Thursday, October 29, 2009

Turned into Philets

That was the Yanks last night -- turned into witnesses to their own execution by Cliff Lee. I said the Phils have a starting staff comprised of Tom Glavines and Lee looked like either the 1995 WS Game 6 version, the 1991 Cy Young Award winner, the 1998 CYA winner or the 1992 version who led the NL in shutouts. Lee neutered everyone in the Yankees' lineup not named Jeter -- 10 Ks, three of A-Rod and two of Tex (who had hit Lee well in the past). I watched the whole game in about 45 minutes on DVR -- once I saw how Lee mowed down the Yanks in the first, I said to myself: "Self, this is going to be a long game for the Yanks."

By contrast, CC looked awful -- he struggled with location all night, walked three and rolled up a stack of 3-ball counts. It's actually a testament to his skills and pitching prowess that he only allowed two runs over seven innings -- a short homer by Utley and a bomb by Utley. But Lee made 1-0 and 2-0 leads look more like the 6-1 final than the narrow margins they were. Overall, a Yanks' loss in Game 1 of the WS that is half as bad as the beating they took from the Braves in '96 (6-1, no ER against Lee compared to 12-1, one ER off Smoltz).

Some notes:

(1) The physics conundrum of what happens when the irresistible force meets the immovable object is easily solved in sports: the immovable object ALWAYS wins. John Smoltz told the Great Verducci that the Phils should consider just throwing waves of pitchers at the Yanks because the Yanks work over starters so well that by the third time through the lineup, the Yanks will crush the ball off the weakened pitcher. Nice theory. But the fact remains that good pitching ALWAYS tops good hitting. The Angels were the second-highest scoring team in baseball and Sabathia turned them into AA players. The Rox are one of two NL teams with an AL-quality lineup, and Lee made them into a collection of 35th round draft picks. Remember the 2006 playoffs when the Yanks were supposed to shell the Tigers and bang their way to a title? I try not to. Remember the '95 Indians who won 100 of 144 games that season? After the Braves' pitchers throttled them in the Series, no one else does either.

This works in every major sport except basketball, which is the only sport where good offense beats good defense because, ultimately, the defender cannot prevent a shot where the ball is about to fall in the basket from scoring. In hockey, middling teams frequently make deep playoff runs thanks to a hot goaltender (Giguere for the Ducks, Brodeur for the '95 Devils). In football, there are legends told about defenses like the '85 Bears, '00 Ravens and '08 Steelers. In baseball, one man has more control over the outcome of the game than any other player -- the starting pitcher. Even in soccer, this rule works -- just ask the Italian World Cup champions who allowed NO goals by an opponent in the run of play (the team allowed two goals in the tournament -- an own goal credited to the US, and a penalty kick scored by the French).

(2) The Yanks' bullpen is awful. They have two pitchers not named Rivera who don't suck right now: Marte and Robertson. The former has set down the last six hitters he's faced (all lefties) and the latter is a rally-killer with men on base. Robertson had an outlandish strikeout rate (63 in 43 IP) and seems to thrive in dire situations; Hughes, Bruney and Aceves have only created dire situations. The key to the series for the Yanks is to preserve a lead through seven innings and have Rivera pitch two, period. The only exception -- none or one out in the eighth and Howard up, then Joey G. can use Marte.

(3) I'm already sick of hearing about the Phillies' dynasty. They won ONE f**king World Series last year and are three wins away. Until and unless they get those three wins, they're not even a burgeoning dynasty (a dynasty really requires more than just back-to-back wins -- discuss the concept when the team wins three in a row or at least three in four years, otherwise it's just defining dynasty down).

This morning, Colin Cowherd was prattling on about how the Phils are 19-5 in the last two years in the playoffs. BFD. Through game 2 of the '96 World Series, the Braves were 20-6 in the '95 and '96 playoffs and had won their last five games by a combined score of 48-2 against the next-best team in the NL and the AL champs! Four days later, the Braves were 20-10 and watching Wade Boggs ride a police horse around a celebrating Yankee Stadium. In 1998-99, the Yanks were 22-3 in the playoffs with two World Series sweeps in a row. Even with the 2000 championship run, the Yanks were 33-8 over those three years -- that's a whole lot better than 19-5. Oh yeah, the Phils won't have Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Denny Neagle (before he sucked) on the mound in the next three games like the 1996 Braves did.

(4) If momentum is only as good as tomorrow's starting pitcher, I'd feel better about the Yanks' momentum today with Pettitte than with Burnett. In 2003, the Yanks lost game 1 of each series and put Pettitte on the bump in game 2 each time. Results for Pettitte: 3-0, 22.1 IP, 3 ER, 22K in the Yanks' 4-1, 6-2 and 6-1 wins. The Phils banged around Burnett in May, but that was before AJ started pitching well in June and July. He's been on another upswing from late September to present.

From the past performance does not necessarily predict future results file: In '99, the Braves crushed Clemens and El Duque in the Bronx during the regular season (Duque gave up 4 homers in 4.1 innings!) and caused Mo's fourth blown save of the season (he then saved 28 of his next 28 opportunities, including six-for-six in the playoffs, and dropped his ERA from 3.22 to 1.83 [and 0.00 in the playoffs]); in the WS, Clemens and Duque allowed 2 ER and 5 hits combined in 14.1 IP, and Mo cut through the Braves' lineup like little leaguers in winning the MVP.

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