Just after last night’s game ended, Fox’s Kevin Kennedy said, “Welke called a perfect game, actually, for both guys.”
Well, he certainly tried.
Home-plate umpire Tim Welke’s strike zone affected and defined last night’s game more than any player. Tom Glavine, Carlos Beltran, Albert Pujols…none of these stars had the impact on the contest that Welke did. The strike zone in last night’s game was huge extending 2-3 inches outside, an inch or two inside and-this is the most unusual part-both high and low. We’ve become used to seeing a wide zone, but seeing a tall one is still a bit disconcerting.
The combination affected not just this game, which was turned into a pitchers’ duel between two mid-rotation starters, but the entire series. Remember that last night’s starting pitchers, Glavine and Jeff Weaver, will most likely have to come back and pitch on short rest in Game Five. Beyond that, the bullpens of both these teams will be tested by playing for five straight days. Had last night’s game featured a normal strike zone, it’s likely that both starters would have had to work harder, and both bullpens as well. Remember, Glavine and Weaver are both pitchers who need to stay out of the middle of the zone; giving them the edges is like turning the game into Christmas morning. Welke’s zone allowed the teams to get their starters out with relatively low pitch counts and without overly taxing their pens.
The net effect, I believe, favors the Cardinals, who had less reason to believe their starter could give them innings. Getting a 5 2/3 IP, 2 ER start from Weaver was a godsend; their problem last night was that they couldn’t put any runs on the board. To account for that, you have to look beyond Welke and give credit to Glavine. Glavine is at his best when he doesn’t have to challenge, and he took advantage of the big zone last night to keep from giving in to the Cardinals’ right-handed power. His seven shutout innings stretched his postseason shutout streak to 13 frames. Glavine is still working on the margins, but he’s comfortable there, and has shown this season and postseason that he’s far from the end of his career.
- The Cardinals were unimpressive again. They beat the Padres, but that was as much because the Padres went 1-for-the-series with runners in scoring position as anything else. The Cards are hitting .247 with 11 walks and eight extra-base hits this postseason, and any inning in which Pujols isn’t due up seems like a good time to make a sandwich. They’ve become a two-man team, Pujols and Chris Carpenter, and unless both of those guys play out of their minds, the Mets are going to have a nice long break before the World Series starts.
Last night, the Cards had basically one rally, and that ended when David Eckstein lined into a double play. Down just 2-0 after six, there was never a sense, even when they got the tying run to the plate, that they could win. Preston Wilson managed to have a terrible AB as the tying run in the eighth, coming back from 3-0 to 3-2, then hitting a weak pop-up on ball four that ended the inning and prevented Pujols from coming up as the go-ahead run. The Cards have been having at-bats like that for more than a week.
Tony La Russa, by the way, made a good decision in moving Carpenter up to pitch tonight. The Cards can’t win the series unless he wins two of the first six games.
- It’s the NLCS, so Carlos Beltran must be going nuts. Beltran’s game-winning homer in the sixth was surprising only because it took him until his third at-bat to hit one out. The Cardinals have seen this before-Beltran absolutely killed them in 2004-and watching last night’s game had to bring back some ugly memories.
Then again, the Cards beat the Astros that year, so maybe they’ll take it.
With many high-platoon-split pitchers on staff, the switch-hitting Beltran presents a particular problem for La Russa. There’s no good approach, and we might see La Russa walking him to set up lefty/lefty matchups with Carlos Delgado as the series wears on
- One of my favorite parts of the telecast-and this is epidemic regardless of broadcaster-is the sequence in which a pitch is called a strike, and then the tool de jour is used to show that said pitch was very, very much not a strike, followed by eight seconds of crowd noise and paper shuffling.
Here’s the deal: either K-Zone/FoxTrax is an accurate depiction of the strike zone, and should be used to make points like “Tim Welke’s strike zone is so big it has its own tax assessment,” or it is valueless and shouldn’t clutter up the screen and the production budget. Treating it as gospel when convenient and ignoring it when not makes everyone involved look bad.
Human beings are poor tools for gauging the location of an object moving 90-100 mph as it moves in three dimensions through an invisible two-dimensional box. The sooner we accept this very obvious fact and move to a method that doesn’t lead to games like last night’s the better baseball will be. Progress is good; 21-inch-wide strike zones are bad.
Cliff Floyd left last night’s game after aggravating his Achilles injury, leaving his status for the series in doubt. Floyd was replaced by Endy Chavez, which triggers this bizarre thought: Endy Chavez is the second-best outfielder for the best team in the National League. Chavez out-hit both Floyd and Shawn Green this year, and while that may be a bit fluky, his massive defensive edge on both players is real. Chavez is an excellent outfielder, probably worth two wins with his glove over a full season, while the other two players have negative value.
