ALDS Tigers Athletics Baseball

If only Jim Leyland hadn’t been so hands on

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Tigers manager Jim Leyland spent the first four months of this season with two reliable relievers: left-hander Drew Smyly and right-hander Joaquin Benoit. Obviously, that’s less than ideal. But it did give him fewer chances to mess things up.

And mess things up he did in the ALCS. With Jose Veras and Al Alburquerque at his disposal, Leyland turned Smyly into a matchup guy. In Saturday’s game, Smyly induced a possible double-play grounder from the only batter he faced, Jacoby Ellsbury. Unfortunately, the play was botched by Jose Iglesias, who should have at least gotten one out.

Smyly was pulled. Veras came on with the bases loaded and gave up a grand slam to Shane Victorino. The rest is history.

From a percentage standpoint, it wasn’t such a bad move. Victorino certainly hits lefties better than righties, and Veras had been throwing well. But it was such a waste of the team’s best or second best reliever. Smyly held righties to a .242 average this year. He shouldn’t have been put in the situation as a one-and-done. Leyland wanted to save Phil Coke for David Ortiz, apparently, but it would have made more sense to let Coke face Ellsbury and then let Smyly have at Ortiz and a couple of the right-handers surrounding him. That was their best bet.

Instead, Smyly was gone after facing one left-handed batter for the third time in four ALCS appearances. It had happened just five times in 65 appearances between the regular season and ALDS (during which time he amassed a 2.34 ERA in 77 innings). The one time he was allowed to go longer against the Red Sox he ended up retiring all five batters he faced.

Game 2 was lost by the Tigers in nearly the same fashion as Game 6. Benoit, who gave up David Ortiz’s grand slam, was the fourth reliever to pitch in the eighth inning. Smyly walked Ellsbury and was immediately removed in that one.

Of course, not all of this is on Leyland. Things could have worked out fine had some non-Smyly relievers made better pitches. It’s just that Smyly seemed like the best bet to make those better pitches.

It’s easy to imagine the Tigers overreacting to their ALCS loss and signing a big-name closer this winter after passing on Rafael Soriano last winter. Trading Rick Porcello for late-inning relief help and moving Smyly to the rotation might also be a consideration. Benoit is a free agent, and if he’s back, it’ll probably be as a setup man. Ideally, Bruce Rondon would have been ready to close, but after his late-season elbow woes, he can’t be counted on in the role just yet. As is, I can’t help but think the Tigers will import one closer from the group of Grant Balfour, Joe Nathan and Brian Wilson this winter.

Video: Adrian Beltre belts a walk-off home run on Monday against the Athletics

ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 25:  The Texas Rangers celebrate the two-run walk off homerun by Adrian Beltre #29 against the Oakland Athletics at Globe Life Park in Arlington on July 25, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
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The Rangers found themselves in a 5-1 hole after three innings against the Athletics on Monday, but scratched out some runs in the middle innings. That allowed them to enter the bottom of the ninth inning trailing by only one run, 6-5, facing A’s closer Ryan Madson.

Adrian Beltre, who hit a solo home run in the seventh inning, stepped to the plate with a runner on first base and two outs. He was the Rangers’ last hope to keep the game alive. The veteran third baseman swung at Madson’s first pitch, a 96 MPH fastball, and drilled it to left-center field for a walk-off two-run home run.

Beltre now has nine walk-off home runs in his career. While the 37-year-old isn’t quite the offensive dynamo he was even two years ago, his numbers are still respectable. He’ll head into Tuesday’s action batting .281/.334/.468 with 16 home runs and 63 RBI in 392 plate appearances.

Jay Bruce: “This is such a fleeting game. It’s so unforgiving.”

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 25:  Jay Bruce #32 of the Cincinnati Reds swings and watches the flight of his ball as he hits a two-run homer against the San Francisco Giants in the top of the fourth inning at AT&T Park on July 25, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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Outfielder Jay Bruce was the catalyst in the Reds’ 7-5 victory over the Giants on Monday night, drilling a pair of two-run home runs. It’s good timing for the Reds, as the trade deadline is six days away. The Reds might prefer to get a prospect or two for Bruce rather than pick up his $13 million club option for 2017 or buy him out for $1 million and let him walk into free agency.

It was only a year ago that it seemed like the Reds would have to settle for next-to-nothing to get rid of Bruce. He posted career-lows across the board in 2014, including a .654 OPS and 18 home runs. He improved last season, returning to 26 home runs, but came with an uninspiring .729 OPS.

This year is another story. Bruce is currently hitting .272/.326/.564 with 23 home runs and a league-best 77 RBI. He’s on pace to set career-bests in a lot of categories if he’s able to stay healthy.

Bruce was honest about his resurgence, though, admitting that he doesn’t know why he’s so much better this year as Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports.

This is such a fleeting game. It’s so unforgiving. You’re never settled. You’ve never got it. You’ve never figured it out. It’s like a puzzle that never has all the pieces to it. You might get close and feel pretty good about your progress, but you never are going to have the puzzle put together.

Bruce, who welcomed a child into the world back in April, also discussed the difficulties of hearing his name bandied about in trade rumors once again.

It’s harder this year. I have a family I have to focus on now. Logistically, it’s much more intricate. I know the skit. I know how it goes. But it will be nice when it’s passed because we’ll have a plan of attack on whether my family is staying where they are in Cincinnati or elsewhere.

This is a point of view that is not often covered. This time of the year can be very difficult for players who may be traded, as they await a phone call that could send their lives into upheaval. It may mean being away from their families for three months. It means living out of a hotel room or finding a place to live on very short notice. Even Bruce’s comments about his success this year are illuminating about the mental strain of the game.

As usual, great reporting by Buchanan. His full article is worth your time.