Friday, October 30, 2009

Cliff Lee - Game 1

In the 1st inning, Cliff Lee struck out the first Yankee batter, Derek Jeter, on three pitches and proceeded to retire the side in order.

Things looked decent.

In the 4th inning, Lee struck out the side in order. The hitters were Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Jorge Posada. I sent a text to my dad, “Wow! that was Schillingesque.” He responded “indeed.” The Phils were up 1-0 at that point.

Things looked good.

In the 6th inning, Johnny Damon popped up weakly directly to the top of the mound. Lee yawned, flipped his glove open at his side and recorded the out. The Phils were up 2-0 at this point.

Things looked promising.

In the 8th inning, Robinson Cano sent a sharp one bouncer back up the middle and Lee stuck his glove behind his back, as if it were routine, snared the hot shot and threw Cano out at first. Jimmy Rollins gave Lee the “Are you kidding me look?” Lee responded with a wry smile. The Phils were up 4-0 at this point.

Things looked great!

I looked to my friend sitting next to me and gave him a fist bump.

“No way we are losing this game I said,” finally confident enough to say it out loud. He agreed.

To quote Jack Nicholson, “What if this is as good as it gets?”

If you ask anyone who watched the first game of the 2009 World Series last night that question about Lee’s performance, the answer would be an emphatic “YES!”

CC Sabbathia may have had all the hype entering the game, but Cliff Lee and Chase Utley stole the Yankees' thunder. Sabbathia battled early and often during game one and it was a testament to how good he is that he only gave up two runs in seven innings. He clearly did not have his best stuff, and usually against the Phillies when pitchers do not have their best stuff, it means an early exit and more than a two run deficit. Sabbathia had trouble locating his fastball, and Chase Utley made him pay for it. Twice.

Utley sent a fly ball into the seats on the ninth pitch of his epic second at bat of the night. This ball may have been an out in a lot of parks around the Majors but not at the new Yankee stadium, and it was good enough to give the Phils a 1-0 lead.

In the 6th inning, still clinging to the same one run lead, Utley fell behind in the count 0-2 and Sabathia made a mistake. He missed his spot and sent a 95 MPH fastball right down the middle and for the second time in two at-bats, Sabathia pivoted on his right foot and spun around to watch a laser beam from Utley fly deep into the right field seats. 2-0 Phillies.

The way Cliff Lee was dealing, two runs looked like it was going to be more than enough to hold up and it did. The Phils were able to add some insurance runs, two in the 8th and two in the 9th, on clutch hits from Raul Ibanez and the Big Man Ryan Howard. This cushion allowed Charlie Manuel to keep Lee in to finish what he started, a masterpiece.

Two interesting tidbits from this game.

1. On the radio show “Mike and Mike” this morning one of ESPN’s top baseball analysts, Tim Kurkjian, was asked what World Series performance he would compare Cliff Lee’s to last night. He did not mention Josh Beckett’s game six brilliance against the Yankees that clinched the 2003 World Series for the Marlins. He did not mention the 2-0 complete game shut out Curt Schilling threw in 1993 for these Phillies against the Blue Jays. He harkened all the way back to 1968 when Bob “Hoot” Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals struck out 17 Detroit Tigers en route to a 4-0 victory. Any time your name gets mentioned in the same breath as a legendary dominator like Bob Gibson, you know you have witnessed something special.

2. When Chase Utley hit his first home run of the evening it was the first homer CC Sabbathia gave up to a left handed batter all season at Yankee Stadium! Obviously, it did not take long for Utley to take Sabbathia deep again becoming just the second left handed batter to hit two home runs in one World Series game off left handed pitching. The other. Oh that was a George Herman “Babe” Ruth. “That is not bad company to be in,” Utley said after the game.

“What if this is as good as it gets?”

Hopefully it will only get better for the defending champs, but this one sure was sweet and it will be savored by Phillies fans for years to come.

