It’s not underground baseball science to say that home runs are the determining factor this time of year. Everyone has known it, and yet every so often someone tries to fool themselves into thinking that there can be another way. Generally, it’s someone clinging to the past, “the way baseball used to be” or some other such garbage. But there isn’t. With the pitching as good as it is, you have to hit the ball out of the damn park to get anywhere. Hit homers, win prizes.
The Astros-Mariners series basically became about three home runs, all hit by the Astros. The Rhys Hoskins home run in Game 3 against the Braves pretty much flipped the series. That’s how these things work.
Cleveland tried to make a big deal about how much contact they’ve made during this season. It came from other media people as well, that a team could be successful by doing something other than hitting for power. It’s been a forlorn hope both inside and outside baseball. That’s why Rob Manfred neutered the baseballs, after all. It’s why they’re banning the shift, in the hope that hitters may try and dial it back and just settle for singles again.
But it’s all horseshit. Cleveland didn’t have a plan to just be a slappy, contact-heavy, tilt-the-BABIP-in-our-favor way. They have to be that way because their owners won’t pay for anyone who can hit the ball all that hard. They’ve needed a whole new outfield for years, which they only started doing from within in the middle of this season. They were a team built on a shoestring budget simply because they just happened to make a lot of contact. Houston makes a lot of contact, too. Just way more of it is loud, which is why they’re still playing. Which is why they’re always playing at this time of year.
And it wasn’t good contact for the Guardians. The Cleveland offense wasn’t good this season. Fifteenth in runs, 16th in wRC+ at 99, meaning a tick below average. They got to the playoffs because the only other two teams in their division that were actively trying were either dumb or injured or both — and they also pitch and field extremely well. Their offense was not a feature, it was a bug.
They were lucky to find a team in the Wild Card Round that also couldn’t score in the Tampa Bays — no coincidence they’re another team that won’t pay anyone — but Cleveland is going home now because they couldn’t score. It was cute that they could fashion a couple of railles late in Games 2 and 3, but that’s all it was. They scored 17 runs in seven games of the postseason. They got to hang around because their pitching is that good, and they’re that good at developing pitching.
The Yankees hit homers. They hit one in the first last night thanks to Giancarlo Stanton to basically end the game. They hit two in Game 1, which is how you score against a staff like Cleveland’s. There isn’t room for a string of singles for more than a game at a time.
The Phillies and Padres hurled their best starters at each other later in the day. Both Yu Darvish and Zack Wheeler were magnificent. Neither was going to give up a string of hits. The Phillies hit two homers, including one that should have counted for like six runs. You know it’s a tear in the time/space continuum when the pitcher doesn’t even bother to turn around. If Darvish had seen where it went he might have retired.
Hit the ball out of the damn park. It’s not hard. You can have your slapped singles and seeing-eye singles. Winners go ahead and turn the ball to plasma. Phone call over.
There probably isn’t a better metaphor for James Harden right now than…
There was a time when you were this guy, James. And you can still flash that being that guy. But when it comes down to it, you’re the guy chucking up the airball when it comes time to really be that guy again.