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.

Major League Baseball told Kolten Wong to ditch Hawaii tribute sleeve

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Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Major League Baseball has told Cardinals infielder Kolten Wong that he has to get rid of the colorful arm sleeve he’s been wearing, pictured above, that pays tribute to his native Hawaii and seeks to raise awareness of recovery efforts from the destruction caused by the erupting Mount Kilauea.

Goold:

[Wong] has been notified by Major League Baseball that he will face a fine if he continues to wear an unapproved sleeve that features Hawaiian emblem. Wong said he will stash the sleeve, like Jose Martinez had to do with his Venezuelan-flag sleeve, and find other ways to call attention to his home island.

Willson Contreras was likewise told to ditch his Venezuela sleeve.

None of these guys are being singled out, it seems. Rather, this is all part of a wider sweep Major League Baseball is making with respect to the uniformity of uniforms. As Goold notes at the end of his piece, however, MLB has no problem whatsoever with players wearing a non-uniform article of underclothing as long as it’s from an MLB corporate sponsor. Such as this sleeve worn by Marcell Ozuna, supplied by Nike that, last I checked, was not in keeping with the traditional St. Louis Cardinals livery:

ST. LOUIS, MO – MAY 22: Marcell Ozuna #23 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates after recording his third hit of the game against the Kansas City Royals in the fifth inning at Busch Stadium on May 22, 2018 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

If Nike was trying to get people to buy Hawaii or Venezuela compression sleeves I’m sure there would be no issue here. They’re not, however, and it seems like creating awareness and support for people suffering from natural, political and humanitarian disasters does not impress the powers that be nearly as much.