Leyland's slow hook burns Tigers in Game 3

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
4:55
PM ET
Earlier on Monday, Eric Karabell and myself taped a SweetSpot TV segment on managers, and one thing we harped on was the slow hooks some managers have had in the postseason, particularly Dusty Baker with Johnny Cueto in the NL wild-card game and Fredi Gonzalez with Julio Teheran in Game 3 of the Braves-Dodgers series.

Sure enough, in the first game after our segment, Jim Leyland's slow hook on Anibal Sanchez haunted the Tigers in Oakland's 6-3 victory.

Look, Sanchez had a great season. He led the American League with a 2.57 ERA, and if he hadn't missed a few starts with shoulder issues, he would be a more viable Cy Young Award candidate. He was terrific in the playoffs for the Tigers last season, and they don't have the deepest bullpen among the playoff contenders, so while I understand Leyland's decision to ride Sanchez, it seemed pretty clear he should not have faced Seth Smith in the fifth inning.

Sanchez had struggled all day with his command, and was already nearing 100 pitches as Smith stepped to the plate with the A's leading 4-3. The A's had hit two home runs, one a line shot by Brandon Moss earlier in the inning, and Sanchez doesn't usually give up home runs, just nine all season in 182 innings.

[+] EnlargeAnibal Sanchez
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastSeth Smith's two-run home run off Anibal Sanchez in the top of the fifth was the third longball given up by Sanchez in Game 3.
Yoenis Cespedes was on first base after a single. So, command issues, balls up in the zone, a left-handed batter at the plate, lefty Jose Alvarez warming up in the pen. It seemed to be the right time to remove Sanchez from the game.

Smith hit just .235 against left-handers, and A's manager Bob Melvin would have been unlikely to hit for Smith that early in the game. Alvarez isn't anything great, but if you're going to use him, this seemed like the right situation, especially with two more lefties on deck.

Sanchez, focusing on trying to get a double play, tried to keep Cespedes close out at first and threw five pitches to Smith -- four hard sinkers and one changeup. The 3-1 pitch was a sinker that was flat as a pancake, and Smith crushed it into the bullpen in left-center for a 6-3 lead.

Now, compare that to what Melvin did with Jarrod Parker, who had been hit around during a three-run fourth inning. He let Parker go one more inning, with Josh Donaldson turning a 5-4-3 double play on Torii Hunter to help out his pitcher and end the fifth. Parker was only at 73 pitches through five; in the regular season, he would've gone back to the mound for the sixth.

This isn't the regular season, however. Melvin went to Dan Otero, and he pitched two scoreless innings, with Sean Doolittle and Grant Balfour finishing up (nice little skirmish there with Balfour and Victor Martinez, by the way).

The other issue for the Tigers is their offense, which ranked second in the AL in runs scored in the regular season, but was 27th in the majors in home runs in September and has scored runs in just two innings in three games in this series. A large reason for those struggles, of course, has been Miguel Cabrera, who had just two extra-base hits in September. Leyland has decided to stick with his injured star, but it's clear he's not remotely close to the hitter he was for most of the season.

The decision to play Cabrera also hurts the team in the field. Not a good defender to begin with, it seems reasonable to assume Cabrera's fielding is also hindered. His error in the third inning allowed a run to score with two outs, leading to a heated exchange between Sanchez and Cabrera as they walked off the field and into the dugout.

In trying to infuse more offense, Leyland also inserted former shortstop Jhonny Peralta into left field, where he had played two games since returning from his PEDs suspension. In the fourth, Peralta was unable to throw out Stephen Vogt tagging from third on a fairly shallow fly. Vogt is a catcher. Peralta did later hit a two-run single, but that poor throw cost the Tigers a run.

Trouble is, Leyland can't DH Cabrera because Martinez is locked in there and he's been one of the team's best hitters. You're not going to catch Martinez, who played just three games behind the plate, because Alex Avila is a plus defender and hit very well in September (.343, seven extra-base hits). You could play Peralta at third, have Andy Dirks in left, and be stronger defensively at two positions, but that means sitting Cabrera.

The series isn't over. Doug Fister versus Dan Straily in Tuesday's Game 4 is a matchup that favors the Tigers, but right now the A's have the better lineup, the better defense and the better bullpen. I see no signs that Cabrera is going to suddenly bash one out, so Fister is going to have to pitch a gem and hope his defense and bullpen backs him up.

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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