The Cardinals swept the Diamondbacks tonight and await the winner of the Giants and Braves series in the NL Championship series. Bob Brenly will be second-guessed left and right for a couple of decisions in this game. First, he will be questioned as to why he did not try to bring ace Randy Johnson back to start game three on three days rest. Johnson had only gone 6 innings and thrown 92 pitches on Tuesday. Besides starter Miguel Batista only went 3-2/3 innings anyway. Some would say that Johnson could have provided a more sublime few innings on three days rest. My opinion is that the D-Backs could not advance very far in the playoffs if they couldn't rely on more than 2 starting pitchers. Brenly had to rely on someone else and Batista was the logical choice-he had been an instrumental part of the second half surge (3.75 post-All-Star ERA) even if he did implode down the stretch with the rest of the team.
The second stratagem that will be questioned is intentionally walking Mike Methany with a runner on second and two outs in the eighth trailing 5-3. It did create a force at any base. That brought up the pitcher's spot and LaRussa used left-handed pinch-hitter Kerry Robinson against Byung-Hyun Kim. Robinson punched a hit into left and the Cards had a 3-run lead. Brenly allowed Kim to load the bases with a walk to the next batter and then induce a soaring popup from J.D. Drew without calling in a relief pitcher.
Should Brenly have had Kim face Methany? Methany was hitting well in the series (.444) and was 1-for-3 on the day, but Methany is not much of a hitter against righties (.619 OPS). Joe Morgan said that Brenly had to have Kim walk Methany to bring up the pitcher's spot and force LaRussa to pinch-hit for Steve Kline. Kline was the final Cardinal lefty in the bullpen and the D-Backs had two left-handed bats coming up in the ninth. Two things that I thought immediately about this turn of events were: The final pitch to Methany was right over the plate though high. What if LaRussa had Methany swing away a la Roy Hobbs? The other thing I thought was what if LaRussa tried to thwart the strategy by just allowing Kline to bat? I guess neither were high-percentage moves.
Even after Robinson knocked in a run Morgan still defended the strategy saying that you cannot worry about the other team scoring in this situation-you have to set yourself up to have the best offense possible in the ninth. Well, I'm still not convinced by that argument. Let's say that Kim who is much better against righties (they have a 123-point lower OPS against him) pitched to Methany and got him out. LaRussa could do one of two things: 1) leave Kline in or 2) bring in his closer Isringhausen. If LaRussa leaves Kline in, Brenly can counter with Matt Williams, Damian Miller, Greg Colbrunn, Mark Little, or Alex Cintron, all right-handed batters (Cintron's a switch-hitter) available on the bench for either or both of the left-handed batters due up in the ninth. Also, McCracken the second batter due up is a better hitter against righties. If LaRussa decides to go with his right-handed closer, then the D-Backs don't need to make any changes and have the left-handed Mark Grace available for pinch-hitting if needs be. If LaRussa decides to pretend to leave Kline in and then bring in Isringhausen after the right-handed pinch-hitter is announced, there would still be Grace on the bench to pinch-hit followed by two left-handed bats.
So on the pro side there is removing Kline from the game (which may have happened anyway) and creating a force at every base. In the cons are facing a left-handed pinch-hitter instead of the weak-hitting right-handed Methany and allowing another runner on base. Given that the Kline pro is mitigated by not knowing what LaRussa may do in the ninth and by having to instead face the closer, that leaves only the force advantage. Add in the fact that there are a number of right-handed bats and at least one lefty bat available, and I do not think that the gamble was a good one.
The most important thing for the D-Backs was to keep the score close, which they failed to do. If that means that it inconveniences you 9th inning strategy, well that's why you have a bench. I think it was a bad gamble and would have looked even worse if the D-Backs had scored two runs in the ninth and lost 6-5. They didn't though and one could argue that losing is still losing be it by 2 runs or by three. But you never know what will happen in the ninth and as the manager you have to make moves that will give you the best chance to succeed. This one did not provide that to the D-Backs no matter what Brenly or Morgan might say.