The Mets are a better team when Chavez is on the field, and he should have been playing over Green to begin with. The loss of Floyd doesn’t hurt the Mets nearly as much as his name value would indicate, because Chavez is just as good as he is overall, and perhaps better.
- I got an e-mail late last night from a reader criticizing Tim McCarver‘s insistence that Paul Lo Duca should have tried to score in a second-and-third, one-out situation in the eighth inning. I’m never shy about criticizing broadcasters when warranted, but in this case, McCarver was absolutely right.
The play in question was a groundball to second with the infield in by David Wright. Lo Duca flinched, but never looked to seriously be considering going. Now, the trade-off here is a base for a potential run. If you don’t go, you’ll have second and third and two outs. If you have the contact play on and get thrown out, you’ll have first and third and two outs. The difference between the two situations is less than one-tenth of a run.
Unless the runner on second is more important than the runner on third (in which case the infield would be playing back, anyway), or you believe your runner to have, on average, less than a 10% chance of scoring, the contact play has to be on. Mind you, this isn’t Strat-O-Matic, and we can’t calculate that figure exactly. However, while I’m sure I can concoct a degenerate situation involving a Molina and the 1972 Baltimore Orioles, any realistic combination of players is going to have a better than 10% chance of scoring.
Randolph should have had the contact play on, and Lo Duca should have been trying to score. It ended up not mattering, because the Cardinals can’t score, but it’s an interesting example of where understanding the value of situations-the run expectancy chart-can help lead to better decisions.
As I’m sure you know, today’s ALCS Game Three between the A’s and Tigers in Detroit has been rescheduled for 4:30 or so, from its original 8:00 or so.
I don’t have a problem with this decision, for the most part. Games that run consecutively are always better than games that run concurrently, so this meets that standard. I would have flipped the two, because the Cardinals and the Mets have to travel tonight to play tomorrow and should get the earlier start, but that doesn’t seem to have been a concern.
I do have a problem with the stated rationale, which is just untrue. From the Associated Press:
Major League Baseball said Thursday that concerns about the weather Friday night in Detroit prompted the switch from the original start time of 8:19 p.m.
That, my friends, is most certainly not the case. The A’s and Tigers aren’t playing at 4:30 because it’s cold and, swear to God, snowy, in Detroit. They’re playing at 4:30 because Fox wants to show the New York team in prime time. That is the sole reason for the time change; the weather in Detroit provides a nice snowscreen, but MLB hasn’t been in the habit of moving up game times in the postseason for weather reasons in my lifetime, and they’re not starting now. If it hadn’t rained in New York Wednesday night, the A’s and Tigers would be playing a night game. Are we to believe that we’re going to see a series of earlier starts the rest of the month, that games will be rescheduled outside of prime time so that they can be played in weather 10-15 degrees warmer? Does anyone actually believe that’s the case, 19 years after the last World Series day game?
The decision isn’t the problem. The problem is not telling the truth, which is blatantly obvious. Just come out and say that Fox wants to show the Mets and Cardinals at 8 p.m. It makes sense, it’s consistent with everything Fox has done for years, and it doesn’t insult my intelligence.
If MLB is wondering why a segment of the baseball-loving public doesn’t really trust them, it’s because of stuff like this. We know that Fox runs the game in October, and the idea that MLB is setting game times is laughable. Fox is responsible for 2-0 games that run nearly three hours and 20 minutes of useless pregame content and production values that grate the nerves of anyone who actually might want to watch some playoff baseball. Fox also puts lots and lots of money into the game in return for the right to do these things. It’s a tradeoff.
So instead of making up stuff about weather, just come out and tell the truth: the A’s and Tigers are playing early because Fox wants it that way. You’ll lose something you don’t have-the illusion of control-and you’ll gain a lot of respect among people who are just tired of being told that black is chartreuse, or green, or actually a camel.
One of the more disturbing trends in society is the idea that large organizations can say whatever they want, truthful or no, and have it be reported as fact. The “fact” being that it was said, of course, with no examination of its veracity. When it happens in sports, no one really gets hurt. Unfortunately, it happens elsewhere, every day, in life or death matters affecting millions of people. I’m ranting about this one statement in part because it’s illustrative of the larger problem, that lying to the public has become an accepted part of our society. It’s only through examining everything we hear and read-from the rationale behind a rainout to the reasons for a war-that we have any chance of getting to the truth.