WPS Recap: LCS, 10/16/2013

The League Championship Series continue, and from the results of the day will continue even longer. As a reminder, the play-by-play data used to compile the WPS Index come from FanGraphs.

Game       1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9    F
Cardinals  0   0   2   0   0   0   0   0   2    4
Dodgers    0   2   1   0   1   0   1   1   X    6
(Cardinals lead series 3-2)
WPS        1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9
Cardinals 40   5  51   6   6   6   6   3  26
Dodgers    4  38  28   4  15   2   6   2   X
WPS Base: 247.5  Best Plays: 46.4  Last Play: 6.5  Grand Total: 300.4

The afternoon game pitched us backwards. The early innings, in which it’s tough to compile gaudy numbers, had some serious excitement that put the WPS above 160 a third of the way through. Then things largely shut down. A Dodgers run to go two ahead in the fifth made good-scoring innings afterward less likely, and their tack-on homers in the seventh and eighth compounded that. Without that padded lead, the Cardinals’ last-gasp rally would have rung up a huge number, and quite possibly extended the game, instead of merely nudging the game back into average territory.

The inverted shape of the game came about largely because L.A. pitching was playing the reverse of what we’ve seen so often lately from the Tigers. Zack Greinke had trouble early, putting the first three Redbirds on in the first but escaping unhurt, then giving up two runs in the third. After that, though, he and set-up man Brian Wilson pitched five straight perfect innings, the type of display we now expect from Detroit starters in the first five, or longer.

Cardinals starter Joe Kelly never fully got his feet under him, and neither did the relief crew. Kelly had his two-run second quickly made up for, but gave up the first of two home runs to Adrian Gonzalez to put his team behind again for good. In the final six innings, St. Louis pitchers gave up only five hits, but four of them were solo homers. Solo shots are one of the weakest ways in WPS terms to score runs, so this contributed to the ratings doldrums even as L.A. kept the scoreboard active.

Once again, Hanley Ramirez played despite his cracked rib, and once again, he went only six innings. His three at-bats produced four outs, and it didn’t help that twice Joe Kelly, who broke that rib with a pitch in Game One, sent a curveball well inside and ribcage-high. (Kelly got rounds of boos both times.) Ramirez is game, but he’s not helping the team much at this point. He’d better hope the day off lets him heal.

Andre Ethier, the Dodgers’ other dinged-up player, wasn’t doing much better. He was hitless in four at-bats, and when Carlos Beltran hit a long fly off the very top of the wall in dead center, Ethier fell down trying to play the rebound. He had a couple of better plays later, but Don Mattingly is surely ruing the timing of these injuries.

In the ninth, Yasiel Puig again found a way to fail interestingly. He lost a Matt Holliday fly ball in the sharp, low-slanting sunlight of late afternoon, letting it bound in front of and past him for what was ruled a double. This gave St. Louis its opening. The Cardinals posted three more hits against Kenley Jansen, while the closer got Yadier Molina and David Freese swinging. With the pitcher’s spot up as the go-ahead run, viewers had to remember Shane Robinson‘s pinch-jack the previous night. They might also have remembered how Raul Ibanez became a pinch-hitting hero in last year’s playoffs.

Alas, you’re only as good as today’s platoon match-up. Against righty Jansen, Mike Matheny kept righty Robinson on the bench and sent up left-hander Adron Chambers. That wrecked one storyline, and a second got broomed when Chambers struck out looking to end the game.

This served to raise a third story line. St. Louis went up three games to one in the NLCS last year, against the NL West champions, and lost the next three games to miss the World Series. The Cardinals took the first step on the road to a repetition in this game. One meaningful difference is that they had to play the last two games in San Francisco in 2012, but this year it’ll be at Busch Stadium. That may not be enough to suppress the queasy sense of deja vu in Cardinals fans’ guts.

