World Series Game 4 Preview: What will Rangers do with Pujols?
With Albert Pujols on a tear, Ron Washington has to decide when to pitch to him
History says that with a 2-1 lead, the Cardinals are in the drivers seat in the series
Game 4 starters, Edwin Jackson and Derek Holland, have struggled in the playoffs
Short of an injury, everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong for the Rangers in Saturday night's Game 3. Their pitchers were awful, their defense committed three errors, they were victimized by an awful blown call by first base umpire Ron Kulpa -- and they lost 16-7 putting them on the wrong side of the recent history in which the winner of a tiebreaking Game 3 went on to win 16 of the last 18 World Series that were tied after two games. Still, the Rangers could have shrugged that off as one bad loss if not for one thing: Albert Pujols. He turned in the greatest single game performance by a hitter in World Series history in Game 3, going 5-for-6 with three home runs, six RBIs, four runs scored, and 14 total bases, tying the World Series records for hits, homers, RBIs, and runs, and breaking the Series record for total bases.
That performance will reverberate through the rest of the Series as the Rangers are likely to seriously consider intentionally walking Pujols any time he comes up with first base empty, which begs the question, when should the Rangers walk Pujols. I explored the run-expectancy impact of the intentional walk as it applied to Jose Bautista back in May in a piece for the Pinstriped Bible, building off the James Click's chapter on the subject in the 2006 Baseball Prospectus book Baseball Between the Numbers. Per Click, there are two key factors in determining when to issue an intentional walk: the game situation, and the gap in production between the batter at the plate and the man on deck.
Pujols hits ahead of Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman, neither of whom is Pujols, but both of whom are perennially among the top run producers in the National League. Indeed, through the first three games of this series, Pujols is hitting .417 with a .500 on-base percentage while Berkman is hitting .417 with a .462, the difference between the two on-base percentages being a single hit-by-pitch. Holliday isn't hitting as well in this series, but has hit .326 with a .420 on-base percentage in this postseason.
Facing left-handed starters in the next two games, the Cardinals will bat the right-handed Holliday behind Pujols. The question Rangers manager Ron Washington is likely to ask himself, then, is when to pitch to Pujols, who is hitting .418/.492/.818 in 63 plate appearances in this postseason, and when to walk him and pitch to Holliday, who is a .315/.388/.541 career hitter. That's something of a false choice as it compares to a small sample of Pujols on a hot streak to a larger, more representative sample from Holliday. Still, using those numbers and the run-expectancy charts provided by Click, the gap between Super Pujols and Regular Holliday is large enough for Washington to be validated in walking Pujols any time he comes to the plate with two outs and first base empty, and even when he comes up with two outs and men on first and third. However those are the only situations in which the Rangers won't hurt their run expectancy by walking Pujols intentionally. That means any time Pujols comes up with less than two outs, the Rangers should pitch to him, and any time he comes up with a runner on first, they should pitch to him unless there are two outs and an a runner on third as well.
Series: World Series, Game 4, Cardinals lead 2-1
Time: 8:05 p.m. EDT
Starters: Edwin Jackson (1-0, 5.84 ERA) vs. Derek Holland (1-0, 5.27 ERA)
The Cardinals are in the driver's seat in this series. Sixteen of the last 18 teams to break a 1-1 tie in the World Series by winning Game 3 went on to win the Series. Sunday night, they'll try to go up 3-1. Of the 43 teams to take a 3-1 lead in the World Series, 38 won the Series (88 percent), the exceptions being the 1925 Senators, 1958 Braves, 1968 Cardinals, 1979 Orioles, and 1985 Cardinals.
Don't be surprised to see another slugfest tonight in Texas. The ball should be carrying just as well in Game 4 as the temperature remains in the 80s, and both Edwin Jackson and Derek Holland have had disaster starts already this postseason. Jackson gave up four runs on three home runs in just two innings in his Game 6 start at hitter-friendly Miller park in the NLCS, and Holland gave up three runs on a three-run home run by Ryan Raburn and was bounced after 2 2/3 innings in Game 2 of the ALCS, which was also played in Arlington, and gave up three home runs in 4 2/3 innings when he started Game 6, also in Arlington.
