I wish that I could convince myself that what I am about to write is simply hyperbole. I don’t want to feel this way. I don’t want to be this reactionary and short-sighted. But it’s impossible. I can’t stop thinking it. Tonight may have been the worst-managed baseball game I’ve ever watched. Feel free to correct me. Tell me about a game that was managed worse. It would make me feel better.
Tonight I watched the St. Louis Cardinals make a series of awful decisions that cost them the lead in the World Series. And it sucked.
Earlier this evening, I made a very quick post about Mike Napoli’s stats versus righthanded and lefthanded pitchers. It was brief, and I only made it because I couldn’t fit my point into a single tweet. Basically, Napoli’s had a strong platoon split for his entire career. He hits righthanders fine, but he crushes lefties. This season especially, he’s been one of the best hitters in baseball against lefthanded pitching. Leaving in noted lefty Marc Rzepczynski to face Napoli with the bases loaded was painfully foolish. It’s reminiscent of allowing Lohse to face Howard in game 1 against the Phillies. La Russa loves matchups, and he’s been manipulating them like crazy throughout the playoffs. Here, he sat in the dugout and watched as a mediocre lefty faced a batter who eats lefties for breakfast. The result was predictable. 4-2 Rangers.
If only that was all we saw tonight. Instead, we also witnessed Ryan Theriot pinch-bunt. Bunting isn’t a great move in general. There are few situations where it improves the chances of scoring a run. Most of those situations involve a pitcher at the plate. There’s no reason to insert a player into the lineup specifically to bunt. That’s insane. I thought about citing statistics to prove how insane that is. I don’t think that’s necessary. The insanity is self-evident. And I wish it was the most insane thing we saw.
No, the most insane move of the night was bringing Lance Lynn into the game to intentionally walk Ian Kinsler. This was the calling card of the catastrophe. It was how we all know that something was truly wrong. There’s no explaining it. Bringing in a pitcher, issuing an intentional walk, then pulling that pitcher should never happen. Never. I can contrive an elaborate situation to justify almost any managerial move–even the pinch bunt. Not this one. Clearly, the Cardinals management was lost in one of the most important games of the year.
Then to top it all off, in the top of the ninth the Cardinals send Allen Craig while Pujols (who can hit the ball a long way) is batting and Neftali Feliz (who can barely find the strike zone) is pitching. It wasn’t just predictable that Albert would swing at a ball out of the zone and Craig, slow as his tortoise, would be thrown out at 2b. It was damn near fated. Craig can’t run. Feliz is probably one of half a dozen pitchers in baseball that Pujols can’t be trusted to make contact with. Why? Why hit and run there? Craig crossing the plate doesn’t win the game for the Cards. It doesn’t even tie the game. The only reason to hit and run is to prevent the double play. DPs have been a problem for the Cards, but consider this:
Albert Pujols has struck out 704 times in his career. He’s only hit into 232 double plays. That’s actually a lot of double plays and not that many strikeouts. But the K is STILL far more likely than the GIDP.
Neftali Feliz has struck out 164 batters in his career. He’s allowed 150 ground balls. That’s right, Feliz is more likely to strike out a hitter than allow him to make contact and produce a ground ball.
There’s no reason to just expect a DP. There’s no reason AT ALL to hit and run.
After the game, the excuses came fast and furious. There was something wrong with the bullpen phone. Albert himself put on the hit-and-run. The speed at which this team covers for Tony La Russa is phenomenal. If Allen Craig could run as fast as the Cards spin their failures, the team would be coming home up 3-2.
I really don’t know what else to say about what we saw in game 5. It was atrocious. It was like watching a car accident, except car accidents are usually over much quicker.
One week ago, the entirety of sports media was fawning over La Russa’s brilliance. I wonder how many of those same writers dare question him after tonight?