I have not been the biggest supporter of Tony LaRussa in St. Louis on a regular basis. I have, however, been known to say “it is hard to argue with results”.
The man has hit his pitcher eighth (giving birth to one of the most must read sites on the ‘net), has converted an outfielder into a second baseman, and plays match-up baseball with his bullpen to a maddening level. He even seems to draw other managers into his mindset on the opposite side of the field, engaging in a chess match that involves numerous arms, double switches, and pinch hitters in single innings.
But he gets the job done.
Today I come to you to point out the seemingly obvious. To bring your attention to a genius at work. To show that, not only is he managing this game, he is establishing a way of managing this game that has never truly been seen. Much like the introduction of left-handed specialist relief pitchers and the closer, sometimes a truly different mind can bring you a fresh look at an age old problem.
Tony has exposed the League Championship Series schedule to his benefit in a whole new way. By carrying 12 pitchers and putting to use the travel days that occur, at most, three games apart, LaRussa has made it apparent that he will use every weapon in his arsenal to handle most any inning that the opposition will threaten.
The typical idea with a pitching staff is to shorten a game to six or seven innings. With two solid relief pitchers and a close-the-door closer, the starting pitcher simply needs to go six innings and turn the ball over to his capable bullpen. A starter that goes seven or eight innings then provides some rest for the bullpen and keeps the arms fresh.
However, given the layout of a league championship series, managers know that they can go to those two or three shutdown arms frequently and thus cut the requirement of the starting pitching down drastically. The schedule for these series goes two games – travel day – three games -travel day – two games, giving rest days to the players in regular fashion.
Enter Tony LaRussa.
A manager that loves to play the match-ups between hitters and pitchers suddenly realized that he did not need to have his starting pitcher go that long into a game for his bullpen to be able to shut down the remainder of the contest. People everywhere are quick to point out that no starter has gone six innings for the Cardinals in the NLCS. Very few are acknowledging that LaRussa may very well be utilizing the strong bullpen to take over early on and is not looking for much more than four innings out of his starters.
Requiring the starter to get into the fifth or sixth inning and realizing that he can play the lefty-lefty match-up or turn to a reliever with strong numbers against a strong hitter in a key situation and know that there is no concern to find someone to keep the game moving to the back-end of the bullpen is a commodity that LaRussa seems to both covet and exploit.
The starters are doing their job. The bullpen is doing their’s as well.
LaRussa seems to be making the right calls at the right times.
It’s hard to argue with results.
Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
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