One of the trickle-down effects of baseball in 2017 is less strategy. Think about it: Fewer sacrifice bunts (because the numbers say bunts generally decrease the odds of scoring); fewer stolen base attempts (because you don’t want to risk getting caught stealing); fewer hit-and-runs (because there are so many more strikeouts); fewer players to pinch run or use as defensive replacements (because you have to carry more relievers).
That’s why the ninth inning of the Astros-Indians game was fun: two good teams wrapping up a good series with another one-run game. And actual strategy!
The Indians led 4-3 with closer Cody Allen on the mound. Jose Altuve, who hadn’t started the game after that outfield collision Tuesday, hit for Tony Kemp to start the inning and reached on an infield single. So, with Josh Reddick up, do you:
(B) Hit away
(C) Hit and run
You can forget the bunt. There were only two sacrifice attempts in this situation — visiting team, ninth inning, down a run, runner on first with no outs — all of last season. You’re not going to bunt with Reddick. The Astros went with the steal. Teams don’t run too often as managers are more likely to play it conservative than risk an out. Last season, there were just 46 steal attempts in the ninth inning by a team down one run.
Was it the right call? Altuve was 7-for-7 on steals on the season. While many closers and hard-throwing relievers are easy to run on, Allen allowed just two steals last season. Yan Gomes was catching. He’d already thrown out one runner in this game and has nailed 35 percent of runners in his career, so he has one of the better arms in the game. Altuve ran on a 1-1 pitch. Gomes delivered a perfect throw and nailed him.
The decision hurt when Reddick then singled, which would have moved Altuve to third. With Nori Aoki up, A.J. Hinch sent up another pinch hitter in Carlos Beltran. That made sense, as Beltran has more home run potential, although he’s also more likely to ground into a double play. Beltran lined a hit into the right-field corner, with Abraham Almonte making a nice play to not only hold Reddick at third, but keep Beltran at first.
That brought up Carlos Correa. How does Terry Francona line up the defense? As most managers would do, he brought the corners in closer, while keeping the middle infielders at double-play depth (although I saw a couple of occasions this year when the manager brought all the infielders in). On a 2-1 count, Allen threw a 94 mph fastball in on the hands that Correa popped up to first base in foul territory, then he struck out Brian McCann on a 2-2 curveball.
After the 4-3 Indians win, Francona summed up the ninth inning perfectly, as only he could:
Indians manager Terry Francona with a gem: pic.twitter.com/3PdhYp5skp
— Zack Meisel (@ZackMeisel) April 28, 2017
There was plenty of action earlier as well. Francisco Lindor hit this long home run off the nearly untouchable Chris Devenski to give the Indians the lead in the seventh, prompting a great postgame quote:
Francisco Lindor, on his 456-foot home run: “I’m not supposed to hit it that far.”
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) April 28, 2017
Then there was the key play of the game in the first inning, when Abraham Almonte slammed into the wall in right field to rob Yulieski Gurriel with the bases loaded and save Corey Kluber, who went on to record 10 strikeouts.
Meet the Mess
The Mets have lost six in a row and nine of 10. Noah Syndergaard was supposed to start Thursday but was scratched with a sore biceps. Yoenis Cespedes would pull up lame on a double with an injured hamstring and is expected to land on the DL. All that is bad enough, but the inexcusable part is Matt Harvey, who pitched poorly in the 7-5 loss to the Braves, saying after the game that “I wasn’t really physically prepared for starting today” after apparently doing a weight-lifting session Wednesday. He wasn’t notified he was starting until three hours before the game. That raises a bunch of questions:
1. Did Terry Collins know before Thursday morning that Syndergaard couldn’t pitch? Syndergaard had received treatment earlier in the week, but said Thursday that he couldn’t lift his arm above his shoulder while shagging flies in batting practice Wednesday. Still, he apparently reported to the park Thursday expecting to pitch. Why?
2. If Collins knew Wednesday that Syndergaard was hurting, why was Harvey not told until Thursday morning he’d be starting?
3. If Syndergaard didn’t tell his manager until Thursday that he was still sore, why did he wait?
4. If Harvey had worked so hard Wednesday, why didn’t he tell his manager he wasn’t in condition to start?
5. Wouldn’t it have just been better to turn this into a bullpen game, rather than pitch a tired Harvey?
If you’re Harvey, I guess you were just doing what you thought was best for the team. But as we learned in the 2015 World Series, Collins is better off not letting Harvey talk him into things. Of course, Harvey also could have just been making an excuse for his poor performance. Whatever happened, it points to a big communication problem for a team that suddenly has stumbled into a big hole. The watch on Collins has started.
The one game Cespedes played was certainly worth sacrificing the 2017 season.
— Mets Daddy (@MetsDaddy2013) April 27, 2017
— MLB (@MLB) April 27, 2017
We also have Taylor Motter diving into the stands for the final out of the Mariners’ 2-1 victory over the Tigers:
.@taylormotter7 is becoming a household name.
Rightfully so: https://t.co/52OAdXCVdH
— Cut4 (@Cut4) April 27, 2017
Quick thoughts: The Cardinals beat the Blue Jays in the second game of a doubleheader 6-4 to complete the sweep, and they’re back to .500 after winning eight of 10. They started winning when Mike Matheny stopped the Matt Adams-in-left field nonsense. … The Blue Jays are a mess right now. The bullpen gave up all eight runs in the opener, an 8-4 loss in 11 innings, and closer Roberto Osuna has three blown saves. They’ve played Russell Martin and Jose Bautista at third base. … Huge game from Masahiro Tanaka to outduel Chris Sale with a three-hit shutout. Sale had allowed only an unearned run heading into the ninth but then gave up three straight singles. He must think he’s still with the White Sox. He has a 1.19 ERA and 52 K’s in 37 2/3 innings but just one win in five starts. … After the loss, Xander Bogaerts blamed the team’s offensive woes on David Ortiz‘s absence. This must have been “lame-excuse Thursday.” Sure, the Red Sox miss Ortiz, but that’s not the reason nobody is hitting the ball over the fence. … Not to ignore the Phillies, who have won six in a row as Jeremy Hellickson improved to 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA. If the Mets continue to struggle, that could help the Phillies or Marlins as a wild-card sleeper. … The Nationals scored 42 runs in the final three games of their four-game series in Colorado. … Julio Urias was merely OK in his season debut for the Dodgers. The delivery is so smooth and easy, but the control is still a work in progress as he walked four batters. You would have thought Bruce Bochy would have more urgency to beat the Dodgers, even in April, but he pulled Mark Melancon after one inning and just nine pitches, and the guys after him lost it in extras. Bochy ran through four relievers in the 10th inning, and if it wasn’t Bruce Bochy, we’d say he’s overmanaging things a bit.