It's a series that will feature superb pitching staffs, and one team will come away with a long-awaited title.
In baseball as in literature, archetypes tend to be formulaic, proof that fiction falls short of reality when it comes to the power to describe any one thing in shorthand. The need, indeed one of the great benefits of the human mind is to identify patterns, and to peg things that fall within those patterns, or to re-evaluate the pattern as a whole to create some new rubric, some new way of explaining things. Take our current post-season slate: instead of a much-anticipated rematch between the Evil Empire and the Phillies' a-bornin' senior-circuit dynasty, last week we got the pleasure of witnessing imperial ambitions utterly overthrown in both leagues.
The Yankees look to get back to yet another World Series while the Rangers are in uncharted territory.
From 1996 through 1999, the Joe Torre-led Yankees and the Johnny Oates-piloted Rangers faced off in three American League Division Series, the first three times the latter franchise had ever reached the postseason. The Yankees won nine of those 10 games, holding the Rangers to a lone run apiece in their 1998 and 1999 sweeps. Times have changed, however, and while the Yankee machine has simply kept rolling, racking up four pennants and two world championships while missing the playoffs just once since their last meeting, the Rangers endured a dark decade before reemerging as AL West champions thanks to the shrewd deal making of general manager Jon Daniels and the fruits of their well-stocked farm system.
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The Twins and Yankees meet yet again in the first round of the postseason but Minnesota has home field advantage this time.
As they did last year as well as 2003 and 2004, the Twins run squarely into the Yankee juggernaut in the first round. Unlike those other three meetings, they have home field advantage this time around, as they won the AL Central going away thanks to a league-best 48-26 second-half record. The defending world champion Yankees, who held the majors' best record for most of the season, were forced to settle for the wild card due to a sluggish 13-17 showing against a very tough schedule in September and October. Despite the relative temperatures of the two clubs, it's important to remember that late-season records aren't predictive of October success—or failure.
Selecting the four starters for the nine possible playoff teams is easier in some instances than others.
Last Friday, I brought up the Reds' rotation situation as they gear up for their first post-season series since 1995. We can't peg everyone's rotations perfectly just yet, of course, because there are still a few issues to resolve—which two teams from among the Braves, Giants, and Padres will join the Reds and Phillies in next week's action, for example, set against the much less exciting proposition over who is going to win home-field advantage in the AL.
The 2006 class is a tough one to beat among a strong recent group of rookie classes.
Earlier this week, the folks at Beloit College released their annual MindsetList, a document designed to explain the cultural differences between the incoming class of college freshmen and the older faculty hired to teach them. The idea is to highlight the small and large ways the world has changed in the last 20 years by mentioning things that were true during the life span of oldsters that were never true for those under 20, e.g., the existence of things like a telephone cord, a country called Czechoslovakia, and a baseball commissioner not named Bud. For me, a man who fervently hopes Jamie Moyer comes back next spring to ensure I won’t have to face being older than every major-league ballplayer, this is always a time to reflect on youth and age, both in life and in baseball—especially so this year, since the current Mindset List includes a reference to the term Annus Horribilus, which I happened to use in last year’s BP Annual, but which I now know dates me almost as much as saying “23 Skidoo.”
A look at the four best-of-three series that begin Friday.
Friday's four super regional matchups in the NCAA Tournament feature seven of the eight regional top seeds, and the eighth team—No. 2-seeded Vanderbilt—upset Louisville by the narrowest of margins, a 3-2 victory in the decisive seventh game of the regional. Overall, this year has been as expected—no three or four seeds advanced, only one second seed is hosting a super regional, and six of the eight national seeds are, as expected, hosting a super regional. Today, I’ll break down Friday’s super regionals in Austin, Tallahassee, Los Angeles, and Gainesville. Tomorrow the Tempe, Clemson, Myrtle Beach, and Charlottesville super regionals, which start on Saturday, will be previewed.
