Posts Tagged ‘Playoffs’

(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeU.)

The word out of the General Managers meetings in Orlando is the plan to expand the major league baseball playoffs to 10 teams is moving full speed ahead. According to numerous reports, Commissioner Bud Selig, who has been pushing the proposal with a heavy hand, intends to finalize a recommendation after convening his special committee at the winter meetings in December. Ultimately, any plan would have to be approved by both the owners and players before being implemented, but the early signs point toward acceptance from both.

The initial negative reaction to expanding the post season centers on potential damage to the integrity of the regular season as well as the possible dilution of the playoffs by permitting lesser teams to participate. Both of those concerns are certainly valid, but don’t they exist under the current system anyway?

I think the more teams you have in it, the month of September will obviously be more meaningful. The minuses: two of them obviously are the integrity of the schedule and the history of the game, where you know the best teams always moved forward. But we really crossed that bridge, didn’t we, when we went from two teams to four teams, and then four teams to eight teams? So that bridge has been crossed. I’ve changed. I could add more teams.” – Toronto Blue Jays president Paul Beeston, quoted by AP

Beeston’s fatalist attitude isn’t exactly what you’d like to hear from one of the lords of the game, but does he have a point?

What History Would Have Been Like with a Second Wild Card

  “Second” AL Wild Card W L Rank   Actual AL Wild Card W L Rank
2010 Red Sox 89 73 5   Yankees 95 67 2
2009 Rangers 87 75 4   Red Sox 95 67 3
2008 Yankees 89 73 4   Red Sox 95 67 3
2007 Tigers/Mariners 88 74 5   Yankees 94 68 3
2006 White Sox 90 72 5   Tigers 95 67 3
2005 Indians 93 69 5   Red Sox 95 67 2
2004 Athletics 91 71 5   Red Sox 98 64 2
2003 Mariners 93 69 4   Red Sox 95 67 3
2002 Red Sox/Mariners 93 69 5   Angels 99 63 3
2001 Twins 85 77 5   Athletics 102 60 2
2000 Indians 90 72 4   Mariners 91 71 3
1999 Athletics 87 75 5   Red Sox 94 68 4
1998 Blue Jays 88 74 4   Red Sox 92 70 2
1997 Angels 84 78 5   Yankees 96 66 2
1996 Mariners 85 76 5   Orioles 88 74 4
  Average 88.8 73.1 4.7     94.9 67.1 2.7
  Median 89 73 5     95 67 3

“Second” NL Wild Card

W L Rank   Actual NL Wild Card W L Rank
2010 Padres 90 72 5   Braves 91 71 3
2009 Giants 88 74 5   Rockies 92 70 3
2008 Mets 89 73 4   Brewers 90 72 3
2007 Padres 89 74 4   Rockies 90 73 2
2006 Phillies 85 77 4   Dodgers 88 74 2
2005 Phillies 88 74 4   Astros 89 73 3
2004 Giants 91 71 5   Astros 92 70 4
2003 Astros 87 75 5   Marlins 91 71 3
2002 Dodgers 92 70 5   Giants 95 66 4
2001 Giants 90 72 4   Cardinals 93 69 1
2000 Dodgers 86 76 5   Mets 94 68 4
1999 Reds 96 67 5   Mets 97 66 4
1998 Giants 89 74 5   Cubs 90 73 4
1997 Mets/Dodgers 88 74 4   Marlins 92 70 2
1996 Expos 88 74 4   Dodgers 90 72 3
  Average 89.1 73.1 4.5     91.6 70.5 3.0
  Median 89 74 5     91 71 3

The two charts above display the actual wild card winner and what would have been the second wild card in each league since 1996 (the first 162-game season of divisional play). As you can see, the wild card really hasn’t diluted the post season in the American League, as evidenced by the average and median wild card record of 95-67. Adding a fifth team, however, would include a participant with an average and median record of 89-73, which doesn’t look as good. Then again, the National League wild card really hasn’t been much better. While a potential second NL wild card would also have posted an average record of 89-73, the wild card team already in place has only been two games better.

The first question to consider is why has the American League wild card been so strong (the answer to which may also explain why the league as a whole has been vastly superior over the past decade)? Of the 15 American League wild cards, 11 have come from the East division, and seven of those teams finished second to the Yankees. What appears to be happening is a sort of Yankee-effect in which American Leagues teams, particularly those in the East, have been forced to improve their organization-wide efficiency in an attempt to keep up with the growing dominance of the pinstripes. Nowhere has this been more evident than in Boston, which has won almost half of the American League wild cards.

