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October 5, 2011

Playoff Prospectus

NLDS Game Three: All's Gold in Phoenix

by Derek Carty

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In my preview of the National League Division Series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Milwaukee Brewers, I called Game Three an easy win for the Brewers. Looking at last night’s final 8-1 score, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Of course, Arizona’s probable starter at the time, Joe Saunders, suffered a minor hand injury and was ultimately pushed back in favor of Josh Collmenter.

Collmenter, a rookie hurler with a deceptive overhand delivery, dazzled on Tuesday night, going seven innings and allowing one run on two hits with six strikeouts and two walks. Collmenter worked himself into some trouble early on, walking Ryan Braun and then plunking Prince Fielder with two outs in the first before settling down, striking out Rickie Weeks, and cruising until the top of the third. It was at this point that he left a fastball up to Corey Hart, who swiftly deposited it into the left-center field stands. But from that point forward, Collmenter was lights out, allowing a single walk until he was removed following the seventh inning.

Collmenter’s Brewer counterpart, Shaun Marcum—a superior pitcher by most accounts—wasn’t nearly as good. While my initial comment was that Marcum “should only need to be marginally effective to surrender fewer runs than Saunders,” in actuality he needed to be far better than that to compete with Saunders’s replacement, and he couldn’t even manage marginally effective. Marcum got off on the wrong foot, surrendering a leadoff single to Willie Bloomquist, who promptly stole second and was ultimately plated on a Miguel Montero double. Paul Goldschmidt followed with an RBI of his own before Marcum staunched the bleeding with a Chris Young strikeout—but not before handing Arizona its first lead of the series.

Marcum managed to get through the second inning before things really started to fall apart in the third. His control was all over the place, throwing 52 percent of his pitches in the inning for balls (compared to just 36 percent on the season) including two in the dirt. However, he managed to come away allowing just one run (another Montero RBI), thanks in large part to a base-running miscue that saw Justin Upton thrown out at home when Montero made a break for second, turning a one-out, first-and-third situation into a two-out, runner-on-second situation.

By the fifth inning, the wheels were off the wagon. Giving up two hits to start the inning (including one to Collmenter), Marcum managed to secure two outs before Ron Roenicke called for an intentional walk of Montero to load the bases. With Kameron Loe warming in the bullpen, Marcum was allowed to stay in to face Goldschmidt. Big mistake, as catcher Jonathan Lucroy sets up inside, Marcum’s pitch misses down the middle, and his glove is almost immediately hurled into the air in frustration. Why? Because the 6-foot-3, 245-pound rookie slugger bashed the pitch over the right-field wall for a grand slam, and Marcum knew it immediately. He was promptly removed for Loe.

Coming into the inning, Arizona's win expectancy was at 81 percent. Following Goldy’s slam, it was over 94 percent. This begs the question: Was it wise to allow Marcum to remain in the game to face Goldschmidt? After all, his control had been eluding him (he actually threw another ball in the dirt during the Goldschmidt at-bat), and he’d been allowing a lot of hits on solid contact.

Still, he’d allowed just one extra-base hit to that point: Montero’s double in the first. Prior to the at-bat, the announcers seemed to agree with the move since Goldschmidt is a “free swinger” and Marcum had “the lowest batting average against him by right-handed hitters in the [National] League” (.191). Of course, we know that batting average is a very misleading stat, especially for pitchers (not to mention the fact that it completely ignores Goldy’s biggest talent: power). Marcum’s BABIP versus righties this year? .221.

While a righty, Marcum’s career platoon split doesn’t paint him as a pitcher who’s extra effective against same-handed batters (4.26 FIP vs. RHB, 4.30 FIP vs. LHB), hardly a surprise for a guy with such a diverse arsenal of pitches and who gets by more on guile than on being overpowering. Loe, on the other hand, has produced a very large career split: 3.53 FIP vs. RHB compared to 4.88 vs. LHB. Since 2008, his FIP versus righties has been a spectacular 2.58. Add to this the fact that the Diamondbacks had the bases loaded and the power-hitting Goldschmidt coming up, and a switch from Marcum’s 37 percent ground-ball rate to Loe’s 62 percent ground-ball rate (not to mention his greater strikeout rate), and I think there’s a legitimate case to be made for making the switch.

Loe, of course, induces three straight grounders to end the inning, allowing one run on a ground-ball hit up the middle and an error before all is said and done. By this point, the game was over, and the Snakes cruised to victory powered by their five-run inning.

  • Player of the game honors go to Goldschmidt’s 2-for-5 night with five RBI and a grand slam (though Collmenter gets a close runner-up ribbon). The slam was Goldy’s second dinger of the series and 10th since being recalled from the minors in August. He figures to be a middle-of-the-order mainstay in Arizona for years, as his power really is gawk-worthy. Seven of his eight regular season home runs traveled further than 400 feet, the farthest going 450.
  • At the start of the game, I was interested to learn that Collmenter believes his unique overhand delivery was likely a result of his time spent in the woods in his younger years throwing tomahawks at trees. With that beard and rugged look, it’s not hard to envision Collmenter as an outdoorsman, swinging large axes and throwing miniature ones.
  • Despite receiving just 55 percent of the starts at shortstop since the team’s acquisition of John McDonald, Bloomquist has started all three games of the NLDS thus far. After going 3-for-4 tonight with two runs and a steal, he’s hitting .417 on the series. It’ll be interesting to see if the Snakes stick with Bloomquist’s bat in the leadoff spot tomorrow or if they opt for defensive wiz McDonald with the pitch-to-contact-oriented Joe Saunders starting.
  • I realized tonight that Ryan Roberts has some Jedi-like reflexes, snagging an absolute scorcher off the bat of Corey Hart down the left field line in the fifth. The camera had barely panned over to him by the time the ball was cinched in his glove.
  • It’s funny how a pitcher throwing his glove in the air can be both an act of celebration or dismay.
  • My prediction for tomorrow night’s game? An offensive showdown that eventually ends with a Brewers win. I have no faith in Joe Saunders, even if he’s up against Randy Wolf.

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