Monday, October 26, 2009

World Series Preview

2 Balls No Strikes – A Hitter’s Count

World Series Preview

The New York Yankees won their 40th pennant yesterday evening over the Anaheim Angels. 40. Let that sink in. 40. Wow! That is intense! It is also the consummate Yankee, Derek Jeter’s, 7th pennant (96, 98, 99, 00, 01, 03, and now 09). Note, this is Alex Rodriguez’s first EVER pennant. Rodriguez signed a massive 10-year $252 million contract with his former team the Teaxs Rangers, but finished in last place all three years he played for the team. He joined the Yankees in 2004 and they failed to reach the World Series for five straight years with him in the lineup after they had reached it six times in the previous eight years. Another note, two years ago Rodriguez opted out of his contract in an effort to re-work his deal and make more money. I guess $25 million a year and not winning Championships was not good enough for A-Rod or the Yankees. Rodriguez was on the books for $33 million this year, I guess they finally got it right? The last two pennants the Yankees won did not end in a World Series championship, and Charlie Manuel and the Broad Street Bombing Philadelphia Phillies will look to continue that trend.

It is clear that the best team from the American League and National League will be representing their respective leagues in the annual Fall Classic. The Yankees were the best team in Major League Baseball for the whole season and the Phils are the defending Champions. It is one thing to spend a quarter billion on the likes of CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, and Mark Teixeira over the offseason, but it is certainly another thing for them to come out and perform the way they have. The Yankees should be happy with their investments at this point, but they will not be satisfied without a Championship. Burnett has come through more often than not, but is not quite as reliable as they would like him to be. Sabathia and Teixeira on the other hand, are both in the top 3 for the Cy Young and MVP races. They should be lauded for their first season in the biggest media market in the world. They have earned their pinstripes.

Since this is a World Series Preview edition of the blog, I am not going to spend a lot of time on last night’s game between the Angels and Yankees. One point, however, needs to addressed. The Yankees held a 3-1 advantage entering the top half of the eighth inning last night. Who did Yankee manager Joe Girardi turn to in this situation? Would he keep Joba Chamberlain in the game after he got the last two outs of the 7th? Would he turn to Phil Hughes who was terrific in the regular season but shaky at best so far in the postseason? The answer was “no” to the first two possibilities. Girardi went to the best closer Major League Baseball has ever seen in the postseason for the final six outs of game 6. Mariano Rivera delivered, like he always does, but that was not to say he was lights out. He gave up one run in the eighth, but the Yankees avoided any drama in the ninth by calling Geico for two insurance runs in the bottom half of the eighth. In fifteen minutes they saved themselves any chance of a late rally by the Angels. By going to Rivera in the eighth Girardi let it be known that he did not trust his middle relievers with the Pennant on the line. This could be a developing situation…

Without further ado –

Phillies Starting Pitching vs. Yankees Starting Pitching

Slight Advantage – Yankees

Let’s start this argument by saying how bad it must feel to be a Cleveland Indians fan. The 2007 and 2008 American League Cy Young winners played for the Cleveland Indians. CC Sabathia won it in 07 and Cliff Lee is the reigning American League winner. Unfortunately, Cleveland has been strapped for cash and needed to get rid of these two southpaws in an attempt to keep their ballclub afloat. These two will square off in game one at New Yankee Stadium Wednesday night in what looks to be a possible pitcher's duel in a series that will almost certainly be a slugfest. If you look up dominant in the dictionary they recently added pictures of Sabathia and Lee to better describe the word. Their numbers thus far in the postseason are staggering. Sabathia is 3-0 in 3 games started. He has pitched 22 2/3 innings while allowing 4 runs (3 earned), ate 2 Whoppers a day, struck out 20, and walked 3, which gives him a 1.17 ERA. Not to be outdone, Cliff Lee is 2-0 in 3 games started while pitching 24 1/3 innings, allowing 4 runs (2 earned), looking somewhat disinterested while on the mound, striking out 20 and walking 3, which gives him a paltry ERA of 0.74. Needless to say, Sabathia, despite his weight, and Lee, despite his lack of visible emotion, are earning their paychecks.

