“An element that was big in the first series against the Braves has finally returned here in the NLCS: the long ball,” Ernie Johnson said to Don Mattingly during the between-innings interview segment managers must love.
“I thought you were talking about runs,” Mattingly answered.
The Dodgers combined for seven runs in the first four games of this series, and they nearly equaled that total with a six-spot on Wednesday. It helped that they remembered how to hit homers. After not hitting any in the first four games of the series, they hit one for each game without one, including two that went farther than the shot Matt Holliday hit on Tuesday. Adrian Gonzalez’s third-inning bomb, which gave the Dodgers a 3-2 lead that they would lengthen and then cling to for the rest of the game, was both the first and the longest:
At an estimated distance of 450 feet, according to Home Run Tracker, that was the longest homer hit this postseason, and the longest Gonzalez has hit since 2009. He added another in the eighth, after Carl Crawford and A.J. Ellis had contributed solo shots of their own.
Zack Greinke’s command wasn’t quite as precise as it was in Game One, but he made the homers hold up. The right-hander gave up a single, a walk, and another single to load the bases with nobody out in the top of the first, but he got out of the jam unscathed, striking out Matt Adams and getting Yadier Molina to ground into the first of his two double plays on the day. Greinke also drove in a run with a single in the second.
Down 3-1 entering the day, the Dodgers’ route to success was simple: win the games started by Cy Young winners, then try to scratch out some hits against Adam Wainwright. They’re now one step closer to putting the Wainwright part of the plan into action.
- Carlos Beltran came within a few inches of yet another playoff homer in the third inning, settling instead for an RBI triple.
About time, too. After his O-fers in Games Two, Three, and Four, babies born on Saturday were starting to wonder whether Beltran would ever succeed in the postseason.
- “Hitters are reacting to the pitches from Axford like they’re not seeing the baseball at all,” Ron Darling said in the eighth, as the late-afternoon shadows crept between the pitcher’s mound and the plate. “Well, there’s a good chance they’re not seeing the baseball very well,” Cal Ripken responded. On the next pitch, Gonzalez took Axford deep.
If I were a broadcaster, I’d try to speak as little as possible. “He’s letting the game breathe,” people would rave. Really, I’d just be trying not to say something that would make me sound silly 10 seconds later.
- I questioned why Joe Kelly hit for himself in the top of the fifth with the Cardinals down 3-2 and the Los Angeles order about to roll over again. And two batters into the bottom of the inning, leadoff batter Carl Crawford—the first Dodger to face Kelly three times—went deep.
Kelly isn’t the ace his ERA suggests—he’s a pretty good pitcher whose unsustainable sequencing has masked his unremarkable peripherals. Given what we know about how pitcher performance degrades after multiple trips through the order, it probably wasn’t the right call to let him hit, despite the weakness of the Cardinals bench. A quicker hook would have served St. Louis well.
Matheny may have given Kelly a longer leash because he’d pitched a 1-2-3 fourth after struggling in the second and third. But a starter’s success is often ephemeral. While research suggests that a pitcher who struggles early in a start is more likely to be “off” for the rest of his outing, a pitcher who has success early is no more likely than usual to be effective for the rest of the game. In other words, we can’t tell whether the wheels are about to fall off.
As Mitchel Lichtman pointed out, Ron Darling—a former pitcher, and a person paid to analyze pitchers—noted that Greinke was “locked in after a shaky first” when the righty got Kelly to ground out to start the second. Immediately after that comment, Greinke gave up four straight hits, including a hard-hit triple and a game-tying double. Case in point: it’s tough to tell when a pitcher who’s cruising is about to start making mistakes, just as it’s tough to tell when a hitter who’s been hot is about to go cold. While a manager or a pitching coach can pick up on signs of fatigue or mechanical inconsistency, in most cases, it makes sense to go by the book—or in this case, The Book—when pulling pitchers. The Cardinals could have used a better bat and a fresher arm than Kelly’s.
- Shelby Miller lives! The forgotten rookie right-hander was seen warming in the bullpen after Kelly allowed a leadoff single to Mark Ellis in the third, so we can confirm that the Cardinals haven’t been covering up for misplacing him en route to Pittsburgh after his appearance in Game Two of the NLDS.
What we saw in the regular season suggests that Miller would have been a better choice to start this game, but I’ll defer to the Cardinals here. Miller ran up a career-high innings count, and he also lost velocity and missed fewer bats down the stretch. If his stuff is still diminished, sticking him in the bullpen or keeping him around as an emergency option might make sense. It’s probably not the case that the Cardinals have been blinded by Kelly’s ERA.
On the other hand, Matheny’s willingness to get someone up at the first sign of the trouble in the third inning makes it even more perplexing that Kelly was allowed to pitch the fifth.
- Articles were written about the 1-1 pitch from Koji Uehara to Jhonny Peralta in the ninth inning of ALCS Game Three. The ball was about three inches low, but it was called a strike, putting Uehara ahead 1-2 instead of giving giving Peralta a 2-1 count to work with. On the next pitch, Peralta reached for an outside offering and produced a weak ground ball, and the Red Sox turned two, erasing Victor Martinez’s leadoff single. We know that with two strikes, a hitter has to protect the plate and is less likely to hit the ball hard, so it’s possible that the 1-1 strike call was indirectly responsible for the rally-killing contact.
If the Cardinals had completed the comeback in the ninth, Kenley Jansen’s two-out, 0-0 pitch to Pete Kozma might have merited the same treatment.
The pitch was in the strike zone, but it was called a ball.
Two pitches later, Kozma—up 2-0 instead of even at 1-1 or even behind 0-2, depending on what the second pitch would have been in an alternate timeline—lined a single to right, driving in Matt Adams and putting the tying run on base. If Adron Chambers had doubled to drive him home, we would have wondered what would have happened had the first pitch to Kozma been called a strike. Instead, Chambers struck out looking on a pitch that did barely clip the corner.
- After the game, I saw some suggestions that Jansen had struggled because it wasn’t a save situation. It was the ninth inning of an NLCS elimination game against one of the best teams in baseball, which seems like sufficient motivation, but just for fun, I checked Jansen’s career regular-season save/non-save situation splits:
- Far-away Cell Phone Selfie Guy might be my favorite thing from this series:
In retrospect, it wasn’t necessary for him to traipse around in the woods to take a selfie of himself and the stadium, since he was on national TV at the time. Several million TBS viewers and several million Baseball Prospectus readers* now know he was there. Then again, he wouldn’t have been in the shot to begin with had he not been so determined to document his Chavez Ravine safari.
- Adrian Gonzalez launched another offensive in the ongoing War to Decide How Baseball Players Are Supposed to Celebrate when he waggled Mickey Mouse Ears after hitting his first homer:
So sad. So senseless. When will one of history’s worst casualty-free conflicts end?
- You know Hanley Ramirez is hurting when you see him struggle to take down two coolers.
- An in conclusion, Yasiel Puig’s body made these movements: