World Series: Cardinals vs. Tigers: St. Louis Grabs Game 1

For all the benefits of having a week off after sweeping the ALCS, it’s easy to wonder just how much a 10-day layoff had to do with Justin Verlander‘s disappointing Game 1 outing. More than a week after shakily defeating the Oakland A’s, Verlander coughed up seven runs in just five innings. Behind a strong offensive performance and Anthony Reyes‘s best Jeff Suppan impression, the Cardinals took the first game of the World Series by a score of 7-2.

The Cardinals got RBIs from Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, and Scott Rolen, all three of whom are playing with nagging injuries. To beat the powerful Tigers, St. Louis can’t afford a weak series from their own trio of sluggers, and Game 1 couldn’t have gone better on that score. If there’s anything for Tony La Russa to worry about, it’s that the strong Tiger bullpen shut down his offense for four innings.

La Russa did not, however, have anything to worry about from his own pitching. Reyes, who went only four innings in a NLCS Game 4 loss, pitched into the 9th inning, allowing only a first-inning run and a Craig Monroe solo home run. Between Carlos Guillen‘s RBI single in the first and his single in the 7th, Reyes set down 17 Tigers in a row. It’s easy to say that Jim Leyland should’ve used Marcus Thames as his designated hitter instead of Sean Casey, but the way Reyes threw the ball in Game 1, he would’ve neutralized whatever lineup Leyland put together.

The Tigers got an early lead on Guillen’s first-inning single, but the Cardinals quickly responded. With one out in the second, Scott Rolen hit a solo HR, evening the score. An inning later, St. Louis posted the crooked number that would put the game out of reach. Yadier Molina singled to lead off the inning. After Verlander retired So Taguchi and David Eckstein, Chris Duncan hit an RBI double and Pujols followed with a 2-run HR to make the score 4-1.

WPA measurements capture the dramatic turn of events over those two at-bats. After Eckstein’s strikeout, the Cardinals had a 48.2% chance of winning. Duncan’s double boosted the odds by 11.6% and Pujols’s shot upped them by another 17.5%. After Reyes retired the side in the bottom half of the inning, the Cards had better than an 80% chance of winning the game.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the WPA leaders of the game were Pujols and Reyes. Pujols led the Cardinals with a 20.8% impact, followed by Reyes at 18.8%, Rolen at 13.4%, and Duncan at 9.2%. Guillen, who aided the Tigers cause by 10%, was the only Detroit player to register above 3%. Monroe’s 9th-inning HR may have given the desperate fans something to cheer about, but it didn’t even improve the Tigers odds by a single percent.

Aside from the solid performance by the Tiger bullpen, virtually everything went against the statistical indicators I used yesterday to predict the series. Given Verlander’s apparent superiority to Reyes and the quality of the Detroit offense, I concluded that the Tigers had a 63.8% chance of winning the game. (More like 68% if you want to give Detroit credit for coming from the stronger league.)

Of course, that didn’t pan out. More importantly, the Cardinals Game 1 win has a substantial effect on the likely outcomes of the series. Before the first pitch, the Tigers had a 63.4% probability of winning the series (70.6% if you like league adjustments.) After Ivan Rodriguez flew out to end the game, the Tigers had only a 42.0% likelihood of winning the series. (49.1% with the league adjustment.)

Here are the probabilities of each specific outcome with Game 1 in the books:

DET     STL     NoAdj   LgAdj
4       1       6.0%    7.9%
4       2       17.4%   20.8%
4       3       18.6%   20.5%
3       4       15.8%   15.1%
2       4       12.5%   11.0%
1       4       18.7%   16.1%
0       4       10.9%   8.6%

Going into Game 2, each team has plenty to wonder about: how will Kenny Rogers react to his own nine-day layoff? Can Jeff Weaver continue to foil opposing hitters with his own special mix of bases on balls and SoCal charm? I projected that the Tigers have a 63.9% chance of winning. In Game 1, I was off by a mere 63.8%, so predict accordingly.

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