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October 6, 2004

Prospectus Today

Day One

by Joe Sheehan

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I'm usually good for 2,000 words a day in October, as each high-tension playoff game provides lots of material for discussion.

Today is probably going to be an exception. Let's see...how much analysis can we really do?

  • The Cardinals slapped down the Dodgers

  • The Red Sox slapped down the Angels

  • Johan Santana slapped down the Yankees
Thanks, folks. Y'all drive safe...and tip those waitresses, they work hard!

Working backwards...

Yankees/Twins

  • Is Santana fun to watch or what? On a night when he didn't have his best command, he threw seven shutout innings against a very tough lineup. He was helped by his defense: three groundball double plays, two others on baserunner kills at third and home, and a nice catch by Torii Hunter on the first pitch thrown by Juan Rincon after Santana left the game.

    I got some e-mails from frustrated Yankee fans after the game, and my response was pretty much the same to all: I had no expectations that the Yankees would win last night's game. Santana's performance since June hasn't just been award-worthy--it's been among the best stretches of pitching in baseball history. He just doesn't give up runs right now, so your only hope is to throw a shutout and take a chance with the bullpen. Mike Mussina pitched very well, as he does in October, but got no run support...as he does in October.

    The killer for the Yankees is that Santana threw just 93 pitches, leaving after the seventh inning. Coupled with a short start in his last regular-season outing and some extra rest between that one and yesterday's, this should guarantee that if the series reached a fourth game, the Yankees will once again face the left-hander. As well as he's pitching, it almost makes Games Two and Three must-wins for the Yankees, who would run the risk of being eliminated by Santana in Game Four otherwise.

  • Gardenhire's decision to remove Santana for Rincon to start the eighth was interesting. The Yankees had the Hall of Fame wing of the lineup due up in Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield and Bernie Williams, and Gardenhire gave them as good a chance as they were going to get at winning the game.

    It's one of those situations that absolutely drives analysts nuts. Gardenhire had three choices to pitch the eighth inning: Santana, Rincon and Joe Nathan. He chose the worst pitcher of the three, entirely because it's Rincon's "role" to pitch the eighth inning, and Nathan's to pitch the ninth. By doing it this way, he had the inferior pitcher throwing in the more dangerous situation, while Nathan was saved for the lesser hitters in the ninth.

    Modern bullpens could probably be designed less effectively, but you'd probably need to try really hard to do so. Even if you want to make the argument that pitching the ninth inning is somehow different than pitching the eighth, isn't that more than outweighed by the difference between facing three Hall of Famers and three guys who, while good, come in well below that?

    The Twins win last night was very, very close, the margin being one fly ball by Ruben Sierra that went a foot too far to the left and another by Rodriguez that was about a foot too short. Giving up edges in high-leverage situations is a dangerous game to play in a series that could see every game decided by such a small margin.

  • That foul ball by Sierra in the seventh inning was very close to being a huge controversy. Left-field umpire Jerry Crawford initially got the call wrong, but to his credit, he asked for help and got it from his partners. In the end, they got the call right, by far the most important thing.

    While last-night's umpires got that call correct, other crews don't always do so. It's the one call I'd be inclined to allow the use of instant replay on. Doing so would be mildly disruptive, especially for fans at the game not seeing a dozen replays and wondering what would happen during the delay. However, the swing between right call and wrong call--home run or strike--is so large that I think it warrants doing what is necessary to get it right.

    It's certainly a more justifiable disruption than a nine-minute seventh-inning stretch.

  • Joe Torre seemed to put a lot of emphasis on last night's game. Despite his team trailing 2-0 in the eighth, he brought on Tom Gordon to pitch. In the ninth, he used Mariano Rivera. The two are rarely used when the Yankees trail, certainly not when they're down by multiple runs. Neither threw many pitches, and since each had pitched just once in the season's last four days, the outings shouldn't affect their ability to go multiple innings today.

Angels/Red Sox

  • It's the worst-case scenario for the Angels in this series: a bad start that puts them far behind a very good starting pitcher. Jarrod Washburn might have escaped yesterday's fourth inning down just 4-0, but Chone Figgins made a critical throwing error while trying to get a force at home plate, which allowed two runs to score and effectively ended the game. Figgins' misplay on a ground ball by Manny Ramirez led to the Sox' first run as well. He tries, but he's not a third baseman.

    Washburn and John Lackey are the soft spots in the Angels' rotation. Their next two games, though, will be started by Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar. Going on the road for Games Three and Four, they need to win tonight against Pedro Martinez to have any chance of winning this series. I'd be very surprised if tonight wasn't the last game played in Anaheim this year.

  • In the same way that Joe Torre used his relievers in a non-standard situation, Terry Francona let Mike Timlin throw two innings with a six-run lead. I don't know if that's quite as defensible. The game was much further out of hand, and there's difference between throwing 31 pitches, which Timlin did, and the shorter outings of the two Yankee relievers. If you're not going to use Curtis Leskanic up six in the eighth, when he is he supposed to pitch?

  • Troy Glaus picked up where he left off two years ago, roping two doubles and a homer off of Curt Schilling. Glaus slugged .770 in the 2002 postseason, a big reason why the Angels played 16 games that October. While his shoulder injury will restrict him to DH, his bat is going to be a big part of any chance the Angels have to advance.

Cardinals/Dodgers

  • Larry Walker is pretty good. He hit two homers yesterday, including the shot that started the Cards' decisive five-run third inning. Perhaps more importantly, the Cardinals got six good innings from Woody Williams. Their rotation is their Achilles' heel, so every quality start they get is a major plus.

    Walker and Williams are both products of mid-season deals by Walt Jocketty, who has also made stretch-drive trades for Mark McGwire, Will Clark and Scott Rolen since 1997. McGwire's team didn't make the postseason, but the other trades contributed to playoff runs, runs in which Jocketty's pickups played very well.

    In 2000, Clark helped the Cards reach the NLCS by hitting .250/.357/.500 against the Braves, then absolutely pounded the Mets--.412/.500/.706--in the Redbirds' five-game loss to the Mets. A year later, Williams threw seven innings of one-run ball in his only start of the Cards' five-game loss to the Diamondbacks. In '02, Rolen was off to a great start--3-for-7 with a homer--when a collision with Alex Cintron caused a sprained shoulder that ended his season. Walker's two-homer game yesterday continues this tradition.

  • My pick of the Dodgers to win this series was predicated in large part on them getting two wins from Odalis Perez. With that now a dead issue, I've got much less conviction in that call. The Dodgers will need to get the same kind of good start from a midrotation guy that the Cards got, while taking advantage of the Cards' soft rotation to put up runs. A win in tomorrow's Game Two isn't as critical for the Dodgers as it is for the two home teams that lost yesterday, but with Jose Lima pitching Game Three, it's a good idea for them to go back to L.A. tied up.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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