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The Joe Sheehan Newsletter: Four Homers
Vol. 15, No. 114
October 12, 2023
The whole thing took just a shade under ten minutes. From the moment Lance Lynn started to deliver a 2-1 pitch to Geraldo Perdomo to the moment Gabriel Moreno’s home landed in the left-centerfield seats, 9:56 elapsed. It took 198 days for the Diamondbacks to get to this point, and 596 seconds for them to finish the job.
Perdomo, hitting in the #9 spot, got things started. He’s one of the longest-tenured members of this organization, having been signed in 2016 out of the Dominican Republic. He’s one of two players on the Diamondbacks’ playoff roster who were acquired before Mike Hazen joined the organization. (Kevin Ginkel is the other.) Perdomo is one of just six players left from the team that lost 110 games two years ago.
His homer was the big surprise, as he’d hit six during the regular season. Perdomo made the All-Star team thanks to an April in which he hit .383/.456/.617 with nothing like the underlying contact quality to support that line. For the rest of the season he hit .222/.337/.314, with average defense and speed. He platooned with Nick Ahmed, and in September the Diamondbacks tried to give Jordan Lawlar the job, but it didn’t take. That homer was just Perdomo’s second hit of the playoffs. I doubt anyone, this morning, is counting.
After Corbin Carroll grounded out, it was Ketel Marte’s turn. The first big move Mike Hazen made after taking over in 2016 was to trade for Ketel Marte, getting him and Taijuan Walker from the Mariners for Mitch Haniger, Jean Segura, and Zac Curtis. Four of those five players have gone on to make a lot of money playing baseball. Marte, though, has been the best of the bunch, finishing top-five in NL MVP balloting in 2019 and posting 22 WAR for the Snakes since the deal. Marte had one of his better seasons in 2023, hitting .276/.358/.485 in a five-win campaign. Marte jumped on Lynn’s 1-0 cutter for a bomb to right field, making it 2-0 Diamondbacks.
Lynn got Tommy Pham to ground out, and it looked like he might get out of the inning with just the two runs allowed. That’s not the end of the world, right? Surely the Dodgers, who averaged 5.6 runs per game during the regular season, would score more than two runs.
Up stepped Christian Walker, one of the best waiver claims of recent years. Walker was a fourth-round pick of the Orioles in 2012 who stalled out in the upper minors and only got into 13 games with those good O’s teams of the mid-2010s. For a month in the spring of 2017, Walker was passed around like responsibility in a market crash, from the Orioles to the Braves, to the Reds, to the Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks let him tear up Reno for two years, then installed him as the Opening Day first baseman in 2019.
On Opening Day 2019, Walker was 28 years old with a career 79 OPS+ in 99 career PA. Since then, he’s hit 115 home runs while playing very good defense, and over the last two seasons, at 31 and 32, he has been one of the best first basemen in the game. Hazen got him for nothing. Last night, Walker hit another bad Lynn cutter out to left field for the inning’s third homer. Now it was 3-0, and while we didn’t know it yet, the series was over.
Gabriel Moreno walked up to the plate. Moreno is one of the newest Diamondbacks, acquired in one of the most interesting trades of last winter, from the Blue Jays for Daulton Varsho. Moreno established himself as an average hitter and one of the best defensive catchers in the entire game. He was arguably the difference between a rebuilding year and the NLCS for the Diamondbacks, who went 57-37 when Moreno started, and 27-38 when he did not.
Moreno would hit 1.9 homers in this inning; a fly ball down the right field line was ruled fair, and he circled the bases to the sound of a roaring crowd. A long replay review got the call right, so Moreno got back in the box and hit the very next pitch out to left-center for the Diamondbacks’ fourth homer of the inning. They wouldn’t score again; they wouldn’t need to in a 4-2 win that extended their playoff winning streak to five and sent them to the NLCS for the first time since 2007.
The players won the game, but it was Mike Hazen’s masterwork on display. Hazen, unafraid to make baseball trades, took big swings in the Marte and Moreno deals, giving up real value to get the players he wanted. He got a dozen wins over five seasons out of Walker for the price of a waiver claim. Five of the six pitchers who shut down the Dodgers last night were acquired, a couple very cheaply, by Hazen. All the ways you can be a successful GM went into last night’s victory.
The Hazen/Torey Lovullo team has, to me, been an underrated pairing. Ken Kendrick isn’t much of an owner, but sticking with those two through a rebuild that landed in a 110-loss season two years ago is to his credit. Lovullo, last night, was appropriately aggressive in a way some managers never quite get to, lifting Brandon Pfaadt with a shutout in the fifth inning. That’s the sort of managing that gets some people up in arms these days, but it’s about winning that day’s game, and the relievers Lovullo could tap at that point were better options for getting out of the fifth, and for getting the last 14 outs. The pen wasn’t perfect -- Ryan Thompson allowed four singles and two runs in seven batters faced -- but it was good enough to get the Diamondbacks four days off.
In the other dugout, Dave Roberts is going to take some heat for letting Lynn pitch too long, for sending up mascot Austin Barnes in a max-leverage spot. I didn’t care for those choices, but let’s talk about what really happened here. The following is a list of Dodgers, by 2023 payroll number, with what they did in the Division Series.
