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Win Probability: Game 1, NLCS

I guess I picked the wrong game to track tonight.

Well, actually, I didn't have a choice. I don't get FX on the cable package here, so I didn't have the option to watch the second game. I think that FOX did well to split the broadcast, though; it's better to be able to flip between the two (if you have the choice).

So, anyway, Marc asked me to track a game tonight, and I was glad to oblige.

I caught the end of the fiasco with Pierzynski taking first after the strikeout, and there's going to be hell to pay over that one... I'd prefer for someone who actually saw it happen to comment on that, and I'm sure that many sites will have some great coverage of it, including SB Nation's own South Side Sox and Halo's Heaven.

[editor's note, by Richard B. Wade]I saw it. Eddings called him out. It was a huge mistake at a critical point in the game. That he refuses to admit his error is amazing.

As I like to do, I'll start with the graph, which was fairly stable and didn't have too many drastic changes.

Credits: I stole the code, originally, from Eric Simon at Amazin' Avenue (that's to do the enlarged image in the link), and Dave Studeman from The Hardball Times made the spreadsheet.

The blue line is the win probability; the pink line represents "P," which is a measure of criticality.

PLAYER          WPA

Carpenter        .251
Sanders          .154
Nunez            .066
Isringhausen     .047
Burke            .045
Grudzielanek     .034
Eckstein         .030
Taveras          .014
Ensberg          .014
Springer         .011
Pujols           .006
Astacio          .006
Walker           .000
Lamb            -.010
Everett         -.021
Biggio          -.022
Vizcaino        -.037
Lane            -.039
Edmonds         -.043
Y. Molina       -.048
Ausmus          -.084
Berkman         -.141
Pettitte        -.257
[on edit]: Note - These tables that I post look very bad in Internet Explorer, usually... I post using Mozilla and just recently noticed that problem. I'll see what I can do to fix them.

According to WPA, the game's MVP would be Chris Carpenter, and who better? Carpenter induced groundball after groundball after groundball, and Grudzielanek and Co. just vacuumed them up. He was quite efficient (8 IP, 96 pitches).

Reggie Sanders got things going early on with his first-inning home run, and, from there, the Cards did not lose ground. After that, they dipped below a .700 WPA just once, and their lowest total, going forth, was .698.

The graph shows it well; the Cardinals led from wire-to-wire.

Really, most of the game's notable action takes place in the Top 5 plays. I'll do a "countdown," of sorts, and discuss them a bit.

5. Willy Taveras, BB, 3rd inning (-6.0%): At the time, I said to myself, "wow, Taveras is being a lot more disciplined at the plate than he normally is." I'll be honest, I don't watch the Astros too often, but what I've gathered about Willy Taveras is that he was a pretty awful player this year, with his .291/.325/.341 line being bolstered by a league-leading 70 infield hits. He also has struck out 4 times more than he has walked (103 to 25 on that one). But Taveras took some tough pitches and fouled a bunch off with some very pesky swings, and he accomplished what he needed to do -- load the bases for the best hitter on the team.

4. Adam Everett, FC 5-2, 4th inning (+6.6%): We've seen this play a few times in the postseason already, but Abraham Nunez ran it perfectly. With runners at the corners and one out, Everett hit a slow tapper to third. Nunez knew that he was only going to get one out on the play, so he fired home. Molina caught it and made a nice, clean tag at the plate, preventing Morgan Ensberg from scoring the Astros' first run of the game. I don't think there have been any successful putouts at the plate in the postseason... Figgins and Giambi both failed at a similar play in the ALDS.

3. Brad Ausmus, SF, F-8, RBI, 9th inning (+6.7%): Sure, it scored a run, but at this point in the game, the outs were far too scarce to "waste" on a sacrifice fly. It wasn't the worst possible outcome, but the key was avoiding the out. The Cardinals' win expectancy was actually below 90% at this point... 2nd and 3rd, 1 out, tying run at the plate. Ausmus needed to avoid the out more than getting the run in. It surprised me to see this play ranking #3 in the game, but that's more due to the nature of this particular game than its real importance. The Astros were done, pretty much, right after...

2. Lance Berkman, 4-6-3 GIDP, 3rd inning (+14.2%): Bases loaded, just one out, down by three runs. The win probability of this situation for the Cardinals was at 69.8%, and considering that the three and four hitters were the next batters up, you couldn't ask for much more, if you were rooting for the Astros. Berkman hit the ball hard but right at Grudzielanek, who made a nice play and made the DP look pretty easy. The 14.2% swing pretty much signaled the end of this game.

1. Reggie Sanders, 2-run HR, 1st inning (+18.4%): They often say that there are no better fans in the league than those in St. Louis, and Reggie Sanders is experiencing that, these days. After racking up 10 RBIs in the NLDS, Sanders kept it up with a no-doubter to left-center, and the Cards were off and running. The chants of "Reg-gie! Reg-gie!" were exhilarating, and he gave the crowd a nice curtain call for good measure.

The other thing I wanted to mention was how well Mark Grudzielanek played in the field... he seemed to have a ton of chances and just converted them all. Pretty much all of his WPA value came from his defense; it was very impressive.

St. Louis is the better club, and it showed tonight. That doesn't mean that they'll run away with this series, but, even without Scott Rolen, this team is the class of the NL. Still, this is a very good rivalry that doesn't get much national attention, and it's nice to see these two teams battling again. It's not Yankees-Red Sox, but, in its own way, it's a lot of fun.