To win one of the 16 four-team regional tournaments and thereby progress to a best-of-three super regional, a team must win three games—either finishing 3-0 and wrapping up its business on Sunday evening, or 3-1 and winning a single winner-take-all Monday matchup against a team to which it has already lost. This year, eight teams (Oklahoma, Arizona State, South Carolina, TCU, Texas, Florida State, UCLA, and Florida) all top seeds—finished their regional undefeated.
A number of young hurlers are making strong comebacks in 2010.
Last week in this space, I took a look at hitters who had already exceeded their 2009 VORP in the early stages of 2010 and tried to determine whether those players were likely to build on their exceptional starts. This week, I’ll be doing the same for pitchers. I’ve selected the five starters and five relievers who have achieved the greatest VORP bouncebacks so far this year, compared to last year’s VORP tally or, for players that put up negative VORP performances last year, a replacement-level zero VORP. To make the starter list, a pitcher must have thrown at least 90 innings last season, while the cutoff for relievers is 40 innings. Those performance benchmarks are designed to ensure the players selected pitched significantly, if poorly, last season, and are off to a good start, rather than off to a mediocre start that’s much better than their disastrous 2009 numbers.
The American League has a number of very good early-round options, but don't wait too long.
Starting pitching is one of the key components of your fantasy team. Drafting the right pitchers consistently is a skill that helps separate league winners from the rest of the pack, but that's not the same as drafting the same pitchers to win all of the time. It's a volatile position with lots of turnover—it wasn't so long ago that Scott Kazmir was considered an ace in the making or a great source of strikeouts, and now he is neither of those things, and he's not even a Ray anymore. Everyone just knew that Cliff Lee couldn't repeat his 2008 campaign in 2009—unless you were paying attention to the things you needed to pay attention to. Many people thought Daisuke Matsuzaka was a shoo-in as an ace due to his win total and his ERA in 2008, Knowing when to pass or bid on these types of pitchers helps you make the informed decisions you need in order to build the perfect fantasy pitching staff.
The Game One showdown between star southpaws, and tonight's matchup features a recently phoaled Phillie.
In yesterday's chat, Bronx Banter's Alex Belth asked me, "Is there any particular pitching matchup that you are looking forward to in the series?" I responded that the matchup I was most looking forward to was between CC Sabathia and Ryan Howard, particularly given the prospect of the big man pitching three times for the Yankees in a seven-game series, and the slugger's less-than-sterling reputation against southpaws. "I think that matchup will tell us something about what's going to happen over the next four to seven games," I wrote.
Once you've got the pitcher on the ropes, should you swing for the fences or hope the pitcher hangs himself?
Conventional wisdom dictates that a hitter take a pitch on a 3-0 count. The pitcher has thrown three straight balls, so why not make him throw a few strikes in a row? On the other hand, the 3-0 pitch is probably the easiest to hit, as the pitcher has no margin for error and can't afford to try anything fancy. Which is the more compelling argument?
Let's begin with some descriptive analysis: who swings on 3-0 and who doesn't? I looked at all 3-0 counts between 2003 and 2008, excluding intentional walks; below are the 20 players who swung most often (minimum 50 PA).
Figuring out what goes wrong when high-upside hurlers veer out of control.
What can be done with the potential-laden hurler who can't control his pitches, who is able to complement his plus-offerings with only random flashes of brilliance, and can just as unexpectedly drop into extended bouts of ineptitude? Because of their promise and raw talent, struggling power pitchers can be repeatedly given shots as reclamation projects as teams try to find a formula for extending those brief flashes into consistent success. Pitching coaches and some analysts might tend to focus solely on the solid outings, meticulously working to isolate the components, either mechanical or psychological, that go missing during their down periods. Very few of these pitchers are able to harness their talents without major adjustments, yet they're still able to command lucrative contracts on the market, based more on their potential upside than on any actual results.
With that in mind, it's time to play everyone's favorite game, "Guess That Pitcher!" Here are the seasonal averages, from 2006-08, of two wild and crazy guys: