He Did It Again
I really am.
It's absolutely beyond me as to how Tony La Russa left Jaime Garcia in to face Ryan Braun...and then Prince Fielder.
Honestly, I can't believe we saw it again...just five days after Garcia was on fumes against the Phillies, and La Russa left him in to face Ben Francisco, who promptly hit a three-run home run. One of the defenses of leaving Garcia in for that at bat against Francisco was his pitch count. Garcia had thrown 89 pitches going into that at bat against Francisco. Those who wanted him to stay in there said that was a low count. Well, he had only thrown 80 pitches when facing Braun. And, damn near everyone I've heard from---actually everyone, but I'm sure someone will pop up and disagree, which is completely cool---said Garcia should've been yanked before facing Braun.
But, once again, just like five days ago, La Russa leaves Garcia in, a guy in who goes down mentally quite quickly...and once again...he gets rocked and loses the game.
While some debated whether or not he should've been left in to face Francisco, I think you'd be damn hard-pressed to find anyone who was on board with La Russa leaving him in to face Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. Still blows me away almost a week later.
So, with that wound still fresh, you sure as hell would think he'd learn from it.
But, there's Garcia in there after giving up two hits and having thrown 80 pitches with runners at the corners and no one out. You have back-to-back MVP candidates coming up.
This time, unlike Game Three against the Phillies, La Russa had Dotel up right away when Garcia got into trouble. Furthermore, the pitcher who was up and ready to go was surprisingly dominant against Braun and Fielder. Octavio Dotel had shut both hitters down in his career to the tune of 4-for-16 in their careers with 12 strikeouts.
So...for a guy who used the fact that Francisco was 1-for-9 against Garcia to justify leaving him in there ignored the stats in not going to Dotel.
Just blown away.
And, with the decision to leave Garcia in, the Cardinals were blown away.
Braun with a 2R 2B. Fielder with a 2R HR.
Just when I thought I couldn't be anymore flabbergasted by the way the Cardinal manager handled things Sunday, I heard his postgame comments.
La Russa described Garcia as "cruising" going into the at bat against Braun. I'm not making this up. I went back to watch the comments a second time. The plan was---yes, this was the plan---to have Jaime face Braun and Fielder...even after giving up two hits to start the inning.
"Once he faces Braun and Fielder, Dotel was ready for the next guy."
Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch followed up by asking about possibly bringing Dotel in for Braun. La Russa got agitated and said, "The guy is cruising. There's a ground ball. He makes one mistake. I mean, how many hits had he (given up) at that point? Maybe so, because that's strategy. But, no. Only when I saw him throw the ball over the middle to Braun, I said, 'That's enough.' And, then he's trying to make a pitch to Fielder, and home run. So, no. I wouldn't have made a move to Braun. I thought he was throwing the ball better than that."
Now, I'm sure some of you are reading the above and saying, "That doesn't make much sense."
La Russa speaks in clauses sometimes...and then never finishes them. Like...he'll start a thought. Pause. And, then not pick up on finishing the first clause.
So, I went back and forth on this sound bite to try and figure out what he was saying, because he says that once he saw him groove a pitch to Braun, he thought "that's enough." But, then he leaves him in there for Fielder...so clearly it wasn't enough.
Now, with La Russa, there's always a chance he's saying something absurd just to deflect attention away from the player who didn't get the job done...especially a younger one with a fragile psyche like Garcia.
But, for the life of me, I can't figure out what he was trying to say there...because it's contradictory to what he did.
Speaking of contradictory, here's what Dave Duncan had to say to Jimmy "The Cat" Hayes on Fox Sports Midwest about the 5th inning and Garcia:
"Everything he threw was in the middle of the plate. They didn't hit any good pitches. They hit pitches that should be hits. Command of his cutter was not good in that innining. Left a change-up up to Hairston. Left a fastball up to Hart. Lot of bad pitches."
Doesn't sound like Duncan would describe Garcia as "cruising."
