Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Taking stock of the League Championship Series


I don't exactly have my finger on the pulse of New York and Philadelphia media and public opinion, but I'm sure that there's plenty of the above sentiments to go around in both metropoles (metropolises?  metropoli?  metropolis'?).  The Yankees face elimination from the playoffs this afternoon, down 3 games to 1 against the previously-winless-in-a-postseason-series Texas Rangers, and the Phillies' bats have gone silent as they went down 2 games to 1 against the Giants last night. 

History buffs and stat-happy reporters are ecstatic, as:
  • The greatest franchise in the history of sport, with 213 postseason victories coming into these playoffs, is on the verge of losing to a team that had ONE.
  • On the first night of the playoffs, we saw a one-run, ten-strikeout performance by one of the best postseason pitchers in decades-- and then a no-hitter from the guy that replaced him.
  • We've seen two games (CG, 0 ER, 2 H, 14 K; 8 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 13 K) that are in such elite company that they may in fact have been more impressive than the second no-hitter in playoff history
  • The Phillies-Giants series boasts opposing rotations that are as strong and deep as any we've seen in years; both of which had sub-2.00 ERA's in September
  • Josh Hamilton and Ron Washington, both admitted drug abusers in their past, are a game away from a World Series berth, when just a short time ago their careers (and perhaps lives) were in jeopardy
  • Cody Ross-- Cody Ross-- has three home runs and seven RBI's in three games in the NLCS, the same numbers he put up in 73 at-bats as a Giant this regular season
  • Cliff Lee owns the Yankees.  Literally.  We will have an interesting scenario on our hands when he attempts to sign himself to a contract this winter.  Just imagine how the Indians will feel when they face the Yankees in a series in May, and go against TWO former Cy Young award winners, Sabathia and Lee, who won the awards WHILE ON THE INDIANS.
Down 3-1, the Yankees throw out CC Sabathia against CJ Wilson, a rematch of game 1 of the series (in which the Rangers' bullpen blew what should have been the start of a sweep).  I can see the pressure of a clinching game getting to Wilson, especially in Yankee Stadium, and the Yankees playing with their backs to the wall and taking Game 5. 

However, no matter how you slice it, the Yankees aren't winning this series.  Cliff Lee. Game 7.  Game over.  There's nothing more to analyze.  Lee is 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA in his postseason career, and that includes three games against the vaunted Yankees.

The Phillies try to get back into the NLCS tonight in Game 4, needing a strong performance by Big Joe Blanton against Madison Bumgarner.  Yes, I did say need, because winning three straight against Lincecum, Sanchez, and Cain (with the Lincecum game in San Fran) is a fool's errand.  This is the season for the Phils.  Having said that, I still think that it was a good call by Charlie Manuel to stick with Blanton, because we're going to need top pitching performances to beat the Giants' pitchers, and a three-days-rest Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels worries me.
Blanton has been really good this year-- for three innings a game.  His ERA in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th innings is 3.21, 2.57, and 2.25, respectively.  Unfortunately, his ERA in the 1st, 5th, and 6th innings is 6.43, 4.61, and 6.94, respectively.  Let's not talk about the later innings.  If Blanton can get through the first inning unscathed, I think that his experience will help him do well enough to win tonight's game, if the Phillies' lineup can get anything done.
In order to get anything done, the Phils will have to go through Madison Bumgarner, the seemingly-homoerotically-named young lefthander who, say what you want, posted a 3.00 ERA in 18 starts this season.  The Phillies have always had issues with both lefties and guys they have not seen before, and this kid appears to have good enough stuff to do the job.  The Phillies will have to get production from the top of the order, getting men on base and making the kid (note: he's less than six months older than me) uncomfortable by wreaking havoc on the basepaths.  SPOILER ALERT: We have not done a great job manufacturing runs in the last few years.  Gotta get on that.  That being said, I think that the situation may get the better of Bumgarner, and if the Phillies' big bats can take advantage of a couple mistakes, they could come out of the first go through each rotation 2-2, and you have to like their chances of taking 2 out of 3 with H2O going.

My prediction?  Foggedaboudit.  Check my pre-postseason predictions.

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