The Nationals blend old-school and new-school and win the series

And give hope to underdogs everywhere...

I hate to agree with Alex Rodriguez about anything that doesn’t involve Jennifer Lopez, but after Game 7 of the World Series A-Rod said you have to: “Dribble with your head up.”

Here’s what A-Rod meant…I think…I get the impression he’s a deeply weird dude.

Nevertheless…

You can go into a game with a plan, but then have to adjust to what you see happening in front of you…dribble with your head up.

Last night in Game 7 what was happening in front of everybody was Astros’ starting pitcher Zack Greinke cruising. Going into the seventh inning he’d given up one hit, one walk, no runs and thrown only 67 pitches.

But after Greinke gave up a home run to Anthony Rendon and walked Juan Soto, Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch pulled him. Afterwards, Hinch said he wanted to pull Zack a batter too soon rather than a batter too late.

Mission accomplished; he pulled Zack a batter too soon.

Will Harris – the same guy who gave up a home run to Rendon the night before – gave up a two-run homer to Howie Kendrick and the Nationals had a lead they never gave back.

In his postgame press conference Hinch talked about Greinke’s pitch count being in the 80s, said that’s where he “targeted” pulling him, pointed out that Harris had been tremendous and was “focused” on using Harris against Kendrick and Asdrubal Cabrera.

Hinch followed his game plan and it bit him in the ass.

Nationals’ pitcher Patrick Corbin – the guy who gave up four earned runs in his previous outing in Game 4 – was lights out in Game 7 and Nationals manager Davey Martinez paid attention to what he was seeing and left him in for three crucial innings of relief.

Martinez dribbled with his head up, Hinch didn’t.

Numbers tell you about the past

In a decade of being around big league players and coaches I’ve never run into one who didn’t care about the numbers. They might not care about the same numbers you care about, but for the most part they want to see what the analytics departments can provide.

But after that they want the freedom to deviate from the plan.

As one former big leaguer said to me about defensive positioning, “What if a guy shows up with a hangover?” (And if you don’t think that happens, you need to spend more time around big league ballplayers.) A guy with a hangover is going to have a slow bat, will be less likely to pull the ball and you should adjust your positioning accordingly.

A lot of people believe the past is the best indicator of what will happen in the future and there’s a lot of truth in that, but the guys playing the game are the only ones who can see if something different is happening tonight.

When asked about using the numbers from the past to dictate what’s done in the present, Royals GM Dayton Moore once said: “Players are allowed to get better.”

I’ll go one step further: players are also allowed to have good nights and bad ones. It’s the manager’s job to recognize what kind of night a player is having and react to it.

More and more teams are letting their front offices dictate in-game decisions and that can backfire. The best teams blend what the analytics department provides with the knowledge and experience of the guys on the field.

More on that in a moment.

Howie did it

After Howie Kendrick hit that go-ahead home run off the right field foul pole, John Smoltz said if Howie was trying to pull the ball, he never would have hit it out. The pitch from Harris wasn’t a bad one – down and away – a location that would give a pull hitter a hard time.

Guys who pull all the time can hurt you with the homer, but they’re vulnerable to the rollover grounder and strikeout. Guys who go up the middle and the other way give up power, but cover more of the plate.

The home run has taken over the game, but Kendrick’s approach shows the benefit of a more balanced approach.

A new hope

A new hope is either the subtitle of the first Star Wars movie or an apt description of the 2019 Washington Nationals.

When the Nationals were milling around trying on their new hats and T-shirts, John Smoltz said they had given hope to underdogs; after all, they were written off back in May and yet here they were celebrating a World Series victory.

But it goes even deeper than that.

After analytics became a thing and everybody and their dog jumped on board, old-school baseball was prematurely declared dead. But the Nationals showed what a team that blends the two philosophies can accomplish.

During the regular season the Nationals were second in the NL in runs scored, sixth in home runs, third in slugging percentage, fourth in walks and second in OPS: numbers important to fans of analytics.

But the Nationals were also tied for first in NL batting average, tied for first in stolen bases, third in sac bunts and only one team struck out less often: numbers traditional baseball guys like to see.

When the old-school Royals made it to Game 7 of the 2014 World Series it was declared and aberration. When they won the Series in 2015 it was another aberration. Now that the Nationals have won the World Series that’s three aberrations in the last six years.

It doesn’t mean old school is the only way to play the game, but it does mean old school baseball can still compete with an analytics-heavy approach.

And that’s good for baseball.

I’ve had it with watching two teams play four-hour games of Home Run Derby. Watching two teams with different philosophies go at it was highly entertaining and I hope we see more of those matchups in the future.

OK, that’s it for a while. I stayed up until 1 AM to watch the Nationals celebrate and now figure I have a nap or a heart attack in my near future.

Helluva series and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Talk to you soon.