If You Can Read This, You Probably Walked and Scored In the Rangers’ Game 2 Win

Mitch Garver
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

BALTIMORE — “We need to start taking a little bit of pressure off our pitchers and start scoring earlier in the game,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said before Game 2 of the ALDS against Texas. The previous afternoon, Baltimore had lost a cagey affair, playing from behind most of the way. And despite numerous opportunities, the Orioles never could tie the game back up.

In the bottom of the first inning on Sunday, Hyde’s offense obliged him, stringing together three singles (including an honest-to-God Baltimore chop from Ryan Mountcastle) and a walk to pull in front, 2–0, against the previously unhittable Jordan Montgomery. The Orioles had the lead and the initiative, and the Camden Yards crowd was out for blood.

Fifty-five minutes, three pitching changes, and just seven outs later, the Rangers led 9–2 in the top of the third. Though the Orioles cut the lead to 11–8 by the end of the night, the game was basically over then, leaving the Rangers in the driver’s seat and Baltimore in need of a mighty comeback in order to extend a Cinderella season.

There were early signs of offensive life from Texas, as the Rangers loaded the bases in the top of the first against Grayson Rodriguez on a dink-and-dunk single from Marcus Semien, followed by two walks. But Rodriguez escaped thanks to his headline-grabbing stuff. The rookie righty’s first pitch of the afternoon clocked in at an even 100 mph, and his strikeout of Adolis García was imperious: three fastballs up in the zone, the last of which García swung through even though it was up around eye level. Rodriguez also punched out Mitch Garver on a positively impolite right-on-right changeup. If he could settle down, Hyde’s team looked like it would coast to a win and level the series.

Unfortunately for Baltimore, it was not to be.

I’m sure you all know the aphorism: If you go about your day and meet one jerk, he’s the jerk. If you go about your day and everyone you meet is a jerk, that probably means you’re the jerk. Evan Carter’s first-inning walk came on a 3–2 call that looked like it caught the plate, which made the crowd get a little peeved when a series of walks followed in the ensuing innings. But if you walk two batters instead of one, maybe that’s the umpire’s fault. Walk 10 batters in six innings, well… you get the idea.

Baltimore’s staff-wide struggle to find the plate didn’t help matters, obviously, but the Rangers’ offense capitalized. The decisive early-inning onslaught was not, for the most part, the result of scalded line drives and tape-measure home runs. There were a couple of high-exit-velocity grounders, and Leody Taveras dropped a double into the Gleyber Torres Memorial Anti-Home Run Alcove in left field. There was also a topper up the first base line that turned into an infield single when Rodriguez could not find an angle to throw around Garver (12th-percentile sprint speed; I looked it up), who beat the lob to first.

But most of all, the Rangers’ offensive explosion was a masterpiece of keeping the line moving, putting the ball in play, and not giving away outs. That’s what offense is all about in baseball: Generating baserunners while not spending outs, or at least, without spending them senselessly. This is not some newfangled invention of statistics; this is how Leo Durocher built the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers. Throughout history, if you get one baserunner for every two outs, you’re in business.

In the second inning, against Rodriguez and then Danny Coulombe, Texas hitters reached base seven times and made three outs, the first two of which advanced a runner to third, and scored five runs. In the third, a new Orioles reliever, Bryan Baker, retired Josh Jung to start the inning, then walked the bases loaded on a total of 15 pitches.

“I think we have the ability as an offense to really suffocate an opposing pitcher,” Jung said. “We’ve been putting it on display recently with all the walks, and then all it takes is one hit to break stuff open.”

At 5–2, the Orioles were on the ropes but by no means out of the fight. They had seven offensive innings to play with and a lineup full of young guys who can bang. They could’ve come back from that, if only Hyde could find someone to put a damn tourniquet on. So he handed the pipe and length of rope to Jacob Webb, who fell behind Garver early and had to feed him a 3–1 fastball to avoid walking a run in. Then came the one hit Jung was talking about, and it could not have been more devastating, as Garver launched that 3–1 fastball into the seats in left. He, along with the 47,000-ish people in the ballpark, knew it was gone right off the bat.

“These playoff games, one swing can change it,” Garver said. “And I got into a situation there in a hitter’s count where I was looking for the fastball and I was able to get it. I think it’s just a big momentum push for our whole team. We needed all those runs today.”

One baserunner for every two outs is a decent day at the office. Garver’s grand slam flipped that ratio over: 14 Rangers baserunners to that point in the game, on only seven outs.

A 5–2 deficit is recoverable; 9–2, less so. Managers prepare and scheme endlessly in search of a crooked number, and Bruce Bochy’s team had put up five runs in the second and four in the third. As a rule, you don’t put up numbers that crooked, in back-to-back innings, and lose.

