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.

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