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October 8, 2009

Prospectus Today

Tri-Series Roundup

by Joe Sheehan

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I'll settle for bullet-pointing the three LDS openers in advance of today's chat:

Rockies/Phillies

  • The concerns about the Phillies were whether they could score without hitting home runs, and their bullpen. They scored five runs without hitting a homer and got a complete game, in which no reliever even got up to throw, and no one ever visited the mound. For one day, they had no flaws.

  • Cliff Lee ate up the Rockies by pounding the strike zone, being aggressive in the manner that has made him one of the best starters in the game. The Rockies had no answer, picking up stray hits but never having what you might call a good at-bat. Lee faced 32 batters and started just seven of them 1-0. He was 2-0 twice, 3-0 once, and 3-1 once, and the rest of the time had the Rockies on their heels. It was a beautiful performance. He even stole a base off of an oblivious Ubaldo Jimenez. (He got picked off and saved by a bad call immediately afterwards, but no one will remember that.)

  • On offense, the Phillies took advantage of a loss of command by Jimenez to rack up five runs in the fifth and sixth innings. Jimenez was throwing strikes up to that point, but he fell behind the first four hitters in the fifth and gave up two runs. Then he allowed hits to the first three batters in the sixth, at which point the game was essentially over. The Phillies scored their five runs on a walk, a triple, two doubles, and three singles in an 11-batter stretch, with Raul Ibaņez and Jayson Werth contributing twice. The big inning isn't unusual for this team, but doing so without a long ball-and in fairness, Werth and Ryan Howard both hit balls that might have been homers on a day that didn't recall the first act of The Wizard of Oz-is.

  • The umpires failed. No one will care because the Phillies won and the story was a bunch of other things, but all three base umpires missed calls. Bring on the machines.

  • Davey Lopes is to basestealing what Dave Duncan is to throwing ground balls. The guy has turned the Phillies into the most efficient base-stealing machine in baseball history.

  • The Rockies aren't entirely playing for their lives today, but being down 2-0 and then running Jason Hammel and Jason Marquis to the mound against a team that has a fantastic left-handed power core would be suboptimal. Not having Jorge De La Rosa for this series hurts a lot. The Rockies have to find a way to make better contact against Cole Hamels than they did against Lee, because like Lee, Hamels is going to attack the zone and get ahead of the hitters until they give him a reason not to do so.

Yankees/Twins

  • The mainstream narrative in this game seems to be that those unclutchy Yankees played well in October. CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez did have good games, and for the people who think there's some massive difference between the regular season and the postseason, that's significant. Me, I think it was just a very good baseball team's best players having a good game against an average team that was playing under difficult circumstances. We're stuck with this idea of "clutch," and it's maybe the one concept that actively makes me dislike baseball sometimes. Folks, it's not a morality play, it's sports.

  • I'm not sure why Ron Gardenhire wasn't more aggressive with his bullpen. He got an early 2-0 lead that gave him an out, and he carried eight relievers into the series, plus he probably could have used Carl Pavano for a little bit. When Brian Duensing surrendered a game-tying two-run homer Derek Jeter in the third, the stage was set for a quick move to a right-hander once he got past Mark Teixeira. But Gardenhire stayed with Duensing, and the Yankees kept chipping away at him, winning the game over the next two innings. It was 4-2 when Gardenhire chose Francisco Liriano to pitch to Hideki Matsui, and 6-2 a minute later.

    To some extent, last night's game was a gimme. Gardenhire would have liked to win, but he had a tired team and a used-up bullpen against the best team in baseball and its ace starter. That the Twins lost last night doesn't really change things much; their chance to win is in the next two games, which should feature their top two remaining starters in even matchups against A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte. They're still a massive underdog, but their puncher's chance hasn't changed much on the basis of last night's outcome.

  • Jorge Posada had a lousy night, not working well with Sabathia and costing the Yankees a run in the third when he was way too slow reacting to ball that got away from him with a runner on third. That's not who he is, generally, but when the whole world is focused on your defense, in part because your manager has announced that you won't be playing the next game, it's a bad time to have a bad game.

