keyboard_arrow_uptop

Someone’s rui… nope, wait, used that one.

It’s not a bad notion, though. Last night’s NLCS Game Four was the senior circuit’s answer to ALCS Game Two, a dramatic series of great plays, controversial decisions, and lead changes that left fans slack-jawed and breathless. From the opening lineup (Juan Pierre?) through the middle innings (Chase Utley!) and the dramatic denouement (MATT STAIRS!!!), last night’s game was a well-crafted symphony, playing on our emotions, bringing us up and taking us down, and in the end, leaving us, Dodgers fans, Phillies fans, baseball fans, agreeing on one thing: baseball is a great game.

What will stay with you the longest depends on your particular loyalty. I have no rooting interest, but I do have a longstanding affection for Matt Stairs, who I remember as a second-base prospect for the Expos back in my college days. That particular career path ended abruptly, but Stairs just kept hitting, was an early BP favorite, and ended up, to some extent, as the public image of the early-Billy Beane A’s, a fireplug who raked and didn’t have much defensive skill. When Stairs swings, he swings hard, but he also works counts and draws walks and even hits lefties from time to time. He’s never even had a chance to play this far into a season-three Division Series appearances were his furthest previous-so that he would be able to push his team within a game of the World Series last night, crushing an absolute bomb into the right-field bleachers… that’s a great moment for a guy who has been around a long time without having moments like that.

Prior to that homer, Chase Utley had the top spot in my mind. Utley’s defense is terribly underrated-his +/- numbers in John Dewan’s system are off the charts-but that might change some after his game-saving catch and diving tag in the sixth, turning a double play that got the Phillies off the field down just two runs. The case for Utley as MVP-and there’s been one in each of the last two seasons, even as the guys around him get the love-is in no small part built on his being a +10, +15 second baseman who also happens to hit like that. Because he doesn’t often make the spectacular play, no one realizes how good he is. He more usually just turns baseballs into outs.

Of course, Shane Victorino was all over this game, a day after being the center of controversy. In the first inning, he short-circuited a big inning by grounding into a double play, a rare event; Victorino grounded into just eight all season, and his DP% of 11.2 percent was below average. In the sixth, Victorino was asked to lay down a sacrifice with men on first and second and nobody out, facing a rookie pitcher who hadn’t retired a batter yet. In a game loaded with managerial miscues, this was a big one; it was reminiscent of the 2001 World Series, 10 days of watching Bob Brenly and Joe Torre play “live grenade” with the World Championship. Giving Kershaw an out when he hadn’t gotten one on his own is a standard mistake, but bunting runners over to bring up the inevitable matchup-Kershaw versus Dobbs, or after the inevitable dance steps, Park versus Feliz-was giving away value. As I put it in last night’s chat, you can have Victorino face Kershaw with first and second and no out, or Feliz face Park with second and third and one out. Oh, Ryan Howard is the lead runner, so you’re probably going to need a hit to score him. In a tied game, in a later inning, the latter gambit might be viable, but down one in the sixth, there’s no way you should choose it. Feliz and Taguchi both popped out, and even though a Park wild pitch enabled the tying run to score, the tactical decision was awful.

In addition to calling the bunt, Manuel issued an unjustified intentional walk to Manny Ramirez in the first, and burned through his bench in the sixth, but he redeemed himself a bit by breaking the seal on Brad Lidge in the eighth. Lidge had been the epitome of a one-inning closer in 2008, never once getting more than three outs in a game. Under the circumstances, however, with a chance to step on the necks of the Dodgers, Manuel called on Lidge with two outs in the eighth and a runner on second. Lidge brought some drama on this night, striking out Russell Martin on a pitch that bounced wildly away from Ruiz and allowed Martin to reach first, with Ramirez advancing to third. With the tying runs on base, and eastern Pennsylvania on supplemental oxygen, Lidge retired James Loney on a fly ball to left, then set down the Dodgers one-two-three in the ninth to end the game.

For a game their team would eventually lose, Dodgers fans spent a lot of time on their feet. They cheered James Loney’s rocket off the wall in the first, a ball that cut the Phillies’ lead to 2-1. They went crazy for Ramirez’s 478th RBI as a Dodger, a single to left that tied the game in the fifth. Casey Blake, another import, sent the crowd into a frenzy when he broke a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the sixth with a homer to left. Hong-Chi Kuo raised the roof when he struck out Jayson Werth to end the top of the seventh.

