Success! Phils win Game One

Los Angeles Dodgers @ Philadelphia Phillies, NLCS Game OneIt looked like it was going to get ugly very early. In the first inning, Cole Hamels gave up a one-out double to Andre Ethier — no fault of Hamels, it was a good piece of hitting — and promptly made arguably his only mistake pitch of the game, an 0-1 fastball down the middle to Manny Ramirez*. Man-Ram smoked it, as most good hitters would on a fastball down the middle. The ball just barely stayed in the yard, bouncing off of the 19′-high fence in left-center.

Hamels stayed out of further trouble in the inning, striking out Russell Martin, walking James Loney, and ending the inning by inducing Matt Kemp to fly out to right fielder Jayson Werth.

* It’s debatable as to whether or not Ramirez should have ever been pitched to in that situation, considering that first base was open. With the gift of hindsight, it’s plain to see that he should have been walked, but an intentional walk in the first inning of a scoreless game is questionable strategy in and of itself.

Hamels rolled through the game, although he was nearly at 60 pitches through three innings.

The Dodgers scored again in the fourth, but it was on a lucky ground-rule double by Matt Kemp — a ball that sliced down the right field line, landing just inside the line. Kemp advanced to third on a grounder to shortstop by Casey Blake, and scored on a fly ball to deep left-center by Blake DeWitt.

For whatever reason, Hamels decided to throw a high fastball in an 0-1 count to DeWitt. Not exactly the pitch you want if you’re trying to avoid a fly ball to the outfield.

Other than that, Hamels was dominant, going seven strong innings, giving up the two earned runs on six hits and two walks, and striking out eight. Ryan Madson threw a scoreless eighth and Lidge had a stress-free ninth inning, although the first two outs were recorded on deep fly balls to center and right-center.

As he so often seems to do, Shane Victorino started the Phillies’ run scoring on a seemingly harmless grounder in the sixth inning, but because of his speed, shortstop Rafael Furcal rushed his throw and threw it wide of first baseman James Loney. Without hesitation, Victorino advanced to second base.

With Utley up next, you were just hoping he didn’t make an unproductive out, as he’s likely been playing with a bad hip since about early May (he was taken out hard at second base by Justin Upton of the Arizona Diamondbacks). Instead of working the count, Utley swung at starter Derek Lowe’s first offering, a sinker he left up. Utley put enough on his swing to deposit the ball beyond the right field fence to tie the game.

More home run-runs. 10 of the 15 runs the Phils scored in the NLDS came via the long ball, and now 2-of-2 in the NLCS. Maybe it doesn’t matter. With Phillies fans content with a mere tie game against a dominant sinker-baller, Ryan Howard grounded out. But it wasn’t over. Pat Burrell took three straight balls, and then a called strike before smoking a belt-high fastball that landed beyond the left field fence in about half-a-second.

With Hamels on the mound, 9 outs to go, and a dominant bullpen to look forward to, things were looking good, and they were good. Ryan Madson did give up a hit but it should have been an error, since Pedro Feliz literally booted a Russell Martin ground ball. Brad Lidge went 3-up, 3-down in the ninth for a victory in Game One of the NLCS.

It wouldn’t be a Phillies victory without some curious strategy from manager Charlie Manuel. In the bottom of the seventh against “reliever” Greg Maddux, catcher Carlos Ruiz led off with a single deep in the hole, a tough grounder for Furcal. With the pitcher due up, Manuel could have sent up left-handers Greg Dobbs or Matt Stairs against the right-handed pitcher, but instead opted to go with So “Failure” Taguchi to bunt Ruiz to second base.

A look at the Run Expectancy Matrix at Baseball Prospectus will show you why bunting in that situation is a losing play even if executed properly, so success or not, it was a dumb move. But Taguchi turned regular old fail into epic fail by popping up his bunt attempt, caught by Loney in foul territory.

The one bright spot in Manuel’s strategy was that he didn’t take Burrell out until the ninth inning. Usually, it’s in the seventh inning.

All in all, it was an entertaining game and a great start to the NLCS. Brett Myers will oppose Chad Billingsley tomorrow afternoon (4:35 PM) in what should be yet another low-scoring game.

Game graph courtesy FanGraphs.

Is The Hardball Times Sick of Me Yet?

Prior to the Brewers-Phillies NLDS series, I partnered with John Brattain on a preview, trying to lay out the reasons why the Phillies were favorites to win the series. Fortunately, the Phillies did a decent job of not making me look like an idiot, so Brattain and I teamed up again for the NLCS.

First, you want to know why the Phillies beat the Brewers, right? Right? Come on. The Gruesome Twosome analyze ex post facto the NLDS.

And the meat of the matter: Why the Phillies will beat the Dodgers.

Here’s a snippet:

Bill: [...] No reliever on the Dodgers’ postseason roster finished the regular season with an ERA+ under 130, which is amazing. I mentioned in the Phillies-Brewers preview that Philly relievers all had an ERA+ over 120, so that gives you some perspective on just how good their bullpens are. Presume any late lead is safe in the NLCS.

John: Well, any lead of more than two runs anyway. I never discount the ol’ “bloop and a blast” possibility or as we witnessed in the LDS … the IBB and a blast. My gut tells me we’re going to see one “walk-off” win in this series, or so my sources inside my head inform me (yes, I always think with my stomach).