It is notable that the potential second wild card team in each league would have had essentially the same record over the past 15 seasons. What this suggests is that regardless of the fluctuations in league quality, 89 wins will probably be the average total for a second wild card. Of course, with the incentive of an added playoff spot, it remains to be seen what impact that will have on team records. Will fewer teams be willing to make mid-season trades, thereby lessening the ability of the elite clubs to strengthen themselves down the stretch? If so, the overall records of all playoff teams could suffer. Or, will the middling clubs all bolster themselves and, in the process, define the middle up at the expense of a much softer underbelly? It seems as if the impact could go either way.

Normally, the idea of diluting the regular season would be abhorrent to me. After all, baseball’s heart and soul is its 162-game marathon, and not the one-month sprint conducted in October. However, based on the information above, I am not sure there would be much of a dilution, at least not much greater than what exists now. In fact, if constructed with just a little bit of common sense, an extra wild card might actually return integrity back to the regular season.

If the eventual proposal advanced by the Commissioner’s special committee serves the purpose of placing both wild cards at a disadvantage, then it would actual once again place great importance on winning a division title. In this year’s AL East “race”, the Rays and Yankees, both of whom were assured a playoff spot, made a mockery of the regular season by playing the last month like Alphonse and Gaston. Under a proposal in which the two wild cards would first have to hash it out in a short series, teams would no longer treat September with such indifference. Ultimately, that would serve the purpose of increasing the relevance of the regular season without diluting the playoffs, especially if the American League’s superior wild card environment was to normalize more along the lines of the National League.

As a purist, accepting expanded playoffs may just be another example of losing a battle to win the war. That same philosophy has been used by teams to eschew division titles when they had the safety of the wild card as a back-up. Because it’s become so prevalent, baseball might as well put that Machiavellian strategy to good use.

The current wild card system has often replaced pennant races with an "I don't want it, you take it" attitude.

Read Full Post »

Cliff Lee is human after all.

Heading into yesterday’s World Series opener, Lee had compiled a 7-0 record with a 1.26 ERA, the third lowest postseason rate among starters with at least 50 innings (Sandy Koufax: 0.95 and Christie Mathewson: 0.97). Lee’s performance over the last two Octobers was so dominant that he even started to warrant serious consideration as one the best postseason pitchers of all-time. After watching him completely shutdown the potent Yankees’ lineup in game 3 of the ALCS, it would be hard for me to argue otherwise.

Cliff Lee’s Game 1 start seemed out of focus, but the Rangers’ lefty is not the first postseason ace to have a bad outing (Photo: Getty Images).

The combination of Lee’s recent success and the Giants’ low scoring offense made last night’s outcome one of the more surprising developments of the postseason. By surrendering six earned runs in only 4 1/3 innings, the Rangers’ ace saw his October ERA jump “all the way” to 1.96 (his World Series ERA is now 4.79 in three starts). Lee was also tagged with his first postseason loss, denying him the opportunity to tie Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez as the only pitcher to begin his playoff career at 8-0. It remains to be seen how Lee will bounce back in his next start, assuming he gets the chance, but at the very least, the Giants’ outburst has dispelled some of his aura of invincibility.

So, does Game 1 of the 2010 World Series remove Lee from the discussion of baseball’s greatest postseason pitchers? Not quite. Again, a lot will be determined by how Lee rebounds, both in this postseason and any future ones in which he may appear. After all, Lee isn’t the first postseason stud to suffer a blip in October. With rare exception,  just about every dominant ace has come up lacking in at least one playoff start.

Provided below are two lists. The first is a ranking of baseball’s best postseason starters, based on ERA (unadjusted). Included in the list are all starters with an ERA below 2.00 in at least 50 postseason innings. To account for those aces with more innings (and to avoid leaving several big names off the list), pitchers with an ERA below 3.00 in at least 100 postseason innings were also included.

A's lefty Eddie Plank never had a bad day in October. His worst postseason start would have been the envy of most pitchers.

The second chart provides a look at the “worst” postseason performance by each member of this group of October aces. For pitchers like Eddie Plank and Bob Gibson, “worst” is purely a relative term, but for most of the others, there is at least one black mark on their playoff resume.

Although Cliff Lee’s game score of 28 in last night’s game is tied for the second worst performance by a postseason master, he remains in very elite company. To stay there, however, Lee will need to return to his October dominance. He has already used his mulligan, and those worthy of being considered as baseball’s best postseason pitcher rarely get another.


