Joe Maddon's smart moves never receive a lot of attention. For the second Sunday in a row, Maddon impressed me with this foresight and decision making.
Last week, the Rays tied the game in the bottom of the sixth. In the seventh, Randy Choate entered to face Nick Johnson with Anderson Hernandez on first base with one out. A passed ball sent Hernandez scampering to second and a grounder to second left Hernandez at third with two outs and a right-handed Ryan Zimmerman at the plate. Maddon called for the intentional walk and set up a lefty/lefty match-up. Choate would win the duel, but even if he didn't, the decision was sound. Maddon turned the odds in his favor by simply placing an extra runner on base without advancing the lead runner.
The Nationals run expectancy sprung from 0.36 to 0.50 after the walk. That's it. 0.14 runs.
Today, Maddon pinch hit for Jeff Niemann in the top of the fifth. Niemann's pitching was erratic and frankly a bit underwhelming, the Rays trailed by two, and the first two batters had reached. Even with the pinch hitter penalty implemented, letting Willy Aybar bat is going to end in a better result than Niemann trying to bunt or, forbid, swinging away. A bunt lowered run expectations by more than a half of a run. Did Maddon make the right call going to his pen that early? Probably. Unless the Rays are playing a pick-up game tomorrow, there was no reason to save anyone.
Overly good or bad results can skew perspectives, so I'll refrain from calling this the best run of Maddon managing we've experienced this season, but it's been very, very good.