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?

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