*Both starters are left handed and the Phils have two other possible left handed starters. The Yanks have one. Both the Phils and Yanks have records well above .500 against left-handed pitching so that angle is left moot in the World Series, especially with how Ryan Howard has seemingly turned it around against lefties through the first two rounds.

The game one matchup looks to be even, but after that the matchups are almost a toss-up. The edge has to be given to the Yankees because of Andy Pettitte’s pedigree. The guy just gets it done in the postseason. Last night he broke the records for most wins all time in the postseason (16) and most wins in a clinching game in the postseason (5). It makes it easier to set these records when you play with a team like the Yankees, but I am by no means saying what Pettitte has done has been easy. The guy is clutch, and the Phillies will have to deal with that.

Speaking of clutch, Cole Hamels certainly was in the 2008 postseason. He has basically been the exact opposite of that in 2009. Hamels looks to be the most important pitcher in this series. Out of all the other possible starters for either team, Pettitte, Burnett (the Yankees have shown thus far that they are comfortable enough with a 3 man rotation), Pedro Martinez, Jay Happ, and Joe Blanton, Hamels has the best stuff and it is not even close. What Hamels does not have right now, is the head game to win at this level. He gets rattled too easily, and it is visible when he is on the mound. He gets rattled by umpires, he gets rattled by shoddy defense behind him, he gets rattled when he gives up a long ball (which he has been prone to do). If Hamels can match Pettitte or outpitch him the Phils could have the advantage of starting pitching in this series, but sadly Hamels has shown no signs that he will do that in his three sub-par starts in the 2009 postseason. Pedro Martinez (game two of the NLCS) has shown that he is still wily and capable of spinning some magic from his slight frame, but another seven inning, zero earned run performance from Pedro is less than likely. The rest of the starters will basically be looking to keep their teams in the game and give the bats a chance in the later innings.

Speaking of the later innings…

Philadelphia Phillies Bullpen vs. New York Yankees Bullpen

Advantage Yankees

If this blog was being written before the postseason the status of this argument would be HUGE ADVANTAGE YANKEES!!!! But the postseason has been kind to the Phillies bullpen, and the Yanks have shown a chink or two in their armor. Nevertheless, with Mariano Rivera on their side, the nod has to go the Yankees.

The Yankees two main set-up guys are Chamberlain and Hughes, whom Girardi decided not to have pitch the eighth inning of a tight game Sunday night. Hughes has been less than solid in six games, he has a 5.79 ERA in 4 2/3 postseason innings. Chamberlain’s ERA in the postseason is under three, but he has had to work out of trouble quite a bit. His WHIP (Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched) is 2.10 and he has not given up a walk in 3 1/3 innings which means he is prone to give up base hits. If these two can hold leads, the Phillies will more than likely not win this series. Mariano Rivera enjoys slamming the door on teams and he has made a first ballot Hall-of-Fame career out of doing it. One thing the Yankees lack is situational left handers. Most teams have brought in lefties to face the back-to-back duo of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard to neutralize their abilities, but the Yankees do not have the lefties that the Dodgers boasted. Of course, the Phillies left handed batters did not seem to have much trouble against the Dodgers lefty specialists so maybe situational lefties are overrated?

The story of the Phillies bullpen has been the re-emergence of Brad Lidge as a reliable closer. Lidge has given up one hit and three walks in four innings of shutout baseball. He has saved three of the Phillies wins and got the win in game four of the NLCS. Chad Durbin has been the Phils most reliable middle reliever, appearing in four games and pitching four scoreless innings. Ryan Madson and Chan Ho Park who have not been consistent, but have shown some dominant stuff are more likely to see work than Durbin, however. Scott Eyre is the likely lefty the Phils will turn to if needed. Charlie Manuel has also shown a penchant for bringing in starters for bullpen help as both Joe Blanton and Jay Happ have made appearances out of the ‘pen. Manuel is basically managing the bullpen on gut instincts rather than going with a set rotation. If Lidge can continue to be confident the Phils should be feeling better now heading into the World Series compared to the end of the season heading into their first round matchup against Colorado.

