Archive for October 16th, 2010

One day after blowing a five run lead in the final three innings, Ron Washington vowed that if his team was presented with the same opportunity again, they would not let it get away. Sure enough, by the time the seventh inning rolled around, the Rangers had built another five run lead, and this time proved their manager prophetic.

I would like to be in the same position again and see what happens. I would like to get in the position of just having to get six more outs, and next time, we’ll probably get it done. We didn’t get it done last night, and we all take credit for that.” – Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington, courtesy of LoHud Yankees Blog

Phil Hughes walks dejectedly back to the dugout after being lifted in the fifth inning (Photo: Getty Images)

It’s easy to see why Washington would relish the opportunity to be in the same situation, but the actions of Joe Girardi made it seem as if he too was eager for a reprise. What else would explain why Girardi allowed Phil Hughes to give up seven run and 10 hits over four-plus ineffective innings, especially coming one night after he lifted his veteran ace after the fourth inning?

Hughes’ afternoon actually started out quite impressive, as the young righty struck out the side in the first inning. In that frame, the Rangers did push one run across the plate, thanks to a leadoff infield single and three stolen bases, two of which came when Jorge Posada mistakenly threw to second base on an obvious double steal. Ironically, Josh Hamilton, who was running from first, wound up advancing too far before stopping, but instead of tagging him to thwart the play, Robinson Cano tried to nail Elvis Andrus at the plate.

From the onset, the right handers in the Rangers’ lineup seemed intent on taking Phil Hughes to the opposite field, but for some reason both he and Posada never adjusted. Over the next three-plus innings, six of the nine Rangers’ hits were struck by righties taking an outside fastball or cutter to right field. What’s more, five of those hits went for extra bases. If every Yankee fan didn’t know that Nick Swisher’s number was 33, they should now.

Once again, despite being down 5-0 in the third inning, the Yankees seemed to be very much in the ballgame, especially considering that Rangers’ starter Colby Lewis was in and out of trouble in the second and third. The Yankees finally broke through for a run in the fourth when Lance Berkman singled home Cano, who had doubled to lead off the inning, but the inning came to a sudden close when Berkman went too far past first and was tagged out in a rundown. Nonetheless, the seeds of another comeback seemed as if they had been planted.  

Instead of cutting his losses as he did with Sabathia in game one, Girardi allowed the inexperienced Hughes to take the mound in the fifth, despite the lack of any sign that he had adjusted to the Rangers’ game plan. Two runs later, the deficit was now at 7-1, and any chance at an encore was abated.

The Yankees last gasp came in the sixth inning, when the hot hitting Robinson Cano hit a 430-plus foot homerun deep into the right field upper deck. Otherwise, the Yankees failed to put much pressure on the same Texas bullpen that coughed up yesterday’s lead.

Coming into the game, the spotlight was on the Rangers’ ability to bounce back from a historic collapse, but they answered the questions with flying colors. Now, the doubts surround the Yankees, whose starting rotation and middle of the lineup have both struggled over the first two games. If not for the managerial gaffes of Washington in game one, the Yankees could be looking at Cliff Lee down two games to none. Even at 1-1, the specter of Lee in game three has shifted the burden over to the Yankees, especially on the heels of Hughes’ disastrous start.

Because of the decision to go with Phil Hughes in game 2, the Yankees can no longer use Sabathia for three games and Andy Pettitte for two games on full rest. Considering that the Rangers have had more success against righties (.772 OPS vs. .718 versus lefties), that seemed like an optimal configuration. Instead, the Yankees are now in a position where they will have to beat Lee in at least one game and still get a win from AJ Burnett. Although it’s impossible to know how Pettitte would have pitched had he started game 2, the turning point of this series could wind up being the fact that he wasn’t given the opportunity.