Baseball’s Best Big Game Pitchers, Ranked By ERA

Pitcher IP GS ER W L ERA
Sandy Koufax 57 7 6 4 3 0.95
Christy Mathewson 101 2/3 11 11 5 5 0.97
Eddie Plank 54 2/3 6 8 2 5 1.32
Orval Overall 51 1/3 5 9 3 1 1.58
George Earnshaw 62 2/3 8 11 4 3 1.58
Lefty Grove 51 1/3 5 10 4 2 1.75
Carl Hubbell 50 1/3 6 10 4 2 1.79
Waite Hoyt 83 2/3 11 17 6 4 1.83
George Mullin 58 6 12 3 3 1.86
Bob Gibson 81 9 17 7 2 1.89
Herb Pennock 55 1/3 5 12 5 0 1.95
Cliff Lee 69 4 15 7 1 1.96
Fernando Valenzuela 63 2/3 8 14 5 1 1.98
Curt Schilling 1331/3 19 33 11 2 2.23
Orlando Hernandez 106 14 30 9 3 2.55
Orel Hershiser 132 18 38 8 3 2.59
Jim Palmer 124 1/3 15 36 8 3 2.61
John Smoltz 209 27 62 15 4 2.67
Whitey Ford 146 22 44 10 8 2.71

Note: Min. 50 IP and ERA < 2.00, or Min. 100 IP and ERA < 3.00
Source: Sean Lahman’s baseball database

Worst of the Best: Lowest Game Scores by MLB Postseason Aces

Pitcher Date Series Opp GSc
Orel Hershiser 10/18/1997 WS#1 FLA 21
Cliff Lee 10/27/2010 WS#1 SFG 28
Whitey Ford 10/3/1956 WS#1 BRO 28
Whitey Ford 10/15/1962 WS#6 SFG 28
Curt Schilling 10/13/2007 ALCS#2 CLE 29
John Smoltz 10/24/1995 WS#3 CLE 31
Waite Hoyt 10/10/1923 WS#1 SFG 32
Carl Hubbell 10/6/1937 WS#1 NYY 34
Jim Palmer 10/10/1973 ALCS#4 OAK 34
Orval Overall 10/17/1910 WS#1 PHA 35
George Earnshaw 10/9/1929 WS#2 CHC 39
Orlando Hernandez 10/17/2000 ALCS#6 SEA 41
Orlando Hernandez 10/20/2001 ALCS#3 SEA 41
Christy Mathewson 10/24/1911 WS#1 PHA 45
Lefty Grove 10/5/1931 WS#3 STL 45
Fernando Valenzuela 10/14/1981 NLCS#2 MON 48
Herb Pennock 10/15/1923 WS#6 NYG 49
Sandy Koufax 10/6/1966 WS#2 MIN 50
Bob Gibson 10/15/1964 WS#7 NYY 55
George Mullin 10/9/1907 WS#2 CHC 56
Eddie Plank 10/9/1905 WS#1 NYG 58

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Read Full Post »

Most baseball prognosticators expected the Yankees and Phillies to meet once again at season’s end, but the Rangers and Giants each brought a monkey wrench to their respective league championship series. So, instead of the first World Series rematch in 32 years, the Fall Classic will play host to two teams that have never won a championship in their current city.

World Series Rematches

Years Winner Loser   Years Winner Loser
1978 Yankees Dodgers   1937 Yankees Giants
1977 Yankees Dodgers   1936 Yankees Giants
1958 Yankees Braves   1931 Cardinals Athletics
1957 Braves Yankees   1930 Athletics Cardinals
1956 Yankees Dodgers   1923 Yankees Giants
1955 Dodgers Yankees   1922 Giants Yankees
        1921 Giants Yankees
1953 Yankees Dodgers        
1952 Yankees Dodgers   1908 Cubs Tigers
        1907 Cubs Tigers
1943 Yankees Cardinals        
1942 Cardinals Yankees        

Although the network executives at Fox are probably lamenting the absence of the sport’s higher profile teams, baseball enthusiasts should revel in watching a series between opponents that have combined to go 105 seasons without winning the World Series. As a result, regardless of the outcome, one of the game’s longest championship droughts will come to an end, continuing a recent trend that has witnessed the Angels, Red Sox and White Sox all break dry spells of at least 40 years. Baseball may not have the gerrymandered parity that ratings watchers seem to crave, but somehow, it still manages to spread the championship wealth without rewarding mediocrity.

World Series with Longest Combined Championship Drought

  NL AL Years
2005 Astros (43) White Sox (88) 131
2004 Cardinals (22) Red Sox (86) 108
2010 Giants (56) Rangers (49) 105
1975 Reds (35) Red Sox (57) 92
2002 Giants (48) Angels (41) 89
1980 Phillies (77)* Royals (11) 88
1986 Mets (17) Red Sox (68) 85
1995 Braves (38) Indians (47) 85
1966 Dodgers (11) Orioles (63)* 74
1972 Reds (32) A’s (42) 74
1987 Cardinals (5) Twins (63) 68

*Drought dates back to 1903, the year of the first World Series.
Note: 1904 and 1994 were included in calculating the durations. Winner in bold.

