WPS recap: NLDS, 10/6/2013by Shane Tourtellotte
October 07, 2013
A pair of pivotal Game Threes on today's schedule gave promise of some good tense baseball. Did we get it? You probably know the answer already, but I'm here to give it a little precision.
Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 F Cardinals 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 1 0 3 Pirates 2 0 0 0 0 1 0 2 X 5 (Pirates lead series 2-1) WPS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Cardinals 4 4 24 5 55 7 19 47 20 Pirates 28 4 6 3 16 32 3 66 X WPS Base: 343.1 Best Plays: 76.9 Last Play: 3.0 Grand Total: 423.0
Finally, I get another chance to show the anatomy of a good game. The two-run lead over three-plus innings was a dampener, but it sprang to life in the fifth with St. Louis' comeback. The obvious crux was the eighth, with Carlos Beltran's game-tying dinger and Pittsburgh's rebound that followed, though not without some whiplash courtesy of an Andrew McCutchen baserunning goof. This, of course, was good for excitement, as back-and-forth swings pile up the points.
We had a similar anomaly in this game as in the Tigers-A's match the previous night, though with a difference. There was another steal attempt on a strikeout, this one a double-steal, and a successful one.
FanGraphs counts the two elements as separate, which I remain skeptical about. With the composite play composed of positive and negative elements partly cancelling each other, combining the K+SB+SB into one play would trim 4.6 points off the WPS score. Not that vital, but it deserved a mention.
The fans at PNC Park were vocal, but it was nothing like Tuesday's Wild Card game. They delivered Kelllll-lyyyyy! taunts to Reds' starting pitcher Joe Kelly, and they put together an MVP! chant a few times for McCutchen, but on a level that nobody will talk about years or even days from now.
And it isn't really a surprise: a performance like Tuesday night's comes along maybe once in a generation. Aptly so, since it had been a short generation since Pittsburgh last experienced playoff baseball.
They rose and fell with the rhythm of the game. After Kelly threw a ball four to McCutchen in the sixth that nearly hit him, the chants began storming down from the stands again. One may not be able to pin Marlon Byrd's subsequent double and the lifting of Kelly on the crowd, but one is tempted to.
Likewise, the crowd roared for McCutchen when he led off the eighth with a double, but when he got thrown out unwisely going for third on Justin Morneau's fielder's choice, the park got the wind knocked out of it. Fortunately for the Pirates, they didn't need that wind in their sails to revive the rally and plate the decisive runs.
The man behind home plate continues to have his influence in the postseason. Home plate umpire Jerry Layne had a very wide strike zone for the first two innings, notably toward the third-base side and especially so for lefty batters. He heard some chirping for this, and it seemed to affect him. He narrowed the zone for the rest of the game. Batters hate a broad strike zone, but players also dislike an inconsistent zone. They might have talked themselves from one into the other.
This probably didn't affect Pirates starter Francisco Liriano. His problem was below the strike zone, with all the balls he kept throwing in the dirt. He mostly worked through it, though he did record a wild pitch, and a walk he yielded in the fifth helped St. Louis tie the game. Also, his plate appearance in the second might have marked the moment Layne re-adjusted his zone, as outside stuff that had gotten strike calls before became balls instead, and he worked a walk.
The Cardinals' woes with runners in scoring position continue. After a .330 RISP batting average during the regular season, this game they managed only a 1-for-5 mark, though the one was a two-run single, and they got a walk and hit batter thrown in. Call it regression to the mean, or the Pirates shutting down an opponent's prime advantage. Either way, the clutch hitting has gone away from St. Louis at a bad time.
The Redbirds have one game in which to retrieve it, because tomorrow afternoon could mark the end of their excellent season. Or it might not have the chance: weather forecasts call for rain tomorrow.
Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 F Braves 2 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 6 Dodgers 0 4 2 4 0 0 0 3 X 13 (Dodgers lead series 2-1) WPS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Braves 35 3 41 14 3 2 1 0 0 Dodgers 18 59 37 25 0 0 0 0 X WPS Base: 240.5 Best Plays: 53.7 Last Play: 0.0 Grand Total: 294.2
This game played out in two stages. The first was the huge flurry of runs in the first four innings (taking around two hours to play), that got Win Expectancy making wide swings. The first three frames alone scored more than 190 points, the first four over 230. You could scarcely expect better WPS numbers from the early phases of a baseball game.
And then there was the rest, a near-hopeless cause for the Braves rendered fully hopeless as the Dodgers shut down their offense. It was so bad that the two runs Atlanta scored in the top of the ninth, along with the two other batters they got on base, didn't register even a tenth of a point. The three Dodgers runs in the previous inning did register a tenth, and just that.
Put the two stages together, and you end up with a game a bit below the median, as lopsided as it was in every sense. In fact, if you decided the Dodgers' 10-4 lead after four was safe and turned off your TV there, you missed an entire 7.8 points of WPS action. Given that the game went past midnight on the East Coast, this might have been a wise move.
This was the first game of the postseason to chase both starting pitchers early. Julio Teheran got bombed* for six L.A. runs in fewer than three innings, and Hyun-Jin Ryu only absorbed four runs of punishment because he was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the rally that KO'ed Teheran. Los Angeles' relief corps bore down; Alex Wood for the Braves, much less so.
* No, "Teheran got bombed" is not the plot of Tom Clancy's posthumous novel. At least, I'm assuming it's not. And I can mention Clancy here without topic drift: he owned a piece of the Baltimore Orioles.
The crowd at Dodger Stadium seemed to be taking its cue from the denizens of PNC Park. The fans were energetic most of the time the game merited it, especially with their cheers for Yasiel Puig (three singles on the night, plus taking a dangerous extra base on a throwing error). Several times, they even appropriated Atlanta's Tomahawk Chop war-chant for some mockery.
Has that Tuesday night in Pittsburgh inspired fans across America to raise their performance to match? First Boston getting notably vocal, now L.A. This could make the postseason that much more fun. I'll be interested tomorrow (no, it's actually today, past midnight, as I write) to see what Comerica in Detroit can do for the Tigers. Tampa Bay might be a tougher assignment, with the hole the Rays are in.
A couple of Dodgers may be worth following for their physical condition. Carl Crawford pinwheeled into the stands catching a foul ball in the eighth—a spectacular play—and while he seemed okay afterward, he might have taken damage. Catcher A.J. Ellis definitely did, getting drilled in the left elbow in the bottom of that inning. He also stayed in, and it wasn't his throwing arm, but he might feel after-effects.
So a dream matchup that seemed tantalizingly possible after the Pirates' win now recedes. Imagine the reaction in Pittsburgh to a Pirates-Braves NLCS. The memories, the nightmares, of their last playoff appearance 21 years ago would loom so large. Would it be a catharsis, or an old curse revisiting them? We may never find out.
Or we may. Just two in a row, Braves. Can you do it?
Shane Tourtellotte is a long-time, occasionally-nominated science fiction writer, currently living in Asheville, North Carolina. He will tell you all about the baseball novel he’s shopping if you give him an inch.