Archive for 2021 Postseason

Austin Riley Lifts the Braves to a Game 1 Victory

For eight innings, the Dodgers’ impromptu bullpen game was going nearly to plan, with their cavalcade of relievers holding the Braves to two runs on just four hits. With the game tied heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts brought in his eighth pitcher of the evening, Blake Treinen, hoping to force extra innings. It proved to be a bridge too far for his relief corps. A one-out bloop single by Ozzie Albies followed by a stolen base put him in position to score the winning run. Austin Riley delivered the big hit, his second of the night after a game-tying home run in the fourth inning:

It was a bit of déjà vu for both Riley and Treinen. These same two teams met in the NLCS last year and it was Riley who wound up hitting the game-winning home run off Treinen in the ninth inning of Game 1. In this case, it was a line drive single to left field that easily scored Albies from second base. It was the first walk-off hit of Riley’s career and just another high point in a breakout season for the 24-year-old.

After a promising debut in 2019, Riley made some adjustments to his approach in an attempt to address his 36.4% strikeout rate. Those changes worked — his strikeout rate dropped to 23.8% in 2020 — but he struggled to maintain contact quality as good as it had been during his debut. This year, he put everything together, sustaining his plate discipline gains while also producing fantastic contact quality. It led to a 135 wRC and 4.2 WAR, a season that should produce some down-ballot MVP votes.

For the Dodgers, starting off the series on the back foot was always a possibility after Max Scherzer was deemed unavailable to start following his ninth inning appearance in Game 5 of the Division Series. The ZiPS Game-by-Game odds shifted more than five points in the Braves favor after Corey Knebel was named the starter, though Los Angeles was still favored to win, 51.3% to 48.7%. The game didn’t start off exactly to plan either. Eddie Rosario led off with a hard-hit single down the right field line, stole second, advanced to third on a ground out and finally came around to score on a wild pitch. Read the rest of this entry »


In Grand Fashion, Boston Slams Houston in Game 2

The Red Sox evened the ALCS at 1-1 on Saturday evening with a convincing 9-5 road victory in a game that rarely felt even as close as the four-run deficit suggested.

Lance McCullers Jr.’s injury was one of Houston’s big storylines coming into this series, and the consequences could be seen Saturday as the Astros withered behind Luis Garcia, who likely would not have started this early in the series otherwise. Garcia is fortunate that the Rookie of the Year ballots were already tabulated before the postseason started, as his Game 2 loss was his second poor outing this October, and as in his first appearance, it was one bedeviled by poor location.

Trouble started quickly for Garcia as he fell behind 2-0 against totally stereotypical leadoff hitter Kyle Schwarber. The right-hander went right back to the fastball a third time, a pitch Schwarber crushed to deep right for a long double. Garcia received possibly his last bit of good fortune this game against Kiké Hernández, who hit a liner off a high fastball that was grabbed in an excellent dive-and-catch by Astros center fielder Chas McCormick. Rafael Devers worked his way back from an 0-2 count to a walk as Garcia fell into a pattern of nibbling. It worked against Xander Bogaerts, who went up there determined to hit a slider, but not so much with Alex Verdugo, who left his bat on his shoulder in a five-pitch walk. With the bases loaded, J.D. Martinez hit a liner to the opposite field for a grand slam, giving Boston a 4-0 lead. Read the rest of this entry »


Scherzer’s Max-Effort Relief Work Causes Dodgers to Shuffle NLCS Rotation

The bill for using Max Scherzer to close out Game 5 of the Division Series against the Giants has come due. On Saturday afternoon, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts announced that he would again use Corey Knebel as the opener in Game 1 of the Championship Series against the Braves, presumably to give Scherzer — who threw 13 pitches in closing out the Giants, earned his first career save, and indicated his intent to “party hard” in celebration afterwards — an extra day of rest before his NLCS start, a move that bumps Walker Buehler and Julio Urías back one game as well.

