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The Thursday Takeaway
The closer is a decidedly unsexy concept from a hardcore sabermetric perspective. The best reliever on the team, the school of thought says, should be deployed in the situation with the highest leverage, not against the bottom of the order in a save situation that may never happen if some Triple-A call-up blows it in the sixth inning.

Terry Francona, apparently, agrees.

Cleveland starter Mike Clevinger, just up from Triple-A, failed to get out of the fourth inning on Thursday. He was replaced by Dan Otero, who retired two batters to escape the inning. Otero came back out for the sixth and retired two more batters. Francona then made a pitching change.

With Byron Buxton due up, there wasn’t an urgent need for a pitcher of great consequence to enter. In fact, Otero likely could have managed to retire Buxton himself. Instead, Francona called upon his newest reliever, Andrew Miller.

It is difficult to overstate just how good Miller has been. Miller entered the game having struck out 44.3 percent of the batters he has faced this year. Of those 174 batters, only 29 recorded hits, and seven walked. His slider might be the best in the game. He has 45 saves since the start of 2015.

Why was he being brought in to face the light-hitting Buxton with two outs in the sixth inning?

It was not because of who was hitting in the sixth, but the seventh. Brian Dozier, Joe Mauer and the white-hot Max Kepler were scheduled to hit after Buxton. Miller retired his man in the sixth, and then retired the top of the Minnesota lineup in order in the seventh.

This was a display of truly excellent managing from Francona. Even if Cody Allen is still the closer in Cleveland, it would be tempting to simply use Miller in the eighth inning. Instead, Francona used his best reliever in the spot where he was needed the most. The Indians had only a two run lead at that point, and all three of the Dozier/Mauer/Kepler trio are dangerous bats. Who better than Miller to keep them in check?

The Indians would go on to win 9-2, of course, but had the Twins managed to score in the seventh, it could have potentially been a very different game. Proactive reliever usage, when correctly applied, is a good thing. Don’t be afraid of it.

Quick Hits from Thursday
A Giants-Phillies matchup doesn’t feel like one with the potential for offensive deadlock, but that’s exactly what happened on Thursday. The two clubs were tied at two when they went to extra innings. Closer Jeanmar Gomez (what a weird world we live in) returned for a second inning of work. The first man up was Denard Span.

This wasn’t a bad pitch by Gomez. It was simply a good swing by Span. The pitch was between his knees and his shoe tops, and he whacked it over the right field wall.

That was all that San Francisco needed to win the ballgame, a home run from noted power hitter Denard Span on a pitch that wasn’t close to the strike zone. Baseball!

***

Elsewhere in extra-inning play, the Mariners were down to their last three outs after allowing Boston to take a 3-2 lead in the top of the 11th inning. Brad Ziegler was on for the save. Somehow, he managed to walk Mike Zunino and his career 31.8 percent strikeout rate (and paltry 5.4 percent walk rate). M’s manager Scott Servais immediately elected to pinch-run Luis Sardinas for Zunino. Sardinas is fast. Zunino is a catcher.

So far, so good. Leonys Martin stepped to the plate.

He laid down a bunt.

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As our handy-dandy BP run expectancy table shows us, this is generally an unsound managerial choice. The odds of scoring a run with a man on first and no outs are substantially higher than the odds of scoring with a man on second and one out. Shawn O’Malley and Seth Smith were tasked with at least tying the game. They did not. O’Malley grounded out to first, and Smith struck out. The Red Sox won, and the Mariners did everything in their power to shoot themselves in the foot with a sac bunt-sized bullet.

Scott Servais once promised that he wouldn’t bunt too much. That didn’t hold true late Thursday night, and it lessened what little chance Seattle had of winning the game.

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It’s still early, but the David Dahl era may well be upon us. The Rockies’ new outfielder has burst onto the scene by simply mashing every single ball that’s in his vicinity, and there’s no sign of any end in sight. On Thursday, he christened his home ballpark for the first time by taking Kenta Maeda out to dead center.

Dahl is now hitting .375/.405/.625 in an extremely small sample of work that in no way should be given any serious credence just yet. But damn that’s fun.

Putting a man of Dahl’s talent in any ballpark is dangerous. Putting him in Coors Field just feels like overkill. Do the Rockies have no soul? Do they not care about innocent baseballs being placed on a Louisville Slugger one-way flight to the cheap seats?

Apparently not. We’re all better off for it.

Defensive Plays of the Day

There was a surprising number of great plays on Thursday. Here’s a few.

Coco Crisp went to the Vernon Wells wall and managed to not look like Vernon Wells.

Using Kevin Kiermaier here feels like cheating, but that nasty DL stint deprived us of our much-needed Kiermaier catches for a while. Sue me, I guess.

Nice.

What to Watch on Friday
The Mets continue their stretch of interleague play by taking a flight to Detroit and starting Noah Syndergaard against Justin Verlander and the Tigers. Syndergaard will try his hardest to throw a perfect game so that he and his teammates won’t have to answer any more questions about Yoneis Cespedes, golf, and the downfall of western society.

David Phelps, who has been an excellent reliever for the Marlins this year, is being given his first start of the year today. He’s facing a pretty good offense (sans Trevor Story) in the Rockies as his first. Phelps was a decent swingman during his tenure with the Yankees, so it’ll be interesting to see if his relief success carries over to starting, and at Coors Field. The beleaguered Jorge De La Rosa will try to keep Giancarlo Stanton and co. in the ballpark.

For your late night West Coast game, the Red Sox roll into L.A. to take on the Dodgers. Listen to the dulcet tones of Vin Scully tell you stories about Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Steven Wirght’s knuckleball, and, well, I’m sure he has anecdotes about Scott Kazmir. Perhaps about his time with the Sugar Land Skeeters, or something. It should be a good game either way. You get to watch Mookie Betts and Corey Seager in the same sitting.