Wednesday October 20th, 2010

Cliff Corcoran previews each day's games throughout the postseason.

Series: NLCS, Game 4, Giants lead 2-1 Time: 7:30 p.m. EST TV: FOX Starters: Joe Blanton (2010 postseason: N/A; 2010 regular season: 9-6, 4.82 ERA) vs. Madison Bumgarner (1-0, 3.00 ERA; 7-6, 3.00 ERA)

With Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels each set to start twice if this series went seven games, the Giants had to win three games started by the Phillies H2O starters in order to win this series. Just three games into the series, they already have two of those victories. The fourth Giants victory, according to the battle plan, is this game, the only in the series in which the Giants seem to have the clear advantage in the starting pitching matchup.

Bumgarner was the Giants' top pitching prospect entering this season. The 10th overall pick in the 2007 draft, the tall lefty joined the San Francisco rotation in late June, more than a month before his 21st birthday, and quickly validated the hype, going 4-2 with a 2.27 ERA in six July starts and later allowing just five runs in his final six regular season starts (1.18 ERA with a 4.86 K/BB to boot). Slotted in as the Giants' fourth starter in the Division Series against the Braves, Bumgarner continued to impress, throwing six strong innings while holding the Braves to just two runs and picking up the series-clinching win. Blanton, meanwhile, missed April due to an oblique strain and bore a 6.41 ERA at the All-Star break after 13 starts.

That seems like a mismatch, but Blanton went 6-1 with a 3.48 ERA in the second half (the Phillies went 11-5 in his starts), and Bumgarner was just 1-3 with a 4.60 ERA in eight starts at home this season. It's true that Bumgarner's home split is skewed by one disastrous outing against the Reds in August (2 2/3 IP, 8 R, 7 ER). He posted a 3.40 ERA in his other seven home starts, but that's not a dramatic improvement on Blanton's second-half performance.

This matchup is far closer than the overall numbers or lingering impressions from the regular season would have you believe. Blanton held the Giants to a pair of solo homers by Andres Torres and Pat Burrell while striking out seven against no walks in his only start against them this year. Bumgarner has never faced the Phillies.

Although it lacks the starting pitching star power of the other six games, this is a key game in this series. If the Giants win, the Phillies would have to sweep the final three games to win the pennant. They have the pitchers to do it, but the Giants, as we've already seen, have the pitching to stop them. The Giants have already proven they can take two of three from H2O, which they would have to do to win the pennant following a loss tonight, but do you really like their chances of doing that twice in one series?

Before this series, the Phillies had lost two of three successive starts by their Big Three starters just twice since Oswalt joined the Philadelphia rotation at the end of July and had never seen two of those three take a loss in a single turn through the rotation. In late August, the Phillies lost consecutive games started by Hamels and Halladay against the Astros. On Sept. 28, two days after a Hamels loss to the Mets, the Phillies lost a game started by Oswalt.

Obviously the only way to beat H2O is to out-pitch them, which the Giants have now done twice in three games, but don't mistake their 2-1 advantage in this series for a sign that they're out-hitting the Phillies. Yes, the Phillies were shutout on Tuesday afternoon, but they had more men on base against Matt Cain (seven) than the Giants had against Hamels (six). The difference is that the Giants are getting the big hits and the big outs when they need them.

Certainly the Phillies' powerful offense needs to heat up, but the first step in that process is having better at-bats and better results with men on base. Philadelphia is 2-for-19 with runners in scoring position in this series, a .105 average. If that keeps up, this series might not even get back to Philadelphia.

Series: ALCS, Game 5, Rangers lead 3-1 Time: 4 p.m. EST TV: TBS Starters: C.J. Wilson (Postseason: 1-0, 2.03 ERA; Regular season: 15-8, 3.35 ERA) vs. CC Sabathia (1-0, 7.20 ERA; 21-7, 3.18 ERA)

No one should have been surprised that the Yankees lost the last two games of this series. Before the series even started, Games 3 and 4 looked like New York defeats due to Cliff Lee starting the former for the Rangers and A.J. Burnett starting the latter for the Yankees. Still, there were a lot of observers who thought New York would find a way to pull out a win in one of those games, but they didn't.

This series has been a slaughter, plain and simple. The Yankees have scored just five runs over the last three games, their bullpen allowed 11 runs in five innings in the last two, and the Yankee starting pitchers for Games 5 and 6 combined to allow 12 runs in eight innings in the first two games of this series. New York's only route to the American League pennant now runs through Cliff Lee in a potential Game 7, but there's an excellent chance that the next game Lee starts will be Game 1 of the World Series.

The Yankees' hopes of extending their season now rest on the broad shoulders of CC Sabathia. That would be good news for New York if not for the fact that Sabathia was awful in Game 1 and unimpressive in his lone Division Series start. His combined line in this postseason is 10 IP, 11 H, 9 R (8 ER), 2 HR, 7 BB, 8 Ks, with a hit batter, a wild pitch and a balk thrown in for good measure. Dating back to his final start in August, Sabathia has allowed five or more runs in four of his last nine starts.

Meanwhile, Wilson has been nails in his two postseason starts, throwing 6 1/3 scoreless innings in Game 2 of the Division Series, then throwing six scoreless at the Yankees in Game 1 of this series before giving up a Robinson Cano solo homer in the seventh and then an infield single and a Derek Jeter double before getting the hook in the eighth.

Yankee fans can cling to the fact that Sabathia has made both of his postseason starts thus far on extended rest and on the road, neither of which are favorable conditions for him, and he will start this afternoon on regular rest at home. Still, while Sabathia's numbers have been better at Yankee Stadium than on the road this year, the difference wasn't drastic (3.00 ERA to 3.34 on the road) and due largely to better luck on balls in play at home. Meanwhile, Wilson's road ERA was 0.78 runs better than his home mark (though again, luck on balls in play seems to have played a part).

As if the above wasn't discouraging enough for the defending world champions, they have lost Mark Teixeira for the remainder of the postseason due to the Grade 2 strain of his right hamstring he suffered while running to first base in the bottom of the fifth inning on Tuesday night. Teixeira was hitless on the series, but he made several run-saving plays at first-base in Game 3 alone, and though he hadn't hit in this series, Teixeira did hit .308/.357/.615 in the Division Series and remained a key bat in the Yankees lineup.

Without Teixeira, the Yankees also lose their platoon at designated hitter, and thus a big bench bat, as both Lance Berkman and Marcus Thames will have to start against both lefties Wilson and Lee and righty Colby Lewis, should the Yankees survive to play another day. Thames has actually hit righties better than lefties this season, but Berkman is a complete non-entity against lefties. Thus, the Yankees are effectively replacing Teixeira in tonight's lineup with a .171/.261/.256 hitter (Berkman's line against southpaws this year). They're also replacing Teixeira's Gold Glove defense at first base with Berkman's less agile fielding and replacing the non-starting half of the DH platoon with rookie utility infielder Eduardo Nuñez, who is expected to replace Teixeira on the roster. Nuñez is unlikely to see any more action than fellow utility infielder Ramiro Peña has this postseason, and perhaps less given that, with Berkman in the lineup, the switch-hitting Peña is now the only left-handed bat on the Yankees bench.

Most of that is just details, however. Sabathia might come through tonight and send this series back to Texas, but even if he does, he'll just be delaying the inevitable. Baring one of the great series turnarounds in postseason history, the Yankees are done, and the Rangers are about to win their first pennant in franchise history.

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