By Daniel Granoff
The Phillies and Giants are heading to San Francisco at a game apiece, having scored a combined 14 runs in the first two games of the NLCS. This total is low by just about any standard…except that of the previous round, in which teams averaged just 2.6 runs per game. But while most people had unrealistically high expectations about pitching performances, it was also possible to have some unrealistically low ones about fielding.
Anyone who watched a NLDS game in the previous week probably recalled a glaring problem on just about every team. Errors of every sort came pouring in; no play was routine. The Giants, Braves, Phillies and Reds combined to produce a total of 37 runs in their series. Of those, 12 were unearned from a total of 15 errors. That means 32.4% of the runs scored in the two National League Division Series were the results of errors. Compare this to the regular season, where only 8% of the total runs were unearned.
Was it just the low earned run total that made the high unearned run total look small by comparison? Not so much. Last years’ NLDS produced only 5 unearned runs out of 54 — 9.3%.
So why all of the errors? Was it the pressure of the postseason on rookies? The result of bad fielding all year?
For Atlanta, the worst came when Brooks Conrad contributed three errors in Game 3 to lose in the ninth inning. Conrad, to be fair, has only played the field in 64 career games. In those games, he has a fielding percentage of .942, which is below average. As a team, the Braves had the fifth lowest fielding percentage in all of baseball. There were some warning signs.
Cincinnati, on the other hand, tied for first in the major leagues in fielding percentage. Then, out of nowhere in Game 2, they completely lost it. Four errors, three hit batters. It was horrendous. On one play, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips, who combined to produce six errors all season, committed two on one play. Two runs scored.
What are the takeaways? Defense wins championships, sure. But being great fielders in the regular season doesn’t necessarily translate. Sometimes, as may be the case here, it’s just dumb luck and a small sample: Tigers fans still have their pitchers’ 2006 World Series fielding performance burned into their memory. After committing just 15 errors in the regular season, their pitchers made five in five games to help end their season without a title.
This phenomenon did not completely escape the ALDS either. Even though only 5.3% of runs were unearned, there were 10 errors in the Rangers-Rays series alone. Maybe the next round will produce some cleaner competition: the NLCS has had only one unearned run so far, which came on a single throwing error. But given the terrible fielding and the great pitching to date, you might find yourself thinking that a potential perfect game pitcher has more to fear from the glove than from the bat.