Some Thoughts On Day 17 Of The 2011 MLB Playoffs

MILWAUKEE, WI - OCTOBER 16: A detail of stuffed animals of the Brewers' sausages looking dejected --> beginning of actual caption

I didn't write anything yesterday because I decided on Friday that I would take yesterday off. However, you could also interpret my absence as being in protest of the Rangers' victory if you like. God damn Rangers. Anyway.

There are a few amazing things about this year's Cardinals. Obviously, there are a few amazing things about this year's Cardinals. It's hard to go to the World Series without having amazing qualities, or without having amazing things take place. One is that they managed to have their success without Adam Wainwright. Wainwright was supposed to be the ace of the staff. Instead he developed a torn UCL and had Tommy John surgery during the spring.

Now I know most of us are AL fans, so maybe the name "Adam Wainwright" doesn't mean a whole lot to you. But over the previous two years, Wainwright threw 463.1 innings, with a 3.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 2.53 ERA. According to Fangraphs' WAR, between 2009-2010 Wainwright was about as valuable as Jon Lester and CC Sabathia. The Cardinals thought they'd be able to hand the ball to that guy 33 or 34 times. Instead they didn't hand the ball to him once.

Another amazing thing is that they pulled off their big late comeback in the standings. Don't let all the attention that's been paid to the Red Sox throw you - the National League featured just as improbable a Wild Card race, as the Braves looked like they were sitting pretty right up until they weren't. The Cardinals' CoolStandings playoff odds hit a low of 1.1% on August 27th, when they were ten games behind Atlanta. Their odds were 1.9% on September 8th, when they were 7½ games behind Atlanta. Yet the Cardinals made the playoffs, and the Braves didn't.

If anything, even though the AL situation got more press, you could argue that the Cardinals were more responsible for their comeback than the Rays were. The Rays won 17 of their last 25 games, which is great. The Cardinals won 23 of their last 32. Boston collapsed a little worse than Atlanta did. I don't know if this argument holds up, and I don't know if it matters, but it's something that can be discussed.

What might be the most amazing thing about the Cardinals, though, is how quickly people are going to forget.

Remember, the Phillies were supposed to waltz on through the season and the playoffs to a World Series title. It wasn't supposed to be easy, I guess, but it's what was expected, and it was expected because the Phillies had built maybe the most formidable starting rotation in recent baseball history. And what's more imposing in the playoffs than an awesome starting rotation? The Phillies could roll out ace after ace after ace. Who could possibly beat that lineup of aces in the playoffs? People have long figured that a team needs quality starting pitching to win in October, and nobody had more quality starting pitching than the Phillies.

Of course, the Phillies were eliminated, by the Cardinals. And then the Cardinals won the NLCS over the Brewers in six games. In none of those six games did a Cardinals starter throw a pitch in the sixth inning. In all, Cardinals starters threw 24⅓ innings, and allowed 19 runs. In the NLCS, the Cardinals' rotation was pretty much terrible, and yet the Cardinals advanced.

They advanced because it isn't just about starting pitching. It is, and forever has been about overall team performance, counting all components. Offense. Defense. Starting pitching. Relief pitching. Baserunning. Other stuff. You can't simplify and boil down to starting pitching alone, because you're going to leave way too much out.

That's a lesson people could take away from this. But you know that, a year from now, it's going to be the same discussion as before. Whichever team has the strongest starting rotation is going to be seen as a favorite, because look at those aces. Who could beat those aces? People are so god damn wedded to the idea that pitching, and specifically starting pitching wins in October that many of them will either ignore or forget about evidence to the contrary.

Here's a fun fact for you. As noted, the Phillies were expected to go a long long way because they had an amazing starting rotation. According to StatCorner, the Phillies' rotation finished 166 runs better than average. That's an incredible total. Meanwhile, the Cardinals' offense - also according to StatCorner - finished 152 runs better than average. That's an incredible total, too. A very similarly incredible total. If the Phillies were nearly unbeatable because of their starting rotation, then the Cardinals were and are nearly unbeatable because of their bats. Right?

Overall picture. Overall picture. Always the overall picture.

  • The Brewers just set an LCS record by committing nine errors. Worse, seven of those errors happened in the last two games. Each of these errors gave people an opportunity to talk about how defense was a known weakness of the Brewers, and I believed that to be true, too, until I checked. It turns out the Brewers finished with an above-average UZR, an above-average Defensive Runs Saved, and an above-average BABIP allowed.

    Now, that evidence doesn't prove that the Brewers were actually a solid defensive ballclub. Defensive stats, and all that. But it suggests as much. It certainly doesn't suggest that the Brewers were bad, which is the angle so many journalists and broadcasters tried to advance. Even if you just look at Fielding Percentage like an idiot, the Brewers were like .001 below-average.

    I'm pretty sure that, defensively, the Brewers were all right. They looked terrible at the wrong time, but we don't want to read too much into a small sample when we have a much larger sample.

  • Before the game started, the camera focused on Brian Anderson and John Smoltz in the broadcast booth. Then it slowly pulled back to reveal Ron Darling at stage right. That was a bummer.

  • In the top of the first - and this is a play that'll end up pretty much ignored given the way the game turned out - Albert Pujols was called out at home plate even though replays showed him to be pretty clearly safe. After a replay, one of the broadcasters remarked "Could have gone either way," which is dumb. I mean, sure, I guess it could have gone either way, since anything is possible, but saying "Could have gone either way" implies that it was 50/50. The replay clearly showed that Pujols was safe, so what the broadcaster should have said was, "Should have called him safe."

  • In the bottom of the fifth, Albert Pujols was involved in something of a collision at first base, and he went down to the ground in pain, holding his forearm. It was unclear what happened at first, and for a short time it seemed that Pujols might have sustained a significant injury. Thankfully he didn't - I say "thankfully" because I hate the Rangers - but I can't even imagine what it must have felt like to be a Cardinals fan, or player, or coach, or executive for the 20 or 30 seconds that Pujols was down. I've been through a couple Felix injuries, and those were just the worst, but they didn't happen right before the Mariners went to the World Series.

  • Octavio Dotel came in to record a couple outs in the bottom of the seventh. Among pitchers with at least 500 career innings, Dotel owns the fifth-highest strikeout rate in baseball history. After Dotel finished off the frame, the game went to the top of the eighth, and Ron Roenicke called on Francisco Rodriguez. Rodriguez owns the third-highest strikeout rate in baseball history.

    It's funny - Ryan Braun is now 2-for-11 against Dotel in his career, with nine strikeouts. I rip on people who make too much of microsplits all the time, but if ever I were going to buy into a microsplit, it would be a microsplit like this. Braun has swung at a Dotel pitch 23 times. Of those 23 swings, 16 have whiffed.

  • There were as many home runs in the first two and a half innings of this game as the Mariners hit in the first 20 days of July.
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