Photo By: Lesly Juarez from Unsplash

As I’m writing this on Sunday afternoon, the Atlanta Braves are one win away from winning the World Series after beating the Astros in Game 4 to take a 3-1 lead heading into tonight’s fifth and potentially final game. Now if the Braves end up winning the whole shabang tonight, I’m probably going to have to scrap this whole article and start again Monday morning so… let’s go Astros?

Last night’s game was relatively quiet until the Braves hit back-to-back home runs in the seventh to tie and then take the lead. But there were lots of smaller fun things that I wanted to run through first. 

Switch hitter Ozzie Albies opted to hit from the right side, despite Astros’ starter Zack Greinke also being right handed. For Albies’ career, he’s only had 10 right-on-right plate appearances, so to try it out on the biggest stage in baseball was pretty gutsy. He ended up going 0-2 against Greinke, so I guess it technically didn’t work, but the numbers certainly say it was the right call. 

What’s interesting is that for his career — which is now a very long 18 years — Greinke’s splits are almost identical. Opposing left-handed hitters actually have an OPS of roughly 30 points higher than righties. But when you look at his 2021 splits, it’s no wonder why Albies decided to hit righty. Lefties slashed a measly .199/.241/.324 against Greinke this season, while righties clubbed .285/.323/.505! Now the most obvious explanation for those numbers would be that Greinke is a heavy changeup pitcher, which breaks down and away from lefties, but down and in to righties (shown above).

Greinke has thrown that changeup more than a third of the time to lefties this season, while using it just 14 per cent of the time against righties. As for his career splits being so even, I’d guess that that is a testament to the Greinke of old who had a high-powered fastball and could overpower batters in addition to his seemingly endless repertoire of pitches (I am sad that we never got to see Greinke’s eephus last night). But alas, as he has aged, his fastball has dwindled — his sub-90mph fastball is in the bottom seven per cent league wide — he’s had to rely on more changeups and offspeed pitches to stay effective.

The Braves also had a bullpen day in Game 4 and are set to do so again tonight in Game 5. In both instances, they have started with pitchers who have combined for 23.2 career innings pitched. Is that good for baseball, probably not. But is it effective? I mean, kinda, yeah. They won last night didn’t they? Dylan Lee (the opener for Atlanta in Game 4) was not at all effective, getting just one out before Kyle Wright had to bail him out, but they still won the game using a mishmash of pitchers! This wouldn’t have happened if Charlie Morton hadn’t fractured his leg in Game 1, true, but it goes to show just how fragile starting rotations are at this time of year.

I don’t think anybody comes to the ballpark stoked to watch a bullpen day; there’s extended lulls, games take longer due to all the pitching changes, it’s also typically not the top-tier relievers being used from start to finish. It’s just not that fun. Kevin Goldstein had a good tweet where he pointed out that a lot of this pitching patchwork is still fallout from the wonky 2020 season, which I am inclined to agree with, although maybe I’m just agreeing because I hope he’s right. 

Someone on Twitter (forget who, sorry) suggested implementing a nine-batter minimum for starting pitchers, which is actually not unreasonable at all, but I’ve always thought the easiest ‘fix’ was to just put a cap on how many pitchers a team can have on their 26-man roster. Remember early in the season when the Blue Jays only had three bench players because they had so many arms? Bullpen days are often necessary throughout 162, but it’s not my favourite thing to see in the World Series two days in a row.

Monday Morning:

Alright, it is now Monday morning and the Astros did win Game 5 and saved me from a lot of re-writing, so thank you ‘Stros. It looked bleak early on, after an Adam Duvall first-inning grand slam put Houston in a quick 4-0 deficit. That would probably be the deciding blow to most teams in that situation, but the Astros’ hitters are so experienced and calm that they chipped and chipped away behind the bats of… Martín Maldonado? He had three RBIs somehow. How you walk him with the bases loaded, I do not know, but the Astros finally got some production out of the bottom of their lineup, including a pinch hit laser from pitcher Zack Greinke!

Heading back to Houston for the rest of the series will certainly re-energize the Astros, but they still have quite a ways to go in order to win this thing. The Braves will have their top pitcher, Max Fried, on the hill in Game 6, and Monday’s day off will allow for even more of an all-hands-on-deck bullpen approach on Tuesday. 

I know the Nationals won Game 7 of the World Series on the road in Houston in 2019, but boy if you’re Atlanta do you want to get this done in six. Don’t even leave it in the hands of the Atlanta Sports God, who has been doing very mean things to that city for years now.