We could debate game 1 of the NLDS between the Nationals and Cardinals until the end of time itself and not change a thing about it. However, we can learn from the experience and potentially profit from the knowledge gained by the flaws exposed by the game. So can the Cardinals.
Jon Jay remains the best leadoff hitter option for the Cardinals with a .378 OBP against RHP and .361 OBP against LHP. He may not be the fastest guy on the team (he isn’t), but he provides the team with the best chance for a straight steal in a critical situation. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, rather it is the ability to overcome it. When you need someone to take a shot at swiping a base, Jay is the man. It might be time to turn him loose just a bit and put some pressure on the opposing defense.
Miscues & Weaknesses:
- Marc Rzepczynski remains questionable as a LOOGY, and he only pitched 4.1 innings from September 1st through October 3rd. Only 2 of those outings even involved more than 10 pitches (11 two times). Though his numbers against LHH and RHH are relatively even, his strikeout rate was much better against lefties. His go-to pitch against LHH in strikeout situations is the slider which produced a whiff rate of 21.65% in 605 counts. He had similar success against RHH in terms of whiff rate (20.00%), but he threw the pitch 711 times. His fourseamer tops out around 90-91, and he rarely throws that by hitters from either side of the plate. Conversely, Sam Freeman was just sent to the Arizona Fall League despite throwing almost twice as many innings as Rzepczynski during the last month of the season. Based on ERA, experience, and an assortment of other statistics, Rzepczynski was the logical choice for a team carrying only a single LHP in the pen. If the team needs a LHP in the pen who can strike out a single hitters, Freeman is/was the guy. Freeman’s superior K/9 rate (8.1 to 6.4) and higher fastball velocity enable him to induce more whiffs which is what the Cardinals needed yesterday against Tyler Moore.
- Jon Jay’s inability to make strong throws is something playoffs will take advantage of at every opportunity. It seemed like a potentially innocuous issue at the time, but when Adam LaRoche went from 1B to 3B on a single to CF by Ian Desmond, he gave the Nationals a 7% jump in win expectancy. He then scored on a single to left field. If he had been stuck at 2B, a single to either corner outfielder may have prevented him from scoring. Jay covers a lot of ground on defense, but his throwing ability is well known.
- Lack of a cohesive plan may have been the team’s undoing in the 7th inning. With bases loaded and nobody out, Allen Craig and Yadier Molina both went up hacking at the first pitch they saw from Ryan Mattheus. Maybe that was smart baseball given Mattheus allows a .300 batting average against on his first pitch. That’s not the entire story, though. Mattheus also has a BAA of .500 on 0-1, .368 on 2-1, and .283 after 0-1. Perhaps the issue is one of familiarity (or lack thereof), but Mattheus starts RHH off with a sinker about 40% of the time. That’s probably not the pitch either Craig or Molina should have been looking to drive, especially when you see that he induces ground balls about 12.98% of the time with that pitch. Compared to the 4.28% line drive rate and 3.85% fly ball rate, it seems like a better choice would have been to take him deeper into the count and hope for a fourseam fastball or slider.
- While it’s difficult to place too much blame on a guy with 43 games of big league experience, Kozma’s error improved the win expectancy for the Nationals from 9% to 33%. That ballooned to 55% after a single put runners on first and second.
If Matheny’s move to bring in Rzepczynski had worked out, he would be hailed a hero who made all the right moves. Since the move didn’t work out, I’m not sure why he shouldn’t receive criticism in equal amount. Leaving Boggs in to face Chad Tracy seemed like a reasonable idea at the time, especially since Boggs appeared to have good command in striking out Kurt Suzuki. His explanation during the post-game made the decision seem almost too bad to be true. He reasoned that bringing in Jason Motte in the top of the 8th would have been a bad move, because he would have been forced to double switch Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, or Yadier Molina out of the game with the pitcher’s spot due up 2nd in the bottom half of the inning.
Of course, that would only have been an issue had the Nationals been able to take the lead against Motte. Once the brought Rzepczynski into the game, he had to face at least 1 hitter. Matheny could have opted to simply use Rzepczynski to walk Tyler Moore to allow Motte to come in with the bases loaded. Still not ideal, but it’s probably a better situation than Rzepczynski facing a RHH with the game on the line.