Before Game 1 tonight, I fired up some quick thoughts on Twitter that I wanted recorded. Here they are:
Want several things known before the WS begins: 1. Think it’s better to sit Vlad, start Murphy and have Vlad PH for pitchers in NL games? about 7 hours ago via web
2a. I’m a Cliff Lee fan-boy…but aren’t the Giants the right kind of team to get him? Right-handed, not too patient? Stay with me… about 7 hours ago via web
2b. I know the SF hitters suck, but to hit Cliff Lee, wouldn’t you want RH hitters who attack so they aren’t always behind 0-1, 0-2, 1-2? about 7 hours ago via web
2c. People are writing about this series like Games 1/5 are in Texas’s pocket. Lincecum (and the SF bullpen) is too good to assume that. about 7 hours ago via web
2d. Lee is really, really good, but I just want to allow for the possibility that he might give up runs to a Major League Baseball team. about 7 hours ago via web
3a. Rangers are favorites (and should be), maybe 55-45. Won’t be shocked with any outcome (save a sweep either way). Should be close/fun. about 7 hours ago via web
3b. That said, odds of Tex or SF in 5, 6, 7 are fairly close, so I’ll just pick one. SF in 6. MVP: Matt Cain. LVP: Everyone not watching. about 7 hours ago via web
To be fair, I wasn’t expecting this:
Also being fair, I’m really smart. But here’s what I was thinking:
1. Vladimir Guerrero is bad in right field. That’s why he doesn’t play there during the season, and that’s why this is even an issue. In San Francisco in Games 1 and 2, the Rangers will be facing Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, both right-handed. Guerrero hit 0.287/0.328/0.482 against right-handed pitching this season. He hit 22 home runs in 442 at-bats. David Murphy, who can actually run around in the outfield, hit 0.298/0.368/0.479 against right-handed pitching this season, with 11 home runs in 305 at-bats. Is that worth playing someone as bad as Vlad in right field? Guerrero would make for a big-time pinch hitter in the late innings also, giving Ron Washington a better option than Jorge Cantu or Jeff Franceour. I understand that all of these guys are right-handed and Murphy is a lefty, which adds to bench flexibility; I just think it’s more important to have the best players playing most of the game. Also Guerrero is better against right-handed pitching than Murphy is against left-handed pitching, if that makes sense regarding roster flexibility.
2. I get the Cliff Lee obsession. I’m one of its founders, leaders, rallying members, etc. The guy is awesome. But it’s not automatic. It’s not “give him the ball and let’s get C.J. Wilson a 1-0 lead.” It’s not “we only have to win 2 of 5 because Cliff has 2.” Lee beats people by being in the zone and getting ahead in the count. Then he can throw whatever he wants (wherever he wants, the reason he’s really good); therefore, not letting him get ahead would be a good thing, and the Giants are not the planet’s most patient baseball team:
Also, I thought being right-handed heavy would help, but oops. Lee was absolutely brutal on right-handed hitters in 2010, even more so than lefties (RHB: 0.227/0.243/0.348 / LHB: 0.281/0.294/0.411). In conclusion, who cares if the numbers don’t back up the logic? Tonight, the hypothesis equaled the results and I’m genius, so stick it. Or I’m really lucky…you can pick.
3. Baseball is a funny game. Those who read this blog know that we need a lot of data to really understand what’s happening. Any 7-game sample of data has a lot of randomness. Why should the World Series be any different? For example, I still think the Yankees are better than the Rangers and the Phillies are better than the Giants. But that’s not what the playoffs discover; they find out which team is better in these seven games. If the Pirates played the Yankees in a best-of-seven series 1,000 times, the Pirates might still win 30 percent of the time. Putting two teams that are more evenly matched only makes that percentage closer. I don’t think I would ever say that an underdog in the playoffs has less than a 40 percent chance of winning their series.
When sabermatricians talk about luck, it’s not always about the breaks of the game; it can also be about random variation within a player’s own talents, and collectively, a team’s talents. Texas was “unlucky” tonight to have Bad Cliff Lee; doesn’t mean Lee is a bad pitcher. 80% of the time he probably throws a gem, but that’s not the Cliff Lee Texas had tonight. So whatever…”Giants in 6, Matt Cain” is as good a choice as “Rangers in 7, Nelson Cruz” and 100 other combinations. That’s why they play the games, and that’s why this is so fun.
Well, it was fun to do the first time and the response was fairly positive, so I thought I’d try it again. The Giants will try to close out the Phillies to go to their first World Series in eight years, and, oh yeah, it’s Halladay-Lincecum. Let’s get to it:
4:56 PM PST: I’ll say this for San Francisco fans: there is no worse feeling than losing a Game 5 at home with your ace on the mound. It seems like there are three chances to close this out, but if the Phillies win, they go back home only needing two wins with Oswalt and Hamels pitching. It no longer seems so daunting. I’m writing this as a someone who had this happen to him three years ago. The Indians never had a lead in Game 5, and Josh Beckett beat CC Sabathia for the second time in the series. The Indians never led again in the series (down 10-1 after 3 in Game 6 and Jake Westbrook gave up a run in each of the first three innings in Game 7) and the 2007 ALCS reached the level of the 1995 World Series in the Hennessey household.
4:59 PM: Big Time Timmy Jim starts off with Victorino with four fastballs and gets a weak pop-up to first. The fastballs are a good sign; he got the Braves out in the Division Series by throwing a bunch of crap and watching them swing. The Phillies won’t help him out that much, and I think not adjusting his game plan hurt him a little in Game 1 of the NLCS.
5:01 PM: All fastballs to Polanco as well, who hits a fliner to Torres in center. I like that Bochy has gone back to Torres for Game 5. If he’s your guy, you have to run him out there unless he’s actually hurt. If he just sucks lately, well, there is a reason he’s played more than Roward this year.
5:03 PM: First changeup to Utley gets a weak groundball to second. 12 pitches, 11 fastballs, 3 outs: excellent start for Lincecum.
