Sending A-Gon backfires on play at plate

Playing shallow, Zobrist nabs Gonzalez with accurate throw home

October 16th, 2016

CHICAGO -- It was about the time slow-footed first baseman turned for home in the second inning of the Dodgers' 8-4 Game 1 loss in the National League Championship Series on Saturday that third-base coach Chris Woodward knew this could be trouble.

Gonzalez was an easy out at the plate, and no matter the lopsided look of the final score, that play was significant in the Cubs carrying a 1-0 series lead into Game 2 on Sunday (8 p.m. ET/5 PT on FS1).

"When he went past me," Woodward said, "I was a little worried."

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Trailing, 1-0, in the top of the second, the Dodgers put runners at first and second base with one out before Cubs starter struck out with a 94 mph fastball inside. That brought to the plate pitcher , who grounded a single through the left side of the infield that set the runners in motion.

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The lead runner was Gonzalez, not known for his speed, who compounded his challenge by flinching back toward second base when Maeda made contact. Still, with two outs and postseason stalwart Lester the opponent, Woodward waved Gonzalez home.

He was out by several steps without a slide, with Cubs left fielder and catcher combining for the putout.

"I was just following directions," Gonzalez said.

Beyond Gonzalez's lack of speed, two factors worked against Woodward. One, counterintuitively, was Gonzalez's huge lead off second base against Lester, whose troubles throwing to bases are well known. When Maeda hit his grounder to the left side, Gonzalez had to take a half-step back toward second, in the event third baseman came up with a diving stop.

"I know Adrian pretty well, [so] I know he won't take offense to this, but he's really slow," Lester said. "I mean, he really is. He's not the fastest guy in the world. So I knew what they were trying to do. They were trying to mess with me and trying to get me off my game."

The other problem was the batter, Maeda, who was 7-for-57 (.123) at the plate in the regular season and is not considered a significant threat with the bat. Zobrist usually stands an average of 295 feet away from home when he's in left, but with Maeda up, Zobrist was playing shallow, just 283 feet deep, according to Statcast™.

Maeda's 72.8 mph seeing-eye single through the left side required Zobrist to run in to field the ball, so he was only 164 feet deep at the time he released the throw. By that point, Gonzalez was only 20 feet past third base after his initial flinch back toward second. When Zobrist's on-target 87.3 mph throw reached Ross, Gonzalez was still 18.6 feet away from home plate.

"Most of the time with two outs, I'm always telling guys, 'I'm sending you,'" Woodward said. "The only difference there was Zobrist was so far in. That could become a factor. Still, most of the time, it's 100 percent 'send.'

"If it was something hit hard, I wouldn't have sent him, but on that ...

"The other problem is it was hit to the wrong guy. Zobrist never makes a bad throw. He has an average arm, but it's very accurate."

Zobrist was just that, and the inning was over.