Sunday, October 31, 2010

World Series Recap: Game 3

Yesterday’s game in Arlington pitted Jonathan Sanchez against Colby Lewis. Sanchez has had problems with his consistency, although after attending his no-hitter last season, I can tell you that when he’s on, he’s really on. Lewis was a nobody with the Rangers, Tigers, and A’s from 2002-07 before plying his trade in Japan for three seasons. His performance in Japan ignited a bidding war for his services when he decided to come back stateside in 2010, and he’s been worth every penny so far.

Sanchez was pretty wild this game, as he didn’t have an inning without a baserunner all night. In the second, he got burned as Nelson Cruz led off with a double. After advancing to third on a groundout and being forced to stay put on another, Cruz was joined on the bags by Bengie Molina after a two-out walk. That should be surprising. Molina’s a very tough guy to walk, although he has been a big more patient this year (5.8% BB rate in the regular season, more than double his 2.5% in 2009). Mitch Moreland, hitting in the nine spot, made Sanchez pay for the walk, drilling a 3-run shot to right on the ninth pitch of his at-bat.

The Rangers would tack on in the fifth, as Josh Hamilton hammered a ball into the second deck in right-center to make it a four-run lead. After a four-pitch walk to Vladimir Guerrero, Sanchez’s day was over, as Guillermo Mota came in for the final out of the inning. Guerrero tried to steal, but Buster Posey gunned him out at second to end the 5th

The Giants would mount a comeback, with Cody Ross bombing a solo shot off of Lewis with one out in the 7th, and Andres Torres following him with another solo shot with one gone in the 8th. After hitting Aubrey Huff, Lewis’ day was over with two down in the 8th, and the Rangers’ bullpen finished this game off, with Neftali Feliz striking out two in the ninth for the save.

Let’s see it by the numbers.

Giants vs. Rangers
WPA Leader: Colby Lewis (.266)
Lewis’ 7 2/3 innings of two-run ball came on five hits and two walks, and he was able to rack up six strikeouts. Mitch Moreland gets the honorable mention, as his home run put his total WPA at .220, making him the offensive star of this contest.

Biggest Plays
Not surprisingly, Moreland’s 3-run jack was the biggest swing in this game, with a .238 WPA for Texas. Hamilton, Ross, and Torres’ solo shots, as well as Nelson Cruz’s leadoff double in the 2nd, all hovered around the .05 WPA range.

The Goat
Sanchez’s poor outing resulted in a -.165 WPA. He could only muster 4 2/3 frames of 4-run ball. He allowed six hits, including two that left the yard, as well as three walks. He was clearly overmatched against the Rangers’ hard-hitting and righty-heavy lineup, and playing in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in baseball didn’t help his cause.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

My World Series Experience

My Travels
Getting to the City by the Bay for the game became something of a production. I was originally scheduled to fly Delta home on Tuesday night before flying back to Ann Arbor on Friday morning. However, my father mistakenly made reservations for me on flights for Tuesday and Friday of next week, which I only realized when printing out my tickets on Tuesday afternoon. I was switched to a flight on Wednesday morning, but both my alarm clock and my phone decided that would be a great day to not wake me up. I rushed to the airport to attempt to find another flight, but Delta’s flights were booked. I freaked out for a few minutes, trying every possible angle, before the nice woman behind the counter found a US Airways flight for me. I literally jumped over the counter and gave the (quite startled) woman a huge hug before running off to catch my flight to Phoenix. My arrival gate in Phoenix was switched, so while I expected to walk two gates down to reach my departure gate to San Francisco, my Phoenix experience turned out to be a two-terminal sprint to make my connection. I cut by old women in wheelchairs and burst through holes between families of six. Barry Sanders would have been proud. I made my flight and met my father at the airport in SF. We headed directly to the stadium, ready for game 1. Giants baseball is synonymous with torture, so my travel plans needed to involve just a little bit. 

The Festivities
The Giants’ organization really went all out for this series. For both games, the National Anthem was accompanied by dozens of Giants fans unfurling a huge flag covering most of the outfield, fireworks from the centerfield scoreboard, and a flyover by four jets. Each singer for the Anthem or God Bless America was better than the last, with John Legend performing the Anthem for game 1 and the legendary Tony Bennett (“I Left My Heart In San Francisco”) performing his San Franciscan anthem as well as God Bless America. Various Bay Area celebrities were shown onscreen, with Joe Montana and Lars Ulrich (Metallica’s drummer) receiving impassioned standing ovations from the crowd. Steve Perry (lead singer of Journey) got some roaring applause as well as the stadium speakers pumped Journey’s “Lights.” Perry sang and danced along, as did many of my fellow fans in the leftfield bleachers. 

The Atmosphere
The only way to describe it is that there’s Orange Fever in San Francisco’s water. Never have I seen my city so galvanized, so excited, so absolutely insane, as I did when going home for these three days. Everywhere you go, people are decked out in Orange and Black. A Giants cap is a temporary part of the uniform at many restaurants and other establishments throughout the city, and the amount of businessmen in black suits and orange ties was simply amazing. There was a guy in a chicken suit, a Santa, a man in a huge orange-and-black ghillie suit, and predictably a large panda in my section alone. San Francisco is going nuts, and it’s a lot of fun to watch. 

The Celebration
In game 1, the crowd got a little quiet after Tim Lincecum looked shaky early. However, as the team staged a comeback, the buzz began to grow, and when the Giants tied the game and took the lead the crowd went wild. However, that didn’t even come close to comparing to what happened next. Juan Uribe’s three-run jack left the yard, and nearly every fan in the stadium simultaneously screamed and jumped for joy. The rest of game 1 was filled with revelry and basically just a lot of yelling. 

Game 1, however, couldn’t hold a candle to game 2. Edgar Renteria’s home run seemed to set fire to the crowd, and the entire stadium erupted as Renteria rounded the bags. As the Giants tacked on run after run, calls from the bleachers came to stick the knife in and twist it, putting this game out of reach. When Guillermo Mota recorded the final out of the game, the park went into a frenzy. Many, including myself, stood on the bleachers to sing the Giants’ traditional victory songs, Blur’s Song 2 followed by Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” Walking out into Willie Mays Plaza, fans crowded around CSN Bay Area’s desk, chanting and screaming. When I got home, I told my dad my hand hurt from high-fiving random people outside the park. I was only half kidding.

So there you go. My first playoff experience, games 1 and 2 of the 2010 World Series, was simply amazing. Not much more I can say, except that it certainly helped that the Giants won both games. The remaining five games of this series should be great, and I can’t wait to see what happens tonight.

Friday, October 29, 2010

World Series Recap: Game 2

Yesterday’s World Series game 2, which took place under the lights of San Francisco’s AT&T Park,  pitted the Giants’ Matt Cain against the Rangers’ CJ Wilson. With the Giants up 1-0 after their game 1 win, Cain was looking to give his team a commanding two-game lead in the series while Wilson looked to even it up going back to Arlington for game 3. 

For much of the beginning of this game, we saw the pitcher’s duel many (including myself) predicted for game 1. Through 4 innings, Wilson had allowed only a Cody Ross double, a Matt Cain single, and a Pat Burrell walk, while Cain allowed just a Mitch Moreland single, and the game remained scoreless. 

