Neftali Feliz of the Texas Rangers walks off the mound at the end of the ninth inning during Game Six of the MLB World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Texas paid in players and prospects in order to improve their bullpen, but you wouldn't know it if you watched the World Series.
Koji Uehara was acquired at the trade deadline by the Rangers in exchange for corner infielder Chris Davis and back-end starter Tommy Hunter, in a deal where Texas essentially dumped spare parts they had for something they desperately needed: stability in the bullpen. The rotation was strong, with plenty of pitchers who could contribute. Mitch Moreland had first base duties locked down, while Adrian Beltre was doing Adrian Beltre things over at third, so neither of those pieces would be missed. The bullpen, on the other hand, needed reinforcements, and the addition of Uehara -- along with Mike Adams -- gave the Rangers a bullpen that could help them seriously contend in October.
That was the plan, anyway, but thanks to some decisions from both the front office and manager Ron Washington, the plan has been scrapped, and now the Rangers are down to the last game of the season, regardless of the outcome. Uehara was left off of the playoff roster entirely, as he struggled in the previous two rounds. While, as Grant Brisbee mentioned, there might have been something wrong with Uehara from a mechanical standpoint that the Rangers didn't want to risk exposing in the World Series, the fact of the matter is that there are 1⅓ innings and 11 batters total in October to back up that decision, and they are being favored over a much larger stretch of dominance, the stretch that caused them to acquire him to begin with.
C.J. Wilson has struggled throughout the playoffs, giving up an uncharacteristic number of both homers and walks, yet he was warming up in the bullpen last night to come into the game before David Freese ended things with one swing. Neftali Feliz, who has walked eight batters and hit one more in 11 frames in the playoffs, was brought in to close things out, and, on one more night where his command was as absent as Uehara from the World Series roster, he blew a save and let the Cardinals back in when they were one strike from going home for the winter.
This isn't to say that Wilson or Feliz should have been dropped from the playoff roster; it's more of a question of why Uehara was. He's not the only Ranger hurler to struggle on the mound this month, and while his problems have been a bit more dramatic given the homers, he's also coming off a season that was more impressive than Feliz's (for the second year in a row, even), and he wasn't even replaced on the roster by another pitcher, he was swapped out for a third catcher, Matt Treanor -- who hasn't played at all in the World Series.
With the sheer number of innings needed out of the bullpen this October, and the fact the Cardinals sported a high-powered offense, how is it that a third catcher, who might be used after some pinch-hitting shenanigans, is more valuable than an additional arm, especially when key arms have struggled? Before you say that the Rangers didn't want to put themselves in a situation where Uehara and his recent struggles might need to appear on the mound, remember that Wilson was warming, and Feliz replaced a pitcher who is not only superior, but was well-rested, thanks to the save rule.*
*You know, the one that Tony La Russa helped popularize back in the days of Dennis Eckersley -- your closer and his closer mentality comes in to the ninth, assuming a lead, no matter what.
Speaking of the save rule, had Washington ignored that in favor of keeping his actual top reliever, Mike Adams, on the mound for the ninth, this column wouldn't exist right now, because I would be too busy talking about how awesome Adams is, and how intelligent it was for Texas to acquire both Adams and Uehara to strengthen the pen. Adams, who the Rangers gave up two legitimate prospects for in Joseph Wieland and Robert Erlin, has thrown 1⅓ innings in the World Series, and tossed just three pitches Thursday night before being lifted.
This is the Mike Adams, who, over the last four seasons, has thrown 242 innings out of the bullpen with 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings, a K/BB of 4.2, a 1.71 ERA, and no discernible split against either lefties (.188/.248/.271) or righties (.169/.220/.280). Those aren't single-year splits, either: that's Adams from 2008 through 2011. The same Adams who, in 25 innings for Texas after his acquisition, struck out a batter per inning and walked 1.7 per nine (also known as fewer walks per nine than Feliz has allowed in either a rate or counting form in any single round of the playoffs this year).
Three pitches, and he's out. Leaving Uehara off of the roster was one thing, as he has struggled recently, and you can at least make an argument that Treanor was useful, and Uehara in his current state was not. But if you're already leaving yourself an arm short, and the World Series is on the line, and you take out your very best pitcher -- one who you paid handsomely for so you could be in this exact situation -- in order to observe proper save protocol, well, you get what you deserve.
The good news? Mike Adams is well rested for Game 7.