The Milwaukee Brewers dropped a tough game last night that seemingly would point out some of their deficiencies such as “clutch hitting” and “poor defense”. The Brewers left runners all over the base paths all night and the range of their infield was exposed. Running an infield of Casey McGehee, Yuniesky Betancourt, Craig Counsell and Prince Fielder out is not going to make other teams worry too much.
Of course, Yovanni Gallardo serving up pitches for the mighty Cardinal lineup to bomb all over didn’t help much either. The good news; today is probably the last time this year the Brewers will have to face the team from St. Louis as they march on to the playoffs and the Cardinals head into an offseason of total uncertainty.
Last night’s game also may have illustrated one of the Cardinals biggest deficiencies as well: Manager Tony LaRussa. The first sign was last week when in the fourth inning LaRussa went to the bullpen when spot-starter Brandon Dickson got in some trouble. The move worked as Octavio Dotel stopped a rally and the Cardinals continued to pound Gallardo. LaRussa in general played the middle innings like they were the ninth.
He did it again last night when the Brewers were trying to put together a rally late. LaRussa played the 7th inning like it was the ninth and it worked. The problem was there were two more innings left in the game and after using a couple of relievers in that seventh inning brought in another in the 8th and 9th. The Brewers were able to get a run in each frame but again came up short in the clutch hitting department.
So the tactics of the St. Louis skipper helped pull out two games that never got too close. What a genius! Or is he?
The Brewers hold a 9 ½ game lead over the Cardinals heading into the series finale and moves such as these may be a major reason why. The Brewers have compiled a decent 6 – 6 record in extra inning games and an outstanding 28 – 16 record in one-run games. The Cardinals meanwhile are 6 – 12 in extra inning games and 19 – 21 in one-run games. That is eleven extra losses and nine less wins in tight contests.
According to baseballreference.com the Cardinals have had a total of 135 games this year where a pitcher came in and got less than three outs. The Brewers meanwhile have just 83 such games. For the season the relief corps for the Cardinals has pitched just barely over three outs per inning pitched. What this tells me is that they end up in too many games like last night where LaRussa has already burned through his best relievers and the other team gets the clutch hit to tie or go ahead and that the Cardinals just can’t match the pitching the later the game goes.
Eight different pitchers have taken the loss in those twelve extra inning losses. On any given day you really have no clue who LaRussa will have trot out from the bullpen during his sometimes three pitcher innings and you certainly do not know who will be left when the 9th inning or later rolls around.
Ron Roenicke and the Brewers on the other hand have a very distinct pecking order in their bullpen and the only variation comes from injury concerns like they had early in the season. Once Francisco Rodriguez arrived, the roles became even more defined. The Cardinals lead the world in blown saves this year while Brewer games are typically 7-inning affairs if they have the lead. LaRussa’s inconsistency puts different people in different positions almost daily and it has resulted in far too many close game losses for the Cardinals.
I hear players and announcers talk about how someone is having a better year than before because they “know their role” and “feel comfortable”. This is certainly the case in Milwaukee where only six different starting pitchers have been used this year and the bullpen is clearly defined. Even the addition of K-Rod was no excuse for the Brewers to break from their plan.
There are other signs as well. The Brewers were tops in baseball heading into the Cardinals series with 74 sacrifice bunts while St. Louis ranked seventh. The Crew is also near the top in sacrifice flies while St. Louis ranks twelfth.
When you start to look at many of the other statistics these teams come out pretty even. In fact you will see their names together in the rankings of most of the major categories statistically. The glaring difference has been the Brewers ability to win the close games.
The bottom line is Tony LaRussa has not been a good close game manager in years. His winning percentage over the last five years in extra inning or one-run games is .463 and not since 2007 has he held a winning record in extra inning games. Only once in those five years did he break .500 in one-run games. He hasn’t finished above .500 in both categories since 2004.
All of this says to me that LaRussa when given the best players like he has had in guys like Pujols and Holliday in St. Louis or the “Bash Brothers” in Oakland he can win. When it comes time to win the close ones with whatever you have left he appears to come up short. The most telling part is that he is usually responsible for not having much left by burning through players and pitchers when other managers stick to their plan.