MLB Playoffs: 16 Potential "Must-Watch" Pitching Matchups in the AL and NLCS

Marilee Gallagher@mgallagher17Contributor IIOctober 10, 2012

MLB Playoffs: 16 Potential "Must-Watch" Pitching Matchups in the AL and NLCS

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    In baseball, the teams that make the playoffs are typically those that can hold their own with a bat during the regular season. They are the teams that got the hits and smashed the home runs, the teams that stretched singles into doubles and scored with runners on base. 

    Yes, the teams that make the playoffs are typically those with the best offenses. The thing is though, when it comes to postseason baseball, it is the teams with the best pitching that make it the farthest.

    There is a saying that defense wins championships in football. In baseball, that saying is pitching wins championships. The teams that win the World Series are often those with a solid starting staff and bullpen. In fact, as the San Francisco Giants proved in 2010, sometimes you don't even need the consistent offense if your pitching is just that good.

    With the importance of the pitchers and management of four-man starting staffs taking front and center seats as the postseason moves on, it is relevant to look at the potential starting pitching matchups that baseball fans might see as the AL and NLDS begin.

    To start, the top two potential matchups are listed, and then the remaining 14 are listed in no particular order. The slides will preview 16 matchups based on the starters and No. 2 pitchers of each of the eight playoff teams.

1. (WAS) Gio Gonzalez vs. (SF) Matt Cain

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    In what is no doubt the most anticipated matchup of the NLCS is the potential for a duel between Nationals' ace Gio Gonzalez and San Francisco Giants' all-star pitcher, Matt Cain. It is battle of Cy Young contenders, and could be one of the best pitching duels of the year.

    Here are how the two National League all-stars match up:

    Gio Gonzalez: 2.29 ERA, 21-8 W-L, 207 SO, 1.13 WHIP

    Matt Cain: 2.79 ERA, 16-5 W-L, 193 SO, 1.04 WHIP

    Both Cain and Gonzalez put up lofty numbers this year as they led their teams into the postseason. Cain finished second in the NL in WHIP, third in innings pitched, sixth in wins, eighth in strikeouts and fourth in ERA. Gonzalez topped the National League with his 21 wins, finished fourth in strikeouts, sixth in walks allowed and ERA and eighth in WHIP.

    Best Game This Season

    Matt Cain: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 14 SO

    Cain may have had one of the best perfect games in all of Major League history when he dominated the Houston Astros on June 13. He threw 125 pitches while walking none and striking out an incredible 14. It was his eighth win of the season and put his record at 8-2.

    Gio Gonzalez: 9 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 8 SO

    In the midst of his best season as a pro, Gonzalez recorded his first career shutout as his Nationals' beat the St. Louis Cardinals 10-0 on August 31. He needed just 119 pitches and faced just 32 batters. It was his 17th win of the season.

2. (NYY) CC Sabathia vs. (DET) Justin Verlander

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    If the Detroit Tigers face the New York Yankees in the ALCS, then a potential pitching duel between CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander is something that you definitely won't want to miss. It is no doubt a dream pitching matchup, and certainly will be one of the best head-to-head collisions in recent postseason memory.

    Here are how these two juggernauts of the American League match up:

    Justin Verlander: 2.64 ERA, 17-8 W-L, 239 SO, 1.06 WHIP

    CC Sabathia: 3.38 ERA, 15-6 W-L, 197 SO, 1.14 WHIP

    Both Sabathia and Verlander completed solid seasons as they led their teams to the playoffs. Sabathia finished 10th in the AL in wins and ERA, seventh in strikeouts, sixth in WHIP and third in winning percentage. Verlander's numbers were a little better as he finished with a league best six complete games, 239 strikeouts and 238.1 innings pitched. He was second in WHIP and ERA and fourth in wins.

