World Series Game One: St. Louis 3, Texas 2
1. Said C.J. Wilson after St. Louis 3, Texas 2: “I don’t care how many guys I walk. It’s about how many runs I give up.”
Ultimately, should we feel the same? Runs are the bottom line; everything else above the line just factors in to one degree or another. Holding an offense like St. Louis’s to three runs in nearly six innings may not be a dominating effort, but it gives your own offense a very good chance to win the game, and that’s what you need out of a starting pitcher, no matter where in the rotation he slots.
The problem that I think Wilson’s detractors have is that, as the lead starter in a playoff rotation, more often than not he’s going to draw the opponent’s lead starter, and accordingly he has an implicit responsibility to step things up in October and be even better. And he hasn’t done that.
In the 2011 regular season, Wilson walked 2.98 batters per nine innings. In this year’s playoffs, he’s issued 5.91 walks per nine.
In the regular season, he surrendered 0.64 home runs for every nine innings pitched. In the playoffs: 2.53 homers per nine.
Getting away from the drill-down numbers, the fact is that Wilson lost his one start against Tampa Bay in the playoffs (ALDS Game One, opposite rookie Matt Moore), no-decisioned once against Detroit (ALCS Game One/Justin Verlander) and lost once (ALCS Game Five/Verlander), and lost his first start against St. Louis (World Series Game One/Chris Carpenter).
Last night’s Game One loss was in Busch Stadium rather than Rangers Ballpark because of the stupid All-Star Game rule — and in fact it was Wilson who was tagged with the loss in that game, after giving up a three-run Prince Fielder home run in what would be a 5-1 National League win.
I love having Wilson on this team. He doesn’t belong in the True Number One category, but he’s a very good pitcher on a very good team, and Texas probably wouldn’t be playing games right now without the tremendous season he had. And again, it’s hard to complain about holding the Cardinals to three scores in a Busch Stadium start that was an out short of six innings.
But looking at the line score isn’t enough, particularly in the post-season, when every pitch, every pitching change, and every decision from the bench and on the bases and in the field gets dissected. Wilson kept Texas in the game last night, but created stress in too many innings.
He issued a walk to start the bottom of the first. Got a groundout to start the second. Yielded a single to start the third, hit Albert Pujols with a bouncing breaking ball to start the fourth, issued a walk to start the fifth, and induced a pop-up to second to start the sixth.
From that bunch only Pujols would score, but starting innings off with baserunners drives pitch counts up, creates extra scoring opportunities and narrows the margin of error, and can lead to premature pitching changes. Wilson threw only 53 percent of his pitches for strikes, issued an ugly six walks (yes, two were intentional and one other was unintentionally intentional, but those were dictated by baserunner situations that he had created), and got only six swing-and-misses out of 94 pitches. Fortunately he was generally missing low, and wasn’t hurt by the long ball, but it wasn’t a very crisp start, even if the run count was a manageable one.
Wilson is now 0-3, 7.17 in his four playoff starts this year, with 14 walks and a .298 opponents’ batting average in 21.1 innings, and while the sample size is small, there’s at least a trend if not a tendency, and that clearly has lots of Rangers fans bristling. There’s no mention of the blister resurfacing, no talk of his 2010-2011 workload catching up with him, no accusations of fatigue. But for whatever reason, he’s been a different pitcher in October than he was in the six months leading up to it, and that’s hard to dispute.
Whether it should or shouldn’t, Wilson’s work this month is probably going to factor into his winter marketability, but that’s not worth discussing now. The burden is now on the Rangers’ other 24 players to get to a Game Five in Texas on Monday, which will put Wilson back on the mound, once again facing the Cardinals’ best in Carpenter, and I think even Wilson will tell you he needs to be better on that night than he was in Game One.
2. The long-term questions on Wilson are closer to the front of the burner than those regarding Josh Hamilton, but they’re there. Do you pay Wilson like a Number One to keep him? Do you extend Hamilton before he can be a free agent a year from now, and if so, for how long at what will obviously be monster dollars?
Hamilton’s 10 times the player Nick Johnson is, but he’s closer than that to Johnson in terms of his durability. Now it’s a groin strain, and it’s clearly affecting his ability to do the things Texas needs him to do. He’s not using his legs at bat, robbing him of his power and approach and affecting him even on check swings. He’s not right in the outfield, evidenced last night when he couldn’t get under a deep David Freese fly ball in the fourth, instead having to catch it on the run, and couldn’t put the brakes on once he hauled the ball in, allowing Lance Berkman to tag up from first base and take second easily.
