Matchup: Phillies (92-70) at Rays (97-65), 8:29 p.m. ET, FOX
Probable Starters: Brett Myers (190 IP, 4.88 RA, 1.38 WHIP, 163 K) vs. James Shields (215, 3.93, 1.15, 160)
Pythagorean Record: Philadelphia, 93-69 (799 RS, 680 RA); Tampa Bay, 92-70 (774 RS, 671 RA)
Hit List Rankings: Philadelphia, #6; Tampa Bay, #3
Series Favorite: Phillies, 66.0% (Up 1-0)
Prospectus: B.J. Upton didn’t hit a home run in Game One last night, a rarity for this postseason, but he did showcase another aspect of his all-around talent, gunning down speedster Shane Victorino at the plate with a pretty one-hop peg to complete a double play and end the second inning. Upton has one of the best arms in the majors, and probably the top arm at his position. He led all center fielders with 16 assists in the regular season, and was out in front by a wide margin, as Matt Kemp and Alex Rios checked in second with 10 each. Last season, his first playing the outfield, Upton finished second among center fielders with 11 assists to Melky Cabrera‘s 14, despite playing only 78 games at the position (Cabrera played 131). This year’s total was unusually high for a center fielder-you have to go back to 1999 to find the last player who gunned down that many from the middle pasture, when Carlos Beltran also had 16 for the Royals. The days when center fielders racked up big assist totals seemed to be a thing of the past before Upton came along: there were five center fielders in the 1970s to register a season of 16 or more assists (Amos Otis, Elliott Maddox, Juan Beniquez, Rick Bosetti, and Andre Dawson), four in the ’80s (Mickey Rivers, Kirby Puckett, Brett Butler, and Gerald Young), and five in the ’90s (Darrin Jackson, Rich Becker, Kenny Lofton, Andruw Jones, and Beltran).
While Upton manufactured a key twin killing on defense, he still ended up down one in that department for the game, as he bounced into a pair of double plays to short-circuit Rays rallies in both the first and third innings. They were surprising to see given how often Upton has been lofting balls off and over the wall since the start of October, but they were not surprising given his results from April to September. Upton hit only nine home runs in 640 plate appearances during the regular season before his recent power splurge, and as could be expected, that low total was in part the result of his hitting a ton of ground balls. Upton’s ground-ball/fly-ball ratio was 1.75/1, fifth highest among American League batting title qualifiers behind Ichiro Suzuki (2.42), Derek Jeter (2.35), Delmon Young (1.96), and Jacoby Ellsbury (1.81). It looked as if Upton may have had a chance to beat out the first double-play ball, or to at least make the play at first a close one, if only he had run harder coming out of the box. A lack of hustle, and specifically a lack of hustle on double-play balls, has been an issue for the talented 24-year-old this season: Upton was benched on August 16 against Texas for failing to run hard on a grounder that was turned for two by the Rangers the night before, the second time in 10 days that Joe Maddon sat him down for not hustling to first on a ground ball.
Besides turning the two double plays on Upton, the Phillies’ defenders made another big play to abort a threat in the bottom of the sixth. After Carlos Pena reached on Ryan Howard‘s fielding error to lead off the inning, he took off for second on the first movement by Cole Hamels and was picked off 1-3-6 on what appeared to be a balk by Philly’s ace left-hander. One of the more surprising developments this postseason has been the fact that Pena is busting out his running game-he was two for three on the bases in Game Four of the ALDS versus Chicago, and he swiped another in Game Three of the ALCS against Boston. Pena attempted just two steals during the regular season, and in fact his five attempts since the start of October are one more than he made in the last four seasons combined, a total of 384 games. The Rays as a group have been doing quite a bit of running in the playoffs, as Jason Bartlett‘s free taco-winning theft in the fifth inning last night was their 18th in 21 attempts over the 12 games, after leading the majors this year with 142 steals and 192 attempts during the regular season. The Rays have tied the American League record for steals in a postseason first set by the Indians in 1995, and are two away from the major league record of 20 held by the 1975 Reds and 1992 Braves.
Thanks to William Burke for research assistance.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.