Analysis: Scherzer vs. Zobrist; The at-bat that changed Game #5

The smallest details lead to impactful results. Max Scherzer entered the NLDS elimination game #5 finale as a relief pitcher in the 5th innings with a Nats 4-to-3 lead and would face the meat of the Cubs order: Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras. Scherzer carved up Bryant and Rizzo for two quick outs throwing 6 pitches. Willson Contreras got an infield hit. Then the pesky Ben Zobrist who was a  .232 batter this season would face Scherzer with Contreras on 1st base. This is the at-bat we will analyze pitch-by-pitch.

The key is what Max Scherzer does best — strike batters out! You want to strikeout Zobrist because you do not want to deal with the luck factor of a Zobrist ball-in-play (.251 BABIP) and Zobrist rarely strikes out in 2-strike counts this season against a 4-seam fastball. Your best chance to get him is with the changeup as this chart (below) shows Zobrist batting left-handed in a 2-strike count.

Here is how Scherzer and Matt Wieters pitched Ben Zobrist getting him into a 1-and-2 count.  They wisely threw the changeup in the 1-2 count. Then they went to a poorly located cutter to make the count 2-2. They did not want to get to a 3-2 count so they went for a challenge fastball right down the chute and it was dead red — Scherzer got away with it and Zobrist fouled it off. You are thinking “changeup” — you now have him on the “changeup” — throw the changeup — but no — they doubled-up on another challenge fastball and it again went down the middle and Zobrist had to protect against the off-speed and fought it off and blooped it into leftfield only Jayson Werth could not reach it as the ball landed within 10 feet of him.

Where was the changeup or the slider on pitch #5? Why throw another 4-seamer at the same velo and same location? You have a 2.44% chance of a swing & miss on the fastball and a 23.17% likelihood Zobrist will put the fastball in play. The changeup or slider were the pitches to make after showing him the fastball in pitch #4. It turned out to be a pivotal pitch in an inning that would spiral out of control.

The next batter (Addison Russell) of course grounds a ball past Anthony Rendon for a 2-run double and the Cubs took a lead they would never relinquish.

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