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October 11, 2015

Playoff Prospectus

Two Baseball Plays: NLDS Game 2

by Jeffrey Paternostro

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Here is a list of topics I would rather be using as a lead for this recap:

  • Pitching duel #2 was excellent: Outside of a blip in the second inning when Yoenis Cespedes homered on a pitch almost six inches off the plate, and Michael Conforto did his best Chuck Yeager impression on a line drive into the right field stands, the Mets could not muster much offense against Zack Greinke. Los Angeles needed a big outing from him to avoid heading to Queens down 2-0, and he delivered.

  • Noah Syndergaard matched Greinke into the seventh, sitting 97-99 with his fastball and repeatedly topping 100. His changeup, which had been slowly developing all season, was a weapon against the Dodgers left-handed leaning lineup. Much like Kershaw Saturday night, he started to tire in the seventh, and you could argue Terry Collins should have had a quicker hook after Syndergaard walked Enrique Hernandez.

Conforto made another loud out later in the game, and there really isn't much of an excuse to sit him against Brett Anderson in Game Three.

  • Terry Collins doesn't really trust his bullpen. He made that statement when he brought Bartolo Colon into a one-run game in the bottom of the seventh with runners on the corners and one out. The two most ideal results are a double play or a strikeout. Colon has posted a below-average K-rate for the last four seasons and is in the bottom third in groundball rate among starters. Or, put another way:

Of course, Colon did induce a double play ball from Howie Kendrick, and yes, there will be more on that later.

Colon was then removed after facing just Kendrick in favor of Addison Reed, who had been the Mets seventh-inning guy since coming over in a waiver wire trade with the Diamondbacks. Reed has historically been an even more extreme flyball pitcher than Colon, but he does miss bats. He got a weak fly ball to left field from Corey Seager, getting the Mets their second out and allowing them to potentially escape the frame tied. That set up a showdown with Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez hits lefties well (.771 OPS for his career, .782 in 2015), but there is still a significant enough split that in a high leverage spot, you'd prefer a LOOGY type on the mound. The Mets have not had an even serviceable left-on-left specialist since a comebacker broke Jerry Blevins’ forearm in April. Their only option was starter Jonathan Niese who was moved to the bullpen after the team clinched, and didn't wow in a handful of relief appearances. Collins stuck with Reed who put an 0-2 pitch in a very bad place.

Justin Turner followed with a double of his own, and Collins finally lifted Reed for Niese, who retired Andre Ethier. The Mets have gotten length out of their starters most of the season, but when Collins can't go Clippard for the eighth, Familia for the ninth, he doesn't seem to have a clear plan for the rest of the pen.

However, the story coming out of the game is what happened when Bartolo Colon induced that unlikely double play ball in the middle of the Mets disastrous seventh:

The decision that followed after a replay review was technically correct, which as we all know is the best kind of correct. Once the umpires reviewed that it was not a double play opportunity (though all three players involved behaved as if it were), and that the slide was not in violation of Rule 6.01(6), Tejada did not touch the bag to complete the force, and Utley could not be penalized for leaving the field without touching second. That was the official explanation, and although it did not sit well with Sandy Alderson, who was reportedly pacing the halls and may have raised his voice to MLB’s chief baseball officer Joe Torre, it isn't being changed. The game wasn't played under protest. No appeal will be heard.

This was just two baseball players making two morally equivalent “baseball plays” as far as the game is concerned. Tejada was trying to turn a double play in a huge spot for his team. Utley was trying to break up the same. By the loosest definition, he probably could have reached back and touched second base. He didn't, but he could have, and in all likelihood, that will not be a legal baseball play come April. This happened on a national stage and resulted in a fractured leg for Tejada. Baseball is not a contact sport, and the juxtaposition of having to avoid contact with catchers in protective gear, while declaring open season on middle infielders nowhere near the bag is a juxtaposition that is on its last legs. By unscientific twitter poll, the majority of players seem to think it was a bad slide. And creating a NCAA-like “must slide towards bag” rule just won't have that much effect on the game day-to-day other than some disapproving clucks from the old school folks.

This does nothing for Tejada, of course. Depending on the severity of the injury, he may miss Opening Day. The Mets will also have to make a tender decision on him, as he is about to get expensive in arbitration. Tejada is also not a player that can afford to lose much in the way of range as an up the middle player. This play could have very real and significant consequences beyond the out and game in question.

The Mets looked a bit shell-shocked after the play, but they head back to Queens with a split against the Dodgers’ pair of aces. They will send Matt Harvey to the mound against Brett Anderson in front of what will no doubt be a very angry Citi Field crowd. Someone on the Dodgers may wear a fastball at some point, another baseball play. The slide will either rally the Mets or cause them to play tight, whatever #narrative works best after this now-best-of-three series plays out. Maybe Utley hits a big home run off Harvey on Monday. It wouldn't be the first time, and he's likely to start, both to protect the Dodgers big hitters from a fastball in the ribs and because he has hit Harvey well for his career. Hopefully the focus will go back to baseball, because it has been a very good series so far, except for two baseball players each trying to make one baseball play.

Jeffrey Paternostro is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jeffrey's other articles. You can contact Jeffrey by clicking here

11 comments have been left for this article.

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