So of course the question everyone's asking is whether or not Kershaw's pitch to Kris Bryant (the pitch before his two run home run) was a strike or not, and of course the answer is.... sort of. Technically the pitch was a ball, based on the Standard Strike-Zone, which is the width of the plate (17 inches). But, as all readers of this blog know, the actual strike-zone is a tad wider - about an inch and a half beyond the plate on either side to RH hitters. So where was that pitch exactly?
The pitch was 9.27 inches off the center of the plate, or 3/4 of an inch off the outside corner. Considering the pitch was square in the middle of the zone vertically (at 2 ft. 3 inches), almost every umpire in the game would call it a strike. But if you look at HP umpire Jordan Baker's results from the last game he called balls and strikes, you will notice that he actually doesn't give much of an expanded corner outside to RH hitters.
Here are Baker's calls in his last game (Padres at Braves, June 11th) in the same region. He called seven of seven pitches in the expanded outside region of the Adjusted Strike-Zone balls, and even called a ball there that was in the Standard Strike-Zone. From this we can garner that the ball call to Bryant was not an anomaly for Baker. The only thing hurting Baker's case for not calling a strike was this call:
Strike 1 to Enrique Hernandez in the 8th inning (1-0 count, 0 outs, nobody on, LI 1.35)
This pitch was .28 inches closer to the plate at .49 inches off the corner, an indiscernible difference from the Kershaw/Bryant pitch. Here it is in comparison to the Bryant ball.
This is a perfect example of the arbitrary strike-zone having a direct influence on a game. There is a strong case to be made that Kris Bryant should have been called out on strikes, ending the third inning. At first I thought the main culprit here was Baker's reluctance to pull the lever on a strike call to end an at-bat and the inning for the home team. But he did that exact thing twice in the game, calling Wada out on strikes to end the second inning, and ringing Coghlan up to end the eighth inning. So your guess is as good as mine on why he didn't call strike 3 to Bryant. A conservative outside strike-zone to RH hitters aside, and the randomness of the moment caused him to stand there and make no call. This was a miss that directly cost the Dodgers two runs. The funny thing is, besides this call, Baker actually favored the Dodgers for the rest of the night. His +5 Game Score indicates a positive difference of 5 pitches helping the visiting team. Accuracy-wise, Baker was pretty bad. I will try and dig into this a little more in an update, but I want to get this Bryant stuff posted.
Close Calls & Reviews:
There were no challenges or reviews in the game, but there was however a protest. In the sixth inning a few lights in an outfield bank of lights went out. There seemed to be a noticeable difference in center-field but nothing that the umpires deemed unplayable conditions. Joe Maddon ultimately decided to protest, claiming it would be unfair if the lights came back on at some point. This protest was made even more ridiculous by the fact that the Dodgers were in the field at the time. The biggest hindrance of not having full lights would be difficulty the fielders would have in seeing the ball. So if the lights came back on later in the inning, it would actually be a benefit to the Cubs. This was all about stalling. Maddon knew that his club had the lead, the game was official already (having passed the 5th inning mark), and the rain was coming. Not only would he possibly be able to shorten the game if a rain delay happened, but he also forced Kershaw to stand around waiting for about 10-15 minutes. It is a classic 'baseball move,' of which the like happens all the time. Fair play on his part, and fair play on Kershaw at one point raising his voice and asking "WTF already!?"