Five Cuts: Lee's postseason dominance the stuff of legends
Cliff Lee is tracking the paths of Mathewson, Ruth, Koufax, Gibson and Schilling
The final four teams all made significant upgrades before the trade deadline
Tim Lincecum will be pitching on extra rest, which means Superfreak could return
1. Cliff Lee gets to take the ball again at Yankee Stadium in a postseason game, this time for ALCS Game 3 after beating the Yankees there in World Series Game 1 last year. And when he does, Lee will take an ever expanding reputation as one the greatest postseason pitchers baseball ever has seen.
Lee did it again Tuesday night, beating Tampa Bay on the road, 5-1, to send Texas into the ALCS. It wasn't the World Series, but it was one of the greatest sudden-death postseason games ever thrown. There have been 152 pitchers who took the ball in an LDS Game 5, LCS Game 7 or World Series Game 7. Lee is the first one to strike out 11 batters -- and he did so with no walks. He broke the record of 10 punchouts in ultimate series games shared by Hal Newhouser, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Roger Clemens.
Lee now has started seven postseason games, and his team has won every one of them. In those starts, Lee is 6-0 with a 1.44 ERA.
His earned runs by start: 1, 1, 0, 0, 5, 1, 1.
Remember, Orlando Hernandez started his postseason career 8-0 before losing three of his next four decisions. Orel Hershiser began 7-0 and then went 1-3. So the book still is being written on Lee. But for now, Lee is tracking the paths of Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, Koufax, Gibson and Curt Schilling among the legendary pitchers of October.
Texas manager Ron Washington can't afford to pitch Lee on short rest in ALCS Game 2 -- that was apparent when he let Lee finish last night with a 5-1 lead. Lee never has pitched on short rest. While it's good for Texas that Lee will take the ball in Yankee Stadium, it sets up this reality for Washington: the only way Lee gets a second start in the series is if it goes to a Game 7 or if Washington pushes him to pitch on short rest in a possible elimination game in Game 6.
Next July, make sure you remember what happened this July. The final four teams in the baseball postseason all made significant upgrades before -- and even after -- the July trading deadline.
The best pitchers traded made huge impacts: Lee for Texas and Roy Oswalt for Philadelphia. The Rangers also added catcher Bengie Molina and outfielder Jeff Francouer.
The Yankees upgraded with DH Lance Berkman and reliever Kerry Wood. The Giants added pitchers Ramon Ramirez and Javier Lopez, infielder Mike Fontenot and outfielder Cody Ross (two game-winning NLDS hits). All paid big dividends in the Division Series.
The Rays were eliminated not with honor, as were the Braves, but with embarrassment. They allowed Texas runners to score from second base without the ball being hit out of the infield not once, not twice, but three times. Their level of alertness simply wasn't up to matching an aggressive Texas team. All three runs were avoidable:
First baseman Carlos Pena, upon fielding a grounder with Elvis Andrus on second, should have run the ball hard to first base instead of throwing to pitcher David Price. The runner, Andrus, was in front of Pena, but behind Price.
Catcher Kelly Shoppach airmailed a throw into leftfield on what should have been an easy caught stealing on Nelson Cruz at third base. The error sent Cruz home.
Price wasn't alert enough upon catching a throw at first base as Vladimir Guerrero scored from second, and neither was Shoppach, who scrambled late to get in proper position for a tag.
Rays manager Joe Maddon called them "spring training mistakes." They shouldn't happen in game No. 167.
Just how big was that comeback win for the Giants in NLDS Game 4? It gives extra rest for San Francisco ace Tim Lincecum, and The Freak becomes The Superfreak when he gets extra rest.
Lincecum will have eight days of rest when he starts NLCS Game 1 against Roy Halladay in Philadelphia on Saturday. He threw his two-hit shutout in NLDS Game 1 with seven days of rest. Here are Lincecum's numbers in starts when he gets six or more days of rest, including the postseason.
One of the bright sports to emerge from the Braves' playoff run was the relief work of Mike Dunn, Johnny Venters and Craig Kimbrel. Atlanta is loaded with power arms. Giants first baseman Aubrey Huff called the collection of arms "the best bullpen we've seen this year."
Kimbrel is especially difficult because he's a righthanded version of Billy Wagner: his short arm motion creates less drop to his fastball, causing it to "jump" on hitters. In fact, Braves GM Frank Wren tells a great story about Kimbrel's apparent "wildness" in the minors. It seems that low-level minor league umpires had so much trouble calling such a big-league quality high-octane heater -- running up Kimbrel's walk totals -- that Wren asked his minor league managers to hold a conference with the home plate umpire whenever Kimbrel came in the game. The manager alerted the umpire that Kimbrel's ball maintains its plane more than other minor leaguers -- so 98 at the knees stays 98 at the knees and doesn't drop below the strike zone.
"That guy's stuff is nasty," said Huff, who whiffed against Kimbrel in Game 2. "I had no chance."