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Thursday, October 21, 2004

ALCS Recap

The Red Sox completed their more than improbable comeback last night with a 10-3 victory over the Yankees. 25 other teams had gotten down 0-3 in a best of seven but only the Red Sox even forced a game 7, let alone won it. A few observations on game 7 and the series.

  • Like many I was surprised that the Yankees did not have a better approach to Curt Schilling in game 6. They were not patient nor did they bunt forcing Schilling to throw only 99 pitches through 7 innings and never testing his bad ankle. When a pitcher is clearly injured you need to wear him down, which the Yankees seemed unwilling to do.
  • Games 6 and 7 weren't really the problem for the Yankees. Games 4 and 5 were. In game 4 they had a 4-3 going into the bottom of the 9th when a Mariano Rivera walk turned into a run to tie the game. In game 5 they held a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the eighth before David Ortiz homered off of Tom Gordon and Rivera gave up the sacrifice fly to Trot Nixon to tie the game. Perhaps Rivera should have been brought in in the 8th inning of game 5 instead of waiting.
  • In game 7 I was shocked to see Pedro Martinez on the mound to start the 7th inning. He was coming back on only one day's rest having thrown 111 pitches in game 5. Presumably he would pitch either game 1 or game 2 of the World Series. When he came in he was not sharp at all but seemed to pick up the velocity after he let in the 2 runs, striking out John Olerud and retiring Miguel Cairo. Regardless of the outcome that was a bad decision by manager Terry Francona. Derek Lowe had only thrown 69 pitches and was in command. It worked out but I don't understand it at all.
  • Throughout the series Al Leiter added alot with his commentary and showed what thinking pitchers are thinking about during a game. His comments in game 7 about the Yankees pitching pattern to Olrando Cabrera were especially interesting. He noted that the Yankees seemed to try and get him out on fastballs although Leiter knows from experience and backed it up with statistics that Cabrera is a fastball hitter hitting .213 on breaking balls and .297 on fastballs. That may explain part of the reason Cabrera hit .379 in the series.
  • On the contrary the Yankees had an excellent approach to pitching Mark Bellhorn. They pounded him inside both low and high. His homerun in game 6 was on a pitch out of the strike zone away and just a little up and his homerun in game 7 was pitch left out over the plate. Interestingly, both Tim McCarver and Joe Buck seemed critical of the decision to bat Bellhorn second in the lineup, emphasizing the fact that he struck out with a man on second and nobody out in the first inning therefore failing to move the runner over. To me this is an example of the Red Sox employing the strategy of "be the house". Yes, Bellhorn strikes out alot (177 times, tops in the AL not tops in the majors as McCarver said last night) but he also walks alot (88 times). Over the course of a season his 88 walks and .444 slugging percentage are going to move over alot of runners while his strikeouts are going to result in fewer double plays (he hit into 8). I'll take that tradeoff any day, especially if the alternative is to bat Cabrera second who has a .316 career OBP and grounded in 16 double plays in 2004.
  • As noted by the broadcast team last night the Yankees got 3.3 innings, 6 hits, 8 runs, and 7 walks out of $25M worth of pitchers in Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez. Many will use this as proof that money doesn't win championships. The payroll ranking of the eight teams that made the playoffs are 1,2,3,7,8,11,12,19. The fact is that large payrolls result in many more playoff appearances but because of chance in short playoff series don't guarantee championships. Albert and Bennet in Curve Ball constructed a model of team performance and through a simulation concluded that the best team in any given season has a 98% chance of making the playoffs but only a 21% chance of winning the World Series.
  • I'm not sure that Joe Torre shouldn't have brought in Mariano Rivera in the 2nd inning when the game was on the line. That would have been a bold move. Vazquez did not pitch all that well in game 3 going 4.1 innings and giving up 4 runs and repeated that trick last night.
  • David Ortiz deserved the ALCS MVP award. All of his three homeruns were huge not to mention his game-winning single in the 14th inning of game 5 while hitting .387 and driving in 11 runs.
  • George Steinbrenner is sure to shake things up in the Bronx. I wouldn't be surprised to see a change of pitching coaches but although that's where it will start it'll likely only be the beginning.
  • Best Tim McCarver quote of the series - "The riptide of big innings are walks"
  • I agree with Will Carroll who notes that for a team with a really big payroll the Yankees had several obvious holes in their lineup during the series. Batting Kenny Lofton at DH and the combination of Tony Clark and John Olerud at first base as well as Miguel Cairo seems strange for a team with that much money. I don't mind Ruben Sierra at DH so much.

It's been a long week of baseball. One more night with the NLCS game 7. It's hard to bet against Roger Clemens.