Tag Archives: Play Your Best Lineup

Thou Shalt Play Thy Best in September, Even If Thou Doest Stink to Yon Heavens

Lineup card

At least one of baseball’s unwritten rules is time sensitive, broken out only in the final days or weeks of a season, primarily by managers of mediocre teams. It’s an issue of sportsmanship-based lineup construction, hinging on the fact that simply because your team has little to play for, the opposition isn’t necessarily in the same boat.

Which leads to differing points of view. Does a manager field his best players when facing teams still in the playoff hunt, as a courtesy to those they’re battling for postseason berths, or can he keep trotting out prospects, the better to gauge what he’ll have to work with next season?

Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon is firmly in the former camp, playing his regular starters in this week’s series against the playoff-hungry Astros at Safeco Field. (Little matter; Houston took two of three.)

Elsewhere in the American League West, however, things played out differently. Last week the A’s called up Barry Zito for a nostalgia-heavy, swan-song start against Tim Hudson and the Giants. The lefty getting shelled for six hits and four runs over two innings made little difference to the big picture, what with both teams effectively out of the playoff chase.

When Zito’s turn came around yesterday, however, there he was again, making what was likely his final major league start. This time, however, his opponent was the Angels, battling Houston for a wild card spot. The Astros had just come off of three games against Seattle’s best (discounting the fingernail issue that sidelined James Paxton and Taijuan Walker’s innings limit, which would likely have sidelined both even had Seattle had something to play for), and now their primary opponent for a playoff berth got to tee off against Zito?

Houston manager A.J. Hinch took things in stride. “Anybody at this level deserves to be here in my eye,” he said in the Houston Chronicle. “You manage your own team and handle your own business.” (Zito gave up four hits and four walks over four innings, but the Angels only scored twice against him and the A’s ended up winning, 8-7.)

Teams aren’t always as forgiving as Hinch. From a post I wrote in 2011:

In 2004, going into the season’s final series, the Giants and Houston were tied for the wild card lead with 89-70 records. The Astros closed with three home games against Colorado, while the Giants visited Los Angeles.

Suffice it to say that members of the San Francisco clubhouse took note when Rockies manager Clint Hurdle trotted out a series-opening lineup featuring six rookies—Aaron Miles, Clint Barmes, Garrett Atkins, Jorge Piedra, Brad Hawpe and JD Closser.

The Giants managed to take two of three from the Dodgers, but it wasn’t enough; the Astros swept punchless Colorado.

“All we needed was for Houston to lose one game,” said then-Giants reliever Matt Herges. “We were watching that, yelling, ‘This is a joke.’ We couldn’t stand Clint Hurdle after that.”

Hurdle wasn’t alone in his thinking. (“Goddammit, if I’m that far out of the pennant race, the players I was playing weren’t worth a shit, anyway,” Jim Leyland told me when he was managing the Tigers. “You might as well take a chance and look at some new players for next year.”) Still, the majority opinion holds that such situations are best avoided. Hurdle got an extra look at a bunch of prospects, at a very real cost to the pennant race. McClendon could have spent the games against Houston evaluating prospects for next year, but recognized that he still has three more games against Oakland with which to do that.

And no, Barry Zito will not start any of them.


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Bitter Bobby: Valentine Slaps BoSox, Fans on his Way Out the Door

For anyone who might have, against all reason, been maintaining even a modicum of hope for the tenure of Bobby Valentine in Boston, the soon-to-be ex-manager effectively flipped the bird to the entire Red Sox organization on his way out of town. He used as his weapon Boston’s lineup against the Yankees:

Pedro Ciriaco, 2B; Daniel Nava LF; Cody Ross RF; Mauro Gomez 1B; Ryan Lavarnway DH; Jarrod Saltalamacchia C; Danny Valencia 3B; Che-Hsuan Lin CF; Jose Iglesias SS.

Yep, six of his nine hitters were in their first or second seasons, five of them with fewer than 150 at-bats on the year.

The pertinent unwritten rule here, of course, is that late in the season, teams with nothing to play for nonetheless offer their best effort down the stretch when facing teams still in a pennant race. And thanks to its 10-2 victory over Pawtucket North, the Yankees opened up a one-game lead over Baltimore, which lost at Tampa Bay.

That it’s New York, of course—Boston’s arch-nemesis—makes it all the more fitting for Valentine to completely throw in the towel. Why not? He has no vested interest in his team, and it’s just one more way to piss off ownership.

None of this makes him a bad manager—just a man with a mean streak and a deficiency of morals. Difficult to say which is worse.

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