World Series - Boston Red Sox v St Louis Cardinals - Game Three

The night John Farrell embraced chaos

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ST. LOUIS — There’s a cliche about managers putting their players in the best position to succeed. A corollary to that is having the best players in the right position, at the right time. Do those things as often as possible and you’re more likely than not to win, right?

Well, sometimes. The Red Sox tested this rule to its absolute limits in Game 3 and, while they got away with it for a few brief minutes, they didn’t for long. John Farrell eschewed conventionality and embraced chaos. But chaos would not cooperate.

It started out defensibly enough, with Farrell trying to get the best matchups he could in the top of the seventh. With Stephen Drew struggling mightily at the plate, Farrell sent Will Middlebrooks in to pinch hit for Drew. That didn’t work — Middlebrooks popped out — but hey, it made some sense. Farrell decided to keep Middlebrooks in the game, sending him in to play third, moving Xander Bogaerts to short.

Which is no real biggie. You gotta try to generate offense if you can. It just didn’t work out. And it makes sense to leave Middlebrooks in. Your roster is only so big, it’s a tie game and you can’t just burn position players. You carry on.

Then in the bottom of the seventh Matt Carpenter hits a ball to short. It’s not the easiest play ever. Bogaerts took a less-than-perfect path to the ball and didn’t square himself to throw it to first. Carpenter beats a throw that David Ortiz couldn’t dig out of the dirt. Maybe even a good first baseman doesn’t dig that out. But I think Stephen Drew makes that play more quickly and cleanly than the relatively inexperienced Bogaerts. Regardless, a runner is on first base.

After Carlos Beltran is hit by a pitch to put another runner on, Matt Holliday comes to the plate. He doesn’t tattoo the ball. It hits the ground not too far in front of the plate as it shoots down toward third and just eludes Will Middlebrooks’ glove.  Does it elude Xander Bogaerts’ glove?  I don’t think it does. It was so close and Bogaerts has that much of a better step at third base. We’ll never know, though.The ball kicked around the left field corner, two runs scored and the Cards took a 4-2 lead. Farrell, while not making any blunders, had less than his best in two critical places and it cost him.

And at that point, Mike Matheny had it all set up: the right people in the right position at the right time. Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal set to throw the eighth and ninth. We saw this in Game 2. We saw this much of the end of the season. Two young studs throwing near triple digits. A Boston team that has often seemed helpless against power pitching this postseason. Good. Night. Irene.

But then baseball happened. And baseball, no matter how much we think we know about it — no matter how much authority, earned or otherwise, we assert with respect to it — occasionally says “ha.” It reminds us that almost all predictions are just guesses. Educated guesses at times, but still just guesses because anything can happen. Balls get through a first baseman’s legs in Game 6 of the World Series. Near-cripples hit home runs off Dennis Eckersley in his prime. Nothing so grand as that happened here, but what seemed highly improbable became reality: Martinez and Rosenthal blew it. The Red Sox dinked, plunked and doinked their way back into a 4-4 tie. Take that probabilities. Chaos will have its way.

At this point I feel like John Farrell started to appreciate the power of chaos. And maybe began to think that he could use it to his advantage. Because at this point he seemed to embrace chaos with both arms and to eschew the notion of matchups and the ideal deployment of resources altogether. How else can we explain Farrell allowing Brandon Workman to face Matt Holliday in the eighth with runners on base when his best reliever — Koji Uehara — was sitting in the bullpen?  But wait! It worked. Holliday flied out and the threat was over.  And maybe it emboldened Farrell even more. What else explains Farrell allowing Workman — an American League pitcher, mind you, — to bat in the top of the ninth inning of a tied World Series game while his best available hitter — Mike Napoli — sat on his bench?

Hell, Farrell wasn’t just eschewing the ideal. He was rejecting the whole idea of the ninth inning mattering at all. Why else would he punt his team’s half of it so decisively? Why else would he head into the bottom of the ninth, on the road, against a team which seems to have more crazy voodoo working in its favor than any team, without using all of his weapons? And continue to do so, not even calling on Uehara until there was a runner on base.

Whatever his reasons, baseball’s unpredictable chaos decided it had led him on enough. It went back to wreaking havoc as it will, this time in the form of the most improbable demolition derby of a game-ending World Series play in recent memory. In a fielder’s choice/nailed at home/interference/walkoff win.

Going with the best matchups doesn’t always work. Embracing chaos doesn’t always kill you. But there’s a reason why managers usually play the percentages. They respect the power of chaos and do what they can to keep it at bay. And I bet John Farrell does so more regularly as long as this World Series continues.

