If Hyun-Jin Ryu, after walking Matt Holliday in the first inning, had grabbed his left shoulder like he did after the first inning on Sept. 12th, which was the only inning he’d pitched in the past four weeks, it would have been a disaster for the Dodgers. If he had thrown a complete game, it would have been a borderline miracle.
What the game came down to was the range of outcomes in between, and the possibility that Ryu pitched well enough in going six to doom his own team to a 3-1 loss to the Cardinals.
Had he gone, say, four innings, we might have seen Dan Haren in long relief for the next three or four. Had that been the case, the extremely shaky middle relief could have been skipped. (Now Haren is likely a wasted roster spot with Clayton Kershaw being fast-tracked to Game Four.) But Ryu went deep enough that Don Mattingly went with the traditional relief corps, and the traditional relief corps did what it traditionally does.
With the lefties Jon Jay and Kolten Wong on deck and due up third in the sixth inning, Mattingly didn’t want to burn a righty to face Yadier Molina, and one could say that’s the decision—not necessarily a bad one given the risks of a long game and burning a pitcher—that he paid for. Molina, who had a 100-point platoon split in OPS and a 45-point career split, cranked a double off Scott Elbert, and after a sacrifice, Wong did this.
For Wong, it was a bat flip to remember and perhaps the postseason moment his name will now be associated with, rather than his game-ending pickoff embarrassment in the 2013 World Series.
But mostly, this is an endorsement of his starting in the first place. He can hit lefties—although he rarely played against them this year, he put together a contact-heavy .315/.324/.466 line this season with no walks and 10 strikeouts in 76 PA.
We had Pete Kozma in our projection for Game Three lineups against Ryu. Kozma started against Kershaw in Game One, though one shouldn’t put it past Mike Matheny that this was a small sample decision of hitter vs. pitcher. Kozma came in 4-for-8 with three doubles against Kershaw. Not surprisingly, he went 0-for-3 in Game One, and Matheny will be left with a tougher decision for Game Four.
If this sounds like a lot of handedness talk, it is. But one of the huge reasons that the Cardinals have a 2-1 lead this series is their lefties’ ability to hit the Dodgers’ lefties. We knew coming in that the Cardinals as a whole were a much better hitting team against lefties than righties—the biggest gap in the NL—but it doesn’t just come from imbalance of their own lineups.
That was the only thing the Cardinals got off Ryu, who made it 94 pitches and had his changeup working like he hadn’t missed a beat.
But John Lackey was just as good, and for as much as the Dodgers’ bullpen was the incinerator here, scoring one run against a pitcher who was very average all year is hardly a winning formula.
Lackey struck out eight and got 14 whiffs on 100 pitches, working off the four-seamer, and then going low and away to get his whiffs. Five of the 14 whiffs weren’t just low, but bordering on ankle (or toe) height. The orange boxes well below the strike zone tell that story.
His best stretch came in the top of the third, where he whiffed Gordon on this cutter. (No. 5)
Then he worked away, away, away to Puig, who was chasing much of the day and struck out here for the seventh straight at-bat.
He would triple and score in his next at-bat, but then it was back on the K train, making it eight in nine at-bats. Given how great he’s been since debuting last season, it’s just one more odd storyline of an odd series where the Dodgers now need to get a revival from Clayton Kershaw and then beat Adam Wainwright in order to advance.
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