Five Cuts: Here's why it's so hard to close out a game in October
1. How is
Every team that went home in the Division Series gave away a game in the ninth inning with its closer on the mound. The ninth inning is statistically the toughest inning in which to hit, in great part because closers are so overpowering. But you wouldn't know that by watching postseason baseball this year, when runners were flying around the bases against closers.
Take all the closers this postseason (Rivera,
Whoa. Runs jumped 54 percent from the average ninth inning to the postseason closers' ninth inning, while the rate of base runners jumped 61 percent.
Why is the ninth inning so much harder for pitchers in October than in the other six months? There is the element of pressure, of course. But there are also so much more detailed scouting reports and so much studying of that information. (Players couldn't possibly absorb and apply that much information over 162 games without frying their brains, but it works for a five- or seven-game series with off days.) Finally, there is also more intense focus by the batters in the postseason. No one gives away an at-bat in the ninth inning of a postseason game. No one. Yes, it does happen during the regular season.
All of those factors make the closer's job even more difficult in October than it is from April through September. And that's why Rivera, doing it year after year, is the greatest ever.
2. You could see Street's crash coming on Monday night in NLDS Game 4. The Rockies closer threw nothing on the inside corner of the plate, or even a show-me pitch off the inside corner to keep hitters honest. Maybe he pitched tentatively, thinking he would not even risk making a mistake inside. Maybe he had nothing he felt confident enough about to throw there. But if you pitch to any lineup, especially the Phillies lineup, using only one side of the plate, you're going to get burned.
Street threw 29 pitches in the ninth inning, only one, thrown to his last batter,
By the time
3. Give credit to the Phillies'
You will no doubt read all about Lidge getting his 2008 groove back after notching saves in Games 3 and 4. That fits the narrative of a sportswriter, anyway. The Dodgers' scouting reports, however, will show that you can get to Lidge. He couldn't command his fastball in Game 3, and in Game 4 Manuel didn't have the confidence to give him the ball with a one-run lead to start the ninth -- and wisely so. And then facing one batter, Lidge didn't even try to throw a fastball. He threw five straight sliders to
Lidge, meanwhile, does come into the NLCS with far more confidence than he had at the end of the season. But don't make this out to be 2008 just yet. Manuel used him in Game 3 only because he
4. Here's another general observation about this postseason, and I will include the tiebreaker game between Minnesota and Detroit: The base running has been atrocious. Think about it --
There's a common denominator here, folks: overaggressiveness. When guys get caught up in the pressure of the postseason they get in trouble when they "try to make something happen." The ones who succeed -- and here is where I think of guys like
5. As well as Angels right-hander
• Weaver was much better at home this year (9-3, 2.90) than on the road (7-5, 4.78).
• Weaver was much worse against the Yankees this year (1-1, 5.59 in three starts, including 0-1, 6.08 in two starts at Yankee Stadium) than Kazmir (2-1, 3.20 in three starts, all at home).
• Most importantly, it is slightly more advantageous to throw a left-hander against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, where you have to defend the shorter porch in right field, because you force their switch-hitters to bat from the right side. Right-handed starters got pounded by the Yankees in that ballpark. They were 10-19 there,
Honestly, the Yankees are such a dominant offensive team in that ballpark that it doesn't matter that much. Here are opponents' records in games at Yankee Stadium, whether the starter gets the decision or not:
With right-handed starter: 14-37 (.275)
But I'd still rather throw a lefty at Yankee Stadium, especially when the right-handed choice, Weaver, is better at home and worse against the Yankees. Remember, Scioscia's Game 2 starter is also likely to be his starter for Game 6, also to be played at Yankee Stadium -- assuming he uses four starters and assuming the Angels can extend the best team in baseball that far.