Matt Moore dominates as Rays cruise to Game 1 victory

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Pretty much any team other than the Rays would have given Matt Moore an opportunity months ago. Fortunately, Tampa Bay did find some room for him in the end.

Making just his second big-league start and fourth appearance, Moore blanked the Rangers for seven innings on Friday and, supported by a pair of homers from Kelly Shoppach, picked up the victory in a 9-0 game.

Moore was never in serious trouble while giving up just two hits and two walks. He touched 98 mph on the gun and struck out six.

Moore’s Rangers counterpart couldn’t compare.  After posting a 1.21 ERA in September, C.J. Wilson entered the series as hot as any pitcher in the postseason.  However, he gave up eight runs — six earned — and three homers in this one.

With one in the second, Johnny Damon started it off by hitting just the third homer Wilson has given up to a left-hander this season.  Shoppach then added a three-run homer in the third and a two-run blast in the fifth.

The loss at home with their best starter on the mound leaves the Rangers in a big hole here.  Now they’ll have to beat Rays ace James Shields on Saturday to have much of a chance in the series. The good news is that Shields hasn’t been at his best lately. Also, the Rangers will get to play in the evening and their offense was much better in night games than day games this year. Still, they may need their own young left-hander, Derek Holland, to come through with the same kind of performance that Moore did today.

Notes

– The two homers gave Shoppach five RBI.  He didn’t drive in more than two runs in any of his 87 appearances this season, and he ended the year with just 22 RBI (despite having hit 11 homers) in 221 at-bats.

– Shoppach was the first player since Ryan Howard in Game 4 of the 2008 World Series to have two homers and five RBI in a postseason game. He joined Yogi Berra, Gene Tenace, Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, A.J. Pierzynski and Mike Napoli as the only catchers to have two-homer games in the postseason.

– One of the two hits surrendered by Moore was a Josh Hamilton double to right that Matt Joyce got a bad read on. It was a ball that should have been caught.

– Hamilton was initially credited with a sacrifice bunt while the Rangers were down 8-0 in the sixth. He was going for the hit, of course, but since it moved Elvis Andrus up to second, the sacrifice was awarded. Fortunately, the official scorer came to his senses and reversed his decision two innings later.

– Hamilton had both Rangers hits in the game.  He had as many hits today as he did in the ALDS against the Rays last year (2-for-18) and as he did in the World Series loss to the Giants (2-for-20).

– Damon’s homer was his 10th in 249 postseason at-bats, giving him a home run rate 66 percent higher in October than his regular-season rate (he’s averaged six homers every 249 regular-season at-bats in his career).  He’s the 33rd player in big-league history to reach double-figures in postseason home runs.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.