By advancing to the World Series, the Giants have now won 18 pennants, matching the Dodgers for most among National League teams and ranking only behind the Yankees’ 40 American League flags. With a victory, the Giants would also join the Dodgers with six championships, the fifth highest total among all teams and second in the senior circuit to the Cardinals’ 10 championships.

The Rangers 2010 postseason has already included the franchise’s first series victory as well as its first AL pennant (leaving only the Mariners and Nationals as the only teams to never appear in the Fall Classic). Should Texas prevail in the World Series, the franchise would further distance itself from October futility by removing its name from the list of teams without a World Series flag to fly (Astros, Brewers Mariners, Nationals, Padres, Rays and Rockies). A victory would also pass the mantle of oldest franchise without a championship across the state of Texas to the Houston Astros, who entered the National League in 1962, one year after the Washington Senators, the Rangers’ predecessors, debuted in 1961.

When the final team is left standing, a long suffering fan base will finally have a championship to celebrate. Both San Francisco and Dallas have emerged as two quality baseball towns, so wherever the next ticker tape parade is held, the fans will be very deserving. Of course, with a victory must come defeat, so for the fans of the team that comes up short, the dreams of a World Series victory will have to wait ‘til next year.

Longest Championship Droughts, By Team (30 Years or Longer)

Read Full Post »

All of Texas jumps for joy as Rangers head to first ever World Series (Photo: Getty Images).

The Rangers couldn’t have drawn it up any better. In the team’s previous 49 seasons, it had made the postseason only three times, and lost each series to the New York Yankees. After dispatching the Rays to win their first ALDS, the Rangers then exacted revenge on the hated Yankees, who had turned them away so often in the past. What’s more, the last out of the ALCS was a called third strike against Alex Rodriguez, the player who had come to symbolize the Rangers’ fall from contender to pretender in the previous decade. Even better, on the mound was Neftali Feliz, who along with Elvis Andrus was acquired in the trade of Mark Teixeira. While Andrus and Feliz jumped on top of the celebratory pile, Teixeira sat injured on the Yankees’ bench. Like good cowboys, the Rangers had tied up all the loose ends.

To say that the Rangers thoroughly outplayed the Yankees is a Texas-sized understatement. In fact, if not for a few curious pitching changes by Ron Washington in game one, the Rangers could have easily swept the series. And yet, the Yankees were still locked up in a 1-1 tie, only four innings from forcing a game seven.

Mismatch: ALCS Comparison

Yankees 38 0.304 0.378 0.512 9
Rangers 19 0.201 0.300 0.370 2
  Starters ERA Relievers ERA IP H K
Yankees 7.11 5.75 52 63 43
Rangers 3.65 2.25 53 38 52

Source: MLB.com

Before the series started, I questioned Joe Girardi’s decision to have Phil Hughes start games two and six instead of the veteran Andy Pettitte, and tonight was exactly the reason why. Instead of heading into an elimination game with the battle tested Pettitte, the Yankees had to rely on the inexperienced Hughes, whose confidence had to be shaken after turning in one of the worst starts in ALCS history. From the first batter, Hughes exhibited the same lack of command that felled him in the second game. However, after giving up a first inning run, he settled down enough to keep the Rangers off the scoreboard over the next three innings, giving the Yankees a chance to see if they could finally figure out Colby Lewis, who kept the team hitless over the first four innings.

One of the biggest reasons why the Yankees offense struggled so much in the series was because Alex Rodriguez could never get started. So, when Arod led off the fifth inning with a booming double in the gap, there was reason for optimism. However, it was only fleeting. In fact, the way the Yankees tied the score in that inning turned out to mean more than the run itself. 

After moving to third on a long fly ball from Lance Berkman, the Yankees finally got on the board when a HBP to Nick Swisher was incorrectly ruled a wild pitch. Normally, a more confident Yankees offense would have considered itself deprived of a base runner, but neither Swisher nor Girardi made a case for taking first base. In fact, it was the Rangers who vehemently protested the call. As things turned out, both sides were correct in their arguments because the Yankees really never threatened again.

After allowing an infield single to start the bottom of the fifth, Hughes retired the next two batters, but then faced the imposing figure of Josh Hamilton with a runner on third. Just like in game four, Girardi was faced with a starter at the end of his rope in a game-defining situation. Unfortunately, he also made the exact same mistakes. After once again resorting to an intentional walk, Girardi then left Hughes in for one batter too many (just as he did with AJ Burnett). Instead of immediately going to his best relievers, Girardi allowed Hughes to give up a two run double to Vladimir Guerrero before summoning the struggling David Robertson. Sure enough, Robertson surrendered a two run blast to Nelson Cruz and the horses were out of the barn. Kerry Wood and Mariano Rivera did eventually finish off the final three innings by only allowing one run (on one hit), but by that point, it was too late.

