Bauman: Playoff pitchers stifle sluggers
In typical fashion, Series hurlers besting prolific offenses
PHILADELPHIA -- It will be Halloween for Game 3 of the World Series on Saturday. Many hitters have already come to this Series dressed as outs.
You've heard it, you've read it, but you haven't actually seen it. That's because this is the postseason. What has won historically in this time and what still wins now is a dominant pitching performance.
And that is exactly what you got from Philadelphia's Cliff Lee in Game 1 and New York's A.J. Burnett in Game 2. The losing teams scored a total of two runs over the two games. Even the winning teams totaled just nine. The Phillies are hitting .231, the Yankees are hitting .222. And to anyone who has been paying close attention for any significant portion of the last century, the nature of these games should come as no surprise whatsoever.
When Andy Pettitte, the Yankees' Game 3 starter, was asked if he was surprised about the low-scoring games, he responded: "It's kind of the way I expected they would go."
Pettitte might know something about this topic. He now is the all-time leader in postseason victories with 16, and his stellar start in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series clinched the pennant for the Yanks.
"In the playoffs, I know if you give up more than a couple -- two or three runs -- over all the years that I've been in it, you're going to take a loss probably or you're going to get a no-decision," Pettitte said. "You just kind of figure that that's just the way it's going to be. The games are going to be low scoring, and really, if you make a couple of mistakes during the course of the game, you may get hung with a loss, you know?"
Weight of the World
|Division Series||4 G, .296 BA, 4 HR, 20 R||3 G, .225 BA, 6 HR, 15 R|
|Championship Series||5 G, .231 BA, 10 HR, 35 R||6 G, .279 BA, 8 HR, 33 R|
|World Series||2 G, .231 BA, 2 HR, 7 R||2 G, .222 BA, 2 HR, 4 R|
In the same vein, at Friday's interview sessions at Citizens Bank Park, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was asked why Ryan Howard and Alex Rodriguez, two players who absolutely carried their teams in earlier rounds, had no offensive impact in the first two World Series games. Howard is hitting .222 with six strikeouts in nine at-bats, while Rodriguez is hitless in eight at-bats with six strikeouts. So what could explain this dramatic turnaround for two of the game's greatest run producers?
"Yeah, to me, that's pretty easy to answer: That guy standing out on the mound," Manuel said. "He's got something to do with that, too. Basically, that's what baseball is all about. Baseball, I have said it over and over -- if you stop and think about it -- in a lot of ways, baseball is a failure game. And that's what you talk about when a guy averages three hits out of 10 at-bats or 30 hits out of 100 at-bats -- he's a .300 hitter, and that's being successful and that's being a great hitter in the game. That pitcher has got something to do with that.
"You're trying to hit anywhere from a 90 to a 95, 97 [mph] fastball, and you're trying to hit a slider that's probably 85, 86, breaking hard down, and you're trying to take a round bat and hit that round ball, trying to square it up. That can be hard."
To the same question, Yankees manager Joe Girardi smiled and replied: "Good pitching. I mean, you can't expect guys to hit a home run every day or to get two hits every day. In most cases, you've got a pretty good chance to get guys out."
The teams that get this far -- the top two out of 30 -- invariably have first-class pitching. Look at the four starters for the first two games. CC Sabathia and Lee were the AL Cy Young Award winners in 2007 and '08. They had both dominated earlier in this postseason. In Game 1, the real question was not "Which team is going to explode for 12 runs?" The real question was "Which of these guys is going to give up a few runs while the other guy isn't giving up any?"
And in Game 2, the Yankees went with Burnett, who, while he is not long on postseason experience, has some of the best stuff in the game. The Phillies' starter was Pedro Martinez, a future Hall of Famer, who may be past his prime but is still fully capable of stopping anybody on a given night.
With four starters of this quality, you cannot reasonably expect a slugfest, no matter how good the opposing hitters are.
"I think that in most instances, good pitching can shut down good hitting and mediocre pitching can't always shut down mediocre hitting," Girardi said. "You look at both these lineups, both are very good, and the pitching on both sides is very good and there have been two well-pitched games. It's usually what you see in playoff baseball. And the clubs that get to this point usually do a lot of things right and are able to shut other clubs down."
Having said all this, Game 3 could, of course, wind up with a 12-10 score. But that would be the exception, not the rule. This is the time of the year when the clubs with the best pitching rise to the top, like cream. In the second half of October, the pitching can be so good that it is, yes, all right, scary.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.