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.

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