Sunday, October 27, 2013
Bullpens in the spotlight for Game 4
By David Schoenfield
Some random thoughts on a whole bunch of things as we wake up from Saturday evening's crazy, once-in-a-lifetime ending:
- Everybody is talking about the obstruction call, of course, but as Jim Caple pointed out, Red Sox manager John Farrell is as much a goat as Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Will Middlebrooks. In the ninth inning, he let Brandon Workman bat with one out against Trevor Rosenthal -- Workman's first at-bat as a professional. Workman hit .481 as a senior at Bowie (Texas) High School, but never had an at-bat at the University of Texas. How many guys had their first professional at-bat come in the World Series? Not sure it's ever happened before, considering most American League starters will at least bat in interleague games and relievers rarely are allowed to hit in a postseason game.
Farrell conceded that Workman facing Rosenthal was a mismatch, but said that he wanted to get an extra inning out of Workman with the game looking like it would go extra innings. But Farrell also basically admitted he screwed up, pointing out he could have double-switched when Workman entered, putting David Ross in for Saltalamacchia. It's interesting, whenever the World Series goes to the National League, everyone suggests the AL manager could be at a disadvantage. I don't know if anyone actually ever believes this -- I mean, how hard is it to double-switch? -- but it does appear as if Farrell's inexperience with the NL game caught up to him here. (To a certain extent he was also conceding they were unlikely to score off Rosenthal, but I'm pretty sure Red Sox fans would have liked to have seen Mike Napoli get an at-bat.)
- With Clay Buchholz and Lance Lynn starting Game 4, there's a good chance both managers will have to dig deep into their relief corps. Buchholz's health is a question and he's unlikely to go deep into the game even if he's pitching well. Lynn has made four postseason starts the past two years and his longest outing was 5 1/3 innings in Game 4 of the NLCS against the Dodgers. In his other three starts he got knocked out before five complete innings. In the regular season, Lynn had a pretty large platoon split; he allowed a .299 OBP against right-handers but .361 against left-handers. Basically, his slider is more of a wipeout pitch against right-handers, but against left-handers he nibbles and ends up with more walks and fewer strikeouts.
In the postseason, Lynn has changed his approach, throwing his curveball more -- a lot more. He increased his overall rate of curves from 10 percent of his pitches to 24 percent. With two strikes, he's increased from 11 percent curveballs to 39 percent. In the regular season, just 17 of his 198 strikeouts came via the curveball, but in the postseason it's been seven of 12. This doesn't mean the results have been better -- he's allowed a .304/.407/.457 batting line in 11 2/3 innings -- but it seems to suggest that he realizes his fastball/slider combo hasn't been that effective against left-handed batters.
It gives Farrell some interesting lineup decisions. Stephen Drew is 4-for-44 with 17 strikeouts in the postseason, so Farrell could play Xander Bogaerts at shortstop and Middlebrooks at third. But do you sit Drew and his left-handed bat, losing something on defense in the process, or play him since he's a better matchup against Lynn, his current struggles notwithstanding? Likewise, Saltalamacchia is hitting .188 with 19 strikeouts in 35 PAs. Does Ross get the start over the switch-hitting Salty? Buster Olney wrote about Boston's possible lineup decisions, including the out-of-the-box idea of playing Napoli at third base. I have a hard time seeing that happening since Napoli has never played there in the majors and Buchholz gets a lot of ground balls. But stranger things have happened, right?
- As for Buchholz, ESPN Stats & Information points out that he's been leaving his fastball and cutter up in the zone against left-handed batters in the postseason. In the regular season, lefties hit .165 off those pitches; in the postseason, they're 9-for-17 with a 43 percent line-drive rate. With that in mind, look for Daniel Descalso to get the start over Pete Kozma at shortstop. Farrell is in a more desperate situation than Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, so he'll have to have a shorter hook on Buchholz. Felix Doubront looked good in throwing two scoreless innings on Saturday; he threw 25 pitches so he should be available as a long man for a couple of innings. I can't imagine Farrell has much faith right now in Ryan Dempster, but he's the other option as a long man. Workman started in the minors but threw 30 pitches Saturday night, so he's probably in more of a last man out of the pen role for Game 4.
- Aside from that, Farrell has to get Koji Uehara in the game. He's now let one lead slip away in the seventh inning and started the ninth inning of a tie game without his best reliever on the mound. Yes, he finally brought in Uehara in Game 3 after Workman allowed a base hit, but maybe all the craziness never happens if Uehara starts the inning. The point: Having a guy who had one of the most dominant relief seasons ever isn't a big weapon if you don't use him in the most critical situations. If the Red Sox are going to win this game I think they may need to get six outs from Uehara, even if that means using him in the seventh inning to get out of a jam.
- Carlos Martinez has pitched three times in four days, which he had never done, and threw just nine of his 20 pitches for strikes Saturday night. In other words, he looked more like the 22-year-old who had a 5.08 ERA in the regular season than the setup guy who had been so good in the postseason. You have to think Matheny will be reluctant to use him in a fourth straight game, so look for somebody else to pitch in the eighth inning if the Cardinals are leading. Matheny still has plenty of weapons down there -- Kevin Siegrist, ground-ball maestro Seth Maness, former Brewers closer John Axford or even exiled closer Edward Mujica. I suspect Axford gets the eighth inning unless Maness is still available. The other question: Is Shelby Miller on the roster? The Cardinals are carrying 12 pitchers but Miller has pitched one inning the entire postseason. I have a feeling we'll see him at some point in Game 4.
- David Ortiz is now 2-for-2 against the Cardinals' lefty specialists -- a home run off Siegrist in Game 1 and a single off Randy Choate in Game 3. Matheny shouldn't let those results affect his decision-making in Game 4. You still want left-handers facing Ortiz in high-leverage situations.
- Can't wait for this one. We may not get the crazy ending again, but the matchups, lineup decisions and reliever usage should be fascinating.