Archive for October 7th, 2010

The NLDS matchup pitting the Giants against the Braves also happens to feature two of the most promising rookies in all of baseball. Atlanta’s Jayson Heyward and San Francisco’s Buster Posey will battle it out for the National League Rookie of the Year Award in November, but their performance in October could wind up being the bigger story.

Although neither team is an offensive juggernaut, Heyward has a lot more help in the Braves lineup, even with the losses of Martin Prado and Chipper Jones. In addition to the late season acquisition of Derek Lee, the bench contributions of Eric Hinske, Omar Infante and Brooks Conrad have helped pick up the slack. However, the Braves depth has not been able to compensate for the lineup’s relative lack of power. Only catcher Brian McCann topped 20 HRs for the Braves, so runs could be hard to come by against the stingy Giants pitching staff.

Without Buster Posey, the Giants would likely not be in the NLDS. However, the rookie catcher wasn’t the only late addition to the team who made a difference. The midseason acquisition of Pat Burrell proved to be a major pickup for the Giants. Before both Posey and Burrell came on board, the lineup was almost single handedly supported by the resurgent Aubrey Huff. Eventually, the development of Andres Torres and further addition of Cody Ross helped round out the lineup, but the Giants’ offense remains a below average unit.

With Lincecum, Cain and Sanchez, the Giants have the edge in starting pitching, but a lot of that has been mitigated by the September dominance of Derek Lowe (5-0 with 1.17 ERA). Behind Lowe, the Braves are well represented by sophomore Tommy Hanson and fellow veteran Tim Hudson. Combined with the relative lack of offense on each team, the quality arms being featured in the series seems to suggest a low scoring NLDS. Ultimately, the series could turn on which team’s rookie hurler (the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner and the Braves’ Brandon Beachy) pitches better in game 4.

The Giants may have an edge in the starting rotation, but the teams are near even in the bullpen. Brian Wilson and Billy Wagner both turned in dominant seasons closing games, but it is the depth that made each team’s bullpen so strong. For the Giants, righties Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla have carried the load, while the Braves have received strong contributions from the likes of Johnny Venters, Peter Moylan, Takashi Saito and Eric O’Flaherty.

Perhaps the biggest gap between the two teams is on defense. While the Giants rate near the top of the National League on defense, the Braves rank near the bottom. In particular, the Braves have struggled to catch the ball on the infield, which doesn’t match up well with Lowe and Hudson, both of whom are extreme ground ball pitchers.

  wOBA ERA+ Starters ERA Relievers ERA Def Eff UZR/150
Giants 0.318 121 3.54 3.11 0.706 8.3
Braves 0.327 110 3.80 2.99 0.687 -5.7

Source: Baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com

Prediction: Braves in four

Because neither team has a dynamic offense, this series will be decided on the mound. Although the talent of the Giants’ young starters can not be denied, they also lack experience. The Braves, meanwhile, can rely on the playoff tested Lowe and Hudson. In particular, Lowe has proven to be a streaky pitcher who can get on an extended roll, especially in the post season. I look for Lowe to match Lincecum in the opener and then for the Braves to polish off the series when it returns to Atlanta

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vs. Carl Pavano PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Derek Jeter SS 18 0.278 0.278 0.444 0 0
Curtis Granderson CF 21 0.286 0.286 0.286 0 0
Mark Teixeira 1B 12 0.222 0.333 0.556 1 5
Alex Rodriguez 3B 6 0.333 0.333 0.833 1 1
Robinson Cano 2B 8 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Nick Swisher RF 8 0.125 0.125 0.125 0 0
Jorge Posada C 9 0.250 0.333 0.625 1 1
Lance Berkman DH 12 0.333 0.500 0.889 1 1
Brett Gardner LF 6 0.167 0.167 0.167 0 0
Total 100 0.237 0.270 0.419 4 8
vs. Andy Pettitte PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Denard Span CF 14 0.333 0.385 0.417 0 1
Orlando Hudson 2B 21 0.263 0.333 0.316 0 0
Joe Mauer C 21 0.300 0.333 0.450 1 4
Delmon Young RF 21 0.524 0.524 0.667 0 4
Jim Thome DH 39 0.257 0.316 0.486 2 6
Michael Cuddyer 1B 22 0.381 0.409 0.619 1 1
Jason Kubel RF 7 0.000 0.143 0.000 0 0
Danny Valencia 3B 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
J.J. Hardy SS 15 0.067 0.067 0.200 0 0
Total 160 0.295 0.325 0.450 4 16

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When asked if he thought Roy Halladay was hungry to pitch in the playoffs, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel responded, “I think he’s starving”.

