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October 15, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

NLCS Game Three Recap: Dodgers 3, Cardinals 0

by Ben Lindbergh

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The Dodgers dropped back-to-back starts by Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw on September 7 and 8. The Cardinals squandered 11 regular-season starts by Adam Wainwright. So it’s not as if what we’ve seen over the first three games of this NLCS has been without precedent.

But “with precedent” is a far cry from “predictable.” A 2-1 St. Louis lead over Los Angeles isn’t so strange, considering the Cardinals’ home field advantage, but the way we got here was weird. Thus far, every game has gone to the team with the inferior starter, even though the three aces who’ve come up empty have combined for 21 innings and allowed five runs (four of them earned), with 20 strikeouts and two walks. And the National League’s two best offensive teams have combined for nine runs in three games, with the Dodgers enduring a streak of 22 consecutive scoreless innings.

When we say the playoffs are a crapshoot, this is what we mean.

Monday’s St. Louis loss had a lot to do with defensive miscues, just like Saturday’s Los Angeles loss. This time it wasn’t an A.J. Ellis passed ball and a bad throw by Carl Crawford that did in the loser, but a Jon Jay misplay in center and a throw to the wrong base by Kolten Wong.

Jay allowed a Mark Ellis fly ball to fall for a double between him and Carlos Beltran to start the fourth; the ball probably could’ve been caught by either outfielder, but neither called it, which has to be blamed on Jay. Two batters later, Adrian Gonzalez drove in Ellis with another double, giving Los Angeles a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. The Dodgers scored their third run in the eighth when second-base sub Wong retrieved a bloop single by Hanley Ramirez and threw it to Daniel Descalso at the second-base bag, where runner Mark Ellis had already arrived. Meanwhile, Carl Crawford—who had started the play on second—was motoring around third on his way to home, where he would barely beat the relay from Kozma. Had Wong thrown home himself and cut out the middleman, he would’ve cut down Crawford.

Those weren’t the only mistakes St. Louis made. Jay, who’s having an awful series defensively—he also misplayed a Mark Ellis liner in Game One—was fooled by a big swing by Hanley in the first and stepped back instead of forward, allowing a popup to dunk in for a single between center and second. Beltran was slow to back up Jay on a fly ball to center to lead off the fifth, playing an A.J. Ellis extra-base hit into a triple. And worse, Descalso—pinch running for David Freese, who was removed with a calf injury sustained at the plate—killed the Cardinals’ most promising rally with a terrible TOOTBLAN in the fifth, getting doubled off second on a liner to center after back-to-back singles to start the inning. Not a banner day for the fundamentals, but that doesn’t make the Dodgers any less pleased that they managed to stave off an actual must-win game for at least another day.

  • The Dodgers welcomed back the banged-up Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier, although the welcome A.J. Ellis extended was a little lukewarm:
    It's great, because both of those guys have kind of had an M.O. in the past of kind of being more about themselves than about the team. Probably in our clubhouse, too, we've seen that in the past. But both those guys have been all about winning this year.
    Ramirez got two hits, though neither one was hit well, while Ethier went 0-for-4 and was clearly still experiencing some pain in his microfractured leg. As for Freese, St. Louis can ill afford to lose him to his own lower-leg ailment, since the Cardinals simply don’t have a hitter on their bench (with or without Descalso).

  • I’m not normally one to have a hunch about the outcome of a plate appearance, but when Yadier Molina set up for an outside fastball to Yasiel Puig with a 2-1 count in the fourth, I braced myself for something hit hard. You could kind of tell that Puig’s approach was improved in the second, when he held up on a 2-2 curve in the dirt that he might have swung at if he'd seen it in the first two games of the series. After that pitch, Puig shook his head and smiled at the Dodgers bench, as if to say he’d learned his lesson.


    And when he came up with two outs and a runner on third in the fourth, he was—as Gary Sheffield put it on the postgame—“singing to himself,” presumably repeating the Spanish-language versions of baseball clichés like “Stay within yourself” and “Don’t try to do too much.” The only mistake he made was assuming he’d snapped his 0-for-11 slump with a homer. As it turned out, the hit he pimped stayed in the park.


