Following the "resignation" of longtime general manager Dan O'Dowd, the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday introduced their new general manager, Jeff Bridich, who at 37 becomes the youngest GM in the sport. He had been the team's senior director of player development since 2011, and it seems that part of his qualifications are playing catcher at Harvard (or backup catcher) and going to Harvard. That apparently makes him smart, and every team wants a smart general manager these days.
Considering O'Dowd and co-GM Bill Geivett had just resigned, the Rockies obviously just decided to promote from within rather than actually conduct a search for the best candidate. Maybe that search would have resulted in Bridich getting the job anyway, but it's kind of strange that owner Dick Monfort wouldn't at least consider an outside candidate. (It seems unlikely the Rockies could have kept an outside search completely quiet.)
Anyway, our Rockies Zingers blog does a great job covering the team. Richard Bergstrom had an initial reaction to a somewhat bizarre news conference:
It is also a little fair to wonder, as insular as the Rockies can be, what is Bridich’s exposure to ideas outside of the organization? If the biggest thing on his resume, besides a stint in the main MLB office, is spending ten years in a losing organization, does he have a good idea on what makes franchises successful? Ordinarily, I might be a bit more skeptical and say "Nah, he doesn’t," but this is kind of where social media helps because of his evident popularity outside of Denver. And to be fair, every so often the Rockies do try innovative things such as the four man rotation (not to mention the two general manager system), so they are outside-the-box at times, though it is unclear who gets the credit (or blame) for that.
The Rockies were extraordinarily patient with O'Dowd. He had been the GM since the 2000 season, and while he presided over two playoff appearances, including a trip to the World Series in 2007, the team never won a division title under his watch and had just four winning seasons in 15 years. The last four years the Rockies lost 89, 98, 88 and 96 games in 2014. It was definitely time for a change.
What's interesting is that, despite all that losing, Rockies fans have remained supportive. They ranked 10th in the majors in attendance this season, ahead of playoff teams Washington, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Oakland and Kansas City. The Rockies appear to know what they're doing from a marketing perspective. Now they need to figure out the baseball side of things.
The first task for Bridich won't be an easy one: Do you try to trade Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki this offseason?
I'm talking managers.
Take Buck Showalter.
Then, while managing the Diamondbacks in 1999, Randy Johnson took a 4-4 tie into the ninth inning. Yes, it's Randy Johnson. But he'd faced 32 batters. Showalter let him face four more. Three got on, and then Edgardo Alfonzo hit a grand slam off a reliever named Bobby Chouinard.
Showalter learned: Trust your bullpen. We saw quick hooks in the Orioles' series against the Tigers. Yes, some of that is a function of not having a Cone or Johnson to overextend, plus a deep bullpen you can rely upon, but I believe Showalter has learned not to let your starter go too deep. He's also showed the willingness to stick with the hot hand. He used Andrew Miller twice against the Tigers to get five outs and once in the sixth inning (earlier than he had used him all season).
Bruce Bochy managed the Padres to four playoff appearances before the Giants hired him. He's learned that you can't manage the playoffs like you do the regular season, whether it's putting Tim Lincecum in the bullpen like he did in 2012 or pulling a starter with a 3-1 lead in the third inning like he did with Barry Zito that same year. I was actually a little surprised he let Ryan Vogelsong start the sixth inning against the Nationals in Game 4 the other night, but he did pull him with two outs and nobody on to bring on Javier Lopez to face Adam LaRoche.
Mike Matheny is now in his third postseason, but for the most part still seems to take a regular-season approach to managing his starters. He lost Game 5 of the World Series last year when the Red Sox scored twice off Adam Wainwright in the seventh to win 3-1 and then had a surprisingly slow hook with Michael Wacha in Game 6 (he allowed six runs). He got five good innings out of Shelby Miller in Game 4 against the Dodgers and then had a bit of a slow hook in the sixth inning. The Cardinals got three outs that inning -- two on a double play and the third when Andre Ethier got caught off third; that inning easily could have exploded in their faces, in part because Miller was left in too long.
Ned Yost? Yost certainly has a plan: Get a lead and then hand the ball in the seventh inning or later to Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. The problem with him is if that plan doesn't unfold exactly like that, what does he do? His bullpen is deeper than those three with the emergence of Brandon Finnegan, the solid Jason Frasor and even starter Danny Duffy. He doesn't have to rely on his starters to go six or seven innings every game. It will be interesting in particular to see if he rides James Shields, who has scuffled in his two postseason starts. Yost has the bullpen depth to go to it early, especially if he's willing to extend his best relievers for more than three outs like Showalter did with Miller.
All this gets back to what I wrote Wednesday about when to remove a starter. All four of these teams have good bullpens. All four managers should be using them as much as possible. On paper, we should have two low-scoring series. The key innings may very well be those precarious sixth and seventh innings when the starter is getting tired and it's too early for your closer. How these four managers handle those innings will play play a key role.
Oh, and if you're facing a lose-and-go-home game and it's tied in the seventh inning, I recommend not using your 10th-best pitcher.
The ALCS will be a matchup of two of the premier defensive teams in baseball in the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals.
The Orioles led the AL and ranked third in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved. The Royals ranked fourth in Defensive Runs Saved and led the majors in Web Gems, a number of which you saw in their Division Series sweep of the Angels.
What figure to be the notable defensive storylines of this series?
Caleb Joseph’s impact
Given the difference on defense between Orioles catchers Nick Hundley and Joseph and the Royals' baserunning ability, Buck Showalter seems likely to catch Joseph in each game. Joseph has an advantage over Hundley in both throwing out baserunners and pitch framing.
Opposing basestealers were safe on 62 percent of their tries against Joseph (21 of 55), the third-lowest success rate in the majors (only Christian Vazquez and Yadier Molina were better among catchers with at least 50 games played), but were safe on 86 percent of their attempts against Hundley (31 of 36, seventh-worst in the majors).
Joseph is also very good at pitch framing. He ranked fourth in percentage of called strikes gotten on pitches outside the strike zone (11 percent), trailing only Hank Conger, David Ross and Jose Molina.