5:06 PM: Watching Halladay’s first three pitches to Torres, seems like the strike zone is shifting with the count. Both 2-0 pitches to the leadoff hitters looked a little low, but were given to the pitcher; both also happened after the second pitch looked like a strike.
5:07 PM: Torres walks and that’s a nice bonus for the Giants. Not too many gifts from Halladay usually.
5:08 PM: Torres goes on a 1-0 pitch and Sanchez lines the ball back up the middle; 1st and 3rd, no one out. This should be multiple runs, I don’t care who is pitching. No matter what Manuel and Bochy say, playing for one run (for the game) in the top of the first inning is stupid.
5:11 PM: Huff lines one to first and that’s just bad luck. Nice play by Howard diving to his right.
5:12 PM: That’s about as strange of a 4-3 fielder’s choice as I’ve ever seen. Posey hits a dribbler to Utley who was going to try to tag Sanchez and still get Posey at first; instead, the ball bounces off Utley’s glove and he has to just flip it (non-chalantly I might add) to second (Sanchez stopped running to avoid being tagged). Another good break for the Giants, and it’s 1-0. Game over for Bochy, he can stop managing now.
5:13 PM: Halladay strikes out Burrell and escapes. Unfortunately, Bochy decided he only needed one run to win and called off the dogs.
5:16 PM: After an inning of fastballs, first pitch curve to Ryan Howard. Scouting report on Howard: loves fastballs and the Meatball Marinara footlong, hates offspeed pitches and anything you put vegetables on. And strikeout. Scene.
5:21 PM: Hey, the outside corner does exist! Lincecum gets a Werth looking on a pitch that couldn’t have been more perfect; not sure what Werth would have done with that besides hit a dribbler to second.
5:23 PM: And Lincecum is perfect through two on just 26 pitches (16 strikes). If he keeps it up, he could probably trade in Big Time Timmy Jim for the Freaky Franchise.
5:27 PM: Halladay just got away with one against Cody Ross on a 1-2 pitch; it was the same location of the pitches that Ross has been terrorizing. Doesn’t matter, he gets Ross swinging on the next pitch. PS Also doesn’t matter: it’s still Cody-tober…am I right?
5:31 PM: After an extensive discussion about Pablo Sandoval’s conditioning, he grounds out to shortstop. That’s one of those situations where I wish they’d show Buck and McCarver in the booth so that Buck could put his hands in the air like, “I don’t know what he’s saying either!”
5:35 PM: Halladay is through two, but after 43 pitches. All three Giants in the second had good at-bats against him, and Sandoval and Uribe hit the ball pretty hard. Something to keep an eye as we get into the middle of the game.
5:37 PM: Raul Ibanez hits a bleeder into right-center as he almost falls over swinging, and the Phillies have a little something going with the bottom of the order. After Ben Francisco’s Game 4 performance, I’ll be surprised to see The Franchise get too many more at-bats in this series (also, after that hit, Lincecum is back to Big Time Timmy Jim).
5:39 PM: A slider gets away from Lincecum and hits Ruiz on the arm; with Halladay coming up, a bunt is the easy call.
5:40 PM: Well, that was weird. Halladay bunts the ball onto the plate, Posey grabs it in foul territory and fires to third, Sandoval misses the base trying to get back to it (he was playing in for the bunt), and Halladay never moved because he thought it was foul so Sandoval had plenty of time to throw Halladay out at first. Uh, I guess the Phillies got what they wanted, but Ibanez was almost out at third (on a bunt that was foul) and Halladay could have been on first if he had run as soon as he bunted the ball. Either way, score it: Sacrifice Bunt 2-5-3.
5:41 PM: Back to the top of the order, Victorino. He hits a two-hopper to Huff on a fairly easy hop and it bounces off the heel of Huff’s glove and into shallow centerfield. Both runs score and Victorino ends up at second. Unfortunately, Bochy has to wake up to try to help his team score more runs.
5:44 PM: Polanco singles to left and Victorino scores. What a mess of an inning for the Giants. Still only one out.
5:49 PM: After a long at-bat, Utley singles up the middle and Polanco, running on the pitch, moves to third. “And at some point, Ryan Howard is going to have to chip-in with an RBI,” says Joe Buck. Yeah, he’s hitting 0.357 in the series. His bad.
5:52 PM: Howard strikes out on a 1-2 changeup, but Utley steals second. 2nd and 3rd, 2 outs.
5:53 PM: Just thinking out loud: this would be an excellent time for Werth to make himself a lot of money.
5:53 PM: Werth is already to going to make a lot of money this winter; adding “clutch” to the packet that Scott Boras will be sending everyone will help.
5:54 PM: A harmless fly to left and the inning is over. All of a sudden, Halladay has a two-run lead; guy just knows how to win games. Lincecum with 27 pitches in that inning after just 26 in the first two combined.
6:02 PM: An infield single by Torres in the bottom of the third, but otherwise a quick inning. Only 12 pitches for Halladay, now at 55 for the game.
6:09 PM: A Rollins strikeout, Ibanez line out to third (shattered bat), and Ruiz ground to short make up the top of the fourth. 14 pitches. The bat that shattered ending up sticking straight out of the ground…seems very safe.
6:13 PM: Posey leads off the bottom of the fourth with a groundout to Rollins. Halladay looking more like Halladay for the last four hitters; he’s retired seven in a row.
6:13 PM: JINX! Burrell smokes an inside fastball into the left field corner and hustles into second. Watching Pat Burrell run hurts. And look who’s coming to bat…
6:13 PM: I realized what I just wrote is insanity…every Cody Ross at-bat is an event now and expectations are out of control.
6:15 PM: I’m the greatest! Ross doubles down the right field line and it’s a one-run game.
