Friday October 7th, 2011

Five thoughts on the Division Series:

Hey, Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter, Ian Kennedy and Yovani Gallardo: Can somebody go out there tonight and put up a big-time pitching performance? What the heck happened to the Year of the Pitcher 2.0? It apparently does not extend to October.

The League Division Series have been exciting because we will have played 19 out of a maximum 20 games, culminating in three Game 5s within two nights, including Arizona at Milwaukee and St. Louis at Philadelphia tonight to decide the NLCS matchup. But if you want memorable pitching games, especially by aces, forget it. Young rookie Matt Moore of the Rays, with seven shutout innings against the Rangers, put up the first gem on in the first game of the postseason and nobody really has topped him yet.

The Cy Young Award winners have been particularly lackluster this October. Presuming Justin Verlander is your 2011 AL Cy guy, the six Cys in the postseason (Verlander, Halladay, Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, Zack Greinke and Chris Carpenter), are 2-1 with a 5.83 ERA. Somewhere Bob Gibson is sighing.

Now let's consider all 34 starts that have been made this postseason. Only 10 of them were quality starts -- just 29 percent, down from 53 percent in the regular season.

Let's raise the bar a bit higher, as should be expected this time of year. What about the number of times a starter has thrown seven innings and allowed no more than two earned runs? Last year there were nine such games. This year? Just three. That would rank among the lowest in the 17-year history of the LDS under the six-division format:

Every postseason introduces us to breakout stars and unexpected contributors. Here are the five best surprise stories so far this October:

• Don Kelly, Detroit. A manager's dream, Kelly is the only active player to have played all nine positions in the majors. In ALDS Game 5, he joined Tony Phillips of the 1989 A's as the only players to play third base and the outfield and hit a home run in the same postseason game. Offered to drive the team bus to the airport.

• Jason Motte, St. Louis. Anybody remember when Ryan Franklin was the Cardinals' closer? That was this year. Since June 26, Motte has a 1.58 ERA. He also has classic closer facial hair, in other words, what a closer would look like if Charles Dickens were managing.

• Mike Napoli, Texas. The Angels held on to all that catching they had but let Napoli go. Guess which team led the AL in OPS by catchers? (Hint: Napoli plays for them.) And guess which team ranked next-to-last in OPS by catchers? (Hint: Napoli used to play for them).

• Jerry Hairston, Milwaukee. An NL version of Kelly (Hairston started 44 games at third this year; Kelly 41), but with deep major league bloodlines with almost matching batting average DNA among Jerry (.258), dad Jerry (.258), uncle John (.250) and brother Scott (.244).

• The Rally Squirrel, St. Louis. The turning point of the series may turn out to be the squirrel making a run for it at Bushy Tail Stadium. Manager Tony La Russa immediately took out the squirrel and double-switched in a chipmunk.

The celebration in the Tigers' clubhouse at Yankee Stadium Thursday night wasn't just raucous. It was historic. As if taking out the team with the best record in the league wasn't impressive enough, Detroit did so by beating the Yankees on their own field and by one run. How hard is that to do?

The Tigers became the first visiting team to pop some corks in Yankee Stadium III, now three years old. And they became only the third team ever to eliminate the Yankees by beating them by one run on their own field, joining the 1926 Cardinals and 1921 Giants.

"I said coming in here that all the pressure was on them," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "They're the home team. They're supposed to win."

The road team now has won seven of the past eight LDS Game 5s, the first-round sudden death games, heading into the two winner-take-all games tonight.

As the remaining number of outs began to distill to nothing, the Yankees' anxiety at the plate grew in inverse proportion. They put 13 runners on, but none of them were sent home on a hit. (One run was scored on a home run, the other on a bases-loaded walk.)

Come to think of it, maybe Leyland is on to something. The past eight home teams in LDS Game 5s are 1-7 while hitting .236 and scoring 2.75 runs per game. Here are the batting numbers for the home team in the past seven LDS Games 5s:

Watching the Tigers attack Alex Rodriguez with fastballs and watching Rodriguez trying to creak back to hitting life at the plate -- on the heels of a season diminished by more physical ailments -- the Yankees must wonder how often Rodriguez can be an impact hitter. The guy can still play -- he made several fine, athletic plays in the field at third base, suggesting he is healthy now -- but the consistency of his play has come into question with age (he is 36) and ailments (knee, thumb, hip, legs, etc.).

The downward trend to his career path should give pause to the Yankees if they plan for counting on Rodriguez to be a 140-game force in the cleanup spot in 2012. Some trends to consider:

Rodriguez hasn't played 140 games since 2007, when he turned 32.

His slugging percentage and OPS have declined four straight seasons.

His line drive percentage has declined three straight years -- to a career low in 2011.

Slow against good fastballs, he hit no home runs and slugged .355 off power pitchers this year.

He hit three home runs in his last 46 games, postseason included.

He has not hit a home run in his past 61 postseason at-bats, batting .213 in that drought.

He is the first player in history to end two straight postseasons with a strikeout.

The Tigers had serious concerns after Game 5 about when leftfielder Delmon Young will be able to play in the ALCS against Texas. It was too soon to know exactly how badly Young tweaked his left oblique, an injury that took him out of Game 5 after he was too pained to complete a warmup throw in leftfield, but the history of oblique injuries suggests Detroit may start without him tomorrow or even need a roster replacement for him.

In any case, the Tigers were looking for Ryan Rayburn to play a big part against Texas because of the Rangers' three left-handed starters: C.J. Wilson, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison. Rayburn posted an .807 OPS against lefties this year. Detroit won six of seven games against the Rangers this season.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.