SweetSpot: Tony Gwynn Jr

Buster Olney had a note in his Sunday blog Insider that the Dodgers may open the season with 13 pitchers.

Not to pick on the Dodgers, because they won't be the only team to carry 13 pitchers, but I just don't understand this trend. Seven relief pitchers seemed like a lot, but eight? There are barely enough innings available to keep seven relievers busy.

What's even more odd about the Dodgers potentially keeping eight relievers is they threw the second-fewest relief innings in the National League last season. There are 26 weeks in the regular season. Dodgers relievers threw 439 innings, or about 17 innings per week. That's about two innings per reliever per week, or 52 innings per season. Of course, your best relievers will pitch more than 52 innings. Matt Guerrier pitched 66 a year ago. Kenley Jansen should approach 70, assuming he has no further complications with his heart palpitations. Closer Javy Guerra will pitch more than the 46.2 he threw last season when he wasn't recalled until May 15. A good manager will figure out how to get all three of those guys around 70 innings -- or 54 total innings above and beyond the 52-inning average if you carry eight relievers.

In other words, there is no room for an eighth guy if you properly manage your pen. And considering the Dodgers only have one lefty reliever in Scott Elbert likely to make the team, this isn't a case of carrying three lefties for the sake of carrying three lefties.

But the bigger problem is it limits your flexibility in managing your bench. If you carry 13 pitchers, that means four bench players -- two hitters you need to keep handy to pinch-hit for pitchers, your backup catcher, and a utility guy like Jerry Hairston who can double-switch into just about any position. It leaves manager Don Mattingly with essentially no ability to hit for a player in the starting lineup. That means no pinch-hitting for James Loney, who hit .213/.254/.307 against left-handers in 2011. It means no hitting for Andre Ethier, who hit .220/.258/.305 against lefties (and is just .242 with little power in his career). It means you can't really hit for Tony Gwynn Jr., Juan Rivera or Adam Kennedy with an opposite-side hitter except in maybe the eighth or ninth innings, and even then only if you haven't already hit for the pitcher.

It basically means opposing managers will always get the matchup they want against the Dodgers. The tactical advantage for carrying 13 pitchers is so small it actually becomes a tactical disadvantage, especially for a team like the Dodgers that should be hitting regularly for its starting eight.

This is a theme you'll likely see me pound home time and again. One small reason scoring has gone down in recent seasons is the trend to bigger bullpens. That may be great for the platoon edge on defense, but it makes most teams ill-equipped to make a countermove.

Padres' wings, prayers not quite enough

October, 3, 2010
Chris DenorfiaJed Jacobsohn/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesOutfielder Chris Denorfia and the Padres fell just short on Sunday.
SAN FRANCISCO -- There are games you analyze, and there are games you watch.

The game that decided the National League West and two postseason berths was the sort of game you just watch.

After 161 games, what was Bud Black supposed to do? His team hasn't been scoring lately, but then his team really hasn't scored much all season (or last season, or the season before that). The front office worked hard all summer and did add Ryan Ludwick and Miguel Tejada to the lineup.

But Ludwick didn't hit much and Tejada won his MVP Award a long, long time ago. Black spent all season cobbling together lineups -- and especially outfields -- from a menagerie of spare parts and Triple-A guys and other teams' rejects. The Padres rarely scored, and when they did score without Adrian Gonzalez' help it was usually a minor miracle.

So they had to pitch. And when it came to the first through the sixth innings, they had to pitch mostly with guys you'd never heard of. Jake Peavy? Gone. Chris Young? Hurt. They pitched with guys named Latos and Richard and Stauffer and LeBlanc and Correia. Talented young men, to be sure. But nobody's idea, six months ago, of a pennant-winning rotation.

From the seventh through the ninth, it was quite a bit easier. Most games, Black literally had seven guys in the bullpen who were really, really, really good. It's actually sort of phenomenal, to have that many relief pitchers with strikeout-to-walk ratios so many pitchers would die for. Edward Mujica, who hit a little rough patch in September and didn't get to pitch against the Giants this weekend, struck out 72 hitters this season and walked six. Ernesto Frieri (who did pitch against the Giants, briefly) struck out 41 batters in 32 innings. And those were the relievers Bud Black did not particularly trust.

So they had to pitch, and they had to pray. When you're picked to finish in last place and you've got one of the lowest payrolls in the National League, you've got to pray a little.

For most of the season, that recipe -- Adrian Gonzalez, pitching, prayer -- worked really well.

Beginning on the 26th of August, it stopped working. The Padres lost 10 straight games, and their lead in the West went from six-and-a-half games to one game. They eventually lost their lead, but stayed exceptionally close to the Giants until losing three of four games to the Cubs last week, in San Diego. In the three losses, they scored two runs.

That left them needing a miracle this weekend.

They almost got it. They broke through with six runs Friday and four runs Saturday, a 10-run gusher that represented the most runs they'd scored in consecutive wins in nearly three weeks. The Braves lost two games against the Phillies, who weren't even really trying to win. Sunday, another Atlanta loss would guarantee the Padres at least one more game.

Granted, that wouldn't have been a miracle, exactly. What would have been a miracle, almost, was the Braves blowing a six-run lead against those non-trying Phillies ... and it very nearly happened.

Not quite, though.

They didn't need a miracle to beat the Giants, and play another day. But in the first inning, they did receive a minor miracle when third-base umpire Mike Everitt ruled that leadoff man Andres Torres' drive down the left-field line dropped foul when, as replays suggested, it probably hit the line. Everitt's call probably cost the Giants a run.

There wouldn't be any more minor miracles for the Padres, though. Let alone the full-blown, drop-to-your-knees-and-beg-for-salvation sort. They did get somewhat lucky, as starter Mat Latos gave up a bunch of rockets to the Giant hitters but most of them were caught.

If you want to do a little analyzing, you can analyze Bud Black's decision, on the 7th of September, to let Latos throw a season-high 113 pitches in a game against the Dodgers. Maybe if Latos had thrown 93 pitches, he wouldn't have 0-4 with a 10.13 ERA in his next four starts.

But that was a close game, and Latos had thrown nearly 113 pitches a few times before, and maybe he would have been ineffective down the stretch regardless, considering that he'd never thrown even 125 innings before in one season. The Padres knew Latos might eventually tire, but given their situation they probably had to pitch him ... and pray.

And in Game No. 162, it really didn't matter how well Mat Latos pitched (and despite all those rockets, he gave up only two runs in six innings). Because the Padres didn't score.

Bud Black didn't use Tony Gwynn, Jr. He didn't use Jerry Hairston, Jr. He didn't use Matt Stairs, or Oscar Salazar, or Aaron Cunningham. He did (oddly) use Luis Durango. But I would challenge any of my brilliant friends to look at Bud Black's bench in Game 162 and come up with a combination of players that would have gotten him three or four runs against the Giants' bullpen.

You want to analyze the game? In the top of the seventh inning, Miguel Tejada batted against Ramon Ramirez, with two outs and two on base. Adrian Gonzalez lurked on deck. If Tejada could keep the rally alive, Gonzalez would have a chance to put a completely different spin on things.

Tejada struck out. Maybe Bud Black should have sent up a pinch-hitter for Tejada ... but you don't pinch-hit for your No. 3 hitter. Maybe you should, very occasionally. But you don't. Not in real baseball. Anyway, if Tejada had reached, Bruce Bochy would have gone to a left-hander to face Gonzalez. Which would have left the Padres hoping for another minor miracle.

The Padres just didn't play well enough to beat the Giants in this particular game, and it didn't have anything to do with the managers. The better team won the game, and the championship. In baseball, praying usually isn't enough.