In the fifth inning of a postseason game, with a six-run lead, the Blue Jays sent David Price for some mostly low-stress, meaningless innings.
It is Aug. 1, 2015, and you are a Blue Jays fan reading that sentence. Is it good news? Is it bad news? What possible reason would the Blue Jays have for using Price up before an elimination day when it was supposed to be his normal day to start? It seems like gibberish, like some sort of code. Do you give me the microfilm now? Am I supposed to give you the microfilm? This is all so confusing.
It is Dec. 1, 2014, and you are a Dodgers fan reading that sentence. It can't be good news. That would mean that someone is hurt, or that the Dodgers somehow didn't sign Max Scherzer to be the third starter. Or, even worse, that they didn't trade for an ace at the deadline after someone got hurt. That they tried a hodge-podge of second- and third-tier arms instead of just going out and finally getting that third ace that they could afford, that they had prospects to acquire. The one they've been missing for the last three seasons.
Like David Price.
Man, this is weird.
Start with the Blue Jays' decision. Monday's Game 4 was an elimination game for them, so you can absolutely understand the decision to have Price ready. It was win or go home, and if they won because of something Price does, he would still be ready to start the ALCS. Then the Blue Jays piled up a big lead, which would seemingly remove the urgency to use Price as the supercloser.
But then they kept him in. Ostensibly the off day on Tuesday would give him a reliever's rest after 50 pitches, but he was already pitching on three day's rest after a normal-length start, and that's after pitching on 11 day's rest. Pitchers usually love routines, yet the Blue Jays have treated Price like someone hired from a temp agency to do odd jobs around the office.
I looked for an explanation from someone smarter on the Internet, but came up empty. There's always someone there to explain why Jeff Mathis pinch running for Dee Gordon is a good thing, but the best explanation for this one was that the Jays needed a lefty reliever after Brett Cecil's injury, and they were going to start Marcus Stroman anyway. Shifting Price to the bullpen to fill in for Cecil is like recasting the actor playing Superman because the actor playing Steve Lombard got sick. Preferring Stroman is the only logical explanation, and that's pretty shaky.
The Jays are closer than they've been in decades, they emptied their farm to get a legitimate star pitcher, and he was a fire-snorting god for them over the rest of the season. Then he had a lackluster postseason start, and now the Jays are treating him like a tired Jeremy Affeldt. Price had a 2.32 ERA in September, so it's not like he limped into the postseason. He was just a Cy Young contender. Like, right over there.
Just because that smart explanation doesn't exist on the Internet, it doesn't mean the smart explanation doesn't exist. John Gibbons probably isn't basing his decision on seven postseason starts scattered over six seasons, with the front office going along because they have no choice. No, the Blue Jays have a phalanx of brainiacs, one of whom might have noticed something with Price's arm slot or release point, some sort of fatal flaw that they couldn't hope to correct in time for Game 5. Or maybe they're convinced that Stroman matches up better the Rangers. Which doesn't explain why Price was extended in his Game 4 relief appearance, but still.
An appeal to authority is all we have. Because if this isn't a carefully measured decision, something beyond the idea that Price is weak in the postseason, something that isn't an overreaction to a bad start, it has a chance to be remembered in 30 years. It has a chance to be one of the great what-were-you-thinking baseball decisions of our time.
Move on to the Dodgers' decision to support Kershaw and Zack Greinke with second- and third-tier options. It's possible they were internally optimistic about Hyun-jin Ryu's health before the season, which meant it was more of a priority to fortify the back of the rotation with Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy. That's logical. The starting five was excellent on paper in the offseason.
As soon as Ryu and McCarthy got hurt, though, the priorities for the trade deadline became so perfectly clear. Here was the window they missed in the offseason, here was the chance to complete the rotation trinity. And they spent their resources on store-brand aces, convincing themselves that their new cans of Dr. Best and Dr. Dazzle would be just as good as that expensive, overrated Dr. Pepper, but for a third of the price. But when you go to Wayne Manor and they serve you warm Dr. Dazzle, you have a right to be a little amused, if not annoyed.
That's the story of how the richest team in baseball, the team with the greatest sense of championship urgency outside of the Cubs, ended up with Alex Wood and Mat Latos instead of just one pitcher who could start a postseason game for them. That's how a team that should lack for nothing was forced to try the Ricky Nolasco Gambit again two years later, with Brett Anderson. It's how they're forced to go back to the Kershaw-on-short-rest trick just one year later. The Dodgers could have either eliminated the need for a second-tier starter, or they could have eliminated the need to pitch Kershaw on short rest. They couldn't have had both, but they could have scratched one of them off.
There's something charming about the deadline pragmatism, targeting Alex Wood because he's young and cheap and hoping Mat Latos would be a Highlander who cut off Jeff Weaver's head once the postseason started. But the pragmatism was very much the old paradigm for Andrew Friedman, as it was very Rays. They were creative moves that would have been made because they were what the finances of a small-market team dictated. Ned Colletti wouldn't have been so creative. He probably would have ordered the David Price out of a SkyMall catalog and billed his boss. The Dodgers would have been better off.
Or would they be better? The Blue Jays have David Price -- literally the pitcher who led the American League in ERA -- and they have no idea what to do with him. Maybe the Dodgers wouldn't either. It's easy for me to write that Price is still great after watching him for seven or eight hours this year, but baseball people might have smart baseball reasons to be baseball-concerned.
This is incredibly frustrating to watch. It's like a kid in San Diego getting a snowboard for his birthday and a kid in Denver getting a surfboard. You just want to reach through space-time and switch them. It feels like the Dodgers and Blue Jays should have been able to make a last second are-you-gonna-eat-that trade. The team that needed the ace didn't get one, and the team that got the ace doesn't need him. It's possible that we'll be back here in the ALCS, talking about the Blue Jays' savvy decision to go for broke and get their ace. It's also possible that we'll be here, previewing the Rangers and the Mets before their next round.
Everything seemed so clear at the deadline. Everything is so muddled for two World Series favorites who are facing elimination. I'm not entirely sure how we got here, but it's hurting my brain. How did the decision to acquire and use David Price become so difficult for both the Jays and the Dodgers?
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