Thursday, October 25, 2007

Aces Wild

I haven’t posted much lately, as the last week or so has been pretty rough. To be honest, I still don’t have much of a taste for baseball right now, which is an extremely rare occurrence for me. I can’t even watch the World Series, it’s just too painful. Plus, it already looks like the Colorado Flameouts are going to roll over for the Boston Yankees anyway, so it’s not like I’m missing anything special. My initial reaction after Cleveland played its final game of the season certainly included anger, sadness, and all the like. The most prominent feeling was that of loss; as if something had been taken from me. It was a hollow feeling.

Despite all the pain left over from last week, the sting has subsided considerably. First off, my expectations going in were realistic, at best. I viewed the ALCS as a near even match up, hinging on the performance of a few select players. It’s hard to swallow a loss that could have easily swung to either team, but it doesn’t make any sense to dwell on a proverbial coin flip.

Boston was every bit as good as Cleveland going in, maybe a little better. The fact that Cleveland was such a large underdog was pure media hype; both teams featured similar traits and achieved near equal success before their meeting. The series went seven games for a reason. Yes, Cleveland won three in a row, pushing Boston to the brink. But just as Cleveland proved it could win three, so did Boston. There was nothing magical about Boston’s comeback. The timing was the thing. What if the roles were reversed and Cleveland came back from three down to win it? Would that be considered “clutch” play by Cleveland or a “choke” by Boston? It depends on who you ask. As I said, this series was a coin flip.

You may be wondering when I’m going to cut the philosophical, intangible slant. Well, that was just for a bit of perspective. One of the key factors that shifted the balance of power came down to two players: Sabathia and Carmona. Sabathia had been far from his usual self in Game 1 of the Division Series, while Carmona was absolutely brilliant. Fans took the optimistic view that Sabathia would bounce back and Carmona would carry his dominance into the ALCS; both fair assumptions. Obviously, neither came true and it killed the Tribe’s chances. Below are the ALCS stats for the two pitchers:

Game Player Team Result IP H ER BB SO HR Pitches-Strikes GB-FB Outs
ALCS Game 1 Sabathia Loss 4.1 7 8 5 3 0 85-44 4-3
ALCS Game 5
Loss 6 10 4 2 6 1 112-70 7-2

Game Player Team Result IP H ER BB SO HR Pitches-Strikes GB-FB Outs
ALCS Game 2 Carmona Win 4 4 4 5 5 2 100-51 4-2
ALCS Game 6
Loss 2 6 7 4 2 1 63-33 2-1

went 1-3 with their two best starting pitchers on the mound. Carmona did not factor into the decision for the single win, since his one run lead evaporated shortly after his departure in the 4th inning. The sole fact that Cleveland lost three of the four is not the overarching issue. Beckett and Schilling faced off against Sabathia and Carmona twice respectively, so it’s not as if the Tribe folded to a couple of patsies in those games.

The issue is the individual performance of Sabathia and Carmona in the series. Cleveland’s chances of winning Games 1 and 6 were slim to none after the mess (to put it politely) C.C. and Fausto left behind. Granted, the offense had its share of struggles, but the fact that the offense never had a shot to win Games 1 and 6 is obvious. I believe momentum and a team’s confidence are factors in the playoffs and Sabathia and Carmona made every start an uphill battle for the rest of the team.

By failing to adapt to Boston’s lineup (or contain Ramirez and Ortiz), C.C. and Fausto set themselves up for failure. If their plan of attack wasn’t failing them, their lack of command and dominant pitches were. The two pitchers gave up nearly a walk per inning pitched, combined. Allowing so many batters to reach base gave each start a tension that had to have worn on the pitchers. Even when Carmona and Sabathia gave up only four runs, Games 2 and 5 felt like they were just a bloop single away from disaster; the two were that shaky.

The inability go at least six (or even five, I’m not picky) innings placed all four games in the hands of the bullpen. The Cleveland bullpen is great, but Sabathia and Carmona placed a daunting task before the bullpen each night. The bullpen should not be expected to take on the job of the starting pitcher in four, high pressure games like that. Actually, scratch that, two of the games were blowouts, so I guess that relieves some of the pressure. Still, the bullpen was overworked. When a team’s setup man comes out for two innings in the middle of the game, someone didn’t do their job.

Cleveland led only once (in Game 2), allowing Boston’s pitchers to be more aggressive and take more chances. The pressure was always on the offense to catch up, as if facing Beckett and Schilling weren’t difficult enough already. The offense certainly missed some opportunities to break out against Boston’s pitching in these games, but Sabathia and Carmona did not provide the contributions Cleveland needed to keep up with Boston.

In such an even match up, Cleveland needed every advantage it could get. Sabathia and Carmona were supposed to be the advantage, outside of the Tribe’s bullpen, but they came up well short of what was required to win.

This does not change the fact that Sabathia and Carmona were as good a reason as any that Cleveland made the playoffs in the first place. It also doesn’t change the fact that Carmona owns one of the all-time great postseason pitching performances by an Indians pitcher, single-handedly winning a pivotal Game 2 against New York. When Tribe fans debate the 2007 ALCS though, Sabathia and Carmona should shoulder a significant part of the burden.

I don’t plan on fuming about the playoffs any more this season, so in my next post I’ll finally get around to Shap’s press conference and look back on some of the highlights from a great season.

Friday, October 19, 2007


I don't blame C.C. Sabathia for Game 5.

Sabathia made vast improvements since Game 1 of the ALCS where he walked 5 and gave up 8 runs in 4.1 innings. There's really no comparison between the two starts, which is good news for Cleveland.

In Game 5, C.C. gave up 4 ER, 10 H, and a HR over 6 IP. The most important stat of the night was the fact he only surrendered 2 walks, while throwing 62.5% of his pitches for strikes. Again, this is a near complete turnaround from 5 walks and 51.7% pitches for strikes in his last start. Throw in 6 strikeouts and you have a solid bounce-back start for the Tribe's ace. Not great, but certainly winnable.

As encouraging as Sabathia’s Game 5 seems on the surface, the numbers lie a little bit. Sabathia's more aggressive approach (more strikes, less nibbling) resulted in less walks, but his stuff was far from dominant. Instead, he gave up 10 hits and allowed at least one baserunner in every inning except the 6th. He also hit two batters and threw a wild pitch. C.C. walked a thin line all night, owing a saved run to Gutz in the 1st, narrowly avoiding an additional run from Ramirez's "single" in the 3rd, and escaping from a bases loaded jam in the 5th.

Like a Joe Borowski save, the bottom line is what matters most. C.C. got the job done tonight by giving his team a chance to win.