6:17 PM: Sandoval flies out to Werth, who throws a BB to third to nail Ross trying to advance. Because apparently there were things Cody Ross could do with from third with two outs that he couldn’t do from second. Also now apparent: Cody Ross is fallible. We’re through four, 3-2 Phillies. Halladay 66 pitches (45 strikes), Lincecum 71 pitches (47 strikes).
6:23 PM: 1-2-3 for Lincecum (with a little help from Uribe) in the fifth as he sets aside Halladay, Victorino, and Polanco on nine pitches.
6:28 PM: With two outs in the fifth, Ryan Howard has a ball hit off the heel of his glove and the ball rolls toward Utley, but Torres reaches first. Let’s see if the Giants can make the Phillies pay. My guess: no.
6:30 PM: Well, Sanchez did his part. A single to left off the end of the bat on a tough off-speed pitch puts runners at first and third for Aubrey Huff. The rain is visible on the television now; I was never sure who this bothered more. Hitters have to see the ball and grip the bat. Pitchers have to grip the ball and go through their motion. I side with advantage: pitchers.
6:33 PM: Huff hits a ball 25 feet and Ruiz makes a nice play to throw him out at first. Definitely a missed opportunity there.
6:40 PM: Lincecum retires the heart of the Phillie order. 89 pitches.
6:41 PM: 6 innings, 3 hits, 3 runs, 6 strikeouts, no walks. Lincecum has pitched really well except that he gave up all three hits in the third inning (and let’s not forget Sandoval missing third and Huff’s error).
6:44 PM: Buster Posey leads off the bottom the sixth against Halladay. Apparently, Buster Posey reminds some people of Derek Jeter; I had no idea he hated A-Rod also.
6:46 PM: He draws a walk laying off two knee-high pitches. Might seem stupid to say, but he’s really good. Just things like only swinging at strikes make him a really good player. UPDATE: Maybe he should have struck out. He’s still good.
6:50 PM: After Burrell popped out to shortstop, Cody Ruth (Babe Ross? Nope, got it: George Herman Ross.) strikes out.
6:53 PM: Sandoval rips a ball through the hole on the right side of the infield and Posey stops at second.
6:56 PM: Situation: 1st and 2nd, two out, down one, bottom 6th. Mike Fontenot has stepped on-deck to hit for Buster Posey. My question is: is it worth walking Uribe to get Lincecum out of the game? Probably not, because Uribe will get himself out a lot. Also because Lincecum probably only has one more inning. And because the Giants bullpen is good. But if not for all of those reasons, I’d think twice about it.
6:57 PM: Uribe gets himself out swinging at ball four, and Halladay is through 6 innings. 108 pitches, 6 hits, 2 walks, 2 runs, 5 strikeouts. One more inning? I say yes.
7:02 PM: After a Jimmy Rollins single, Lincecum gets Ibanez on a change up check swinging. He had no idea what the last two pitches were.
7:04 PM: Rollins steals second. He hasn’t been very good since the last two seasons, particularly considering the peak of his powers during his 2007 MVP season, but he always seems to help out somehow. Maybe I just really like that Dick’s commercial that he’s in.
7:06 PM: Rollins steals third. He’s (now) the greatest. The two stolen bases added almost half a run to the expected run total this inning for the Phillies. I know runs don’t count until they score (and that math is hard), but that matters.
7:07 PM: Ruiz walks, and Buck and McCarver speculate that Bochy might go to Javier Lopez. Don’t do it, Boch.
7:09 PM: And sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. Pinch-hitter Ross Gload smokes a ball into Aubrey Huff’s glove, and he steps on first to double-up Ruiz. Lincecum: 7 innings, 4 hits, 1 walk, 3 runs (2 earned…debatable), 7 strikeouts, 104 pitches.
7:11 PM: I would like a hat with the entire city of San Francisco on it also.
7:16 PM: Contreras is in for Philadelphia, and thinking back on it, Halladay did look kind of gassed. It’s seemingly just so easy for him to throw 125 pitches. Now Fontenot pinch hits, and he whiffs on four pitches.
7:19 PM: Torres dribbles one up the middle, and the Giants have something going with the heart of the order coming up. But Freddy Sanchez has to hit first. Those are the rules.
7:21 PM: Sanchez lines out to third, and that’s it for Jose Contreras. J.C. Romero coming in.
7:21 PM: I still think the Taco Bell commercial with Girardi and Rivera is funny. Finish your chalupa, son.
7:25 PM: Huff gets jammed, hit a dying quail toward second, and Utley could not have caught the ball with any less of his glove. It stayed in though and it’s 3-2 as we go to the 8th.
7:29 PM: Romo in for the Giants, and he gets Victorino to bounce to first. His beard looks like the fake ones people have been wearing in honor of Brian Wilson’s. Either way, they are both gross.
7:35 PM: Romo walks Polanco, prompting Bochy to bring in Lopez to face Utley and Howard. Giants can’t afford to give up any more runs given how difficult it is for them to score.
7:38 PM: Lopez strikes out Utley looking; Utley now 0 for 9 against Lopez in their careers.
7:40 PM: And Howard hits a lazy flyball right at Burrell. Posey-Burrell-Ross coming up for the Giants.
7:48 PM: Madson in for the Phillies and strikes out Posey and Burrell, both swinging.
7:48 PM: Glad we’re done with those two because G. H. Ross is up!
7:51 PM: Madson strikes out the side, getting out two of the greatest ten hitters in Giants history. The list in a very particular order: Jeff Kent, Buster Posey, Willie McCovey, J.T. Snow, Ryan Garko, Mel Ott, Barry Bonds, Cody Ross, Willie Mays, and Duane Kuiper.
7:53 PM: Jayson Werth homers down the right field line off Ramon Ramirez. The vibe I’ve gotten from his pending free agency is that the Phillies are just going to let him go because of Dominic Brown; I’m not sure if that’s true, but it’s my perception, and it seems crazy to me. 4-2 Phillies.
8:00 PM: A Rollins flyout, an Ibanez single, and a Ruiz flyout occur. The last five minutes have bored me.
