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October 5, 2011

Playoff Prospectus

NLDS Game Three: Phillies Take a 2-1 Lead

by Ben Lindbergh

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Neither Roy Halladay nor Cliff Lee quite lived up to his billing in the first two games of the Phillies-Cardinals Division Series—Halladay because he failed to throw a no-hitter, and Lee because he allowed a season-high 12 hits—but after two games in which runs weren't especially scarce, Game Three gave us the pitcher's duel that every Phillies playoff game has the potential to be. Both Cole Hamels and Jaime Garcia were completely in control far most of the game, with Garcia surrendering just three singles through the sixth, thanks in part to smooth fielding from Rafael Furcal and David Freese, and Hamels nearly as successful in keeping runners off base, though he allowed two doubles to Albert Pujols (which has been known to happen to the best of pitchers).

Economy was the name of the game early. Hamels threw the third-fewest pitches per inning in the NL this year (14.5)—fewer even than the uber-efficient Lee—but it was Garcia, who ranked 31st in that category, who excelled at retiring hitters quickly tonight (at least until he didn't), starting off the first 10 batters he faced with strikes. Neither team put a leadoff batter on through six, but the first sign of trouble came when Garcia went 3-0 against Victorino to lead off the seventh before allowing a solid single on 3-2. The first pitch to the next batter, John Mayberry, was a low fastball that Molina usually blocks, but he let this one get by him for a passed ball, which allowed Victorino to advance to second.

After Carlos Ruiz was intentionally walked, Ben Francisco pinch-hit for Hamels, who had better strikeout stuff than Garcia but threw 117 pitches, his highest single-game total since June and his third-highest on the season. Francisco, who had only one home run in 112 prior pinch-hit plate appearances and hadn't gone yard under any circumstances in 126 plate appearances since his last big fly on May 25, went deep on a belt-high, 89-mph 1-0 fastball. It seems hard to argue with La Russa's decision not to pinch-hit for Garcia with two outs in the bottom of the sixth and runners on first and second, given that Garcia had been cruising and had thrown only 74 pitches to that point, but after watching Garcia run out of steam and start to leave pitches up without warning, it's probably one that he'd like back anyway. *Edit* The more I think about it, the less I like that move, given the loss of effectiveness all pitchers suffer as they make their way through an opposing lineup for the third and fourth time. Mitchel Litchtman's math here is quite convincing—stay tuned for a much more in-depth MGL investigation of the proper time to pull starters at BP in the next couple weeks.

With Hamels out of the game, the Cardinals came storming back against Vance Worley in the bottom half of the inning. After Furcal grounded out, Allen Craig walked, Pujols recorded his third hit of the game on a soft fly that fell in front of Hunter Pence, Lance Berkman was retired on another grounder, and David Freese singled on a sharp line drive to center, scoring Craig. Yadier Molina flew out to right to end the inning, but the Cardinals were on the board.

They threatened again in the eighth, when Theriot led off with a single. After Nick Punto flew out and Brad Lidge entered the game in response to a substitution on the on-deck circle, Matt Holliday managed a pinch-hit single on a mid-80s slider outside that couldn't have stung his ailing tendon too badly before being removed for a pinch-runner and exchanging some gingerly high fives in the dugout. Following a Furcal single, Charlie Manuel called upon closer Ryan Madson, asking him to get more than three outs for the first time all season. It took him all of two pitches to get those two additional outs, as the Cardinals' propensity to hit into doubles plays—the team's 3.2 percent DP rate led the majors this season—came back to bit them in the guise of an Allen Craig grounder to second.

In the ninth, Madson made things interesting, though it's unlikely that those two additional pitches had placed an undue strain on Mr. One-Inning Outing. Pujols led off with his third double of the game and advanced to third on a one-out Freese grounder, then scored on a Molina single to center. However, the Cardinals fell just short of a comeback, as Theriot's bid to tie the game with his fifth hit of the evening ended in a routine grounder to Utley. As a result, they'll fight for their playoff lives in Game Four at home tomorrow, as Roy Oswalt takes on Edwin Jackson. If they succeed in extending their unlikely run to a decisive fifth game, they'll spend Thursday's off day in peaceful contemplation of another encounter with Halladay.

  • Ryan Theriot went 4-for-5 in the seventh slot while leadoff man Furcal went 1-for-5. Given that Theriot spent more time at the top of the lineup than any other Cardinal this season and was the most successful St. Louis batter in a game in which no one else but Pujols presented much of a threat, it wouldn't be surprising to see him batting first in Game Four. That said, none of his hits was particularly hard—an infield dribbler that barely stays fair doesn't exactly scream, "Move that man up in the lineup!"
  • Jaime Garcia has a nice-looking stance and swing at the plate. He might not know what he's doing up there—his .108 TAv was the ninth-worst among pitchers with at least 60 plate appearances this season, and he didn't help himself any with an 0-for-3 today, though he hit considerably better as a rookie—but he could almost pass for a position player, at least until his relatively sweet swings start coming up empty.
  • Among the 17 NL backstops with at least 500 innings caught, only John Buck, Ronny Paulino, Jose Thole, Brian McCann, and Humberto Quintero threw out attempted runners at a lower rate than Carlos Ruiz. After stealing twice in three total attempts over the first two games of the series, the Cardinals took a more aggressive tack in running on Ruiz in Game Three, pulling off a double-steal in the first and adding another theft in the fourth courtesy of Theriot.
  • Freese hasn't been invisible so far, but it would be nice if he could break out in a bigger way with the eyes of the nation upon him before someone puts this series to bed. The oft-injured right-handed hitter finished seventh among NL third basemen with 1.4 WARP in just 97 games and 363 plate appearances this season, and I'm not sure how many people noticed. His big-league career got off to a late start, and it would be a shame if it never got past the "imagine what he could do in a full season" stage.
  • Kudos to the umpiring crew for reversing a safe call on a smooth diving catch made by defensive replacement Skip Schumaker (whom my K-challenged keyboard almost insisted on dubbing Sip Schumaer) on a sinking liner from Ruiz in the ninth. It's hard to say why a play like that isn't eligible for replay review—doesn't the lip of the glove qualify as a "boundary" of a sort?—but it's nice to see the right ruling made regardless, though with Madson up next a bad call might not have been too costly. Nonetheless, it's somewhat sad that we're still at a point where broadcasters and analysts (like yours truly) rush to congratulate the men in blue for not acting hastily and screwing up a call that's almost impossible to blow via video. The only thing at stake there should be the few minutes it takes to review the play (which probably wouldn't last much longer than the usual huddle).
  • Multiple egg salad sandwiches died to bring you this information.

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

Related Content:  The Who,  Jaime Garcia,  Carlos Ruiz,  The Call-up

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