October 22, 2019

WS1: Nationals 5, Astros 4

Nationals - 010 130 000 - 5  9  0
Astros    - 200 000 110 - 4 10  0
Juan Soto, the third-youngest player to bat in the #4 spot in a World Series game, hit a monstrous opposite-field home run off Gerrit Cole (7-8-5-1-6, 104) to tie the game in the fourth inning and doubled in two runs in the fifth to increase the Nationals' lead from 3-2 to 5-2. He also singled and stole second in the eighth. Soto is the ninth player (in 115 years of World Seriesing) to have 3+ hits and knock in 3+ runs in his World Series debut.

It was not an easy night for Max Scherzer (5-5-2-3-7, 112). He threw more than 20 pitches in each of the four innings (26-22-21 27) and stranded six Astros, including one on third and three on second. Scherzer faced 23 batters and never retired more than four in a row.

Scherzer nearly escaped the first inning without allowing a run. He walked George Springer and gave up a single to Jose Altuve. Scherzer struck out Michael Brantley and Alex Bregman, but also threw a wild pitch during Bregman's at-bat, and Altuve stole second when Bregman fanned. Scherzer got ahead of Yuri Gurriel 0-2, but surrendering a two-run double off the wall in left field on a 1-2 pitch. Carlos Correa went down swinging for the third out.

Ryan Zimmerman hit a two-out homer in the top of the second to get the Nats on the board. Scherzer walked the leadoff man in the bottom half, but got the next three. Singles by Brantley and Gurriel (and a throw to th eplate) put Astros on second and third with two down in the third, but Correa chased a slider well outside the zone for strike three.

Soto led off the fourth and he whacked a 96-mph fastball (on a 1-0 count) to the opposite field. The ball landed a reported 417 feet away up by the train tracks beyond the outfield seating sections. (According to Tom Verducci (working for Fox), Nationals hitting coach Kevin Long predicted before the game that Soto would hit a home run off one of Cole's high fastballs. Verducci told Long that Cole has "the best four-seam elevated fastball in baseball" and Long replied, "I don't care, and I guarantee you Juan Soto will hit a home run off a high fastball from Gerrit Cole." The dong was the longest by a left-handed batter to the opposite field at Minute Maid Park since Statcast began tracking in 2015.

With those two homers, the Nationals became the second team in World Series history to have a home run from a player 20 years or younger and one from a player 35 or older. The first team was the 1952 Yankees (Mickey Mantle and Johnny Mize). Soto is the fourth-younger player to hit a World Series home run, after Mantle, Miguel Cabrera, and Andruw Jones. (Of course, this list excludes dozens of good young hitters who did not have the good luck to play in a World Series before turning 21.) The two cleanup hitters in the World Series who were younger than Soto (20 years, 362 days) were Ty Cobb in 1907 (20-294) and Miguel Cabrera in 2003 (20-183). Soto turns 21 on the night of Game 3.

Scherzer left two more men on base in the fourth and walked off the hill having thrown 96 pitches. His teammates broke through against Cole in the fifth. Cole walked Kurt Suzuki, Washington's #8 hitter, and gave up a hit to Victor Robles. Trea Turner lifted a 3-1 pitch to right and Suzuki tagged and hustled to third. He then scored on Adam Eaton's single to right. Anthony Rendon nearly hit into a double play, but beat the relay throw to first. Soto looked at three balls and it seemed like Cole would rather pitch around him. But then Soto took a strike and swung and missed to run the count full. Soto blasted the 3-2 pitch to the opposite field (again). It hit off the wall and both baserunners scored. Scherzer celebrated by retiring the Astros in order in the fifth, his last inning.

The five runs allowed by Cole were his highest total since May 22 - and the same number of earned runs he allowed in all of September (six starts). Cole allowed four runs or fewer in 34 of his 36 games (regular season and postseason).

Patrick Corbin allowed a one-out single in the bottom of the sixth. Tanner Rainey began the seventh and Springer hit his fourth pitch for a home run to left-center. Altuve struck out, but Rainey walked Brantley on four pitches and Bregman on seven (after falling behind 3-0). Daniel Hudson took over and got a popup for the second out, but Correa grounded the ball into the shortstop hole. Turner's throw to first was just for show - and the Astros had the bases loaded. Yordan Alvarez had already singled twice and walked in the game (and he went 5-for-8, with 12 RBI and a 1.917 OPS, in the regular season with the bases loaded). But he had no chance against Hudson. After a called strike and a swinging strike, Hudson went up the ladder, and Alvarez followed, chasing the pitch for a swinging strike 3. (It was, according to FanGraphs, the most harmful out of the game, cutting the Astros' win probability from 27.3% down to 13.8%.)

But the Astros threatened again in the eighth. Pinch-hitter Kyle Tucker singled and raced to second on a fly out to deepish center. Springer belted Hudson's 2-1 pitch to deep right-center. Springer thought it might be gone, so he ambled up the line, holding his bat, which is not exactly the "right way" to play when you're down by two runs in the eighth inning of a World Series game in front of your own fans. Fox's camera also stayed on Springer, cutting to Eaton's attempt to catch the fly a bit late. Eaton leapt at the wall, but the ball glanced off his glove. Springer had a double and the Astros now trailed by one run, 5-4, with its #2 and #3 hitters due up.

Altuve flied out to right, and Springer had to hold. Nationals manager Dave Martinez called on Sean Doolittle to face Brantley. The Nats reliever got a gift from plate umpire Alan Porter on a 0-1 pitch and Brantley eventually lined out to left.