I’m still on the fence as to whether Wedge should have brought Sabathia back out for the 7th inning. Wedge had to have known he was playing with fire by having Sabathia face the top of Boston’s lineup again. The 7th would have been C.C.’s fourth time facing Pedroia, Youkilis, and Ortiz. Based on the lead-off double and triple from said batters, Sabathia wasn’t fooling anyone. At 106 stress-filled pitches, Sabathia probably didn’t have much left in the tank and may have been struggling with his focus.

I understand why Wedge stuck with C.C., but it was still a very risky decision. Wedge said if he had pulled C.C. after six, Betancourt would have had to pitch two innings and the remaining reliever matchups would have been difficult to deal with; these were things Wedge did not think benefited the team in the long run. Wedge also cited Sabathia was having his best start of the playoffs and didn’t want to hamper his rhythm or confidence. He felt Sabathia could handle the large pitch count, citing past starts where he threw 120 pitches.

I emphasized Wedge’s long term mentality to the situation because I feel it’s important in understanding his decision. The team has been riding Betancourt the entire postseason. Betancourt leads the regular relievers with 6.1 innings pitched and has appeared in four of the five ALCS games. Jensen Lewis is not far behind with 5.1 IP. This may not seem like much, but you have to rest these guys at some point. Many people will point to the two off-days dividing the series as enough rest, but Wedge knows how his pitchers feel better than we do. I think some of the bullpen guys are feeling a little drained, otherwise Wedge would not have expressed concern when citing his reasons for sticking with Sabathia.

Wedge did not concede the game in the 7th inning; he took a calculated risk that backfired. Further proof of this is Betancourt having to pitch anyway in an attempt to preserve the 3-1 deficit Sabathia left behind.

Despite my dwelling on Wedge and C.C., Beckett’s performance was the real story of Game 5. If any other Boston starter was on the mound tonight, I think Cleveland would have won this game.

Wedge cited a lack of adjustment by his players as a contributing factor. It’s good to hear the manager get in the players’ ear a bit. Wedge’s analysis makes sense, as the Tribe started strong against Beckett. Cleveland had three hits and a run against Beckett in the first inning, but managed only two hits and a walk the rest of the night. I realize Beckett was pounding the strike zone and threw all kinds of filth, but Cleveland drew first blood early on and failed to counter Beckett’s game. Obviously this is easier said than done as no one has touched Beckett all post-season, but given the infrequency of overtly negative comments from Wedge, I think the criticism holds some water.

The offense can not allow Schilling to fall into a similar rhythm in Game 6.

On Lofton

Did anyone else want to see Lofton KO Beckett cold? I really, really wanted to see Beckett leave with a bloody nose after screaming at Lofton while he jogged to first after a pop-up. Yeah, I know Lofton would have faced a suspension for the rest of the series, but the mental image of the Mayor of Cleveland slamming Beckett the Blister with a left hook combo is just awesome.

Fortunately, Lofton is too classy to take a swing at another player, even if that player is a preening prima donna who thinks he’s God’s gift to baseball. Seriously, Beckett has become the A-Rod of pitching. Aren’t there enough smug, blowhards in the AL East? That division is like a personality roach-motel. It’s too bad Albert Belle wasn’t the one jogging to first, because that would have been entertaining.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Other Pitcher

Hey Boston, remember that third starter Cleveland has? The one that got next to no attention leading up to the ALCS and was dismissed as a weak link in the rotation after getting bombed by New York? Remember him? Of course you don't, but Jake Westbrook did in Game 3 what Sabathia and Carmona could not: shut down the Boston offense.

Jake delivered the kind of quality start Cleveland craved, scattering 7 H and 3 BB over 6.2 innings. Westbrook's defining moment came in the 6th when he got Manny Ramirez to ground into an inning ending double play with two men on. Boston's only runs came off a two-run homer by Jason Varitek in the 7th, shortly before Westbrook's night ended.

Jensen Lewis completed the 7th with a strikeout of Dustin Pedroia. Raffy Betancourt and Kevin "that guy from Moneyball" Youkilis locked horns again in the 8th before Raffy retired Ortiz and Ramirez, neutralizing Boston's last legitimate scoring threat. Youkilis had an 11 pitch at-bat against Betancourt in the 9th of Game 2 and an 8 pitch at-bat tonight. Not a fun experience late in the game with Ortiz on-deck.

JoeBo sealed the game with a painless 1-2-3 inning. Borowski has earned two saves this postseason, but it was still nice to see him breeze through the bottom of Boston's lineup. Wedge has shown that Borowski is the undisputed closer for the playoffs, so his body of work thus far is encouraging (4 IP, 2 SV, 2.25 ERA).

The infield defense was sharp and made a crucial contribution to Cleveland's win tonight. Westbrook fed the infield three double play balls tonight, frustrating Boston by staying just out of reach. Westbrook got Ortiz (1st inn.), Crisp (2nd inn.), and Ramirez (6th inn.) to each ground into a DP. Asdrubal Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta made some beautiful plays around the horn, including a snag on the run by AstroCab to start the first DP and steal a hit from Ortiz.

Peralta seemed to be charging the ball and working the pivot all night, to great effect. I honestly don't remember Peralta's defense looking this dynamic before. Say what you will about his regular season habits, but Jhonny has awakened in October.

Westbrook got stronger as the game went on, working around the occasional walk or hit, but never yielding. Sox batters didn't seem to be going for Jake's sinker early on, but started to press after the Tribe took the lead. Westbrook finished with 14 groundball outs and 2 strikeouts. The number of groundball outs is always a good indicator of how well Jake's pitches are working. Judging by some of the enraged, post at-bat reactions from Boston's players, the sinker was working just fine.

It looked like Jake might run into trouble early on as he seemed to be getting squeezed on pitches at the edge of the (supposed) strike zone. I know the crowd reacts unfavorably to many called balls, but seriously. The ump tonight sucked. A lot. Tiny strikezones are one thing, but this guy couldn't even call it consistently. I felt bad for Jake, you could tell that he was annoyed with the ump (lots of long pauses and Wickman-esque grimaces). Fortunately this chump didn't cost us any runs tonight.

After exploding late in Game 3, the offense showed it still had plenty left in the tank for Matsuzaka-san. Matsuzaka did plenty of damage with 6 strikeouts, but the way the Tribe was hammering the ball, it was only a matter of time before they got to Boston's starter. The quality of the Tribe's at-bats steadily improved, but they were just missing the elusive game-breaker. Ryan Garko atoned for his earlier error by smacking a single up the middle to start the 2nd. Kenny Lofton followed up with a homerun that just cleared the right field wall.