The Yankees at bats over the final three innings were so poor, that it almost seemed as if they had already accepted their fate. Colby Lewis breezed through his final three innings, punctuating his performance by striking out the side in the eighth. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the series, Lewis ended the ALCS at 2-0 with 1.98 ERA, and could just have easily earned the MVP award that went to Josh Hamilton.

The last batter faced by Lewis was Derek Jeter, who waved feebly through an outside fastball to end the night at 0-4. Although the ninth inning remained, Jeter’s weak swing served perfectly as both the symbolic end to the season as well as the signaling of the end of an era dominated by the Yankee Captain. Jeter is likely to remain with the team, but how the two sides come together, as well as the role he will play going forward, is sure to be the story of the offseason.

There will be plenty of time to conduct a post mortem on the 2010 Yankees and determine the best ways to move forward in 2011, but the immediate impression is kind of an empty one. There really is no shame in losing a postseason series, or even in failing to make it to October, but to me, 2010 will always be defined by the half-hearted, Machiavellian approach that the organization took in September. After the regular season played out, it was hard to reconnect in October, which could very well be what happened to the players as well. As a result, 2010 will instead be remembered more for who was lost off the field than any game that was won or lost on it, and perhaps that is most fitting.

Read Full Post »

The legendary folk hero Davy Crockett once said, “You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas”. To those who doubted their resiliency, the Yankees used game five of the ALCS to say exactly the same thing.

Which way to Texas? (Photo: AP)

Although the Yankees had to feel comfortable with their ace going on full rest for the first time in the postseason, the irony of yesterday’s victory is C.C. Sabathia didn’t pitch particularly well. In fact, Sabathia became the first Yankees’ starter in 50 years to win a postseason game while giving up at least 11 hits. And yet, the ace lefty still managed to keep the Rangers at bay by getting a big strikeout or inducing a key double play at just the right time. The mark of a great pitcher is the ability to win despite not having his best stuff, and game five was exhibit A on why Sabathia qualifies as one.

The Yankees entered game five in a terrible slump, batting .198 for the entire series and producing only three hits in their last 33 at bats with runners in scoring position. Without a turnaround in that performance, it probably wouldn’t have mattered how well Sabathia pitched. In the second inning against C.J. Wilson, the slumbering lumber was put to an immediate test.

After being gifted two walks by Wilson in the bottom of the second, the Yankees finally came through in the clutch as RBI singles by Jorge Posada and Curtis Granderson plated three runs. One of the runs, however, was actually produced by the speedy legs of Posada. In a scene out of an old cops and robbers silent movie, Posada rounded second and headed for third on Granderson’s single, which probably made right fielder Jeff Francoeur jump out his shoes. In his haste to nab the slow footed catcher, Francoeur short-hopped Michael Young, whose haste to make a tag allowed the ball to roll toward the dugout screen. Without looking, which is usually the way he runs the bases, Posada sprang up from his slide and continued his mad dash around the bases by heading home. Unfortunately for Posada, Wilson had backed up the errant throw and merely had to flip the ball home to nab him at the plate. Flip it he did, but about 20 feet over the catcher’s head.

Although it wasn’t exactly Enos Slaughter’s Mad Dash to win the seventh game of the 1946 World Series, Posada’s trip around the bases not only produced an important run, but also seemed to lighten the mood in the Yankees’ dugout. That relaxed feeling only increased after back-to-back homers by Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano in the following inning gave the Yankees a 5-0 and made game six seem like a certainty. It wasn’t that easy, however, because Sabathia never really found the rhythm he needed to sail through the game. Before handing the ball off the bullpen in the seventh, Sabathia had to retire the red hot Josh Hamilton with two men on to end the fifth and then wiggle out of a bases loaded jam in the sixth. It wasn’t pretty, but at the same time it was exactly what the Yankees needed.

After six solid innings from their starter, the Yankees closed out the game with three shutout innings by Kerry Wood and Mariano Rivera. That formula could come into play again on Friday, as Phil Hughes looks to rebound from his awful start in game two. Of course, the only way to earn the right to face Cliff Lee is by scoring runs off Colby Lewis, so the offense will also have to improve in its second go round against the Rangers’ righty.

With game five in the rearview mirror, a dramatic high noon showdown against the postseason’s best hired gun seems to be on the horizon. However, the Yankees can’t be too quick to the draw because before they can face off against Lee, they must shoot their way out of game six. The Rangers will be waiting in ambush, so the onus is on the Yankees to come out on Friday with guns blazing. The defending champions aren’t dead yet; they’re going to Texas.

