First of all, I hate to be critical of Ron Washington because he's pretty much the only thing I like or respect about the Texas Rangers, who have become a smug, gesticulating bunch. Seriously, every time you stand on base and make a ridiculous gesture of sign-language/semaphore/epilepsy, an innocent puppy runs in front of a bus.
But this World Series matched up two managers who have definite strengths, neither one of which is exactly "being a great tactician". Tony LaRussa's is that he is one of the most innovative managers of our time, not afraid to buck convention if he doesn't agree with convention's wisdom. With the infield apparently back, LaRussa will sometimes bring his infield charging in as the pitch is being delivered, or at other times he will play his infield back until there are two strikes but then bring them in when he knows the batter is more defensive and just seeking contact. He has batted his pitcher 8th. This innovation can obscure the tactical blunders he is sometimes prone to, usually when he over-manages and finds himself out of players -- be it in the 20th inning or the 6th game of the World Series.
As for Washington, he is a master motivator and you get the feeling his players would run through a wall for him even if at the most inopportune time they might also slow up at the warning track and forget to catch the would-be final out of the World Series. But a tactical genius Wash is not. In fact, to my eyes he is one of the worst tacticians in baseball and it caught up to Texas this week.
First of all, a note: It is so easy especially in hindsight, to critique managers' moves. As a policy, I will never question a move if I didn't disagree with it before it played out in real time. In real time, I was consistently opposed to many of Washington's moves, going back to the ALCS and his decisions to intentionally walk Miguel Cabrera with the bases empty -- a move that almost cost the Rangers dearly when Cabrera reached 3rd with one out in a key spot but was ultimately stranded. I am consistently amazed by times the Rangers sacrifice when they have a lineup of crooked numbers waiting to happen.
In a series full of questionable moves, the managing biggest blunder of the World Series, in my opinion, was setting up the rotation for Matt Harrison to start Game 3 and Derek Holland Game 4, a move that set up for Holland to start only once with Harrison in line to pitch Game 7. Holland is simply twice the pitcher Harrison is, and as we watched it play out Holland absolutely throttled the Cardinals in his one start, then came back to dominate them again in a relief appearance. Meanwhile, Harrison was predictably mediocre when the season came down to one game.
This decision reminded me a bit of the 2006 ALCS when Danny Haren was slotted into Game 4, but of course that move became less key when the A's failed to win any of the games anyway. In a seven-game series every game is crucial, but in the flow of the series games 3 & 7 are always especially essential and if I'm going to go down it's not going to be with Matt Harrison on the mound.
I'm also not going to play a "no doubles defense" with nobody on and nobody out, a decision that quietly enabled the Cardinals to start their comeback in Game 6. What we have learned about on base percentage and slugging percentage is that of the two, OBP should be weighted more heavily. Defensively, this means you should generally be aligning your defense to have a better chance of getting an out even if it's at the expense of trading a few singles for a few doubles.
There are some specific times that a "no doubles defense" makes sense, such as when there is a runner at 1B and two out. Leading off an inning is not one of them and baseball's equivalent of football's "prevent defense" prevented Texas from getting an out in the name of trying to turn doubles into singles. Managers often forget that the "no doubles defense" also turns outs into singles. Oops.
How would the World Series have turned out had St. Louis not gotten the leadoff man on down by 2 with just three outs left? If Derek Holland could have gotten the ball for Game 7? We'll never know, of course, but these are among the many questions that must stick in the claw -- I mean craw -- of Rangers fans wondering how their team became the club that came closest to winning a World Series...but has still never captured one.