Wait? Did Bobby Cox really pencil in the right lineup tonight?

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An hour ago I said that Bobby Cox did the best he could given some bad choices with tonight’s lineup.  My friend Rob Neyer views it a bit differently:

If Cox really thought his best lineup included Troy Glaus at third base and Omar Infante at second base, that’s the lineup he would have been writing out every game.

He hasn’t been. In his heart, Cox believes his best lineup includes Infante at third base and Brooks Conrad at second base. Except now psychology has come into this thing . . . If Conrad really isn’t good enough to start, Cox should have known that
before today. And I can’t stop thinking that all this could have been
avoided, if Cox had simply lifted Conrad for a better defensive player
in the ninth inning of Game 3.

I’m sorry to say this about a Hall
of Fame manager who’s on the way out. But he blew this one from six
ways to Sunday. Plain and simple.

Is psychology such a bad thing in this instance? I ask because in many ways Cox has operated like this for his entire career.  He has pitched Charlie Liebrandt or started Keith Lockhart or any number of other things that weren’t always the best tactical move. Maybe not even what he thought was the best tactical move himself. Such an approach may have cost him some games. Maybe even some big ones.

But he’s never lost his clubhouse. He’s never, as far as I know, had his players seriously question his judgment.  His steadiness and his attention to player psychology has arguably been his greatest asset over the years.  It’s who he is as a manager. It’s who the Braves are as a team for better and for worse.

We on the outside can’t know for sure, but I bet Cox’s decision to go with Glaus is a function of him knowing — as really only he can know — that his players need that lineup tonight. That no matter how politic he has been, Derek Lowe will freak out if he looks back and sees Conrad at second tonight.  That Alex Gonzalez or Derek Lee will try to do too much if they see him there.  That Conrad himself may freeze up and, if it’s at all possible, play worse himself if he gets the start.

Maybe Cox does realize, deep down, that starting Glaus is the wrong move, tactically speaking. But for him to ignore what is most likely unanimous — albeit likely unspoken — team sentiment that Conrad shouldn’t start tonight would be for him to reject everything that has made him the manager he is. At this late date — perhaps six hours before his career comes to an end — how could he possibly change the only approach to managing that he’s ever known?  And why would any Braves fan want him to, no matter what the stakes?

We’ve reached a point where the micro-level tactical considerations seem, I don’t know, beside the point. The Braves are bleeding. They’re tired. There’s only one bullet left in the chamber and the place they’ve holed up in is surrounded. Even if they get out of this mess, there’s a much scarier horde waiting for them just over the ridge. 

No manager is perfect. Bobby Cox certainly isn’t perfect. But I believe in Bobby Cox. I have no choice but to.  And if he’s going to go down tonight, I want him to go down doing it the way he always has.  I think his players do too.  And I think he’s doing just that.     

Watch: Mike Trout ties MLB record with his 25th home run

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It was only a matter of time before Mike Trout courted another all-time record, and on Saturday, he found himself in elite company with his 25th and 26th home runs of the season. He put the Angels on the board with a 429-foot blast in the first inning, depositing an 0-1 fastball from the Orioles’ Kevin Gausman into the left field bleachers:

In the third inning, with the Angels up 2-1, Trout returned to tack on another insurance run. He targeted Gausman’s slider for his second solo shot of the evening and cleared the center field fence with a 418-footer to bring his total to 26 home runs on the year.

Trout has mashed at a staggering .339/.471/.596 clip since his return from the disabled list last month, and Saturday’s totals helped mark his sixth consecutive season with at least 25 home runs. That’s a record few have matched before their age-26 season; in fact, only Hall of Fame sluggers Eddie Mathews and Frank Robinson have ever pulled it off.

Assuming he continues to rake in hits and plate appearances over the last six weeks of the regular season — and there’s nothing to indicate that he won’t — Trout is in line to join elite company of a different kind. The 26-year-old entered Saturday’s game with a 206 OPS+ (park-adjusted on-base plus slugging). According to MLB.com’s Matt Kelly, that means Trout’s hitting at a better clip than the average Major League player by a full 106 percent. Should he finish the year with a 200 OPS+ and 502 plate appearances or better, he’ll be the first player to do so since Barry Bonds obliterated the competition with his 263 OPS+ in 2004.

Blue Jays acquire Tom Koehler from Marlins

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The Blue Jays acquired right-hander Tom Koehler from the Marlins in exchange for minor league right-hander Osman Gutierrez and cash considerations, the clubs announced Saturday. Koehler is in his sixth year with the Marlins and stands to make $5.75 million in 2017. He’ll be arbitration eligible in 2018 and is set to enter free agency by 2019.

The 31-year-old right-hander struggled to a 7.92 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 7.1 SO/9 over 55 2/3 innings with Miami in 2017. He was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans in late July, where he rebounded with a 1-1 record in seven starts and whittled his ERA down to a 1.67 mark. The Blue Jays have yet to establish Koehler’s role within their organization, but are hoping to see a turnaround from the righty when he breaks back into the big leagues.

Gutierrez, 22, was assigned to Single-A Greensboro on Saturday. He has yet to find his footing in the minors, and exited a 78-inning stint with Single-A Lansing after racking up a career-worst 7.85 ERA and 8.2 SO/9. His lack of control is particularly alarming, with a 6.2 BB/9 that dwarfs the 2.0+ BB/9 of seasons past, but he still has plenty of time to figure out his mechanics before reaching the Show.