No Cliff-Hanger Today

“Should Cliff Lee start Game One?” I asked. Lee himself answered with a resounding, “Of course. What are you — stupid?”

After a shaky start to the game through the first two innings, Lee went into cruise control and held the Colorado Rockies scoreless through eight and two-thirds innings. He never threw more than 17 pitches in an inning and finished with 114 through all nine.

Lee was in control and very economic with his pitch selection. He started out ahead against 25 of 32 Rockies hitters. In addition to complete and utter dominance on the mound, Lee notched himself a hit, a stolen base (the only Phillies pitcher to steal a bag in a post-season game), and a sacrifice bunt.

Lee’s opponent on the mound, Ubaldo Jimenez, was equally as dominant and economic, throwing only 34 pitches through the first three innings. I was watching the game with a friend of mine and he asked me what the Phillies need to do to beat Jimenez. I told him that the Phillies needed to work the count and make Jimenez work for his outs.

In the first inning, both Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino took the first pitch but swung at the second pitch. There may have been something in the scouting report that indicated that Jimenez is vulnerable after the first pitch, but it wasn’t working. It wasn’t until the fifth inning that the Phillies took more than three consecutive pitches and that’s when the floodgates opened.

Jayson Werth, who sees the most pitches per plate appearance among all Major Leaguers, took five straight pitches and eventually worked a walk. Raul Ibanez took three of the next four pitches before doubling down the right field line, and Pedro Feliz followed with a fundamentally-sound ground out to the right side to move Ibanez to third. Ruiz hit a line drive single to right field that allowed Ibanez to score easily, and Ruiz advanced to second on a fielding error by Brad Hawpe.

In the sixth inning, Jimenez essentially eliminated all of his pitches except his fastball and change-up, and the Phillies hitters took advantage. In succession, Chase Utley singled, Ryan Howard doubled, and Jayson Werth tripled, signaling the end of Ubaldo’s night. Jimenez had thrown for a lower percentage of strikes in the fifth and sixth innings as a result of the Phillies becoming more patient and working the count.

  • 1st inning: 66.67% strikes (9 pitches)
  • 2nd: 80% (10 pitches)
  • 3rd: 60% (10 pitches)
  • 4th: 75% (8 pitches)
  • 5th: 51.43% (35 pitches)
  • 6th: 54.55% (11 pitches; left after facing three hitters and recording no outs)

Did the game play out as we expected? Let’s look back at the preview.

  • The Phillies will throw out two lefty starters against the Rockies’ lefties gaining the platoon advantage while the Rockies will use two righties against the Phillies’ lefty mashers. In the batter/pitcher match-ups, the Phillies have a nice advantage here.
    • Rockies left-handed hitters went 2-for-11 (Carlos Gonzalez got both hits in 4 AB) against the left-handed Lee.
    • Phillies left-handed hitters went 5-for-10 against the right-handed Jimenez.
  • The keys to the match-up [...] Jimenez’s use of his slider
    • The Phillies hit .300 against his slider today.
  • …it is pivotal that their lefty relievers — Franklin Morales and Joe Beimel — are able to successfully retire the likes of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Raul Ibanez.
    • Joe Beimel allowed an RBI single to Raul Ibanez, the only hitter he faced.
    • Franklin Morales got Utley to foul out and Howard to hit into a line drive double play.

So far, so good. However, I will gladly eat crow for the statement I made yesterday:

Meanwhile, we learned yesterday that the Rockies are the second-best team in the Majors at hitting the cutter, which is Lee’s second-best pitch. Compound that with Lee’s recent struggles — a 6.13 ERA in his last seven starts — and we aren’t inspired with confidence.

I’ve never been more happy to be wrong.

Game graph above courtesy FanGraphs.

BDD: Division Series Predictions

At Baseball Daily Digest, you can check out all of our predictions for the opening round of the playoffs. Three of the four series are pretty easy picks; the only tricky one is the Angels-Red Sox series.

