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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.

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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

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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)

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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

  Runs BA OBP SLG SB
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.

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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

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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

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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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