    The most impressive part of the play was that Puig made it to third standing up despite being slowed by his celebration out of the box. Because of his speed, the miscalculation didn’t cost him, though it did bother Beltran.

  • Speaking of celebrations, Wainwright objected to this one:


    The difference between that and, say, this


    is the sort of subtlety that’s lost on a non-big leaguer like me.

  • Puig had one more lightning-rod moment when he failed to slide into second on a double play in the seventh after singling to start the inning. Which reminds me of this bit from a Bill Plaschke column in August: “Puig’s antics are the sort that will cost a team in a close game in October. For every playoff game that Puig wins with his bold arm or crazy legs, he could cost them two.”

    I’d argue that it’s the other way around. If Puig keeps hitting, the Dodgers will benefit even if he does sometimes pause to admire a deep drive or neglect to slide.

  • Hyun-jin Ryu was really dealing. The lefty’s fastball velocity averaged 91.0 miles per hour this season, but on Monday, it averaged 92.8 and spiked to 95.6, easily a season high. This seems like an encouraging development, given recent concerns about Ryu’s elbow. Then again, there’s some evidence to suggest that sudden velocity spikes can be a sign of impending injury. For example, here’s an excerpt from an interview Adam Foster of Project Prospect conducted with Jarrod Parker in December 2010, as the pitcher was completing his rehab from 2009 Tommy John Surgery:
    AF: So it was a mid-to-high-grade tear of the ulnar collateral ligament?
    JP: Yeah.
    AF: And I think I read, too, that you said the night before you had the injury you had reached some of your peak velocities as a professional.
    JP: Yeah, which was kind of weird. I didn't know until after, but everyone said that velo was up and I talked to one of our trainers a couple weeks after it happened and he was like "Yeah, that's how it happens a lot is guys...their velocity spikes and then the injury kind of flairs up and it happens."
    AF: What were you touching that night, do you remember?
    JP: I think I touched 99 (MPH) a couple times and everyone was kind of shocked because I hadn't done that all year.
    AF: I had you at 98 earlier that year in Modesto.
    JP: Yeah, I'd touched 98 before but I think 99 was kind of a rarity. And that was kind of the spike in the velo that no one had seen that year.
    Ryu’s performance—seven scoreless innings, three hits, one walk, and four strikeouts—is a positive, but his radar readings might not indicate that he’s out of the woods.

  • I briefly wondered whether Mattingly would pinch hit for Ryu when his spot came up in the bottom of the fifth following the leadoff triple from Ellis, but I wasn’t surprised to see Ryu stay in. The Dodgers were up by only two runs at that point, so scoring Ellis was important, but Ryu isn’t completely helpless at the plate, the Dodgers don’t have another day to rest their relievers until Thursday, and Ryu had thrown only 76 pitches. As the inning played out, Ellis was stranded at third, but Ryu rewarded Mattingly with two more almost-perfect innings.

  • Expanded replay might endanger the neighborhood play as soon as next season, but as Juba says at the end of Gladiator, “Not yet…not yet.”



  • The Dodgers are one of only four teams without an official mascot, which one fan tried to do something about by dancing on the visiting dugout in a bear suit:


    Judging by stadium security’s response, he won’t be asked to reprise his performance.

  • After turning in another scoreless October outing, Brian Wilson needs to pitch only 125 1/3 more playoff innings with a 0.79 ERA or better to equal Mariano Rivera’s record of postseason success.

  • Sadly, all Kevin Siegrist scoreless streaks must come to an end. Siegrist allowed an unearned run in the NLDS, but before Wong’s throw to second allowed Crawford to score last night, he hadn’t given up an earned run since July 30, a string of 31 appearances.

  • Ricky Nolasco is currently scheduled to start against Lance Lynn tonight, although there’s still a chance that Don Mattingly could go with Greinke on short rest.


    If Nolasco and Lynn do go head to head, we might finally see some runs scored.

Get your Game Four preview here.

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

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