Lofton made the first pitch he saw into a souvenir, sending the crowd into a frenzy. You'd have thought he had hit a walk-off by the way the stadium roared; definitely one of my favorite moments of the postseason so far. First Trot Nixon with a game-winning hit, now Kenny Lofton hitting one out of the park? How about that.

The Tribe managed to score two more runs off Matsuzaka before Francona crashed the party. Cleveland's four baserunners were enough to convince Francona to yank his starter in the 5th inning for the second game in a row. The Boston bullpen did it's job, holding Cleveland to 4 runs, but the Tribe's bullpen continued its playoff dominance.

Paul Byrd and Tim Wakefield get the call for Game 4. Wakefield has had mixed results against Eric Wedge's Indians and has not faced them in 2007. I have a feeling Cleveland will have a solid plan of attack for Wakefield. Veterans Kenny Lofton and Trot Nixon should prove useful in helping the rest of the lineup figure out Wakefield's elusive knuckle ball. Byrd has decent career numbers against Boston (4.12 ERA) and has faced them once this season. Byrd gave up 1 ER over 6 IP at Fenway in May.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Breaking Through

Game 2 was absolutely loco. Tom Mastny? Trot Nixon? Seven runs in the 11th inning? Wow. I was exhausted afterward, so I can't imagine how the players must have felt. Probably pretty pumped, judging by the post-game celebrations. If there was ever a doubt in my mind that Cleveland could hang with Boston in this series, it was erased during Game 2.

Fausto Carmona did not fare well in this game. Like Sabathia in Game 1, Carmona struggled with his control all night, walking five on 100 pitches. Carmona appeared to be overthrowing from the start, consistently throwing in the 94-97 MPH range. As sick as a 98 MPH sinker is (just ask Dustin Pedroia), it's not going to get you many strikes if you can't control it.

Fausto threw just 51% of his pitches for strikes and had many erratic breaking balls that Sox batters weren't swinging at. Fausto failed to use his changeup or off-speed slider tonight, allowing the opposition to settle in. I may have missed it, but I don't think Fausto threw less than 90 MPH until the fourth inning (he used two off-speed pitches on Varitek for a K).

Fortunately for the Tribe, Curt Schilling was just as bad, surrendering 5 ER over 4.2 IP. Schilling was far from his best tonight and the Tribe's batters were able to capitalize on his mistakes. Tribe batters worked over the former ace, making him throw 85 pitches before getting pulled early. The Tribe also launched two taters off Schilling, including a 3-run bomb by Peralta to regain the lead in the 4th.

The trio of Jhonny Peralta, Grady Sizemore, and Victor Martinez continued their postseason tear on offense. Peralta leads the team this postseason with 6 RBI, while Grady leads the team in runs with 6. Tonight's line:

Peralta: 3-5 / 3 R / 4 RBI / 1 BB / 1 HR
Sizemore: 3-5 / 3 R / 1 RBI / 1 BB / 1 HR
Martinez: 3-4 / 2 R / 1 RBI / 2 BB / --

Peralta has been a pleasant surprise this series and has shown no signs of cooling off. Jhonny is a great example of why October is considered the second season; all those regular season stats tend to go out the window.

The key to the game for both teams was the bullpen. With both starting pitchers out of commission by the 5th inning, the game switched from a shootout to a pitcher's duel. Cleveland's bullpen depth was what really swung Game 2 in their favor. By the time the 11th inning rolled around, Boston was left with the dregs of its bullpen while Cleveland had yet to use their closer.

It's difficult to say which pitcher had the biggest impact on the game, since Lewis, Betancourt, and Mastny were all outstanding. Each pitcher had a different challenge to face in the team's win: Lewis had to hold Boston to their 6 runs until the Tribe could climb back in it. Betancourt faced off against Papelbon in the 9th and had to contend with an 11 pitch at-bat from Indian killer, Kevin Youkilis, with a man on 2nd.

The breaking point came with Tom "Indonesian Pride" Mastny on the hill. Mastny came on in the bottom of the 10th to face Ortiz, Ramirez, and Lowell. Boston knew their bullpen was spent, so the 10th was their best chance to win, but Mastny threw a perfect inning to let Cleveland face Eric Gagne the next inning. So many guys stepped up tonight, but Mastny is the one that stands out for me; he took his game to another level when it mattered most.

Just how deep is Cleveland's pitching staff? Well, when your best starter and second best reliever give up 6 runs over 4 innings, almost any other team would be toast. Instead, the Tribe's remaining relievers (Lewis, Raffy, Mastny, JoeBo) gave up just 3 hits over 6.2 innings, while striking out 5 to win the game. That, is depth.

Boston couldn't keep pace, utilizing every reliever in their pen, plus Jon Lester. By the time Papelbon left with the game still tied, it really was a new game.

The Tribe was on the verge of lighting up Gagne until Francona replaced him with Javier Lopez. Wedge replaced Barfield (who pinch-ran for Hafner) with Trot Nixon.

Trot Nixon?

Nixon and I have had a love-hate relationship this season, for obvious reasons, but I had a good feeling about this at-bat. I think a lot of Tribe fans knew something was going to happen when Trot came up to bat though; the setup was just too perfect. Nixon's first postseason appearance in Fenway without a Boston uniform on? I guess that got the Baseball Gods' attention. Nixon smacked a hanging junker into centerfield, scoring Grady on a close play at the plate. His single opened the floodgates as the Tribe scored 7 runs that inning, breaking the postseason record for most runs in a non-regulation inning.

Nixon was in need of some serious redemption after making an error on a routine ball in Game 3 of the ALDS. He more than made up for that performance tonight, so thanks Trot.

It was almost as if the Tribe was letting off some pent-up frustration left over from an embarrasing Game 1. The hapless Boston relievers were just the unfortunate recipients at that point.

Random Notes

Wedgie seemed to be managing with the off-day on Sunday in mind, allowing Lewis and Betancourt to go over two innings each. Their extended outings were actually out of necessity, since Perez got roughed up (.1 IP, 2 HR) and was unable to contribute. Wedge was smart to pull Perez tonight, but I think this was just one of those isolated incidents where he didn't have his best stuff and got rattled. Perez's performance against New York is cause enough for me not to worry about him.

