Through 14 games, Mickey Callaway, by and large, has looked like a genius. That doesn't mean every move has been golden though.
In the bottom of the 5th of Sunday's 3-2 victory, Callaway made a move that elicited some head scratching. With two outs and runners on second and third, Callaway pitch hit for Tomas Nido with Jay Bruce. Brewers acting manager Pat Murphy (serving in that role because of Craig Counsell's ejection) promptly issued an intentional pass to Bruce, which brought Syndergaard to the plate with the bases loaded. Thor popped up on his first pitch to end the inning.
Gary Cohen immediately called the move out for not making sense. And it looked especially bad when Noah was lifted after 5.1 innings and 101 pitches, only for the Brewers to take a 2-1 lead in the sixth. Brandon Nimmo's homer in the 6th, and Wilmer Flores' walk off in the 9th got Callaway off the hook, but just what was the manager thinking?
Here's my take on the thinking behind why Mickey did what he did:
Keeping Thor on the bump: Callaway obviously wanted to try to get Syndergaard through six innings. That would leave his bullpen with less work in the midst of a stretch of 10 straight games without an off day. And with the way Thor was throwing, it was certainly to try and keep him in the game.
Leaving Nido in wouldn't have changed the ultimate match up: In a close game where they were up just 1-0, the call ultimately came down to this: see if Nido could come through in one-or-two pitchers. Because even if Nido did hit, it's a spot where he would essentially be unintentionally-intentionally walked. That's to say, Brewers reliever Taylor Williams would probably throw a bunch of slop just outside the strike zone to try and get Nido to chase, knowing they could fall back on pitching to Syndergaard with the bases loaded. When this happens, you'll often see the pitcher fall behind 2-0 and just finish the intentional walk. That probably would have happened, and the Mets would have been in the exact same spot.
Clear the pitcher's spot: So if that's the case, why put Bruce up there, waste a bench player with a big bat, just to get the same spot you could have gotten with Nido at the plate? Because there's also a fairly high probability that Nido would get himself out in that spot. If he chases something out of the zone, then you have Syndergaard leading off the inning. So forcing the issue both clears the pitcher's spot in the order and allowed the Mets to start fresh in the 6th with the top of your order. Plus, it makes Williams execute with the bases loaded, where a walk or a hit by pitch could force in a run. It didn't help that Noah swung at the first pitch, though.
Yes, the Mets could have just double switched Jose Lobaton or Asdrubal Cabrera into the game and gotten a hitter to lead off the 6th, but by turning the lineup over, it gives Mickey his best OBP hitters (Nimmo and Conforto) to start the inning. The reason the trend with managers putting their best hitters as high in the order as possible has emerged is because it ensures they get more at bats. It might seem small, but turning the lineup over in this spot guarantees the Brewers can't win the game without getting Conforto and Yoenis Céspedes out twice. Even with Yo struggling, it's no easy feat.
On the surface, it looks like a blunder by Callaway that his players were able to bail him out of. But even though the result of that move was the end of a rally, there was a method to the madness, and it did make baseball sense. And that just underscores the vast complexities of this game.
Just because Callaway's move didn't seem right doesn't mean there was a right call to make. You never know what would happen in the road not taken. If Nido stays in the game and grounds out on the first pitch, maybe the Mets don't get to Flores' spot in the 9th and the Brewers score in the 10th and lock it down in extras? Maybe Nido hits a three-run homer? Who knows. What we do know is that, over the season's first three weeks, Mickey's mistakes have been few and far between. If the first year skipper can keep minimizing them, New York is going to be just fine.
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