Royals catcher Salvador Perez will have an impact on the series as well. The thing to watch for with Perez will be if he can catch a baserunner napping. He tied for the major-league lead among catchers with four pickoffs.
The Royals' fantastic outfield
The Royals' outfield led the majors with 46 Defensive Runs.
The Royals have received excellent outfield defense throughout 2014, particularly from Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson. Gordon and Cain were 1-2 among AL outfielders in Defensive Runs Saved (Gordon also led all outfielders with 13 Web Gems).
Right fielder Norichika Aoki didn't rate well on defense this season, with his primary struggle point being balls hit to the deepest part of the ballpark. It will be interesting to see whether the high right-field wall in Camden Yards gives him any trouble these first two games.
The Orioles' infield is very good
Each of the Orioles four infield positions (as well as all three outfield spots) contributed positive Defensive Runs Saved totals.
The Orioles turned 74 percent of groundballs and bunts hit against their pitchers into outs, the third-highest out rate in the American League. That's significantly better than the Royals, whose out rate was just below 72 percent (71.6)
Of note related to this: The Orioles used a defensive shift on 705 balls in play in 2014, the fourth-most in the majors. The results were good, though not overwhelming (seven Defensive Runs Saved on shifts), perhaps because the Orioles were pretty good even when they didn’t shift.
When the Orioles have a chance to get a double play, they do so at a high rate. The Orioles led the majors in the double play component that gets factored into Defensive Runs Saved (11 Runs Saved). They had the top-ranked second baseman (Jonathan Schoop) and the top-ranked shortstop (J.J. Hardy) in that stat.
Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar tied for the most Web Gems for any player this season (14) and has the most of any player over the last six seasons (61).
Though Escobar excels at the flashy play, it's the easier ones that give him trouble. He's ranked outside the top 10 in Defensive Runs Saved at that position in each of the last three seasons.
To shift or not to shift: Mike Moustakas
The Orioles were among the most active users of defensive shifts in baseball. They'll have a decision to make on what to do when it comes to Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas.
Moustakas is a player against whom defenses regularly shift, and for much of the season, that vexed him. But towards the end of August, Moustakas was finally able to make the necessary adjustments.
Moustakas had nine opposite-field hits in his first 350 at-bats. He had nine in his last 107 regular-season at-bats, plus two more in 14 at-bats this postseason.
Key player off the bench: David Lough
The Orioles have a player who may be extra motivated to beat the Royals: former Royals backup outfielder David Lough.
Lough has 25 Defensive Runs Saved in a little more than 1,200 innings over the last two seasons. He had 10 Runs Saved in right field last season, seven in left field this season. He ranks fifth-best in Runs Saved per 1,000 innings over that span (his former teammate, Cain, ranks third). The Orioles often use him as a defensive replacement in left field.
A few thoughts on the film and that World Series:
- The film shows Earl McNeely's game-winning hit, which reportedly took a bad hop over third baseman Fred Lindstrom, although you can't actually tell from the footage. (McNeely's name is misspelled as "McNeeley" in the film.)
- Unfortunately, we don't have the play that set up the winning run. With one out, Muddy Ruel launched a high foul pop behind home plate that Giants catcher Hank Gowdy staggered under before stumbling on his discarded mask and dropping the ball. Ruel then doubled and Walter Johnson reached on an error by shortstop Travis Jackson, with Ruel holding second, setting up McNeely's hit.
- We do see Johnson pitching. In his first World Series at age 36, the great Johnson was looking like the goat before Game 7, having lost both of his starts while giving up 27 hits (granted, he lost Game 1 after pitching all 12 innings). The series was played that year without an off day, so after starting Game 5, Johnson didn't start Game 7. He entered in relief in the ninth inning with the score tied 3-3 and pitched four scoreless innings to get the win.
- Johnson had a peculiar sidearm delivery; he whipped his arm across his body. Doesn't seem that he could have thrown in the mid-to-upper 90s with that motion, but his motion was so unique and his arms were so long that maybe he was able to generate that kind of velocity. Or at least without injuring his shoulder or elbow. Here's more on Johnson's motion.
- Washington player-manager Bucky Harris used an interesting strategy. Giants rookie first baseman Bill Terry had been red-hot in the first six games, but manager John McGraw was platooning him. Harris started right-hander Curly Ogden -- putting Terry in the lineup -- and then switched to lefty George Mogridge after two batters. Terry went 0-for-2 against Mogridge. When he came up with two runners on in the sixth, McGraw pinch-hit Irish Meusel. Harris countered with his ace reliever, right-hander Firpo Marberry. The Giants still scored three runs in the inning, with the help of two Senators errors. (The film misidentifies Mogridge, since it's a right-hander pitching, not a lefty.)
- The Senators tied it in the eighth, when Harris, who had homered earlier, hit a two-out, two-run single off Giants starter Virgil Barnes -- the 29th batter Barnes had faced. While starters went the distance about half the time back then, the Giants were slightly below average in complete games, so McGraw wasn't necessarily behind the times. He just let Barnes go too long. Imagine the uproar if that happened now!
- Notice the headfirst slide into first base!
By the way, the 1925 World Series also went seven games -- the Pirates defeated Johnson and the Senators 9-7 in the finale -- with Game 7 played in horrific conditions, with a foggy, misty day turning into a steady downpour. The New York Times described players "wallowing ankle-deep in mud, pitchers slipping as they delivered the ball to the plate, athletes skidding and sloshing, falling full length, dropping soaked baseballs ..."
OK, Library of Congress. Let's find some footage of that one.
The question, then: When should a manager remove his starter?
Obviously, there are myriad influencing factors in any game: how the starter feels, his pitch count, how many days of rest he's pitching on, the score of the game, how tired or rested the bullpen is, the quality of the relievers, the state of the series and so on.
So we're talking in broad terms here. One of the hot topics among sabermetric writers and analysts this offseason has been the idea that starters generally do worse the third time through a batting order. The batters have seen him twice by then, plus the starter is getting tired. It's certainly no coincidence that both times Clayton Kershaw blew up against the Cardinals came in his third time through the order as he approached and went beyond 100 pitches.
