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The Dodgers’ Best Bats Heat Up At Just The Right Time

The Los Angeles Dodgers couldn’t buy a run, and their World Series chances were slipping away. After scoring six times off the Houston Astros but coming up short in a crazy, back-and-forth Game 2, they mustered three relatively low-leverage runs in Game 31 and were shut out for the first six innings of Game 4. A loss here would have dropped LA’s World Series odds to around 20 percent, if history was any guide, and left this 104-win juggernaut staring at another postseason disappointment.

But finally, after waiting most of the series for their bats to heat up, the Dodgers got what they were looking for late Saturday night. Cody Bellinger, who’d gone 0-for-13 in the World Series before the seventh inning of Game 4, delivered a double, then came around to score the tying run on a Logan Forsythe single. Two innings later, Corey Seager, who’d been hitless since Game 2, got on base with a single and scored on another Bellinger double, giving LA a lead it would never relinquish. (Joc Pederson’s three-run insurance homer four batters later also helped.) Suddenly, instead of falling into a 3-1 hole, the Dodgers knotted up the series at two games apiece and are back to being championship favorites again.

Before Game 4’s assault on the Astros’ bullpen, the Dodgers as a team had produced 7.1 fewer runs than average in the series based on their weighted on-base average (wOBA),2 including a collective 6.5 runs below average from the team’s four best hitters during the regular season by wOBA — Bellinger, Seager, Justin Turner and Austin Barnes. But all four batters played a role in LA’s late-innings scoring outburst, during which they collectively produced 1.6 runs above average (to go with 0.9 runs above average from their teammates):

The Dodgers’ best bats showed up late in Game 4

Weighted on-base average (wOBA) and batting runs above average (RAA) for Los Angeles hitters in 2017 regular season and World Series

WORLD SERIES GM. 4 RAA
PLAYER POS REG. SEASON WOBA BEFORE 7TH INN. 7TH+ INN.
Justin Turner 3B .411 -1.2 +0.0
Cody Bellinger 1B .396 -3.5 +1.6
Austin Barnes C .396 -1.6 -0.5
Corey Seager SS .374 -0.2 +0.5
Chris Taylor LF .373 +0.5 -0.3
Yasiel Puig RF .360 -1.2 -0.5
Yasmani Grandal C .336 -0.8 0.0
Joc Pederson LF .331 +1.3 +1.3
Andre Ethier RF .326 +0.0 0.0
Chase Utley 2B .325 -1.4 0.0
Enrique Hernandez CF .320 +0.4 -0.5
Logan Forsythe 2B .313 -0.7 +1.0
Charlie Culberson SS .237 +1.3 0.0
Total -7.1 +2.5

Sources: ESPN Stats & Information Group, Fangraphs

It’s impossible to say whether the Dodgers’ well-timed turnaround at the plate will kick-start their offense over the rest of the series. But they’d definitely been hitting below their talents up to that point — with a wOBA 94 points below their regular-season average — so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bellinger and company’s late-game performance be part of a positive regression to the mean going forward.

As for the Astros, Game 4 was an enormous missed opportunity. Starting pitcher Charlie Morton pitched extremely well — he had a Game Score of 76, tied for seventh-best ever among World Series starters in a game the team ultimately lost — and it was looking like he’d steal Houston a crucial second series win in a game not started by team co-aces Justin Verlander or Dallas Keuchel. Leading up to the World Series, Houston was 5-1 in playoff games started by Verlander/Keuchel but 2-3 in all other games, so getting a pair of wins from Morton and Game 3 starter Lance McCullers would have been a major coup for the Astros at this point in the series.

Instead, Houston is left wondering how a bullpen that had outpitched Los Angeles’s early in the series managed to blow such a winnable home contest. According to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group, Astros closer Ken Giles has now allowed as many earned runs (10) in 7⅔ postseason innings as he did in 50⅔ innings during his last 50 appearances of the regular season, and the Houston bullpen as a whole now has a 5.21 ERA during the playoffs — nearly two runs worse than their starters per nine innings.

The Astros aren’t doomed, of course. The series is basically a toss-up now, a de facto best-of-three affair that will see them face the Dodgers’ best pitcher (Clayton Kershaw) at home and also be able to use their own top starter (Verlander) to neutralize LA’s home-field advantage in Game 6. But in a flash, the Dodgers’ cold bats warmed up and saved their season, turning what would have been a commanding Houston lead into a series either team can now win.

CORRECTION (Oct. 29, 2017, 11 a.m.): A previous version of this article mischaracterized the regular-season stats of Ken Giles. His 10 regular-season earned runs allowed came in his last 50 appearances of the season, not the entire season.

CORRECTION (Oct. 29, 2017, 3:30 p.m.): A previous version of this article said Los Angeles scored seven times in Game 2. The Dodgers scored six times.

Footnotes

  1. None of those scores ever brought them any closer than within two runs of the Astros.

  2. Using the formula and constants provided at FanGraphs.com.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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