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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Monday, October 01, 2007