Here are the numbers we're talking about, all starting pitchers in 2014:
First time through the order: .246/.304/.377
Second time through the order: .256/.313/.395
Third time through the order: .268/.327/.421
And it's hard to say that there should be a hard and fast rule. If managers always managed like that, we wouldn't have had Jack Morris pitching his 10-inning shutout in the 1991 World Series or Chris Carpenter beating Roy Halladay 1-0 in Game 5 of the 2011 NL Division Series or any number of great postseason performances. You have to allow for a manager to adjust to what's going on in the game.
Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to look back and see how World Series winners have managed their rotations in recent years.
2013 -- John Farrell, Red Sox (16 total games)
Average batters faced: 24.2
Long outings (28+ BF): 3
Short outings (20 or fewer BF): 5
Farrell did extend his starters a few times, but all were in games when the Red Sox had big leads: 6-1, 8-1 and 12-2 were the finals of those three games. The Red Sox won three of the five short outings, including Game 4 of the World Series when he pinch-hit for Clay Buchholz with the score tied 1-1 in the top of the fifth. There were some extenuating circumstances as Buchholz was pitching through a sore shoulder that was limiting his velocity. But Farrell also pulled Jake Peavy after 74 pitches in the sixth inning of Game 4 of the division series. The Red Sox were down 1-0 and Peavy hadn't walked a batter; they ended up winning 3-1. In Game 5 of the ALCS, he pulled Jon Lester after 24 batters in the sixth inning with a 4-1 lead. Lester was at 98 pitches and there were two runners on, but Farrell didn't wait.
2012 -- Bruce Bochy, Giants (16 total games)
Average batters faced: 23.7
Long outings: 3
Short outings: 4
Two of the long outings came with big leads. The one exception was Matt Cain in Game 4 of the World Series, when he faced 28 batters. He was at 102 pitches and had retired the side in order in the seventh, but Bochy pulled him with the game tied. The Giants would win in 10 innings.
The Giants won two of the short outings. In Game 3 of the division series (the Giants were down two games to none), Ryan Vogelsong was removed after 20 batters (and five innings). The game was tied 1-1 and Vogelsong led off the sixth; plus he was at 95 pitches, so that was strongly dictated by circumstances. In Game 4, Bochy removed Barry Zito in the third inning, after 20 batters faced. The Giants were ahead 3-2 at the time. Bochy's decision was certainly influenced by Zito's four walks, but he took him with two outs and a runner on first, not the most threatening of moments. In the same game, Dusty Baker left in Mike Leake to give up two more runs in the fifth inning and the next game he left in Mat Latos to give up six runs, including a grand slam to Buster Posey the third time through the order.
2011 -- Tony La Russa, Cardinals (18 total games)
Average batters faced: 22.0
Long outings: 3
Short outings: 6
La Russa had a very quick hook throughout this postseason, with five other outings of 23 or fewer batters. Two of the long outings were from Chris Carpenter, including that memorable duel with Halladay, when he faced 31 batters. In the ninth inning, La Russa left him in to face Chase Utley, Hunter Pence and Ryan Howard. He probably shouldn't have, but it worked out. Sometimes it does.
It's possible La Russa adapted after losing Game 3 of that division series. Jaime Garcia took a 0-0 tie into the seventh inning but gave up a single, intentional walk and a two-out, three-run homer to Ben Francisco (pinch-hitting for Cole Hamels, so he was the 27th batter Garcia had faced). After that, La Russa was determined not to let his starters lose a game late.
2010 -- Bruce Bochy, Giants (15 total games)
Average batters faced: 25.7
Long outings: 6
Short outings: 2
Bochy rode his starters longer this postseason, as he also had four starts with 27 batters faced. In Game 1 of the division series, he let Tim Lincecum finish off a 1-0, 14-strikeout gem with 119 pitches and 30 BF. In Game 5 of the World Series, leading 3-1, he let Lincecum face the 9-1-2 batters in the eighth inning, but Lincecum retired the side.
Bochy also had two interesting quick hooks, however. In Game 4 of the NLCS against the Phillies, he removed rookie lefty Madison Bumgarner in the fifth inning after 20 BF, a 2-1 lead and two runners on. The move backfired at first, as Santiago Casilla allowed the two inherited runners to score plus one of his own, but the Giants rallied to win 6-5. The critical one came in the clinching Game 6 when he removed Jonathan Sanchez in the third inning of a 2-2 game. Sanchez had walked a batter and hit a batter. Jeremy Affeldt got out of the jam and Bumgarner would pitch two scoreless innings, Lincecum would retire a batter and Brian Wilson got a five-out save.
That was some unconventional managing and it helped the Giants win the series. But to manage like that, Bochy had to have a plan of attack ready in place in case Sanchez faltered.
2009 -- Joe Girardi, Yankees (15 total games)
Average batters faced: 25.9
Long outings: 4
Short outings: 1
Girardi was pretty much by the book. All four long outings came from CC Sabathia, and the short one was a blow-up A.J. Burnett start in the World Series (two innings, six runs). He did have a quicker hook on Andy Pettitte, but that was in part because Pettitte made some starts on three days' rest.
Is there anything to learn from this? In the five postseasons from 2009 to 2013, there were 175 postseason games (so 350 total team games). There were 72 "long outings" of 28 or more batters faced -- 21 percent of all games. You'd think the team with the long outing would win most of those games, right? After all, you're usually leaving in a pitcher that long only if he's been pitching well or has a big lead. The long-outing teams were 47-25 (.652), but the starting pitcher lost 17 of those 25 games. Not all of those were bad losses -- Halladay faced 32 batters in losing to Carpenter, for example.
But some were bad decisions. In the 2011 division series, Charlie Manuel left in Cliff Lee to face the Cardinals' 2-3-4 hitters for a fourth time in a 4-4 game. Allen Craig tripled and Albert Pujols singled and the Cardinals won 5-4. (Meanwhile, La Russa yanked Carpenter after 16 BF and the bullpen threw six shutout innings.) In Game 1 of the 2011 division series, the Brewers led the Diamondbacks 2-0. Kirk Gibson let Ian Kennedy face Prince Fielder a fourth time and Fielder hit a two-run homer, cementing the game for Milwaukee.