“We have length in the lineup. Look at the back of the order today: Jung, big day, Taveras scored three runs, turning the lineup over,” Bochy said. “And so we’re getting production from everybody, which obviously we needed today — we gave up eight runs. There’s not an easy out, I think, throughout the lineup.”

Every Rangers position player reached base against Baltimore on Sunday. Seven of the nine starters reached base at least twice, led by Corey Seager, who set a new single-game postseason record by drawing five walks. Garver speculated that Seager’s swing at a high 2–0 pitch in his fifth plate appearance was the result of a desire to contribute a hit; otherwise, the Rangers’ shortstop could’ve walked six times.

“Pretty relentless attack,” Garver said of the Texas lineup. “You have to beat us in the strike zone. We didn’t expand too much off that. The biggest thing in postseason is putting the ball in play, working counts, but swinging at good pitches. I think we did that the first two games, and we need to continue that heading into Texas. We just have a really, really good approach, one through nine.”

As over as this game was after two innings, the Orioles kept fighting back, scoring in the fourth, fifth, and ninth innings to cut the lead to just three. Bochy had to bring in José Leclerc in the final frame after two batters reached with one out, only for his closer to give up a home run to Aaron Hicks, putting the crowd very much back in the game.

We say a team doesn’t know when it’s beat as an equivalent to having a never-say-die attitude, to identify a team that pulls unlikely results against unfavorable odds. The truth on Sunday for the Orioles was more literal: They were beat, in every way that mattered, two and a half innings into a three-hour and 45-minute rite of ritual suffering. (Turns out you can have an old-fashioned marathon playoff game even with the pitch clock.) But they either seemed not to realize or refused to internalize the severity of their situation, and they kept plugging away until the scoreline was more palatable, only to run out of outs. Jorge Mateo, left on the bench to contemplate his .267 regular-season OBP in Game 1, went 4-for-4 with two doubles and ran the bases like he was being chased by wolves, well into the later innings.

Any path back into this series for Baltimore has to start with spinning that late (if futile) offensive effort into a hot start to Game 3 in Texas. The Orioles are out of wiggle room, and any team that makes as few outs as the Rangers will be next to impossible to beat.

Michael is a writer at FanGraphs. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Ringer and D1Baseball, and his work has appeared at Grantland, Baseball Prospectus, The Atlantic, ESPN.com, and various ill-remembered Phillies blogs. Follow him on Twitter, if you must, @MichaelBaumann.

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4 months ago

I was skeptical of the O’s rotation and bullish on the Rangers’ lineup but I did not have Corey Seager drawing five walks, much less all the other damage the rest of the lineup did.

You can sometimes get away with starting guys like Grayson Rodriguez in the playoffs against lineups this good and deep but you probably shouldn’t bank on it. Maybe Rodriguez becomes a playoff-caliber in the future. They will need it.

4 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I’ve been thinking of the Orioles as the best case scenario Reds. Just barely enough pitching to make the scoring stand up. It’s not a good playoff plan.

Kody Krallemember
4 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I realize this game he stunk, but do people not know that Grayson literally had the 3rd best AL ERA in the second half? I feel like a lot of people are judging his full season stats but he was a legit genuine stud since he came back from AAA and had more than lived up to his prospect pedigree. His K had been down some but H, BB, & HR were also way down due to dropping his cutter and increasing his GB% a lot. He had been going 6+ Inn often.

(Also Bradish had the best second half ERA in the AL, I get people don’t fully buy him but I think he is the best SP in this series).

4 months ago
Reply to  Kody Kralle

I suppose. Clayton Kershaw got hammered too. So did a bunch of other good pitchers in the playoffs this year. Montgomery is fantastic and he also got hit hard (not quite as badly). But I am always very skeptical of taking a couple of months and declaring them to be the new normal. Lots of people are very good for a couple of months. If you slice up the time frame enough you can have it show whatever you want.

If we are looking for reasons to hope, it is that it was 77 innings (which is borderline “pay attention to me” level) and that he has the stuff and minor league track record to make it (I had him as a possible RoY pick in the AL, mostly because I thought it would be fun to pick someone other than Gunnar). But his strikeout rate also cratered after he got back, so if he does succeed this way he will have little margin for error. This team could really, really use a couple of playoff-caliber starters to complement Bradish; Rodriguez could be one of them or he could not.

Kody Krallemember
4 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

His K rate did drop to the 8K/9 range or so but his FIP was still 2.7ish, so it’s not like he was super lucky.

The big thing was cutting walks & home runs because in his first stint he had an unbelievably high HR%. He has seemed to figure out the long ball issues for good, even in his bad playoff start, a lot of the hits were grounders (outside of the Taveras double).