It’s the Most Improbable Time of the Year

A few random thoughts on Tuesday night’s 6-0 victory over the Dodgers in LA…

Ludwick and Headley Do Damage

Ryan Ludwick drove in four runs (granted, one came on a bases-loaded HBP — thank you, Mr. Billingsley)… Nobody loves RBI these days, but this is telling:

Dates      G PA RBI
8/24-9/17 23 91   6
9/18-9/20  3 13   7

Welcome to the party. Make yourself comfortable, drive in some runs… it’ll be a hoot.

As for Chase Headley, when he singled just inside the first-base line in the fifth to drive home Adrian Gonzalez, I gave a little shout. Headley had looked completely lost in his first two trips to the plate. He needed that hit in the worst way. I needed him to get that hit in the worst way.

Richard Takes Care of the Rest

How about Clayton Richard with the first complete game shutout of his career? My favorite sequence came in the third inning. With runners at first and second and one out, he struck out Andre Ethier on three straight fastballs down the middle. Ethier never lifted the bat off his shoulder.

Richard jumped ahead of the next batter, Matt Kemp, with that same fastball. Richard then bounced a breaking pitch; Kemp tried to check his swing but could not. After laying off another pitch down, he grounded to short to end the frame.

I liked Richard’s efficiency. Sometimes his command will wander in the middle of games, a la Adam Eaton a few years ago. On Tuesday, despite getting into a few interesting situations, he stayed in control. Richard gave up eight hits, but they were all singles. And he did a good job of getting ahead in the count… better than Billingsley did, anyway:

            TBF F-Strike%*
Richard      34     .618
Billingsley  26     .423

*First pitch strike percentage

The numbers look nice, but what exactly do they mean? Intuition tells us that throwing strike one is paramount to a pitcher’s success; it forces the batter into a defensive position, thus increasing the odds that the pitcher will win the battle.

Intuition can be useful, but it’s not always correct, so we appeal to data. FanGraphs provides the context:

Getting the first strike on a batter significantly decreases the batter’s chance of success and likewise increases a pitcher’s chance of success…. The major league average F-Strike% for all players from 2005-2008 is 59%. There is very little variation in the major league average from year to year.

(If you want to get down and dirty, check out Craig Burley’s two-part primer.)

The salient point is that in this game, Richard was slightly above MLB average in throwing the first pitch for a strike, while Billingsley was not. It served Richard and the Padres well.

He also set a season high with a 75 Game Score and tied his season high with 15 ground balls. Solid.

Meanwhile, Back in Chicago and Phoenix

The Cubs tried… Carlos Zambrano tossed six scoreless innings but Buster Posey homered off Andrew Cashner with one out in the eighth to give the Giants a 1-0 victory. San Francisco remains 1/2 game ahead of the Padres.

The Diamondbacks, bless their snaky little hearts, beat the Rockies. Kelly Johnson knocked a two-run homer off Jorge de la Rosa with two out in the third, Joe Saunders worked eight strong innings, and, miracle of miracles, the bullpen didn’t implode.

Here are the current playoff odds:

Tm   W-L  BPro Cool
Atl 86-66 78.2 78.7
SF  85-66 58.0 57.4
SD  84-66 49.0 44.6
Col 82-68 14.9 10.0

And here are Wednesday’s matchups:

  • Atl @ Phi, Tommy Hanson vs Roy Oswalt, 4:05 p.m. PT
  • SF @ ChN, Nostradamus Sanchez vs Randy Wells, 5:05 p.m. PT
  • Col @ Ari, Ubaldo Jimenez vs Rodrigo Lopez, 6:40 p.m. PT
  • SD @ LA, Tim Stauffer vs Ted Lilly, 7:10 p.m. PT

The Padres are in a pennant race. I still don’t understand how that’s even possible, but no complaints… Let’s do it…

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6 Responses »

  1. … and the Dodgers were mathematically eliminated last night!

  2. “Nostradamus Sanchez” – I do like that.
    It’s starting to look like it might come down to a winner-takes-all series in San Fran. I fancy our chances against the Cubs for a four-game sweep. Take 2 from the Dodgers and Reds, and we will be in a good spot.

    Of course, I didn’t fancy us to lose 10 in a row either. But damn, this is still fun!

  3. Chase Headley in September: .181/.192/.236, with a 27-1 K-BB ratio. Ouch. He goes up to the plate and I wonder if he’ll ever get another hit in his life. Nice to see him single last night.

  4. HUGE game by Richard last night! That’s stepping up!

  5. It’s official, the Padres are worse than the Pirates… when it comes to facing the Cardinals.

    The Pirates are killing both Westbrook and Lohse, the same two pitchers that handcuffed the Padres last week.

  6. Last night it’s Ludwick, tonight it was Miggy. The makeover of 40% of the starting rotation in the middle of the pennant race continues to work. Way to go, Hoyer and Black.