Sunday, October 5, 2014

MLB Playoffs, Day 3

Two years ago, the Washington Nationals were on their way to the National League Championship Series.  They led the Cardinals 7-5 in Game Five of the Divisional Playoffs, they were at home, and they had their closer -- Drew Storen -- on the mound to wrap up the game.  Instead, Storen utterly collapsed, the Cardinals scored four runs, and the Nats were eliminated at home.

When Washington came back in 2013, Storen was no longer the Nats' closer.  In the offseason, Washington had picked up Rafael Soriano, and they plugged him into the closer's role.  Storen struggled throughout the year, as his ERA rose from 2.37 in 2012 to 4.52 in 2013.  Meanwhile, Soriano picked up 43 saves.

So when the 2014 season began, Soriano was still closing and Storen was still a set-up man.  But as the season went on, Soriano became less effective.  After a series of blown saves in August, Soriano lost the closer's job to -- Storen, who had a great year.  Storen finished the 2014 season with an ERA of 1.12.  Meanwhile, the Nats stormed back into the playoffs.

Yesterday, the Nats faced a must-win game.  Down 1-0 in the series, and facing two upcoming games in San Francisco, Washington desperately needed to win what may be their last home game of the year.  So they sent out Jordan Zimmermann, who pitched a no-hitter in his last appearance, and Zimmermann was lights-out.  In 8 2/3 innings, Zimmermann threw 100 pitches and allowed only three hits.  With two outs in the bottom of the 9th, Zimmermann was guarding a 1-0 lead, when he walked Joe Panik, the Giants second baseman.  It was Zimmermann's first walk of the game.  The Giants don't have a high-powered offense, but Buster Posey, their best hitter was up next.  No problem for the Nats, however -- they just pulled Zimmermann to bring in Storen, their ace closer.  It was the sort of move that made sense unless you believe in non-statistical concepts like jinxes and choking.

I grew up in a culture that placed a lot of emphasis on jinxes and choking, so I was not surprised that Storen gave up two hits in only three pitches.  The Giants tied the game, and undoubtedly would have scored many more runs against Storen if Posey hadn't been thrown out at the plate.  So the teams went to extra innings.

The Nats' offense consists almost entirely of guys going to home plate and swinging as hard as they can.  This approach serves them well against teams like the Mets and the Marlins, but it left them utterly unable to do anything against the professional pitchers employed by San Francisco.  On the other hand, Washington has a great pitching staff.  The result was the longest game in post-season history -- an 18-inning battle that lasted six hours and 23 minutes.  Here's the important stat to keep in mind:  In the last 11 innings of the game -- from the 8th to the 18th -- the Nats got exactly two hits.  They also had 12 strikeouts.  They just kept looking for a homer that wasn't there -- at least for them.  Finally, in the top of the 18th, Giants' first baseman Brandon Belt (who only hit 12 homers all year) put the Nats out of their misery with a home run of his own.  The Giants had a 2-1 victory and a 2-0 lead in the series.  D.C. fans had the Redskins to look forward to, as well as a whole bunch more conversations about Drew Storen.

Playing on the West Coast, the Dodgers and Cardinals were still going after the Nats and Giants finished.  The Dodgers tried to imitate the Nats, pulling Zack Grienke with a 2-0 lead in the 8th, and immediately giving up 2 runs to allow St. Louis to tie the game.  But Matt Kemp was having none of this, and he whacked a homer in the bottom of the 8th to send L.A. to a 3-2 victory.  The Cardinals and Dodgers have the only series tied at 1-1.

American League:
Kansas City leads Los Angeles 2-0
Baltimore leads Detroit 2-0

National League:
San Francisco leads Washington 2-0
Los Angeles and St. Louis are tied 1-1

No comments:

Post a Comment