“Home advantage gives you an advantage”
– Soccer coach Bobby Robson
Never has that truism been more true than in the recent history of the Cardinals and Astros. As you’ll remember, all seven games of last season’s NLCS were won by the home team, and with the exception of two late season wins this season by the Astros as Busch Stadium, they had lost 11 of the last 13 games they played there. After a 5-3 loss in game one on Wednesday night, things looked dim.
Not any more.
From a Win Probability (WP) perspective, the Astros were never below 45%, and that came early on a first inning Jim Edmonds single with one out and the game still scoreless. Their odds quickly improved, however, in the second inning when one of the largest magnitude plays of the game, a Yadier Molina passed ball that scored the first run for the Astros and put another runner on second, pushed them up 9.6% to an almost 60% WP.
But the biggest impact play of the game for the Astros was certainly Chris Burke’s (now affectionately called “Chris Burke-tober” by Astros hitting coach Gary Gaetti) line drive single to left with two outs in the eight inning that gave the Astros a 3-1 lead and raised their WP 11% to 85.9%. And with Brad Lidge on the mound, that 85.9% was clearly an underestimate.
Molina, however, made up for his miscue in the 8th by hitting a ground-rule double over the head of Burke who was playing fairly shallow and also took an awful route on the ball. That hit raised the Cardinals WP by 9.5% to almost 40%. After a walk to John Rodriguez, the Cards would reach their post-first-inning high water mark of 43.5%. But they would fail in the two most important plate appearances of the game as David Eckstein flied out to center and Jim Edmonds grounded out to first. Those two plays were recorded at -9.4% and -9.6% respectively, for a very quick 19% WP dip from which they never recovered – a very good reason for Oswalt to pump his fist as he retired Edmonds (although I doubt that Oswalt was thinking in quite these terms).
After that it piling on as Reggie Sanders misplayed a fly ball into an eighth inning Adam Everett triple that plated the fourth and final run and moved the Astros over 90%. To literally add injury to insult Sanders suffered a “mild to moderate” lower back strain that makes him questionable for game 3.
It should come as no surprise that for the game, Roy Oswalt led all players in WPA at .406, while Burke was second with .133. On the negative side the Astros Morgan Ensberg did not have a good day as he repeatedly left runners on base and committed a throwing error while recording his -.177 WPA. The Cardinals were led by Albert Pujols, whose home run to lead off the bottom of the 6th made the score 2-1 and was the largest positive impact of the game raising their WP 14% to 38.4%.
From a WP perspective, one other play that I found interesting was the successful sacrifice bunt that Oswalt laid down in the 5th inning after a Brad Ausmus double with none out. Even though successful, the WP calculator we’re using recorded that play at -.009. The reason of course is that the while the odds of scoring a single run in that situation improve with the sacrifice, the expected number of runs in the inning actually decreases. And with the Astros only leading 1-0 at the time, the play was essentially a break even move according to the calculator. However, this is where WP doesn’t always capture the complete context. In this situation a pitcher was batting and so the number of expected runs in the remainder of the inning would actually have been lower than with an average hitter on which the tables the calculator uses are based. As a result, that -.009 would actually turn positive if the hitting ability of Oswalt had been factored in. The Astros were rewarded shortly thereafter as Craig Biggio made a “productive out” and scored the run on a ground out to Eckstein, making the score 2-0.
Below is the entire game with a few of the key plays noted.