Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Wild Card Game of Inches

This postseason has had no shortage of stories: Utley's slide, Gibbons leaving in Cecil to pitch to Napoli, the Royals' singles vs. the Astros' homers, Price in long relief in a blowout, Molina's thumb...yet to Pirates fans, we're on the outside looking in. We're still stuck on Jake Arrieta's shutout last Wednesday in the wild card game. During last night's Cubs-Cardinals game, a lot of Pirates followers must've said, as my wife did, while watching Arrieta surrender four runs on five hits and two walks in five and two-thirds innings, "Why couldn't he have pitched that way against the Pirates?" After all, he was unhittable against the Bucs: Complete game shutout, five hits and no walks, eleven strikeouts. The Pirates didn't have a chance.

Except...they sort of did. This article by Dave Cameron of FanGraphs is the best post-mortem I've read of the wild card game. It's not long, and it's a good read, but if you want to skip it, Cameron's point is that the Pirates did have a chance against Arrieta. In the sixth inning, Arrieta hit third baseman Josh Harrison. Sandwiched around Harrison's stroll to first, four Pirates batters absolutely smoked four batted balls. Each left their bats traveling over 100 miles per hour. Balls hit that hard are usually base hits, often for extra bases. But instead, the Pirates got:

Now, this wasn't all bad luck on the Pirates' part. Every one of the batted balls was hit on the ground or on a line drive. None of them were hit in the air, where they would've had a good chance of landing in the outfield for extra bases, or over the fence, and that's due at least in part to Arrieta's skill as a pitcher. But other than Snider, every one of the Pirates' screaming hits went right to a Cubs infielder--Polanco to third baseman Kris Bryant, who made a juggling catch on the fly, and McCutchen and Marte to shortstop Addison Russell, who couldn't handle McCutchen's shot but turned Marte's into an inning-ending twin killing. Let's say those balls were hit just a couple inches to the left or right of where they were. Snider singles up the middle. Polanco's rocket goes down the left field line, resulting in a double, runners on second and third. Harrison's hit, loading the bases. McCutchen singles to center, runners advancing a base, and Marte does the same. Now it's a 4-2 game with one out and the bases loaded. Or maybe Harrison scores on Marte's single, making it 4-3. One out, Cervelli and Walker due up. It would've been a different ballgame, and it turned on a four balls that were nailed, going right into fielders' gloves, instead of just out of their reach. 

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