8:01 PM: Luckily Charlie Manuel saves me; he puts in The Franchise to pinch hit. A dribbler on a half-swing to third and Sandoval makes an errant throw to first. First and second with 2 out and Bochy is bringing in Affeldt to face Victorino.
8:05 PM: Victorino strikes out, leading to my favorite ten minutes in sports: Brad Lidge Time. I think Uribe should go up to bat wearing an Albert Pujols mask. If he taped “Pujols” over “Uribe” on the back of his jersey and just showed it to Lidge, would that be enough? I say yes.
8:07 PM: That home run always makes me forget Brad Lidge is a really good pitcher who gave up one really long home run at a bad time.
8:08 PM: Just looked it up: that ball Pujols hit off Lidge is currently orbiting Saturn.
8:09 PM: Paraphrasing but “the best thing that happened last inning was Werth’s home run” and “the Giants can’t tie the game without someone getting on base.” Two pieces of analysis from Mitch Williams in ten seconds. Changed my life. I wish there were more ways to use math to analyze baseball.
8:10 PM: Two guys coming up who will try to tie the game with one swing. Oh wait, they need a guy on base first. My fault.
8:10 PM: I promise, Juan Uribe will not get cheated when he takes his hacks.
8:11 PM: Sandoval pops out to right leading off the 9th and Uribe follows by grounding out to shortstop.
8:13 PM: Ishikawa strikes out in the pitcher’s slot and that looked easy for Lidge. Back to Philadelphia for Game 6 on Saturday night. All of a sudden, it feels like the Phillies…well, let’s let them play more games first. Momentum, thy name is Roy Oswalt.
Jeremy Greenhouse at Baseball Analysts wrote an interesting piece regarding how the count relates to pitch selection and swing rates. His takeaway:
The rate at which pitchers throw strikes aligns perfectly with the average run expectancy in each count. However, batters’ swing rates are not likewise dictated by run expectancy. Instead, batters like to swing more the deeper they get in the count.
The big question is, How much do batters learn from pitch to pitch? The deeper into his repertoire a pitcher must go, the greater the advantage is for the batter. There are probably advantages to taking pitches besides drawing balls. I don’t think this applies to the full count, though, which might be why the swing rate is too damn high.
He also made his data available, and I’m going to steal it and re-organize it.
- It seems like the FB% tells us what I think most of us know; pitchers throw more fastballs to avoid walks when there are 2 or 3 balls in the count (exception being 2-2, which makes sense because they aren’t behind in the count in this situation).
- The zone % also makes sense to me. With no strikes, it’s within 8 percent from 0 balls to 3 balls – very little change.
- With one strike, it ranges from 41 to 57%, and a hitter is just as likely to see a strike 3-1 as he is 3-0.
- The interesting data is with two strikes. At 0-2 and 1-2, there’s really not much incentive to throw a strike; see if the hitter will get himself out. But get to 3 balls and 3-0, 3-1, and 3-2 are within 3 percent of one another.
- With the swing %, a hitter is more likely to swing with each additional strike. Wouldn’t that just be due to the batter knowing he might HAVE to swing in that count (particularly with two strikes)?
- I suppose the 3-2 swing % is highly correlated with the increase zone % from pitchers; that is, a pitcher is more likely to throw a strike with three balls and a hitter is more likely to swing with two strikes, so this is a perfect storm.
Anyway, it’s an interesting experiment in game theory that I thought I would share.
The following has been on my list of topics to write about for nearly three weeks:
“Brian McCann: Awesome!, HoF?”
I was going to wait until after the season to expand on that, but now a) it is after McCann’s season, b) I have two days between series to write about something, and c) most of all, I don’t want to get beat to the punch. Here’s what Rob Neyer wrote in his review of Giants-Braves IV:
I’ll have more about this next month, probably. But Brian McCann, performing brilliantly at the plate and behind it, reminded me that he’s one of the best players in the game, and definitely one of the more underrated. McCann’s never picked up a single point in MVP balloting, but he’s been an All-Star in each of his five full seasons, and has the beginnings of a good Hall of Fame case.
Fine, Rob, I’ll get back to work and write something. I first thought of McCann during the last week of the regular season when I noticed the Braves only had two above average hitters: McCann and Jason Heyward (about whom I’ll have plenty of words this offseason as well). Of course Chipper Jones and Martin Prado were not playing, and despite hitting above average this season, I don’t really think Omar Infante is an above average hitter, if that makes sense. Derek Lee had an OPS+ of 130 for the Braves in 151 plate appearances, which made his OPS+ for the season 103 (not good at first base). Heading into the playoffs, the Braves were obviously not at full strength, nor very good; this was not the team that won 91 games.
McCann had another fine season, his 4th All-Star caliber season in his five full seasons (he has made the All-Star team all five seasons though – to be fair, he had a decent first half in 2007 and it’s not always easy to find an All-Star caliber catcher). Here’s a summary:
In just the five full seasons (McCann turned 26 just before the season started in February), he has accumulated 23.1 WAR according to FanGraphs. Here are the top 8 catchers in terms of career WAR from FanGraphs, along with McCann and his contemporary Joe Mauer:
|Name||Batting||Fielding||Replacement||Positional||RAR||WAR||WAR through age-26||Age at Retirement|
|Ivan Rodriguez||105.8||156||337.8||148.9||748.5||73.4||31.5||38 (active)|
|Brian McCann||91||0||97.9||50.6||239.5||23.9||23.9||26 (active)|
|Joe Mauer||168.5||-1||119.3||41.7||328.5||32.7||27.6||27 (active)|
You might have heard of some of them (sidebar: Mike Piazza was a really, really good hitter). Johnny Bench was a freak who had two MVPs by age 24 and should probably be thrown out of the discussion; it’s just not fair to compare people to him. Fisk and Bench were born 19 days apart from each other; it’s really interesting to note the different paths their careers took to end up at almost the same place. Obviously Fisk played longer and Bench peaked higher and earlier, but we’re talking about two of the best five or six catchers ever. Rodriguez and Carter are so superior to everyone else defensively that it’s almost comical.