Prior to Game 5, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of the possibility of using Scherzer, “He’s ready for whatever we need. Obviously the most important thing is to win tonight. But we still have to think about when and if we fire that bullet there is a cost, and we have to weigh other options as far as guys we already have in particular roles who have thrived.”

With Knebel and Brusdar Graterol each pitching scoreless (but hardly adventure-free) innings ahead of Urías on Thursday, the Giants emptied their bench early in order to gain the platoon advantage, but were left with righty Wilmer Flores — who was 0-for-17 with eight strikeouts in his career against Scherzer to that point — batting with two outs in the ninth. He struck out, aided by first base umpire Gabe Morales‘ dubious strike three call on a checked swing. Knebel will again open, and Roberts has indicated that Tony Gonsolin, who has not pitched since September 30, will figure prominently in a bulk role.

From the standpoint of our ZiPS Postseason Game-By-Game Odds, the overall cost is negligible thanks to the quality of the Dodgers’ pitching. The swing in the odds of the individual games appears somewhat steep in spots as the Dodgers reshuffle their rotation, with the Braves’ decision to pitch Ian Anderson in Games 2 and 6 (if necessary) and Charlie Morton in Games 3 and 7 (if necessary) nudging the needle as well:

NL Championship Series Rotation Changes
Game LAD Old LAD New ATL Old ATL New Old Odds (LAD) New Odds (LAD) Change
1 Scherzer Knebel Fried Fried 56.5% 51.3% -5.2%
2 Buehler Scherzer Morton Anderson 54.5% 58.8% 4.3%
3 Urías Buehler Anderson Morton 61.3% 59.3% -2.0%
4 Gonsolin Urías Bullpen Game Bullpen Game 50.8% 60.0% 9.2%
5 Scherzer Gonsolin Fried Fried 61.3% 49.9% -11.4%
6 Buehler Scherzer Morton Anderson 54.5% 58.8% 4.3%
7 Urías Buehler Anderson Morton 56.7% 54.5% -2.2%

Max Fried’s Game 1 assignment and the Braves’ use of some kind of bullpen configuration for Game 4 were thus the only constants for either side. Still, it all comes out in the wash, moving the overall series odds by less than 1%:

NLCS Outcome Projection Change
Outcome Prob Prob Change
Braves win in 4 Games 3.8% 3.3% -0.5%
Braves win in 5 Games 7.5% 8.9% 1.4%
Braves win in 6 Games 11.8% 11.1% -0.7%
Braves win in 7 Games 12.9% 13.6% 0.7%
Braves Total 36.0% 36.8% 0.8%
Dodgers win in 4 Games 9.6% 10.7% 1.1%
Dodgers win in 5 Games 18.8% 16.1% -2.7%
Dodgers win in 6 Games 18.7% 20.1% 1.4%
Dodgers win in 7 Games 16.9% 16.3% -0.6%
Dodgers Total 64.0% 63.2% -0.8%

Astros Outlast Red Sox to Open ALCS

The Dutch historian and children’s author Hendrik Willem van Loon had an enjoyable definition of eternity. Every thousand years, he said, a bird comes to sharpen its beak on a hundred-mile-high, hundred-mile-wide rock. When the rock has been worn away by the bird’s beak, one day of eternity will have passed.

Personally, I think he could have just used the pitches in tonight’s Astros-Red Sox game to count eternity. Two of the best, grindiest offenses in baseball faced off against two starters who scuffled with control, and the result was a ponderous affair that lasted more than four hours and tested the nerves and patience of fans on both sides.