It fell apart after that, however. With first and second and one out in the bottom of the seventh, Torre let Kuo bat. Having already used Kershaw and Joe Beimel, Kuo was his last left-hander, and he wanted the southpaw to face Howard leading off the seventh. The decision in the moment was correct, but it was set up by Torre getting three batters and two outs combined from the other two lefties, and by not double-switching Beimel in the sixth, which forced him out for a pinch-hitter. That waste of resources may have been costly; Kuo sacrificed, and the Dodgers failed to tack on insurance runs.

Kuo allowed a cheap single to Howard leading off the eighth, and with three right-handers and a switch-hitter coming up, Torre went and got him out of the game. This decision was not met well in the Roundtable last night, but I think it’s defensible. Kuo was effective against right-handed hitters this season, but is still coming back from injury. Do you let him throw a second inning, with a runner on, against a slate of right-handed batters?

The problem I had was the decision to go to Cory Wade. Wade has been effective for the Dodgers, but in that situation, protecting a two-run lead, tying runs coming up, you have to get your best reliever in the game. Jonathon Broxton is that guy, and holding him back to let Wade pitch was a mistake. I can’t help but think about the inning Broxton threw Sunday, protecting a 7-2 lead in the ninth. Had he not thrown that inning, would he have been available for two on Monday night?

The players didn’t execute, and any analysis of the Dodgers’ loss has to emphasize the mistakes they made: Ramirez not scoring from first on a double off the wall with two outs in the first inning, or the missed opportunities to tack on runs in the fifth, sixth, and seventh, or the pitches by Wade and Broxton that left the yard. Andre Ethier‘s decision to hack at the first pitch he saw in the eighth, batting with one on, none out, and Ramirez coming up behind him, led to an excruciating double play. However, you can’t get away from what Joe Torre did last night. From starting Pierre to managing the bullpen, he did not put his team in the best position to win the game. As Steven Goldman pointed out in the Roundtable, Torre has struggled running bullpens ever since the roles weren’t clearly dictated by the personnel. Last night’s game was the latest chapter in that book.

The loss was simply devastating for the Dodgers. They wouldn’t have been in great shape at 2-2, what with facing Cole Hamels on Wednesday (ah, ridiculous scheduling) and then heading back for two games at Citizens Bank Park. Now, they have to win all three of those. While not impossible-it’s baseball, where no team is ever that big a favorite over another-the likelihood is that the Dodgers’ run will end in the next few days.


Red Sox/Rays

This is why they play the games. The one thing I figured you could count on in the ALCS was Jon Lester beating the Rays at home. The Red Sox were great at home this year, and the Rays were poor on the road. The Rays were poor against lefties, and Lester was the third-best pitcher in the AL. Everything pointed to a Red Sox win.

How can you not love a game that defies all of that? In a five-minute span, the Rays rocked a double and two homers, ending Game Three early and officially changing the storyline of this series. It was not that long ago that the Red Sox were up 1-0, threatening to go up 2-0 and head back to Boston with a massive edge. Now, they’re down 2-1, having watched their best starter at the moment get his head handed to him.

That the Rays beat Lester was surprising, but it’s worth noting how they did it. If Saturday’s win was the work of the future Rays, with David Price and Fernando Perez playing key roles, Monday’s game shined a light on the team’s past futility. While some savvy trades, good free-talent pickups, and low-wattage free agents have all contributed to this year’s success, it’s failure that is the foundation:

  • The 2001 Devil Rays went 62-100, earning the second pick in the 2002 amateur draft. Yesterday, that pick, B.J. Upton, hit a monster three-run homer in the third to put the Rays up 4-0.

  • The 2005 Devil Rays went 61-101, earning the third pick in the 2006 amateur draft. Yesterday, that pick, Evan Longoria, homered and walked, scoring two runs.

  • The 1999 Devil Rays went 69-93, which was what amounted to success in franchise history prior to this year. Nevertheless, they earned the sixth overall pick in the 2000 amateur draft. Yesterday, that pick, Rocco Baldelli, hit a three-run homer that iced the win.

  • The 2002 Devil Rays were the worst team in baseball, tied with the Tigers at 55-106. That earned them the first pick in the 2002 draft, Delmon Young. Last winter, Young was traded to the Twins for Matt Garza, who threw six good innings at the Red Sox yesterday and was credited with the win.

