I Almost Miss Cesar Izturis

Let’s look at the deciding innings (10th on Saturday, 9th on Sunday) of the Lost Weekend in San Francisco.

12 batters
2 solid outfield hits (Roberts, Winn)
2 ground ball singles (Rowand x2)
2 non-advancing outs (Molina K, Vizquel bunt popout)
1 outfield single that a better LF may have caught (Winn to Manny)
1 poorly-hit RBI fielder’s choice (Burriss to Broxton)
1 hit by pitch (Ochoa by Broxton)
1 error which could have been a game-ending DP (Blake on Castillo)
1 RBI fielder’s choice which a better 2B may have made a game-ending DP (Castillo thanks to Ozuna)
1 RBI infield single which a better SS would have at least had a shot at (Velez thanks to Berroa)

There’s been a lot written all around the baseball world over the last two days about how Jonathan Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo “blew” back-to-back saves, and in the strictest sense of the word that’s true. It’s hard to argue that they got the job done when the team lost so clearly, they didn’t.

I just think it’s hard to lay all the blame at the feet of these two guys when it’s pretty clear that neither of them performed all that poorly. There were zero walks, zero homers, and one hard-hit ball apiece. It was the defense which completely blew it behind them, especially on Sunday. If Blake makes that play, you’re guaranteed one out with the possibility of a game-ending DP. If Ozuna doesn’t break the wrong way, there’s a much better chance of getting two outs rather than one. And on the last play, while it would have been a highlight if the out had been made, Berroa being unable to even pick the ball up guaranteed that there’s not even a chance to make the play to first. It’s hard for any pitcher to succeed under those circumstances.

But what’s to be expected when your middle infield in the late innings of a close game consists of two guys no one wants? Especially when you’ve got a middle infielder like Chin-Lung Hu in the minors who’s well-known to be one of the slickest fielders around and is pretty likely to be a superior hitter as well? Before this whole debacle went down, I’d already argued that Hu should be up to replace Berroa (or Ozuna) – and FireNedCollettiNow agrees.

I’m not insensitive to the injury issues that have left us barren at shortstop. But the continued presence of players like Angel Berroa and Pablo Ozuna continues to blow my mind. Neither can hit a lick – that’s no surprise. Berroa and Ozuna share nearly identical 76 and 75 career OPS+ marks, making them a full quarter worse than the average hitter. When you figure that you’re down somewhere around your 6th and 7th options on the middle infield depth chart, you don’t expect a whole lot of offense, so you can live with that. You just expect that for what you give up in offense, you’re going to get some contributions on defense.

Except that neither of them can field, either. Ozuna is 4 runs below average for his career as a second baseman, according to Baseball Prospectus, and Berroa is an almost unfathomable 45 runs below average as a shortstop over his career. It’s not like we didn’t all know this going in – just read some of the quotes included in our original report on Berroa.

As for Casey Blake, he’s not off the hook either; that error was crushing. But unlike Berroa and Ozuna, he’s at least provided some value with the bat, and his defense has actually been pretty good up until that boot.

I don’t know how this could be any clearer: shoddy defense had a direct impact in one and perhaps both of the previous two late-inning collapses. The two men you currently employ at crucial up-the-middle positions when defense is needed are both decidedly below-average at that task (nor can they hit). You have a far superior option in the minor leagues. What’s the hold-up here?

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On another topic, fair’s fair. We’ve been really critical of Joe Torre around here lately, and I think it’s all been justified. So now when he does something that shows he might finally Get It, it wouldn’t be right to not applaud him for it.

Torre also indicated that Andre Ethier will remain in the starting outfield along with Matt Kemp in center and Manny Ramirez in left. Torre said Andruw Jones’ surgically repaired right knee is tender again and his availability even as a defensive replacement is day-to-day.

Meanwhile, Juan Pierre is really the odd man out. Although Torre initially indicated after the acquistion of Ramirez that Pierre would get the bulk of playing time ahead of Ethier, it hasn’t worked out that way. Ethier came into Sunday’s game 11-for-19 lifetime against Matt Cain, then went 2-for-3 against him with a triple, RBI and two runs scored.

“He’s seeing the ball really well right now and he has a little more pop [than Pierre],” Torre said. “As long as he looks comfortable, it’s easy to watch right now.”

The lineup for tonight’s game against Philly just came out and once again, Ethier in, Pierre out. Excellent work, Joe. Keep it up!

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

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  1. [...] Yet another reason to ditch a stiff like Pablo Ozuna: We’ve made no secret around here about our distaste for guys like Pablo Ozuna (and Angel Berroa) who can’t really hit.. or field.. or contribute. Well, you can add [...]