The Red Sox set the tone with a disciplined, persistent attack. After a leadoff single was erased by a double play, they wore Framber Valdez down, beak-sharpening peck by peck. A walk put a runner back on first. A flare over the shift added another runner before a walk loaded the bases. Hunter Renfroe flew out to end the threat, but the Red Sox had Valdez’s number. They hardly swung at bad pitches and rarely missed when they did swing. Read the rest of this entry »


Postseason Preview: Dodgers and Braves Reprise Last Year’s NLCS Matchup

When the postseason began, a rematch of the 2020 National League Championship Series only had about a 21% chance of happening, according to our Playoff Odds. But after some particularly unlikely occurrences — not just the lower seeds advancing in the Division Series — here we are. Freddie Freeman became the first lefty to hit a homer off Josh Hader in nearly 13 months, and the first to do so on a slider in more than two years, while lifting the Braves past the Brewers in Game 4. The Dodgers won the Wild Card game via a walkoff home run by a slumping Chris Taylor and then eked out a narrow victory over the 107-win Giants in similarly heart-stopping fashion, with the winning hit in Thursday night’s Game 5 delivered by Cody Bellinger on the heels of a nightmare season. That’s baseball, Suzyn.

Unlike last year, this time around the Braves will have home-field advantage despite winning 18 fewer regular season games than the Dodgers, because the current playoff format deals a stiff penalty to teams sneaking into the postseason via the Wild Card door. Atlanta’s advantage could be significant at some point in the series, particularly if it goes past five games, but it’s worth noting the Braves went just 42-38 at home, tying the Marlins for the NL’s 10th-highest win total in that split; meanwhile, their 46-35 road record ranked fourth in the NL. The Dodgers had the best home record (58-23) and third-best road record (48-33), and just won an elimination game (and two of their three Division Series games) in enemy territory. The talent gap between the two teams probably matters more than the venue in which they meet, though in a short series… you know the rest. Read the rest of this entry »


Dodgers Advance as a Classic Series Ends With a Whimper

A pizza stain on the new Armani. A chocolate chip cookie, fresh out of the oven, adorned with nine chips and one cat droplet. The middle five wishes of Elliot Richards. Game 5 of the 2021 NLDS.

The Dodgers won 2-1 in as tense and dramatic a contest as we’ve seen all year, one that ended with an inexplicable call from first base umpire Gabe Morales on Wilmer Flores’ check swing. For Los Angeles, it’s a fifth trip to the NLCS in six seasons, a triumph only made sweeter by the circumstances. In vanquishing their rivals, the Dodgers get the last laugh in a brilliantly played season series. Tonight’s game is vindication for Dave Roberts and his lineup choices, redemption for Cody Bellinger, and another line on Hall of Famer Max Scherzer’s remarkable resume. Fans of all stripes were treated to an exquisite contest in nearly every respect.

But like most neutrals, that last pitch is stuck in my craw. With two outs, Kris Bryant on first, and Flores at the plate, Scherzer fired a 1-2 slider. Flores started his swing but appeared to check it well in advance of the imaginary and arbitrary breaking point at which a take (usually!) becomes a swinging strike:

Read the rest of this entry »


FanGraphs Dodgers/Giants NLDS Game 5 Chat

9:00
Kevin Goldstein: Hi everyone! I’m here. Dan is here. The most hyped game of the season is here. Let’s hope it lives up to expectations. We’ll be here all night talking about the game, making dumb and not so dumb polls, and answering any other fun questions that end up in the queue. Thanks so much for joining us!

9:01
Kevin Goldstein:

You are on the Dodgers conference call, you are asked to vote…

Go traditional, start Urias (39.6% | 50 votes)
 
Use Knebler as an opener to flip the lineup (60.3% | 76 votes)
 

Total Votes: 126
9:02
Kevin Goldstein: So far, the results of the poll show there might not be a right/wrong answer.

9:02
Mike Y: What’s the optimum lineup strategy for the Giants, with Knebel starting?

9:02
Kevin Goldstein: Personally, I’d go with my vs. Urias lineup.

9:03
Joseph: The Giants have obviously been the biggest surprise as in outperforming team this year. What part is luck and what part is good management/strategy by their FO?

Read the rest of this entry »


The Dodgers Try an Opening Gambit

Tonight, there’s only one game in town, as the Giants face the Dodgers in a winner-take-all, NLDS Game 5 slugfest in San Francisco. It’s been billed as a matchup between two borderline Cy Young candidates: Logan Webb, who humbled the Los Angeles lineup in the first game of the series, and Julio Urías, who started Game 2 for the Dodgers after a superlative 2021 season. Only, nope:

This isn’t going to be a lengthy discussion of whether openers make sense. Teams clearly like the tactic as a way to fill innings, but almost never in front of a pitcher as good as Urías. I’m interested in what the Giants will do to counter it, and how that counter will determine Urías’s matchups.

