Monday, October 20, 2008

ALCS in Review Part 1

Wow. What a series. We finally receive a compelling playoff series in 2008. It was just full of surprising performances, questionable decision making and just all around fun. Most of the fun didn't start until Tampa Bay took a 3-1 lead in the series, although I think they deserve a lot of credit for bouncing back from a series opening loss at home, to take 3 straight to the defending champions. Let's go straight to game 5 though...

Up 7-0 in the 7th inning, after a sterling performance by Scott Kazmir, Manager Joe Maddon called up Grant Balfour. This was an interesting decision to me, because Balfour had been Maddon's go-to reliever in tight situations throughout the playoffs and now he was using him in a 7-0 game. The other thing about this decision is the number of available arms in the Rays' pen for a situation like this. I mean, why include Edwin Jackson on the LCS roster if not for pitching in a blowout? What purpose is he serving, except for coming in to a 7-0 game? Balfour got a couple outs, but could not close out the inning, and ended up with 2 men on, 1 man in, and David Ortiz at the plate. This is where Maddon makes a second baffling decision by leaving Balfour in to face Ortiz. The Rays' have 3 lefties in their pen, and all of them are quite effective against lefty hitters. He could have gone to J.P. Howell, Trever Miller or much-heralded rookie, David Price. Instead he leaves Balfour in to give up a 3-run homer to Ortiz, and let the Red Sox get a little life. The third questionable move of the inning by Maddon was bringing in Dan Wheeler to attempt to get 7 outs. Wheeler is able to escape the 7th, but immediately walked Jason Bay on 4 pitches to start the 8th. The mistake Maddon made was not using Wheeler in the first place, but leaving him in to face J.D. Drew. With another lefty at the plate, Maddon again refused to go to the bullpen, and it cost him this time as well, with Drew homering to bring the Sox within one. After giving up the game-tying run in the 8th, Maddon FINALLY went to a lefty (Howell) in the 9th with Ortiz batting second. Howell was able to get 2 quick outs, but then goldenboy Evan Longoria made a bad throw on a Youkilis grounder, with Youkilis ending up on second base. This is where Maddon makes his final mistake. He walked Jason Bay to get to J.D. Drew. While this make some superficial sense, if we look a little deeper we see that Drew is 4-7 in his career against Howell, and on top of that Jed Lowrie and Kevin Cash were the 2 hitters behind Drew. If anything, don't you pitch carefully to Bay and Drew, and go after Lowrie/Cash if both Bay and Drew get on? It's easy to second guess in retrospect, but I can't help but think that this collapse could have been somewhat easily avoided.

Part 2 will cover game 7, and how Joe Maddon proved himself (at least in my eyes) to be a good manager by learning some valuable lessons from game 5.

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