THE BLAME GAME
On back to back days, we saw two Major Leaguers make major league heads up plays. They literally ran the bases with their heads up, and took an extra base when others might/would have missed the opportunity.
In Toronto, this resulted in a confused umpire, a littered field, and a tie-breaking run scored (after an 18-minute review).
In Los Angeles, this resulted in an annoyed fan base, a tying run, and lots of blame. But before we throw the bus in reverse and back over Corey Seager again; and before we deify Jimmy Rollins and claim how he would have done better, let’s make sure we allocate the blame properly (Editor’s Note: all allocations are wholly arbitrary).
Before we get started, refresh your memory of the play:
Coaches: Let’s start here. The Dodgers coaching staff readily admits that they worked on the shift and defensive responsibilities in Spring Training, but not much since. Oh, and they only worked on it in connection with base hits, not bases on balls. Oops. If luck is when preparation and opportunity meet, then the Dodgers were never destined to be lucky.
Channeling Harry Truman, the buck must stop with Don Mattingly. He played the infield – and damn well, I might add – so he could have prepared his team; but he has a team to run. So what about the other coaches? The Dodgers don’t have an official “Infield Coach” like many teams do, but they do have Davey Lopes (a former second baseman) and Tim Wallach (a former third baseman) on staff. I guess if Bill Russell was on staff there would have been someone to speak with the shortstops. An inexcusable lapse. More on the coaches below.
Coaches Blame Allocation: 24.6%
Zack Greinke: Corey Seager – in a momentary lapse into candor – mentioned that it may have been Greinke’s responsibility to cover third on the play. Maybe. But Greinke didn’t need to sprint across the diamond to keep Murphy at second. When he received the ball from Grandal, he looked up and around, annoyed with himself for walking Duda on a 3-1 pitch. He was actually looking right at Murphy (or at least in his direction). Had Greinke been more focused on the baserunner(s) than his missing on the last pitch, he could have strolled back to the mound by venturing towards third base. Would Murphy have risked a foot race when he had 90 feet to go and Zack had 65 feet, at most? We will never know.
Greinke Blame Allocation: 20.4%
Corey Seager: Give the young kid credit, he owned this…sort of. He hemmed and hawed, but then took responsibility. And while I don’t typically subscribe the to the “rookie mistake” theory, if it were ever true . . .
Let’s look at the facts: Shifts are rarely used in the Minor Leagues; Seager has been in the Big Leagues for six weeks, and this was only his 26th game at shortstop at the Major League level; he did participate in Major League Spring Training when this was worked on (again, only in base hit situations), and since that time he has played in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and now Los Angeles (i.e., three different levels of baseball for three different managers and three different sets of coaches, all in 6 months).
With all of that said, this was not Seager’s first rodeo; he has to be better than that (“that just can’t happen”). When Murphy got to second base, Seager was standing right there – with his back to third base. Now, one could argue he was near second because Murphy was on the move and there was a question as to whether the pitch was a ball or a strike, but it was clear that Duda had walked by the time Murphy approached second. Simply put, Seager was being lackadaisical and not anticipating what could (and did) happen.
However, because of the positioning (within the shift), even if Seager had been paying attention and actually headed directly to third base, that is not dispositive. Greinke would had to have thrown to a moving target at an extremely odd angle (picture a wide receiver on a crossing route) – not the world’s easiest play. So, again, you can blame the coaches – this time for simply having Seager play so far out of position.
Seager Blame Allocation: 22.5%
Jimmy Rollins: Before we go any further, let’s take a moment to discuss Jimmy Rollins. A few things:
(1) We all want to say what a pro Jimmy is and that he would not have made that “rookie mistake” and would have been in perfect position to either stop Murphy from taking the extra base or to tag him out. Are we sure? Do we know Rollins would have either been in a better position after the pitch and/or that he could have won a footrace that the younger/quicker Seager could not?
(2) But, more importantly, if Rollins is the consummate professional that we have been hearing about, the hardened and wise old vet who cared more about winning than ego and took Corey under his wing and showed him the ropes, why didn’t he give Seager a heads up about that type of situation? Surely someone with Rollins vast experience would have anticipated the play and passed along his knowledge to the young buck. Maybe he did – and we just haven’t heard about (from anyone).
(3) Now, we could again blame the coaching staff for playing Seager over Rollins in the biggest game of the year.
Rollins Blame Allocation: 6.8%
Yasmani Grandal: Here is the big one; and the one that seems to be getting off scot free. Insofar as I have not heard anyone talking about it, I assume you didn’t see it coming. Well, start up the bus.
As the catcher, Grandal is the captain of the infield (I know, the shortstop has the same title), and he controls the game. He is the only player on the field who can see everything in front of him. Grandal was fully aware that a shift was being deployed and where every player was positioned. Further, he was either the first, second, or third person on the field to know that it was ball four – and he knew before any of his teammates. When he received the pitch from Greinke, he could see the entire field, and he had many options.
- Surveying the field and realizing that third base was unoccupied, he could have run directly to third.
- He could have walked the ball back to Greinke – potentially even veering off towards third base to talk to Zack on their way back towards the mound.
- He could have waiting for Duda to touch first base and then immediately called timeout. The prudent move would have been to walk the ball out to the mound while eyeballing both runners (again, they are both in front of him) to make certain he controlled the pace of the play.
- Realizing upon the ball four call that third base was empty, he could have yelled to Seager to get his ass over there.
- Or, he could lazily toss the ball back to Greinke and allow the play to unfold as it did.
Yet again, we could blame the coaching staff for starting Grandal – who couldn’t hit an obnoxious Mets fan if he was standing in the parking lot at Citi Field – in place of A.J. Ellis. But, that blame could then be passed on to Greinke, who prefers Grandal behind the dish when he is pitching, and I am not sure we are in a position to argue with what has worked for Greinke this season. But Grandal was there, and he didn’t do his job . . . at all.
Grandal Blame Allocation: 25.7%
So there you have it, plenty of blame to go around.
But, let’s be clear, the Dodgers didn’t lose Game 5 because the coaches and players failed in their respective duties. They lost Game 5 because they went 2-13 with runners in scoring position; they lost Game 5 because after the first inning, they couldn’t put together quality at bats against deGrom or Syndergaard and were completely shut down. You need to score more than 2 runs to win a make or break game, and they just didn’t do it.
The shame of it is that because they didn’t, there is a pretty good chance that Don Mattingly won’t get an opportunity to watch this team flail in the playoffs for a fourth straight season. I guess we should get ready to welcome Bud Black to Chavez Ravine.
Royals-Blue Jays, 1985 redux. Who you got?
Mets-Cubs, will the curse of Bartman and the Billy Goat continue?
More to come.