Ian Kinsler has been getting on base all month (.295/.404/.455), but Elvis Andrus (.190/.306/.190) hasn’t been effective, Hamilton (.267/.286/.378) has been relatively anemic (his last home run was longer ago than Esteban German’s last plate appearance), and Michael Young (.191/.224/.319) grounded out all four times on his birthday last night, extending what has been a disappointing post-season at the plate.
Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz haven’t done a great job of getting on base this month but they’ve slugged well, and Mike Napoli (.325/.400/.475) has had a terrific post-season. But they hit 5-6-7, separated on both the front and back ends from Kinsler, and as a result the offense is sputtering. Carpenter (reportedly nursing a sore elbow) wasn’t at his best last night, but he was good enough, and the St. Louis bullpen was tremendous, and as a result Texas got only eight runners on base and two across the plate. That’s not enough, and the 2-3-4 hitters just haven’t gotten the job done.
Texas ended its Game Five loss against Detroit with a white-hot Cruz left on deck, and last night Napoli would have been the next hitter had Cruz not flied out to end the one-run loss. I don’t hold my breath expecting Ron Washington to shuffle things and move Cruz and Napoli up in the lineup, at Hamilton’s and Young’s expense, but it seems like the lineup isn’t constructed as efficiently or put in as strong a position to succeed as it could be.
All that could change tonight, but in Hamilton’s case in particular, the thought of him getting right against a left-handed changeup artist isn’t one I’m finding all that easy to get behind.
3. I suppose I need to address the managing questions. Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch suggested that Cardinals opponents rarely figure out that the best way to combat Tony LaRussa may be to let him overmanage without being drawn into a war of player substitutions. Texas didn’t do that last night.
But I was absolutely fine with Craig Gentry hitting for David Murphy in the seventh (with runners on first and second and one out) against lefthander Marc Rzepczynski, whom LaRussa would have had to leave in to face at least that one batter. Rzepczynski kills left-handed hitters, Murphy isn’t very good against left-handed pitchers, and Gentry improves the defense, something that could have come into play over the final three innings in what was a one-run game. Gentry singled twice and drew a walk against southpaw David Price in Game Three of the ALDS. That move made total sense to me.
After Gentry fanned, Esteban German in the pitcher’s spot? Like most everyone else, I thought Yorvit Torrealba made more sense there — Matt Treanor was added to the World Series roster for a reason — but Torrealba has one hit in 28 career pinch-hitting appearances, and maybe Octavio Dotel enters in that spot if Wash went that way, leading Texas to pull Torrealba back in favor of Mitch Moreland or Endy Chavez. (Rzepczynski’s work in the seventh, Dotel’s work in the eighth, and Jason Motte’s work in the ninth were just sensational. Motte has now pitched nine innings in the playoffs — 28 batters, one hit, zero walks, seven strikeouts. That’s Ogando-plus.)
(And by the way, I love National League baseball.)
The German decision was strange, but I’m not sure it would have made a huge difference. Still, it goes back to the point above — every moment in a playoff game gets picked apart relentlessly because of the stakes, and that decision has clearly generated a narrative of its own.
4. And that’s the thing. Game One was a tremendous baseball game, and because of the final score we’re going to debate things like whether you send the 24th man or the 23rd man up to face a middle reliever in the seventh inning.
But Torrealba or Moreland might have struck out, too.
And Murphy might have fanned, just as Gentry did.
And if one of the six umpires got it right and ruled that Beltre fouled the grounder to third off his front foot (and wasn’t brilliantly faking shoe contact the instant that the ball shot out from the batter’s box) in the ninth, he might have rolled over to the third baseman one pitch later.
Maybe none of those bookmark moments would have mattered had they gone differently. None of the six batters Wilson walked came around to score, or even pushed forward another runner would who come around to score.
But we’re going to put those things under the microscope, something I’m apologetically guilty of doing here myself, just as we’re going to talk about the Game One winner prevailing in seven of the last eight World Series, and 19 of the last 23, because we can’t help it. And that the team with home field has won 20 of 25 World Series, and that this year a Wild Card team gets that benefit because players from other teams in the National League contributed to an All-Star Game victory over three months ago.
The microscope will be out again tonight, for fans of both teams, but what’s most important is that Colby Lewis has a job to do, a responsibility to take charge and keep his team in the game, and the offense needs to be better against Jaime Garcia than it was against Chris Carpenter, so that Texas can even this series up and steal home field advantage back from the team that simply played better baseball last night.