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October 11, 2012

Playoff Prospectus

NLDS Game 4 Preview: Cardinals at Nationals

by Daniel Rathman

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In a quadrupleheader replete with thrilling action, Game Three between the Cardinals and Nationals provided little of it, as the visitors surged to a 4-0 lead after two innings and never looked back. The 8-0 rout put Washington’s season in peril heading into Game Four. Will the Nats survive? To answer that question, here are the PECOTA odds and projected starting lineups for this afternoon’s contest:

Cardinals (Kyle Lohse) at Nationals (Ross Detwiler) – 4:00 p.m. ET
PECOTA Odds of Winning: Nationals 50.2 percent, Cardinals 49.8 percent

Odds if Nationals started Strasburg in this game: Nationals 63.4 percent, Cardinals 36.6 percent

Projected Starting Lineups:

Cardinals vs. Detwiler (L)

Nationals vs. Lohse (R)

Jon Jay (L)

Jayson Werth (R)

Carlos Beltran (S)

Bryce Harper (L)

Matt Holliday (R)

Ryan Zimmerman (R)

Allen Craig (R)

Adam LaRoche (L)

Yadier Molina (R)

Michael Morse (R)

David Freese (R)

Ian Desmond (R)

Daniel Descalso (L)

Danny Espinosa (S)

Pete Kozma (R)

Kurt Suzuki (R)

Kyle Lohse (R)

Ross Detwiler (R)

Got a coin handy? PECOTA says you might as well flip it to forecast the outcome of Game Four, giving Davey Johnson’s team a razor-thin edge over Mike Matheny’s club in its bid to force a winner-take-all showdown on Friday.

Twitter has been abuzz over the past few days with fans wondering how this series might have played out if Stephen Strasburg were in the Nationals rotation. The flame-throwing righty could not have prevented Gio Gonzalez from issuing seven walks in Game One, made Jordan Zimmermann any less hittable in Game Two, or saved Edwin Jackson from serving up a double to the opposing pitcher and a three-run homer to a light-hitting shortstop in Game Three. What Strasburg’s presence could have done, though, is given Johnson an alternative to entrusting Detwiler with an elimination-game assignment in Game Four.

The 26-year-old Detwiler, a St. Louis native, made for a fine number five starter during the regular season, and he was particularly effective at Nationals Park, with a 2.59 ERA in 90 1/3 innings over 17 appearances (14 starts). But Detwiler’s 3.40 ERA belied decidedly less impressive peripherals, including a 4.09 FIP and a 15.3 percent K/PA, the eighth-lowest strikeout rate among qualifying National Leaguers.

Detwiler faced the Cardinals in his last start of the regular season, and the result—exacerbated by an Espinosa fielding error—was an abject disaster:

 

 

The above Brooks Baseball strikezone plot shows how virtually everything that could have gone wrong for Detwiler that night did. He allowed four hits, two of them for extra-bases, three of them on mistake pitches either up or in the middle of the zone. He also issued five walks, missed all over the map—with a radius extending nearly two feet from each corner—and needed 81 pitches to record seven outs, mostly because only 43 of those deliveries went for strikes. On a brighter note, Detwiler did elicit nine swings-and-misses, but opposing starter Lance Lynn was responsible for a third of them, and Beltran homered after digging himself into an 0-2 hole.

Detwiler is unlikely to fare that poorly again this afternoon, considering that the Sept. 30 meltdown was his worst start of the year, but even the prospect of a similar shellacking ought to frighten Nationals fans. Johnson figures to keep his starter on a short leash, perhaps using Zimmermann—who could throw an inning in lieu of his regularly scheduled between-start bullpen session—to help bridge the gap to his setup corps, after Craig Stammen, Christian Garcia, and Ryan Mattheus each threw at least 20 pitches in relief of Jackson on Wednesday.

Lohse, on the other hand, was among the National League’s most reliable starters, if not one of its most dominant. He held opponents to three earned runs or fewer in 28 of his 33 regular-season starts—though the Nats were responsible for two of the exceptions—and did not walk more than eight batters in any month, never exhibiting the extreme wildness that plagued Detwiler in the aforementioned outing.

In his most recent meeting with the Nationals, on Sept. 29, Lohse served up a first-inning grand slam to Morse, before settling down and blanking Washington for the remainder of his six innings of work, striking out a season-high nine batters along the way. He was considerably less effective at Nationals Park four weeks earlier, coughing up a season-high eight runs (five earned), and serving up two homers in a start for the first time since May 30.

After putting Detwiler’s dud under the microscope, it’s only fair to do the same to Lohse’s clunker. To wit:

 

 

The story here is simpler: Lohse relies on pinpoint control to compensate for what he lacks in stuff, and indeed, he only drew four swings-and-misses on 92 pitches in the outing. But the bigger issue was all of those light-blue squares in the middle of the zone, four of which turned into extra-base hits.

Compare that to one of Lohse’s best outings of the season, a seven-inning, one-run effort against the Tigers on June 21:

 

 

Lohse was uncharacteristically wild, but he was nonetheless able to shut down the Tigers by pounding the lower quartile of the zone and inducing weak contact on pitches off the corners. If his pitching chart for this afternoon resembles this one more closely than the one above it, the Cardinals should be in position to clinch the series.

That brings us to the Matchup of the Game: Lohse versus Werth. The Nationals leadoff man is 8-for-21 (.381 average) lifetime against the Cardinals starter, and six of the eight hits—three doubles and three home runs—have gone for extra bases. But while Werth has done plenty of damage on Lohse’s fastballs and sinkers, going 7-for-14 off of them, he is just 1-for-7 in at-bats ending with an offspeed pitch, and 1-for-5 in those beginning with one. Lohse may be tempted to establish his hard stuff to open the game, but based on his history against Werth, that approach could play directly into the right fielder’s hands. The righty coughed up four runs in the first inning in his two most recent meetings with the Nationals, and if Werth reaches to open the bottom of the opening frame, he might unravel again.

 

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

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