ALDS Game 2: The Pitch and What Follows

marc w · October 13, 2022 at 12:00 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Luis Castillo vs. Framber Valdez, 12:37pm

Yordan Alvarez’s soul-crushing home run in Game 1 was the most consequential hit, as measured by win probability added, in postseason history. This ensures we will see it as long as MLB continues to have a postseason. There’s no escape from it. The only thing to do is to change the context in which we see it repeated again and again, and for that, the M’s need to win the series. Make it one of those unreal performances that everyone can enjoy, because Houston fans will love thinking about it, and everyone else can think of what came next. I’m sure Reds fans don’t mind the perennial replays of Carlton Fisk’s 1975 World Series home run, just as I don’t mind seeing highlights from Derrick Thomas’s NFL record for sacks in a game (against the Seahawks), because I know how that game ended. It’s a tough task, but it’s not an impossible one.

I don’t want to rehash Game 1 too much, because there’s so much good writing about it. First, this Patrick Dubuque article at Baseball Prospectus is my favorite baseball article ever. I was shaking by the end of this; some sort of weird nervous energy at finding art that’s essentially perfect. I don’t like the context that this came from, but if Yordan’s walk-off shot is what it took for this to get written, then it’s pretty much worth it. The great Jake Mailhot as an article on the decision to bring in Ray over at Fangraphs that’s well worth a read, and you can read about the decision from the club and manager directly, courtesy of this Daniel Kramer article.

That said, I can’t quite believe the M’s found themselves in that situation, and I can’t believe the decision they made once in it. I think it’s fair to say I might not be entirely rational about Alvarez, whose numbers against Seattle are MVP-caliber, but not the .550/.700/1.400 I would’ve guessed. I said in my preview that the M’s simply had to not allow Alvarez to beat them, even if that meant facing Alex Bregman/Kyle Tucker/Jose Altuve in a tough spot. Your view on the relative scariness of the Astros hitters may vary, but I stand by what I wrote in the preview, and sure as hell won’t be revisiting it now. But what was the alternative? Walking Alvarez to load the bases for Bregman? Uh, yeah, that is one alternative, and I would take that in a heartbeat over what occurred. Pitch way around him? Let Paul Sewald stay in? All of the above, maybe? I don’t really know. But what I *do* know is that the M’s decided to put everything on the line to get Alvarez. They wanted their last stand to be with Yordan Alvarez at the plate, and I simply do not understand that at all.

What I mean is that by bringing in Ray, they left themselves in a weaker position if Alvarez walked or singled – any sort of PA that extended the game. Ray vs. Bregman with the bases loaded or with the winning run in scoring position is not good. You’d probably rather have Sewald in that position, right? The bases would be loaded, so you couldn’t exactly walk in a run to face Tucker. I get it, kind of: Alvarez has fared worse against lefty sinkers than pretty much any type of pitch, with the acknowledgement that the sample sizes on all of this stuff are just woefully small. The problem is that the sinker is Ray’s *worst pitch* and bringing him in cold in the middle of the 9th means you have no idea what his command is like. You just throw him in to face Alvarez, with the game on the line, in a situation he’s never been in before. As many people, from Chris Crawford on the radio to Joe Sheehan in his newsletter, have said: this is putting Ray in a position to fail, essentially the opposite of how Servais has managed this year.

And yes: the game never should’ve come down to this, because the M’s best two relievers normally don’t have bad games on the same day. The whole game didn’t turn on that last, inevitable-seeming result – no matter what WPA says. I have to point out that it was the second time they pitched to Alvarez with men on base, and it went about as expected the first time, too. But by the 9th, the game was slipping, and we all felt it. We just have to hope that they got it out of their system, and that reliever volatility can work FOR us, the way it did in Toronto, instead of against us.

For that to happen, the M’s should get to sinkerballer Framber Valdez early. I’d say that normally, this would be an atrocious match-up. Valdez had the best ground ball rate in the game and, relatedly, the lowest HR/9. To beat him, you simply have to string together a ton of hits. The M’s offense…struggled to do so in the regular season. But it’s essentially all they’ve done in the postseason, having done it against Kevin Gausman and the Jays’ bullpen, and then doing it to Justin freaking Verlander in Game 1. Part of that has been the success of guys with the platoon advantage: the bottom of the line-up like JP Crawford and Jarred Kelenic in Game 1, but part of it is just Juliooooo being Juliooooo. The M’s will have the advantage a ton today with Dylan Moore slotting into LF in place of Kelenic, and with Cal Raleigh and Carlos Santana flipping around to bat righty.

Valdez throws his sinker over 1/2 the time, a swerving 94mph with good sink from his release point. His best secondary is a big-breaking curve that has serious drop. Batters slugged under .200 off of it this year, and are at .209 over his career. He has a cutter/slider at 83 that also sinks a ton, and a change-up that he’ll show off to righties occasionally. Valdez has platoon splits, but has been successful based on holding right handed bats in check, and HR-avoidance is a huge part of that. The M’s haven’t been a great offense vs. ground ball pitchers; BBREF has their OPS at just under .700 against them, lower than vs. fly-ballers or neutral arms. But again, the offense hasn’t looked anything like the team that played in the regular season, so why should they let the past be prologue now?

On the other side, the Astros didn’t face Luis Castillo this year, and that lack of familiarity may be an advantage for Seattle. He’ll face a line-up that also swaps out Chas McCormick for Jake Meyers, another RHB, but one without the experience/success of McCormick. That said, this is still a very tough test for any pitcher. One thing he has going for himself, of course, is top-shelf velocity. Even good hitters struggle at 97+, and Castillo will show them 97+ often. Yuli Gurriel has a sub .300 wOBA against high-velo fastballs this year, and it turns Alex Bregman and Trey Mancini into easy outs. Alvarez fares better, so once more, with extra feeling, they need to not allow Alvarez to beat them. The best of their remaining hitters against elite velo? Jose Altuve. Chas McCormick fared quite well against it too, so the Astros may feel the drop from McCormick’s high-velo wOBA (.383) to Meyers’ (.161).

1: Juliooooo, CF
2: France, 1B
3: Suarez, 3B
4: Haniger, RF
5: Santana, DH
6: Moore, LF
7: Raleigh, C
8: Frazier, 2B
9: Crawford, SS
SP: Castillo

Go M’s.


4 Responses to “ALDS Game 2: The Pitch and What Follows”

  1. kmsandrbs on October 13th, 2022 1:23 pm

    Unfortunately, I think the M’s need to win this game to have a chance. That kind of ending to game 1 is heartbreaking, and for a team that was way behind the Astros all season, following it up with another loss could easily take all of the wind out of their sails.

    Go M’s!

  2. JMB on October 13th, 2022 4:01 pm

    It was a good run, but let’s be honest, the season was over the minute he hit that pitch in Game One.

  3. kmsandrbs on October 13th, 2022 4:34 pm

    Feelin’ down. So had to watch the bottom half of the 9th inning 1995 Game 5. Reminder that teams can come back from down 0-2 …

  4. Stevemotivateir on October 14th, 2022 7:20 am

    I realize most fans are probably disappointed, if not devastated, but taking both games in Toronto and playing Houston strong in their house is still an incredible feat–and it’s not over.

    That said, I really believe Seattle is just 3 bats (Outfielder, OF/DH, middle-infielder) and a dominant left-handed relief pitcher away from topping these SOBs.

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