Thursday October 7th, 2010

Cliff Corcoran will break down the day's games everyday during the postseason.

Series: ALDS, Game 2, Rangers lead 1-0 Time: 2:30 p.m. EST TV: TBS Starters: C.J. Wilson (15-8, 3.35 ERA) vs. James Shields (13-15, 5.18 ERA)

Joe Maddon's decision to start James Shields in Game 2 of this series was questioned before the series began, and after ace David Price got beat in Game 1, it was outright mocked. "Hey, at least they have Shields going in Game 2," was the popular refrain. After all, the only scheduled starter on any of the other seven postseason teams with a higher regular season ERA than Shields' 5.18 is the Twins Nick Blackburn, and Blackburn isn't scheduled to pitch against the Yankees until Game 4, if necessary. Still, it's not hard to trace Maddon's logic. If he wanted to replace Shields outright, his options were limited. His fifth starter, Jeff Niemann, went 1-5 with a 10.13 ERA after returning from a disabled list stint prompted by a strained shoulder, and the only other Rays to start a game this year were rookie Jeremy Hellickson, who has just four major league starts under his belt, the last on August 20, and Andy Sonnanstine, who had thrown more than 70 pitches in a game just once since August 19. Thus forced to keep Shields in his rotation, the obvious move was to start him at home, where his ERA was 1.29 runs lower this season (4.53 vs. 5.82 on the road). That meant Game 2. Shields' two starts against the Rangers this year fall right in line with that split. On June 5, he gave up six runs (though just three earned) on 10 hits over seven innings in Arlington, but facing the Rangers again at home on August 18, he held them to two runs (just one earned) on four hits, again in seven innings.

That doesn't change the fact that the Rays will have to generate some offense against Rangers starter C.J. Wilson to avoid heading to Texas on the verge of elimination. Tampa Bay's only run in Game 1 came on a Ben Zobrist solo homer off Cliff Lee in the seventh, Lee's final inning of work. Zobrist also doubled off Lee, but those were their only extra-base hits. Their only other baserunners came on four scattered singles and a pair of ninth-inning walks, and they struck out 13 times. There's no shame in being dominated by Lee, but the Rays averaged just two runs per game over their final eight regular-season contests and were shut out three times over that span, and they'll need to pull out of that funk with a quickness if they want to survive this series.

Wilson faced the Rays just once this season, beating them in Texas back on June 4 despite giving up five runs (three earned) in five innings. Wilson was a pleasant surprise this season after being moved out of the bullpen and into the starting rotation, but as a result of having spent the majority of his major league career as a reliever, he is in uncharted innings territory, having thrown 204 regular season frames after never having thrown more than 123 in a professional season prior to this year. That could explain his poor September showing (1-3, 5.85 ERA). Another red flag for Wilson is that he led the American League in walks, passing 4.1 men per nine innings, something that could be particularly problematic facing a Rays offense that also led the league in walks. Even if he is able to work around those free passes, the patient Rays could drive his pitch count up, forcing him to make an early exit this afternoon.

Series: ALDS, Game 2, Yankees lead 1-0 Time: 6:00 p.m. EST TV: TBS Starters: Andy Pettitte (11-3, 3.28 ERA) vs. Carl Pavano (17-11, 3.75 ERA)

Winning Game 1 was huge for the Yankees, most significantly because it gives Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes, their starters in Games 2 and 3, respectively, some margin for error. Nobody has any idea what to expect from Pettitte, perhaps not even Pettitte himself. After missing almost the entire second half of the season due to a groin injury, Pettitte made just three starts in late September, the last two of which were over before the fifth inning and saw him give up a total of 19 hits in 7 1/3 innings.

