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No one pounds the zone anymore

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“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.

Jackie Bradley, Jr.’s grand slam keys 8-2 Red Sox win over Astros in ALCS Game 3

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The Red Sox plated five runs in the top of the eighth inning to put Game 3 of the ALCS out of the reach, taking an 8-2 victory over the Astros on Tuesday night in Houston. Four of those eighth-inning runs came on a grand slam to right field by Jackie Bradley, Jr. off of reliever Roberto Osuna, turning their two-run deficit into a back-breaking six-run deficit.

Both teams traded blows in the first inning, with the Red Sox plating two runs on a J.D. Martinez double and a Xander Bogaerts ground out against starter Dallas Keuchel. The Astros got a run back in the bottom half against starter Nathan Eovaldi when Marwin González brought home Jose Altuvé with a single.

Keuchel settled down from there. He ultimately gave up the two runs on four hits with a pair of walks and no strikeouts across five innings. Eovaldi wouldn’t give up another run until the fifth, when Alex Bregman doubled home Altuve. Eovaldi yielded the two runs on six hits with two walks and four strikeouts in six innings.

Steve Pearce, added to the lineup because of the left-handed Keuchel, smashed a solo home run down the left field line in the sixth against right-handed reliever Joe Smith, breaking the 2-2 tie. Two innings later, all hell broke loose against Osuna. Osuna got Martinez to fly out for the first out, allowed a single to Bogaerts, then got the second out when Pearce gorunded out to third base. Rafael Devers kept the inning alive with a single. Osuna loaded the bases by hitting Brock Holt with an 89 MPH slider, then forced in a run when he hit Mitch Moreland with a 96 MPH fastball. Bradley came up and worked a 1-1 count before depositing a 94 MPH fastball into the right field seats to drastically create space between the Red Sox and Astros.

In the bottom of the eighth, with a healthy five-run cushion, Matt Barnes and Joe Kelly combined to keep the Astros off the board. Eduardo Rodríguez got the ball to start the ninth with a pair of lefties slated to bat. Tyler White pinch-hit for Brian McCann but struck out. Evan Gattis then pinch-hit for Tony Kemp and grounded out. Rodríguez cleaned out the inning by striking out George Springer, ending the game in an 8-2 victory for the Red Sox.

The Red Sox will take their 2-1 series lead into Houston on Wednesday night. Rick Porcello will oppose Charlie Morton for an 8:39 PM ET start. A Red Sox win tomorrow would bring them one win away from returning to the World Series for the first time since 2013 and it would leave the defending champion Astros one loss away from elimination.