Struggling Players That Need to Be Benched to Turn Around Playoff Series
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It's late in the game for teams to tinker with their rosters, but lineup changes are in order for the remaining MLB playoff squads.
Small sample sizes are small, so this is not a space to get carried away and blow brief slumps out of proportion. Obviously Dustin Pedroia does not warrant a seat on the bench after registering a .294 slugging percentage in the ALDS. We also won't sit Yasiel Puig for missing a cut-off man or enjoying baseball too much.
It also makes no sense to call for someone's job if a superior alternative does not exist. Pete Kozma sports an uninspiring bat at shortstop, but is Daniel Descalso going to offer anything better? The St. Louis Cardinals have little choice other to accept Kozma's offensive limitations and salvage some defense at the position.
But a select few players have a healthy Plan B breathing down their neck. Not to play the part of Captain Hindsight, but some of these moves probably should have been implemented before the postseason started.
Just in case you don't believe me, one pick is a call I'm sticking by even though his performance has, on the surface, struck down any reason for disapproval.
Let the lineup restructuring begin.
Not so Fast...
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These guys have not quite held up their end of the bargain, but let's hold off on summoning these established players to the dugout.
Matt Carpenter, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals - He collected just one hit against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NLDS, but you're not benching an All-Star who finished the season with a .392 on-base percentage and an MLB-high 126 runs scored.
Austin Jackson, CF, Detroit Tigers - The struggling outfielder reached base three times in the ALDS, collecting 13 strikeouts. But the 26-year-old is too important to Detroit's chances to sit even after a horrid five-game stretch.
Anibal Sanchez, SP, Detroit Tigers - Here's why you don't jump to conclusions. After leading the American League with a 2.57 ERA and 2.39 FIP, Sanchez dished up six runs (three homers) to the Oakland Athletics in Game 3. Then he hurled six hitless innings on Saturday night, so everything is fine. Trust the larger sample size and remain confident in Sanchez's abilities to flourish as an unheralded ace for the Tigers.
Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Boston Red Sox
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Most guys in Will Middlebrooks' position would receive the benefit of a doubt, but there's a future superstar toiling away on the Boston Red Sox's bench.
Middlebrooks collected just three hits against the Tampa Bay Rays, but he drew three walks to earn a .375 on-base percentage. Then again, he played poorly throughout the season, posting a mediocre .227/.271/.425 slash line at third base.
Don't take it personally, but it'd be swell to see Xander Bogaerts in action this October.
The 21-year-old, ranked No. 4 in Baseball America's midseason prospect rankings, did not receive little work upon his highly anticipated arrival. He hit .250/.320/.364 in 18 games, but 50 plate appearances is a small sampling to jump to conclusions.
Bogaerts looks matured beyond his years at the plate, as he registered a .369 on-base percentage in Triple-A. He boasts great discipline, a nifty glove and plus power for a shortstop or third baseman, making him a star in the making.
If this postseason has taught us anything, teams should not be afraid to roll the dice on inexperienced youngsters. Gerrit Cole, Michael Wacha and Sonny Gray, who were honing their craft in the minors on Opening Day, stole the show during the Division Series.
Middlebrooks needs to display some of his power to fend off Bogaerts.
Alex Avila, C, Detroit Tigers
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Detroit's lineup is awfully tricky to configure. The team features a bunch of premier bats out of position, which forces it to sacrifice defense somewhere to fit them all into starting roles.
A healthy Miguel Cabrera has no business manning third base, so a banged-up Cabrera is a major liability there. His power has gradually returned, highlighted by his Game 5 home run to lift the Tigers past the Athletics, so luckily we don't need to hold the uncomfortable conversation of whether he's hurting the team by playing at all through his myriad of injuries.
Jim Leyland can move his star slugger to designated hitter, put former catcher Victor Martinez back behind the plate in Alex Avila's place and play the returning Jhonny Peralta less out of position at third rather than left field.
Either way, they must deal with a poor defender somewhere in order to keep the lineup intact. While catcher is not the best place to feature that question mark, Avila has offered the team little all season. He hit .217/.317/.376 during the season and recorded a .449 OPS in the ALDS without any extra-base hits.
Peralta deserves a spot in the starting lineup, but forcing him to corral the Green Monster could produce disastrous results. Aren't two defensive concerns worse than one?
If slotting Martinez at catcher is too risky, the veteran designated hitter might be the one to sit outright to avoid placing Cabrera at third and Peralta in the outfield.
Joe Kelly, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
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Put down the pitchforks and hear me out.
Joe Kelly did everything the Cardinals could have hoped for to kick off the NLCS, allowing just two runs over six innings in Game 1. He also posted a 2.69 ERA during the season, making him another ace climbing up the ladder alongside Michael Wacha.
But not exactly. Some shaky underlying peripherals suggest the Cardinals are putting their hands awfully close to the stove by rolling with Kelly.
Despite his sterling ERA, the second-year starter tallied a mediocre 79 strikeouts and 44 walks through 124 regular-season innings. While his 10 strikeouts in 11.1 postseason frames looks much better, he's still walking the tightrope by issuing six free passes.
Kelly defied the strikeout and walk rates yet again, but how long will that last? According to FanGraphs, the 25-year-old notched a 4.01 FIP this season with help from a 82.4 percent strand rate, so he might struggle to keep limiting the damage on an excess of baserunners.
Meanwhile, Shelby Miller is sitting in the bullpen with 8.78 strikeouts and 2.96 walks per nine innings. While he has also received some fortune in stranding baserunners, Miller's 3.67 FIP still beats out Kelly.
Miller, not Kelly, will join Wacha as a future front-line starter. Even if his finish did not match his incredible start, Miller deserves a postseason start.
The results from Kelly have been just fine, but the process should worry the Cardinals.
Don Mattingly, Manager, Los Angeles Dodgers
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So a manager isn't technically a player in the true sense of the word, but Don Mattingly played a major factor into the Los Angeles Dodgers dropping Game 1 of the NLCS.
It doesn't matter what a manager does if the players bail out a poor decision or flop after the skipper sets the table perfectly. But boy, Mattingly did not help his team's cause on Friday night.
He gambled away one of his best hitters when pinch-running Adrian Gonzalez for speedster Dee Gordon in the eighth inning. While it seemed like a necessary risk, Gordon wasn't daring enough to run on Yadier Molina anyway, and a grounder from Puig quickly erased the shortstop from the bases.
Mattingly directed Mark Ellis to bunt in the top of the 12th inning, which failed to yield the desired singular run. Bunting is hardly as inexcusable in extra innings, but you'd think that Mattingly would have learned from Juan Uribe crushing a game-winning home run in Game 4 of the NLDS after failing to bunt.
Had Uribe successfully bunted, who knows if the Dodgers are even still around.
But at least Kenley Jansen got to watch most of the extra-inning affair from the comfort of the bullpen, where he probably called Craig Kimbrel to grumble over their manager's shortsightedness in throwing a game away while blindly following flawed protocol.
I'm not calling for the man's job or anything, but he needs to shape up to put the Dodgers in better position to win it all.
And oh yeah, I thought Mr. Burns told him to get rid of those sideburns.