Thursday October 22nd, 2009

1. Yankees catcher Jorge Posada made his answer doubly clear when asked why the Yankees are on a 5-1 postseason run after going 4-13 in their previous 17 postseason games. The difference? "Pitching. Pitching," Posada said.

The New York offense hit the Angels in Game 4 with its full force, and Alex Rodriguez is squaring up every pitch that anyone dares throw over the plate. But the most telling change is that the Yankees' pitching, particularly their starters, looks nothing like what New York ran out there from 2004 through '07.

GM Brian Cashman hit the bull's-eye in the offseason when he signed CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, two power pitchers who have swing-and-miss stuff, the kind of stuff that plays well in the postseason and is exactly what New York needed. Give credit, too, to manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland, who mapped out a plan in September to keep their starting pitchers strong through a seventh month. The Yankees are reaping the benefits of their design now.

Since Sept. 1 and including the postseason, Sabathia, Burnett and Andy Pettitte have had extra rest for 15 of their 22 combined starts. Pettitte said he feels "unbelievable" for this time of year. Sabathia finished his Game 4 start by retiring the final eight hitters he faced without letting the ball leave the infield, looking like he could pitch all night, even though he was working on three days' rest.

Eiland said he kept looking for the tell-tale sign that Sabathia was getting fatigued: His back leg collapses slightly in his delivery. "Never happened," Eiland said. "He just got stronger."

If the Yankees can dispose of Los Angeles in Game 5 on Thursday night, they will get a five-day break before the World Series; Sabathia would have seven days of rest heading into Game 1, which would mean extra rest for six of his last eight starts -- and the possibility of starting three times in the World Series without any problem.

"It's important to try to close series out when you can," Girardi said, "because if you're able to do it, it allows you to set up your pitching."

Just how good have the Yankees' starters been? Check out the New York starters this postseason as compared to its starters since 2004 ALCS Game 4:

2. Angels manager Mike Scioscia has a team hitting .201 in the ALCS, so with so many cold bats he doesn't have many options for shaking up his batting order. And he's likely to stick with his same lineup for Game 5, though catcher Jeff Mathis, who always catches John Lackey, will replace Mike Napoli.

But what about left fielder Juan Rivera? Scioscia's insistence on sticking with the slumping Rivera stands as a sign of such little faith in Gary Matthews Jr., even though Matthews hit .289 over the final two months in a part-time role. Rivera, who has played poor defense, is 2 for 17 (.118) in the ALCS, 5 for 28 (.179) in the postseason, 8 for 44 (.182) against the Yankees this year and 2 for 11 (.182) against Burnett, including 0 for 3 in Game 2.

3. The Angels, with two steals in just three attempts, haven't been able to get their running game going in the ALCS, in part because the Yankees have defended it so well. Pettitte, for instance, threw 17 times to first base in Game 2. Sabathia has a quick slide step for a big man. Even Burnett holds runners fairly well. Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano have continually held runners at second to shortened leads.

The Yankees' deep team of scouts also deserves recognition. No team has more information available in the dugout than do the Yankees. Of particular note is the defensive positioning of left fielder Johnny Damon. He has taken away several hits because the Yankees almost always shift him close to the left-field line, especially for the pesky left-handed Los Angeles hitters who like to shoot the ball that way.

4. The Yankees are one win away from setting up a World Series that may set records for times of games. The Phillies use a similar m.o. as New York: an offense built on walks and home runs. They spit on pitches out of the strike zone, always trusting the next guy in a deep lineup to get the job done. And when they do get pitches to hit, home runs are often the result. This postseason, the Phillies have outscored their opponents 55-31, outhomered them 14-8 and outwalked them 48-22.

If the Yankees win one more ALCS game, the World Series will be played in the two parks that allowed the most home runs this year. And it will be a matchup of teams that led their league in runs and home runs. The last time we got a World Series matchup with that kind of league-best firepower? You have to go all the way back to 1926, when the Cardinals and Yankees met.

And by the way, chalk up one more win for East Coast Baseball, with the Dodgers wilting in Philadelphia once again in Wednesday night's NLCS clincher. That makes West Coast teams 3-18 since 2003 and 10-37 in the wild-card era when they step into the usually cold weather and intense environment of postseason baseball in the Eastern hotbeds (New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore).

5. Think the Phillies are battle-tested? Philadelphia is playing .783 baseball over the past two postseasons, going 18-5 without ever losing more than one game in five straight series. The Phillies' best news to come out of their latest series win is that their bullpen looks far better than it did toward the end of the regular season, especially Brad Lidge. The Philadelphia closer looks like he has his confidence back, not to mention the bite on his wipeout slider and the command on his fastball. Chad Durbin and Chan Ho Park give manager Charlie Manuel some right-handed options before he has to go to Ryan Madson to set up Lidge. The roles have become much more defined in the Philadelphia bullpen than when the Phillies began the postseason.

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