The World Series: stuff from Game 1, what to watch for in Game 2

Pitch counts, balls in the dirt, tracking a fly ball in Minute Maid Park and more...

Well, apparently I’m writing about baseball until this season’s over because here I am again. What follows are some things I noticed in Game 1 and what you can watch for in Game 2.

And away we go.

Max Scherzer’s pitch count

Nationals’ starter Max Scherzer threw 112 pitches in five innings which is part of why a nine-inning game took 3 hours and 43 minutes to complete. But it also seems likely that taking pitches is part of the Astros’ game plan, so get used to it.

During the regular season the Nationals had the worst bullpen in baseball so the Astros want to get to that pen as soon as possible. The Nationals might be able to cover three innings of relief, but can they cover four?

Washington has a shortage of reliable relievers so last night they had to use their Game 3 starter and ask their closer for a four-out save. If the Astros keep forcing the Nationals to go to the pen early, they’ll wear out the good relievers the Nationals have and might force them to use the ones that aren’t so hot.

Pretty much every team wants to get every starter out of the game early, but it’s probably less important for the Nationals because the Astros had the third-best bullpen in baseball.

In any case, pay attention to the starting pitcher’s pitch count; 15 pitches per inning is about average and if it gets much over that the starter is probably coming out early and if it’s the Nats starter coming out early they’ve got a problem even if they have a lead because their bullpen might give it back.

Sean Doolittle’s four-out save

Up-downs – pitching then sitting then pitching again – tend to make a reliever have more soreness the next day and, assuming I didn’t miss something, during the regular season any time Sean Doolittle pitched more than one inning he wasn’t used the day after — although he did it against the Cardinals in the NLCS.

Manager Dave Martinez might figure the finish line is in sight and tell Sean to pop some Advil and get back out there. Pay attention to Doolittle’s availability because he’s one of the few relievers the Nats can count on.

Stolen bases

There were two stolen bases in the first inning – hot damn, some actual baseball – and it was probably a tribute to the two guys pitching. When pitchers are really good you know you’re not getting many hits so you need to figure out other ways to advance 90 feet.

Stephen Strasburg and Justin Verlander are going tonight so don’t be surprised if you see more stolen base attempts.

Eaton’s bunt attempt

Adam Eaton had nine sacrifice bunts during the regular season and 29 in his career so he’s actually got some experience at this, but when he tried one in the first inning, he popped it up.

For those of you who wonder why guys don’t bunt against shifts more often that’s part of the reason: bunting against big league pitchers is way harder than we think. Even the guys who are good at it don’t find it easy, much less some power hitter who’s never had to bunt in his life.

With two top-of-the-line starters pitching, there were some attempts at sacrifice bunts, but nobody succeeded and most managers aren’t going to come out of their shifts until a batter proves he can get his bunts down.

Suzuki’s pitch blocking

One of the reasons the numbers guys and on-the-field guys don’t always see eye-to-eye is defense. Defense is hard to measure so if you’re into numbers the defensive numbers aren’t as clear and compelling as the offensive numbers, so you might favor players who provide offense.

The on-the-field guys don’t care if a player puts runs on the board with his bat or keeps them off the board with his glove; either one helps you win.

Nationals’ catcher Kurt Suzuki is hitting .043 in the postseason, but Washington would not have won Game 1 without his defense.  

Prime example:

In the third inning Michael Brantley singled, Suzuki then blocked a pitch in the dirt. So when Yuri Gurriel singled Brantley went first-to-third instead of second-to-home; blocking that pitch on defense saved a run and was as good as driving in a run on offense.

Another point worth making:

Scherzer was all over the place with his slider, but Suzuki’s ability to block pitches allowed Max to keep throwing it.

We sometimes blame a pitcher for giving up a big hit when it’s actually the catcher’s fault. If the catcher can’t block pitches, the pitcher might be reluctant to throw his best slider with a runner on base.

Minute Maid’s roof

If Baseball Reference can be trusted Nationals’ outfielder Victor Robles had never played in Minute Maid Park before last night and it showed.

Robles seemed to have trouble tracking fly balls against the roof and while he had a long run to get there, somehow managed to mistime a dive for a ball, miss the catch, lose his glove and have the ball hit him in the back, which I gotta admit I’d never seen before and was highly entertaining to watch.

Just to prove it wasn’t a fluke he almost missed a fly ball hit by Aledmys Diaz. So when a fly ball goes up, don’t take your eye off the TV if Robles is the guy underneath it.

Robles’ throw to the wrong base

Robles is in his first full season in the big leagues; Juan Soto is in his second. More on that in a moment.

When Robles caught that Diaz’ fly ball, it was Soto’s job to let him know whether the runner on first base – Kyle Tucker – was tagging and he was.

Whether it was miscommunication or non-communication, Robles threw to first base – behind the runner – which allowed Tucker to advance to second while the ball was on its way to first.

Next, Tucker screwed up when George Springer hit a long fly ball to right field. Tucker went back to tag second when he should have been taking a lead. (In that situation with nobody out you tag, with one out you take a lead and with two out you run like your hair’s on fire.)

The theme here is these are all young guys without much postseason experience and things can get goofy when they have to make decisions under extreme pressure. It’s one of the reasons championship teams tend to have a strong veteran presence and if a rookie has to make a difficult play you hope a veteran is standing next to him to talk him through it.  

Opposite-field hitting

Ryan Zimmerman homered to center, Juan Soto homered and doubled to right and singled to center, Adam Eaton singled to left, Victor Robles singled to right, Adam Eaton singled to left and Asdrubal Cabrera singled up the middle.

Now here’s why that matters.

In Game 1 the Nationals were not trying to pull everything for a home run and were going up the middle and to the opposite field. Being willing to wait on a pitch helped them avoid the big strikeout totals we saw in the ALCS, so keep an eye on whether the Nationals keep that approach.  

And enjoy tonight’s game.