    Cy Young Seasons

    Both pitchers are not too far removed from some of their best career performances. Here is how their Cy Young winning campaigns stack up:

    (2007) CC Sabathia: 241 IP, 209 SO, 19-7 W-L, 1.14 WHIP, 3.21 ERA, 4 CG

    (2011) Justin Verlander: 251 IP, 250 SO, 24-5 W-L, .92 WHIP, 2.40 ERA, 4 CG

    Sabathia put together these numbers while still with the Cleveland Indians. It was not his best career season as that came in 2010 with the Yankees. Verlander, on the other hand, dominated every category in one of the best pitching years of all time. He was a lock for the Cy Young, and even won the AL MVP for his near flawless season.

(CIN) Johnny Cueto vs. (STL) Adam Wainwright

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    How the Two Match Up:

    Johnny Cueto: 2.78 ERA, 19-9 W-L, 190 SO, 1.17 WHIP

    Adam Wainwright: 3.94 ERA, 14-13 W-L, 184 SO, 1.25 WHIP

    After coming off a Cy Young campaign in the second half of 2011, Cueto picked up right where he left off. He ranked third in the National League in wins and ERA, fifth in innings pitched and ninth in winning percentage. Wainwright had his ups and downs this season for the Cardinals, but did manage to finish second in the NL in complete games with three.

    Best Game This Season

    Johnny Cueto: 9 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 7 SO

    In an interleague game against the Cleveland Indians, Cueto pitched the Reds to a 7-1 win. He threw 122 pitches as he faced 32 batters. The win was his seventh of the season and put his record at 7-3.

    Adam Wainwright: 9 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 SO

    In a win against the San Diego Padres, Wainwright pitched excellently. He pitched to his strengths with 11 fly-ball and 10 ground-ball outs and needed just 111 pitches. This was his fourth win of the season.

(SF) Matt Cain vs. (STL) Adam Wainwright

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    Postseason Stats:

    Adam Wainwright: 11 GP, 2 GS, 23.1 IP, 2 ER, 6 BB, 32 SO

    Although he missed the Cardinals' 2011 World Series Championship run because of an injury that kept him out all season, Wainwright has still pitched in three postseasons for St. Louis. In 2006, he pitched 9.2 innings as a relief pitcher. He won his only playoff game and saved an additional four as he helped the Cardinals defeat the Detroit Tigers for the 2006 championship.

    Wainwright also pitched in the postseason for St. Louis in 2009 where, despite not getting a decision, he had a start pitching eight strong innings and giving up just three hits and one run.

    This year for the Cardinals', Wainwright pitched well enough to get the win. He struck out ten in 5.2 innings and gave up just six hits and one run. He got the no-decision as the Nationals staged a late comeback.

    Matt Cain: 4 GP, 4 GS, 26.1 IP, 3 ER, 8 BB, 17 SO

    Just like Wainwright, Cain has a World Series ring as he helped pitch the Cardinals over the Texas Rangers in the 2010 World Series. In the 2010 playoffs, Cain started three games and pitched 21.1 innings. He gave up 13 hits, but only one run and it wasn't earned. He also walked seven and struck out 13. His win-loss record was 2-0.

    Cain pitched well in his first postseason start of 2012, but ultimately it wasn't enough to beat the Cincinnati Reds. He pitched just five innings and gave up three runs. He also allowed two home runs while walking one and striking out four.

(WAS) Gio Gonzalez vs. (CIN) Johnny Cueto

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    Comparing Career Numbers:

    Gio Gonzalez: 3.65 ERA, 59-40 W-L, 718 SO, 1.33 WHIP

    The former Philadelphia Phillies prospect Gonzalez spent the first four years of his career pitching for the Oakland Athletics. He became a big part of this starting staff in 2010 when he started 33 games, struck out 171, had a record of 15-9 and an ERA of 3.23.

    He went on to improve these stats with a strong 2011 season as well. He started 32 games, struck out a then-career high 197 batters, had a win-loss record of 16-12 and he lowered his ERA to 3.12. It was this season that really made Gonzalez a solid trade piece.

