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Pitchers, Managers Will Go Batty Facing Postseason Hitters

Gabriel TaylorAnalyst IOctober 8, 2009

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 07:  Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees hits a two run home run in the third inning against the Minnesota Twins in Game One of the ALDS during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium on October 7, 2009 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Pitching wins championships but the deep, powerful lineups featured on 2009 playoff rosters will fluster hurlers. The first few games of playoff baseball shows that hitters will make their case about the hierarchy of postseason importance.

There could be plenty of walks, home runs, and inflated ERAs in the playoffs with batting orders reading like All-Star rosters, pitchers with little or unfortunate postseason experience, and baseball’s ERA leader and top AL Cy Young Award candidate, Zack Greinke, unavailable to baffle hitters.

The Twins sent rookie pitcher Brian Duensing to the mound against the Yankees in Game One after needing a one-game tiebreaker and 12-inning victory over the Detroit Tigers to qualify for the postseason. Duensing came out in the bottom of the third with a 2-0 lead and facing the bottom of the Yankees order.

The Yankees scored three runs in the inning and Duensing gave up runs in the fourth and fifth innings, exiting the game in the fifth and giving up five earned runs on the night.

CC Sabathia had a strong outing in his team’s playoff opener, conceding only one earned run in 6.2 innings in a 7-2 win over the Minnesota Twins. But the combination of Yankee Stadium dimensions and one of the best lineups in baseball was ready to pick up any slack.

Derek Jeter, a Yankees postseason legend, continued to add to his legacy with two hits, two walks, a two-run homer, and three RBI. Alex Rodriguez, a traditional playoff underachiever, got off the snide, going 2-for-4 with an RBI.

The New York Yankees’ first seven batters are all All-Stars: Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada, and Robinson Cano. Boston’s lineup is high-quality, too: All-Stars David Ortiz, Jason Bay, Kevin Youkilis, J.D. Drew, Mike Lowell, Victor Martinez, and Dustin Pedroia. That list doesn’t include the Red Sox’s Jacoby Ellsbury, the MLB stolen base leader who had a .301 batting average on the year.

With postseason games scheduled at the Colorado Rockies’ and New York Yankees’ launching pads known as Coors Field and the new Yankee Stadium, hitters should enjoy October’s attractive confines.

The battle for the 2009 World Series championship also travels through home run havens like Boston’s Fenway Park and the Philadelphia Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park and other hitter-friendly venues such as the Minnesota Twins’ Metrodome.

Although Philadelphia’s Cliff Lee pitched a masterpiece in a 5-1 complete game victory against the Rockies in Game One of their divisional series, he should be able to count on his sluggers to provide him with plenty of run support, especially at home.

The Phillies batting order would comfort any starting pitcher, with Chase Utley (31 HR) batting third, Ryan Howard (45) in the cleanup spot, Jayson Werth (36) batting fifth, and Raul Ibanez (34) in the sixth slot.

In the sixth inning, Howard and Werth hit hard shots but strong winds may have saved Colorado starter Ubaldo Jimenez from surrendering back-to-back home runs. Still, those winds were enough to drive Colorado’s outfielders crazy and the Phillies scored three runs in the inning to secure the game.

Pitchers and their managers will have to be calm, cautious, and creative with their pitch selection, starting rotations, and bullpens.

Another example of pitchers yielding to hitters in the first batch of playoff games was the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 5-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game One of the NLDS.

In the top of the first inning, the Dodgers’ Randy Wolf walked two batters, including an intentional pass to leading MVP candidate, St. Louis first baseman Albert Pujols, before giving up one run and escaping the inning with the bases loaded.

Chris Carpenter, the NL Comeback Player of the Year and National League Cy Young Award candidate completed the regular season with a 17-4 record and a NL-best 2.24 ERA, and had a 5-1 record in the postseason but the Dodgers’ batters were aggressive from the outset.

In the bottom of the first, shortstop Rafael Furcal singled and center fielder Matt Kemp homered before Carpenter could record his first out of the inning. Carpenter settled in but runs in the third and fifth chased him from the game and he finished with five IP, nine hits, four earned runs, and four walks against Los Angeles.  

Boston and Los Angeles battle in the ALDS and the Red Sox’s Josh Beckett, 7-2 in the postseason, has a chance to prove that strong starting pitching can withstand fearsome hitters.

Solid pitching will always be a part of playoff competition, but with hitters like Mauer, the major league batting champion, Pujols, the major league home run champ, and other statistical giants like Teixeira , AL home run and RBI champ, and Howard, NL RBI champ, batters will do their part to decide outcomes.

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