Per Statcast, Springer went from home to first in 6.59 seconds, his second-slowest time to first base this season, on any ball that was not a homer or an out. The 10.06 seconds to second was his second-slowest time on any double this year ... The next two plays were fly-ball outs, including one moderately hit by José Altuve, which could have been a game-tying sacrifice fly in a more favorable situation. The Astros wound up stranding 11 runners on base in the one-run loss. The last team to leave that many runners on base in a nine-inning World Series game and lose by one run was the Yankees [12 LOB], in Game 4 of the 1981 Fall Classic with the Dodgers.
Doolittle needed no extra assistance in the ninth (though Porter blew a call in his favour anyway). After striking out Bregman, Doolittle got Gurriel and Correa to both fly out to center.

Porter had a game-long problem with calling strikes on pitches that were either too far inside or too far outside. By my count, watching TV and also following on Gameday, Porter missed 14 pitches (10 in favour of the Astros and four in favour of the Nationals).

Max Scherzer / Gerrit Cole

In his last 25 starts, Gerrit Cole has a 1.59 ERA and 0.81 WHIP, with 258 strikeouts in 169.1 innings. It has been exactly five months since Cole was last charged with a loss (way back on May 22!). The Astros have won each of his last 16 starts.

In each of his last nine starts of the regular season, Cole struck out 10+ batters, setting a new major league record: 10, 12, 14, 14, 15, 11, 10, 14, 10. Against those 110 strikeouts, Cole walked only nine men.

On May 23, the Nationals (19-31) lost to the Mets and fell 10 games out of first place. After that, Washington went 74-38, tied with the Dodgers for the best record in the NL and just a hair behind the Astros (74-37).

How do the Astros and Nationals match up? Giving a team 1 point for an advantage (and 0.5 points for a small/tiny advantage and 1.5 points for a big advantage), this mlb.com assessment is Astros 7, Nationals 2.5. Washington has more than a small or tiny advantage at only one position: left field (Juan Soto).

At mlb.com, 37 of the 46 experts (80.4%) are picking the Astros:
Astros in 4 games:       2
Astros in 5 games:       7
Astros in 6 games:      24
Astros in 7 games:       4
Nationals in 6 games:    2
Nationals in 7 games:    7
Who will win MVP?
Gerrit Cole, Astros:           20
Max Scherzer, Nationals:        5
Alex Bregman, Astros:           5
George Springer, Astros:        4
Jose Altuve, Astros:            3
Carlos Correa, Astros:          3
Anthony Rendon, Nationals:      3
Stephen Strasburg, Nationals:   2
Yordan Alvarez, Astros:         1
Major league teams (since 1900) with a wRC+ of 117 or more:

Weighted Runs Created (wRC) ... attempt[s] to quantify a player's total offensive value and measure it by runs. ... Similar to OPS+, Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) measures how a player's wRC compares with league average after controlling for park effects. League average for position players is 100, and every point above 100 is a percentage point above league average. For example, a 125 wRC+ means a player created 25% more runs than a league average hitter would have in the same number of plate appearances. Similarly, every point below 100 is a percentage point below league average, so a 80 wRC+ means a player created 20% fewer runs than league average. wRC+ is park and league-adjusted, allowing one to to compare players who played in different years, parks, and leagues. ... wRC+ is the most comprehensive rate statistic used to measure hitting performance because it takes into account the varying weights of each offensive action and then adjusts them for the park and league context in which they took place.
Eno Sarris, writing in The Athletic, states: "If you're a pitching nerd, this is the postseason for you":
By at least one measure, we're looking at watching six of the top 13 pitchers in baseball this year. ... [L]et’s highlight a standout pitch for each pitcher [in Game 1].

Gerrit Cole's Four-Seamer

This pitch has, among four-seamers thrown 1,000 or more times in baseball this year,
The highest velo
The third-highest spin
The best combination of vertical and horizontal movement
The best whiff rate
The stingiest results allowed
Take a spin on Alex Chamberlain's pitch-type leaderboard yourself and you'll see it's clearly the best four-seamer in baseball, and has gotten so much better in Houston. ...

Max Scherzer's Cutter

This might be Scherzer's worst pitch. And yet, it's top 15 in the league in whiffs per pitch among other cutters. Nuts, right? ... [I]t's one of four breaking pitches he throws, which has to make him one of a very few who has that kind of breaking ball touch. ... It's rare to have someone really be able to separate four breaking pitches like this, and throw a changeup, and throw in the high nineties on the fastball ...

The Nationals' Workload

[T]he Nationals have been pushing their starters hard this postseason. But Joe Sheehan had the numbers in his excellent newsletter, and they are stark.

Big Six (% of IP by Good Nats Pitchers)
                   Reg Season   Postseason
Stephen Strasburg      15%         24%
Max Scherzer           12%         22% 
Patrick Corbin         14%         15% 
Aníbal Sánchez         12%         14% 
Dan Hudson              2%          6% 
Sean Doolittle          4%          8% 
Total                  58%         89%
Going into the postseason, we had our doubts about the Nationals because of their short pen, but they've found a way around it. Nearly 90 percent of their innings from six pitchers! ...

1 comment:

allan said...

Turner, SS
Eaton, RF
Rendon, 3B
Soto, LF
Kendrick, DH
Cabrera, 2B
Zimmerman, 1B
Suzuki, C
Robles, CF

Springer, CF
Altuve, 2B
Brantley, LF
Bregman, 3B
Gurriel, 1B
Correra, SS
Alvarez, DH
Maldonado, C
Reddick, RF