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October 5, 2014 / Nat Anacostia

NLDS game 2: 18 innings to deep disappointment

The Nats lost 2 to 1 in the 18th inning. The Nats’ batters didn’t hit Tim Hudson. Jordan Zimmermann pitched great, but couldn’t get the final out. Drew Storen blew the save. The relievers relieved. The batters didn’t hit Yusmeiro Petit. In the 18th inning Tanner Roark missed his spot on one pitch and Brandon Belt found the sweet spot on his bat. Down 2 games to 0, the Nats go to San Francisco to face Madison Bumgarner in an elimination game, needing to pull off three wins in a row.

The big controversy was Matt Williams pulling Zimmermann with two outs in the ninth after issuing the two-out walk to Joe Panik. Boswell thinks Williams should have left him in. Some crap about “why do we revere sports in this culture? Why do we pass stories down through generations?” Boswell thinks that Williams, as a rookie manager, needs to learn not to do so much and just let the game play out. Which is ironic, because according to one metric, Williams is the most passive, “least meddlesome” manager in the majors.

My own opinion is that Williams was absolutely right to pull (J)Zim there. Watching Panik’s plate appearance, it was clear that Zim was gassed and was losing his command. Not so much the walk as the one where he missed his spot and Panik pulled it foul with authority—fans were gasping thinking he may have tied the game with one swing. Zim had pitched well against Posey and Sandoval tonight, but Sandoval, in particular, has hit him well over his career. It was the fourth time through the order, and like almost any pitcher, Zim pitches less effectively the more times that batters see him. Here are his career statistics (OPS allowed) by time through the order: 1st .628; 2nd .682; 3rd .719; 4th .830. You’d expect anyone in the Nats bullpen to pitch better than Zim has pitched his 4th time through order. (Addenda: Rob Neyer and CJ Nitkowski of Fox Sports Harper of Nationals Baseball agree that Williams was right to pull Zim.)

I actually think that where Williams may have blown it was in letting Zim start the inning. He should have brought Storen in and the start of the 9th, which is what he would have done if the score was 2 to 1 or something and Williams wasn’t concerned about Zim getting credit for a shutout and “passing stories down through the generations.” If Storen had started the inning, Williams could have kept Tyler Clippard and Matt Thornton warm in the bullpen to send in if Storen got into trouble. The problem last night is that with Panik on base and Posey and Sandoval coming up, Storen was already in trouble. Of course, a closer is supposed to be able to get you out of trouble, and the failure to do so is on Storen. (And also on Mike Rizzo who didn’t make the major bullpen upgrade he might have made at the trade deadline.)

Williams’ other mistake was not pinch hitting Ryan Zimmerman for Adam LaRoche when Bochy brought in Javy Lopez in the 8th with Rendon on second. We talked about this a bit in my game 1 summary, and Harper at Nationals Baseball talked about it quite a bit more. LaRoche has hit poorly against left handers, and especially against Lopez, and unlike Game 1, the result this time was predictable—Rochy struck out. With one inning left, the case for making the substitution was stronger than it was in Game 1. If you’re ever going to take advantage of the Zim’s platoon advantage compared with LaRoche, that seems like the spot to do it. Christina Kahrl of Sweetspot even suggested that it may have been a mistake for Rendon to steal, given that it led to such an unfavorable matchup for LaRoche. The mistake was Williams’, not Rendon’s.

There was a lot of complaining by the Nationals batters about the strike zone. It’s weird how in the wild card games, ESPN was showing the pitch-track graph on literally every pitch, whereas Fox, though it clearly has the capability, is extremely reluctant to discuss the strike zone and showed its strike zone graphic only a couple of times in the game. So it requires going to another site to find tracking of pitches—I went to the excellent Brooks Baseball pitch f/x site. As several writers have noted, Asdrubal Cabrera really didn’t have a legitimate beef with the high strikes that got him tossed. But Bryce Harper did have a legitimate complaint about the low called strike that he was barking about. And in general, umpire Vic Carapazza did call an unusually large strike zone, especially for outside pitches against right-handed batters. It was clearly frustrating for our hitters. While I don’t see evidence that his wide strike zone was purposely unfair, it did help the Giants because Hudson and Petit were clearly taking advantage of it, whereas most Nats’ pitchers weren’t. Close Call Sports sees the advantage as +4 pitches for the Giants. I also thought Carapazza should have tried to calm the situation with Cabrera after Asdrubal’s first complaint. Although Carapazza was right on the call itself, one of his other jobs is to keep things calm so that he doesn’t have to eject a player in an extra inning post-season game.

One of my theories is that the Nats are a warm weather team. For the last three years, they’ve always seemed to play poorly in April and May and heat up in the dog days of summer. Warm weather helps the ball carry, and my theory is that helps the hitters more than it hurts the Nats’ pitchers. Some day I may put together some data and try to test that theory. For now, I’ll just note that on this chilly night the Nationals hit several warning track shots that might have been home runs in August—Harper to center field in the 12th, Rendon in the 15th, and LaRoche in the 16th. Of course, Pence’s double in the top of the 12th also probably would have gone out in warmer weather.

At 18 innings and 6 hours and 23 minutes, this was the longest baseball game I’ve ever watched. It’s too bad that the memories will be bitter.


One Comment


  1. More on balls and strikes in game 2 | Nats Noodles

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