Saturday October 23rd, 2010

1. The Giants and Phillies didn't play yesterday, but it was a bad day for both clubs, anyway. The Texas Rangers wrapped up the ALCS with a 6-1 win over New York, thereby saving ace Cliff Lee for Game 1 of the World Series instead of having to use him in an ALCS Game 7.

The National League champion now gets a well-rested Lee twice in the first five games of the World Series. If Texas needed to use Lee in a Game 7 to get to the World Series, Lee would have been available to pitch two of the first six games and would have been coming off the grind of having started four times in the first two rounds.

Lee is a postseason legend (7-0, 1.26), so he is a difficult draw no matter what the circumstance. But this eight-day break for Lee since he pitched ALCS Game 3 is a boon for the Rangers.

Since version 2.0 of Lee emerged in 2008, he has started 12 times with six days of rest or more, including Game 1 of the 2009 World Series when he outpitched CC Sabathia and dominated the Yankees. Lee's record in those starts with extended rest is 8-1 with a 1.57 ERA.

So no matter who wins the NLCS, Lee looms as the dominant figure of the World Series, beginning with Game 1, when for a second straight year we are treated to an all-Cy pitching matchup. Lee either returns to Philadelphia to pitch against Roy Halladay or goes to San Francisco (where he is 2-0, 1.13) to square off against Tim Lincecum.

It's the exact right denouement to the Year of the Pitcher. Lee is to the 2010 World Series plot line what Sandy Koufax was to the 1965 World Series, Bob Gibson to the 1968 World Series, Orel Herisher to the 1988 World Series and Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling to the 2001 World Series.

2. That was one brilliant game thrown by Texas righthander Colby Lewis in ALCS Game 6. He was in complete command of his emotions and pitches all night. Now the Rangers, if they wish, can slot a righthander brimming with confidence between left-handers Lee and C.J. Wilson in the World Series.

Just how impressive was that game by Lewis? It ranks among the greatest games ever thrown to eliminate the Yankees. Indeed, no pitcher ever eliminated the Yankees while giving them so few hits over at least eight innings. Here are the fewest hits allowed by a starter while eliminating New York (min: eight innings):

3. The Yankees were thoroughly outplayed by the Rangers in the ALCS. The Yankees' mighty offense had much to do with the downfall -- it fizzled. In the four games New York lost, it was outscored 31-6 without scoring more than three runs in any of those four games.

The pitching also broke down, but that represented a longer-term problem more than just a bad stretch of six games. New York's 2010 blueprint went awry long ago when starters A.J. Burnett and Javier Vazquez devolved into relatively useless pitchers -- at the price of $28 million.

What hurt just as much, if not more, was the slow regression by Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, the two young pitchers that the organization treated with kid gloves for the past three years with the big hope that those homegrown power arms would keep them from wasting money on old, expensive free agents.

Hughes lost twice -- badly -- in the ALCS. In his final nine starts of the year, he was 3-5 with a 6.02 ERA. Last year, the Yankees got by without having any good fourth option in their postseason rotation. This year they couldn't come up with a good third option.

Chamberlain, meanwhile, has devolved from a lights-out setup reliever and the heir to Mariano Rivera to a mediocre starting pitcher, to a set-up reliever, to a set-up reliever to set-up reliever, to a ... well, the most hyped middle reliever in baseball.

The ALCS turned on two key intersections: in Game 4 when manager Joe Girardi preferred to leave the game in the hands of a fading, rusty Burnett as Texas rallied, and in Game 6 when Girardi needed a tourniquet as Hughes was letting the elimination game get away. (He gave the ball to David Robertson, who quickly let the game get out of hand.) In neither case was Chamberlain an option for Girardi, a damning statement about his lack of development.

When the Yankees needed them most, Burnett, Vazquez, Hughes and Chamberlain were not there. Hughes, 24, and Chamberlain, 25, are still young enough to become big-time pitchers; the time for that just had not arrived yet this postseason.

To fix the pitching problem, the Yankees have one goal: to overwhelm Lee with money the way they did Sabathia. It probably will work, too. If not, however, Plan B is far less obvious. No other top pitcher will be available on the free agent market, and so the Yankees would have to ship off some of their best young players to acquire a pitcher such as Zack Greinke in a trade.

4. One of the encouraging signs for the Phillies to come out of Game 5 was that Jimmy Rollins stole two bases. It was the first time Rollins stole a base in 44 days, a hiatus caused mostly by a hamstring injury.

San Francisco has held Philadelphia to just three home runs and a .209 batting average, so every 90-foot advancement for the Phillies takes on more significance in the run-depressed environment. Besides, the Phillies somehow look like a much more dangerous team when Rollins gets on base and can draw the attention of the pitcher and defenders.

With Shane Victorino (.150) cold in the leadoff spot, manager Charlie Manuel might be tempted to restore Rollins to his old spot atop the lineup, but Rollins' bat plays better out of the middle of the order.

5. Manuel, however, should go back to breaking up left-handers Chase Utley and Ryan Howard -- with Placido Polanco in between -- especially with lefty Jonathan Sanchez on the mound in Game 6.

But Manuel opened a window into his lineup construction ideas when he explained that he didn't like being moved around an order as a player.

"I remember my manager sometimes when I was playing and especially in Japan or in Triple-A baseball when I played every day and my manager," Manuel said, "if I'm hitting third or fourth and I got used to hitting in one position, he'd move me to five or six. Yeah, I'd get upset. That would bother me. I would never tell him that, and I used to think it had something to do with how I thought and things like that.

"We're a creature of habit and routines play a big part on them. That's why you have it. Pitchers are the same way."

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