The Rays have done a lot of good things over the past few years, since Stuart Sternberg bought the team and hired a whole new front office. Yesterday’s win, however, was the end result of the years of incompetence that came before him, a showcase of the draft picks the Rays earned by being bad for so very, very long. Like patient investors, they’ve finally realized the value of that talent in building a winning baseball team.

The Red Sox are where the Dodgers were 24 hours ago, down two games to one, playing at home, needing to win to avoid an even tougher spot, and facing the other guy’s fourth starter. After last night, I won’t even pretend I know what might happen. The Rays beat Jon Lester at Fenway Park; if that’s not a reminder that we don’t really know anything, nothing is.

You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
jkaplow21
10/14
Lidge didn\'t come in with a runner on second, he gave up a double to Manny with nobody on and two outs (though Manny was struck out on the pitch prior).
jsheehan
10/14
I knew that. Sorry. I just screwed up the sequence in my notes.
mistahlee
10/14
Joe Torre reminded us from the dugout last night about the crucial role of the bullpen in today\'s game, where a quality start is six innings. The turn around in the Rays bullpen record this year has been oft noted. But none of the luminaries in that pen were high draftees. J. P. Howell was acquired from the Royals for Joey Gathright. Grant Balfour came over from the Brewers for Seth McClung and they got Dan Wheeler (plus cash) from the Astros for Ty Wiggington. Pretty shrewd trading.
havens
10/14
It really is shocking how under-appreciated Chase Utley is, even in Philadelphia. I have a number of friends who are Phillies fans and even they overlook him, tending to focus on Howard\'s production or Rollins\' grittiness and leadership. I also thought it was odd when shortly after Utley turned that double play, McCarver went out of his way to make the point that the \"catch\" aspect of the DP was \"nothing special\", then going on to say that the lunge to second base was quality. Seems like an odd thing to insist on pointing out, especially considering just how crucial the play was.
DrDave
10/14
Chase Utley suffers from Bobby Grich Syndrome -- does everything very well, but no one thing well enough to make people notice, and not in New York. He\'s been peak Bobby Doerr or Joe Gordon for the past 4 years, but nobody in the press has noticed.
veg9000
10/14
I wouldn\'t say Chase Utley is under-appreciated by Phillies fans. Maybe just a little bit taken for granted. Utley\'s first full season began at the same time as a certain prima donna wide receiver began plotting his way out of town in what would develop like an episode of Divorce Court. Utley, meanwhile, rarely made news for anything but baseball and puppies. His public image as a reserved do-gooder along with his amazing talent and style of play (he never looks like he\'s dogging it) fit right in with what a lot of Philadelphians love in a hometown star, and there\'s no shortage of it for him.
jkaplow21
10/15
I disagree with this being a Phillies fan and living in the city. I am willing to bet that the number of boys named Chase has doubled or even tripled in the last 3 years here in Philly. He is the gritty guy (that the general fan can rally behind) and the numbers guy (that the analytical fan can rally behind). He is beloved and not under-apreciated in the least. Cole Hamels on the other hand...
mikecha
10/14
I\'m a bit surprised nothing was mentioned about Torre\'s gaffe in taking out Derek Lowe after only five innings. He\'s only the team\'s best big-game starting pitcher. He threw only 74 pitches, and even on three days\' rest, he still had something left in the tank. Keep in mind that after the rocky 1st inning, he settled down and was in a groove. Had he pitched the 6th, the Dodgers wouldn\'t have burned their lefties that quickly.
DWrek5
10/14
Right, this was actually the 1st thing I looked for in this article. He just pitched a 1-2-3 inning, the Dodgers take the lead in the bottom of the inning, they pull Lowe, and immediately give up the lead the next inning. Why start Lowe on short rest if you\'re only going to let him go 75 pitches? Maybe there were too many Torre gaffe\'s too touch on this. Nice write up as usual Joe.
edoddiii
10/14
Joe, Lidge came in last night with 2 outs and no one on, and gave up the double to Ramirez.
sblonder
10/14
Joe: how can you talk about the Dodgers missed opportunities without mentioning DeWitt, Martin and Kemp all hit line drives right at Philly defenders with multiple runners in scoring position to end innings (not to mention Loney\'s drive in the first that missed a home run by a couple feet). The Dodgers had 11 hits (including 3 doubles and a HR), 8 walks and five line drive outs. They easily could have scored 9 or 10 runs. The lesson of last night\'s game is the luck or variance inherent in one baseball game, not any failings of the Dodgers
