Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Girardi tactics leading to Yankees' tee time

That's the Yankees' situation in a nutshell. Girardi's overmanaging in the playoffs is going to lead this team, which is the best in baseball, to a failure. Girardi's attention to detail is impressive and if the Yanks do win World Series #27 this year it will be legendary. But yesterday, it helped cause a failure that pushed the Yankees from the brink of a 3-0 series lead to a 2-1 with Sabathia on three days' rest (which should not be that big of a problem) and Angel ace John Lackey looming in game 5.

Here's where the Yankees failed as a team: 0-8 with runners in scoring position, three failures by Melky Cabrera, two failures by Nick Swisher to score the runner from third base with less than two outs, Jeter 0-5 after his leadoff homer, team was 0-6 in extra innings. They were 0-8 with RISP on Saturday too. That's ok if the team hits 5 sac flies and 3 solo homers in one game, not if six of the team's last eight runs over two games have come on solo homers. Right now, the Yankees' offense has a governor on it holding the team to four runs (in five straight games). Not good.

Here are Girardi's questionable moves, in game order, and whether they were right or wrong AT THE TIME.

(1) Mound conference with Pettitte and Posada with a 2-2 count on Vlady Guerrero and a runner on base. WHY NOW? Pettitte and Posada have 27 years of Major League experience and have worked together for NINE seasons. If Joey G wanted to have a chat to reinforce the game plan, he should have done it before Vlady stepped in the batters' box. First pitch after Girardi departed = homerun, tie game. The pitch didn't seem that bad, but the result bit.

(2) Overuse of Chamberlain. Joba has been erratic at best this year. Now he's in a different pitching role as the "7th inning guy" and his stuff is off. Tim McCarver noted on Saturday that his slider was hanging up in the strike zone (that's called batting practice) and yesterday he got whacked around. Chamberlain's unwarranted ascension to 7th inning guy has pushed Aceves, the regular season's 7th inning guy, into extra inning duty only, where he has struggled. Chamberlain's only clean (no hits, walks, HBP) outing in the postseason came in game 1 against the Twins, when the Yanks had a big lead and Girardi was emptying his bullpen to give the young guys a taste of the playoffs. Yesterday, Chamberlain gave up the go-ahead run in about 5 pitches and got hammered so badly that Girardi had to yank him early for Marte.

(3) The abysmal 8th inning substitution. Girardi has two speed guys on his bench: Freddy Guzman and Brett Gardner. Guzman has one purpose -- pinch run and run fast. Gardner is a late inning defensive replacement for Damon or Swisher. So when designated hitter Matsui (who runs like a Molina brother) walked in the eighth inning, Girardi did the right thing in replacing him for a pinch runner. But HE USED THE WRONG MAN. Girardi should have used Guzman, but he used Gardner in a close game where the Yanks could need a defensive replacement in the outfield. If Girardi substituted Gardner for a fielder, the Yanks would lose the DH.

(4) Sending Gardner on an 0-1 count to Posada. With Gardner in the game, he had to steal, so that's the right call. On Saturday, Gardy did not steal and the hitter bounced into a double play on pitch number 4 or 5. But Scioscia likes to pitch out on 0-1 counts. McCarver said this on Saturday, and Girardi has to know this because the Yankees' scouts are very good and Girardi is such a stat geek he makes me look slipshod. Result, 0-1 pitchout, Gardner out at second. Two pitches later, Posada banged a homer to tie the game.

(5) Substituting Marte with Coke. The Monk is no fan of Damaso Marte, but he can often get lefties out and can terrorize switchhitters who are weak righties. He retired Chone Figgins to end the 7th and had Abreu (lefty hitter) to start the eighth . . . but Girardi replaced Marte with Coke. Coke is prone to give up homers, and his stuff is not as deceptive to lefties as Marte's. And the conventional wisdom is don't replace a lefty with another lefty. The move worked ONLY because Abreu made a baserunning mistake after whacking a double off Coke, but it needlessly burned the remaining lefty in the Yankees' 'pen.

(6) Sticking with Hughes, and yanking him. Girardi was right to both stick with Hughes through the 9th and yank him in the 10th after he allowed the leadoff double to Mathis. I'd prefer Rivera to hold the line in a playoff game, which he did thanks to Teixeira.

(7) Replacing Gardner with Hairston at DH. Girardi did this instead of having Gardy face Brian Fuentes. This had little purpose because if Girardi was going to end up blowing the DH, he should have done so with his best outfielder, not Hairston, and Hairston was not a threat to take Fuentes deep or to the gap -- the only ways the Yanks would have scored with two out and A-Rod on first.

(8) Replacing Damon with Hairston in LF in the bottom of the 10th with a runner at third and none out. This meant the Yanks lost the DH position, had a pitcher's spot after Jeter, and two light-hitting catchers on their bench (Molina, Cervelli) and the throwing arm upgrade from Damon to Hairston is far less than the upgrade from Damon to Cabrera or Gardner (Gardner usually goes to CF and pushes Melky to right or left, depending on who Girardi replaced).

(9) Replacing Robertson with Aceves. This made no sense at the time and is worse in hindsight. Robertson had cakewalked through the first two hitters in the bottom of the 11th. He's been excellent since the All-Star break (Aceves has been mediocre) and pitched out of HUGE trouble (bases loaded, none out) in game 2 against the Twins. He has better pure stuff. He can go more than one inning. Both are righties and so were the next and on-deck batters for the Angels. But Girardi liked the matchup of Aceves v. Howie Kendrick. Kendrick hit a seeing eye single, but the light-hitting Mathis whomped Aceves' offering into the gap, game over. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

If CC dominates and the Yanks win game 4, this matters less. If CC struggles or sucks and the Yanks lose, this matters a lot. And if CC pitches well but doesn't get through the 7th inning, then we go to the bullpen merry-go-round all over again. That's not good.

The Monk's call is that if the Yanks have a narrow lead and CC is running out of gas with 8 or fewer outs left for the Angels to tie it, use Hughes for four outs and Mo for four. Other than Robertson, the rest of the 'pen is not dependable or not good.

There's not much difference between these teams right now. The composite score is 12-9 Yanks. The starting pitchers are 1-0, 20.1 IP, 6 ER for the Yanks and 0-1, 17.2 IP, 7 ER for the Angels. The vaunted Yankee 'pen has allowed more earned runs (3-2) than the supposed Achilles' heel bullpen of the Angels. So managerial decisions have large consequences. To a large degree, Girardi is managing from fear, not strength. If he has the superior team, he should act like it and use its strengths effectively, not just manipulate matchups for their own sake.

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P.S. -- I wonder how much Joe Torre misses Mo. For the second straight year, Torre's Dodgers were thisclose to winning game 4 of the NLCS and tying the series, and for the second straight year Jonathan Broxton lost the game. Last year, he failed to preserve an 8th inning tie by allowing Matt Stairs' bomb that went halfway to Bakersfield. Last night, he got the last out of the eighth inning and then completely bonked the ninth, giving up two runs with two out after putting one of the runners on by hitting the batter.

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