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.     

Kendrys Morales pitched a scoreless inning Sunday

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Nothing went right for the Blue Jays this weekend. The club was swept in a four-game series against the Athletics, including a 9-2 loss on Sunday. Not wanting to burn out his bullpen in a lopsided game — and perhaps thinking about the general entertainment value involved — Blue Jays manager John Gibbons decided to send designated hitter Kendrys Morales out to pitch the ninth inning. And in typical baseball fashion, he saw better results than some of the dudes who do this all the time.

Morales, who actually pitched in Cuba nearly 20 years ago, worked around a walk for a scoreless inning. He induced three fly outs and topped out at 87.4 mph on his fastball, per Brooks Baseball. He received a standing ovation on the way back to the dugout. Morales hasn’t been hearing that sort of thing for his contributions with the bat recently.

Morales, 34, is batting just .163/.248/.279 with three home runs through 32 games this season. There’s been some understandable clamoring for top prospect Vladmir Guerrero, Jr. to cut into his at-bats. For his part, Morales has been doing everything he can to break out of his slumber at the plate, including ditching the glasses he started wearing during spring training. Hey, whatever works. Morales also had two of Toronto’s four hits on Sunday.

On the heels of Morales’ first MLB appearance on the mound, it feels rather appropriate that the Blue Jays will get their first look at Angels sensation Shohei Ohtani — at least as a hitter — beginning on Tuesday.