Both McCann and Mauer compare well to this group though; among those eligible, only Torre isn’t in the Hall of Fame, and he only was a catcher for about 40% of his career. The only fluke in McCann’s career so far looks like 2007, when his walk rate dipped by 50 percent and he hit only 0.270/0.320/0.452. He hit fewer home runs per fly ball but maintained the same batting ball profile; seems like he was BABIP-unlucky, which is a bad thing when you stop walking also.
Mostly though, the last five seasons are eerily similar, and I’m betting that we see several more 0.280/0.370/0.480 seasons from McCann in the next few years. As he enters his age-27 season, McCann should be entering the prime of his career. If he continues piling up 5-WAR seasons, it would take him until age 34 to catch Dickey and age 35 to catch Piazza. I can’t say that I’d bet on that happening over the next eight to ten seasons, but I have no problem believing that we might have a conversation in 2020 about Brian McCann’s Hall of Fame career.
I’m not sure that I’m going to be any good at this, but loyal reader DJ IKhan asked me to consider doing a running diary for one of the playoff games. I figured Game 5 of the Rangers-Rays series would be as good a time as any to try.
5:07 PM PST: Elvis Andrus leading off and David Price throws four straight fastballs. He threw 84 fastballs in 107 pitches in Game 1 and Buck Martinez thinks “he needs to improve on his secondary pitches.” I think he means throw more of them, because Price struggles to locate them and use them as out-pitches. Price was 74% fastballs this season.
5:09 PM: Andrus drills a ball down the right field line, which Ben Zobrist cuts off. There needs to be about a 2,000 word article from me this winter about why the Zorilla is so valuable. Plus his nickname is awesome.
5:11 PM: Michael Young takes a first-pitch fastball for a strike, then Andrus takes off on the second pitch, Price’s first off-speed pitch of the game. Young fouled it off, but I wonder if Andrus saw something to make him think it was a breaking ball or if he just got lucky guessing.
5:14 PM: “Buck, the biggest deterrent to stolen bases is when you throw 97 miles per hour to the plate.” Or you could not let people on base. But that’s a good idea too.
5:15 PM: I can’t look at Ron Washington with a straight face. Just can’t do it.
5:16 PM: Young out on a 97 mph fastball after a seven-pitch at-bat. Price seems sharp, but he is throwing a lot of fastballs to a lot of fastball hitters.
5:18 PM: Andrus swipes second as Josh Hamilton swings through a fastball. Speed kills.
5:19 PM: As soon as the ball was hit by Hamilton after I saw Andrus take off, I was thinking “someone look home.” Carlos Pena lollygagged the flip and Price lollygagged the catch and Andrus scores from second on a grounder to first. Speed kills.
5:22 PM: As good as the Rays are as an organization, it is shockingly terrible that they don’t have a real DH (Dan Johnson, it ain’t).
5:23 PM: What they do have is a good pair of shortstops, and Jason Bartlett starts with a single to right. Was hoping for six or seven innings of drama from Cliff Lee tonight; now I’m just going to have be entertaining. Thanks, Cliff.
5:24 PM: Lee goes 1-0 on both of the first two hitters. Something has to be wrong, either the plate is small or the ball is misshaped.
5:25 PM: Zorilla bunts foul. I <3 bunts.
5:25 PM: Just kidding PLEASE SWING.
5:26 PM: You know what I <3 even less? Bad bunts that become outs. Zobrist hits a pop-up to first (Mitch Moreland didn’t catch it so Bartlett is out on the force) and the Rays give away an out. I learned in Moneyball that giving away outs is not a good way to win baseball games. Thank you Billy Beane for writing that.
5:27 PM: 1-0 to Carl Crawford as well, but what am I really distracted by right now? Cliff Lee’s necklace looks like a flash drive.
5:28 PM: A fielder’s choice by Crawford and a foul out by Evan Longoria (Joey Votto just scoffed) and we’re through one, Rangers 1-0. Also, 500 words about the first inning? That’s a pace I can’t keep up.
5:31 PM: After Nelson Cruz strikes out to lead off the second, Ian Kinsler hits a bleeder to center, but…
5:33 PM: Jeff Francoeur gets Price out of the inning with a double play to shortstop. Braves and Mets fans, hide your eyes.
5:36 PM: According to Ron Darling and Buck Martinez, Pena has a low batting average because of the shift employed against him. “It’s discouraging to look up from that batter’s box and see all the defenders clustered on the right side of the field.” Wouldn’t it be encouraging to see one side of the field wide open?
5:42 PM: Pena, B.J. Upton, and Johnson go down quickly and Lee looks sharp.
5:45 PM: A Bengie Molina single to center and a strikeout of Moreland. Lots of fastballs so far. His offspeed stuff looks like it’s of the get-me-over-and-keep-hitters-honest variety. With two strikes, the fastball is Price’s closer.
5:50 PM: With Molina on first and Andrus at the plate, Ron Washington starts Molina on a 3-2 count. Not a bad play given how infrequently Andrus strikes out. “Hard to run Molina 3-2,” say Ron Darling. But Andrus did strike out. And Molina takes second without a throw. Kelly Shoppach didn’t throw since no one was at second, but my dad told me a long time ago, “if no one is at second, that’s their fault. Throw it.” Not sure if Joe Maddon is a learned member of the Rich Hennessey School of Baseball.
5:54 PM: Young flew out to make Molina’s stolen base all for naught. Doesn’t matter, it allowed me to write “Rich Hennessey School of Baseball” for the first time.
5:56 PM: Kelly Shoppach starts the third with a chopper to third. I know he has the “platoon advantage,” but I still think I’d rather have Jaso in there. P.S. I think Kelly Shoppach sucks. There, I said it.