Holland has admitted that he has struggled with his emotions during his starts this postseason, which may be one reason why Washington decided to swap him and Matt Harrison in his rotation, thus limiting Holland to this one start. Holland has not turned in a quality start in any of his three starts this postseason, only once completing the fifth inning, and given up five home runs in 12 1/3 innings across those three starts.
As usual in this series, the Cardinals hitters don't have much history against Holland, though Nick Punto is 3-for-5 with a home run against him and Berkman has also homered off him, his lone hit in four at-bats against Holland. Rafael Furcal, Ryan Theriot, Gerald Laird, and Holliday are the only other Cardinals who have faced Holland and they have combined for just nine plate appearances and two singles.
The exception to the unfamiliarity between pitchers and opposing hitters in this series is Jackson, who has spent the majority of his career in the American League. The only Rangers hitters who haven't faced him are reserves Mitch Moreland and Esteban German, and many of the Texas regulars have good numbers against the well-traveled righty. Ian Kinsler is 6-for-18 with a double and two home runs against Jackson in his career. Adrian Beltre is 6-for-14 with a double. Nelson Cruz is 5-for-12 with two doubles. David Murphy is 4-for-8 with a double and a home run. Elvis Andrus is 3-for-9 with a double. Even Endy Chavez is 4-for-7 with two doubles. Those aren't significant sample sized by any stretch of the imagination, but in the context of this Series, that's a lot of exposure and a lot of success, though the Ranger who has seen Jackson most, Michael Young, hasn't hit him all that well (.273/.333/.364 in 24 plate appearances).
Jackson pitched reasonably well before his Game 6 dud in the NLCS. Pitching at home in St. Louis in the Division Series, he turned in a quality start (6 IP, 2 R) and picked up the win in Game 4. His next time out, in Miller Park in Game 2 of the NLCS, he only lasted 4 1/3 innings, but also only allowed two runs as his manager, Tony La Russa, got him out of the game before the game got away from him and Lance Lynn stranded the two runners he left behind.
Speaking of Lynn, who picked up a much-deserved win in relief in Game 3, he threw 47 pitches Saturday night and won't be available for the Cardinals tonight, but by doing so he saved the rest of the bullpen. The Cardinals used just four relievers in Game 3 and Octavio Dotel's 23 pitches were the second-highest total, so everyone but Lynn should be available for La Russa tonight.
The Rangers used five relievers in Game 3, but, in part due to their ineffectiveness, only Alexi Ogando threw more than 24 pitches. I'm guessing that after throwing 35 pitches, retiring just one of the seven batters he faced, and being Lidged by Pujols, Ogando will get Game 4 off. It's just as well, Ogando has given up key run-scoring hits in all three of his Series appearances and has now gone from being the ace of the Rangers' pen to a pitcher Ron Washington may have to bury from here on out. To be fair, Ogando has now thrown more than 180 innings this season after previously topping out at 41 2/3. If he's out of gas, no one can blame him, he's still a huge part of the reason that the Rangers are in this Series.
The Cardinals 16 runs in Game 3 were the second most ever by one team in a World Series game (tying the 1960 Yankees and 2002 Giants and behind only the 1936 Yankees, who scored 18 in Game 2), but all of those runs make it easy to forget that the Rangers scored seven in Game 3 with Young and Cruz both delivering opposite-field homers, Young adding a double, and Beltre going 4-for-5 with a double of his own.
Jon Jay was the only starter on either team not to reach base via a hit or a walk in Game 3. Jay went 0-for-5, twice reaching on a fielder's choice, and was caught stealing after the second of those. He is the only player on either team to start all three games without picking up a hit and is now 0-for-12 without so much as a walk in this series. He also uncorked the throw that Pujols booted that set up Rangers to score the winning run in Game 2. Jay is having an awful series. Don't be surprised to see Skip Schumaker given a start in center field in his place, even against a lefty like Holland.
Expect to see Young back at first base and Mike Napoli either at designated hitter or behind the plate tonight following Napoli's costly error at first base in Game 3.
Boomer: Which NHL teams improved at the trade deadline?
Boomer: Could Phil Jackson really fix the Knicks?