After 13 seasons and nearly 2,300 innings without throwing a pitch in October, Halladay not only devoured the Cincinnati Reds lineup, but also took a big bite out of history. By joining Don Larsen as the only other pitcher to throw a no hitter in post season play, Halladay has pretty much assured himself of baseball immortality, regardless of what he does over the rest of his career.

Although his accomplishment was naturally compared to Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, it is worth noting that neither man’s effort ranks as the best pitching performance in post season history. According to game score, that distinction belongs to Roger Clemens, who gave up only one hit while striking out 15 Mariners in game four of the 2000 ALCS. Also ahead of Larsen and Halladay on the list are extra inning efforts by the Orioles Dave McNally and Red Sox’ Babe Ruth. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Ruth’s performance in that game, however, was that he went 0-5 at the plate.

Top 10 Pitching Performances in Post Season History, by Game Score

Player Date Series G# IP H R ER BB SO HR GSc
Roger Clemens 10/14/2000 ALCS 4 9 1 0 0 2 15 0 98
Dave McNally 10/5/1969 ALCS 2 11 3 0 0 5 11 0 97
Babe Ruth 10/9/1916 WS 2 14 6 1 1 3 4 1 97
Roy Halladay 10/6/2010 NLDS 1 9 0 0 0 1 8 0 94
Don Larsen 10/8/1956 WS 5 9 0 0 0 0 7 0 94
Ed Walsh 10/11/1906 WS 3 9 2 0 0 1 12 0 94
Josh Beckett 10/12/2003 NLCS 5 9 2 0 0 1 11 0 93
Ken Holtzman 10/9/1973 ALCS 3 11 3 1 1 1 7 1 93
Bob Gibson 10/2/1968 WS 1 9 5 0 0 1 17 0 93
Kevin Brown 9/29/1998 NLDS 1 8 2 0 0 2 16 0 92

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Although he can’t lay claim to the best game thrown in the post season, Halladay did put forth the best effort by a National Leaguer as well as the best outing in a division series.

Top 10 Pitching Performances in World Series, by Game Score

Player Date Series G# IP H R ER BB SO HR GSc
Babe Ruth 10/9/1916 WS 2 14 6 1 1 3 4 1 97
Don Larsen 10/8/1956 WS 5 9 0 0 0 0 7 0 94
Ed Walsh 10/11/1906 WS 3 9 2 0 0 1 12 0 94
Bob Gibson 10/2/1968 WS 1 9 5 0 0 1 17 0 93
Randy Johnson 10/28/2001 WS 2 9 3 0 0 1 11 0 91

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Top 10 Pitching Performances in LCS, by Game Score

Player Date Series G# IP H R ER BB SO HR GSc
Roger Clemens 10/14/2000 ALCS 4 9 1 0 0 2 15 0 98
Dave McNally 10/5/1969 ALCS 2 11 3 0 0 5 11 0 97
Ken Holtzman 10/9/1973 ALCS 3 11 3 1 1 1 7 1 93
Josh Beckett 10/12/2003 NLCS 5 9 2 0 0 1 11 0 93
Randy Johnson 10/16/2001 NLCS 1 9 3 0 0 1 11 0 91

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Top 10 Pitching Performances in LDS, by Game Score

Player Date Series G# IP H R ER BB SO HR GSc
Roy Halladay 10/6/2010 NLDS 1 9 0 0 0 1 8 0 94
Kevin Brown 9/29/1998 NLDS 1 8 2 0 0 2 16 0 92
Curt Schilling 10/9/2001 NLDS 1 9 3 0 0 1 9 0 89
Kevin Millwood 10/6/1999 NLDS 2 9 1 1 1 0 8 1 89
Bobby Jones 10/8/2000 NLDS 4 9 1 0 0 2 5 0 88

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Of course, Halladay’s performance came in the opening round of a series, which arguably doesn’t come with the same amount of pressure as a do or die game seven (or five in an LDS). After considering that context, Sandy Koufax takes over the mantle of the most “clutch”, if not the best, performance in the post season.

