The late Bart Giamatti famously observed that baseball is designed to break your heart, but the former commissioner was notably silent about its ability to strangle you with your own entrails. That's how I felt on Monday, watching two teams near and dear fritter away late-inning leads and ultimately suffer walk-off losses.So it goes. In the immortal words of Charlie Brown, "Tell your statistics to shut up."
Last Friday had me aglow. For the first time since October 9, 2004 and just the second time in my entire adult life, the Dodgers and Yankees—the two teams at the heart of what I've long referred to as my Bicoastal Disorder, a complicated set of rooting interests borne of blood and geography—both won playoff games. My dream of a World Series which would replicate the formative matchups of my youth was intact. The drop from that high point to Monday's action was dizzying, to say the least.
I offer that introduction not as a plea for sympathy. Indeed, the inherent contradictions of this life I've chosen have been the fuel for nearly a decade of writing beyond the decimals and differentials that make up so much of my work here, and I'm hardly ungrateful for this playoff bounty, particularly in the face of an angry mob of Tigers/Cardinals/Twins/Your-Team-Here fans. Nonetheless, Monday's twin killing will have to suffice as an excuse for the rather disjointed account that follows. As a fan, I feel as though I've been run over by a Mack truck. As an analyst... yep, Mack Truck again.
By far the more glancing of the two blows from Monday's action came in the ALCS, where the Yankees squandered a 3-0 lead thanks to a curious set of decisions by Yankees (over)manager Joe Girardi, all of which blew up in his face in spectacular fashion à la Wile E. Coyote. I'll leave that postmortem to others except to note that the Yankees still hold a two games to one lead in the series. Suffice it to say that my forehead was sufficiently tenderized for the nightcap.
As with the rest of the NLCS, Game Four continued to defy the percentages... [Dodger starter Randy] Wolf came into his start having allowed just one home run against lefty hitters all season long, and having held them to to a feeble .159/.217/.200 line in 185 plate appearances. [Ryan] Howard hit just six of his 45 homers against southpaws, managing just a .207/.298/.356 line. Yet when Wolf left a fastball up in the strike zone during last night's first-inning confrontation, Howard demolished it for a two-run homer.
We can scratch our heads and curse or cheer at the defiance of those percentages, but we'd do just as well to remember that Wolf's fateful pitch was set up by very human reactions. Home-plate umpire Ted Barrett, whose strike zone was small enough to fit into a pocket protector, made a lousy call on the preceding 2-1 fastball, which caught plenty of the plate according to both TBS's pitch tracking device and MLB Advanced Media's Gameday. Catcher Russell Martin had set up on the outside half of the plate, however, and in reaching back across his body to receive the pitch, swayed the umpire's judgment. Backed into a corner against the slugger, the flustered Wolf clearly still had that call on his mind when he served up Howard's homer, given the camera shot of him jawing with Barrett as he received a new baseball.
... At the outset of this series, my prediction hinged on the way the Dodgers' lefty pitching matched up with the Phillies' lefty hitting and vice versa, but thus far the Phillies have gotten the advantage. By my quick tally, Utley, Howard, Ibañez, and Cole Hamels are a combined 5-for-18 with two homers, nine RBI, seven walks, and four strikeouts against the Dodgers' southpaws, good for a .440 on-base percentage and a .611 slugging percentage. In the first two games, Dodger lefties Andre Ethier, James Loney, and Jim Thome started off 5-for-8 with a double, a homer, three RBI, and three walks against Philly southpaws, but they went 0-for-6 with a pair of K's against Cliff Lee on Sunday night.
Honestly, there's another chapter to be written before we come to a firm conclusion about Colletti's value as a GM, and that's when the young Dodgers stars who have been earning from $400,000 to $4 million earn the service time that multiplies their salaries tenfold. That's when Colletti won't be able to pencil in low-paying stars in half his starting lineup anymore. There will be a host of difficult decisions to be made – the more of these guys Colletti wants to keep, the more difficulty he'll have overpaying to fill the gaps elsewhere, especially if the McCourts' travails lead to the team being put up for sale, with the budget for salaries locked down.Grappling with the Colletti question is something I'll be doing later this winter in the forthcoming Baseball Prospectus annual.
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