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Gomes, Nava, Victorino, and Why John Farrell is Smarter than Me

The Boston Red Sox beat the Detroit Tigers tonight and are going to the World Series. It seems an odd time to criticize lineup decisions by John Farrell. That is especially true when his two most-questionable moves turned into gold. Jonny Gomes doubled to lead off the seventh inning. Four batters later, Shane Victorino sent Fenway Park into a frenzy with a grand slam.

Leading up to the game — a 5-2 Red Sox win — I opined on Twitter that Gomes shouldn’t be in the lineup, and Victorino should be moved to the bottom of the order. There was logic behind my opinions. In retrospect, I still think I was right, even though I may have been wrong.

Farrell put it this way prior to the game: “At this point in time, gut feel comes into it a little bit more than numbers on a stat sheet or a given category. The way players respond in this environment has got equal weight, if not more, than what the numbers might indicate, or drive you to make a decision over the course of a regular-season game. This is a different environment.”

The Red Sox manager wasn’t referring specifically to his decision to play Gomes over Daniel Nava. The question posed to him was more general in nature, but for all intents and purposes, that’s exactly what he was referring to.

Tonight marked the fourth time Gomes has started in the ALCS — with Nava on the bench — which is notable because the Tigers don’t have a left-handed starter. Over his career, Gomes has hit .225/.310/.423 versus same-handed pitchers. This season, he improved to closer to replacement level, hitting .258/.341/.404. At Fenway Park, those numbers were .234/.297/.375.

Nava, in 397 plate appearances versus right-handed pitching this year, hit .322/.411/.484. At Fenway Park, those numbers were .343/.434/.515.

By all accounts, Nava is healthy.

Gomes track record versus Scherzer didn’t give credence to his being in tonight’s lineup. In nine at bats versus the Tigers’ right-hander this season, he has gone strikeout, strikeout, strikeout, infield single, single, pop to shortstop, strikeout, strikeout, strikeout.

Gomes post-season numbers are worse than his right-handed splits. Prior to this season, he was 0 for 7, with three strikeouts. Counting this year’s numbers, he came into the game .143/.200/.179, in 30 plate appearances.

Nava had no previous postseason experience. His slash line between this year’s ALDS and ALCS is .273/.429/.273, in 14 plate appearances. His most notable at bat came in ALCS Game One, when his ninth-inning single broke up what would have been a combined no-hitter by five Detroit pitchers.

It has been noted that the Red Sox had won all five post-season games started by Gomes. It has not been noted — but will be here — that the 1927 Yankees won all four World Series games started by Joe Dugan.

Gomes contribution to the five wins was four hits — two of the infield variery — in 19 at bats. He had two RBIs, both coming in a 12-2 win over Tampa Bay in the ALDS. They came against a left-handed pitcher.

In many ways, playing Gomes over Nava is akin to the Red Sox playing Eric Hinske over Kevin Youkilis against left-handed pitchers in the 2007 ALCS. They didn’t do that, of course. It wouldn’t have made sense. Youkilis wasn’t yet in his prime, but he was an OBP-machine. Hinske was a gritty journeyman-type with poor numbers versus same-sided pitching.

Lloyd McClendon, the Tigers hitting coach and a former manager, was asked his opinion before the game — not on Gomes-Nava specifically, but on playing a hard-nosed veteran or the player with better numbers.

“I think you have to go with the guys who have put the numbers up for you,” said McClendon. “You also look at who has been swinging a hot bat. Maybe you go with your gut with to some degree. In the end, you have to answer for [the decisions].”

Farrell — who was somewhat vindicated by Gomes’ seventh-inning double — has been vague about his decision. The best he has done is suggest he may not be as numbers-driven as befits the Red Sox reputation. By all accounts, his gut is overruling logic.

Then there is the Shane Victorino issue. Jim Leyland — regardless of how he approached the decision — went the saber route by moving his best hitter, Miguel Cabrera, into the two-hole in an attempt to jump-start his offense. His struggling lead-off hitter, Austin Jackson, moved to eighth in the order.

Farrell, meanwhile, has steadfastly kept the equally-struggling Shane Victorino in the two-hole. The Boston right-fielder came into the game just 8 for 35 in the post-season, with 12 strikeouts. Exacerbating his offensive woes is the fact he hadn’t drawn a walk in his last 65 plate appearances. An ability to get hit by pitches has been his lone offensive strength.

Farrell was asked on Friday about the possibility of moving Victorino to the bottom of the order — ala Jackson — and batting Nava second. He admitted it has been considered, but he wasn’t prepared to make the move just yet.

Given Victorino’s game-changing home run, that move isn’t going to be made. In all likelihood, neither will a move from Gomes to the more-talented Nava. Are those good things? Only time will tell. The numbers say Farrell made a pair of faulty lineup decisions in the ALCS. Two eighth-inning swings of the bat and a trip to the World Series say otherwise.

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POST-GAME PERSPECTIVES

Red Sox hitting coach Greg Colbrunn: “Vic, with what he’s brought to us over 162 games — he’s going out there and competing. I don’t know if there was a thought about dropping in him in the order or not, but he battles his butt off every AB. Tonight he went up there and had an unbelievable AB.

“Having both [Gomes and Nava] is a great option. Jonny Gomes brings it every night and tonight he came two feet from going deep. And Daniel Nava has been unbelievable all year. He puts up solid at bats. Those guys are interchangeable pieces, and interchangeable pieces has been a big part of our success this year. Those guys pick each other up.”

Daniel Nava: “Jonny and I were talking about [the lineup decision] today, and we’re both in the same position of all we want is to win. All we want is that ring. If skip wants Jonny out there on a given night, go get ‘em Jonny. If skip wants me out there, I’m going to go get ‘em. We’ve got each other’s backs. It doesn’t matter who’s out there, let’s just win, and we’re going to the World Series.”

Ryan Dempster: “When you’re out there in the bullpen, and you see [Victorino’s] ball go out, you can see all the fans in the stands, and it’s like Fenway Park is bouncing. That‘s how it was. It looked at least off the wall, so I knew we had a chance to score some runs, and it just kept carrying. Wow, man. What a moment.”

Dustin Pedroia: “I wanted to run around [the bases] with him, I was so excited. I had a great view. It was a great swing. [Jose Veras] has a great curveball, and Vic was able to drive it. It was unbelievable. But nobody here cares what they do personally. We’re all here together.”

Craig Breslow: “It’s a fundamental argument: Do you have chemistry and that helps you win, or do you win and that develops chemistry? But it seems like, even from Day One of spring training, we’ve had both. We’ve got 25 guys that prioritize winning above all else. It really rings true. Like Jonny Gomes says, it’s 25 guys tugging on the same rope.”