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October 7, 2005

Playoff Prospectus

Division Series, Day Three

by Paul Swydan

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I feel like I heard something about a movie about Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile. If only I could remember what station was airing it, but what can you do. I can't stop forgetting important programming details, Craig Biggio can't stop diving into first base, and tomorrow the sun will rise in the East.

  • San Diego has been one of the worst teams in baseball versus left-handed pitching all season, and that figured to be a critical issue yesterday afternoon:
    
    Padres vs. LHP, 2005
    
             HR     R    AVG    OBP    SLG    ISO
    Totals   28   164   .254   .336   .374   .120
    Rank     29    27     27     12     29     30
    
    
    Given these numbers, it's not hard to imagine the excitement of Padres fans as they watched their team pile up eight hits on Mark Mulder. Unfortunately for Friar fanatics, the hits were not converted into runs. This is nothing new for the Padres. Looking at their team RBI per Runner Rate, we can see the Padres are far from the most efficient unit in the game:
    
    2005 Playoff Teams, ranked by RBI per Runner Rate
    
    Rnk    Tm    Runners    Rate
     1    ANA       3655   .1570
     5    CHA       3460   .1483
     6    SLN       3960   .1475
     7    BOS       4524   .1468
    11    ATL       3865   .1423
    14    NYA       4382   .1410
    26    SDN       3978   .1322
    28    HOU       3771   .1307
    
    
    It's here we can see a big difference between St. Louis and San Diego. They essentially had the same number of runners reach base this year, but the Cardinals drove in a higher percentage. This is something that has been in evidence over the first two games, and it is a problem that will eventually bury the Padres in this series.

    To add insult to injury, by stacking the starting lineup with righties, they ran out of righty bats during the pivotal eighth-inning rally, and fell victim to lefty reliever Randy Flores, who retired pinch-hiter Mark Sweeney to end the Pads' last hope.

  • What's with all those double plays? Another reason the Pads have been unable to drive home runs in these first two games has been the number of double plays turned by St. Louis. Is San Diego really this bad with the stick? Not hardly. San Diego actually did a good job of avoiding hitting into the double play this season, ranking 20th in double play rate for hitters. No, the dominant force here is the St. Louis pitching staff and defense, which is far and away the best team at forcing the double play:
    
    Double Play Rate for Pitchers by Team, 2005
    
    Rnk   Team    DP_Opps    DP     DP%   NETDP
    1     SLN        1109   194   .1749   50.12
    2     PIT        1272   191   .1501   25.98
    3     FLA        1191   177   .1486   22.49
    
    
    Four Cardinals starters, including your Game One and Two starters, Chris Carpenter and Mulder, rank in the top 30 overall for NET DP.

  • Walk. Error. Sac bunt. Fielder's choice. Walk. Walk. This is how the Cardinals scored the first two runs of Game Two. The Padres came into these middle games needing to play near flawless baseball if they were going to compete, especially now that they cannot bank on another Jake Peavy start. Unfortunately, the Pads were not able to be efficient. It's like eating an ice cream cone. It sounds really easy to do, but if the ice cream starts melting or the cone starts leaking, suddenly you're licking one side, then you're licking the other, and before you know it you've got ice cream all over your hand. Today, the Pads ended up with ice cream on their hands, and they simply did not have enough napkins around to clean up the mess.

  • Tim Hudson couldn't get it going in Game One, and Roger Clemens couldn't get it going in Game Two. Clemens started five of the first eight batters with ball one. The eighth batter, Brian McCann, took ball two as well. Clemens would not get to ball three, as McCann crushed the third pitch into the Atlanta bullpen, giving the Bravos the only runs they would need on the misty night. The hot start of cover boy Jeff Francoeur has allowed the other Braves rookies to play in relative anonymity, but you could make the argument that McCann's performance has meant more to the team. While the Braves have actually had pretty good outfield depth, the same can't be said for their "tools of ignorance" depth.

  • Ben Zobrist, where art thou? This is the thought that goes through my mind every time I see Adam Everett strike out on three pitches. Everett has been doing this all season. Only one shortstop has a worse strikeout-to-walk ratio than Everett, only three have a lower BB/PA ratio, no shortstop has a worse OBP. Everett has 21 steals, but his success rate is merely middle of the road for a shortstop. Tonight, Everett short-circuited the Astros best rally of the night with one of the aforementioned three-pitch strikeouts, leaving the bases loaded in the first inning. The Astros would never put two runners on base in the same inning the rest of the night. Here's hoping that Zobrist will move quickly following a 2005 season good enough to earn him a mid-season promotion to High-A Salem.

  • Though the final result was lopsided, the Astros had a chance to make it a game in the seventh inning. With pinch-hitter Chris Burke standing on second, Biggio had a chance to get the 'Stros back in the game with a little two-out bingo. When Chipper Jones went to the dive to field Biggio's hot smash, Biggio assumed the throw would be wide, and dove headlong into first base. Unfortunately, Biggio guessed wrong; the throw was perfect and Biggio was erased. Had he run through the base there is little doubt he would have been safe. Phil Garner would have then been able to bring Jeff Bagwell in to face either a tired John Smoltz or a shaky Chris Reitsma, with a prime opportunity to cut into Atlanta's 5-1 lead. Instead, the inning was over, their second small window of opportunity was slammed shut, the Braves padded their lead in the bottom of the seventh, and that was all she wrote.

  • Did Chipper Jones take Francoeur out to the woodshed Wednesday night? Chipper has openly complained about Francoeur's lack of plate discipline this season. In Game One, Francoeur saw six pitches in four at-bats, putting the ball into play three times on the first pitch, a hacker at his hackingest. Would Game Two be more of the same? Amazingly, no. The young right-fielder worked a seven-pitch walk, then followed that by battling Clemens again, striking out on the eighth pitch. He proceeded to ground out in a five pitch at-bat in the fifth before finally getting back to normal, singling on the first pitch in the bottom of the seventh. All's well that ends well.

Paul Swydan is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

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