    And he should still start tomorrow night.

Cardinals/Dodgers

  • This was a very big win for the Dodgers, taking a game that was distinctly tilted against them in terms of the pitching matchup. Chris Carpenter had a bad game, with terrible location and no ability to miss bats-he got just five swing-and-misses in his five innings, three of them from Ronnie Belliard. Both teams spent the entire game with runners on base, and the Dodgers failed just a little bit less in those spots than the Cards did, which is why they're up 1-0 in the series.

  • Joe Torre did a fantastic job not letting his starter lose a game that his bullpen could win. He yanked Randy Wolf in the fourth inning with two outs and the bases loaded, with Wolf clinging to a 3-2 lead, That's a rare sight, but it's also exactly what Torre needs to do this October. He has a deep and talented bullpen, one that can matchup to good effect or provide innings in bulk, and get ground-ball outs or strikeouts as needed. There's no reason at all for him to let that rotation, the weakest part of his team, lose a game. Torre's bullpen gave him 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball last night, supporting an offense that did just enough against Carpenter. If the Phillies' were the most impressive team yesterday, the Dodgers, by executing their plan, were second best.

  • The Cardinals had opportunities to score, including the game-opening bases-loaded, no-out spot from which they got just one run. Given the pitcher and the batters (Matt Holliday, Ryan Ludwick, Yadier Molina), you can file that under "Things That Won't Happen Very Often." The Cardinals' overall stats against lefties aren't that impressive, but the middle of their lineup consists of guys who pound southpaws. They just didn't come up big last night in the first or in the fourth.

  • Torre is overthinking things by playing Belliard ahead of Orlando Hudson, especially against a pitcher, Carpenter, who has always eaten up right-handed batters. He gave up offense and defense last night, actively making his team worse. The Dodgers won in spite of this decision. The gap between these two teams is tiny, and Torre can't give value away by making bad lineup choices, or slotting waiver bait ahead of Chad Billingsley as his third starter in the series.

  • The Cardinals are under the gun tonight, although they do have a great pitcher starting in Adam Wainwright. I'll say it again, though: Clayton Kershaw is ready for his close-up, ready to have the month Cole Hamels did one year ago. Kershaw is at times unhittable, and the gap between him and Wainwright is much, much smaller than you might think. He is the Dodgers' best starting pitcher, and he's going to show that tonight.

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

Related Content:  The Who,  The Call-up

13 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

bdesrochers

Note: J.A. Happ and Ryan Madson did get up to throw in the ninth yesterday.

Oct 08, 2009 10:53 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

After the run? Damn, I missed that. Sorry.

Oct 08, 2009 10:56 AM
 
jimnabby

Re: Dodgers/Cardinals

One thing Torre has always done well in the postseason is pull out all the stops to win today, and worry about tomorrow's game tomorrow. And this team, with its bullpen, would seem very well-suited to that approach. I can't help thinking that most managers would have stuck with Wolf much longer in that game.

I think you may be the one overthinking the Hudson/Belliard decision, Joe. They both put up .750 OPS's against righties this year, and over the last couple years, they're pretty close to the same guy with the bat in their hands. The Playoff Prospectus notes that Belliard rated out a bit better in the field than Hudson by some measures; I'd prefer Hudson in the field, but the difference probably isn't huge. So yes, he is playing the hot hand, but Belliard has hit just massively, insanely better than Hudson from August on. It seems a pretty reasonable choice to me. Plus, you have a good switch-hitting batter to bring in off the bench in any spot.

I like your comment about how Kershaw's "going to show [his quality] tonight." Of course, we don't know that - just look at Carpenter last night. Kershaw's had plenty of starts this year where he couldn't find the strike zone with a flashlight and a map. Here's hoping today isn't one of those days!

Oct 08, 2009 11:05 AM
rating: 2
 
tooci4

Interestingly, I think one great thing that Charlie Manuel did last year was to be FARSIGHTED in his playoff plan, particularly with Cole Hamels. As great as Hamels was all postseason, Manuel never pushed him in the early games. I, like everyone else in Philly, was outraged when Manuel pulled Hamels after 8 shutout innings and about 100 pitches in game 1 against the Brewers, but I think it was that longsighted approach that allowed Hamels to dominate through the World Series.

