Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

WS Pitcher Review and Lee’s horrendous Decision in Game 5


Edgar Renteria buried the Rangers in Game 5. Photo: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images.

(this is a follow-up to a previous posting about the Giant’s World Series victory).

Despite the supposed massive superiority of the American League and its juggernaut payroll teams, a team from the National League (one that barely made the playoffs no less) was crowned WS champion after a rather tidy 4-1 series victory.  The Giants are certainly not a low-payroll team; they started the season with the league’s 9th highest payroll, finished the regular season with the 5th best record and advanced through the playoffs with relative ease (they were 11-4 in the playoffs altogether, losing 2 Sanchez starts, a Lincecum and a Cain start (despite Cain continuing a 22 inning post season no earned-run streak).

Not that it mattered in the end, but game 5 certainly turned on a questionable pitching strategy decision just before the decisive 3-run homer in the 7th.  Cody Ross led off with a single (continuing his amazing post season and certainly buying him FA dollars in the off season).  Cliff Lee made an 0-2 mistake to Uribe who smacked a single into center.  After a fantastic career-first sacrifice/drag bunt by Aubrey Huff, Cliff Lee had runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out.  Lee battled Burrell to 3-2 before striking him out on an outside cutter.  This seemed at the time to be the game-changing strikeout that Lee needed but he quickly fell behind the next batter Edgar Renteria 2-0, missing badly with two curveballs.  Announcer Tim McCarver, often villified as being the master of the obvious, stated very clearly that the right decision upon falling behind 2-0 would be to walk Renteria, load the bases with 2 outs and start afresh with the on-deck hitter Aaron Rowand (a sub in the series and not nearly the threat of Renteria).  Before McCarver could finish his thought, Lee grooved a 2-0 fastball, belt high, down the middle of the plate and the aging, soon-to-be-retired Renteria didn’t miss.  He crushed a 3-run homer and the game was essentially over.  Lincecum pitched 8 complete (giving up a meaningless homer to Nelson Cruz) before oddball closer Brian Wilson blew through the heart of the Rangers lineup (Hamilton, Guerrero and Cruz again) to get the save and finish out the series.

Why does Lee not walk Renteria there?  Why does the pitching coach see the obvious situation, run out to the mound and say, “hey, lets just throw two fastballs a foot outside and start over on Rowand?”  This is the reason MLB teams have bench coaches; to help the manager manage the game.  It was the latest in a series of curious pitching moves (or non-moves) from the Rangers coaching staff.  In reality Lee is a competitor and probably thinks he can get anyone out, at any time, let alone an over-the-hill bounce-around-the league veteran like Renteria.  But, no matter what the quality of the hitter mistakes in Major League Baseball quickly turn into gopher balls.

Overview of all 15 games the Giants played this offseason:

Series/Game # Giants SP Opponent SP Game Result WP LP
NLDS-1 Lincecum Lowe Giants W 1-0 Lincecum Lowe
NLDS-2 Cain Hansen Braves W 5-4 Farnsworth Ramirez
NLDS-3 Sanchez Hudson Giants W 3-2 Romo Kimbrel
NLDS-4 Bumgarner Lowe Giants W 3-2 Bumgarner Lowe
NLCS-1 Lincecum Halladay Giants W 4-3 Lincecum Halladay
NLCS-2 Sanchez Oswalt Phillies 6-1 Oswalt Sanchez
NLCS-3 Cain Hamels Giants W 3-0 Cain Hamels
NLCS-4 Bumgarner Blanton Giants W 6-5 Wilson Oswalt
NLCS-5 Lincecum Halladay Phillies 4-2 Halladay Lincecum
NLCS-6 Sanchez Oswalt Giants W 3-2 Lopez Madson
WS-1 Lincecum Lee Giants W 11-7 Lincecum Lee
WS-2 Cain Wilson Giants W 9-0 Cain Wilson
WS-3 Sanchez Lewis Rangers W 4-2 Lewis Sanchez
WS-4 Bumgarner Hunter Giants W 4-0 Bumgarner Hunter
WS-5 Lincecum Lee Giants W 3-1 Lincecum Lee

SF Starting Pitching Stats in the playoffs (all three series combined)

Pitcher Starts w/l Team w/L ip k/bb era whip
Lincecum 5 4-1 4-1 37 43/9 2.43 0.92
Cain 3 2-0 2-1 21.33 13/7 0 0.94
Sanchez 4 0-1 2-2 20 22/9 4.05 1.25
Bumgarner 3 2-0 3-0 20.66 18/5 2.12 1.11

The cliche for post season baseball has always been, “good pitching beats good hitting” and we certainly saw this in the 2010 post season.  The Giants featured 2 clear “Aces” in Lincecum and Cain, while witnessing a 21-yr old rookie Madison Bumgarner dominate on the sport’s biggest stage.  Only #3 starter Sanchez struggled in this post season (if you can call a 4.05 era against the best teams in baseball truly “struggling”).   The world series featured the league’s best hitting team in Texas, but they were shut down by the Giant’s pitching staff, hitting .190 for the series.

Ironically; what the Giants just finished doing to the Rangers is what most of the baseball world thought the Phillies and their vaunted rotation would be doing.  Yes; the AL has the Red Sox and Yankees and Rays (by most opinions 3 of the best 5 teams in baseball) but the NL has the rotational depth to shutdown $150M rosters.  If the Yankees want to compete next year, look no further than replacing Vazquez with Cliff Lee, turning the ineffective Burnett into a 5th starter (ala what SF did with Barry Zito) and finding themselves a solid #1a Ace behind Sabathia.

How does this tie back to the Nats?  The answer is clear; if you can put together a top notch starting rotation, you can go incredibly far.  Imagine in 2012 this rotation: a healthy Strasburg, a strong and improving Jordan Zimmerman, an impressive young starter in Sammy Solis, a top notch free agent acquisition along the likes of Greinke or a healthy Brandon Webb, and a take your pick from our stable of #5 starters like Lannan, Detwiler or Maya.  These guys can end losing streaks, keep your team in games, throw up quality starts 80% of the time, and turn a league average offense into a post season team.

That’s the “plan” anyway.

2 Responses to 'WS Pitcher Review and Lee’s horrendous Decision in Game 5'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'WS Pitcher Review and Lee’s horrendous Decision in Game 5'.

  1. “Imagine in 2012 this rotation…a top notch free agent acquisition along the likes of Greinke or a healthy Brandon Webb…”

    Zack Greinke is not now a free agent, nor will he be before the 2012 season. Brandon Webb does not appear to be healthy; he’s throwing about 84, so assuming health is a crapshoot.


    10 Nov 10 at 12:44 am

  2. Should have been clearer in the Greinke comment; I saw his name in a trade rumor mentioning the Nationals and threw him in for effect. He’s available from KC for a price; is there a price that the Nats would be willing to pay?

    Fair enough on Webb. I’ve read the same. Its hard to imagine someone who was so dominant just a couple years ago being completely washed up.

    Thx for reading and commenting though…

    Todd Boss

    10 Nov 10 at 3:54 pm

Leave a Reply