The playoffs have officially begun, and as I promised a few days ago, I will be reviewing all the games here at THT Live, using my Win Percentage Sum (WPS) system as a starting point for my comments. (For those of you who have dodged my articles before now, WPS is designed to measure the excitement of baseball games. Get the skinny here and here.)
Win Percentage Added data used to calculate WPS for these posts comes from FanGraphs. WPS numbers in the box score are rounded to the nearest whole number, for ease of scanning, but the index itself is calculated by tenths of a point. (Not that such precision is really that crucial to WPS, but it’s nice to have it.)
Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 F Cardinals 0 0 0 3 0 1 2 0 0 6 Braves 0 2 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 3 WPS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Cardinals 7 5 5 35 5 17 14 4 1 Braves 5 28 8 30 7 15 18 31 12 WPS Base: 247.8 Best Plays: 48.1 Last Play: 4.8 Grand Total: 300.7
A roughly average game by WPS, maybe a touch on the dull side. There were enough subplots to hold a fan’s attention, though.
Fredi Gonzalez’s gamble in starting backup catcher David Ross over a dinged-up Brian McCann paid off. Ross went three for four with a homer, and McCann walked in an important late pinch-hitting situation. I’ll get back to that situation in a bit.
The Braves ended up beating themselves. Chipper Jones‘s high throw on a double-play ball set St. Louis up to score three runs, two unearned. Errors in the seventh by Dan Uggla and Andrelton Simmons led to two more unearned tallies, and a three-hit outing by Kris Medlen was thus wasted. Simmons made a further error, apparently of the mental variety: weaving off-line running out a bunt, he was called out for interference when the throw to first caromed off his helmet.
In case you thought that meant we had now seen everything in the playoffs, there was more to come: a game protested on an infield fly call. Simmons hit the pop that drifted well into the outfield, where it dropped between Pete Kozma and Matt Holliday. The left field umpire called it an infield fly shortly before it fell, putting Simmons out even though runners on first and second did advance. Gonzalez protested, to no avail. (Umpires have wide discretion on infield flies, and judgment calls cannot be protested.)
This took an out and a runner away from Atlanta in the eighth, and though McCann walked to fill the bases, Michael Bourn, the potential lead run, struck out to leave the Braves empty-handed. (You can see the 31 in the WPS line, a very high score for a frame with a three-run margin and nobody scoring.) Fans in Atlanta showered debris on the field more than once after the controversial call, including once the game’s final out was recorded.
Their actions were their own punishment. Chipper Jones, up as the potential last out of the season and his career, legged out a generously scored infield hit, and got his ovation. Once the last out was made, though, he ran right for the dugout and soon to the clubhouse. There was no last curtain call, no final tip of the helmet to his fans of 19 years. That is what the rowdies at Turner Field cost themselves. May they rue it.
Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 F Orioles 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 5 Rangers 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 WPS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Orioles 20 12 6 9 7 26 23 4 9 Rangers 20 11 16 27 13 9 9 25 14 WPS Base: 261.4 Best Plays: 32.3 Last Play: 5.1 Grand Total: 298.8
Just below the excitement level of the early game, even though this one was tied through five.
The manager’s gamble here was Buck Showalter starting Joe Saunders, a pitcher highly vulnerable against right-handers. Ron Washington ran out eight righties in his lineup, hoping to jump on Saunders fast. But again, the roll of the dice worked out. Saunders had to work out of some tight spots (note the fairly high WPS numbers for the Rangers, innings one to five), but he left after 5.2 innings having given up only one run. He got the win, and instead of authoring the most second-guessed starter’s assignment since Denny Galehouse, Buck came closer to evoking the memory of Howard Ehmke.
Rangers fans were not kind to Josh Hamilton. Remembering his booted fly ball that helped Oakland to its division-clinching victory on Wednesday, they booed him in the sixth when he squibbed a pitch back to Saunders, and they booed him in the eighth when he fanned on three pitches from Brian Matusz with a chance to tie the game with a long ball. The Texas front office might have thought it’d have to pursue Hamilton hard in free agency to keep the fan base from revolting. The Rangers may not have that problem now.
The themes of Wild Card Friday were two-fold. The home teams both went down to defeat, and the aces of their respective teaams, Kris Medlen and Yu Darvish, did not provide the single-game edge their teams hoped they would. (Neither did badly, mind you, just not well enough.) Congratulations to the Cardinals and Orioles, whom we will see again on Sunday.