Last night brought three of the more pivotal games of the divisional round. The Rangers had their final chance to take the series at home before heading back to Tampa for a decisive game 5. The Phillies had a chance to sweep in front of the Reds’ home fans. The Giants and Braves played crucial game 3 in a 1-1 series, with the winner jumping out to a 2-1 lead and pushing the loser to the brink of elimination.
Wade Davis and Tommy Hunter faced off in Arlington. Davis was relatively strong, pitching 5 innings while allowing 2 runs (both in the bottom of the 6th, which he started but left without recording an out). Hunter pitched 4 innings, giving up 3 runs (2 earned) before being relieved by Derek Holland. Holland, appearing in relief for the second straight day, pitched another 4 innings and allowed 2 runs (both earned). The Rays’ offense came mostly from the bats of Evan Longoria and Carlos Peña as they took the 5-2 win, forcing the series back to Tampa for game 5 on Tuesday.
For the Phillies, the sweep was never in doubt. Cole Hamels was lights-out, pitching the third impressive complete game shutout of the playoffs. A first-inning error by Orlando Cabrera on a grounder by Jayson Werth brought across the only run Hamels would need, and the Phillies tacked on another run on a solo shot by Chase Utley and the game ended 2-0, giving the Phillies the sweep.
They’ll wait to face the winner of the Atlanta-San Francisco series, which could be decided as early as today. Jonathan Sanchez pitched 7.1 innings, only allowing an earned run on a runner inherited by Sergio Romo. Romo came into a game that had been 1-0 for 6 innings and promptly allowed the go-ahead 2-run homer to Eric Hinske, sending the Giants up to bat in the 9th for their last licks needing a run. Travis Ishikawa took a one-out walk. Then, with two outs, Freddy Sanchez singled to center to extend the rally. Aubrey Huff singled to tie the game. Then, Buster Posey hit a groundball straight at Brooks Conrad, who promptly allowed the ball to go right through the wickets for his third error of the game. The Giants went up 3-2, Brian Wilson came in for the save, and the Giants now have two shots to win this thing.
So, let’s dive in.
Rays vs. Rangers:
WPA Leader: Wade Davis (.176)
As noted before, Davis went 5 strong to get the win. He barely outpaced Evan Longoria (.161) as both contributed to give the Rays a shot in game 5.
Longoria’s 2-run home run (.103) with two outs in the fifth was the biggest play of the game, although no specific play had a huge swing… this game was never very close. Longoria’s clout happened with the game at 3-0, so the low LI (0.72) didn’t allow for much of an improvement to the Rays’ already strong chance of winning the game. Other big plays included Carlos Peña and BJ Upton’s one-run doubles in the 4th, each of which scored a man from second. In total, the Rays hit 3 doubles in the 4th to take the game from 1-0 at the start of the inning to 3-0 by the end of it.
Vlad Guerrero was responsible for two of the most negative plays in this game. In the first inning, with runners on first and second and one out, Guerrero wasted a great run scoring opportunity by grounding into an inning-ending double play. With a -.085 WPA, this was the worst batting failure of the contest. Then, with bases loaded in the 5th and a chance to get back into a 5-0 game, Guerrero struck out to end the inning. His big K had a WPA of -.051. In all, Guerrero’s 1 for 4 day earned him a -.106 WPA.
Phillies vs. Reds:
WPA Leader: Cole Hamels (.608)
Like Halladay and Lincecum before him, Hamels took his team on his back and singlehandedly won the game with a complete-game shutout. Though it wasn’t quite as impressive as Halladay’s historic no-hitter or Lincecum’s 2-hit, 14 strikeout gem, Hamels allowed only 5 hits and struck out 9 to earn the win and the sweep.
Chase Utley’s solo home run in the 5th to stake Hamels to a 2-0 lead carried a WPA of .128. Jayson Werth’s aforementioned groundball and Cabera’s error had a .096, the only other run-scoring play and the second most valuable in this contest.
“Vottomatic” didn’t show up for this series. The big Canadian went 0 for 4, striking out and then grounding into a double play in the 9th with no one out and a man on first. This final rallykiller had a WPA of -.161, with Votto’s game WPA coming out to a lousy -.224.
Giants vs. Braves:
WPA Leader: Eric Hinske (0.578)
In one pinch-hit at-bat, Hinske changed the face of this game completely. His home run came in a high-intensity situation (3.32 LI) and increased the Braves’ win expectancy from 28.8% to 86.6%. He’d be the story of this game if it weren’t for Brooks Conrad, the best player on the Giants. Honorable mentions go to Jonathan Sanchez (4.66 WPA) and Buster Posey (.422), but most of Posey’s WPA came on a routine groundball to second base, so that doesn’t really count.
Hinske’s 0.578 WPA home run unsurprisingly tops this category. Buster Posey’s go-ahead groundball through Brooks Conrad’s legs gave Posey .371 WPA, while Aubrey Huff’s single to tie the game in a 5.39 LI situation added .349 to the Giants’ win expectancy.
By the raw numbers, it’s Sergio Romo and his -.563 WPA. However, Jack Moore at Fangraphs used The Hardball Times’ WPA Inquirer to calculate Brooks Conrad’s overall WPA in this game at a ridiculous -.751. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a position player have that much negative effect on a game, especially considering the importance of this playoff game in a 1-1 series. Conrad had a historically poor game from almost every standpoint… At some point you have to feel sorry for the kid, as he’ll go down in history alongside Bill Buckner and Steve Bartman.