How the Nationals Outsmarted Paul Goldschmidt in the NLCS

The NLCS had a weird feel to it from the get go. The Nationals’ pitching was stupendous, balls hit off the bat that sounded like towering home runs were dying on the warning track, and of course, the Cardinals bats never woke up. This was a bit unexpected considering the club’s monster first inning in Atlanta during game 5 of the NLDS. We were all waiting for the Cardinals offense to appear, but it never showed up, as they only scored six runs in a four-game sweep by the Nationals.

Nobody could seem to get anything going offensively. Instead of searching for answers for all the Cardinal batters, let’s just look at one. While Paul Goldschmidt had his worst season offensively with a .346 wOBA, he is still the thunder in the St. Louis lineup. How exactly did the Nationals pitch to Goldschmidt, and why couldn’t he succeed in the series?

On one hand, the Nationals pitchers were outstanding. They were putting pitches right on the edge of the plate and mixing their pitch selection well. When you have Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin in your starting rotation, your opponent is going to have a difficult time. Additionally, Anibal Sanchez had a great game. Meanwhile, Goldschmidt went 1-for-16 with nine strikeouts in the series. He did seem to experience a little bit of bad luck with a few hard hit balls. In Game 4, he hit a ball 101.4 mph that went 340 feet, and he had another two hard-hit outs in Game 2. One traveled 316 feet that was hit 95.9 mph off the bat, and another traveled 284 feet that was hit 108.1 mph. That may not make him feel tons better about his performance given the nine strikeouts.

It is not surprising that Anibal Sanchez was able to succeed in his three times facing Goldschmidt in Game 1. Sanchez used the cutter and sinker well in that game. While his sinker generated an unimpressive .387 wOBA this year, his cutter was lethal with a .260 wOBA. Goldschmidt had a .350 wOBA against sinkers and a .317 wOBA against cutters. Those numbers are going to add to some underwhelming results. Sanchez utilized the sinker and cutter well and put them in difficult locations against Goldschmidt. During the second at-bat, Sanchez generated similar results.

During the third at-bat, Sanchez used the fastball twice and it generated a hard-hit out. It could have resulted in a hit, but Goldschmidt couldn’t do anything with them. In Game 1, Goldschmidt wasn’t able to beat Sanchez on any of the at-bats. Sanchez didn’t use the splitter, which Goldschmidt struggles with, but the sinkers and cutters did the trick.

Game 2 was a little tricky for Goldschmidt because he had a few opportunities to do some damage against Scherzer. During his first at-bat, Goldschmidt didn’t see one pitch that was in the strike zone. Goldschmidt had a .370 wOBA against sliders this year, which is a great improvement for him. Last season, his wOBA vs. sliders was .349, and in 2017, it was .258. Unfortunately for Goldschmidt, Scherzer generates an astounding .167 wOBA on his slider. Goldschmidt was able to lay off the perfectly placed pitches in his first at-bat, but by his third time facing Scherzer, he was much more aggressive by swinging at the second and third pitch. It seemed he was deciding to be more aggressive early in the count rather than wait for the perfect pitch.

During Game 3 against Strasburg, Goldschmidt never got a good pitch to hit. He was sat down on strikeouts on four separate occasions. Those at-bats were difficult for Goldschmidt, but Game 4 was a better indicator of his struggles throughout the series. In his second at-bat of the night against Corbin, Goldschmidt saw three different pitches right down the middle. While Corbin generates fantastic results for his curveball and four-seam fastball, Goldschmidt loves those pitches. He has a .390 wOBA on curveballs and a .376 wOBA on four-seam fastballs. Regardless, he struck out on three pitches in that at-bat.

Goldschmidt saw three pitches in the strike zone that he could have hit. He took the curveball for strike one, fouled off the four-seam fastball, and then foul tipped the two-seamer into Kurt Suzuki’s glove for the strikeout. Despite the frustrating K, Goldschmidt had a better at-bat his next time at the plate. He saw seven pitches before striking out on a low inside slider.

Unfortunately for Goldschmidt, his best pitch to hit of the at-bat was the first. The slider right down the middle would have been the perfect pitch to square up. Corbin generates a .202 wOBA on the pitch, but Goldschmidt has greatly improved on the pitch during the past few seasons. The reason Corbin was able to throw that pitch was because he had not thrown it to him during Goldschmidt’s previous at-bats. Corbin knew exactly what he was doing when he threw two straight sliders to Goldschmidt to start him off. By setting down Goldschmidt the previous two at-bats without using the slider, he knew he could use that pitch the third time around. Goldschmidt was fooled, and there was little he could do about it.

From the average fan’s perspective, Goldschmidt’s struggles throughout the series were the result of great pitching, poor swing decisions, and a little bit of bad luck. To some extent, that is true. However, the Nationals did a tremendous job of mixing their pitches and knowing when to throw certain pitches that Goldschmidt struggles with or hits well. Yes, the Nationals were on top of their game and made few mistakes. However, Goldschmidt never got in a rhythm because each one of his at-bats was different from the previous one. His at-bat against Corbin is a perfect representation of that. The Nationals pitching staff deserves credit for keeping Goldschmidt off his game, but if the Cardinals are going to make a postseason run next season, Goldschmidt will need to produce better.

Statistics courtesy of baseballsavant.mlb.com

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