WPS recap: NLDS, 10/3/2013

The playoffs move into high gear, beginning with the National League.

Wednesday night’s win by the Rays punctured a potential bit of trivia. Had Cleveland taken the game, it would have meant that all eight teams remaining in the playoffs were “original” teams, ones that had been around since the American League became a major league in 1901. Tampa Bay was the only expansion team to make it into the postseason. (The tiebreaker against Texas technically does not count.) They have their work cut out against the Old Guard, but that begins Friday.

Game       1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9    F
Pirates    0   0   0   0   1   0   0   0   0    1
Cardinals  0   0   7   0   1   1   0   0   X    9
(Cardinals lead series 1-0)
WPS        1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9
Pirates    5   5   5   3   3   1   0   0   0
Cardinals  7  24  49   0   1   0   0   0   X
WPS Base: 98.1  Best Plays: 37.6  Last Play: 0.0  Grand Total: 135.7

There isn’t too much to say about a game that is effectively over before the 16th out is recorded. Unless, of course, you have a rooting interest, but then the things you’ll say are pretty obvious and, in the case of Pirates’ fans, obscene. I’ll find another direction, such as making this a lesson on how the WPS Index functions.

The Cardinals’ third inning is exactly the most boring way to score seven runs, at least according to WPS. All the runs came in on eight players reaching base consecutively, from Adam Wainwright‘s leadoff walk to David Freese‘s three-run single-plus-error.

WPS likes outs interspersed with its baserunners, to keep expectations swinging and produce a “sawtooth” pattern on a Win Expectancy graph. There was virtually no suspense in A.J. Burnett‘s meltdown, no point at which you could think he was in position to squeeze free. It was an efficient way to kill a ballgame.

And it did kill this game. Pedro Alvarez‘s home run to open the fifth inning earned a WPS score of 1.4. That’s a hair below what the second out of the game netted (1.5). When a home run is more ho-hum than a top-of-the-first grounder to the pitcher, things have gotten out of hand. As a further, and final, example, 14 of the last 15 plate appearances in the game produced a score of 0.0.

Desperate Pittsburgh boosters could point to the Cardinals’ batting average with runners in scoring position as a ray of light. St. Louis went 2 for 10, a far cry from the incredible .330 they put up in the regular season.

Ah, but we know better than to stop looking there. The season triple-slash line for Cards’ RISP was .330/.402/.463. With a homer, two walks, and a hit batter pitching in, they went .200/.385/.500 on this afternoon. Their OPS was better than the season average. No solace there, Buccos fans.

There was some suggestion by the broadcast crew that Carlos Martinez would have been wiser to eat the ball rather than throw to first on his eighth-inning play that amazingly nipped Russell Martin. They feared the ball getting away, giving him a free base, setting up a big inning.

Really? With an eight-run margin, the difference between a runner on first or on second is minuscule compared to that between a runner on first and a runner out. You want the outs, and you should be taking a chance like that. Don’t listen to ’em, Carlos!

One final tactical quibble was manager Mike Matheny sending in late-season closer Trevor Rosenthal to pitch the ninth with an eight-run cushion. In his defense, I note that Rosenthal had last pitched six days earlier, and he might have needed a little work to prevent rust. Of course, St. Louis knew they wouldn’t be playing until Thursday, so maybe they could have set up an intrasquad scrimmage, as Boston reportedly did, and given Rosenthal his maintenance work on Tuesday.

Just a thought to fill the cavernous vacuum of interest left by this game after the third inning.

Game       1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9    F
Dodgers    0   2   2   1   0   1   0   0   0    6
Braves     0   0   0   1   0   0   0   0   0    1
(Dodgers lead series 1-0)
WPS        1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9
Dodgers    5  27  22  10   7   6   1   0   0
Braves     5  13  13  17   4   2   5   3   3
WPS Base: 142.5  Best Plays: 31.5  Last Play: 0.6 Grand Total: 174.6

This one toyed with us a little more but still ended up the fifth postseason/tiebreaker game in a row below average excitement. Had the Braves not been making some threats in the second through fourth innings, this game could have been almost as low on the WPS Index as the Pirates and Cardinals.

Baseball does not reveal its patterns quickly. How many of us, after watching Kris Medlen strike out the side in the first, were thinking he’d be knocked around for five runs in the next three innings? Clayton Kershaw, on the other hand, while doing almost as well in the first on less dominant stuff, had the horses for the long haul, with a dozen strikeouts in his seven frames.

If the game had been closer, Evan Gattis could well have been remembered as the goat. Missing a diving attempt at a fly ball in the top of the second inning to let Los Angeles’ second run across was forgivable. Getting hung out far, far off first on a fly to right and doubled off by Yasiel Puig in the bottom half was inexplicable. But if you’re going to have a bad night, have it when it doesn’t matter so much. We’ll see how Gattis shakes off the experience.

The Dodgers tacked on a run in the sixth, which I wouldn’t mention except for the Braves reliever who gave up that run, Jordan Walden. I did not recognize the name, but I recognized the delivery. I saw him at PNC Park earlier this year during a baseball tour that I wrote up here at THT. He had the same odd crow-hop off the rubber just before releasing the ball. Good to see that: April connects to October, the season ties itself into a bow for me.

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There’s no way I wouldn’t mention Brian Wilson‘s stint in the eighth because, good Lord, that beard. If he were blond, he already would have joined ZZ Top.

Don Mattingly followed Matheny’s lead and sent his closer to the mound with a large, non-save lead. It had been four days since Kenley Jansen‘s last appearance, so the rust argument holds less water. If it was just to keep him sharp, it may have backfired, as Jansen had to throw 25 pitches to finish the game.

Join us tomorrow as we run down all four playoff games across both leagues. One of them’s going to be an exciting one. Law of averages, right? Right?

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A writer for The Hardball Times, Shane has been writing about baseball and science fiction since 1997. His stories have been translated into French, Russian and Japanese, and he was nominated for the 2002 Hugo Award.

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