Monday, August 24, 2009

An All-Baseball Monday Weekend Re-Kap

It is pretty alarming that with Curtis Granderson now in his sixth season as a big leaguer, he is still yet to make any significant strides towards becoming even a remotely productive player against left-handed pitching. You expect the cornerstones of your team to be in the lineup and producing most every day. But with Granderson's continued futility against southpaws, he has essentially forced Jim Leyland to bench him when such a situation arises. Grandy sat out consecutive ballgames on Thursday and Friday even though the opposing lefty starters were second rate bums Ryan Rowland-Smith and Gio Gonzalez. Not exactly Whitey Ford and Sandy Koufax.

This season, Granderson is hitting left-handers at a paltry .178 clip with virtually no extra-base power. Of course, he remains a very integral part of the club's success, and will need to be counted on if they expect to make any major strides in the postseason. But what do you do when you open the playoffs in the new Yankee Stadium, and the opposing hurler is the menacing mountain of a left-hander, C.C. Sabathia? (A very real possibility) In a short series, can you afford to have one of your best players riding the pine? You wouldn't think so. But on the other hand, can you really afford to stick a guy in the lineup when his track record says he is very likely to end the night 0-4 with two or three punchouts? It's an interesting situation, because for most contending teams, the leadoff hitter is an automatic. The manager fills out that spot first, and then works his way down. Would Charlie Manuel ever imagine sitting Jimmy Rollins in a big ballgame? How about Jacoby Ellsbury with the Bosox? It puts Leyland in an almost impossible situation. If he plays Granderson against a top lefty and he takes an O-fer, people wonder why he was in the lineup. But if he dares fill out a card for a big playoff game with Clete Thomas or Ryan Raburn in center, you bet he will get a lot of flak for that, too.

In order to really be mentioned with the elite outfielders in the league, Granderson must improve to at least a level of respectability when a lefty is on the hill. If he doesn't make these necessary strides, he will eventually become a specialized platoon player, only to be used against righties, and have to be pinch-hit for when managers summon lefty specialists to face him in the late innings. This is not to suggest that it is an easy task hanging in there from the left side when every Randy Johnson delivery looks like it is coming right at the small of your back. Plenty of guys have spent years struggling in this same lefty-lefty battle, much like Curtis. But when you look at the other elite leadoff men in the Junior Circuit, it becomes clear that Granderson has quite a ways to go in this department. Ichiro is a career .347 hitter against his lefty brethren, and the aforementioned Ellsbury manages to hit all hurlers at a similarly consistent rate (.299 against RHP, .290 against LHP).

Curtis Granderson is unquestionably one of the most talented players on the team. The Tigers are locked in a tight race for the division, and the combination of speed, power, and defense that he possesses will be needed every single day (and not 3 of every 4 days) in order to end the season atop the standings in the Central. He better figure something out soon. If not, he ought to get very comfortable with the possibility of watching two of five playoff games in the first round from the bench. C.C. looms...

Questionable Managing Move of the Weekend

The Tigers dropped a tough one in Oak-town on Saturday night, losing 3-2 on a Kurt Suzuki walk-off single in the bottom of the 9th. But upon further review, you have to wonder what was going through the mind of manager Jim Leyland as that decisive inning progressed. The A's got a leadoff single from Adam Kennedy. The robotic Athletics manager Bob Geren then called for a sacrifice, putting the winning run on 2nd with one out. The batter about to step in was Suzuki, the third batter in the Oakland lineup, and oddly enough, one of the few guys on the roster with a history of coming through in the clutch (6 walk-off career 7). Following Suzuki was Scott Hairston, a right handed hitter with marginal speed; in other words, a pretty decent double play candidate. Zach Miner was the Tigers hurler, and despite the bouts of inconsistency he has faced throughout his career, he still has that plus sinker in his arsenal, and would be capable of getting that tailor made ground ball needed to escape the jam.

In a simple baseball situation such as this, with the winning run on 2nd and 1st base open, it would really take an extraordinary set of circumstances not to set up the DP. For instance, let's say you're playing the Cardinals and the #2 hitter is due up...somebody non-threatening like Mark DeRosa or Brendan Ryan. With Albert Pujols waiting on deck, the cost of setting up the double play would be immense. You'd have to now pitch to Pujols with the game on the line. In that situation, you take your chances with the weaker hitter, hope to retire him, then you can put Pujols on and go from there.

But the situation Leyland was faced with had none of these little exceptions. You had Suzuki and Hairston, both middling righthanded hitters, where the only move was to simply follow standard operating procedure and put the man on. Creativity as a manger is not a bad trait to have, but it can be destructive when you try to stray from the percentages if for no other reason than to look like some kind of savant if it all works out.

The "Hey, you do realize you're watching Little Leaguers, right?" Sick Comment of the Weekend

My brother Sam and I decided to turn in for a few batters in one of the zillion Little League World Series games that aired on ESPN over the weekend. Now, watching these games can be alright, if certain rules are followed. First, you can really only watch in little five minute increments. Any more than that and you start to feel sick. Second, you have to go in with the understanding that you're watching 11 and 12-year old kids and that you cannot expect to see big league quality play. However, if you are to break down a certain play or criticize one of the tike's batting stances, it must be done with obvious sarcasm, so as to alert everyone else that you aren't taking the proceedings too seriously.

So we're watching the game, and Sam takes note of the big, bulky righthander currently firing 61 mph BB's for the California squad. Sam turns to me after a pitch, and with one-hundred percent conviction and sincerity, blurts out, "The kid reminds me a lot of Peavy." Maybe you had to be there to feel what I felt, and maybe this kid actually will one day be a Cy Young winner with the Padres, but under the circumstances, and just the way he said it, gave me immediate goosebumps and a pretty good shock to the system. If he would have said it, then burst out laughing, that's one thing. But in this instance, it was stated as some kind of fact, and the eerie silence that followed told me that Sam was now most likely daydreaming about playing catch with this phenom in an open field and then maybe heading in the house for some peach iced tea (where Chris Hanson may or may not be waiting).

Sam was a big time Little Leaguer in his day, and I know he took it seriously, but I still thought he had a solid grasp between what is reality and what is fiction. But his stone cold boy-to-Peavy comparison made me realize that he has somehow managed to combine Mustang, slo-pitch softball, and the major leagues into one giant baseball division in which the skill sets are all identical, and the only difference is the alcohol content of the postgame snack. I might check out an inning or two of another game with him in the coming days, but I'll be sure to keep a safe distance at all times...real safe.

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