Scott Servais making the move for the wrong reliever feels like the rule, not the exception
When I first became enamored with baseball, in the late 1970s, I gravitated toward the part of the game that relied on speed, defense, and strategy. Likely this is because the first game I remember seeing on television was a St. Louis Cardinals game (probably on ABC's Monday Night Baseball, for you olds who remember) featuring Lou Brock, who was on split screen every time he reached first as everyone anticipated him stealing second. Which he did, because, hey, Lou Brock. Also, in those days the Kansas City Royals were always playing the Yankees in the playoffs, and the Royals played like that too (awesome), and then, hey, the Royals' manager, Whitey Herzog, moved across the state and started managing (and General Managing) the Cardinals, and I was hooked forever on Whiteyball.
Thus, the Herzog Way is my standard for baseball managers. I can appreciate other styles—though the Earl Weaver Way is antithetical to that standard and I won't abide that—but every decent manager I can think of (even old Earl) used his brain. The wheels turned in his mind as the game unfolded.
Then there are/were managers who did nothing, or did worse than nothing, because they weren't using their heads. I speak of those like Cito Gaston—indelible memory of Gaston comes from the 1992 World Series TV graphic denoting "Jimmy Key: First MLB at-bat" because Cito had never heard of a double-switch—and, sadly, Scott Servais, current skipper of Your Seattle Mariners.
As I've said before, Servais must be brilliant at off-the-field stuff. I mean, he has to be, otherwise how could he keep a job? During the game he's an idiot.
When I ran that other website about the Mariners for several years, I wrote several headlines like "Scott Servais and Dodgers defeat Mariners," or, because it seemed notable when no bonehead moves were made, "Servais Does Nothing Wrong in Loss to Astros." If I were still running that site, the theme would be getting pretty old as I would be chastising the guy day in and day out, at least lately.
Whitey is known for using steals and hit-and-run tactics and contact-hitting and frequent double-switching in the lineup, but what's sometimes overlooked is how good he was at handling a pitching staff. He knew each pitcher's strengths and weaknesses, could tell if someone didn't have his good stuff, and could adapt if something went awry because he knew not only statistical details but could read a guy's body language or quiz his catcher on how well pitches were hitting targets. Ken Dayley was Whitey's go-to lefty out of the bullpen in the late innings for a while, but if Dayley wasn't on his game, right away Ricky Horton would get up and throwing behind him (or Jeff Lahti or Bill Campbell if a righty was coming up). Danny Cox was a solid mid-rotation starter that could rack up innings, but if he started to lose his feel for the fastball he was out of the game. On the other hand, Joaquin Andujar might get a little more slack since he was fiery and emotional ("one tough Dominican," as he called himself) and might only be losing his cool momentarily and would be back to normal the next inning.
Scott Servais does not adapt. He chooses his go-to relievers based on some would-be logic that befuddles all (I remain convinced that some of the team's personnel moves over the last four years or so were made in order to remove certain pitchers from Servais' menu of options since he kept using them poorly). He leaves some starters in too long, hooks others too early. The situation on the field rarely appears to play into his thinking. Except when it comes to pitch count, he's often all about that regardless of other factors. He is the Un-Whitey.
Over the last four games, the M's have:
- Lost 1-0 in 10 innings, having early on failed once again to score a runner form 3rd with 0/1 out because of strikeouts, an ignominious category of ineptitude that the Mariners lead the Majors in; then after surrendering the zombie Manfred Man run in the top of the 10th, failed to advance their own, quite speedy, Manfred Man in the bottom half in favor of trying to hit a two-run homer and struck out three times to end it.
- Tied going into the 10th, Servais calls on Trent Thornton, against whom lefties had batted .429 and righties .100, to face three left-hand batters, two of whom connect for extra-base hits to score two runs including the Manfred Man for the loss.
- Wasted a fantastic comeback after being no-hit for 62⁄3 frames and rallying to take the lead in the 9th by going to Matt Brash to close it out despite Brash having terrible lefty-righty splits and a penchant for wildness while other, better options (Topa, who had faced just 3 batters in the 8th, Speier) remained. Brash serves up consecutive base hits and a hard line-drive sac fly to blow the lead; with runner at 3B and 1 out, does not walk the pinch-hitter that everyone except Servais expects to bunt; bunt laid down, run scores, game over.
- Brings in Andres Muñoz, who was wild and blew the save two days before, in the 8th inning to hold an 8-5 lead, then leaves him in to pitch the 9th despite clearly not having his good stuff—both velocity and control of both pitches lacking. Muñoz walks two and serves up two hits to lose the lead, and not until the sixth batter of the inning does Servais get anyone throwing behind Muñoz in the ’pen. M's would win it in the 10th thanks to a great defensive play by Dom Canzone that ended the KC 9th before a fourth run could score. (Also: first time I've ever seen a manager argue for interference on a play that ALREADY WENT HIS WAY. What are you doing, dude?!!)
In isolation, not a big deal. Shit happens. But this is a constant, almost everyday issue for the Mariners and has been for years. Mismanagement of the bullpen. Failure to deviate from your pregame plans and adapt to circumstance. Failure to recognize when a pitcher is in trouble and when he isn't. Failure to know who has success against what type of hitters. Failure to teach contact when you've got an easy RBI at third base, and relatedly, tolerance for enormous strikeout totals from batters.
It makes me think the M's will never win a pennant so long as Servais is the manager, but then I remember: Cito Gaston won two and he didn't even know what a bench was for.
So, you know, still a chance.