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vs. Colby Lewis PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Derek Jeter SS 6 0.600 0.667 1.800 2 3
Curtis Granderson CF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Mark Teixeira 1B 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Alex Rodriguez 3B 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Robinson Cano 2B 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Nick Swisher RF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Jorge Posada C 8 0.000 0.250 0.000 0 0
Lance Berkman DH 7 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Brett Gardner LF 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Total 21 0.167 0.286 0.500 2 3
vs. Phil Hughes PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Elvis Andrus SS 4 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Michael Young 3B 8 0.000 0.125 0.000 0 0
Josh Hamilton CF 3 0.333 0.333 0.667 0 0
Vladimir Guerrero DH 7 0.286 0.286 0.286 0 1
Nelson Cruz RF 5 0.200 0.200 0.400 0 0
Ian Kinsler 2B 6 0.000 0.167 0.000 0 0
David Murphy LF 1 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Bengie Molina C 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Mitch Moreland 1B 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Total 34 0.125 0.176 0.188 0 1

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The hype surrounding the game one matchup between two-time defending Cy Young Tim Lincecum and likely-to-be 2010 Cy Young Roy Halladay has been so intense that is easy to forget the NLCS is actually a seven game series. Not only have both pitchers been among the best in the game over the past three seasons, but they are each coming off historic pitching performance in their respective NLDS outings. So, naturally, the anticipation for this game has been off the charts.

The marquee game one matchup of Lincecum vs. Halladay serves as the opening act for what could be an exciting NLCS (Photo: AP).

After the dust clears on the opener, however, there will still be six more games to go, and many more good pitchers to follow. As Jayson Stark details nicely in his column at ESPN, the Giants vs. Phillies NLCS will bring together one of the most dominant collection of starting pitchers in postseason history. In addition to the season long accomplishments of each team’s top trio, the series also features two “odd men out”, Joe Blanton and Madison Bumgarner, who pitched just as well down the stretch as their more high profile rotation mates. In other words, the NLCS should be long on low scoring games.

NLCS Scheduled Starters, September Performance

Roy Oswalt 4 0 1.12 6 40.1 20 3 12 37
Cole Hamels 4 1 1.82 6 34.2 27 2 11 35
Joe Blanton 3 0 3.19 6 36.2 37 7 11 36
Roy Halladay 5 0 3.44 5 36.2 34 7 4 29
Jonathan Sanchez 4 1 1.01 6 35.2 18 3 19 42
Madison Bumgarner 2 2 1.13 5 32 31 1 4 32
Tim Lincecum 5 1 1.94 6 41.2 31 3 8 52
Matt Cain 3 1 3.29 6 41 29 7 5 33

Source: Fangraphs.com

Of course, the Giants usually play low scoring affairs regardless of who is on the mound because of the relative weakness of their offense. The Phillies, meanwhile, seem to finally have their offense firing on all cylinders after a disappointing summer marred by injuries to their key offensive weapons. Over the last month of the season, the Phillies averaged over 5.5 runs per game, compared to the Giants, who managed to score only 3.6 runs per game over the same stretch. So, even though the teams do not rank that far apart in many offensive categories, the gap is really much larger than indicated by the season-long numbers.

NLCS Offensive Comparison

Giants 0.321 0.408 95 -13 0.318 55/32 4.3 3.6
Phillies 0.332 0.413 99 37 0.328 108/21 4.8 5.5

Source: Fangraphs.com and Baseball-reference.com

Does that mean the Giants have no chance to win the series? Well, not quite. As the old adage goes, “good pitching beats good hitting”. In this series, we can take it even a step further and say “great pitching shuts down all hitting”. As a result, if both rotations pitch to their potential, the Phillies edge on offense could be significantly mitigated. In other words, the Giants can’t win with good pitching performances, but their potential for great ones should give them a chance in the series.

Because runs should be at a premium, and starters should go deep into games, the late inning bullpens of both teams could be the deciding factor. In this regard, the Giants should have an overall edge, but once again not as great as the season numbers indicate because the Phillies’ three core relievers have all pitched well over the last month. Still, the diversity of the Giants bullpen, as well as the question marks that still seem to hover around Brad Lidge, give San Francisco the better chance to hold leads late in the ballgame.

