Critical Managerial Moves That Shifted the ALCS, NLCS
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Managing during the regular season and playoffs are two entirely different animals. In the postseason, skippers are constantly faced with contentious situations that not only make or break a game, but also the season.
And while the focus of the playoffs tends to be on stars performing to their regular-season accolades, the decisions managers green light often have a similarly drastic effect on a game’s outcome.
For instance, Jim Leyland should have saved dominant southpaw reliever Drew Smyly to use against left-handed hitter David Ortiz in Game 2. Instead, Joaquin Benoit served up a costly grand slam to the oft-clutch Ortiz, handing the Boston Red Sox a win that could have easily been in the Detroit Tigers' back pocket.
Read on to see the critical managerial moves that shifted the ALCS and NLCS.
Paco Rodriguez Doesn’t Make the Cut
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One of manager Don Mattingly’s worst decisions in the NLCS came before the series even started. The Dodgers’ skipper decided to leave Paco Rodriguez off of the roster despite the pitcher being one of his best relievers during the regular season.
The southpaw owned a 2.32 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 154 ERA+), 0.90 WHIP and 3.32 K/BB over 54.1 innings. And while Rodriguez performed poorly in two NLDS stints, surrendering two earned runs over just two-thirds of an inning, the departure of Rodriguez left the Dodgers without a second left-handed reliever.
Rodriguez isn’t a lefty specialist either. The 22-year-old held right-handed hitters to a mere .202 batting average and .641 OPS.
Trusting Michael Wacha
In the playoffs, it’s expected that managers lean on their veteran aces to win decisive games. St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny went against the book in Game 6, however, using rookie Michael Wacha instead of Adam Wainwright.
But Matheny’s decision was still a good one. Wacha blanked the Dodgers over seven innings, helping the Cardinals advance to the World Series.
The 22-year-old's performance wasn't surprising. Wacha posted a 2.78 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 131 ERA+), 1.09 WHIP and 3.42 K/BB during the regular season. The right-hander’s success only continued in the postseason. Wacha shut down the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NLDS, tossing 7.1 innings and surrendering just one hit, one earned run and one walk while striking out nine batters.
Given how Wacha pitched against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Matheny will likely stick him in the line of fire during the World Series too.
Using a Lefty vs. David Ortiz in Game 2
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With Max Scherzer apparently being too tired to pitch the eighth inning, Jim Leyland was forced to go to his bullpen to close out the Boston Red Sox in Game 2.
The Red Sox, however, weren't ready to wave the white flag.
The team rallied against a slew of Tigers relievers, including left-hander Drew Smyly, loading the bases for David Ortiz. Without a lockdown southpaw reliever left in the bullpen, Leyland decided to use closer Joaquin Benoit in the tight spot.
But considering the left-handed hitting Ortiz owns a noticeable inferior .267 batting average and .816 OPS against his own kind, Leyland should have saved Smyly for Ortiz.
On the season, Smyly owned a dominant .189 batting average and .471 OPS against left-handed hitters, making him the more favorable option against the clutch Ortiz.
Keeping Stephen Drew in the Lineup
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When a player is only hitting .094, it’s expected that a manager would look elsewhere for a starting option. But in the case of Stephen Drew, the shortstop luckily brings more to the table than just a bat.
And perhaps that’s why Red Sox manager John Farrell has stayed loyal to Drew during the ALCS.
Despite only collecting three hits this postseason, Drew continually got starts due to his stellar glove. The 30-year-old owned a 6.7 UZR/150 over 1,093.1 innings at shortstop during the regular season.
Given the Red Sox's incredible offense, Farrell prudently understands that Drew doesn’t have to hit well for the Red Sox to win games.