By the way, in the Oakland-Kansas City wild-card game, holding a 7-3 lead in the eighth, A's manager Bob Melvin let Jon Lester face the first four batters a fourth time. Three of them reached base.
Looking ahead, we know Buck Showalter will have quick hooks and Ned Yost will go to his back-end trio if he's leading in the seventh inning. (The fifth and sixth innings will be Yost's test.) Bochy isn't afraid to pull a starter quickly -- Vogelsong and Peavy faced 21 in their starts against the Nationals, both leaving with leads -- although he'll go longer with Bumgarner.
That leaves Mike Matheny as the key guy in this area. For the most part, he's pretty by the book. In the 34 postseason games he's managed, only twice (Adam Wainwright both times) has a starter gone beyond 27 BF. But one of those was Game 5 of last year's World Series, when the Red Sox scored twice in the seventh to take a 3-1 lead -- with the 26th and 28th batters Wainwright had faced knocking in the runs. He also left in Michael Wacha in Game 6 to give up six runs when a quicker hook in a must-win game was necessary.
Of course, none of this touches on that gray area around 24 batters faced -- that crucial sixth- or seventh-inning time when a starter is tiring and managers are loath to use their setup guys too early. But that's another article.
It's hard to believe: Once again, a Washington Nationals season ended in part because they were unwilling to use Stephen Strasburg. I think we're figuring out why the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals keep winning these playoff series against their National League opponents. Five key moments from the Giants' 3-2, series-clinching win over the Nationals -- their seventh postseason series win a row:
1. What was Matt Williams thinking?
So once again, we have a manager saving his best relievers for possible crucial innings rather than actual ones.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) October 8, 2014
Soriano against a lefty. This is barely better. Matt Williams has completely screwed this inning up.— David Cameron (@DCameronFG) October 8, 2014
San Francisco PD putting out an APB on 6-foot-4, 220-pound white male. Chin hair. Really good right arm. Name: Strasburg, Stephen.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 8, 2014
OK, I didn't want to spend the postseason ripping managerial moves, so, yes, give credit to the Giants for scraping across the go-ahead run in the seventh inning. But Matt Williams made a series of moves that defied logic. As my colleague Christina Kahrl e-mailed me, a "gruesome series of manager-achieved mismatches."
The game was tied 2-2 after Bryce Harper's home run in the top of the inning. The Nationals' season is on the line. Do they use Stephen Strasburg, who was still available in relief -- in an "emergency only," according to Williams postgame, but doesn't "the season is on the line" qualify? No. Do they use Tyler Clippard, their excellent setup guy? No. Do they use closer Drew Storen? No. Rafael Soriano or Craig Stammen? Nope. Instead he uses Matt Thornton and Aaron Barrett, arguably his sixth- and seventh-best options left at that point.
Using Thornton to start the inning was at least defensible, with two lefties starting the inning. But after Joe Panik singled, you cannot let Thornton face Buster Posey, who has a career OPS 155 points higher against lefties. Posey singled, drilling a line drive to center. Now Williams goes to the pen ... and brings in Barrett, a rookie who walked 20 batters in 40 2/3 innings. It's your biggest moment of the season and you bring in a rookie who has trouble throwing strikes with two runners on? With your entire stable of late-inning relievers and Strasburg still available? And you thought Ned Yost mismanaged that sixth inning against the A's. ...
OK, OK, the players have to do the job. Barrett didn't. But the manager's job is to put the right players in the right situation. Pence walked on a 3-2 fastball. Pablo Sandoval -- ohh, now batting from his much stronger left side because Thornton had been used to start the inning -- was now up. Barrett chunked a fastball in the dirt to score Panik. With the count 3-1, the Nats decided to put Sandoval on and Barrett threw another wild pitch, saved only when the ball rebounded right to Wilson Ramos, who made a perfect throw to Barrett to nail Posey. (The play was reviewed and upheld.)
The Nationals lost 3-2 in a game decided late, while their two best relievers and the starter who led the league in strikeouts and was available were left rotting in the bullpen, unused. You cannot go down like that.
2. Bryce Harper makes ball go far.
Can't wait for this Bryce Harper-Hunter Strickland duel this inning. Their last meeting led to a lunar mission.— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) October 8, 2014
Classic blunders: Land war in Asia, going against a Sicilian when death is on the line, missing middle-in on Bryce Harper down in the count.— Christina Kahrl (@ChristinaKahrl) October 8, 2014
The last time I saw something arc like that followed by that much swearing some Rebs had fired a mortar into my platoon.— Old Hoss Radbourn (@OldHossRadbourn) October 8, 2014
In the end, the Nationals didn't hit and that's what ultimately lost the series, not one horrific inning of relief pitcher selection. They had four hits in this game and scored nine runs in four games (or five, counting all 18 innings of Game 2). The one hitter who showed up was Harper, who crushed a Hunter Strickland into McCovey Cove, a beautiful moon shot for the kayakers to chase after.
For a few minutes there, it looked like the Nationals were going to come back and get a Game 5 back in Washington.
3. The bloop, the error, the bunt, the walk, the groundout.
OK, that's five moments, not one. But that's how the Giants scored two runs to take a 2-0 lead in the second inning. It could have been disastrous, but Gio Gonzalez got Posey on a hard grounder to third to end the inning with runners on second and third. If that ball gets through, Williams is crushed for not getting Strasburg or another reliever up earlier to face the right-handed Posey. (Well, Williams found another for the media to crush him.)
Brandon Crawford's flare to left and Gonzalez's error on Juan Perez's comebacker got the inning going, but it was Vogelsong's bunt that keyed the inning. ESPN researcher Mark Simon wrote here in September how Anthony Rendon was arguably the best among third basemen in fielding bunts this season and he was charging on the play so it should have been his play, but it appeared Gonzalez got in the way. Regardless, a miscommunication from the Nationals loaded the bases and Gonzalez walked leadoff hitter Gregor Blanco on four pitches to force in the first run. Panik then grounded an 0-2 fastball to first -- not a hit, but two-strike contact to score a run, reminiscent of what the Giants did so well in 2012 and what other postseason teams often fail to do.