    Over the course of his career, Gonzalez's one big Achilles' heel is his lack of control. He has a career strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.11. In 2012, he had his worst K/BB ratio of 2.72 and so far in the postseason, his lack of control has been even worse as in just five innings he walked seven Cardinals' hitters.

    Johnny Cueto: 3.57 ERA, 60-46 W-L, 702 SO, 1.26 WHIP

    Looking at Cueto and Gonzalez, there is a lot these two pitchers have in common as their stat lines are nearly identical. Cueto has been with the Cincinnati Reds for his entire career and, just like Gonzalez, is in his fifth year in the league.

    Cueto was really just an average pitcher until he had a breakout season last year. Because of an injury, Cueto only started in 24 games. In that time, however, he pitched three complete games, struck out 104, had a win-loss record of 9-5 and an ERA of 2.31. His late-season charge was enough to earn him a few first-place votes in the NL Cy Young voting.

    With a full season to show what he could do, Cueto was very strong in 2012. He won 19 games and put up career-best numbers in a season in which he started 30 or more games in nearly every offensive category. An injury meant he would pitch just .1 of an inning in this postseason but if the Cardinals advance and if he is ready to go, he should continue his regular season success.

(WAS) Jordan Zimmermann vs. (SF) Madison Bumgarner

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    How the Two Match Up:

    Jordan Zimmermann: 2.94 ERA, 12-8 W-L, 153 SO, 1.17 WHIP

    Madison Bumgarner: 3.37 ERA, 16-11 W-L, 191 SO, 1.11 WHIP

    In a matchup of the young No. 2 starters, both Bumgarner and Zimmermann are in their third year in the majors and pitched well for their teams this year. Bumgarner was sixth in the NL in wins, fifth in WHIP, ninth in strikeouts and 10th in innings pitched. Zimmermann, meanwhile, also cracked the league top 10 as he was seventh in the National League in ERA.

    Best and Worst Game This Season

    Jordan Zimmermann: 7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO/ 3.2 IP, 8 H, 8 ER, 2 HR, 1 BB, 3 SO

    With the exception of a few starts, Zimmermann enjoyed a solid season. His best start came early in the season against the Cincinnati Reds. He followed that up with another solid outing, but in both games he got two no-decisions. In his worst outing, Zimmermann really struggled. He quickly fell behind hitters and lasted just 3.2 innings against the St. Louis Cardinals. Ironically enough, the only other start of the season that saw Zimmermann pitch less than five innings also came against the Cardinals, in the second game of the NLDS.

    Madison Bumgarner: 9 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 SO/ 4.1 IP, 11 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO

    It was early in the season that Bumgarner pitched to his best-ever career start. Following in ace Matt Cain's footsteps, Bumgarner pitched a complete game and gave up just one hit. He faced just over the minimum with 29 batters and needed just 107 pitches. This put his record at 10-4. His worst start came late in the season against the Colorado Rockies as he gave up 11 hits in just 4.1 innings pitched. He also lasted just 4.1 innings in his first playoff start of 2012 as he recorded the loss to the Reds.

(STL) Lance Lynn vs. (CIN) Bronson Arroyo

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    How the Two Match Up:

    Lance Lynn: 3.78 ERA, 18-7 W-L, 180 SO, 1.32 WHIP

    Bronson Arroyo: 3.74 ERA, 12-10 W-L, 129 SO, 1.21 WHIP

    Arroyo and Lynn pitched solidly as they backed up Johnny Cueto and Adam Wainwright. The 35-year-old Arroyo put in solid numbers as 2012 was one of his better career years. Lynn, who is coming off a surprising 2011 season, put in numbers that had him fourth in the National League in wins and seventh in win percentage.

    Best and Worst Game

    Lance Lynn: 8 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 SO/ 5 IP, 7 H, 6 ER, 1 HR, 4 BB, 6 SO

    After starting the season off strong, including Lynn's season best outing against the Chicago Cubs in late May, the Cardinals pitcher enjoyed a good amount of regular season success, including 6-0, 8-1 and 13-4 records. His pitching fell off a bit after the All-Star break and for consecutive starts, he didn't go more than two innings. He may or may not start if the Cardinals advance, but he is coming off a strong three-inning outing where he struck out five. The two runs he gave up came via solo home runs.