Top 10 Pitching Performances in a Double Elimination Game, by Game Score

Player Date Series Gm# IP H R ER BB SO HR GSc
Sandy Koufax 10/14/1965 WS 7 9 3 0 0 3 10 0 88
Jack Morris 10/27/1991 WS 7 10 7 0 0 2 8 0 84
John Smoltz 10/17/1991 NLCS 7 9 6 0 0 1 8 0 82
Orel Hershiser 10/12/1988 NLCS 7 9 5 0 0 2 5 0 80
Curt Schilling 10/14/2001 NLDS 5 9 6 1 1 1 9 1 79
Jerry Reuss 10/11/1981 NLDS 5 9 5 0 0 3 4 0 78
Danny Cox 10/14/1987 NLCS 7 9 8 0 0 0 5 0 76
Steve Rogers 10/11/1981 NLDS 5 9 6 0 0 1 2 0 76
Matt Garza 10/19/2008 ALCS 7 7 2 1 1 3 9 1 75
Tom Glavine 10/17/1996 NLCS 7 7 3 0 0 0 4 0 75

Source: Baseball-reference.com

No matter how you slice it, Halladay’s no hitter in his post season debut will go down as one of the greatest games ever pitched. He has company, however, which is what really makes outing like his so much fun in the first place. They not only live in the moment, but ring throughout baseball history. So, whether the site of Carlos Ruiz charging to the mound evokes memories of Yogi jumping into the arms of Larsen, or Halladay’s dominance reminds you of the Rocket’s performance in Seattle, baseball’s post season lineage lives on.

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You couldn’t blame someone if they thought the Yankees and Twins played their post season games from a script. After all, the last seven meetings between the teams in October, dating back to the 2004 ALDS, have all seemed to follow the same formula: the Twins take a lead only to see the Yankees comeback and win. Last night was no different.

Mark Teixeira rounds third on his seventh inning HR that gave the Yankees a 6-4 lead (Photo: Getty Images).

Although the game started just after 8:30PM in New York, it took the October Yankees a little bit longer to show up. In their place, the same team that stumbled down the stretch in September seemed to take the field for the first five innings of the game. Included among a series of miscues were the following: C.C. Sabathia failing to cover first base on a groundout, which allowed Orlando Hudson to go from first to third when Mark Teixeira had to dive toward the bag to make the putout; Jorge Posada’s passed ball, which allowed a run to score; and Brett Gardner failing to take third base on a bobble by Delmon Young. Meanwhile, Sabathia, who may have been dealing with the rust of an eight-day lay off, struggled with his command, as evident in the second inning when the big lefty plunked Jim Thome on a two-strike count before giving up a homer to Michael Cuddyer on a 2-0 fastball right down the middle.

In fairness to the Yankees, part of their lethargic look was directly attributable to the performance of Francisco Liriano, whose electric slider made batter after batter look silly. The normally patient Yankees lineup was able to work the count, but just could not lay off the pitch, which would start out over the plate before darting out of the strike zone. Through 5 1/3 innings, Liriano had only allowed two hits and two walks while striking out six, making the Twins 3-0 lead look almost insurmountable. Almost.

In the post game press conference, Teixeira confidently stated that with a lineup like the Yankees, the team never feels as if all hope is lost. In the sixth inning, the Yankees first baseman helped put those words into action. Teixeira’s one out double into the left field corner not only seemed to snap the team out of its doldrums, but was also an important hit for the first baseman, whose 2009 post season left something to be desired. Following the double, Arod worked a tough six pitch walk after which Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada sandwiched a Marcus Thames strikeout with RBI singles that finally put the Yankees on the scoreboard.

With the lead now cut to 3-2, Curtis Granderson was next to face Liriano, against whom he had been hitting .182 entering the game. That statistic played into Ron Gardenhire’s decision to let his ace lefty face on more batter, but Granderson bucked the trend and hit a towering fly ball off the right centerfield wall for a two-run triple. Before the hit, you can bet more than a few Yankees fans were wondering something like “what would Damon or Matsui do in this situation”. By coming up with the big triple, Granderson put most of those doubts to bed early in his Yankees’ post season career, which could bode well for his performance going forward.

The Yankees didn’t have the lead for long. In the bottom of the sixth, Sabathia retired the first two batters, but then lost the plate, walking three batters around a Cuddyer double that was almost turned into an out by Brett Gardner, who made a full body dive to glove the ball, but then surrendered it upon hitting the ground. After walking Danny Valencia to force in the tying run, Sabathia did rebound to strike out JJ Hardy on a changeup, but the big lefty expressed his displeaure by slamming his glove in the dugout.

