If you’ve read my Friday night game recaps, there’s a decent chance you’ve seen the scorecards I keep during the game. Aside from my affinity for keeping the book, it’s also a great tool to look back on at the end of the game and see the game laid out in simple terms. I can read a scorecard and tell you what happened in a game fairly easily. Kinda. The scorecard shows me the outcome of each plate appearance, but the beauty of baseball lies in the details. Within those plate appearances, there are several pitches, each setting up the next. Both pitchers and hitters draw on past meetings to try to gain an edge. Each matchup is a game within the game.
What I’m going to do here in The Anatomy of an Inning, is take three outs from the previous week and go beyond the box score. I’ll break down what happened, why it happened, and hopefully become a smarter fan along the way. Let’s do it.
Thursday, July 6. Top 7. Rangers leading the Red Sox 5-4. Josh Winckowski enters the game with nobody out and runners on second and third.
It’s important to note that at this point in the season, the bullpen is incredibly thin. Unless the Red Sox can tie the game or take the lead in the bottom half of the inning, it’s hard to justify using too many high-leverage arms. Basically, Winckowski needs to keep that run at third base to give the Red Sox a chance, or else it’s likely they’ll be using a metaphorical white flag in Kaleb Ort or Justin Garza against a potent Rangers lineup. Runners on second and third with nobody out is nearly an impossible situation. Not only does Winckowski need to retire three hitters in a row, but he needs to do so without allowing a fly ball while also being careful when throwing off-speed pitches in the dirt.
AB #1 - Adolis Garcia
Talk about a tough first pitch. It doesn’t get much more difficult than having to immediately execute a pitch with traffic on the basepaths. Winckowski narrowly misses with a slider while trying to steal a first-pitch strike. It didn’t work in this case, but it’s a good idea. Nick Pollack of PitcherList.com calls that “free real estate” because oftentimes hitters are sitting on a first-pitch fastball or will even take all the way.
If you look at the book on Garcia, you’ll see that he swings at a lot of pitches up in the zone, and he whiffs at a lot of pitches down and away. Winckowski can’t afford to fall behind 2-0, so he goes with a high fastball at 97 MPH and gets the whiff.
At 1-1, he has a couple of options. He can double up on the high fastball, or he can change the eye level and go down and away. Winckowski opts for the latter and spikes a cutter to make it 2-1.
The fourth pitch of his outing is particularly impressive to me. After so poorly executing the cutter, Garcia is likely expecting him to go back to the fastball. Instead, he goes back to the cutter and spots it perfectly just off the plate, Garcia is out in front, and it’s back to even.
With two strikes he goes back to the cutter and throws it even further off the plate where Garcia can’t do any damage with it. He pokes it to Arroyo who does a good job charging it and keeping the runners where they are. One down.
AB #2 - Josh Jung
The one-out scenario is virtually the same as with nobody out. You need a strike-out, a pop-out, or a ground ball right at someone to keep that run at third. With one out, they may be a little more aggressive on the basepaths and even have a contact play on, so limiting contact is even more important.
This at-bat was over from the start. Winckowski starts him off with a cutter, and Jung is late on it, suggesting that he may be looking to hit an off-speed pitch. Jung’s splits show he’s a much better fastball hitter, but there are a million potential reasons he would be looking for something off-speed. The second pitch is my favorite of the entire outing. It’s a 98 MPH sinker in on the hands at 0-1. Jung fouls it off, but it was virtually a free strike. After being late on 91 MPH, it’s safe to assume he won’t be on time for 98 MPH in on the hands. Even if he is expecting the fastball, it’s going to be very difficult to keep that ball fair. There really isn’t a lot he can do with the ball, worst case, he gets jammed and hits a ground ball. Very little chance of damage. Third pitch, another high fastball, this time more hittable, but he’s late again. Enjoy the view from the dugout, rookie.
AB #3 - Ezequiel Duran
Another first pitch cutter off the plate for a whiff, another late swing. So what do you do if you’re Winckowski? The exact same thing you did to Jung.
He tries to go inside again with the sinker, but this time actually leaves it out over the plate. To me, it’s the first dangerous mistake of the outing. No worries though, Duran is still late and grounds it right to Arroyo for the third out.
Winckowski has had somewhat of an up-and-down season, regressing slightly from his early-season dominance. On Thursday, he showed confidence in his ability to execute by sticking with the cutter after he spiked the first one in a high-pressure situation, and reached back for some additional velocity to put Jung and Duran at a disadvantage after they showed their timing was late on his early offerings. In the bottom half of the inning, the Red Sox scored seven times and were able to hand it over to Chris Martin to close the door and take the series.
Same time next week. Go Sox.