    Bronson Arroyo: 9 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 SO/ 3 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 1 HR, 1 BB, 2 SO

    Arroyo wrapped his best and worst start as a frame with the All-Star break in the middle. On July 6, he pitched extremely well, needing just 110 pitches to take down 31 batters. After the break, he put in his worst start of the season. Arroyo lasted just three innings and faced 16 batters. Nearly all of his outs came via the fly ball.

(SF) Madison Bumgarner vs. (STL) Lance Lynn

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    Comparing Rookie Seasons

    Madison Bumgarner: 18 GS, 111 IP, 26 BB, 86 SO, 7-6 W-L, 1.31 WHIP, 3.00 ERA

    Bumgarner made his MLB debut in 2009, but didn't have his rookie season until 2010. In his first year in the league, Bumgarner started 18 games for the Giants. He gave up 11 home runs and struck out 86. He pitched well and helped the Giants to the 2010 playoffs, where he pitched absolutely amazingly. In three games started, he pitched 20.1 innings, gave up five earned runs and struck out 18. He won two games.

    Lance Lynn: 35 GP, 29 GS, 176 IP, 64 BB, 180 SO, 18-7 W-L, 1.32 WHIP, 3.78 ERA

    Just like Bumgarner, Lynn made his MLB debut the year prior to his rookie season. In 2011, he was stellar for the Cardinals in mostly a relief role. He pitched especially well in the postseason, giving up just four earned runs in 11 innings pitched. He struck out five and walked five and finished with a World Series championship and 2-0 postseason record. In 2012, his rookie year, Lynn won 18 games. Late in the season, however, he was moved to the bullpen, where he also pitched well. Luckily for the Cardinals, if it turns out No. 1 starter Johnny Cueto can't go, Lynn can fill right into the rotation.

(CIN) Bronson Arroyo vs. (WAS) Jordan Zimmerman

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    Comparing Career Numbers:

    Bronson Arroyo: 4.23 ERA, 124-115 W-L, 1355 SO, 1.31 WHIP

    Arroyo has put together an impressive career in twelve seasons in the majors. He began his career with three years in Pittsburgh followed by three years in Boston. In his free agency year, Arroyo pitched his best season to that point. He struck out 100 batters and won 14 games. The next season, he signed with the Reds, the team where he has spent the last seven years of his career. 

    Since joining the Reds, Arroyo has won at least nine games every season. He has won 12 or more in five seasons, including his career-best year when he won 17. In that career year, 2010, Arroyo also put up personal bests in several pitching categories. He struck out 121 batters , had a WHIP of 1.15 and an ERA of 3.88

    Overall, Arroyo has pitched in five postseasons, including 2012. He has pitched in 12 games and 29.1 innings. His postseason ERA is 4.60. He has only started four games, however, including his stellar outing this year against the San Francisco Giants where he went seven one-hit innings. 

    Jordan Zimmermann: 3.47 ERA, 24-26 W-L, 396 SO, 1.21 WHIP

    Zimmermann has only one-fourth of the major league experience of Arroyo, but has put together three solid seasons nonetheless. In his rookie year in 2009, Zimmermann started 16 games for a rebuilding Nationals team. He struck out 92 batters and won three games.

    With the exception of a shortened 2010 season, Zimmermann has improved each year he has been in the league. He won eight games in 2011 and then 12 in 2012. He also increased his strikeout numbers from 124 to 153. His ERA decreased from 3.18 to 2.94.

