Those who have followed my writing on this blog this year and on my own site in previous years will recall that I am not a fan of “the closer.” My one caveat to going with a pitching role of designated closer is if you have THE lights-out guy possessed by only a very few teams each year. The Orioles have had that sort of guy this year in the person of Jim Johnson.
However ……. Even with arguably the best “closer” in the game right now, does it not stand to reason that you want your best pitcher to face the most dangerous players in the opponent’s lineup?
Tonight’s Orioles game against the Tigers illustrates the very point I’ve often made. After Zach Britton pitched 7 beautiful shutout innings with a 3-run lead provided by a Chris Davis homer, the Tigers had the leadoff batter coming to the plate to open the bottom of the 8th inning. The great danger in the Tigers lineup is in the first four batters … after which there are still some fine hitters, but nothing like the top four. Would it not make sense to throw Johnson in the 8th – with his sinker to keep the ball in the park – and then let Pedro Strop throw the 9th to close it?
It is difficult to criticize the bullpen and Buck Showalter. The pen has been the strength of the team this year, and Showalter is certainly a premier manager and strategist. Strop gave up two runs in the 8th, and Johnson did the 1-2-3 thing in the 9th, but I still think there is strength to my argument of working the matchups rather than simply going with the “roles” of setup and closer. But it all worked out for another great one-run victory. The Orioles are now 23-6 in such contests. That is amazing!
A series win tomorrow would be very significant for the Orioles and this season.