By Matt Spiegel-
(CBS) There are some things to get out of the way before we get to the heart of the matter.
Thursday night the White Sox offense should have scored more. One run in that ballpark against a pitcher who came in with an ERA over 5.00 simply will not do.
The quirky Fenway right field wall that stands just 3-feet tall did indeed wreak havoc, yielding a ground rule double that kept a possible insurance run at third base. But look, that ballpark’s intricacies have been the same since 1912, and they affect both teams. Plus, would a second run have changed anything at all? Would pitching decisions have been different in the ninth inning? I personally doubt it. And the three-run Cody Ross bomb still wins the game.
Matt Thornton was a disaster, well before Addison Reed finally arrived to allow the final blast. Thornton’s pitch selection was odd, and he’s been mediocre all season long.
But this loss demands focus on the dugout’s approach to the ninth inning.
Twitter is a manager’s worst PR nightmare. All of us first-guessers are right there on record.
Jose Quintana was brilliant through eight innings, again. It’s the third time this season he has gone eight, allowed no runs at all, and emerged without a win. He’s the first pitcher to suffer that fate since 1900.
As the ninth inning loomed, with Carl Crawford, Dustin Pedroia, and Adrian Gonzalez a combined 2-for-9 on the night to that point, Quintana stood at 103 pitches. The choices presented themselves, and I made mine. Stay with Quintana, and have Reed ready to go right behind him.
I was not alone, and the venom you’ve heard so far from fans is at least partially born of wanting the ninth done differently, before it was even done. Many others wanted to go right to Reed, with a clean slate to start the inning.
Surprisingly, here came Thornton, with the plan for him to face the two lefties, and to withstand Pedroia in between.
He didn’t get either of the target lefties out. Reed was greeted by a two-on, one-out moment in which Ross sent everyone home.
Robin Ventura and Don Cooper could have stuck with Quintana as many of us would have, or gone straight to Reed, lefties be damned. Reed is actually better vs lefties than righties, with that change-up tailing away beautifully.
Bringing in Thornton just because it’s his time, or his job, to face 9th inning left-handers embodies a basic bullpen issue I’ve railed against for years. More pitchers equals higher risk. Let Quintana face those lefties. Or at least the first one, knowing you have Reed to back him up. And if it’s Reed vs Gonzalez that scares you, well, it’s your closer and best arm, who gets lefties better than a normal right-hander does.
The more pitchers that reach the mound, the higher the probability that one of them simply will not have good stuff on a given night. The specialization of the modern bullpen as popularized by Tony LaRussa, and mimicked by damn near everyone else, is not always intrinsically correct.
It was a tremendous playoff atmosphere in Boston, and if the Tigers end up overtaking the division, the two teams we just saw might be battling for that second wild card spot. The Rangers or Angels will more than likely take the first one.
Those Detroit Tigers loom this weekend. For the White Sox, they’ve always loomed.
The AL Central was supposed to be the easiest one to call in all of baseball. After some brief flashes of competence from Cleveland, Detroit won it last year by 15 games. The Tigers were 50-32 against the division in 2011, the best record against one’s own division by a mile.
In January, after Victor Martinez went down with a season ending injury, owner Mike Ilitch gave GM Dave Dombrowski the full green light to fill that hole with the biggest bat available. 214 million dollars later, Prince Fielder wore a Tigers hat and the divisional gap seemingly widened to an impassable chasm.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the coronation. The Tigers played very poorly.
They lost 9-of 12-in one stretch of April. They lost 9-of-13 at one point in May. June was a little better.
The problems have been defense, and starting pitchers not named Justin Verlander. Detroit is 10th of 14 teams in the A.L. in fielding percentage. The White Sox are second, Cleveland third. And other than Verlander, no Tigers starter has an ERA under four.
Still, June was a little better, and now in July they’ve been on fire. Detroit is 11-4 this month, and come into the weekend having won 10 of their last 12. In six of those wins, the opposition had two runs or less. In six of their last eight games, that booming Detroit offense has put up six runs or more.
A one and a half game lead, coming off a loss like last night’s, does not bring with it much security.
It’s about as good as a July baseball series can get. It kicks off with Jake Peavy vs Verlander tonight, and then Chris Sale vs Rick Porcello tomorrow.
Time for Peavy and Sale to step forward, again. If the Sox want to still be in first at the end of the weekend, the onus falls on 1 and 1A.
Listen to Matt Spiegel on 670 The Score weekdays from 9am–1pm CT on The McNeil & Spiegel Show and Sundays from 9am–Noon CT on Hit And Run.