Texas nearly opened the scoring in the 5th, as Ian Kinsler led off by blasting a ball to deep centerfield. Andres Torres looked up and watched as the ball flew over his head and improbably bounced off of the very top of the wall and back into play. I’ve never seen a play like that before, live or otherwise. Your San Francisco Giants: Torture. Torres played the ball off the wall and held Kinsler to a double. Cain got two quick outs and walked Mitch Moreland to face Wilson, against whom Cain induced a groundout to strand Kinsler at second. 

The game would not remain scoreless for long, as in the bottom of the inning, Edgar Renteria curled a ball just around the leftfield foul pole for a solo home run. This one wasn’t coming back, and the Giants took a 1-0 lead. 

Cain kept cruising, and the Giants would double their lead in the 7th. Cody Ross walked against CJ Wilson to lead off the inning. Wilson then had a quick consultation on the mound with Ron Washington before making the long walk back to the dugout, forced out by a blister. Darren Oliver got Huff to ground out, but Ross advanced to second on the play. Juan Uribe followed with a single to score Ross and make this a 2-0 game, but despite advancing to second on the play, Uribe was stranded by consecutive strikeouts from Renteria and Cain. 

Cain would get two outs in the 8th before Bruce Bochy decided to play matchups and use lefty-killer Javier Lopez against Josh Hamilton with Elvis Andrus on second after a walk and stolen base. The switch worked, as Lopez got Hamilton to fly out to keep Cain’s shutout intact.

In the bottom of the 8th, things really got interesting. Darren O’Day got two strikeouts from Torres and Sanchez to lead off the inning. O’Day allowed a single to Buster Posey and was pulled in favor of Derek Holland. Holland is an extremely talented young pitcher, and I have no doubt he has a bright future ahead of him, but something got into him last night. He got an acute case of the jitters in his first World Series appearance, throwing 11 straight balls and walking Nate Schierholtz and Cody Ross on four pitches each. He then went to 3-0 on Aubrey Huff before throwing a strike, but he couldn’t repeat the feat, walking Huff to score Posey. Holland left after throwing 12 balls and only a single strike. Mark Lowe relieved him, and Juan Uribe worked a full count and took another walk to walk in a second straight run. If you’re keeping track at home, that’s 5 straight walks from the Rangers’ bullpen and 2 runs in. Lowe then allowed an Edgar Renteria single into left, scoring two. Mike Kirkman came in to face pinch-hitter Aaron Rowand, who welcomed him with a line drive into triples alley. The hit scored both runners and was true to the name of right-centerfield, as Rowand ended up on third. Andres Torres doubled to score Rowand and make the score 9-0 before Kirkman mercifully ended the inning by striking out Freddy Sanchez, Sanchez’s second K of the inning. Guillermo Mota came in and allowed no more than a two-out walk, ending the game and giving the Giants the victory. 

Let’s break it down.

Giants vs. Rangers:
WPA Leader: Matt Cain (.468)
The man they call “Shotgun” certainly blew a hole in the Rangers’ lineup last night, going 7 and two-thirds innings and allowing only 4 hits to earn the win. Though for the second straight night a Giants’ ace was not able to accrue the gaudy strikeout totals Giants fans have come to expect (Cain only recorded 2 K’s, both of Nelson Cruz), Cain was dominant in giving the Giants the 2-0 lead in the series. With 21 1/3,  he's now the owner of the longest playoff scoreless innings streak in Giants history since Walter Hoyt had 27 in 1921. Renteria was the outstanding offensive player, with a .131 WPA on his home run to open the scoring and two-run single in the 8th. No, this doesn’t change how I feel about him, but congratulations to Renteria on as big an offensive day as he can ever expect to have.

Biggest Plays:
Renteria’s home run pulled a .162 WPA, opening the scoring in the 5th. Uribe’s single to score the second run of the game went for a .090 WPA.

The Goat:
Nelson Cruz put up a -.165 on an 0 for 4 day with two strikeouts. However, his biggest negative play came in the 6th, with the game still 1-0. With runners on second and third and only one out, the Rangers had a golden opportunity to tie the game with a productive out or take the lead with a base hit. Instead, Cruz fouled out to Aubrey Huff for a -.129 WPA, and Cain would preserve the shutout. My father has issues with the fact that Derek Holland and his three consecutive walks don’t make him the goat for this game, but his outing wasn’t as bad, as the Rangers’ win expectancy was already down to 6.1% by the time Holland entered the game, so there was only so much damage Holland could do. 

Check back tomorrow, when I’ll tell you about my experience at the first two games of this series.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

World Series Recap: Game 1

Wow. What a game. I had to switch my flights from Detroit to San Francisco 3 times yesterday. I sprinted between terminals at the airport in Phoenix. I flew for 7-8 hours and then went straight to the ballpark from San Francisco International. It was all worth it to watch a game like that.

Much like Lincecum-Halladay in game 5 of the NLCS, Lincecum-Lee pt. 1 didn’t produce the expected pitcher’s duel. With both starters working on extra rest and looking a little rusty, and the gloves not exactly up to game speed after the long wait between series, this game was sloppy and a completely unexpected slugfest, but it was a fantastic game to watch nonetheless.

This is gonna be a pretty quick recap, because I’m taking MUNI down to the game as soon as this thing goes up. PUMPED for Matt Cain and game 2.

Lincecum looked shaky early, allowing 2 runs in the first two innings on 4 hits and a walk. He also made a pretty big mental mistake, catching Michael Young in a rundown between third and home and then allowing him to run back to third without a throw with only one down in the first. However, a grounder to Juan Uribe erased the mistake, as Uribe stepped on third and threw to first for the double play. In the second, Lincecum allowed Cliff Lee to double on a butcher boy, putting the whole stadium in a state of shock. Lee’s double moved Bengie Molina to get to third, and he scored on a sac fly the next play.

The Giants would get it back in the 3rd. After a Young error allowed Renteria to reach base to lead off the inning, Lincecum failed miserably in his sac bunt attempt. Andres Torres took one for the team, and Freddy Sanchez followed with his second double of the game to score one run. Buster Posey singled to score Torres and tie it at two, but two strikeouts looking from Pat Burrell and Cody Ross later, Sanchez was stranded at third.

In the 5th, the Giants cracked it open in a big way. Lincecum led off by grounding out, but Torres doubled behind him. Buster Posey struck out looking for the second out, and then the rally really got going. Pat Burrell walked. Cody Ross singled to score Torres. Aubrey Huff singled to score Burrell and end Cliff Lee’s day. Juan Uribe welcomed Darren O’Day into the World Series with a line-drive 3-run blast to left center. Edgar Renteria was hit by a pitch, and Lincecum reached on an error by Elvis Andrus. First time I’ve seen someone ground out to short twice in the same inning. Torres would end the inning by striking out swinging, but after the Giants’ batted around and put up a 6-run frame, the score was 8-2 for the home side.

The Rangers would fight back with two in the top of the 6th, chasing Lincecum with two down. Lincecum struck out the first two batters of the inning, but walked Kinsler. Molina doubled to score Kinsler, and after back-to-back singles from Mitch Moreland and David Murphy, Molina scored and Santiago Casilla came in to retire Andrus and end the threat.