(BAL) Jason Hammel vs. (OAK) Jarrod Parker

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    How the Two Match Up:

    Jason Hammel: 3.43 ERA, 8-6 W-L, 113 SO, 1.24 WHIP

    Jarrod Parker: 3.47 ERA, 13-8 W-L, 140 SO, 1.26 WHIP

    For an Athletics team that came on late in the season, Parker played a big part of the surge. His record may not have been so lofty, but he did enough to put Oakland in a position to make the playoffs. He was tenth in the American League in winning percentage. Hammel pitched well for the Orioles in a shortened season. He started 20 games, but was a pleasant surprise for the Orioles. He earned the right to start Game 1 of the ALDS, and could start Game 1 of the ALCS as well.

    Best Month of the Season

    (April) Jason Hammel: Although he pitched a one-hit shutout in June, Hammel's best month of the season was in April. In the season's first month, Hammel won his first three starts. He pitched a total of 32 innings and gave up only seven runs in five starts. He pitched one start where he went seven shutout innings and never gave up more than two runs a start. He has a strikeout to walk ratio of 3:1, and he only gave up two home runs.

    (June) Jarrod Parker: Parker pitched well all season, but his best month came in June. Parker started five games in June and received winning decisions in three of them. In one start, he gave up six runs in five innings, but other than that, Parker was lights-out all month. He had two shutouts, including an eight-inning one-hitter, and only gave up more than four hits once. He struck out 29 and walked 15 in 33 innings pitched.

(OAK) Jarrod Parker vs. (NYY) CC Sabathia

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    Best and Worst Game

    Jarrod Parker: 8 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 6 SO/ 2 IP, 4 H, 6 ER, 4 BB, 4 SO

    Parker had some ups and downs this season, but ultimately was able to pitch solidly as the Athletics rookie starter. He had his best career outing in June when he pitched eight one-hit innings, facing only 25 batters and throwing 111 pitches. His worst start came in May when he gave up six earned runs in just two innings. He faced 14 batters, four of which he walked.

    CC Sabathia: 9 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 10 SO/ 6 IP, 8 H, 6 ER, 1 HR, 2 BB, 6 SO

    Sabathia pitched well all season as he won 15 games. His best outing was one of two complete games he pitched on the year. Against the Atlanta Braves, the Yankees ace gave up seven hits and and two runs. He got 16 ground-ball outs and faced 34 batters. It was his ninth win of the year. One of a few hiccups for Sabathia came when he pitched against the rival Boston Red Sox in late July. Sabathia gave up six runs in this game, but still managed to avoid the loss as the Yankees rallied to win the game 8-6.

(BAL) Jason Hammel vs. (DET) Justin Verlander

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    Best Month of the Season

    (September) Justin Verlander: It is hard to pick a best month for Verlander since he pitched very well all season long. His stats were nowhere near as lofty as they were in 2011, but the Tigers ace still put together a great regular=season campaign. His best month was in September. In the season's final full month, Verlander pitched three shutouts going at least six innings. He gave up six earned runs once, but his other five starts all amounted to Tiger wins. In the month, Verlander had an ERA of 1.93. He went 5-1, struck out 41 and walked just 10 batters.

    Best Game of the Season

    Jason Hammel: 9 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 SO

    In the best start of his career, Hammel pitched brilliantly as he helped the Orioles to an interleague defeat of the Atlanta Braves on June 16. He needed just 103 pitches to shut down the Braves offense as he mixed up his pitches and had an equal number of ground- and fly-ball outs. He faced just 30 batters, striking out eight of them. He followed this start up with an eight-inning one-run outing where he walked zero and struck out a career-high 10. These two wins put him at 8-2 on the season.

(BAL) Wei Yin Chen vs. (OAK) Tommy Milone

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    How the Two Match Up:

    Tommy Milone: 3.74 ERA, 13-10 W-L, 137 SO, 1.28 WHIP

    Wei Yin Chen: 4.02 ERA, 12-11 W-L, 154 SO, 1.26 WHIP

    Making his MLB debut, Chen pitched very well for the Orioles. He supplanted his role as the second man in this rotation when he defeated the Yankees in his first-ever playoff game. Chen gave up just eight hits and two runs in 6.1 innings pitched. Milone, also in his rookie year, showed a strong performance for the team that acquired him from the Nationals in the Gio Gonzalez trade. He pitched six strong innings in his first-ever playoff start, giving up just one run and five hits. He recorded a no-decision in the team's loss.

