Romano enters in the seventh inning of Game 2
On the surface, this is perhaps not a managerial mistake by John Schneider. Really, the purpose of the move was straightforward, almost admirable – if you’re going to get eliminated from the playoffs, you don’t want to do so having never used your best reliever. Call it the Buck Showalter clause.
And yet, what if the Jays had come back to take the lead in the eighth or ninth inning, only to find themselves without their All Star closer to lock things down in the ninth? While the merits of saving bullets in an elimination game can be debated at length, what I am more focused on is the message Schneider was sending his team – in effect, that he didn’t believe they could come back from a two-run deficit and take the lead before the ninth.
This was not the only time this type of attitude emerged in the series.
As Kevin Gausman prepared for Game 1, all Schneider could talk about was how much he had struggled against the Twins, and their prolific ability to lay off his splitter. When Gausman finally took to the mound, he did indeed struggle, but not because they were laying off his splitter, rather because he couldn’t throw his splitter anywhere near the strike zone. He looked almost like a guy who was overthrowing his best pitch, trying to be too perfect, because he had the idea built in his head that they weren’t going to chase.
Look at the other side of the field. As star slugger Royce Lewis returned from a hamstring injury, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli did not talk about him struggling with his timing after missing three weeks. Instead, he loudly proclaimed that Lewis was ready to go, ready to hit third, and ready to mash. Lo and behold, Lewis hit two home runs in Game 1, almost single handedly winning the contest for the Twins.
The difference in managerial styles could not be more glaring, in the Wild Card, or, for John Schneider, really for the entire season.
Consider, for one, all the times Schneider spoke to the media about Vlad Guerrero Jr’s struggles at the plate, about how he was pressing, trying to do too much, about how desperately he needed to go on a run like he had in the past. Rarely, if ever, did Schneider mention that Vladdy was hitting .349/.397/.984 with runners in scoring position and two outs, or .304/.379/.843 in high leverage situations; never did he raise his voice to proclaim that Vladdy was carrying an anemic offense despite his struggles – and despite his mother being seriously ill – through clutch hitting and sheer force of will.
In short, this attitude of expected underperformance, of unending struggles, of always being at the disadvantage, is something which absolutely cannot be part of the team next year.