At the time it was going down it seemed pretty obvious that Joe Girardi and the Yankees, a playoff spot long-secured, were content to try to get healthy and optimized for the playoffs rather than to overtake the Rays for the AL East title. But you don’t expect to hear anyone on the team admit it like Brian Cashman did the other day:
“I’m not taking away from Tampa Bay, but we didn’t try to win the division,” Cashman said. “We tried to line ourselves up for the playoffs and that worked. “The division title was rendered meaningless the way the set-up was. It really meant nothing more than a T-shirt and a hat.”
Kind of shocking to hear it such stark terms, but on the merits he was right. An extra road game or two and a worse first-round matchup is more than worth it in order to have your starters rested and healthy.
That all changes when the second wild card comes in and the team in the Yankees’ position — a very good team that just happens to be a game worse than their competition — is forced into a one-game playoff. Which, in 2010, would have been the Red Sox.
I still don’t like the idea of an expanded playoff on general stubborn principle, but it’s obvious to see how having one can definitely change the incentives and put a premium on winning the division.
The Angels’ bench is looking woefully thin this winter — so thin, in fact, that manager Mike Scioscia says he’s considering utilizing starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner on the days he’s not scheduled to pitch.
I’ve never had a pitcher pinch-run,” Scioscia told reporters Saturday. “There’s more bad than good that can come out of it. But Shohei is not just a pitcher. He’s a guy that has the ability to do some of the things coming off the bench, whether it’s pinch-hit or pinch-run, and we’re definitely going to tap into that if it’s necessary, because we feel we’re not putting him at risk. It’s something he’s able to do.
Granted, spring training allows for a certain amount of experimentation before managers and players decide what works best for them, so this may not be the strategy the Angels employ for the entire season. In addition to coming off the bench between starts, Ohtani is also expected to see 2-3 days at DH every week, forcing Albert Pujols to shift over to first base to accommodate the new two-way star.
Ohtani’s hitting prowess has already been well-documented — he has a lifetime .286/.358/.500 batting line from NPB and crushed a batting practice home run during his initial workouts with the team this week — but his skills on the basepaths have received less attention so far. MLB Pipeline describes the 23-year-old phenom as a “well-above average runner” whose speed has yet to manifest stolen bases: he’s nabbed just 13 bases in 17 chances over the last five years. That’s a number Scioscia hopes to see increased this season, though he doesn’t want his ace pitcher making any head-first slides on the basepaths to do so.
To be sure, it’s an unorthodox role for any young player to step into, but if anyone can pull it off, Ohtani can.