When he took the mound last Saturday, the Giants set up like so:

Giants Batting Order, Game 2
Order Player Position Bats
1 Darin Ruf LF R
2 Kris Bryant CF R
3 Austin Slater RF R
4 Buster Posey C R
5 Wilmer Flores 1B R
6 Brandon Crawford SS L
7 Evan Longoria 3B R
8 Donovan Solano 2B R

Read the rest of this entry »


Managerial Report Cards: American League Division Series

This postseason, I’m trying out a new feature: managerial report cards. After each postseason round, I’ll look at the losing managers and assess their performance when it comes to in-game management. Pinch hit for your MVP candidate with a pitcher? Not that it would ever happen, but you’d get an F for that. Bring in your best pitcher in a big spot, only to have him give up a three-run homer? That’s still an A, results notwithstanding.

These grades don’t cover everything that a manager does. Deploying your best players in the biggest spots and hiding their weaknesses where possible is a big part of a manager’s role, but it’s definitely not the only part. As an example, Kevin Cash and the entire Rays staff deserve a permanent A for their work in getting their pitchers and hitters ready for flexible roles all season long. Likewise, Dave Roberts and the Dodgers coaching staff benched a former MVP and seem to have kept the clubhouse roughly in order, always a tough task. None of that will be reflected in these rankings, but it’s absolutely important managerial work — it’s simply work I don’t have much insight into.

Kevin Cash, Tampa Bay Rays

Lineups/Pinch Hitting: C
Cash mostly used his lineups creatively, matching his players’ strengths with the opposing pitcher’s. The Red Sox went heavily to lefties in this series — Eduardo Rodriguez started two games and Chris Sale one. That meant a heaping helping of Jordan Luplow, Manuel Margot, and Yandy Díaz, three players on the team for their ability to hit left-handed pitching. When Nathan Eovaldi started Game 3, all three of those hitters were out of the lineup, replaced by Austin Meadows, Ji-Man Choi, and Joey Wendle. Read the rest of this entry »


Postseason Preview: Red Sox and Astros Tangle With Ghosts in the ALCS

Of all the major sports, I would argue that none rely on their history and its place in the cultural milieu more than baseball. Every big moment in baseball seems to be steeped in comparable historical feats accomplished by some of the game’s most famous protagonists, from Ruth to Mantle to Maddux. In one sense, that’s a positive; even if there are more strikeouts and home runs than there were 100 years ago, someone from 1921 could arrive by time machine and still follow what is fundamentally a very similar game. But on the flip side, someone like Mike Trout can’t simply be recognized as being the first Mike Trout but as the next version of Mays or Mantle or Speaker. We joke about broadcasters waxing nostalgic about the aura and mystique of the New York Yankees, but a player on the Yankees can’t help but be endlessly compared to the heroes of yore, and mortals are usually found wanting in those comparisons.

Every team in the playoffs has something to prove, but Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros would both like to be victors who write the history books.

The Red Sox spent most of the 20th century as the Goofus to New York’s Gallant. The Yankees were expected to win World Series after World Series while the less-fortunate son was the habitual loser, constantly pulling defeat from the jaws of victory because of a curse caused by a team owner who wanted to produce a play, My Lady Friends in 1919. But the 2000s have swung things the Sox way, with Boston not just breaking its long championship-less streak but winning four championship trophies this century, the most in baseball. Yet to a large extent, the Yankees still retain the position of the big dog. It even felt a bit like that at the trade deadline, when the Yankees got the headlines for acquiring Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo while Kyle Schwarber was seen as a Boston consolation prize. But Schwarber played better than either Gallo or Rizzo, and unlike them is still playing in 2021. Read the rest of this entry »