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October 8, 2009

Prospectus Today

Tri-Series Roundup

by Joe Sheehan

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I'll settle for bullet-pointing the three LDS openers in advance of today's chat:

Rockies/Phillies

  • The concerns about the Phillies were whether they could score without hitting home runs, and their bullpen. They scored five runs without hitting a homer and got a complete game, in which no reliever even got up to throw, and no one ever visited the mound. For one day, they had no flaws.

  • Cliff Lee ate up the Rockies by pounding the strike zone, being aggressive in the manner that has made him one of the best starters in the game. The Rockies had no answer, picking up stray hits but never having what you might call a good at-bat. Lee faced 32 batters and started just seven of them 1-0. He was 2-0 twice, 3-0 once, and 3-1 once, and the rest of the time had the Rockies on their heels. It was a beautiful performance. He even stole a base off of an oblivious Ubaldo Jimenez. (He got picked off and saved by a bad call immediately afterwards, but no one will remember that.)

  • On offense, the Phillies took advantage of a loss of command by Jimenez to rack up five runs in the fifth and sixth innings. Jimenez was throwing strikes up to that point, but he fell behind the first four hitters in the fifth and gave up two runs. Then he allowed hits to the first three batters in the sixth, at which point the game was essentially over. The Phillies scored their five runs on a walk, a triple, two doubles, and three singles in an 11-batter stretch, with Raul Ibaņez and Jayson Werth contributing twice. The big inning isn't unusual for this team, but doing so without a long ball-and in fairness, Werth and Ryan Howard both hit balls that might have been homers on a day that didn't recall the first act of The Wizard of Oz-is.

  • The umpires failed. No one will care because the Phillies won and the story was a bunch of other things, but all three base umpires missed calls. Bring on the machines.

  • Davey Lopes is to basestealing what Dave Duncan is to throwing ground balls. The guy has turned the Phillies into the most efficient base-stealing machine in baseball history.

  • The Rockies aren't entirely playing for their lives today, but being down 2-0 and then running Jason Hammel and Jason Marquis to the mound against a team that has a fantastic left-handed power core would be suboptimal. Not having Jorge De La Rosa for this series hurts a lot. The Rockies have to find a way to make better contact against Cole Hamels than they did against Lee, because like Lee, Hamels is going to attack the zone and get ahead of the hitters until they give him a reason not to do so.

Yankees/Twins

  • The mainstream narrative in this game seems to be that those unclutchy Yankees played well in October. CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez did have good games, and for the people who think there's some massive difference between the regular season and the postseason, that's significant. Me, I think it was just a very good baseball team's best players having a good game against an average team that was playing under difficult circumstances. We're stuck with this idea of "clutch," and it's maybe the one concept that actively makes me dislike baseball sometimes. Folks, it's not a morality play, it's sports.

  • I'm not sure why Ron Gardenhire wasn't more aggressive with his bullpen. He got an early 2-0 lead that gave him an out, and he carried eight relievers into the series, plus he probably could have used Carl Pavano for a little bit. When Brian Duensing surrendered a game-tying two-run homer Derek Jeter in the third, the stage was set for a quick move to a right-hander once he got past Mark Teixeira. But Gardenhire stayed with Duensing, and the Yankees kept chipping away at him, winning the game over the next two innings. It was 4-2 when Gardenhire chose Francisco Liriano to pitch to Hideki Matsui, and 6-2 a minute later.

    To some extent, last night's game was a gimme. Gardenhire would have liked to win, but he had a tired team and a used-up bullpen against the best team in baseball and its ace starter. That the Twins lost last night doesn't really change things much; their chance to win is in the next two games, which should feature their top two remaining starters in even matchups against A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte. They're still a massive underdog, but their puncher's chance hasn't changed much on the basis of last night's outcome.

  • Jorge Posada had a lousy night, not working well with Sabathia and costing the Yankees a run in the third when he was way too slow reacting to ball that got away from him with a runner on third. That's not who he is, generally, but when the whole world is focused on your defense, in part because your manager has announced that you won't be playing the next game, it's a bad time to have a bad game.

    And he should still start tomorrow night.

Cardinals/Dodgers

  • This was a very big win for the Dodgers, taking a game that was distinctly tilted against them in terms of the pitching matchup. Chris Carpenter had a bad game, with terrible location and no ability to miss bats-he got just five swing-and-misses in his five innings, three of them from Ronnie Belliard. Both teams spent the entire game with runners on base, and the Dodgers failed just a little bit less in those spots than the Cards did, which is why they're up 1-0 in the series.

  • Joe Torre did a fantastic job not letting his starter lose a game that his bullpen could win. He yanked Randy Wolf in the fourth inning with two outs and the bases loaded, with Wolf clinging to a 3-2 lead, That's a rare sight, but it's also exactly what Torre needs to do this October. He has a deep and talented bullpen, one that can matchup to good effect or provide innings in bulk, and get ground-ball outs or strikeouts as needed. There's no reason at all for him to let that rotation, the weakest part of his team, lose a game. Torre's bullpen gave him 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball last night, supporting an offense that did just enough against Carpenter. If the Phillies' were the most impressive team yesterday, the Dodgers, by executing their plan, were second best.

  • The Cardinals had opportunities to score, including the game-opening bases-loaded, no-out spot from which they got just one run. Given the pitcher and the batters (Matt Holliday, Ryan Ludwick, Yadier Molina), you can file that under "Things That Won't Happen Very Often." The Cardinals' overall stats against lefties aren't that impressive, but the middle of their lineup consists of guys who pound southpaws. They just didn't come up big last night in the first or in the fourth.

  • Torre is overthinking things by playing Belliard ahead of Orlando Hudson, especially against a pitcher, Carpenter, who has always eaten up right-handed batters. He gave up offense and defense last night, actively making his team worse. The Dodgers won in spite of this decision. The gap between these two teams is tiny, and Torre can't give value away by making bad lineup choices, or slotting waiver bait ahead of Chad Billingsley as his third starter in the series.

  • The Cardinals are under the gun tonight, although they do have a great pitcher starting in Adam Wainwright. I'll say it again, though: Clayton Kershaw is ready for his close-up, ready to have the month Cole Hamels did one year ago. Kershaw is at times unhittable, and the gap between him and Wainwright is much, much smaller than you might think. He is the Dodgers' best starting pitcher, and he's going to show that tonight.

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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