Message To Wedge: Don't Forget Lofton

Kenny Lofton

Eric Wedge doesn't need my help managing the Indians. He's done a very good job on his own, evidenced by the fact that his team has wrapped up the AL Central Division championship and is headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2001. But if I can offer one unsolicited bit of advice to the young skipper who is about to embark on his first trip into the post-season, it would be the following:

Don't forget about your secret weapon. Don't forget the fact Kenny Lofton is one of the greatest leadoff hitters in the history of the game. Don't forget that Lofton has participated in practically every post-season since 1995. And don't forget that he has a way of stepping up his game when the lights shine brightest in October.

I say this only because I think that Wedge might think his 10-day, eight-game experiment in mid-August of having Lofton lead off and Grady Sizemore hit in the No. 3 spot in the order was a failure.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Lofton had 31 total at-bats during the eight-game stretch from Aug. 14 through Aug. 24 in which he was the leadoff hitter. He collected seven hits and walked five times, giving him a very respectable on-base percentage of .387. In addition, he only struck out four times in those 31 at-bats, or slightly more than once every eight at-bats.

The Indians were 4-4 with Lofton at the top of the lineup despite the fact that both Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner, the two players counted on to provide the most production, were struggling at the plate.

Why do I bring this up? Not because Sizemore is a bad leadoff hitter. Far from it.

But as most people know, runs are typically tough to come by in the post-season mainly because, for the most part, you only see the top three starters from any team's staff.

The Indians, even when facing No. 4 and 5 starters, have had a tough time scoring runs during much of the post-All Star Game portion of the season.

If the Indians struggle offensively in the post-season, Lofton's playoff experience might make him the ideal table-setter with Sizemore again moving down to the No. 3 hole.

Sizemore does two things that aren't typical of a leadoff hitter. First of all, he has been among the team leaders in homers all season, a rarity for leadoff men. In addition, he strikes out much more often (nearly once every four at-bats) than you would like to see from your leadoff hitter.

Of course, the change should only be made if the Indians do find themselves struggling to score enough runs to support the anticipated strong pitching of C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona. If the Tribe puts up six runs a game with Sizemore batting leadoff, then I'll be the first to say there is no need for a change.

But if memory serves, even the powerful mid-1990s Indians had a tough time scoring when facing a steady diet of the opponents' best pitchers during the playoffs. Every run in the post-season is huge. Every scoring opportunity needs to be maximized.

Sizemore comes up far too often with nobody on base. By moving him to the third spot, it should give him more RBI opportunities.

One other thing that I hope happens in regards to Lofton is that Wedge decides to give him a green light on the bases. Lofton has forgotten more about base running than most players, and coaches, will ever know.

A recent example of a bad situation that transpired came when the Indians were playing an afternoon game against the White Sox in mid-September. Lofton was on second base and Casey Blake on first with no outs. Trot Nixon, who hasn't seen any regular action in many weeks, was at the plate and had a full count.

Wedge called for a double steal. Nixon struck out and Lofton, who would have been out by a mile at third base, attempted to get back to second but didn't make it.

Lofton was clearly upset when he returned to the bench. He knew that a left-handed hitter who has had very few at-bats in the second half of the season was a prime candidate to be a strikeout victim, which would then result in an easy strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play even if Lofton had gotten a great jump, which he didn't.

Thus, what started as a potentially big inning quickly fizzled and the Indians went on to lose the game, 7-4.

Little things like that can often make big differences come playoff time. It was a base-running blunder that Lofton would not have made had he been on his own.

Wedge, his staff and players need to take advantage of the wealth of experience Lofton will bring into the 2007 playoffs and keep physical and mental mistakes to a minimum.

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