6:00 PM: Bartlett singles to right and Upton hits a 20-foot single, bring the Zorilla to the plate with a chance to tie the game. Don Orsillo tells us that Zobrist was “an All-Star for the first time last year.” Oh, like the first time anyone ever heard of Ben Zobrist?
6:02 PM: Zobrist hits a bleeder to center and we’ve got a tie game. Hamilton throws toward the first base dugout and there’s runners on second and third. I love outfield throws that are close; reminds me that these guys are human too (unlike when Matt Diaz puts the ball at Brian McCann’s feet).
6:08 PM: Lee gets Crawford and Longoria, and that feels like a major missed opportunity to me. Can’t imagine that the Rays will get too many more chances like that.
6:12 PM: Hamilton strikes out looking, and I don’t think it’s so much the rust from sitting all of September as much as that he’s still hurt. Something is clearly a little off.
6:16 PM: After Vladimir Guerrero pops out to right, Cruz crushes a Price fastball to deep center, and he clearly thought it was out. The ball bounced away from Upton, was recovered by Crawford, and Cruz still had to motor into second.
6:17 PM: And just like that, he makes up for it. Cruz steals third and Shoppach throws the ball closer to the shortstop than to third, rolls into left field, and Cruz scores easily. 2-1 Rangers.
6:21 PM: After an Kinsler single, Francoeur strikes out. I’m doing all I can not to make jokes in this space.
6:29 PM: Cliff Lee strikes out Pena, Upton, and Johnson without breaking a sweat. I really can’t put into words how easy that looked. Even when he misses right now, it’s right where he wants it. By the way, enjoying the Carlos Carrasco-Jason Donald-Lou Marson-Jason Knapp Era in Cleveland.
6:33 PM: Molina leads off and, feeling spry after that stolen base, tries to bunt for a hit. Or he grounds out to short. One of those two things happened, I promise.
6:34 PM: Joe Maddon says Cliff Lee “is very good.” Thanks, Joe. Also, winning this game would be important in order to play again this season and they should score more than their opponent to do that.
6:38 PM: Andrus smokes a line drive to left, but Young grounds out to second and Price is through 5. 89 pitches, 58 strikes, 6 hits, 6 strikeouts, no walks, 2 runs. Gotta think he’s got one more in him and then it’s the Balfour-Benoit-Soriano show for the Rays.
6:40 PM: See comment at 5:56 PM.
6:47 PM: With two outs, Bartlett doubles to left-center. Cruz looked like Barry Bonds (he of the eight-hop throw) throwing the ball back into the infield…too soon?
6:50 PM: Lee’s curveball is filthy, and he gets the Zorilla looking. End of 5, 2-1 Rangers. Lee has thrown 76 pitches, 56 for strikes, allowing 5 hits and 1 run while striking out 6.
6:54 PM: Hamilton files out to start the 6th as Grant Balfour begins to warm. If it’s a bullpen battle, then the Rays are in good shape. But if Lee is effective, I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t be out there for 120 pitches.
7:00 PM: After Guerrero singles to center and Cruz singles to shortstop, the Rangers score their third run by running the bases well. Kinsler hit a ground ball to first, Pena went to second, Price was late covering first (Bartlett clearly held the ball longer), and then protested the call to the first base while holding the ball. Obviously, he hasn’t seen the end of Major League. Guerrero rounded third hard and scored, beating Price’s throw to Shoppach. Lollygaggers, all of them.
7:10 PM: Lee cruises through the meat of the Rays’ order in the 6th and now it might be time to worry a little if you’re a Rays fan.
7:13 PM: David Price’s night is over, as he gives way to Balfour. Final line: 6 innings, 104 pitches, 8 hits, 3 runs (all earned), six strikeouts. Not bad, not good, just kind of there.
7:16 PM: Balfour matches Lee in the top of the 7th with just 8 pitches.
7:24 PM: Upton leads off the seventh with a single and the swipes second on a curveball. And Lee responds with a strikeout of Willy Aybar because he hates the fans. It must be why he makes scoring so difficult.
7:26 PM: Kelly Shoppach is not a great major league hitter; just wanted to reiterate that. Apparently Rays fans think so too, because that is the loudest boo I’ve heard all series. Lee is through 6 2/3 with 96 pitches.
7:29 PM: Lee strikes out Rodriguez, and we’re through 7. Lee: 7 innings, 100 pitches, 75 strikes, 6 hits, 0 walks, 1 run, 9 strikeouts. I’d say he’s coming back for the 8th.
7:33 PM: Joaquin Benoit in for the Rays, and Evan Longoria boots a soft roller to third. Luckily, he strikes out Josh Hamilton’s corpse.
7:46 PM: Did you know that Vladimir Guerrero is a career 0.320 hitter? Looking at his numbers, he’s an easy Hall of Famer. I’ve been messing around on Baseball-Reference throughout this game, and the most amazing thing I’ve come across: Barry Bonds on-base percentage in 2004 was 0.609. 232 walks will do that, 120 of which were intentional walks. How did I get to that? Guerrero is the active leader with 246. Back to the game, Vlad makes me look really smart by hitting a tailor-made double play ball to Bartlett.
7:49 PM: Lee is back for the 8th as the top of the order comes up. The 15 starts Lee made in the regular season are not why the Rangers got him – this is why.
7:53 PM: Three easy outs for Lee in 8th on 11 pitches. 111 total – back for the 9th? I say he starts it, at minimum.
7:56 PM: Rafael Soriano in for the Rays, and Cruz leads off with a single to center. The Rays can absolutely not give up another run in the 9th.
7:58 PM OOPS. 5-1 Rangers after Kinsler hits a two-run no doubter to left. Maybe Lee can take a seat and get ready for his champagne shower.
8:02 PM: Soriano gets out machines Francoeur and Molina out, gives up a two-out double to Moreland, and gets Andrus to pop out to Pena. Too late though, as the Rays need four runs in the 9th off some combination of Lee and Neftali Feliz.
