Monday, October 01, 2007

Bring It On

0-6. 6-0.
No matter how the record appears for the Tribe in their games against the Yankees in 2007, it doesn’t look any better for the Indians. But this Thursday, as the Second Season starts with the ALDS, the two teams again sit at 0-0 and, while the 6 games between the two teams shouldn’t simply be ignored or forgotten (Lord knows I’ve tried), they should be taken as part of the overall equation, along with the much larger (and much more reliable) sample size of a 162 game season as well as the performances of the teams and the players over the last month of the season.

If baseball truly is a game of momentum and streaks, as players and teams are as inexplicably likely to get scorching hot as they are to go ice cold, the recent track record of the players, the pitchers in particular, are worth a very close look to determine what players are entering the ALDS on the upswing versus those starting Thursday’s game with some unwanted baggage on board. Those numbers may actually be more pertinent to what can be expected for the playoff series.

From a broad sense, looking at the teams overall record, that “Dark Horse” Tribe team finished with a 96-66 record, while the Yankees finished the year just a tick below at 94-68. But the early season troubles of the Bombers has been well-documented (oh, you’re just hearing of this now?), so the way that the two teams finished the regular seasons would serve as a better indicator as to how the two teams enter the playoffs.
Indians in September: 19-9
Yankees in September: 19-8

How the teams achieved those hot streaks to finish the season strong may tell the story of the series as the Yankees rode an unbelievably hot offense (to the tune of 6.6 runs per game in September, with 23 more runs than the team with the 2nd most runs in the AL) while the Tribe relied on their sterling pitching (3.27 staff ERA in September to lead the AL by nearly a full half of a run) to put these two teams where they are this week – staring straight into each other’s eyes, both thinking that THEY have the momentum and the necessary firepower to whisk into the ALCS.

Irresistible Force (NYY offense), meet Immovable Object (CLE pitching).

With both teams are riding hot streaks collectively, though with a different equation, let’s start by looking at the most important players in each game (the starting pitcher who carries the onus of putting his team on his back and carrying them to a victory when given the ball) and how they stack up against each other.
I’m only going as far as the Game 3 starters as there is no guarantee for Game 4 starters, with many factors in play as to who would get the Game 4 nod for each team.
Game 1
2007 stats: 19-7, 3.21 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 241 IP, 209 K, 37 BB
2007 vs. Yankees: N/A
2007 September: 4-0, 2.37 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 38 IP, 33 K, 6 BB

2007 stats: 19-7, 3.70 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 199 1/3 IP, 104 K, 59 BB
2007 vs. Indians: N/A
2007 September: 3-1, 3.27 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 33 IP, 18 K, 14 BB

While Wang’s overall numbers compare favorably to those of the Crooked Cap’s at a glance, C.C.’s September and the wave that he’s riding right now almost put the idea that Sabathia could throw his way right through any lineup, this slate of All Stars included. Take into consideration that the Hefty Lefty has, by his own admission, been waiting to be “The Man” and “The Ace” of the staff for a game like this and the Indians have to be excited about any match-up that includes C.C.

Wang is an extreme groundball pitcher who lives on DP balls (his 32 for the season tie him for the AL lead with Carmona) and good infield defense, so the Indians will look to find the holes and go station to station on Wang, who has given up only 9 HR during the course of the 2007 season (the fewest of any AL pitcher throwing more than 160 innings). With Wang’s sinker (much like with Westbrook’s), it will become apparent fairly early in the game how his sinker is dropping, if the hitters are topping it, and what can be expected. Small ball and working the count will be the modus operandi for the Tribe as try to string together hits, hopefully in the gaps, to get to Wang. If the Tribe hitters, most of whom will be getting their first taste of the postseason, get aggressive and swing early and often at Wang’s offerings, they could play right into his game and find themselves frustrated and scoreless in a hurry.

Game 2
2007 stats: 19-8, 3.06 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 215 IP, 137 K, 61 BB
2007 vs. Yankees: 0-1, 4.15 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 13 IP, 4 K, 2 BB
2007 September: 5-0, 1.78 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 35 1/3 IP, 27 K, 9 BB

2007 stats: 15-9, 4.05 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 215 1/3 IP, 141 K, 69 BB
2007 vs. Indians: 1-0, 2.45 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 6 IP, 4 K, 2 BB
2007 September: 3-2, 5.86 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, 35 1/3 IP, 21 K, 12 BB

In Carmona’s Game 2 start, the Indians get the type of pitcher that most teams dream about to lead off a series. The fact that the Indians have the luxury of having him toe the rubber for Game 2 speaks to the depth of excellence at the top of the Tribe rotation. The Faustastic One has, arguably, the best pitching arsenal in the AL, now throwing secondary pitches to complement his nasty sinking fastball that RH hitters (and really all hitters) find so difficult to hit. While there’s no question as to how nasty Carmona’s pitching can be, his emotions and how he reacts to the bright lights of playoffs will remain the Wild Card. In 2007, Carmona has found a way to control his emotions (that greased his 2006 descent as a closer) when in tight spots or when thrust upon the national stage (his 1-0 win against Beckett being a great example), but this is new territory for Fausto and it will be a great test of his maturation and composure, with Victor’s help to “slow the game down”, to allow his pitches do what they do…efficiently dominate his opposition.