baharmo
10/14
It appears as though there were other teams picking ahead of Tampa Bay in three of your examples? Were the Twins forced by MLB to make that trade?
hunter
10/15
1. Yes, it does appear that other teams had higher picks in 3 of the examples. 2. No, the Twins were not forced by Major League Baseball to make that trade. K, everything square?
fps31520
10/14
Joe, we need to find a way to get you in a booth somewhere calling these games. Can BP start some kind of playoff podcast for us to listen to? I\'ve literally been watching the playoffs with the sound off because I just can\'t take McCarver\'s BS anymore. Havens\' point about the Utley play is a perfect example of McCarver\'s incompetence. Add to that his insistence that we all talk about Manny\'s exit from Boston every inning, and his obsession with pitching inside. He turned the game the other night into BRUSHBACK-GATE 2008. Say what you want about guys like Joe Morgan, at least Joe is a HOF player. McCarver was a backup catcher, and belongs as a backup commentator.
jsheehan
10/14
We can\'t, because of the rights issues. Thanks for the compliment, though. Get 1.2 million of your friends to sign up for Premium, and maybe we can throw MLB some money for permission. I\'m only half-kidding. The more subscribers we pick up, the more we\'re able to do. At big enough numbers, maybe we could try and buy rights to a parallel broadcast. It\'d be fun.
leez34
10/14
Just do it! We won\'t tell anyone at MLB about it - promise!
jjaffe
10/14
\"See that ship over there? They’re re-broadcasting Major League Baseball with implied oral consent, not express written consent -- or so the legend goes.\" --Homer Simpson
hotstatrat
10/14
Hold on... 1. Attacking McCarver for not being as great a player as Joe Morgan is something that should be attacked. So what? But then, I\'ve seen presidential and prime ministerial campaign attacks in recent weeks that were just as juvenile. 2. While McCarver was a very good back-up catcher for 6 full seasons, he was a starter for 11 seasons, a catcher of borderline all-star caliber for 9 of those, and the deserving runner-up MVP for one of them.
fps31520
10/14
Easy, pal. My McCarver joke was just that. A joke. Joe Morgan gets killed every week for being such a terrible broadcaster, and a lot of the time he deserves it. My point was to draw the comparison between the two as broadcasters, and just basically say that McCarver should receive AT LEAST the same kind of criticism. Sorry if I insulted your childhood idol or whatever.
hotstatrat
10/15
You have ended that posting with yet another dud of misinformation. I have never been a McCarver fan. Sorry, I didn\'t appreciate your humor. I don\'t mean to pick on you personally. However, sometimes \"it was a joke\" is a very weak excuse for something that shouldn\'t have been said - especially when it isn\'t funny.
fps31520
10/15
Well I\'m glad we have enlightened individuals such as yourself to police the comments section. Just do me a favor, and for the sake of argument, compare McCarver\'s career stats to Jason Kendall\'s. Very similar players, right? If Jason Kendall was the color commentator for every World Series and NLCS game, and did nothing but criticize active players and managers who have meant a lot more to the game than he has, you\'d think it was pretty ridiculous, right? Well, I think Tim McCarver is an AWFUL broadcaster who was only a slightly above-average player. On a site like Baseball Prospectus, you need more objective analysis than, \"I don\'t think that\'s funny, so I\'m going to talk to you like I\'m your kindergarten teacher, while making an absurd point about a barely above-average player who is a dangerously below-average broadcaster.\" Check McCarver\'s stats, then check Kendall\'s (including the fact that Kendall has made more All-Star teams than McCarver, and their respective DT cards have Kendall rated as a better defensive catcher). I know that doesn\'t have the penetrating specificity of your assertion that McCarver was a \"borderling all-star catcher for 9 seasons,\" but I think the FACTS speak for themselves.
hotstatrat
10/15
If MLB playing achievements are such an important criterion for MLB critical analysis, then why do you subscribe to Baseball Prospectus? What was Joe Sheehan\'s lifetime record?
fps31520
10/15
