How Jim Tracy Lost the Division Series
Another stat-line pop quiz:
You're in the late innings of a tight playoff game. Whom would you rather face?
Player 1 (2009 regular season): 319 BA/.395 OBP/.691 SLG (1.086 OPS)
or Player 2: 207/.298/.356 (.653)
This is roughly akin to asking whether you'd rather face Albert Pujols (1.101 OPS this year) or David Eckstein (.657 OPS).
You may have guessed by now that Player 1 and Player 2 are the same guy: They are Ryan Howard's 2009 splits against right-handed pitchers and left-handed pitchers, respectively.
Basically, any manager who allows the Phillies' first baseman to face a right-handed pitcher with the game on the line is a stone-cold fool.
Now then, here are Howard's at-bats against the Rockies in the NLDS, from the sixth inning on:
6th inning: Facing RHP Ubaldo Jimenez. Phillies up 2-0. Runner on second, nobody out. Result: RBI double. (NOTE: Jimenez was allowed to bat for himself the previous half-inning, then didn't make it out of this half-inning.)
7th inning: Facing LHP Franklin Morales. Phillies up 5-0. Runner on third, one out. Result: Line drive double-play.
6th inning: Facing RHP Aaron Cook. Phillies down 4-0. Runners on first and third, nobody out. Result: RBI double.
8th inning: Facing RHP Rafael Betancourt. Phillies down 5-3. None on, no outs. Result: ground out.
7th inning: Facing LHP Morales. Phillies up 5-4. None on, two outs. Result: fly out
9th inning: Facing RHP Huston Street. Score tied 5-5. Runners on first and third, one out. Result: Deep sacrifice fly.
6th inning: Facing RHP Jimenez. Phillies up 1-0. Leading off inning. Result: ground out.
8th inning: Facing LHP Morales. Phillies up 2-1. None on, one out. Result: strikeout looking.
9th inning: Facing RHP Street. Phillies down 4-2. Runners on first and second, two outs: Result game-tying, two-run double.
Rockies Manager Jim Tracy lost the series by allowing Howard to face right-handed pitchers, again and again, with the game on the line: For the entire four-game series, Howard was 0 for 4 with a strikeout against lefties, and 6 for 12 with three doubles and six RBI against right-handers.
This is simple, simple stuff. It's not a secret that Howard has extreme lefty-righty splits. I've written about it here before. It's nothing new.
True, the Rockies were hamstrung to a certain extent by the loss of lefty Jorge de la Rosa, who likely would have started Game 3 had he not been injured. But why Tracy insisted on making his pitchers face (the equivalent of) Albert Pujols with the game on the line, instead of letting them face David Eckstein is beyond me.
Last night, during the pivotal ninth inning, as Tracy allowed Street to face Howard with the tying runs on base, you could totally see what was about to happen. Although he had already used Morales, Tracy had another lefty, Joe Beimel, available in his bullpen. But he let Street face Howard, and the only miracle is that Howard's inevitable rocket didn't leave the ballpark. Once the Phillies took the lead, Tracy finally yanked Street and put in Beimel to clean up the debris -- too late to save the Rockies' season.
(It's true, as Nationals fans will recall, that Beimel does not exactly own Howard. Over the course of 2009, in fact, Howard came within a single of hitting for the cycle against him, going 3 for 7 with a double, a triple and a homer. But before this season, Howard was 0- for 3 with four walks against him, and Beimel also retired Howard on a weak pop up in the fifth inning of Game 3 Sunday night, in a tie game with a runner on.)
I understand that Street is the Rockies' closer and that closers are supposed to pitch the ninth inning, no matter what. But here is a case where the entire game and your entire season are on the line, and you need one more out, and your choices are simple: Street vs. Albert Pujols, or Beimel vs. David Eckstein. If it's me, I ignore tradition, and I put aside Street's potential hurt feelings, and I pitch to Eckstein.
And then I get ready for Tuesday night's Game 5.
The Rockies, on the other hand, are finished.
I think I want my Manager of the Year vote back.
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