Another agressive move by Wedge was pinch-running for Hafner in the 9th with 2 outs. Granted, Barfield was able to steal secondbase with Victor at the plate, but if Nixon doesn't succeed in his pinch-hit appearance later on, you can bet Wedge would have been raked over the coals for removing Hafner. I think the timing of Barfield coming in (2 outs, Papelbon pitching) was off, but I agree with Nixon coming in with a man on second (not in lieu of Hafner, but in that situation). Boston's reliever, Javier Lopez, posted an .805 OPS against lefties (.565 vs. righties) in 2007, so Wedge made a smart move in countering Francona with Trot. (Ed: Nixon has a career .629 OPS against LHP. So maybe it was a coin flip here, but I still like the move.)

If the Tribe hadn't come up big in Game 2, they would have been in serious trouble for the remainder of the series. After splitting at Fenway, against Boston's top two starters, Cleveland has placed itself in a great position to put a stranglehold on the ALCS at home. All of this went down while the Tribe's top two starters pitched horribly. Cleveland is a very dangerous team, but Boston may not realize until it's too late.

Jake Westbrook faces off against Daisuke Matsuzaka in Cleveland on Monday. It will be intersting to see how the Tribe handles a change of pace in Matsuzaka's pitching style. Cleveland has a reputation of crushing fastball pitchers, but whiffing on guys strong with the breaking ball. Matsuzaka has a 4.26 ERA in 2 career starts against Cleveland and a 4.02 road ERA on the season.

The Elephant in the Dugout

What's up with Cleveland's aces? The hype around Sabathia and Carmona was certainly justified coming into the playoffs. Many analysts picked Cleveland to go deep in the playoffs based on the performance of their top-flight starters. Here's what the Tribe has gotten out of Sabathia and Carmona this postseason:

Game Player IP H ER BB SO HR Pitches-
ALDS Game 1 Sabathia 5 4 3 6 5 2 114-62 1-8
ALCS Game 1
4.1 7 8 5 3 0 85-44 4-3

Game Player IP H ER BB SO HR Pitches-
ALDS Game 3 Carmona 9 3 1 2 5 1 113-77 16-4
ALCS Game 2
4 4 4 5 5 2 100-51 4-2

The glaring line for Sabathia is his BB-SO ratio. Sabathia came in with a dominant 5.65 K/BB ratio, but has a 1.37 ratio in two games this postseason. That speaks to his lack of control and the ineffectiveness of his strikeout pitches, the changeup and slider. Sabathia seems to have the same issue as Carmona had in the ALCS; he's overthrowing the ball and his control is suffering because of it.

I almost never saw Sabathia fire away in the 95-97 MPH range on a regular basis during the season. He has not mixed in his off-speed and breaking pitches effectively and has had a hard time putting away batters. Sabathia will go up two strikes on a batter, but often struggle after that.

I'm still sticking with my earlier assertion that C.C.'s breakdown is mostly mental. There's no other explanation for such a drastic divergence from his regular season and career numbers in just two starts. Maybe he's still rattled from pitching in October? My hope is Sabathia has a long talk with whoever he turns to for help, be it Carl Willis or another pitcher, and then locks himself in the film room to fix it. It's as if everything he learned about pitching the last two seasons has left him. Simply put, he needs to get it back, and fast.

Carmona is an odd case. The kid was lights out against New York, but couldn't find the strikezone against Boston. Go figure. I broke down Fausto's overthrowing issue earlier and like I said, his issues appear to be similar to C.C.. It's possible the Fenway crowd or all those horror stories he's heard about Ortiz and Ramirez got to him, but Fausto has never been one to shy away from a challenge. A more logical antagonist is what happened to Fausto the last time he pitched in Fenway. Saturday was Fausto's first appearance in Fenway since his stint as closer ended in dramatic fashion during the 2006 season. I may be grasping at straws here, but it's something to think about.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


I know I promised an ALCS preview, but apparently my college professors don't appreciate the fine art of blogging. So this week it came down to blogging or meeting a deadline for my thesis project. Hmmm.... I'm always disappointed when I can't cover a Tribe event, but I'd rather not rush it and end up with something that stinks.

I did find a nifty story (in the Washington Post, no less) on some former Jon Hart protegés. I'm as big a fan of Cleveland's front office as I am of the players (yes, I'm a baseball nerd), so I think it's kinda cool that three of the four remaining playoff GMs, Dan O'Dowd (Colorado), Josh Byrnes (Arizona), and Mark Shapiro, all got their start under Hart in Cleveland. Each team tends to follow the home-grown, youth movement technique that many small-market teams thrive on. I'll take a closer look at this trend in the off-season.

Game 1 is on Friday, so LET'S GO, TRIBE!

Monday, October 8, 2007


Just when it looked like New York might have regained their footing in the series, the Tribe dropped the hammer. Game 3 and all its quirks aside, the Tribe simply dominated the competition en route to its first ALCS berth since 1998.

Grady Sizemore and Jhonny Peralta led a devastating offense, Fausto Carmona and Raffy Perez single handily won Game 2, and the Cobra dealt the fatal blow in Game 4.

Seriously, Paul Byrd is a maniac. In a good way, though.

Wedgie made some mistakes in his first playoff series, but did a brilliant job compared to Joe Torre. Yes, Eric Wedge out-managed Joe Torre in the ALDS and it may have been one of the deciding factors of the series.

And of course, Borowski saved the best for last, nearly giving an entire fanbase a heart attack in the process. Hey, no complaints here; whatever it takes.

It looks like great pitching really does beat great hitting, as the best of the Tribe's pitching staff shut down the dreaded Yankee offense. Run support won't be so easy to come by in the next round though. Boston has the only pitching staff capable of matching Cleveland's top-to-bottom. What do you get when you combine two of the best pitching staffs with two of the best lineups in baseball? One hell of a series. Hold on Tribe fans, this should be fun.

Until the fateful series, this Cleveland team bows to no one. Not even the Evil Empire.

I'll take a look back at the ALDS and look ahead to Beantown in this week's posts, so check back before the ALCS for more Tribe Time.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Gloves Off

Indians! What is your profession? HA-OOH!
Travis Hafner, after Cleveland clinched the 2007 AL Central crown

This isn't over. Not even close. If those overpaid, pompous, mercenaries over in New York think they're going to take this series back they're wrong.

Cleveland's pitching holds the key and they are primed to let loose in Game 4 (and 5 if need be). Some may argue New York has stolen all the momentum and have Cleveland exactly where they want them. Because it's just that easy isn't it? This isn't the same Tribe that fell apart under the bright lights of their 2005 playoff run. In fact, they've thrived up to this point in the playoffs.

These Cleveland players aren't just going to roll over for the Yankees; they've worked too hard and overcome too much to have it taken from them so easily. All Game 3 accomplished was allow Cleveland's bullpen to recover and give New York a smug false confidence. We have them on the run now, no one can beat the mighty Yankees! Yeah, I don't think so.

