Thursday, October 21, 2010

Yanks Keep It Alive, and Still Shouldn't Fear Lee

Yankees 7, Rangers 2. The Yankees keep it going, and Game 6 will be tomorrow night in Arlington, Texas.

CC Sabathia pitched out of trouble, and Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano hit back-to-back homers.

Here's the key: In his first 5 1/3 innings, before getting the last 2 outs in the top of the 6th, CC allowed 11 hits -- but no walks. Add 2 innings of Kerry Wood (who has really rebounded nicely from injury oblivion with the Cubs, first as a Cleveland Indian and now as a Yankee) and 1 of Mariano Rivera, and the Yankees allowed a turbulent 13 hits, but no walks, and just 2 runs (in a hitter's park). In other words, CC bent but didn't break, and the bullpen was masterful. In contrast, the Ranger pitchers allowed 9 hits and 6 walks, and the Yankees made the most of it.

The Yankees still need to win 2 games on the road to win their 41st Pennant. The Rangers only need to win 1 out of 2 at home to win their 1st Pennant.

Game 6's starting pitchers will be Phil Hughes against Colby Lewis. If the Yanks keep it going, Game 7 will be Andy Pettitte against Sandy Koufax. Excuse me, Cliff Lee.

The media is already turning Lee into this generation's Koufax. Even though tonight, in Game 5 of the NLCS, there's a dandy matchup, a rematch of Game 1, as Tim Lincecum hopes to close it out for the San Francisco Giants, against Roy Halladay trying to keep it alive for the 2-time defending NL Champion Philadelphia Phillies.

Both the Freak and Doc have had better careers than Lee. Check this out.

Harry Leroy Halladay. Hometown, Arvada, Colorado, outside Denver. Current age, 33 years old. Career won-lost record, 169-86. Winning percentage, .663. ERA+, 136. WHIP, 1.181. Strikeouts, 1,714. 7 All-Star berths. 1 Cy Young Award, just missed another, could get another this season. Baseball-Reference.com Hall of Fame Monitor, where a "Likely HOFer" is at 100, he's already at 101. B-R's Hall of Fame Standards, which is more geared toward career totals, and the "Average HOFer" is at 50, he's at 39. Already sounds likely to make the Hall, barring an ethical calamity. Nor should we hope for a medical calamity.

Timothy LeRoy Lincecum. (Same middle name, just about.) Renton, Washington, outside Seattle. Age, 26. Record only 56-27, but a .675 percentage. ERA+, 142. WHIP, 1.182. Strikeouts, 907. 3 All-Star berths. 2 Cy Young Awards. HOF Monitor, 44. HOF Standards, 28. Far from making it, but at the rate he's going, I wouldn't bet against him.

Clifton Phifer Lee. Benton, Arkansas, outside Little Rock. Age, 32. 102-61, 46 wins behind Halladay at the same age. Percentage, .626 -- really good, but nowhere near Halladay or Lincecum. ERA+, 112, good but well below the other 2. WHIP, 1.256, ibid. Strikeouts, 1,085, ibid. 2 All-Star berths, 1 Cy Young but no other top-3 finishes yet. HOF Monitor, 42. HOF Standards, 19. Both lower than Lincecum despite being 6 years older.

And let's not forget: This season, Halladay was 21-10, 2.44 -- despite pitching in a hitter's park. Lincecum was 16-10, 3.43, though that's a bit high in a pitcher's park, but it was in the NL. Lee? Between Seattle (pitcher's park) and Texas (hitter's park), was 12-9, 3.18 -- and since he joined Texas, 4-6, 3.98.

Suddenly, Lee doesn't look so superhuman, does he?

In all fairness, career stats don't tell a full story. (Ironically.) From age 25 to 33 (currently), Halladay has been one of the best pitchers in the game. Lincecum became a star at 24 and at 26 is fabulous. Lee had his first full season at 25 and was good, was sensational at 26, was awful at 27 (ironically, his first trip to the postseason, and did not appear in the ALDS against the Yankees or the ALCS against the Red Sox), then was great at 29, but at 30 and 31 (turned 32 this August), was good -- not great, not even very good, just good.

Over his last 2 regular seasons, he's been 26-22. His ERA, 3.20. So he's probably been a better pitcher than his record suggests (especially since the Indians and Mariners currently stink), but he's also pitched for the Phils and Rangers, and is only a combined 11-10 and 2.72 with them. Pretty good, but not great.

So what gives? Lee's postseason numbers. He's 7-0, 1.26. Compare that to Whitey Ford, 10-8, 2.71. Sandy Koufax, 4-3 (nothing special there), 0.95 (well beyond special -- only Mariano's is better). Bob Gibson, 7-2, 1.89. Catfish Hunter, 9-6, 3.26. Ron Guidry, 5-2. 3.02. Randy Johnson, 7-9, 3.50. (Yikes.) And Curt Schilling, arguably the greatest Yankee Killer ever to take a mound, 11-2, 2.23.

Then there is Lee's prospective Game 7 opponent. Andrew Eugene Pettitte. Deer Park, Texas, outside Houston. Age, 38. 240-138, .635, higher than Lee's. ERA+, 117, higher than Lee's. WHIP, 1.357, significantly higher than Lee's. Strikeouts, 2,251, though that's not especially relevant, since he hasn't specialized in them. No Cy Young Awards (1 2nd-place), but 3 All-Star berths, which is 1 more than Lee, and look at the ages when he got those berths: 24, 29 and 38. Pretty impressive. HOF Monitor, 122, almost 3 times Lee's. HOF Standards, 42, equal to Lee's HOF Monitor score. Chances are pretty good he'll go to the Hall of Fame, regardless of whether he ever throws another pitch -- and, if the Yanks lose Game 6, he might not, as many people think he'll retire after this season.

Which brings me to the key point that the Yankees still have to get to Game 7 first, by winning Game 6. If Lee wins Game 7, then he becomes one of the all-time big names in baseball, regardless of his career record. But if Pettitte wins Game 7, they'd better get his Monument Park Plaque ready, because he could very well retire a Pennant winner (and maybe also a World Champion).

Anyway, this series has already been very interesting. And it could turn into an epic.

Halladay vs. Lincecum wasn't all that good a match in Game 1. It could be a great one tonight in Game 5, and if the Phils win it, then the next 2 are in Philly and I think they'll take it, and add another chapter to Giant fans' misery. But if the Phils can't touch Lincecum, then the Giants win only their 4th Pennant since moving to San Francisco, and they just might get that Team of Destiny aura around them and believe they can go all the way for the first time since Willie made The Catch early in the Ike Age.

Wow, that last Giant crown was so long ago, the Phillies weren't the only MLB team in Philadelphia. Not to mention the fact that the Series, and the season, ended on October 2. Today is October 21, and, for the moment, neither Pennant has been won.

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