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Launch angles — October 10, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Divisional Round - Washington Nationals v Chicago Cubs - Game Three Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The MLB season lasts half the year, and it can be hard for the average fan to keep up. That’s where we come in. Every day during the 2017 regular season, Beyond the Box Score will be recapping all the biggest action from the previous day — with a sabermetric slant, of course — and looking ahead to what today will bring.

Yesterday’s biggest play

Anthony Rizzo comes through in the clutch — +.259 WPA

GIF via MLB.com

Can this Nationals-Cubs series just count as the World Series? I know they’re both in the NL and this is actually the divisional round, but come on. The first two games were lit from start to finish, and Game 3 didn’t disappoint either.

With both pitchers firing on all cylinders, the teams were deadlocked at one entering the eighth inning. That’s when things really got interesting. Tommy La Stella — yeah, I don’t know who he is either — pinch-hit for Pedro Strop against Brandon Kintzler, working a free pass. Leonys Martin replaced La Stella at first and promptly advanced to second on a sacrifice. But after Kris Bryant struck out, the Cubs had one out left to work with.

Seeking the platoon advantage, Dusty Baker opted for Oliver Perez to face Rizzo. It was a wise choice — Perez has dominated lefties this year (.291 wOBA) and throughout his career (.305) — but thanks to Rizzo’s aggression and good fortune, it backfired:

Image via Brooks Baseball

Rizzo poked this ball at a 41-degree launch angle, with a measly 70.7 mph exit velocity. According to Statcast, that combination results in a base hit just 29 percent of the time. That flukiness didn’t seem to matter to Rizzo, who was pumped after giving his team the edge:

GIF via MLB.com

A clean ninth inning later, the Cubs took a 2-1 series lead. Since it’s autumn right now, and this series has been a memorable one, I’m going to go ahead and stick the “Fall Classic” label on it. If only one of these clubs could move to the AL...

Yesterday’s best game score

Max Scherzer — 74

Game Score was developed by Bill James as a quick way to evaluate a starting pitcher’s performance. The score begins at 50, with points added for outs and strikeouts, and subtracted for walks, hits, and runs. A score of 70 is very good; a score of 90 is outstanding.

GIF via MLB.com

Before the late-inning tie-breaker, there was a whole ton of low-scoring baseball in Wrigley. Jose Quintana took the hill for Chicago, allowing an unearned run over 5 23 innings; Scherzer went toe-to-toe with him the entire time, finishing with 6 13 frames of one-run ball. The Nats righty recorded slightly more outs and gave up slightly fewer hits (two to one), so he gets the top spot over the Cubs lefty.

Overall, this wasn’t that great of a start by Scherzer’s standards — in the regular season, nine of his 31 outings had a higher Game Score than this one. That’s a little skewed by what happened later, though: A seventh-inning double from Ben Zobrist chased him, and Sammy Solis allowed the run to score. Before that, Scherzer was working on a no-hitter, which really would’ve made this series great.

As it is, though, the Cubs are ahead 2-1. The bad fortune befalling Nationals pitchers just defies belief. Sports Illustrated’s Jon Tayler summarizes it pretty well here:

Scherzer can toss six hit-free innings, give up one run total through seven, and still not win the ballgame. Tip your cap to Quintana, or get mad at the Washington lineup (or both, probably). For whatever reason, he’s

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Carlos Santana — 421 feet

GIF via MLB.com

Only one other divisional series is still going on — over in the American League, the Yankees and Indians are all tied up at two wins apiece. After Cleveland took the first two games at home, New York rebounded with a pair of victories in the Bronx. Yesterday’s triumph featured a Gary Sanchez bomb, three Didi Gregorius walks, and a strong start from Luis Severino, all of it coming together in a 7-3 win.

The Indians had their time to shine, though. After staking Severino to a 5-0 lead, the Yankees could only sit back and watch as he hung this 2-1 slider:

Image via Brooks Baseball

With Jay Bruce aboard at first, this moonshot narrowed the Tribe’s deficit to 5-2, and the Bombers’ win probability to 85.3 percent. From there, though, the New York bullpen kept Cleveland in check to hold out for the win. Not as thrilling as Chicago-Washington, but hey, a dinger’s a dinger, right?

SABRy tidbits

  • The storyline of “great sports team inspires/unites beleaguered city” is pretty trite at this point, but Houston’s a little different than most cases. As the fourth-largest city in the country has dealt with a devastating hurricane, the Astros have had one of the best seasons in franchise history. Grant Brisbee’s reflection on what it all means is well worth your time.

Today’s best pitching matchup

Tanner Roark (4.12 projected ERA) vs. Jake Arrieta (3.70 projected ERA)

This is today’s best pitching matchup, in the same way that the Orioles are the best MLB team in Baltimore. (This is to say, it’s by default.) With the Astros and Dodgers winning yesterday to clinch a division series victory, and the Yankees and Indians heading to a winner-take-all Game 5 on Wednesday, we’ll see just one game today.

Still, you could do a lot worse than these right-handers. Roark and Arrieta might not have gaudy strikeout totals, but they don’t give up much solid contact: Since 2014 — Roark’s first full MLB season, Arrieta’s first full season with Chicago — they rank fourth and fifth, respectively, in hard-hit rate among qualifiers. In the first three games of this series, the Cubs and Nationals have scored a combined 15 runs; I’d expect that trend to continue tonight.


Ryan Romano is the co-managing editor for Beyond the Box Score. Follow him on Twitter if you enjoy angry tweets about Maryland sports.