Hey, the St. Louis series has demonstrated that are are lots of situations for ballplayers to react to, and they don't always have on their thinking cap when needed. Here's some of the bonehead plays that were made, and how they should have been handled:
-- Positioning the infield to take the middle away from Yadier Molina. No doubt JR and the braintrust was given a chart showing the balls in play hit by Molina as part of the advance scouting report, and moved the boys around accordingly.
The problems: Small sample size; Molina's reputation for using the whole field, and in all likelihood, no chart showing what he did against that alignment, as apparently no one else has used it, and finally factoring in the pitcher's tendency (Zach Duke), who likes to work the outside of the plate. Molina had three opposite field hits.
The book: Adjust your infield according to the called pitch location against a guy that doesn't have a real tendency for hit placement.
-- Two guys on the same base after a rundown, and both getting tagged out, as happened to Andy LaRoche and Andrew McCutchen. With runners on first and third, LaRoche broke home on a grounder to either prevent a DP or score, which is the right move...but it fell apart on execution.
The problem: LaRoche returned to the bag, which is human nature but not baseball brilliance. McCutchen was supposed to be there, so he was heads-up on the base path.
The book: LaRoche, once in a rundown, is supposed to prolong it enough to allow the back runner to advance and then give himself up. But if two runners end up on the same sack, the rules give the base to the original occupant, so everyone concerned should stay cemented to it until the ump sorts it out.
-- Aki Iwamura tags dirt on a steal attempt, falling for the hidden hand trick of Joe Mather after a perfect throw.
The problem: Iwamura ho-hummed the tag by dropping it straight down while Mather borrowed a page from Wee Willie Keeler by sliding where they ain't.
The book: A tag should be under control enough cover the base; that's why swipe tags are so popular. Watching the runner helps, too - not all are suicidal.
-- Bunting into a wheel play. Jeff Karstens tried it with runners on first and second and no outs, but forced Jason Jaramillo out at third, taking away a golden scoring opportunity.
Problem: The wheel play has the corners charging in full tilt, with the SS covering third and the 2B covering first. The Card wrinkle is to have the second sacker also hold the runner before breaking to first. The purpose is to leave the hitter no space to roll the ball and getting the lead runner. It's a high-risk, high-reward defense.
Book: Both the runner and hitter went against the book. Jaramillo should watch the second baseman and take an aggressive break towards third when the infielder broke to first; he didn't. The coaches could have Karstens swinging to make contact rather than bunting. If he got enough of the ball to roll it past the first wave, the infield behind them is basically empty. The downer is that a one-hopper hit at an incoming fielder is a tailor-made DP. If you opt to bunt, bunt toward third base; make the fielder at least turn to make a play. Karstens didn't.
But give Tony LaRussa some credit. In a close game, he saw a slow, part-time player on second, and used the quick Skip Schumaker to keep him close to the base. The stars lined up right, and he squelched a potentially game-breaking inning.
-- With Lastings Milledge on second and an out, Card third baseman David Freese snagged a hard-hit ball and had Milledge trapped between the bases. He looked him in the eye...and took the out at first.
Problem: First, Milledge was way too aggressive off second; maybe he thought the ball was headed into left. Second, in a 1-0 game, Freese has to get the lead runner when the opportunity presents itself. Milledge scored a batter later.
The Book: Freese has to go after Milledge; at worst, they'll be a different runner on second and two away; it's much more likely that there would be a runner at first. And Milledge has to make sure any ball hit his right gets through before he's off to the races.
Hey, GW is always preaching about fundamentals. But baseball is a crazy game, and there are a million situations to be downloaded into a player's data bank. But you'll notice that most of the gaffes were committed by Pittsburgh; it's the sign not particularly of bad coaching, but of a young team still trying to learn the ropes and beating itself on some nights while absorbing the lessons.