Last post season, Teixeira’s struggles were camouflaged by the historic performance of Arod, so getting his first baseman off on the right foot had to be high on Girardi’s list. And, that’s exactly what happened. Teixeira immediately vaulted the Yankees back into the lead with a two run blast that just stayed within the right field foul pole. Before the game, it was revealed that not only did Teixeira battle a broken toe in September, but he had also received a cortisone shot on his thumb. Judging by his performance in game 1, the slugging first baseman may finally be healthy at just the right time.

With a second crack at the lead, Girardi turned the game over to his bullpen, which had emerged as a relative strength of the team in the second half of the season. Boone Logan was first out of the pen, and he succeeded in retiring the first two batters in the seventh before giving way to David Robertson after a single by Joe Mauer. Robertson thwarted Girardi’s strategy by walking the right handed hitting Delmon Young, but then struck Jim Thome out on three outstanding curveballs.

The eighth inning went to Kerry Wood, who established himself in the role by pitching to an ERA of 0.69 since coming over at the trade deadline. Once the Twins put the tying run in scoring position (on a walk, infield single and groundout), however, Girardi went to his security blanket and called on Mariano Rivera for another big post season save, the 40th of his remarkable career.

In September, Rivera had struggled, blowing three saves during the month, but the Yankees’ legendary closer has owned October. After retiring Denard Span on a weak grounder to short, Rivera then coasted through the ninth, breaking the bats of Hudson and Mauer before retiring Delmon Young on a low liner to Greg Golson in right. Unfortunately, right field umpire Chris Guccione missed what everyone else saw and ruled that last play a trap. As a result, Thome was afforded another at bat as the tying run. Blown call aside, the Hall of Fame confrontation was the perfect way to end what was a tense ballgame. In his usual calm and collected fashion, however, Rivera defused the situation by inducing a harmless pop out to third on the very first pitch.

Although the Yankees “need” to win game 1 was overstated, the importance of taking the series opener can not be denied (since the Yankees lost the 2006 ALDS to the Tigers, every division series has been won by the team taking the first game). Not only does the victory snag the much talked about home field advantage that was such a point of contention, but it also gives Andy Pettitte a little bit of breathing room. Game two is next…hopefully the Twins stick to the script.

Mariano Rivera’s Post Season Performance

15 ALDS 2 0 0.34 35 17 52 2/3 25 2 1 42 0.589
8 ALCS 4 0 0.99 30 12 45 2/3 31 5 0 33 0.832
7 WS 2 1 0.99 24 11 36 1/3 27 4 1 32 0.963
Total 8 1 0.74 89 40 134 2/3 83 11 2 107 0.772

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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Somewhat lost amid the euphoria of Roy Halladay’s historic no hitter against the Reds in game one of the NLDS was the fantastic play made by Carlos Ruiz to end it. The quickness of the Phillies’ catcher not only helped preserve history, but all helped avoid controversy. Why? Because on a careful review of the play, it looks like the batted ball hit Brandon Phillips’ discarded bat.

If you look closely in the video above, the ball seems to strike the bat (5:05), at which point it stops moving forward and starts rolling along the barrel. Ironically, had it not hit the bat, Ruiz may not have had a play. Luckily, when it struck the bat, it didn’t disrupt Ruiz. Otherwise, another no hitter would have been left in the hands of an umpire’s judgment.

Rule 6.05(h) states “after hitting or bunting a fair ball, the batter-runner drops his bat and the ball rolls against the bat in fair territory and, in the umpire’s judgment, there was no intention to interfere with the course of the ball, the ball is alive and in play”. So, had Ruiz been unable to make the play, John Hirschbeck could have been faced with a controversial decision. Although it doesn’t look as if Phillips intentionally threw the bat to cause interference, you couldn’t blame Hirschbeck if he got caught up in the emotion of the situation.

Hirschbeck could have been presented with another controversial call if Ruiz’ throw, which was made from his knees, struck Phillips on his way to first. Referring to the video once again, Phillips was running well onto the infield grass before angling back toward the bag. Hirschbeck would have been correct to rule interference, but how many times have we seen an umpire fail to make that call? Although such a throw would have still been ruled an error, could you imagine the uproar if the next batter managed to get a hit?

Thankfully, the athleticism of Carlos Ruiz made all of the above moot, thereby allowing baseball to celebrate a historic accomplishment without the tinge of controversy.

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