rodriguez a day of rest against Kansas City, Cleveland, or both? That solves the 12 days in a row issue. Then, you can give him a DH day against Tampa Bay so that he doesn't play three days in a row on turf. That solves the three days in a row on turf issue. This isn't rocket science. And this type of stuff goes for every starter on the team. Really, outside of Posada not catching all three games and Rodriguez getting a DH day, there is no reason for every starter to not being playing every game in a series this big.

Clearly, Joe Girardi didn't think this game was that big. Michael Kay said during the broadcast that you can't think a game is that big if Alex Rodriguez isn't playing, because he'd be playing in any big game no matter what. And he's right. True, it's not like this is the World Series, and everyone is going to playing no matter what. There is certainly some room for flexibility. The frustrating part is that what Girardi wanted to accomplish today could have been accomplished at another time and Rodriguez could have also played today. Not remotely mutually exclusive, and the way it was handled was totally unnecessary. He easily could have gotten his rest at a different time, and been involved in these games, since no matter how big you want to say they are or aren't, at the very least they are bigger than your average regular season game. So give a player this important rest during an average regular season game, and play him in a bigger game like this.

Regarding the newly acquired players, the same thing applies. It's not that playing them is bad by itself. That's why you got them. But giving Berkman his first start at first and Kearns his first start period in a rubber game against Tampa Bay just isn't necessary. That's not what's best for them as they try to get comfortable and it's not what's best for the team from a production standpoint. Especially when you have better options in Teixeira and Gardner. There are just better times to sit the normal starters and break the new guys in. Same goes for Wood.

The Yankees might have lost today anyway. But the fact that they lost with so many voluntary lineup irregularities in the same game is infuriating. Instead of gaining a game in the standings and having a decent cushion, it's basically an even race. At the end of the season, if it's close between the Yankees and Tampa Bay, it will be difficult not to look back at this game and wonder if the Yankees could have picked up two games instead of losing two had their manager not all but punted the game. Also makes no sense to do this with Sabathia, your best pitcher, on the hill. He's your best chance to win every five days. Looking at this series before it started, you thought if the Yankees split the first two, they'd have a chance to really drop the hammer Sunday. They were in that position, and Girardi did not take full advantage of the opportunity. Certainly, C.C. pitched well enough to win, and would likely have let even less runs in with Teixeira at first base (Berkman cost the Yankees one and maybe two runs).

I don't pretend to know everything, and nor should I. Maybe Rodriguez was barking. Maybe there was a reason for one of the other decisions besides just basic lineup making. But I find it difficult to believe there was a bigtime reason to sit Rodriguez, DH Teixeira, sit Gardner, start Pena, and give a newcomer his first action in the field and two others their first action period in a rubber game with Tampa when a 3 vs. 1 game lead in the division is on the line. It's possible that I'm wrong about this, and there are bigtime reasons for all of those things, but I doubt it.

Now it's up to the team to realize they are still up a game in the division, to keep playing good baseball, and grow the lead on Tampa Bay and Boston (the 4 game set with Boston, as I discussed recently, is going to be massive). It's also now up to Girardi to manage more appropriately to the situations that present themselves.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

YES!

A vintage Pat rant. Best part of the post:

"voluntary lineup irregularities"

Similar to the JD weak ground ball counter, there should be a "Damage caused to Pat's residence by wiffle ball bat violence" counter.

timc from work said...

Start of a new era for me here...

Anonymous said...

PF

Terry Francona is one of the best managers in the game. And the people who constantly harp on him drive me crazy. That said, one of the things that I could never figure out with him was the timing he used to give guys days off. It always seemed like he wouldn't give anyone the day off for 10 days and then give five starters the day off. On getaway days he used to love to send out the JV line-up. Now, it's always difficult to figure out whether Francona really wanted to give guys a day off (which is what he always told the media) or whether Manny, JD, or whomever just didn't feel like playing, but still, I know where you're coming from.

As for Yankees/Rays. That's going to be a fun stretch run for both teams. The Sox will be more or less in a position to play spoiler than anything else, though I do think there's a chance that the Rays will falter as we get into late August/early September. I don't see that happening to the Yankees. They are just too good. And while losing games like they did yesterday is frustrating, the big picture shows us that for over 100 games this year, New York has been the best team in baseball.

--the Gunn

the gm at work said...

This really was a classic Pat rant. So nice to not hear about sunshine, rainbows, and AJ Burnett slobbering. Gunn, you're absolutely right about how Francona in the old days failed to stagger off days. Similarly, Girardi is doing that now and I know exactly why Pat's livid about it. I think we all do. It's kind of an important game to not punt.

As we discussed earlier, JD and Manny are the same when it comes to playing hurt.

the gm at work said...

And congratulations/good luck to Tim C. Glad on your first day, you didn't JD out until 9:45 AM.

jason said...

i havent been reading for the better part of a month (started new job/no internet) now so while i try to catch up if there are any comment sections that are a must read let me know otherwise ill just be reading the posts...