Chess Match: Easy call? Probably not
For Manuel, Torre, their decisions require heavy analysis
PHILADELPHIA -- It's not always as simple as left-vs.-right, and that truth surely revealed itself in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series on Thursday night.
While it's often the smart move to get aggressive with platoon matchups, sometimes other considerations should and do take precedence. Whether it's a hitter with a history of struggles against a pitcher or a pitcher with a reverse split, managers Joe Torre and Charlie Manuel must consider plenty of factors in deploying their players.
The situation: After completely steamrolling the Phillies through five innings, Derek Lowe runs into trouble in the sixth, allowing two homers in a three-batter span.
The decision: Torre removes Lowe after 5 1/3 innings, going to reliever Chan Ho Park.
The outcome: Los Angeles didn't allow another run, and still, for the most part, it avoided using any key relievers. Hong-Chih Kuo pitched, but that's probably a good thing since he missed the NL Division Series.
The analysis: Torre made the assessment that Lowe was gassed, and he did the right thing in a playoff game. Perhaps during the season you stay with your horse, but in the postseason, if you think he doesn't have it, you take him out.
The explanation: "Sometimes you get some misguided pitches and they stay up instead of where they're supposed to be. But he made ... [Pat] Burrell's a good hitter. He just stayed with that pitch. As far as [Chase] Utley, it looked like something offspeed or just the sinker that stayed up, because he sort of went out and then took a good swing at it." -- Torre
Playing the percentages?
The situation: Bases empty, one out in the top of the seventh inning. The pitcher's spot comes up for the Dodgers, and Los Angeles elects to pinch-hit against Phillies starter Cole Hamels.
The decision: Torre went with Jeff Kent, rather than Juan Pierre.
The outcome: Kent struck out, part of an easy 1-2-3 final inning for Hamels.
The analysis: It's rare that you'll hear an analysis-based argument that Pierre should play, but in this case, he was probably the better choice. With only one out and the top of the order coming up, you don't need a home run, you need a baserunner -- and remarkably, Kent and Pierre had identical on-base percentages this season. Moreover, in admittedly small sample sizes, Pierre has two hits off Hamels in six at-bats, while Kent is 0-for-6 with three strikeouts and only one ball hit out of the infield against Hamels. The Phils lefty has a huge reverse platoon split, so you probably want a lefty hitting against him, and of course, if Pierre does get on, he's a threat to run.
No specialist needed
The situation: With a one-run Phillies lead in the top of the eighth, Los Angeles sends its Nos. 2-3-4-5 hitters to the plate -- lefty Andre Ethier, right-handers Manny Ramirez and Russell Martin and left-hander James Loney.
The decision: Manuel started the inning with Ryan Madson, and he stayed with Madson all the way through.
The outcome: Martin reached on a single that could have been called an error, but it was otherwise a spotless inning.
The analysis: By splitting his left-handers, Torre did make it harder to go to a tactical lefty reliever, but if Manuel had wanted to summon J.C. Romero for Loney, it would have been a perfectly understandable decision. However, Madson is the better pitcher, and there's also a lot to be said for staying with the guy most likely to get the out regardless of matchups.
The comment: "Those guys are tough outs every time I faced them. I have a couple of pitches, the cutter and changeup. I'm fortunate to be able [to have] two weapons to get lefties out." -- Madson
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.