Anyway, two unearned runs without hitting the ball hard. That's how you scored runs in this series.
4. Hunter Pence makes great catch.
With Ryan Vogelsong on the ropes after a shaky fifth inning -- his fastball velocity had dropped from 93-94 in the first couple of innings down to his regular-season average of 90-91 -- Rendon lined out to Pence leading off the sixth and then Jayson Werth drove a long fly to the wall in right field. Pence raced and stumbled after it as only Pence can in his awkward but effective style, blindly reached his glove up, caught the ball and crashed into the chain-link fence in front of the wide-eyed fans in the seating area.
Fabulous. But not unexpected. It's kind of been the Year of Pence. He played all 162 games for the second season in a row, made the All-Star team, got his scooter back after somebody stole it and became a national phenomenon as fans in ballparks across the country began trolling him with fun signs.
Gives us those Hunter Pence faces, Giants fans.
5. Giants miss opportunity to break it open.
Pablo Sandoval as a righty: 59 wRC+ As a lefty: 136 wRC+— Beyond the Box Score (@BtBScore) October 8, 2014
2-0 changeup. Dang.— Grant Brisbee (@mccoveychron) October 8, 2014
That moment is pretty much exactly why the Nats got Blevins.— Chris Cwik (@Chris_Cwik) October 8, 2014
Bases loaded, fifth inning, one out, Giants up 2-1: Despite Sandoval being a much better hitter from the left side, Matt Williams left in righty Tanner Roark to pitch to him, an interesting call with Belt on deck and considering that Roark isn't a big ground-ball pitcher (and even less so against left-handed batters). In fact, among 88 qualified starters, Roark ranked 83rd in ground-ball percentage against left-handed batters, so a double play wasn't likely. He's also not a big strikeout guy. But Roark got his guy with that terrific 2-0 changeup and then Jerry Blevins got Belt on a 1-2 curveball.
Baseball is a wonderful game. Unless you're a Dodgers fan. Sorry, Dodgers fans. The unexpected happened again as the Cardinals head to the National League Championship Series after a dramatic 3-2 win over Clayton Kershaw. Five moments:
1. MATT ADAMS.
The setup: Dodgers lead 2-0, bottom of the seventh. Kershaw at 94 pitches, having struck out nine, including all three batters in the sixth. He'd allowed one hit. Matt Holliday led off the inning -- just like Game 1. This is why baseball players are superstitious.
Holliday grounded a 1-1 curveball up the middle, off the glove of diving second baseman Dee Gordon. Jhonny Peralta bounced a 1-1, 91 mph fastball for a base hit off the glove of leaping shortstop Hanley Ramirez.
Oh boy. Our colleague Jonah Keri tweeted this:
Zero managers out of 30 would do it. But with season on the line right here, this should be Kenley Jansen.— Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri) October 7, 2014
Kershaw was at 100 pitches on three days' rest. When he started Game 4 against the Braves in last year's division series on three days of rest, Don Mattingly pulled him after 91 pitches.
This time, Mattingly left him in. He's the best pitcher in baseball. Neither hit had been struck hard. A left-handed batter who hit .190 against lefties was up. The Dodgers' bullpen ... we know about the Dodgers' bullpen. Having lost faith in J.P. Howell, Mattingly was basically down to closer Kenley Jansen as someone he trusted. But as Jonah indicated, managers don't play that game.
Adams swung through a 93 mph fastball up in the zone. Kershaw came in with his famous curveball, regarded as maybe the most unhittable pitch in the game. In the regular season, batters hit .122 against it with one home run. Over three seasons they hit .101 against it with one home run. It's unhittable.
Except it isn't.
I don't care who the pitcher was or what team was batting, that was absolutely awesome.— Corinne (@Ut26) October 7, 2014
Well, Kershaw can pitch six innings against the Cards in October. Now we know.— Howard Cole (@Howard_Cole) October 7, 2014
Ten run-scoring hits for the Cardinals this series. Eight of them by LH batters against LHP.— Michael Baumann (@MJ_Baumann) October 7, 2014
St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) October 7, 2014
@dschoenfield Dave, it's Matt Adams 3rd hit off of a curveball from a LHP in his career. All 3 were HRs. First Kershaw's given up on curve.— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) October 7, 2014
Just wanted to show that "leap" from the guy they call Big City, a one-time bad-bodied 23rd-round pick out of Slippery Rock. It was the first home run Kershaw ever allowed to a left-handed batter off his curveball. Our numbers show this pitch to Adam Dunn in 2010 as a curve (the second home run), but at 82 mph it was probably a slider.
So, tip your cap to Big City. That was pretty awesome. And worth that celebration.
3. Clayton Kershaw walks off the mound.
Maybe the Cardinals do own Kershaw. Look, I wrote this before the game. There's going to be a lot of talk about Kershaw's intestinal fortitude or whatever after losing yet another lead to the Cardinals. That's probably unfair. But the results are the results and Kershaw's postseason results have been disastrous. In this age of numbers and stats and data, we try to explain everything. Some things can't be explained. The Cardinals beat the best pitcher in the game. Again. What a story.
4. Yasiel Puig doesn't start and gets into the game ... as a pinch runner.
When A.J. Ellis walked with one out in the ninth with the pitcher's spot coming up, Mattingly inserted Puig into the game ... at first base. He pinch hit Justin Turner (who did have a good year at the plate, but struck out on a 3-2 99 mph fastball) for the pitcher, but that meant Puig couldn't hit for light-hitting Dee Gordon. Anyway, Gordon got a hit to extend the inning. Still weird. Some of this gets to roster construction. The Dodgers carried 12 -- TWELVE! -- pitchers in this series. They used nine of them, one for one out. Carry a real pinch runner so you don't have to waste Puig in that situation.