NLCS Bullpen Comparison

Giants 8.65 3.92 2.2 0.57 1.31 0.79 2.99
Phillies 8.14 3.78 2.15 0.79 1.39 0.74 4.02

Source: Fangraphs.com


Key Members of the Giants and Phillies Bullpen, September Performance

Brad Lidge 9.49 6.57 1.44 0.00 1.22 0.87 0.73
Ryan Madson 8.80 4.11 2.14 0.59 1.04 0.90 1.17
J.C. Romero 6.00 9.00 0.67 0.00 2.00 0.85 3.00
Jose Contreras 7.59 2.53 3.00 1.69 1.31 0.71 4.22
Chad Durbin 9.53 5.56 1.71 0.79 1.68 0.68 5.56
Sergio Romo 13.50 0.96 14.00 0.00 0.43 1.00 0.00
Ramon Ramirez 5.40 0.90 6.00 0.00 0.30 1.00 0.00
Guillermo Mota 5.40 3.60 1.50 0.00 0.60 0.67 0.00
Santiago Casilla 6.60 1.80 3.67 0.00 0.73 0.92 0.60
Brian Wilson 9.39 2.35 4.00 0.59 0.78 0.94 1.17
Javier Lopez 9.53 0.00 6.00 0.00 0.71 0.75 1.59
Jeremy Affeldt 6.75 2.25 3.00 0.00 1.38 0.83 2.25

Source: Fangraphs.com

The Giants biggest advantage in the series is the scheduled game four matchup between Blanton and Bumgarner, not only because the latter has pitched better of late, but also because the former has hardly pitched at all. The matchup that most favors the Phillies will take place when Cole Hamels faces off against Matt Cain, against whom Philadelphia has had considerable success. Of course, each of those matchups could be shifted based on the course of the series.

Giants’ Starters vs. Current Phillies’ Batters

Tim Lincecum 159 28 6 9 45 0.192 0.244 0.363 0.607
Jonathan Sanchez 133 17 1 18 37 0.150 0.278 0.239 0.517
Matt Cain 91 23 6 9 21 0.280 0.352 0.622 0.974

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Phillies’ Starters vs. Current Giants’ Batters

Roy Halladay 164 42 1 6 34 0.269 0.299 0.314 0.613
Roy Oswalt 229 52 4 12 43 0.246 0.288 0.355 0.643
Cole Hamels 143 33 6 9 34 0.250 0.298 0.462 0.760
Joe Blanton 104 23 5 2 24 0.237 0.255 0.454 0.709

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Prediction: Phillies in Seven

Something tells me that the Lincecum versus Halladay confrontation is going to disappoint. Heralded pitchers’ duels have a habit of doing that. However, the rest of the series should feature a riveting succession of close games with scrutinized plays and strategic second guessing. Ultimately, Philadelphia’s offensive edge, home field advantage (which favors their power-laden lineup) and likely favorable game seven pitching matchup should result in the fightin’ Phils’ third consecutive National League pennant.

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Coming from behind has long been a Yankees’ hallmark. In the regular season, the team recorded a major’s best 48 comebacks, and then in the ALDS added two more for good measure. Overcoming a five run deficit with only three innings to play, well, that’s another matter altogether. In fact, in their history of 356 postseason games, the Yankees had come back from a deficit of at least five runs in only two (Game 1 of the 1997 ALDS and Game 4 of the 1996 World Series), and in each of those games the deficit was narrowed before the seventh inning.

Sabathia escaped further damage in the first inning by nabbing Nelson Cruz before he could touch homeplate (Photo: Getty Images).

Just as he did in the ALDS opener, C.C. Sabathia struggled with his command early in the ballgame. Sabathia’s inability to throw strikes and an inconsistent strike zone by homeplate umpire Jerry Davis conspired to set the Rangers up with a first and third rally only two batters into the game. By the end of the third batter, the Rangers would have a 3-0 lead, thanks to a laser homerun by Josh Hamilton, who deposited a hanging 0-2 slider over the wall in right.

