No professional post-season comes with as much excitement — or as much relief — as the MLB playoffs. After 162 games of droning regular season play, most of which mean next to nothing individually, the MLB playoffs revitalize the sport, reminding us why baseball is indeed America’s national pastime.
This year, the eight teams that endured the marathon season and emerged on top to qualify for the divisional series each represent some distinct aspect of our uniquely American tradition. It was pitching, however, that ultimately distinguished this year’s winners from the losers, and establishes the American and National League Championship Series as inevitable pitching showdowns. 2010 was the year of the pitcher for baseball, and we should expect that it will be pitching that inevitably determines who wears the ring at the end of the month.
In the American League, we must once again suffer the perennial trauma of the Yankees postseason run. Growing up as a Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox fan, I have always hated the Yankees, the giant of the American League East. That said, even I must remark at the franchise’s unparalleled dominance of professional baseball, throughout the history of the sport. No other sports team, across all leagues, has had as much continued success as the Yankees, who enter the 2010 ALCS with 40 AL pennants and 27 World Series championships.
This season, the Yankees go into the ALCS with improved speed and on-base percentage, without sacrificing any of the pieces from the 2009 World Series champion roster. That said, pitching will make or break the Yankees success. Led by ace CC Sabathia, the first pitcher win 20 starts in the majors this year, the Yankees have a very top-heavy starting rotation. Second is veteran Andy Pettite, the all-time postseason wins leader, with 19 victories in October during his career. Late-season struggles for AJ Burnett have sent him packing to the bullpen, with the likewise erratic Joba Chamberlain. Overall, the bullpen is the biggest question for this Yankees pitching staff, which gets as much run support than any team could ask for. Look for veteran Kerry Wood to see a great deal of action. While there are questions concerning the durability of a three-man starting rotation and a shaky bullpen, if the Yanks hold a lead through the eight inning, expect a win. Mariano Rivera continues to show us why he is the greatest closer of all time, and single-handedly makes this pitching staff one of the league’s most feared.
On the other side of the plate, the Texas Rangers are in the postseason for only the fourth time in franchise history, quite the contrast to the Bronx Bombers. Nonetheless, team president Nolan Ryan has built a pitching staff that will provide some serious difficulties for New York. Most of all, the acquisition of Cliff Lee at the trade deadline brought instant credibility to the team’s World Series ambitions. Lee, undefeated in postseason play, decimated the Yankee batters last season on the Phillies. This year, he returns with the same poise and an arsenal of pitches that render him nearly unhittable. If his first two starts in the post-season as a Ranger are any indication, Cliff Lee will not let his team down. Starting pitcher CJ Wilson enters the series as the second starter, while functioning as the team’s ace for the duration of the regular season. His successes in the regular season and the ability to pitch behind Lee in the roster grant him dangerous potential in the number two spot. The bullpen is solid, and Neftail Feliz is as good as any closer not named Mariano, but these starting pitcher matchups, Lee vs. Sabathia, and Wilson vs. Petite, will undoubtedly be the highlight of this series.
While the ALCS will largely be determined by the success of each team’s pitching staff, the NLCS looks to be entirely a pitching showdown. For casual baseball fans, don’t tune in to the Philadelphia Philles series against the San Francisco Giants expecting much offense.
It seems that every year the post-season produces a Lee-Sabathia match-up, but even this faceoff cannot compare to Roy Halladay vs. Tim Lincecum. Halladay made his professional post-season debut by throwing a no-hitter, only the second time in the history of the sport that this has occurred in playoff baseball. Halladay threw a perfect game earlier this season, amassed 21 wins with 219 strike outs and an ERA of 2.44, establishing himself as the unquestionable Cy Young Award winner. The man he faces this Saturday night, skinny 26-year-old Tim Lincecum made an equally loud post-season debut, throwing a complete game with 14 strikeouts, surrendering only two hits. The scope of this match-up is still hard to grasp.
The Phillies, like New York, will go with a three-man roster, rounded out by Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, the Philly ace during the 2008 World Series. The trio is 15–1 since September 1, and are supported by a deep veteran bullpen, featuring the combination of relief pitcher Ryan Madson and closer Brad Lidge. The Philly staff is virtually perfect, and compliments a line-up that produces runs at will. The Giants are good, but Philly just might be too good. And so, as we get set for two great games this weekend, let’s reflect on how spoiled we are to be seeing possibly two of the greatest post-season pitching match-ups of all time. Yeah, folks, it’s gonna be historic.
Sam Goldsmith is a senior in Branford College.