5. Cardinals celebrate after Carl Crawford grounds out.
The Cardinals came back from deficits of five runs and two runs to beat the best pitcher in the world twice. They deserve this series.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 8, 2014
From ownership on down, the Dodgers failed their fans and themselves...changes, big changes, are surely coming...— Bill Plaschke (@BillPlaschke) October 8, 2014
Umm, yes, congrats to the Cards. As for that other tweet ... I'd say that's just a bit of an overreaction. Kershaw had leads and couldn't hold them. That's your story. You going to get rid of him?
Well, it makes sense. I mean Puig led the team in OPS for the season, sure, but look at his last 12 at bats! #Mattingly— Ken Tremendous (@KenTremendous) October 7, 2014
Serious question: If the Dodgers lose tonight and Ethier goes 0 for 4 or has a bad error or something, Mattingly is fired, right?— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) October 7, 2014
Yadi worked Puig like a marionette last post-season, and Puig knew it. He's in his head again.— Molly Knight (@molly_knight) October 7, 2014
#Dodgers’ Puig, in speaking with reporters, acknowledges that he is putting too much pressure on himself.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) October 7, 2014
When talking about lost potential value in not starting Puig, don't forget to include value of being able to PH him. It's not zero.— David Cameron (@DCameronFG) October 7, 2014
To avoid the nerd arguments, let's call the defense a wash, though Puig has the much better arm. Point is you don't sit your best hitter.— CJ Nitkowski (@CJNitkowski) October 7, 2014
If Mattingly simply had to make a move to shake up the offense, using Turner over Gordon would have been better than Ethier over Puig.— Matthew Pouliot (@matthewpouliot) October 7, 2014
Mattingly makes right calls in starting Ethier over Puig today and starting Kershaw on 3 days rest. Wrong call on Elbert in 1-1 game— Jim Bowden (@JimBowden_ESPN) October 7, 2014
This being the 2014 postseason, Andre Ethier will rack up three hits and Puig will have a pinch-double. #yosted— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) October 7, 2014
Most people -- including the Dodgers and Cardinals -- quickly dismissed the stealing signs thing, saying players don't really do that anymore. The tipping pitches idea is more plausible, but leads to the obvious question: Only the Cardinals have figured that out?
Anyway, Russell points out that Kershaw's stats versus the Cardinals and versus everyone else are pretty similar except for one thing: Batting average on balls in play. Against the Cardinals it's .343 and against everyone else it's .280 (again, all numbers since 2011). Russell writes:
How un-lucky has Clayton against the Redbirds? When we look at Kershaw’s performance against the Cardinals, we see that his BABIP is quite high at .343. I know that during the postseason everyone likes to pretend that games are won and lost based on magical fairy dust, grit, and character. But frankly, a lot of what drives a baseball game is dumb luck. That’s not comfortable for people to hear, but the sooner that you accept that, the sooner we can have a real conversation about baseball.
Of course, if you believe in the tipping pitches theory, you can simply argue that the Cardinals have a higher average on balls in play against Kershaw because they know what's coming. None of the hits against Kershaw in Game 1 were cheap. All were hit hard, either ground balls up the middle or line drives. Grant Bisbee of SB Nation had a good piece showing all 29 pitches in that seventh inning, arguing that Kershaw was simply missing on location and the Cardinals didn't miss.
In this case, I wouldn't necessarily ascribe it to "luck" since the Cardinals hit bad pitches -- Kershaw's fastball, in particular, was up in the zone and over the plate -- as much as even the best pitchers can have terrible innings. (And give credit to the Cardinals.)
It's certainly understandable why everyone reacted with such surprise over Kershaw's sudden demise in that game: He'd had one bad outing all season, when he allowed seven runs in 1.2 innings against Arizona back on May 17. That was the only game he allowed more than three runs all season. I've watched that inning and it was a little different from the Game 1 outing, one that conforms more to the idea of bad luck. Kershaw gave up a walk, a bad-hop single off the dirt near the plate that bounced over Adrian Gonzalez's head and another broken-bat single through a drawn-in infield. On the other hand, he struggled to throw his curveball for strikes and the Diamondbacks hit three triples in the inning, all hit to deep left-center or center. Only four times did a team hit three or more triples in a game this season and the Diamondbacks did it one inning off Kershaw. So it was a combination of bad pitching and some bad luck.
Maybe the bigger story here is what Russell alluded to: We (fans, media) like to portray the postseason as a test of wills and intestinal fortitude. Kershaw has been the best pitcher in baseball the past three seasons. We like him. He's fun to watch. We want the postseason storyline to follow the regular-season one (well, unless you're a Cardinals or Giants fan). Kershaw hasn't delivered us that storyline, either in last year's NLCS or in Game 1.
And if he gets hammered again Tuesday? We'll start hearing stuff, negative stuff. Maybe there will be some truth to it, maybe not. I don't think anyone really knows, but I won't be one to question Kershaw's mental toughness. If he gets beat, he gets beat.
That said: If you're going to be compared to legends like Koufax ... well, you gotta come up big in the postseason.
That was fun.Hyun-Jin Ryu was excellent, John Lackey was excellent, the Los Angeles Dodgers' bullpen was not and Trevor Rosenthal survived a shaky ninth as the St. Louis Cardinals won 3-1 to take the series lead. Five big moments:
1. Kolten Wong, postseason hero.
Elbert for the RHB was a mistake, but with the way JP has gone, you had to try Elbert.— Howard Cole (@Howard_Cole) October 7, 2014
I made this for you guys as a quick reference guide of sorts. pic.twitter.com/Kbj8nYpsBa— Ben Carsley (@BenCarsley) October 7, 2014
A year ago, Kolten Wong was in tears after getting picked off to end Game 4 of the World Series with the tying run at the plate. Now the rookie second baseman is the temporary toast of St. Louis after hitting a two-run home run off Dodgers reliever Scott Elbert in the seventh inning to give the Cardinals that 3-1 lead.
Wong's power developed in the second half. After hitting one home run through June -- a period that included a trip back to Triple-A after beginning the season in St. Louis -- he hit 11 over the final three months. He didn't start regularly against left-handers but hit well in limited action (.315/.324/.466 in 76 PAs) and Mike Matheny had him in there against the left-handed Ryu. He's not a big guy but has a quick bat with good extension and he crushed an Elbert slider at the knees into the right-center bullpen.