Postseason Victories by a Yankees Starter With 11-Plus Hits Allowed

Player Date Series G# Opp Rslt IP H ER GSc
Waite Hoyt 10/6/1926 WS 4 STL W 10-5 9 14 2 52
Bob Turley 10/6/1960 WS 2 PIT W 16-3 8.1 13 2 44
Jim McDonald 10/4/1953 WS 5 BRO W 11-7 7.2 12 5 36
Bob Shawkey 10/13/1923 WS 4 NYG W 8-4 7.2 12 3 41
CC Sabathia 10/20/2010 ALCS 5 TEX W 7-2 6 11 2 49
Waite Hoyt 10/9/1928 WS 4 STL W 7-3 9 11 2 60

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Read Full Post »

For the most part, the “Year of the Pitcher” has carried over to October. Only two games into the post season, Roy Halladay had thrown a no hitter and Tim Lincecum shut down the Braves with a 14 strikeout, two-hit performance. Based on game score, both efforts ranked among the five best October pitching performances ever, but the dominance did not stop there.

Starters with Game Score of 70 or Higher, 2010 Postseason

Player Date Series G# Tm Opp Rslt GSc
Tim Lincecum 10/7/10 NLDS 1 SFG ATL W 1-0 96
Roy Halladay 10/6/10 NLDS 1 PHI CIN W 4-0 94
Cole Hamels 10/10/10 NLDS 3 PHI CIN W 2-0 86
Cliff Lee 10/12/10 ALDS 5 TEX TBR W 5-1 82
Jonathan Sanchez 10/10/10 NLDS 3 SFG ATL W 3-2 80
Phil Hughes 10/9/10 ALDS 3 NYY MIN W 6-1 74
C.J. Wilson 10/7/10 ALDS 2 TEX TBR W 6-0 74
Cliff Lee 10/6/10 ALDS 1 TEX TBR W 5-1 73

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Although as many as 18 games remain in the 2010 post season, there have already been eight pitching performances with a game score above 70. How significant is that? Since the advent of divisional play in 1995, 2010 already ranks in the middle of the pack, and on a percentage basis is third. With the likes of Halladay, Lincecum, C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels still active, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this postseason surpass all others.

Starts with a Game Score of 70 or Higher, Since 1995

Year GScore of 70+ Total Starts Pct
2001 17 70 24.3%
1998 14 60 23.3%
2010 8 36 22.2%
2009 12 60 20.0%
1995 12 62 19.4%
1997 13 68 19.1%
2003 12 76 15.8%
1996 10 64 15.6%
1999 9 62 14.5%
2006 8 60 13.3%
2000 7 62 11.3%
2005 6 60 10.0%
2008 5 64 7.8%
2004 5 68 7.4%
2007 4 56 7.1%
2002 4 68 5.9%

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Unfortunately for the Yankees, while they have enjoyed a couple of good starts, they have also had more than their fair share of stinkers. In fact, just one week after tossing one of the best games in Yankees’ ALDS history, Phil Hughes followed up with the one of the worst starts in the team’s long October legacy. Hughes shouldn’t feel too bad, however, because on that list several times is Andy Pettitte, the same man who has the most wins in postseason history. Also making an appearance are David Cone and David Wells, two hurlers who were widely regarded as big game pitchers during their career. What’s more, C.C. Sabathia’s game score of 29 in the ALCS opener wasn’t much better than Hughes’ lackluster effort in game two, so the young righty at least has some good company in his struggles.

Yankees’ All Time Worst Postseason Starts, by Game Score

Player Date Series G# Opp Rslt IP H ER SO GSc
C.Ming Wang 10/4/07 ALDS 1 CLE L 3-12 4.2 9 8 2 12
David Wells 10/5/02 ALDS 4 ANA L 5-9 4.2 10 8 0 12
Phil Hughes 10/16/10 ALCS 2 TEX L 2-7 4 10 7 3 14
Andy Pettitte 11/3/01 WS 6 ARI L 2-15 2 7 6 1 17
Andy Pettitte 10/20/96 WS 1 ATL L 1-12 2.1 6 7 1 17
Andy Pettitte 10/26/99 WS 3 ATL W 6-5 3.2 10 5 1 21
Hank Borowy 10/4/42 WS 4 STL L 6-9 3 6 6 1 21
A.J. Burnett 11/2/09 WS 5 PHI L 6-8 2 4 6 2 22
David Cone 9/30/97 ALDS 1 CLE W 8-6 3.1 7 6 2 22
Andy Pettitte 10/9/98 ALCS 3 CLE L 1-6 4.2 8 6 1 22

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Not only was Hughes’ poor performance in game two historic on a team level, it also tied Fausto Carmon and Jim Perry for the lowest game score in ALCS history. Thankfully for Hughes, his effort just missed cracking the bottom-10 among all postseason starts. The dubious distinction for ranking atop that list belongs to Todd Stottlemyre, who was absolutely manhandled by the Braves in game 5 of the 1996 NLCS. Perhaps buoyed by their outburst against Stottlemyre, the Braves outscored the Cardinals 32-1 over the final three games of that series to repeat as National League champions.

