ST. PETERSBURG - OCTOBER 07: Outfielder B.J. Upton #2 of the Tampa Bay Rays expresses his displeasure after being called out on strikes against the Texas Rangers during Game 2 of the ALDS at Tropicana Field on October 7 2010 in St. Petersburg Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
To say it's been a rough two days for the Rays is a big understatement. Yes, there have been some hard struck balls right at some well-positioned fielders, but 23 strikeouts (32.9% of plate appearances as a team) are a lot of outs without making the opposition make a play. Compound that with eleven strikeouts looking (15.7% of PA) where the batter didn't give himself a chance to make something happen on the field of play. That compares with four strikeouts looking for Texas over the two games.
The walk was a key element of the Rays offensive attack this season with an American League leading 10.7% walk rate. Part of being a patient team will include a high strikeout rate, also a league leading 23.8%. How about the Rangers? The Rangers walked 8.1% of the time, while striking out 17.5%.
The point of this exercise is to show with two different offensive approaches, umpiring can make a big difference. That's not to make an excuse. But for as long as we have the human element spicing up the game, that should be a critical part of game planning. Tim Welke and Jim Wolf have reputations as pitcher friendly umpires which fits in nicely with CJ Wilson as a nibbling pitcher, and with the Rangers more aggressive offensive approach. The Rays seemed to fail to adjust given the large number of called strike threes. It's far too easy for me to sit behind my computer and say teams need to adjust their offensive philosophy. Players have their zone locations that have been ingrained in their minds. However it does seem there are some adjustments that can occur. The eyeball test tells me that the Rays have seen a lot of meaty first pitch called strikes. This is a place where they could be more aggressive with walks being more difficult to draw, maybe treating first pitch like a one-strike count. There also is less of a need to run up the starter's pitch count with a shut down pen to follow. With Cliff Lee on the hill and the bases loaded, nothing close will be called a ball. That was an inexcusable take by Carlos Pena.You have to be ready to protect with two strikes in that situation.
I'm not sure who will be calling balls and strikes in Game 3,but in the event it's Jeff Kellogg (13% more hitter friendly than average) I hope the players don't change their approach based on the first two games.