There is an interesting tension between acknowledging the magnitude of each playoff game and preparing for all the ones to follow.

Oct 08, 2009 11:20 AM
rating: 0
 
WCE

I agree with Joe's reasoning on the Hudson/Belliard decision - I can recall two plays where I thought Hudson would have gotten a ball that Belliard didn't.

One hates to say something like "despite what the metrics indicate" but - I think Hudson has notably greater range than Belliard, and would have probably corralled the run scoring pop up in the first.

Oct 08, 2009 13:39 PM
rating: 1
 
oPlaiD

Maybe Clayton Kershaw will be the next Rick Ankiel! And not in the pitcher-turne-hitter way...

Ankiel's 2000 season and Kershaw's 2009 year are uncannily similar. Kershaw is just a little bit better, a little more unhittable. Their K rates and BB rates were nearly identical.

It'd be tragic if it turned out the same way in the postseason, but I wouldn't be too unhappy as a Cardinals fan...

Oct 08, 2009 13:52 PM
rating: 0
 
jimnabby

Well, as it turned out, he turned in 6 very nice innings, with only one walk. He's due up in the bottom of the 6th, which should eliminate a potentially interesting decision about whether to bring him out to pitch the 7th.

Oct 08, 2009 17:12 PM
rating: 0
 
jimnabby

Wow, never mind, Torre let him hit in the 6th. Didn't figure on that one in a tie game.

Oct 08, 2009 17:15 PM
rating: 0
 
J Scott

"The stage was set for a quick move to a right-hander..."? What would that have accomplished? OK, ARod bats right-handed. Then you get Matsui...Posada (BatsBoth)...Cano...Swisher (BatsBoth)and Cabrera (BatsBoth). What does bringing in a right-hander do for you other than giving all the switch-hitters a better shot at the short right-field porch? That comment really needed some explanation.

Oct 08, 2009 11:23 AM
rating: 1
 
Rob Moore

As much as I applaud Joe for pulling Wolf in the 4th, I would have been happy to see him let Thome bat for him in the bottom of the 3rd with the bases loaded and 2 out. He clearly had bad command last night (and in his last start too - hope it isn't a sign of things to come), and they could have easily gotten equal or better performance from Garland and Troncoso, who didn't make it into the game yesterday.

Oct 08, 2009 11:37 AM
rating: 1
 
WCE

I agree with that. I thought the same thing, and then, of course, he pulls Wolf the next inning. Maybe Thome could have broken the game open?

Oct 08, 2009 13:36 PM
rating: 0
 
RayDiPerna

Joe: "Jorge Posada had a lousy night, not working well with Sabathia and costing the Yankees a run in the third when he was way too slow reacting to ball that got away from him with a runner on third."
---

I agree with your overall comments on Posada. That said, he deserves more blame on this particular play. It wasn't just that he was "way too slow," but that he didn't hustle after the ball. I'm with you generally on the issue of hustle, but in a situation such as this -- man on third, ball gets away -- he needs to charge after it.

Instead, he kind of lollygagged after it, looking back a couple times along the way to see that, yes, the runner was steamrolling down the line. This is similar to your comment about Miguel Cabrera's baserunning from third on that grounder to second. Why is Posada looking back a couple of times to see where the runner is? Sprint after the ball, get the ball, and then come up ready to fire if need be (the crowd tells you where the runner is anyway). His delay cost them in a play that was pretty close anyway.

Oct 08, 2009 13:27 PM
rating: 2
 
Rob_in_CT

Yeah, Po had a bad night, and that play in particular wasn't pretty. The only thing I can come up with was that he looked at Mauer, who froze, started back to 3rd, and THEN came home. For some reason, that seemed to freeze Posada too. Dunno what was going on in his head.

Oct 08, 2009 14:08 PM
rating: 0
 
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