The Yankees were lucky to escape the opening frame down only three runs because Sabathia never seemed to get it together. In fact, if not for a fortuitous bounce on a wild pitch with the bases loaded, Sabathia might not have made it out of the first inning. As things turned out, Sabathia’s “wild pitch” turned out to be his best of the inning when the ball ricocheted back to Jorge Posada. The Yankees’ catcher then underhand flipped the ball to a charging Sabathia, who made a sliding tag on the arm of Nelson Cruz to end the tumultuous inning.

Even though CJ Wilson seemed to be on his game from the first batter, the 3-0 deficit was far from daunting. Over the next few innings, Sabathia flirted with regaining his command and the Yankees mounted two first and second rallies, each of which came up short. Still, it seemed as if the Rangers had forfeited a chance to send the Yankees ace to an early shower and allowed the dangerous Bronx Bombers to remain at arm’s length. In the bottom of the fourth, however, they finally dropped the hammer.

After getting two outs in the fourth, Sabathia surrendered a single to Elvis Andrus and then a two run double to Michael Young before recovering to strikeout Hamilton to end the inning. Now down 5-0, the Yankees backs finally seemed to be against the wall, and the night of their big lefty was done after only four innings for the first time all season.

When the Yankees’ postseason roster was first announced, there was some consternation about the presence of both Dustin Moseley and Sergio Mitre. The counter to that angst went something like, “well, if either one is pitching in a game, it’s probably lost anyway”. Sure enough, after a scoreless fifth from the long lost Joba Chamberlain, Moseley entered the game in the sixth with the Yankees still trailing by five runs. Game over? Not quite.

Moseley’s two innings of work were nothing less than brilliant. Six batters were faced and four went down on strikes. In a close game, such a performance would have been much heralded, but in a lopsided contest, it seemed like garbage time window dressing, especially with Wilson still going strong. However, as the Yankees have proven countless times in October, things are not always as they seem.

Although there are several deserving candidates, for many, the race for the AL MVP has boiled down to Josh Hamilton and Robinson Cano. In the bottom of the first, Hamilton made a compelling case for why he means so much to his team, but the later rounds were all Robinson Cano. The Yankees’ second baseman got the team on the board for the first time in the seventh, when he lined a Wilson changeup just inside the right field foul pole. The blast seemed innocent enough with the Rangers’ still holding a four run lead, especially after Wilson retired the next three batters with relative ease. The Yankees’ MVP would be heard from again, however, and by the end of his ext at bat, all innocence would be lost.

The Yankees historic 8th inning rally was started by the hustle of Brett Gardner (Photo: AP).

Speaking of innocence, that’s exactly how the eighth inning started. Brett Gardner rolled over on a pitch and hit what looked like a sure 3-1 ground out. Wilson was late covering the bag, however, and the speedy Gardner slid safely into first, sacrificing his hand to the spikes of the sprinting pitcher. Although just a single, the hustle play appeared to quickly shift the momentum. Seizing on the opportunity, Derek Jeter immediately slammed a double past Michael Young, who was inexplicably playing on the infield grass, and the Yankees deficit had now been cut to three.

In the buildup to the series, much had been written and said about Nolan Ryan’s philosophy of having his pitchers’ throw deeper into games. During the broadcast, Ron Darling made exactly that point. In reality, however, that has really been more of a myth, and never was that more evident than in how Ron Washington handled the rest of the eighth inning.

Even though Wilson had only thrown 104 pitches up until the Jeter double, Washington opted to play the dangerous game of bullpen roulette. Unfortunately for the Rangers’ manager, there was a bullet in every chamber. Darren Oliver was summoned first, but all he did was add fuel to the fire, walking both Swisher and Teixeira to load the bases. Next in was Darren O’Day, but his evening lasted only one pitch as Alex Rodriguez lined a bullet past Young to score two more runs. The assembly line then spit out Clay Rapada, but his night was just as short. After giving up a line drive up the middle to Cano on the first pitch, the Yankees had come all the way back to tie the game and sent Washington back to the mound for Derek Holland. Although Holland lasted longer than a pitch, the Yankees completed the comeback when Marcus Thames lined a soft single to left that plated Arod with the go ahead run. Five runs, five pitchers, one inning.

