We might never see a postseason like this again. At least I hope not. Only a year removed from baseball’s best October in a long time, this year’s playoffs figure to be bizarre. And the reason is that this year’s playoff teams combine for the weakest collection of starting pitching I’ve ever seen.
In what may be an all-time low, the eight playoff teams can only claim two truly dominant starters: Curt Schilling and Johan Santana.
I’ll admit that Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt could turn out to be members of this group, because they’re hot and coming off terrific seasons. Of course, you can’t really count Pedro out despite four consecutive losses. There’s nobody else you can really make a case for.
In a departure from your average postseason, and really from what everyone deems to be good baseball, all of these teams have questionable starting pitching.
They all seem to make up for this weakness in similar ways, though. Each team has a solid bullpen, with a great closer. And, all of these teams can put a lot of runs on the board, except the Twins and Dodgers.
The Twins make up for their weak offense by playing ridiculously good defense. And the Dodgers? Well, they might want to start reserving tee times.
It’s not unusual to have questions about pitchers. For example, you may find yourself wondering if El Duque, Matt Morris or Kevin Brown is healthy.
Will playoff experience make winners out of Jaret Wright and John Lackey? You might contemplate whether Bartolo Colon and Mike Mussina can shake off ugly seasons and carry their September momentum into the playoffs. Maybe you ponder how Tim Wakefield, Javier Vazquez and Kelvim Escobar can have such great potential, but pitch so poorly.
Questions are okay, but I doubt we’ll ever see a combination of so many bad or inexperienced starters again.
First, the outright bad: Jose Lima, Jeff Weaver, Jeff Suppan and John Thomson. I know I’m going to be accused of having a bias against the National League (which is probably true), but it’s hard to say that any one of these guys can be called a good pitcher.
I don’t know when “Lima Time” is, but it’s probably not in October. On Thursday night, Weaver is pitching in a Fox-televised game. I can’t wait to see how “Scooter,” a cartoon gimmick that tells the audience how pitches move, explains his curveball: “I hang over the middle of the plate and — ” Sorry, that’s just two disappointing seasons with the Yankees talking.
Anyway, Suppan and Thomson might have decent numbers, but they’re not fooling me. Suppan might not have to pitch in the first round, but I don’t see Thomson getting it done against Houston’s Killer Bs.
Meanwhile, a pair of relative unknowns, Carlos Silva and Brandon Backe, will pitch the traditionally pivotal Game Three for Minnesota and Houston, respectively.
So, what effects will depleted starting pitching have on the playoffs? Two of the three games played on Tuesday were abysmal. It’s a lot to live up to, but remember that last year’s Division Series had exactly two bad games total: Game Two between Boston and Oakland, and Game Three between New York and Minnesota.
If the weak pitching has any impact on the playoffs, we might see more bad games.
Thoughts about each series (with tentative predictions):
Houston vs. Atlanta: Conventional wisdom says that you can’t expect two pitchers on short rest, Oswalt and Clemens, to carry a team. Conventional wisdom also says that the Braves don’t win in the playoffs. I’ll pick Clemens and Oswalt to get it done in Atlanta, before the Astros pick up the final win at home. Astros in 4.
Los Angeles vs. St. Louis: With his team already in a 1-0 hole, Jeff Weaver is going to pitch against the best lineup in the National League. Even with Jason “Not So” Marquis going for the Cards, I have to like their chances over an imploding Weaver. Then — LIMA TIME! Basically, I’m expecting to see some brooms. Cardinals in 3.
Minnesota vs. New York: Defense vs. Offense. Small ball vs. A franchise-record 242 homers. Tiny market vs. Biggest market. If El Duque and Kevin Brown were healthy, you’d have to figure that the Yankees would have a tremendous advantage against the back end of the Twins’ rotation, which may include an inexperienced Silva and a struggling Kyle Lohse (unless Johan Santana starts on short rest). Yankees in 4.
Boston vs. Anaheim: As much as everyone is trying to emphasize the differences between the Yankees and Twins, I think these are the two teams that couldn’t be more different. The Red Sox have better starters while the Angels’ bullpen is the nastiest in the Majors. For the Red Sox, Terry Francona runs his offense by the book and from base-to-base. Meanwhile, Mike Scioscia will play hunches and let his team run wild on the bases. With the Angels down 1-0, they probably have to win the next three in order to take the series, because I don’t see Schilling losing a decisive Game Five. Red Sox in 5.