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October 10, 2005

Playoff Prospectus

Division Series, Day Six

by Paul Swydan

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The man had made only one relief appearance in his career. The man is 43 years old and was supposedly in the twilight of his career practically a decade ago. The man had thrown 92 pitches two days ago. None of that mattered, because the man was also their only hope. Entering in the top of the 16th, Roger Clemens stepped up and delivered a performance for the history books, and then was gracious enough to completely deflect the attention to Chris Burke. If you TIVO'd the three innings that Clemens threw yesterday, do yourself a favor and save it, because words do not do that kind of greatness justice.

  • It's always the guy you least expect. Burke struggled mightily, and has been making us regret that we made him our 18th best prospect heading into 2005. With a line of .248/.309/.368 in 318 at-bats this season, Burke wasn't inspiring much confidence. In fact, five Houston pitchers had a higher VORP at the plate than Burke did.

    But that doesn't matter to people in Houston today. By mercifully ending Game Four with a home run off Braves rookie Joey Devine, Burke saved the Astros a trip to Atlanta for Game Five, a game they would have been ill-equipped to win, as Houston ran through absolutely everyone on their roster. Though operating in less than optimal circumstances themselves, the Braves would have had a completely fresh Horacio Ramirez for Game Five, and would have been able to count on contributions from John Smoltz, John Foster, and Macay McBride, none of whom took the mound Sunday. The Astros would have countered with Andy Pettitte, but if he had faltered, they were looking at a lot of tired arms in their bullpen. Fortunately, Burke came through, and the Astros will get a couple of days to rest up for their rematch with St. Louis.

  • The Atlanta Braves were decidedly skating on thin ice with their bullpen. Despite the 8 1/3 scoreless extra innings, Bobby Cox showed that he had no faith in his bullpen when he went to Kyle Farnsworth with nobody out in the bottom of the eighth. Farnsworth had become Cox's most/only dependable arm down the stretch, and since he had not thrown since Thursday, he certainly was physically capable of pitching two innings. The problem is that Farnsworth was masquerading as a pitcher that he is not:
    
    ARP, 2003-2005                   WXRL, 2003-2005
    Player           Rnk    ARP      Player           Rnk   WXRL
    Mariano Rivera     1   91.1      Eric Gagne         1   18.3
    Tom Gordon         2   80.9      Mariano Rivera     2   18.2
    B.J. Ryan          3   75.9      Brad Lidge         3   16.5
    ---                              ---
    Kyle Farnsworth   44   33.4      Kyle Farnsworth   37    6.6
    
    
    Farnsworth is by no means a scrub, but he has not been a relief ace.

  • In the nine extra innings Sunday, four bunts were executed, and none of them helped produce a run.

    In the 11th inning, with Rafael Furcal on first base with nobody out, the Braves sent Marcus Giles--who hit .291/.365/.461 this year--up to bunt. He popped out. Furcal then stole second. He ended up stealing third as well. Despite Furcal's base-stealing ability (46 SB against 10 CS in 2005), the Braves felt the need to give away an out to move Furcal along, rather than just letting him steal.

    The 14teenth inning was even worse. After Dan Wheeler started the inning with a walk to Andruw Jones, the Braves got lucky on a sacrifice bunt by Julio Franco. Wheeler inadvertently kicked the ball, putting runners on first and second with nobody out. The Braves elected to sacrifice again, essentially taking the bat out of the hands of Ryan Langerhans, who had a single and a double in his two previous PA's. The Braves failed to score again when Brian McCann struck out and pinch-hitter Pete Orr grounded out.

    The Astros' bunt in the 15th was defensible, as the bunter was pinch-hitter Roger Clemens, the Astros had no position players left at that point, and they were only playing for one run anyway. Alas, this did not work either, as Morgan Ensberg short-circuited the 'Stros rally by grounding into a double play.

  • Who would you rather have facing a left-handed pitcher, the guy with the 723 OPS vs. LHP, or the guy with the 914 OPS vs. LHP? In case you're in the dark here, I'm talking about Darin Erstad and Robb Quinlan. When Shawn Chacon gave way to Al Leiter, Mike Scioscia was not fazed, sending Erstad to the plate. Never mind that inserting Quinlan would have meant Leiter would have had to face two righties in succession, but it would have also given the Angels the best chance to succeed. Leaving Erstad in to face Leiter was not an optimal situation for the Angels, and he promptly grounded into a double play. In it, he took out the last Angels baserunner of the game.

  • The Yankees did not do a whole lot to win Game Four, they won it on Angel mistakes. The Angels made mistakes in the field and they made mistakes on the bases. The Yankees meanwhile, did not have their usual Maverick and Goose offense in gear. No, the Yankees were content to reprise their familiar Iceman role of the mid-'90s, waiting for the Angels to make their mistakes and then pouncing. The Yanks seized the lead in the bottom of the seventh, and then brought in the hammer, Mariano Rivera, to put the final six nails in the coffin.

    This is not like the 2002 ALDS, when the Angels scored 31 runs in four games and did not have to worry about making little mistakes; the mistakes are adding up and they are costing LA of Anaheim wins. Will the Angels stop trying to steal bases (1-for-5 in the series, 1-for-6 if you count Guerrero's "runner's fielder's choice" last night)? Will they stop laying down ill-advised bunts that lower their run expectancy? Will they finally give Casey Kotchman a start? Game Five will really be a test of what, if anything, Anaheim has learned.

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

Related Content:  Kyle Farnsworth,  Mistakes

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