8:04 PM: Well, Lee is back for the 9th. Probably unnecessary but I don’t blame Washington for putting him back out there.
8:08 PM: A Longoria strikeout and Pena groundout leaves the Rangers one out away from the ALCS. Bet it doesn’t take Upton long to end this.
8:08 PM: Got one right! Ron Washington looks ready to party. Congratulations to the Rangers on the first playoff series win in franchise history. Lee: 6 hits, 11 strikeouts.
8:11 PM: It looks like the Rangers are celebrating with soda in the locker room. If that’s so that Hamilton can join them, that’s awesome.
One more thing before I go:
Cliff Lee in this series: 2-0, 16 innings, 2 earned runs, 21 strikeouts, 0 walks, 11 hits, 2 earned runs. That’s good.
Cliff Lee in the postseason: 6-0 in 7 starts, 56 2/3 innings, 3 complete games, 54 strikeouts, 6 walks, 38 hits, 12 runs (9 earned), 1.43 ERA, 0.78 WHIP.
Thanks to everyone for reading this mess (to the three of you who made it this far), and let me know if it’s worth doing again.
Reds vs. Phillies
Cincinnati Rotation: Volquez, Arroyo, Cueto, TBA*, TBA*
Philadelphia Rotation: Halladay, Oswalt, Hamels, Halladay*, Oswalt*
The Reds can hit. They led the National League in runs and it starts with soon-to-be National League MVP Joey Votto, but he didn’t do all by himself. Scott Rolen and Brandon Phillips provide a lot of punch and together they make up one of the best infields in baseball. The outfield has more question marks but is solid enough. Jay Bruce had a big-time season, displaying both power and patience, and Drew Stubbs played well as a rookie, providing value defensively in centerfield and displaying a power-speed combination at the plate. The Reds rotation flat out scares me; it’s perfectly fine for the long haul of the regular season. For the playoffs though, there’s not a single guy I trust to not totally blow up, even though they have several guys capable of shutting down the opposition. The uncertainty with the Reds rotation could lead to an upset or two or a quick exit. Johnny Cueto and Travis Wood have been their best pitchers for the last couple months of the season, and Wood isn’t even scheduled to start in the series. Bronson Arroyo doesn’t scare anyone, and Edinson Volquez has been up-and-down since coming back from Tommy John surgery, although he did pitch very well in September. Dusty Baker also has Aroldis Chapman as a weapon in the bullpen, but the rest of the bullpen is as shaky as the rotation. The Reds are almost certainly going to have to score some runs off the Phillies’ Big 3, because they’re going to give up some runs in this series.
There are no holes in the Phillie lineup; almost every other National League team has outs at the bottom of the lineup, but not Philadelphia. Chase Utley finished September strongly after coming back from his wrist injury and Jayson Werth had a big finish to the year. Ryan Howard had another good (not great) year, and Jimmy Rollins was average after dealing with some leg injuries. The weakest hitter is Carlos Ruiz, who hit 0.302 this year. The Phillies were (and still are) banged up for a lot of the year, the biggest chink in the armor for the National League’s best lineup. In the rotation, they have three number one starters in Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels. Based on the way the schedule sets up, they’ll be able to pitch 17 of the 19 postseason games. Joe Blanton would only have to start Game 4 of the LCS and World Series, and he’s no slouch. The bullpen is fairly good at the end with Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson, but both can be inconsistent with control and command. The Phillies are in as good of a position as any team to win the whole thing, given that they are better than the three teams they would have to beat to get to the World Series; they can also match up in terms of lineup-punch with all of their prospective World Series opponents.
There’s one more point about this series that I had been thinking about for awhile but no one else brought up, which made me think I was crazy. Then Rob Neyer proposed the same thought in his blog on Sunday:
But I’m not sure the math on this thing is quite as dramatic as you might think. Sure, nobody wants to face the Phillies and their Big 3 pitchers, whether in the first round or any other. I’m wondering, though: If you have to play the Phillies, don’t you want to play them in as short a series as possible? The more games you play, the more the odds favor the better team. And the Phillies are obviously the better team.
PICK: Phillies in 3, so obviously I don’t think it matters when the Reds get the Phillies.
Braves vs. Giants
Atlanta Rotation: Lowe, Hanson, Hudson, Beachy*, Lowe*
San Francisco Rotation: Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Bumgarner*, Lincecum*
And now for what I think is the most interesting battle between two very similar teams. The Braves have two good hitters with Chipper Jones out of the lineup: their All-Star catcher and their 20-year-old right fielder. The infield is a combination of has-beens and never-weres. Alex Gonzalez and Omar Infante have been super-flukes, and Derrek Lee’s best days are behind him. The outfield has been a disaster for most of the year, as Nate McLouth’s struggles started in the spring and lasted through the summer, and they’ve cycled through leftfielders without finding a real answer. Luckily for the Braves, their pitching staff has been terrific throughout the entire season. Tim Hudson has enjoyed a career year, supported partially by an unsustainably low BABIP, but he’s been a groundball machine throughout the season. Derek Lowe is having a Derek Lowe-season, and Tommy Hanson harnessed his stuff and found the strike zone more with all of his pitches. The bullpen has been terrific also, paced by Billy Wagner, but overuse of some of the middle relievers has had an effect on their performance in September and could carry over to October. The Braves are going to need to prevent runs to win any series; luckily for them, they are playing an opponent that doesn’t exactly boast a stacked offense.