The Giants would reopen the gap in the 8th. Edgar Renteria hit a liner into right. Vlad let it go by him, which is why you don’t play your DH in right. Travis Ishikawa doubled to score Renteria. After a Torres foulout, Sanchez hit a ball down the line, which Vlad bobbled to allow Sanchez to get to second. It was initially ruled a double, which would be Freddy’s fourth and tie him for the most in any World Series game. However, the scorer soon changed the hit to a single and an error. Regardless, Ishikawa scored, and Sanchez later scored on a single by Schierholtz to “turn it up to 11.”

The Rangers would put up 3 in the 9th on a single, two walks, a sac fly, and a Nelson Cruz double, but the game would end 11-7 to give San Francisco the 1-0 series lead.

Let’s take a quick look inside the numbers.

Giants vs. Rangers:
WPA Leader: Freddy Sanchez (.364)
Sanchez ended the game with 3 doubles and a single in 5 ABs. The Giants will need production from the top of their lineup to be successful in this series, and Sanchez set the tone as the only real outstanding player in this game (Torres .076 was second).

Biggest Plays:
Sanchez’s doubles to score the Giants’ first run and take the lead were the two biggest plays, at .178 and .145 WPA respectively.

The Goat: Cliff Lee’s -.364, allowing 7 runs (6 earned) on 8 hits and a walk in only 4.2 innings made him the least valuable player of game 1. Lee earned his first postseason lost, and didn’t look good doing it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

World Series Predictions

I’m going to be a little bold and call this one. Now that we’ve looked at each on-field aspect of both teams, we have the information we need to compare them. Home-field advantage is going to be huge, as each team is built to play in the league they compete in, so having to deal with the DH rule will hurt San Francisco when the series goes to Texas, while the Rangers will have some trouble without the DH at AT&T Park. The Giants don’t really have a clear DH candidate, and while Pat Burrell and Pablo Sandoval both provide potentially effective options, there are problems with every way the Giants could play this. It’s really a situation where they have to minimize the advantage Texas gets by having a more settled DH situation. Likewise, Ron Washington will face an interesting decision. On one hand, Vladimir Guerrero has been a great bat in the middle of the lineup, DHing and providing some serious pop behind Josh Hamilton. On the other hand, he’s a defensive liability. Washington has decided to split the difference by starting Vlad in one of the first two San Francisco games and David Murphy in the other. Many in the blogosphere believe they might be better off playing Murphy in both and keeping Vlad as a pinch-hitter and DH in the games in Texas.

On offense, I think the Rangers are clearly the better team. Josh Hamilton is one of the best hitters in baseball, and he’s surrounded by a lot of strong bats. The Giants’ ragtag group of misfits relies on timely hitting, and timely hitting is nice, but it’s not something you can count on consistently.

On defense, the Giants clearly are the better team. Andres Torres will be the best defensive player in this series, and despite having a few guys with somewhat limited range, they’ve been strong this year behind their pitchers. The Rangers won’t blow up defensively like the Braves did, but they are prone to making some defensive mistakes.

The pitching is an interesting issue. Lincecum and Lee are both world-class aces, but with apologies to the mop-haired hero I’d have to say that Lee’s been a better pitcher this season. That said, either has the potential to pitch their team to a win, and I’d be surprised if tonight’s game is anything other than a low-scoring affair. However, that’s what I said about Lincecum-Halladay pt. 2, and we all know how that turned out. I’d take Cain over Wilson, especially in San Francisco’s home park, which isn’t a great place for a guy like Wilson but is absolutely built for right-handed flyball pitchers like Cain. Colby Lewis has the advantage over Jonathan Sanchez in game 3, and I’m partial to Madison Bumgarner in his game 4 matchup against Tommy Hunter. The Giants have the better bullpen, with Brian Wilson leading the way and Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez both looking extremely strong this postseason. The Rangers’ bullpen is good, but they’re not on the same level as the Giants’ relievers. I’m going to say that overall, the Giants have the superior pitching.

In game 1, Tim Lincecum will oppose Cliff Lee at AT&T Park. My mouth is watering as I write. I had as much trouble as a person can possibly have with flights today, and after switching to what is by my count my 4th flight of the morning, I’m now on track to fly to Phoenix and connect to the City by the Bay in time to get to the ballpark by first pitch.* It’s my first ever playoff game, and it’s Timmy and Cliff Lee in the World Series. Can’t beat that. I think either way the Vlad situation will screw with the Rangers. If he’s in the field, it just seems like a relative certainty that a hard-hit ball will find him. If he’s not, missing his bat in the lineup will be an issue for the Rangers, and cut down on the offensive advantage they enjoy. I’m taking the Giants in this game, with Lincecum and Lee both going 7+. At least.

I’m also going to take the Giants in game 2. As I said before, AT&T Park fits Matt Cain like a glove. It fits CJ Wilson like an ugly Christmas sweater his grandma knitted for him when he was twelve. Guessing 7 or so runs are scored, with the Giants taking the majority of them to go to Texas up 2-0.

I’m gonna say Lewis gets the better of the Giants in the first game in Texas. Sanchez hasn’t developed the consistency under pressure for me to trust him to put up 6 or more quality innings against an offense as good at Texas’. Lewis won’t shut the Giants down, but he’ll be good enough to take the win.

I don’t like the Hunter decision. If I’m Ron Washington, I give the ball to Derek Holland without thinking twice. He’s simply been better than Hunter has this postseason, cleaning up Hunter’s mess in game 4 to get the W. Unlike the Who’s rock opera, this Tommy isn’t blind, deaf, and dumb, but he isn’t a shutdown starter either. Holland will once again come in for mop-up duty, but I’m gonna say Madison Bumgarner has another strong start and Holland’s relief work is not enough to keep the Giants from a win.

Game 5 will feature Lincecum-Lee, pt.2. Pitching in his home park, I think Lee gets the better of Big Time Timmy Jim in another close game, meaning the aces split their two starts with a win each. 

That’d bring the series back to San Francisco for game 6, with Cain facing Wilson once again. Cain’s home-field advantage will prove too much, the Giants will get at least a couple runs off Wilson pretty early in the game, and the Giants celebrate their first World Series in San Francisco. Bias is once again readily apparent. But who says I can’t make picks with my heart? Either way, this should be a close series, and Texas is an extremely strong ballclub. However, pitching and defense will trump good hitting, allowing the Giants to take the series with Cain going 7+ in the final game.

* I’m writing this from the airport, but I can’t get an internet connection until I get home after the game. So when I get home after game 1 and post a completely wrong prediction for a game that’s already happened, you’ll know why.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

World Series Preview: Rangers' Pitching and Defense, Giants' Hitting

Rangers Starters:
Cliff Lee will match up with Tim Lincecum in what will be a few of the most exciting games this October (and November. I hate that the playoffs run into November. Start the season earlier, cut down on Spring Training, whatever. Just award the Commissioner’s Trophy before Halloween.) Lee’s been absolutely ridiculous this season, putting up a 2.58 FIP and 7 WAR between the Mariners and Rangers. He also walked 18 batters in 212.1 innings. Not much else needs to be said. The man’s insanely good. In three playoff starts, he’s allowed 2 runs in 24 innings.

