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Launch angles — October 13, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Divisional Round - Chicago Cubs v Washington Nationals - Game Five Photo by Patrick Smith/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

Addison Russell rips a double down the line for the lead — +.066 cWPA

Gif via MLB.com

Max Scherzer entered Game 5 of the NLDS in the fifth inning to settle things down for the Nationals and ideally give them a handful of clean innings as they tried to extend their 4-3 lead. He looked like he’d do just that as he immediately retired the Cubs two best hitters — Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant — on six pitches. Nothing surprising there, Scherzer’s one of the best pitchers on the planet. Dusty Baker gave him the ball for a reason.

Unfortunately for the Nationals, and as we’ve seen plenty of times this postseason, even the game’s best pitchers can get touched up at a moments notice. Scherzer recorded two quick outs, but just as quickly surrendered singles to both Willson Contreras and a pinch-hitting Ben Zobrist; bringing Addison Russell to the plate with two on and two out.

Russell had another disappointing offensive season for the Cubs as he posted a wRC+ of 84, the lowest of a career that’s yet to see him eclipse 100 in the category. But the playoffs care not for your regular season nerd stats. Russell jumped on the first pitch he saw from Scherzer — a changeup on the inner-edge — and drove it just inside the third base bag and past a diving Anthony Rendon. The ball made its way all the way to the left field corner, allowing both Contreras and Zobrist to score with ease and giving the Cubs a lead that they would never relinquish.

Gif via MLB.tv

There’s no one the Nationals would rather have had with the ball in his hand and a one run lead than Max Scherzer, but even the greatest pitchers in the world aren’t immune to the randomness of playoff baseball. Credit Addison Russell for squaring up the ball of course — he hit it 103 miles per hour — but the story here is that the go-ahead runs came against Scherzer. As Nationals fans experienced yet again on Thursday, baseball will break your heart.

Yesterday’s best pitching performance

Wade Davis

Gif via MLB.com

Game 5 between the Nationals and Cubs was chock full of poor pitching. Neither starter lasted more than four innings, and while some relievers did have clean innings, none of them stood out as overwhelmingly impactful. Sean Doolittle looked outstanding, but the Nats were down at the time and he faced the seven, eight, and nine hitters in the Cubs lineup. So it is almost by default that we recognize Wade Davis in this space. He wasn’t perfect, but when called upon to record the final seven outs, he delivered.

In his 2 13 innings, Davis allowed two hits, two walks, and one earned run. He struck out three opposing hitters in total, and they all came at huge moments. When Davis entered the game in the seventh he inherited a two-run lead and two runners, making Ryan Zimmerman the go-ahead run at plate. Davis started Zimmerman off with three consecutive knuckle-curves in the upper-half of the zone for a called strike and two fouls. With the count in his favor at 0-2, Davis’ fourth pitch was a beauty as he got Zimmerman to half-heartedly chase a cutter below the zone. Rally squashed.

Gif via MLB.com

Davis needed a huge double play and a controversial pickoff call to escape the eighth inning with only one run against him, but escape it he did. With only Justin Wilson and John Lackey remaining in the Cubs bullpen, Joe Maddon decided to stick with Davis in the ninth as the Nationals top of the order was due to hit. A six-pitch flyout from Trea Turner and a five-pitch strikeout against Jayson Werth got Davis to the brink, where Bryce Harper was waiting for his moment.

One of the game’s most feared hitters at the plate with his team down one run is the stuff playoff moments are made of, but Davis — who looked absolutely gassed — was up for the task. He started Harper off with a perfect cutter on the inside corner of the zone to get a whiff, but threw only one more pitch in the zone as the count ran full, setting up the moment of truth.

Needing only one more strike, Davis threw Harper a cutter that started on the inner-half but moved well inside. It was a perfect pitch. Harper would either swing over it, foul it off, or take it for ball four — it wasn’t an offering that would allow him to do damage. Davis got Harper to whiff and the Cubs punched their ticket to Los Angeles.

Gif via MLB.tv

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Michael A. Taylor — 415 feet

Gif via MLB.com

For the second straight day Michael A. Taylor hit a massive dinger in a huge moment. On Wednesday he blasted a grand slam to put the Nationals comfortably ahead and send the NLDS back to Washington for a Game 5. Then, early on in that Game 5, it looked like he’d done it again.

With the game tied at one and two runners on base in the second inning, Taylor fell behind 0-2 against Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks. He then chased a clear ball, way above the zone; but it was an 86 mile per hour four-seam fastball, which gave Taylor ample time to catch up. Despite its elevated location, Taylor barreled the pitch up and drove it into the Cubs bullpen.

At 4.06 feet off the ground, this home run is eighth highest pitch resulting in a home run that Statcast has tracked in 2017. It was impressive piece of hitting, if you forget about the fact that the pitch probably should not have been swung at period. But with two strikes, Taylor was protecting and saw a slow fastball that he could handle.

The dinger showcased Taylor’s impressive strength and at the time felt like a huge blow to the Cubs, but as we all know now, the contest was far from over. Regardless of the ultimate outcome of the game though, this was still a fascinating home run.

SABRy tidbits

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Masahiro Tanaka (3.92 projected ERA) vs. Dallas Keuchel (3.74 projected ERA)

One of the benefits of the Yankees’ incredible bullpen is that in critical playoff games, when other teams are warming up their other starters for relief work, New York can realistically depend on their relievers to deliver multiple, high-quality innings each. So as the Astros turn to Dallas Keuchel in Game 1 of the ALCS — having used Justin Verlander to help clinch Game 4 of the ALDS — the Yankees’ rotation remains well-rested, despite the fact that their first round series lasted the full five games.

Masahiro Tanaka will take the ball in Houston, and he’s on quite a roll. In his last two starts, Tanaka has thrown 14 innings, allowed zero earned runs, and notched 22 strikeouts to just one walk. Opposing him is the aforementioned Keuchel, the ground-ball specialist who led the Astros to victory in Game 2 of the ALDS with 5 23 innings of one run ball. Between Keuchel’s sinker and Tanaka’s slider/splitter heavy approach, prepare yourself for a party in the bottom of the zone.


Chris Anders is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can find him on Twitter @MrChrisAnders.