Philadelphia Phillies Hitters vs. New York Yankees Hitters

Advantage – Even

What can I say about the offenses in the World Series this year? Let me think. They hit the long ball about as well as any teams ever have. Top to bottom of each lineup, every hitter is a threat to hit the ball out of the ballpark at any time. Every Phillie, except for Jimmy Rollins (who hit 21 in the regular season), has a home run in the first nine games of the postseason. Jayson Werth leads the team with five. Ryan Howard has not been hitting the long ball as much (two home runs) but he has been doing everything else. He has four doubles, one triple, and 14 RBIs including a postseason record tying RBI in each of the first eight games this year (Howard and Alex Rodriguez both tied Lou Gherig's record for RBIs in consecutive games this year). His play was good enough for him to earn his first NLCS MVP award. Howard, along with Werth, Shane Victorino, and hot-hitting catcher Carlos Ruiz all have an OPS (slugging percentage + on base percentage) of over 1000. To put this in perspective, only Prince Fielder, Joe Mauer, and Albert Pujols had an OPS over 1000 this season. The Yankees pitching staff will also have to handle the likes of Utley and Raul Ibanez who has nine rbis through nine games.

Despite the Phillies’ successes they still do not boast the hottest player in all the land, and that would be the aforementioned Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez has belted game tying home runs in the 9th and 11th innings so far this postseason to go along with three other home runs for a total of five. A-Rod is hitting .438 and slugging almost over 1000. His OPS is a remarkable 1516. The Yanks have a few other guys who can hit as well. Their leader and captain Derek Jeter is hitting .297 but has drawn nine walks and has an on base percentage of .438. Jeter and Jimmy Rollins play similar roles in jumpstarting their team’s offenses. They can do this by setting the table or hitting the long ball. Mark Teixeira has struggled in the postseason but is still a serious threat considering he led the AL in both home runs and RBIs. Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Jorge Posada are all playoff veterans who are not strangers to pressure packed situations.

Keys to the Series

In order for the Phillies to win this series several things must happen. First things first. The bullpen needs to remain steady and hold leads. Holding leads is the most important thing for the Phils to do. The Yankee hitters are patient and know how to work counts. If starters do not get into grooves and get outs, they will not make it much past the 5th inning and the bullpen will come into play quickly. If relievers come into games in which they are trailing, it will be very important for them to keep the Yankees from piling on because as we have seen from the prior two series, the Phillies are not out of a game until the 27th out is recorded. Another important situation for the Phils lies on the narrow shoulders of Cole Hamels. If Hamels can couple with Cliff Lee in shutting down the Yankee’s potent bats, the Phils should be able to win three of four of their starts and possibly squeeze out a win when one of their other pitchers makes a start. Lastly, the most important thing on offense the Phillies must do is be patient and protect Ryan Howard. Howard is the key to the entire Phillies offense. He can carry them through this series if he sees pitches he can hit. He is locked in and is not going to miss if the Yankees must pitch to him. Rollins and Victorino need to work counts and make the Yankees; starters labor early in games. Chase Utley generally has good plate discipline but he did not hit very well in the NLCS. Howard absolutely MUST have people on base when he gets up so that Yankee pitchers have nowhere to put him on base. This process has two parts to it, and Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez do not have as important a job as the top three hitters in the lineup, but it is close. If Werth and Ibanez continue to work counts, which they did a great job of in the first two series averaging 4.8 and 4.2 pitches per plate appearance respectively, and get big hits the pitchers will be forced to throw Howard fastballs over the plate. If you watched Ryan Howard in the NLDS or NLCS and you are a Yankees fan you better hope Yankee pitchers are not leaving balls over the plate to the Big Man. The first inning of each game will be a good test for the Phils. Howard needs to have plate appearances in the first inning because that will guarantee him to have people on base while he is batting and enable to have a better chance at getting an early lead.

