Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 6:16 p.m.
Assembling the 25-man post-season roster is a tricky thing. The manager (in consultation with the GM) has to consider all possibilities for the pitching staff and the position players, and how they best match up with the opponent.
Joe Torre has done this a million times and this year he (and Ned Colletti) seem to have made all the right choices. With one exception:
Having a left-handed power hitter available to pinch hit is essential. But why in the world would Torre pick Jim Thome over Doug Mientkiewicz?
Thome was acquired on Aug. 31 from the Chicago White Sox, where he appeared in 107 games (exclusively as a DH/pinch hitter), and hit 23 HRs with 74 RBIs. OK, so it looked like the 39-year-old slugger, who has 564 career HRs, had a little bit left in the tank. But he also had 116 Ks in 345 ABs. He struck out in a third of his at-bats, which is pretty close to his career numbers! After joining the Dodgers he appeared in 17 games, had 17 ABs with four hits (all singles), 3 RBIs and 7 Ks. Against the Cards he was 0-for-2 with a strikeout. (Hey, he struck out half the time!)
Mientkiewicz, 35, was signed as a free agent in the off-season. Torre managed him in 2007--his last year with the Yankees--and was happy to have him here. But Mientkiewicz hurt his shoulder early in the season and missed most of the year. He came back late and had 18 ABs in 20 games, with 6 hits (1 double), 3 RBIs and 6 Ks. OK, so he struck out a third of the time too, but that was in limited duty as he was trying to get his timing back. His career stats are much better in that regard. Simply put, he's a better contact hitter than Thome.
And here's another thing: Mientkiewicz is a good-fielding 1st baseman. (Yes, I know Mark Loretta also backs up at 1B.) Thome can no longer play the field. He may not even own a glove anymore. And right after he came to the Dodgers he hurt his foot. Even before then, he was an automatic candidate for a pinch runner if he happened to get on base. In the post-season you need versatility at every turn. Thome doesn't provide that.
So why Thome over Mientkiewicz? Well, it could very well be that the trade for Thome included a gentleman's agreement that he would be included on the post-season roster. And here's another theory: Thome and Manny Ramirez are old friends who were longtime teammates in Cleveland. They even joked this year about finishing their careers together back there. (Yeah, right, just what the Indians need.)
When the Dodgers traded for Thome, Manny was in the throes of his hitting slump. Maybe the Dodgers thought having an old bud around would help Ramirez someway, somehow. Manny never did get back to being the Manny of last year. But he showed signs of life against the Cards--enough to shut up the fans who were clamoring for Juan Pierre. (C'mon folks, that's a no-brainer.)
Let's just hope Torre's decision to go with Thome doesn't backfire.
--Hurray! Game 2 Friday in Los Angeles is a 1 p.m. start! A weekday playoff game actually played in the daytime!! And that's followed by Game 1 of the Angels/Yankees series. All the other Phillies/Dodger games will be 5 p.m. starts.
Read what the other cities are saying about their teams:
New York Yankees
St. Louis Cardinals