Give credit to Baltimore for playing their ass off in this crucial series. They have definitely won the last two game, one rather easily. That said, the Rays were very accommodating in helping the Orioles to a victory last evening with a familiar recipe of stranding baserunners, blunders on the basepaths, but added in a new ingredient of several questionable managerial decisions.
Joe Maddon screws up and is not above criticism when he does, but rarely do we see Maddon make as many questionable decisions in a single game as he did last night. Or did he?
Maddon's first strategical move of the night was bringing in Jake McGee to finish the 5th inning rather than let Alex Cobb gut through the inning. Maddon made the wise move by turning Wilson Betemit around to his much weaker side and McGee struck out Betemit to end the inning with two runners on base. Job well done by both the pitcher and the skipper.
The second strategical move of the game came in the 6th inning after the Rays put two runners on base with one out. Miguel Gonzalez balked to advance both runners in to scoring position but Ryan Roberts was locked up on a two-strike splitter and never offered at the pitch. Buck Showalter decided to wisely pitch around Matt Joyce as even a struggling Joyce is much better than Jose Molina. Showalter dared Maddon to leave the weak-hitting Molina in the game for his defensive chops rather than pinch hit for him. Maddon was more than happy to oblige his opponent and Molina predictably failed to hit the ball out of the infield.
The immediate reaction to the move was to wonder why Maddon did not pinch hit since the expanded roster left him with a number of options on the bench. If we use Whelk's new matchup projection tool, we can see the numbers that address the situation.
Miguel Gonzalez does not have enough plate appearances to function in the matchup tool, but we know that Jose Molina has a regressed wOBA of .273 in situations in which he is facing a right-handed pitcher. The Book tells us hitters take a severe penalty of .034 in wOBA when pinch-hitting. Whelk's tool assigns a 10 percent penalty to a hitter's regressed projected wOBA after the calculations against the pitcher are factored in. The table below shows the matchup projection wOBA for the options and likely matchups that would have been available:
Showalter had Brian Matusz warming up in the pen which was the likely deterrent from bringing in either Scott or Fuld. While Jennings is only a slight upgrade from Molina in the matchup wOBA but his availability for the game was uncertain. Maddon had said Jennings was available to pinch hit in the first game of the series and the reporters were surprised when Jennings was not included in the lineup for the second game after witnessing him filming a commercial prior to the game that included sliding. Jennings would have been a preferable option if he were available for his ability to work a count, something Molina has never done well.
In the top of the 7th inning, B.J. Upton led off the inning with a single and stole second base. Keppinger failed to move him over as he popped Darren O'Day's frisbee slider up to Mark Reynolds and Ben Zobrist repeated the process to Robert Andino. Showalter intentionally walked Evan Longoria to allow O'Day to face Ben Francisco. Using the same chart as above, these were the options facing Maddon:
Assuming Showalter were to bring in Matusz to face either lefty option on the bench, Maddon made the right decision to leave Francisco in the game. Matusz was indeed warming in the inning which makes it very likely Showalter would indeed have brought the lefty in to counteract either Scott or Fuld's appearance. Francisco was lifted after the plate appearance as Fuld replaced him in the field to start the bottom half of the inning.
In the 8th inning, Maddon finally decided to pinch hit for Jose Molina as he brought in Luke Scott to face Pedro Strop with two outs and Matt Joyce on first.
By this time, we can only assume Jennings' availability for the day was limited to him furthering his acting career as he was once again left on the bench. There was a marginal difference between Scott and Fuld in the matchup, but Maddon appeared to go with the long-ball threat but Scott was not able to hit it out of the infield.
In the fateful 9th inning, Maddon went with Kyle Farnsworth rather than the warmed Fernando Rodney. This is something conventional managers often do when pundits chide them for saving their closers for save situation, but not something we are accustomed to seeing Maddon do. He has had no problem using Rodney late in 0 or 1-run games at home in the 8th or 9th inning having used the closer in eight such situations. However, he has rarely done so on the road with his closer. He brought Rodney in for two innings of work in New York on May 9th in a game where Rodney got the win as the Rays scored four runs in the 9th after Rodney had shut down the Yankees in the 8th. More recently, Rodney was brought in during a 2-2 game against Seattle on August 14th when Carlos Pena threw a simple toss to first base somewhere into the Puget Sound.
In this game, Maddon went back to Farnsworth who has had his struggles in high leverage situations this season. The first batter of the inning was the 20 year old whiz-kid Manny Machado who had ended the previous inning with a fake throw to first to deek Rich Thompson too far off the bag at third and nail him in a bone-headed run down. Machado singled and Robert Andino successfully sacrificed Machado into scoring position. Nate McLouth was the next batter and while Farnsworth's batting average against lefties this season is good, he has had his issues with walks against lefties having walked nine of the 44 lefties he has faced this season. Farnsworth was left in and McLouth turned a second pitch fastball down the right-field line for a walk-off single rather than put on first base to set up the double-play against righties J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones (h/t SandyKazmir).
We've grown accustomed to the Rays losing because they cannot hit, but we are not accustomed to seeing the team lose due to questionable roster manipulation as we did last night. If Jennings was truly unavailable for any form of duty last night, that somewhat explains some of the decisions but going with Farnsworth over a warm and fresh Rodney who had not pitched since September 8th was the final frustrating headscratcher.