Tonight's blowout by the Giants told us three things definitively. The first is that Lincecum is definitely back in Cy Young form, after a couple of more-than-questionable starts to lead off his '09 season. It also told us that once in a while, the Dodgers' offense is going to sputter, especially against a pitcher of Lincecum's quality.
But above and beyond all, it tells us that Joe Torre DEFINITELY takes some nights off.
I can only think of a couple of Torre's personnel decisions tonight that made sense to me. Ausmus and Loretta pinch-hitting in the eighth and ninth innings, absolutely; they've been hot off the bench to start the year, so I'd have done the same thing.
But the first seven innings or so...whoa, Joe. Let's review.
It began when he filled out the lineup card. First of all, this is Tim Lincecum, in the rubber game of a three game series, against your big divisional rival, away from home. So you make damn sure you bring your A Game to the ballpark that day.
And of course, Joe's "A Game" lineup looks like this:
SS Furcal/2B Hudson/LF Ramirez/RF Ethier/1B Loney/C Martin...
And then things get weird in lineup slots seven through nine.
Casey Blake, who normally hits eighth, moves up a spot, because Torre decided to sit the recently-solid Matt Kemp. Why, I don't know; he's only seen Lincecum on two occasions, and is 0 for 4 with a walk. He collected two huge hits last night, and is rewarded by sitting out the rubber match? An odd call, to be sure.
Even odder given that he had pitcher Eric Stults batting eighth, and Kemp's replacement Juan Pierre hitting ninth.
Um, HELLO??? Earth to Joe: Eric Stults does not yet have a hit this year. He's 0-4 with two walks—hardly meriting the eighth spot. The AT&T Park TV flashed an interesting figure—the last time the Dodgers batted a pitcher higher than ninth was in August 1965.
You think there might be a reason it hasn't been done in 44 years? (For the record, the guy they moved up (to seventh!) was Don Drysdale—he of 29 career homers, and someone Alston commonly used as a pinch hitter, so there might have been more than a little justification that time). There is no acceptable reason for this level of gaffe.
And then the game began.
It was clear from Fred Lewis' leadoff at-bat for the Giants that Stults was: A) no match for Lincecum tonight, and B) was no match for his own stuff, as he struggled to throw any strikes that were not crushable belt-high fastballs, and consistently missed the targets Russell Martin set.
In the second inning, facing leadoff batter Emmanuel Burriss, Eric Stults launched his first pitch three feet over the umpire's head.
In addition, the whole time he was pitching Stults was giving up hit after hit, and it didn't even look like Torre began thinking that we needed to keep the game close until Eric was well on his way to trying to give up his sixth run of the night with two outs in the third.
At which point, Torre's hook became too fast, yanking effective pitchers too soon, leaving less effective relievers in to get hit further and surrender more runs. Only the fourth and fifth innings were scoreless tonight for the Giants, and neither effective pitcher (Ramon Troncoso and Hong Chi-Kuo, hats off, boys!) was left in for longer than that inning.
Meanwhile, Scott Elbert threw two innings and gave up a pair of runs, to be replaced by Guillermo Mota, who gave up two more in less than an inning. Not kosher.
I feel like Joe was trying to send some sort of message to Kemp or any of a thousand other players on this club tonight. Apparently, it includes notes like, "Ineffective pitching will be rewarded."
Not Torre's best night. Let's hope he manages to not repeat these mistakes against San Diego.