Breaking Down the Today’s Game Hall of Fame Ballot: Lou Piniella

TORONTO - JULY 9:  Manager Lou Pinella of the Cincinnati Reds looks on during batting practice prior to the1991 All-Star Game at the Toronto Sky Dome on July 9, 1991 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
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On Monday, December 5, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame — the replacement for the Veterans Committee which covers the years 1988-2016 — will vote on candidates for the 2017 induction class. This week we are looking at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness. Next up: Lou Piniella

The case for his induction:

He notched 1,835 wins, made seven postseason appearances, a won a World Series as a manager. That win total is good for 14th all time. Of the 13 men ahead of him, 12 are already in the Hall. The only who isn’t is Gene Mauch, who was under .500 for his career. Connie Mack and Bucky Harris are in that crowd and they were under .500 too, but Mack is kind of a special case as the all-time wins leader and Harris, well, I dunno, he hung around forever and the Veterans Committee was a different beast back in the 1970s. Point is, if you have Piniella’s win total and you’re over .500, as Piniella is, you’re probably getting in, at least eventually.

A lot of those wins came in some good places and at some good times, adding some psychological weight to that record. Taking the 1990 Reds to the World Series and beating the heavily favored A’s was a great story and, as the Reds’ last title for 26 years and counting, stands as a more memorable accomplishment than doing it someplace else. Likewise, his next job, in Seattle, coincided with the franchise’s best seasons thanks to the emergence of Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson and Edgar Martinez under Piniella’s command. Mariners’ history fundamentally changed during the Piniella era and he will always be associated with that. Oh, and his 2001 team set the single season record for wins with 116. He made two playoff appearances with the Cubs too. That’s been eclipsed by the 2016 team’s exploits, but it was a pretty big deal at the time.

It’s also worth noting that Piniella likewise had a very fine playing career, with 18 seasons of 109 OPS+ hitting, a Rookie of the Year Award and a couple of World Series rings on his resume. That’s not enough by itself to get him in the Hall, but he presents a nice total package as a Baseball Man Supreme who has been thought highly of for close to 50 years now.

Oh, one other thing: he was colorful. He had a temper and a repuatation as kind of a red ass, with a good number of on-the-field incidents which stick in people’s minds. That sort of thing doesn’t necessarily make someone a good manager or a good person, but Piniella has been seen as a guy who mellowed with age and, at various times in his career, showed that he had a sense of humor about all of that stuff which makes it play a heck of a lot better. For Hall of Fame purposes, it certainly plays a heck of a lot more memorably.

The case against his induction:

His years in Tampa Bay weren’t all that great and, by the time his days in Chicago were over there was a sense that he was sort of running on fumes and padding that win total to get him into that top 14. In both places Joe Maddon eventually came along and did better things and, in some cases, undoing some bad things Piniella did. Some believe he should’ve won another pennant or two and, yes, some of those Mariners teams disappointed in the postseason. Some people look less amusingly on his temper tantrums over the years and, I suppose, one could characterize them a bit more sinisterly than I did above without being too dramatic.

Would I vote for him?

I think so. As I mentioned in the George Steinbrenner entry, when it comes to managers and executives, I put a lot of weight on whether one could tell the story of baseball in a guy’s era without mentioning his name. Piniella is no Joe Torre, Bobby Cox of Tony La Russa in that regard, but he’s pretty close to that group in terms of the figure he cut in the game and, as I mentioned, he’s critical to the story of a couple of franchises. Certainly the Mariners but also the 1970s Yankees as a player and, possibly, the 1990 Reds. I tend to be a softer Hall of Fame touch than a lot of people, so I get that people may disagree, but I’d put him in.

Will the Committee vote for him?

Hard to say. On the one hand, Piniella feels like the sort of baseball man that gets rewarded by the Veterans Committee. On the other hand, the Veterans Committee took ages to vote in some other notable managers such as Whitey Herzog, suggesting that maybe Piniella will have to wait. This is the first year for the new composition of the Veterans Committe, however, so it’s hard to say if they’ll be tougher or easier graders. He may be the hardest call of all of the guys on this year’s ballot.

Twins hire James Rowson as their hitting coach

BOSTON, MA - June 4: The Minnesota Twins logo is seen during the fifth inning of the game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on June 4, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
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The Minnesota Twins have announced that they have hired James Rowson as their hitting coach.

Rowson was the minor league hitting coordinator for the New York Yankees for seven of the last nine seasons, interrupted by a short stint with the Chicago Cubs as minor league hitting coordinator. He also worked at the minor league levels with the Los Angeles Angels. He played in the minors for the Seattle Mariners and Yankees.

Rowson replacesTom Brunansky, who was hitting coach for the past four seasons.