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October 4, 2014

Playoff Prospectus

PECOTA Odds and Game Two Previews

by Doug Thorburn and Sahadev Sharma

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Giants/Nationals

The Giants narrowly took Game One of this series, besting Stephen Strasburg with a heroic outing from Jake Peavy. The Nationals will try to get back on track behind the charge of Jordan Zimmermann, who's coming off of a 10-K no-hitter on the final day of the regular season, while the Giants send 39-year-old artist Tim Hudson to the mound with a chance to take a 2-0 advantage back to San Francisco.

Giants (Tim Hudson) at Nationals (Jordan Zimmermann), Saturday, 5:30 pm EST
PECOTA odds of winning: Nationals 54.9%, Giants 45.1%

Projected Starting Lineups:

Giants vs. Zimmermann (R)

Nationals vs. Hudson (R)

Gregor Blanco (L) CF

Denard Span (L) CF

Joe Panik (L) 2B

Anthony Rendon (R) 3B

Buster Posey (R) C

Jayson Werth (R) RF

Pablo Sandoval (S) 3B

Adam LaRoche (L) 1B

Hunter Pence (R) RF

Ian Desmond (R) SS

Brandon Belt (L) 1B

Bryce Harper (L) LF

Brandon Crawford (L) SS

Wilson Ramos (R) C

Travis Ishikawa (L) LF

Asdrubal Cabrera (S) 2B

Tim Hudson (R) P

Jordan Zimmermann (R) P

Injury/Availability Notes: Ryan Zimmerman pinch-hit in the seventh inning of Game One, and he will likely find himself in a similar role for most of the series. He received just four starts in 11 team games after returning from the disabled list, with 37 innings in the field, and the Nats can cover for his absence without missing a beat. Hunter Strickland threw 24 pitches yesterday, and he will likely move to the back of the pecking order after Washington was undeterred by his triple-digit heat.

Outlook

In Game One, the Nats showed off the power that runs through their entire lineup, and this is where Hudson comes into play. Huddy has suppressed homers his entire career, thanks to a late-diving splitter and an ability to paint the lower shelf of the strike zone. Hudson’s rate of homers allowed has been under two percent for each of the past four seasons, and his 2014 mark of 0.7 homers allowed per nine innings is a lock for his career rate.

What Hudson lacks is stamina, having only exceeded 100 pitches once since late July, which combined with the possibility of a quick hook will put a lot of pressure on the bullpen to devour outs. With Tim Lincecum and Yusmeiro Petit, the Giants have a pair of pitchers who could easily go multiple innings to cover that gap, creating a bridge to the end-game bullpen. The Giants will have to be especially careful with Jayson Werth, who has line of .386/.449/.750 in 49 career plate appearances versus Hudson, including four home runs.

The Nationals were tortured by the sequence of events in Game One: they had 10 base runners in the game, yet none on base for either of the homers and the team went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. Jordan Zimmermann has been on fire lately, and his shutdown performance in game 162 was just icing on the cake. Since the calendar flipped to September, Zimmermann has a 1.32 ERA in five starts with a K-to-walk ratio of 34-to-4, and the Nats have won the last 11 games that he has started. He has an intimidating delivery that involves a lethal mix of stability and power, with a three-pitch mix that includes two breaking balls and a 92-97 mph fastball that he deals with 70-percent frequency. Some Giants hitters have fared well against the right-hander, including Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence (in limited samples), but right now every hitter is at a disadvantage when Zimm is on the mound. –Doug Thorburn

Cardinals/Dodgers

The Dodgers had a 6-2 lead, Clayton Kershaw on the mound, and still somehow lost the game. However, as the old saying goes in baseball, momentum is the next day’s pitcher, and the Dodgers have another good one going on Saturday. Here is a look at the PECOTA odds and projected lineups for Game Two.

