The Phillies and Platoon Splits

After the Phillies won the NL East and clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, fans began to play matchmaker. Would the Phillies rather play the lefty-heavy Arizona Diamondbacks, or the Milwaukee Brewers’ wealth of right-handed hitters? The Phillies will enter the post-season with the potential of just one lefty out of the bullpen (Antonio Bastardo), so maybe you bite the bullet and roll the dice against NL MVP candidate Ryan Braun and the Brewers’ flock of right-handers.

What is interesting about the Phillies’ pitching staff, though, is that the platoon match-ups do not work the way they do with most pitchers. Pitchers tend to perform better against same-handed hitters because they can hide the ball slightly longer and the ball appears to come from a more favorable angle. That has not been the case for the Phillies this year.

Two starters and four key relievers have performed better against opposite-handed hitters, surprisingly. With talk of the Phillies potentially adding lefty Joe Savery to the roster, that now looks superfluous after perusing this information. In a late-innings situation where the Phillies need to get a crucial lefty out — say, Prince Fielder — they can instead call upon Vance Worley and expect him to get the job done.

This is an important distinction to make because it allows the Phillies the flexibility of entering the playoffs with an 11-man pitching staff. With the questionable durability of the Phillies’ entire infield, bringing an extra infielder rather than an extra fielder can make or break the Phillies’ late-game decision-making. The debate then revolves around carrying five or six outfielders (and conversely seven or six infielders). Ben Francisco could be left off in favor of Pete Orr if the Phillies want to be very safe against any potential injuries to their infielders.

Ultimately, some people may say it is an irrelevant discussion, but each roster spot should be treated as if it matters the same as any other. And, as the Phillies experienced in 2008, you never know who is going to be a key contributor. Would you have expected Eric Bruntlett, Geoff Jenkins, and Pedro Feliz to have played big roles in the Phillies’ Game Five win over the Tampa Bay Rays? Do the best you can at maximizing each roster spot and you can safeguard against being wronged by Baseba’al.

Baseball Is Awesome

If you missed last’s action around the league, let’s let the win probability graphs from FanGraphs do the talking:

Starting with Phillies-Braves…

The St. Louis Cardinals, vying with the Braves for the NL Wild Card, beat the pulp out of the Houston Astros 8-0. As a result, the Braves needed to win to force a one-game playoff on Thursday, their only hopes for the post-season. The Braves were up 3-1 going into the seventh, but the Phillies started to chip away. They scored once in the seventh and tied the game against Craig Kimbrel in the ninth. Hunter Pence broke the tie in the 13th with a BABIP-fueled RBI infield single in the hole between first and second. David Herndon nailed down the bottom-half for the save, dashing the Braves’ playoff hopes.

At one point in mid-August, the Braves had 26 more wins than losses and appeared to be locks for the post-season. In September, the Braves lost 18 of 27 games while the Cardinals won 18 of 26. Simply put, the Braves ran out of gas — and healthy players. The Braves’ loss was the Phillies’ 102nd win of the season, setting a new franchise record for wins in the regular season, beating the 101 wins of the 1976 and ’77 Phillies.

Meanwhile, the Yankees-Rays game wasn’t too interesting. The Yankees took a 7-0 lead, putting the Rays’ fate firmly in the hands of the Boston Red Sox, who were playing the Baltimore Orioles. In the eighth inning, Yankees relievers Boone Logan and Luis Ayala had complete meltdowns. Logan allowed all three hitters he faced to reach base, departing with the bases loaded. Ayala forced in two runs with a walk and a hit batter, followed by one more on a sacrifice fly. With two outs, Evan Longoria capped the inning with a three-run home run to bring the Rays within one run at 7-6. Suddenly, it was a game. The reset button was pushed with two outs in the bottom of the ninth when Dan Johnson — who hadn’t reached base via a hit since April 27 — hit a home run down the left field line to tie the game and breathe life back into the Rays’ playoff hopes.

Over in Baltimore, the Red Sox had gone up 3-2 thanks to a Dustin Pedroia solo home run in the fifth. The score held going into the bottom of the ninth inning as the Orioles attempted to rally against closer Jonathan Papelbon. At the same time, the Rays and Yankees were going back and forth, the score holding at seven apiece as the game went deeper and deeper into extra innings. Papelbon retired the first two Orioles he faced on strikeouts, giving Red Sox Nation confidence that they would at least have the opportunity to have a direct fight with the Rays for post-season rights.

The 68-93 Orioles weren’t going down without a fight. Chris Davis doubled on a line drive down the right field line. Nolan Reimold promptly doubled to right-center, tying the game at threes. The Rays fans in Tropicana Field went nuts when they heard the news. Moments later, Robert Andino singled to left. The ball was misplayed by Carl Crawford, allowing Reimold to score the winning run uncontested.

How did that feel? Have a look at the graph:

No more than three minutes later in Tampa with Scott Proctor on the bump, Longoria hit a solo home run down the left field line to clinch the AL Wild Card for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Like the Braves with the NL Wild Card, the Red Sox at one point appeared to be locks for the AL Wild Card. In fact, the Sox were in first place in the AL East as recently as September 1. However, their September was even worse than the Braves’, winning just seven of 27 games. The Rays won 17 of 27, including their last five games to finish out the season. If you thought the Mets’ collapse in 2007 was bad, the Braves and Red Sox arguably exceeded that — in the same season.

One night after we saw this dramatic comeback…

… we were treated to three. On the same night. As it pertains to the AL Wild Card, within minutes of each other. Each game had drastic playoff implications.

I don’t think it would be outrageous to say that Wednesday, September 28, 2011 was the wildest day of baseball in history, all things considered. Cherish what you witnessed on that day; you will go a long time before witnessing something like that again.