Cards / Nationals – Game 5 Strategic Brainfart

Wanted to bring up a point from last night’s Cards / Nationals game that I didn’t recall hearing either Bob Brenly or the constantly befuddled Dick Stockton call attention to on the TBS broadcast.

First off, I think we can all agree that at some point Nationals’ closer Drew Storen decided he was going to devote more of his attention towards the ump than towards the Cardinal batters.

During David Freese’s at bat in the top of the 9th, Storen thought he had gotten him on a checked swing and then on a pitch off the plate.

In both cases, the ump appeared to have gotten the call right.

Never mind that.

What struck me as unfortunate for the Nats and their fans is that there was no reason to not get into the bottom of the 9th with the score tied 7-7.

With the score still knotted up, the Cardinals had two out, men on 2nd & 3rd and Pete Kozma at the plate.

We know that at this point the only player left on the bench was backup catcher Tony Cruz, who was definitely coming into the game in the bottom of the inning because starting catcher Yadier Molina had been lifted in favor of pinch-runner Adron Chambers.

Due up after Kozma was Cardinals closer Jason Motte, who had already thrown the bottom of the 8th.

Now…  I know Motte was originally a position player before he became a relief pitcher.

But that’s because he couldn’t hit.

And he was also 0-0 in 0 plate appearances in 2012.

Not to say that he doesn’t take some batting practice during the season, but I’m pretty sure the sound decision here would have been to intentionally walk Kozma with 1st base open and force the Cardinals’ hand.

This would have forced manager Mike Matheny into doing one of two things.  With the bases loaded, two outs, and a tie score in the top of the 9th, Matheny could have either:

  • Left Motte to bat (most likely to make a 3rd out) so that he could still use him in the bottom of the inning.  If Motte could hold the Nats down in the 9th, the good news is that St. Louis would have had the top of the order due up in the 10th inning.
  • Used Cruz to pinch-hit and go for the win right then and there.  The bad news there is that Motte was already the Cards’ 5th relief pitcher of the game, which would have forced them to go to their back end bullpen guys down the stretch.

Either way seems like a better option for the Nats than taking your chances with Kozma.  Either you force the Cards to play for extra innings and you get a chance to win it in the bottom of the 9th -or- you force the Cards to remove the last effective relief pitcher that they have available to them, boosting your chances of winning in the bottom of the 9th and giving you an advantage over extra innings.

I didn’t used to like Davey Johnson, but after reading a piece in SI on him this week and seeing what he had to go through with his daughter…  well that’s a horrible thing to have to go through.  And finally getting to know about him a bit, I kinda’ like the guy now.

But I think that was a blunder on his part last night.

There is no guarantee that the Cards wouldn’t have still gotten ahead in the 9th.  There’s no guarantee that if the score remained tied headed into the bottom of the inning that the Nats would’ve won.

I’m just saying that sure seemed like an ideal situation to use strategy that would’ve enabled your team to live to fight another day inning.


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