Lefty C.J. Wilson will likely start game 2 for the Rangers. Wilson has followed up on an extremely strong 2009 out of the bullpen with another great season, this time in the starting rotation. Like I’ve said before, I have a ton of respect for Wilson’s versatility and his ability to be effective in whatever role the team needs him to fill. He logged a 3.56 FIP and 4.4 WAR this season. Wilson had two good starts in the postseason before getting drilled in game 5, allowing 6 runs (5 earned) in 5 innings.

Colby Lewis, who will start game 3, has quite an interesting story behind his appearance in the World Series. Before this year, his last MLB season was a pretty crappy 2007 campaign with the A’s, when he put up a 5.79. Lewis caught on in the Japanese NPB with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. Lewis was one of the best pitchers in Japan for two years before coming back stateside and putting up a 3.55 FIP and 4.4 WAR in 201 innings this season. What’s the difference? His fastball has made a huge jump, going from slightly below average in his first stint in MLB to 7.6 runs above average this season. More importantly, however, he’s begun to use his slider (12.6% of pitches in 2007, 27.2% this year) instead of his much weaker curve ( 22.5% in 2007, 9.1% in 2010) as his main secondary pitch. Lewis’ curve has been steady at about 4 runs below average, but he’s honed his slider and it is now the strongest pitch in his arsenal, at 13.6 runs above average.

Tommy Hunter hasn’t been nearly as good as many think this year. His ERA is a strong 3.73, but his 4.99 FIP makes him clearly the 4th best pitcher in this rotation. In two playoff starts, Hunter’s gone only 7.1 total innings and allowed 6 runs (5 earned). He doesn’t strike anybody out (4.78 K/9), and he doesn’t have any particularly good pitches (his cutter, his best pitch, is 2.9 runs above average). Among the fourth starters, I’d say Bumgarner (or Sanchez if he pitches game 4) will have the clear advantage on the mound.

Rangers Bullpen:
Rookie closer Neftali Feliz has been strong, putting up 1.8 WAR in 69.1 innings. He strikes guys out (9.22 K/9) and was third in the AL with 40 saves this season, the highest saves total by any rookie in the history of baseball. While that might be as tied to opportunity as actual skill, any time somebody sets an MLB record you kinda have to take notice. Feliz throws his 96 mph fastball 82% of the time, and with good reason; it’s been 19.3 runs above average this year. He’s been good in the playoffs so far, allowing one run in 4.1 innings (5 appearances),

Other notables include Darren Oliver, who put up a 2.64 FIP in 64 appearances this season, and Frank Francisco, who had a 3.12 FIP in 52.5 innings while striking out 10.25 per nine.  Derek Holland is also likely to appear in this series. He’s allowed 3 runs in 10.1 innings so far in the playoffs.

Rangers Defense:
The Rangers have been a decent defensive team this season, with an 18.1 team UZR in the regular season. That’s deceptive, however, as it includes Julio Borbon’s 1095 innings of 8.9 UZR ball in center. Borbon hasn’t gotten a start since game 2 of the ALDS, so that’s kind of a moot point. Nelson Cruz’s 7.7 UZR in right is the only 3+ UZR for a starter in the position they’ll be starting in for the World Series. The Rangers essentially are a collection of fielders who are just about average for their positions, with Michael Young’s –5.4 UZR at third the worst score of any player on the team. While they’re not outstanding defensively, there are no huge holes that will really hinder the Rangers.

Giants lineup:
Andres Torres will lead off for the Giants, providing a counterpoint to Andrus’ speed with some giddy-up of his own. Torres’ 6.0 WAR this season has been fueled largely by his outstanding defense, and he’s OBP’d only .343 for the second straight season, but “Andres the Giant” has swiped 26 bags despite starting the season on the bench.

Buster Posey, likely NL ROY and a fantastic all-around catcher, has been a revelation for the Giants this season. He’s put up a .368 wOBA, second among catchers with over 400 at-bats. Seriously. The only catcher with a better wOBA than the rookie in more than 400 AB’s in Joe Mauer. Suffice to say, the kid is special. His high walk rate hasn’t transferred from the minors, but no one’s complaining, as Posey put up a 131 wRC+ and 18 homers in 108 games.

Aubrey Huff has had a serious turnaround year. Huff was the second worst player in baseball last year, his –1.4 WAR beating out only Yuniesky Betancourt. This year, he’s bounced back in every facet of the game, putting up 5.7 WAR with strong defense and a 145 wRC+. He led the Giants with 26 home runs and, after 9 years in the league without being involved in a playoff race, Huff looks like he’s having the time of his life. He’s both a great hitter and a fun guy to watch, especially since the acquisition of Pat Burrell.

Burrell and Huff played together at the University of Miami, so they go way back. Burrell’s been fantastic with the Giants as well, with 2.7 WAR in 96 games (after –0.4 last year and –0.2 this season with the Rays). Giants GM Brian Sabean picked him up off the scrap heap after Burrell was DFA’d by the Rays, and Burrell has responded. He’s had a 133 wRC+ with the Giants, and he’s also played some surprisingly good defense in left.

Finally, we have to talk about Cody Ross. Ross has a career .340 wOBA and .788 OPS. In the playoffs so far, he’s put up a Ruthian 1.189 OPS, hitting 3 home runs in the NLCS to win the series MVP. He had a hit in every game of the Phillies series, including an extra base hit in every game besides game 3. “The Boss” may never hit this well again, but if he can lead the Giants to the promised land, he’ll be remembered in the Bay Area forever. He was claimed off waivers on August 23rd, probably more to prevent the Padres from getting him than anything else, but he’s done more for the team than Brian Sabean ever could have imagined.

Monday, October 25, 2010

World Series Preview: Giants' Pitching and Defense, Rangers' Hitting

Giants Starters:
Tim Lincecum, all-world two-time defending Cy Young winner, will pitch the first game of the series for the Giants. Lincecum put up a 3.21 FIP this season, striking out 231 in 212.1 to lead the National League, and was good for 5.1 WAR this season. Lincecum has allowed 6 runs (5 earned) in 23 innings of work in his three starts in his first foray into postseason action.

Matt Cain, the Giants “second ace,” will likely pitch game 2 for San Francisco. He was the third starter for the Giants in the NLCS, but Jonathan Sanchez pitched the Giants’ clincher on Saturday, so my guess would be that Cain goes in game 2. He’s allowed a 3.65 FIP this season and put up 4.0 WAR, striking out 177 in 223.1 innings of work. He’s also been fantastic in his first postseason, as he’s yet to allow an earned run in 13.2 innings on the mound in his two starts.

Jonathan Sanchez will be pitching either game 3 or game 4, but which one is not yet completely clear. He’s always been something of a crapshoot for the Orange and Black, coming up huge when he’s on, but looking lost on the mound on nights when his control isn’t quite there. Sanchez is certainly talented, as last season he threw the Giants’ first no-hitter since John Montefusco’s in 1976. However, he’s struggled with his at times this postseason, and could only get through 2 innings in game 6 before being pulled. Sanchez can be maddening for Giants fans, but when he’s on, he’s on. The big lefty won’t have as much of a platoon advantage as he did against the lefty-heavy Phillies (Josh Hamilton is the only lefty in the core of the Rangers’ lineup), but he still has the stuff to shut down Texas’ powerful offense. Sanchez put up a 4.00 FIP and 2.6 WAR this season, striking out 205 batters in 193.1 innings.

