A remarkable day
Friday has to rank among the most entertaining pair of Championship Series contests for a while. Well, unless you are a fan of Philadelphia or Texas, perhaps. First, the Astros and Rangers went back and forth, and almost had themselves a brawl. Houston came back from a Win Probability that, after the HBP which cleared the benches, was just 4.0%. Jose Altuve gave them the lead in the ninth with a three-run homer. But, wait! There's more! For in the nightcap, the D-backs came back from even further behind on the scoreboard. That was a game which saw 16 pitchers used in nine innings, and 0-time All-Star Alek Thomas hit a game-tying home-run off 9-time All-Star Craig Kimbrel.
Yesterday, I talked about using Leverage Index (LI) as an objective measurement of how close and exciting a game was. The home-team hitters averaged LI's of 1.52 (Texas) and 1.57 (Arizona). It's the first time since October 19th, 2009 we got to enjoy two Championship Series games on the same day, with home LI both in excess of 1.50. Fourteen years ago, the Angels beat the Yankees 5-4 in 11 innings, and the Phillies scored two off Jonathan Broxton in the ninth, to walk off the Dodgers by the same score. Before that, you have to go back to 1998 for another pairing. So yesterday was the kind of Championship Series day which you get to enjoy less than about once every decade.
Pitching depth. It’s over-rated.
It’s a mantra that pitching wins playoffs, which is why you do not often see teams in them using openers. The extended schedule means you need fewer starters, and if you can’t muster up more than three half-decent starters, the odds are you probably will not be in the post-season. The D-backs only had two pitchers worth more than 1.3 bWAR in the regular season: no prizes for guessing who. Discounting 2020 for obvious reasons, since AZ entered the league in 1998, they’re the fourth team to reach the playoffs with such a dearth of pitching. The 2006 Cardinals and 2017 Twins also had two such pitchers - the Cards won the World Series - while the 2021 Cardinals had only Adam Wainwright.
Of the 98 previous post-season games where the starting pitcher went one inning or less, the team in question was 25-73. Obviously, a lot of those cases are not actual openers, but cases where the starter got shelled (see: Kershaw, Clayton). However, it’s still not an approach that often proves successful. The last time an opener started a game his team won in the playoffs was probably Game 4 of the 2021 World Series, when Dylan Lee faced four batters for Atlanta, and retired just one, but the Braves still beat the Astros 3-2. Atlanta used a similar strategy with Jesse Chavez in Game 4 the Championship Series, to beat the Dodgers 9-2. But Los Angeles reversed it in Game 5, winning 11-2 behind Joe Kelly.
Never say Die-mondbacks
This team has made more comebacks than Cher. They were written off before the season. They were written off when they slumped after the All-Star break, with many fans calling for the manager to be fired [this article has some spectacularly hawt taeks, perhaps a factor in Torey’s comment the other day about his decisions: “When it doesn’t work, you got those basement keyboard pounders that are just going to annihilate you.”] The were written off when they “backed into the playoffs.” They were written off before the Dodgers, Brewers and Phillies series. The were certainly written off after losing Game 2 in a blowout. They were written off after falling three runs behind last night.
But, guess what? They’re still here. Now, it’s effectively in a best-of-three shootout for a World Series spot. It would be a brave man who would bet against them.
At times last night, it felt like both teams were trying to give the game away, with a series of gaffes of one kind or another. The Phillies apparently forgot the number of outs at one point. Andrew Saalfrank opened the top of the sixth inning by walking three consecutive batters. Then Emmanuel Rivera’s throw home, while well-intentioned, led to two runs. None of which made the game any less exciting of course, but if you were a fan of crisp, well-played baseball, this was the equivalent of Plan 9 From Outer Space. It does feel that Saalfrank’s lack of experience - only 41 innings above Double-A before this post-season - may be getting exploited by patient hitters. He may see lower-leverage work in future.
Win Probabilty: The Toronto effect
In the history of the franchise, four position players have had a Win Probability in a post-season game of over +40%. Half of them have done so in the past two days. As discussed yesterday, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. reached +41.0% in Game 3. But former Blue Jays teammate Gabriel Moreno said, “Hold my beer,” and surpassed that in Game 4 - a contest which, as mentioned in the recap comments, “broke” Fangraphs’ WP logger. Moreno reached +41.7% last night, mostly due to his go-ahead hit in the 9th. But let’s not forget Ketel Marte. His tally for this whole postseason is now a franchise record +64.0%, surpassing the previous best of 58.1% set by Erubiel Durazo in the 2001 post-season. [FWIW, Gonzo that same year? -14.3%]
Hopes and expectations
Don’t get swept Force the series back to Philadelphia
- Complete the come-back
Well, there will be no dips in the pool for Phillies backup catcher Garrett Stubbs this year. Step 2 accomplished, as the series now will definitely return to Philadelphia for at least a Game 6 on Monday - and perhaps even a Game 7 the following night. Whether Arizona returns leading or trailing will be decided tonight, in front of a sold-out crowd at Chase Field. It’s a rematch of Game 1, another battle of the Zac(k)s. We’ll need Gallen to demonstrate the home form he showed throughout this season, and perhaps the hitters can find a better game plan than they did against Wheeler. But who knows? This series so far has confounded every expectation, and I suspect it will continue to do so.