ARLINGTON—If Bruce Bochy had made the lineup move during the regular season, no one would have batted an eye. It simply would have been a case of giving a slumping hitter a day off to regain his bearings.
However, since this is the World Series, Bochy's decision to put left fielder Pat Burrell on the bench for Game Four on Sunday night at Rangers Ballpark at Arlington was a major topic of discussion. Burrell went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts in the Giants' loss in Game Three, making him 0-for-9 with eight strikeouts and two walks in the series. He has also struck out in 19 of his 43 plate appearances during the postseason.
"It's just a bad time to struggle," Burrell said. "There's no way around it. I'm getting pitches to hit. I'm just doing nothing with them and chasing some balls off the plate. You've got to keep it as simple as you can this time of year. I've been doing this a long time and I know what it takes to compete. You've got to be accountable. I think it's as much mental as anything else."
Burrell spent a long time working in the indoor batting cages with hitting coach Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens before the game. Meulens helped Burrell become a productive hitter again during the regular season after he was released by the Rays in May.
Bochy said the frequency of Burrell's strikeouts is a sure sign his timing is off. Burrell has struck out in 44 percent of his post-season plate appearance compared to 22.6 percent in 341 regular-season PA with the Giants.
"You just try to get back to where you were, whether it was moving your hands a little bit, getting your starting foot down sooner, things like that," Bochy said.
Bochy has not been afraid to change his lineup in the postseason. He benched struggling center fielder and leadoff hitter Andres Torres in favor of Aaron Rowand for two games in the Giants' victory over the Phillies in the National League Championship Series.
"It's exactly what we're doing again this time," Bochy said. "Sometimes it's good to step back and watch a game and just get it off your mind. It also allows you a day to work on some things, take some extra swings and hopefully find it. Everybody has their ups and downs, and Pat is such a good hitter, we just haven't seen this from him this year. But it happens."
Nate Schierholtz moved into the starting lineup, playing right field while Cody Ross moved from right field to left. First baseman Aubrey Huff served as the DH and Travis Ishikawa started at first. Benching Burrell was a bit of a gamble, as the Giants are already forced to put an extra hitter into the lineup because the games in the American League park are played with a DH. Pablo Sandoval was the DH in Game Three and went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and a double-play grounder as the Giants lost 4-2.
Huff paid dividends for the Giants in their 4-0 win in Game Four as he hit a two-run home run in the third inning off Tommy Hunter to open the scoring.
Huff's big blast aside, Giants' designated hitters were 2-for-22 in six interleague road games this year. Furthermore, NL teams have lost 24 of the last 32 World Series games played in AL parks. However, Meulens discounted the idea that the Giants are at a disadvantage.
"For hitters, it's easier," Meulens said. "Guys are used to hitting. It's not as tough as their pitchers coming to our park and having to hit all of a sudden."
It is hard to believe Burrell would be such a key figure for a team in the World Series considering he had just a .237 True Average in 96 plate appearances for the Rays this season after posting a .246 mark in 476 PA for them in 2009. However, he had a .304 TAv with the Giants.
The Rays signed Burrell to a two-year, $16 million contact in the 2008-09 offseason as a free agent to be their designated hitter. However, Burrell said he never found the key to adapting to the position.
"I wish I knew the answer, because it probably would have worked out differently down there," he said. "For me, it has to have something to do with being in the flow of the game, playing in the field, being active in the game. I think that's a huge part of it for me. I'm not saying that that's right or wrong. I think just for me that was an important part of it."
Or it could have been that Burrell was just plain miserable in St. Petersburg. It was clear to those around the Rays from the beginning that he wasn't happy, and he had little interaction with his teammates. Regardless, Burrell is happier to be home in his native Northern California.
"I don't want to dwell too much on that," Burrell said of his Rays' experience. "But obviously getting a chance to come out (to San Francisco) and play, I think, was a big thing for me. You know, obviously starting with a different team and having it turn out the way it did is not what you hoped for. But I got a chance, the Giants gave me an opportunity to come out here and play, and I just tried to make the most of it."
Whether Jose Bautista's 2010 season winds up being one of the great outliers in baseball history won't be known until the rest of his career plays out. However, it certainly seems like one on the surface. The Blue Jays outfielder/third baseman led the major leagues with 54 home runs and had a .331 TAv. His previous career highs were 16 and .272, respectively.
So if Bautista did indeed have an outlier season, we can, for the record, have his explanation of how it happened. He discussed his 2010 season before Game Four, after being named the AL winner of the Henry Aaron Award, presented by Major League Baseball to the best hitter in each league.