Joe Sheehan doesn\'t cite his playing experience in EVERY argument. McCarver does. There are times that McCarver makes perfectly valid points that have nothing to do with his playing career. They\'re just good points. But every time something like the Manny Ramirez situation is up for discussion, McCarver\'s argument is, \"Well, in MY day, this would have never happened.\" That\'s not an objective argument, that\'s egocentric mudslinging, much like this absurd attack that you\'ve launched against my very obvious assertion that Tim McCarver is a terrible broadcaster. Again, I apologize if my comment about his career was somehow offensive to you. My point about McCarver is that he WAS NOT a good enough player to raise himself up on a pedestal every time there is a legitimate baseball discussion. \"I played in the major leagues\" is not the trump card that wins every argument, especially when the ex-player in question was barely above the historical league-average at his position for much of his career. And above all, my original comment was meant as a compliment to Joe Sheehan for his continued reasonable insight. I would truly like to see MORE people like Joe in the booth, standing on the strength of their arguments and not their personal physical accomplishments in the game. But, if McCarver insists on mentioning his playing career in every broadcast, he should make sure his accomplishments actually back up what he\'s saying. Most of the time, they do not.
hotstatrat
10/16
McCarver\'s commentary often annoys me, too. However, he does not invoke his playing experience in the way you say he does - at least, as far as I have noticed. He talks as though he is an expert - and, let\'s face it, to some degree, of course, he is. However, I have never heard him say \"back in MY day\", let alone say it \"EVERY\" time. Even if he did, his level of greatness is still not the best measure of validity regarding his comments. Not many Hall of Fame players have been great managers or coaches, while many marginal players have. And, since our dialogue has been deemed unworthy, let me take this space to point out you still seem to think I was offended because you dissed some player I was a fan of. No, what I found offensive was that your comment was grossly innacurate. Your defense is that it was a joke, but that is not a satisfactory defense. Besides being unfunny and a lame excuse for such a comment, it was not obviously a joke. Someone who became a baseball fan in the latter half of the 70s may only know McCarver\'s playing days from when he was just a back-up catcher. I am not trying to be a policeman or a kindergarten teacher, and I do not appreciate the name calling. I am only trying to raise the level of discussion in these forums.
Moneyball16
10/14
No mention of the top of the eighth last night in the Sox/Rays game. 2 guys on and 1 out with Byrd pitching Madden lets Baldelli hit instead of pinch hitting with Gross, then after Baldelli hits the homer he replaces him with Gross on defense. I did not understand these 2 consecutive plays at all. I would think you either let him hit and leave Baldelli in to play on defense or you pinch hit with Gross.
jsheehan
10/14
Sometimes you want to let a guy get an AB. Up 5-1 in the eighth, you can eschew the perfect tactic--and this assumes Byrd stays in to face Gross (I don\'t remember if Lopez was up)--in favor of deciding you want to let a player get one more AB. 3-2 game? Better hitter available? Worse hitter up? Then I\'d agree with you. In that specific case, what Maddon did is reasonable.
fredex1
10/14
PLEASE get the rights to broadcast the games. If i have to listen to Joe Buck describe how \'unbelievable\' Manny Ramirez is one more time i\'ll cry.
aaronbailey52
10/14
Matt Stairs has that certain unquantifiable clutchness that A-Rod lacks. I\'ll always remember the Art Howe led A\'s v Torre Yanks playoff series when, bases loaded, no one out, Ben Grieve and then a righty due up. Stairs standing in the dugout, swinging his bat, ready to pinch hit. Me: Please, Art, please pinch hit Stairs for the human double play (AKA Ben Grieve) and not for the guy after him. Art: Book say lefty hit righty. Me reads book. Me follow book. Grieve: Just gotta wait for my pitch to hit... there\'s one I can dribble to 2B... SWEET groundout BG! Biggity Bennzizzle! Stairs cleans up the scraps with a double crushed to RF.
aaronbailey52
10/14
That\'s strange... I seem to have merged in my memory the 7th inning of Game 2 and the 8th inning of game 5, 2000 playoffs. Apologies. Matt Stairs is still clutch after all these years.
jkaplow21
10/15
Did you just compare Matt Stairs and ARod (and Stairs somehow came out on top)? You must be giggling like a school girl on the other side.
brownsugar
10/15
\"Yesterday\'s win, however, was the end result of the years of incompetence that came before him, a showcase of the draft picks the Rays earned by being bad for so very, very long. Like patient investors, they\'ve finally realized the value of that talent in building a winning baseball team.\" While giving you full points for your previously stated analysis that the primary goal of the draft is to suppress salaries for draftees, the above sentences also cast a bright light on the fact that the draft does also serve a useful purpose on the distribution of talent. Certainly the issue is more complicated than draft = good or draft=bad, and the Rays ability to evaluate and develop talent is a major factor in their success. However, two things seem clear to me: (1) the Rays are the best MLB story of 2008, and (2) their story could not have been written without an amateur draft in its current (or similar) format.