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October 29, 2010

World Series Prospectus

Game Two Analysis

by Christina Kahrl

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Mama said there'll be days like this
There'll be days like this, my Mama said
Mama said, Mama said
—The Shirelles

There are so many reasons why Rangers fans deserve your sympathy today, but let's stick with the bullet points, because so many of them defy easy explanation, and last night's choices put the Rangers behind the eight ball much more than Ron Washington's missteps in the first game of the ALCS did. So, going backward, from the worst to the merely frustrating.

  • Last night, Mark Lowe was pitching in a 3-0 ballgame in the World Series. Not in the 20th inning, not in the 12th, but in the eighth, with his team down, and already down a game.

Think on that, and what it means. Mark Lowe, three-run deficit, and everything, everything that you spend a full eight months in a multi-billion dollar industry doing, well heck, that just happens to be at stake. Mark Lowe, the guy who, at the best of times, can't get lefties out, having let them hit .305/.386/.517 on his career, most of it spent pitching in Safeco's wide-open spaces, and someone who happens to be coming back from what was deemed season-ending back surgery four months ago. Mark Lowe, the guy you really shouldn't have on the roster in the first place, because he's your third-string ROOGY at best, in a pen that flat-out lacks a mop-up guy. Put it this way: down by three, last-chance sweepstakes coming up in the ninth, and you use a guy who isn't even your actual 11th-best pitcher? Is there any ballclub this makes sense on? With the bases loaded?

This is the sort of thing you deserve to lose for. The subsequent embarrassment of the balance of the eighth inning was created entirely because Washington didn't want to risk letting Darren O'Day pitch to Nate Schierholtz—and think about that right there, because that's a matchup of his second-best reliever, facing a defensive replacement with modest pop—with two outs and a man on. Really?

  • The monumentally stupid risk involved almost—almost—dwarfs what Matt Cain achieved, but to be fair, Cain merely delivered what the two more famous people starting in Game One for each ballclub could not.

Through the first four innings, Cain allowed just one batter beyond mere perfection. That's amusing enough, given the amount of stathead bandwidth burned on how he's supposed to get worse any year now. He did run into trouble in both the fifth and sixth innings, allowing a leadoff double in the fifth, and a pair of one-out singles in the sixth. None of it amounted to anything. And he didn't do it by merely overpowering people, but via the sort of stuff that ends up leaving SIERA unimpressed and the scoreboard indifferent about qualitative distinctions on what's supposed to constitute dominance—fly outs, popouts, out-y outs. By the time he was hooked in the eighth inning, up 2-0 and with Josh Hamilton due up with two outs and a man on, you had to simply concede he'd been merely excellent.

  • Lineup selection reflected something less than conviction that the Rangers knew what they were doing.

Beyond repeating Washington's capacity to totally screw up a defensive inning by running through too many pitchers until he'd stumbled across all of the guys who didn't have it over the massive, deterministic one or two batters, this was another element where Washington contributed to losing this game before it even started. After punting the courage of his Game One convictions with his full-season cleanup hitter, Vladimir Guerrero, in right field, Wash ran out a lineup that was Vladi-free and had Matt Treanor batting seventh. In a National League ballpark. Against the 12th-best starting pitcher in the majors this season. As much as taking an offensive hit by benching Vladi might be defensible after Game One's indefensible eighth inning, does exacerbating that issue by pushing forward a feeble batter when you already have to carry the pitcher's bat make any sense?

Now, I know, sabermetric orthodoxy suggests lineup order is not such a big deal over huge sample sizes. I'm less confident that sort of reductionism adds up over the course of an individual ballgame. Why not just get Mitch Moreland higher up in the order already? Why handicap your tactical options two or three times through the order before getting to a point at which you might have the nerve to hook that day's starting catcher?

Having had the first-game win he'd earned in the ALCS taken from him because of Washington's elective decision-making in the tragic eighth inning of Game One, you have to feel for the thoughtful southpaw having to take a loss as tough as last night's. He pitched well enough to win, having allowed just four baserunners through six, but beyond his giving Edgar Renteria something jerk-worthy in the fifth, there was nothing to regret about his evening. However long it takes for him to let these kinds of games go, it's worth remembering that he pitched more than well enough to win, but in last night's clash of the less-famous dudes, he came out second best.

  • Does this make Edgar Renteria a money player, or just an amply compensated one?

Sometimes, a formerly great player serves notice that, however much has been lost to injury or age, there's still something there. Maybe this is Renteria's series to do so, because between some fine plays afield, a good game at the plate in Game One, and turning around on a Wilson fastball, it isn't hard to see how he could still be considered valuable in a world that moves Miguel Tejada to short as a contention move, and one that still counts on Orlando Cabrera. While Renteria is sure to be bought out for just $500,000 and become a free agent after the action is over, you can expect he'll get another spin somewhere.


Which leaves us where? Not too far off the anticipated program, in that I still like the Rangers' chances in Games Three and Five, and with Game Four, I'd already been willing to see how Tommy Hunter might have a few surprises in him against the Giants. But that's in the broad-stroke picture, and it has become only too clear that Washington's capacity to turn a tough situation into a disaster is a handicap the Rangers can ill afford in what was, is, and should still be, a close affair. The advantage of getting the DH back and having both David Murphy (or Jeff Francoeur) and Guerrero in the same lineup should afford the Rangers some sort of advantage, queueing up the Texas attack to go after Jonathan Sanchez and—ideally—take Washington out of the picture. Down 2-0, the Rangers must execute on the remaining chances they have, but that's going to have to involve a lot less elective decision-making—and no Mark Lowe sightings whatsoever—and a lot more of their top talents coming to the fore. Without that, we're at risk of witnessing an upset in a World Series matchup that was already an upset.

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

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