Whereas Carmona is trying to translate his wildly successful recent performances on a new stage, Pettitte will be trying to come back from his recent struggles (particularly his last outing of 2007, giving up 8 ER over 5 IP to the Orioles) in an environment that he has always thrived. The Yankees’ re-signing of Pettitte this off-season (for $16M) was done with this situation explicitly in mind as Pettitte has proven himself to be a “big-game” pitcher, compiling an 18-6 record over 34 postseason starts. Ironically, two of his worst two postseason series came against the Tribe in the 1997 ALDS (0-2, 8.49 ERA) and the 1998 ALCS (0-1, 11.57 ERA), so it’s not as if Pettitte has owned the Tribe in the postseason.

Game 3
2007 stats: 6-9, 4.32 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 152 IP, 93 K, 55 BB
2007 vs. Yankees: 0-2, 12.46 ERA, 2.42 WHIP, 8 2/3 IP, 3 K, 4 BB
2007 September: 1-2, 4.14 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 37 IP, 31 K, 14 BB

2007 stats: 6-6, 4.18 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 99 IP, 68 K, 31 BB
2007 vs. Indians: N/A
2007 September: 0-1, 4.50 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 10 IP, 6 K, 4 BB

Westbrook has always found his greatest success when his sinker is inducing ground ball outs and when he’s getting the low strike called. But, tantamount to Jake’s success is when the opposition becomes aggressive, swinging early in the count, topping the ball and limiting his pitch count, extending the amount of innings that he throws. The Yankees, unfortunately for Jake, are not that type of team. They are a patient group of hitters, happy to wait for the mistake of the “sinker that doesn’t sink” or wait to see where the umpire’s strike zone settles (that is, if Jake’s getting the low strike). This is not a great equation for success for the Tribe, as witnessed by Westbrook’s two starts against the Yankees this season. In a best case scenario, Westbrook gets the low strike call, keeps the ball down and sinking, and keeps the Yankees at bay over 6 innings or so, when he can turn it over to the bullpen. However, if Jake starts walking people or that ball starts crossing the plate above the hitter’s waist, Laffey (yes, Laffey…I’ve turned the corner on him and think that his puppy dog eyes belie a toughness and an unflappability that could play well in the postseason), who also lives by the groundball out, though by different means, may see some action in the Bronx Zoo.

While the name certainly carries some weight to see “The Rocket” stride to the mound, the pitcher no longer does. Clemens is a 45-year-old pitcher who made two starts in the month of September to rest up for the playoffs. He went home to Texas to rest or “take his vitamins” or do whatever he does to stay sharp while remaining inexplicably above suspicion in the BALCO Era. Clemens may get the love from the New York fans because of his career numbers, but he has been a bust by most indicators for the Yankees this year (the Yanks season was affected just as much by the performances of Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy as the performance of Clemens) and is really no lock to pitch this game depending upon his health. Assuming he starts, he’ll still throw that menacing gaze and some purpose pitches that have long been his style, but his effectiveness and health are MAJOR questions going into the ALDS. That all now being said, it is important to consider that Clemens remains very aware of his legacy and would like to go out on top. A successful 2007 postseason could be the cherry on the top of his career that he is still in search of as he hits the other side of 45.

After Game 3, the Indians will likely see where they stand and make the determination (if Game 4 is necessary) to throw C.C. on 3 days rest or throw Paul Byrd or (again) Laffey.

If that wasn’t enough for you, here are some links to preview the series further:
Yahoo Sports

With your appetite hopefully whetted for a HUGE week, there’s plenty more to come with a look at the offenses of each club, a field report from deep inside enemy territory, an ALDS prediction, and some inspiration to get the city of Cleveland foaming at the mouth by 6:30 on Thursday.


t-bone said...

pictures from rookie hazing...

swarty said...

Off topic, but does anyone know where there is a bar in New York that might be Indians Friendly this week?

I have lived here for many years but never needed such a thing.

If there is a Browns bar anyone knows about, that might be a good place to start.

Chris in NY

Jack said...

swarty, I too live in NYC. I go to a place called Blondies on the UES. It's the home of the OSU Alumni Club and the NYC Browns's Cleveland Sports friendly. There's actually two of them, the other on the UWS and it has become the de facto MICHIGAN sports bar, interestingly enough.

shoot me an email at I can give you details on the place. You might have to make reservations for something like the postseason. I often go there to catch regular season games and just walk right in, but for Browns Sundays, you definitely need reservations. I'd assume the same will apply for Indians post season.

I'll be there on Friday!

Jeff said...

an interloping yankee fan here. i just stopped in to get the latest on the opposition.

this was a great write up.

the tribe scares me.

i look forward to a great series, this should be a memorable one.

Cy Slapnicka said...

i think that is the closest a yankee fan can come to conceding the series.

