By Lynn Saternow
Herald Sports Editor
IT’S GOING TO get very interesting and hopefully exciting as we head into the second half of the season in Major League Baseball.
While the Pirates have no hope of making the playoffs, there is a slim possibility of the Buccos nearing or surpassing the .500 mark if they can string a few winning streaks together. That would be pretty special after 14 losing seasons.
The Cleveland Indians of course are in a struggle in the tough American League Central Division where it seems that every team is starting to heat up, even the Tribe’s current opponents from Kansas City. However, the Indians have a legitimate shot to make the playoffs if the pitching can hold up and Travis Hafner can start to deliver.
Hafner had a poor first half of the season, but this past week signed a four-year contract extension worth $57 million so maybe that will allow him to concentrate more on his hitting.
It seems that the Tribe players like manager Eric Wedge, whose job certainly is on the line. Not many managers last 5 years in the bigs without getting their team into the playoffs. So I still worry about his managing skills — or rather the lack thereof.
For example, in the final game before the All-Star break, the Indians were in Toronto and Paul Byrd had pitched a great game. But in the bottom of the ninth in a scoreless battle, the Blue Jays had a runner on second with one out. Toronto’s only All-Star selection, Alex Rios, was coming to the plate.
So what would you do? Every Little League manager knows that you should walk Rios to set up the possibility of a double play.
So what did Wedge do? He pitched to Rios, who of course got a hit and drove in the winning run. So what did I do? I was screaming so loud at the television set, the neighbors were probably ready to call the cops.
In a tough division, every game is important. You can’t afford to blow games because of poor managing. One of the credos of baseball is that “Managers win or lose one-run ballgames.” I strongly believe that.
Winning close games is all about having a feel for the game. When do you pull your starter and when do you leave him in? Who do you bring out of the bullpen? When do you sacrifice bunt to move a runner? When do you pinch-hit?
When do you walk an All-Star with a base open in the last inning of a scoreless game to set up a double play? Oops, the answer to that question is — ALWAYS!
Wedge’s track record in one-run ballgames hasn’t been good. And it’s going to have to improve if the Indians want to win the division or at least get a wild-card bid to the playoffs. There is very little room for manager-error, especially in a division that features perhaps the best manager in the game — Jim Leyland — guiding the talented Tigers.
Wedge’s job is on the line. I hope he keeps it because that means the Tribe will be in the playoffs.
By Lynn Saternow