Friday, October 23, 2009

Disaster or delay -- the ALCS game 5 honk

The Yanks failed last night, and Joel Sherman makes the best possible case that Girardi blew yet another game in the ALCS: nine outs away from their 40th pennant with a rested bullpen and a clean slate to start the bottom of the 7th, Girardi could have gone to Hughes and Rivera for nine outs with no problem and did not. On further review, although I said last night that I thought Girardi was right to give Burnett the ball in the 7th after only 80 pitches or so, I see Sherman's point -- it was lockdown time and the Yanks failed to lock down the Angels.

Or did they? Buster Olney's blog entry on the game (behind a subscription wall) makes a credible case regarding how good Burnett was in innings 2-6 -- 20 batters, 17 retired (one DP), 70% first-pitch strikes (59% is average), and 80% of batters with two strikes made outs (72% average). Why not think he could continue that?

And Hughes has been erratic, at best, in the postseason (see below). Maybe he gives up two bloops and a blast and we're at 7-6 anyway. The only sure thing in the Yankees' 'pen is Rivera. Contrast that with the previously erratic Phillies, who have Madsen, Happ, Eyre and Park pitching well in getting 6-7 outs before the rejuvenated Lidge.

This is how teams lose pennants. Tom Verducci makes the point that of the last 12 times the Yanks have been nine outs or fewer from victory in the playoffs, they've lost four games including THREE in which they could have closed out a pennant. Not good. And if the team loses game 6, winning game 7 may prove pyrrhic. The Yanks' postseason rotation is built upon the NEED for Sabathia to pitch three times in a seven-game series and do so on short rest. If the Yanks win in 7, they start the Series in New York Wednesday. If tomorrow's game is rained out and the Yanks win in 6 or 7, they start the Series Wednesday. That means Sabathia in game 2 on short rest or Pettitte, and possibly a four-man rotation for the Series. If Pettitte pitches well in the close-out game and the Yanks win tomorrow, it's the all-Indians reunion of Lee-Sabathia on Wednesday.

Then again, as important as the rotation is to the Yanks, the matchups are not that crucial -- Lee is the Phillies' ace right now, but the other three starters (Hamels, Pedro, Blanton) are essentially interchangeable because Hamels is not his 2008 self.

Some other failures from yesterday:

(1) Nick Swisher is terrible at the plate now. He has no clue. Credit him for a great play on a potential sac fly in the 8th -- he charged the fly ball and immediately threw home with accuracy, keeping the speedy Reggie Willets at third and the game a 7-6 deficit.

(2) The first batter to face Joba in his relief appearances has doubled more often than made an out. This is relief? Joba has allowed 7 hits in 2.2 IP -- that's about 25 per 9 IP. Hughes has allowed 9 hits and 2 walks in 4.2 IP for a 2.36 WHIP. These are Tom Gordon 2004 numbers. They're also Exhibit 1 as to why Rivera must pitch the 8th AND the 9th for any saves in the rest of the playoffs. The only relievers not named Rivera doing their jobs are (shock) Damaso Marte and Dave Robertson.

(3) Mike Scioscia had a bad game. First, he yanked his ace with bases loaded and two outs and a 4-0 lead. Lackey is the best pitcher the Angels have, keep him in. First pitch from Darren Oliver to Teixeira = three-run double. A walk, single, triple followed and it's 6-4 Yankees. Second, he bunted with Figgins against Marte with runners at first and second and none out in the 7th. Figgins is too fast to get doubled up on a grounder, even as a righty. He makes decent contact. He walks alot. Why give up the out? The tactic only worked because Hughes failed.

(4) Whoever made the call to throw Vlady Guerrero a fastball in the 7th owns the loss. Hughes threw five pitches to Torii Hunter when he came into the game -- four fastballs for balls and a slider for a 3-0 strike. Hughes missed on his first pitch (fastball) to Guerrero and got strikes on a slider and curve. With Guerrero set up at 1-2 and two on, Hughes shook off two signs and Posada set up for a high fastball. WHY? Hughes couldn't hit the target with his fastball all night, if he misses up, Guerrero could create a three-run souvenir. Hughes could spot the slider and curve and Guerrero will swing at anything. Sure enough, Hughes misses the target low, Guerrero smacks a single, tie game. And a 2-0 fastball to Morales = Angels 7-6.

And now, two more days of hearing all the 2004 ALCS nightmares revisited and the press wondering if the disaster will hit again. It's possible. In '04, Jon Leiber pitched very well except for a fluky opposite-foul-line homer by Bellhorn in game 6, and the Yanks lost. And as cliche as it seems, anything can happen in a game 7.

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