Art McGregor said...

Is everyone wearing red to the game Thursday?

Voltaire said...

No way, no way, NO WAY do I want to see Laffey starting a game. I don't think he should be on the postseason roster. No way.

(watch, no he'll throw a perfect game or something)

t-bone said...

Here's Gammons' Saturday blog entry about awards: Gammons [Print without images]

Saturday, September 29, 2007
Updated: October 1, 1:59 AM ET
AL Cy Young is one amazing race

The postseason awards can be unfair. There are three legitimate MVPs in the National League, two NL Rookies of the Year and two American League Cy Youngs.

And if this were not an emotional, human game, all awards could be spit out of a computer. But it is human, which is why so many people feel the way they do about Jimmy Rollins or appreciate what it means that C.C. Sabathia is 5-1 in games he started against the two best opposing starters in his division, Johan Santana and Justin Verlander. I still believe Kirk Gibson brought a most valuable emotion to a 1988 Dodger team that was Orel Hershiser and others, and that the swagger and bravado David Ortiz brought to the 2005 Red Sox with his 47 homers and 148 RBIs outweighed another brilliant year from Alex Rodriguez.

This is what I believe:

I. Rollins is the MVP. The Phillies were not riding the perfect wave when I did three games from the end of their dugout, but Rollins' energy never stopped. It never slowed when Chase Utley was hurt. Rollins, Utley and Aaron Rowand carried the Phils through dreadful pitching and hard times. Look, Matt Holliday is an MVP -- tops in RBIs in the NL and second in runs, with a 1.011 OPS going into Saturday and 90 extra-base hits -- and Prince Fielder is an MVP -- with his 50 homers, 119 RBIs and 1.013 OPS. But Rollins' 30 homers and 93 RBIs going into Saturday came from a shortstop. His 87 extra-base hits are the second-most ever in one season by a shortstop (A-Rod had 91 in 1996), and his runs are the fifth-most ever in one season by a shortstop. No team went farther with what it had than the Phillies, and no one was more valuable than Rollins.

II. The question in the American League is who finishes 3-4-5 behind Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez. To not include Vladimir Guerrero in that troika might be unfair to the fulcrum of the Angels' lineup and one of this generation's great warriors, but, in the war of what was the league's best race, Mike Lowell, Ortiz and Jorge Posada have earned those positions. Ortiz first, because, limping and often unprotected, he barely trailed Carlos Pena and A-Rod in homers and RBIs and led the league in OPS after the All-Star break. Posada (fifth in the league in OPS) has battled through injuries to try to hold together the Yankees' pitching staff, and Lowell (sixth in the AL in RBIs) has been the ballast of a Red Sox team that jumped out and survived. What Posada and Lowell mean to their teams on a daily basis goes way beyond any numbers.

III. The AL Cy Young Race is "The Amazing Race." In the end, it comes down to this: Cleveland's two brilliant starters -- Sabathia and Fausto Carmona -- won nine of 11 games against Santana and Verlander. Josh Beckett had a Cy Young year, and so did Carmona, John Lackey and Dan Haren. But the quality starts and the ability to preserve each pitcher's bullpen are major factors. Beckett got through the seventh inning eight times, the eighth inning eight times and 8 2/3 innings once, while Sabathia got through nine innings four times, eight innings six times and 8 1/3 innings once, and completed at least seven innings 14 times (two were 7 1/3 and 7 2/3).

1. Sabathia 19-7 241 3.21 24 71 5.54
2. Beckett 20-7 200.2 3.27 20 67 6.59
3. Carmona 19-8 215 3.06 26 81 5.02
4. Lackey 19-9 224 3.01 23 72 4.94
5. Haren 15-9 222.2 3.07 27 82 5.28

IV. Jake Peavy led the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts, had one more win than Brandon Webb and was 0.65 better in ERA. While Peavy pitched into the eighth inning only once all season, he earned the Cy Young. That quality start percentage advantage (85% to 62%) stands for something.

V. Take Troy Tulowitzki, and it's not fair to Ryan Braun. Take Braun, and you're unfair to Tulowitzki. The Rockies were close to the best defensive team in the NL in the second half, and the big athletic shortstop was the lynchpin. Plus, he hit 23 homers and drove in 94 runs out of the position. But, as Jayson Stark pointed out, Braun challenged Ted Williams in less than 450 at-bats, with a .999 OPS on the final weekend. In the end, the Rockies made their charge backboned by defense, while defense was one of the prime reasons the Brewers did not finish first, so I take Tulowitzki. Tomorrow, I may be wrong.

VI. Why are the Devil Rays sending out Delmon Young rookie fliers? Delmon is a fine player en route to being a great one, but, really, there is no argument. Dustin Pedroia's OPS was nearly 100 points higher than Young's on the final weekend. Pedroia has turned into a superb defensive second baseman, and his hitting skills can be defined by this rare demonstration of unusual skill: 47 XBH, 47 BB, 42 SO. Players who have more walks and extra-base hits than strikeouts transcend the scouting reports that judge nothing but tools.