By the way, if you haven’t checked it out, stop by the Baseball Bloggers Alliance website. We’ll be doing end-of-season award voting next week. Crashburn Alley and Fire Eric Bruntlett represent the Phillies and we’ll be voting on all of the awards. Be sure to stop by for our takes on the MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, and other awards.

Phillies Getting Phingered

* Before you say it, I totally realize and agree that replacing the letter f with ph stopped being cool back in 1991. But I needed an easy way to allude to that Tom Green movie. It’s all about the title, bro.

The Phillies are slated to begin their quest for a repeat World Series championship in, oh, a couple hours. Yes, it’s noontime here in Philadelphia and with those two hours to kill, let’s be pedantic. Let’s whine about some stuff.

First order of business, per The Fightins per NBC Miami: Little girl steals from Ryan Howard via legal system.

Ryan Howard hit his 200th home run in Florida in a game against the Marlins back on July 16 against Chris Volstad. A girl — presumably it’s the one you see in the video — ended up with the baseball. As baseball players are wont to do, Ryan Howard asked for his milestone home run ball back and in exchange, he would give the girl an autographed baseball. Fair deal, it seems, no? The girl took the deal.

Apparently, she told her family about it and this induced outrage. Dollar signs started floating down and liquidating down a drain appeared before her parents’ eyes. They did what most rational people do when they realize that their 12-year-old daughter did a good deed for another person: they called a lawyer, who, according to NBC Miami, “then filed a lawsuit to get the ball back, claiming it was Valdivia’s ball and that Howard took advantage of the little girl”.

If you’re Ryan Howard in this situation, what do you do? Do you give up a memento of all the hard work and success you’ve earned throughout your baseball career? Or do you publicly war with a 12-year-old girl over a baseball? It’s a no-win situation for Big Brown, so he just gave the ball back to the girl’s family and left it at that.

When the mainstream media goes through its ritual bashing of Philadelphia fans, keep this fiasco on the front burner. Philly fans may be passionate and may consume seven too many adult beverages at Citizens Bank Park, but I’d be hard-pressed to believe that anyone, from a city built on the concept of hard work and delayed gratification, would be petty enough to hire a lawyer for the sole purposes of acquiring a baseball that may sell for a few hundred dollars on eBay.

At any rate, kudos to Ryan for taking the high road, even if it meant parting with a nice memento.

The other piece of whine-worthy news comes via Scott Lauber.

Cole Hamels doesn’t like the 2:37 PM EST start time for the NLDS games in Philadelphia.

I don’t think it’s fair. I definitely don’t think it’s fair for the fans because this is all about home-field advantage or just baseball in general. I understand TV ratings, but I think, at the end of the day, most players would rather play when they’re both comfortable, and that’s kind of what we’re trained at, either 1 o’clock or 7 o’clock, and I think that’s more fair for us than the TV ratings because, truly, I don’t think we mind as much for TV ratings.

Aside from entering into the World’s Longest Run-On Sentence contest, Cole has a point. Most people reading this blog will be doing so after they get home from work at 5 o’clock. Many people will be unable to watch most or all of the first two games of the NLDS due to work or other obligations.

Additionally, if it is true that “most players would rather play when they’re both comfortable” — in other words, that most players perform better at ritual times — then that is something MLB should strive to avoid. Hamels’ claim certainly could be backed up by science.

So, we have two problems here:

  • By having these early start times, MLB is effectively alienating a good portion of its viewing audience.
  • Players, supposedly, play better when the start time is common, i.e. 1:00-ish or 7:00-ish.

While MLB is certainly beholden to its broadcasters (FOX, TBS, etc.), it is also beholden to its extremely large consumer base and the last thing they want to do is alienate them by preventing them from seeing the games due to early start times, or by putting out a sub-par product since players aren’t used to the start times. Hamels’ comments at first glance seem like a prima donna athlete whining again, but they actually have merit. MLB should take those comments into consideration when they think about how they can improve next year’s post-season presentation.