World Series Elimination Game, Part One?

Following a peculiar fifth game in which each manager engaged in a losing oneupsmanship contest, the Rangers head to St. Louis for a potential deciding Game Six. After splitting the first two games on the road and taking two of three at home, the Rangers are obviously closer to winning the World Series. However, the Cardinals do have home field advantage in their favor once again, and under somewhat comical circumstances given the performances of other playoff teams in the All-Star Game. The Cardinals have home field, after all, due to Prince Fielder (Brewers) belting a mammoth homer off of C.J. Wilson (Rangers) in a game held in Arizona, while two Phillies pitchers did a good job holding the junior circuit at bay for four innings.

The pitching matchup is a repeat of Game Two, with Jaime Garcia opposed by Colby Lewis. The Cardinals took a 1-0 lead in the seventh in that game behind a very strong Garcia performance. He didn’t allow a run over seven innings, surrendering just three hits and a walk to go along with his seven strikeouts. Lewis matched him, giving up just the one run in 6 2/3 innings. The bullpen game was won by the Rangers, though the deciding factor was the Rangers excellent baserunning, with some credit owed to the defensive miscue on Jon Jay‘s throw to the plate.

There are a few main storylines to consider heading into what could potentially be the final game of the 2011 postseason and a very exciting World Series. Oddly enough, only one of them deals with actual participating players.

Managers – Stop Being So Cute
Game Five was a nightmare of sorts and the video should find itself used by smart organizations to show potential managers what they don’t want. Sure, some of the decisions of both Ron Washington and Tony LaRussa worked out, but since when is the end result an acceptable justification for a questionable decision? The biggest blunder was having the wrong relief pitcher enter the game. Regardless of crowd noise, that is simply unacceptable in a championship game. Our own Bradley Woodrum summed the situation up aptly:

Maybe Jason Motte, having gotten the word late, wasn’t ready yet? Who cares?! It’s the World Series! No more baseball after this! Take a dive on your way to the mound! Feign a heart attack! Bring in the left fielder to warm up like he’s going to pitch and then put in your reliever! Do something to wrest yourself free from the burning vehicle you’re currently in, TLR! It’s Game 5 of the World Series! This one really matters!

I wouldn’t necessarily go to those extremes, but if there was any indication at all that LaRussa’s choice wasn’t heard by the bullpen coach, someone should have monitored the activity and quickly called back to emphasize Motte. If there was any indication on LaRussa’s part that they may have heard him incorrectly, it’s his responsibility to ensure the right person starts warming up. And then once the wrong pitcher enters the game, LaRussa uses him to actually put another runner on base just to take him out? That’s a double-whammy few of us have ever before witnessed.

The intentional walks and sacrifice bunts were brutal as well. Both events have their place, but intentional walks especially were used rather foolishly. As Dave Cameron pointed out, the intentional walk to Pujols issued by Alexi Ogando was just mindboggling:

If we fast forward to the seventh inning, we find Pujols facing Alexi Ogando with Allan Craig on first base and one out in a tie game. Ogando pounds in strike one, getting ahead of Pujols with a good slider. Then, on the 0-1 pitch, we get the “botched hit and run” – Pujols stares at a fastball up and away and Craig is gunned down easily at second base. There are now two outs, the bases are empty, and Ogando has Pujols in a 1-1 count. And Ron Washington calls for the intentional walk.

Both managers obviously want to win the series, but there comes a time when their interventions hinder their teams more than they help. That time was Game Five. Hopefully they have learned their respective lessons and will actually get their heads out of the game a little bit to more effectively manage and make decisions.

Weather
From Barry Bloom’s article at MLB.com, on Wednesday’s weather forecast:

Internal forecasts provided by Major League Baseball call for the chance of rain all day on Wednesday with steady precipitation projected at and after the 8:05 p.m. CT start. Weather.com reports that the chance of rain at that time is 50 percent.

Officials would much rather have a full game played under better conditions than risk another Game 5.5 from the 2008 World Series. If Wednesday’s game is cancelled, Game Six would get pushed to Thursday night, with, if necessary, Game Seven held Friday night. Upon learning of the weather there was some initial chatter about the pitching matchup and whether (pun intended) the delay would enable either team to switch their starters. Let’s put a kabosh on that.

Jaime Garcia has been great for the Cardinals, and Colby Lewis now has two years of above average performance under his belt, including numerous solid post-season starts. Obviously his regular season starts are more indicative of his true talent level than his most recent performance, but the Rangers aren’t exactly throwing a fifth starter due to necessity by sending him out there. Even if the Rangers wanted to use someone else if the game is delayed, the three consecutive games in Texas dashed any chance of that.

All a delay would do is potentially alter pitching matchups, or pitcher availability, for Game Seven. And there might not be a seventh game. The weather won’t affect the starting pitching matchup between Lewis and Garcia insofar as both of them remaining the starters. However, it could factor into the bullpen usage as relievers would have an extra day of recovery.