Giants’ rookie Madison Bumgarner is the last piece of this rotation, and he’ll pitch game 3 or 4 (whichever Sanchez doesn’t start). The big lefty has been extremely effective for the Giants since his midseason callup, putting up 2.0 WAR in only 111 innings and contributing a 3.66 FIP. He’s had one good and one mediocre start in the playoffs, going 6 innings and giving up two earned to clinch the NLDS against Atlanta, and then giving up 3 runs in 4.2 innings in the Giants’ game 4 comeback win. He also pitched two strong innings in relief in game 6 of the NLCS. Bumgarner may be the Giants’ third strongest starter, but it could be tough for Bochy to trust him in big situations, as he is only a rookie. He’s earned some trust with his strong campaign, however, and he’s at least as capable as Sanchez of holding the Rangers’ offense down.

Giants Bullpen:
The big name here is closer Brian Wilson. The wacky reliever has developed quite a legend along the way to his NL-leading 48 regular season saves and 5 in the playoffs. For me, Wilson simply brings to mind two lyrics:
“Your anger is a gift” –from Freedom, by Rage Against the Machine
“Anger can be power if you know that you can use it” –from Clampdown, by the Clash
Wilson’s deadly arsenal only partially consists of his actual stuff on the mound. Wilson has a strong fastball (8.6 runs above average this regular season) and cutter (4.9), and will mix in a slider once every so often (4.1% of pitches this season, lowest in his career). However, he also provides a dose of raw emotion on the mound, simply seeming to overcome hitters with sheer will and determination. Wilson’s a sight to behold, and probably more than slightly out of his mind (link NSFW), and while he takes pride in giving up a few baserunners and making the game interesting, the bottom line is that he gets his job done, doing so more times than any closer in the league this year.

Others to note are Javier Lopez, the Giants’ lefty specialist turned shutdown reliever in the playoffs, and Jeremy Affeldt, who pitched two strong innings in relief in game 6. Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo have been strong this season, but after shaky playoff outings the Giants will need them to turn it around and solidify the bullpen in the series.

Giants Defense:
As we’ve stated previously, the Giants’ team 56.4 UZR this year was second only to Arizona. Leading the way was Andres Torres’ 24.8 UZR between each of the three outfield positions. Nate Schierholtz gives the Giants some great defensive innings in right, with a 6.4 UZR in only 542 innings. Schierholtz has been used as a defensive replacement in 8 of the Giants’ 10 games this postseason, so expect to see a healthy dose of JuggerNate in close games. Freddy Sanchez and Aubrey Huff have also provided good defense at first and second base, while only Cody Ross will play in a position where he’s had a negative UZR, and Cody’s only been a –0.4 and –0.6 in center and left in 77 innings at each position. This matchup will be extremely interesting, as the Giants are among the top teams in the league in pitching and defense, while the Rangers’ strength is undoubtedly their bats.

Rangers lineup:
Elvis Andrus is really the igniter for this club. He will lead off for the Rangers, and he’s got some serious wheels, having swiped 30 bags in each of his first two seasons in the bigs. He’s not necessarily sabermetrically sound as a leadoff man, as his OBP of .342 is much lower than you’d like to see from the top spot in the order. However, he’ll still be dangerous on the basepaths, especially against the Giants ace, as Lincecum is pretty bad in his prevention of the running game. Probably the only thing he does poorly.

Josh Hamilton was the best player in baseball this year by WAR, and though he may not win the MVP, he’s as involved in the conversation as pretty much anybody. Hamilton has had the season predicted for him long ago, before his career was interrupted by drug and alcohol problems. He’s a fantastic comeback story and really a fun guy to watch. He looks like he’s having a great time playing the game, and, honestly, why wouldn’t you be when you hit like Hamilton? He hit for a wRC+ of 182, and led the league in SLG at .633. Hamilton was the ALCS MVP, and will hit third for the Rangers.

Nelson Cruz was second in WAR among Rangers hitters, with 5.1 this season. He put up a 156 wRC+ this season, and he can also swipe a bag, with 17 steals this year. Ron Washington will likely want to put Cruz in motion as much as possible with Lincecum on the mound, but with an arm like Posey’s behind the plate, he’ll have to be careful about the situations he runs in and the pitchers he tries to run against.

Ian Kinsler provides a decent bat at a premium position. The second baseman logged a .357 wOBA for a wRC+ of 122, which puts him behind only Robinson Cano among AL 2Bs. Like many others in Texas’ lineup, he provides a dual threat by producing with the bat and also wreaking havoc on the basepaths, having stolen 15 bases in 103 games this season after 31 last year.

Check back tomorrow, when we'll be taking a look at the other side of the series, with the Giants at the plate and the Rangers in the field and on the mound.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Playoff Recap: 10/23

Only one game took place last night, but one was more than enough for me. With the Phillies a win away from forcing a deciding game 7 in Philadelphia, game 6 had this Giants fan on the edge of his seat from start to finish. Taking the hill for the Giants was lefty Jonathan Sanchez, while the Phillies countered with Roy Oswalt. Oswalt got the better of this matchup in game 2 of the series, and looked to do it again in last night’s game.

Much like game 2, Sanchez got wild early, and the Phillies made him pay. After getting Jimmy Rollins to begin the bottom of the first, Sanchez walked Placido Polanco. A wild pitch moved Polanco to second. Chase Utley doubled and Polanco scored the first run of the game. After a Ryan Howard single, Jayson Werth hit a sac fly to score Utley, and by the time Sanchez walked off the mound at the end of the first inning he was facing a 2-0 deficit.

Sanchez would make up for it to an extent by helping himself out in the third. Sanchez singled to lead off the inning. Andres Torres followed by drilling a ball to deep center. Shane Victorino broke back and attempted to make a backwards catch reminiscent of Willie Mays’ famous play against Vic Wertz in the 1954 World Series. Fortunately for Torres, Victorino is no Say Hey Kid, and despite trapping the ball against the centerfield fence momentarily, it fell to the ground. However, Sanchez had been holding between first and second base, preparing for a potential catch, so he was able to advance only to second and speedy Andres Torres was left with the longest single he’ll ever hit. Torres was most of the way to second by the time he realized Sanchez was occupying second and was forced to retreat to first by Sanchez’s presence, nearly being thrown out in the process. Freddy Sanchez then bunted both runners over, giving the Giants runners in scoring position with Aubrey Huff coming to the plate. Huff singled to center, bringing home Sanchez, but Victorino’s throw beat Torres to the plate by a mile for the second out of the inning. Huff alertly took second on the throw. This was huge, as Buster Posey followed Huff with a bouncing ball down the 3rd base line. Posey hustled to put pressure on the play and Polanco’s throw went wide of Ryan Howard, allowing Huff to take home and tie the game. Pat Burrell flied out to left to end the inning. 

Sanchez then hit Utley in the next half-inning. Utley threw the ball back at Sanchez and benches cleared. Benches were warned but neither player was ejected. However, this would still be the end of Sanchez’s evening, as Jeremy Affeldt would enter the game and retire Howard, Werth, and Victorino in order to end the frame.