All Time Worst Postseason Starts, by Game Score

Player Date Series G# Tm Opp Rslt GSc
Todd Stottlemyre 10/14/1996 NLCS 5 STL ATL L 0-14 8
Russ Ortiz 10/20/2002 WS 2 SFG ANA L 10-11 9
Pete Alexander 10/5/1928 WS 2 STL NYY L 3-9 10
Mordecai Brown 10/14/1906 WS 6 CHC CHW L 3-8 10
Woody Williams 10/23/2004 WS 1 STL BOS L 9-11 11
Tom Glavine 10/13/1992 NLCS 6 ATL PIT L 4-13 11
Chien-Ming Wang 10/4/2007 ALDS 1 NYY CLE L 3-12 12
Tom Glavine 10/6/2002 NLDS 4 ATL SFG L 3-8 12
Tommy Greene 10/20/1993 WS 4 PHI TOR L 14-15 12
Brad Penny 10/8/2003 NLCS 2 FLA CHC L 3-12 12

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

Tonight’s ALCS opens deep in the heart of Texas, and the Rangers will be looking to settle the score for three recent postseason eliminations suffered at the hands of the Yankees. Even though the storyline seems similar to the just completed ALDS against the Twins, the challenge facing the Yankees this time around should be much greater.

Offense Comparison, Season Totals

Yankees 10.40% 20.40% 0.350 0.436 0.169 5.3 865 132 0.347
Rangers 8.10% 17.50% 0.338 0.419 0.143 4.9 785 61 0.333

Source: Fangraphs.com

Texas Hold ‘Em

If the numbers above look familiar, it’s because the Rangers offense is very similar to the Twins’, but with one significant exception: speed. Unlike the plodding Twins, the Rangers stole 123 bases in 161 attempts and have a lineup that can include as many as six stolen base threats. That could be bad news for the Yankees, who trailed the league in nabbing would-be base stealers, particularly in games started by the right handed Phil Hughes and AJ Burnett. Lost amid all the talk about the Rangers’ speed, however, is the fact that the Yankees actually do that part of the game better. Not only did the Bronx Bombers flex their muscles in 2010 with 201 HRs, but they also stole 103 bases in 133 attempts, a success rate six points better than the Rangers’. Nonetheless, the Yankees will need to do a better job holding runners close in late game situations as the Rangers are undoubtedly planning to test the arm of Jorge Posada.

Ironically, one area in which the Rangers do standout is in terms of the number of sacrifice bunts employed. In a sure sign that these aren’t your daddy’s Rangers, Ron Washington had his offense lay down a sacrifice in a league leading 53 situations. Considering the Yankees’ overall offensive superiority, if Washington continues to play for one run, he could be putting his team at a disadvantage.  

Key Offensive Players

A popular misconception about the Rangers is their lineup is vulnerable to right handed pitchers. However, the team actually had a much higher OPS against them (.772 vs. .718 versus lefties). A big reason for that split was Josh Hamilton, whose OPS against righties was a sparkling 1.163. Also pitching in against righties have been David Murphy (.847) and Mitch Moreland (.869), but Hamilton’s real partner in crime has been Nelson Cruz (.941). Because Cruz also handles lefties with ease (.976), his presence in the lineup serves as a much needed counterweight, regardless of what kind of pitcher is on the mound.

In a lineup as deep as the Yankees, it’s hard to single out any one hitter, but in this series, it could be Robinson Cano. In 2010, Alex Rodriguez pummeled the Rangers to the tune of .360/.515/.720 in 33 plate appearances, including eight walks. As a result, you can bet Rangers’ pitchers will be loath to let Arod beat them. As his protection in the lineup, Cano is likely to find himself in several key situations, and his performance in them could go along way in determining the Yankees’ success in the series.