The Cardinals Offense and NL Rules
Mainly, where did it go? Aside from a 16-run outburst in Game Three, the Cardinals have scored six total runs in the other four games. They were literally the best offense in the National League and effectively dispatched the Phillies and Brewers with clout to boot. Yet, against the Rangers, their offensive prowess has dissipated. Clearly, much of the credit goes to the Rangers pitching staff, which is built from top-to-bottom for a playoff series. But some of the problems can be attributed elsewhere as some Cardinals bats have provided absolutely nothing.

Jon Jay is one of those players. He is now 0-14 in the series. Rafael Furcal is 3-20. Matt Holliday is 3-18. Berkman, Pujols and Freese have performed well, but when a big bopper like Holliday and sparkplugs like Jay and Furcal aren’t producing, the Cardinals are not the same team that mounted a terrific comeback in the regular season and advanced to the World Series. Perhaps some home-cooking will get the juices flowing, but the Cardinals certainly suffer from not being able to use a designated hitter here on out.

In Texas, LaRussa could play both Craig and Berkman by using the former in right field and the latter as the designated hitter. Now, he’ll have the tough decision of potentially letting one of his best hitters — Craig — sit on the bench in a deciding game. Holliday and Berkman have to start, but center field hasn’t been as consistent, with the team shifting between Jay and Schumaker. While both provide better defense than Craig, don’t be surprised if LaRussa at least flirts with the idea of putting Craig out there.




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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.


15 Responses to “World Series Elimination Game, Part One?”

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  1. chuckb says:

    Thank you for being the first, I think, to acknowledge that Jay’s throw home was off line. It was probably 10 feet off line and is the reason Pujols didn’t catch the ball and Andrus made it to 2nd. A good throw home hits the cutoff man and keeps Andrus at first.

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  2. Scout Finch says:

    I wonder if this game has more than just the WS hinging on it. If Pujols has another 0-for game outside of game 3, and Texas slams the door, will the Cards let themselves be outbid by the Cubs.

    If not, down the road the Cards face the prospect of a middle of the order in Pujols and Holliday making around 45 million and with both in steady decline.

    Seems like the Cardinals would get a lot more bang for their buck if they signed two FA’s in Albert’s place. They could land Beltran and Reyes for the same price and have 1st base covered by Berkman. Intuitively, that would seem to out-WAR Pujols alone.

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    • Harry says:

      crazy theory. i can definitely see Theo making a hard run at pujols, but I think the cubs are going to land Prince instead. Less money, younger (the two biggest factors in FA). Theo will want to make a splash, but not for what it takes to outbid the cardinals. Im not sure the market is there for prince at $200 mil (aka the red sox and yankees arent pursuing), so the cubs with their new management seem like the team most looking to make an impact. The market for pujols, despite him being the best player in the bigs, just isn’t there. he will resign with the cardinals, regardless of what happens in this world series. the cardinals arent the sox, they wont dog their best player out of town.

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  3. Hurtlocker says:

    I agree that the game should be about the players on the field and not about the managers. I thought I read here at fangraphs many times that the manager doesn’t really have a huge impact on the outcome of most games? Watching Washington jump up and down and windmill his runners arounds the bases is not why I tune in to the game.

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    • GiantHusker says:

      Of course the game is partly about the managers. To begin with, the manager chooses who “the players on the field” are, what positions they play, and what order they bat in. Then they make all (or at least most) of the tactical decisions–when to bring in relievers, pinch hitters, defensive reaplacements, etc. and whether to steal, hit-and-run, play the defense back or up, intentionally walk a batter, etc.
      If FanGraphs has said the managers don’t matter much (and I don’t recall them ever saying that), it is only because major league managers pretty much manage alike, i.e. very poorly.
      A good manager would certainly make a difference.

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    • Dizzy Valance says:

      I love watching Wash in the dugout.
      http://i.imgur.com/s0uFb.gif

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  4. SaloF says:

    In my opinion an offensive move like Craig for Jays make sense in elimination games. I´m not saying defense does not matter, but since it is only one game it could be the case that only 3 routine flyballs are hit to Craig at CF, and he for sure is having 3 or more at bats. Am I wrong?

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    • GiantHusker says:

      Yes, you are. Whether it’s one game or 162, defense matters.

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      • adr3 says:

        That argument goes both ways, because a defensive miscue or a great play by a center fielder could also be magnified and change the season at this point.

        However, with a severe groundballer on the mound in Jaime Garcia, I bet LaRussa is considering it for tonight’s game. The lineup definitely looks sexy on paper with Craig playing center.

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      • SaloF says:

        I agree, defense allways matters.

        For example, Dave Cameron said that setting up a duble play with an IBB is a bad idea in terms of percentages, but the upside of the play is extremly good.

        If Craig is not faced with out of his reach plays, witch can happen for one game and not for a season, then that move would work.

        Thats what I ment, not that defense does not matters

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      • Bill says:

        Defense always matters, but LaRussa doesn’t have to look at league average percentages to decide if Craig or Jay should be in center field. He has more information than that. Namely, he knows he has an extreme ground ball pitcher on the mound. This will minimize Craig’s defensive liabilities likely to the point that it makes more sense to play him over Jay.

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  5. Bob Loblaw says:

    Doesn’t MLB have some kind of obligation to try and get the game in tonight so that pitching matchups are as “true” as possible?

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