The game would remain deadlocked at 2 for several innings. Affeldt and game 4 starter Madison Bumgarner both pitched spectacularly for the Giants out of the bullpen, combining to allow 3 hits and 1 walk in the next 4 innings. Javier Lopez pitched a 1-2-3 7th, and the Giants’ bullpen made up for Sanchez’s short outing with a very impressive showing. Meanwhile, Oswalt kept chugging along, going 6 strong frames.

The top of the 8th would provide the decisive blow for San Francisco. With two down, Juan Uribe hit a fly ball to deep right. Jayson Werth went back… and back… and back… and looked up at the wall to watch the ball fall into the first row of seats. Though Uribe’s opposite field clout barely left the field of play, it sent all of San Francisco into a frenzy and quieted the normally boisterous Phillies fans packing Citizen’s Bank Park. 

Bruce Bochy would make an interesting tactical decision in the bottom of the inning, bringing in Giants’ ace Tim Lincecum to hold the 1-run lead. Lincecum struck out Jayson Werth to start the inning, but allowed back-to-back singles to Shane Victorino and Raul Ibañez. Bochy summoned Giants’ closer Brian Wilson for the 5-out save, and Wilson would make quick work of the inning. In a 1-1 count, Carlos Ruiz hit a line drive straight at Aubrey Huff. Victorino had taken off from second on the crack of the bat, and Huff lobbed the ball to second to double off the Flyin’ Hawaiian easily. 

The Giants would have back-to-back singles of their own in the top of the 9th. With one out and runners on first and second, Aubrey Huff struck out to bring up Buster Posey. Because of an earlier double-switch, the pitcher’s spot was on deck. Bochy sent Pablo Sandoval to the on-deck circle, but as the Brad Lidge intentionally walked Posey, the Giants’ bearded closer emerged from the dugout. Bochy decided to keep the ball in the hand of his closer, who led the NL in saves this season, rather than using a pinch-hitter and possibly extending the Giants’ one-run advantage. Wilson grounded out, and the Phillies season would come down to their scoring one run in the bottom of the 9th against the best closer in the National League. 

Wilson induced a groundout from leadoff hitter Ross Gload. He then walked Jimmy Rollins. Placido Polanco hit a ground ball to third and the Giants got the second out at second. Wilson then walked Chase Utley, bringing up Ryan Howard. Howard swung at strike one. Wilson threw two straight balls to put Howard ahead in the count. Howard took strike two and the Phils were down to their last strike. Wilson threw ball 3 to give Howard the full count, because Giants baseball is, after all, torture. Howard fouled off the sixth pitch of the at-bat. Then, Wilson threw a cutter on the outside corner, which Howard took. Home plate umpire Tom Hallion waited an agonizingly long time, which I can tell you firsthand seemed like at least a minute, with Philly and San Francisco fans holding their collective breaths, before throwing an emphatic punchout call to send San Francisco to their first World Series since 2002. 

Giants vs. Phillies:
WPA Leader: Brian Wilson (.458)
Wilson worked out of Lincecum’s jam in the 8th to keep the score in San Francisco’s favor. He then shut down the Phillies (although, in signature fashion, he did make it quite interesting) in the 9th to end the game, the series, and the Phillies’ season.

Biggest Plays:
I’ll give you three guesses, and the first two don’t count. Juan Uribe’s home run proved to be the game-winner, and the .280 WPA of that play will tell you just how crucial the home run was.

The Goat:
Carlos Ruiz took a -.245 WPA for his lineout, but that’s not quite fair to him, as he can’t be blamed for Victorino’s mental mistake in getting doubled off. Jonathan Sanchez was next-worst, with his short and wild outing giving him a -.204 WPA. Edgar Renteria’s 0 for 4 at the plate translated to a -.181 WPA. I really have no idea why Renteria still gets playing time. At all. Great clubhouse guy, I’m sure. He can be a great clubhouse guy from the bench. Ryan Howard rounds out the bottom 3 with his -.170 WPA, after a 2 for 5 day that included 3 strikeouts (including the game-ender with a runner in scoring position). No sympathy for Howard. You gotta at least take a swing at that pitch. Don’t go down with the bat on your shoulder.

Look for World Series previews starting tomorrow, as we’ll take a look at what to watch for with the Phillies at the plate and the Giants in the field and on the mound.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Playoff Recap: 10/22

Last night saw game 6 of the ALCS take place. After fighting to get the series back to Texas, the Yankees were looking to force a deciding game 7 and push the Rangers to the brink after being down 3-1. The Rangers, on the other hand, looked to punch the first World Series ticket in the history of their franchise. The men tasked with making that happen were Colby Lewis for the Rangers and Phil Hughes for the Bronx Bombers.

This game was never much of a contest, with the Yankees’ win expectancy peaking at 51.1% on the second play of the game. After Curtis Granderson’s walk, the Yankees were favored to win for the only time in this game.

In the bottom of the first, Elvis Andrus led off with a double. Michael Young followed with a strikeout, but Josh Hamilton would single to move Andrus to third. Vlad grounded out to second, scoring Andrus and giving the Rangers the lead.

The Yankees would tie the game momentarily in the 5th. After an A-Rod leadoff double, Lance Berkman hit a deep flyball to center to allow Rodriguez to tag. He scored on a Colby Lewis wild pitch and the game was tied at 1-1.

In the bottom half of the inning, the Rangers would strike back. Mitch Moreland started the inning with a single. After two groundouts, Moreland was at third with two out. Hughes intentionally walked Josh Hamilton, but the move backfired, as Vlad followed the walk with a double to score both Moreland and Hamilton. Nelson Cruz homered and the game went from tied to a 5-1 Rangers lead in the span of two at-bats. The Rangers would plate a 6th run on an Ian Kinsler sac fly in the 7th, and that was all she wrote. With a 6-1 victory, the Texas Rangers will be heading to the biggest stage in baseball- the World Series. Josh Hamilton, who hit 4 home runs in this series, was named MVP.

Let’s break it down.

Rangers vs. Yankees:
WPA Leader: Colby Lewis (.251)
Lewis took the ball in this huge contest and responded spectacularly, pitching 8 innings and giving up a lone run on 3 hits and 3 walks and striking out 7. If Lewis and CJ Wilson can continue to put up strong starts behind ace Cliff Lee, the Rangers will be a very tough team to beat. Leading all hitters was Vladimir Guerrero’s .195 WPA. Guerrero only went 1 for 4, but he took an RBI on his first groundout and his 2-run double really cracked this game open in Texas’ favor.

Biggest Plays:
Guerrero’s double carried a .225 WPA and took place in a 2.36 LI situation. By breaking the tie with two outs and allowing the Rangers to post their big inning, Guerrero had a huge part in sending the Rangers to the series. Nelson Cruz’s home run to follow Guerrero was the second biggest swing of the game, with a .120 WPA.

