Everything went great for the Royal Rumble in round 1 of the playoffs. The best part, the players will be rested after the sweep of the Dingo's. I really didn't expect a sweep of a team I have generally had problems with. Matter of fact, I expected losing the series in 5 games at best. We move on to play the Anaheim Sluggers. The regular season saw the Rumble humble the Sluggers 7-3, but I don't expect that kind of reception in the Playoffs.
What has the Royal Rumble done so differently this season to right the ship? Well, for one I never paid much attention to defense through much of the season. It wasn't that I was playing players out of position, more or less weak at the position and their hitting was not making up the difference. Actually I was very sick much of the season, so paying attention to what was really going on was very minimal.
In a nutshell most of the games were being lost late. To figure out what was wrong I had to analyze what was going on. Orval Varitek had 16 errors at 3B, but 9 plus plays. The 16 errors bothered me and couldn't figure out the reason even after looking at the box scores. Esteban Izturis also had 16 errors, not really uncommon at SS as his somewhat weak glove can cause that. Alex Flores had 13 errors at 2B which also could be because he is a little under-rated in the glove department. The three had a combined 37 plus plays and 1 minus play though. That told me the major infield positions wasn't the problem.
However, the combination of Vic Seneca playing RF and Ed Wood playing 1B did turn out to be a huge problem and probably contributed to the errors of the other 3.
Wood really doesn't have the efficiency to play 1B all that well but his big bat should help the cause. 3 errors and 5 plus plays with 6 minus plays doesn't sound all that bad but his offense didn't cover enough as to what happened to the other players on defense.
Seneca didn't play a very good RF this season either, 5 errors and 7 minus plays with 0 plus plays. His arm is good enough to play the position but that didn't even garner a plus play.
So with Wood out of the lineup and Seneca playing 1B, things changed. Seneca had 0 errors and 4 plus plays at 1B in 37 games. The errors from the other 3 went very minimal in that time frame. One of the problems solved. Brett Stohr was inserted into RF to fill the vacancy, his range and glove are very good for the position but his somewhat weak arm was a concern.
To make up for the short fall of power in the lineup, Tito Yamakazi was quickly promoted to AA to get some higher level AB's in before being promoted to the majors before the playoff roster deadline. Although I consider him still weak at the position, a work in progress so to speak, I had no other choices as I needed another power bat with Wood out of the lineup.
Aubrey Speaker was the odd man out in this move unfortunately for him, just to give Tito playing time. Comparing the two and their regular season play looked like a bad move in the end. Speaker actually had a pretty decent season, though his hitting was a bit off in the BB to SO ratio and his average was down some. The power from Tito never materialized until the playoffs though.
The pen was a sore spot as they couldn't do anything right. Changing the Manager settings cleared most of that up, getting the bench in the game defensively. Also it didn't hurt that I picked up Lorenzo Borbon and Armando Rincon who were sitting unmolested in the FA pool. That allowed me to move three under-performers out to greener pastures in AAA.
Oscar Chang had been complaining about a sore arm and shoulder early in the season. As usual when he pitched, the offense was no where to be found. He normally buckles down in the second part of the season to make him a Cy Young candidate. He had already pitched a lot of innings and nothing much to show for it and I needed a Closer. So to rest him and still use him effectively it was off to Closer school. All of those playoff appearances as a starter under his belt he had only ever won one game, so no loss there. You would think that he would make a shut down Closer, but au contraire. His performance in the role is far from exceptional as 0-2 with 23 saves out of 27 opportunities may sound good but many of the performances were actually a far cry from good even.
Basically most of the last 40 games was back to Spring Training with a never give up attitude. The catch is to identify the problem and try to solve it the best you can without destroying team chemistry. After all the moves, I don't think the team gelled together until the last 10 games of the season and it was just enough to make the playoffs. Did all the changes make a big difference in the playoff against Tampa Bay? I seem to think it did and may have took the Dingo by surprise. Will the way I play the Sluggers change from the Dingos, Probably!
As for the the other three sweeps by the Wild Card teams. I was surprised that New York completely shut down Arizona. Three shutouts in the Playoffs? Chicago out hitting Hartford wasn't that much of a surprise, the sweep was. Scottsdale's sweep of Burlington wasn't actually a real surprise but shutting down the Burlington offense in Scottsdale was.