Can I copy and paste the previous paragraph for the Giants? Believe it or not, the Giants have five of the best seven offensive players in the series, most of whom no other team would have wanted before the season. Aubrey Huff was had for a one-year, three million dollar contract. Pat Burrell was released by the Rays and had for free. Andres Torres wasn’t even a starter in April; he turned out to be their most valuable player. And their best hitter, 23-year-old Buster Posey, spent the better part of the first two months in Triple-A. Posey didn’t spend that much time in the minor leagues, even with the time spent there this year, and it would be hard to say that he would have played like he did after he got to the big leagues without that time in Triple-A. The biggest disappointment is Pablo Sandoval, their best hitter in 2009, who produced at near replacement levels in 2010. Even with the unexpected offense, the Giant pitching staff did more than their share. I think I’ve written enough words about Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain in this space that everyone knows what I think of them; as far as I’m concerned, they are both aces and the best two pitchers in this series. Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner have both been very good down the stretch for the Giants, and both have the potential to shut down the opponent on any given night. The bullpen, paced by Brian Wilson, have five or six shutdown arms and should be a major strength for them in the postseason. The Giants, unlike a lot of the other playoff teams, are built for the postseason and absolutely have the talent to win the World Series.
PICK: Giants in 5.
Yankees vs. Twins
New York Rotation: Sabathia, Pettitte, Hughes, Sabathia*, Pettitte*
Minnesota Rotation: Liriano, Pavano, Duensing, Blackburn*, Liriano*
The Yankees, not surprisingly, led the league in runs scored; what is surprising was who was responsible for the damage. Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira had good-not-great seasons, but Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher carried the offense. Cano has been a good player for several years but took a step a forward in 2010 by increasing his walk rate and keeping the power he showed in 2009. As an adequate-at-worst second baseman, he provides great value and should have his name written plenty on the 10-man MVP ballots. Curtis Granderson did what he was brought in to do, namely, take advantage of the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium and lock down centerfield. 14 of Granderson’s 24 home runs occurred at Yankee Stadium, and none went to the left of second base. The only Yankee regular who was below average as a hitter this year was Cap’n Jetes, who will no doubt make up for it by doing lots of clutchy things in October. The rotation is full of question marks, making it all the more important for the Yankees to win CC Sabathia’s starts. The Yankees have all but ruled out using A.J. Burnett and Javier Vazquez, and depending on Andy Pettitte’s body and Phil Hughes’s right arm to allow them to pitch are risks. Pettitte has had injury issues all year, and Hughes is at 176 innings after throwing just 105 last season and 70 in 2008. The bullpen is better than Minnesota’s but not without flaws. The Yankees are going to need surprising performances from both starters and relievers to repeat as World Champions.
The Twins are on-base machines and were carried this year by Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau (first-half)/Jim Thome (second-half). Delmon Young had easily his best season, despite drawing only 28 walks in over 600 plate appearances. With Morneau ruled out for the playoffs, the Twins lineup is still formidable. With Mauer and Thome surrounded by Michael Cuddyer, Young, and Jason Kubel, the Twins can score plenty of runs against anyone. Danny Valencia has had a terrific rookie season at third base, sporting a 0.311 average and 0.351 on-base percentage. The three regulars who were below-average hitters this season were Orlando Hudson, J.J. Hardy, and Denard Span, and all three are good defenders. Facing Sabathia twice (if necessary) will be a challenge, but there’s no reason they can’t beat the Yankees. The biggest challenge they face is their roster balance. Having good-but-not-great players at every position is a great way to survive 162 games; it’s not a great strategy for a 5- or 7-game series in which 1 or 2 dominant players can take over. Mauer and Liriano are the difference makers for the Twins, and they’ll both have to have big series for the Twins to advance.
PICK: Yankees in 4.
Rangers vs. Rays
Texas Rotation: Lee, Wilson, Lewis, Hunter*, Lee*
Tampa Bay Rotation: Price, Shields, Garza, Davis*, Price*
The Rays scored the third-most runs in baseball and allowed the seventh-fewest; that’s a good way to win a lot of baseball games. Like the Twins, the Rays’ strength is their depth. The have a star in Evan Longoria, whose season has seemingly slipped below the radar, and Carl Crawford racked up 62 extra base hits while keeping his on-base percentage near 0.360 for the second straight season. These two guys do not have a weakness in their games, as Crawford is one of the best baserunners in baseball and both are tremendous defensively. Around them are B.J. Upton, Ben Zobrist, Carlos Pena, and John Jaso, who took over the starting catcher position and the leadoff spot in his rookie season. The rotation is led by David Price, who had a terrific season; he throws a bunch of different pitches in all counts. I highly, highly, strongly recommend reading Mike Fast’s article at The Process Report about Price’s evolution (read it). Behind Price are James Shields and Matt Garza, who are maddeningly inconsistent but very talented. In the bullpen waiting for the 8th and 9th innings are Joaquin Benoit and Rafael Soriano, and here’s what you need to know about them: 1.54 ERA in 123 innings, which is accompanied by a 2.62 FIP. They’re good. The Rays biggest issue this postseason will be scoring enough runs; their pitching staff is the best of the four AL teams and they are in great position to go to their second World series in three years.
Winning Game 1 is huge for all teams, but it might be most important to the Rangers by guaranteeing Cliff Lee two starts in the series (I don’t see Tommy Hunter pitching Game 4 unless Texas is up 2-1). The Rangers playoff hopes are pinned to Lee and Josh Hamilton, who despite missing 29 games and most of September, should be the American League MVP when it’s announced next month. Hamilton and Nelson Cruz carried the Ranger offense for most of the season (particularly July and August after Vladimir Guerrero started to fade). Ian Kinsler and Michael Young both had very good seasons, but beyond that, the lineup is not particularly strong. Guerrero has looked sluggish in the second half, Elvis Andrus had 18 extra base hits in 674 plate appearances, and I don’t think they have an answer at first base (Jorge Cantu it ain’t). In the rotation, I think I’ve written enough about Cliff Lee for you to know that I like him very much, and the Rangers are solid after Lee with Colby Lewis and C.J. Wilson. I think they are clear underdogs against any of the other three remaining American League teams, but even that means they have something like a 40% chance of winning. They’ll need Hamilton back to his pre-injury form or other-worldly pitching to get past the Rays, but stranger things have happened.
PICK: Rays in 4.