The Cobra

Byrd owns a 3.46 career ERA in four regular season starts at Yankee Stadium, so he has had at least some semblance of success pitching in New York. Byrd also has a 3.44 career road ERA compared to a 4.84 home ERA. Westbrook's history against New York was fairly shaky by comparison with a 5.29 career ERA against New York. Hopefully, Byrd can translate his past experience in these situations into something the Tribe can work with in Game 4.

It's also of note that Byrd was the only member of the Angels' pitching staff to beat the red-hot White Sox in the 2005 ALCS. Byrd pitched two games, giving up just 4 ER over 10.2 IP. That's essentially what Cleveland will need out of him in Game 4. The 2005 Sox fielded a very tough offense, so it's reassuring to know Byrd is capable of shutting down a premier offense when it counts.

Byrd's glaring weakness is his vulnerability to the longball. If Byrd can keep his walk rate low, he will go a long way in protecting himself against potential homerun damage. New York's lineup is patient, but if Byrd can locate his pitches, that 1.31 BB/9 rate should at least make a dent in the Yank's OBP.

Byrd only needs to throw 5 or 6 quality innings to put the Tribe in a position to win Game 4. The fully rested bullpen can take it from there.

The Wang

I'm not sure whether or not Joe Torre planned on using Wang on three days rest for Game 4, but he's stuck with him now that Hughes was used to rescue Clemens in Game 3. Since I cited them for Byrd above, it's only fair that I point out Wang's 3.02 home and 4.62 away ERA. I'm not sure how much his ERA splits will help him in this case though, as he was hardly fooling anyone in the Cleveland lineup during Game 1.

Wang went 4.2 innings and gave up 8 ER. The Tribe effectively neutralized his greatest strength, the groundball. Wang has also never pitched on three days rest in his career. That's a lot of question marks surrounding a pitcher who is supposed to be the ace of the staff. Wang's performance is really the key to Game 4, as no one seems to know what it will be. If the Tribe was able to solve Wang once, they should be able to do it again after some counter-adjustments to their original approach.

The Raffys

Wedge may have made some questionable moves in Game 3 (like leaving Westbrook in too long and using Fultz for the 6th inning instead of Lewis), but he was right to save Betancourt and Perez following Damon's game-changing shot off Westbrook. Perez has pitched 4 brilliant innings over Games 1 and 2 and could have used a break. Betancourt only threw an inning in Game 1, but will be fresh for Game 4.

If the game is close and late, look for one of these guys to enter the game in lieu of Borowski, who pitched the final inning tonight. I know Borowski is the official closer, but I think Wedge was doing more than just giving him work in Game 3. I think either Perez or Betancourt will be the go-to guys in a tight situation for the remainder of the series. There's just too much at stake and Perez has proven he won't fold under the pressure of a playoff game.

Jensen Lewis tossed an inning of relief today, but has just two innings in all three games. Lewis should be available for the 5th and 6th, if necessary. He's given up nothing, while striking out 4 in those two innings. Add that to his .69 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 13 September innings and I can confidently say Lewis should (and will) be the first option for middle relief.

If Byrd can go at least five innings and keep the runs at a minimum, the Tribe will have a very strong trio to cover the last four innings. Just as Wang is the key for New York, Byrd getting the game intact to the relief corps is Cleveland's.

Fausto is the Projected Game 5 Starter

Illustration by CarnegieAndOntario at LGT

Need I say more?

Saturday, October 6, 2007

ALDS Impressions: Games 1 & 2

Cleveland utilized its entire arsenal to take the first two ALDS games from the Yankees this weekend. Game 1 featured an explosion from the offense, while Game 2 was all about Fausto and Raffy the Lefty. For Cleveland, winning both games before heading to the Bronx Zoo is huge, as it removes the chance of New York clinching at home and shifts some of the pressure away from the Tribe. Hopefully, winning the pivotal second game will allow the offense to loosen up against the lesser pitchers in New York's rotation. Game 3 pits Jake Westbrook against The Firecracker at New York on Sunday. Until then, here are my thoughts on the first two ALDS games:

Game 1: Sabathia vs. Wang

This was kind of a bizarre game, as neither ace performed anywhere near their usual standards. I'm not sure what to make of Sabathia's start. C.C. only gave up 4 hits and three earned runs, but really struggled with his control. Sabathia went just 5 innings on 114 pitches, walking 6 and striking out 5. During the regular season, C.C. had a ridiculous strikeout to walk ratio of 5.64. In Game 1, that ratio was 1.2 K/BB; more than just a regression to the mean against a tough lineup.

One issue I noticed was C.C. had trouble hitting the outside edge of the plate consistently. Bruce Froemming called a consistent strikezone for both teams, but Sabathia's sweeping pitches that normally have hitters whiffing wide over the plate either weren't enticing enough to the disciplined Yanks or weren't falling in for a strike. Sabathia's inability to pound the strikezone (just 54% of his pitches were strikes) caused him to fall behind many hitters early and put him in some tough jams. I have to give C.C. some dap for cleaning up after himself though, as he only gave up one run at a time. His strikeout of Jorge Posada in the fifth with the bases loaded preserved the Tribe's one-run lead, giving his team a shot to win (bottom of the fifth, not withstanding).

So what was wrong with Sabathia? Well, facing the Yankees lineup and their AL best, .366 OBP was bound to inflate Sabathia's walk rate at least a little, but I think the main issue with Sabathia's control was nerves. Some may be quick to dismiss a comparison of the stoic, mature C.C. of 2007 with the young, inexperienced hurler of 2001 (coincidentally, he pitched just slightly better against Seattle as a rookie). It would be perfectly normal for Sabathia to be affected by his nerves in only his second career postseason start. Pressure affects a lot of normally strong pitchers (most recently, Jake Peavy and Tom Glavine) and I think Sabathia was just a victim of poor focus.

My prediction is that C.C. will be locked in for his next start (be it against NY or another team). He's got too much talent and determination to let pressure affect him for very long.

The real story in Game 1 was the Tribe's destruction of Chien Ming Wang. Wang was [insert inappropriate adjective here] removed after giving up 8 ER on 9 H and 4 BB in just 4.2 IP. Kenny Lofton led the attack with 3 hits, a run, and 4 RBI. Victor and Garko combined on 6 H, 5 R, and 4 RBI to round out the offense. Cleveland showed how dangerous their power-laden lineup can be by launching four taters; two off groundball specialist, Wang.

Whatever Wang was doing in Game 1 wasn't fooling the Tribe batters. Cleveland took a steady approach and didn't try and do too much with the ball. By consistently going with the pitch, Cleveland kept Wang out of his element (5 GB-5 FB outs) and was able to put up crooked numbers in the first and fifth innings, chasing New York's ace early.

