As the events of Friday evening were unfolding, I began to check for dimensional portals around the house just in case I had slipped through one and was in fact witnessing a game in an alternate universe where the apple cart we find ourselves in is not only upset, but upset in such an orderly fashion that the apples that were on the bottom end up in a perfect inverse pyramid to our current idea of space and time.
Let's take a more in depth look at Bizarro Baseball being played at Dodger Stadium last night:
Randal Grichuk crushes a first inning home run on a breaking ball from Clayton Kershaw.
We've covered Grichuk's struggles against breaking balls before and Kershaw has two of the more devastating breaking balls in all of baseball. So Grichuk hitting a home run on a Kershaw breaking ball is about as unlikely as Billy Butler winning a footrace with Peter Bourjos. Then consider that he did it on an 0-2 count. That's like Billy Butler winning that race while pulling a hot dog cart:
Adam Wainwright's command last night was among the worst I've ever seen in his career:
A.J. Ellis resembles a major league hitter for the first time in months.
Ellis' slash line on the year is one that stretches the bounds of logical baseball thought: .191/.323/.254 in 347 PA's. It's almost as if Ellis has been testing out a theory that a hitter can still draw a considerable amount of bases on balls while being completely inept at hitting a baseball thrown in the strike zone for the course of an entire season. It seems inconceivable that pitchers wouldn't just fill up the strike zone against a guy with a .064 ISO and, yet, it almost seems like pitchers are scared to death of throwing him a ball anywhere near the inner half of the plate:
Now let's look at where the Cardinals pitched Ellis last night:
Literally, I don't know. Don't ask me. Just...don't. Baseball is weird sometimes in the multi-verse we are currently experiencing.
Matt Carpenter homers and doubles off of Clayton Kershaw in back-to-back innings.
This one is not quite as surprising as Bernie made it out to be in his column this morning. Carpenter, while not having a lot of home runs this year, does have a high ISO against left handed pitchers in 2014, especially in certain areas of the strike zone:
So much for needing "extension" to drive the ball (as a certain member of the VEB community would point out): Carpenter crushes inside pitches from left handed pitchers. When we compare that to Kershaw's ISO heat map against left handed hitters...
...what we get is a bit of a perfect storm: Kershaw gets lit up by lefties in the middle of the plate and those two pitches to Carpenter were right in the wheelhouse.
They're pretty much the exact same location and velocity. Context and pitch sequencing are important for analysis of plate appearances, but when you leave the exact same pitch in the exact same spot to a hitter with Carpenter's talent level, you should expect bad things to happen more often than not, even if you are the best pitcher on the planet. As Joe wrote in his post yesterday:
With Kershaw throwing fastball first pitch at a very high rate (79% to RHHs, 82% to LHHs), notorious first-pitch swingers like Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday will likely be jumping on that very first fastball they see. Molina is slashing .313/.320/.456 on the first pitch in his career, while Holliday's career line is a scorching .381/.393/.692. It helps both Molina and Holliday that Kershaw has been especially susceptible on the first pitch in his career, with hitters slashing .292/.297/.428. in 640 plate appearances.
Turns out it was Matt Carpenter, the least likely guy to swing at a first pitch in the entire Cardinal lineup, taking advantage of a first pitch fastball.
There was a lot of talk in the post game about Mattingly leaving Kershaw in the game too long and that he should have pulled him prior to the 7th inning. Ignoring the fact that he was cruising up to that point, this opinion doesn't take into the account how poor the Dodger bullpen has been this year other than Kenley Jansen. Among relievers with 20 or more innings for the Dodgers this year, just two have an xFIP below 3.50: Jansen and Carlos Frias. Their lefty specialist, J.P. Howell, is actually worse than Kershaw in terms of getting lefties out and also walks over 12% of the hitters he faces -- not exactly a great option with the bases loaded against a hitter with the plate discipline of one Matt Carpenter.
Mattingly just didn't have a lot of good options in the 7th inning, and probably chose the best one: Sticking with his ace and letting him win or lose the game. Unfortunately, he failed to come through for just the 4th time all season.
Yes, I just spent a paragraph agreeing with Harold Reynolds. I will now go light myself on fire.
- Randy Choate allowed a homer to a left handed hitter. That basically never happens.
- Matt Carpenter gunned down Dee Gordon on a high chopper to third base, quite possibly the best defensive play in the entire game, and one that didn't make hardly any of the highlight reels because everyone hates defense unless there's some diving or acrobatics involved.
- Jon Jay will throw someone out at third base (20-1)
- Matt Adams will steal second base (25-1) or third base (60-1)
- Harold Reynolds will remove his Mission: Impossible mask and reveal that he is, in fact, Joe Morgan (100-1).
- Mike Matheny will not make a double switch that makes zero sense when given the opportunity to do so (500-1)
- Zack Greinke will crack a smile while on the pitcher's mound (1000-1)