Though I spent a good amount of the weeknd watching the NLCS, I haven’t had much chance to write about it since covering the lefty matchup angle in Game One here and at BP. I did, however, have time to tape an appearance on Baseball Prospectus Radio earlier today. It’s about eight minutes long and centers on the two teams’ rotations and pitching plans, though the lineups are discussed as well.
I had a fun time debating my Game One coverage with Cardinal foes and fans, most notably Brian Gunn, keeper of the defunct Redbird Nation blog. The consensus among Cards’ fans seemed to be towards giving Tony La Russa a pass on sticking with Jeff Weaver, and while I’ll admit that for most pitchers 84 pitches and 5.2 scoreless innings would have made for an early hook, my view of Weaver is colored by 3 1/2 years of frustration watching him pitch for the Yankees and Dodgers, and by the fact that inexperience or no, the Cards’ bullpen had done a decent job up to that point.
Up until last night, actually, when they were hung for 10 runs, five of them charged to Josh Hancock, who didn’t even record an out. The two Carloses, Beltran and Delgado, combined for three homers, a double and seven RBI, all without facing either lefty out of the Cardinal pen despite those massive platoon splits I harped about. As the oft-quoted Joe Sheehan put it:
Blaming the manager when his relievers allow nine runs before getting a fourth out may be missing the point, but La Russa did not help himself in the key innings of last night’s game. He opened the fifth wih Brad Thompson against the 2-3-4 spots in the Mets lineup. An error by Ronnie Belliard, a walk and a home run later, the Cards were down 5-2. Two batters later, after a Shawn Green single, La Russa brought in lefty Randy Flores to get out of the inning.
After a David Eckstein homer cut the lead to 5-3, La Russa started the sixth with Josh Hancock, who got hammered: after five batters and no outs, the Cards were down 7-3 with the bases loaded, and La Russa went to Tyler Johnson. The game was over at that point.
Take a look at the usage. La Russa managed to use three pitchers in a 13-batter stretch, one of them Randy Flores… but Carlos Delgado batted twice against right-handers in that span. Flores was brought in at the seven spot, after Delgado and Green had batted and used for two outs. Johnson came in to face Green in the sixth. Twice, La Russa had opportunities to force the middle of the Mets’ lineup to face lefties, and twice he went to right-handers.
Platoon matchups aren’t everything, although Tony La Russa has spent nearly 20 years managing as if they were. I’m not sure how you use both your lefties in consecutive innings and yet Carlos Delgado doesn’t face either of them. Perhaps it would not have helped anyway, but La Russa did not give the Cardinals the best chance to win last night with his decisions. If you’re going to beat the Mets, you start by making Beltran, Delgado and Green bat against lefties in close games.
Meanwhile, the other story I took from this weekend — aside from the unlikely heroics of Jeff Suppan and Jim Edmonds’ microcosmic career revue (crash into wall making catch for third out, homer immediately afterwards) — was the job Darren Oliver did on Saturday evening. My wife and I had friends over for dinner and baseball, among them a Mets fan who had been to the first two games, and after watching the Tigers dramatically finish off the A’s to head to the World Series, we were were somewhat disappointed that the NL game appeared to be decided early. So disappointed that we went through five bottles of red wine among the five of us over the next several hours, accompanying our beef fondue and homemade ice cream sandwiches (not the world’s healthiest dinner; that’s why we needed the red wine, see?). With Steve Trachsel unable to make it out of the second inning and his bullpen in shambles, Mets skipper Willie Randolph turned to Oliver, who after allowing two of Trax’s three baserunners to score (still 0.37 runs better than expected) blanked the Cardinals for the rest of his six-inning stint. Tim McCarver took Randolph to task for letting Oliver hit leadoff in an inning instead of yielding to a pinch-hitter, but Randolph was already looking ahead, preserving his tired pen for the next day.
That decision was vindicated with Oliver Perez sponging up 5.2 innings last night, putting the Metropolitan bullpen back on the good foot, and I think at this point Darren Oliver — a journeyman pitcher whose ERA in 13+ seasons is just a tick below 5.00 — has to be considered the team’s Game Seven starter if it comes to that. We’re still a ways from that point, however; right now the question is whether the weather will allow the two teams to play tonight. As much as the delay would appear to benefit the Mets — and 40-year-old starter Tom Glavine, who like counterpart Jeff Weaver, is slated to pitch on three days’ rest — more than the Cardinals, I’d rather see baseball than not.