Bullpen stalwarts Perez, Lewis, and Betancourt combined on 1 hit ball over the final 4 innings.

Game 2: Carmona vs. Pettitte

Intense. That's how I would sum up Game 2 in a single word. Fausto Carmona pitched the game of his life, in October, against the best offense in baseball. Brilliant. Superb. Alucinante. Whatever you want to call it, Carmona's Game 2 stands as one of the greatest games I've ever watched live and ranks among the greatest postseason starts by a Cleveland pitcher. I try not to be too much of a homer on this blog, but anyone who disputes the outright awesomeness of this game is either a Yankee fan or has no appreciation for the sport.

Here is Carmona's stat line from Game 2:

9 3 1 2 5 1 1.00

Carmona never allowed more than one baserunner in an inning and scattered his three hits and 2 BB over separate innings. Carmona struck out Damon and Jeter twice each. He struck out Rodriguez thrice. Cano and Rodriguez did not advance from the batters box all night (Perez with the assist here). Despite utilizing a wide array of filthy breaking pitches, Fausto threw 67.5% of those 114 pitches for strikes. Carmona also had 18 groundball outs and 2 doubleplays on the night.

Fausto's complete game opus set up a crucial matchup for extra innings. If Carmona had only pitched seven innings, there is a good chance we would have seen Perez and Betancourt during regulation. This means the two best pitchers in the Cleveland bullpen may not have been available beyond the 10th inning. Fausto saving the bullpen gave the Tribe a significant advantage over New York once the game went to extras.

The Yankees didn't have a man in scoring position until Abreu reached on an infield single and stole secondbase in the 9th inning. Fausto Carmona versus Alex Rodriguez. Two of the best players in baseball facing off in a 9th inning, 1-1 tie:

The tempest of Lake Erie gnats was still clouding the field as Mariano Rivera warmed up in the bullpen. Abreu had just reached base on a dribbling, infield single. Carmona's attention was already diverted by the gnats, but now he has to monitor the speedy Abreu at first. Fausto directs his first pitch to the inside of the strikezone, right under Rodriguez's hands.

Rodriguez couldn't get around on Fausto's patented 94 MPH sinker, fouling off the first pitch and swinging over another. Despite a persistent Rodriguez, Fausto and Victor refuse to give in and continue to pound the inside of the plate.

Abreu piles on the drama as he steals second on a ball in the dirt. TBS flashes Rodriguez's April walk-off against the Tribe; a Yankee fan I'm watching the game with predicts a homerun by A-Rod, but I couldn't care less. Rodriguez is starting to get anxious as he chops at a ball heading towards the dirt. The count is loaded as Rodriguez fouls off his fourth pitch of the at-bat.

The Jacobs Field faithful have risen to their feet long ago. Victor sets up on the inside of the plate, once again. Fausto looks in, winds up and lets it fly. The ball starts over the plate, but makes a sudden break down and away; right where Rodriguez can't get it. The pitch glides into Victor's glove as Rodriguez walks toward the dugout. Beautiful.

Hafner's hit ended the game, but Carmona was really the one who won it, as the offense failed on multiple occasions tonight. It was clear early on that Carmona was going to have to be the one to carry the team tonight, as the offense suffered from a mix of bad luck and poor execution at the plate.

The Tribe's first late scoring opportunity came after Sizemore had led off the 6th inning with a triple. Rookie Asdrubal Cabrera grounded out and Hafner and Martinez struck out swinging to waste the opportunity. Other opportunities included Peralta's one-out double in the 7th and a bases loaded situation in the 8th. I really can't express how frustrating it was to watch these opportunities come and go, but I probably don't have to since a lot of Tribe fans felt the same way.

Wedge tried to compensate for the struggling offense by ordering four sacrifice bunts on the night. They were well-executed bunts, but I'm not sure I agree with the approach. Fortunately, I have more than just bitter hindsight to go on, as AstroCab's sac bunt in the 8th allowed Grady to score on a wild pitch to tie the game.

Raffy Perez pitched his fourth consecutive inning of no-hit, playoff baseball as he matched Mariano Rivera in extra innings, allowing Hafner to take advantage of the Tribe's second bases-loaded situation of the night. Hafner's hit ended the game, but Carmona was really the one who won it, as the offense failed on multiple occasions tonight.

Then of course, there were the bugs. Watching the 8th inning was like watching some kind of divine intervention play out at the Jake. It was as if Nature itself was rooting against the Yankees.

Joba's Kryptonite: Tiny Insects

Now, everyone seems to have an opinion on the bug infestation:

"According to crew chief Bruce Froemming, who spoke to a pool reporter after the game, stopping action because of the bugs never was under consideration." - article

"I would have probably pulled us off the field." - Roger Clemens

"The Yankees were acting like there were bullets flying around their heads, not gnats. I mean… this is the big leagues." - Ryan Garko

"It was no different than playing a game in a deluge. Cleveland's pitching was fabulous, but the Yankees must live with knowing that insects helped cause their defeat." - Tom Verducci

"They looked like small Pterodactyls. I don't know. They were there for a while and then they were gone." - Casey Blake

Personally, I think Casey's quote is the best.

I'm really surprised at Tom Verducci, as I normally have a lot of respect for his opinion on baseball matters. He is absolutely wrong in this case. First of all, both teams had to play in identical conditions. It's not like the gnats flew in for half an inning and left; they hung around through the bottom of the 9th, at least.

Second, a "deluge" is not the same as a swarm of gnats. A heavy rain affects the movement of the baseball, which is all that should matter short of something dangerous or physically impeding to the game. Chamberlain and Carmona pitched in the exact same conditions for the 8th. One could handle it, the other couldn't. Simple as that. The bugs weren't even capable of biting anyone, they were just a nuisance. People are acting as if the ump didn't allow time in case one flew into a player's eye (they allowed 10 minutes for bug repellent application, give me a break). Insects should not warrant a delay of game and apparently the crew chief agrees with me on this one.

Third, the idea that such an amazing game will be remembered by most fans as the bug game is absurd. Probably true, but absurd nonetheless. Am I paying way too much attention to this? Of course, but I thought it would be amusing to compare some of the various quotes on the matter. Oh, and Cleveland (not the gnats) won the game, which is also somewhat relevant.


