Baltimore Orioles: Too many Brian Matusz match-ups?
It made perfect sense for the Baltimore Orioles to bring Brian Matusz into the game to face NY’s Greg Bird this afternoon. Bird was a southpaw and Bird hits lefty. Furthermore, Rondon (who preceded Matusz in the game), appeared to be on the ropes after walking the first two batters of the inning. But is it possible that New York anticipated that – or that things progressed as they did because they just “knew?”
As Orioles fans know, Bird smacked a three-run homer in that at-bat which propelled New York to an 8-5 victory. Matusz had Bird at 0-2, and he threw a slider – that was supposed to be out of the strike zone – that hung up. Bird seemed to anticipate the pitch before Matusz even knew what he was going to throw. So again, are the Orioles, and perhaps even Buck Showalter overly predictable?
Wei-Yin Chen was a pitch away from qualifying for a win. Chen’s line: 5 IP, 9 H, 5 R (4 earned), 1 BB, 5 K. Chen battled in this start, but at the end of the day became the ninth consecutive Orioles’ starter not to go six innings or more. Chen trailed at the beginning, through no fault of his own – Chris Young popped up to the right side of the infield, only to have Davis and Schoop play I got it you take it. The ball fell on the grass for an RBI-single, and New York led 1-0.
While that didn’t cost the O’s the game, it set a certain tone. In effect, the O’s were going to have to be perfect in order to even have a shot – especially with New York seeming to know what the Orioles were going to do before they did. However Jonathan Schoop redeemed himself; his three-run homer in the second propelled the Orioles into the lead at 3-1. Manny Machado would add an RBI-single, and the Birds led 4-1 after two.
However New York chipped away, and eventually overtook the Orioles. Young would add an additional RBI-single (this one legitimate) in the third, and ARod would turn in a solo homer in the last of the fifth to cut the lead to 4-3. However later in the inning Murphy sent a two-run homer to right, and the O’s suddenly trailed 5-4.
The good news was that the O’s still battled back after that. Machado would smack a solo homer to center field in the seventh, which promptly tied the game
Courtesy of Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
at five. And of couse Rondon then proceeded to walk the first two hitters in the seventh, which prompted Showalter to bring Matusz into the game. That of course culminated in that aforementioned 0-2 slider to Bird, which was hit out of the ballpark. The O’s did tally one more run in the ninth on a Davis RBI-single, however it was too little too late for the Orioles.
The question this raises isn’t so much about execution as it is strategy. Brian Matusz has actually been fairly strong out of the bullpen of late. However Buck Showalter has a certain ebb and flow to how things are done, and for the most part he’s very good at that. But…am I suggesting that Showalter’s too by the book?
That might be taking it a bit too far. A manager that’s overly by the book wouldn’t have the guts to intentionally walk the bases loaded. However one thing in which he’s very good is matching up. And perhaps it’s fair to say that matching up is only effective as long as it’s effective. (I know, that’s pretty insightful analysis.)
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What I’m trying to say is that we’ve seen match-ups fail this year more so than in years past. Perhaps part of that is at times execution on the players’ part, however I suspect we’re at a point where teams are anticipating in-game moves such as righty-righty/lefty-lefty. To take it a step further, Bird and the entire NY lineup seemed to know that the Orioles don’t always attack hitters on two-strike counts. Therefore the slider was anticipated, and when it hung it flew a long way.
Instead, NY actually went against the grain of what we would think would have been common sense. Bird actually had better numbers against lefties than he did righties – so he was allowed to bat. Late in a tie game like that, it would have stood to reason that they might have pinch-hit using a right-handed hitter.
Believe me folks, I’m right there with Showalter when it comes to how to manage these games. I believe in sound strategy, and the fact is that the numbers are what they are for a reason – in this case, lefties usually get lefties out. And in no way am I suggesting that Showalter’s the problem – if there’s one guy in the organization who’s probably immune from criticism, it’s him. But when the opponent knows your moves before you do, it gives them a competitive advantage.
The Orioles will send Kevin Gausman to the mound in game two of this series. He’ll be opposed by NY’s Masahiro Tanaka. Game time is set for just after 7 PM.
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