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The Blowout That Wasn’t

Mike Napoli was the 9th batter to hit last night, if you’re counting batters from when Matt Carpenter led off for St. Louis. Napoli launched a three run double to left center field, clearing the bases thanks to the help of Shane Robinson‘s defensive misplay. From that point on, there were exactly three at-bats where the leverage index was greater than 1.0; Dustin Pedroia‘s bases loaded chance in the second, and then the at-bats by Yadier Molina and David Freese when the Cardinals had their best chance of scoring in the fourth.

It’s not entirely accurate to say that the game was decided by Napoli’s double, but it was mostly decided after the Red Sox took a 5-0 lead in the second inning. At that point, their win expectancy was 92%, and the play where the fifth run scored forced Carlos Beltran from the game, limiting the Cardinals line-up and forcing Jon Jay into the #2 spot in the batting order against a good left-handed pitcher. This game was, for all intents and purposes, pretty much over after the second inning. Game 1 of the World Series was a blowout.

Except, it wasn’t really a blowout. It was on the scoreboard, but that’s basically the only place where the Red Sox really trounced the Cardinals last night.

Let’s just look at the team’s offensive totals, side by side:

Team PA 1B 2B 3B HR BB HBP
BOS 36 5 2 0 1 1 0
STL 34 6 0 0 1 1 0

The Red Sox came to bat two more times than the Cardinals did. Overall, the numbers are pretty similar, with the difference in the two lines essentially coming down to doubles; they hit two, and the Cardinals didn’t hit any, but St. Louis did have one more single, so by total bases, we’re looking a very slim gap. The Red Sox hit .242/.250/.394 yesterday, so it isn’t like their offense just ran roughshod all over the Cardinals pitching staff.

In fact, this game was actually a postseason record. According to the Baseball Reference Play Index, the Red Sox were the first team in postseason history to score 8 runs in a game where the team got on base at a .250 clip. Only seven teams in MLB postseason history had ever scored 8 runs while getting on base less than 30% of the time. Here’s the full list of 8 run postseason scoring games, filtered for OBP under .300.

Rk Date Series Gm# Tm Opp Rslt PA 1B 2B 3B HR BB OBP
1 10/23/13 WS 1 BOS STL W 8-1 36 5 2 0 1 1 0.250
2 10/17/01 NLCS 2 ATL ARI W 8-1 39 4 1 0 3 3 0.282
3 10/7/27 WS 3 NYY PIT W 8-1 36 5 2 1 1 1 0.286
4 10/7/03 NLCS 1 CHC FLA L 8-9 46 2 4 2 3 2 0.289
5 10/11/99 ALDS 5 CLE BOS L 8-12 38 1 3 0 3 4 0.289
6 10/12/96 ALCS 4 NYY BAL W 8-4 38 2 3 0 4 2 0.289
7 10/18/77 WS 6 NYY LAD W 8-4 34 3 1 0 4 2 0.294
8 10/15/86 ALCS 7 BOS CAL W 8-1 37 5 1 0 2 3 0.297

Not only did the Red Sox have the lowest OBP of any team to score 8 runs in a postseason game, they had hit the fewest home runs of any of the other teams who managed to score that many runs without actually getting themselves on base very often. Of the 323 teams who have scored 8+ runs in a postseason game, the Red Sox slugging percentage last night ranked 306th. 323rd in OBP, 306th in SLG. This was perhaps the worst offensive performance by a team that scored 8+ runs in MLB postseason history.

And it would have been a pretty rare accomplishment even in the regular season. In the last 50 years, only 14 times has a team scored 8+ runs while posting an OBP of .250 or less, and in most of those cases, the team hit multiple home runs.

We don’t have wOBA data going back quite as far, but we do have regular season data back to 1980, and I asked David Appelman to give me a list of all of the teams that have scored 8+ runs in a game while posting a wOBA below .275, since the Red Sox put up a .271 wOBA last night. In 33 years, it’s happened 52 times, and only 42 of those came with a wOBA of .271 or worse. Basically, MLB sees a game like this once per year, where a team gets a bunch of runs despite not really hitting very well. It happened twice this year (before last night), with the Angels putting up 9 on the Pirates despite a .274 wOBA — the baseball gods made them lose anyway, as punishment — and the A’s putting up 10 on the Angels with a .273 wOBA, but that game took 19 innings. The Angels loss to the Pirates took 10 innings. Last night was the only time this year that a team managed 8+ runs in a nine inning game where they hit as poorly as Boston did.

This game was a blowout for two simple reasons: the Cardinals defense put three extra Red Sox on base via the error, and the Red Sox bunched their hits together. Basically, the Red Sox beat the Cardinals the way the Cardinals have beaten everyone else this year. Sequencing has been a primary key to St. Louis’ success in 2013, and last night, they sucked at getting hits in big situations while the Red Sox managed to come up with big hits when they mattered most.

In the end, the only thing that matters is the score, and the Cardinals mistakes combined with the Red Sox clutch hitting gave Boston an easy win and a 1-0 advantage in the series. And, given that the Red Sox didn’t make all the same mistakes that the Cardinals did, it is fair to say that they played a much better game and deserved to win.

But this game wasn’t really a blowout, not in the way we usually think of them anyway. The Red Sox didn’t hit Adam Wainwright very hard. They didn’t blow up the Cardinals bullpen. They weren’t pounding the ball all over the field. The Cardinals gave them a few extra outs and the Red Sox drove in runs every time they had the chance. It was a win, but it wasn’t really a beatdown like the 8-1 final score might have indicated.