Garcia is talented, but at this point, it doesn't take a sabermetrician to know two things about him:
1. He struggles on the road.
2. He loses confidence quickly.
In his start against the Phillies Tuesday, Garcia threw first-pitch strikes or got an out on the first pitch against the first 10 hitters he faced. That was cruising.
In his start at Milwaukee yesterday, Garcia fell behind---or gave up a home run---to eight of the first nine hitters he faced.
When shit goes bad, he goes bad quickly. If La Russa didn't feel this way, he wouldn't have had Lance Lynn up in the first inning.
And, unlike last week when no one was ready to come in for relief after Garcia had fallen behind 3-0 on Shane Victorino in the 7th before giving up a hit to him...followed by a passed ball...this time Dotel was ready.
Yet La Russa left Garcia in there.
Because he was "crusing?" If so, then why was Dotel up?
And, what about your pitching coach saying that both of the pitches to start off the inning that led to hits were mistakes that were left up (see Francisco, Ben).
Just like last week, what's the return on investment for leaving him in there? In other words, what do you get out of it by having Garcia get through the fifth...as opposed to yanking him with runners on first and third with no one out?
I mean...you have a fully rested bullpen with 12 pitchers ready to go. You have an off day Tuesday.
There's no need to stretch a guy out who's already gone through one bad inning and was about to go up against two of the best hitters in the game with no one out and runners at the corners.
It's so beyond belief that I can't comprehend it.
The shame of this whole thing is this:
1. The Cardinals scored six runs off of Zack Greinke in Milwaukee---where he's undefeated---and lost the game.
2. This is the second time in five days this scenario has presented itself...and both times...La Russa blew it.
I've been so "pro-La Russa" in my time on the radio and/or writing on insideSTL.com that I didn't discover that we have actual political parties of sorts in St. Louis when it comes to La Russa.
It's obvious that there are plenty of people who will rip him no matter what he does or the team does. I think damn near everyone of you knows I'm not in that category.
But, apparently---as I experienced last week when I was criticial of how he handled Garcia in Game Three...after complimenting him for his handling of the bullpen in Game Two---that there are people who are blindly loyal to La Russa...and he can do no wrong by them.
In other words, you can't go case-by-case with La Russa or a game management decision.
You're either with us all the time...or you're against us all the time.
What a fucking brilliant world.
The handjobbery of party over practical policy locks up our government in Washington, and it spits on and shakes the discussion of baseball in St. Louis.
So, once again...for the purpose of attempting to focus on the game situation, the stats, and the history---not the person---I will re-state that I am a fan of Tony La Russa...both personally and professionally.
I don't think they win the 2006 World Series without him. (Maybe I'm wrong. Don't go fucking batshit on me if you disagree, if you please).
I hope he comes back for another year...at least...as Cardinal manager.
However, that doesn't mean if the President does something I disagree with, I'm just going to vote with him, because I like him...or I like what he's done in the past.
It also doesn't mean I have to make it personal and mock his appearance or politics or eating habits to make my point.
These are the numbers.
Here's the situation.
Judge in advance of the moment and make the right call.
Two times in five days he's made dreadful calls, and in my opinion, both cost the Cardinals games. They got away with it in the NLDS. It's still to be determined if they will in the NLCS.
Because I was "first guessing" on both Garcia decisions, I feel even more passionately about them. But, I know there are some fans who were "first guessing" on Garcia starting in the first place. In other words, why put a guy who struggles on the road out there for Game One when Kyle Lohse has pitched pretty damn well?
Personally, I was thrilled when I heard the rotation announced. So, on this one, I won't be as passionate. I liked having Garcia in Game One, Jackson in Game Two, Carpenter in Game Three, Lohse in Game Four, and then get Garcia a home start in Game Five.
But, those who didn't like that rotation...and would've rather flip-flopped Lohse and Garcia...pointed out that you can still get Garcia at home in Game Four...and take the chances of another road implosion off the table by starting a well-rested Lohse.
I can't get too worked up on that one, because I don't feel like Lohse is a sure thing. It's not that he's not. I just don't feel like Lohse is a lock...like I feel like it's a lock to get Garcia out of there when he starts to fade in the middle to late innings, or it's a lock to not start a pitcher on short rest.
