Phillies beat Cardinals, clinch fifth straight NL East title

23 Comments

Pop that champagne, Philadelphia.

Roy Oswalt fanned seven batters and scattered five hits over seven dominant innings Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park as the Phillies topped St. Louis 9-2 and locked up their fifth consecutive National League East title in front of a sold-out home crowd.

Jimmy Rollins went 4-for-5 with two runs scored, Shane Victorino tallied three RBI, and Raul Ibanez hit a grand slam as the Phillies cruised past a Cardinals club that has been trying to fight its way into the Wild Card mix. The Cardinals still face an uphill battle. For the Phillies, it’s time to celebrate.

The division title is the 11th in franchise history, and this 2011 team is up to 98 wins with 12 games to play.

If the season were to end tonight, Philadelphia would be facing an NLDS matchup with the Diamondbacks.

No one pounds the zone anymore

Getty Images
4 Comments

“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.

Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:

Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?

There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.

As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.