While neither southpaw was sharp, CC Sabathia got the better of the Twins' left-handed hitters in the Yankees' Game One ALDS victory.
Francisco Liriano was cruising. On a day when Cliff Lee had delivered the goods against Tampa Bay and Roy Halladay had gone down in history with his second no-hitter of the year and just the second in more than a century's worth of posts-season baseball, he was holding his own. Through 5 1/3 Liriano had shut out the Yankees, allowing just two hits and two walks as the Twins rolled to a 3-0 lead in their American League Division Series opener. Working out of jams in the second and third innings, he'd found a groove, retiring 10 straight Yankees, beginning with an emphatic three-pitch strikeout of Alex Rodriguez to end the third. To that point Liriano had whiffed six hitters, four of them going down swinging against sliders. But just as the going-on-27-year-old lefty's pitch count passed 80, all hell broke loose against the heart of the Yankees order.
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Two teams that took interesting rides to the postseason meet in the first round.
Those of you who root for chaos and the eventual heat death of the universe were no doubt disappointed that the season did not end with a series of one-game playoffs. To the Braves and the Giants, however, the outcomes of Sunday’s games were more than welcome. Their starters will receive an additional day of rest each, and they won’t entirely foreclose the possibility of pitching their Game One starters on short rest in Game Four. The condensed schedule of this series (potentially five games in seven days, rather than the eight allotted to the other NLDS) means Bobby Cox and Bruce Bochy will have tough decisions to make should the series go to four or five games.
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.
It's red-on-red violence between two founding franchises, but who'll wind up dead?
Back in the '70s, the Phillies and the Reds were half of a quartet of clubs that basically owned the National League. Dial up National League post-season action, and you'd get the Reds or the Dodgers from the old NL West, and the Pirates or the Phillies from the old NL East. That foursome won nine pennants and 18 of the 20 playoff slots from 1970-79; get picky and run from 1971-80, and it's still niine of 10 and 17 of 20. Yet for all that, this will be just the second time two of the league's founding franchises get to square off. You have to be a fan of a certain age or owe a bit to Joe Posnanski to have much memory of the 1976 NLCS, which was the Big Red Machine's stepping stone to its second (and last) pennant—they had to go through crushing the Phillies first, sweeping three in the best-of-five, with the third game decided in Cincinnati after an exchange of blown saves.
One of the beasts of the East takes on the Rangers in a first-round clash of division winners.
In hindsight, the titans of the East were what we thought they were, even if a rash of injuries ensured that the Red Sox weren’t always whom we thought they were. As expected, eastern teams have called dibs on two of the AL’s four coveted tickets to the promised land, though no asses were crowned until the season’s final weekend, when the Rays nabbed the title by taking two out of three in Kansas City while the Yankees dropped a pair in Boston. Tampa Bay’s second division championship was won with an even smaller margin of error than the first, but the small-market-team-that-could again proved that it belonged in a bracket formerly dominated by high-payroll organizations—though this year’s Rays had to expend significantly more salary than the 2008 model in the process.
A new way of adjusting for a player's environment.
One of the fascinating things for baseball fans is the differences between ballparks--the role that the very park itself plays in baseball is probably unique in sports. Different ballparks bring a very different character to the proceedings, and of course, they can even change the course of the events on the field.
It doesn’t help that MLB’s rules on the subject can be remarkably vague on the subject--at one point it states that “[a] distance of 320 feet or more along the foul lines, and 400 feet or more to center field is preferable,” which does little to indicate what might be allowed. This, of course, gives great latitude to ballpark designers, and they’ve taken advantage of that latitude.
Carlos Gonzalez has huge home-road splits, but he doesn't have the most dramatic splits of all time.
It isn’t exactly breaking news that Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies is having a fantastic season. Entering Thursday’s action, his .341 batting average topped the National League, as did his .612 slugging percentage, 182 hits, 106 RBI, 100 runs, and 326 total bases. Add in 23 stolen bases, a solid defensive reputation, and the fact that he is still the most likely candidate to achieve the Triple Crown, and it is very safe to say that he has soared far beyond reasonable expectations entering the year. PECOTA’s 90th- percentile foresaw a .312/.386/.550 slash line, which he has surpassed, even if his long-term rate of reaching base is likely to be called into question.
Players who shine from both sides of the plate are becoming rarer.
When Chipper Jones hit the disabled list following a spectacular play in the field, the biggest question was not when he would return, but if he would continue his career. If he decides to hang up his cleats when the Braves' season comes to a close, baseball would bid adieu to one of the best switch-hitters of all time.
Looking at the most punchless players on contending teams and possible fixes.
When it comes to playoff races, every edge matters. Yet all too often, managers and GMs fail to make the moves that could help their teams for reasons rooted in issues beyond a player's statistics, allowing sub-par production to fester until it kills a club's post-season hopes. Back in 2007, I compiled a historical all-star squad of ignominy for our pennant race book, It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over, identifying players at each position whose performances had dragged their teams down in tight races: the Replacement-level Killers. The concept has been revisited on a more or less annual basis here at Baseball Prospectus, both bymyself and my colleagues, with an eye toward what teams can do to solve such potentially fatal problems. With the trading deadline less than two weeks away, the window for contenders to take their best shots at parlaying their resources into solutions are closing.
Plus Ivy on the Tribe and way too much thought on three-catcher situations in the Bronx and Tampa Bay.
In moments of peril, our nation's history of turning to the Ivy Leagues has produced all sorts of historic results, not all of them regrettable. So with their bullpen desperately bad again, as they've fallen to employing the league's worst relief corps after consecutive 12th-place finishes the previous two seasons, the Tribe's called up Mr. Man, to translate his name from German.