As a fan of one particular team, it is often hard to stay level-headed. It can be difficult to remain objective when discussing a particular series of events. Last night’s 8-7 loss is one of them. The game featured one poor pitching performance from Craig Stammen and one very strong performance by Brett Myers, which were both overshadowed by an eventful 9th inning. The Nationals were down 6-5 to begin the inning with Matt Lindstrom set to pitch. Lindstrom has pitched very well in 2009 with a 3.72 xFIP, 2.82 ERA, and, entering the game, 11-for-12 in save opportunities. Still, with Nyjer Morgan, Ryan Zimmerman, and Adam Dunn due up, Nationals fans must have had a glimmer of hope. The three hitters each reached base and the Nationals scored two runs to take the lead.
Enter Matt Capps. He leads the National League in saves, and even after blowing his second save of the season last night, has still done a fantastic job of closing out Nationals’ wins (17/19, 89.5%).
The events that led to Lance Berkman’s game-winning hit are disappointing but nothing worth complaining about. Errors happen; and the Nationals are fortunate that Cory Sullivan’s double did not leave the park. What I am upset about is how Capps approached the last at-bat against Berkman.
First, I want to issue a disclaimer. I am not an expert on pitching, and I have never claimed to be. I am just expressing my opinion. Baseball would not be fun to watch without our ability to do so. A fellow writer criticized my comments. I would love to hear everyone’s opinion on the matter in the comments section here.
Capps quickly got ahead of Berkman 0-2 with two sliders. I quickly told my father, and fellow Nationals fan, that Capps should throw a high fastball to setup a slider in the dirt. The fastball, of course, should not be anywhere near the strike zone. The 0-2 pitch was a fastball, head-high. Perfect. The 1-2 pitch, however, was another fastball, barely above the belt, and Berkman just missed it. He fouled it off, giving himself another life. Capps threw yet another fastball, just off the plate outside, at which Berkman checked his swing. Whether or not he swung is questionable, but Bill Hohn, the third base umpire, said he did not.
What proceeded is possible stubbornness, bad game-calling, or something of the sort. Maybe Capps didn’t like his slider last night. However, evidence points to the fact that Capps should not have thrown four straight fastballs to the all-star first baseman.
First of all, Berkman has not hit sliders well this year. He has produced -3.76 runs per 100 sliders compared to 0.90 per 100 fastballs. Throughout his career, Berkman has hit fastballs better than sliders. Secondly, Berkman has been swinging at pitches out of the zone at similar rates to those of his career, but he is making much less contact. The situation called for an offspeed pitch out of the zone.
I am playing a what-if game here, but I played it before Berkman hit a single. Had Berkman swung and missed the pitch or hit the ball to a player somewhere, I would have been happy with the result. However, I still would have believed a slider was the right pitch to throw. Had he thrown the slider and Berkman got a hit that won the game, I would have been upset, but I still would have believed it was the right pitch to throw. I am not second-guessing Capps’ decision. I first-guessed it before it happened.
If you have any thoughts on the situation, I would love to hear them.
About the Author
Written by Sam Diament