"It was a combination of a lot of things," Bautista said. "I got the opportunity to play every day. I've got to thank the Toronto Blue Jays for that. And then I made a lot of adjustments. I changed my approach to hitting. I became more aggressive and I also kind of tweaked the way I prepare myself. I start my swing on my load earlier, on the pitcher's delivery, and that allowed me to attack the baseball more. Also getting moved to the three hole in that lineup with fast guys in front of me and guys that would drive me in allowed me to have a successful season."
The Aaron Award had a Canadian theme, as Reds first baseman Joey Votto was the NL recipient. He is a Toronto native.
"You know, it's a great thing, man," Votto said. "I was picked as the best offensive player in the National League and the guy three seats over hit 54 home runs. It's a great accomplishment, and it's special, Canadian or not."
Now that Sandy Alderson has taken over as the Mets' general manager, his first chore is to find a manager to replace the fired Jerry Manuel. When Alderson was the GM with the Athletics, he had an intellectual manager in Tony La Russa, a fiery one in Billy Martin, and a stoic one in Art Howe.
Alderson says the main requirement for the job is intelligence. Beyond that, he is pretty open to any characteristics.
"I think that we're looking for somebody that fits intellectual requirements, but also intuitive and emotional ones," Alderson said. "That manager may have experience. He may not have experience. We're very open-minded about it at this point. But I do want to emphasize that whoever is selected is going to be the manager and making those decisions. Needs to have a certain level of independence, obviously, in order to accomplish what he needs to accomplish."
Mets fans have been clamoring for former second baseman Wally Backman to become the next manager. Currently the manager of the Mets' short-season Brooklyn farm club, Backman is an old-school baseball type who can argue and curse with the best of them.
Hiring Backman would go against the way the Athletics and Billy Beane, Alderson's protégé and successor in Oakland, were portrayed by Michael Lewis in Moneyball. However, Alderson says that perception does not match reality.
"I know there's been some discussion about the three paragraphs in Moneyball that relate to me," Alderson said. "I do believe, just putting it in a broader context, a manager needs to reflect the general philosophy of an organization. And that's important not just for a manager. It's important for a player-development system. It's important for every element of a baseball operation, to have some sense of consistency of approach, of philosophy. I will say that that kind of consistency is more important than the philosophy itself. But it is important that an organization be moving in one direction. It's important, not only for the organization, but also for the players, in particular, who are moving from one level to another, and then making that jump from the minor-league system to the major-league system, where it's even more critical that they understand expectations."
Dodgers owner Frank McCourt was heavily criticized by the media and fans in Los Angeles for not spending what was necessary to win a third consecutive NL West title this season. He has been watching costs closely as he is going through a bitter divorce.
Thus, it was seemingly a good sign that the Dodgers re-signed left-hander Ted Lilly to a three-year, $33 million contract last month before he reached free agency. Dodgers GM Ned Colletti says the payroll is going up in 2011 after being anywhere from $82 million and $92 million this year, depending on who was doing the accounting.
Colletti would not say what the exact payroll figure will be but did indicate that he has enough maneuverability in the budget to add more players. Colletti said he would like to add another starting pitcher, at least one reliever, and one or two position players.
"We're far from finished in my mind," Colletti said.
Lilly might have gotten more money if he tested free agency. However, he said he feels the Dodgers will do what it takes financially to be a contender throughout the life of his contract.
"I believe this organization can do something special going forward," Lilly said. "I have a great desire to be a part of it. And want to contribute something special."
MLB Rumors & Rumblings: The Diamondbacks will consider signing Paul Konerko as a free agent, and there is likely to be mutual interest as the first baseman grew up and lives in Arizona. … Whether the Red Sox re-sign catcher and captain Jason Varitek hinges on their ability to re-sign Victor Martinez. If they retain Martinez, Jarrod Saltalamacchia will be the backup catcher. If Martinez leaves then Saltalamacchia will be the likely starter and Varitek would serve as the backup catcher/mentor. … In the unlikely event Derek Jeter leaves as a free agent, the Yankees plan to fill their shortstop hole internally with Eduardo Nunez. … The Yankees have interest in former Braves and Orioles pitching coach Leo Mazzone for their pitching coach job as well as former Athletics pitching coach Curt Young and current Brewers pitching coach Rick Peterson, who is under contract in Milwaukee along with hitting coach Dale Sveum, despite the lack of a manager. … The Nationals are most likely to target first baseman Carlos Pena as a free agent if they are unable to re-sign Adam Dunn. … The Marlins are close to signing second baseman Dan Uggla to a four-year contract that would buy out his last year of arbitration and first three years of free agency.