Cardinals (Lance Lynn) at Dodgers (Zack Greinke) 9:30 p.m. ET
PECOTA odds of winning: Dodgers 66.9%, Cardinals 33.1%

Projected Starting Lineups:

Cardinals vs. Greinke (R)

Dodgers vs. Lynn (R)

Matt Carpenter (L) 3B

Dee Gordon (L) 2B

Jon Jay (L) CF

Yasiel Puig (R) CF

Matt Holliday (R) LF

Adrian Gonzalez (L) 1B

Matt Adams (L) 1B

Matt Kemp (R) RF

Jhonny Peralta (R) SS

Hanley Ramirez (R) SS

Yadier Molina (R) C

Carl Crawford (L) LF

Randal Grichuk (R) RF

Juan Uribe (R) 3B

Kolten Wong (L) 2B

A.J. Ellis (R) C

Lance Lynn (R) P

Zack Greinke (L) P

Injury/Availability

Each bullpen was used pretty significantly on Friday night, with the Dodgers using four relievers and the Cardinals seven. However, they seemed to be rather economical with their pitch counts, with only Carlos Martinez (21) and Trevor Rosenthal (20) tossing 20 or more pitches. But as a closer who is very accustomed to frequent usage, Rosenthal will almost certainly be available on Saturday. Yasiel Puig was hit by a pitch but there didn’t appear to be any lingering effects. Hanley Ramirez did grimace while sliding into second base at one point on Friday and was shown chatting with trainer Stan Conte in the dugout before briefly heading into the clubhouse. It’s getting to the point where it’s fair to just assume he’s always dealing with some sort of injury.

Outlook

The Dodgers won’t hang their heads for long after scoring nine runs and still losing the opener of the series. The fact is the offense showed up against Adam Wainwright and they should be able to capitalize against Lynn, who is certainly a bigger drop-off from Wainwright than Greinke is from Kershaw. Yes, you could point out that the Cardinals delivered against Kershaw and that should bode well for them going forward, but the Dodgers bats have been doing it all season and with the likes of Kemp and Crawford starting to come around, they appear to be downright scary. The Cardinals need more than one big inning—although it was quite the shocking inning—to prove that they’re suddenly starting to click on offense.

Looking at Lynn’s shiny sub-3.00 ERA, one could begin to think that he’s turned a corner this year. In truth, he appears to be the same pitcher he’s been the previous two years, with a slight jump in ground-ball and home run rates, but also the lowest K-rate of his career (20.9 percent). Lynn is nothing to scoff at, but again, he’s a drop from Wainwright and not at Greinke’s level, especially when the quirky righty is at his best.

When the Cardinals offense is at its best, they’re wearing pitchers down with long at-bats, but doing so with Greinke is never easy. He’s always in the strike zone and posted a career-best 5.2 percent walk rate on the year. With Greinke on the mound, it’ll be interesting to see if Matt Holliday can stay hot. Despite a solid season, Holliday’s numbers were the worst during his time with St. Louis, but he posted a 1.029 OPS in the final 26 games of the season and was 2-for-4 with a big three-run homer on Friday. Add in the fact that he has an .872 OPS against Greinke in a limited sample of 39 plate appearances and we have a matchup to keep an eye on.

It’ll also be worth paying attention to any inside pitches or hit-by-pitches. After Puig was hit, Adrian Gonzalez and Yadier Molina had a bit of a "chat" and the benches emptied. The whole incident amounted to nothing, but it was certainly a tense situation for a few minutes. These two teams have a history, with Wainwright calling Gonzalez’s admiring of a home run, "Mickey Mouse stuff," and some beanball wars in last year’s playoff matchup. This certainly warrants monitoring.

Suggesting a team faces a must-win when it’s not an elimination game is almost always folly. However, if the Dodgers find themselves in an 0-2 hole after Kershaw and Greinke starts, they certainly won’t be feeling great about themselves. But that would be a surprising result as PECOTA believes they actually have a better chance to take Game Two than was predicted with the presumptive Cy Young winner on the hill. Look for the Dodgers to even the series on Saturday night. —Sahadev Sharma

Doug Thorburn is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Doug's other articles. You can contact Doug by clicking here
Sahadev Sharma is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sahadev's other articles. You can contact Sahadev by clicking here

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