If you’ve been watching the NLDS (I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you have), you’ve not only seen some excellent baseball, but have seen a fine battle of wits between two rookie managers, the Brewers’ Ron Roenicke and Arizona’s Kirk Gibson. While it’s easy to place too much value on the chess game played by opposing skippers, it’s important to give credit where credit is due.
Yes, Gibson’s pitchers have underwhelmed in a big way the last two games, but his handling of them (intentionally walking Mark Kotsay and sticking with his ROOGY for far too long during the highest-leverage situation of the game) has put them into situations where they weren’t likely to succeed or even make it out alive. On the other hand, Yovani Gallardo made Roenicke look like a genius for starting him in game one, while the players he penciled in the lineup produced both at the plate and in the field.
Perhaps the biggest win to date by Roenicke was the decision to play Jerry Hairston at third in favor of Casey McGehee.
In the two-game sample, Hairston has chipped in three hits, including a double to start Sunday’s 5-run sixth inning as well as a sacrifice fly to give Milwaukee the lead for good in game one. At third, Hairston has also converted several diving and charging plays that it’s far from a guarantee McGehee would have made.
Hairston obviously won’t hit .500/.500/.667 for the rest of the postseason, but he did have McGehee beat by 100 points of OPS in the regular season, while adding in the ability to not embarrass himself at nearly any defensive position. Because of all of this, seeing Hairston’s name next to the “3B” in the lineup was surprising not because it was a controversial or illogical choice, but because it took them so long to do it. I won’t rehash McGehee’s struggles anymore (I wish him nothing but the best and hope he can resume tearing up the ball next season), but at this point in the season, the club finally did what they eventually needed to do: Stop counting on McGehee because he’s a good guy and hit in the past and go with the player who is going to help you win games.
Other people probably think “the player who is going to help you win games” should be Taylor Green, and while Green was the name being bandied about all summer as a replacement to McGehee, he’s not the right choice for suddenly being dropped into a postseason series. First off, Green didn’t really play regularly down the stretch, struggling to even steal pinch-hit chances from Mark Kotsay, while Hairston was in the lineup for most of September. Also, Green hit only .270/.270/.351 down the stretch, and is a good defender only when compared to McGehee. The final reason is probably the most important. I’ve never been in a big-league clubhouse, but can you imagine starting a guy who hasn’t looked all that great in his one month of big league service time ahead of both McGehee and Hairston? Something tells me it, um, wouldn’t go over well.
With a 2-0 lead and Hairston performing on both sides of the ball, it’s easy to praise Ron Roenicke for finally making the right move, even if Yuniesky Betancourt seems determined to show a national audience what kind of player he is. Of course, if the starting pitchers can continue dealing and Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are granted regular chances to flash the Beast Mode sign, the Brewers will be fine no matter what Hairston does.