Tough night at the dome last night as the Jays lost a very winnable game to an Orioles that has been scuffling so far this season.
There were many frustrating aspects of last night’s game, including the Jays inability to deliver the knockout blow to Chris Tillman after battering him around in the second, but by far the most frustrating was watching a ninth inning rally fizzle out with one of the team’s worst hitters at the plate in a clutch situation.
Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against Jonathan Diaz. He has been a great add to the team, and was an enormous boost with Reyes out of the lineup. But he is a glove-first player, not the guy you want at the dish down by two with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth.
So why was he in that situation in the first place? For two reasons: 1) Alex Anthopoulos’s insistence on having an 8-man bullpen, and 2) some over management (or mis-management) by John Gibbons in the seventh inning.
First let’s talk about the bullpen. There are practical reasons for having an extra body in the ‘pen, and sometimes it does make sense. For instance, if a team is involved in an extended stretch with limited off-days it helps to have an extra arm available to burn some innings. However, the Jays have had every Monday off in April, so with a built-in day of rest each week, the extra arm is unnecessary at this time. In May, when the team plays 30 of 31 days, maybe. But in April? No.
The direct result of an 8-man bullpen, obviously, is a reduced, 3-man bench. A 3-man bench handcuffs a manager by limiting the number of personnel moves he can make in any given game situation. A manager is forced to use any substitutions (pinch hitter, pinch runner, defensive replacement) very wisely. John Gibbons did not act wisely last night, instead hastily burning his entire bench on a single sequence in the 7th inning. With the Jays down 10-7, runners on first and second, and two out, Ryan Goins stepped to the plate to face Brian Matusz, Balitmore’s lefty specialist. Gibbons brought in Moises Sierra to pinch hit, playing the righty-lefty percentages. But that move was immediately countered by Buck Showalter, who lifted Matusz for righty Darren O’Day. In a game of managerial chess, Gibbons countered again by replacing Sierra with Josh Thole, who promptly provided an RBI single. However, Gibbons’ hands were now tied, as Thole would have to take over second base for Goins. Obviously he was replaced by Diaz, and that was that. There went the Jays bench.
A manager has to manage in the moment, and Gibbons was clearly playing for the tie in the 7th. He couldn’t have envisioned that Diaz would be thrust into the most pivotal moment in the game in the 9th. But the reality is that burning three bench players on one play clearly backfired.
I’m not blaming Gibbons for the loss. We can peg last night on some terrible pitching, and a few untimely double plays.
But it’s a managers job to put his team in the best position to win each and every game. I don’t think Gibbons did that last night.
But there’s no sense dwelling on the past – it’s time to win the series tonight.