The Goat:
Phil Hughes, from whom the Yankees needed a strong outing to force a game 7, did not deliver, as his -.126 WPA shows. Hughes was responsible for 4 runs in only 4.2 innings, allowing 4 hits and 4 walks while striking out only 3.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Playoff Recap: 10/21

Last night was the Giants’ only chance to clinch the NLCS in San Francisco before the series moves the Philly for games 6 and 7. It also featured round two of the Lincecum-Halladay matchup, after the mop-haired Giants’ ace beat the head of Philly’s rotation in game 1. 

The Giants jumped on the board first. Andres Torres drew a leadoff walk from Halladay, which Freddy Sanchez followed with a single up the middle to move Torres to third. Torres scored on a ground ball to second by Buster Posey, and the Giants were up 1-0. The ball could have been a double play, but Utley attempted to tag Sanchez and Sanchez was able to evade the tag for long enough to ensure that only one out could be recorded.

The Phillies would get back the run and more in the 3rd. After an Ibañez leadoff single, Lincecum hit Carlos Ruiz to put runners on first and second with nobody out and Halladay coming up. Halladay laid down a sacrifice bunt, which hit the plate and dribbled foul before Buster Posey picked it up. However, Posey’s body blocked home plate ump Jeff Nelson’s view of the ball, and he called it a fair ball. Posey threw to third, and could have had Ibañez if Pablo Sandoval had been on the base. He wasn’t but Halladay (who had a better view of the ball than anyone) had not been running on the foul bunt, so Sandoval threw him out at first. Needless to say, it was an unorthodox sac bunt. Shane Victorino then grounded a ball at Aubrey Huff, who booted it. The ball bounced all the way into center, allowing both runners to score and Victorino to end up at second. A Placido Polanco single later, the game was 3-1, and the inning would end with that scoreline intact. 

The Giants clawed back into the game in the 4th. After Halladay induced a grounder from Posey for the first out of the inning, Pat Burrell and Cody Ross hit back-to-back doubles to make the score 3-2. Pablo Sandoval then flew out to right, and Ross made a huge mental mistake by trying to tag and making the last out of the inning at third. By my count, that’s the first play in this series on which he hasn’t been spectacular. 

That would be the end of the scoring until the top of the 9th, when Jayson Werth provided an insurance run by blasting a home run over the high wall in right to give the Phillies an insurance run. Brad Lidge shut the door, and the game ended 4-2, with game 6 set for tomorrow in Philly.

Let’s break it down.

Giants vs. Phillies
WPA Leader: Andres Torres (.138)
Torres went 2 for 3 with a walk and scored the Giants’ first run. Ryan Madson was a close second, at .134, as he struck out the side in the 8th to shut down the heart of the Giants’ order with just one run still between the teams. Halladay, who spent most of the evening pitching through an injured groin, was the third most valuable player of this game, with a .128 WPA. 

Biggest Plays: 
Aubrey Huff’s two-run error on Victorino’s grounder was huge, with a .155 WPA. The play allowed the Phillies to take the lead and put Victorino on second with only one out. 

The Goat:
Aubrey Huff was a -.211 at the plate, going 0 for 4 and stranding 4 runners by ending 3 different innings. He also committed the .155 WPA error, bringing his total to a dreadful -.366.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Playoff Recap: 10/20

Last night saw ALCS game 5 and NLCS game 4 take place. CJ Wilson took the mound for the Rangers, while Joe Girardi sent CC Sabathia to try to stave off elimination and get the series back to Texas. 

In San Francisco, the Giants and Phillies ran out their fourth starters, with rookie Madison Bumgarner toeing the rubber for the Giants and Joe Blanton opposing him.

The Yankees ran away with game 5, beginning the scoring in the second frame. After Wilson walked two of the first three batters, Jorge Posada and Curtis Granderson singled. A Jeff Francoeur error later, the Yankees had jumped out to a 3-0 lead. 

Back to back home runs by Swisher and Cano in the third made the game 5-0, and Texas would mount only a timid comeback on a solo shot by Matt Treanor. They’d scrape another run across, but the Yankees scored two more on a Berkman sac fly and a 9th-inning home run by Curtis Granderson gave this game a final scoreline of 7-2 Yankees. With the series now at 3-2, it would take a heck of an effort from the Bronx Bombers to get back into the World Series and defend their championship, but it’s not as unlikely as it was 24 hours ago.

San Francisco hosted a back-and-forth game that was a rollercoaster ride for Phillies and Giants fans alike. The win expectancy chart for the game should give you an idea of how intense this game really was.

The Giants struck first, as Freddy Sanchez doubled in the first and advanced to third after two wild pitches by Blanton. Buster Posey, who had been having a postseason to forget until this game, singled him home, making this a 1-0 game. Posey would drive home the next run as well, as with two outs in the third, Aubrey Huff singled. Posey hit a ball to the wall in left-center, and the Giants were up 2-0.

The Phils would get it back in the 5th, as Francisco and Ruiz had back to back singles to start the inning. Blanton bunted them to second and third before Victorino singled to center. Francisco scored easily, but Aaron Rowand came up throwing. Buster Posey made a spectacular play to tag Ruiz coming home and the Giants momentarily maintained their lead. Chase Utley singled, and Bumgarner’s evening was over. Santiago Casilla came in and promptly allowed a two-run double to Placido Polanco. Casilla intentionally walked Ryan Howard before plunking Jayson Werth to load the bases. Casilla then threw a wild pitch that got by Posey, scoring Polanco and putting runners on second and third before striking out Jimmy Rollins to end the inning. However, the damage had been done, and the Phillies were up 4-2.

The Giants got one back the next inning, as Andres Torres took a leadoff walk. He moved to second on a Renteria grounder and eventually scored on a single by Aubrey Huff to make this a 4-3 game. Blanton came out, while Contreras struck out Buster Posey to end the inning. They would take the lead in the next inning, as Pat Burrell’s leadoff walk was followed by a Cody Ross double. Another day, another huge hit from Cody Ross. Business as usual. Yawn. Pablo Sandoval doubled to score both runners, making this a 5-4 game.

The Phillies tied it up in the 8th. Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth hit back to back doubles to lead off the inning and tie the contest at 5, but the Phillies could not convert in a runner on second, no out situation. The Giants had a quick bottom of the 8th, and the Phillies went 1-2-3 in the 9th against Giants’ closer Brian Wilson.

The Phillies sent out Roy Oswalt to pitch the bottom of the 9th and attempt to send the game into extras. Oswalt induced a flyout from Freddy Sanchez to lead off. Aubrey Huff grounded a ball to the right side of the infield, but Ryan Howard was guarding the line to prevent a possible double and could not get back toward the center of the diamond to field the ball. After a spectacular at-bat, Buster Posey lined a single into right, making it first and third with one out. Juan Uribe’s fly ball to deep left gave Francisco no chance to get Huff at home, and the Giants went wild on the diamond as they moved within one win of the World Series. 

Let’s check it out.

Yankees vs. Rangers:
WPA Leader: CC Sabathia (.177)
Carsten Charles did his job as the Yanks’ ace, going six innings and allowing two runs while striking out 7. His performance extended this series at least one game. Now he just needs some help from his teammates in order to start game 1 of the World Series for the second season in a row.

Biggest Plays: 
Curtis Granderson’s single and Jeff Francoeur’s error, throwing away the ball to allow Posada to score, put up a .138 WPA, turning this from a manageable 1-0 lead to a 3-0 game and giving the Yankees a big early advantage.