Pitching Comparison, Prospective Starters in 2010

Yankees 110 51 3.78 1272 2/3 1.27 8.43 1.00 3.00 7.31 2.44
Rangers 75 58 3.64 1155 1/3 1.19 7.81 0.82 2.91 7.73 2.66

Note: Cliff Lee’s numbers with the Seattle Mariners are not included. The statistics for pitchers tentatively scheduled to throw a second time have been counted twice.
Source: Fangraphs.com 

Return of AJ

The Yankees emerged from the ALDS with fewer questions about their starting rotation, but the ALCS reintroduces perhaps their biggest concern…A.J. Burnett. The Yankees enigmatic right hander is currently scheduled to go in game four (although he could be pushed back if the Yankees decide to use Sabathia on three days rest), which coming on the heels of Cliff Lee’s start in game three, could make Burnett’s performance a pivotal factor in the series. It would be wrong, however, to let one start by Burnett overshadow the matchup advantages that the Yankees will enjoy because of the Rangers’ need to hold Lee back until the third game, especially if Burnett is opposed by Tommy Hunter, whose pitch-to-contact approach from the right side doesn’t usually bode well against the Yankees.

Key Pitching Matchups

Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia will not be facing each other in the ALCS.  Instead, CJ Wilson will square off against Sabathia. Although Wilson had a very good season, he was 0-3 with a 5.65 ERA in 14 1/3 innings against the Yankees. There will be no such margin for error against Sabathia, who has yielded only a .533 OPS against to the current Texas’ roster, so the Rangers need Wilson to reverse that trend. Meanwhile, the Yankees should feel a little more comfortable with their counter to the Ranger’s ace. Although Lee has arguably been one of the most dominant postseason hurlers, Pettitte has been the most prolific. Interestingly, many of the big name hitters in each lineup have done well against both lefties, so each confrontation could be more about limiting the damage than shutting down the opposition.

Colby Lewis has mostly relied on a fastball and slider combination to fuel his successful return to the majors, but that plays directly into the Yankees hands as the Bronx Bombers rank third and first, respectively, in terms of runs above average generated against each pitch. What’s more, Lewis’ tendency to allow fly balls could also get him in trouble against the power laden Yankee lineup. Opposing Lewis in a games 2 and 6 will be Phil Hughes, who also is also prone to the fly ball. Unlike Lewis, however, Hughes’ has a more diverse arsenal, and the Rangers have not been particularly successful against his cutter/curveball combo. Ultimately, who keeps the ball in the park most could determine the outcome of the games in which Hughes and Lewis pitch.

Yankees’ Starters vs. Current Rangers’ Batters

Andy Pettitte 173 5 21 17 27 0.327 0.390 0.497 0.886
C.C. Sabathia 155 3 14 8 34 0.182 0.232 0.301 0.533
Phil Hughes 42 0 1 2 8 0.100 0.143 0.150 0.293
AJ Burnett 238 7 24 20 50 0.207 0.286 0.352 0.638
Total 608 15 60 47 119 0.226 0.291 0.364 0.655

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Rangers’ Starters vs. Current Yankees’ Batters

Cliff Lee 354 11 44 20 62 0.269 0.314 0.456 0.770
CJ Wilson 146 2 18 21 35 0.248 0.372 0.355 0.728
Colby Lewis 21 2 3 3 5 0.167 0.286 0.500 0.786
Tommy Hunter 32 0 1 1 3 0.333 0.355 0.333 0.688
Total 553 15 66 45 105 0.264 0.327 0.421 0.749

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Whose Pen Is Mightier?

Both the Yankees and Rangers featured strong bullpens. In fact, their performance was nearly identical. In Texas’ first round series against the Rays, however, the much relied upon trio of Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland and Darren Oliver struggled a bit, so if their woes carry over to the ALCS, the late game advantage could swing in favor of the Yankees. Although Mariano Rivera remains as the Yankees ultimate late inning edge, it should be noted that the Rangers hung two blown saves on the great closer back in September.

Bullpen Comparison, 2010 Totals

Yankees 3.47 7.69 3.61 2.13 0.92 1.25 77.00%
Rangers 3.38 7.58 3.63 2.09 0.86 1.27 77.90%

Source: Fangraphs.com

On defense, both teams feature outfields with plus range along with infields that are somewhat below average, although both Cano and Feliz appear much better to the eye than defensive metrics like UZR/150. The Rangers’ greatest advantage in the field is behind the plate, at least on nights when Bengie Molina is catching.

Prediction: Yankees in Five

The Yankees and Rangers are evenly matched in pitching, both starting and the bullpen, and defense, but the Bronx Bombers do have a decided edge with the bats. As a result, the Yankees should have more of a margin for error against pitchers not named Cliff Lee. That luxury, combined with Sabathia’s historic dominance over the Rangers, should be enough for the Yankees to wrap the series up in five games. If that doesn’t happen, you can bet the Yankees will want to get it done by game six because even with Pettitte slated to go in the finale, the specter of beating Lee with all the marbles on the line seems daunting.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »