Friday October 2nd, 2009

1) It's official: Young pitchers have taken back the game. A down cycle of starting pitchers has turned upward. An ERA that begins with a 2 no longer is an oddity.

This season, 12 pitchers have posted an ERA better than 3.00 -- the most since 1997. Among those 12 pitchers, six are 25-and-under -- the most such young guns since 1992, and as many in the final eight years combined before baseball agreed to a steroid testing program in 2002.

The sub-3 young guns this year are Jair Jurrjens, Felix Hernandez, Zack Greinke, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw. The class of '92 was Curt Schilling, John Smoltz, Charles Nagy, Mike Mussina, Kevin Appier, Jim Abbott and Juan Guzman.

Here are the numbers this decade of pitchers with a sub-3 ERA and how many of them were 25-and-under:

By the way, Josh Johnson, 25, of the Marlins could join the under-3 crowd with a gem in his last start on Sunday in Philadelphia. Six shutout innings would give Johnson a 2.995 ERA. If not, he does get a consolation prize: a $25,000 bonus for making his 33rd start.

2) Left-hander J.C. Romero, a guy who has thrown just 16 2/3 innings this year, has emerged as an extremely valuable player for the Phillies these days. He has become the swing player to not only the composition of their bullpen, but also their starting rotation.

Here's how it works if Philadelphia draws Colorado in the first round. The Phillies should start three left-handers against the Rockies, who are 66-43 against right-handed starters but just 25-25 against lefties. Cliff Lee starts Game 1 and Cole Hamels gets Game 2. Fine so far. J.A. Happ should get the ball in Game 3, especially because he has thrown 11 1/3 innings this year against the Rockies and allowed no runs and a .139 batting average.

But Romero is still suffering from a forearm strain, so manager Charlie Manuel could be down to only one experienced lefty in his bullpen: Scott Eyre, a guy with elbow issues who has trouble if he has to warm up multiple times or pitch back-to-back days. And without Romero, Manuel may be forced to put Happ in the bullpen, in which case the Rockies get to see a right-hander in Game 3, Joe Blanton or Pedro Martinez.

So far the news on Romero has not been good for the Phillies. He showed decreased velocity and arm speed when he threw 21 pitches against Houston on Sept. 28. The Phillies had him throw a bullpen session before their game on Thursday night to get another look, and it did not go well. He will have his arm re-examined, and appears to be doubtful for the postseason.

3) Don't expect much offense in a Phillies-Rockies series. The way the playoff matchups stand as of Friday, the Phillies are likely to get two 3:07 p.m. starts to open the NLDS next week. (Hard to imagine the Yankees will get the daytime slot on Wednesday, or the Angels or Dodgers, which would mean a noon start local time, getting it on Thursday.) That means shadows and rough lighting conditions.

The Phillies have hosted three 3:07 p.m. postseason starts in the previous two seasons. In those three games the Phillies and their opponents, the Rockies in 2007 and the Brewers last year, combined to hit .203 with 55 strikeouts in 53 innings. So how do you hit Ubaldo Jimenez and his power stuff in the fall twilight? Pray for serious cloud cover.

The start times are reminiscent of what used to happen to the Astros' Killer B teams. Never a prime-time draw, they wound up getting many a late afternoon postseason start against some of the NL's best pitching staffs. And Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell would catch heat for not hitting well enough in the postseason.

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