Tuesday October 27th, 2009

Before the ALCS and NLCS, I identified the players on each of the four teams who had underperformed in the opening round of the playoffs and thus needed to step up their performance to help their teams win their respective league pennants. With another round in the books, here are the players on the two pennant winners who remain concerns heading into the World Series.

Cole Hamels: Hamels' shakey NLDS start against the Rockies put him on my LCS watch list, and though the Phillies won both of his NLCS starts, he's an even greater concern heading into the World Series. Hamels hasn't completed six innings in any of his three playoff starts this year and enters the World Series with a 6.75 postseason ERA. Worse yet, he's allowed six home runs in those three starts, five of them in his two NLCS starts. That's bad news for a pitcher facing a Yankees lineup that set a franchise record for home runs heading into a World Series that will take place in two homer-happy ballparks. Hamels seems likely to match up with Andy Pettitte in Game 3. Given the two pitchers' performances thus far this postseason, this is the matchup that favors the Yankees the most.

The Bench: The Phillies' bench is 0 for 15 with a pair of walks this postseason. That's a problem at home, where their pinch hitters are being out-hit by their pitchers (2 for 15, 2 BB, SB, thanks primarily to Cliff Lee), but is especially troublesome at the new Yankee Stadium, where that bench will have to provide the Phillies with a designated hitter in Games 1, 2, and possibly 6 and 7. That DH is likely to be Matt Stairs against righties and Ben Francisco (in left field, with Raul Ibañez as the actual DH) against lefties CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. Stairs has the two walks, which is an encouraging sign, particularly given that he'll start against major league walks leader A.J. Burnett, against whom he has also homered twice in 12 career plate appearances. Francisco, however, has made five outs in four trips, going 0-for-4 and grounding into a double play.

Ryan Madson: The Phillies entered the postseason with a closer controversy due to Brad Lidge's nightmare season, but despite Madson getting the majority of the save opportunities down the stretch, Charlie Manuel went back to last year's Mr. Perfect in the playoffs and has been rewarded. Lidge has allowed just one hit and no runs -- neither his own nor via inherited runners -- in five appearances while picking up three saves, a win and the pennant-clinching outs. Madson, meanwhile, allowed nine of the 19 men he faced in the NLCS to reach base and blew two saves in his three appearances in the NLDS against the Rockies. That's particularly troubling because the next guy on this list is ...

Chan Ho Park: Park missed the NLDS with a sore hamstring and pitched like it in the NLCS, blowing a save in Game 2 and coughing up a run Game 5, resulting in a 8.10 ERA for the series. Park and Madson were the Phillies' top righty setup men during the regular season. Their struggles would be a concern regardless, but are particularly worrisome given Alex Rodriguez's knack for game-changing late-inning hits so far this postseason.

Jimmy Rollins: Yes, Rollins got the big double off Jonathan Broxton that won Game 4 of the NLCS, but he's hitting just .244/.279/.317 this postseason, hasn't drawn a walk and hasn't stolen a base. That performance looks a lot more like the slumping Rollins of the first half of the season (.205/.250/.319 with just 11 steals in 16 tries on July 1) than the resurgent Rollins of the second half (.288/.334/.510 with 20 steals in 23 tries). One of the reasons the Angels will be watching this Series on TV is that their leadoff hitter, Chone Figgins, posted a .200 on-base percentage and didn't steal a base this postseason. Rollins has been better than Figgins, but not by much.

Nick Swisher: For the first time since 2004, the World Series will feature the best offense from each league. But while the Phillies can slug with the Yankees at the top six spots in the order, the Yankees hold a decided advantage in the bottom three ... or they would if eighth-place hitter Nick Swisher, who hit .249/.371/.498 with 29 homers during the regular season, could snap out of his postseason funk. Swisher singled and scored a run in Game 6 of the ALCS, but still finished the series hitting .150 without an extra-base hit. That's troubling enough, but outside of a pair of doubles in Game 2 of the 2006 ALDS, Swisher has never hit in the playoffs and enters the World Series with a career .160/.318/.214 line in the postseason.

Phil Hughes: The Yankees' bullpen was the best in baseball during the regular season, in large part because of the dominant setup work of Hughes, who posted a 0.86 WHIP in 44 relief appearances. Much like Madson, however, he's been hittable in the postseason, allowing 11 of 25 batters to reach base. In his six appearances, opponents have hit .391/.440/.478 against him. It was Hughes who blew the save in Game 5 of the ALCS with the Yankees seven outs from the pennant, and Yankee manager Joe Girardi opted to use the nearly 40-year-old Mariano Rivera for the final six outs of Game 6 rather than roll the dice with Hughes with a two-run lead in the eighth. If Girardi can't rely on Hughes to shorten games against the powerful Phillies offense, it could reduce the impact Rivera himself has on this series as either small leads won't reach Rivera, or he'll quickly be overworked trying to protect them.

Joba Chamberlain: Chamberlain blazed the trail for Hughes as an elite starting-pitching prospect moonlighting as an unhittable setup man in 2007 and early 2008. Though he returned to the rotation in mid-2008, Chamberlain struggled enough in the second half of 2009 to get bumped back to the bullpen for the postseason. The hope was that Joba would rediscover his dominant ways, giving the Yankees a matched set of overqualified setup men, but Chamberlain brought his struggles to the 'pen with him. Though he's conditioned to make a 100-pitch start, Chamberlain has been limited to fractions of innings and has allowed seven of the 17 men he's faced to reach base, all via hits, while striking out just three of them. Chamberlain did get two key outs in Sunday's clincher, even picking up his defense to do so after a bad hop on a double-play ball. Still, opponents are hitting .438 against him on the postseason as a whole, which explains why he has yet to pitch a full inning of relief thus far.

Mark Teixeira: Teixeira does have a few huge hits in this postseason, including the bloop before Alex Rodriguez's game-tying blast in Game 2 of the ALDS, the game-winning homer in the same game and a bases-loaded double in Game 4 of the ALCS. He also picked up a pair of singles in Sunday night's clincher, but he's still hitting just .205/.273/.308 on the postseason while batting in front of the red-hot Rodriguez. Those are troubling numbers coming from a No. 3 hitter who led the league in homers and RBIs during the regular season. Facing a Phillies club that can match their firepower, the Yankees need to have all of their cannons blazing, and Teixeira is one of their biggest guns.

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