Ryan Garko has a playoff blog up on the official team website. A lot of the content is typical fluff, but he does offer some interesting insight into pre-game preparation and what some of the players think about during the playoffs. Check it out here.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

ALDS Preview: Offense

You may be wondering what the point of discussing New York’s offense is at this point. Trying to compare another team to the current New York offense sounds like an exercise in futility, doesn’t it? If you’re trying to build a case for Cleveland having a better offense, then you’re definitely going nowhere fast. What I would like to do is compare the tools available to each team (power, speed, OBP) and see where each team stands per category. Cleveland may be outclassed overall, but that doesn’t mean they can’t exploit the weaknesses of the opposition to gain an edge. I also looked at how each offense handles certain pitching styles to see if any surprising trends showed up. Below are the season stats for each team:

G. Sizemore .290 33 24 .390 127
A. Cabrera .265 0 3 .354 107
T. Hafner .285 1 24 .385 123
V. Martinez .292 0 25 .374 133
R. Garko .279 0 21 .359 123
J. Peralta .260 4 21 .341 105
J. Michaels .243 3 7 .324 92
F. Gutierrez .262 8 13 .318 108
C. Blake .260 4 18 .339 106

K. Lofton .244 2 0 .344 91
T. Nixon .238 0 3 .342 82
J. Barfield .204 14 3 .270 58
C. Gomez .202 0 0 .278 60
K. Shoppach .257 0 7 .310 106

J. Damon .263 27 12 .351 101
D. Jeter .284 15 12 .452 126
B. Abreu .278 25 16 .369 119
A. Rodriguez .339 24 54 .422 183
J. Posada .322 2 20 .426 160
H. Matsui .285 4 25 .367 128
J. Giambi .269 1 14 .356 112
R. Cano .277 4 19 .353 124
M. Cabrera .248 13 8 .327 93

S. Duncan .282 0 7 .329 133
D. Mientkiewicz .266 0 5 .349 112
J. Molina .260 0 1 .333 107
W. Betemit .230 0 4 .278 84

Note: Click EqA and OPS+ for more info. All stats taken from BR and BP.

Yikes. To be honest, I didn’t picture the Tribe getting blown away in nearly every offensive category; that certainly makes my little speech above seem irrelevant. There it is in black and white though.

The only thing Cleveland has going for it (as far as a possible advantage) is the way their power is spread throughout the lineup. Five of their starting nine have at least 20 homeruns, with only two batters not reaching double digit taters. Cleveland’s power distribution has contributed to many of their come-from-behind victories this season and could re-emerge to steal a late playoff win. I take little comfort in this fact as I stare at three guys with a .420+ OBP and a 54 homer cleanup slot for New York.

One surprising part of New York’s offense is how much speed they have at the top. The Yanks have three players with 20+ SB and a fourth with 15. Tribe pitchers are going to have to buckle down and keep an eye on their baserunners; otherwise the speedy top of the Yanks’ lineup will be giving Victor fits all night. Cleveland’s SB totals don’t reflect a speed threat outside of Grady, but the potential for mobile havoc is there. Cabrera, Lofton, and Gutierrez all have base-stealing speed, while Michaels and Barfield offer extra speed off the bench for close and late situations.

As mentioned above, New York’s bread and butter are wearing down pitchers with long at bats and walks. New York is fourth in the AL in pitches per plate appearance (3.89) and walks (637) and first in OBP (.366). Not to be outdone, Cleveland is second in the AL in pitches per plate appearance, sixth in walks (590), and seventh in OBP (.343). With two patient offenses in the box it will be interesting to see how long of a leash starting pitchers get with their pitch counts. If the leash is short (100-110 pitches), the bullpen may end up playing an even bigger role for each team as starters grind out each at-bat. It would make sense to allow your more durable pitchers (think C.C. vs. Byrd) to go the extra mile in the playoffs though, so early bullpen appearances may not be so prevalent.

It would obviously be an uphill battle for Cleveland to out-slug New York in a shootout. With the above lineups intact, New York edges Cleveland in OPS+ 127.3 to 113.7. Just for fun, let’s remove one of the Yanks’ best player (Rodriguez) from the lineup: 120.3 OPS+ to Cleveland’s 113.7. Even without Rodriguez, New York has Cleveland smoked on offense (at least on paper).

I could talk about how the playoffs are a crapshoot (they kinda are) and how the Tribe’s momentum and underdog status could help them break through (arguable), but those aren’t things I would want to hang my hat on going into the playoffs. What we know for sure, is there are just too few holes and too many great hitters on New York for Cleveland to realistically expect to win with an offense-first strategy. What we also know, is that Cleveland is far from a one-dimensional team and boasts two aces to combat New York’s nine-headed monster. So there you have it: the bottom line for the ALDS is pitching versus hitting. That was probably the most mundane ALDS preview around, but it’s pretty blatant, especially after sifting through the stats for anything out of the ordinary.

On the Season Series

I wanted to wrap up my ALDS ramblings with a counter to all the fans and writers who incessantly use the Tribe’s 0-6 season record against New York as the basis for their arguments. Cleveland is a different team now than it was then, especially back in April during the first series. Two games consisted of Westbrook and Sowers getting shelled. Sowers is no longer with the team and Westbrook was possibly injured in April (he missed nearly a month from May-June). Game 3 of the April series saw Carmona surrender 2 ER over 6 IP; again, good enough to win if not for Borowski’s worst single game performance all season. All this happened in the third week of the season.

Fast forward to the September set: Travis Hafner is out of the lineup with an injury, Trot Nixon starts 2 of 3 games, and Barfield is still the starting second baseman. Which of these factors holds true today? Here’s a hint; it rhymes with De Niro. Cleveland was still mired in a horrible offensive slump with .723 OPS in August (season-low), which means they were unable to support the solid starts tossed by Carmona and Westbrook (7 IP 4 ER, each). Plus, where’s C.C. in all of this? Well, he hasn’t faced New York since 2004.

Are people really that quick to dismiss Cleveland in this series? What’s a more accurate assessment, 96 games or 6?

Pronk (.965 OPS in Sept.) is finally back to lead a resurgent offense into the playoffs in support of the Tribe’s outstanding pitching (3.27 ERA in Sept.). The team has gotten a shot in the arm from players like Jensen Lewis and Asdrubal Cabrera. Jake has also been one of the best pitchers in the AL leading up to the playoffs with a 1.90 ERA in August and a respectable 4.14 ERA in September. And again, Sabathia has not even faced New York this season.

The Tribe enters the playoffs with an enthusiasm and confidence that will be tough to overcome when fused with their enormous talent. If you want to keep shoving the season series in my face, go ahead. I’m already looking towards October.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

ALDS Preview: Pitching

96 versus 0-6: that’s what most of the shallow analysis surrounding the ALDS seems to stem from. I’ve heard Cleveland referred to as the “other team” multiple times, as if they aren’t even worthy to play the mighty Yanks. Six games do not define a team. It seems like other fans and the media always focus on certain points (especially that season series) when comparing New York and Cleveland, but many are just not represented accurately.

