Saturday, April 11, 2009

Why It's Hard to Like National League Baseball

Watched two games today and both are reminders of why National League baseball is harder to like than American League baseball. The games in question were the Cubs/Brewers game and the Mets/Marlins. Before we get to the action, let the Fan say ahead of time that the game's purists might be a bit put off by this post. But keep an open mind.

Let's start with the Mets and Marlins. First, the Marlins look very tough right now. They play with a lot of enthusiasm, swing with aggression and seem to enjoy each other as teammates. They have a solid young core of players and if their pitching holds up the way they have started, they are going to be interesting to watch.

Okay. The game was still close. John Maine of the Mets had only given up two hits in five innings. Unfortunately, those two hits were monster homers by Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla. He had thrown 83 pitches through those five innings. On the other side, Anibal Sanchez kept the Mets scoreless through five innings but had a high pitch count (98) due to pitching deep into the count while striking out five and walking three. It was obvious that Sanchez wouldn't make it deep into the game.

In fact, Sanchez was replaced by Dan Meyer to start the top of the sixth. Meyer promptly gave up a homer to Carlos Beltran and then a single to Church. Schneider then sacrificed but Luis Castillo flied out making it two outs. Maine was due up next and according to the logic of current National League baseball, Sheffield was called upon to pinch hit. Sheffield walked but Reyes then flew out to end the inning.

And so Maine was out after only five innings. Sean Green was called in to pitch the sixth for the Mets and gave up a run but also struck out the side. The Mets scored two runs to tie the score in the top of the seventh. But the Mets were then forced (having used Green already) to bring in inexperienced Bobby Parnell, who has thrown a total of six innings in his big league career. Parnell gave up the go ahead run.

Though the Mets did tie the game up against the Marlins' closer, Matt Lindstrom--a real weakness for the Marlins by the way--in the top of the ninth. The feisty Marlins then won the game in the bottom of the ninth.

Now the point of all this is that in National League baseball's silent bylaws, the Mets had to pinch hit for John Maine. If this was American League baseball, Maine would have pitched at least another inning which would have set them up perfectly to bring Green in the seventh, Putz in the eighth and their closer in the ninth. Exposing their bullpen another inning led to a weaker pitcher being relied upon with the expected bad results.

Now many of you might be wagging your finger at the Fan stating that this is purist baseball and much better than that DH business. Well, if you say so. But the Fan has been around long enough to know that in purist baseball, the Drysdales, Koufaxes, Gibsons, and other National League pitchers of the past wouldn't have come out after five innings and 83 pitches. That is totally a modern phenomenon just as the DH is in the American League. In the "good old days," you would only pinch hit for the pitcher if he was getting roughed up or very late in the game.

Okay, let's go to the Cubs game against the Brewers. This is a tale of how a 4-3 game can take three hours and twelve minutes. Harden started for the Cubbies and Looper for the Brewers. Harden was fantastic and struck out ten batters in six innings, but was dinged for two runs, one of them earned. Looper only gave up one run in his five innings but had trouble with his control.
And so Seth McClung came in the top of the sixth and that's when the fun started.

First, McClung couldn't McCling to the lead and gave up a two run homer to back-up catcher Koyie Hill, who to this point in his career had a .292 slugging percentage in 240 big league at bats. Harden dispatched of the Brewers quickly in the bottom half of the sixth and then McClung got through the top of the seventh despite two more base runners.

Piniella then brings Heilman in to start the bottom of the seventh and he promptly walks Bill Hall, which is historically pretty hard to do. Jason Kendall successfully sacrifices Hall to second and out comes Piniella to summon Neal Cotts to LOOGY Craig Counsell, who is batting for McClung. Cotts promptly plunks Counsell who trots to first base.

So for those keeping score, we've had 16 warm up pitches and only 11 real pitches and a runner is on first and second and out pops Piniella again, because, Cotts is only a LOOGY. In comes Marmol who throws 8 more warm up pitches (we're up to 24 for the inning and two commercial breaks). Marmol, once presumably warm, got lucky when Weeks lined hard to second. He then walked Corey Hart to load the bases. Fortunately for the Cubs, Braun flew out to right to end the inning. No runs, three base runners, 24 warm up pitches and 27 real pitches.

Ted Coffey comes in for the Brewers in the top of the eighth and promptly gives up a double to Fontenot. TheRiot grounds out and then Coffey plunks the immortal Koyie Hill who trots to first. Aaron Miles pinch hits for Marmol (since this IS the National League) and promptly hits into a double play to end the inning.

Sean Marshall, not a LOOGY by definition and normally a starting pitcher, comes in for the Cubbies to face the lefty, Fielder. But he walks him. Up pops Piniella from the dugout using his National League exercise program and replaces Marshall with Vizcaino. So now we have sixteen warm up pitches and only five real pitches have been thrown.

Vizcaino gets lucky and J. J. Hardy's line shot is caught in deep left field. He then induces Cameron to dribble the ball back to him and Cameron is thrown out at first, Fielder moving to second. Piniella again pops out of the dugout and replaces Vizcaino with Kevin Gregg, the Cubs' closer. So we are again up to 24 warm up pitches, two commercial breaks and only 13 real pitches have been thrown. Oy. Gregg finishes out the inning without incident.

The Brewers go down easily in the bottom of the eighth and Gregg comes out for the ninth and promptly (the Fan is using that word far too often...must be this week's catchy word) blows the save.

The bottom line here is Piniella's fiddling with all those pitchers meant that Gregg was asked to have more than a three out save, not a good idea with this generation of closers (See? Not so purist). Plus, the fans had to endure 48 warm up pitches, four commercial breaks to account for 47 real pitches and a whole bunch of idle time. Wasn't that fun?

1 comment:

Josh Borenstein said...

The National League is a lot harder to manage, that's for sure. The Mets lost that game, fair and square. They have Putz and K-Rod, but other than that their bullpen is weak.

The Cubs also have a weak bullpen. Gregg is a huge downgrade from Wood. Marmol can't be the closer and the set-up man, but they really need him for both roles. Which is why they never should have let Wood go.

I don't mind the DH. Anything that can prolong The Big Hurt's career is fine by me. But I wouldn't necessarily say it's the better form of baseball.