You know your starting pitcher is having a lousy night when he gives up an RBI single to a pitcher from the American League, one who can probably count the number of at-bats he’s had all season on one hand.
Yup, Cole Hamels didn’t have it yet again last night. After starting off well, he got torched for five runs in the fourth and fifth innings as the Yankees regained home field advantage in the World Series with a rain-marred 8-5 win in Game 3 last night at Citizens Bank Park.
Included in that aforementioned carnage were home runs by Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui, Pettitte’s RBI single and clutch hits by Jorge Posada. Pettitte threw 51 pitches in the first two innings, giving up three runs. But he was great over his final four innings to get the win.
The 2009 World Series begins tonight at Yankee Stadium. And I believe the two best teams in baseball are playing for the title.
I also believe the Yankees will end up winning that title.
If the Phillies’ pitching staff were the same as last year, I’d really like their chances. But right now, they have only one reliable starting pitcher (Cliff Lee), and he’s going to be matched up against the Yankees’ best pitcher in C.C. Sabathia. In other words, a Phillies win there is anything but a sure thing. And the rest of the Phillies’ rotation? Cole Hamels has been very ordinary all season and has continued that in the postseason. Pedro Martinez was great against the Dodgers in a day game in warm Los Angeles. I doubt he’ll be nearly as effective in colder weather at night against the Yankees’ lineup. Joe Blanton certainly isn’t going to scare the Yankees’ lineup. And while the Phillies’ bullpen (especially closer Brad Lidge) has pitched better in the playoffs, it still hasn’t improved enough to make me think it can shut down Jeter, Texieira, A-Rod and company late in the game.
For the Yankees, while A.J. Burnett has also been rather ordinary in the playoffs, Andy Pettitte is solid and steady, and we all know about Sabathia. Lefty relievers Damaso Martie and Phil Coke will likely play big roles in this series – both will have to get late-inning outs against Phillies sluggers Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez.
The Phillies are no pushovers and have proven their toughness over the last three seasons. They won’t self destruct the way the Twins and Angels did in big spots. But the Yankees are a bit deeper in the starting rotation, have a much more reliable closer and will be a little too much offensively.
Yankees in 6.
One theme that came out of all four Division Series matchups was the importance of having a closer who can finish off games under postseason duress. All four series were decided at least in part because of a closer’s inability to seal the deal.
Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, who hadn’t allowed an earned run in 26 innings over 17 career postseason appearances, gave up three after retiring the first two batters in the top of the 9th inning Sunday, allowing the Angels to complete a sweep. Minnesota’s Joe Nathan added to his lousy postseason track record by blowing a two-run ninth inning lead in Game 2 against the Yankees and giving up a pair of crucial insurance runs in Game 3. While Cardinals’ left fielder Matt Holliday should have caught that fly ball that would have ended Game 2, Ryan Franklin melted down after that, allowing the Dodgers to take a 2-0 series lead that eventually became a sweep. And Rockies’ closer Huston Street denied his team a chance to play a winner-take-all Game 5 against the Phillies by blowing a two-out, two-run lead in the top of the 9th inning of Game 4….after the Phillies’ much-maligned pen had blown a lead the previous inning.
Just in case Mariano Rivera wasn’t appreciated enough for his remarkable consistency over the years.
Most baseball pundits say the starting rotation is more important in the playoffs, and for the most part, they’ve been right. But many teams with good rotations have lost series because their bullpens didn’t rise to the moment. The 1986 Angels in the ALCS (Dave Henderson’s home run off Donnie Moore), the 1993 Phillies in the World Series, the 1997 Orioles in the ALCS (Armando Benitez blowing two saves and being the losing pitcher three times)…the list goes on. Starters very rarely go the distance anymore, even in the postseason (yay pitchcounts!).
Which brings me to this year’s NLCS, which starts Thursday in Los Angeles. The Dodgers have an outstanding bullpen led by the likes of George Sherrill and Jonathan Broxton, but a very ordinary starting rotation. The Phillies, on the other hand, have a very good 1-2 starting rotation punch in Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels and others like J.A. Happ, Joe Blanton and Pedro Martinez who can be good when they’re on. But getting the final outs of the game is an adventure every night.
So what will give in this series? The beginning of the game? Or the end?