Now, that Dodgers bullpen. It's a mess. J.P. Howell had been the Dodgers' top lefty all season with a 1.17 ERA through Sept. 10, but he allowed seven runs in his final three innings of the regular season and then gave up the two-homer to Matt Carpenter in Game 2. That was apparently enough to have Dodgers manager Don Mattingly lose faith in him and instead use a guy who had pitched 4⅔ innings all season in a 1-1 game.
Maybe Elbert wasn't the worst option to face lefties Jon Jay and Wong, but as Howard Cole tweeted, they should have used a righty to pitch to Yadier Molina, who has a sizable platoon split.
2. Matt Carpenter gives Cards early lead.
St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) October 7, 2014
Matt Carpenter homered off Ryu. Ryu only allowed one homer to a lefty all year, and Carpenter only hit two.— YCPB (@cantpredictball) October 7, 2014
What a good player this guy is. Carpenter sort of flew under the radar this season because he didn't match his 2013 numbers when he led the National League in runs, hits and doubles and placed fourth in the MVP voting. But he played 158 games, led the NL in walks and scored 99 runs, giving the Cardinals an excellent .375 OBP out of the leadoff spot. His power was down in the doubles department -- 55 to 33 -- but he's making up for that in this series.
His home run off Ryu came on a 1-2 changeup; his big bases-clearing double off Kershaw in Game 1 also came with two strikes. That's how Carpenter usually approaches his plate appearances, working the count (he was fourth in the majors in pitches seen per plate appearances). But his home run off Kershaw in Game 1 came on a first-pitch fastball and his home run off J.P. Howell also came on a first-pitch two-seam fastball. He later added a double to become the first player in postseason history with a home run and double in three consecutive games. He's locked in and the Dodgers are having a hard time figuring out how to attack him.
3. Puig strikes out for seventh straight time.
Mattingly probably should drop Puig to 7th spot, move Uribe to 6th and Crawford to the 2-hole for Game 4 tomorrow #Puig7straightks— Jim Bowden (@JimBowden_ESPN) October 7, 2014
So, radical thought about Yasiel Puig I know, but the strikeouts will stop and he will start hitting again. Just like every time before.— Jon Weisman (@jonweisman) October 7, 2014
Well, Jon Weisman, you were correct. After those seven straight strikeouts, Puig led off the sixth inning with a looping line drive into the right-field corner that bounced away from Randal Grichuk for a stand-up triple. John Lackey nearly worked out of the inning, getting Adrian Gonzalez on a fly to shallow left field and striking out Matt Kemp (with help from home-plate ump Dale Scott's generous strike zone that kept calling pitches that were off the plate to right-handed batters as strikes, perfect for Lackey's moving fastball/slider combo). Hanley Ramirez, however, lined a first-pitch fastball into the right-field corner for an RBI double.
Still, batting in the No. 2 spot, Puig in many ways is the key to the Dodgers' lineup. He doesn't have to hit for power -- he hasn't done much in that department since the first two months -- but he has to get on base and provide RBI opportunities for Gonzalez, Kemp and Ramirez. With Dee Gordon posting a mediocre .300 OBP in the second half (he had just four walks and 47 strikeouts, raising the question of why he's still hitting leadoff), it's often Puig who has to start rallies. The seven straight K's were reminiscent of last year's National League Championship Series when he struck out 10 times in 23 plate appearances and hit .227 and seemed to go into an emotional funk. There is not time to hang your head in the postseason.
4. Matt Kemp is frustrated.
Flip a coin Dale Scott.— Brett Anderson (@BAnderson_30) October 7, 2014
Matt Kemp: "It’s supposed to be the teams, not the umpire, and I just feel like the umpire took the bat out of our hands today. "— Mark Saxon (@markasaxon) October 7, 2014
After that 0-1 pitch that was outside was called a strike in his previous at-bat, Kemp was rung up leading off the ninth -- on a fastball that was in the exact same location as the previous pitch that was called a ball. Kemp got in a good beef with Scott, and rightly so. Even major league pitcher Brett Anderson was calling out Scott's inconsistent strike zone.
5. Flashes to Clayton Kershaw in the dugout ...
If we see a Dodger pitcher other than Kershaw, Greinke and Jansen before the NLCS, LA might be in trouble.— Michael Baumann (@MJ_Baumann) October 7, 2014
This is the great thing about the pressure, intensity and anxiety of the postseason: Don Mattingly may do anything with his bullpen in Game 4 if he can't go from Kershaw to Kenley Jansen. Dan Haren? Pedro Baez again? Jamey Wright? Does he go back to Howell and Brian Wilson? Nobody knows. I'm not sure Mattingly knows. I'm not sure he wants to envision he scenario in which he has to know.
Remember, for a long time, short rest meant starting on two days of rest, not three -- think of Sandy Koufax in Game 7 of the 1965 World Series spinning a three-hit shutout or Mickey Lolich in Game 7 in 1968 beating Bob Gibson.
So it's not as if the Dodgers are asking Clayton Kershaw to do anything all that unusual -- in a historical context -- by starting Game 4 against the Cardinals on three days of rest. Kershaw himself did it last season against the Braves, drawing a no-decision in the "Craig Kimbrel left standing in the bullpen" game. In that contest, Kershaw was returning after throwing 124 pitches in Game 1 and gave up two unearned runs in six innings. This year, he'll return after throwing 109 pitches -- although doing so in extreme heat and getting shellacked in that fateful seventh inning.
I think it's a move Don Mattingly had to make, however. With Hyun-Jin Ryu returning after missing three weeks because of a sore shoulder, he has to have Dan Haren available in long relief in Game 3. And, really, you have to make that decision before the game. Even if you say, "We'll start Kershaw only if we lose Game 3," it's possible that you could win Game 3 while using Haren. Plus, starting Kershaw means you can start Zack Greinke on four days of rest if Game 5 if needed, giving the Dodgers four potential Kershaw/Greinke starts out of five games.
(You can make the same argument about the Cardinals. Right now, Shelby Miller is the scheduled starter for Game 4, but it's certainly possible they come back with Adam Wainwright if they're down in the series.)