The obvious second guess of Washington was why he decided to lift Wilson with only 104 pitches. A seething Nolan Ryan, who was seated prominently in the stands, was probably asking that very same question. Having said that, the Rangers bullpen has been a strength, and both Oliver and O’Day have been a big part of that. What defies explanation, however, was the use of Rapada and Holland, even though the latter did pitch relatively well. In the postgame press conference, Washington explained that he had faith in his bullpen, but he ultimately placed it in the wrong relievers. Instead of using Neftali Feliz or Alexi Ogando, who combined to give up one run in 22 2/3 innings over the final month of the season, Washington went with the struggling O’Day (six runs in nine September innings) and untested Rapada (only nine innings in 2010). The Yankees certainly deserve credit for the comeback, but the bullpen management of Washington was a big help.

Key Rangers’ Relievers, September Performance

Neftali Feliz 1 0 0.00 12 7 12 1/3 3 0 0 2 12
Alexi Ogando 1 0 0.87 14 0 10 1/3 10 1 0 1 7
Darren Oliver 0 0 1.86 10 0 9 2/3 10 2 1 1 6
Derek Holland 0 0 1.80 2 0 5 4 1 0 1  0
Clay Rapada 0 0 4.00 13 0 9 6 4 2 7 5
Darren O’Day 2 0 5.79 11 0 9 1/3 8 6 4 2 9

Source: Fangraphs.com

Now staked to a lead, Girardi went with his “eighth inning” guy, but the early returns looked as if they might be no better. Kerry Wood, who was wild in his last appearance in the ALDS, walked Ian Kinsler on four pitches and then fell behind David Murphy 2-1. Perhaps he was trying to steal, or get a good jump on the hit and run, but regardless, Kinsler left for second too soon and fell victim to a pickoff attempt. In their previous series against the Rays, the Rangers were lauded for their aggressive (and borderline reckless) base running, but with Wood about to unravel, that philosophy proved to be Wood’s salvation.

The Yankees squandered a chance to plate an insurance run in the ninth when Swisher followed another Jeter double with an ill advised bunt, but the Rangers returned the favor when they had Andrus give away an out with a sacrifice bunt in the bottom half of the inning. Of course, with Mariano Rivera on the mound, what choice did the Rangers have? Both Young and Hamilton had a crack at the tying run, but Rivera once again displayed the Yankees ultimate postseason advantage by recording a strikeout and weak grounder to end the game and preserve one of the greatest comebacks in the Yankees’ long post season history.

With the victory, the Yankees have now increased their postseason winning streak over the Rangers to a franchise record 10 games (one better than their streak over the just defeated Minnesota Twins). What’s more, the Rangers are no 0-7 in home playoff games. In other words, history seems to be working against Texas, which should only feed discussion of the psychological impact of yesterday’s turn of events. Of course, all of that is meaningless if the Rangers rebound to win game two. What is certain, however, is that the Rangers won’t feel safe again in this series until the final out is recorded.

Yankees vs. Rangers, Postseason History

Date Series Gm# Tm Opp Rslt
10/1/1996 ALDS 1 NYY TEX L 2-6
10/2/1996 ALDS 2 NYY TEX W 5-4
10/4/1996 ALDS 3 NYY TEX W 3-2
10/5/1996 ALDS 4 NYY TEX W 6-4
9/29/1998 ALDS 1 NYY TEX W 2-0
9/30/1998 ALDS 2 NYY TEX W 3-1
10/2/1998 ALDS 3 NYY TEX W 4-0
10/5/1999 ALDS 1 NYY TEX W 8-0
10/7/1999 ALDS 2 NYY TEX W 3-1
10/9/1999 ALDS 3 NYY TEX W 3-0
10/16/2010 ALCS 1 NYY TEX W 6-5

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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