There's enough sample size there to have a high probability of the results you're going to get. Lohse has been good, but is he good enough to go into the series knowing you're going to get better results out of him in two starts than you would out of Garcia?
I don't feel strongly about it...or at least I didn't before the game. So, I don't feel like I can jump up and down about it now.
But, if you did in advance of the outcome, feel free to wave your Lohse flag high. I liked the rotation...and still do.
Personally, in reviewing the rest of the game outside of the disaster in the fifth inning, I'm quite encouraged by the work the Cardinals put in against Greinke...but not particuarly excited about how the Milwaukee bullpen shut them down with ease.
Albert Pujols does not look right. Many will understandably focus on his GIDP in the 7th with runners at the corners and no one out. But, I thought his strikeout with one out and Fucal on third in the 5th was a much more disturbing at bat. He swung at two pitches well out of the strikezone to fall behind 0-2 to a mentally questionable Zack Greinke, and then he struck out on a 2-2 pitch in the dirt. Really rough. Not really characteristic.
Albert acknowledged as much regarding his AB in the 7th. Pujols said about his double play ground out, "Seven out of 10 times, I hit that ball out of the ballpark."
Hopefully that means he just missed it...and that he's all right. But, he missed a pitch right before the double play as well. And, Pujols has just one RBI this postseason.
Yadier Molina has looked rough this postseason offensively and defensively. He hit .211 in the NLDS and went 0-3 yesterday...yet continues to hit ahead of David Freese.
Ryan Theriot. 0-4. Eight pitches. Yikes.
And, not sure what to make of Kyle McClellan. This was another "first guess."
A. Why 12 pitchers...espeically when La Russa likes to go buckwild with defensive switches in the late innings?
B. Why McClellan...who looked bad at the end of the regular season...and who wasn't even on the NLDS roster?
Al Hrabosky said on the Fox Sports Midwest post-game show that the decision was all about Tony La Russa not wanting to hurt McClellan's feelings, and then went on to say, "He's likely not going to be here next year anyway, so why worry about feelings?"
The Mad Hungarian wasn't pulling any punches on the roster decisions and the decision to leave Garcia in to face Braun. It was good stuff.
What about the rest of the series?
Well, in what may seem rather obvious, tonight's game is huge. I have to be honest though and say that even if they lose it, I could still see them winning the series.
I like all of the match-ups at home. All of them. Carpenter. Lohse. And, yes, Garcia. But, so help me, if he leaves Garcia out there again when he starts to fade, I think I'll spontaneously combust.
Tonight's match-up of a wobbly Shaun Marcum versus Edwin Jackson is a coin flip. Marcum has been bad as of late. Jackson has been good. But, Jackson got rocked by the Brewers in Milwaukee in August, and you hope like hell that doesn't happen again.
Handjobs will say I'm jinxing it by making the observation---and even larger manual stimulators will send oddly angry emails should my opinion not come to fruition---but I really could see the Cardinals winning this thing in five games.
They're just at another level right now than they were for the majority of the season, and the Brewers---for as good as their record is---struggled against winning teams...in particular on the road...for all of the second half.
That's not a shot at Milwaukee. They have a damn good team. And, going through their lineup is scarier than going through Philadelphia's...even though the Phillies have more household names.
I'm of the opinion that if La Russa pulls Garcia at what I see as obvious times this postseason, the Cardinals are 5-1...not 3-3.
But, none of that matters now...as long as that history doesn't repeat itself when the Cardinal manager has a chance to pull a fading pitcher tonight or later in the series.
I'll take Jackson over Marcum. Carpenter over Gallardo. Lohse over Wolf. And, Garcia---at Busch Stadium---over Greinke, when he's on the road.
Doesn't mean that it'll play out that way. But, from a baseball nerd perspective, I'd favor the Cardinals in each one of those match-ups...especially based on recent performances and home/road splits.
Pujols' health. John Axford's health. And, the mental health of a few of the above all are variables, of course. But, the bottom line is I'm not tilting about the series. I'm tilting about the game and the game management.
He did it again.
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