There is no way to predict how this World Series will go, but speculating sure can be fun. Either way we should be in for one hell of a series based on how the first two rounds played out.

The Hitter’s Counts Prediction for the 2009 World Series:

Phillies in 7

Sunday, October 25, 2009

2 Balls No Strikes

2 Balls No Strikes – A Hitter’s Count

Editor’s Note – this article is being written during game 5 of the ALCS but is assuming that the Yankees will win the pennant.

If an average Philadelphia baseball fan took a quick glance at the pitching stats of Cole Hamels in this year’s NLCS he or she would be hard pressed to believe that the Philadelphia Phillies dominated the Los Angeles Dodgers for the second year in a row. He or she would find it hard to believe that they only lost one game and took the pennant in 5 games for the second year in a row. Hamels started two games for the fightins in the series, game one and the clinching game five. His stats were less than pedestrian: 9 2/3 innings pitched, 7 earned runs allowed, and a whopping 5 home runs allowed, which translates to 6.52 ERA.

That same average fan probably knows that Hamels was untouchable in the Phils magical run to their first World Series title in 28 years during last year’s playoffs. Conventional wisdom would lead this fan to think that the Phils struggled and found it difficult to compete with the Dodgers (since their starter laid an egg in two of the five games), the best team in the NL during the regular season. The fan would think that if the Dodgers roughed up Hamels that the Phils would lose the games he started because the Dodgers boasted the NL’s lowest ERA (3.41) and lowest batting average against (.233) during the regular season. But the postseason is not the regular season, and the Phillies were not intimidated in the least. In fact, Philadelphia won both games Hamels started in the series despite his troubles.

These Philadelphia Phillies have continuously thrown conventional wisdom out the window (ask Dodger’s closer Jonathan Broxton). Sure Hamels gave up a first inning home run to Andre Eithier that put the Phils in an early hole in game five. (On a 1-2 count no less. Hamels, as well as other Phillies’ pitchers, too often make mistakes over the center of the plate when they are up in the count.) Nevertheless, in the bottom half of the inning the slug fest that can be described as the Phillies offense continued. Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino failed to reach base, but Chase Utley and Ryan Howard drew back to back walks and Dodgers starter Vicente Padilla seemed a bit rattled as he ran a 3-0 count to Jayson Werth. Padilla fought back and worked the count full, but that is when Werth took over and launched a fly ball deep to right field several rows into the stands. 3-1 Phillies.

Despite Hamels struggles, he failed to complete the fifth inning; the Phils never looked back in game five. They hit three more home runs, one from Pedro Feliz, one from Shane Victorino, and another from Werth for good measure. Playoff baseball is supposed to be won by dominant pitching but the Phils have their own special brand of dominant batting that has allowed them to advance to the World Series for the second year in a row.



The first number is the amount of home runs the Yankees hit during the regular season. Tops in the majors. The second number is the amount of home runs the Phillies hit. Tops in the National League and tied for second in the majors with the Texas Rangers. There is no doubt that starting pitching and bullpen pitching will have a profound affect on the World Series this year, but this most likely will not be a Series where the losing team fails to score more than one run in five of the seven games like the 1968 World Series between St. Louis and Detroit. Sure CC Sabbathia and Cliff Lee have shut down stuff, but lineups like the ones the Phillies and the Yankees are not easily shut down. The Yankees have seven starters who hit 20 or more home runs. The Phillies have four straight batters in their lineup who had more than 30 home runs. Both of these are firsts for these clubs. Any time that teams like the Phillies and Yankees (who have been around for over 100 years) do something for the first time, you know it is special.

Experts and baseball pundits always insist that pitching wins championships, but maybe this year home runs will be the deciding factor.

Good luck to the pitchers in this year’s World Series they’re gonna need it.

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