A few years back, in Al Southwick’s office, on the second floor of the North Kingstown Town Hall, I sat and listened to an amazing baseball story. Coach Al was so instrumental in my baseball career as a coach and mentor and I always loved talking baseball with him as an adult. I mentioned to Al that my youngest son had started to play and he was a lefty and he loved to pitch. Upon hearing the key words “lefty pitching,” Al broke into an incredibly detailed account of a game he went to in his early 20’s while he was living in California. He said he read in the newspaper that the San Francisco Giants would start Juan Marichal that Saturday against the Los Angeles Dodgers and Sandy Koufax. Al bought tickets to the game, was over the top excited to see a Hall of Fame matchup of two of the best pitchers in the game. The weather was perfect in Southern California, the game conditions were ideal, and the pitching matchup was second to none in the late 1960’s. And how did the game go? Al said Koufax gave up 6 runs in the first 2 innings and was bounced. Marichal gave up 6 runs in the first 3 innings and was bounced. Both pitchers stunk on that day and Al walked away a bit disappointed, after all the hype he had created in his baseball mind about a potential match up of pitching greats. RIP Al, I miss all of your baseball stories.
The moral of the story is an old cliche’ – “They don’t play the game on paper.” Intriguing matchups create hype and are great conversation pieces for barber shops, talk radio, online media sites such as this blog site. At the end of the day, when the game starts, the hype and conversation mean next to nothing to the starting pitchers, catchers, and shortstops playing the actual game. If the game were played on paper, the two teams on the field tonight most likely would not be appearing and playing for a World Series title. So what will determine who wins the World Series? Here are a few thoughts:
- Taking chances on the base paths. If the pitching is as good as it has been advertised, runs will be few and far between. Should a runner get on base or hit the ball in an outfield gap, an extra base could mean a deciding run – even if it is scored in the first few innings. Once an A-List pitcher gets comfortable on the mound, they are less likely to give up hits, runs, etc. Score early, win late.
- Catching proficiency. How can each catcher help their pitcher out? Calling tough pitches in tough spots with runners on base. Trusting months of data to call the right pitch at the right time. Blocking impossible breaking balls with a runner on second or third. The catcher that makes the fewest mistakes will be on the winning team, for sure.
- Late game management. With so many bullpen options, many of them who throw harder and harder these days, what late game decisions will succeed or fail in this series? Will a top of the line starter be pulled early if a manager thinks he doesn’t have it? Whoever wins the late game decision making will likely win the Series.
- See ball, hit ball. Working the count will result in an early exit from the batter’s box. Hitters, get up there and swing. These pitchers throw hard, throw strikes, so hunt the pitch and hit it. If you wait for your pitch, you will soon be waiting on the bench with a K around your neck.
- Relay throws from the outfield. Defense wins championships in most sports. An aggressive outfielder who airmails a ball from deep right field over two cut-off men and allows runners to advance needlessly is not helping his team. Relay throws to infielders help maintain control of the defense. Overthrows can lead to errors and extra bases and unearned runs. In tight games, one bad defensive play can seal the fate of a team. Dial it back and hit the cut-off.
You can run numbers, perform analytics on pitching matchups, and so on to predict who will win the World Series. After you do all of that, understand that the game of baseball has a way of upsetting those numbers and bucking those trends and surprising even the most astute baseball minds. Just like Coach Al, who went to see Koufax vs Marichal and walked away bummed out by two crappy pitching performances by two future Hall of Fame pitchers. Predict all you want, make your wagers, gentleman’s bets, whatever. Or, just sit back and watch the games and just let whatever happens, happen.
Who wins the World Series? Simply put – The better team wins.