Archive for October, 2010

CRUNCH TIME

October 22, 2010

Both of the LCS defending championship teams [and the past two World Series Champions]– the Philadelphia Phillies [WS 2008] and the New York Yankees [WS 2009] are two victories each away from a rematch, but just one loss each from elimination in their respective LCS matchups against the San Francisco Giants [NL] and the Texas Rangers [AL]. The circumstances, however, are slightly different for Philly than they are for New York.  Philadelphia is at home for Game 6 and the potential Game 7; the Yankees are in Texas until it’s over.  The odds are better for the Phils than for the Yanks and  from here, it looks like the Phils will take those odds, use their playoff pressure experience to tie the series, then win the NLCS and advance to their third straight World Series.

The Yankees have a greater challenge — they have to win two straight on the road. Their Game 6 starting pitcher, Phil Hughes, was slapped around last time he faced the Rangers and is vulnerable again, and if New York forces a Game 7, they will again face Cliff Lee, who has been unbeatable this postseason. But…

Two things that I believe will happen will favor the Yankees [in this die-hard fan’s view that admittedly does not use conventional wisdom or statistics to support his biased and faithful belief in the Bombers]: one, they will hit well in Game 6 and get off to an early lead while Hughes pitches very well this time around; and, two, Game 7 will prove Lee to be only human, while Andy Pettitte — who will start Game 7 for the Yankees — proves once again to be the playoff legend that he is, while also adding to his credentials for his future induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

My picks:

Game 6 — NYY 7, TXR 4 [Hughes the Winner, TXR bullpen the Loser]

Game 7 — NYY 4, TXR 2 [with Pettitte the Winner, Lee the Loser, and Yankee closer Mariano Rivera getting the Save]

Sports is a departure from my usual posts, but it is October and I am a cradle-to-grave Yankees fan who will enjoy the rest of the postseason.

#

Advertisements

At 2 Games to 1, the ALCS will go 7 games…

October 19, 2010

After the New York Yankees staged their incredible comeback in Game 1 against the Texas Rangers and won it 6-5 after trailing 5-1 at the start of the eighth inning, Game 2 became a must-win for Texas at home. But after Texas won Game 2 handily, some fans labeled Game 1’s comeback a “must-won” for the Yankees. True or not, this series will go the full seven games.

After losing Game 3 in New York, the good news for the Yankees is that Games 4 and 5 are still at home. The bad news is their starters in Games 1 and 2 got roughed up early, and that was a very bad sign. Had the Yankee bullpen not held the line in Game 1 while the offense worked at coming back, the defending World Series Champs would have been 0-2 facing nemesis Cliff Lee in Game 3 [he pitched both of Philadelphia’s WS game winners against New York last year].

Going into this post season, conventional wisdom was that Yankee starters CC Sabbathia, Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes would handle any opponent and achieve quality starts and low ERA’s. The question mark was whether the bullpen could safely bridge the gap from starter to closer Mariano Rivera, the game’s best-ever post-season reliever.  Little did anyone think that New York’s middle relievers would post nearly all goose eggs against Minnesota, then Texas, while its ALCS starters would be shelled by the Rangers in the first two games, both on the road.  In fact, Phil Hughes had gotten the Game 2 assignment over Andy Pettitte based on Hughes’ uncanny ability to win in Texas against the Rangers.

Pettitte, arguably and statistically the best post-season starter of all time [19-10], pitched Game 3 at home — a seven-inning gem, giving up just 2 runs. Problem was, Cliff Lee gave up no runs over eight innings and Texas added six in the ninth against the flip-flopping bullpen, making NY’s final at-bat a moot point — and leaving all of New York wondering, “What’s next? Good pitching or bad? Anemic hitting or RBI’s?  Starters or relievers?  Heart of the order or the bottom three hitters?

Putting the Yankee’s hitting questions aside for the moment, the underlying pitching problem, ironically, is rest.  In the quirky world that is MLB pitching, the only thing as worrisome as a high pitch count and too many walks is too much rest for a starting pitcher. Pitchers rely on rhythm and groove in order to establish command of their pitches. They need to pitch every fifth day, on four days rest. By sweeping Minnesota in the ALDS and ending that series early, the Yankees had to wait and wait for Texas to overcome Tampa in seven games.

Sabbathia, who won without looking sharp in his lone start against the Twins on too much rest, looked miserable against the Rangers after eight days off. The Yankee hitting machine won that game. Then came Hughes, out of sequence, too well rested, and beyond his allotment of innings for the year. He gave up five runs early. Which brings us back to Pettite, who also started on too much rest.  Pettitte faced the invincible Lee and blinked, which means that after the slumping AJ Burnett takes the hill and loses Game 4, the defending Champs will be down 3 games to 1 heading into must-win Game 5.  [If the Yanks somehow win Game 4, they may avoid a Game 7 showdown with Lee.]

Looking bleak to repeat at that point, things improve dramatically for New York as their rotation resumes on regular rest and faces the Texans for the second time around. This has been Yankee manager Joe Girardi’s mantra since Game 3 ended: Rotation, rotation, rotation; Subtitle: normal rest, normal rest, normal rest.

Game 5, in the Bronx, will be a CC masterpiece. In Game 6, Hughes will return to the hill — in Texas — and be lights out.  Which will bring us to the decisive Game 7 -– the most cherished competition in all of sports: Cliff Lee v Andy Pettite.  It’s a marquee match up and vintage postseason Pettitte, who has been New York’s must-win series clinching money pitcher for the better part of 14 years now. Lee, on the other hand, will finally make a few mistakes from the mound. The Yankee offensive arsenal will gratefully take advantage and score several runs.

So it’s the Yankees in seven to win their 41st American League pennant and advance to the final leg of their journey and World Series title #28. The lesson in all this will be the confirmation that the better team almost always wins a seven-game series, and that a great team — a.k.a. the New York Yankees — can beat you at bat or in the field, on the bases or from the mound. You never know which aspect of their game will prevail, but when more than one collaborate, the outcome is always THE YANKEES WIN!  And that is what Teamwork, not salary structure, is all about.

#