"It's Clayton Kershaw," Mattingly said. "I hate to say it like that, but these kinds of guys don't curl up and go away. You don't get where you are, win four ERA titles and end up going three out of four in Cy Youngs just by anything goes bad, you curl up and go away. These guys go to work. They come back. They keep working and they keep going. This is a different cat."
Anyway, all this is made possible by the way the Division Series is scheduled, with two off days. The rest days certainly encourage managers to bring back their ace in Game 4 on short rest. In the Division Series era -- since 1995 -- there have been 36 starts on three days of rest in a Division Series game, with the pitcher's team winning 15 of those games. (A handful of those may have come after a relief appearance; I didn't crosscheck for that.)
2013: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (6 IP, 2 R)
2011: Chris Carpenter*, Cardinals (3 IP, 4)
2010: Derek Lowe, Braves (6.1 IP, 3 R)
2007: Chien-Ming Wang, Yankees (1 IP, 4 R)
2005: Tim Hudson, Braves (7 IP, 3 R)
2004: Roy Oswalt, Astros (5 IP, 2 R)
2004: Roger Clemens, Astros (5 IP, 2 R)
2004: Johan Santana, Twins (5 IP, 1 R)
* Carpenter's start was in Game 2, following a regular-season start.
What do you think? Is Mattingly making the right move?
You can't predict the postseason. It's Nationals 4, Giants 1 in Game 3, as Madison Bumgarner and Doug Fister locked up in scoreless tie into the seventh. Five key moments:
1. Madison Bumgarner throws away Wilson Ramos' bunt.
Washington Nationals (@Nationals) October 6, 2014
Posey said he told Bum to throw to third. #sfgiants— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) October 7, 2014
It was a great two-strike bunt by Ramos, who hadn't had a sacrifice bunt since 2011, in the seventh inning, but a bad decision by Bumgarner and catcher Buster Posey to try for the lead runner at third base. Bumgarner threw it into the left-field bullpen as Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper scored on the play and the Nationals then added a third run in the inning.
According to Baseball-Reference.com data, Bumgarner fielded eight bunts this year and recorded just four outs. I'm not sure how many of those were sacrifice attempts or bunt-for-hit attempts, but it's possible he has a tendency to try to make this kind of play. (The sabermetricians will tell you to take the free out. Of course, they would also say not to bunt to begin with, but Ramos is a high double-play guy and with one run meaning a lot in a 0-0 game, I think the bunt made sense here.) One Giants on Twitter told me Bumgarner had some trouble throwing to second base this year. As a team, the Giants turned 76 percent of bunts into outs, just below the major league average of 77 percent.
Bumgarner said he made the throw in part because even if Desmond was safe he thought they still could have retired the slow-moving Ramos at first. That's a risky idea as well. Have to take the out there.
2. Doug Fister with seven shutout innings.
Doug Fister's postseason ERA: 2.60. Now seven straight quality postseason starts. His team is 5-1 in the past six starts entering today.— James Wagner (@JamesWagnerWP) October 6, 2014
Doug Fister's 1.77 postseason ERA as a starter is the lowest among active pitchers (minimum 5 starts)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 7, 2014
It seemed all the talk before the game centered on Bumgarner. I can see why, coming off that shutout in the wild-card game. But Fister actually entered with a lower career postseason ERA than Bumgarner's. That's not to say that it was predictive that Fister would have a big game, but since everyone was portraying Bumgarner as a "big game" pitcher, wasn't it fair to suggest the same of Fister?
His biggest out actually came against Bumgarner, the best hitting pitcher in baseball this season with a .258 average and four home runs, including two grand slams. With the bases loaded and two outs in the second inning after a single and two walks, Fister struck out Bumgarner on a 1-2 sinking fastball.
3. Harper's walk.
Before Ramos' bunt, Harper drew a crucial walk. He'd been rung up on a pitch that was outside in his previous at-bat (and seemed to have a few questionable strikes called against him in the 18-inning game), so give him credit for a patient at-bat as Bumgarner threw four sliders off the plate.
4. Harper's home run in the ninth.
Ball go far.
5. Drew Storen pitches an uncomfortable ninth inning.
Fine line from "we can't trust Drew Storen in the postseason" to "Drew Storen is still our guy". One more hit changes everything.— CJ Nitkowski (@CJNitkowski) October 7, 2014
When Pablo Sandoval singled and Hunter Pence doubled to begin the ninth, AT&T Park started rocking and Nationals fans had flashbacks to Game 2 and to Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS. When Storen fell behind 2-0 to Brandon Belt, things were suddenly very interesting. Belt lined a 2-0 fastball foul and then Storen froze him with a 2-2 slider. He got the final two outs to finish off the game, but the Nationals have to be nervous about the state of mind of a closer who has had trouble closing out postseason games.
In winning the World Series in 2010 and 2012, the San Francisco Giants became known as a team that plays mistake-free baseball and does the little things well. I'm not sure if that's actually true or not, but Madison Bumgarner didn't do a little thing well in the seventh inning of Game 3.
With two runners on and no outs in a 0-0 duel between Bumgarner and Doug Fister, Wilson Ramos put down a perfect two-strike bunt along the first-base line. For some reason, Bumgarner (either on his own or via catcher Buster Posey making the call) attempted to get speedy Ian Desmond at third base and threw it away into the left-field bullpen, with Bryce Harper coming around to score as well. Ramos then scored on a base hit to make it 3-0.
With no outs, the Giants simply have to take the free out and give Bumgarner a chance to work out of the jam with No. 8 hitter Asdrubal Cabrera and Fister due up. Or they could have walked Cabrera to set up a double play and force manager Matt Williams to hit for Fister.
Either way, bad decision by Bumgarner/Posey.
Washington Nationals (@Nationals) October 6, 2014
I think I heard someone (probably Buster Posey) yell "three!" on that throw— Matt Snyder (@MattSnyderCBS) October 6, 2014
Yeah, after listening to the play a couple of more times, I'm almost positive Posey yelled "3" on the bunt.— Matthew Pouliot (@matthewpouliot) October 6, 2014