Mookie Betts ($29M): 0-11, 83 OPS (not OPS+, OPS)
Freddie Freeman ($25.8M): 1-10, 350 OPS
Trevor Bauer ($24.5M): DNP, released after suspension
Clayton Kershaw ($20M): one out, six runs allowed
Chris Taylor ($15M): 1-6, 452 OPS
Julio Urias ($14.3M): DNP, under investigation
Max Muncy ($13.5M): 2-11, 432 OPS
The Dodgers paid more than $140 million this year to those seven players, and between poor performance and poor behavior, got less than nothing for the money in the 2023 postseason. Dave Roberts has been to blame for any number of Dodger playoff losses in his time as manager; not this time, folks.
The Dodgers were the best team in the NL West over six months. The Diamondbacks were the best team in the NL West over five days. They get to keep playing.
It’s funny, I was worried about the Astros’ pitching coming into this series, given their collective decline from 2022 and the Twins’ power. After allowing ten runs to the Twins in Houston, though, the middle of their rotation -- Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy -- combined for 10 2/3 innings of one-run ball. In the two games in Minnesota, the Astros allowed just three runs on six hits, striking out 28 batters (41%!). It was a performance right out of last year’s run, and it sends them back to the ALCS for an incredible seventh straight season.
For the second time in a little more than two weeks, Jose Urqiudy was tabbed to start a critical game on short notice and came up big. He allowed solo homers to Rpyce Lewis and Eduoard Julien, and nothing else. The Astros used three relievers, who struck out seven of the 11 men they faced, including all three in the ninth. In four games, the Twins had 52 strikeouts against 25 hits. They had seven doubles, five homers, and 16 walks, strong secondary skills, but a 35% strikeout rate is hard to overcome. Their 4-for-28 performance with runners in scoring position -- 2-for-22 in their three losses -- added to the misery. They had real chances to win Games One and Four, and couldn’t get there.
The seven teams that have been eliminated so far are connected by a common thread: They didn’t score. There have been 21 playoff games so far. In 17 of them, the losing team has scored two runs or fewer. In two of the other four, the losing team was far behind when it picked up some runs late in the game. In 21 games, and nearly two full rounds, there have been a total of six lead changes, and just two lead changes after the fourth inning.
To cite numbers I have used before, there have been 335 hits and 404 strikeouts across the 21 games.
The average for all 21 losing teams so far is fewer than two runs a game. I can feel myself turning to dust just saying this, but the combination of pitching and defense is driving the outcomes in the 2023 playoffs.
It was another blowout last night in Philadelphia, our eighth in 21 games this postseason. The Phillies crushed six homers in waxing Bryce Elder and the Braves 10-2, and are one win away from their second straight upset of a 100-win Braves team. Bryce Harper, who is becoming an October legend, hit a three-run homer in the third inning, then tacked on a monster solo shot to center in the fifth.
Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote the following:
“When news got out yesterday morning that Spencer Strider was coming off the IL to start Friday’s game, it came with a caveat. MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, and he was not alone in this, reported that Strider would be limited to ‘2-3 innings’ in the righty’s first appearance in almost a month.
“So the mystery of yesterday’s game is what changed between the morning and about 4 p.m. Strider threw 11 fastballs in the first inning yesterday, averaging 98.3 mph. He threw 12 more in the second, averaging 98.3 mph. He then took the mound in the third and threw four fastballs to Brandon Marsh, none of which reached 97 mph, none of which were strikes. Danger, Will Robinson.
“If you already had a plan to limit Strider’s exposure because you had some doubts about his endurance, and Strider showed a marked drop in velocity and control in his third inning, why in the world would you push him through that inning? It took Strider 17 pitches to get through the next two hitters, Jean Segura and Bryson Stott. He threw 11 two-strike pitches to the two hitters, unable to put them away easily. The last of those pitches, his 50th, was hit by Bryson Stott for an RBI double. What more did you possibly need to see to take him out of the game?
“The answer, it turns out, was ‘a monster home run and a double.’
“After the game, Snitker said, ‘We wanted him to go four.’ He added, and I really don’t know what he was watching, ‘As good as he was throwing, we thought we could skate him through.’ Strider had lost velocity and command and showed a clear inability to put hitters away in the third. Letting him continue, putting an extra runner on to do it -- Snitker intentionally walked Kyle Schwarber to set up Rhys Hoskins’s bomb -- was simply setting up his player to fail.
“It took me a long time to come around to Snitker as a manager. The Braves won the World Series last year in part because he took the big mistake out of his bag. Yesterday, he found it again, and it cost him dearly.”
Last night, Brian Snitker had his #4 starter, Bryce Elder, on the mound in what was effectively the first game of a best-of-three series. The Braves had not played the day before, so his nine-man bullpen was fully rested. Elder, who retired the first six batters he faced, failed to retire three of the next five, allowing the Phillies to tie the game at 1 and setting up first-and-third, two outs, with Harper coming to the plate. Elder had gotten three swinging strikes on 17 pitches in the first, six on 12 pitches in the second...and one on his first 17 pitches in the third.
What more did you possibly need to see to take him out of the game?
The answer, it turns out, was a monster home run, a single, and a walk.
Brian Snitker’s team won the World Series in 2021, and you have to take that seriously. The man has managed in 44 games over six consecutive postseasons, though, and still hasn’t figured out that you play to win today’s game, and nothing else matters. Letting Bryce Elder face Bryce Harper may have been a lovely moment for the Bryce Hive, but it was one of the worst managerial decisions we will see this month. Harper immediately punished Snitker for it, effectively ending the game and possibly winning the series.