I keep hearing about New York’s overwhelming offense, veteran pitching, playoff experience, and that old Yankee mystique. Is Cleveland really the underdog here? Hometown bias aside, I just don’t buy the Tribe being outmatched here. To try and answer this question, I’ve broken down each team and re-examined aspects of the season series.

Starting Pitching

New York’s calling card this season has been its offense, but the pitching staff should not be overlooked. Fans tend to hype up the playoff experience of New York’s starting rotation, but their true ace, Wang, has seen only three seasons. The Yanks’ trio of Clemens, Pettite, and Mussina has playoff experience to spare, but are not as nearly as dominant as they once were. A rotation with those guys would be downright horrifying…three years ago. Whether or not these guys have enough left in the tank to significantly elevate their game for the postseason (quite possible) remains to be seen, but they are certainly mortal.

I don’t believe it’s been decided yet, but I think Mike Mussina will get the nod over Phil Hughes, so he’s included in the table. I’m basing this partly on the experience of Mussina and on the logic Joe Torre may use in managing his rookie phenom. Expect Hughes to fill in for long relief if Clemens or Mussina can’t make it deep into a game.

What I wanted to know was how the style of New York’s four starters was reflected in their season stats. I pulled some fancier stats this time to try and figure out how each pitcher would be attacking the Tribe. You can get a good sense of how each pitcher operates and where they’ve had success. I’ve also included Cleveland’s rotation as a more familiar benchmark for comparison.

Wang 199.3 2.75 4.91 1.29 2.36 4.9 2.8 .42 3.5
Clemens 99 3.29 5.17 1.31 1.27 6.3 2.9 .83 3.8
Pettitte 210.3 4.17 3.47 1.42 1.50 6.1 2.9 .61 3.7
Mussina 152 4.88 5.48 1.46 1.16 5.4 2.1 .82 3.7

Sabathia 241 3.13 3.32 1.14 1.28 8.3 1.5 .79 3.7
Carmona 215 3.36 2.73 1.20 2.88 6 2.7 .70 3.6
Westbrook 145.7 3.94 4.83 1.40 1.92 5.5 3.4 .81 3.8
Byrd 192.3 5.68 3.51 1.38 .87 4.1 1.3 1.25 3.4

Note: GO/FO = groundout / flyout ratio; P/PA = pitches per plate appearance. All stats taken from BR and THT.

How do the rotations stack up? I was a little surprised at how similar some of these numbers turned out to be. NY tends to walk batters more (2.67/G) than Cleveland (2.25), but this is not necessarily a big advantage if you remember how Byrd’s outings tend to go. Byrd may not walk many, but the number of hits and homeruns he surrenders make his walk totals somewhat deceiving. Cleveland also has more power in their rotation, striking out 5.97 per game, while NY strikes out 5.67 per game. Again, there’s a catch; Carmona and Westbrook strikeout their share of batters, but don’t need a high K rate to be successful. Carmona and Westbrook can stifle bats with the groundball and double-play just as effectively.

I realize data from a large, 162 game sample size may not translate well (if at all) into a condensed, five game series. Despite this, you can’t just ignore the ERA splits. I believe New York’s rotation will fall as Wang, Pettitte, Clemens, Mussina, which would nullify the ugly splits for Pettitte and Clemens. As the ace though, Wang could end up pitching in Games 1 and 5 (if necessary), which means his 4.91 road ERA could end up working against him. With Sabathia on the mound and his 3.13 home ERA, this should make for an intriguing match-up.

The thing that really puts Cleveland’s rotation a giant step ahead of New York’s is how their top two pitchers compare. Cleveland’s two aces (Sabathia and Carmona) are significantly better than New York’s (Wang and Clemens) no matter how you split it. It’s kind of obvious, but I believe the potential of facing Sabathia and Carmona four times in a five game series is huge. Granted, Sabathia would be throwing on three days rest in a potential Game 4, but if Cleveland has their backs against the wall such a gamble could be what turns the tide in their favor.

Filling out the rotations, Pettitte and Westbrook are comparable, but Pettitte definitely gets the edge on paper. Byrd wins the stat war with Mussina, but Mussina is an interesting case. Mussina’s problem of late has been consistency; he’ll throw a quality start one week and get burned the next. Considering the Tribe would only see Mussina once, he could be a wild card in that match-up. Not to say Byrd couldn’t pull a quality start out of his hat, but we tend to know what’s coming with Byrd; he’s been consistently average.

Overall, the rotations are a closer match then anticipated, but Cleveland’s 1-2 punch is just too much to handle in a short series.


I wasn’t sure how deep I should go into the bullpens given my limited knowledge of how NY actually manages theirs. What I do know are the questions facing each bullpen going into the playoffs.

How will each team deal with middle relief if a starter falters?

Cleveland has one good and one dominant arm in Jensen Lewis and Rafael Perez. Both are capable of going multiple innings in a pinch, with Perez splitting most of his time backing up Betancourt in the 7th and 8th innings. I don’t see Perez straying from the last three innings, so look for Lewis or even Fultz to take the 6th. Lewis essentially earned his playoff roster spot after posting a .69 ERA with 15 K in (*small sample size alert*) 13 IP. Cleveland’s long relief corp rounds out with Aaron Laffey, who should see most of his time in emergency relief where the starter can’t go 6 innings.

New York’s middle relief is a bit murky, but I’d bet money that Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes win the role on the playoff roster. Both are starters by trade and provide a strong safety net for the likes of Clemens and Mussina, neither of which is guaranteed to make it through five innings. Kennedy has just three starts (against sub-.500 teams), while Hughes sports a 2.73 ERA in 5 September starts. Despite the undefined roles of many of New York’s relievers, they have plenty of viable options in middle relief.

How will the kids handle the pressure of the playoffs?

This is the keystone for each bullpen, in my opinion. Raffy Perez and Joba Chamberlain have played crucial roles for their respective teams to this point. Both have experience pitching in tough situations and throw some of the nastiest stuff in either pen. Perez’s experience in these tough games significantly outnumbers Chamberlain’s, but the playoffs are a whole other degree of pressure to some guys. I honestly can’t say how either will react to pitching in the postseason, but it could end up as a decisive pitching match-up for the series.

What will Borowski do?

Save games, of course. Moving on…

That’s all for now, but I’ll check out the offense in Part II of my ALDS preview tomorrow.