Postgame Thoughts, 18th June: Double You. Tee. Eff.

Jun 19, 2009 at 1:17 am
-Okay, so Jo-El Pineiro crapped the bed quite mightily in the first inning, but he certainly had some help from the defense. Just an ugly inning all around, the sort that we really haven't seen too many of from the Cards lately. 

Typing that, I find myself a bit surprised, to be quite honest. It hadn't even really occurred to me until just now that the Cardinal defense has improved markedly from where it was earlier this season. I still think Skippy Schumaker is hurting the team at second base, but it hasn't been painfully obvious lately the way it was earlier in the season. 

Sadly, I think a big part of that has been replacing the defense of Khalil Greene, which was, to put it bluntly, kind of shitty this year, with the outstanding gloves of either Brendan Ryan or Tyler Greene. Why do I say that's sad? Because it makes me feel bad to realize that the team probably is better off without Khalil; I feel for the guy, and I've always liked him as a player, but there seem to be better options already on the team. Maybe the whole playing third base thing will work for him, but I'm not holding my breath. 

-It appears that Jason Motte was listening to what I said the other day about him not getting beaten on his slider, seeing as how both of the homers he gave up were on fastballs. And honestly, I can handle that. Neither one was located particularly well, but sometimes, guys just get hits. It happens. At least he didn't toss a couple of hangers up there for Thames and Polanco to knock around. 

That being said, it does worry me a bit that Motte is going to struggle at times to put hitters away until he comes up with something else a bit more reliable. Looking at his arm action and delivery, I still don't understand why someone doesn't try to teach the guy a splitter, but for some reason Dave Duncan only seems to want to teach sinkers and cutters/ sliders these days. (And god help you if you don't want to learn one of those.) 

-On a related note, I still miss Placido Polanco. He's not the sort of player that I usually like; he rarely walks, has little power, and relies almost entirely on his batting average to support his overall numbers, but I still really like the little dude. 

-I already mentioned Jo-El a bit in passing, but he was really outstanding tonight, and I think the guy deserves some real credit. After that ugly first, it would have been very easy for the game to get away, and Pineiro to take an early shower. Instead, he shut the Tigers down cold for another six innings, and made sure we didn't have to see any of the ridiculous bullpen shenanigans we typically get on days when the starter goes three. 

-And finally, my big complaint of the game, and the reason for the title of this thing: what the fuck was Tony thinking pinch-hitting Albert Pujols for Colby Rasmus? On the surface, of course, I'm sure it's just the sort of move that a lot of people would agree with; get the kid out against a tough lefty, get your best right-handed stick up to the plate, try to get something going to get back into the game. 

But here's the problem with that: in taking Rasmus out of the game, La Russa just made his defense worse. On top of that, the best Albert can possibly do in that situation is hit a solo home run to tie the game. And on top of that, after Colby's spot, Ryan Ludwick was up, followed by the worst hitter you can possibly imagine with the game on the line in Dick Ankiel

Honestly, this move is almost indefensible to me. By letting Colby hit, La Russa could have kept his best defensive center fielder in the game, then pinch-hit Albert for Ankiel just two batters later. Albert would still have been guaranteed to get a plate appearance in the inning, and couldn't have possibly come up in a worse situation. The worst that could have happened is for Pujols to come up with the bases empty, a situation that was absolutely guaranteed by leading him off the inning. 

It only gets worse when you look at what Ankiel has done in clutch situations. In close and late situations this season, Ankiel is hitting a robust .200/.250/.320, for an OPS+ of 57. That is awful. In addition, Rasmus has been the team's hottest hitter of late; over the last 14 days, Colby carries an OPS of 1.000 exactly. I will admit, though, that Colby hasn't been as good the last week, posting an OPS of only .688. That still looks glorious, though, compared to Ankiel's OPS over the last seven days, which stands at .321. That's not a typo. Dick's OPS+ for the last week is -13. I honestly didn't realize you could have a negative number for OPS+. 

I'm not much of a believer in the myth of "clutchiness," but Ankiel has proven throughout his career, both as a pitcher and a hitter, than when the situation is biggest, he comes up the smallest. 

So with one move, yet again, Tony La Russa, genius Hall of Fame manger, managed to hurt his defense, hamstring his best hitter by ensuring he can't do any better than tie the game, and keep the last batter in the world you want to see with the game on the line right there, ready to hit with the game on the line. Just an awful use of the available options.