    Best Game of the Season

    Tommy Milone: 9 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO

    Milone recorded his first career shutout when the Athletics defeated the LA Dodgers in a June matchup. He gave up just three hits and pitched economically, needing 112 pitches to retire 32 batters. The win gave him his seventh of the season, and his second in the month of June.

    Wei Yin Chen: 7 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 SO

    Chen continued to improve as the season moved on. His best start came in August as he defeated the division rival Tampa Bay Rays by a score of 4-0. Chen pitched seven innings and faced 26 batters. He had nine ground-ball and 12 fly-ball outs as he surged to his 10th win of the season, and their win in the month of August.

(NYY) Andy Pettitte vs. (DET) Doug Fister

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    How the Two Match Up:

    Andy Pettitte: 2.87 ERA, 5-4 W-L, 69 SO, 1.14 WHIP

    Doug Fister: 3.45 ERA, 10-10 W-L, 137 SO, 1.19 WHIP

    After announcing his retirement to start the season, Pettitte came back to anchor a Yankees rotation in desperate need of a pitching staff. He pitched well and helped New York fill a major team need. Against the Orioles in the playoffs, however, Pettitte lost some of his postseason magic as he recorded the loss. Fister gave the Tigers a solid No. 2 behind Justin Verlander. He pitched to a .500 record and finished tenth in the AL in complete games with two.

    Comparing Postseason Experience

    Doug Fister: 4 GP, 3 GS, 24 IP, 11 ER, 6 BB, 21 SO

    Fister made his postseason debut in 2011 for the Tigers. He started in just two games and gave up nine earned runs in 17 innings. He struck out 13, and managed to win two of his three games pitched. In 2012, he has pitched one game so far for Detroit in the ALDS. He lasted seven innings and gave up just two runs. He struck out eight, and had an ERA of 2.57 for the game.

    Andy Pettitte: 43 GS, 270 IP, 115 ER, 73 BB, 178 SO

    Of the players currently left in the game, Pettitte has one of the most impressive playoff resumes of anyone. He has pitched in 14 postseasons and has been a part of five World Championship-winning teams. His career postseason ERA is 3.83 and his win-loss record is 19-11.

(BAL) Wei Yin Chen vs. (DET) Doug Fister

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    Best Month of the Season

    (April) Wei Yin Chen: Chen really shined in the season's first month as he helped the Orioles to three wins. He himself received decisions in two of them. In the month of April, Chen had a season low ERA of 2.22 in 24.1 innings pitched. He went at least 5.1 in all of his four starts and never gave up more than two earned runs per start. He struck out 19 and walked eight as he started the season with a 2-0 record. 

    (September) Doug Fister: While Chen's best month came in the first month of the season, Fister's came in the last as he recorded three wins and had an ERA of 2.34 in September. Fister pitched well enough for the Tigers to win four of his five September starts. He gave up four runs once, but never more than two in any of his other starts. He struck out 31 while walking just five. The month also included a seven-hit shutout of the Minnesota Twins.

(NYY) Andy Pettitte vs. (OAK) Tommy Milone

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    Best Month of the Season

    (May) Tommy Milone: Milone pitched well in May and received a decision in each of his five outings. In the month, he pitched 32.2 innings, including going seven strong in three straight starts. He struck out 17, walked nine and faced 136 total batters. His ERA for the month was 3.58.

    (September) Andy Pettite: The 40-year-old Pettitte seemed to get better and more comfortable pitching as the season progressed. He made his return to the Yankees in May and missed the months of July and August with an injury. In September, however, Pettitte pitched very well, supplanting his No. 2 spot in the Yankees' rotation. Pettitte had a 2-1 record and a 1.62 ERA in September. He went at least five innings in each of his three starts and gave up just three earned runs total. He also struck out 10 in 16.2 innings pitched.