Perhaps the prospect of Michael Wacha pitching Game Six will settle their stomachs. Only to be unsettled by the prospect of Clayton Kershaw.

Game       1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9    F
Red Sox    0   0   0   0   0   1   1   0   1    3
Tigers     0   5   0   2   0   0   0   0   X    7
(Series tied 2-2)
WPS        1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9
Red Sox    7  18   8   4   3   6   8   1   7
Tigers     5  49   1   5   0   1   1   1   X
WPS Base: 125.5  Best Plays: 28.2  Last Play: 0.5  Grand Total: 151.2

If you saw the second inning, you effectively saw this game. After Detroit took its big early lead, no subsequent inning could compile even 10 WPS points.

Jim Leyland juggled his lineup, dropping a badly slumping Austin Jackson all the way from leadoff to eighth, and moving everyone else up a slot. Miguel Cabrera batting second seems wrong, but considering his weakened state, it might make sense. His lower body injuries have sapped power, but may have done less damage to his batting for average and his drawing walks—except that pitchers might be less tempted to pitch around the slugger. Second in the order may be a better spot for the kind of batter he is at this moment.

As a table-setter, Cabrera turns out to be a good RBI man. He knocked in two on a pair of singles before he was replaced defensively in the eighth.

As for Jackson, it is a baseball truism that when you hide a player on your lineup card, the game will find him. This game found him early, with the bases loaded in the second inning. Jackson, with a horrible strikeout total in the postseason, made a wise shift in tactics. He took four pitches, all balls, and drove in Detroit’s first run.

The Tigers would put four more across before they were done, including one RBI on what could well have been an inning-ending double play, but got behind Dustin Pedroia. He made the force at second … from a certain point of view. Stephen Drew was well off second base when he took Pedroia’s throw, looking for a DP he would not get. The “neighborhood play” is a standard umpire’s call in this age, intended to keep middle infielders from being hurt on take-out slides. When replay challenges come in next year, it will be very interesting to see how such plays are handled.

Jackson didn’t make an out all evening, with two walks and two singles, driving in two, scoring one, and even stealing a base. Between him and Cabrera, Leyland’s lineup switch was an unqualified success. We know that lineup order has a slim effect on winning games, but shaking things up can sometimes jolt players out of mental ruts, a part of the game that numbers have a tough time reaching. If that was Leyland’s intent, it was well played.

Doug Fister was not nearly as dominant as his fellow Tigers starters had been—he gave up a hit in the first, something that hasn’t happened for Detroit since the ALDS—but he was effective enough. Boston got its hits, three more than the Tigers, but Fister and his relievers scattered them, allowing three in an inning only once.

Leyland went into defensive mode early, sending Don Kelly to left field for Jhonny Peralta to start the sixth. Naturally, the Red Sox immediately rallied, though Fister limited it to one run. Another came across in the seventh, when Leyland seemed ready for a while to repeat the bullpen shuffles of Game Two that blew up so spectacularly. Phil Coke faced one batter, Al Alburquerque two, and Drew Smyly two before the inning ended. But Smyly stayed in for the whole eighth as well, so perhaps the Detroit skipper learned something.

There was a faint ghost of a scare in the ninth, when Joaquin Benoit allowed five bases worth of hits to the first two batters. I questioned how much confidence Leyland had in Benoit, after taking him out for the ninth in Game Two following the Ortiz grand slam. The rocky start to this inning could not have added to that confidence, but getting the next three batters, including Ortiz, may have done some repair work. The only problem now is that Benoit threw 21 pitches nailing down a five-run lead. In a tight game tomorrow, he might not be going multiple innings even if his team needs it.

So there will be a Game Six in the NLDS Friday night, and the ALDS is also guaranteed a Game Six on Saturday. That means, counting the Tampa Bay-Texas tiebreaker contest, we will have had 20 straight days of playoff baseball come Saturday. It’s been a wild ride so far, and the biggest twists and turns remain ahead.

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