Friday chess match: Protecting and extending a lead

The situation: Top of the ninth. Two outs, runner on first. Cardinals lead by two. Arthur Rhodes is pitching for the Reds. Colby Rasmus’ spot comes up in the batting order for the Cardinals.

The decision: TLR pinch-hits for Rasmus with Joe Mather
The outcome: Mather pops up to end the inning. In the bottom of the ninth, Mather has a near-miss on a shallow single to center, helping to set up the Reds near-game-tying rally.
The analysis: There are two issues at play here. One, the bigger one in my opinion, is the balance between offense and defense at this point in the game. The other is the broader and on-running question of how Rasmus is handled against left-handed pitchers.
As for the first issue, here’s the question the manager must answer. Which is a greater benefit: the potential increase in runs added from having Mather hit, or the potential decrease in runs allowed from having Rasmus stay in center. Typically, with a lead, you favor defense over offense. That’s especially true when it’s two outs and a runner on first, rather than fewer outs, or more runners on, or a runner or two in scoring position.
The second issue is the thornier one. Many fans don’t like the idea of Rasmus as a platoon player, and while I can’t say I blame them, Arthur Rhodes is not just any lefty. He’s an outstanding reliever who consistently obliterates left-handed hitters, and he’s having another excellent year this year. It’s one thing to say you’ll let Rasmus face lefties. It’s another to leave him or ANY left-handed hitter in against a pitcher like Rhodes.
The comment: (the question was, whether it was a hard call to remove Rasmus) “No, because I think Mather is an outstanding center fielder. He’s showing me more and more when I play him. The other thing is that Rasmus has had a nice day going. He got a little something going. You can walk away after Rhodes embarrasses you, and that’s what you remember.”
My verdict: Someone on Twitter (and I apologize, I’ve already forgotten who) called this the most bizarre inning of La Russa’s career. I don’t see it. Leaving Mitchell Boggs in to bunt, IMO, makes more sense than burning a pinch-hitter on a sacrifice, and then you have this move, which is at least defensible in my mind.
I’ll answer the second issue first, because it’s the one where I’m entirely with the manager. You don’t have to consider Rasmus a platoon player to get him out against Rhodes. Even at 40, Rhodes is pretty much the terminator against same-side hitters.
But the first question is trickier. To my eye, Rasmus remains pretty clearly the superior center fielder, and I just feel like you should be prioritizing defense over offense at that point in the game.
I think I’d have left Rasmus in. But I see where the manager was coming from, and I don’t view the move as being as outlandish as some of you did.
-M.

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