My artificial date (and date of birth) has now passed, and three bad innings spread over two days will keep me from officially scoreboard watching and scenario generating. Which is okay, because there are still a plethora of great things to watch down the stretch.
One thing I will not tolerate, under any circumstances, is sloppy defence. Overbay's gaffe in the seventh was madness, a complete head-in-the-ass moment. He exhibited a lack of hustle/awareness when it mattered, which is the only time I give a shit about hustle. He's been playing so well, so I can't stay mad. The would-be double play between Rolen and Scutaro? Impossible to place blame; the ball was hit hard right at Rolen, no way could Scutaro get to the bag in time. Could Rolen have tagged third and gone to first? Perhaps, but Cora was down the line so quickly it may not have mattered. All told there were far too many errors and misplayed balls to keep me happy, which good defense will do every time.
Downs, Cito and Managing the Bullpen
There has been a lot of debate over Cito's role in the Jays second half surge. I believe his benevolent nature and hitting guru status have helped the Jays bats come alive, possibly by providing the players with the freedom to fail. As I've said before, Cito loves his "roles" and making sure each guy has one. It may just be my lack of perspective talking, but giving guys the green light early in the count isn't the same as "Scott Downs is my eighth inning guy and that's that."
Scott Downs has put together an AMAZING season, and I have no intention of burying him. The fact remains that he hasn't been sharp since coming back quickly from the ankle injury he suffered in Detroit. His walk rate soared, he was being hit harder and his innings weren't as lockdown routine as earlier in the year. One telling sign all year has been his batting average on balls put into play. It has trended low all season from the pitching baseline of .300 until exploding in September to a whopping .348.
Compare Downs to Jonathon Paplebon, a pitcher with similar overall numbers (ERA+, BAA) but quite different K rate (much higher) and WHIP (much lower). One thing you notice is Paplebon's BABIP is much higher than Downs and closing in on .300. What does that mean? Paplebon's success as a strikeout pitcher gives him more wriggle room rather than hoping balls come to rest in gloves. With Downs walking guys as often as he has all year, he's going to yield a big inning when the balls start falling in.
What is your point, you may be asking? The point is Scott Downs is an excellent pitcher that had an excellent season. He pitched hurt because the team needed him and simply regressed to the mean at the worst possible time. I'm not mad at him, I'm not really mad at Cito for continuing to go to him when something clearly wasn't right. In fact, this week taxed the bullpen in a way that likely forced Cito's hand. Would one or two extra wins this weekend really have mattered? Probably not, but it would have been a whole lot of fun finding out. It will still be fun, just not the same kind.