The Goat:
CJ Wilson did not pitch well. He put up a -.269 WPA, giving up 6 runs (5 earned) in five innings of work. The Rangers will have to hope that Colby Lewis comes out and performs a little better in the next game of the series, because they’d really like to avoid having to pitch Cliff Lee in a potential game 7 (and preventing him from opening the World Series).

Giants vs. Phillies:
WPA Leader: Buster Posey (.401)
Posey had a real breakout game, which Giants fans will hope bodes well for future playoff performances. He’d been 1 for 11 in the first three games in this series, but in game 4 he finished with a 4 for 5 line, including two doubles. Honorable mention goes to Placido Polanco (.337) collected a huge portion of his on one play, as we’ll discuss in a bit, and Cody Ross put up a .253, bringing him to .723 total WPA this series to lead all players.

Biggest Plays:
Polanco’s two-run double with two down in the 5th inning provided a huge .292 win expectancy swing for the Phillies. The hit came in a critical situation (2.44 LI) and gave the Phillies the lead, at least for a while. Jayson Werth’s double to score Ryan Howard and tie the game in the 8th put up a .245 WPA, while Posey’s huge 9th-inning single and Ross’s 6th-inning double each added .192 to the Giants’ chances of victory.

The Goat: 
Roy Oswalt, tasked with shutting down the Giants in the 9th and sending the game into extras, didn’t get his job done. Oswalt went 0.2 innings, allowing two hits and the game-winning sacrifice fly. He ended up with a -.371 WPA. Several other relievers were also ineffective, with Santiago Casilla giving the Giants a -.337 in 1.1 innings and Chad Durbin putting up a -.329 in one frame.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Playoff Recap: 10/19

Two games took place last night, with AJ Burnett and the Yankees trying to dig out of a 2-1 hole against Tommy Hunter and the Rangers, and Matt Cain going up against Cole Hamels looking to take the pivotal game 3 in a 1-1 series. In the past league championship series that have been tied at one, the winner of game 3 has won the series 19 of 27 times. 

In the Giants’ game, Matt Cain was on cruise control, looking dominant in going 7 scoreless while giving up only 2 hits and 3 walks. Cain struck out five for his second stellar start of the postseason. He’s now pitched 13.2 innings and hasn’t given up an earned run yet.

The Giants provided all the support Cain would need in the 4th. Edgar Renteria singled to lead off the inning, the Giants’ first hit off of Cole Hamels. Freddy Sanchez bunted Renteria over to second, but Buster Posey’s rough postseason continued as he followed Sanchez with a strikeout. With two down and a man on second, Pat Burrell walked, bringing up Cody Ross. Ross, as any fan who’s been watching this series knows, is as locked in as any player this game has ever seen, and he continued his epic postseason by lining an RBI single to left, putting men on first and third for Aubrey Huff. Huff grounded a ball to Chase Utley’s left. Utley dove and got a piece of the ball but could not come up with it as it rolled into right for a base hit to make the game 2-0. 

The Giants would extend the lead in the next inning, as Aaron Rowand doubled to left to lead off the frame. Matt Cain and Edgar Renteria could not advance Rowand, but Sanchez hit a hard liner that took a short hop in front of Chase Utley. Utley booted the ball, allowing Rowand to score. The play was ruled a hit, but it’s a ball Utley really had to do better on. At the very least, he has to keep the ball in front of him and prevent Rowand from coming home. Hamels then struck out Posey for the second straight time to end the inning.

That’s how the game would end, as Cain went 7 and Javier Lopez and Brian Wilson took the 8th and 9th to complete the shutout. 

In the late game, the Yankees struck first, as Robinson Cano hit a solo shot to the first row of the rightfield bleachers. Nelson Cruz looked like he might have a shot to make a play on the ball, but he was interfered with by several Yankee fans. However, the ball looked to be over the fence, and the play was not reviewed by the umpires. Nick Swisher then struck out, sending Lance Berkman to the plate. Berkman hit a bomb to right field that was ruled a home run. However, the play was reviewed immediately and was overturned, as the ball clearly hooked just foul. The Yankees, however, held their 1-0 lead. 

The Rangers would strike back with two runs in the top of the third. Elvis Andrus hit an RBI groundout with runners on second and third, and Michael Young followed with an RBI single to take a 2-1 lead. 

The Yankees tied it back up in the bottom of the inning. After two quick outs, Derek Jeter hit a triple off the centerfield wall and Curtis Granderson drove him in with a single to make it 2-2.

They would take the lead in the bottom of the 4th, as the Yankees loaded the bases with one out. Tommy Hunter’s day ended, with Derek Holland stepping in to face Brett Gardner. Gardner hit a ground ball to short, which Elvis Andrus made a spectacular play on to get the out at third and avoid the big inning. Holland struck out Francisco Cervelli to end the inning with the Yankees up 3-2.

Though there wasn’t any scoring, I figure I should mention that Mark Teixeira injured his hamstring running out a forceout in the fifth inning. Teixeira has been removed from the playoff roster, meaning we won’t be seeing him on a diamond until Spring Training. 

The Rangers would tag Burnett for another 3 runs in the top of the 6th. With Nelson Cruz on second, the Yankees gave David Murphy a free pass with Bengie Molina on deck. Molina made them pay with a 3-run bomb, putting the Rangers up 5-3.

They’d tack on another five before the end of the game on two homers by Josh Hamilton and one from Cruz. Ian Kinsler had an RBI single and the Rangers are now one win away from their franchise’s first World Series appearance.

Let’s see it by the numbers.

Giants vs. Phillies:
WPA Leader: Matt Cain (.349)
As stated before, Cain had his second great outing of the playoffs. For all the talk about potential matchup problems for the Giants in the rotations, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain have stacked up to Halladay and Hamels just fine thus far. Cody Ross led all hitters with a .123 WPA, the second time he’s been the most valuable hitter in this series and the fourth straight game in which he’s led all Giants batters in WPA.

Biggest Plays: 
Cody Ross’ two-out single to score the first run of the game was good for .144 WPA. Huff’s single to follow Ross was the second biggest play, with a .104. Sanchez’s liner to Utley was third, with the run-scoring play adding .070 to the Giants’ win expectancy.

The Goat: 
Raul Ibañez went 0 for 4, striking out twice and grounding into the game-ending double play against Giants closer Brian Wilson. Ibañez has had a brutal series, and he’s now 0 for 11 with 5 strikeouts against the Giants in this matchup.

Rangers vs. Yankees:
WPA Leader: Bengie Molina (.490)
Molina’s big home run helped him to a gaudy WPA total, turning the tide of this game in the Rangers’ favor. Molina went 3 for 4 and was plunked as well, which isn’t surprising considering he’s a relatively large target.

Biggest Plays:
Molina’s 3-run jack trumped every other play in this game, with a .396 WPA. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this home run, as it took place in the third most critical moment of this contest (2.64 LI).

The Goat:
AJ Burnett put up a -.293 WPA allowing 5 runs in 6 innings on 6 hits and 3 walks. Burnett’s deterioration this season has been ugly to watch, as his 1.3 WAR in 186.2 innings this season is his worst total in a full season since he entered the league.