At the same time, Pettitte was sharp in the first of those three starts as well as a pair of minor league rehab outings and, before suffering the groin injury on July 18, was having his finest season as a Yankee, going 11-2 with a 2.70 ERA through his first 17 starts. Pettitte also struck out eight Red Sox in his final start of the season, despite all those hits and his early exit. Pettitte's postseason pedigree is unassailable. No pitcher has started or won more postseason games than he has. He went 4-0 with a 3.52 ERA in five starts for the Yankees in last year's title run, winning the clinching game in each round and turning in a quality start in his only non-decision. That's all history, however. None of it changes the fact that he's now 38 years old, not far removed from a stint on the disabled list, complained of back pain after his penultimate start of the season and hasn't thrown more than 88 pitches in a game since July 8.

There's a very real chance that the Yankees could need to remove Pettitte early in this game, exposing the tender underbelly of their bullpen. The Yankees have three long relievers/spot starters in their pen in Dustin Moseley, Sergio Mitre, and A.J. Burnett, but I'm sure they'd love to get through this series without having to use any of them with anything less than a five-run lead.

The flip side of the Yankees concerns about Pettitte is the potential indignity of losing a postseason game to Carl Pavano, the pitcher who over the course of a four-year, $39.95 million contract with the Yankees from 2005 to 2008 made 26 starts going 9-8 with a 5.00 ERA, seven of those starts and four of those wins coming in the final five weeks of the deal with free agency on the horizon. Pavano shook off the rust last year with a solid comeback season split between the Indians and Twins, and has clearly been the Twins second-best starter in 2010, tying for the league leads with seven complete games and two shutouts. Over a 15-start stretch from May 29 to August 13, Pavano went 11-2 with a 2.79 ERA for the Twins. He's been less impressive since then, however, going 2-4 with a 5.26 ERA and giving up six home runs over the course of his last two starts in September.

Pavano turned in a gem against the Yankees in Game 3 of last year's ALDS, allowing just two runs on five hits over seven innings while striking out nine against no walks. Like Pettitte, he has some pretty impressive postseason numbers, having posted a 1.71 ERA in three starts and six relief appearances, all but one of those outings coming in 2003 with the Marlins, who also ultimately faced the Yankees in the postseason. In fact, in two career postseason starts against the Yankees, Pavano has put up this line: 15 IP, 12 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 13 Ks. He didn't win either start, however, as in both Game 4 of the 2003 World Series and last year's ALDS Game 3, the Yankees came back against the relievers who followed Pavano.

Series: NLDS, Game 1 Time: 9:30 p.m. EST TV: TBS Starters: Derek Lowe (16-12, 4.00 ERA) vs. Tim Lincecum (16-10, 3.43 ERA)

Though neither of these teams clinched a playoff berth until the season's final day, the Giants had clinched at least a tie for the NL West before their final three-game set against the Padres. That allowed them to hold their ace, Tim Lincecum, in reserve, while the Braves, who needed a win on the season's final day to avoid risking elimination, had to pitch their ace, Tim Hudson, on Sunday. As a result, this pitching match-up is a bit lop-sided, or so it would appear. In reality, Lowe was dominant down the stretch, gong 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA in September while walking just three men and allowing one home run in 30 2/3 innings. Lowe also pitched well in his two starts against the Giants this year, winning both while allowing just three runs in 11 1/3 innings (2.38 ERA).

Lincecum had some uncharacteristic struggles in August, but was as dominant as ever in September, going 5-1 with a 1.94 ERA, 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings, and 6.5 strikeouts for every walk. Lincecum has two quality starts in as many appearances against the Braves this year, including a 10-strikeout game at home back on April 11. The only Atlanta starter not to strikeout in that game, Martin Prado, is out for the year with a hip pointer and a torn oblique, however, that lineup did not include Derrek Lee, acquired from the Cubs in a waiver trade in August, who has hit .375/.412/.500 against Lincecum in 17 plate appearances. That's a miniscule sample, but there are several Braves who have had success against Lincecum in similarly brief exposure. Catcher Brian McCann has hit .381/.409/.667 in 22 PA, infielder Omar Infante has hit .364 with a double in 11 PA and shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who was also acquired via trade after that April 11 game, is 3-for-7 with a homer and no strikeouts, the home run coming on August 5 of this year.

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