Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Baseball Headlines Going into Day One, Game One

Today marks the first set of games for the Major League Baseball playoffs. Besides watching great games, there are a few things I will be looking for.

Rockies vs. Phillies

This one is too obvious. Will the Phillies use Brad Lidge?

If Charlie Manuel uses Brad Lidge in any meaningful situation at all, the game will be really interesting. We're talking high probability of walk-off action interesting. The Phillies will have to be down ten runs in the ninth inning to make me feel like, yeah, okay, Lidge can pitch. We know about the blown saves and the 7.21 ERA. The reason why he has the blown saves and high ERA are the result of three things. He strikes out 9.4 batters per nine innings (nothing wrong with that), but that is down from a career of striking out 12.1 batters per nine innings. He walks 5.2 batters per nine innings, which is up from walking 4.1 batters per nine innings. He is giving up 1.7 homeruns per nine innings, which is up from a career of giving up 0.9 homeruns per nine innings and way up from last year where he gave up 0.3 homeruns per nine innings. This tells me that he has some control problems and has lost some "stuff."

Cardinals vs. Dodgers

Which manager will micromanage their bullpen to the detriment of their team?

Joe Torre likes using relief pitchers. Jonathan Broxton has pitched in 68 games, Ronald Belisario in 66 games, Ramon Troncoso in 68 games, Guillermo Moto in 58 games, James McDonald in 44 games, the oft-injured Hong-Chih Kuo in 35 games. The mustached GM even traded for George Sherrill so Torre can use him in 30 games with the Dodgers. In fact, the Dodgers have used 25 different pitchers this year. Picked up Eric Milton for some games, signed Jeff Weaver, traded for Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla. He even used infielder Mark Loretta for a game. Even more telling, not one Dodgers starting pitcher threw a complete game.

For this game, I am not opposed to Torre going to the bullpen considering Randy Wolf is pitching in game one. Yes, Wolf has had a good season, but he is far from a dominating pitcher. At 32, he has pitched far better than the previous three seasons. The biggest difference is that he has cut down on the walks. He is averaging 2.4 walks per nine innings this year. The last two seasons, he averaged 3.4 walks per nine innings and he has a career average of 3.2 walks per nine innings. While he is walking less, he is striking out less. This year he is 6.7 batters per nine innings. The last two seasons, he struck out 7.7 batters per nine innings and 8.2 batters per nine innings. For his career, he has struck out 7.4 batters per nine innings.

Wolf is a solid number four pitcher starting the opening game in the series against the Cardinals. Should the series go five games, he will pitch, gulp, two games. Torre should use his awesome relief pitchers frequently for this game, but did he burn out those awesome arms from overuse in the regular season? I'm going to say no because The Mustached GM did keep acquiring more arms as the season went on.

Tony LaRussa has allowed his starting pitchers to pitch more innings and deeper into the game than Torre. And he should. LaRussa has two legitimate aces in Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. LaRussa has used 20 different pitchers this season with five of them pitching in more than 60 games and two of those pitching in more than 70 games. Here's the thing though. If Carpenter and Wainwright are still going strong after eight innings and are not tired, will he relieve them for Ryan Franklin? Don't let the 38 saves and 1.92 ERA fool you. He's not very good. He strikes out 6.5 batters per nine innings and walks 3.5 innings per nine innings. This means that if the game is close and he is pitching, we're in for a great finish.

Twins vs Yankees

A-Rod and CC. The Yankees should win, but the teams that should win don't always win. Usually when the team that should win and doesn't win, it's because the other team has more heart and character which is stupid reasoning. If the Twins win tonight and Alex Rodriguez goes 0 for 4 and CC Sabathia gives up 4 in 5 innings, I can predict a columnists story:

-The gritty gutty Twins with no quit beat the $200 million Yankees. Stealing bases, getting dirty, diving for balls, the Twins trump the Yankees. The unclutch Alex Rodriguez did his part by going 0 for 4 with a strikeout in the 8th inning while CC Sabathia lasted 5 innings and gave up 4 earned runs. Dot dot dot...-

Smart people realize that we're talking about extremely small sample sizes. It's not about heart. Most baseball players have heart. It's not about clutch. Most players perform the same in the first inning as they do in the ninth inning. Sometimes it just doesn't work out. A-Rod and CC need to have a big game to prevent the dull columns from happening.

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